From Behind Our Masks

Quatre is Hurt bad.

His odds for survival are not good.

Faced with likelihood of loosing him, the other pilots quickly begin to discover just how important he was to their lives.

As they succumb to face the tragic prospect of life without him, they begin to find comfort from the most unlikely sources.....

Chapter One

There was an eerie silence in the waiting area outside the operating theatre. Three floors up in the hospital, Heero, Trowa, Duo and Wufei all waited anxiously for news about their fallen comrade and friend.

Despite the mission's success, the battle had been one of the most intense they had ever seen. They all made it back to base, but Quatre, due to injuries sustained during the battle, had crash-landed. Fortunately, the other pilots were able to get him to the hospital quickly, giving at least some hope of recovery.

Wufei was sat cross-legged on the floor, his back to the wall, half meditating, half contemplating the past, looking back with mixed emotion of the times he and Quatre had spent together. Trowa was sat quietly in a chair, leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees, staring at the tiled floor beneath him, his mind awash with a mixture of emotions and great concern.

Duo paced slowly and silently up and down the small corridor-like area, his arms folded. Like Trowa, his mind was full of nothing but worry and fear for Quatre. He felt empty, nauseous. His face was paler than usual, and that familiar cheerful personality mask he always shrouded himself in was almost non-existent.

He had learned to always look on the bright side, or at the least appear to be cheerful and retain his sense of humour no matter how black the situation was, but this was different. On the outside, as always, he appeared to be holding it together, but on the inside Duo was hurting badly.

During the past year, Quatre and Duo's friendship had grown strong.

Duo never usually allowed himself to get close to anyone, in the almost proven belief that anyone who ever got close usually ended up dead, but with Quatre he guardedly made an exception. After all, Quatre was a Gundam pilot, and able to look out for himself, and Duo cautiously allowed himself to believe there was not a lot he could do that would jeopardize his safety. They'd spent a lot of time in each other's company especially recently. They seemed to have made a real connection.

Duo remembered back to when he first knew Quatre, He remembered being struck by his gentleness and compassion, a respect that to this day had never dulled. He remembered wondering for months how someone so warm-hearted, and so at odds with fighting could ever become a Gundam pilot.

Only as time progressed, did he get to understand Quatre more, and came to understand his reasons for his participation in the war. The more Duo got to lean about his friend, the more respect he gained for him.

During the past year of war, all of the Gundam pilots had gone through times of great darkness and madness. In all but few cases it was Quatre, and only Quatre, who could offer the warm and gentle voice of reason the others needed to pull them back from the edge of despair. Duo in particular was mindful of Quatre's guidance and counsel. There were countless occasions when Duo owed his life to him. Some of those times were on the battlefield, but most were when Quatre had helped him to hold his own mind together.

For Duo, being known as the God of death was a driving motivation on the battlefield, but during peace and quieter times it was the very thing that was destroying him. Eating away at his soul like a sickening cancer.

In reality, he was kind hearted, but his training and his past had conditioned him into being the warrior he was today. The only problem was, deep down inside that toughened warrior shell, sat a heart that still cared.

Only in times of quiet could he hear the voices and cries of those killed at his hands. Only when the guns were silenced could he feel the torture of truly knowing what he had done; Every base, every Leo, every Aries, every transport ship he had ever destroyed meant more poor souls lost. Duo's actions were quietly destroying him from the inside, for every Life he took, regardless of who that person was, he could feel another piece of his soul being cast into oblivion.

Despite the cheerful mask he shrouded himself in whenever he was outside or among people, Duo was suffering badly, and Quatre was the only one who knew.

There were many lengthy periods of time when Duo wanted nothing more than to end his life, and several occasions where he was very close to attempt it, only to be foiled at the last minute by Quatre. Each time, pulled back from the edge of despair by that voice of gentle Reason.

Duo recalled the last, and final time it happened, several months ago. He was in despair at learning he'd wiped out an Aries unit consisting of young civilian volunteers from the colonies, many of them barely out of high school.

He'd finally reached the point where his conscience could take no more and he was ready to end it all.

He was planning to take his Gundam, Deathsythe to a quiet location, maybe even outer space, and self-destruct, but the night before he was planning to go, Quatre had turned up on his doorstep, concerned that something was wrong.

He recalled with a slight smile Quatre's refusal to accept his assurances that "Everything was ok", and minutes later Duo recollected himself falling to his knees, an inconsolable sobbing wreck as he sobbed out everything.

They talked throughout the night until it was daylight, Quatre listened and comforted Duo in the kind-hearted way that only Quatre could. That same morning, on the blond Arab's insistence, Duo packed some things and went to stay at the Winner mansion, Quatre's home, and where Duo had continued to live to the present day.

After months of counselling from Quatre, many tears and meaningful discussions about life and philosophy, Duo was much happier with his life. Before Quatre had helped him, Duo looked upon his whole life as a long series of dark, cold chapters, where death would have been a welcome break. But that was all in the past, and life had started to look like it was worth living again.

Duo owed it all to Quatre, If it wasn't for him turning up that night, he would be dead now.

As he paced up and down in the hospital corridor, Duo started to realise that he had never taken the opportunity to really thank Quatre for what he had done, and feelings of heavy remorse began to fill his mind.

"You need to relax Duo", said Heero, breaking the silence.

Duo had been oblivious to Heero's observing him for the past five minutes.

"What do you mean?" asked Duo, quickly breaking from his trance-like state and instinctively donning his cheery mask again, if only slightly.

Heero, who until now had been sat back in his chair, arms folded, leaned forward resting his arm on his crossed leg.

"What I mean is, you've been pacing up and down that same bit of floor for the past half an hour", he said in his usual dry, monotone voice. "You'll wear it out".

Duo stopped pacing and stood in front of Heero.

"I just feel so helpless", said Duo, putting his upturned palms in the air,

"Quatre is battling for his life right now, and there's not a damn thing that any of us can do to raise the odds in his favour".

Heero said nothing, but listened to what Duo had to say, as did Wufei and Trowa, both looking up, breaking from their own solitary meditations.

"If this was a normal battle, and Quatre was out there on his own, we'd have got into our Gundams and gone to help him, none of us would have a second thought, but here all we can do is sit and wait, and hope he's ok....... It's so frustrating!"

Duo turned away from Heero and began staring out of the window,

"If only I'd found him sooner, maybe he'd ..... I mean if I'd got to him sooner, his chances might have been ........."

"Duo!", said Heero sharply, stopping him mid sentence.

Duo stopped talking and looked at Heero,

"What?" he snapped, a little annoyed at being interrupted.

"I don't mind you babbling, but if you're going to start blaming yourself, could you do it somewhere else", said Heero, again, in his usual dry, emotionless voice.

At that point Trowa spoke up, backing Heero,

"You don't need to go down that path Duo", said Trowa, almost as dryly as Heero.

"It wasn't your fault any more that it was any of our faults, no-one is to blame for this. We all did what we had to do"

Duo wanted to say something back, but knew both Heero and Trowa were right. He sighed heavily,

"I Know.... but still..... It doesn't seem right. Why Quatre? Why not one of us?"

To Duo's surprise, not one of the other pilots responded verbally, but he could see all three of them mulling over his response.

"They're all thinking the same as me!" he thought to himself,

"It's obvious that all of them are thinking that it should have been them and not Quatre". Duo's discovery made him feel slightly better in an odd sort of way. Emotion was not something the other pilots showed easily - if at all, but it was now clear to Duo that in their own way, each was remorseful about Quatre much more that they were letting on.

"Quatre should not be the one lying in there", said Wufei, speaking for the first time in over an hour, still sitting cross-legged on the floor. The others all looked at him in a silent, but oddly agreeing sort-of way.

"You'll get no argument from me, Wufei", replied Trowa

"I'll have to agree with you too", said Heero

Duo took a seat near to Wufei, which left the group in a close semi-circular arrangement. He figured that the others wanted to talk, but needed some prompting. Duo himself needed desperately to talk to someone. During the past few months he had done nothing but talking, talking about his past and his feelings, so he could come to terms with his life.

He was suddenly gripped by sadness as he realised the one and only person he could really talk openly to was fighting for his life on an operating table in the next room. His sadness began to increase and he could feel his eyes ready to well up.

Not wanting to openly express his grief in front of the others he stood up and shrouded himself in his slightly cheery mask again.

"I'm going outside to get some air, It's so stuffy in here", without waiting for a response, he span round and hastily made his way to the stairway door a short way down the corridor.

Outside the weather was pleasant. It had been warm and sunny all day, although it was late in the afternoon and the sun would be setting soon.

The hospital garden was quiet, no one was around and the only sounds were the gentle rustling of leaves in the occasional light breeze, and the sound of distant babbling water coming from the end of the garden.

The garden itself was simple, a huge rectangular fairly unkempt lawn surrounded by forest on all sides, and distant hills with mountains beyond, cutting into the horizon. Running across the lawn to the far end was a stepping-stone path that led to a large natural stream, which cut across the far right hand corner of the grounds. Duo hurriedly made his way down the path to the stream and perched himself on an out-cropping of large rocks overlooking the fast moving water.

The great sadness inside him was not going away, and he realised it would probably not be long before his tears would flow, that's why he had to leave the others.

"Damn it! This is not how a Gundam pilot should be reacting to loosing a Comrade!" Duo thought to himself angrily, annoyed at his own weakness.

He looked back towards the hospital to make sure no one had followed him, but suddenly became struck by the most spectacular scenery that lay before him. The backdrop to the hospital was one of the most colourful sunsets he had ever seen.

The sky was awash with every shade of red and orange, and the distant mountains seemed to glow in every colour imaginable. Duo stared, awe-struck by this masterpiece of nature. He saw sunset's every day, and never thought twice about it, but this, this was different.

"Why am I so touched by this?" he asked himself in a whisper, "Is it because I am feeling so sad right now?" he thought, "Is this how people see the world through sad eyes?" He mulled over in his mind looking for an answer, for some kind of explanation to account for his feelings.

Suddenly, the answer came to him.

"God!...... oh God!" he thought, suddenly feeling a heavy sadness filling his heart.

"Because if Quatre were here.... he'd be jumping up and down and telling me how beautiful it was, trying to make me see it too!"

With that thought, the sadness inside of him became overwhelming, and this time there was no stopping it. The tears welling in his eyes began to distort his view of the sunset into just a bright sparkling mass of blured colour.

"I see it Quatre!" he whispered quietly under his breath, his voice cracking,

"I really see it Quatre........ It's so beautiful....... so beautiful", his voice becoming a barely audible squeak.

No longer able to restrain the tears, Duo buried his face into his hands and began to cry.

His tears flowed like small rivers, never had he felt such an intense sense of loss. Despite the fact Quatre was still alive, although barely, Duo realised his grief at just the possibility of Quatre dying was more than he could deal with.

He tried to tell himself to think positively, and to believe that Quatre would make a full recovery, but the moment was too intense to fight even with logical thinking. Not even when the orphanage he grew up in was destroyed did he encounter such extreme grief. He felt like a part of him was missing. He felt empty, and so very alone.

What seemed like a short time later, still with his face buried in his hands, Duo felt a hand gently touch his shoulder. He looked up to see Wufei looking down at him.

"Oh it's you Wufei", said Duo, quickly trying to dry his eyes, embarrassed that he had been caught off-guard.

"Err....I was umm.... just washing my face in the stream, err ... trying to wake myself up a bit!", he exclaimed, instantly donning his personality mask again.

Wufei looked at him, expressionless. He didn't need to say anything, and Duo knew there was no fooling him.

"Ok, Ok! I know" said Duo putting his hands submissively in the air,

"I'm..... I'm just a little upset, that's all".

Wufei gave a very slight, but wry smile.

"I just thought you might want to know that Quatre is out of surgery." He said.

Duo nodded. "Thanks for coming to tell me", he replied quietly.

"Did the Doctor say anything ?", asked Duo, sniffing quietly.

"Not much", replied Wufei, "They said that he's stable, which is a good thing, but it's too early to tell how things will go. He's not out of the woods yet. It may be a couple of days before we know".

"I see." replied Duo, sniffing again, "Can ... can we see him yet?"

"No... not yet, he's still unconscious", replied Wufei, simultaneously turning and starting to walk back towards the hospital.

"Err..... Wufei?" called Duo.

Wufei stopped walking, listening for Duo's question, but continued to face the hospital.

"Err........... you....... you.. won't tell the others about... me ...... you know .... about ...... being upset?", Duo stuttered nervously, afraid of his image being tarnished.

Wufei turned and looked at Duo,

"You know Duo, I always had a lot of respect for your strength of character", he replied, slowly starting to walk away again.

"I bet that's all changed now huh?" called Duo, sounding disappointed.

"It has", replied Wufei, still walking away, "It just doubled".

Chapter Two

Duo remained sitting on the outcrop of rocks for quite a while after Wufei had walked back to the hospital. He was still feeling immensely sad at the prospect of loosing the one and only close friend he had ever allowed himself to have, Quatre. His tears from earlier had now dried up, and although reluctant to admit it to himself, he did feel better for having shed them.

By now the sun had completely disappeared behind the mountains far beyond the hospital, although the sky was still spectacularly beautiful. Duo noted the clouds, glowing in vibrant shades of orange and red slowly being enclosed by the deep azure blue darkness that would soon bring nightfall to the land.

Unenthusiastically, and tiredly, Duo slid off the large rock he had been sitting on and landed on his feet with a sigh. He rubbed his face with his hands to wake himself up a little, and to wipe away any evidence of his earlier sadness. He then ran his hands through his hair and took a deep breath, resetting his composure.

"I guess I'd better head back", he thought to himself, taking a deep breath, "Cat could be waking up at any time", his thoughts turning toward a positive attitude.

"I know he totally hates hospitals, so he won't be happy when he wakes up. The least I can do..... we can all do...... is offer him the comfort of familiar faces."

He slowly wandered back along the stepping-stone path towards the rear stairwell door from which he emerged about an hour earlier. Although it had been warm, that day, he could now feel the slight chill in the air, mainly from the sun disappearing, but not helped by his inactivity over the past hour.

Once inside the building, Duo noticed that familiar hospital smell, it was that smell of clinical cleanness, he decided he hated it. Making his way up the staircase to the third floor door, he opened it and walked the short way down the corridor to where he had left the other pilots. The area was almost silent; the other pilots were not there.

He could hear faint, muffled talking through the doors leading to the operating theatre where Quatre was earlier. He approached the door, and quietly peered through the frosted round glass window. Seeing two distorted figures, he opened the door partway and poked his head round to see who it was.

Two people, a young man and a middle-aged woman, both donned in green surgical-like suits, were standing in a preparation room chatting. On sight of him, they both stopped talking and looked up at him.

"Err.. Hi!" smiled Duo, "I'm.... Err.. looking for a friend who was a patient in here a while ago, Quatre Winner?" replied Duo, stuttering slightly.

The woman pointed towards some red double doors across the room.

"They usually take patients to the recovery ward through those doors." she replied.

"Thanks" smiled Duo, walking across the room and opening one of the red doors.

He entered the door and found himself in a corridor. It was quiet, but brightly lit with doors dotted randomly both sides along its length. He stood and looked in both directions, but could see no one. The corridor seemed to go on forever.

"Heck!", he cussed to himself, running one hand through his hair. "So do I go door-to-door or what?" he thought to himself.

Just then he heard a familiar, distant female voice call him.

"Hey Duo!"

Duo turned to see Sally Po standing at the far end of the corridor, waving her arm, beckoning him to join her.

"Sa......Sal?" he called back, inquisitively. He began walking quickly towards her.

She waited for him with her arms folded over a clipboard, pinning it to her chest.

She was wearing a white doctors overall, her long silky hair was tied up in her familiar twin braids, and her lips, as always, displayed that familiar deep red lipstick.

Sally had been working at the hospital as a manager for the past month and her shift that day had only recently started. She'd learned of Quatre's plight whilst checking the new admissions list about half an hour previously.

She was somewhat upset herself about it, as she and Quatre were also friends. She thought back to their last get-together about a week previous, when they had shared afternoon tea at one of the local restaurants. They had discussed many things including the imminent end of the war, the colonies plans for the future, and Duo's progress in getting his life back together. Duo didn't know this, but Quatre had confided much in Sally, there was a lot of trust between them. If Quatre needed to vent his own frustrations, apart from Sandrock, Sally was often his number one choice for a listening ear.

Fortunately, she was used to employing the necessary professional detachment to enable her to get on with the job, and so on learning of Quatre's condition, She immediately had her duties transferred to the intensive care ward to supervise and assist in his care.

As he approached, Sally glanced Duo one of her compassionate smiles.

"Oh Duo, I'm so sorry to hear what happened to Quatre, I know what great friends you two are". She squeezed his arm gently.

Duo nodded,

"Thanks Sal", he replied quietly, looking down at the floor.

"I only found out myself, when my shift started a while ago, or I would have got here much sooner", she explained apologetically.

"It's ok Sal" he assured, "So... do you know where he is now?" he asked.

"Yes, he's in intensive care" replied Sally nodding.

Duo looked around the walls for a sign to indicate where the intensive care ward was.

"Which way is that?", asked Duo

"It's down that corridor on the right" replied Sally, "But.... Duo...... you shouldn't try to see him.... Not yet"

"But why not?" asked Duo.

Sally sighed and paused for a moment, taking time to think about what she would say to him.

"Duo.... Quatre is in fairly bad shape right now, he's unconscious and he could be that way for days. The only thing he needs right now is completely undisturbed rest".

Duo looked disappointed, but also understood why Sally was dissuading him.

"I.... I understand Sal" he paused, "I really do........ but..... but do you think it would be ok to just see him anyway? Just for a minute?"

Duo became hesitant, "I realize he's unconscious and all that, ...but..... well...... I just need to see him...... I..... I gotta see him.... Just.... for a minute"

Sally smiled, then sighed reluctantly, She knew Duo would pester her to see Quatre until she gave in to him, she could also see an almost desperate need within his saddened eyes.

She looked him in the eye for a few moments, pondering on her answer.

"O.....Ok....... ok Duo." She replied quietly, finally giving in.

"Come on then, I'll see what I can do", she beckoned for him to walk with her.

Moments later they were stood outside an anonymous closed door on the intensive care ward. Sally had a quiet word with the nurse on the desk and negotiated a brief, unofficial visit for Duo.

"Just a few minutes ok Duo", sally cautioned, "Remember, he needs total rest".

Duo Nodded, a little apprehensive of what he would find on the other side of the door. She opened the door and allowed him to enter the room.

"Aren't you coming in?", asked Duo, looking back.

"There's something I have to do, but I'll be back very shortly" she replied.

Sally pulled the door up behind him and headed back towards the nurse on the desk.

The room was dimly lit, quite a contrast from the bright corridor outside. A vast array of monitoring and life-support equipment surrounded the bed on which lay an unconscious Quatre.

Duo hesitantly stepped closer and almost went into shock as he took full sight of the bewildering array of tubes and wires attached to his friend.

"Oh, ....Cat!", he gasped, his face suddenly looking horrified.

For a while, Duo just stood there, motionless, trying to come to terms with seeing Quatre, his closest friend, lying there so helpless. His heart thumped, his stomach knotted and he felt wretched inside. To compound matters, he felt the sadness welling up inside of him again, but this time Duo was determined not to let it get the better of him. He took a deep breath and looked up.

"Come on Maxwell, pull it together", he whispered to himself through gritted teeth, annoyed at himself for being so weak, "You know you're stronger than this!"

Regaining some self-control, Duo looked back down at Quatre, stepping closer to the bed. Apart from the array of monitoring equipment and tubes, Quatre himself didn't look all that injured Duo thought to himself, although Sally had explained that most of his injuries were internal.

Quatre's eyes were closed and he appeared to be sleeping peacefully.

"H... hey!,.... Cat?...", Duo spoke softly, in the vain hope that Quatre would open his eyes and greet him back, but there was no reply. Duo sighed in disappointment, looking down at Quatre's unchanged face.

"S.....so.... what are you thinking right now Cat?", he whispered, "Are you dreaming?....... are you at peace?........ are you afraid?............... don't be afraid Cat, .... You mustn't be afraid"

Duo looked down at Quatre's hand, then looked round to see if anyone was watching. When he was satisfied nobody was around, Duo gently slipped his upturned palm under Quatre's fingers, and placed his other hand over the top, cradling Quatre's lukewarm hand between his palms.

He leaned closer to Quatre's face.

"Cat,......... You.......... You gotta get better buddy", he whispered quietly as if it was a secret he didn't want anyone else to hear.

He squeezed Quatre's hand gently as he felt the sadness rush back, and his eyes begin to water again.

"You hear me Quatre?", he whispered again, his voice starting to crack, "You've gotta get through this,........You've gotta win this battle...... because...."

Duo gave a long sniff in a fruitless attempt to prevent the tears from running down his cheeks once again.

"Because.... You're ...... you're the only family I've got! Cat?", his whisper now barely audible.

"You're my only family.....Quatre....." Duo paused to try to regain his composure enough to finish what he wanted to say. He sniffed again.

"I cant go through....... loosing the only family I've got..... not again...... not again Cat.........I couldn't survive that........ not a second time!" his voice becoming a wavering squeak as he finished his sentence. He closed his eyes tight, allowing a few tears to run down his face, desperately trying not to shed any more.

The feelings of isolation, of being alone were intensifying rapidly, and Duo decided he would not be able to say any more without completely loosing it again, so he just kept silent.

Deciding to pull himself together before Sally got back and saw him, he wiped his face dry with the sleeve of his arm, sniffing again, doing his best to quell the nagging sadness that seemed to keep coming back to bother him again and again. To some degree he was successful, and with the sadness subsiding again, he stood there for some time, just gathering and contemplating the thoughts going around and around in his head.

In his distracted state of mind, Duo didn't notice Sally enter the room. She stood beside him and gently placed her hand on his shoulder, startling him a little. Duo, realised he was still holding on to Quatre's hand, and quickly let go. Any thoughts of sadness were quickly overrun by a sense of embarrassment on Duo's part. He was a little mad with himself for being caught off-guard again, now twice in the same day.

Sally could see Duo was embarrassed, and upset, she could also see he had shed a few tears, because his eyes were a sparkled glaze.

"It's OK Duo", assured Sally, smiling, gently squeezing his shoulder "Really, it's totally ok."

She Sighed sympathetically, "This must be such a strain on you, this is not an easy thing to come to terms with. No matter how tough you are, Remember Duo, you're still a human being, a compassionate one at that - don't ever forget that."

Duo nodded, looking at the ground, still a little embarrassed. Despite Sally's words of reassurance, he really felt like he'd been caught with his pants down.

The volley of emotions swimming around inside Duo's head was getting to be more than he could deal with. He looked ill.

"When was the last time you slept Duo?", asked sally, concerned.

"Eh?.. oh... couple of days ago I guess, .... I think, ... actually, I can't remember", he replied vaguely, sighing.

"I'm not going to lecture you, but you'll feel a lot better if you get some rest. Why don't you go home, there's nothing you can do here."

Sally gently pushed on his arm, persuading him towards the door, Duo followed her lead but on reaching the door, he turned to look back at Quatre.

"Will....... Will he be.....?"

Sally put her finger to duo' lips, stopping him mid-question. She was way ahead of him.

"Yes, Duo, he'll be ok...... but he HAS to rest!", she reiterated once more, "Don't worry, you'll be the first to know of any change, I promise"

Duo took another moment to look back at Quatre, wondering if this would be the last time he would see him, then reluctantly turned and re-entered the corridor.

Sally took his arm in hers and walked with him, slowly along the corridor.

"You know the others are as numb as you are right now?", She said rhetorically

"I know", replied Duo quietly, "It's normally so damn hard to tell with those guys, they never show any kind of emotion, ...but I know them well enough to understand they are deeply troubled by this."

Duo thought about it some more, "Actually, I first realised by the look on their faces when we pulled Quatre out of the wreckage of Sandrock after he crashed, Even Heero went white", Duo reminisced about the rescue, hours earlier.

Sally nodded

"Sp how come you know about them feeling bad?", asked Duo.

"I ran into them just before I found you", she replied, "They all looked pretty depressed." She replied.

"Do you know where they were headed?" asked Duo

"Yes, they were going to the cafeteria downstairs for coffee, they're probably still there".

Duo stopped walking. "I'd better go and find out their plans", he replied, a little more energetically.

Sally let go of Duo's arm, "good idea, ...well, ...I have a lot of work to do", she said.

Duo hesitated for a second, then donned his "grateful" mask.

"Sal.... Thanks for allowing me to see Cat ....it..... meant a lot." He smiled.

"I Know how close you two are," she replied, smiling, "You don't need to thank me Duo, it was the least I could do". She reached forward and gave him a gentle hug. Duo openly returned the hug, resting his chin on her shoulder, closing his eyes, soaking up what comfort he could from their warm embrace.

"Sal.... just promise you'll let me know if there is any change." Whispered Duo softly as they hugged; "Day or night, it doesn't matter ok?"

Sally nodded, pulling away gently, "I promise, Duo, the slightest change, you'll know about it. You're staying at Quatre's mansion tonight I assume?"

"You know, I hadn't really thought that far ahead", replied Duo, "But yes, I guess so." Duo thought about it for a moment, "I guess the others guys will need to stay there too. Jeeze!, I've got some organising to do!" he grinned slightly.

For the first time in hours, Duo realised he was once again projecting the 'cheery' Maxwell mask. His instinctive personality had come back, at least for now.

The canteen was a large dimly lit room with a low ceiling. Along one wall was a bank of vending machines offering everything from coffee and soft drinks to Sandwiches and cakes. Duo stood in the entranceway to the canteen area, trying to spot his comrades. There were several small groups of people dotted at random around the room. Some of them were obviously doctors and medical staff, others probably being the relatives of patients.

The other pilots were sat in the far corner, furthest from the entrance, Duo spotted them and made his way down one of the isles of tables to join them. They were all sat quietly around a table, looking quite fed-up and tired. Heero and Trowa were sat opposite each other in monotone conversation, Heero cradling his disposable plastic coffee cup in his hands, periodically sipping from it. Trowa had finished his coffee, and was carefully tearing his cup apart one strip at a time. Wufei was sat next to Trowa, arms folded looking like he was asleep, but was probably meditating.

Duo approached the table, Heero and Trowa looked up at him.

"Hey Guys", said Duo, in a tired, but still slightly cheery voice. He was exhausted.

He was acknowledged with a nod from Heero.

Noticing Duo's pasty, washed-out look, Trowa spoke up.

"Duo, you ok?" he asked, "You look like hell."

Wufei opened his eyes, and observed Duo, saying nothing.

Duo didn't reply straight away, he tiredly shuffled onto the empty seat next to Heero, slouching forward slightly.

"I've..... I've just seen Quatre", said Duo numbly, drawing imaginary circles on the table surface with his finger.

He glanced up to see all three of the other pilots were staring at him, all of them anticipating his next words, as if they were to be the last words they would ever hear.

"You know, he didn't look too beat up", continued Duo. There was great tension in his voice. "In fact, if it wasn't for all those machines keeping him alive, he'd actually look perfectly ok".

He carried on running his finger in circles on the table, not realising the others were hanging on to his every word. Fatigue was beginning to get the better of him and he was almost dozing off there and then.

"So, how is he?" suddenly piped up Trowa, urgently needing to know.

"Eh?", Duo looked up again.

Seeing three anxious pairs of eyes all focused on him, Duo sat upright and took a deep breath, trying to bring himself round a little.

"Oh, sorry Guys, Yeah, Trowa,.... Look.... He's in bad shape, but he's stable, and Sally told me that's a good thing. Chances are, with proper rest, he's going be ok, he's gonna make it."

Although no one said anything, a general feeling of some relief, or at least a slight easing of concern could be sensed by everyone at the table.

"Sally said he could be unconscious for up to a few days, but she promised to call as soon as there is any change in his condition," spoke Duo, "I'm assuming you guys are going to stick around for the next few days?"

There was a general nodding of heads by the other pilots, who also accepted that Quatre's mansion would probably be the best place to stay, as it was nearest the hospital, and after all, it was Sally's first point of contact for any news.

Chapter Three

A most magnificent summers day. The dazzling warm sun sat in a cloudless azure blue sky. Flourishing green fields and forests rolling out toward the horizon, to be met by distant snow-peaked mountains, spectacularly glistening in the bright sunlight. Bird song all around, and the smell of freshly cut grass carried on a breeze so gentle, it barely moved the air at all.

Duo could hear laughter. Relena, Sally, Noin, Hilde and Sister Helen were all sat under a shady willow tree chatting and giggling enthusiastically. Spread on the ground in front of them was a large red and white chequered tablecloth, onto which they were placing various foods and containers pulled from a large rectangular wicker basket.

A little further across in the open field, Quatre was with a small group of children that had playfully gathered around him. They were taking it in turns to be held by the arms and swung around in circles.

"Who's next?" Quatre would shout, grinning. The little children would be jumping up and down excitedly shouting "ME! ME! ME! ..NO ME!" tugging at his arms and the sleeves of his preventers' jacket. Heero stood nearby, his arms folded, leaning back against a waist-high fence dividing two fields. Observing Quatre's antics, he looked on with quiet amusement, sporting a dry smile.

Duo was sitting under a large oak tree, his back against its wide trunk, quietly observing his surroundings. They were in a country park on the top of a large gorge overlooking a distant, sleepy town nestled in the valley far below. The five girls were about thirty paces down the slope ahead of him, preparing a picnic. Quatre and Heero were in the open area a little further beyond, the children still laughing and giggling excitedly as Quatre clowned around with them.

Suddenly, a couple of small children ran past Duo, distracting him from his observations, making him jump slightly.

"Whoa!, Where did they come from?", he thought to himself, sitting up, and peering round behind the tree he was leant up against.

From where he was sitting, the grass embankment sloped up towards a large church-like building about thirty or so paces away. It was the Maxwell Orphanage, the place where Duo had spent most of his childhood. It was built on the top of the gorge, not too far from the cliff-face barrier fence.

In the sun's brightness, the building seemed to reflect a familiar, welcoming warmth just like Duo remembered from way back. Father Maxwell was perched on the low, stone perimeter wall, his gentle, wrinkled old hands resting on a brass-headed walking stick perched in front of him. Sat on the wall on either side of him were Trowa and Wufei, both clearly engrossed in whatever it was that he was telling them. Duo couldn't hear the conversation, but thought it must have been something amusing, as both Trowa and Wufei were periodically laughing out loudly.

Dotted around the park were small groups of young children, some sitting in groups, others running around playing.

"They must all be from the orphanage", Duo thought to himself. He looked back down the pasture, observing the two children that ran past him moments ago joining in with the group around Quatre.

Duo took a deep breath and leaned back against the tree, placing his hands behind his head.

"Ah!,.....this is heaven", he thought, Relaxing, allowing himself to bask in the warmth of the sun, shining down on him.

Duo had never felt so comfortable, so at peace with himself or the world around him. The warmth of friendship and family, all around him. An overwhelming sense of belonging. The playful laughter of children, innocence intact, knowing the war was over and they were safe from the guns.

"The food is ready everyone!", Relena called, standing up, beckoning for everyone to come over and tuck in. Sister Helen was also stood up, calling.

Duo lifted his head to observe all of the children hurriedly making their way towards the willow tree, smiling and laughing as they ran. The five girls and Quatre all helped in handing out the food, and minutes later, the children were all sat in a big circle, quietly munching sandwiches and tasty treats.

Father Maxwell, accompanied by his friends Trowa and Wufei slowly made his way down the sloping embankment to join the group, as did Heero, who for the past few minutes had been stood at the cliff-edge fence admiring the view across the valley.

Quatre, was already sat among the youngsters in the big circle, continuing to entertain them with a funny story as they ate. Duo grinned as he watched him suddenly jump to his feet , doing a crazy impression of one of the characters in his story. It was much to the delight of the children, whose faces all beamed with laughter.

"HEY DUO!" suddenly called Sally, gesturing for him to join them. She held up a jar of strawberry jam and waved it in the air.

"Guess what we brought for you?", she called, "It's your favourite!, I know because Hilde told me!", Sally teased.

"Is...is that........Strawberry JAM!", Duo thought to himself excitedly, "YES!".

He bounced to his feet like a puppy, and ran towards the group.

Relena squeezed Sally's arm, grinning,

"The way to a man's heart?", she joked.

Sally grinned, keeping her focus on Duo,

"Through his stomach, ..... always the stomach, works every time!", she replied.

Duo's short run was rewarded as Sally handed him a small plate bearing a large slice of crusty bread. Plied with strawberry jam almost half an inch thick.

"I think that's how you like it", said Sally, rhetorically, hoping she'd got it right.

Duo didn't reply, after feasting his wide open eyes on the bread, he took it, simply nodding in obvious appreciation.

Most of the others, the five girls, and the other pilots were watching with amusement as he took the first bite. Eyes closed, tugging his head from side to side to tear the crust, like a dog playing tug-of-war with a blanket.

"HHHHHHHMMMMMMM!!!!!!", moaned Duo, still with his eyes closed, savouring every moment of bliss the bite provided.

"I can see the news headlines now", joked Heero, "God of Death, bringer of destruction to OZ, brought to his knees by a Strawberry Jam sandwich!"

There was a general laughter. Duo looked up and smiled,

"Ahh, say what you want", he beamed, "But there ain't nothing sweeter than this, this IS what I fought a war for", continuing to devour his treat.

"For a sandwich?", replied Heero, raising an eyebrow.

"No, not just the sandwich", bleated Duo ironically, still with his mouth full "I mean for all of this". He gestured with his arm.

"Just take a look around you Heero, it's all here...."

Heero suddenly put his hand up, gesturing for Duo to stop talking. He looked serious, concerned. He seemed to be listening for something.

"What is it?", asked Duo

"Shh!", replied Heero.

Quatre was still telling his story to the children, making them laugh. Heero jogged over towards the cliff barrier fence, to get away from the noise. Wufei followed him. Duo placed the empty plate he was holding on the closed wicker basket and jogged over to them.

"What is it", asked Duo, in a quietened voice.

"Listen", replied Heero, his focus fixed towards the open valley.

In the distance, they could hear a faint, but distinctive hum. As soon as he heard it, Duo's heart sank.

"Oh lord", said Duo, "You thinking what I'm thinking?", he asked nervously.

Heero and Wufei both looked at him, their faces dead pan.

"OZ Aries carriers", they both whispered simultaneously.

Duo's heart rate doubled.

"That,....that can only mean one thing!", said Duo, his voice almost in a panic.

The others nodded.

Suddenly, without warning, there was a distant rumbling. All three pilots looked across the valley to see a bright flash, followed by giant fireball appear above the town below.

"My God!", gasped Heero, "They're bombing the town!".

Duo leaped into action, he turned and started sprinting back towards the group,

"QUICKLY!, GATHER THE CHILDREN TOGETHER!", He yelled to the girls. "WE'VE GOTTA MOVE,.. NOW!!".

Wufei and Heero were close behind Duo.

Sally, and Noin were already stood up. They had suspected something was wrong when Heero had first ran to the fence.

On hearing the rumbling, Quatre looked up to see the three pilots running, their faces gravely concerned. He stood up and hurried forward a few paces to meet them.

By now the rumbling had got louder and resembled thunder.

As Duo, Heero,and Wufei reached the group, there was a great roar. The pilots looked back to see many missiles being launched, exploding with devastating effect. The sound was deafening as the impacts grew nearer to their position.

"DAMN!, THEY'RE USING HIGH YIELD EXPLOSIVES!", Shouted Duo, trying to make himself heard over the noise.

By now the children were upset and worried, most were either crying or were close to tears. Relena, and Hilde, guided by Sister Helen were doing their best to calm them. Quatre looked around for a moment, quickly trying to figure out the best course of action.

"IF ONE OF THOSE MISSILES HITS THE CLIFF-FACE, THIS WHOLE AREA COULD DISSAPEAR INTO A LANDSLIDE", Quatre gestured with his hands, shouting, his voice barely audible over the noise of the explosions.

"WE HAVE TO GET AWAY FROM THIS AREA", He yelled.

Duo looked inland - away from the gorge.

"THERE! LET'S HEAD TOWARDS THAT FOREST!" he pointed towards a small forest which began only about half a mile away. The other pilots all nodded in agreement, and quickly spread out, ushering everyone to start running.

"THE FORREST!", Shouted Duo to Sally and Noin who were stood watching the bombardment in disbelief. He pointed inland, "WE'RE HEADDING FOR THE FORREST!"

In just a few seconds everyone was running down the sloping grassy bank towards the first of three fences which lay between them and the forest. Wufei ran ahead, drew his sword and proceeded to hack a gap through the first fence to prevent any delay in the evacuation.

Duo, running, flanking some of the children looked back to check everyone was accounted for. Father Maxwell was the last man, just a short way behind, his escape being assisted by Trowa. Suddenly Duo spotted Quatre running back towards the Orphanage. Duo stopped.

Some of the children stopped with him, following his lead.

"KEEP GOING!" He shouted, gesturing to them. They started running again.

By now, the explosions were getting nearer, and louder.

"HEY QUATRE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?", Yelled Duo, running after him

"WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE THERE'S NOBODY LEFT IN THE ORPHANAGE!" Shouted Quatre in reply.

"QUATRE! YOU'RE CRAZY! THOSE BOMBS COULD HIT THE CLIFF FACE ANY SECOND!" Yelled Duo

"I KNOW! THAT'S WHY WE HAVE TO HURRY!", he replied.

Duo sighed

"OK! OK! LET'S GET ON WITH IT!", he shouted.

A quick search of the converted church revealed no one left.

As they emerged from the building, they could see the others were already reaching the edge of the forest and were safe. Heero was running back towards the building wondering what had happened to his friends. On sight of them emerging form the orphanage, Heero stopped, and gestured frantically with his arm.

"COME ON!", he Yelled, "GET THE HELL AWAY FROM THERE!", he waved his arm frantically.

Duo and Quatre leapt the small boundary wall and began sprinting back towards Heero's position.

Suddenly, just as Quatre had predicted, one of the missiles hit the gorge wall. There was a tremendous tremor, shaking the ground beneath them, throwing both Duo and Quatre off their feet. A sudden, deafening creaking, groaning noise followed, and the two pilots quickly turned to see the Maxwell orphanage collapsing down the cliff-face behind them.

"RRRRUUUUUNNNNN!!!!, Yelled Duo to Quatre as he spotted a cracking in the ground around them.

Duo scrambled to his feet and made a break for it. He could see the ground they were on was tearing away, and another cliff-face was forming some ten or so paces in front of them. Duo Leapt and scrambled up the newly forming cliff-face which was growing larger each second. Two seconds later he was stood on the new gorge-edge looking back for his friend. Quatre was only a couple of seconds behind, but the ground he was on was falling away fast. Duo quickly lay on his stomach, leaning over the edge, his arm outstretched, ready to catch Quatre.

"COME ON QUATRE!, HURRY UP!... JUMP!".

The Blond Arab leapt for his life, reaching up to Duo as the ground beneath his feet disintegrated and fell away, starting its downward journey into the ravine a thousand feet below. He landed against the newly-formed gorge face, and Duo swooped as low as he could, grabbing Quatre's hand.

Duo yelped, struggling to hold Quatre's weight, it was an awkward grip. Gasping through gritted teeth he shouted instructions to Quatre, still struggling to be heard over the deafening noise.

"FIND A FOOT-HOLD QUATRE!", I CAN'T HOLD ON MUCH LONGER!"

Quatre managed to dig his foot into the side of the cliff, relieving the strain on Duo's arm slightly.

Duo glanced sideways to see a figure in the distance running towards them.

"OK, JUST HANG ON! HEERO IS COMING TO HELP", shouted Duo, almost in a panic.

Suddenly, without warning, Quatre's foot-hold crumbled away and he was left dangling, hanging on to duo's arm again. Duo gave an agonizing yelp, as the sudden extra weight nearly pulled his arm out of it's socket.

"NNNNNGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Their grip was slipping. Duo looked down at Quatre who now had nowhere to place his feet. He was simply hanging there, by one arm. Quatre looked up at him with an expression of dread. The drop below him was over a thousand feet, but Duo was Determined not to let Quatre fall.

"JUST HANG ON, HEERO IS NEARLY HERE", squealed Duo through gritted teeth, in agony from the pain in his arm.

The grip on Quatre's hand was getting sweaty, and it began slipping.

"NNNOOOOO!!!, HOLD ON QUATRE, HOLD ON!!!", Screamed Duo.

Duo could feel Quatre's grip tighten slightly, but it did not stop the slipping. Slowly, agonisingly their grasp began to fade.

"HURRY HEERO!, HE'S SLIPPING!", Duo yelled desperately, but Heero was still some five seconds away.

"HANG ON QUATRE, PLEASE!! ..YOU'VE GOT TO HANG ON!!", Screamed Duo, his face filled with dread, fighting to catch his breath with the pain, their grip now down to just fingers.

Quatre looked up at Duo for a last time, tears in his eyes

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, ...my dear friend, Duo", he spoke calmly, just as their grip finally gave way, and Quatre began the decent to his demise.

"NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Bawled Duo, desperately reaching down into the abyss.

"QUATRE!!!! QUATRE!!!!!!!! .............QUATRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!."

"Duo!.............. Duo!............. Wake up Duo!" urged Heero quietly, not wanting to disturb the whole household

"QUATRE!!!!!!" Duo blubbed, sitting bolt upright, narrowly missing head-butting Heero

"You've gotta!!!........ Hurry Heero!!.... Hurry!!..... he's...... he............eh?..... what?............eh?......??"

"Sshhh!", said Heero, his finger over his lips, gesturing for Duo to be quiet,

"You were dreaming, ....looks like you were having a nightmare", he spoke calmly.

Duo was totally disorientated. "But!.... But!.... Quatre!....., the... the... the.. cliff!!!....", he gasped, almost fighting for breath.

"Ssshhh!" Responded Heero again, interrupting Duo's gibberish, "Calm down!,.. Duo!.... it's Ok!..... you're in Quatre's place, the Winner mansion", his voice showing an unusual tone of reassurance.

"He'......Heero?", said Duo, finally starting to get a grip on his bearings, running his hand through his hair, still panting like he'd been running. His face and hair were drenched with sweat. He looked at his wet palm in surprise. Duo gave himself a moment to get to grips with his surroundings, and to catch his breath.

He was in his room at Quatre's mansion, sat on his bed. As usual, he'd slept in his clothes, apart from his priests jacket which was neatly placed over a nearby chair, with his baseball cap placed on top. The room door, leading into the main hallway was wide open. Heero was perched on the edge of the bed. He had been trying to wake Duo for the past few minutes. The main room lights were on, activated by Heero when he came in. Duo could see from the clock that it was around four thirty in the morning, it was just beginning to get light.

Duo gave a big sigh, rubbing the side of his face with his hand.

"That was a dream!!?", He said to himself in disbelief, "THAT! was a DREAM!!???" he ran his hand through his hair again.

Duo tiredly shuffled across and sat on the side of his bed next to Heero, cupping his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes, trying to wake up. He turned to Heero, still a little confused as to how he knew he was dreaming.

"When?.... How.... How did you know?" he asked Heero, still trying to shake off the weird feelings of disorientation.

"You were yelling your head off." replied Heero, "I'm in the next room, remember?"

Duo leaned side-on against the footboard of the bed, folding his arms. His grey T-shirt was sporting large dark patches, damp from sweat. It was making him feel a little chilly. Slowly, as Duo got his bearings, everything was coming back to him. He remembered them arriving back from the hospital the previous night. He vaguely recalled dosing off in the car on the way home. Once at the mansion, he recalled them all having a snack in the kitchen, sitting round the servants table for a while chatting, before everyone retired early.

"What....... What was I yelling?", enquired Duo, hesitantly, almost afraid to ask.

"Don't worry, It was mostly Gibberish", replied Heero in a voice which suggested he was not being completely honest. Duo caught on straight away to Heero's slight lenience with the truth, and pushed for more answers. No matter how painful or embarrassing it was, he needed to know.

"Mostly?" asked Duo, "Err...What about the non-mostly bits?" his voice still hesitant.

This time it was Heero's turn to be tentative.

"Err... well.... You did call Quatre's name a few times". On the one hand, he was almost embarrassed for Duo, but on the other he could understand what was going on inside Duo's mind and quietly empathised with him. He was curious to know what Duo had dreamed about. Obviously it had involved Quatre in some tragic way, but he also figured it was none of his business. He didn't feel it was his right to ask, so he kept quiet.

Suddenly, another figure appeared in the doorway, it was Wufei.

"I heard shouting," he said calmly, "Is anything wrong?" he enquired.

"Everything's fine," nodded Heero, "but I think someone shouldn't eat just before going to bed," His comments said in a slightly humorous tone. Heero stood up and slowly headed back towards the door.

"I'm getting some more shuteye," he said, yawning.

Just before reaching the door Heero stopped, and looked back into the room.

"You gonna be ok now Duo?" he asked quietly, in an unusual tone of kindness.

Duo was a little thrown by Heero's rare manner.

"Err...Yeah ......thanks Heero," he replied slowly, stuttering a little, "I'll.... I'll be fine.......... Thanks for..... for ...... you know."

Heero gave a nod, and turned back towards the hallway. Wufei stood aside to let him pass and Heero headed back to his room. A few seconds later they heard Heero's room door click shut.

"Nightmare huh?" asked Wufei, stepping into the room, partly closing the door behind him. He too had an unusual degree of empathy in his voice. Duo nodded, not saying anything, still a little shaken by the disturbing imagery he had been subject to minutes earlier. He got up from the bed and began pacing around the room, rubbing his temples, still working on getting his bearings fully back.

"I know dreams can sometimes be disturbing. They re often our mind's way of dealing with the events of real life" suggested Wufei, walking further into the room.

Duo noticed there was something in Wufei's tone of voice, something unusual, something not quite right.

"Is Wufei just tired?" Duo thought to himself, "or is it my own perception that is wrong, perhaps thrown out of balance by the nightmare",.

Wufei continued to talk, almost as if he was trying to strike up a conversation.

"I know if ever I have bad dreams like that, it can sometimes take a couple of days to shake them off."

"Man!, I'd be surprised if you ever had a dream like that!", replied Duo, still rubbing his temples, now becoming a little more intrigued by Wufei's sudden need to communicate with more than just his usual monotone, one-way statements.

"Dreams can often be symbolic Duo, maybe it meant something, maybe it was an indication, a pointer to guide you in your future actions" Suggested Wufei.

"He called me Duo!", Duo thought silently to himself, "Now I KNOW something is wrong."

"To be Honest, I don't even want to think about it," replied Duo, sitting down on one of the chairs at the side of the bed, "It was a pretty horrible."

Wufei, nodded, quietly, and unusually, accepting Duo's reasoning. For a moment Wufei remained silent.

Duo was half expecting a lecture on being 'weak' for not facing up to his nightmare, but it never happened. Instead, Wufei shifted uncomfortably on his feet for a moment not knowing quite where to look, then walked over and perched on the large wooden chest at the foot of Duo's bed, pinning his hands between his knees and hanging his head low. His back was half turned towards Duo and he appeared to be trying to hide his face.

"Wufei", said Duo softly, his voice suddenly concerned, "Are you ok?"

Wufei did not answer. He remained silent, shifting uncomfortably, turning his face completely away from Duo's direction, still hanging his head low.

For a moment, Duo thought Wufei was having some kind of dizzy spell and needed to sit down. He sat and watched for a few seconds not quite sure what to do, but then Wufei gave a quiet sniff, and brought a hand up to his face, doing his best to shield his actions from Duo.

"Now this IS a surprise!" Duo thought silently to himself, "Is he crying?!"

"No! That can't be! Can it? ...Could this really be happening?" He thought in amazement, wondering if this was still part of his dream and he hadn't really woken up yet.

"The Samurai warrior who laughs in the face of weakness is sat in my room, crying!"

For a moment, Duo was in total disbelief at witnessing something he thought he would never see, but his heart quickly warmed as he began to feel a sense of shared compassion.

"Hey, ......Hey Wufei?", Duo spoke softly leaning forward in his chair. "You want to talk about it?" Again Wufei did not respond. Although Wufei still had his face turned away from him, Duo could clearly see him trying to wipe his eyes, the quick sniffs every few seconds were also dead give away. Duo stood up from his chair, and walked across to the wooden chest where Wufei was sitting. He perched beside him on Wufei's blind-side.

"Is this about Quatre?", asked Duo quietly, "Are these tears for Quatre, Wufei?"

Wufei finally raised his head and gently nodded, although he still didn't look straight at Duo. He seemed very embarrassed about the whole thing and didn't know where to look. It was obvious that this was an experience very alien to him.

"It's ok Wufei," reassured Duo, "This is totally ok, really. I guess you're probably feeling pretty awkward right now, I know I did yesterday." Duo cast his mind back to yesterday evening when he had cried in the hospital garden, and recalled how he felt, how he needed to get away from everyone and be alone.

His honest words must have given Wufei a little confidence back, because Wufei finally looked up at him. Duo saw the wetness of his eyes and the shiny damp streaks down his cheeks. Wufei nodded, sniffing, in a gesture agreeing with Duo's comments about feeling awkward.

"Come on..... talk to me!" Duo urged gently, "Wufei, What's wrong"

Wufei sniffed again, "Nothing, ................ Everything," he replied, looking back down at the ground. "These, .....These feelings, ...... I, ... I can't control them," his voice wavering, caused by a combination of embarrassment, sadness, and a reluctance to open up to someone about his feelings.

"I can normally deal with strong feelings through meditation," his voice was suppressed and quiet, "But, ....but Since the crash yesterday, I..... I haven't been able to .... To meditate at all."

Duo began to realise the true extent of his pain, and that it had reached a stage where Wufei could no longer suppress it. He knew, or at least he suspected from early on that Wufei dealt with the horrors of the war through the meditation that he seemed to do whenever he got the chance.

"In,... in the morning, the,... the moment when we pulled Quatre's lifeless body from his crashed Gundam, The feelings began then," his voice wavered to a quiet sob, "They were feelings of an intensity I have never felt before", his voice wobbled, "and....and they haven't stopped since, not for one single moment".

Duo could see Wufei's hands were shaking, in fact his whole body was juddering slightly.

"For someone who was usually so calm and focused, this could almost be terrifying", Duo thought to himself. Everything about Wufei's presence suggested torment, frustration and fear. Duo really began to identify with him. All of the feelings and emotions that he experienced the night before at the hospital garden had struck again, this time on his friend.

"I, .... I see an image of Quatre just lying there, with us all gathered around him unsure if he was dead. In my image, I see you Duo, and Heero desperately trying to wake him. I see the looks of despair on your faces as you call his name. All the time, I feel a great sadness in my heart, a massive, gut wrenching sadness tearing at my heart as I look on". Wufei spoke softly, the sadness in his voice more apparent than ever. He gave a long sniff as another tear ran down his face. "This is the Image I can't get out of my mind. It has followed me around since yesterday, Every time I close my eyes, the image plays over and over and over again". Wufei's voice seemed to get a little angry.

"It has rendered me unable to do anything, I am unable to function, ... It is so frustrating!" he growled through gritted teeth as his sadness began to turn to anger. Duo hesitantly placed his hand on Wufei's shoulder in an attempt to calm him.

"Hey, Wufei, come on, It's ok," he spoke confidently.

Duo was hesitant because he was unsure what Wufei's reaction to being touched would be. He was worried Wufei's martial arts conditioning might kick in and he would end up being launched across the room, but it was a risk he realised he needed to take. Wufei's reaction was quite the opposite. He seemed to take comfort from the connection. He looked Duo in the eye. In a whisper, he spoke.

"I don't know what to do Duo, I really don't know what to do."

His words were a desperate plea. Tears were streaming down his face again. Duo's compassion for Wufei increased, as it became clear just how much trust he was putting in him. A single tear welled in the corner of Duo's right eye, brought on by the deep empathy and sadness he too was feeling inside. He felt honoured that someone as strong as Wufei had turned to him in his hour of need, but his heart sank as the burden of responsibility began to weigh heavily on his shoulders.

"Wufei's looking to me for an answer", he suddenly thought to himself, "and I don't have one. I haven't got a clue what to tell him. How would Quatre deal with this?" Duo continued mulling the thoughts over in his mind, "How did he deal with me when he stopped me from taking my life back then?" Thoughts of Quatre suddenly brought his own deep sadness back to him. He could feel the knotting in his stomach again, just like he did yesterday.

"No way Maxwell!", he thought to himself, taking a deep breath, denying his emotions, "Not now! Not now! This is not a good time!"

Duo thought desperately to figure out a way he could help Wufei to feel better, or at least to help him move on. In a way, seeing Wufei in the state he was in, was a comfort to Duo, knowing he was not the only one suffering desperately with grief. Wufei was sat quietly, leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees.

"Hey, Wufei?", Duo spoke softly. Wufei looked up.

"In the morning, you and I will go to the hospital. Just you and I". Said Duo.

"We'll spend some time with Quatre".

Wufei looked oddly at Duo, then wiped the wetness from his face, "What good will that do?" replied Wufei, his voice now more calm.

"Just trust me Wufei, it'll do more good than you think." He replied.

Duo hadn't really thought of a real solution, but he recalled that he had felt slightly better in himself after seeing Quatre, and speaking to him. He could relate to the nagging imagery that going round and around in Wufei's mind. He recalled a similar thing happening to himself yesterday, although it wasn't so pronounced. Now, the main image he had in his mind was of Quatre resting peacefully in the hospital bed. He hoped the same thing might work for Wufei.

"I do not see the point," replied Wufei, in a slightly argumentative tone.

Duo would not engage in argument with him. "Will you just trust me?", he urged once again. Wufei paused, then reluctantly nodded.

"Ok", said Duo, turning and looking at the bedside clock, "It's nearly five AM, what time do you think Quatre's driver gets up?"

Wufei thought for a moment, then spoke.

"Let's go now", he suggested. Duo raised an eyebrow

"Now?", he said in a surprised tone.

"Why not", replied Wufei, "I don't think either of us will sleep any more, and I could use the fresh air, it can't be more than about four miles to the hospital from here, we could walk it in an hour". Duo thought about it for a moment, then figured 'well, why not?'

"Ok... Just give me a few minutes to get myself together will you?" Duo replied. I'll meet you in the entrance hall, say, in ten minutes?"

Wufei nodded and stood up, "I will meet you there, yes, ten minutes." Duo remained sat on the wooden chest. Wufei took a few steps towards the door, then stopped for a moment. He turned and faced Duo.

"Thanks....... Thank you for,...... for not judging me", he spoke hesitantly, almost in a whisper. Duo looked up at him.

Wufei closed his eyes and nodded his head in a kind-of bow, at the same time saying "It is appreciated."

Duo smiled, "Hey! don't worry about it Wufei" he said in a quiet, friendly way, "Go on, get outta here!" he grinned, "I'll see you downstairs in while."

Wufei returned a slight smile and without another word, turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Outside in the hallway, Wufei paused for a moment. Then turned to face Duo's closed room door. He brought his hands together in prayer and bowed deeply

"Namaste', Duo San," he whispered, "I salute the spirit within you."

Chapter Four

A short time later, after showering quickly and finding a change of clothes, Duo energetically bounced down the stairs to the mansion main entrance hall.

Wufei was sat waiting quietly on a chair near the main door, his eyes fixed on a vase of flowers in front of him.

Duo approached him, as he continued to stare at the vase.

"You ok now Wufei?", he asked. Wufei suddenly broke from his trance-like state and looked up at Duo, slowly standing up.

"Yes, I am fine now, thanks", he replied calmly, "are you ready?", he asked.

"Sure, let's go", replied Duo.

The Winner mansion's main front door opened and the two pilots stepped outside.

They stood on the top of the stone steps leading down to the white gravel driveway, looking out at their surroundings. Outside, the air was chilly. It was still dark, but to the East the sky was at first light. The sky was cloudless, and the stars were clearly visible, although they faded as they reached the lighter horizon.

Duo inhaled deeply, "Hmm, It's gonna be a nice day again", he commented.

Wufei closed his eyes momentarily, and also took a breath. He did not reply.

After a few moments, the boys made their way down the steps to the gravel drive, and began their walk to the hospital.

Their footsteps in the gravel seemed excessively loud in the quietness of the early morning, accompanied only by birdsong. As they walked, the winner mansion disappeared quietly into the darkness behind them, leaving a long sweeping driveway ahead of them for a while. Eventually they came to the main gates of the mansion, and walked through the small service entrance built into one of the gate turrets. Neither one spoke until they were out of the grounds. Both seemed to be reluctant to make any more noise than they had to whilst people were sleeping nearby, although they wouldn't have been heard anyway.

Once on the country road heading towards town, they began talking.

"Well," said Duo, breaking the silence "I've got to admit, you had me a little surprised back there", referring to Wufei's rare show of emotion.

"I had no idea that you felt close to Quatre", he continued, "In fact, I seemed to be under the impression you thought he was weak, because of his kind nature"

Wufei thought about a response for a moment before replying.

"When I first knew Quatre, I did think that way", replied Wufei, "I truly believed it was thinking like that which would get us all killed"

"So what changed your mind?" asked Duo.

"It didn't take very long for me to realise that it was Quatre's compassion that seemed somehow to give all of us strength. I quickly realized that without him, we would be nothing." replied Wufei, "As individual Gundam pilots, we are strong, but as a combined unit of five, we are all but unbeatable. I now believe that Quatre was one of the most important elements to our unit, he's like the glue that holds us together."

Duo listened carefully. Wufei's evaluating was incredibly similar to his own beliefs as to how they were able to prevail during the war. Quatre seemed to be the balancing element, the one member of the group who could keep everyone together, and the voice of reason that kept everyone's feet on the ground during the intense moments of madness. He really was the lynch pin to their entire success.

"No way is Quatre weak", continued Wufei, "It has taken me until now to realise, but he is a greater fighter than I am", Wufei spoke with quiet, admiring words.

"How did you come to that conclusion?", asked Duo a little puzzled, "Ok, he's a very competent Gundam pilot, and yes, his strategic skills are probably the reason both of us are still alive today, but he doesn't have the fighting skills and experiences you do", Duo was trying to defend Wufei a little.

"Just look at me Duo! Think to how I was behaving not twenty minutes ago", he referred back to being upset in Duo's room earlier. "Do you think I would get that way for a weak fool? At this time I am unfit for any kind of battle, right now I am completely defeated. I always believed it would be cold steel or fire that would eventually finish me, instead, it was facing up to the power of just one persons kindness that has finally brought me to my knees."

Duo listened on; he was still fascinated by seeing a side of Wufei's personality he never thought existed.

But why the tears Wufei?, is it because you fear of what will happen to the five of us if,.... If ... Quatre doesn't make it" asked Duo, his voice was hesitant.

Wufei looked at the ground "Well, that thought had occurred to me, but no, that's not the reason", he replied, his voice suddenly more gloomy.

Duo looked at him, there was a pause.

"Well, what then?", he asked, his voice more urgent, really needing to know, "Why the tears Wufei?". Wufei looked sorrowful again.

"The tears, Duo, were because, I finally realised what Quatre must be feeling whenever he goes into battle". Duo half-nodded, he understood a little of what Wufei was saying, but didn't fully get the point he was trying to make.

Wufei continued his explanation.

"Duo, I know that you, Heero, Trowa, all of us, were trained to deal with death and taking life. We can detach ourselves from our emotions and get on with the job of being Gundam Pilots." Duo nodded.

"But, Quatre has not been trained that way", continued Wufei, his voice getting more and more sullen "Every life he takes is on his conscience. Quatre is naturally a kind and gentle person. He cares in ways which I never thought were possible, but in battle, every time he takes a life, he must endure the pain of that life on his conscience." There was a genuine tone of regret in Wufei's voice.

"Duo! Each time.... it must feel like his heart is being ripped out!", Wufei continued, "How many people could endure that kind of torture? How strong can he be? How much more could he take without going completely insane?"

For Duo, Wufei's words were a revelation, a horrific revelation. He suddenly thought back to the counselling Quatre had given him months earlier about his own inabilities to deal with taking life. He suddenly felt very selfish and a deep sense of shame. He started racking his brains, trying to think if there had been any times when Quatre had indicated that he too was suffering from the consequences of killing during the war, but could think of none. He began to feel a huge sense of guilt begin to build up in his mind. His trained ability to deal with killing far outweighed Quatre's, yet he was the one getting the help and the counselling for it, from the very person that needed it the most.

"Oh God! What the hell was going through Quatre's mind as he was talking to me about it?" Duo thought, feeling like he had been rubbing salt into Quatre's wounds. Wufei spoke up again,

"Dam it!", he cussed, "If only I'd figured it out sooner, I could have helped him. I could have taught him how to deal with it."

The boys continued their walk to the hospital in a contemplative, if not regretful silence. After their recent realisations, both had much to mull over in their minds.

Chapter Five

On reaching the hospital, Duo and Wufei made their way to the intensive care ward. The hospital was Quiet. Only custodial staff, janitors and cleaners seemed to be around.

On Quatre's ward. Everything was quiet. There was nobody on the front desk

"Hmm, that's good", Duo thought quietly to himself, feeling glad the nurse was not there. "I was half expecting a very awkward conversation"

Duo led the way, past the desk towards the anonymous beige coloured door, behind which was Quatre's room. Wufei followed silently behind him.

Before opening the door, Duo turned to look at his friend. He could see the unknowing anticipation and slight dread in Wufei's eyes. "You ok?", he asked

Wufei nodded, taking a deep breath.

"I am ready, let's go in", he replied in a sombre voice.

Duo quietly opened the door and they stepped in.

The room was still darkened. The various pieces of life-support machinery were still gathered around the bed, quietly whirring and bleeping softly. Quatre lay there, on his back, arms by his sides, still unconscious. Nothing in the room appeared to have changed since Duo's last visit, except for a chair that now sat beside the bed. Obviously someone had been to visit since Duo the evening before. He stood back and observed Wufei as he took in the tragic sight for the first time. The distress on his face was obvious as he walked closer to the bed, noticing all of the tubes and wires attached to the young pilot. He stood quietly for a time, just looking on uncertainty.

Although neither pilot spoke for the next few minutes, it was an intense time. Duo could really sense the distress going on inside Wufei's mind. A couple of times he thought Wufei would cry again, but he didn't. Eventually Duo moved away from the door and stood beside him. Wufei did not seem to notice him approach; he was still just staring in disbelief at his fallen friend.

Duo gently pinched Wufei's elbow, breaking him from whatever thoughts he seemed to be lost in. Wufei looked round at him.

"Wufei", spoke Duo quietly almost in a whisper, "I'm going to leave you two alone for a while, there's something, err.. I've gotta do", he gestured towards the door.

Wufei did not reply, just nodded slightly.

"Hey, I'll meet you in the gardens when you're finished here ok?", suggested Duo, still whispering.

"Ok Duo", was the subdued, monotone reply.

Duo turned away and headed for the door. After a couple of paces he turned his head back to Wufei, "Take your time", he suggested.

Wufei nodded once more and Duo quietly left the room.

After watching the door click shut, Wufei took the chair and slid it up beside Quatre's bed about half way down. He raised an eyebrow as he noticed the chair was still warm. Whoever had visited must have only just left Wufei thought to himself, But who would visit at this hour?

Shrugging his questions aside, Wufei sat on the chair quietly, crouching forward, his forehead and hands gently touching against Quatre's arm. He sat in contemplation, in prayer, in hope, and in despair.

Duo finished descending the stairs and opened the stairway door into the hospital gardens. It was the second time he had been through that door and into the gardens in the last twelve hours. Despite what he had told Wufei, he didn't actually have anything that he had to do. He still didn't really have a plan for Wufei's recovery. He was pinning all his hopes of on just leaving Wufei alone with Quatre, and hoping, that somehow, Wufei would open up, or at least come to terms with it - just as Duo himself had done the previous evening. He took a breath and looked at his surroundings. The air was still crisp and fresh, yet, not cold. It must have been getting on for 5:30am. To the West, it was still reasonably dark and the distant mountains that were not obscured behind the hospital building were just dark silhouettes. To the East however, the sky was getting brighter by the minute.

Duo walked a little way into the garden and sat on a long wooden bench located at the hospital end of the large lawn. Folding his arms and yawning slightly, he continued to check out his surroundings. It was very quiet, apart from the birdsong that was actually quite loud, but not loud enough to drown out the sounds of the distant babbling stream at the far end of the gardens, just inside the forest. As he listened, he suddenly noticed another noise. He couldn't quite make it out so he sat upright on the bench and listened more intently, turning his head slightly. It was still difficult to fathom, but seemed to be coming from the direction of the stream.

Duo stood up, now intrigued by what it was. It seemed to be a medium-pitched, intermittent sound, but it kept fading and being lost in the dawn chorus and the sounds of the running water. Duo began walking towards the bottom of the garden, along the stepping-stone path that would eventually lead to the stream.

As he moved closer the noise became louder, but still remained illusive, masked by the sound of the stream. At first, he thought it was a wild deer calling, but as he closed in further the sound became more defined. With only about thirty or so paces to go before reaching the forest and stream, Duo's expression changed from curiosity to concern as he realised he was hearing a voice. Somebody was in distress, he could hear crying.

It seemed like a young voice. Suddenly all sorts of scenario's began running through his mind as to what he was about to encounter.

"Could there be a lost child in there?", he thought to himself, "perhaps somebody is injured, maybe twisted an ankle on the rocks and has got stuck. Damn! They could have been there all night!" Duo quickened his pace. As he got nearer, he could tell it was a male voice, not necessarily as young as a child's, but still young, and very distressed. This person was wailing so much, it was affecting their breathing, causing them to cough and choke.

He entered the forest, but on reaching the stream a few steps later, the voice seemed to stop for a moment. Duo began to look around. It was still quite dark but his eyes had adjusted and he could see fairly well. The voice started again, this time much nearer and louder. Still Duo could not see anyone, but the sound appeared to be coming from the shadows just beyond a large rock, right next to the stream.

"H...Hey!, ...... hello??", called Duo.

The bawling continued. It was an intense, pathetic, yet, almost tortured sound to hear. Duo made his way to the rock, calling a few more times. On reaching the far side of the large rock, Duo saw a lone figure sat huddled on the grass embankment, half leaning, half hiding, against the rock. Duo quickly realised that there was something extremely familiar about this person. The clothes, the voice, Duo recognised the jacket, the long spiked hair. Suddenly, Duo was hit with a feeling of shock.

"T.... T.... Trowa???" He gasped, Urgently jumping down off the rock, rushing to Trowa's side.

Trowa's shadowy figure was perched on the grassy bank below the rock, his face cupped in his hands. He was unable to answer, he didn't even acknowledge Duo. He continued to bawl, periodically going into coughing and choking fits. He was trembling, visibly shaking, in a real state, unable to stop.

Duo knelt on one knee beside him.

"My God!, Trowa??!!,.... what's happened?", asked Duo compassionately, his face etched with serious concern. Again Trowa did not, answer, he was struggling to breath, let alone speak. Duo instinctively reached out an arm and placed it across Trowa's shoulder.

"Ok,.. ok.... It's Ok Trowa,..... come on, calm it down buddy, it's ok..", Duo spoke slowly. Suddenly, Trowa seemed to realise Duo's presence for the first time. He took his face out of his palms and stared at him with wide, almost panicked eyes.

"Du...Du....Duo.....!", he stuttered with urgency, as if he desperately needed to tell him something.

"I.... I.....I..... I..... Got.....", Trowa tried to speak, but instead, began to hyperventilate. "Oh Crap!" uttered Duo in disbelief, almost in a panic himself.

Trowa was shivering violently, he was struggling to breathe, still choking and coughing. Duo had never seen a soul in such distress. He was uncertain of what to do. He knew he had to calm Trowa down somehow before he choked himself to death. In a last-ditch attempt before running back to the hospital for help, Duo put both arms around Trowa's shoulders and held him firmly.

"It's Ok,...... It's Ok,........ Trowa,........ Come on, Calm down,....... Calm down,..... Shhh! ........... Calm it down Trowa", Duo spoke with the best calming voice he could muster. His efforts were slightly successful, and slowly, Trowa's panic state calmed enough for him to get his breathing back.

"That's it, come on kid, just breathe normal", spoke Duo, removing his grip from around Trowa's shoulders, kneeling back to give him some space.

Trowa continued to sob inconsolably for many minutes. He was still visibly shaking and shivering. Duo, unsure quite why his friend was shivering, took off his jacket and placed it over Trowa's shoulders, placing an arm across Trowa's shoulder again, trying to offer what comfort he could.

Despite Duo being fairly confident of knowing the reason for Trowa's display of grief, his mind was still awash with many unanswered questions.

"What was Trowa Doing here in the gardens?, How did he Get here?" Duo thought to himself, "I know he was at the Winner Mansion last night, I didn't hear him leave. Why did he come back to the hospital?"

Trowa tried to speak, but began to cough on his words again as he blubbed. Immediately, Duo squeezed his arm tightly across Trowa's shoulders again.

"No, don't try to speak yet Trowa", he spoke softly, "you'll just start to choke again, just let it out, .....just let it happen Trowa,... sometimes you just can't fight it, ..trust me, I know!..... so you've just gotta let it happen, ... don't fight it".

Suddenly Trowa leaned away, flipping forward onto his knees, his forward weight resting onto his hands. He began to vomit.

"Heck!", uttered Duo under his breath, now seriously worried for his friends' condition. "Man! He's really taking this badly", thought Duo silently to himself. "I know he and Quatre were good friends, but ......... These last couple of days have been quite an eye opener, what with Wufei too!"

Trowa continued to be ill. Duo was unsure what to do. This was not normal, and he was worried. Trowa began choking and struggling to breathe again. He stumbled from his hands to his elbows and fore-arms, leaving his face just inches from the ground, desperate for air. Duo thinking quickly reached over and gave him several slaps on the back. It seemed to do the trick.

Trowa remained leaning forward on his forearms, his face barely an inch away from the vomit-soaked grass, his eyes closed, Exhausted. Duo gently brought his hand under Trowa's chest and pulled him up to a sitting position.

"You feeling better after that?", asked Duo compassionately, donning his cheerful mask in an attempt to hide his fear and concerns. Trowa, now sitting quietly, still looking ill, just nodded.

"Man! You know how to give people a scare!" suggested Duo, half joking, half serious. Had the truth been known, Duo was shaken to the core.

"Trowa, you know there's a hospital right behind us" he asked in a serious, but calm tone, "Are you sure you shouldn't be in it?"

Trowa seemed much calmer than he had been for the past ten or so minutes. He shook his head,

"No,........ I'll... I'll be alright now,...... thanks Duo". He replied tiredly and quietly. "You sure?", asked Duo again.

Trowa nodded. "I'm just...... just a little upset that's all", his voice hesitant.

"Just give me a minute to shake this off ok?", he replied.

"Sure thing." replied Duo, "Err.... You want me to get lost?", he asked gesturing with his thumb.

"No...... it's ok,... stay if you want", replied Trowa finally looking up at him, still looking very pale.

They both remained sitting quietly on the grassy bank of the stream. Duo was starting to feel a little chilly, as Trowa still had his jacket. The boys sat there in silence for around five minutes, gathering their thoughts about what had just happened. Duo kept glancing at Trowa, wondering if he was ok, or whether he would start throwing up or sobbing again.

Trowa had calmed down totally. He was first to break the silence.

"Duo?", he spoke softly

"Hey,... you feeling better?" asked Duo,

Trowa nodded, but he still looked deeply troubled.

"I'm sorry about that little outburst", he said, still very quietly, "Thank you for looking out for me.... you're a good friend Duo."

"Hey, it's no big deal Trowa" replied Duo, "You'd have done the same for me, I'm sure. Anyway, under the circumstances I totally understand what you're going through, believe me, I really do understand."

"So what happened back there?", asked Duo, "what brought it on? How come you're here at the hospital in the early hours of the morning?"

Trowa didn't reply, he just looked at Duo with a look of deep despair on his face.

Duo quickly sensed an awful weight on Trowa's mind. He could see there was something Trowa desperately needed to tell him, but didn't know where to start.

Trowa bit his lip.

"Trowa!" Duo whispered, he reached his hand over onto Trowa's shoulder,

"Trowa, please!..... come on....... talk to me........ Whatever it is, however bad, we can deal with it together.... We're a team right?"

Trowa nodded slightly, reluctantly.

Duo had donned his cheery mask again, it was something he did automatically when he was bracing himself for bad news. On the one hand, he really didn't want to know what Trowa was about to tell him. On the other, he was beginning to go out of his mind with the need to know.

Trowa swallowed nervously.

"Ok Duo.... I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this" he said, his voice was stressed and monotone, "Please prepare yourself...... I have some bad news .....very bad news indeed".

"About...... about Quatre?", Duo asked hesitantly, swallowing.

Trowa nodded.

Duo took a breath, pausing for a moment, then sighed.

"Ok.... Go on, ...you'd better tell me", said Duo nervously.

Trowa began to explain.

"Duo, Last night when everyone went to bed, I borrowed Heero's laptop to examine some of the data concerning Quatre's crash. I wanted to see if there were any things we could learn from it to prevent it from happening again." Trowa's voice remained calm and focused.

Duo nodded, listening diligently.

"It very quickly became clear that several things did not add up. On further analysis, there were inconsistencies that could only suggest one thing. I wasn't happy with the answers I was coming up with, so an hour ago I paid a visit to the damaged Gundam Sandrock at the military base, to make my own analysis."

Duo had a hunch that he knew what was coming. His mouth was dry. He thought back to the tragic discovery Wufei had talked to him about less than an hour ago. He didn't want to hear this. Part of him wanted to put his hands over his ears and make the bad news go away.

Trowa's voice was becoming sullen and anguished again.

"It didn't take very long to confirm. The self-destruct had been triggered, but too many circuits had been fried for it to successfully activate. The resulting power surge knocked out the main drive systems, causing Quatre to crash."

A small tear welled up in the corner of Duo's eye as alarm bells and sirens were screaming inside his head. His worst fear was about to be confirmed.

"So you mean....", Duo's voice cracked and wavered "You mean..."

Trowa gave a long sniff as he fought to stop the tears once more,

"Yes... Duo.... It was no accident.........Quatre was trying to commit Suicide"

Chapter Six

Trowa's news was devastating.

Until that moment, Duo had been coping, he was still hurting badly inside, but he was coping. The news of Quatre's attempted suicide had thrown a new light onto the whole event. A darker, more disturbing, more disconcerting light than Duo had ever known. He was ready to crack. On hearing the words, he wanted to throw the towel in there and then. He wanted to close his eyes, to wake up and find it was all just a nightmare. For a moment, he wanted to run away. To take to the road and just keep running forever and ever, to never stop, to never interact with another person ever again, to never again be in a situation where he cared about someone, so he wouldn't ever have to experience these feelings again. Every part of him, every muscle, every fibre, every strand of DNA begged for Trowa's findings to be flawed, to be wrong somehow.

His face paled, his insides were churning. The wretched feelings he had felt yesterday dimmed by comparison to what he was feeling now. Alarm bells were ringing incessantly in his head, he began to feel nauseous, and among it all was an overwhelming feeling of guilt, a terrible, crushing, heart-wrenching sense of shame. A cold realisation that not once, not one single time, did he even suspect that something was wrong.

Wufei opened the stairwell door leading to the hospital gardens. He had spent a long time sitting at Quatre's side, quietly praying, contemplating, and trying to put things into perspective in his mind. At first he couldn't really understand why Duo wanted to get him to see Quatre, but now it was very obvious what he was trying to do. Wufei was grateful. Although he was still upset, his mind was more settled than it had been for many hours.

As he stepped onto the grass lawn, he took a deep breath. The early morning air was cool and refreshing. It was getting light. He could see that the sun was not far from peering over the horizon of forest covering most of the land to the East. The sky was cloudless and a deep blue. The mountains to the west were as spectacular as ever, glowing warming tones of orange, as if salivating in anticipation of the sun's appearance.

After a few deep breaths, he slowly looked around the hospital end of the gardens, seeing if he could spot Duo anywhere. With no luck, he thought back to the evening before when he had found Duo sat on the rocks by the stream. Thinking that Duo could be there again, Wufei headed down the long stepping stone path towards the forest at the end of the gardens.

On reaching the forest, he could hear signs of human life interwoven with the babbling sound of the stream. It was a grotesque sound, somebody was throwing up. It sounded like Duo.

Concerned, Wufei doubled it into the forest and reached the stream. He tried homing in on the tormented sounds he continued to hear.

A quiet voice called over to him.

"Wufei!"

He looked round to see Trowa standing by a large rock beckoning for him come over. Stood beside him, supporting himself against the rock was Duo, leaning forward and heaving violently. Trowa had a hand on his back, keeping Duo's braid out of the way in an effort to offer what support he could.

Wufei, jogged over looking concerned.

"Trowa???" said Wufei, expressing a slight confusion as to what Trowa was doing there. "What's going on?" he asked, "What's happened? and what's wrong with Duo?"

Trowa didn't reply straight away, but he showed equal surprise at seeing Wufei there. They both looked at Duo, who had stopped heaving and was leaning more upright against the rock on his elbows, his fingers interlaced behind his head. He was groaning.

"Duo's just a bit upset", came the monotone response from Trowa, "I'm sure he will be ok in a while". Trowa had thought back to how upset he was, not ten minutes ago, yet now he was fairly composed again.

But Duo was far from ok. He had got it into his head that he was responsible for Quatre's condition, and may have even aggravated Quatre's need to end his life by dumping all of his emotional baggage on him three months ago.

"How could I have been so blind!", wailed Duo, smashing his fist against the rock, "My God! It must have been staring me in the face for months! And I didn't see it!!" His tears were flowing, but they were tears were of great anger. Anger at himself for being so selfish, in failing to look out for the one life he cared about more than his own, the one person he considered family. Anger for being to stupid to believe that Quatre could just keep on doing what he did, being who he was, without any kind of eventual consequence.

"Why didn't I see it?", he snarled through gritted teeth, smashing his fist against the rock again, "WHY DIDN'T I SEE IT!!!" he cried his words over and over, each time thumping his fist hard into the rock. Eventually, his anger faded to just an empty, despondent numbness.

Wufei and Trowa looked on, sorrowfully. They both could identify with his sadness. Both thought Duo was taking it rather badly, but neither of them was fully aware of the real reasons for Duo's grief. Wufei was still blatantly unaware of the news that Trowa had just broken to Duo.

"He was upset yesterday too", Wufei spoke quietly to Trowa, "I know they are close friends".

Trowa did not respond. He was deciding how to tell Wufei the news, or if he should tell him at all. Should he tell him straight away? Should he wait?

Wufei could sense something was up. Trowa's silence spoke a thousand words.

"Something has happened hasn't it?", whispered Wufei in an extremely cautions tone. Trowa paused for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.

Wufei was a little confused. Duo was acting like someone who had been given the worst possible news, as if Quatre had died, yet, Wufei had been sat with Quatre just a few minutes ago and he was alive, still unconscious, but alive.

"What's wrong Trowa, What has happened?" asked Wufei, urgently needing to know.

After a long pause, trying to figure the best way to break the news, Trowa explained his findings to Wufei.

Wufei was quiet for a long time. The initial look of shock on his face was something Trowa would remember for a long time. Wufei had gone very pale, he was lost for words, shell-shocked.

He too was quietly hoping that his own realisations about Quatre were wrong. That the sadness he had felt over Quatre's inability to cope with taking life was unfounded or misinformed, but Trowa's news simply confirmed his theory.

Suddenly, Wufei did not feel strong anymore. He could feel his indomitable warrior spirit fading. It's life force draining away, leaving in its place the shell of just a desperately sad young man.

A miserable silence loomed over all three pilots as they eventually made their way back up the path towards the hospital. They had remained by the stream for over an hour while Duo continued to throw up and grieve massively for his friend. Despite their own sadness, Trowa and Wufei began to grow concerned for Duo as he became more and more inconsolable. He had made himself so ill that his strength was fading, and he could barely stand up on his own. When he finally seemed to calm down, he became almost delusional, like he was drunk.

They assisted Duo down the path one on either side, his arms slung over each of their shoulders. He could hardly walk, although he was trying.

On reaching the hospital end of the lawn, they sat him down on one of the benches. Duo sat there, staring blankly ahead, slouching, his face expressionless, devoid of energy. It was as if he had withdrawn into himself and they were looking at just a shell.

"I don't like this at all", said Wufei, sitting beside him, his face etched with worry. Trowa remained standing by the bench, also looking deeply troubled.

"Duo!", called Wufei, tapping the side of Duo's face with his palm. Duo gave a slight response, tiredly turning his reddened eyes toward Wufei, saying nothing. He blinked as if in slow motion a few times, and then went back to staring blankly at the lawn ahead of them.

"I'm going for help", replied Trowa, his voice suggesting deep concern. Wufei nodded, in agreement. Trowa turned and jogged back towards the hospital entrance. Wufei continued to try to coax Duo out of his strange trance, but Duo was either too devoid of energy, or too traumatised to respond normally. Wufei got the occasional response, a slight glance, but that was all.

A short time after Trowa went for help, the hospital rear stairwell door opened. He re-appeared, and jogged back towards the bench, Sally Po followed a few steps behind him. They reached the others and Sally bit her bottom lip as she took sight of Duo, now slumped sideways.

"Oh, my poor Duo!" she whispered, her calming voice a little shocked. She crouched beside the bench and took Duo's face in the palms of her hands, calling him. She got a slight response, but he was virtually unconscious. She felt his face and neck, then pulled a small torch from her white overall breast pocket and shone it in each of his eyes, lifting each eyelid in turn.

Sally looked up to Trowa "You say he was being sick?", she asked.

Trowa nodded. "He was throwing up for ages" he replied, maybe half an hour.

Wufei piped up, "I've never seen anyone express so much grief," he said, "he was inconsolable."

Sally listened and nodded, still continuing to examine Duo by taking his pulse.

"Hmmm.... I have seen this many times before", she said, her voice donning its professional 'doctors' tone. "But Don't worry, this isn't half as bad as it looks", she assured the others, "There's nothing to be too concerned about".

"So what's wrong with him?", asked Trowa anxiously.

"Basically, I think it's a combination of nervous exhaustion and emotional shock", she replied, her voice sounding more compassionate again, "We see it a lot on the battlefield, it's similar to shell shock".

"What should we do?", asked Wufei

Sally sighed, "I think the best thing to do would be to sedate him, then let them sleep it off," she replied.

"He looks pretty sedate already", commented Wufei, half in protest.

Sally smiled, "Yes, he does," she replied, "But his mind is in overdrive, in total panic mode, and while it's like that, he will never sleep. His body is devoid of energy and full of adrenaline. If we leave him like this it could actually be quite harmful, or, will at the very least, take him much, much longer to recover "

"Shall we get him in to the hospital?", asked Trowa

Sally paused for a moment, thinking, then shook her head

"Actually Trowa, I think, for Duo, it would be better to treat him at home, in his own bed, I know how much he likes hospitals, it probably won't help matters if he wakes up in one. Do you guys have transport?"

Wufei and Trowa looked blankly at each other.

Sally nodded, "Ok, wait here", she replied, I'll be a couple of minutes. She stood up and jogged back inside the building.

A few minutes later, the two pilots could hear a reversing bleeper. They looked across the gardens to see a green military ambulance reverse around the corner of the building and onto the lawn. The rear doors opened and Sally jumped out carrying a field stretcher.

In less than an hour, Duo was in his own bed, back at the Winner mansion. Sally, perched on the side of his bed, withdrew a needle from his arm. Trowa, standing at the foot of the bed, looked on with uncertainty.

"There, that should do the trick", Sally spoke softly, "He'll wake up with a bit of a hangover, but physically, he should be ok".

She paused for a moment, then sighed.

"You know Trowa, it takes massive amounts of stress and anxiety for someone to get like this".

Trowa did not respond.

"Trowa," her voice was hesitant, "At the hospital, when you found me and told me about Duo, .... I ...... I got the feeling..... you weren't telling me everything"

Trowa shifted uncomfortably on his feet

"Is there something more I should know?" she asked.

Immediately, a battle of strategy played out in Trowa's mind. How many people should actually know about Quatre's attempted suicide? It was obvious Quatre didn't want people knowing about it from the way he had taken steps to conceal it. Only the three pilots knew. Although Trowa liked and trusted Sally, if he told her, as his doctor she would probably be under some ethical obligation to notify a third party and eventually the whole thing could wind up being brought into the open, which would destroy Quatre from the inside out.

Trowa, opting to protect Quatre's integrity, decided not to tell Sally the whole truth, but gave her an indication that Duo had more reasons to suffer than most.

"Sally, I can't really go into it much as Duo would kill me for telling you, but, yes, he has just had some really bad news. I'd go into it further, but it's real personal to Duo, I shouldn't say".

Sally understood. She nodded, accepting Trowa's reasoning.

She looked back at Duo's face. He was sleeping peacefully. Reaching forward she gently brushed the hair away from his eyes, sweeping it to the side. She smiled compassionately, feeling a real sense of sorrow for him. She sighed.

"Poor kid,.. my poor Duo", she spoke softly, continuing to caress Duo's hair, "No one this age should ever have to go through that. I feel so helpless, but there's nothing more I can do, not for Quatre, not for Duo. It's just a waiting game. This job can be so frustrating sometimes".

Trowa looked on silently, he felt a real warmth towards Sally, and he knew his friends were in safe hands. Sally gave a deep sigh and stood up from the bed.

"Ok Trowa, we should let him rest now", she suggested, gathering together a few medical items together. "You'll need to check on him every hour".

As she walked past Trowa towards the room door, she opened her arm and scooped it around his shoulders giving a squeeze. They walked to the door together.

"I know you and the others are all effected by this too", she said softly, "You know I'm always here Trowa, any time day or night, you or the others, if you ever want to talk,... if you need a shoulder" Her caring words fell straight onto his sad heart. A part of him wanted to break down there and then, but he had other concerns on his mind. Wufei had gone for a walk in the grounds, Trowa needed to find him to discuss their next crucial mission,....

... what were they going to tell Heero?

Chapter Seven

Trowa stood on the gravel driveway near to the main entrance steps, watching the green ambulance drive away. Sally's arm waved out of the open drivers window, he gave a subdued wave back. She had to return to the hospital, but had left him with instructions on what to do about Duo when he woke up.

When the ambulance had disappeared, Trowa walked around to the rear of the building and into the gardens in an attempt to find Wufei.

The grounds were large. Well kept, with many features including a maze, tiered and sunken gardens, and a huge two hundred year old elm tree. A large lake nestled in the semi-forested field on the far side of the vast lawn. Trowa could see a distant figure dressed in white stood motionless at the lake edge. It was Wufei.

After a long walk, Trowa stood beside him. Wufei was stood with his eyes closed, facing out across the lake towards the small, tree filled island in its centre. On sensing Trowa arrive, he opened his eyes and glanced sideways. Trowa said nothing, just nodded. Wufei nodded back.

"Have you seen Heero?" asked Trowa quietly

Wufei closed his eyes and faced back towards the lake again.

"Heero is not here," Replied Wufei, still with his eyes closed, "Apparently he left this morning"

Trowa also looked out across the lake, spotting a Heron fishing on the bank of the island.

"You know where he's gone?" he asked.

Wufei shook his head, "I'm sure he will not have gone far, or for long."

Trowa nodded in agreement.

There was a long pause as both boys continued to look out across the lake. There was something strangely calming about being there. The warmth of the bright sun beating down on them, the gracefulness of the Swans swimming by, tending their signets. The stillness of the air, the sound of the water gently lapping the shore and banks.

Trowa took a breath, the question on his mind was nagging at him to be asked.

He sighed.

"So, do we tell him?" He asked directly.

Wufei knew exactly what Trowa was referring to. He opened his eyes, turning to face Trowa. After a brief pause, he nodded.

"I can't see any good coming from keeping him in the dark," he replied.

Trowa nodded.

"I agree, but I think it should stop with just the four of us, for Quatre's sake," suggested Trowa.

Wufei Nodded. He understood what Trowa was concerned about, that everybody knowing about the suicide attempt could potentially be very damaging to Quatre during his recovery. Wufei, hesitated for a moment, and then looked at Trowa, his face more serious.

"Trowa, Something occurred to me a while ago".

Trowa looked back, enquiring what it was.

"We don't know how determined Quatre was to succeed in killing himself. I just thought that if he woke up," Wufei became hesitant, "what's to say.... he wouldn't try to finish the job..... and maybe try it again?".

Trowa closed his eyes, biting his bottom lip.

"Damn! I hadn't thought of that", he cussed, suddenly becoming concerned.

"He could be waking at any time", said Wufei, adding a feeling of more urgency to the potential situation. "I think perhaps, it might be a good idea for at least one of us to keep an eye on him from now on," he suggested.

"You mean a kind of bedside vigil," asked Trowa rhetorically, nodding in agreement, "yes.... I guess we could all do shifts".

Wufei agreed, "I should go first," he suggested, turning and starting to walk back towards the mansion. "You take care of Duo as Sally instructed you, I will call if there is any change in Quatre's condition."

Trowa remained standing on the lake bank, watching Wufei walk away.

"I'll let Heero know what's happening when he gets back and arrange for one of us to swap with you as soon as we can," he called back.

Wufei raised his hand in agreement, and began his walk to the hospital.

The monastery was fairly devoid of people, apart from a handful of monks and a few local people who had come to pray or tend the grounds. It was a magnificent building. It could be seen from the nearest town over three miles away, its bright red painted woodwork and red roofs nestling in the forested foothills leading to the huge, snowy mountain range beyond. Outside, only the occasional spinning of a prayer wheel, or a bell being struck disturbed the peace and quiet. The whole courtyard area was decorated with brightly coloured pieces of cloth tied onto raised strings, which flapped softly in the gentle breeze.

Several Buddhist monks, dressed in their vibrant orange robes shuffled silently across the stone courtyard and entered the main temple doors.

The temple itself had an atmosphere of such sanctuary, and feeling of home. It seemed capable of instilling peace in even the most troubled of souls.

Inside the Temple it was fairly dark, although the rows of illuminated candles brought a warming, subdued light. The subtle smell of incense filled the huge interior. Sounds were many and varied. The loud clicking of the spinning prayer wheels outside were dulled by the thick stone walls, but were still audible, as were the bells. A small number of Buddhist monks were sat together on one side of the temple, deep in meditation. From their mouths came a low pitched, continuous, chanting mantra, repeated over and over, which mysteriously echoed all around the building. Around the floor of the temple, were scattered large round cushions, meditation pillows that the monks would use to make their many hours of meditation more comfortable. The central focus of the temple was a large, golden statue of the Buddha. All around it lay fresh flowers, lit candles, and small gifts of carvings and various shiny trinkets.

In front of the statue, a lone character knelt silently on one of the cushions, his head bowed. He had been there for some twenty minutes or so.

A small, young Buddhist monk silently approached and stood in front of him. In his hands he carried a Khata, a scarf sized ribbon of pure white cotton, about five feet long. Sensing the monk's presence, the figure broke from his solitary meditations, opened his eyes and looked up at his observer. The handsome monks face quickly lit up with a beaming smile as he recognised the figure sat before him.

"Heero San!!", whispered the young monk excitedly, making an effort not to disturb the other temple dwellers, "Heero! I thought it was you!"

Heero's face quickly lit up, "Fumio!", he bleated, sporting a huge grin. Heero quickly clambered to his socked feet; he'd left his shoes at the front entrance.

They stood facing each other, both still smiling hugely. Heero spotted the Khata in Fumio's hands and knew he was to receive a blessing and welcome in the traditional way. Keeping eye contact and both still grinning, they slowly bowed towards each other. Fumio reached forward and placed the Khata over Heero's head, then gently took the sides of Heero's face in his hands as their foreheads touched together in a caring embrace.

"It is so good to see you again Heero", whispered the short crop-haired boy, "It has been so long, and I have been so worried about you."

Heero reached up his hands and cupped them gently on the back of Fumio's neck.

"Not a single day has gone by when I haven't thought about this place, or the people in it," he replied, "It's good to see you...... my brother".

Fumio was about eighteen months younger than Heero. They had grown up together on the L1 colony cluster from a very early age under their adopted guardian; A secret military organisation known as the 'Foundation' run by Doctor J. They were both orphaned from different backgrounds, and were not related by blood, but to them it was irrelevant.

Both were to be trained as perfect soldiers, and Gundam pilots in preparation for operation Meteor, but under the gruelling, almost brutal regime, at around age nine, Fumio began to crack under the pressure.

Heero cast his mind back to those terrifying times in both their lives when the training program virtually attempted the systematic elimination of their Humanity. He remembered the tortured screams at night from his brother's nightmares, and the almost permanent look of panic in his eyes.

Despite loosing much of his own sense of humanity, the feelings of protection Heero felt towards his brother could not be suppressed, and the final straw came when Fumio eventually begged Heero to kill him to put an end to his misery.

It was Heero's pleading, and eventual threat to quit altogether, which finally convinced Dr J to drop Fumio from the program. Unable to fulfil the necessary expectations, Fumio was sent to a secret location for rehabilitation.

Heero did not see his brother again until about a month after the start of Operation Meteor, some four years later. With Fumio gone, Heero's training seemed to increase in intensity, but despite the unyielding pressure on him, he never went a day without wondering what had happened to his kid brother.

It was a time of relative inactivity, the first stage of Operation Meteor had been carried out, and Heero was sitting tight, awaiting the arrival of orders for his next mission. Carrying out repairs to Gundam Zero-one, Heero received a recorded message by Dr J, telling him all about his brother, what had happened to him over the past years, and more importantly, where he was. Almost immediately, Heero set off to the given location, which was actually not far away. Several hours later, Heero arrived at the gates of the Monastery.

Contrary to Heero's nature, it was quite an emotional Reunion. Despite his loyalty to the mission and to Dr J, Heero had always expressed many misgivings about the way his younger brother was treated, especially the way he appeared to be discarded like trash when it was decided he was unsuitable material for the mission. Heero was half expecting to find a brainwashed shell of the boy he once knew, but was very surprised to learn that Fumio's rehabilitation had taken place in one of the best facilities on Earth, and that he remembered everything about the past in great detail. He was even more surprised to learn that Dr J had played a major role in Fumio's rehabilitation, and had spent a great deal of time caring for him, often expressing great concern about his welfare, and ensuring he got only the best treatment available.

On recovery from the trauma of his past, and after much deliberation, Fumio eventually chose to become a monk, or at least, follow that path for a while. Mainly because it was, according to Dr J, what his father and great grandfather were, but also because it seemed a fitting role for his inherent gentle nature.

After their first reunion, Heero promised to stay in touch and visit whenever it was possible, which, during the war was difficult, but he did manage a few times.

Heero always believed that it was Fumio who had saved him from completely losing touch with his Human side. No matter what conditioning he was exposed to, no matter how hard they tried to extract his humanity, he never lost that sense of protection, and instinctive need to look out for his kid brother.

They held their embrace for quite a while, foreheads touching together, before slowly, almost reluctantly, breaking apart.

"I'm sorry if I disturbed you," spoke Fumio quietly, "Were you, -praying?" his voice in a slight tone of surprise.

"You didn't disturb me at all, I was about to come and look for you", replied Heero, deliberately avoiding his brother's question.

The boys decided to continue their conversation outside without the risk of disturbing the other people in the Temple. They walked to the main Temple door where Heero slipped on his boots. They strolled through the monastery grounds toward a large field at the rear.

For the first time in many months, Heero could feel a slight sense of peace, just like he did on his last visit. He didn't know if it was caused by seeing his brother again, or just being at the monastery, or a combination of the two, but it seemed that this was the one and only place on Earth where he could switch off the soldier instincts and become a normal person for a while.

Fumio was still very excited to see his older brother. It was obvious he had been counting the days in anticipation of his next visit. He looked up at Him, almost in adoration, still beaming a huge smile. Heero looked back at him, returning the smile.

"I've missed you.... I've really missed you!" whispered Fumio. Although still beaming, there was an underlying tone of sadness in his voice.

Heero sensed Fumio's sadness and felt his heart warming. The old feelings of compassion and protection came flooding back to him. He extended his arm out and scooped it tightly around Fumio's shoulders, pulling him close.

"You'll never know." Heero thought silently to himself.

They continued their walk towards the fields. Fumio spoke again about finding Heero in the Temple.

"I know you don't believe too much about spiritual things, so I was surprised to see you in there." he said.

Heero's answer was hesitant, but honest.

"A..... a friend of mine is... in trouble," he replied, "I just figured,... it couldn't do any harm."

Fumio listened silently, pondering deeply on Heero's answer. As they reached the wooden gateway into the field they stopped and leaned on it, looking out over the field and beyond to the scenic forests.

"You live in a nice place Fumio", suggested Heero, trying his best to conjure up the words to describe the stunning scenery that lay before them.

"Yes, it is so beautiful here Heero, I am so lucky to live here........ I have you to thank for that." he replied.

"Aww come on Fumio!" replied Heero ironically, knowing where the conversation was about to go, "We've had this conversation before!"

Fumio looked up at his brother and grinned, then his expression slowly turned more serious.

"I know Heero....... but what happened, really did happen, we can't change the past." He looked back out across the fields and sighed a little.

"It's been nearly four years since you saved my life..... not just my life, you rescued my soul, and for that, I will be grateful for the rest of eternity."

Heero smiled. Ordinarily he would have argued, but today, he didn't seem to have an answer. Despite the genuine enjoyment of seeing his brother again, he was still overly preoccupied with thoughts of Quatre. He was still unsure which way things would go. Despite Sally's word of reassurance, he knew Quatre's injuries could still kill him, and it could still go either way.

Fumio was fast to pick up on Heero's preoccupation.

"You're more worried about your friend than you were letting on aren't you?", said Fumio. Heero was lost in thought, staring out across the field.

"Heero!" his brother called again.

Heero suddenly looked at him, "Hmm?"

Fumio smiled slightly at Heero not hearing him the first time.

"You're friend", he said, "You're more worried about him than you first suggested?"

"Is it that obvious?" asked Heero. Fumio nodded.

"Yes...I am...... very worried", Heero finally admitted.

Fumio asked Heero to elaborate, so Heero explained the recent events to date, as he saw them. He was still unaware of Quatre's attempted Suicide.

Despite his fairly detailed and lengthy description, Fumio could tell Heero was holding something back. He didn't understand how the prefect soldier could become so preoccupied with the fate of a fellow soldier. Fumio expressed his sorrow at Quatre's plight.

They remained silent for a while, just taking in the view, pondering on Heero's worries. Eventually, Fumio broke the silence.

"Heero, tell me about him", he asked.

Heero thought for a moment, "Well..... He's a Gundam pilot, he's about the same age as me... He's Arabian, comes from a very rich background, sometimes lives in the Dessert, although his current house is....."

"No Heero!" interrupted Fumio, "Tell me about..... HIM!"



Heero Paused for a long time. He looked down sorrowfully at the ground on the other side of the gate, then sighed deeply. Eventually he answered.

"He's the finest example of a Human being I have ever known", he replied, his voice quietened and gloomy.

Fumio listened compassionately; "Go on..." he said.

The sadness in Heero's voice began to show.

"He is kind hearted..... he cares about everything...... and everyone."

Heero paused and sighed again, His voice became hesitant.

"Knowing he could... die.... Well, it just....... just hurts like hell..... more than I ever thought possible".

Fumio listened empathetically; he knew it was very hard for Heero to say the words he just did. He understood that expressing any kind of emotion like that was totally in conflict with his programming.

They did not speak again for a while. They simply looked out across the fields at the magnificent scenery that lay before them. The Suns' warmth beat upon their backs as the gentle, cooling breeze danced around them, taking the edge off the intensity of the heat. A small flock of geese flew overhead in a V formation, both boys observed them with quiet awe.

"Heero, your time in the temple earlier... do you think it helped you?" Asked Fumio quietly, eventually breaking the quiet. The question had been on his mind for quite a while.

Heero shrugged his shoulders

"Don't know really", he answered, "I don't really know what I was doing, I just kind-of figured I needed to sit there a while."

Fumio knew Heero was looking to find some kind of peace in his own mind. He had obviously been preoccupied with Quatre's fate for a long time and it was quietly taking it's toll on him. He wanted to help, but could only think of one thing to offer.

"Heero, I am just a simple monk, I don't know much about anything, I don't really have the answers you are looking for, but I want to help you in any way I can", said Fumio.

"If.... if I showed you what to do in the Temple, if I showed you something I think might help you in finding your answers, do you think it would help?", he was slightly hesitant.

Despite his brother being a monk, and his total respect for Fumio's beliefs, Heero had never really been a great believer of spiritual or such related things. However, he also had never completely closed his mind to the possibility of there being some truth in what Fumio believed. Maybe there really was some great spiritual plain somewhere, somehow, maybe some kind of an afterlife, or reincarnation did exist, he was still undecided, but after all that had happened recently, on this day Heero was willing to be open minded.

Heero nodded,

"If you think it will help, then please, teach me," his reply was respectful, his tone appreciative.

"Don't worry, It's nothing bizarre", assured Fumio, grinning slightly, "I was thinking of just a simple meditation, that's all. I can talk you through it, maybe it will help you to clear your mind."

Heero nodded, "I am willing to try." he replied.

They turned and slowly began the walk back towards the temple. Along the way Fumio explained the basic principals and reasoning behind it.

On reaching the temple door, Heero slipped off his boots again. They entered and stood before the large statue of the Buddha. Fumio bowed respectfully, Heero, watching his brother, awkwardly tried the same. Then Fumio ushered him over to one side of the building, away from the other people, so he could whisper instructions to him without disturbing anyone. The group of meditating monks that had been there earlier were still there, still chanting their mysterious, low-pitched mantra. Fumio got Heero to sit cross-legged on one of the many large cushions, then sat at his side, facing him. After instructing him to take a few deep breaths and half-close his eyes with his back straight, Fumio began to carefully talk Heero through the meditation.

At first, Heero felt a little conspicuous of himself, even a little embarrassed. A few times he half-grinned, almost wanting to bleat the words "This is Ridiculous!" but he refrained. He found it difficult to concentrate, Fumio assured him it was quite normal, but after a short time the self-conspicuousness passed.

About twenty minutes into the meditation, Heero began to feel comfortable about the whole thing and became much more relaxed. Fumio was at his side all the time, his quiet voice gently giving guidance and instructions from time to time. The sound of the continuing mantra from the other monks became almost hypnotic. Heero could feel himself drifting into a kind of daydream state. Inside his mind he could see the building they were in, it was almost as if he was floating around the room observing what was going on. He could see himself sat on the large gold coloured cushion, his brother sat next to him talking. In his vision, he could see there were several other monks sat around them both, forming a circle, meditating, chanting. The mantra he was hearing was loud, but strangely serene, calming. Eventually, still in his vision, Heero felt a warm hand gently touch his forearm, and the quiet, echoing words, "It is time to come back Heero."

As the images began to fade from his mind, Heero consciously made a last effort to look directly at his mind's image of the large golden Buddha statue.

"I don't know how much of this is my imagination, and whether any of this is really you," he said in his mind, "So, for now, I only have three words to say...... Quatre...... Raberba....... Winner...."

Chapter Eight

All was Quiet in the Winner Household, except for a storm that had been raging outside for almost an hour.

A loud clap of thunder finally woke Duo from what seemed like an eternal sleep. Sally sat quietly at the table in the corner of his room reading under a dim lamp. The storm outside had been raging for nearly an hour. Duo tiredly rubbed his hands over his face, then gave a quiet groan, as he suddenly realised how much his head was hurting.

On seeing Duo awake, Sally put her book face down on the table and walked over to him.

"How do you feel?", she asked, perching on the edge of the bed, Reaching over and feeling his brow.

"Ughh! My head is thumping like crazy", was the tired reply.

Sally smiled, "You've been asleep for almost sixteen hours", she replied.

Duo looked at her with some degree of disbelief.

"Don't worry about the headache, it'll take about an hour to wear off."

She reached over to a glass of water on the bedside table. She pulled from her top pocket a small bottle of pills and proceeded to drop a couple of them into the water. Once they had dissolved, she offered the Glass to Duo.

"Here, Drink this", she said.

Duo tiredly shifted so he was sitting up,

"What is it?" he asked, looking at the cloudy water.

"Painkillers, for the headache" she replied, "Tastes like rats pee, but it'll do you good", She smiled.

Duo winced as he gulped the liquid down in one go.

"EEUUGGHH! You weren't kidding were you!" he gasped, pulling a face like he's just eaten a raw lemon.

Another crack of thunder shook the whole house. Rain was hammering at the windowpane. Duo could see it was almost dark outside. He leaned back against the headboard of the bed, sighing. Slowly the memories of what happened earlier in the day were coming back to him.

"S....sal?" he asked slowly, "Any news on Quatre?"

Sally looked at him compassionately, gently shaking her head from side to side. She could sense the torment still going through his mind, still painfully tearing away at his soul. She felt so badly for him. Her need to help end his pain was overwhelming, yet she knew this waiting game could only play out by itself.

"Trowa is at the hospital right now, he will call if there are any changes." she said. "He and Wufei are keeping a bedside vigil until Quatre wakes up. They're doing it in shifts."

Duo nodded, "That's an good idea", he commented, "I should join in and do a shift myself."

He paused for a moment.

"So where's Wufei and Heero?" he asked, now a little more alert.

"Wufei is resting in his room. He's been at the hospital all day; Trowa went to take over from him a couple of hours ago just after I got here. Heero is gone, nobody knows where."

Duo mulled on her words for a moment.

"Sal?" he asked calmly.

Sally looked him in the eye.

"I... I seem to be thanking you a lot lately......... you know" his voice was appreciative. Sally smiled and reached her hand out, gently brushing his sweaty hair out of his eyes with her fingers.

"Hey, it's the least I can do, especially after all you've done for me in the past, anyway, you should be thanking Trowa, he's been here all day looking after you".

"Really?", asked Duo in a surprised tone.

"Yes, he didn't actually say it, but I think he's been quite worried about you, especially after this morning."

Duo nodded slowly,

"I am so lucky to have friends like you guys", he uttered through a thankful sigh, as the memories of earlier came flooding back again.

"I will thank him when I get the chance"

It was late evening at the monastery. Heero stood at the main gate with his brother looking out across the green-forested valley reaching out below them towards the vibrant orange and red sky where the sun had recently set. His experience in the temple earlier had been more beneficial than he had anticipated, and he felt a lot more settled about things. Despite the peace he felt there, he also felt a strong need to return to the mansion. He had been out of touch for most of the day and was uncomfortable with not knowing if there had been any developments concerning Quatre.

Fumio was looking sad, he looked up at his brother with glazed eyes, and Heero knew he really didn't want him to go. Heero himself was reluctant to leave, for the whole day he had been at peace, able to breathe without the instinctive need to dodge bullets or destroy anything. All day he had been feeling that sense of calm that he so rarely got to experience, amplified by the warmth of having his brother, his only family, with him.

"Do you really have to go now Heero?", asked Fumio, "You know you can stay." There was almost a tone of pleading in Fumio's voice. He hated this part of Heero's visits.

Heero sighed; he so much wanted to say he could stay. He didn't reply verbally, but looked at Fumio with whatever compassion his programmed soldier eyes could muster. Fumio knew Heero had no choice.

Heero looked away, and stared back out across to the orange sky, Dark thunderclouds were beginning to loom in from the East.

"Fumio," he said quietly, seemingly pondering something heavy on his mind.

Fumio looked up.

"The war is almost certain to end very soon, it may be just a matter of days.... if that happens, then the Gundams and their pilots will no longer be needed..... I will be out of a job."

"Then you can come and visit again?" interrupted Fumio excitedly.

Heero looked back down at his brother. He nodded.

"If it's ok, I would like to visit again, and....... this time.... spend more time here," his voice became hesitant for moment as a slight smile slowly appeared on his face. "Maybe.... Maybe even live here for a while? At least until I have decided what to do with my life." he suggested.

A beaming grin appeared on Fumio's face as he nodded enthusiastically.

"Yes Heero, Yes! I will arrange it for you," he replied excitedly.

"Then I will see you again very soon", Heero lifted his small ruc-sack onto his shoulder as he prepared to start his journey back to the mansion.

Seeing his brother ready to leave, Fumio's could feel the sadness inside growing once more. He reached into his pocket and produced another Khata scarf. He unravelled it and held it out looking at his brother with almost tearful eyes. He returned the look with what seemed like equal sadness.

Heero smiled slightly as they bowed and Fumio placed the scarf over his neck. Then, without forewarning, Fumio's small frame reached up and hugged his brother tightly, pressing the side of his tearful face against Heero's shoulder.

Heero was a little surprised.

"Fumio has never done that before," he noted to himself. He was unsure quite how to react, but in his own sadness, found himself reaching forward and returning the hug. They held on tight for a good while before finally, reluctantly they broke.

Heero still had a hand on Fumio's shoulder as a loud clap of thunder shook the valley. He scanned the dull, almost dark sky with his eyes.

"You'd better get under cover, it'll rain soon," he suggested calmly.

Fumio nodded silently, his eyes still saddened and slightly wet from his tears.

"Goodbye Fumio, I'll be back soon, I promise." He said giving Fumio's shoulder a final squeeze before turning and walking away. Fumio stood watching as Heero slowly walked down the road away from the monastery, eventually disappearing around the curve of the road and into the darkness.

"Goodbye Heero... my Brother." he whispered softly to himself.

Some four hours later the front door of the Winner mansion opened and Heero stepped in. Tired, wet and cold he walked into the drawing room to sit beside the fire and warm up a little. His mind was awash with thoughts of recent events.

He was glad he had seen Fumio, and he decided it was a good decision to go to the monastery. The warm welcome he had received went a long way to easing his silent-felt pain over Quatre. Just being able to share his anguish with someone he implicitly trusted was a blessing, a weight off his shoulders.

He slumped into the armchair facing the huge mantle-piece, then leaned forward, taking the brass poker from its stand, and proceeded to stoke the fire, trying to increase the heat.

"Heero? is that you?" came a voice from behind him.

Duo stood in the doorway of the room. He had pretty well recovered from his thumping headache earlier and was actually preparing to go to the hospital to relieve Trowa from watching over Quatre. Sally had left about an hour previous once she was happy that Duo was ok. Heero stood up and turned to face the door

"Hey buddy!" said Duo in his instinctive chirpy voice, "where ya been?" he asked.

Heero was hesitant for a moment, "I had to take care of some business," was the dry reply.

"Is that a Khata scarf?" asked Duo in a surprised tone, pointing to the scarf around Heero's neck. Heero looked down at the Khata. He'd forgotten he was wearing it. He reached his hand up and tenderly held it, his mind wandering back to thoughts of the monastery.

"You been to a monastery?" asked Duo. Again, Heero was hesitant.

"It's just a scarf," he replied dryly. "Is there any news on Quatre?" he asked, quickly changing the subject.

Duo suddenly looked serious. He entered the room and closed the door behind him, making his way over to stand beside Heero.

"Err.. actually there is." he replied.

Duo went on to explain about their bedside vigil, and that he was about to leave for the hospital to take over from Trowa. Heero nodded in agreement to the idea

Duo hesitated, then swallowed nervously. He realised he was going to have to be the one to tell Heero the bad news.

"Actually Heero, There's more, and it's not good I'm afraid".

"What do you mean?" asked Heero

Duo gestured towards the chair that Heero had sat in moments earlier, "You'd better sit down", he suggested.

Heero complied, as Duo pulled up a small chair and sat opposite him.

"What has happened Duo?" asked Heero urgently.

Duo wasn't sure the best way to go about telling him, but did his best.

"Heero, do you remember loaning your laptop to Trowa to investigate the crash?"

Heero Nodded

"Well, He turned up more than just crash Data".

What do you mean?" asked Heero

Duo put his hand up to prevent Heero asking more questions. "I'm getting to it, just bear with me".

Duo went on to explain Trowa's investigation before popping for the bad news. As he spoke, his voice wavered slightly with sadness.

"I'm afraid to say Heero, but, it was no accident..... All the evidence points to the theory that Quatre was trying to take his own life".

A numbed silence hung over the room. Heero stared blankly into the fire, his mind trying to get a grip on what Duo had just told him. His face contorted, suddenly etched with the look of disaster, disbelief, and inner panic. Duo stayed silent for a moment, observing Heero's reaction as well as his own.

"You ok Heero?", he asked in a slightly concerned tone.

Heero looked at Duo, his face still etched with disbelief. He could tell Heero wanted to say something, but all he managed was to squeak a rather high pitched "But.... But.... Why?"

Duo could see Heero trying to fathom the complexity of the reactions going on inside his head and the obvious torment that came with it. Despite his observations, Duo was still unsure how he would react to the news. Heero's feelings were something nobody ever got to see. Just how he felt about the people he knew always remained a very guarded secret.

Many times in the past, early on, Duo had thought that Heero was actually not capable of any kind of emotion or feelings. A number of times he remembered actually feeling sorry for him, believing that he was missing out on an important part of life. But more recently, Duo had spotted little signs; small seeds of compassion that indicated Heero did have feelings, only deeply suppressed ones.

Heero stood up and began slowly pacing around in front of the large fireplace. His mind was in confusion, there was a real battle going on inside his head. The soldier instincts were battling it out with the profound sadness that he was feeling. He had been feeling sadness since the crash, but it was as if Duo's news had given that sadness huge reinforcements, and the battle was about to take a new turn. He continued pacing around, and then suddenly stopped in front of the glass cabinet mounted on the wall besides the chimney. As he looked into the cabinet, his expression turned to a deep sadness. Perched before him between a couple of flutes and spare bows, sat Quatre's cherished violin.

Heero slowly turned the key to the cabinet door and opened it. He reached in and ran his fingers tenderly over the strings as memories of the past came flooding back to him. He recalled the first time he heard Quatre play it accompanied by Relena on the piano. It was one of the most moving things he had ever heard. How he could make it sound so pleasing was a mystery, it was as if he and the violin were one. No one else had ever come close to getting such beautiful sounds out of it. He recalled that whenever he observed Quatre playing it, he always had his eyes shut, as if savouring every moment of every note. It was like he and the violin had become one. As he reminisced, a sad, solo violin played inside Heero's mind as he visualised Quatre playing it. With those thoughts, the sadness within his mind suddenly became too much.

A single tear welled in each eye as he gently closed the cabinet door and locked it. His emotions were building; he could feel a great sadness tugging at his gut. He urgently wanted to be alone.

"I'm going to bed", he uttered quietly his voice wavering slightly, trying to disguise his distress from Duo by facing away from him, and heading for the door.

"You gonna be ok Heero?" asked Duo compassionately, knowing full well what was up with Heero. Heero could only manage a brief nod before the choking sadness made him blub quietly. He quickly closed the door behind him before running up the stairs to his room.

Duo sat forward in the chair, his elbows resting on his knees. He wondered if he should go after Heero, but decided that it would probably be best to leave him alone. After seeing Heero upset, Duo too was feeling sad again. He decided to head for the hospital to relieve Trowa of his vigil shift, hoping the fresh, still thundery, night air would calm him. A few minutes later, the main door clicked shut as Duo began his journey.

Wufei awoke from a haunting sleep. It had been several hours since he returned from the hospital after Trowa had relieved him from his shift on the vigil. He sat up and noticed the book he was reading earlier had fallen on the floor. He remembered he had just sat on the bed to read but must have fallen asleep almost immediately. He looked at the clock; it was nearly one in the morning. He got up and washed his face in the small hand basin in the corner of the room, trying to refresh himself. As he patted his face dry with the large white towel, he began to have thoughts of the other pilots. He wondered if Duo had woken up yet after being sedated, and pondered on what state of mind he might be in. He wondered if Sally was still there, or if Heero had returned from wherever he had disappeared to. He decided to try to find out what was happening.

He went downstairs to see if anyone was around, He noticed Sally's transport was gone so he assumed that she was not there. Without finding anyone, he headed back upstairs to Duo's room. He knocked several times. With no reply, he opened the door and poked his head in expecting to find Duo still zonked out, but the room was empty.

"Maybe Heero is back", he thought to himself, closing Duo's door and heading further down the corridor towards Heero's room.

As he approached the door, he could hear Heero's voice, he was quietly sobbing.

Surprised, and slightly shocked, he gently tapped on the door

"Heero?.... you OK?", he called quietly.

Suddenly the sobbing was silenced. Wufei waited for an answer, but after about a minute, there still was none.

"Heero?" asked Wufei again, simultaneously knocking again.

There was a long pause.

"Go away!" was the eventual, monotone, subdued response.

Wufei was hesitant, he wasn't sure how to respond, he wanted to help if he could. He knocked quietly on the door again,

"Heero, I know you are upset... it's totally ok though.... we won't think any less of you, you know... None of us" he suggested quietly.

He waited for a response, but Heero did not reply. Wufei was unsure if Heero was listening or not, but took it as a cue to continue.

"Actually Heero, we've all been a little upset today."

Again, no response.

Wufei hesitantly continued, "In fact, If it helps you to know this.... although I suspect he'll probably kill me for telling you.... But...... Duo got so upset earlier.... Sally had to sedate him."

There was another pause, before Wufei heard footsteps approach the door, and then a loud click as the door was suddenly unlocked. The footsteps walked back into the room. Wufei took it as a signal that it was ok to go in. He hesitantly opened the door and slowly entered the room.

It was dark, none of the lights were on and the only source of light was coming from the moonlight through the window, and the occasional flash of lightening. The curtains were not drawn. Heero was perched on a chair looking out of the window across the grounds towards the lake and mountains beyond.

"You ok Heero?", he asked once again.

Heero seemed to ignore Wufei's question and asked one of his own. "Tell me about Duo," said Heero, "Is he ok?" he asked still staring out of the window.

"I was hoping you could tell me that," replied Wufei perching on the bed, I can't find him.

"I saw him about an hour ago" replied Heero, "He told me about the vigil you are keeping on Quatre, he was going to the hospital to relieve Trowa"

"How was he?", asked Wufei.

"He looked fine," replied Heero, finally turning to look at Wufei, "Yet I knew something was wrong, he seemed..... distant."

Wufei nodded, "I think it will take time for him to get over this."

"You say he was sedated?", asked Heero in a tone of disbelief and concern, "How upset must someone be to need sedating?"

Wufei gave a sigh, "You really have no idea do you", he said rhetorically.

"He told me about Quatre's ... suicide attempt." Heero was hesitant.

Wufei nodded, he was quietly hoping that he would not have to be the one to tell Heero.

"Well, as you can imagine, it has caused a great deal of upset. Duo, Trowa, Sally, myself included, and now, by the looks of things, you too." Wufei gave a half smile, as if what he said was funny.

Heero nodded, "It is very upsetting news, I agree.... but why did Duo have to be sedated? Surely he couldn't have been that bad?"

"We've all had a hard time dealing with this news Heero, particularly Duo, he took the news very badly. He became very ill, and eventually delusional. Sedation was the only way to help him. Even Trowa lost his breakfast over it."

Heero felt a strange sense of comfort from knowing he was not alone in his upset about Quatre. For the past hour his mind had been regularly returning to the thoughts of the violin and the sadness he had associated with it. He began to think how tragic it would be if he never got to hear that wonderful, moving music again. The thoughts were periodically coming back to bother him, each time causing him to be overcome with grief. He suddenly felt the sadness coming back once more. He began to feel uncomfortable knowing Wufei was there. He went quiet, continuing to stare out of the window, uncertain of how to disguise the tears if they started up again.

Sure enough, right on cue, the image of Quatre standing playing the violin filled his mind. He tried to think of something else, but the sweet music playing in his head drew him back to the image. He could feel himself ready to go. He was frozen to the chair in fear and embarrassment. He turned his face away from Wufei and brought his hand up to his face, nervously pinching the top of his nose, trying to catch the tears before they had a chance to run down his face.

The sweet, echoing melody played over and over in his mind, the image of Quatre standing beside the piano, his eyes closed, putting his heart and soul into creating the hauntingly beautiful sounds that came from his violin. The background feelings of such beauty being snuffed out like a candle. The visions were relentless, unforgiving, and torturous. Suddenly Heero felt Wufei's hand on his shoulder.

"Don't fight it Heero," he whispered, crouching besides the chair.

As the images bombarded Heero's mind, he could fight the feelings no longer. He blubbed out loud, slumping forward, burying his face into his hands. The sense of loss and emptiness he felt, symbolised by the music no longer heard, was overwhelming.

He no longer felt embarrassed at Wufei being there, he was surprised at the compassion he was showing, it made him feel more at ease as the high emotion took control of his mind and body. He cried for about five minutes before the images in his mind finally allowed him to recompose himself. Wufei stayed with him the whole time, offering what support he could.

Eventually, Heero spoke

"I got to admit, Wufei, I'm a little surprised at you", he said quietly.

"What do you mean?", asked Wufei.

"Well.... you always used to be such a cold son of a bitch!", he replied in slight jest, "You've changed." He pointed his finger convictionately at Wufei.

Wufei smiled.

"I have learned a lot in the last couple of days, I'd like to think it was for the better."

"I think it might well be", replied Heero, nodding.

Wufei smiled again, "Get some sleep Heero, You'll feel better in the morning", He suggested, patting him on the shoulder, "then perhaps we could both do a shift on the vigil tomorrow."

Heero nodded in agreement.

Wufei turned to leave, but as he reached the door Heero called to him.

"Wufei?" Wufei Turned around.

Heero stood up. "You know....I'm.... I'm glad I can call you Friend." Heero took a long, respectful bow towards the Chinese boy.

Wufei, slightly moved by the gesture, returned the bow

"The honour is mine" he replied quietly, then turned and left the room.

Chapter Nine

At around three AM the door to the Winner mansion quietly creaked open and Trowa walked in. He too had received a soaking from the relentless thunderstorms that seemed to be plaguing the area that night. He entered the drawing room to dry out a little by the fire, just as Heero had done earlier.

As he reached the fireplace, he felt a presence in the room, and turned to see Wufei sat in the corner, looking up at him from reading his book. They nodded to each other.

"How are things at the hospital?" asked Wufei

"Not much change," replied Trowa, "Although Quatre seems to be moving about a bit, like he's dreaming or something. Sally tells me this is a good sign, he could be regaining consciousness soon."

"That's good," replied Wufei, "I was hoping this wouldn't go on any longer than it has to."

"Where's Heero?" asked Trowa, "Duo told me he had broken the news to him, and that he seemed a little upset. Have you seen him since?"

Wufei nodded,

"He's asleep in his room," he replied, "Yet...." Wufei hesitated.

"What is it?" asked Trowa.

Wufei seemed to be pondering what to say. It was obvious that he wanted to tell him something, but wasn't sure where to start.

"Well, Heero was understandably upset... but... there was more to it than that."

"In what way?", asked Trowa

"I'm not sure," Replied Wufei, "It's difficult to explain, but I sensed there was something odd about Heero's reaction.... it may be nothing."

"Can you be more specific?", asked Trowa, sitting down in the chair opposite Wufei.

"It was not anything he said or did, It was just a feeling, a hunch I got... but it concerned me."

Trowa leaned forward in the chair, listening carefully to Wufei's words.

Wufei became hesitant as he searched for an appropriate explanation.

"Underneath... I got the impression..... that is.... I think.... that Heero is angry.... very angry with Quatre, in fact, I think he's furious."

Trowa asked him to elaborate more.

"Like I said, it was just a gut feeling, but it concerned me".

"Why would he be angry?", asked Trowa.

"I'm only guessing of course, but I figured it has to do with the state it has put all of us in, lets face it, if we were called on a mission tomorrow, we'd be pretty useless."

Trowa nodded.

"I understand that sometimes people who try to take their own lives are often accused of being selfish and that can lead to people being angry about it, but this is Quatre we are talking about. Selfish? I don't think so. Quatre is the least selfish person I know, I'm sure Heero believes that too." Trowa spoke quietly; fatigue was starting to get to him.

Wufei Nodded.

"I agree with you Trowa, and this could be nothing. I guess all I'm saying is..... we should keep an eye on Heero the next time he is with Quatre." He suggested cautiously.

"You don't think he would do anything bad do you?", asked Trowa in a concerned tone.

"No.... no! Heero would never knowingly harm Quatre.... but, I think.... there maybe the possibility that, once Quatre wakes..... Well, he might try to confront him about it too soon, when Quatre is still weak." Wufei spoke hesitantly, "I'm sure that won't happen, maybe it's just me being paranoid." Wufei gave a brief smile after realising his suggestion was maybe a little mistrustful and unreasonable. "I'm sure things will turn out just fine."

Trowa nodded in agreement. "I'm sure they will", he replied, "But I will keep what you have told me in the back of my mind"

"Then we will talk about it no more tonight," suggested Wufei.

Trowa nodded in agreement once again.

"How come you're up so late Wufei?" Asked Trowa.

"I am fully rested. I plan to go to the hospital in a while, once I have read this book."

"Duo has only just taken over from me, but I guess he would appreciate the company."

"Actually", said Wufei, "I was figuring that Duo wouldn't last long before he fell asleep, don't forget he was under sedation earlier today."

Trowa nodded, "Of course", he said, suddenly remembering. "Although he did seem perfectly ok when I saw him. But maybe you should go anyway, just in case"

Within the hour, Wufei had left the mansion. Trowa had gone to bed after their short conversation, agreeing that either he or Heero would come to relieve him in the morning.

At the hospital, Wufei opened the door to Quatre's room.

Sure enough, just as he had predicted, Duo was slouched in the bed-side chair with his arms folded, fast asleep. Wufei cleared his throat. A tired Duo slowly lifted his head, partially opening his eyes.

"Uh?"

On realisation of his fallen asleep state, he quickly snapped himself upright in the chair, as if nothing had happened.

"Oh... what... Hey! Hi Wufei!" he bleated tiredly trying to disguise his tiredness.

Wufei looked on with a wry smile.

"What time is it?", asked Duo, "Is it time to swap over already?", he asked, slowly regaining his bearings.

Wufei shook his head, "Don't worry Duo, relax", he replied, "You've only been here a few hours, but I figured you'd be tired, especially after this morning."

"Tired? Me?" Replied Duo conjuring up the best 'deception' mask he could, "Naa! I'm good for hours yet". He suddenly yawned.

Wufei said nothing. He simply looked at Duo with a cold, blank expression. He folded his arms.

Duo sighed, nodding, "Ok, ok!.... Busted! You were right... I'm really struggling to keep my eyes open here" he replied, rubbing his hands over his face.

As Duo tried to wake himself up a little, Wufei turned and stood beside Quatre's bed, looking down at him. Quatre was moving slightly, twitching occasionally, his eyes moving under his eyelids as if dreaming.

"He's been moving around like that for quite a while now," said Duo, "a couple of times I kept thinking he had actually woken up".

"Let's hope he does wake up soon," replied Wufei.

Duo stood up and joined Wufei, watching Quatre. He yawned tiredly.

"Go home Duo", suggested Wufei, "Go and get the rest you obviously need. I will take over here for now, Trowa and Heero will do shifts tomorrow."

Reluctantly, Duo agreed with him. He nodded and was about to speak as another Yawning fit gripped him. Unable to speak through so much yawning, Duo simply patted Wufei on the arm and headed for the door, gesturing goodbye as he reached it. Wufei smiled a little, finding it slightly amusing as Duo quietly closed the door behind him. He pulled up the chair and sat down, producing a small book from his pocket, his second book that day. Reading was something he rarely had time to do, so he decided to take advantage of the situation.

It was less than an hour later when Wufei was disturbed from his reading. He noticed the ventilator machine, which until now had been running in a steady, rhythmic way, had began to fluctuate and stutter. The steady, regular breaths became random and faster. He put his book down and stood beside the bed, looking at Quatre's face. Quatre's head was very slightly moving from side to side; his whole body was twitching and fidgeting as if he was about to wake from a dream-intense sleep. Wufei could feel his own heartbeat begin to speed up in anticipation, and in hope of his friend finally waking up. He reached down and gently took hold of Quatre's hand.

"Come on Quatre," he whispered quiet words of encouragement, "Come on, that's it my friend... I think you're going to wake up... aren't you?... Come on Quatre, you're going to be ok"

Suddenly he felt his hand being weakly squeezed. A huge grin appeared on Wufei's face as he gasped, almost laughing out.

"That's it Quatre!" he spoke quietly, still beaming a huge grin "Come on... you can do it.... Come back to us Quatre"

The ventilator machine was more erratic than ever. The heart rate monitor was also bleeping a new, more upbeat tune. Wufei began gently steadily squeezing Quatre's hand as he leaned in and called his name.

"Quatre", he spoke quietly at first. Quatre continued to fidget and move around. His head now moving more noticeably from side to side.

"Quatre!" spoke Wufei again, this time more loudly. The fidgeting continued. Quatre gave Wufei's hand another squeeze, this time a little harder than before. Wufei renewed his grin.

"That's it my friend", he reiterated, "Come on, you can do it, come back to us Quatre". Suddenly, the fidgeting stopped as Quatre took a deep breath, almost sighing. Wufei squeezed his hand once more.

"Quatre!....... Quatre...... Wake up Quatre!" he spoke softly still leaning forward over Quatre's face. With tired effort and a slight groan, Quatre's eyes slowly and uncomfortably opened.

Wufei almost let out a cry of joy as he gasped a final "Yes!", whilst grinning from ear to ear.

Quatre continued blinking and squinting many times before finally his eyes could stay open, Wufei observed silently for the moment. Quatre Just lay there for a few moments, as if he had just woken from a deep sleep and was getting his bearings. His eyes drifted around the room, observing his surroundings before finally coming to rest on Wufei.

"Wu,... Wufei?" he uttered in a dry, croaky voice.

"Welcome back my friend", whispered Wufei, still sporting a huge smile, his eyes beginning to glaze slightly, brought on by the surge of emotion he was beginning to feel, "I am very.... very pleased to see you again".

As he spoke, he began to instinctively squeeze Quatre's hand as an overwhelming sense of relief and joy began to hit him. His stomach knotted as an intense sadness gripped him, yet, he did not feel sad. This was not like the sadness he had felt before but was equally, if not more intense. Wufei had never sensed such an intense sense of relief. The weight he could feel lifting from his shoulders was overwhelming, and the joy that came with it was more intense than he had ever experienced before in his life. Despite his efforts to prevent them, tears welled in his eyes. He swallowed nervously as they ran down his cheeks and dripped off his chin. Quatre was still a little disorientated, but squeezed Wufei's hand as he saw the tears.

"Wufei?" croaked Quatre again, "What's happening?"

Wufei took a breath and wiped his face with the sleeve of his arm. He gave a long sniff and grinned again, trying to recompose himself.

"Hey!" Wufei bleated out, half laughing, half crying, still grinning.

Slowly a weak smile appeared on Quatre's face.

Wufei leaned in, speaking softly, "Everything's fine Cat, you're going to be ok, just relax ok..... How do you feel?"

Quatre paused as he did a self-diagnostic, moving each of his limbs in turn.

"I'm a little sore," he said, holding his ribs, "but I think I feel ok," he croaked dryly, "whe..... where am I?"

"You're in the Hospital," replied Wufei, still grinning and trying hard to hold his composure together.

"Did we succeed in our mission?", asked Quatre

Wufei was hesitant, for now, he did not want to even touch on the subject of the last mission, knowing what had happened.

Suddenly the door opened. Sally and two other medical staff entered the room.

"Don't worry yourself about that right now Quatre", replied Wufei, "There will be time to talk about that later, just concentrate on getting better ok?"

Quatre reluctantly nodded.

Wufei felt Sally's hand on his shoulder.

"Hey! Quatre!" she beamed a compassionate smile at Quatre.

"Wufei, can you give us a few minutes please?" she asked, donned in her professional doctors mode. Despite the smile, she looked serious. Her question was asked with a subtle degree of urgency.

Wufei nodded,

"Of course," he replied, the tears welling in his eyes again.

Before releasing Quatre's hand he gave it another squeeze and patted it with his other hand.

"I'll wait outside," his voice wavering, "Don't go anywhere", he whispered to Quatre, smiling, in an attempt at light-hearted humour despite his emotions playing havoc with his mind again. Quatre did his best to return the grin.

Wufei turned and walked towards the door.

As her colleagues began to unhook various pieces of life support equipment and run tests on Quatre's condition, Sally leaned in and smiled kindly.

"It's so good to see you awake Quatre, we've all been worried about you..... how do you feel".....

Wufei closed the door behind him and walked slowly along the corridor. He decided to make the necessary phone call to the Winner mansion to let the others know what had happened, but he only made it a short way along the corridor before his emotions caught up with him again. He held off as long as he could, but eventually found himself leaning up against the corridor wall, weeping with tears of joy and the relief of knowing Quatre was all right. His hands covered his face, as slowly, his back slid down the wall until he was sat on the floor, sobbing like a small child. It was an odd sensation, and Wufei was confused. In that moment, he felt more happy and relieved than at any other time in his life, yet the emotions inside him were more intense than they had ever been.

Suddenly, he felt a presence. He looked up to see Sally kneeling down beside him.

"It's ok Wufei, he's going to be fine", she said, reaching out to him, her own voice almost beginning to crack. Wufei instinctively reached out with urgency, and she enveloped her arms around him and held him tight. She cradled him tightly against her as he continued to weep tears of joy. Sally pressed her nose into his jet black, tied-back hair, and closed her eyes tight as she too, finally, if only slightly, permitted herself a few tears for the first time since Quatre was nearly killed.

They spent almost ten minutes comforting each other before one of Sally's colleagues hesitantly approached to consult with her. Wufei was impressed by her ability to recompose herself almost instantly. Before getting up to walk away, Sally gently cupped her hand onto Wufei's face, looked him in the eye and smiled. She didn't need to say anything, he knew what she meant. He bowed his head with appreciative thanks.

Wufei remained sitting on the corridor floor for another few moments gathering his thoughts before finally getting up and heading for the phone booths at the front entrance to the hospital wing. After several attempts, he failed to get an answer.

"Damn!", he cursed, thumping his fist against the booth wall, "Someone must have switched off the ringer", he thought to himself. He continued trying until eventually the answering machine kicked in and he left a message.

Chapter Ten

After making the phone call, Wufei made his way back towards the room. On reaching the corridor, he saw Sally's two colleagues wheeling some of the machinery and monitoring equipment out. He peered in the open doorway and observed for a moment, unsure if it was ok for him to go in yet. Quatre was awake and sat upright, propped against two large pillows. He was engaged in quiet conversation with Sally who was perched on the edge of the bed. She was holding his hands and smiling as they spoke, obviously very pleased to see him looking better.

Wufei knocked quietly on the doorframe, they both looked up at him. Sally gestured for Wufei to come in and he entered the room.

"How is he?", he asked, looking Quatre in the eye, but directing his question to Sally.

"Quatre will be fine", she replied squeezing Quatre's hand again. She turned her eyes to Quatre and smiled again, "It will take time for him to fully recover, but he should make a full recovery".

"That's good news", said Wufei, stepping closer, holding on to the frame at the foot of the bed. "How long do you think before he can leave?"

"Well let's not move too quickly", replied Sally in a cautious tone, "we should take things one step at a time Wufei. Ten minutes ago he was still virtually in a coma, he'll need to be under observation for at least a few days before we decide anything".

Suddenly, a quiet bleeping sound could be herd. Sally reached to her pocket and pulled out a small black box, the source of the slightly obtrusive noise.

"I have to go", she said, pressing a switch on the box, cancelling the alarm. "I'll be back to check on you in a while Quatre", she said, squeezing his hand again before breaking away. She stood up from the bed and briefly turned to Wufei,

"Keep an eye on him for me will you Wufei?" she asked.

Wufei nodded respectfully. "Of course", he replied.

Sally smiled, and then briskly made her way to the door, closing it behind her.

Wufei observed the door click shut, then peeled his view back to Quatre.

Quatre was still looking a little pale, but, all in all, he appeared to be ok. He smiled. Many of the tubes and monitoring pads that had been stuck to him had been removed, as had the ventilator tubes from around his face. In fact the only apparent thing remaining was a small drip tube attached to the back of his right hand. The green surgical gown he was wearing had been exchanged for his favourite, classic red, Paisley patterned pyjamas that Sally had remembered to pick up from the mansion on her last visit there earlier that morning.

The boys remained silent for a moment, observing each other, looking one another in the eye. There was a tense uneasiness hanging over them both. Quatre was uncertain how much Wufei knew, Uncertain if he knew the whole truth. Wufei was uncertain of Quatre's frame of mind. He did not know if he would attempt to end his life again as soon as he was left alone. He knew he could never allow that to happen, not now. The last couple of days had been a revelation for him. Not only did he discover just how much he truly wanted, and needed his friendship with Quatre, but he also firmly believed that it was his responsibility to help Quatre through his problem, his inability to cope with taking life in battle, the very reason for his attempted suicide. Wufei had the knowledge and skills to help, and his failure in spotting Quatre's desperation until it was too late played heavily on his mind, as he began to feel partly responsible. He made a decision that he would not leave Quatre's side, until he was satisfied that no further attempts to take his own life would occur.

Feeling this tenseness between them, Quatre began to feel dreadful. Not physically, as in ill, but awful, as in, a sense of guilt and shame. He suddenly felt deceptive, like a fraud. He began to feel a sense of betrayal, that he had lied to his friends and comrades to meet his own selfish needs, and end it all by taking the easy option out, to simply run away from the pain and torment instead of facing up to it. At the time, he didn't believe that his death would have much of an impact, but after seeing the concerned and caring, yet quietly tormented expression on Wufei's face, he very quickly began to doubt, and regret his recent decisions.

Sally had told him about the Pilots bedside vigil that they had kept, although she still remained unaware of the pilot's true motives for it - to prevent Quatre from attempting suicide again, if and when he woke up. As the two boys looked at each other, secretly trying to fathom one another's thoughts, the need to break the silence became more pressing. Eventually it was Quatre who spoke first.

"Th,.. Thanks for being here Wufei", he said quietly, smiling again, his voice still dry and croaky, "Sally told me about you guys all taking shifts to stay with me, It was a really nice sentiment, I am very grateful." His tone was diplomatic, but appreciative.

"We know how much you love hospitals", replied Wufei humorously, his expression turning a little more cheerful, "We figured some familiar faces would ease the burden on you."

Quatre smiled as he looked down at the paisley pyjamas he was wearing, tenderly pinching the material between his thumb and finger,

"Sally brought these from home for me for the same reason, she thought they would make me feel more comfortable", he replied. "And she tells me that the flowers in that vase were sent by Relena," he gestured towards the table across the room.

"There's a card from her wishing me well too, it says she will come and visit as soon as she can". Wufei cast his eyes to the huge bouquet of flowers sat in a vase on the table. He realised they must have only just been delivered, as he did not recall seeing them earlier, then he began trying to figure out who had told Relena, and whether they would have mentioned the suicide attempt.

"It must have been Sally", he thought silently to himself.

Quatre sighed sadly for a moment, continuing to caress the rich pyjama material between his fingers. The care and concern he had been shown began to dominate his thoughts. Again, he began to feel the sense of his selfishness.

"They really care about me", he thought silently to himself, "everyone is being so kind."

Until now, Quatre had wrongly believed that his death would be looked upon as little more than an unfortunate event, although hardly surprising, it was a war after all and he hadn't counted on surviving it's entirety anyway. He knew that if anyone was going to get a little upset it would probably be Duo because of the close friendship they had developed. In preparation for that, Quatre had made a video recording for him, which he left with his lawyers to be presented to Duo after Quatre's death, along with enough financial support to ensure his, and the other pilots' futures were comfortable. Only now was it slowly dawning on Quatre as to just how much he would be missed.

He sighed again,

"I'm so lucky to have you guys as friends," he said, his voice becoming sullen, "But surely you all must have had better things to do than to sit around waiting for me to wake up?"

Wufei, who had spent the last few moments studying the vase of flowers, suddenly looked Quatre in the eye.

"You are very wrong", he replied, his voice serious. "You have been the major concern on everyone's minds for the past days", he informed, "All of us have been deeply troubled".

"Really??" Quatre gasped quietly in surprise, his mind picturing the glum faces of his fellow pilots.

Quatre sighed heavily, his guilt was increasing.

"I really don't deserve this Wufei", he pleaded, "I really don't deserve such concern"

Wufei pulled up a chair close to the bed.

"Yes...... you do," he replied slowly as he sat down on it, "You do".

"No, believe me Wufei, I really don't", insisted Quatre, still with thoughts of shame and betrayal burned into his mind.

"Yes!.... Quatre!.... you do!" confirmed Wufei, this time more firmly.

Quatre continued to subtly shake his head from side to side in a gesture that Wufei was wrong.

Wufei knew they could not go on, dancing around the issue. He leaned forward, purposely gripping his hand on Quatre's forearm, looking him in the eye. Quatre remained silent, looking at him in nervous anticipation of his next words. Wufei was hesitant, he paused for several moments, half wondering if this was the right time to tell him or not. He knew the others could arrive at any time, which would make the job even more difficult, so he finally opted to speak now.

"Quatre," he spoke with a subdued, compassionate, yet serious tone.

"Quatre, we know............we know...... everything."

Quatre suddenly felt a sinking sensation on his heart, although he wasn't totally sure that Wufei was referring to what he thought he was referring to.

"E....Everything?", stuttered Quatre, almost in a gasp, praying that Wufei would start talking with reference to something other than the real truth.

Wufei nodded silently. He looked sorrowful.

"H...How did?" stuttered Quatre nervously, "how did you......"

"Trowa." spoke Wufei cutting Quatre off in mid sentence, "Trowa investigated the crash." he spoke quietly, "It didn't take him long to discover the truth."

Quatre looked aghast. Alarm bells were ringing in his head.

"Oh my God! They know!" he thought silently, his mind in a panic, "do they all know?"

"How... how many.... who....."

"Don't worry Quatre, it's just us, just the four of us, and yourself who know." Wufei interrupted again, correctly anticipating Quatre's question for the second time, "Nobody else is aware.... not even Sally."

Quatre looked down, his face still etched with dread,

"Everyone must think I'm so stupid, and selfish... and they would be right", he said regretfully.

Wufei could see the torment on Quatre's face. He felt sorry for him. He squeezed his grip on Quatre's arm and leaned forward.

"Actually, on the contrary Quatre.... I believe they feel they are partly responsible, and have failed you as a friend," his voice in a tone of regret, "It is a belief I share".

"I don't understand Wufei", protested Quatre, "How can any of you be responsible for my own selfish stupidity, that's just not true!", his voice became a little agitated.

Wufei sighed.

"Quatre, we should have realised how you were being effected, we should have realised that you couldn't go on doing what you were doing without any kind of consequence." he replied anxiously, "We should have been looking out for each other, and we weren't." Wufei sounded more sullen by the minute. "I am truly sorry Quatre, I really am. I wish I could have helped you before it came to this, I wish I could have realised earlier, spotted the signs."

Quatre reached out his hand, and gripped Wufei's arm, "Stop Wufei, Stop! That's enough!" he pleaded, tears welling in his eyes. "You, or the others must not feel responsible for this, not in any way", he was hesitant for a moment, then continued, "I... I was actually being careful not to give you any signs that things were wrong".

Wufei suddenly looked up, his face aghast.

"Oh Quatre!..... why?!" he gasped, his own eyes now welling with tears, "Why didn't you say something, why couldn't you have come to us for help? Any one of us would have helped you."

Quatre fought hard to hold back the tears,

"You are soldiers, not counsellors." he choked, "You of all people Wufei, know about weakness," he gave a long sniff, "The last thing you guys wanted was for me to dump all of my problems on you, especially just as the most crucial missions of the war were starting up."

Wufei's grip on Quatre's arm tightened.

"That's where you are wrong Quatre, that's where you are so wrong!" he wept through gritted teeth as tears began to roll down his cheeks. "You have no idea what we have all gone through these past couple of days, the regret, the torture of knowing we could have helped you, but didn't realise until it was too late." Wufei's voice became more forceful, slightly angry.

"I'm so sorry Wufei, " sobbed Quatre", I'm so sorry, I had no idea this would happen, no idea at all. The others? surely..... surely they haven't been that upset? have they?" he stuttered through weeping breath.

Wufei looked away. He didn't want to go any further down this path. He could see Quatre was upset enough, yet his need to show Quatre what he had truly done burned heavily into his mind. He had to make Quatre understand just how precious his life was. Wufei's absolute priority at that time was to deter Quatre from even thinking about taking his own life again, and if that meant upsetting him further, then he had little choice.

He looked back at Quatre and took a long breath, recomposing himself slightly. Quatre remained weepy, tears continued to periodically run down his cheeks.

"Quatre...... the others" He paused, "The others..." at first he struggled to find the appropriate words to begin what he needed to say.

"The past few days have been very difficult. Being unsure whether you would survive has had a profound effect on all of us, more than any of us ever imagined." he was hesitant to go on, but knew he must, "There have been many tears."

Quatre, had managed to calm himself a little and listened quietly to what Wufei was telling him.

"Duo by far was effected the most", Wufei continued, "On being told about your attempted suicide, he completely lost control", Wufei's eyes began to well up again as the memories of seeing the trauma of the others played back in his mind. "He was inconsolable, he threw up for over an hour and eventually had to be sedated".

Quatre closed his eyes tight as the tears began to flow again. His insides were churning. He wanted to yell out loud but tried to keep it together while Wufei continued to talk.

"Trowa was effected almost as much, he too became very ill" Wufei began to choke on his own words as the memories of upset continued to play over in his mind, "Even.... Even Heero has..."

"Stop! Wufei!.....please, stop!", blubbed Quatre leaning forward grabbing Wufei's arm again. Unable to hold back his emotions any longer. He wailed out loud, doubling forward, unable to suppress his sadness any more.

"My God! What have I done!" he sobbed, "What have I done ?? !!, I'm so sorry, so, so sorry!"

Wufei, still choking on his own tears, looked down at his sobbing friend and gently cupped his free hand under Quatre's chin lifting his head slightly.

Through broken, sobbing words, Wufei spoke.

"Quatre, you have to promise me.... absolutely promise me, that you will NEVER try anything like this again...ever!"

Quatre slowly raised his head, and looked Wufei in the eye.

"I swear, as long as I shall live, never again." he sobbed.

"Promise me Cat", stuttered Wufei a second time.

"I promise you Wufei.... as.... as God is my Judge." sniffed Quatre.

"Never again?" sobbed Wufei in a desperate need to seek absolute conformation.

"You have my word Wufei, never again, I really promise." Quatre's words faded into a quiet squeal as he continued to weep. Wufei, now feeling immense compassion for his friend, cupped his hand on the back of Quatre's neck and gently pressed his forehead against the top of Quatre's blond hair, in the nearest thing he would allow for an embrace.

A few minutes later, the door opened and Duo and Trowa walked in. Still tearful, Wufei and Quatre broke from their embrace and looked up.

"Duo!, Trowa!", peeped Quatre.

"Quatre!" gasped Duo, urgently rushing towards the bed.

Despite his face still being wet with tears, Quatre managed to forge a slight smile as they both approached. Wufei stepped away from the bed to allow his comrades to greet their friend, as he did, he caught Duo's eye.

"He knows", whispered Wufei with a gesture. Duo nodded, understanding Wufei's comment.

Both Duo and Trowa looked happy, and relieved that Quatre was ok. They approached, one on either side of the bed.

"Hey! Buddy!" spoke Duo quietly, smiling compassionately, placing his hand on Quatre's shoulder, "we've been worried about you".

Quatre's expression suddenly began to turn. The slight smile faded as the sides of his mouth turned downwards and his eyes started to water again.

"I know", he whispered in a barely audible voice, his breath quickening, "Duo... I'm so sorry!" he sniffed, "I'm so very sorry! you too Trowa, I'm so, so sorry." Quatre's tears began to flow again.

Immediately, both Trowa and Duo leaned forward, each placing an arm across his back in a kind of group hug.

Trowa cupped his hand on the back of Quatre's neck.

"No Quatre, It's us who should be sorry", He replied, "we should have seen your pain, we should never have allowed it to get to this"

"Trowa's right ", replied Duo, squeezing his arm tightly around Quatre's shoulders, "I'm sorry too Cat, I of all people should have seen this coming, I should have seen what it was doing to you, but I didn't."

"No! that isn't true." protested Quatre, still sobbing, "None of you must blame yourselves, this had nothing to do with you, it was my own stupid selfishness. I've been such a fool." sobbed Quatre, pleading with them not to take the blame, "Such a fool!"

"Oh Quatre!" sighed Duo as his own guilt began to surface, "All the times you helped me, all those times I dumped all my problems onto you, It must have been like I was rubbing salt into the wounds..... God! I'm so sorry Cat .....I..."

"No Duo, it wasn't like that at all." blubbed Quatre, interrupting him, "If anything, you helped me... you... you gave me a reason to keep going."

Duo sighed, his own sadness beginning to knot in his stomach again.

"But Cat, why didn't you come to me for help?" he pleaded in a half-whisper, "I mean, we're buddies aren't we? We trust each other. I mean.... we're ok aren't we?"

Quatre nodded earnestly, shaking off the tears that had pooled in a large drip under his chin.

"I could have helped you Cat" Duo squeezed his arm tighter around Quatre's shoulders as his eyes welled. "You little fool!" he said, trying to form a half smile, in an effort to quell the tears. "I still can... and will... if you'll let me?"

Quatre reached his hand up on to Duo's neck, trying to return the slight embrace he was being given. All the time, Trowa remained close by, just nodding and agreeing with everything Duo was saying. He was about to speak when the door opened again, this time it was Heero who stepped in. He did not look happy.

He turned round and closed the door.

"Heero!" gasped Quatre, trying to forge a smile again through his tearful face.

Heero remained facing the back of the door

"Quatre! You're a self-serving, selfish son of a bitch!" he snarled through closed teeth. A shocked silence suddenly filled the room. Heero span round and stormed briskly towards the bed.

"I swear it Quatre! if you EVER! pull a stunt like that again, I'll kill you myself!" he snarled as he walked. Uncertain of Heero's motives, Duo instinctively moved away from Quatre and moved to the foot of the bed, standing in Heero's way. Heero stopped in front of Duo, but still looking at Quatre. He continued his verbal assault.

"Have you any idea of the trouble you have caused?, or what you've put us all through?" he accused angrily.

The greeting smile on Quatre's face had quickly disappeared and he began sobbing again, tears streaming down his face, like those of a small child being told off by an adult.

"Hey! Take it easy Heero!" protested Duo. Heero looked Duo coldly in the eye for a moment, then slowly brushed his way past him. Duo was unsure what Heero had in mind, but there was something about the look in his eyes, something odd, something tragic. He reluctantly allowed him to pass, but remained close-by.

Heero stood beside Quatre

"I've seen some lousy stunts in my time, but that had to be the worst!", he spoke angrily again.

"I'm sorry Heero!" bawled Quatre, "I'm so sorry! I was really stupid!" his voice became almost a plea, "I had no idea, no idea!". He gave a long sniff, "please! ... Please don't' hate me for it Heero! .. I never meant to hurt anyone."

Heero looked down at the sobbing boy, his breath began to quicken. He remained silent for a few moments, as if thinking what to do next, then suddenly he reached out. Quatre flinched, thinking Heero was about to hit him, but before anyone could do anything, Heero wrapped his arms tightly around Quatre's shoulders, embracing him.

Everyone was stood in silence, trying to figure out what was going on in Heero's mind. Heero closed his eyes tight, bowing his head forward, and pressed his face gently onto the top of the blond Arab's head. A few moments later, there was a quiet sob. Quatre quickly realised Heero had begun to cry and reached up to him. A few moments later Heero sobbed out loud, tightening his embrace.

"I don't hate you Quatre!" he sobbed, as tears ran down his face, "I don't hate you at all!", his voice suddenly subdued almost to a whisper.

"You fool", he cried, still whispering, "You stupid little fool! ... What would we have done... if you had succeeded?" his words spoken between sniffs, "what then eh?"

The others looked on with compassion as they saw a very rare side of Heero's personality coming through. They figured he must have been teetering on the edge of despair to be acting like he was.

"We're gonna get you through this Quatre," sniffed Heero, still holding on tight, his voice almost a squeak, "All of us, we're gonna help you get through this. Never again should you feel so alone". Heero glanced up at the others.

"And that goes for all of us. ALL of us!"

There was a general nodding of heads as the other pilots looked at one another, agreeing to Heero's sentiments. Duo, still starry eyed, stepped towards them and joined in the embrace, placing his arms around both Quatre and Heero

"None of us should ever have to endure anything like this again", He pledged, backing Heero, "none of us... never again." Every one in the room agreed. There was a general mumbled chant of "yes", "agreed" and "Absolutely" all in unison.

Wufei stepped to the other side of the bed, next to Trowa. He leaned forward and also joined in; reaching his arms around the other three. Trowa quickly followed suit, adding his presence to the spontaneous group hug.

Wufei took a breath, "From now on, we all need to look out for each other, not just on the battlefield, but in our normal lives too", again there was a general agreement. He continued. "We are a team, we are comrades, and we are friends, during war, AND in peacetime. I pledge to you all now, No matter what life throws at us, no matter where our fortunes lie, I will be here for you. You guys are my family, I will never turn you away."

There was a chant of complete approval and agreement from everyone.

"For the rest of my Life, I am here too" replied Duo

"We must never allow this to happen again" said Heero, "so count me in"

"Yes, me too" spoke Trowa, "I also pledge myself to this agreement, we must all be vigilant and not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help."

Quatre was the last to pledge his allegiance, although he could barely speak the words after being so deeply moved by what had come about, and the closeness he was sensing from everyone.

That day, the pilots became a strong, even more united force than they had ever been. Their pledge to one another was to be the strongest commitment that each of them had ever made, and it was to be the longest standing, for, just two days later, the war officially ended, and the boys began a new life of hope, as civilians.

To this day, they all remain true to their word.

**** The End ****

If you enjoyed this, then you might like to know that the sequel to this story is available now on Fanfiction.net

It is a Full GW novel called 'One small step' which i've actually self-published.

It is 23 chapters long and has been described as a 'really good read'by my sisters and friends who know nothing about GW!

The write-up on the back of the (hardback) book is as follows....

"Based on the hugely popular Gundam Wing anime series, and set just six months after the end of the Great War, 'One Small Step' focuses on the lives if the infamous Gundam pilots and their wartime comrades as they all settle into post-war civilian lives.

It is during this settling down period that Heero makes the somewhat startling announcement that he has a brother; a small and somewhat timid boy whose meagre appearance gives little clue to the closely guarded secret he holds, a secret so astounding, it could change Humankind forever.

As the others quickly warm to this kind-hearted character, they begin to suspect that not everything about him is at it appears."

Please let me know your comments!

baloons4@hotmial.com