May 31, 2002

Well, this was a long time in coming, wasn't it? ^^ I finally had a burst of inspiration, that actually stemmed from a brief conversation I had with Blue Lemming nearly a year ago that I thought of when I was going through my fics. I had nothing else to do at work so I spent 3 hours writing a letter to myself through my work email because I don't have a word processor, and then spent 2 hours cleaning it up at home this morning.

This chapter is dedicated to everyone whose read it up to this point and has emailed me for a continuation. I apologize for the lengthy delay, but if it comes down to a quick but crappy chapter, or a long break followed by something I'm happy with, take a wild stab in the dark which path I'm going to follow.

Also, Heart of Darkness won its first award! Check out my awards page at my site for the cool custom graphic Kosmo Star made me for it! It's so perfect!

Here's hoping you enjoy this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it!

--Stormy



Into The Heart of Darkness

Chapter 10





Quatre rubbed his chest fitfully, unable to completely suppress the slight wince that crossed his face. The pain he was feeling was muted, thankfully; he had no doubts at all that it could be so much worse if not for Jean's filter still firmly in place. Beside him, Trowa stood silently, an ever- solid presence that the Arabian took comfort in, even if it was just from a slight squeeze of their clasped hands.

He took in the still forms lying on the medical beds before him. Duo's normally animated face was tense, the muscles ticking with suppressed emotion as he fought on a plain Quatre was unable to follow. Or was he? The Arabian took stock of the situation, surveying the room again. Heero lay on the bed next to Duo, the gash in his arm that had spontaneously appeared out of nowhere, skilfully stitched up by Doctor McCoy. Cyclops stood next to the two beds holding his wife in his arms stoically, not showing even the slightest bit of fatigue even though he'd been holding her for nearly an hour now. Jean lay cradled in his embrace, resembling a limp puppet, whose strings had been cut. Her hair tumbled over the curve of Scott's arm, her hand splayed against his chest in a subconscious gesture of love and trust.

Across from him, also staring intently at the bed and its 'sleeping' occupants, Charles Xavier's hands rubbed his temples as he closed his eyes to attempt yet another scan, only to open them again with a frustrated expression. Quatre knew the man could enter Duo's mind at will but was unwilling to risk doing permanent damage to the Shinigami pilot. His chest twinged again.

Wufei stood by the door, a watchful sentry standing guard over his downed troops. His face was expressionless but Quatre knew the Chinese pilot better then that. Beneath the mask of calm was a churning ocean of emotion, roiling and roaring to be set loose. Wufei's incredible self-control kept his impatience in check however, and as Quatre focused on the black-haired boy, he sent a warm wave of calm and reassurance that made Wufei look up, a small smile appearing on his face before he sent back a wordless thank you that warmed Quatre's heart. Beside Wufei, Jubilee sat on the floor, her back against the wall and her knees drawn up. She knew what they were going through, Quatre thought, remembering her passionate outburst earlier, and he was grateful for the silent support she was showing them. It had to be painful for her to relive some of her most horrifying nightmares, but she did so anyway. That took a great deal of courage and strength. Both qualities Wufei respected above any other save honour, and Quatre had no doubt Jubilee had a fair share of that as well.

Doctor McCoy was fiddling with his machines again, adjusting the knobs and dials as though they would make any difference even though his actions had changed nothing. Quatre sympathized with him. As Jubilee had to face her fears, so to did the doctor have to realize his limitations and come to terms with the fact that he had done all he could do. It was up to Heero and Duo and Jean now, and they had no way of helping them.

Or did they?

Quatre rubbed his chest yet again, feeling the connection between himself and the pilots stretched out like an elastic cord. Where he could sense Trowa and Wufei's presence like two beacons of warm light, Heero and Duo seemed to be cut off into a veil of dark and cold. But if he could breach that...

Quatre closed his eyes as he focused....



*~*~*~*~*~*~*

" This ends now."

Heero would have shivered at the cold, deadly tone coming out of Duo's mouth had such emotional responses not been such a chore for him. Despite Duo's brief attempt to reassure him, it still felt wrong. Even during some of their worst battles against Oz, Duo's voice had never sounded so...evil. He sounded very much like the doppelgangers they were trying to eliminate. Sort of. Heero again recalled Duo's plea to spare the clone's 'life' and suppressed a growl of agitation.

Duo, amazingly, had risen up from behind him, slipping in front of him like a ghost in time to deflect what would have been a killing strike from Shinigami and forcing his twin to move back a bit, giving Heero some much- needed breathing room.

" Duo?"

He stepped forward only to be pulled back by slender, golden-gloved fingers gripping the back of his tank top. Jean's weary face greeted him as he turned with a start. She nodded at the two combatants who stared at each other silently for a few seconds before launching themselves at each other, fists flying.

" He has to do this himself, Heero!"

Heero snarled and wrenched his shoulder free of her grip, but he made no move towards the duellists. One thing he was coming to learn was that he was painfully out of his league, and that he'd be better off following the telepath's lead. His fists clenched and unclenched with suppressed tension.

It was like watching a mirror, he decided.  A twisted parody come to life, mimicking Duo's fighting style to the letter. A fist shot forward only to be blocked. A return kick was grabbed in mid air and flung away. Blows designed to be deadly never made their mark. A stalemate.

Heero remembered Jean's warning but found his level of nervous energy rising with each passing second. There had to be something he could do.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Duo dropped to the ground, letting Shinigami's swipe with his scythe he had materialized pass mere inches above his head. The doppelganger crowed with laughter, dark eyes flashing with sadistic delight.

" You can do better then this!" he encouraged, bringing the blade back around for another pass. " You're me after all!"

I am NOT you!Duo snarled at the thought of being anything like that twisted killer. The very idea that he could delight in such torment and death was ludicrous! It was unnatural, simply untrue.

Or was it?

Duo nearly paused as a memory of some Oz base flashed through his mind. He recalled the sheer delight of operating Deathscythe with flawless precision, mowing down a herd of Oz troops like the lead dancer in some grisly ballet. The ecstasy that had flowed through his veins at simply knowing how good he was at his job had been intoxicating. How different was he really from Shinigami?

" Duo, LOOK OUT!"

Heero's voice cut through his daydream and Duo barely got out of the way of Shinigami's follow-up attack. He blocked with his own metal staff, letting his mind conjure up what it needed for defence automatically.

He IS me, Duo thought silently, his eyes wide with realization as he numbly blocked and parried each forward thrust of Shinigami's weapon. He's the part of me that I keep locked away and that's why we're so evenly matched. I can't destroy him because it'd be destroying a part of myself.

So what could he do?

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Jean was growing despondent as she watched. Duo was fighting back hard but she still didn't see a way to resolve this without destroying Shinigami. She focused on Duo's face and saw the blank expression. Without hesitation, she scanned his mind, reading his thoughts.

Of course!

:: Duo :: she sent quickly. :: Duo, listen to me…::

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Duo listened as Jean 'invaded' his mind.

:: You need to absorb Shinigami back into yourself :: /iJean said urgently. :: He's a part of you that can't be destroyed. You need him as much as he needs you, even if he doesn't want to realize it! ::

:: Absorb him?:: /iDuo thought incredulously, blocking another shot. :: How the hell do I do that? ::

:: You need to weaken him. His power, his strength, it's all yours! He's taken it all from you! ::

:: So how do I weaken him? ::

:: Take back what you've given him! ::

Duo blinked as sudden realization hit him like a brick. Take it back. Shinigami was a part of him. They were the same. Take it back.

Then he saw it. Almost transparent and possessing an ethereal quality to it, there was a link running between him and Shinigami! Duo's face lit up with a feral grin. It widened when he saw Shinigami falter slightly as he took in what Duo saw, following his eyes to the link with a look of dawning comprehension and horror.

In a flash, Duo had leaped across the small distance separating them,, latching in to Shinigami with animalistic strength. He shut his eyes, reaching out for the connection he'd been too cowed to see before, actively searching it out instead of fearing it.

Shinigami tried to throttle him, all the while twisting and kicking, even biting in his attempts to dislodge the American.

Duo growled and held on to Shinigami, digging his fingers in hard. He wouldn't let go. This had to end. He tried to focus on the unexpected link he found running between them, willing back all the strength and power Shinigami had taken from him. In his haste to deny Shinigami's very existence, Duo had given the doppelganger the very tools he needed to survive, and he was taking them back.

" YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO ME!" Shinigami screeched, clawing frantically at Duo, trying to dislodge the American. Sharp talons sprouted from his hands and slashed at Duo's arms. Blood streamed down in torrents but Duo doggedly held on, closing his eyes and concentrating.

This is a part of me, HE is a part of me...I can't deny the blackness in myself but I CAN control it...I WILL control it… Duo opened his eyes, staring into the heated rage of Shinigami. You are me, you can't exist without me and I can't exist without you. But I will control you.

It was hard. He didn't know if he had what it would take to bring Shinigami down to his level but he would try.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Quatre bit his lip as he watched another pained expression flit across Duo's face. The American was struggling, that much was obvious, and he needed help. But though Sandrock and Deathscythe were their battle partners, this was far out of their league. Quatre felt the pain in his chest grow, a reaction his friends distress and he wanted to cry out at the unfairness of it all. Trowa's arms slipped around him.

" Quatre?"

" I want to help them Trowa," Quatre whispered. " I can feel them hurting. Duo's trying so hard and Heero's so worried. But I don't think it's enough."

" You can feel them," Trowa repeated. " They're broadcasting their emotion?"

" Sort of." Quatre furrowed his brow. " My space heart has always let me feel you guys though - it's just like how it was back home, except it's so much stronger here."

" Can you send anything to them?"

Quatre blinked - and then froze. That was it! He was receiving all of Heero's and Duo's emotions through his connection with them - did he have enough power within himself to send his? The more he thought about, the less sure he was. He was no telepath, and if he was an empath like Jean thought he was, he was untrained and could possibly do more harm then good.

Still, he had to try. " I'll see," he said quietly. Closing his eyes, Quatre sought out the link that bonded him to the other pilots. He closed out any other thoughts, thinking only of the times in the past when he had been sure something was wrong with one of the others because he could feel it. Deep inside his space heart he could feel the tiny threads that pulsed gently in time with his own. One of them was in pain. Quatre focused on it, gently reaching out to it. He didn't get far however - something was blocking him. He opened his eyes.

" Duo's blocked me out," he said sadly. " I can feel him, he's in pain. But I can't get through."

But maybe something else could. Quatre closed his eyes again and stopped trying to send himself forward. In his mediations he'd reached some kind of astral plane but that was different - the results of training and self- control. That's where he was having the problem. He was not a telepath that could batter down barriers and he had to remember that.

He focused on his emotions, shutting off the part of his mind that kept trying to form an astral body. He had to send emotion. But how to do it?

Music!

When he played his violin, the music was filled with his emotion. Quatre remembered Duo jokingly saying that he played his heart on his sleeve. That was the trick then.

Quatre thought of a soft, warm melody that he used to play when he was younger. It reminded him of happier days, when his father had taken him horseback riding, or the times his sisters had spent hours playing with him on the immaculately cared-for lawn in front of their estate. The melody spoke of light, of laughter, of family ties. Quatre regarded the Gundam pilots as a part of his family, as near and dear to him as the Maguanacs or his sisters and he now directed that song to Duo. He sang in his mind, unaware that he was swaying slightly in Trowa's arms as he let the imaginary music in his head become real The music sailed down the links to all of them, even Duo, gently infusing the strands rather then trying to knock them down.

He felt Trowa stir slightly as he registered Quatre's touch. Across the room, Wufei's eyes opened and he stared at Quatre in amazement. Quatre smiled, his eyes still closed, revelling in the feel of their emotions. This was it – this was what he could do. His song grew stronger and he tugged at the other strings gently, asking for their help.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Trowa felt Quatre's familiar touch against his heart and knew the blonde had figured out a way to help the American. He felt light, a sense of warmth and the feeling of love and friendship being directed at him, stronger then ever before. Then he felt a small tug and realized what Quatre was asking. Without hesitation, Trowa closed his eyes and focused, sending soothing, comforting thoughts back into the link.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Wufei grunted in surprise as he felt a wave of warm emotion pass over him. He opened his eyes to see Quatre swaying to a rhythm only he could hear and knew somehow the blonde was projecting his emotions. He must be trying to help Duo and Heero, he thought and instantly began sending back his own emotions. The friendship he had with the others, despite his attempts to stay the solitary dragon. The satisfaction and happiness he felt in seeing justice served. His wish to have his 'brother's' returned to him safe and sound. He didn't have any idea of what he was doing but it somehow just felt right to direct these thoughts at Quatre, as though the blonde were soaking up his emotions like a sponge. So he did it, and kept doing it, and hoped that his contribution could help in any way.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Heero watched the struggle taking place before him, feeling completely helpless for the first time in his entire life. The ferocity on display unnerved even his iron control. He didn't know what to do, only that he wanted to help and he couldn't. His fists clenched impossibly tighter, cutting more half-moons into his skin, shallow cuts that bled in thin streams down his palms to drip to the 'ground' below.

Then he felt something. A slight tugging at his soul, it felt like. It was vaguely familiar. Heero closed his eyes for a minute, searching....Quatre?

Quatre's presence was like a golden beacon of light, broadcasting all that he felt for his fellow pilots. Heero was stunned by how much the blonde trusted and respected him when secretly, Heero had thought the very same of him.

I don't know what he's up to but he's obviously trying to help in some way, he thought. With that, he instinctively sent his thoughts back to Quatre, hoping the blonde knew what he was doing.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Quatre was so full of emotion he thought he'd burst. Either that, or cry from what he was receiving. He had always known that the other pilots always thought of themselves as family, but years of solitude and training had made them leery of disclosing that information freely. Quatre understood that. But this was not the time for barriers and they all knew it. Quatre took their love, their friendship, and their concern and sang it out as hard as he could in his mind, directing it at Duo with all of his might. The burst of golden energy enveloped the link Quatre had subconsciously marked as 'Duo' and then disappeared inside.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Trowa clutched at Quatre as the Arabian's knees buckled, holding him upright until the boy could regain his footing. " Quatre?"

" I sent it," Quatre said weakly, fingers gripping Trowa's sweater to keep himself balanced. " I sent all that I could to Duo."

" You tried." Trowa said, stroking his blonde hair. " You did all you could."

" I just hope it's enough."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Jean was starting to think that Duo was fighting a losing battle. He had the determination, now that he had decided not to give up, and his feelings for Heero were a powerful motivator, but she didn't think it was enough.

" And my strength is starting to give too," she growled under her breath. She wasn't sure what more there was she could to help.

Then she felt it. A wave of psychic energy was coming towards them and her hands rose instinctively. But it didn't feel threatening - quite the opposite in fact. Jean blinked.

" Quatre?"

Then a ball of light erupted through Duo's barrier, cutting through the wall like it was made of air and striking the two opponents. Jean watched, transfixed.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*



Gold light suddenly poured out of Duo's body, bathing the two combatants in an electric glow. Duo felt his own strength returning as he pulled back his energy with invisible fingers, tugging at their link with every ounce of power he could muster. Shinigami's struggles grew desperate; instead of trying to do damage to Duo, the dark avatar began to renew its battle to get away from the pure light that was pulsing around their interlocked forms.

" NO! Let me go!" Shinigami swore and cursed, twisting in Duo's grip like a writhing snake. " You cannot control me! YOU CAN NOT!"

" Can too," Duo gritted out. He could feel it stronger now. His friends were with him. He didn't know how they were doing this but somehow they were sending him their energy and their...Duo's throat tightened as he registered the individual thoughts being sent.

Trowa's calming presence, soothing him, assuring him he had an ally for all time. Quatre's love, as dear a brother to him as any sister. Wufei's determination to have their Duo back, safe and sound, that anything less wouldn't be justice. Heero's trust in his partner, an unwavering belief that Duo could do it and would accept nothing less. Duo grinned, blinking back tears as he felt their emotions swirl through him like a tsunami, drenching his soul in an outpouring of warmth and friendship.

He was no longer afraid or ashamed of the darkness within him. It was a part of him, something that made up the very core of Duo Maxwell. Even if it had been twisted and perverted at the hands of a madman, it was still him, and he was reclaiming himself. Distantly, he felt an added twinge of pain and he remembered faintly that Sinister had put something in his head that had given birth to Shinigami, helped his dark side grow into something alive, and he knew that whatever it was Sinister had planted inside him, was fighting to keep Shinigami alive in him.

" No more!" Angry now, Duo gathered up a few loose tendrils of power, let it grow and then fired it off at some unknown part of his mind, trusting his instincts to guide it to where it needed to go. He screamed as he felt the energy strike its target and something shattered, crumbling away to nothing. Shinigami howled like a dying animal, denying his loss with every last part of him. His struggles weakened and Duo gave a sharp bark of laughter as he felt more of his control returned to him. He pulled harder; ripping at Shinigami's essence, taking back everything his twin had stolen from him.

" This is truly the end," he snarled. It had to be. His friends would never be safe from him if Shinigami pulled loose now, not after helping him. The light gathered around them, surrounding them, infusing Duo with all the power he could ever want or need to destroy his enemy, and he used it. Shinigami gurgled, his eyes widening in shock as he began to fade.

" NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!" he wailed as he vanished, melting back into Duo, returned to where he belonged. His screams trailed off, the last of his stolen power quickly being sucked up by the American. Duo felt a quick rush of exhilaration as he registered the fact that he had won, that his control had beaten his dark side into submission. It was his victory and he revelled in it, feeling whole and in charge.

But now his strength was fading rapidly, the stress and energy output taking its toll, and his vision swam before him, dark spots dancing at the edges. He turned, half-stumbling to see Heero and Jean Grey still standing there on the sidelines, about to come rushing to his aid, and he held up his hand.

" Get out," he said hoarsely. He didn't know why he had to get them to leave, just that he seemed to be shutting down and that it couldn't possibly be healthy for them to be trapped in his mind when the power cut out. " Get out now."

Jean looked troubled and Heero looked like he was about to come over anyway. Duo growled and raised his hands. " I said GET OUT!" he screamed, and the last vestiges of his power left his hands in a rush, blowing them back against the barrier in his mind. He didn't know if it had knocked them out of his mind completely but it was beyond him to do anything now. Blackness descended swiftly.



*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

" DUO!"

Heads shot up all around as Heero bolted upright in the medical bed, his eyes wide, his chest heaving like he'd just finished a twenty-kilometer run. His fingers tore deep furrows into the sheets as he clutched at them with white knuckles. Quatre took a step towards him, his own blue eyes wide and blinking in concern.

" Heero?"

Heero's head snapped around so fast Quatre was afraid he'd suffer whiplash. Instead, Prussian eyes focused on him with laser-like intensity. " Quatre?"

" You're okay Heero," Quatre soothed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Trowa and Wufei watching them worriedly. Doctor McCoy was watching too, one hand clutching his stethoscope and Quatre held up a single hand to keep the fuzzy blue doctor where he was. A disoriented Heero was a dangerous Heero. " Remember where you are?"

" In the medlab," Heero recalled, still breathing heavily. He turned his head and saw Cyclops standing at the side of the bed still cradling his wife but watching him with concern. Heero's eyes fell on Jean and his memories returned in a rush. " Duo! He beat Shinigami! And then he blasted us with something..."

His voice trailed off as confusion set in. He turned his head the other way and saw the Professor with one hand on Duo's brow, scanning his mind. Sweat dotted his baldpate as he focused and Heero found himself watching with bated breath.

" Heero?"



*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Jean opened her eyes to see her husband staring down at her with a small smile. She couldn't see his eyes behind the protective visor he wore but she knew if she could, his brown eyes would be filled with love and concern for her. She raised one hand to his face, stroking it lightly as she whispered," I'm okay Scott."

" I know," he answered her. Their link grew stronger and Jean reached up to tug on a stray strand of his hair, tugging his face down to hers and kissing him deeply. They broke apart after a minute, and Jean felt the concern melt away into relief. Then she remembered what had happened and she turned her head.

Heero was staring at the professor. Jean could feel the psychic energy being wielded and knew Xavier was scanning Duo to see if their efforts had born any fruit. It would take a few minutes. The tension in Heero's shoulders was painfully evident, muscles taut, knotted from stress.

" Heero," she called softly. The boy started and then whipped around to look at her.

" Jean?"

" How are you feeling?" she asked, genuinely concerned. Getting mind- blasted out of someone's head was always a painful experience. Pain was already spiking through her skull but this had definitely not been the first time she'd been forced out of someone's head, and by dint of experience. She shifted most of the pain to one side and focused on the Japanese pilot.

" I'm fine," came the stoic response. Jean raised one sceptical eyebrow and then very carefully, scanned his surface thoughts. There was some pain but nothing like she had felt. Either Duo had made her his prime target in that blast, or Heero had a very high tolerance for pain. She had a feeling it was more of a case of the latter - Duo lacked both skill to direct his attack so specifically, and the strength to damage her past her shields like that. Her already considerable respect for the pilots grew yet another notch. Then she remembered something and she turned to look at the golden- haired pilot standing a few feet away, wrapped up in Trowa's arms.

" Quatre? That was you I felt wasn't it?" Jean smiled at the Arabian. " That burst of warmth and friendship you sent through your link with Duo helped give him strength where mine was failing. It helped fortify him against Shinigami's attacks - he knew he had to win in order to protect all of you."

Quatre blushed red to the roots of his blonde hair, a startling contrast to his normally pale skin. Trowa's face was suffused with pride. " I just wanted to help," he mumbled. " I didn't even know if it would work, really. I just wanted to let Duo know he had all of us here rooting for him." Trowa's arms tightened.

" That's what saved him." Scott finally put her down and Jean closed her eyes against the brief wave of dizziness that washed over her before disappearing. " You have great potential Quatre."

Wufei shifted from where he was leaning against the door. Beside him, Jubilee remained uncharacteristically silent, lending him her support. " When will Duo wake up?"

Everyone turned to look back at the Professor but he was still busy scanning Duo. The Beast cleared his throat and all the heads turned to him instead.

" All of young Maxwell's vital signs are normal, including his brain wave patterns - which are active by the way, meaning he is not brain dead as is usually the results in a psychic battle." Henry looked sombre at this. " He's in a kind of a coma right now - the body's way of resting while it heals itself. He's been through traumatic experience and it will take time for him to recover. Barring the professor's thoughts to the contrary when he finishes his check over, I see no reason why Duo shouldn't make a full recovery."

" What about de implant?" Gambit's voice came from the doorway and he stepped inside, red-on-black eyes flashing. " Did you remove it?"

" Actually," Henry cleared his throat. " I can't find a trace of it. I've scanned his frontal lobe where it was placed and there's no trace of it."

" Duo hit it with a blast of some kind of energy," Heero said quietly." While he was fighting Shinigami, he sent a burst of power somewhere and something exploded. I assume he eradicated any trace of the implant."

Henry McCoy stroked his chin thoughtfully. " That would explain the bug's disappearance, yes."

Professor Xavier raised his head tiredly. " I've finished scanning."

" What did you learn, Professor?" Jean found Scott's hand and held it as she watched her mentor with a worried expression.

" It would appear your friend's mind had successfully repaired itself. He is no longer being split in two - he has mended the tear that the implant created." The professor smiled. " Give him some time to heal and he'll be back on his feet in no time."

Heero and the other pilots let out huge sighs of relief. Jubilee whooped and pounded Wufei on the back, the latter who choked, stumbling forward a bit at the unexpected assault. He caught his balance, turned, and glared at his assailant. His glare then turned to a look of shock as Jubilee launched herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly.

" H-help!" he croaked.

Trowa chuckled at the panicked expression on Wufei's face while Quatre howled outright. His gaze turned to the Arabian in his arms and his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. He still wasn't sure how Quatre had done what he did. He had the feeling Quatre wasn't really sure either. Perhaps it was a good thing that they were stuck here in this universe for the moment - it wouldn't hurt for Quatre to receive some of that special training Jean had alluded to earlier during one of their talks.

Quatre felt the slight tensing of Trowa's muscles and he stopped his laughter at Wufei, turning within the circle of Trowa's embrace and looking up at his taller lover.

" Trowa?" he asked. His clear voice held a note of concern. Trowa smiled and leaned down, kissing the tip of his nose.

" Nothing," Trowa assured him. " You just impressed me."

" Don't I always?" Quatre tried to inject a hint of arrogance in his tone but his giggles got in the way. Trowa chuckled again and leaned in for an even better kiss.

" They are so cute!" Jubilee squealed, watching the two of them. Wufei was like a statue. Jubilee pulled back and stared at the frozen pilot with the wide eyes and dropped jaw. She grinned. " So are you!"

Wufei seemed to regain his movement. " Get off me, female!" he yelped and slithered out of her grasp, making a break for the door. Gambit neatly stepped out of the way. Jubilee laughed and gave chase.

" Well that's one way to tell the rest of us how y'all did," came a familiar southern accent. Gambit moved back over and took Rogue's hand. She looked up, scanning his eyes intently, seeing the relief in his eyes, knowing that it stemmed from the fact that Sinister had failed to claim another victim.

" De kid's gonna be okay, Chere," he grinned. Rogue smiled.

" Glad tah hear it."

Beast cleared his throat again. " As happy an occasion as this is, I'd like to point out that this boy is still suffering from a rather severe bullet wound and numerous other small injuries. Some peace and quiet would be most beneficial to his recuperation."

" I think we've been told," Jean mumbled to her husband with a smile. She looked over at Heero. " I'll be back later to check on both of you, okay?"

Heero nodded. Jean then tugged her husband out the door. The professor floated his hover chair past them. " I too shall return later, but I remain confident in my original diagnosis," he said firmly. Rogue and Gambit followed him out.

Trowa and Quatre stood by the bed for a minute. Heero looked up at the Arabian.

" How did you do that? That whole emotional-transfer thing?"

Quatre shrugged. " Not sure, actually. I just knew I wanted to help. My space heart has always been connected to you guys - I just figured I should try using it aggressively instead of passively for a change."

" I'm glad you did," Heero said, glancing down at the bed at his comatose partner. " He was really...struggling. That energy gave him the boost he needed to defeat Shinigami."

Trowa nodded. " I think Quatre should take Jean up on her offer to train him in the use of his abilities."

Heero agreed. " Quatre?"

" No objections here," the blonde said. " This would definitely come in handy back home."

" Then it's settled." Trowa tugged on Quatre's arm. " We'll leave you two alone to get some rest. We'll come back later, okay?"

Heero nodded, a faint smile curling the edges of his mouth. " Go rescue Wufei."

Quatre grinned. " Oh I think he can handle her himself. He wasn't running THAT fast."

The two left the infirmary with a round of laughter. Heero shook his head. " Unreal." He blinked, and then looked at his partner with a mock glare. " See? Now you've even got me talking like you. Wake up so I can yell at you."

Duo didn't move. But Heero remembered the Beasts diagnosis, backed up by the professor's words and wasn't too worried. A lethargic wave swept over him, reminding him just how little sleep he'd gotten lately, and he curled up on his side, still facing his partner so he could see him when he woke up. He drifted off to the sound of the machines.



*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

End part 10