Author: Asuka Kureru (askerian (at) hotmail (dot) com)
Lead characters: Wufei, Heero, eventually Duo
Pairings: Nothing definite. 1+5, 5+?, 2+1 to start with. Where it ends up is anyone's guess. (? being a canon female character -- not Sally.)
Genre: Action/Scifi/Romance
Warnings: yaoi and het (homg bisexuality), action, serious angst, some grittiness.
Deals with: psychic powers, political intrigue, mafias, bitchy orphan street rats, complicated romantic arrangements.
Doesn't deal with: character bashing, Duo Is A Giggly Idiot, Heero Is A Robot, Wufei Only Knows Two Words (Onna and Injustice), Canon Females Are Stupid Gay-Bashing Whores.
Disclaimer: These characters and the world they evolve in don't belong to me. I only lay claim to the plot, eventual OCs and my own interpretation of the characters.

(... okay, yeah, I think I'm over my denial. Hi, GW fandom. I'm back. Y'all can laugh at me now.)

Prologue: AC 194

"Hm. Minimal brain activity..."

"What do you mean, 'minimal'? I thought she was dead. If she isn't --"

"She is, sir, she is. Those are only neurons firing off at random. We're going to keep the body on life support; there's no telling how long the brain activity will last and the organs will probably fail again."

"Are you absolutely, absolutely surethere is no chance she might wake up? You know who she was. The only reason you are allowed to have the body--"

"She was pronounced dead on arrival, yes, yes. Penetrative trauma in the abdomen, internal hemorrhaging leading to heart failure, persistent vegetative state..."

"But your machines say she isn't brain-dead."

"... Sir... It doesn't mean anything. She might as well be. With that level of brain activity, and only in those areas, look -- there isn't anyone in here anymore. We're just preventing the body from rotting... I'm sorry."

"Ah... She chose her death, and chose it well. And through her sacrifice, we have found a new hope for this colony..."

"You may choose to see that she serves another hope now, sir. Her strength will go on--"

"You don't need to sell the project to me."

"Heh. My apologies."

"Accepted. I won't waste any more of your time, Doctor. You have an operation to prepare, and I have a funeral to see to."

"Of course, sir. I'll send you a report as soon as the gene scan is complete."

"See that you do."

"Well, then. Wheel her in, Huang. Is the operating room ready?"


Chapter 1: Five years later -- AC 199, June 12th


Newtypes exist -- and now Science can prove it!

Researchers at L1 Jonathan Matheson Institute discovered a correlation between a particular sequence of genes on chromosomes 11 and 17 and the ability of test subjects to accurately predict unseen symbols on cards.

Test subjects were selected from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the L1, L3 and L4 colony clusters, ranging from age 25 to age 40. Earthborn and first-generation colonists were unable to accurately predict the symbols. In one out of ten second-generation colonists, accuracy rose by eight to fifteen percent. Of the third-generation colonists, more than one-fifth has 60 to 70 percent accuracy.

Test subjects who scored well outside normal parameters were all found to exhibit segments of this particular genetic sequence. The sequence was only found in three out of over 1500 subjects who only achieved an average or below-average score.

Similar genetic sequences are suspected to be linked to test subjects' ability to anticipate movement, perceive emotional states, and locate hidden objects.

There was no significant difference in results based on age, gender, or level of education.

"Catching up on the news?"

Wufei peered over the edge of his screen, taking in the empty Preventers computer lab, with half its ceiling lights turned off and layers upon layers of yellowing memos stuck to the walls. Heero Yuy was navigating the rows of tables and computers to join him. It was getting late, but somehow Wufei wasn't surprised to see his on-and-off partner still in the building. They were both workaholics.

"I feel like I'm reading a tabloid," he grouched, glaring at the related articles with disgust.

It wasn't even the very existence of unusual abilities -- he practiced martial arts, he knew what a true master could do that would seem impossible to a random civilian. It was surprising to discover another unexplored depth to humankind -- strange, even -- but it wasn't going to make his world view crumble. No, it was the tone. A New Type of Man : Salvation or Downfall? -- Humans In Space Reach New Frontier! -- Mutants In Your Children's Schools! -- The Newtype Conspiracy : What The Alliance Hid! -- You Might Be A Newtype IF...

Heero leaned a hip against Wufei's desk, checked the open tabs on his browser, and grunted in assent. "You haven't watched live news yet. Or talk shows."

Wufei groaned. He hadn't yet fully recuperated from his months-long undercover mission, but he had a feeling the situation would have given him anticipatory exhaustion even if he'd been perfectly well-rested. For a second he almost regretted the jungle and its angry guerilleros. They had been fairly uncomplicated, in their own casually violent way.

"Let me guess," he said, giving Heero a cynical look. "Paranoia, accusations of sinister government plots, vindicated crackpots, people accusing the government of not doing anything but not even agreeing on what they want it to do, and more paranoia."

"And a new church that refers to newtypes as 'enlightened beings' and sees it as, I quote, 'a sign that God is fine-tuning His Children'."

Wufei massaged the bridge of his nose. This was starting well. "Any riots?"

"No," Heero answered in a way that meant 'not yet'. "The population of colonists on Earth is minimal, and on many colonies it was already a persistent urban legend; they're not as shocked."

Wufei arched an eyebrow. "People are being reasonable? I'm surprised."

Heero gave him a sarcastic quirk of the eyebrow. "An executive at Meyers Industries in Deutschland pushed a colleague out of a window, justifying it with the excuse that the victim stole a promotion from him via psychic espionage and sabotaging."

"... I... See." Wufei's lips twisted sourly. "Jailed?" he asked for confirmation. He wouldn't be too badly surprised if some radical judge with an agenda had kept the man out of prison with half-baked extenuating circumstances.

"Murder is murder," Heero commented neutrally, in a way that made Wufei brace for whatever was coming next. "...Someone at the morgue took it upon themselves to leak an unauthorized test that reveals the victim did present the NT-genes."

Wufei's fingers went back to massaging the bridge of his nose. The trial was going to be messy.

"Family's been sent back to L4 due to vandalism and harassment. It isn't the only isolated incident that links back to newtypes, but so far it's the only public one where the presence of the NT-genes was a hundred percent confirmed."

Wufei snorted. Finding a lab that could and would do unauthorized genetic testing wasn't exactly easy, but he would be surprised if there were no more forceful outings before the end of the month. "What a charming mess," he commented, voice thick with sarcasm and disappointment in his fellow man. "I'm glad it's not mine to clean up."

Heero gave a faint smirk. "Actually..."

"It better not be," Wufei growled threateningly.

Heero's smirk vanished as if it had never been. Wufei gave him a suspicious frown, but the young man only responded with a blank look, as if he had no clue what Wufei looked displeased about. "The two of us are to follow up on the leads you unearthed during your undercover stint."

"You're an ass, Yuy," Wufei muttered; when Heero arched an eyebrow at him, as if daring him to repeat, he just glared tiredly, and then allowed himself to smile a bit. He might, perhaps, in the middle of the guerilleros' crude locker-room jokes and merciless ridicule, have missed Yuy's elusive brand of stealth teasing a bit.

"Is there anything else in the news I need to know?"

Heero leaned toward the screen and quickly scanned the browser history to get a better idea of what Wufei had already gone over. "Hm. Unless you're interested in animals rights activists or divorce scandals amongst the jet-set, no."

"Good." Wufei closed the windows and turned the computer off, and pulled himself out of his chair. His legs were stiff; he pretended they weren't, but from Heero's vaguely amused air, he didn't manage to hide it completely. The time for friendly jabs was past, though. He gave his assigned partner a somber look. "Go get your files and follow me home."

He didn't need to say anything more. "Understood," Heero retorted sharply, all traces of amusement melting out of his eyes; three seconds later, he was striding out of the computer lab without looking back.

Wufei gathered his belongings and went to sign out.

His reports on the activity of the Chinese guerilla and the numerous Triads involved in keeping it going had been detailed, and he had left no hard fact out of them. But there were still conjectures and strange correlations to other cases that he and Heero were still reluctant to make official.

Things that seemed almost -- even entirely -- irrelevant, until you put together several affairs that shouldn't have had much of a direct connection, and started to get the first hints of a pattern. A pattern that wouldn't have meant much to a lot of people, but that meant a lot to a Gundam pilot.

It wasn't like Quatre Winner really needed to add a "crime lord" feather to his multinational cap, and there weren't that many other possibilities left.


"... Too grainy to prove anything." Heero let out a short sigh and reclined in Wufei's couch, eyebrows furrowed. On Wufei, the expression would have looked frustrated and angry; on Heero, it just looked intensely thoughtful.

Wufei massaged the bridge of his nose and glared tiredly at the many reports, both official and personal, that spilled their guts over the coffee table and piled up here and there on his hardwood floor.

"Okay. A last time." Heero took a white sheet of paper and a pencil, traced a few quick lines, and gave it to Wufei. "The clearing where your Kirin Brigade and Bei Long's men were supposed to meet. Do you remember the relief?"

The Kirin brigade. Hah. Grand name for a bunch of bloodthirsty idiots who rebelled because the Eve wars hadn't landed them as the ruling class of their own little country and clearly that was unfair and must be fixed. But they wouldn't go free much longer... Shaking his head, Wufei shaded the rocky areas and fixed the line of the forest.

"Front half of Bei Long's car," he pointed out on the crude map. "Back half. His men's car. Tracks of the missing munitions truck. Mobile Suit transport truck, two-seater, one Leo aboard, destroyed." He closed his eyes briefly to concentrate. "Scuff marks on the rocks here..."

"The other Leo wasn't on the transport when it was attacked..."

"Not that it did them much good." Wufei glanced at the video, where the five relevant seconds played in a loop. No sound, just an image so damaged it was little more than black and white pixels and a lot of static. A still picture of a forest, the back end of a car... and then the image whirled to the left, sweeping over empty grass and rocks. The last half-second had the camera starting to pan up -- then static.

The attacking Mobile Suit had taken them a while to identify from the cleanest still-picture they had; it only showed a leg. It was a Horseman, a weaponless Suit that was used, amongst other things, to clean up mountainsides of unstable rocks and fallen trees. It was a relatively light model, maybe half as big as a Gundam; so-called because it came with a four-wheeled "ride" of sorts for long distances, but that hadn't been used there. It could climb and stand on sharp inclines, but couldn't hover over flat ground more than ten seconds at a time and its operating system was very limited. And its hands were more adapted to moving around tree trunks than to holding weapons.

Wufei was sure he could have found more clues, but the Kirin commander had been so panicked to see his promised weapons gone and the fearsome mafia who furnished them destroyed that Wufei barely got the time to download a copy of the Leo' recent memory before the guerilleros retreated hastily and he was forced to follow. They hadn't even checked for survivors. Wufei had sent a message to the authorities as soon as he could do it without blowing his cover, but the first occasion only came two days later; by then the field had been burned down and all clues destroyed.

"So the Horseman jumps on the patrolling Leo..." Heero continued, patient.

"... Must have kicked right through the cockpit on the first try. Then... No footprint in between, at least sixty feet... It kicks off straight from the falling Leo and uses its hoverjets to push itself farther. Lands on the first car. Boss gets flattened, one man manages to exit in time..."


"No body in the shotgun seat, and the door was open," Wufei pointed out.

"Hm. Possible, unless the impact did it. If there was someone, he escaped."

Wufei sighed, irritated. "Another potential witness. Now how the hell we're going to find out if he even exists, I don't know."

Heero snorted quietly. "Maybe the Chinese police will get lucky and think to call us. Anyway...?"

"Kicks clean through the Mobile Suit transport cabin, disabling the vehicle. Then the tracks, hmm -- ah, I get it. The second car tries to ram its leg and it jumps up to dodge, and lands on the leftover Leo, the unmanned one that was still laying on the truck. Straight on the cockpit, once again -- and it must have landed pretty hard."

Heero leaned back and scowled heavily. "Someone good enough to kick off from a stumbling target and clear this much space with a Horseman already has to be good. But a Horseman's structure is weaker and the metals are thinner than a battle model -- to go through a Leo's plating it had to land hard, but then it would have gotten damaged on impact."

Wufei shrugged. "Doesn't matter, it didn't have to go far."

"I mostly meant that the balance on landing must have been perfect, or the knee joints would have broken and the Horseman crashed -- and you would have seen tracks for that. Were there?"

Wufei shook his head no; the only tracks in the high grass and soft earth had been people running away on foot.

"Twice. That's more than 'good'," Heero said quietly. "That's either elite or insanely lucky."

"... Mmh." Wufei stared down at his notes. That... really wasn't helping disprove their main theory. "The rest of the men escape, the pilot lays the Horseman on top of the munitions truck and drives off. The end." He closed his eyes briefly. "... And between Bei Long's latest 'all clear' and our arrival at the site, not ten minutes went by. The attacker was well out of sight by then. I don't think it took that operative longer than two minutes to clear the area of targets. Maybe under one thirty."

"Hm." Heero picked up his notebook. "So what did we learn?"

Wufei tilted his head to read Heero's list. 1) Suspect knew where&when money/weapons exchange would happen. Someone talked? Check for bugs. 2) Suspect piloted a Horseman. (very common model -- track sales/theft anyway.) 2b) Suspect is extremely good with Horseman. Experience? What kind; training, battlefield? 2c) Horseman's operating system was rewritten for speed&efficiency. (Who has the skills? Who would sell the knowledge?)

"I find it strange the assailant ran off with the munitions but didn't try to capture the unmanned Leo on the transport. Even a junk-heap rescue like that one was still valuable. Selling it would have bought him a lot more weapons than stealing the ones in the truck, unless there was something in there the Kirin commander didn't mention." Wufei would have been surprised if there was. The man had an almost pathological need to brag. Oh, he could have kept his mouth shut, but he would still have exuded smugness of the 'I know something you don't' variety. He hadn't.

"Maybe our suspect wanted the weapons right away, or wouldn't have known who to sell the Leo to," Heero said.

"Hm. Anyway... Amongst all incidents, it's the only one where a Mobile Suit was used. The previous operative could have hired someone or been assigned a partner -- or the mobile suit attack is entirely unrelated to our bigger case. But when you consider the timing with the attack on the rest of Bei Long's Family, and the fact that the weapons stolen were in all likelihood used on them..."

"Could be unrelated, but it doesn't feel that way," Heero agreed quietly. "No, it's the same person."

"Or group."

Heero grunted, clearly unconvinced. Wufei was in agreement. So far there was nothing to prove there were several people involved together in this -- but then again, nothing proved there was one culprit to everything either. Motives were still lacking; what on Earth was it about? Vendetta? Vigilantism? Mafia group mowing down the competition? Groundwork to a coup d'├ętat? Separately Heero and Wufei could easily find number-one suspects and motives for a lot of the crimes -- mafias were always at war, politicians could either be dirty or know someone else who was, and laboratories, well, it went from industrial espionage to coworker jealousy -- but only if all the cases also happened to be strangely similar by pure coincidence. No motive fit for every suspect party.

They'd tried starting from the other end -- the method -- and track back up to the source. They already had a couple of possible suspects for that one, someone who would have known how and been physically able to carry on dozens of separate incidents in a row. A motive, now, that was less immediately obvious.

The short bit of surveillance footage Wufei had managed to salvage wouldn't work as proof of anything, but it troubled him nonetheless.

"So our hacker-heist operative might also be a highly competent pilot." Wufei frowned, flipping through several of the files again, eyes automatically pausing on the key points. A semi-common, but awfully convenient computer anomaly here, an unusual break-in pattern there, an odd bit of timing in that one... "When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems start to resemble nails," he quoted under his breath.

"You think we're over-identifying with the pattern?"

"It's a possibility," Wufei allowed halfheartedly. "... That, or we're just refusing to let go of the idea that there even is a pattern because suspecting our own is better than not having any clue where to start."

The two young men exchanged a long look.

"What if you drop the idea that our suspect is the pilot?" Wufei asked, unwilling to explore the possibility before having exhausted all others.

"Three of the disappearances have occurred on De Montaubois turf, and two of the businesses hits have ties that might lead back to their rivals, the Estevez."

Wufei nodded with fake patience, giving Heero a jaded look. "Just a problem. They're all dead."

"Not Raquel Estevez."

"... Isn't that the grandmother? She's over ninety."

"She could be advising or paying other people," Heero commented even as he typed in a search string.

Wufei allowed it halfheartedly. "She could..."

"She couldn't," Heero rectified with a scowl.


"Alzheimer's. Advanced case."

Wufei groaned in weary acknowledgement and reclined against the back of the couch, holding the file he'd been reading closed on his lap. He wasn't even surprised. He made a mental note to send someone to check anyway, in the unlikely case she was faking it or paying her doctors to lie. "Estevez had a second in command, didn't he?"

"Who's also dead."

"He had a son."

"Changed his name and cut all family ties over ten years ago; now he's a supervisor at McDonald's."

Wufei let his head drop heavily on the backrest and closed his eyes. "Might want revenge anyway. Add him to the background check list."

He listened to Heero's soft grunt of acknowledgement and the clacking of his keyboard, wishing nothing more than to be allowed to go to bed. He'd been up for almost twenty-three hours; and in six hours they'd have to clock in at work, but there were some things they just couldn't talk about in the Preventers building. Too much of a chance of being overheard by the wrong person. The Preventers were a fine group, but they were also a highly paranoid one, and their Internal Affairs department would have fits over the amount of information Wufei and Heero hadn't seen fit to share.

Heero gave them fits often enough, with his so-called part-time status. Just came and went as he pleased, really; here in time for some big case, and then gone as soon as the report was typed.

Oh, he wasn't the only part-timer on the Preventer payroll, far from it, and it would have been fine if the rest of the time he worked as a bodyguard or a shuttle repairman, or, hell, even a cashier -- something traceable. He could even go laze about in a spa every other week for all they cared, so long as he could be found when they looked for him. But usually he just dropped off the radar. Even Wufei didn't know where he went and why. Add that to his ex-Gundam pilot status...

Heero and Wufei's wartime occupation was on a need-to-know basis, which meant people had gossiped about it at the coffee machine until something scandalous happened to some other coworker and drove it out of many minds. The Preventers organization was comprised of just about everything -- ex-OZ, ex-Romafeller, ex-freedom fighters from all parts of the Earth sphere, ex-nonpartisan civilians. Gundam pilots fit neatly in the ex-freedom fighter corner -- and seeing them day in, day out had made most of the colleagues they didn't directly work with totally forget how competent, driven and dangerous they truly had been. To many they were just Resistance Mobile Suit pilots, who'd lucked out on the machines they happened to get their hands on. Quite competent, but nothing to ooh and aah about.

Not all of their coworkers thought like that, though. And Wufei knew that some higher-ups firmly believed Heero only used the Preventers as a convenient resource for his own personal ends, and they just hadn't caught him red-handed yet.

It wasn't so far from the truth; they were just lucky Heero's goal was the same as the organization's. The day working for the Preventers stopped being convenient, Wufei knew Heero would hand in his notice and revert back to solo work without a second thought. His loyalty wasn't to a government or an organization, and it wasn't going to be bought with a paycheck.

Sometimes Wufei was tempted to apply for part-time status, too. But for maximum efficiency, Heero needed a full-time, trustworthy partner onboard, and Sally and Noin had other responsibilities.

"About that computer error... I think there was another case where it could have been used... Something in Australia? No deaths, but --"

"That was me," Heero replied laconically.


Wufei groaned and massaged his temples. He refused to ask.

"...I need more coffee."

But of course there wasn't any coffee left. There hadn't been any for the last hour and a half. Wufei really needed to restock.

He forced himself to open the folders on his lap again, skimming through them with the weak hope that something new would jump at him. Pharmaceutical firm thoroughly bombed, research irretrievable, all employee houses broken into and searched for copies; up-and-coming mafia hotshot disappeared in transit between two L3 sub-colonies; big-time, loud-mouthed L2 politician suddenly deciding to take a long vacation on Earth...

"Hah. 'Politician' on L2 is just a fancy word for 'mafia lord that cops have to shake hands with'," Wufei muttered under his breath. And the lab seemed clean -- all legal paperwork had been submitted and it had never come to the attention of either the local police or the Preventers before the hit -- but drug and biological warfare research couldn't be done in a kitchen, so for all they knew...


"Nothing. ...The more I look at those attacks and the less I can see anything but guerilla and advanced sabotage training. The serious kind -- this is a highly competent operative who has nerves of steel, incredible timing, and is used to blowing his way through if he can't sneak in. Add to that sharp piloting skills and possible programming and hacking skills..." Wufei paused, gave Heero a sardonic quirk of his eyebrow. "Are you sure you haven't forgotten to mention being an up-and-coming crime lord in your spare time?"

Heero quirked his own eyebrow right back. "I have spare time?"

Wufei snorted, his lips curling up in a small smile. It didn't last; he pushed the papers on the couch and extricated himself, pacing to the kitchen and back to work out the kinks in his legs.

The elephant in the room was starting to resemble a bloated whale.

He went to Heero's side of the couch, leaned back against the wall. Heero was staring at his screen, but didn't even pretend to type or scroll. Wufei watched his profile, the tense jaw, the lowered eyelashes that spoke of somber thoughts.

"All the clues go back to L2 in the end, don't they," Wufei said, because someone had to.

Heero's voice was quiet as he answered, and he didn't look up from his computer screen. "The ones that go anywhere, yes. But then it's a fairly attractive place for all kinds of shady deals. And people travel."

Trowa Barton traveled, too. Wufei closed his eyes. "What does your gut feeling tell you?"

A muscle in Heero's jaw twitched. "Duo."


Wufei massaged his temples; it didn't help. The evidence amounted to jack shit and would hold approximately ten seconds in a court of law; but if they said the name at work, it would be all the validation their coworkers needed to start a witch hunt.

Quatre had claimed to fight for peace, Wufei for justice; Trowa and Heero because they could and didn't see why not, at first -- though later on they'd gained other reasons. But Gundam Pilot 02 Duo Maxwell had fought in the name of revenge. Of course the truth was more complicated than that -- Wufei's first reason for seeking justice had nothing to do with altruism and everything to do with OZ killing his wife -- but it wasn't how things were remembered.

"What do we do?"

Trowa would be faster and easier to check up on. They knew where he was supposed to be. The circus would be the perfect cover; a reason to travel without even bothering with fake papers. Hiding in plain sight : his specialty. Wufei didn't put making it look like Maxwell had done it past Barton either.

Hell, they couldn't possibly know all operatives of this level in the Earth Sphere; there were probably quite a few around who had nothing to do with any Gundam Pilot.

Heero stared at the screen in silence for a few seconds. "Kamenov is based on L2. We need to investigate him first anyway."

Heh. Wufei would have reminded Heero that gut feelings got people into trouble, but he would have been a hypocrite, because his guts said the same thing. Granted, if Winner or Barton decided to put the blame on Maxwell in such a way that even his fellow Gundam pilots would believe it, they could. For that matter, so could Wufei himself.

"We'll have a hard time getting a warrant with that flimsy evidence," he muttered. Whereas they would get one if they mentioned a Gundam pilot might have gone renegade again -- his own behavior was precedence enough, to his great shame. But then they would probably get saddled with a SWAT team or two.

"Minister Weisman is riding Une's ass. She'll give us the mission just to make it look like we're doing something. Once we're there..." Heero shrugged.

Wufei pushed away from the wall and started gathering papers. "All right. Let's ask tomorrow."

Hopefully five and a half hours of sleep would be enough to let him talk their way through.


The couch didn't fold out. Heero didn't care. He wasn't asleep. It was fine; he'd had a nap in the middle of the day, and he did plan on going to bed early tomorrow. He could afford it, not like Wufei whose dark rings under his eyes seemed to want to become permanent, at home with his subtly strained features.

It had startled him, when he had seen Wufei in the computer room -- he looked so drained. It bothered Heero. Wufei worked too hard, had worked too hard for months -- and Heero would have thought nothing of it if it had been necessary... It was usually more necessary than not, but Wufei seemed to look for such situations. Missions, desk work, more missions. Granted Heero rarely took breaks, but at least half the time he was roaming around the Earth Sphere pretending to be a normal teenager, and that meant he had to take it easy in order not to stand out.

... Heh. If someone else read and agreed with their conclusions, Duo might not be their first suspect. It was a good thing he had Une's trust.

Or they might also think Wufei and he were wasting their free time with crazy conspiracy theories. There was a reason they did most of the research and theorizing on this string of affairs at home or on their lunch breaks; any farther on the backburner and it would have fallen off their official caseload entirely.

Heero threw a glance at the futon in the far corner of the room. Wufei was a little more relaxed now that he was asleep, but not a lot. He looked old, older than his twenty years. There was a faint groove between his eyebrows.

'You're much too young for wrinkles,' Heero remembered Relena saying, her thumb rubbing the exact same place on his face. 'Try again when you're forty.'

He wasn't sure there was anyone to do that for Wufei -- not anyone he would listen to, anyway.

Heero wanted to try, but he wasn't sure how to make it sound like concern and not like a rebuke, how not to make Wufei think Heero assumed he wasn't good enough to deal with the stress. Their relationship had relaxed from uncomfortable allies into friendship since the Mariemeya incident, but there was still too much rivalry mixed in for Wufei to accept Heero's advice about slowing down. Duty was duty, and Heero would be the last to berate someone for giving themselves over to the protection of their ideals, but he could tell guilt and self-destructive wishes were also amongst Wufei's motives.

How strange was it, that they were close enough to fight side by side and never get in each other's way, to entrust their life to each other without a second thought, and yet not enough to allow Heero to mention Wufei's unhealthy guilt? Part of Wufei had known it was wrong to side with Mariemeya, no matter his motives; but he'd been too stubborn to drop it, had wanted to see things to their bitter end, and caused a lot of grief to a lot of people. Heero had forgiven him on that same day, never kept a grudge, but telling him so would only make Wufei clam up. It just wasn't a topic open for discussion.

The best Heero could do for him was to solve the case quickly. He closed his eyes, replaying the short clip in his mind. The Leo pilot looking back, finding nothing -- and then...

'Death from above!'

He could hear it clear as yesterday.

If it was any of them, it wasn't Trowa. Trowa would have found weapons to strap onto his Mobile Suit and sniped the Mafiosi from a high vantage point, of which they were many. Duo and Quatre both would have leapt into the fray from the start, but Quatre would have used cutting weapons to disable the suit's joints. And he might have been able to crush the car with people still inside, but only if he knew for sure they were all sadistic torturers, child molesters, or the like. Granted, some Mafiosi were very bad people, but a little illegal trade wouldn't prompt Quatre to stomp anyone into the ground.

But Quatre didn't move his Mobile Suits like that.

'Hey, guys, betcha I can pinball through the whole battlefield without touching the ground.'

Heero was pretty sure nothing would change Duo badly enough that he would kill small-time crooks who were no danger to anyone, just because it was easier on him. But the second they picked up a gun, made themselves a danger, whether they meant it or whether they were just morons who hadn't thought that far, then he would be fully able to shoot them down. Because picking up a gun meant being willing to kill, and that meant if anyone else went and killed you first, well, you'd be getting nothing you hadn't offered others.

Wufei thought like that, and Trowa. Heero too, sometimes -- that if you were ready to hurt others then you had to accept the risk of being hurt right back -- but even then he would have done his very best to capture them, lead them to the police and made sure they paid their debt to society -- or, failing that, that they were thrown into a hole from where they could not damage it further. He didn't want to kill anyone again, and it wasn't because he cared about the criminals all that much; he'd learned to care about himself more, that was all. He would kill people, if he had to -- but the need would have to be extraordinary. That Duo had chosen to kill those men... He didn't know.

And he was already thinking of the suspect as Duo Maxwell, even with their total lack of proof. Heero sighed quietly and reclined in the couch, staring at the ceiling. He shouldn't let himself get used to the assumption; it might make him misinterpret clues.

Heero doubted Duo would have changed too much from the war. But he didn't know. He still received calls from Quatre sometimes, and a year ago he'd spent a couple of days at Trowa's circus after a chance meeting in Mexico. But Duo...

Electronic tracks were easy to follow; but if you believed bank accounts and credit cards, Duo Maxwell had ceased to exist a couple of years ago.

The lease had run out on the house he shared with Hilde Schbeiker; he'd never bought or rented anywhere else, nor had anyone looking anything like him. Heero knew. He'd looked. Oh, not that hard -- he'd been curious and mildly concerned, not searching for a suspect. But hard enough to be sure Duo hadn't merely been trying to shake off reporters or loan sharks.

That was different from going off to lead his own life. Even when they weren't in contact, they all still checked on each other, were still aware of each other's continued existence, and knew that if they were needed again, they could just drop everything else and band together. But it seemed Duo had meant to cut all ties and disappear. And if Schbeiker knew why, she was keeping it to herself.

Heero still couldn't imagine that Duo was off doing anything detrimental to the peace -- but something illegal? Extremely illegal? Dangerous? Criminal? Yes, he could. Did Heero have enough of a problem with it to bring Maxwell in? It would depend on his motives, on how justified his ruthlessness was.

Would Wufei have a problem with it? It would have to be a really good motive.