Now, what good excuse can I come up with? It's been over half a year, and even this long chapter can't make up for all that time. For those who were afraid that this fic was dead, rest assured, it's not. I'm trying my best to actually get near the end, but problems have come up at home, and my interest has died down somewhat over the two years, leaving me with a bit of an empty brain. Originally this fic was meant to span past the Final Judgment (heh, everyone's waiting for that part, huh?), but now I can barely even reach there. So it might end at the Final Judgment, or it might not. For now, Gundam Wing does not belong to me, just go ahead and read the story. People have also been telling me my email won't work.....I'll look into it.

Chapter XII - Losing Time

What is the best part of a beach? The sun? The water? The relaxation?

No.....it's the sand.

"I'm beginning to think that Clow Reed was demented!" Duo shouted. Rolling to the side in midair on his flying staff, the Deathscythe pilot dove downward, avoiding what was apparently a tentacle of sand.

"I don't think you should talk!" Kero shouted back, sarcasm lacing his voice.

The beach on which the safehouse was located churned, swirling angrily. More of the sand tentacles shot up, trying to dislodge the Card Captor from his staff and into the ground where he could be trapped.

"Now give me a clue, Kero! How do I beat the Sand card?"

Agilely avoiding the danger around Duo, the guardian beast strove to a higher altitude. "Sakura used the Watery, so that Syaoran could summon Freeze and keep Sand in a solid lump long enough for Sakura to seal it."

"Oh, like I have the leisure time to do so without getting sucked up in the goddamn quicksand?!"

"You're the Gundam pilot!"

"You're the guardian beast!" Duo snapped back.

"Oh, and I forgot to add 'Card Captor'?" Kero's voice was dripping sarcasm. "JUST FIND SOME WAY TO BEAT THE THING!!!"

"Why do I keep you around?" muttered the braided teenager.

Suddenly, he turned over in midair and plunged head-down towards the sand. Kero yelled, diving to help the Card Captor, who he thought had fell off.

This Duo had done, but not unintentionally. Two cards were gripped tightly in his hand; one he now flung into the air.

"Float Card!"

"FLOAT???!!!" Kero half-shrieked. He came to a screeching halt in his flight. I should have known! I'm getting old and senile.....

The Sand, seeing an opening to attack, called up a wave of sand to pound the Deathscythe pilot off his winged balloon.

"I don't surf on sand, and definitely not on balloons," mumbled Duo. He sighed and used his trump card.

"Shield!"

"Why didn't you use that earlier???" Kero shouted, gliding quickly into the bubble of safety. "It would have saved us both a lot of trouble!!!"

Duo grinned. "Haven't you noticed how fat you were getting? Encouraging you to exercise doesn't help, so....."

"You make such outrageous excuses," grumbled the guardian beast.

"It's not the first day you've known me, Kero." Duo gave him a lopsided smile and raised his staff again. " Watery!"

The card shimmered once, and a roaring jet of blue liquid burst from it, flying above the protective globe and splintering into a gigantic spray. Streams of water arced down around them, plunging into the sand. The dry grains soaked it up, color growing darker as it became saturated. Watery practically rained on Sand, filling the entire beach with all she could. Duo glanced at the rising tide, and realized that Watery was seeping out into the real water beyond the beach.

"Watery! Return to your card confined!" Watery's card dropped into his waiting hand; Duo's eyes flicked down to the roiling, muddied sand. "I hope the house isn't sinking....."

"Stop worrying about the house, and worry about Sand! I think it's trying to escape into the underwater sand!" exclaimed Kero alarmingly.

"All right, all right!" Duo shot the guardian a scathing look and drew the Freeze Card from the pouch he carried around for the card. He looked at the crystal-like fish in the picture, remembering his encounter with the card. It wasn't particularly friendly, just like Sand. In fact, both of the cards liked shooting and attacking with giant obstacles of their unique power.

"Freeze Card!"

A chilly wave washed over his skin. Duo unconsciously shivered, eyes following the Freeze as it dived into the watery mess of sand. "It'll come in handy on hot summer days."

An uneven surface of ice spread across the sand, the sound of forming ice cracking in the air. Kero and Duo hovered uncertainly as the beach became solid ice, white wisps floating around the bottom of Float's balloon. When Freeze was finished, one last blast of icy wind swept the area.

"Isn't it being a little too dramatic?" Duo sighed and lifted the staff above his head, stretching his right arm high. "Sand Card, return to your card confined!"

The spirit of sand was drawn out of the icy beach, which changed back in a bright flash. Float and Shield returned to their cards forms as well, and four pink Sakura Cards dropped into Duo's palm. He eyed the card on top warily. "Why is there a Sand Card anyway?"

"Clow Reed didn't just create the spirits in the cards. He made the cards, and then trapped the powerful elemental spirits within them. Eventually they became close to him." Kero stopped talking, thoughts turning to the odd behavior of the cards.

That little guy really has no idea how obvious he is, Duo thought, smirking. I'll have to chat with him later. "Come on, Kero. I have to get back before the other guys wake up. I left them zonked out by Sleep, and if OZ suddenly comes along Heero won't be able to wake up at the sound of wrong footsteps on the porch. C'mon!"

Picking himself up from the sand, Duo brush the grains off. He glanced around, eyes skittering about their surroundings. The air was still thrumming with magic; he could feel it. "Kero?"

"What?"

"Does Sand leave an aftershock of magic floating in the air when it is captured?"

"No....."

Duo sighed. "So that means there's another card floating around nearby, huh? Damn, when they pop up they have to pop up all around the same time. Can't they come one at a time?"

"Sakura caught them one at a time, and it took her nearly a year, I think," Kero stated lazily. "You're always complaining about how they boggle up your time. You should be happy they're appearing fast." More like appearing too fast.

"Never mind that," Duo snapped, shoving three of the four cards in his hand into his pocket. "Shield Card!"

A colored bubble enveloped the beach house, guarding the occupants inside. Duo smiled, satisfied that the other pilots would be safe, and turned towards the direction of the waves of magic.

"There's nothing in sight," Duo muttered. "There's not that many cards left, are there? Earthy, Windy, Illusion.....I can't believe I remember this stuff.....Return and Illusion....."

"Duo....."

"What?"

"I think you've trapped the cards inside Shield."

"WHAT???"

Right enough, there was an odd glowing aura around the house, and it was inside Shield. Duo gaped for a moment, and then slapped his forehead. "The cards really do pick on me!" he half grumbled as he ran towards the safehouse.

"I think that's the point?" Kero shook his head. "And you're beginning to sound like a whining sixteen year-old."

"Say that again and I can guarantee you a good twenty-four hours in the new Relena Box."

"No, thank you!"

"Why do we always bicker like this—"

The two would have perhaps continued their little argument like a good husband and wife had it not been for the interference of a certain card.....

Duo blinked slowly. Kero's face was fading, and his vision was becoming too dark. He tried to raise a hand and wave it in front of his face, but his limbs felt heavy. "Kero?" Duo felt himself falling even as he spoke, pulled into the ground by invisible threads.

"It's....."

~*~*~*~

When Kero realized that he was surrounded and enveloped by water, he also realized that something had gone seriously wrong. And that was before he heard Duo gurgling (curses, most likely) near him. He took one gulp of water, and then flailed around in a panic.

Duo, meanwhile, had kicked up to the surface of water, and heard the guardian beast underwater (despite the fact that Kero was very small, he still managed to make a ruckus). Can't the guy swim? thought the pilot crossly. Then he remembered that Kero was the guardian beast of the sun, and fire was Kero's thing. Water.....was definitely not.

Sighing, Duo ducked his dripping head into the water and searched for the small yellow blob that he knew would be there. When he did, his fingers reached and grasped something that felt like a funny string. Frowning as bubbles escaped his mouth, Duo resurfaced and yanked the string with him.

It was Kero's tail.

"Whoops," muttered the long-haired pilot, legs treading water. His other hand was gripping the staff, so Duo had no choice but to drop Kero into the water to scoop him up again. "Sorry about the tail."

"WOULD YOU LIKE THAT IF I DID IT TO YOUR BRAID???"

"Hey, I said I was sorry, and if you continue complaining I'll drop you in the water and let you drown." Duo received a huff as an answer; Kero shook himself, flinging droplets everywhere. The guardian leapt into the air.

Glancing around at his surroundings, Duo blinked blankly. "We're in a pool?" The American swam to the ladder on the side of the pool and climbed out, scowling as his braid dripped on the gray tiles. "I'm drenched too."

It was the Return Card, Kero thought, hovering over the safety of land. But it couldn't have sent us both back in time.....Unless it was sapping up the excess magic Duo was using.....He must be more powerful than I thought. Is that a good or bad thing? Maybe after the Final Judgment.....

"Who the heck are you?"

The two of them turned to their new visitor. Kero's jaw promptly smacked the ground, and he simply gawked at what appeared to be a young man with a glowing sword. Duo studied, judging him to be around the age of eighteen or so, and he definitely emanated an aura of magic. The Deathscythe pilot also took note of Kero's disbelieving face.

"Yo, Kero, you know this guy?"

The man with the sword swiveled his head to the small floating figure next to the soaking teenager in black. It was his turn to stare.

All the staring was making Duo feel uncomfortable. He shifted from one foot to the other, and, deciding that the man wasn't dangerous, finally snapped the silence. "Can someone stop looking stupid and tell me what's going on? Kero, I do need to know what kind of card that was, you know....." The teen looked at the sky and frowned. "There's also something wrong with the sky.....What happened to the colonies' artificial lights? They're usually bright enough and close enough to be visible from down here....."

Kero was looking a rather pale yellow at the moment. "Duo?" he asked in a deathly whisper. He didn't take his eyes off the man with the sword. "That was the Return Card."

The American blinked. "The Return—oh. Oh......OH.....Crap." He paused. Taking another look at the sword-wielding man, he recalled a familiar description about a brat who had brown hair, glaring eyes, and a sword.....

"You wouldn't happen to be Syaoran, would you?"

~*~*~*~

"So how are we supposed to get back?"

Duo glared at the half-asleep guardian of the cards on the coffee table in front of him. Syaoran was sitting stiffly on the armchair next to the sofa where the teenage pilot sat himself. Kero, on the other hand, was drooling on the coffee tabletop. Duo had peeled off his wet clothes, and Syaoran lent him an oversized green t-shirt and shorts. His braid took a while of combing and high-powered blow-drying to return to its normal state.

"Kero!"

"Hungry.....Hungry....."

"We know," Duo and Syaoran droned in unison. The two glanced at each other, and then sighed and rolled their eyes in understanding.

"You've said that over fifty times in the last ten minutes," said Syaoran sourly. "I don't have any sweets in the house, and the refrigerator is pretty much empty. I was going to get the groceries when you two popped up.....in my pool."

The eyes of Kero shot open and he sat up quickly. "Pretty much empty? That means you still have something in there, right?"

While Syaoran was talking, Duo had gotten up and walked over the kitchen, which was also apparently a semi-bar for the living room. He opened the refrigerator when Kero asked, and pulled out a jug with a smirk. "Ice water, anyone? There's ice cubes in here too, and ice packs. No ice cream, and not even a raisin." Sending Syaoran a significant look, the Deathscythe pilot cocked his head to one side. "Why don't you have any groceries, anyway?"

Coughing, Syaoran eyed the teenager in his small kitchen. "You're supposed to be the future Card Captor?"

"Yup. Don't try to change the subject." Duo closed the door on the fridge. "I'd be more worried about going back if I weren't—"

His stomach made a LOUD grumble.

Sheepishly Duo shrugged. "Heh heh. It's about lunchtime in my time, and I was so busy capturing cards this morning I actually forgot breakfast."

The bell rang.

"I'll get it," Duo sing-songed instinctively, needing to know who was there.

"NO!" Syaoran performed an amazing leap from the armchair, but he wasn't quite a match for Duo's speed.

The door swung wide open and Duo looked up and down at the person in the doorway. Female, about his height, and athletic. Green eyes and shoulder length brown hair. Danger alert: no. But she did have a rather angry look on her face....

"SYAORAN, YOU HAVE A GIRL IN YOUR HOUSE, WEARING YOUR SHIRT AND SHORTS???"

Immediately the said person popped up from the floor and managed a murderous glare at Duo before he dashed out after the girl, who was already halfway out on the wooden walkway leading to the door. Apparently the house was built on a riverbank.

"Ah, so I'm a girl again," said Duo tonelessly. Kero now soared to the door, and looked out into the distance at the awkward couple. Staring, Kero pointed to the green-eyed girl.

"What's Sakura doing here?"

Violet eyes flicked to the guardian beast. "She's my predecessor? She mistook me for a girl!"

"Well, it's kind of hard not to."

"What did you say?" demanded Duo in a threatening tone. The guardian beast clamped his lips together and smiled innocently. Making an irritated sound, the braided pilot ran out onto the walkway and skidded around the corner, catching sight of Sakura and Syaoran currently engaged in a heated conversation.

"Sakura, it's not what it's seems—"

"Then what is it supposed to be?"

Duo butt in. "Hey, hey, hey, I'm not an IT, I'm a guy, okay?"

Both young adults stared at him. Sakura opened her mouth first.

"A guy?" She pointed a finger at him, and turned to Syaoran. "You're sleeping with a GUY???"

"No, Sakura, you've got it all—"

The long-haired teenager suddenly yawned and sighed. "This would be a lot more comical if I had a full-stomach, Kinomoto-san, but I'm kind of hungry and so is the idiot in the house. And, since there's another slight problem going on, we don't need any extra things muddling our minds. So let me clear this up for you: I'm the future Card Captor, I encountered the Return Card, and I ended up in his pool. Since my clothes are currently drying on the line in the yard, Syaoran lent me his clothes so I don't walk around buck naked."

Sakura simply gaped.

Syaoran had his head in his hands.

"DUO! THERE'S VANILLA PUDDING!!! BWHAHAHAHA!!! I WILL NOT DIE OF HUNGER!!!"

The American slapped his forehead.

~*~*~*~

"Slow down, Kero, you're eating too fast." Sakura smiled and glanced at Syaoran. "You're lucky I brought along some homemade desserts. You know how Kero gets when he's hungry."

"He'd eat the ice cubes," commented Duo.

Of the other three occupants in the room, two stifled their amusement while one glared indignantly around a mouthful of pudding. Kero swallowed and scowled darkly.

"Why don't you use your brain and find out how to get back to your time?"

For a moment, Sakura looked thoughtful. "The last time we captured the Return Syaoran brought me back to the future by using the Time Card. Kero, will the Time work if someone tried to use it to go to the future?"

The small guardian paused, furrowing his eyebrows together. "I'm not sure, actually. Clow Reed never used the Time Card that much, and you both only used Time to halt briefly the passage of time itself. The Return and the Time are tricky cards, next to the Libra."

"I'll call and ask Mother," Syaoran said quickly, standing. Sakura's expression turned somewhat dark, and wisely Duo scooped up Kero and his pudding, and headed out the back door to the pool.

"Why are you leaving?" questioned Kero.

Looking back before closing the screen door, Duo walked around the pool to the other side, staring at the blue sky above him. It was a little past noon, and the sun beamed down on them from high. Kero floated out of his hand and settled himself on the sun table near the swimming pool; Duo himself plopped into a convenient chair.

"They need some privacy over certain issues dealing with a relationship, Kero." Duo sighed, clasping his hands together behind his head.

"I've wondered for a long time how world peace feels..... There's still some bad things happening around the world, but there's no gigantic organization trying to take over the world, and no fear of being captured, no need.....to pilot Deathscythe." He smiled in a dreamy sort of way, eyes focused on the birds calling overhead. "I'm tired, you know? Really tired.....I just need a bit of a rest from being.....me."

Kero lay back on the table, basking in warm sunlight. He was silent, listening to Duo speak. The guardian understood these moments.

"You got sealed back into the book when Sakura was fifteen, right?"

"Hai. She said she needed to focus on the future."

"Syaoran, she meant?"

"....."

"I wish I had a future to focus on."

"You do."

The pilot laughed. "It's only predictable for another hour or so."

"What about the future after the war? And about the Heero thing?"

"I'm not even sure if I'm going to survive the war, much less say Heero. We're most likely not going to have the chances that Sakura and Syaoran have. I'm not like them. I'm a teenage terrorist that has a lot to answer for. In the future, if the war ever ends, I'm not going to be able to live a normal life. Life just doesn't work that way."

"How do you know?"

Duo stood up and pulled the Star Key from the chain around his neck. "Life's given me too little hope and too much disappointment, I guess." With a quick flick of his wrist, the key changed into the staff.

Startled, Kero stood up. "You're not just going to use Time without knowing the consequences, are you?"

"Well, if you're so paranoid, I'll ask Create to cook up a working time machine to send us back or forward, whatever." He could hear a commotion from the house. "They don't sound too good in there....." Duo strode around the pool and entered the house again, leaving Kero outside.

Maybe I don't quite understand him at all. Just like him to have a personality that matches his magic; as complicated and as unpredictable. His power is great by itself, without even the need of the cards. Still.....Return couldn't have gotten so much power from the excess that Duo used. Unless it was drawing magic from another source..... A dark thought entered Kero's head. Could it be.....

Yue?

~*~*~*~

"Can you two just stop it?"

Patience worn somewhat thin by dealing with the two supposed adults, Duo finally gave in to his dark side. He yelled at both of them.

Sakura, the first of the two to realize how foolish they were acting, sighed and held her forehead up with one hand. "There's been some pressure.....on both sides. We can't always be together, and this is the first summer we're spending together alone. And there's been all sorts of things coming in, from congratulations—" the eighteen year-old rolled her eyes, thinking about her best friend back in Japan, "—to refusal from overprotective brothers. It's gotten quite out of hand, and we've discussed this too." She stared at the ground and sighed again. "Syaoran, maybe we should go our separate ways."

From what he observed of the disbelieving expression on Syaoran's face, Duo deduced that the Chinese man wasn't quite ready to let go.

"Sakura—"

She held up a hand to stop him. "I know. But after all these years, it's been hard to work out everything. We are rarely able to see each other because you're in Hong Kong and I'm in Japan, and my long-distance phone calls cost a good deal. And.....I know, and so do you, that your duty comes to family first, and there's really no way you can manage this relationship."

The room was silent for a few seconds. Duo, long since excluded from the conversation, decided to sit this one out.

Syaoran spoke. "You can't be serious. After all we've went through—doesn't any of that mean anything to you? I've defied my mother so many times on your case I think I'd be cursed by my ancestors for existing!"

"Excuse me," interrupted the Gundam pilot (who had thrown all caution of 'keeping his mouth shut' to the wind), "but I've got something to say."

His predecessors stared at him. Syaoran's left eyebrow was twitching.

"I've heard the epic—" here Duo paused to snort, "—tale of the Void card from Kero well enough. Despite his frequent protestations, I'm well aware that he was sure you two would live in happily ever after, which, of course, doesn't happen.

"But just because you have odd family members and a few setbacks in your long-distance relationship doesn't mean that you two can't give yourselves another chance. You two have second chances, you know. Better take advantage of them before they disappear. Better than having nothing at all, ne?"

"What are you talking about?" Sakura asked, puzzled.

The American sighed. "The time in the future where I come from, man is already living in space, in colonies that orbit the planet. A war with piloted machines is the current news, and has been for many years. I'm.....a pilot in the war too. In my case, I'm not allowed to have a decent relationship with anyone." Including Heero, a fellow pilot of mine who I've been schoolgirl crushing on.....ahem. "So I think that you two should be enjoying your time together away from your families, instead of bickering.....but you'll do that a lot when you get married. I only wish I have a life like yours, where I don't have to worry about dying or killing everyday."

When Duo finished speaking, the two young adults looked at each other. Both seemed to be reading each other's eyes, and it was through that unique communication that they came to a conclusion.

"You know, I'd never thought that a future Card Captor would be teaching me about the philosophies of life, but Duo," Sakura smiled, "thanks. You're right, I was just letting everything get to me. I'm worried about college and I really shouldn't have acted the way I did."

"Relax, Kinomoto, I know more about jealous girls than you think." From good ol' Relena-sama, of course.

Syaoran said rather sullenly, "I can't believe you thought I was sleeping with another guy."

"Excuse me, dude, but she thought I was a girl first before she jumped to the conclusion you were gay." Duo grinned goofily. "Did that assuage your pride?"

The young man glared at him.

"We really have to find a way to send you home."

Duo shrugged. "No need. I'm going to use the Time Card." He waved the staff he had in his hand for the first time since he was in the house. "That was what I was going to tell you when I popped up during your argument. "

"Are you sure?" questioned Sakura. "Magic isn't something you mess around with, Duo."

The Deathscythe pilot pointed to himself. "Do I look like I have a choice? I have to get back to where I came from." There's a war to fight.....and some unfinished business. I guess they—I—was right. I really should tell him. There's not too many chances in the world.....I should value mine while I have the chance. It looks like I learned something from Sakura after all.

~*~*~*~

"Ready?"

Kero wrapped himself as tightly as he could around Duo's braid. The pilot winced.

"Not too tight, Kero, or you'll start pulling out hairs."

Suddenly, Syaoran smiled. Mischievously. "Well, it's not bad to know that the future Card Captor is so—"

An elbow belonging to his girlfriend was unexpectedly found in his ribs. It took all of his training to keep his mouth shut.

The former Card Captor handed him a large zipped up CD case holder. "That is the DVD collection of most of my card captures, courtesy of my slightly obsessed friend, Tomoyo Daidouji. She moved the captures from her camcorder videos to discs, I hope you won't make the silly mistakes I made, and please, ignore the outrageous costumes."

"Oh, Kero's told me about her. He said she was nice....."

Kero earned a rather piercing glare from Sakura.

"I wish you well, Duo." Sakura knew Kero hadn't told him about the Final Judgment yet. She hoped he would pass Yue's trial.....

"Good luck at your wedding too!" Duo's face burst into a silly grin as the couple both became somewhat red.

Back into his clothes, Duo checked his braid and Kero who seemed to be doing his best to strangle himself with it. Waving back at the two, the American tightened his hold on the wand and pulled the Time Card out of his pouch, hooking the case on his arm.

"Here goes nothing," he muttered under his breath.

"Time Card!"

~*~*~*~

He groaned and rolled over onto his back, opening his eyes. Duo turned his head to the side, eyeing the Time Card which was now embedded in the sand like a gravestone. That card pulled more air out of him than Heero's punches. Moaning, he closed his eyes and opened them again.

A second card had landed beside Time, sparkles following it and sinking into the sand. Duo frowned, and then his eyes shot wide open.

It was the Return Card.

Thank you, Card Captor.

It all clicked in his head. Duo groaned, one arm flopping up to cover his eyes. Return had sent them back in time so that they could help Sakura!

"Duo? You awake?"

Hovering over the head of the American, Kero poked Duo with his tail. The Card Captor in return rolled over onto his stomach and pushed himself up by his hands. Kero wisely picked up the Star Key and the two cards for him, as the Gundam pilot even had trouble standing. Duo wobbled his way into the safe house, glad he ended up inside Shield's protective bubble. The case on his arm was dropped behind a convenient plant on the front porch.

"The return back and the moving of location must have drained a lot of your energy," the guardian told him. He winced when Duo tripped and slammed into the door. "You better get some sleep."

Too weary to even talk to Kero, Duo only nodded and dug for his keys. He suddenly froze.

"The keys dropped into Syaoran's pool," he moaned.

"You have to be kidding me," Kero muttered. "And I don't get how you could remember to lock the door when a card is attacking."

"Habit.....Will you be able to pick the lock?" Duo gestured weakly at his braid. "I've got my lockpicks....."

"Nah, there's a better way." Kero waved one paw dismissively and focused his eyes on the doorknob. Narrowing his gaze, the guardian felt the surge of magic inside him.

The knob melted.

"KERO! Now we're going to have to replace it!"

"For someone who is supposedly extremely tired," Kero remarked, "you sure do have a lot of leftover energy to yell at others."

"Heero's going to kill me," muttered as he pushed open the door and wobbled inside, letting Kero settle into his hand as a doll first, in case the other pilots had woke up.

What happened inside was completely unexpected.

Duo felt something slam into him before he got three steps into the door. He "oofed" and smashed into the ground, air knocked out of him (again). Kero skittered on the floor and sat up quickly, dropping all pretense of his disguise.

It took one second before the braided pilot on the ground realized that there was also a pair of hands around his neck. Choking and clawing at the hands squeezing his throat, he gasped for air as he stared at the murderous face above him.

It was Heero.

Having floated up to get a clear view over the sofa, Kero's eyes bulged. He quickly gathered his magic and let out a roaring flamethrower out at Heero.

Only due to the highly trained reflexes of the Perfect Soldier did the flamethrower miss; but it did singe the messy hair, and when Heero rolled to his feet, the top of his head was smoking. The knob-less door, however, did not survive impact. In fact, it now had a new decoration: a soot-edged hole.

Suddenly rejuvenated, Duo staggered to his feet, and stared at Heero in incredulity. "Heero?" he asked quietly, voice shaking slightly. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

The answer he received was the odd end of a gun.....pointed at his head.

Wincing, the American took an involuntary step forward, only to find the gun pushed even closer. Did he find out? He doesn't have to kill me, does he? He can't live with a freak, find, I could.....go away. But this isn't quite what even I expected.....

"GET," snarled Heero, "AWAY from me."

He seemed to be breathing heavily, pupils dilated. His gun was also held unsteadily, which was unusual for the Japanese pilot.

"There's something in the house," Kero stated quietly, knowing that his words would have only meaning for Duo, even if Heero could hear him.

~*~*~*~

"You are letting your emotions get in the way, boy. Can you not see how that idiot pupil of G's has gotten to you? G ordered him to do that, can't you see? What did I train you for?" The cyborg stood in front of the open doorway, looking completely unaffected by the strangling he just received. He was scowling darkly in disapproval.

He could hear Dr. J talking to him, J moving closer to him, J constantly berating him for his friendship with Duo.

"It's making you careless.....There is no one who would befriend a dangerous experiment, not without reasons....."

If it could be called friendship.....Duo wasn't under orders to befriend him from G, was he? Was that why the American constantly pestered him, always asking about his activities, trying to hack into his computer?

"Pilot 02 may just want to use you for his own needs....."

And how could he be so stupid to think that Duo would want to be his friend? Duo told him nothing, only bothered him about his life, his missions, his interests.

In that moment Heero hated J, hated the scientist for making him who he was, a cold distant soldier, a soldier who could not understand friendship.....and love.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

The Perfect Soldier pulled out his gun. "Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!"

He opened fire on J.

~*~*~*~

"Duo!"

The American promptly hit the floor as a bullet grazed his arm, rolling behind a sofa. The stuffing exploded in tufts of white as the rain of bullets traveled from the hapless wall to the furniture. Kero pinned himself to the ceiling, watching the drama unfold from above. Jumping from behind the shelter of the bullet-ridden sofa, Duo caught a glimpse of the Wing pilot's face.

Heero, for once, had an expression (other than crazy madness) on his face. He was clearly murderous, but also looked, in a way, terrified. He didn't seem to recognize Duo at all; he barely even took notice of the guardian who had just blown a nice fresh breath of fire at his head.

What card could possibly be doing that to him? thought the Deathscythe pilot. Another question also lingered on his mind. Why would the card do that? He hastily ducked behind a rather comfy looking armchair that wouldn't quite look the same after its little ordeal.

"Kero! Goddammit, give me a few clues!"

"I'm not sure!!!"

Yelping as stuffing exploded into his face, Duo coughed and turned the other way, rolling into the leg of a piece (or pieces, he wasn't sure) of furniture. Before he could stop to take a breath, however, a weight slammed into his abdomen, and out went all his air.

The hands were around his neck again. Already deprived of what oxygen he had avoiding bullets (and heart attacks), Duo tried to wrench Heero's fingers off his life line. The edges of his vision were turning dark.

Suddenly, a scream wrenched itself from his throat, and power streaked through his veins—Duo's head exploded with pain. Eyes snapping shut, the Deathscythe pilot could feel the magic of the cards bouncing around inside his skull, hammering.

When Duo's eyelids opened again, his eyeballs were completely covered with white light.

Heero released his hold, taken aback by the holes in his illusion. A flash enveloped him, the luminosity blinding. When the Wing pilot's sight cleared, he looked down at the trapped person he was straddling.

It definitely wasn't Dr. J.

The Wing pilot jumped back, eyes sweeping over the person on the floor, who promptly curled up in a ball around his stomach. Duo felt air trying to squeeze in and out of him, pushing from both inside and outside. His head was imploding with a ferocious migraine, and there was still Heero.

Who was already outside the house, running from it and what he had done.

Slowing sailing down from the safe spot on the ceiling, Kero perched on the broken leg of an end table, eyeing Duo with a look of concern. "You don't have to rush to get up," the guardian quipped. "The card will be trapped inside Shield as long at it lasts."

Arms wobbling at the elbows as he pushed himself up off the floor, Duo peered up at Kero through the long bangs covering his forehead. "Yeah, I know that. I'm more worried about what it can do to the other guys than whether or not it will escape. I'm running short on energy, in case you haven't noticed, and I can't do a repeat of the situation that just happened....." His voice was raspy and rough, sounding wholly unlike himself. "What card was that?"

Kero sucked in a deep breath before answering. "That was Illusion."

"What?!" Duo yelled at the ceiling with what little effort he had left.

~*~*~*~

"You always were the weak, uncaring scholar."

Wufei grunted, eyelids slowly sliding open. He blinked many times, recognizing the floor in his vision. He placed the palms of his hands onto the polished wood and pushed himself up, a loose strand of hair falling into his vision. Scowling, Wufei brushed it out of his eyes and stood up. When he looked out the doorway of the bedroom to see who had spoke, what he saw took him completely by surprise.

Standing on top of the stairs at the other end of the hall.....was his wife.

"Meiran," Wufei breathed. In the back of his head his mind shouted to him, that it wasn't possible, she was dead. That she died in that attack on their colony, and that somewhere in this mess OZ could be involved.

But she was there, standing right there. Not a figment of his imagination.....or was she?

"You're not worthy of piloting Nataku."

The Chinese pilot started out of his reverie. "What?"

"All that you do is useless. You are not fighting. You have no right to call your Gundam a symbol of justice......"

Stepping forward, Wufei's hand reached for Meiran.....He needed to explain to her, to tell her he was trying.....Or was he really?

Her eyes penetrated him imperiously, never straying from their focus. "You do nothing but moan about yourself, forever locked up in your own room reading your books. A man like you is worth nothing....."

That's not true, he wanted to tell her, but in his mind he had doubts. He was fighting a useless war.

His feet began to move faster. In one breath, Wufei raced forward, right hand outstretched.....

.....And found himself passing right through the vanishing image of his dead wife. The stairs loomed before him, he was too far forward to stop now.....

~*~*~*~

"Wufei!"

The Chinese pilot seemed to start out of his daze, but he was already falling. Duo, who had been climbing the staircase, reacted automatically (he was a Gundam pilot), fingers gripping the right rail while his other hand pushed into the left wall. This day is really going down..... was a last thought before Wufei crashed right into him. Stars filled the Deathscythe pilot's vision; his left hand slipped and the two swung into the stair rail.

Somehow Duo managed to grasp Wufei's arm before the Chinese pilot fell any further. Wufei's legs banged on the steps; the wooden rail shook from their collision with the two pilots.

"Ow?....." Duo let go of the stair rail and slumped down on a step, releasing Wufei's arm as well. His hands went to his forehead, cradling what appeared to be the mightiest migraine had in the century. "Suddenly suicidal, Fei? What the hell were you doing?" The American trailed off with a moan, still massaging his head.

The other was silent. Rasping breaths escaped Wufei's throat, and he suddenly felt foolish. Meiran was dead; she had been for a while. She wasn't going to come back and start yelling at him like she used to.....

But was she right? Am I really nothing in this war?

"Wu?"

He jerked, and then stared at Duo, who looked at him in concern.

"You all right?"

Wufei stood up quickly, adverting his eyes. The Chinese pilot jumped down the stairs and headed for the front door. He didn't answer Duo's question even as he walked out. The expression on the latter pilot's face hardened.

"I've had enough," said Duo quietly. His tone had a dangerous edge on it, an edge that Kero now knew all too well.

It was Duo's, 'You've pissed me off way beyond the death thing' tone.

"The guys took a lot of strength to bury their pasts and get over whatever happened to them. It took them a long time to get their fears out of the way and work to their fullest abilities. Now....."

A cloud of white began to gather by the open front doors, swirling and changing into a dark gray.

"Now this card is just barging in and flipping all their minds into history and bringing their pain back to life."

Kero watched the cloud shape itself into a figure, another shadow. This time the guardian knew what the form was going to be.

"Their defenses have crashed down on them."

It was going to be someone of Duo's past. And the card captor knew it too.

"All because.....It wants to escape.....me."

The teenage Gundam pilot summoned the staff and held it at ready.

"I can't let it go.....Even if I want it to. Just because it's my job."

"Duo....."

"The title that I never wanted."

Smoke tore itself away from the cloud, peeling off the layer hiding the false person underneath. Wisps curled onto the floor and dissipated into invisible particles. In a few seconds, the shielding haze vanished, revealing a woman, dressed completely in black, with a look of hatred in her eyes. She spoke.

[(You were always the black sheep. Look what you did to the church. If it weren't for you, Father Maxwell would be alive.....The people all around the area would be alive and uninjured.....)]

"The title of Card Captor Death....."

Duo gasped out the words as the woman bore down upon him, her words beating onto the Gundam pilot. Kero jumped in front of Duo's face.

"It's only Illusion!" the guardian screamed. "You can fight it!"

"I know, Kero, I know....." Duo's eyes glazed over, barely registering the presence of the guardian. He could only hear the hateful words of the lady, the woman known to him as Sister Helen. The woman who took him in when he was on L2, who had taught him with a patience that no one ever had.

She isn't real! She's dead! She's gone, and she won't come back!

"Be.....because of me....."

[(Yes, because of you! Even now you hurt your friends. It is because of you they are suffering! Because of you Maxwell Church perished!)]

"NO! You're lying, you're not Sister Helen—"

[(Friends! They never thought of you as a friend! You were always a nuisance, a source of all troubles! Always it was your fault!)]

"Sister Helen would never say that! She would never! She always forgave me....." Duo slapped his hands over his ears. "Stop ruining my memories of her!"

Illusion blinked, confused at why he wasn't falling to its magic. The card backed away as Duo raised the staff, the star at top now shining brilliantly.

"You're fake," he whispered fiercely. "An illusion and nothing more. False to the eyes, a false truth. Nothing like the real memories. Return to your card CONFINED!"

He roared the last word, braid swinging wildly about. The symbol of Sakura's Star whirred with his anger, streams of light blasting Illusion forcefully.

The card itself had known that it would fall to the Deathscythe pilot when Duo had stated his first sentence. It smiled bitterly, and just before it was pulled into its prison it laughed one last time.

[(Am I any more false than you?)]

~*~*~*~

Trowa was sitting on the roof watching the sunset when Duo found him. The green eye acknowledged the American's presence and then slid back to the scenery.

"Hi."

The taciturn teenager only nodded in return. Duo sat down beside Trowa, folding his legs together comfortably. He had taken off his shoes inside. Both stared silently at the sun.

Not surprisingly, Duo spoke first.

"Did you—"

"I heard everything that happened at the front door," interrupted Trowa, eye still focused in the distance.

"....."

"Illusion changed into Quatre's father." There was a pause. "He said he needed some time to think by himself."

"....." Unusually enough, Duo found himself not talking.

For the next few minutes, neither talked. The sun slipped below the horizon, leaving a few rays to shine in the fading blue sky. When it was completely dark, Trowa stood, heading back for the trapdoor going down. He stopped before he got there.

"I saw somebody from my past. Dead, forgotten memories." Trowa glanced up at the stars. "Now the cards are bothering us too."

"I'm sorry."

"Those words may not be enough next time." Pilot 03 climbed down the ladder and out of sight.

A small shape hovered up from the side. Duo didn't need to take a good look in the dark to know who it was. Kero settled down on the roof next to the Deathscythe pilot, wings flapping quietly.

"You did great against Illusion today," Kero offered, voice sounding more hopeful then complimentary.

"How nice." Standing and brushing his pants off, Duo walked back to the trapdoor. "I wish I could say the same about my friendships and relationships." The teen paused. "You coming?"

"Later."

Duo shut the trapdoor.

So much has happened in just one day. I'm surprised Duo has the energy to stand, especially after using Time and capturing Illusion. He's much stronger than I thought he was. The guardian floated over to the edge of the house, looking down. Several windows were lit, and he could see shadows moving around inside. His anger at the card fueled his power.....Once again, the emotion problem. His mood swings pose a threat to even himself.....The final judgment is approaching.....It should yield some answers.

The new individuality of the cards also worry me.....Illusion shouldn't have reacted so badly against Duo. They've formed emotions.....Maybe that's why Duo's even more connected to them?

~*~*~*~

"Hey."

Heero didn't even look over his shoulder. He continued his typing, random characters spewing into his lighted screen. Concentrate, the Japanese teen thought fiercely.

Duo stared at the back of the other pilot, blinking a few times. He bit his lip. "About earlier today—"

"I'm leaving tomorrow morning on a new mission," interrupted Heero, eyes focused on his computer. "Don't bother me while I'm preparing."

Behind him, Duo's expression hardened. He felt like punching Heero, but it wasn't a good idea on the long run. Thoughts of bitter words flushed through his brain, swirling in the already muddled corners of his mind.

"Fine."

A pressure released its hole on Heero; he felt relieved for some reason, and he didn't know why. Why should I care about his opinion that much?

"But don't think that running away will solve your problems, Heero. It won't. You and I both know how you feel about me."

The Wing pilot's fingers froze on the keyboard.

"I can admit, Heero, I like you. Not just as a friend." Duo wet his lips; his throat felt very dry.

"Maybe it's not going to work out. Maybe it'll interfere with the mission, or whatever. But you don't know what will happen until it really happens.....You can think about it on this mission alone. I'll wait for an answer.

".....I can only wait so long."

He closed the door behind him, and sagged slightly on it. A bad feeling crept into his heart. I'm running out of time.....

~*~*~*~

Number of cards left to be captured - [3]
Cards captured in this chapter - Sand, Return, Illusion