DISCLAIMER: Gundam Wing is property of its rightful owners and I in no way assert any sort of claim over its characters and storylines. Everything non-Gundam Wing is mine.

Second to None

The headlines proclaimed it as the greatest landing of the century.

Satellite footage of the landing was replayed over and over on the newsfeeds. And no matter how many times I saw it, I couldn't help but marvel at the miraculous landing. It was, as many news networks reported, a thing of beauty.

Against all odds, my mentor had somehow managed to get the engines back online; just in time to give him the necessary thrust to level out the shuttle. And then, as graceful as a bird, the shuttle skimmed across the surface of the lake before coming to a gentle stop on its sandy shores. The video cut out after that when the Preventers shut down the video feed from the satellite.

What happened after that was unclear but the rumour mill was spinning full force. According to the rumours, Agent Yuy made a less graceful but equally efficient landing in the lake. By the time Agent Chang, Dr. Raberba and the rescue crew had landed, Agent Yuy and my mentor had been busy pulling prisoners out of the shuttle, as well as chasing after the few that dared to try and escape. Everything seemed to have ended well. Too well, as my mentor would say.

Soon after the rescue crew had landed, my mentor had collapsed from internal injuries. Although he had been a little roughed up during his time with Gothe, his real injuries had come from the shuttle's uncontrolled descent into the Earth's atmosphere. Thankfully, Dr. Raberba had been next to his friend's side and had whisked him away to Sanq Memorial Hospital. A team of Sanq's best surgeons had operated to staunch the internal bleeding and although they were forced to remove his spleen, my mentor was now on the path to a full recovery.

"Actually, it's a miracle he hadn't lost his spleen sooner!" Agent Sanders was telling me from his hospital bed. "There was that time in Budapest, and then that time when we…"

Shortly after I'd witnessed my mentor's shuttle plummet to the earth, I'd been whisked away by one of the med-teams for medical treatment at Sanq Memorial. My bullet wound had been stitched up and I had been administered a tetanus shot in addition to a multitude of other painful injections when one of the medical residents, upon hearing that I'd taken a shot to the vest, thought to send me off to the radiology department for X-rays. It turned out that I had three fractured ribs and I was admitted to the hospital overnight for observation.

Since the hospital was overflowing with injured Preventers agents, civilians and Gothe's rebels, all rooms were crammed to capacity. Thankfully, some kind soul had seen to it that I was assigned to a room with fellow members from the Surveillance and Infiltration division. My teammates had been out in the field on the Henderson case when intel about the imminent attacks on the spaceports had been received. As they had been in the vicinity, the team was one of the first responders, resulting in a heavier casualty rate compared to the other teams. Thankfully, none of my team members had been fatally wounded. I liked to think it was because Agent Maxwell ran a tight ship, even when he wasn't physically present.

"…don't look so upset rookie!" Agent Sanders' voice filtered back into my consciousness. I rolled my head to look at him. He'd suffered two serious breaks in his right leg but he was as jovial as usual, even though his leg was in a clunky cast and suspended from the ceiling. "He's gonna be just fine! You can live just fine without a spleen, I mean, just look at Floria! I say she got even prettier after she had her spleen removed."

"Shut up Greg," Agent Matos snapped from behind her curtain. "I'm trying to sleep here."

"See kid?" Agent Sanders winked at me. "She's still a spitfire!"

"I swear to God, if you don't shut your trap, I'm going to tell your wife that you were flirting with the nurses again!"

"Ruin my fun will you," the grizzled agent muttered under his breath. "Watch out for women kid, if you don't choose wisely, they'll be the ruin of you. Take Gothe for example."

I sat up at the mention of Gothe. "What do you mean sir?"

"He went from notorious terrorist to a whipped sissy because of some woman. Haven't you heard the latest? They say that Gothe was trying to gain control of L1-C1001 as a present to his new lady friend! Can you believe it"?"

I blinked in surprise. "A present?"

"Yep. They say that Gothe's new lady friend was originally from there. And her father had at one point made a run for governor of the colony but was decimated at the public polls; something about a bribery scandal too. Anyways, seems like the lady had a major beef with the colony. Sanq University too. They say it wasn't Gothe that ordered the attack on the university but his lady friend. Don't know what her beef with the university was, but she completely exposed herself and the rest of Gothe's crew so it worked out for us in the end. Still, that's one crazy lady."

"Was she caught?"

"Yep. My sources say that it was Agent Barton himself who brought her in, although no one actually saw the guy. Say, weren't you dispatched to the university? They say he was there too! Did you see him?"

I was saved from having answer by Agent Matos. "Would you shut up already Greg? You're forty-year old man but you're an even worse gossip than the entire secretarial department combined!"

I really wished I'd let the nurse take me back to my room after I'd been taken back down the radiology department for a second set of X-rays. But my stupid pride had bristled at the thought of being wheeled around like an invalid. Using the excuse that I wanted to stretch my legs, I'd insisted on walking back to my room. And since I hadn't been paying attention during my mortifying wheelchair ride down to the radiology department, I was now hopelessly lost. In fact, I didn't even know which floor my room was on, much less the room number. I wandered around aimlessly in my flimsy plastic slippers and hospital gown, hoping that I would recognize something or someone familiar. I really didn't want to have to go to the nurse's station and ask which room was mine; I didn't think I would ever live down the embarrassment.

Just as I was about give in and ask for directions, an attending exited one of the private rooms and I caught sight of my mentor. He was asleep, a dark bruise blossoming on the side of his face. For the first time, I saw his hair out of its customary braid and in a loose side ponytail. I was struck motionless by how young and vulnerable he looked. Because my mentor's presence was so much larger than life, I had forgotten that he was barely half a decade older than me. It was a shocking realization.

Just before the door closed completely, I caught a glimpse of Agent Yuy sitting in silent vigil at my mentor's side. One hand tightly clasped my mentor's left hand while the other was resting gently over the tattoo on my mentor's forearm.

"What are you doing here?" A stern looking nurse demanded from behind me. "This area is off limits!"

"I'm so sorry! Umm…" I didn't know what to say, having been caught red-handed with my hand in the cookie jar. I really doubted that she would believe that I'd gotten lost, even though it was truth. No doubt she must have thought that I was some busybody come to stick my nose where it didn't belong.

"Here you are!" Dr. Raberba appeared at my side in a doctor's coat. "I've been looking for you. I apologize Nurse Copeland, it's my fault, in my absentmindedness I told the agent here to come to the wrong place!"

"Oh is that so?" the nurse continued to frown but seemed to be placated by Dr. Raberba's explanation and returned to her stack of charts.

Dr. Raberba raised his index finger, gesturing for me to wait. "I'm sorry Vera, I'll have to call you back," he spoke to his tablet and I caught sight of a pretty young woman with curly red hair and gray eyes.

"I went to find you this morning but they told me that you hadn't come back from your appointment," Dr. Raberba informed me after he disconnected the call.

"I uh… got lost on my way back from the radiology department… and uh… I'm ashamed to say that I don't know my room number," I admitted. This was far worse than confessing to one of the nurses that I was lost.

"You're worried about Duo?"

"Well that too sir, but I really wasn't meaning to snoop, I swear!"

Dr. Raberba nodded but I couldn't tell if he believed me. Despite openly showing more expression than the other former pilots, for some reason, he was just as inscrutable as his comrades. Not to mention his facial hair helped to distort his expressions, and perhaps it was intentional.

"I need to discuss something with you," he told me as he opened the door to a private office and ushered me in.

Mystified, I sat down in the chair he pointed to and scuffed my slipper clad feet on the floor, suddenly feeling nervous.

"Am I being reprimanded for my conduct sir?" I asked when he took a seat across from me and didn't speak for a long time, instead typing a quick message on his tablet before studying me, as though contemplating how to breach whatever topic he wanted to speak to me about.

"Should I be?"

"Well… I did act against Agent Chang's direct orders… twice," I offered. "And I umm… got into a… umm… 'altercation' with Agent Yuy…"

"That's true. But I'm not an official member of the Preventers, so it's not my decision whether or not to report or even reprimand you. That will be up to Wufei or Heero."

My stomach dropped. Agent Chang was known to be a stickler for the regulations. Apparently he operated on the philosophy that a lack of strict adherence to protocol would result in the dissolution of order. And as the head of Tactical Ops, it made sense. One misstep and countless lives could be lost. As for Agent Yuy, I didn't even want to think of the repercussions of trying to assault my superior officer.

"But never mind that for the time being. What I'm interested in is why you went against Wufei's direct orders," Dr. Raberba informed me, his fingers forming a steeple as he scrutinized me, "and why you went so far as to lash out at Heero."

"Sir?" I was at a total loss as to what he meant. "I was just trying to do my part to help out… and well there's no excuse sir, but I thought that Agent Maxwell was dead and… I honestly lost my temper with Agent Yuy's criticism of Agent Maxwell."

"Let me clarify," Dr. Raberba smiled gently but his eyes were sombre. "Were you acting in your capacities as a Preventers agent, or out of your admiration and loyalty to Duo?"

My world was suddenly turned upside down. Up until now, all my focus had been on becoming a respectable agent, a person as far removed from my father as possible. Yet, somewhere along the way, my goals and motivations had changed without my realizing.

"I take it that it's the later," Dr. Raberba answered for me when I couldn't. He fell silent again and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"There's something you need to know about Duo," he began at long last. "I would really rather not have this discussion, or even disclose this information to you, but I think it would be grossly unfair of me to do otherwise."

"Sir?" I couldn't even begin to guess what he was going to tell me.

Again, Dr. Raberba fell silent, pushing a few pieces of paper around the desk in contemplation. "Do you know about the rookie before you?"

I blinked at that. "Yes sir, I believe her name was Agent Linder."

Dr. Raberba nodded. "Duo's always been very particular with the members of his team, and he became even more so after Agent Linder's, Emily's, injury in the field. You see, she had become quite… attached to Duo, and well, she completely disregarded her safety, even her duty as a Preventers agents, and acted solely to protect him."

"Sir?" I'd already heard the story from Agent Sanders but I didn't quite understand what point Dr. Raberba was trying to make.

"It's really not my place to say, but Duo has a childhood trauma that makes it difficult for him to process death."

I felt the ground drop out from under me at this revelation. How could this be? My mentor was someone who had once proudly proclaimed himself the 'God of Death'.

Dr. Raberba took a deep breath before continuing. "I don't know the full story myself, but… Duo feels…" Dr. Raberba seemed to be searching for the right words, "at fault when people close to him are injured or killed."

"I'm sorry sir, but I don't really understand…"

Dr. Raberba scratched at his beard, an action that seemed very unlike him. "I don't fully understand it myself, but it seems that Duo believes that the injury or the fatality is caused by his relationship to the victim… not by the circumstances surrounding the injury or death. I know it's not logical, and I'm sure he knows that it's not logical either… but when it comes to traumas, all logic goes out the window. So when someone close to him comes close to death, he tends to react quite badly. And that's putting it mildly. After transferring Emily out of his division, he wouldn't even hear of taking another rookie for years, no matter what anyone said. So we were overjoyed when he finally decided to take on a new rookie, and that rookie was you."

Dr. Raberba fidgeted with the papers on the desk again before continuing. "I think Duo chose you because you were a bit of a lone wolf. You didn't develop any attachments at the academy or at university. I don't know if you've noticed this yourself, but you keep everyone at an arm's length by never calling them by their first name. It's always 'sir', 'ma'am' or 'agent'. Your records all indicated that you're very goal orientated and it seemed that your main objective in life was to become a competent agent, first and foremost. Your instructors reported that you always kept your head down and did the work that you were assigned. In short, on paper, you were aloof and detached. Of course, it's a given that you had the requisite skills he was looking for as well."

"Now," Dr. Raberba raised his hand when I opened my mouth to speak, "that might have been his logical reason. But I firmly believe that unconsciously, he chose you because he identified with you. Your background is not dissimilar to his and you have the same dogged stubbornness when it comes to things you believe in. I think he saw in you, a younger version of himself, a younger self he wanted to give a different future. One of the most heart wrenching things I've heard him say was that he fought in the war so that others didn't have to grow up the way he did."

"We were all elated when he seemed to take to you. In fact, we were shocked when he started to pay special attention to you and even brought you in on Gothe's investigation. But he got attached, and so did you… and when he hears of what happened… Well, in truth, he probably already knows of your capture and narrow escape…"

I finally put two and two together. I thought that my heart would shatter into a million pieces. "He's going to transfer me out of the division…" I choked out.

"Well…" Dr. Raberba hesitated. "I don't know for sure. He hasn't woken up yet… but I wanted you to be prepared, to perhaps take the first step even."

"The first step?"

A sharp rap at the door interrupted our conversation.

"Ah! Perfect timing!" Dr. Raberba exclaimed. "Come in!"

Agent Chang stepped into the room with a folder in hand. "I see Winner's already broken the news," he commented after taking one look at my face. "I've made a few inquiries and I think I've found something quite suitable," he told me as he handed me the folder. Inside was a job application for the VS division in New York, as well as a job description for an opening in the VS division.

"The VS division?" I asked in shock. VS stood for 'vulnerable sector', and the division dealt with crimes and incidents involving the vulnerable sector of the population, namely children, the elderly and the disabled.

"Before applying to the Preventers Academy, you were studying to become a social worker, were you not? Your educational background is quite well suited to becoming a member of the VS division," Agent Chang replied.

I swung to face Dr. Raberba. "You think I should transfer divisions?"

"Well, the decision is ultimately up to you, but I think you should explore it as one of your options moving forward."

"But I…" I didn't even want to consider the prospect of voluntarily leaving my mentor's side. "The job description says they're looking for an agent with at least 2 years experience," I hedged, trying to find some way out.

Agent Chang shrugged. "Those are just guidelines. I think your actions in the field yesterday prove that you are more than qualified. I, of course will provide you with a letter of recommendation if you choose to apply."

I blinked in shock at that. "But I disobeyed a direct order from you! Twice!"

Agent Chang huffed and glared at me. "You do not need to remind me agent. I am willing to overlook your indiscretions on the condition that you will be more sensible in the future. More importantly, putting aside Maxwell's neuroses aside, I believe it is prudent that you distance yourself from Sanq for the time being."


My Chinese superior cleared his throat before answering. "Given your personal connection to the case, and the fact that Gothe will be incarcerated and tried in Sanq, it would be better that you remove yourself from any… distractions." He finished delicately.

Blandly, I noted that I'd never seen Agent Chang speak so diplomatically before. He was never one to shy away from the brutal truth. And then it hit me. "You know?" I exclaimed in horror.

"I do not appreciate Maxwell and Yuy trying to pull the wool over our eyes, but I understand their reasons for doing so. Well, Maxwell's reasons. Yuy will do almost anything Maxwell asks of him," he grumbled almost to himself. "To the point," he continued a louder voice, "you can see why this is a good opportunity and a wise decision."

I could feel the world around me crumbling. In course of a few minutes, I realized that my life had taken an abrupt turn that I hadn't even noticed, and now my life was yet at another crossroads. And I didn't want to take any of the paths in front of me.

"You don't have to decide now," Dr. Raberba told me gently, silencing Agent Chang with a look. "I know it's a lot to take in, and I don't envy your position. And I know that you don't want to, but I encourage you to give it some thought."

Unable to think of any kind of retort, I could only sit and nod my head dumbly.

It'd been five days since I had been discharged from the hospital and four days since Agent Maxwell had been declared well enough to receive visitors. I'd been given a week's paid leave and had been spending my days in a daze, rearranging my apartment, idly watching TV while avoiding all the news reports, pretty much doing everything possible to avoid facing reality.

Wiping my sweaty palms on my pants, I followed Dr. Raberba down the halls towards my mentor's hospital room. He'd called me that morning, telling me that I should come to the hospital to visit Agent Maxwell. I tried to ignore the fact that Dr. Raberba thought I should come, not that Agent Maxwell had asked to see me.

"Dr. Raberba," a smiling nurse greeted us. "Dr. Franklin is just finishing up with Agent Maxwell."

"Oh, then we'll just wait for him to finish," the blonde doctor smiled and guided us to the chairs just outside my mentor's room.

"Hey doc, did ya see the plates Heero bought when he was on L3 with the princess?" Agent Maxwell's cheerful voice filtered through the closed door. Despite my nervousness, I was happy to hear that my mentor's voice had returned to its usual volume.

"Ah, very nice. They look antique," a deep voice answered in a quieter voice. I presumed it was the doctor's voice.

"Yep! Gothe had these crazy stained glass-like goblets I think would go well with these plates. I wanna hunt down a couple like 'em. Oh hey, Heero, all of Gothe's estate will be seized as possible proceeds of crime right? Ya think they'll go up for government auction eventually?"

There was a murmured reply that was too low to hear, but it was unmistakably Agent Yuy's vocal timbre.

"Well, you're back to your usual spirits Mr. Maxwell. And everything looks good so I'm going to go sign your discharge papers. But I want you to take it easy for the next few weeks. Medical leave for two weeks and then light duties until I give you the green light."

"Awww… come on doc!"

There was another low murmur.

"Ok, ok, fine Heero. I'll listen to the doc for now."

"Good, we'll see you in two weeks then Mr. Maxwell." A balding doctor exited the room, nodded at Dr. Raberba before handing a chart to the waiting nurse and engaging her in conversation.

Dr. Raberba wasted no time in knocking on the door and making his way into the room.

"Heya Quatre!" Agent Maxwell greeted him cheerfully. "Oh, heya kid!" My mentor's grin stayed firmly in place but the cheer had drained from his eyes.

Agent Yuy looked up from where he sat next to Agent Maxwell's beside and exchanged a long look with Dr. Raberba. "I'll go home and get you some clothes," he stated, rising from his seat. He leveled a stern look at me before exiting the room.

"And I'm going to pop into Dr. Hawkins' office. I want to talk to him about my clinic," Dr. Raberba also beat a hasty retreat, leaving me alone with my mentor.

"I hear ya got up to some wild antics while I was gone. They say ya almost gave Wufei a mild stroke," he laughed but his laugh was stiff lacked his usual luster.

"Yes sir… I'm very sorry."

Agent Maxwell shrugged uncomfortably. "Well, I guess I rubbed off on ya a bit…"

"I'm really relieved that you're alright sir. I was really worried," I was struggling to maintain my composure.

"Well, you can stop worryin'. I'm gettin' discharged today. I'll be good as new before you know it!" My mentor seemed to look anywhere but at me. He fiddled with sheets, scratched a cut on his face and gazed out the window. "I heard you had a couple of visits to the ER too…"

Seeing my mentor's tense body language, as much as I didn't want to, it was now crystal clear what path I had to take.

"Sir… There was something I wanted to talk to you about."

"Shoot," Agent Maxwell met my gaze for a moment before fluttering away.

"There's an opening in the VS division in New York."

My heart broke when I saw the anxiety drain from my mentor's tense features, but it let me know that I had made the right decision. "I took a lot of sociology courses in university and before becoming an agent, I'd always wanted to be a social worker. I think the VS division would be a good fit for my skills." I wasn't lying, I just wasn't telling the whole truth. I had learned from the best after all.

My mentor was nodding in agreement. "I think yer right kid. It would be a really good fit."

I took a deep breath. "I know I still have five months left on my rotation, but the opening will be filled soon and I'd like to submit an application." I took a deep breath. "So I was wondering if you'll give me your permission and blessing to apply."

"Of course rookie! You don't have to be so formal about. Chances like these don't grow on trees. You gotta grab 'em when while you can."

"Could I trouble you for a letter of reference sir?"

"Sure thing kid!" My mentor's smile had almost returned to its usually brightness. "I'll have a lotta free time for the next week or so. I'll be sure to write ya a killer reference."

"Thank you sir." I rose from my seat. "I really appreciate everything you've done for me. You're really the best mentor I could have ever hoped for and more."

Dr. Raberba was waiting for me outside the door. I'm sure he knew what had transpired the minute he saw me exit the room. Seeing the mournful but understanding look cross his face, I couldn't help it and broke down. He quickly ushered me away to a corner and patted me on the back as I sobbed my heart out.

"I really wish it could have ended differently, I really do," he told me as he handed me a box of tissues.

"I feel so stupid," I told him as I scrubbed at my face. "I'm a grown man and I'm crying over a stupid transfer. Six months ago I would have bent over backwards to apply for a position in VS. And now I'm…"

"It's not stupid at all," the good doctor assured me. "And I want you to know that you are in no way responsible. None of this was your fault."

I looked up to see that the blonde doctor also had tears in his eyes. "We might have been hailed as heroes, but real truth is, we're human too, we have our flaws. And sometimes those flaws cause us to hurt ourselves and those closest to us."

I could only nod numbly, my tears continuing to flow.

"You had to make an awful decision today, a decision you shouldn't have had to make in the first place. But for Duo's sake, you made the right one. Duo was really lucky to have had you watching his back."

"Woah!" Agent Sanders commented as a tall man with long platinum blonde hair strode past our office at a furious pace. "Look at those sparks coming off the Lighting Count!"

"What's gotten into him? And I thought he was on the Mars mission?" Agent Torres wondered, wandering over with his cup of coffee, his children's photos plastered all over the mug.

After returning to work on light duties earlier this week, I found myself paying closer attention to the other members of the Surveillance and Infiltration division. That was when I noticed that they all shared one unique quality. They all had something of utmost importance in their lives, whether it be a lover, their family, the job or a hobby. And that one special thing was something that they would always prioritize over anything else. After Dr. Raberba's revelations, I knew it was no coincidence. Agent Maxwell had carefully selected agents from whom he could keep a friendly but suitable distance.

"You didn't hear?" Agent Sanders' grizzled face was alight with mischief. Despite having to hobble around on a pair crutches, Agent Sanders was in high spirits as usual. Especially since it seemed like he had a juicy piece of office gossip to share. "Heero Yuy 'borrowed' his personal, customized shuttle to fly to earth and ditched it in Lake Geneva. He's just found that his ship's unsalvageable."

"Unsalvageable?" Agent Torres seemed stunned. "Isn't Yuy one of the best pilots there is?"

"Probably," Agent Sanders shrugged. "But he was too busy parachuting out of the shuttle to care about landing it properly. And you wanna hear the real kicker? Rory down in mechanics says that the shuttle boss crash-landed can be certified space-worthy with just a few minor repairs!"

"Shit, no wonder Agent Wind's pissed."

"Hey rookie! There's a call for you on Line 2," Agent Matos yelled at me from across the room.

"Thank you for holding, this is-"

"When can you start?" the booming voice on the other end of the line interrupted me before I could finish my sentence.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Oh sorry, I got ahead of myself there. This is Agent Barkins, head of VS, New York division. We're running short-handed right now and we can't wait to get you on board!"

My jaw dropped. I'd just submitted my application the day before yesterday. I hadn't expected to hear back so soon, more or less get the job. "I got the job?"

"Of course you got the job! I would be a fool not to hire you! You've worked under both Duo Maxwell and Wufei Chang and they both sent me glowing letters of reference. Hell, I even got a call from Heero fucking Yuy!" the man on the other end laughed loudly.

I thought my eyes would bulge out of my head. "Agent Yuy sir?"

"The one and only! He called me up out of the blue, didn't say much but told me that I'd be an idiot not to hire you. So, back to my original question: when can you start?"

"As soon as I can get my affairs in order sir."

"Great! I'll get started on the paperwork and you let me know once you've got everything sorted out on your end. Oh, and let's dispense with the formalities. You're part of the team now! Call me Jack."

Although every fibre in my body rebelled, I complied. "Thanks Jack. I look forward working with you."

I wasn't lying. I just wasn't telling the whole truth.

"Hey Lou! Another round of drinks all around!" Agent Sanders shouted at the bartender. The bar was having some sort of theme night and the venue was lit soley by black lights, causing all the drinks to glow an eerie neon blue, pink or green.

"I gotta get home to put my kids to bed," Agent Torres half-protested raising a pink glass to his mouth.

"Aww, you have time for one more round of drinks! Right kid?" Agent Sanders slapped me hard on the back and I sploshed some of my blue drink onto the table. It didn't really matter. I didn't want to drink it anyways and the neon colour was starting to give me a headache.

It was my first, and last, outing with the team. Despite all the chaos surrounding Nigel Gothe's capture, the Surveillance and Infiltration division had somehow managed to wrap up the Henderson case, successfully putting an end to a string of high profile bank robberies. Tonight was a celebration of that accomplishment.

It was also my last night as a member of the team.

I'd submitted the requisite paperwork, packed my belongings and terminated my lease. Tomorrow, I'd fly out to New York to begin my new job at the VS division in the New York offices of the Preventers. I hadn't told anyone and I'd begged HR to keep my transfer secret until I had safely boarded my flight to New York. I didn't think I'd be able to announce the news or deal with any of the resulting questions without breaking down. HR had reluctantly complied, and I suspected it was only due to some form of intervention on the part of Agent Chang. The Chinese agent had called me into his office mere hours after I'd gotten off the phone with Agent Jack Barkins in New York. He'd offered me his congratulations and presented me with a copy of Sun Tzu's "Art of War" but kicked me out of his office before I could thank him properly.

"What's the matter rookie?" Agent Sanders pulled me aside as I came back from the washroom. "You've been nothing but doom and gloom for the past two weeks! You worried about the boss? Don't be, I hear he's coming back to work tomorrow. Shit! Speak of the devil, here he is!"

"Heya gang! I heard ya nabbed the baddies without me!" Agent Maxwell shouted jovially as he strode into the bar and towards our table. He laughingly exchanged hugs and backslaps before sitting next to Agent Matos who was now on her fourth, bizarre-looking cocktail. I tried not to let the hurt show when he carefully managed to skirt around me without anyone noticing.

"You shoulda seen the look on their faces when we turned the tables on them!" Agent Sanders laughed jovially. "I thought they were gonna piss their pants!"

"What the hell? You weren't even there!" Agent Matos sloshed her drink in the portly agent's direction.

"Hey! I was watching from the surveillance van!" Agent Sanders protested. "And might I say, you looked particularly ravishing when you smashed Henderson's face into the wall!" The older agent winked, causing the entire table to erupt into boisterous laughter.

"Shut it old man!" Agent Matos snapped back, but it was in good humour.

I felt a pair of eyes on me and looked up from my drink to see Agent Maxwell staring at me intently. When I met his gaze, he quickly looked away and raised his arm to get Lou's attention.

It was then that I saw it. Glowing brightly between the two tattooed lines on my mentor's forearm was the number '01'.

Seeing the tattoo's true form under the black lights brought the events of the past month rushing back into the forefront of my mind and I was suddenly hit with the realization that I would be leaving of all this behind tomorrow. I would be leaving behind the city where it had all begun, the offices that housed legendary heroes of the wars and most of all, I would be leaving the side of the mentor I both respected and admired more than anyone. Even now.

But when it came down to it, I really hadn't had a choice in the matter. Whether I chose it or it was chosen for me, it was undeniable that I would have had to leave. At least this way, I felt that I had been the one to leave, and not the one left behind.

Unable to take it anymore, I grabbed my coat off the back of my chair plunked down a few bills for my share of the bill.

"You leaving already?" Agent Sanders asked me in disbelief. "We're only getting started here!"

"I'm not much of a drinker," I confessed. I didn't need to tell him that I had an early flight to catch tomorrow.

"No way, you gotta stay for at least one round of drinks with the boss!"

"If wants to go, let him go!" Agent Matos waved him away. "Someone's got to be sober enough to answer the phones tomorrow morning."

"That's true. The phone's gonna be ringing off the hook with reporters asking about our heroic exploits!" Agent Sanders laughed loudly and slapped me on the shoulder. "See ya tomorrow rookie!"

I just smiled in response and beat a hasty retreat. Once outside I gulped a few lungfuls of the cool night air and headed towards the bus stop. I stopped in my tracks when I spotted a familiar black SUV.

"Agent Yuy?" I approached the man leaning against the car, his head tilted upwards as he stared up at the night sky.

The legendary agent met my gaze but didn't say anything.

Now that I'd called out to him, I couldn't just continue on my way without saying anything. "I'm really sorry about before sir. My behaviour in the morgue I mean."

Agent Yuy merely shrugged.

"I also have to thank you. I heard that you called Agent Barkins in New York, I really appreciate it."

He shrugged again.

"And… well… thank you for not telling anyone about my… father…" I couldn't quite put the extreme gratitude I felt into words.

"My father wasn't someone to be proud of either."

I was taken aback by that response. "Oh…" I replied stupidly. For a moment I thought to ask why but realized it was none of my business. "Aren't you going to join Agent Maxwell and the others?"

"No," Agent Yuy's tone was neutral. "It's his time. I'll wait until he's ready to go home."

Comprehension about Agent Maxwell and Agent Yuy's true relationship struck me like a ton of bricks. Agent Yuy wasn't the one putting the distance between himself and my mentor. My mentor was. It made sense now: the separate apartment, the joint house, Agent Maxwell's insistence on putting himself in the line of fire. And why Agent Yuy understood Nigel Gothe's obsession with my mother, the woman who had run away. Even though it hurt him, Agent Maxwell couldn't let Agent Yuy get too close. And Agent Yuy, for his part, understood that; he allowed my mentor the freedom to run when he had to.

And just like my mentor's need to keep some distance, I now had no doubt that there was some trauma that caused Agent Yuy's compulsion to constantly watch over Relena Peacecraft, just as he had done in the wars. I couldn't even begin to guess what it was, but I think I now understood what my mentor meant when he had said: "Heero always comes back to me."

Finally understanding the complexity of their relationship, I marveled at the strength of their bond. Even though it would be so much easier, so much less painful, to throw in the towel and just their cut their ties, deep down they understood the real reason for their pain and soldiered on. They called each other out on their bullshit, but gave each other the space and freedom to tackle their demons on their own. And when one was tackling their demons, the other always stood by on the sidelines, ready to lend a helping hand. They were the single constant to each other, the one who would always be patiently waiting until the other was ready to return home, ready to fight another day.

Looking back on it now, I understood why Maxine Lestelle had fixated on their relationship. She had been jealous, plain and simple. And I, like a naive fool, had taken her malicious and vindictive words as the truth.

"Goodnight Agent Yuy," I told the taciturn agent. "Even though it was only for a short time, it was a real honour to work in the same offices as you."

The dark-haired agent nodded. "Good luck in New York."

The airport was crowed as usual. And although the number of security personnel had increased, nothing much else had changed. It was as though the events that had transpired barely more than two weeks ago had never happened.

I had just picked up my duffle from the screening table and was on my way to my gate when I stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of a familiar voice.

"Hey kid!"

I turned to see an out of breath and dishevelled Agent Maxwell waving frantically at me from beyond the security checkpoint. Next to him was Agent Yuy, warding off security personnel with his Preventers badge and a glare.

"You give 'em hell in New York!" he shouted at me in a hoarse voice. "Yer not a rookie anymore, yer a full-fledged agent! So stand yer ground and don't take any shit from anybody. Ya hear me agent?"

I swallowed the lump in my throat, willed back the tears that threatened to spill, stood tall and gave him my sharpest salute.

"Aye aye Captain!"

AN: And done! My first complete series ever! Hurrah! Now that this story is finally out of my system, I can get back to real life. And all the things I've been neglecting... I don't even know where to start (T.T)

And yes I know half of you (maybe more than half) are ready to pelt me with rotten tomatoes. I know, I know, I love a super happy ending just as much as anybody... but I'd decided on a bittersweet ending from the get go. Plus, if I didn't have to rookie move away, this story could have gone on for ages and ages...

Like I said at the beginning, I wanted this story to be more of a character study. The plot kinda took over at points, but all in all, I think I hit all the basic notes I wanted to. I've always thought that there was no way those pilots survived the wars without some serious emotional baggage. (and I hate perfect characters... no realism whatsoever). So what I wanted to do was have a character that completely idolized the pilots, but then through interaction when them, realize that they were just as human as he is. And then, even though their flaws are exposed, he continues to idolize them. :P

I know not all the loose ends got tied up, but that was intentional. After all, this is from the POV of an unnamed rookie, and it's not realisitic that he'd have all the answers. Still, I hope I answered enough to leave you satisfied with the story.

To those who were anticipating some big romantic scene where Heero lays a big sloppy one on Duo or vice versa, sorry! It just didn't seem realistic that those two would engage in heavy PDA. And it's just not realistic to have the rookie as some voyeur to some big smutty scene. Plus, I don't write smut. I'd be horrible at it. But you can read between the lines right? Or just imagine whatever scene it is that you wanted...

Anyways, enough of my ramblings. Thank you thank you thank you for reading until the end. And thank you thank you thank you for all the reivews. They were the crack that fueled me during all those late nights I spent writing.

Oh, and just one more thing. I'm planning a companion piece to this story. It won't be a sequel per se, some of the events will intertwine, and it will be in the same vein. And yes all the pilots will be present. And yes, the rookie might just make a cameo! But it won't be for a month at least. I'm banning myself from writing stories until May. So cheers and hopefully I'll see you all then! Muah! 3