Disclaimer: I don't own nor profit from my GW stories

Warnings: Yaoi, some language, mild angst, possible NCS

Second Chances
Part 15
by Dyna Dee

"What's happened?" The young Chinese man in the Preventer's uniform asked from above him.

"His fever went up again and they bagged him in ice," Heero reported, though his voice was muffled as he spoke through his hands and his head was facing downward. "It was starting to go down when he had a seizure."

Wufei reached out his hand to rest it on his distraught friend's slumped shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze of reassurance. "I'm sure he'll be fine, Heero," he said, looking earnestly at the room marked 322, willing Sally to reappear and report that Duo was better.

A few minutes later another nurse came out, sparing them a small, compassionate smile before she went back to her station. Sally and the on-call doctor finally came through the door, talking to each other in quiet tones. She glanced up and saw the four looking worriedly at her, then nodded, concluding her conversation with the other doctor. She came to them with her hands pressed into the pockets of her lab coat. With an audible sigh she looked to Heero. "He's stable again, for the moment." she told him. "The seizure was the result of the high fever and the shock of going from hot to much cooler in a short space of time. I don't think there will be any complications from it, but if he experiences another one I'll give him some medication in his I.V. to prevent any others."

"Is he awake?" Heero asked, his eyes straying from her to the door of Duo's room, longing to be back in there.

"He was for a moment, but the seizure exhausted him," Sally reported.

"Will he be okay?" Lucretia asked in an emotional voice, her eyes filled with unshed tears.

"It's too soon to tell," Sally replied, her face sad and grim. "I think we're going to have to remove the part of his ear that's infected, it obviously isn't going to heal and is the cause for the high fever. The medicine should have had some effect on his system by now, that it hasn't indicates that the ear may be too far gone to save it."

"Will removing it help him get better?" Heero asked as he came to his feet.

"I believe so, as it's the initial cause for the infection. But the infection is still obviously in his system and we'll have to continue to fight it with strong antibiotics."

"Then remove it," Heero replied without any further thought.

"Because he's under twenty-one and under their health policy," Sally continued, looking to her friend Lucretia, "I'll need permission from his parents."

The dark haired woman nodded. "Do whatever you have to in order to save him."

Sally nodded, pleased with her reply. "I'll get the paper work ready and we'll take him into the operating room shortly." She then pressed her lips together in thought. "Because of his condition, I'm going to limit the number of visitors to one," she said, looking between Noin and Heero. "Duo called out for Heero after his seizure subsided, but as his guardian Lu, you have the right to make the call as to who stays with him, you or Heero."

The woman's compassionate blue eyes met Heero's, and she smiled sadly as she replied. "Duo's heart has always belonged to Heero. I will never stand between them again."

Heero gave her a grateful smile, then walked up to her and gave her a tender embrace. May was included in that heartfelt gesture as she was still standing silently in the shelter of her mother's arms when Heero approached them. "Thank you," he whispered with gratitude into her ear.

"Make him better, Heero," she said as she hugged him back.

He nodded as he stepped back and gave a brief, shaky smile to the redheaded girl, and exchanged a look of gratitude with Wufei.

"I'll be here or close by when he goes into surgery." Wufei promised as Heero turned towards the door marked 322. With a wave of his hand before he entered Duo's room, Heero told his friend that he had heard the invitation and accepted the offer.

The surgery lasted only a half hour and Duo was in recovery for two more after that with nurses constantly at his side monitoring his vitals and his fever. He was back in his own room by nightfall, though still listed as being in a guarded condition. Heero maintained a vigilant watch at his lover's bedside, observing Duo drift in and out of consciousness. With growing dismay, Heero watched Duo's condition remain unimproved, his body had weakened from all that it was dealing with while his fever had maintained itself at a stubborn one hundred and three degrees.

After several hours, Heero reluctantly gave up his post in order for Lucretia, Milliardo, and May to each pay a short visit with Duo and give him their words of comfort, support and to say goodnight. Heero adamantly stated that he would refuse to leave Duo's side, so there was no use in their staying at the hospital all night.

Wufei studied his friend with deep concern. Though Duo was not out of the woods yet, Heero looked like he was about to have a nervous breakdown, or at the least collapse from exhaustion. He knew the Japanese man had been obsessive about caring for Duo since the night he was assaulted, and it looked like the sleeplessness and worry were about to take their toll on him. Dark circles under his deep blue eyes, the droop of his facial features, and slumped shoulders spoke loudly of his state of exhaustion.

Milliardo was the last of the three visitors to leave Duo's room, signaling to Heero that he could take up his post again. But as Heero moved to the room, the tall blond man's hand clasping his shoulder stopped him before he could enter. "You're exhausted, Heero. You need to rest," he said with true concern for his son's lover.

"I'll be fine once Duo's fever drops." Heero answered, rubbing at his tired eyes.

"What good will you be to him if he needs you and you've collapsed from exhaustion?" Milliardo asked, not unkindly.

Heero shook his head, obviously too tired to think of a reply.

"Call us anytime tonight if you need help," the blond man said, hoping Heero would take advantage of his offer. "We love him too, and we're happy to help with the burden of carrying him."

Heero's head shot up at the words, and he looked into the pale blue eyes of the taller man. "Duo is not a burden to me, he's my life," he declared hotly.

Those standing outside Duo's door overheard the conversation and knew that Milliardo had never meant to imply that Duo was a burden, but that Heero's exhaustion had led him to jump to a wrong conclusion. Surprisingly, the taller man took no offense and smiled at Heero with the same show of affection he'd given to his other two children. "You have no idea how happy it makes me feel to know you are so devoted to him, Heero. He's loved you for so long and I suspect you've loved him too. He'll beat this if for no other reason than to be with you," he said confidently, then stepped forward and embraced the weary young man. "But call if you need us. We're all family now, and families depend on each other in good times and bad." He felt Heero's head nod against his shoulder and he slowly released him and stepped back.

Lifting his head to up look back into Duo's adopted father's face, Heero gave him an exhausted smile. "I don't know much about a family," he began in a tired voice, "but I'm looking forward to learning."

Bidding them a final good night, Heero re-entered the sick room.

"Keep watch over him Wufei," Milliardo addressed the other young man standing close by. "He's nearing the end of his strength."

"My apartment is not too far from here," the Wufei replied. "When Duo wakes up and boots him out of there, I'll take him to my place and come back to take the next watch until the others get here."

"Others?" May asked as she and Lu came to stand next to Milliardo.

"Quatre and Trowa are on their way, they're our family too," he told them.

Lucretia smiled at him. "Yes, we're all a family now and we'll look after each other. We'll trust you to do what you can, Wufei, and I'll be back here around eight in the morning, alright?"

Wufei nodded and bid them goodnight, wondering to himself at the changes in all of them since the war. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined being considered family by his former enemies. We'll, to be truthful with himself, he never imagined Duo becoming a Peacecraft or that he himself would be happily dating Relena, thanks to Heero setting them up. He took a moment to breath in deeply and then let the air filling his lung to exit slowly, striving with the simple exercise to release some of the tension that had built up within him after the very difficult evening they'd just gone through. Life, indeed, was very interesting with all its twists and turns, he mused. Turning to look thoughtfully at the door of room 322, he hoped with all his heart that the two young men in there would overcome this crisis and have their more than deserved happy ending.

The hours went slowly as the night routine settled in and the hospital corridors eventually calmed and became silent. The nurse's shift changed and several new women that he'd not seen before came on duty. There were three women at the large desk area in the center of the hospital floor, and each seemed to be going over the charts and list of duties for each patient. A young woman, tall and lanky, average in appearance and mousy brown hair that was pulled up into a ponytail was one he hadn't seen before. He noted that she wore a light blue, unflattering scrub that all the nurses seemed to wear, and Wufei watched her as she approached Duo's door with a clip board clutched in her hands. She paused to study him for a moment, giving him a curious look as to why he was there at a time well past visiting hours. With a small shrug, she then entered the darkened room lit only by a small light above the sink. In the brief moment the door was open and slowly closed, Wufei could see Heero straighten in his chair set next to the bed, alert for any trouble. He knew he needed to get him out of there soon, the hourly interruptions were not helping Heero's exhaustion.

As the door opened once again a few minutes later, Wufei was surprised that it was not the nurse who exited, but Heero. He looked more tired than ever, but that wasn't what caught his eye, it was the slight smile on his lips and a glint of relief in his eyes.

"It's gone down to one hundred point four degrees," Heero informed him. "The nurse says it looks like he's made a turn for the better."

Wufei stood from his chair and embraced his weary and exhausted friend. "That's the best news I've heard in a very long time," he said as he patted Heero's back. Then calming with relief, he noticed Heero was leaning heavily against him and he brought his hands up to just hold him. "Can you rest now Heero? If you sleep well for just a little while, you can be here for Duo when he wakes up in the morning, starving as usual."

Heero nodded against his shoulder and Wufei had to wonder if he was too tired to move. With the Japanese man still in his arms, Wufei led him to his chair and directed him to sit down. "I'm going to talk to the nurse for a moment. Stay here, alright?"

Heero nodded in reply, too tired to form a coherent answer.

Entering Duo's room, he watched as the nurse tucked the blankets around Duo's still body. "Miss?" he called out and saw her jump slightly. She turned to face him and gave a nervous smile.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

"I'm his friend," he motioned to Duo, "and I'm wondering if he's stable enough for me to take his companion home to rest. He's exhausted, but he won't go if Duo is in any danger."

The young woman, who he gathered was in her early thirties, looked at the patient and then back at him. "Fevers are unpredictable, but once a high fever has dropped so dramatically it's rare for it to climb dangerously high again." Wufei nodded, deriving some comfort from her words.

"I'll see if I can get him to rest at my apartment. If so, I'll come back and take up the watch. Do you think you could keep an eye on him until I return?"

The woman smiled a bit nervously and nodded. "Of course. I'll check on him regularly."

"Could you send the guy sitting in the chair out there back in here?"

She nodded and left the room.

"Wu?" a weak voice came from the bed and the Chinese man was immediately at his friend's side.

"Welcome back." Wufei said with a warm, relieved smile on his face.


"He's coming," Wufei assured Duo, who looked almost unable to hold his eyelids open for another moment. "Try to get him to rest Duo. He's nearly spent from worrying about you. I want to take him to my place to sleep for a while, then I'll come back and take up watch."

"Thanks," came the sleepy reply.

Heero suddenly and soundlessly appeared at Wufei's side. "He's awake," Wufei told him, then moved to give Heero better access to the patient in the bed.

"Duo," Heero called out his lover's name so very softly and a smile grew on his face as the half-lidded eyes opened.

"Hey." Duo managed a very slight, one-sided grin that quickly faded as he got a glimpse of the man above him. Heero leaned over and quickly gave him a warm kiss on his lips.

"Feeling better?" Heero asked, studying his lover's face.

"Not so hot." Duo said quietly, not having the energy for a lengthy reply. "I'm so tired."

"Your body's been working hard to fight the infection," Heero explained. "Now that the fever is decreasing you'll start to feel a bit better."

Duo's brows drew together and he reached a trembling hand up towards his bandaged ear. "Damn, but my ear hurts," he complained, but his hand was stopped from touching the white bandage when Heero caught it in his own. He looked up at his lover confused.

"Do you remember having surgery, after your seizure?"

Duo carefully shook his head. "I had surgery?" he asked in a weak, disbelieving voice.

"They had to take the infected part of your earlobe off." Heero explained.

"My ear?" Duo looked confused for a bit, then as everything slowly began to make sense, he tried to reach for his ear and, once again, was stopped by Heero's touch. "Did they take it all off?" he asked in a weak form of panic.

"No." Heero rushed to answer him in order to sooth his worry. "Sally told us she only took the lower part of the lobe. If you leave it down, your hair should cover it until we can get some plastic surgery." He had to smile at the look of relief on Duo's face. Duo's vanity was sometimes amusing.

"You're tired, aren't you Duo?" Wufei asked, and as the half-lidded, blue-violet eyes turned on him, he nodded his head in Heero's direction to remind Duo of their conversation.

"You need sleep Heero," Duo said and then yawned deeply. "Why don't you go to Wufei's place and sleep a couple of hours."

"No, I don't want to leave you," Heero replied.

"It's no good if we're both tired, Heero. I think I'm gonna need some help for a couple of days and I'm counting on you. Besides, I'm gonna sleep anyway and I want you to bring me that burger we talked about."

"Come on," Wufei spoke up and placed his hand on Heero's shoulder. "My place is five miles from here. I'll take you there and then I'll come back and stay with Duo. You can relieve me in the morning after you've had a couple of hours of sleep."

There was hesitation this time when Heero replied, worry etching his features. "I don't know if I should." The thought of a bed was very tempting.

"Please Heero, go rest." Duo's eyes fluttered closed, unable to hold them open any longer.

It took another five minutes for Wufei to convince him, but in the end Heero caved in and docilely allowed his friend to take him to his home.

The same nurse that had checked Duo before came in shortly after the two had gone and turned out the one light in the room, leaving it in near total darkness. The only light now came from red display lights on the clock and the I.V. machine. Exhausted from the effort of trying to convince Heero to leave, the whole scene was lost on Duo as he had fallen into a more restful sleep than he had known for days.

The moment a hand clamped over his mouth, Duo's eyes opened and his body went stiff. He was suddenly more alert than he'd been in days at the deep sense of danger. He realized that the room was unusually dark, but he could still see a vague dark outline of someone hovering over him and feel the presence of the person covering his mouth with a large hand.

"Hello beautiful lover," the deep male voice said in a warm, snide tone.

Duo tried to twist to get away from the person holding him, recognizing Marcus's voice. His heart was beating furiously at the thought that he was at his mercy, and that he'd sent Heero away with Wufei. He swallowed hard, realizing that he was alone and defenseless once again.

"So you and your lover thought you were free of me, didn't you?" Marcus continued with a nefarious chuckle. "Well, I guess he's got something new to learn, and so do you."

Duo squirmed, trying to wrench his mouth free to call for help. Just then, the door to the room opened and his hopes of a rescue went up. Then just as suddenly, it was dashed.

"Hurry up," a female voice hissed from the open doorway, and Duo realized Marcus had an accomplice.

"Make sure the coast is clear," Marcus whispered back. He then turned his attention back to Duo. He brought his face up close so that Duo could feel his breath on his cheek. Then suddenly, the hand was removed from his mouth and hard, forceful lips took its place. Marcus's mouth completely covered his and Duo found his hands up on his attackers face, weakly trying to push him off, mentally swearing every foul word his mind could conjure up at his lack of strength. The sound of tape being pulled away from a roll was heard, followed by a rip. Duo only had time to take a quick, deep breath when Marcus lifted his punishing mouth away from his and immediately replaced it with thick duct tape that was forced over his mouth.

"Just a little insurance that you won't call out for help." Marcus chuckled as he pressed the adhesive firmly onto Duo's cheeks. "Come on, we're going for a little walk."

Duo shook his head and clung to the covers draped over his body. His attempts were shown to be fruitless when a firm pull at them dislodged them from his grasp and off his body. "Weak as a kitten, aren't you Max?" Marcus laughed quietly again and the long haired man attempted to scowl at him. A flashlight beam went on and trailed down the length of Duo's body, covered only by a flimsy hospital gown that was barely tied in the back.

"Damn," Marcus swore just under his breath. "I forgot about the catheter."

As his attacker paused to think, Duo went over his options. Marcus thought he was helpless and weak, and he knew that if he was going to escape him he would need to have his hands and feet free. So in that one, brief moment of time, he decided to act the part Marcus chose for him, not that it was far from that truth, of being a complete invalid and at his mercy. He would bide his time and hope to take advantage of a unguarded moment and pray Wufei would come back and stop whatever Marcus had planned.

"Stay there," Marcus ordered in a low threatening voice. Wrapping his arms around his torso, Duo merely blinked his eyes wide, not finding it too difficult to act frightened.

Marcus went to the middle of the bed and reached between the two slender legs and pulled up the plastic tube that led to the bag at the end of the bed. A knife suddenly appeared in his hands and he cut the tube and knotted the end. He then moved to the other side where the I.V. was located on his arm and ripped off the tape securing the needle. Then, without any hesitation, Marcus pulled it out without thought of pain he caused the patient, and let it fall to the floor. Reaching out, he quickly pulled the smaller, weakly protesting Duo into his arms and headed for the door.

Sticking his head out the door first, Marcus observed that only one person was at the nurse's station, and she was deliberately looking in another direction. The lights in the long halls of the hospital had been dimmed, giving Marcus the advantage as he slipped out with his captive and headed to the stairwell about seventy-five feet down the corridor.

Duo studied his kidnaper's face as Marcus opened the door and began to descend the stairs. The man he had once thought handsome now looked anything but that as his facial features looked grim with determination as he made his escape with his captive.

Duo was more than surprised to see that they exited the stairwell on the second floor and, not more than ten feet from it, Marcus entered the room marked JANITOR. He switched the light on as the door closed and Duo could see the room was lined with metal shelves holding a variety of cleaning and paper supplies as well as mops, buckets, brooms and an industrial sized vacuum cleaner. Marcus bent and set him down on his feet, and immediately, Duo felt his knees start to buckle. Grabbing onto the nearest shelf, he managed to stay upright, not willing to be a easy victim on the floor for his kidnaper, knowing in truth that he was hanging on for dear life.

Marcus took a step closer and brought his hand up the slender back exposed through the open back of the hospital gown. The cold hands on his fevered skin sent a shiver up Duo's spine. "I like this style on you, Max." The man's voice close to his bandaged ear sounded like a satisfied purr. "Very accessible." His hands wandered down his back to cup one of the rounded globes of Duo's bottom and gave it a hard squeeze.

Duo moaned, his legs shaking with the need to sit down. It was only by the strength of his will that he held onto the shelf, knowing that being on the floor would put him in an even more vulnerable position. 'Have to hold out,' he told himself, 'and wait for the right moment.'

"Wish I had more time to do all I wasn't able to last time we were together," Marcus began again as he leaned forward and began to nuzzle the warm, slender neck just below him. Duo shook his head, trying to discourage him, when suddenly, Marcus grabbed him by the back of his braid at the nape of his neck and savagely pulled. Duo cried out, the sound muffled behind the thick tape over his mouth. He found himself pulled up tightly against the taller man's chest, an arm, solid as an iron bar, wrapped around his waist to keep him there.

"This is just a warning, Max." Marcus's voice was low and ominous. "If you or your lover testify against me in court, I'll see to it that it's the last thing either of you ever do. I've got the money and contacts that will do anything I want, even if I'm behind bars. You will never be safe, and neither will Zero." He paused and chuckled, knowing the misuse of Heero's name always bothered his captive. "He could be out for a jog or buying groceries, maybe even driving to work or tending his garden when bam, the sound of a high power rifle goes off and your lover truly becomes a Zero."

With his head held against Marcus' chest, his braid being an effective rope in keeping him there, Duo could hardly move, and he stood horrified as the hand resting tightly on his stomach moved upward to his face and to his right ear lobe, the one that had been operated only hours ago.

"I heard my little pet mark got infected and that part of your ear had to be cut off," Marcus said in a voice that was much too smug. Though somewhat distracted by the hand moving toward the throbbing ear, Duo concentrated on the position of Marcus's body behind him. His attacker's larger feet were to either side of his own, his ribs in a vulnerable position for an elbow. This was it, he realized, his one chance. Then suddenly, pain erupted and overrode this thoughts as a cruel hand grabbed tightly onto his bandaged ear. Duo screamed through the tape covering his mouth at the agony shooting through his head, and he reacted instinctively as his brain reeled in response to the pain and his knees threatened to buckle.

The move took only a three seconds: the first second for his knee to raise and forcefully drop, bringing his heel down to stomp on the top of the larger man's right foot; the second for his left elbow to fly back and connect with Marcus's unprotected ribs, and the third to spin his body around with his last vestige of strength, and using the momentum of the spin while planting his feet, he forcefully brought the heel of his right hand around and push upward, hitting the taller man at the base of his nose. Even in his nearly unconscious state Duo sensed his aim had been true. In the second following his attempt to disable Marcus and escape, he watched through his darkening vision as the room tilted, the body he was collapsing against began to fall backwards. Because his braid was still firmly clutched possessively in his hand, Marcus pulled Duo down along with him to the hard and cold linoleum floor. A moment after crashing to the solid surface, both the kidnapper and his victim lay still, Duo was sprawled on top of the larger unmoving body beneath him. With his energy spent, knowing he didn't have the strength to do anything more, Duo succumbed into the welcoming, pain free state of unconsciousness.

Wufei checked back into the hospital through the front security desk about forty minutes from the time he'd left to take Heero to his apartment. He led his nearly stumbling-from-exhaustion friend to the guest bedroom and pulled back the covers. Heero sat down heavily and collapsed into a heap onto the bed, leaving Wufei to take off his shoes, remove the belt from his jeans, and lift his legs up in order to pull the blanket over the energy depleted body.

Shutting the bedroom door with a sigh of relief, Wufei allowed him self a feeling of gratitude that, where Duo was concerned, the worst seemed to be over. He looked at his watch and tried to calculate the time on L-4. If he called at that moment he might be able to give the good news to Quatre and Trowa. He shook his head with a smile. He had spent at least a portion of every hour talking to one or both of them regarding their friend's condition. Heero was right, someone needed to figure out a way for Quatre not to worry so much.

He went to his own room and put on a pair of jeans and a long sleeve tee-shirt, as the hospital always seemed cold. From his room he placed a call to Quatre's cell. After two rings he heard the familiar voice pick up.

"Wufei, is everything alright? How's Duo?"

"Calm down Winner," Wufei ordered with a slight smile and a chuckle. "I'm calling you with good news," he began, and paused as he heard Quatre relay his words to someone that he could only assume was Trowa. "Duo's fever has dropped rather dramatically. " Wufei continued. "He's resting a bit better and I even got Heero to come to my place and rest for a few hours."

"Praise be to Allah," Quatre whispered, then spoke to Wufei. "How is Heero holding up?"

"He's exhausted," Wufei said as he pulled on one sleeve of his jacket, then shifted the phone to the other ear as he begin to slide his other arm into its sleeve. "I'm going back to sit with Duo until morning, so if you need me, use my cell number."

"We're leaving here in a half hour and should be there by noon your time."

"You might as well come straight to the hospital, that's where we'll probably be." Wufei spoke as he moved to his dresser and picked up his wallet and slipped it into the back pocket of his jeans.

"Give our best to the both of them, okay?"

"I will. See you soon," Wufei said in conclusion, and hit the off button. He smiled at the phone for a moment, feeling fortunate to have such good and caring friends. He knew without a doubt, that if he were in the same situation as Duo, the other four would be there for him.

He left the apartment without a sound to disturb Heero and made a quick stop at a twenty-four hour convenience store for a large coffee and a magazine to help pass the long hours ahead of him. Reaching the hospital, he paused to talk for a moment to the security guard sitting behind the reception desk at the front entrance of the hospital. He then went to the elevator and took it up to the third floor. The hospital at night was eerily quite, his footsteps echoed loudly on the linoleum tiles as he walked past the nurses' station, giving the ladies a nod before opening the door to room 322.

The room was dark, which seemed unusual as there had always been some light on to allow the nurses to check regularly on their patient during the night. He didn't notice anything wrong until he approached the chair next to the bed, and then it was clear that Duo was not where he should be. He wondered for a moment if he'd gotten the wrong room. Placing his coffee cup down on the tray, he moved to the wall and turned on the light. Looking back at the bed he realized that something was terribly wrong. He ran back to it, his eyes quickly taking in the fact that the I.V. needle lay on the floor on the far side of the bed and that the catheter tube on the bed had been severed.

Fear and bile rose in his throat and he ran from the room to the nurses' station. "Where is he?" he demanded, not bothering to keep his voice down.

All three women looked up in alarm. "Mr. Peacecraft?" one of them asked.

"He's gone from his bed. Where is he?" Wufei demanded.

All three women rushed to the room to see for themselves that what Wufei had reported was true. He could hear them checking the bathroom and small closet.

As soon as they exited the room, they split up to check the other rooms, clearly in a state of controlled panic. Wufei knew then that they had no idea where Duo was. Knowing his friend was in no condition to walk out by himself, that left only one heart-wrenching alternative, Marcus Standish.

One of the nurses came back to the desk and, without even looking at the Chinese man, picked up the phone. "Security alert," she said into the receiver. "We have a patient missing who needs to be found immediately," she told the person on the other end of the line and then began to describe Duo to them. Wufei left her to her job as she seemed to be doing it well. He walked with determined steps to the end of the corridor and began a systematic search of each room, whether they were occupied or not. He wrestled with himself over whether or not he should call Heero. His friend was exhausted and might not even hear the phone ring, but if he didn't call and something horrible happened to Duo, he would never be forgiven for not giving Heero a chance at finding him. That argument won out and he pulled his phone from his jacket pocket and dialed his home phone number, remembering Heero had turned off his cell earlier at the night nurse's request. His voice recorder picked up. This wasn't something he wanted to say over the answering machine, so he left a brief message telling Heero that something had come up at the hospital and that he was to call him as soon as he got the message.

Passing the nurses station, the nurse who had made the call to security approached him. "Security is starting their search on the first and fifth floors and will work their way here as I informed them a Preventer agent was searching this floor."

Wufei's eyes narrowed. "How did you know I worked for the Preventers?" he asked, eyeing her suspiciously.

She blushed slightly before answering. "The women on the floor have described you very well as each new shift came on. You have worn your uniform and we've quite a few single ladies that work here," she explained and was clearly embarrassed by it, making him feel bad for thinking the worst of them.

"I'm sorry," he said, politely contrite. "But this is very upsetting."

"I understand," she said with eyes softening. "We'll find him. He couldn't have gone far in his condition."

"Someone took him," Wufei told her, then moved off quickly to continue his search.

He turned from the woman and went directly to the end of the hall and checked the stairwell. Finding no trace of his friend, he doubled back to check the stairwell on the opposite end of the long corridor, nearer to Duo's room. He paused to consider whether he should go up or down the stairs, but decided quickly that, if Standish took Duo, he would want to leave the building to lessen his chance at getting caught. He raced down the steps and opened the heavy door to the second floor.

Just like on the third floor, the were two supply rooms at the end of the long corridors. One was a linen supply room and the other a janitorial room. He tried the linen room and found it clean and empty of anything but sheets and towels. Then entering the janitor's room across from it, he flipped on the switch and walked in only to have his eyes widen in shock and his heart dropped into his stomach. On the floor before him lay Standish, blood dripping from his nose and eyes that were frozen wide open with the look of shock. He was obviously dead, and lying directly on top of his body was Duo, his face turned away from the doorway and sprawled out and unmoving, his hospital gown partially open in the back and his braid of hair was clasped in Marcus Standish's death grip.

Shaking himself out of the shock he felt, he rushed to Duo and knelt down by him. Lifting his slack wrist, he quickly checked for a pulse. He nearly wept to find his friend alive, his pulse was steady and body was still radiating the heat from his fever. The only added wound he observed was the bloodied bandage that covered this right ear. He gently pried the foot-long braid out of the other man's frozen grip and quickly lifted Duo into his arms, cradling his friend against his chest. He gazed down onto the handsome face and frowned at the grey electrical tape pressed over his mouth. He paused for only a moment with some hesitation, fearing that in removing the tape he might hurt his friend who had already suffered so much. Knowing it would have to come off in any case, he reached down and peeled it off as slowly and carefully as he could. As the last edge was pulled free of Duo's cheek, the piece of tape was thrown down onto the floor. Then tightening his hold on the limp body, Wufei rose to his feet. Without hesitating, he exited out the door, leaving the dead man behind with no thought of remorse for him and rushed to the nearest nurses' station.

The women at the desk looked up in shock at him as he approached with Duo in his arms and sharply barking out orders. "Call security, I've found the missing patient and his attacker in the janitor's closet. Alert the authorities as the other man is dead and get me a doctor this instant!"

Patients on the second floor awoke to the loud disturbance in the usually quiet corridor as nurses, doctors and security crowded around the Chinese man who was cradling an unconscious man protectively to his chest while fielding questions.

Wufei became Duo's shadow as the doctors ushered the two back to room 322 and gave the unconscious man a quick once over. As he watched, Wufei brought out his cell phone and tried his apartment again. This time Heero picked it up and with a very groggy and irritable greeting of, "What?"

"Heero, I need you to come to the hospital now. Call a cab and don't stop."

"What's happened?" Heero asked, coming awake instantly, and from over the phone line, Wufei could hear he was already in motion.

"Marcus took Duo from his room while I was gone," he began, but was stopped by Heero's angry interruption.

"I'll kill him, Wufei. Did you find them?"

"I found Duo unconscious in a janitor's closet, the doctors are checking him over now.

"Oh god," Heero moaned in dismay.

"I think he's alright, Heero. I didn't see any wounds. But I also found Standish."

"Did you kill him?" Heero asked sternly.

"No, but Duo did."

There was silence for a moment as Heero digested the information. "I'll be right there. Call the others."

"Quatre and Trowa left L-4 already, they'll be here around noon."

"Then call the Peacecrafts, they'll want to know."

"Hurry." Wufei urged, knowing Duo would need him when he woke up.

"I'm there."

Wufei took in a deep breath and then called Relena, not knowing her brother's phone number.

The doctors had left the room concluding that Duo had over extended himself and had collapsed from exhaustion. His fever had risen slightly to one hundred one point six degrees, but they were still encouraged by his progress. They admonished Wufei to not disturb his sleep, then left him alone in the room with his friend, properly hooked up to the machines again and the bandage on his wounded ear replaced.

Heero burst into the room ten minutes from when the call had been placed. His eyes were wide and frantic as they fixed on the still form on the bed. He rushed to Duo's side and, after studying his face for a moment, lowered his own face until his cheek brushed Duo's. Then bringing his hands up, he cradled his head in his hands and gently kissed the stilled lips.

"We're suppose to let him sleep," Wufei cautioned him and rose from the chair to allow Heero to sit next to the bed. Heero sat heavily and immediately took Duo's slack hand into his own. He lowered his forehead onto the back of the pale-skinned hand. "Are we destined to live our lives on the edge of danger?" he asked in an agonized voice. "Will we ever know normalcy and peace?"

Wufei put his hand on Heero's shoulder, offering what comfort he could. "It's over Heero. Marcus can never hurt Duo or anyone else ever again." Heero nodded, taking some measure of comfort from that fact. "He's getting better," Wufei continued, attempting to fill in the hollow silence of the room. "He's being given another chance with you."

"Do you know how many second chances he's had Wufei?" Heero said, his manner intensely seriousness. "His life has been a series of second chances, and I guess with my life so entwined with his, I am the beneficiary of second chances too."

"The gift of a second chance should be held as an honor given to someone being one worthy of it, someone who will recognize it and take it for all it's worth. Duo is certainly worthy of every second chance he's ever gotten. And one should never let a second chance pass them by without appreciating the gift that is being given." Wufei replied, and was surprised when Heero chuckled at his words.

"I wasn't aware that I said anything funny." He frowned at his friend, wondering if he should be insulted.

"You just sounded like a fortune cookie," Heero replied in a weary voice, obviously not rested from his brief nap. Wufei checked his watch, it was nearly five in the morning and through the window he could see it was still dark outside.

"You need to get some rest, Heero. Duo's going to need you today."

The former Perfect Soldier nodded and leaned his upper body against the bed, putting his head down on his arms. Wufei shook his head at the man's stubbornness.

Moving towards the two he knelt down and, for the second time that morning, unlaced Heero's shoes and took them off. He then stood and grabbed Heero's shoulders and pulled him away from the bed only to then pull down the blankets that surrounded Duo. "Climb in," he ordered the bleary-eyed man looking at him in confusion. Heero slowly shifted his eyes to the bed and with only a moments hesitation, carefully climbed onto the high bed and lay next to his sleeping lover. Cautiously moving to avoid the I.V. line, he pulled the still very warm and limp body into his arms. It took only a moment of adjusting to get comfortable before Heero joined Duo in an exhausted sleep.

on to part 16

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