Written: November, 2000
RATING (this section only): R
Pairings: (1+2)
CATEGORY: Angst, Yaoi, Character Death, AU
[re: CATEGORY---Future parts may change this to possibly include: death (Lemon/Lime/PWP) ]

WARNING:Character Death! Gruesome! Sap present, Kleenex?
WARNINGS: Angst, yaoi, graphic violence, death, language, sap, AU
[re: WARNINGS---Future parts may change this to possibly include: death, language, lemon, PWP, fluff, etc.]

Disclaimers: The Gundam Wing Universe still doesn't belong to me. I'm not making any money off this story. It's written out of love, so please don't sue me.

// thoughts //

Ninmu shippai (Mission Failure)
Part 7

//Damn you, Heero Yuy! What the fuck have you done?//

Duo Maxwell lay in his bed still encumbered by the bulk of medical equipment necessary for the temporary colostomy as well as recovery from the removal of a kidney and damaged liver tissue. He was *not* happy.

//You finally get around to telling me that you love me at the same time you admit to nearly killing. Hell, am I supposed to just 'forgive and forget'? I don't think so, koibito, no matter how much you say you love me! We've got to talk this out, it won't just disappear because you don't feel like dealing with it.//

//How could this have happened anyway? Wufei says it was exhaustion, hunger, poor intelligence data in that you had no idea I was there, but still! You are supposed to be the perfect soldier and now you're a perfect failure! I thought you were too "perfect" to screw up like this. Guess not, huh?//

//Hmph. That's harsh, Maxwell, really harsh!//

//I guess he's been agonizing over this all week, but why couldn't he tell me the truth sooner? Didn't he think I could handle it? I'm strong enough, damn it! Oh, wait. Wufei said the doctors didn't want me to know. Well, I can see that. It is pretty damned upsetting.//

He leaned back and took a few deep breaths, feeling the agony in his right lung as it still fought to stay fully open. Reaching under the flimsy gown he was still forced to wear, not exactly his preferred black outfit, his left hand traced over the scars and sutures yet again from the surgery it had taken to save his life. It felt like a patchwork quilt where his skin had once been smooth. It bothered him to imagine what that would look like when he healed.

//Wonder what Heero will think the first chance I can get him into bed again? I swear, if he tries to be "extra careful" with me, I'll hit him! I'm still myself and I still want him, but will it ever be the same?//

//Besides, until he explains himself better than an apology and walking off, it won't be settled between us. Granted, even after we talk it may not be settled for awhile, but it has to start somewhere.//

His mind trailed off into worries that Heero might have done something truly stupid and he tried to ignore the fears. If the Wing pilot had killed himself, then there would never be such a discussion and that would hurt him worse.

When he left Duo's room earlier, Wufei had sprinted towards the music room.

//Damn you, Yuy! If you've done anything foolish it will only make the situation more difficult for Duo. Have you no thoughts for him any longer?//

When he found the door locked, he feared the worst. Without hesitation or concern that his Arabian friend would misinterpret his actions, a single well-placed kick broke the door open a bit more loudly than necessary. Stepping into the room, he found Heero laying in an ungainly heap on a small couch. At first the Japanese pilot failed to move, but before two quick steps had carried Wufei towards him, a shaggy brown mane of hair was tossed back exposing a gun barrel and wild eyes regarding him in return.

"Wufei?!? What the *Hell* do you think you are doing?" He demanded. "Trying to get yourself shot?"

The Chinese pilot reddened in anger, whether it was because of his overactive imagination or Heero's unwarranted threatening behavior was uncertain, but it didn't prevent the profound sense of relief and confusion which flooded his being just the same. "Actually, Yuy, I thought I was here to save your worthless hide!"

Just then Quatre and Trowa burst through the broken door, guns in hand as well. Wufei held up his hands in mocking surrender. He commented dryly, "I had no idea the penalty for breaking a lock was so severe here."

Shocked by the unusual levity, all three armed pilots looked a bit embarrassed as well as confused, then returned their weapons to their respective hiding places. Wufei's eyes widened a bit at where Quatre hid his, but he didn't mention it.

"What is happening here?" Trowa asked, getting straight to the issue they all needed to address.

Heero pushed himself off of his elbow and sat up, far more alert than what anyone else could have achieved under the circumstances. He'd been deeply disturbed by the dreams and to be awakened in such a manner helped break his thought pattern. "Yes, Wufei," he sighed, "what exactly did you think you came in here to 'save me' from?"

Quatre looked quite puzzled by this strange statement, but didn't say anything.

"Let me explain," Wufei began. He told the other three about his discussion with Duo as well as updating them on the revelations Heero had shared with the injured American. They discussed how best to handle things and everyone agreed that Heero had overreacted yet again, simply adding to Duo's burdens not lightening them. The discussion was quick and clipped, but it became clear that there were too many times when only some of them knew the situation first hand and that would stop immediately.

As a group they went back to the medical wing, Trowa and Wufei were once more assisting Heero who had already regretted his stubborn refusal to use the crutches as his foot throbbed painfully.

"Maxwell!" Wufei called out sharply, knowing full well that Duo would not be able to see them entering the room from the same side door Wufei had used when ambushing Dr. J days earlier.

"Wufei! Did you find Heero? Is he all right?" Duo asked, slightly frantic.

"I'm fine, baka," came the gruff reply as the entourage came into view. Duo noted the look of sorrow in Heero's eyes and wondered if his own was as obvious. "I believe you frightened Wufei, Duo."

The Chinese pilot looked both shocked and insulted by Heero's jest.

"Hmph! Well, *you* frightened *me*, Yuy!" Duo glared angrily. "How dare you pull that shit on me? Being melodramatic is not your style, Heero! Leave it to those of us who can pull it off without destroying people's nerves!"

"Really! And their doors, too, Heero!" Quatre added, pretending to be angry even though his lips fought back laughter.

"What 'doors', Quatre?" Duo was confused since he hadn't heard the explosion-like sound of the door being broken open as lost in his own reverie as he was.

"Oh, *someone* gave the impression to a certain martial arts expert that a certain over-trained terrorist might have gone off to do himself harm, that's all." Quatre remarked teasingly.

"Oh." Duo looked embarrassed. "Oops."

"Yeah, 'oh', baka!" Heero smirked at Duo. "I'm touched you were so concerned, koi, but you scared Wufei and he decided to share the fear with the rest of us. Now, with everybody here, let's work a few things out, okay?"

"Okay, Heero," Duo answered hesitantly. He really had no desire to do this with an audience, but clearly he had no choice.

"First, Duo," Trowa interjected, not wishing to allow Heero to drag things out, "do you now believe us when you are told that Heero regrets his shooting you and that it was unintentional?"

"Nani? Trowa, that's ridiculous, of course I do, what's the point of---" He was cut off.

Trowa, casually strolling across the room like a lawyer giving his closing comments to a jury, continued. "Also, do you believe us when we tell you that everything that could be done to prevent the final diagnosis on your arm was attempted?"

"Yes, but---"

"And lastly," Trowa insisted on finishing, "do you accept the fact that whether you are able to pilot a Gundam or not we are still a team of *five*, not four, and we will not give up your input to this team?"

Duo kept his mouth shut afraid of interrupting the tall pilot again since he seemed to have so much to say.

"Well?" Trowa demanded looking Duo in the eye, green eyes glittering even if one was hidden behind the strange overhanging hair which consistently concealed at least one eye.

"Damn it, Trowa, how was I supposed to know you were done? Are you sick or something? You've used too many words in one day already!" Duo watched as his friend crossed his long arms over his chest contentedly as if satisfied with a good day's work.

The injured pilot heaved a sigh. "All right, fine. Yes, I accept all of those things! But it's not my fault if Heero went off half-cocked on his guilt trip! Here's my assessment of what I think you asked. First," he began counting off with the fingers of his left hand, "Heero really did shoot me a week ago and nearly killed me. It was an accident, but I'm now unable to use my right arm for the rest of my life, I've got a weakened lung, I'm missing a kidney as well as a big chunk of my liver and intestines. Fine! I got all that, okay?"

Heero winced at the lengthy list of injuries. Caught up in concerns about the injured arm, everyone had forgotten the severe internal injuries. Everyone, that is, except the victim of the Japanese youth's error.

He saw a nod and continued, "Second, Heero is really bummed out it happened since it was an accident and stuff, but the fool is too hard-headed to forgive himself so I have to do it for him. Yo, Yuy! You're forgiven, got it?" He waited until Heero nodded, a smirk on the Wing pilot's lips after hearing the whole issue summed up so humorously.

"However," Duo added ominously, staring into the cobalt-blue eyes nearby, "we have to talk and soon, understand?"

The smirk faded quickly but didn't vanish. Somewhere inside he had known there would be a reckoning, postponing it would only cause more harm.

"Third, I'm not about to tell Heero to go jump off a bridge or something stupid! We're down one pilot here on a permanent basis, so we need the four of you if we're going to get a chance to beat OZ before the year 200!"

Wufei looked concerned at the very thought that the war could drag out another four years.

"Fourth, as always, Quatre pulled out all the stops to try to keep me right-handed, but it didn't work. There's nothing more to do about it now." His lip twisted bitterly, as he intoned sarcastically, "Sigh, cry, bye, whatever! Done is done, *move on* already!"

Quatre chuckled lightly at the off-handed nature of Duo's comments, failing to note the bitterness.

"Fifth, you guys seem to think there's a use for me still and you want me to hang around, but Hell if I know what you have in mind or if I can even hope to do it. But I think Trowa, 'attorney-for-a-day', Barton over there will cross-examine me again if I ask too much right now. So, I'll just rely on my usual trick and agree to it and find out the details later. You know, fools rush in, and all that bullshit!" He grinned at the idea of Shinigami rushing into Hell with a flock of white winged angels on his heels.

"By George, I think he's got it!" Quatre grinned. "It certainly takes a lot to get things through to you sometimes, Duo, but when you get the message you really get the whole thing, don't you?"

"Ha! I'm not the Great Destroyer for nothing you know!" Duo grinned. "Destroyed your preconceptions that I'm just another pretty face, ne, Heero?"

Heero, still unable to keep from grinning at his lover's antics, just leaned over and kissed Duo on the cheek. "Yes, dear," he commented sarcastically. Duo glared at him for it.

Trowa nodded his approval. "I hereby pronounce this case closed."

"Arigato, your honor," Wufei added dryly. The whole thing was a bit too light-hearted for him.

These were issues of life and death, yet they were laughing and acting as if it was nothing of consequence. Well, laughter was a positive response in the face of a overwhelmingly negative situation, perhaps it wasn't so bad after all. Or was it?

He had been wondering why he felt so angry once more with Heero, but it never occurred to him it might be because of the way the Wing pilot had treated his best friend. Or was it perhaps that he considered Duo more than a friend lately?

He wasn't sure.

After all of this seemed to have been settled to the approval of the group, Duo looked seriously at his friends. "Guys, look, I really appreciate what you've done here, even if some of it doesn't quite make sense, but I need to talk to Heero alone. There's a few things we need to settle."

The others nodded and left without complaint though Wufei cast a glance over his shoulder at Duo with what might have been longing in his eyes as he left the room. Shutting the door behind him, Wufei did his best to banish the thoughts which plagued him now.

"So, what's on your mind, koi?" Heero asked hesitantly. He sat down on the edge of the bed where Duo pointed; turning his head to pay full attention to Duo and he got a nasty surprise.


Stinging from the resounding impact against his cheek, he stared at Duo, who was breathing heavily and had anger burning in his amethyst eyes. "What the Hell---"

"Shut up, Heero!" Duo snapped at him. "How *dare* you pull that 'yes, dear' crap on me? In front of Wufei and the guys like that, no less?!? You want to make an idiot of yourself, fine, just leave me out of it!"

Hurt, he was almost speechless. "But, Duo, I didn't mean any harm. It, well, it just seemed to fit, that's all," he stammered.

The former Deathscythe pilot pulled himself under control. "I'd like to say I'm sorry for that, Heero, but you were way out of line. We may have a relationship, but being treated so disrespectfully by you is definitely *not* part of what I had in mind! Shit, how would you feel if I did that to you?"

"I see. You are quite right, guess I got a little distracted by how well you seemed to be handling everything." Heero looked remorseful and felt confused. This wasn't going to be easy, but he didn't deserve for it to be easy after what he'd done. "Can we discuss what you had in mind originally now?"

"Yeah, we'd better," Duo commented sadly. "How is it you let yourself get so fucked up that you'd be so sloppy on an assassination, Heero? Aren't those the missions we both take ahead of the others since they require more concentration? Granted," he paused thoughtfully, "Wufei is pretty damned good at them, too, but still, you know what I mean."

//Why does he keep mentioning Wufei? Never mind, that's too distracting. He deserves an answer on this and more.//

Sighing, Heero tried to respond. He seemed to have more to say than he would ordinarily. "Actually, I realized I had no business even being there after Wufei reviewed my data tapes. He's a really good friend, Duo. Did you know he reviewed the entire mission records when you were hurt?"

Duo seemed surprised and pleased, something twisted a little in Heero's heart.

"Basically, I failed to remember what I'd learned before when I didn't exactly keep track of eating like you worked so hard to teach me once. Hell, why I keep forgetting to do something about that is beyond me."

"Me too." Duo added sourly. "It's easy enough to do, Heero."

"I know, I'll deal with it. As for sleeping, well, you and I both seem to always have a harder time with that when we're apart, you know." He smiled at his lover who found himself a bit flushed thinking just what it was that wore both of them out enough to sleep well when they were together. "Besides," Heero winked, surprising Duo further, "that shouldn't be a problem when you're better and we can go back to sharing a room, ne?"

"Hmph! I should hope so!" Duo acted insulted briefly, then broke down and smiled warmly. They both knew it would be awhile, but there was his answer, Heero wasn't worried about resuming their physical relationship. Duo still worried about the scars, but that would wait, his own vanity didn't usually apply to Heero's opinions except for the luxurious braid.

"As for not knowing where you were, well, I tried to find out, but not even Quatre and Trowa knew where you were." Heero was actually innocent on this, J had worked hard to isolate Heero from the others, and when he'd finally gotten tired of the loneliness it was too late. His lover nodded slowly, thinking it was too bad he hadn't had a chance to help in the elimination of the man who had tried to orchestrate his death.

"The one thing that I am most guilty of was failing in my mission---" Heero didn't quite finish and had chosen to say something of great importance the wrong way.

"Your MISSION?!?!?" Duo was livid. "Your God damned *mission*?!? Hell, Heero, aren't *I* a little more important than the fucking *mission*? You SHOT me, you idiot!"

"I know!" Heero nearly yelled back, pain etched into his features. "Let me *finish*, damn it! I've had a hard time getting all of this straight in my mind, and you're not making apologizing any easier!"

Duo glared at his lover and stayed silent.

"Thank you," Heero remarked with only a touch of sarcasm. "What I was trying to say was that I failed my *personal* mission to protect innocent lives! In an OZ base there usually aren't too many of those, but this time there was and it was yours. Shit, Duo, you know I'd never have shot you if I'd realized what I was doing. Damn it all, Duo, I'd rather have shot myself than do this to you, koi." He looked so thoroughly pained, so totally tortured, that Duo's anger began to drain away slowly.

A voice echoed in Heero's mind: //Are you lost, niisan?//

Automatically, he answered, //I've been lost all my life. But I'd be even more lost without him.//

He gazed at Duo filled with self-loathing and hoping for redemption he felt he didn't deserve. "This is no good, Heero," Duo shook his head shattering the fragile hope in his lover's heart. "We're both still angry here, we can't accomplish anything if we just yell at each other."

Shifting his gaze to the floor, Heero felt disgusted with himself. "You're right, Duo. It's just that what I said earlier today about loving you has been on my mind for so long that I still stumble over it in my mind. I really do love you, koi, I'm just really not doing a very good job of showing it, not that I've had much practice."

Feeling there was no chance of asking for more at that point, Duo sighed sadly. He, too, couldn't bring himself to look the other in the eye.

//Shit. Heero says he loves me for only the second time and I *still* feel hollow inside? This is not going well. But maybe I'm asking too much of both of us.//

//I'm hurt, physically and emotionally. Come to think of it, so is he. Why couldn't the guy have told me sooner about breaking his foot the way he did?//

//And what he did to his hand? Impulsive jerk!//

//No wonder I love the lunatic, he's just like me.//

Almost against his will, Duo began chuckling a little. "You know something, Yuy," he finally let the laugh out that had built making Heero look up at him quizzically, "we are quite the pair, aren't we? I'm sitting here with what feels like a million stitches in me and you're there with a hand torn half way to Hell and a busted up foot. I don't know which of us looks more ridiculous right now and we're busy arguing over this and it's giving me a headache on top of it!" He smirked, half-hoping they could leave he argument to another day.

Heero, seeing the uplifted corner of the lips and thinking they looked inviting, decided to do something about it. He leaned forward slowly enough for Duo to refuse and was infinitely pleased when he didn't. Lips gently parted before him as he pressed closer, sealing them together for a sweetly tender, non-demanding kiss that felt like coming home to both of them. Breaking to breath, Duo leaned his forehead to Heero's cheek and nuzzled the smooth skin.

"Mm, that's nice," Duo remarked softly.

"Yes, it is," Heero responded quietly, bending his neck forward to kiss Duo's neck lingeringly. "That's nice, too," he added.

"Mm, yeah," Duo mumbled dreamily, then yawned. "Oh, sorry, koi, but seems I've run out of energy or something."

Heero looked concerned; while he was pleased to hear Duo had calmed down and that he was even receptive to a little gentle kissing, he'd failed to see how tired he'd gotten. "Worn out from everything, Duo? Or tired of me?" He tried to make it sound like a joke, but he was concerned.

"Ha, like I'd really get tired of---" Duo tried to give an appropriately rude response, but couldn't bite back a pair of yawns.

"Hn." Heero grunted, bringing a smile to the yawning lips in front of him. "I'll take that eloquent answer to indicate you are simply tired at the moment. Why don't you rest, Duo? It's been a rough day, ne, koi?"

"Yup, 'rough day' is right, Heero," Duo smiled back, his eyes feeling heavy. The adrenaline rush of the confrontation with Trowa and the others as well as the argument with Heero was wearing off. He was still recovering from the injuries he'd be a long time escaping and did need some sleep. "Want to take a nap?"

Heero kissed him gently, "Sure." He started to get up to let Duo rest when a warm hand held him in place.

"Wait a minute, cowboy, where you headed?" Duo gazed at him oddly.

"Um," Heero looked adorably confused bringing a chuckle to his partner, "I was just leaving so you could rest."

"Wrong idea, there, Yuy," Duo smiled through a yawn, "I meant, want to take a nap with me? I think this bed is big enough for both of us if I push some of this damned tubing out of the way."

"Oh? So, that was a 'my place or yours' question? Hentai!" Heero chuckled, moving the tubing out of the way as per Duo's guidance. The useless right arm hampered Duo's efforts to move some of it and it was frustrating him again. "Sure, I'll join you, seems I'm a bit tired, too."

Eventually, two highly skilled terrorists dealt with the annoying welter of tubes and wires and made room for them to lie spooned together comfortably so that Heero's heavy cast didn't bother Duo and none of the equipment was blocked.

Pulling a blanket up over them, Heero covered them both loosely. Stretching out lazily, he rested an arm over Duo's right arm careful not to put too much pressure on the recovering body. He never noticed the sadness on Duo's face when the American realized there was no feeling whatsoever in the right arm where the two came into contact.

"Say, Heero," Duo asked softly, "is my arm even warm any more? I can't feel a thing."

Realizing he'd once again dimmed Duo's happiness and wondering if he'd get it right again soon, Heero kissed his ear and whispered as he rubbed the numb yet living flesh, "It feels perfectly normal to me, koi, warm and strong. Hopefully we can find a way to get it fixed, give it time, all right?"

Duo drew in a deep breath and pulled the hand off the limp limb and over his waist carefully, wincing a bit until he found a comfortable position that didn't put too much pressure on the bandages. "Time, Heero, is the only thing I still have plenty of it seems."

"You still have me, Duo. Never forget that, all right?" He kissed his love again and buried his face in the chestnut hair breathing deeply to inhale the one scent he found more soothing than any other.

"I'll not forget," Duo smiled wistfully, wondering why his heart still ached if the beautiful teen behind him held him closely, something was still bothering him, but he was too tired to fight even himself about it. "Sleep now, okay?"

"Ryoukai," Heero teased, bringing a smile to Duo's lips. It had been too long since he'd heard that as often as he was used to. "Sweet dreams, koi."

"Hai," Duo agreed easily.

The pair lay quietly in the room whose only remaining sound was the soft hum of medical equipment. It took Heero almost an hour for his tortured thoughts to ease enough for sleep, but it came after he focused exclusively on the reassuring rhythm of breath in the body he held.

//Never again, koi, I swear it. Never again will I cause you to doubt me. If it's the last thing I do, I will earn your trust again.//

Sleep covered them, wrapping them once more in its silken embrace. Even sleeping, Duo seemed to sense the change as Heero, too, fell into sleep and he sank even deeper into a healing rest.

Much later the sun set and Heero awoke. He refused to get up knowing the movement would wake his exhausted partner who seemed to be deeply asleep. Indulging himself, he simply lay there snuggled deeper into the loosened hair musing about fate and what lay ahead.

//Four pilots and five Gundams. Well, at least we have an extra suit, but it isn't worth the price.//

//Duo seems to have forgiven me a little too easily. Does he mean it? Or is this just the calm before the storm?//

//Why do I even wonder? He'll tell me what else is wrong when he's ready.//

His thoughts stalled out and repeated themselves in an endless litany of doubt and self-reproach.

Quietly, Quatre came into the room and peered over the two to see if they were awake or not.

Startled, Heero glanced up sharply wondering what he'd heard just to find himself staring into aquamarine eyes filled with warmth. "Oi! Quatre!" He hissed angrily. "What the Hell are you trying to do?"

It was just then Quatre noticed Duo's violet eyes blinking sleepily up at him. The effect of finding them cuddled together and Duo looking more than a little fuzzy was almost overwhelming.

"I'm sorry, Heero, I didn't know," the Sandrock pilot looked distinctly dismayed for interrupting the tender moment.

"It's, 'kay, Q-man," Duo mumbled and stifled a yawn stretching a little. "Whazzup?"

"Dinner's almost ready, I wondered if you two wanted any sent in, but I shouldn't have bothered you, I'll just go," Quatre turned to retreat as quickly as possible when a strong hand shot out and pulled him back, startling him.

"Sorry, Quatre," Heero smiled at the baffled Arab. "I didn't mean to snap at you, but how the heck did you get so close without me noticing? I thought I was a little better at keeping track of things than that!" Heero looked embarrassed that anyone, even another Gundam pilot, had snuck up on him.

Quatre grinned. "I've been working with Wufei on infiltration techniques lately, but I never thought I could sneak up on you, Heero. Besides, I had an advantage, you were thinking of other things, I do believe!"

Duo grinned at the blond, "Good for you, Q! If you can get the drop on *him* then you've done well. Even I usually can't pull that off. Now, what's for dinner? I'm starved!"

"Hn. You would be, baka," Heero remarked gruffly then softened it with a chuckle as he untangled himself from a stray monitor wire.

Still Quatre smiled at what appeared to be a fully reunited couple unaware that trouble still brewed beneath the surface.

"Well, why don't we come in and join you two in here for dinner? All five of us haven't eaten together in over five weeks, it would be nice." Quatre seemed more than a little excited about getting everyone together for something purely social with no discussion of fault or guilt, just friendship. The blond had felt at a loss when there had been so much going wrong and he wanted to celebrate things going right for a change.

"Sure, Quatre, that's fine." Heero sat up carefully, avoiding hitting either with his cast which he cursed silently.

A moue of worry crossed Quatre's face briefly, then he smiled, "Heero, why don't you go get cleaned up for dinner? We'll eat in half an hour."

Heero knew a dismissal when he heard one. He dropped a gentle kiss on Duo's ear and left.

"Duo, I know there's something wrong. What is it?" The blond demanded, worry clear in his voice.

"Hmm, not sure yet," he answered. "It hurts worse than before. Guess I slept wrong." Rolling onto his back, Duo shrugged then winced. Something had shifted, leaving pure agony.

Quatre frowned, signaling for medical assistance. "I thought I felt pain, Duo," he checked his friend's shoulder area and found some loose bandages, but nothing substantial. Just then, another twinge hit Quatre's uchuu no kokoro and Duo groaned loudly as the doctor entered.

"Excuse us," the doctor commanded and Quatre looked apologetically at Duo and left, but he didn't go far, just stayed nearby awaiting news.

"I can't find anything specific just now," the woman frowned after examining Duo. "But it may just be that you are healing slowly. You probably need more rest. Preferably alone, young man!" She admonished, gently.

"Yes, ma'am," Duo grumbled as she left. "Hmph, I finally get him back in bed with me and a woman throws him out. Figures!"

Quatre smiled gently at his friend's problem. "You know he'll understand, Duo."

"I know," he sighed. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it, now does it?"

Shaking his head sympathetically, Quatre apologized, "Sorry to have awakened you when I did. It may be awhile until you get to do that again."

"Oh well, no biggie," Duo's tone disagreed with what he'd said. "Well, how about some dinner? I'm not as hungry any more, but company sounds good."

"Sure! We'll be in after a bit," Quatre smiled and left.

//Damn! My guts are torn to shreds, I should have thought of that. Now Heero's going to get all guilt-ridden on me again.//

//Oh well. Get over it, Maxwell. It won't last forever.//

Just because it wouldn't hurt forever didn't mean it wouldn't hurt both of them for a while and it did.

Dinner was pleasant enough as Duo picked at his food and Heero tried not to worry over the pain he could detect which his lover stubbornly denied. It made things a little tense for awhile.

"So?" Duo brightened substantially as something occurred to him. "Just what do you guys have in mind new for me to do now that I'm a one-armed bandit?"

"Good question, my boy!" G smiled, unexpectedly walking into the room. He carried a long box with him. "Here's a little something that should help for the time being." He opened the box and inside lay a strange thing none of them could have imagined.

Glittering against the liner lay a truly unique item, a shoulder length right arm glove made of what appeared to be metallic thread. It looked light yet sturdy, just the sort of thing that might have a purpose in preventing the minor injuries the neurologist had discussed. All five young men looked at the object curiously as G pulled it out and adjusted a few wires that ran along the length of the glove connecting to what resembled a keypad at the wrist. A low hum picked up as he coded in something on the key pad and then held it out to Duo. "Try this on, Duo," he offered.

Curious, Duo did as he was asked and found that while it wasn't a perfect fit at first, within seconds of pulling it on over his deadened arm he saw it constrict where necessary to fit like a second skin. It fit perfectly from the shoulder all the way to the tips of his fingers from what he could tell by looking even if he couldn't feel anything.

"What's it made of, doc?" Duo asked, marveling at it like a child with a new toy.

In reply, the doctor pulled out a knife and suddenly drug it across the glove before anyone could stop him. "Doctor!" Several voices shouted as the knife was easily bent then snapped.

Laughing, the man remarked, "Why, it's gundanium, of course! Strongest substance and all that! I had the thread spun years ago when we thought we'd be outfitting the pilots in gundanium flight suits, but it was canceled when we thought the Gundams themselves were enough protection. A shame we never finished that idea or we wouldn't even be in this situation, now would we?"

//There are other things that could have been done to avoid this, too! Like keeping Yuy the Hell away from Duo in the first place!//

Wufei then amended his thoughts silently, still baffled by the growing resentment of Heero Yuy in general.

//But now is not the time or the place to deal with that. Just look at Duo, he looks happy again. No, whatever is bothering me can wait. At least until I figure out what it is that is the problem in the first place.//

//Wait, did I miss something? Damn, pay attention, Chang! Why *am* I so distracted?//

He shoved the frustrating thoughts aside to ask a question. "If that's gundanium," Wufei commented thoughtfully, "then it's bullet-proof and should provide protection from just about anything else Duo might encounter that could be a problem."

"Yes, except for crushing pressures, there's no way to compensate for that, I'm afraid." G seemed disappointed to admit there was a flaw in his creation. "However, it's light weight and has built in self-adjustments so we won't need a new one just because Duo grows a bit. There's a built-in set of sensors for things like blood pressure and temperature; and it can even do mild physical therapy for you, Duo, to prevent muscle atrophy until new regeneration techniques can be developed that might give you back use of the arm. There's even a location device if you should be missing in the future, but I'd advise against letting that happen since there's no offensive capabilities built in."

Duo was thrilled, to put it mildly. "Oh, wow! This is great, doc! Thanks!" he looked at the shimmering metal than frowned, "But I've got to keep this on pretty much all the time, don't I? And with a tracker on it I can't sneak off, can I?"

"Well, Duo," G smirked mischievously, "there's not far you can 'sneak off to' where you'll be headed."

All five youths looked at the scientist in confusion at this ominous pronouncement. When the man had left the estate after J's demise, he had mumbled something about a plan for Duo, but they had yet to hear it. Now was the time.

"You five never knew it, but we were constructing a permanent base for your Gundams and ourselves under the Atlantic Ocean. We dubbed this project 'Atlantis' and intended it as a substitute for you always heading to one of Quatre's properties when the Gundams or yourselves needed repair. Sooner or later OZ was going to figure out who pilot 04 really was and we assumed they would eliminate these refuges. No offense, Quatre my boy, but an underwater base would be far easier to defend than a half-dozen large homes scattered across the globe!"

"No offense taken, I assure you. I had begun to wonder how much longer we could get away with this anyway," Quatre commented smiling.

Duo, however, looked far from pleased. "You mean I'll be stuck at the bottom of the ocean with just the fishes to keep me company all the time? That doesn't sound like much of a challenge. What am I supposed to do there? Mop floors?"

"Oh my, no, Duo, don't be ridiculous! You will replace J at the command position," Duo gaped openly at the level of responsibility the man was talking about.

"You will coordinate the reconnaissance data and determine mission priorities for your friends. Then you will assign missions as needed. Now, myself and the other scientists will be around off and on, so you're not completely alone in your task, but it is critical that we abandon the current method. Having five agents each reporting to a single one of us separately is a misuse of resources. A single point of command is far more logical. Think you can handle it, my boy?" G smiled warmly at his protégé. If anyone could handle such a demanding work load, it was the eternally active Deathscythe pilot, who seemed able to carry out a dozen tasks at once regularly by his own preferences.

Once more, Duo was speechless. A condition his friends found more than slightly amusing if not also disquieting.

"Do you think you boys could learn to take orders from Duo here?" G smiled reassuringly. "After all, unlike us old lab rats, he's been out there fighting the battles with you and we never did. He can assess situations better for you than I'd claim to be able to. Think it could work?"

Quatre nodded enthusiastically, this was a perfect solution. Duo remained actively involved in the war and they gained a better level of tactical and strategic coordination, something they had complained about any number of times.

Trowa gave a single thoughtful look then added his assent.

Wufei looked a bit doubtful, but indicated he'd at least give it a try. He'd keep his own internal dilemma to himself.

Heero, however, looked disappointed.

"So, Heero, what's bothering you?" G asked, even though he was certain he knew what it was already.

"Doctor," Heero began slowly not wishing to unintentionally insult Duo whom he felt could do the job quite well given the chance to settle into it. "If Duo is trapped on the floor of the ocean while we are fighting above it or in outer space, when will we actually end up in the same place at the same time? No offence, but I'm rather used to being with him and would hate to give that up until OZ realizes they're beaten and surrender."

Hmm," Duo remarked caustically. "Like *I* wouldn't have thought of that? Yeah, doc, I'd like to know, too. If I'm stuck away from Heero and the guys, I'm not so sure I want the job."

"Oh? Did I forget to mention something?" Trying to pretend he was innocent was never the short man's strong suit. "All of you will have permanent housing as part of the facility as well. We'll have a full support staff including medical and technical personnel, of course! This will give you a safe refuge from OZ when injured as well as a far more defensible position than any safehouse ever did. It will be fully equipped with defensive weaponry as well as being concealed. This won't eliminate the occasional need for a safehouse when things go wrong, but it will be your home for the most part. Does that answer your question, Heero?"

"It certainly does. Thank you," Heero smiled warmly at the very idea of having a "permanent home" in the first place, something he hadn't had since Odin Lowe's death. Even while J was training him, they had moved regularly and he never felt there was a single place to call home. His orphan's heart responded strongly to the very idea.

"Well, any other questions or does this sound worth a try?" G asked but knew the answer would be positive.

"Hey, G, you finally got the right idea here!" Duo grinned broadly, gesturing grandly with his left arm as the shine of the right arm lay quietly in his lap, "You've put Shinigami in charge! We'll have OZ on the run in no time! Right, guys?"

The positive chorus of responses eventually turned into happy yet serious discussion of timeframes, tactical issues, practical concerns and anything else the six men could think of. It was quite spectacular to Duo Maxwell who felt as if his life had been returned to him twice over for his earlier losses.

//I'm going to be in charge? Wow.//

//Well, it cost me plenty, but at least I know where Heero stands on our relationship now.//

//I have a new job that can make a difference as great as what could have been accomplished piloting a Gundam, maybe even more. I'll miss flying Deathscythe into battle, but the guys will handle it for me.//

//And best of all, I'll be in command!//

//Hold it! *Me*? Telling *them* what to do? Oh my sweet God! Is this too cool for words or what?!?//

//This is gonna be GREAT!!!//

Eyes glittering with anticipation and grinning broadly, the self-proclaimed God of Death leaned back onto his hospital bed.

First he admired the new gundanium skin on his arm which would protect him against risk of further damage due to infection or minor injury and provide therapy to keep the tissues alive and well. Hopefully new regeneration techniques were not too far into the future, but at least now he felt it would be a wait he could cope with.

Then he turned his attention to the man he loved knowing finally that Heero did truly love him in return even if issues weren't completely resolved. For the first time ever, it passed through his mind that Heero might even feel more strongly for him than he did for the Wing pilot, it had been so hard to get a commitment from him before. For some reason, though, that thought failed to comfort him.

Heero, sensing Duo's eyes on him, turned his head from the discussion and gave his koibito a suggestive wink, something he'd never done so casually before.

Somehow, it felt right and the loses experienced due to the accidental shooting were perfectly acceptable seeing all he'd gained instead.

Oh, yes, life was looking up for Duo Maxwell, new commander of the Gundams and lover of the infamous Gundam Pilot 01. Now all he had to do was make sure said pilot survived the war and nothing would ever stop the two of them again. At least he hoped it would work out that way.

Mission failures would be acceptable in the future to their new commander as long as *all four* remaining pilots made it home to Atlantis as often as they could and he'd be damned sure they did.

//Heero, no more wandering. You, Fei, Quatre, Trowa and me, we've all got a home together now! You will *all* be home regularly! *Very* regularly, now that I'm in charge!//

He failed to note his mind had shifted regarding his best friend. Mentally he growled at the thought of his OZ counterpart, commander Treize Khushrenada. He recalled that the man had once cost Wufei his confidence for a period. He would never allow that to happen again now that he had the power to stop it.

//Your days are numbered, Khushrenada! You aren't dueling against just Fei anymore, he's got back-up now and you're going down!//

//I'll be damned if you hurt *him* again! Fei, you're not alone any more, trust me!//

Commander Maxwell smiled wickedly.

Author's Notes:

1. This story is dedicated to the men and women of the USS Cole, "The Determined Warrior" of the US Navy, which was victim of a terrorist attack in Yemen during August, 2000, which resulted in the deaths and injuries of many crew members. The survivors battled diligently to keep the ship afloat until a recovery vessel could arrive to take her home for repairs. While we will miss those we have lost, we must also remember to be truly grateful to those who survived. While they were unable to complete their original assignment, theirs was not a "mission failure" as much as a triumph of the human spirit over adversity. May God bless all of the members of the Cole family, those still with us and those who have died in service to their country.

2. Thanks for inspiration and positive reinforcement goes to every single person who sent comments on this while it was under construction. Special thanks to Sharon, Wufei humbly thanks you; Nixy who helps me find cool titles; and Dan, the gundanium glove isn't "bionic" but it's still cool, ne? Plus, thanks to Andrea for keeping me excited about writing this; to Maki for being special; to Jana, thanks for the "inspirational" wallpaper ; to Kaze for being Kaze; and to the eternally adorable Vash the Stampede, for reasons that make Duo *very* jealous! (^_~) ! "Later!"

3. This story is the result of the influence of two muses. The first is, as always when there's this much Duo-torture going on, Melpomene, honorary muse of angst. Since it was strung out over a week being written as part of an experiment in "responsive writing", this will include credit to Calliope, muse of epic works. This was a challenge, but I don't plan to do it again any time soon!

4. I've been asked by several folks to set up an alert system when something of mine is available, so please feel free to sign up at EnigmaFanficUpdates-subscribe@egroups.com! I'm happy to thank the 60+ people there already!


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