Paradise Lost, part 3
by Kathleen Moffre-Spoor
October 1998



 

                            Don't Fear the Reaper
 
 

                 The door was opened and the wind appeared,

                   The candles blew and then disappeared,

                   The curtains flew and then he appeared,

                           Said, "Don't be afraid,

                               Come on, Mary,"

                             And she had no fear

                             And she ran to him

                          And she started to fly...

                          She had taken his hand...

                               "Come on, Mary;

                           Don't fear the Reaper!"

                           (The Blue Oyster Cult)

Duo

I swam to shore in a short period of time, then skidded across one of the
sand bars to pop into the water there. It took about fourty five minutes to
do the entire maneuver, but I managed to slip on to the Romefeller Base's
island without much notice. I then stripped out of the wet suit to my black
pants and priest's collar shirt. With the collar closed and my sleeves
rolled down with my cap, I was dressed entirely in black and practically
invisible in the night. I concealed the pistol with the silencer in my pants
and slung the sub machine gun around my shoulder. With fresh clips and
explosives at easy access in my duffel bag, I was ready.

Silently, I edged my way through the forest, keeping low and to the shadows
when I could. The base was strangely silent, though in areas brightly lit.
According to some of the transmissions I intercepted, they saved most of
their maneuvers for daylight and were down staffed in the evenings because
the war was over. It made my mission a lot easier. I'd have the info I
wanted and Heero in no time.

When I came to the edge of the woods, I scaled a convenient tree and waited.
A security guard usually made a pass by every fifteen minutes. This way, I
could take him out, mug him for his uniform and enter the base with his
clearances. Silently I waited, fingers tapping my sub machine gun.

Thou shall not kill gnawed at my conscience. I had already broken my vow of
chastity with Hilde. A part of me knew Father Donaldson expected it. He also
expected me to break other promises I made to the Church. But killing wasn't
something I liked.

Or at least, I didn't want to like.

Heero was wrong about me. I wasn't a killer like him, not anymore. The
Shinigami was dead.

I clenched my teeth, making out a man approaching my position. I planned on
taking him out from the tree. I targeted him carefully, seeing his young
face in my sights.

He was a year or two older than I was and his gaze with bright and
inexperienced.

"A kid..." I thought to myself. "A kid who hasn't seen war, or killed
before."

Sweat beaded my brow. My fingers trembled as they tightened about the
trigger.

Thou shall not kill...

My vision bathed with red.

Shinigami clutched my heart gleefully.

"No, no, no..." Slowly I lowered the gun. I'd knock him out. I wasn't a
killer.

Not like Heero.

He passed under a moment later. With out hesitation, I dropped down on top
of his shoulders, gun butt smashing into his skull. Both of us tumbled to
the ground. With a spasm of agony, I rolled away.

The wound flashed and throbbed, immobilizing me for a second or so; a second
that almost cost me. To my surprise, the kid was on his feet before I was,
and hauled me up by my hair like a doll. He was a little taller than I and a
hell of a lot wider. Blood streamed from a wound on his forehead. With a
swift jerk, he landed his fist into my gut.

Spots exploded with fiery agony. I gasped as the momentum of the punch
tossed me back to the ground. Reflexively, I doubled over, black blotches
threatening to steal away my consciousness. Wet sticky warmth dampened my
shirt as blood seeped from my wound.

Out of the corner of my eye, the kid lifted his radio, and staggered
himself.

I hurt too much to stand, and if he reported me, my mission was scrubbed.

Instinct took over.

I whipped the pistol from my hip and plugged him three times in the head.

Death's silence whispered in the breeze as the boy's body dropped like a
stone. The uniform was untouched.

I was a killer once more.

"Eh, what's another Commandment?" I whispered, struggling to stand. With
supreme effort, I staggered to my feet. "The Angel of death is back...
Shinigami, my destiny."

I felt no guilt, just numbness.

I even enjoyed it some.

I shook the idea from my mind and dragged the poor bastard behind a few
crates piled up near the fence.

I took off his clothes, and gave him his last rites. I wasn't worthy for
such a ritual, but I was obligated. After praying and closing his lifeless
eyes, I covered him with a blanket I kept stowed in my bag.

Shortly after, I was on my way in Sargent Davinson's clothes. In exchange, I
left the submachine gun with him. God help me.

I was the reaper.

***************

I managed to ignore the pain in my gut and walked stiffly. I hoped the make
shift binding I made held the wound together. I still bled and knew it was
only a matter of time before it went thought the cloth of my uniform. I had
to work fast. With the uniform and with ID, I got onto the base with little
effort. After that it was pure instinct. Heero's book contained many details
and floor plans, so I had no problem finding the records lab. Nor did I have
a problem mining the place as I went. Once in the records lab, I planned to
download whatever information they had on Heero's location and the Numbers
Project.

Numbers Project, I winced. It was hard to believe we were a part of a top
secret project conceived by the Romefeller organization. The very
organization we fought against in the great war. I ignored the idea for the
time being and slipped into the lab. It was dark, but I located a computer
and logged on with Davinson's codes. With the little I learned about
hacking, and Heero's codes, I broke into the system and began to poke
around.

The Numbers Project had three levels. One, the generation of biologically
and cybernetically enhanced humans; two, the conditioning and training of
these individuals; and three, the Zero-Preparation Process.

Zero? I pulled away from the emerald screen and looked over my shoulder. The
hairs on the nape of my neck bristled, making me feel like I was being
watched. The room was empty, save for several desks with computers and
separations. I swallowed, wondering if Heero was close.

I nudged a disk into the drive and began to download.

Scrolling down, my memory recorded several faces: Treize, Lady Una, Dorothy,
Zeches, Heero, Wufei, Trowa, Quatra, my own and several others I didn't
recognize. Most of us were named after numbers, save for Dorothy who was
obviously the Romefeller foundation's princess.

Apparently my mentor and his colleagues worked for Romefeller, but they
stole the plans for the Gundams and a few of the experimental children.

I couldn't locate where Treize, Zeches, Lady Una and Dorothy fit in that
picture, but I read pretty fast, so I could have easily skipped it.

A peek at the counter said the CD had five more minutes to down load. I
wiped my mouth, trembling. The head of the Numbers Project, Alexie
Courthers, planned to make use of us as Zero System weapons.

We were to be processed...and sent off to the highest bidder.

I shivered. Sweat dropped from my brow to the keyboard. My vision doubled.

I examined my wound and noticed how Davinson's uniform was now dripping
blood. Worst of all, my body temperature was dropping. I felt cold and
clammy. I was going into shock.

"Where's Heero..." I whispered weakly, leafing up to his file. According to
the records, he was suffering from a side effect of the Zero-Process.

He was losing his mind.

In fact, all those exposed to the process would become mentally unstable if
not treated.

"Ohhhhh Shitt...."

The light flicked on, blinding me.

Reflexively, I grabbed for my gun, leapt to my feet, and swiveled toward the
door. A man dressed in a Romefeller uniform stood there. He was tall with
dark hair and steely blue eyes. I recognized him as the man in my dream.

His head was in my sights. "Don't move, or I'll blow you away." In many
ways, I thought I was lucky. I could use this guy as a hostage to get Heero
and to escape. Hilde wouldn't expect it, but she didn't mind surprises.

"Duo." The man said coolly. Ignoring the gun he strolled into the room. "How
rude of you."

"I mean it! Stop!" I cocked the hammer. "I'll kill you where you stand!"

He smiled thinly, making me shudder involuntarily. "I know you will. Poor
Davinson. You killed him. But I'm not the sort to play around with the Angel
of Death unless I know what I'm doing." His hand twitched and something in
his palm extended into a pole. Energy flared a brilliant silver white at its
tip forming a sickle blade.

Mesmerized, I stared at a silver beam scythe, very like the one my Gundam
wielded.

I fired, but he skirted to the side, making me miss him entirely. He slashed
the scythe down, then up. Its staff slammed into my hands knocking my gun
across the floor. Something grabbed my hair and I found my self flung into a
wall. Droplets of blood dribbled from my gut as I went, leaving a trail. I
scrambled to my feet, but my legs refused to respond. Instead, I skidded
back to the floor, weak and panting. The gun was about three feet away, and
my only hope.

I went to move, but a hot blade touched my throat, burning me. I glanced up
to make out the man's face as he calmly stared down at me. It was like he
planned all of this. "Very bad, Duo. Haven't you learned anything? You've
gotten very sloppy since you've retired. A big mistake."

I bit my lip, tasting salt. If I moved, that thing would cleave my head off.
"Fuck off."

He shook his head sadly. "I guess I'll just have to give you a little more
time. But first, I'm going to give you a little lesson in manners." The
scythe arched up.

Taking the moment, I dove for the gun. I felt a hot flash of pain burn away
at my shoulders, ripping through fabric and pulling at the back of my head.
The sensations vanished with a definite touch of cold against my neck. The
familiar weight and drag on my braid vanished as I grabbed the gun, aiming
it at him.

He stood quietly, my hair at his feet, holding his weapon over his shoulder.
The smile hadn't vanished. "I'm not impressed."

"You bastard!!!!" I fired again, but to no avail. He dodged each bullet
until my clip ran out. The pain by then was unbearable and my body was so
weak, I could barely move.

Ironically, the man stood and watched me, like a vulture.

I had failed.

Blood pooled around me and the room grew colder. My braid was gone, the only
thing I really had left of my childhood and Sister Helen.

Unable to hold myself up any more, I collapsed, dying again. All I could
think of was poor Hilde waiting for me. I hope she listened and left.

This destiny business sucked. I passed out.

************

Heero

I entered the lab after a rigorous training bout with three other soldiers.
Alexie had promised me, after the mission, I'd be able to leave and return
home. He said, after the implant, I'd have no problems controlling the blood
lust threatening my sanity.

The killing sprees and memory loss were due to a hormonal imbalance in the
brain because of the Zero-System. Once treated, I'd have no problems. Half
of me believed it. The other half was suspicious. Alexie openly lied about
Duo. He led me to believe the boy was dead to keep me with him. Normally,
I'd leave after that, but we made a deal. Alexie treated me for the
insanity, so I had to come up with my end of the bargain. There was someone
at an up coming peace conference he feared would kill Lady Darlian. I had to
stop them.

And since I already swore to protect her, it was no sweat off my back.

I was on my way to my quarters when Alexie turned the corner. With a
confident gait, he walked towards me, his face unreadable as always. As a
professional, I knew Alexie was a very dangerous man. He was mysterious,
highly trained in combat, politically minded and a schemer. He had his hand
in many pots at the same time, and only half the pots knew he was there.
Romefeller hired him to reconstruct their bases and assist in further
scientific studies.

My instinct said a man like Alexie had a larger agenda. "Good morning,
Heero." Alexie said, cheerfully.

I glanced at him through a tangle of shaggy bangs and nodded. I didn't feel
like speaking very much this morning. I had a restless night and took it out
in a vigorous work out. All I wanted now was a shower and some breakfast.

"Talkative, as always, I see." Alexie folded his arms, face calm and
unaffected by my lack of enthusiasm. "I've been looking for you actually."

"Really?"

"It seems we have a problem." His voice hinted amusement, even though he
covered most of his emotions with a serious business like manner. He waited
for me to nod then continued. "Apparently, a friend of yours doesn't know
how to leave things well enough alone."

"Duo?" The boy's name jumped to my lips before I realized it. It showed more
emotion that I wanted to. I looked away, trying to appear uncaring for the
rest of the news.

"Heero, I know you very well. You give a damn about that kid, so stop trying
to fool me. It won't work."

"What's it to you? We worked together. He's a good kid. "

Alexie nodded. "But, he's also been processed. "

Processed, it was the dirty word of the day. I narrowed my brow, feeling a
tad concerned about my friend. "Ok, what about Duo?" I asked coldly.

"He's here, down the hall and very annoyed he's locked up. I don't think
he'll cooperate. Perhaps you can say something to him." Alexie smiled slyly.
He was a spider setting a trap.

"What did he do? Break in?" I let myself smile. "Sooo, there goes the idea
of this place being a secure facility... "

"He was trying to rescue you." Alexie informed. By the tone of his voice, he
didn't appreciate my sense of humor. "It seems you made an impression on
him."

"One about six inches deep." I replied flatly. I looked down the hall at the
various doors. If Duo was here, he'd be very reasonable to me, or at least,
as reasonable as he could be. We were like mixing oil and water. "Hmm, so
which room?"

"5-C." Alexie gestured in the direction he came from. "Please explain to him
the situation. I'm sure he'll understand."

"Yeah, right." I waved Alexie away, knowing Duo would expect a long evolved
synopsis; a synopsis I didn't have the time to give.

I walked down the hall, a little annoyed. I wanted a shower and breakfast
and didn't like the idea how it had to wait.

Even if I was a little relieved to see Duo.

**************

The boy sat in bed, a long hospital gown covering his body. His head was
bowed, hands touching the bible on his lap. I noticed his crucifix dangling
from his neck, as it always did. His brow was troubled and his bright blue
violet eyes were distant as if not seeing the tiny letters on the pages
before him.

I shut the door loudly to get his attention. Duo's head snapped up, head of
shoulder length hair bobbing into his eyes.

I frowned stunned. "So, when did you get the hair cut?"

He blinked, a broad smile forming on his face. A moment later, he forced it
away and became deadly serious. "Alexie, your boss."

"Not my boss." I said sharply. "You were sloppy."

"I was looking for you." He snapped, struggling to swing his legs to the
side of the bed. Painfully, he winced, hand grabbing his belly. "So what the
hell happened to you?"

I shrugged wondering exactly what he knew. "I gutted you and ran. What do
you expect?"

Duo began to chuckle. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Yeah, you sure
did. So, are these the goons who messed with your brain?"

"No." I crossed the room to his side, wondering just how I planned to
explain what happened. It was close to impossible to find the words. I
decided to use the direct honest approach. If I was right, Duo did some
poking himself and knew enough to understand what I was about to say.
Besides, he was a tough kid and would bounce back readily after the initial
shock of my story. "The Zero System messed with my brain." I said roughly.

He nodded, but didn't meet my gaze. He half believed it. How could I blame
him. He was exposed to the Zero System too. It was easier to believe your
friend was brainwashed then the possibility of you yourself going insane.
"Did Alexie tell you to tell me that?"

"It's true. I gutted you. Remember?" I placed a finger to his belly and
motioned up over the fabric of his gown.

He squirmed, tanned legs shifting painfully with the touch. "How can I
forget."

I sighed, meeting his gaze. There was something missing from it. Puzzled, I
examined him. His eyes were definitely lifeless and blank, like he had lost
all desire to live. The old cheerful Duo Maxwell seemed to be gone. "You
ok?"

"Bad dreams, that's all." He said softly.

I brushed the hair from my face and looked to a wall. "That's how it starts
Duo. You saw the files."

He shook his head, a hand grasping the bible on his lap. "They could have
been planted. I think they messed with you, Heero." He swallowed and
scratched his cheek.

"No. You don't want to admit it because you know you're losing your mind
too. Face it Duo. Everyone exposed to the Zero System went insane, just at
different rates. Dorothy, Treize, Zeches, me.... "

"NO!" Duo screamed, fist slamming on the bible before him. "I'm not losing
my mind! No way! The dreams, all of that, they're normal! Everyone has them
after a war!" Frantic, he grabbed my shoulders and shook me. "I am not
losing my mind! I wasn't exposed to the Zero System for very long! Just a
few minutes..."

Unsympathetically, I removed his digging fingers and slipped off the bed.
"You were processed, Duo. We all were. Doctor J and his little mad buddies
turned us all into super combat ready soldiers by messing with our brains."

"You're cracked." Duo's voice trembled. "I don't remember any of this
happening. I'd remember if that bastard did anything to me."

I gritted my teeth together, annoyed by his stubbornness. "Would you?
They're altering your brain wave patterns Duo. Remember the bio feed back?"

The anger and fear showed vibrantly across his young face. Duo hunched his
shoulders and bunched his fists. "Yeah..."

"Bingo." I snapped my fingers, seeing his watery eyes dart away from me.
"Didn't I tell you we were alike."

Silence. Helpless, Duo stared at his fists. He swallowed a whimper and tears
filled his eyes. "It's damned unfair."

"War isn't." I replied. "But Alexie can fix it. You just have to cooperate."

Unconvinced, Duo pulled at his hair. "What? Tthe arrogant dick who gave me
the shave?"

I smiled. A little of his old spirit sparked some. It made me feel a little
better. I preferred Duo that way. "Yeah. Trust me. We've worked with
arrogant dicks before. What's the difference?"

A bright furious gaze grabbed mine. Duo sneered. "This one cut my hair."

**************

Duo

Heero left me to myself. I sat quietly, trying not to think of losing my
mind. I collapsed to my bed, hugging myself and feeling very insecure.

Alexie did a job on Heero, if he indeed brainwashed him. Part of me now
wasn't sure. Heero seemed clearer since I last saw him. Before, he was lost
and frightened and very unlike himself. As of now, he appeared entirely
himself.

"What have they done to you?" I asked aloud. A man like Alexie, the leader
of the Numbers Project, wouldn't help Heero unless he had some sort of
control over him.

Moreover, he'd never rest until I too was his puppet.

Exhaustion weighted my limbs. My body ached still and I was very weak. I
hadn't recovered from my ordeal and suspected by the way I was pissing up a
storm, I underwent surgery. Surgery I didn't condone.

I'd ask Heero about it later. With a shiver, my eyes closed to blackness.

I stumbled along the rubble, parts of bodies scattered across the broken
street. Weak, I looked up, the Federation soldiers were gone. The battle was
over. Clumsily, I tried to roll up my sleeves, thinking about Father and
Sister Helen. They were in the church at the time when the Federation bombed
the slums to put down the rebellion. Clumsily, I clutched my shattered arm
to myself and walked slowly past the dead. With a grim heart, I beared
witness to children's broken bodies buried under debris and women and men
torn from limb to limb. The Grim Reaper had been through.

Glassy eyed, I felt my tears burn. What used to be the back ally to
Maxwell's church was a pile of cement and steel. I recalled many times
walking home from school this way and meeting Sister Helen at the end.

But Sister Helen was dead.

I remembered her reaching up to me, touching my face with her battered
fingers. "May God bless you and keep you..." Death took her from me then.
She died for peace.

A part of me was convinced, her and Father Maxwell died foolishly. But then
again, I was the one who stole the mobile suit from the Feddies. I was the
one who led the war to the church.

I clutched her rosary, the fine glass beads slippery in my blood covered
hands. As far as I could see, I was the only one alive.

Everything I touched died.

I killed them with my fear and compulsiveness. If I had believed in Father
and looked for peace, perhaps this would never have happened.

I came out of the alley, eyeing the building foundations I as I stepped out
into the main street. Not one building stood. Fire swept out all the homes,
leaving nothing but burning husks kindling in the night. A cry worked its
way to my throat. I peeped, and dropped to my knees.

Slender half skeletal forms swept the streets, tossing body parts into wheel
barrows, their cloaks fluttering in the night air.

Death....

Shinigami.

Hollow, I stared at the church I had once known and loved so. Nothing
remained saved for a blackened corpse and a melted, steel cross.

"God is dead." I thought weakly. Long tangled hair slipped into my face,
blinding me. "Father said God loved the poor."

I shook, grief grappling my heart. "God loves the Federation. No...Not
Sister Helen's god, not Father's. This is no god."

I looked around the vacant streets, the stench of burning flesh and rotting
corpses assailed my senses. There was only death.

I survived again, when I shouldn't have. I hugged myself, feeling the soft
fabric of my oversized priest's shirt.

It had to be me killing them all. I was a jinx.

A single form stood in the distance. It was dressed in robes and held a
massive scythe.

"Shinigami..." I closed my eyes. "I'm Shinigami."

The image shifted.

I stood in the shower, braid in one hand, a bar of soap in the other. I was
taking a long shower after waking up with Hilde this morning. We were in the
hotel still, and it was an hour before sunset. My mood was sooo good I was
flying. Not even the nightmare got to me this morning.

Cheerful, I lifted the braid to my mouth and continued to sing along with my
radio. I nearly drowned out the Beatles's Maxwell's Silver Hammer with my
own versions and wondered if I should ever attempt it next time Hilde and I
did Kareoke.

When I was done, I turned off the shower and dressed.

The window at the end of the room was open, and Hilde was no where to be
seen.

Instead, a dark figure in a black cloak loomed on the patio. I blinked at
it, curious. "Geee, I didn't think I ordered room service."

It turned to me, faceless cowl staring with burning blue eyes. Startled, I
stepped back, hand groping the bedstand for my pistol.

Death black wings lifted from its back, shedding pale shadowy feathers. In
its dark hand it lifted a scythe from its robes.

Just then Hilde entered from behind as if she didn't see it. "You should see
the sunset, Duo..."

I screamed, but no words were able to describe my horror. The was the only
thing I had to live for... "HILDE!!!!"

It swung at her, lobbing her head right off in a spray of blood.

I lunged across the room, dodging its blow and seizing the scythe with my
own hands. With all my strength, I wrenched it free. The hilt pulsed as if
alive, and I palmed it as I arched it around at the robed demon.

It tried to escape by twisting away.

But I dispatched its head as cleanly at it did Hilde's.

Time froze as I watched the cowled face bounce and roll to the floor. My
heart pounded...

The lifeless eyes staring glassily back at me were my own.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

I thrashed, body straining against unseen hands. Helpless, I tried to forced
my way awake. My brain swam its way up though consciousness, vainly. My eyes
were helplessly sealed and my body too sluggish to respond. I felt myself
sliding back into the void.

The Angel stood on a church hill, a cross and halo hovering over its head.
Six blackened wings lifted from its back, towering over me. Its robes
rustled with no breeze save for the power of the dark energy crackling about
its form. Its delicate hands held an ornate scythe. "Duo...."

I sat on my knees, a child, with my priest's shirt draping my bare legs, and
Sister Helen's rosary clutched in my dirty little hands. Tomb stones
represented scattered plots. Each one was old and moss covered. Some
crumpled to sand before my very eyes.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.... We are all dust, Duo." It said darkly.
Glowing silver eyes shifted down to me. A face I couldn't define formed a
tender smile. "Everything dies, Duo."

Frightened, I looked away. "Father... Sister Helen..."

The death cold voice spoke again, mesmerizing me. "Look at me child. You
have a destiny."

Unable to resist, I peered up. The crucifix hung before me, Christ's mangled
anguished face stared out with dead eyes. "All die Duo."

The form shifted. Christ became Sister Helen and the Priest, then Solo. I
swallowed, watching all those I had seen die in my past appear. "Noooo."

"You are my herald, my son." The Angel said, icy breath breathing down on
me. "That is why you still live."

I tried to stand, but my little legs wobbled so and my arm ached. Reapers
surrounded me, all pushing barrows collecting the bodies in the city.

"No..." Tears spilled down my face and I shook my head.

Davinson's face hung on the cross.

Not for the last time, I cried out, clutching my head as pain plagued my
mind. "No, no, no,no...."

I sat in the Death Scythe, sweaty palms clutching the controls as I targeted
an enemy. Carefully, I pressed the peddles and guided the mobile suit's arm
up. The beam scythe flicked at the corner of my eye. I brought it down...

My child self sat in the rubble before the church's skeleton. Weakly I
stumbled to the single figure standing before the crumpled bell tower.
Bodies were piled up around him like heaped garbage.

The Angel looked down, and took me into his cloak. The Bible and rosary in
my hands tumbled to the ground. I didn't fear the Reaper anymore. I took the
Scythe from him.

It was cold.

*****************

"How is he?"

Voices spoke in the blackness. I tried to move but my arms were like lead.
Something was happening to me. The dream kept rolling into my thoughts, over
and over and I was impotent to stop it.

Again, I tried to lift my body. I realized I lay on my back, legs strapped
to cold metal and arms bound above my head. The sterile alcohol smell reeked
of lab or hospital. A faint tingling burned my forehead and limbs, like
something foreign was alive inside of me.

"He's doing as well as expected." Alexie's voice captured my attention.

I ceased my struggles and listened, hoping I'd get some sort of clue to what
was happening to me.

"One of the techs said he was fighting it." I recognized Heero's voice
almost immediately. He sounded worried.

"Yes he is, but you resisted the treatment too. It will take time." Alexie
responded patronizing. "You shouldn't be worrying about this. You have work
to do, Heero."

A long silence. I heard Heero's feet shuffling across the floor. A warm hand
touched my shoulder and squeezed it. "It's OK, Duo. This is going to help
you. It will stop the madness. I know it hurts, but when it's over, you'll
understand."

Yeah right, I'd understand the same way he did. I'd be Alexie's lap dog. No
way! I tried to open my eyes. I had to speak with him, even if it were just
for a moment. He had to know what images Alexie was using against me.

Alexie was trying to break me, not help me.

"You have to get ready. Ms. Darlian is waiting for you." Alexie said almost
gently. "The ESUN will be meeting soon to discuss negotiations with the
Outer Colonies. "

Outer Colonies? I seemed to recall hearing something about it. Two months
ago, we were contacted by colonies outside of Earth space. It was a big
surprise, because we never fathomed those who left Earth's space survived.
Now, new negotiations were being made for trade and such. I tried to think
of why Alexie wanted Heero involved in the negotiations.

"Are you sure their ambassador plans on killing Relena?" Heero asked, his
voice unsure.

"It's been confirmed." Alexie said. "My clients want you to take him out
before he takes out Ms. Darlian."

What a lame story. I involuntarily winced wondering if Heero was that
gullible. After all, why would the Outer Colonies want their only possible
ally dead? It didn't make sense. No wait. The wheels in my brain spun. I was
a terrorist. Alexie wasn't trying to set Heero up to kill Ambassador (the
name reminded me of a weapon....ahhhh, bingo) Gunn. When I first encountered
Heero, before he stabbed me, he spoke about killing women. It wasn't Gunn
Alexie wanted Heero to take out. It was Ms. Darlian!

I wanted to move. I wanted to open my eyes. I wanted to speak, but it was
like swimming up with no oxygen in my lungs. Helpless, all I could do was
lay and listen to my friend being set up.

Bastard!

"Make sure Duo recovers." Heero warned. "I'll do this one favor for you, but
if he dies, it will be the last."

Thanks a lot. Stupid bastard, he was just as noble as I was. Sort of made me
feel warm and fuzzy all over.

Who was like who? Heero's hand vanished.

I heard more movement and the door hissed open. I gathered Heero left
because Alexie's voice became harsher. "Take him up to level three. I want
him compliant by the time Heero returns."

Just as I expected. Alexie didn't like me very much. Something buzzed and
caused my head to ache. With one more tremendous effort, I forced my eyes
open. At first all I saw was blinding light. After a moment, a room filled
with cabinets and computers appeared. I lay on a table, wires attached to my
limbs and head. A clear IV tube ran from my wrist to a bag suspended over my
table .

Not far away, technicians prepared or monitored various machines. The only
two I recognized were an EKG and an encephalograph.

Alexie stared down at me. He obscured some, then cleared after a moment of
blinking. "Bas....tard." I whispered breathlessly. "You're...setting...him
up."

Come on Heero, come back in and see his true colors, my brain screamed.
Forget something and come back. I'm conscious.

Alexie nodded. "Yes. I'm afraid you're right."

I tried to spit at him but my mouth was too dry. I cursed to myself and
closed my eyes. "What are you doing to me?"

"We're going to process you again, my young friend." Affectionately, he
stroked my hair and cheek. "It seems Heero is unfortunately fond of you. I
did plan on killing the other four, but he may not cooperate."

"Yeah, right, and I'm gonna be your puppy like he is." I murmured
sarcastically. My heart thudded against my chest. I was processed once
before by Professor G, or so Heero claimed, and I had no intention on being
processed again. I mustered my strength and looked him in the eye. "Go to
hell."

The hand in my hair grabbed a fist full of strands and tightened until it
hurt. "You don't have much of a choice my friend. It's already begun." The
man's eyes pierced mine like two points of ice. "You don't understand, do
you?" Amusement made him grin.

I licked my lips. "What I understand is, I'm not going to let you mess with
his brain."

"No, no, young Duo." He scolded me with one finger waving in front of my
face. "You see, the last time you were processed, you lost seven years of
your life. It's an unfortunate side effect, but we can work with it. We'll
just recreate your personality to one that suits us."

The slime. I shivered. There was no way he'd erase me. I clenched my teeth
and sneered at him. "You scum sucking cunt face dick ass...."

"Very colorful" Alexie said. He reached over my head and lifted a syringe
from a nearby tray. Swiftly he prepped it, then looked over to the techs
mulling about the electronic equipment in the room. "Let's get started. We
don't have much time." Then to me, he leaned over and injected the IV.

I instantly felt light headed and dropped my eyes closed. In the distance,
his voice lingered over the darkness. "Sleep well, Duo... my little death
angel..."

**************

"In the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I baptize you."

I stood silently in a pool of blood, my tiny naked form cold and lost in the
vastness of night. The Reaper leaned over me. In his hand he held a chalice
dripping the blood of my victims. Lovingly, he poured it over my head,
washing away my sins, seducing me in the rapture of his essence.

With a moan, I dropped my head back, tongue lapping up the precious liquid.
The Scythe in my hand lengthened and I felt my body grow.

"My herald, my child, you will do my bidding."

Lost, I stared at him. Everything died on me. I had nothing to love but him.
"Father, forgive me...I have sinned...I didn't believe in you anymore." I
pleaded, a naughty boy who deserved to be punished.

He smiled down on me and kissed my lips. "You believed. You just did not
understand. Child, take your place as my own. It is your destiny."

Destiny...

A thundering shook the room. Slowly the image broke up. I was no longer a
child. Instead, I was tied down in the lab once more, listening to the
shouts and cries of the techs.

A siren wailed, piercing my ears as booms rumbled continuously in the
distance. Little by little they came closer, giving my mind something to
grapple with. With an effort, my eyes opened. A man screeched in the corner
as a cabinet collapsed onto the floor before him, scattering vials and
boxes.

I forced a smile, recalling I had an extreme hatred for anyone in the room.
Two other people ran out, terror vivid on their features. "Mobile suits..."
Someone said. "Gundam!"

Gundam... I struggled with the word for a little bit, wondering exactly why
it sounded very familiar.

The remaining tech ran to my side, fumbling a long pointed syringe. "Alexie
ordered your death if something happened. I can't abandon my post unless my
work's carried out." He told me, noticing I was conscious. "Sorry kid."

Not as sorry as I'll be, I thought. "Thanks."

Alexie...

The name brought anger. Unable to move, I helplessly watched him lift the IV
bag and injected the serum into it. Poison. It'd take a moment to reach me,
but I was as good as a dead man. I swallowed. It was a good life, I
suppose...

Overhead, the ceiling suddenly cracked open, raining down debris and
plaster. My captor stumbled away only to be crushed by a girder. Fascinated,
I stared at his pulped form as blood pooled on the floor. It was very red.

I was alone with a poisoned IV bag. Funny though, I wasn't afraid. I just
closed my eyes and waited to drift away or be crushed.

A crunch followed by a twinge of pain trickled over my arm. I turned my
attention back to the bag. It was buried under a collapsing ceiling.

Overhead, I saw sunlight and a massive mobile suit hand prying away the
building around me. Strangely, I thought about being a sardine being pried
out of a large can. I grinned in spite of myself. I was a lucky son of a
bitch.

The form pulled away, but gave me a second to study it. A Gundam, and it was
familiar. White mechanical face, glowing eyes, blue and golden coloration
with two huge scimitars...

"I destroyed them." I thought, having a flicker of recollection.

The chest opened up and a blond haired boy, dressed in a very neat button up
shirt and vest, clambered out. "Duo!!!" He cried. "I'll get you out of there
in a second!"

Who was he?

Quatre...It all rushed back in a wave. I fought in a war with him and four
other pilots, but the war was over...

"Oh God, what the hell happened to me?"

The suit lowered the boy down. In the backdrop, I saw an explosion bellowing
behind him. The others were there too.

"Nice work, kid." I said as he leapt down at my side. "I especially like how
you dropped the ceiling on the IV. Very impressive display of coordination."

He leaned over me, and swiftly unlocked the bonds about my arms and legs,
then together we removed the wires. "Are you all right?" He asked, concern
on his face. He helped me to stand. The motion made my head spin.

"Oh? Me? I feel fine now. Just fine, just woozy."

He smirked. "Where's Heero?"

I shook my head, confused as all hell. "Heero?" A face came with the name
but it took a bit to boot up. Heero was why I was there. "I...don't know."
In the corner of my eye, I spied a bag I recognized. Despite Quatra's
objections, I stumbled over to it and grabbed it from the demolished
counter. Quickly, I rummaged through it. In it was my Bible, Sister Helen's
rosary, my clothes, my long braid and my crucifix. My memory started to
flicker back. I traced Heero here and got kidnapped myself. I felt a little
better now. "Let me get dressed."

"We have no time. Besides, I've seen naked men before." Quatra said. He
would. I eyed him a moment (I often wondered about Quatra and Trowa but I
never let my mind go any further with it). He grabbed my arm once again and
led me towards the suit.

It was warm out, so I wasn't very cold, even though I was in the buff. It
was just the embarrassment. I clutched my bag tactfully over my waist as we
stepped onto the mobile suit's outstretched hand. It lifted us to its chest
unit, where Quatra took his place at the controls and I quickly donned on my
priest's collar shirt and black pants. I added the crucifix out of habit.

Something prevented me from touching my Bible and Rosary. My eyes moistened
with tears. My soul, my spirit, didn't feel right. Shaking my head, I sank
down to the floor. Why did I feel so contaminated?

My hand hovered over the items as if they would burn it, then I closed my
bag. "What took you guys so long?"

"We wanted to hit the right facility." Quatra said, guiding the suit to a
stand. "What happened to your hair?"

I shrugged. "A new look I guess." I ran my hand about the shoulder length
locks and wondered exactly how I lost it. Oh yes. The images materialized in
my mind. The man named Alexie cut it. "I lost it in a fight."

"I'm sorry." Sympathy reflected in his huge watery eyes. "But it does look
very nice."

"I know, I know, or will if I do something about it." Quatra was a
kind-hearted soul. I liked him a great deal. "Right now, I don't want to
think of the hair." It was an open wound still.

"Understandable." He replied. "Let's get you home."

Home, it sounded good. There I could collect my thoughts. I hugged my knees.
A moment later, I drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

And for the first time in a long time, I did not dream.

****************

I wasn't sure when we arrived at Quatra's base of operations, but I was
still in no shape to speak with anyone. It was effort enough to walk
unaided. Without argument, I let Quatra take me to a guestroom, undress me
and tuck me into bed. There I slept for some time, grateful for the
blackness and comfort of soft pillows and warm blankets.

The sun woke me as it crept across the bedclothes and into my eyes. Wearily,
I squinted, taking stock of a small but elegant room with a large window
overlooking a massive desert oasis and all the other comforts of home.

Hilde sat on a chair beside me. "Hi'ya."

"Hey, girl, you okay?" I asked weakly. My mouth was dry. I licked my lips
and yawned. Yesterday, I had forgotten she was there. My memory cleared some
with sleep. "Did you have any problems getting out of there?"

She shook her head. "I was very worried, Duo, but I got away like you asked.
They did send a Cancer after me, but Wufei dispatched it very promptly."

Good old Wufei was always ready to save a helpless damsel in distress. I sat
with some effort, though no pain, and struggled to lift the pitcher at the
side of my bed. Hilde's fingers closed about mine and together we poured me
a glass of water. "I got it." I told her.

"You need to rest more. Let me take care of you." She said warmly.

I winked at her, liking the notion of having a lady like her tend to my
every need. "As long as I can return the favor." I said. "You know, be your
slave for the day."

"It's a deal." She brushed her hand though my hair and tickled my ear. "It's
not bad looking Duo. I like your hair like this."

Ouch. I sighed and looked to the window. I was getting used to the lack of
weight pulling at my head. "I don't know if I like it." I said softly.
"Sister Helen fought so hard for me to keep it."

"Sister Helen is dead, Duo. It's time for you to let go of the past." Hilde
always knew how to drop the bombs.

Irritated by her bluntness, I met her gaze. Tears stung my eyes. I clumsily
rubbed them. For years, I believed I let go of my past. Yet, perhaps she was
right. I clung to Father and Sister, convincing myself I was a good Catholic
when I was really a hardened atheist.

I was frightened without their God.

I clutched the sheets and heaved in a sob. "No Hilde. Maybe it was like that
in the beginning, but not now."

My near death experience changed everything. I did believe in Christ. I did
believe Sister Helen and Father were in a place better than this one. In
many ways, I felt their presence strong with me, but I missed them miserably
and didn't know how to express my love for them. I leaned into Hilde, crying
some.

Her warm arms held me close and she rocked my form like a caring mother
would her favorite child. "It's OK, Duo. It's over with now. You'll be fine.
I'll take good care of you."

"You'll just die." I said coldly. "Everyone dies... Ashes to ashes, dust to
dust. Everything I love and touch turns to dust. I'm the Angel of Death..."

She slapped me.

Some of the deep depression assailing me was replaced by shock. "Hilde?"

"Stop that nonsense, Duo! You're so goddamned obsessed with death. Let it
go. I don't plan to die on you. Haven't you ever thought, with your
lifestyle, it will be the other way around?" Her own tears trickled off her
cheeks. "I mourn you every time you take off on some half assed mission with
that psycho friend of yours."

Shamefully, I clutched the blankets about my waist. Boy, did I feel
immature. "Death is my life, Hilde." I said quietly. "I can't let it go."

"You haven't tried." She replied firmly.

She was right. I never did really try. I was so used to things dying on me
and killing, I forgot how to live. Even when I became a priest, I hadn't let
it go. I was just running from it without facing it and dealing with it.
"Why is it you drop these things on me when I'm in the middle of a mission?"

"I'm your girlfriend. It's my job to fill you with anxiety." She smirked.
"Duo, I love you more than life. Let's go back to L2 as soon as you're well
enough and get married."

"This isn't over." I said to her honestly. I tensed for an explosion, but
got none. Her face pouted and she looked down. "Hey, I do want to go, Hilde,
but I have to finish here. The people who did this to me are still out
there."

"You'll never change." She said coolly.

"No, not when it comes to that." I kissed her.

Helplessly, she fell into it, whatever misgivings we had were forgotten. I
slipped off her blouse and tenderly kissed her chest. To my surprise Hilde
nudged me away and began to kiss my chest.

Then she stopped. "Duo." She said, voice just above a whisper. "It's gone.
Your wound, it's healed."

"What?" I just assumed it stopped aching when I escaped the lab, then forgot
about it entirely when I woke up to see Hilde. Stupidly, I blinked down at
my chest and abdomen. Only a faint pink scar remained across my belly.
"How?"

They didn't have me long enough to heal the wound. In fact, it should have
been worse. Confused as all hell, I stumbled out of bed and grabbed my
clothes. Whatever the process was, it must have sped up my metabolism. I
looked in a mirror noticing how my hair was just past my shoulders rather
than just above them. "Oh shit... What did they do to me?"

Hilde rubbed her arms, worried. "I don't know. If they're alive, we should
make Doctor G look at you."

"Yeah, if you can find him or any of his mad hatter buddies." I grumbled. I
had my doubts Doctor G and his colleagues were alive, but it was easy to let
Hilde hope. "Well, might as well get some rest, honey, while I break the
news to the others."

Hilde leaned back, head touching the pillow gracefully. She smiled,
reminding me how sexy she was and how very little she had on. "You may be
Frankenstein, but you're my Frankenstein, Duo."

I growled my best Boris Karloff imitation, then forced myself to fight my
savage raging seventeen-year-old hormones in order to get out the door.

**************

"Feeling any better?" Trowa asked as I entered the living room of Quatra's
condo.

"Considerably." I replied. "But that's the problem."

I came down the stairs freshly showered and dressed in a loose T-shirt and
shorts. My energy had returned and I was very hungry. Hilde stayed up the
night at my side and I was grateful she slept now. I didn't want her to
worry anyway and it was time to debrief the others.

The entire team was there, glued to the TV set as the screen flashed images
of a smoking Romefeller installation. Trowa, held up a nearby wall, studying
the screen, while Quatra sat at a little table by the window with tea and
fruit on his breakfast plate. I smirked, and shuffled across to the couch
and plopped myself beside Wufei. The Chinese boy glanced at me as if
studying me, then returned his gaze to the TV.

I waved back at him smugly. "What's this? No culture. It's Saturday morning.
I'd at least expect to see the Loony Toons on."

"You would." He said rather flatly. "Did you find Heero?"

He was right to the point, as always. "Yeah, I did." I replied. I tapped my
head. "I'm not clear on the details." I sighed and stretched my legs out.
"But give me a little time."

In general, the place was impressive with elegant Victorian furniture and
heavy velvet curtains. The best part was the television. It covered a wall
and all I could think of was watching a few old movies and lots of Bugs
Bunny on it. Then again, I was seventeen going on seven when it came to
entertainment.

I reached over to the coffee table in front of me and grabbed an apple from
the fruit bowl on top of it. Boy I was starved. "You got the package and
everything?"

Trowa nodded. "Very detailed. I'm a little disturbed by the information."

"Humpf." Wufei grunted. "Nice to think we've been lab rats all of our
lives."

Quatra shook his head sadly. He stood up and held his violin under his chin,
poised to play. "I suppose it doesn't matter. We're people now."

The sweet melodies of classic violin sang accompanying the TV. Quatra was
troubled, I thought. He often used music as a release. I crunched my apple.

"Sure, but to some people out there, we're a run away experiment." I
devoured the apple quickly and tossed the core into a wastepaper basket
across the room. It rimmed the edge, then tumbled in. "Ten points!" I
announced, with my fingers raised in a victory sign. I ate three more
immediately after.

"You're so bad." Quatra scolded affectionately. "And a pig too."

I shrugged. "Someone has to be. Mr. Psycho isn't here. Besides, I'm a
growing boy." Then I lifted my shirt and showed my belly. "By the way, I
took a bad hit from Heero. See that nice little pink line? It nearly killed
me almost three weeks ago. I tore it back open four days ago. Funny how the
little boo boo is all better, isn't it."

Wufei folded his arms and closed his eyes. He leaned into the couch
cushions. "So it seems our enemy has turned you into a superman, eh?"

I shrugged and pulled down my shirt. "Don't know, but they did have me in
their lab, and they did reprocess me, whatever that means."

"They were attempting genetic mutation activation, I think." Trowa replied.

"English please?" I said. Still hungry as a bear, I looked about the room,
snagged a servant and asked for two steaks and a very large order of fries.

Patiently, Trowa waited until I was finished, then continued. "I did a
little poking after I got Heero's journal. Apparently, not only were they
stimulating your brain, they were also trying to chemically manipulate your
DNA."

"Ok, they doped me up alot and gave me a mind woogie, but I still don't get
it." I scratched my head, cursing myself for not studying the files more
when I had the chance.

"Are they trying induce genome evolution?" Wufei sat up startled and wide
eyed. "Impossible."

"Makes sense." I shrugged.

"The problem is, we're failed experiments." Trowa continued. "Yes, our
senses are heightened, and we're faster than normal, but we're still
basically human."

"But they wanted us as bio-weapons." I said. "I remember reading something
about the highest bidder."

"Enlightened beings on a leash would kill if designed to do so." Trowa said
darkly. "And I think that's what they did to Heero."

I nodded. "I know that's what they did to Heero." I leaned on the end table,
chin in my palms. For a long time, I just watched the TV screen. Two
reporters sat behind their desks, yakking wordlessly. Quatra must have
turned down the sound. Behind them was a building and several figures. The
words ESUN Conference and Outer Colonies flashed on the screen. Something
familiar gnawed at my unevolved brain. "Hey, aren't you going to that,
Quatra?"

The little blond at the end of the room shook his head. "No. I blew them off
to rescue a friend." He looked at his watch. "Don't have much time to get
there now anyway. Besides, I want to avoid the questions about the new
Gundams."

I inhaled and buried my face in my palms. I rubbed my eyes and blinked up at
the TV. "Oh yeah...the Gundams. Why did you rebuild them anyhow? It wasn't
to save my sorry little ass."

Quatra abandoned his violin and joined Wufei and I at the couch. He sat on
the arm. "No. I had them started when the Outer Colonies ambassador arrived
some time ago. I had a feeling we might need them."

"Hmmm, a connection?" Wufei asked, interested in our conversation. "Duo, you
know something. Out with it."

A very faint image of blackness and voices haunted me. I closed my eyes,
trying to hear them. A pressure headache throbbed above my brow and I rubbed
my head. "Ummm...." There were two voices, one was Heero's and the other
was... A flash of anguish clutched my brain, making me screech out. Numb and
aching, I made my eyes open and directed my attention on the three faces
staring vexed before me. "Oh, Christ help me..." I dropped my head into my
hands and pulled at my hair. "If it didn't hurt so, I could think..."

"Duo?" Quatra's features appeared in front of mine. His gentle hands touched
my arms. "Concentrate on me."

I tried to stare deep into his blue eyes, but my vision blurred more and my
strength was waning. The pain continued to expand like an atom bomb blast. I
slumped forward and shook my head. "Trying, but I feel like it's gonna kill
me."

Trowa's hands roughly lifted my face to his. "Duo, clear your mind. Forget
about the questions, just blank your thoughts. Now."

His calm controlled voice sounded very hypnotic. Unable to fight it, I
relaxed. I tried to blank my mind by closing my eyes again and riding the
pain. I let it overtake my thoughts, then used it as a white noise to a
background of nothingness. Slowly it ebbed away until nothing but a trickle
remained.

"Duo?" Wufei spoke. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I think so." I waved to him, exhausted. "I guess they did do the
whammy on my brain."

"I've seen it once before." Trowa shook his head miserably. "It's called an
Azerial block."

"Azerial? Isn't that the Angel of death?" I asked curious. It would be
ironic.

Trowa nodded. "Yes. It's designed to kill whomever it's used on if they
threaten to break their conditioning."

Exasperated, I punched the couch. "Swell, just swell." God was avenging me
for attacking those poor flamingos. I shook my head, devastated. What use
would I be brainwashed. "I think I'm cursed."

"Not cursed. You just did something very st..."

"I know, I know, I know, I was a stupid bull headed ass. Don't rub it in. I
smell the manure already." I cut Wufei off, frustrated.

Relena's face appeared on the screen, smiling and chatting to a reporter.

Everything crystallized. Watery eyed, I stared at her, unable to speak. I
swallowed. Heero was going to kill Relena.

How could I word myself without dying. Fancy Death trying to avoid
himself.... I bit my lip. "Relena." I began. The pain started to grow. I
shuddered and rubbed my brow. "Relena reminds me of the Road Runner..."

"What?" Quatra blinked stunned.

Trowa cocked his head, puzzled and Wufei stared like I was utterly cracked.

"Yeah..." I smirked. "Imagine her and Heero in a Road Runner cartoon, except
Heero is Wil'E Coyote." I hoped to God they'd understand. It was the best I
could do in my condition. My head buzzed and pulsed because of it.

"You're insane," Wufei said impatiently. "You sound like one of my Zen
Masters."

"Tao of Bugs Bunny." I said without hesitation. "Maybe all Zen masters have
an Azerial block."

Trowa lifted a brow and nodded. "Perhaps they did." He stood up, and stuffed
his hands in his pockets. "Well then my friends, we're off to ESUN's
conference hall. We have to stop a friend from dropping an anvil on the lady
he loves."

*************

It didn't take us long to ready ourselves and leave Quatra's base in the
three finished mobile suits. We were armed and ready, but my thoughts
drifted away from battle. Hilde insisted on coming. So instead of meditating
and preparing myself for fighting Heero, I sat worrying about her, sure the
side of me who was the Angel of death would destroy her like everyone else
in my life.

Deep in anguished thought, I fell asleep.

Again, I didn't dream, but I was too wiped to worry about it.

A second splitting headache woke me from a sound sleep. It was different
than the last. Rather than feeling like I had a bomb expanding in my skull,
this one felt like a loud noise in my head. It buzzed and thumped, blinding
my vision. With the pain came images and feelings of Heero being nearby. I
thought I saw him with Relena. She kissed him and he looked off balanced by
it.

"I'm here to protect you." I was seeing through his eyes and soul. It was no
longer cold to her, but there was still something very wrong.

"I'm glad. I love you..."

He said nothing.

I opened my eyes, groaning and complaining. "He's in my head..." I grabbed
my bag and fumbled with a bottle of pills in the front pocket. After the
last episode, Quatra insisted on me taking them along. I downed five
Ibuprofin and settled back into my huddle. I rubbed my temples.

"You don't sound too well." Quatra said from the controls. "You alright?"
OK?" "Peachy." I responded. "I feel like a lab rat."

"You were, silly." He smiled back fondly. "You look very pale."

"I feel it." I pressed the back of my head into the wall and tried to clear
my mind. "Quatra, sometimes I feel like he's in my head."

"Heero?" Quatra asked. "I know what you mean. I felt that way with him once.
He was first hooked up to the Zero System and I was fighting him. Most of
the time though, I think I can sense or feel Trowa, though he doesn't know
it. We can discuss it later though."

"Yeah." I licked my lips and let myself relax. The Zero System had many side
effects, but none of them lasted when we abandoned it. The pain hadn't
eased, but I had to rest. I didn't like what was happening to me, nor did I
understand it.

I was processed a second time. I had to discover what it meant. Trowa would
have to show me what he discovered on it.

Processed. Heero called it the dirty word of the week.

"Damn, Heero, I'm confused." I shivered and let myself drift off again.

*********

By the time the pain eased up, we had arrived. In no time, the group of us
were pushing through the crowds in an attempt to reach the embassy.

"Coming through, coming through!" I shouted on the top of my lungs. "We have
a very important delegate trying to reach the embassy!" I waved and pointed
to Quatra as Wufei bullied his way through people and cleared the path as we
walked. A moment later, Trowa leaped over the crowd control barriers and
spoke to the security guards. Without objection, they let us by and even
sent an escort to the ESUN headquarters.

Despite the danger, we knew Relena would never stop the negotiations. They'd
just beef up security and look for Heero. Lady Ann and the Preventer's were
heading the search. But he was good, and I knew no ordinary guards would
find him.

We sprinted past the main doors, Trowa and Wufei tied in the lead. Quatra
and I dragged behind with Hilde in tow. The hall was huge, the ceiling domed
with golden plates and paintings of angels and clouds overhead. Red velvet
curtains trimmed the columned halls and large woven tapestries hung
impressively on the walls. I had to slow down, just to admire the vastness
of the hall. You could fit a mobile suit in the foyer, and boy it was
jammed. Delegates and their assistants milled about, conversing with each
other before the great meeting. There must have been close to two hundred
souls in the room, many representing different nations in space as well as
Earth. I craned my neck and noticed an extremely tall and wide individual
carrying a water glass.

Ambassador Gunn.

I smirked amused, they actually managed to settle a heavy gravity world.
Boy, were they built like tanks. I'd hate to grapple with a guy like that.

"Quatra! You go into the meeting hall. Hilde, stay here and make sure Duo
doesn't go into the conference room!" Trowa shouted. He bounded past the
conference hall doors and up a set of stairs. Wufei followed taking a second
parallel stairwell.

Quatra forced Hilde and I to a grinding halt. "What the hell are you talking
about!" I shouted at them. "I can't stay here!!"

Hilde placed a hand on my arm and tried to ease me close to her. "Duo, it's
for your own good."

"That's right." Quatra replied, looking about the hall. "Let's go to the
delegates' chambers. I have a dressing room. You can wait there for us."

I felt cheated. I tightened my fists until my knuckles were white. Angry, I
stood fast, not wanting to move. Only I could find Heero. They had no right
to treat me like a child. Heero understood me and only I could stop him.
"Quatra." I said sharply. "This is a mistake."

"It's going to be all right, Duo." He said leading us down to a door at the
end of the entrance. Wood carved vines and flowers trimmed the frame adding
an earthy look to the seemingly gaudy hall.

Sweating, I adjusted my priest's collar and pulled out my crucifix. "Damn
it..."

"Relax, Duo. It isn't your mission any more." Hilde continued in an attempt
to ease me.

Relaxing was out of the question. My body felt tense on the edge of
excitement. I had prepared myself for action and the high threatened to take
me. Adrenaline, to me, was the best kind of stim and my body almost always
produced excess amounts of it.

I was hyperactive.

"Heero will only listen to me." I said. "They need me."

Quatra turned a corner and we came to a series of well secured doors. The
place was loaded with cameras and guards.

"Damn." I folded my arms, distracted for a moment. "This place is tighter
than Wufei's ass."

Hilde slapped my arm and Quatra jerked to a stop, giggling. "You're so mean,
Duo. Honest, but cruel."

"As I said, I'm making up for Heero, the other tight ass." I pranced in
place and looked about noticing where the air ducts led and the locations of
each surveillance device. No wonder Quatra wanted me to come down here. "Hey
Hilde, can you fetch me something to eat?"

The woman stared at me exasperated. "You mean, four steaks, a tray full of
fries and an entire pizza didn't fill you up?"

Weakly I shrugged. Recently, I had an unending appetite. "Yeah. If you can
find me a few hot dogs..."

"They won't have that here." Quatra said, pausing at a door. "But you might
find him some quiche or something at the concession stand upstairs at the
entrance."

"Quiche?" I moaned. "Fluffy eggs with pastry and milk? I don't know about
you rich guys, but I'd like to have some substance. Meat, meat, that's what
I crave."

"More like nitrates." Hilde said flatly. "I'll see what I can do." We kissed
on the lips, but I kept it short and she trotted back the way we came.

A part of me felt relieved she was gone. She'd at least be safe from me.

"You are eating a little more than usual, Duo." Quatra started to say.

Alexie.

The boy's words blotted out of my mind as I caught a glimpse of the man's
short waisted uniform and piercing blue eyes as he brushed by and rounded
the corner after Hilde.

Unable to speak, I bounded off after him, body quaking with vibrant amounts
of energy. I would have my chance. In the distance I faintly heard Quatra
calling me, but I kept going. My vision focused as if in a tunnel. All I
could see was him and his leering smile as I floundered on the floor, bloody
and shamed by his cruelty.

"ALEXIE!!" I bellowed on the top of my lungs. I whipped my pistol up and
cocked it. "STOP, RIGHT NOW BEFORE I BLOW YOU TO HELL!!"

To my surprise, he stopped and turned to me.

The world twisted into slow motion. Our gazes met. He had no fear on his
face. "Hello, Duo. I see you're here for phase two."

Phase two? My hands shook as if I could no longer hold the gun. I squinted
and steadied myself. "It stops all here. Your plans are over." I replied.

He smiled mockingly at me. "Are they? You can't kill me, Duo."

I pulled the trigger.

My fingers wouldn't budge. It was like my body froze. My heart pounded as if
trying to escape from my chest. I tried to pull it again, but those burning
eyes just wouldn't let me.

Alexie advanced until his face was close to mine. I felt his breath against
my ear. "My little Reaper, you're mine. It's too late for you."

Sickened yet drawn by his voice, I kept his stare. I swallowed, the gun
dropped to the floor. "Why can't I..."

"Ashes to ashes, Duo... Remember, ashes to ashes..."

Feathers drifted down into my vision slowly at first and a light bloomed
before me. Alexie vanished and in his place the Angel stood. I stumbled,
pain blasting all over my body. With a scream, I collapsed to my knees,
holding my head. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, rang in my mind. The world
around me became a grave, and I, a helpless child, staring at the demon
inside of me.

Awed I touched it, no longer caring what happened to me. Everyone I ever
cared for was gone. The benevolent God I wanted to love so didn't exist. Not
for me. My soul was contaminated. I sold it to the devil.

It was my destiny. We joined hands and fused together. I became it, a dark
vision of the miracle I waited so long to see as a child, blackened ash
wings and a heart of uncaring ice. Life no longer held any meaning. My only
remaining purpose was for the blood of my victims. There was no more pain.

"Your destiny, my herald. Go, do as you are ordained." The being within me
spoke. I opened my hands and palmed a perfect ebony cylinder.

Cold, my limbs, my mind, everything became unbearably cold. I held the thing
tight. With a thought, it lengthened into a pole and a blade burned into
existence at it's end. Fascinated, I studied it, understanding the truth of
my fate.

I survived all these years because I was the Reaper. I lived for Death and
Death didn't discriminate.

Lovingly I stroked the weapon. The Death Scythe was only a reflection of
what I really was.

"Very good, my beloved child." Lips touched my cheek then slipped to my
mouth. "My dearest Death Angel."

A second later, I was in the hall. Quatra stumbled around the corner, horror
and concern in his wide eyes.

"Duo?!"

I cut him swiftly across the abdomen with the scythe. His blood splattered
across my face and against the walls. With a gasp of bewilderment, the child
crumpled to the floor.

**********

Heero

I set up my sniper rifle on the balcony overlooking the great satin
curtained stage. Here, I had a clear view of the meeting hall. The high
ceiling was supported by buttresses and carried the sounds of the chattering
people up to me clearly. At one time, this building housed a great symphony
and was considered the best sound stage in the world. The hall was immense
and the rows of red velvet seats lined narrow walkways. People filtered in
and seated themselves in various assigned spots.

For two days, I paced the great hall studying its every expanse. I knew
every nook and cranny, every curtain rod and sand bag. I familiarized myself
with the lights and the seats. Nothing in the room surprised me. It had five
exits, one back stage and four in the seating arena. Two double doors were
the entrance, and two smaller ones near the stage. There were five hundred
seats in the area, and fifty actual delegates. The rest of the observers
were translators, bodyguards, assistants and reporters. The total population
of the room would equal two hundred and fifty.

Dropping a bomb was out of the question and poison was too risky. I had no
choice but a hit and run.

The main council sat up front with Relena's aides and the outer colonies'
ambassador. According to the meeting outline, Relena would give an opening
speech, then introduce Ambassador Gunn. When he came on stage, I'd have a
clear shot of his head and chest. I capped the gun with a silencer, so I
would have a good chance of escaping before being spotted. I planned to
scale down one of the ropes rigging the curtains and slipping out into the
back stage where I'd escape via the back door. I had roughly two minutes to
do so after firing.

Carefully, I eased the rifle and set its scope on the stage podium. The
lights began to dim on schedule and Lady Una stepped out. Dressed in a fine
silk dress, she graced the stage with delicate beauty and spoke softly to
the room of foreigners. A wave of accented languages washed over the crowd
as translators interpreted her words.

I blocked it all out of my mind and focused on my weapon. The pommel dug
into my shoulder, making me one with the gun. I paused, a finger over the
hammer and waited.

And waited.

Relena Darlian stepped up on stage after a round of applause.

As always, she appeared perfect. Her dress was white and her hair tied
tightly in a bun. A jeweled hairpiece glittered under the intense stage
lighting. She walked up to the podium and smiled genuine adoration to the
crowd. "As we all now know," She began. "We are no longer alone..."

My vision bathed in red.

A woman's scream echoed in my mind. Blond hair and angelic features blurred
as I tightened my finger on the trigger.

My mission...My heart slammed relentlessly against my chest and my head
ached. Something was driving me to destroy her.

It was she who ruined me. She gave me conscience and was responsible for the
deaths of millions. I clenched my teeth remembering how Relena used her
false innocence to distract me from my work.

"HEERO!" A foot connected with the rifle in my hand and sent it soaring
across the floor. Taken off balance, I stumbled, my back striking the soft
curtains behind me.

Trowa landed cat like on the banister, his slender legs ready to spring once
more if necessary.

"You can't stop me." I said to him coldly. "The bitch must be terminated."

"Not so fast, Heero Yuy." An icy cold katana blade touched my adams apple.
Steel unswerving eyes stared at me. Wufei edged the sword closer to my
throat. "I would not do something I'd regret if I were you."

Out of the five us, next to me, Trowa and Wufei were the most dangerous.
Wufei was highly skilled in hand to hand combat and a black belt in multiple
forms of martial arts.

Trowa was an acrobat and an expert in all guns and knives. I eyed him
carefully, noting six hidden throwing stars and two knives hidden on his
person. His pistol was leveled between my eyes.

Unlike Duo or Quatra, they'd kill me if they could.

I didn't have Wufei's skill in hand to hand, nor did I have Trowa's level of
speed and agility. I did have skills comparable to them both, but not as
good. What I did have over them was one hellish constitution and the
strength of ten men.

I also didn't feel pain.

And in a rage, nothing could stop me.

In a blink, I dropped down faster than they could follow and kicked out
Wufei's legs. Trowa came after me, flipping off the banister and swinging a
roundhouse at my head. I dodged him and slugged him in the gut as he landed.

Wufei's sword sliced though my shirt, nearly cutting my spine in two, but my
brain registered the blow milliseconds before it came. I slipped out of the
path, feeling the shave of steel scratch my back. I felt a faint trickle of
blood.

Swinging around, I grabbed the katana with my hands. Its edge bit, but I
held fast, and steered Wufei into the curtains. I sprang a knife to my palm
and flicked it to the curtain rod, slicing though the rings holding the
great folds of fabric. They plummeted down, covering Wufei for the moment.

Trowa was on his feet again, and I felt the sting of one of his throwing
stars. It thudded into my shoulder, spinning me off balance. The acrobat
laid fists on me three times before I returned his blows with a kick to the
groin.

A gun blast buzzed by one of my legs.

Wufei was up again. This time he had my rifle. "Heero, we are not here to
kill you." He said coolly. "But of you continue to be disagreeable, I will
gladly do so."

He wouldn't hesitate.

Trowa was recovering from my kick and down below, Relena's voice echoed
through out the hall, oblivious.

"Heero, Duo is with us." Trowa said, straightening painfully. His dead eyes
only mirrored his pain for a few moments, then returned to his glassy
lifelessness.

None of us knew fear.

No, except for Duo and Quatra, and I resented them for it.

They were more human than I was.

My mission had to be completed. I lunged for Trowa. He'd still be weak from
my last attack.

Instead, the youth side stepped me, and dug one of his knives in my side.

I bit him.

He returned the favor by slamming me in the nuts.

The pain was brief and suddenly I didn't care for anything anymore. Sheer
rage drove me to pound Trowa's head into the banister. I felt the butt of a
gun meet with my shoulder. Effortlessly, I seized it and drove its muzzle
into my assailant's face.

Kill, kill, I wanted blood, their blood. How dare they interfere with the
mission.

Pain, more anguish that I could imagine hammered into my brain, causing me
to recoil. I gasped, and slumped to the floor. Within an instant, both a
battered Wufei and Trowa pinned me down to the floor.

My head screamed.

Fire, ice, blackness. I found myself staring blankly at Alexie as he stroked
my face, a warm, but mocking smile across his hawklike features. He touched
his lips to my ear. "My Dearest Death Angel..."

"Duo." Everything shifted out of focus. Duo was in danger. Something had
taken his spirit, the part of him I admired and hated the most, and twisted
it.

"ALEXIE...!" I thrashed under the arms holding me. I refocused on the two
faces staring at me with a mixture of fear and concern. "Where is DUO?!" I
demanded.

"He's fine." Wufei said sharply. "What sort of trick is this?"

"He's not alright!" I said, urgently. Never in my life had I sounded so
frantic.

"It's not Duo whose trying to kill the woman he loves." Trowa said
tightening his grasp on me. "But I must say, you sound a little stressed."

"Kill Relena?" Confused I stopped struggling and tried to rehash what had
happened to me. For some reason I failed to recall why the others had
attacked me. The last few moments were gone from my life. "Oh Christ."

"I think he's back." Trowa said to Wufei.

"I don't trust him."

Good job, Wufei. I could always count on him having a level head without a
gushing heart. I smiled thinly. "I was trying to stop the Colonial
Ambassador. He's planning on killing Relena."

"No, Heero." Trowa said firmly. "You were trying to kill Relena and you
nearly killed us when we tried to stop you."

Me, kill Relena? I stared past the brown haired boy my gaze quivered, awash
in the overhead lights. A shadow seemed to cross the rigging over the stage.
I closed my eyes. What had happened to me. My behavior was akin to the time
I nearly killed Duo...

"Alexie."

"Is that the name of the pig who did this to you?" Wufei spat.

I nodded. I was too numb to think or feel anything about being betrayed by
Alexie. In a way, I expected it. The only thing I was worried about was Duo.
"I'm going insane."

"From what I understand, you won't go alone." Wufei said.

"Can you control yourself?" Trowa asked gently.

I looked around, knowing I could easily over power them if I lost my mind
again. "Yeah, now that I know about it."

Wufei glared as Trowa released me and stepped away. "We're already dead if
he loses control." He informed, walking to the banister. There he picked up
the gun he had lost and shoved it into his belt.

Wufei still kept his sword aimed at my throat. I made no objection. If
Alexie was really controlling me, I'd be better off dead. "I felt Duo." I
said, mouth dry. I couldn't explain why my feelings were so strong, but the
connection was there. It was thinking of Duo that snapped my brain back
under my control. I shoved my hands in my pockets, not sure what to do. I
could easily run off, my instinct drove me to do so. But I did that last
time, and landed myself into the hands of the creep responsible for
brainwashing me in the first place. That is, if Duo was right.

"You feel Duo? What do you mean?" Trowa asked. He eyed me uneasily, trying
to read my posture. He doubted me some, but at the same time, he knew I had
impeccable instincts.

"He was in pain. Screaming in his head...Alexie was with him." I rubbed my
neck. "I can't tell you when or why it happened, but very recently, we've
become sensitive to each other. I think it's a result of the process."

"I don't see Quatra in the room..." Trowa observed. Just a slight hint of
color faded from his complexion.

A shout, followed by countless screeches, brought me to the rail. Something
cloaked in black descended down from the catwalk above the stage to land
just behind Relena.

I caught a glimpse of pure white silver energy.

Before anyone could move, a scythe, arched up.

I leapt over the banister and plunged forty feet to the stage below. I
bounded into Relena, shoving her across the stage, and rolled, just as the
scythe sliced through my shirt and burned a trail across my back.

The blare of guns echoed in the hall as countless security guards fired at
the form in the center of the stage. I flopped to my belly and stared as it
stumbled two steps back and deflected several shots with the weapon in its
hands. The cowled face reflected pasty white, and the body was unhindered by
the valley of fire riddling its frame. A brilliant green glow flickered
around it as it stepped toward Relena. Anyone in its path was quickly gutted
and tossed aside with monstrous strength. The ordinary schmucks nearby moved
like molasses in comparison.

"Shit..." I squinted. No one else seemed to see it, but I did. Bright
glowing black energy ribbons seemed to emanate from an ethereal winged form.
"Grim Reaper..."

The image faded as Trowa and Wufei joined the skirmish on the stage.

Vaguely I heard Relena's voice demand the firing to stop as we took over the
battle. Wufei in front slashed down with his sword and Trowa struck it in
the back with a hard swift kick. I watched fascinated as the scythe spun
around, the pole blocking the sword, then whizzed up to crush into Trowa's
hip.

"This is my fault." I whispered. Out of the corner of my eye, Relena
struggled to stand with the aide of Lady Una. The older woman had given up
on firing at the relentless death spirit.

I had to work fast. Duo saved me from doing something I'd regret for the
rest of my life. I owed him a big favor.

Trowa lay on the floor, clutching his leg, while Wufei skidded into the
podium, blood spraying from his lips.

Both Death and I moved at the same speed and at the same time. I threw my
body between it and Relena Darlian as the energy blade hissed though the air
and into my gut.

I seized the pole in both hands, and despite the pain, plunged it deeper
into my belly.

The momentum dropped the cowl from Death's face.

Duo's lifeless blue violet eyes glowed golden from a mane of long unkempt
hair. The only emotions on his face was a manic grin as the blade burned
into my body.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..." I began. I did not believe in
his god, but I prayed Duo would hear my voice.

I saw a flicker as agony rimmed his spiritless gaze. "Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art
with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Tears filled his eyes as he
became aware of me.

"Thou prepareth a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.

Thou anointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and
mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house
of the Lord forever.

"Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust. Everything I touch turns into dust..."

"Duo."

"Oh Christ, what have I done?!" Quaking, his voice whispered as he awoke
from his walking sleep. "Jesus, my soul...What have I done?" Duo scanned the
room and the horrified faces of those around us.

Behind me, Relena sobbed.

I let myself grin and sink slowly to my knees. He was himself for now,
though I did not know for how long. The blade in my gut vanished as I slid
to the floor. Little blood showed, save from the initial stab. My wound was
cauterized, but I knew I had internal injuries. "We're even now."

"Even?" Duo sank down with me, his lungs gasping with tears. Hysterical, he
clutched his head, and began to screech like a banshee.

Safe now, security flooded the stage and took the boy by the arms. He didn't
fight. By the look of his hollow grief worn gaze, he'd hang himself when he
got the chance. I tried to reach for him, but Relena took my hand instead
and pulled me close. "Heero? What's happening? Why is Duo trying to...?"

"It's not his fault... It's not his fault...." I whispered, pressing into
her warm breast. "All I wanted to do was find out my real name. That's all I
wanted. Why did he have to suffer?"

"He won't suffer now, Heero. None of you will. I'll make sure no one is hurt
and you'll make sure we understand everything that has happened." She looked
over to Lady Una who nodded. Just rest now. It's all over."

The world darkened and I let the blackness take me away.

**********

"You know, I really thought you were dead." I said flatly for the second
time to the scientist before me. It was rather surprising to find both he
and his colleagues survived the explosion at the end of the war.

Doctor J smiled. "You should know better than that, Heero. A good mad
scientist always has an escape plan."

I shook my head, amused. Somehow I had missed it, but I was rather happy he
was here. After all, only he and his colleagues would be able to fix Duo and
I up.

"You're healing very well, Heero." Doctor J said while he studied my chart.

I sat on an examining table with nothing but a pair of shorts on and a
bandage about my waist. It took twelve hours of surgery to knit my body back
together, and even so, I lost one kidney and a great deal of my large
intestine. Duo did a rather impressive job. I had to admit, I liked him
better on my side. I was bedridden for a week, but with a little
stubbornness, I was up and moving. I was recovered enough to move around,
though trapped in the confines of the psychiatric wing of the hospital.

The others were recovering. Duo shattered Trowa's hip and Wufei broke six
ribs. Quatra suffered from burns across his chest and belly. The boy lost a
piece of his lung and spent most of the last week on an oxygen machine. From
what I understood, he was just removed from intensive care this morning.

Duo wasn't doing very well. He hadn't spoken to anyone or eaten very much
since his breakdown and last night he tried to commit suicide by hanging
himself with his bed sheets. He was now in solitary confinement, a kinder
word for the rubber room. I was disturbed by the thought, remembering how
Duo never dared to show any depression. Morbid as he was, he acted as if he
had all the hope in the world. I looked at my hands, remembering how many
times I had attempted to die and failed to do so. It was sickening to have
Duo following the same path. I sighed and studied Doctor J. "How long am I
stuck in the psycho ward?"

"I don't know. It's going to take some time to deprogram you." Doctor J
informed, scribbling down something in his files. "You're recovering very
well, you might be strong enough to have the second procedure."

I exhaled. Alexie had placed a device in my skull, and from what Doctor J
claimed, it operated similarly to the Zero device when activated. Most
likely, Alexie's people captured me, put the thing in my brain and processed
me before letting me go. My first mission was to kill Duo, then eventually
the other three. I, of course under the influence of the Zero System,
thought I was going insane.

In reality, it controlled me and turned me into a heartless monster again.

I touched my skull behind my ear. There was already a bandage wrapped around
my head where Doctor J examined the device and deactivated it. "Are you sure
you can get that thing out without killing me?"

Doctor J clasped my head with his good hand and turned my face. "Of course I
can. So boy, what were you trying to prove and was it all worth it?"

"I know my name." I said flatly. Ashamed, I looked down, then up at him with
anger. "You knew who I was all along. You knew about all of us."

"Yes, all of us did. It was necessary. But none of us planned on processing
all of you to the extent Alexie wanted." He crossed the room, the apertures
of the cybernetic eyes contracting from the sunlight. "After the first
procedure was completed on all of you, and most of you, save for Quatra,
lost your memories, it was decided the rest of the procedure wasn't
necessary. So we..."

"But I remember some. Odin..."

He waved me to be silent. "You remember things Odin and I wanted you to
remember." He yawned. "Now, where was I?"

"The procedure. The Flanagan Process." I reminded with a dry mouth. I
recalled reading about it when Alexie convinced me he had the cure to the
madness the procedure induced. "What the hell were you all trying to prove
by using a two hundred year old experiment on us?"

"We need perfect soldiers." Guilt clung to Doctor J's tone. He kept his
attention to the window. "When I received word from G that little Duo had
run away after the procedure, I almost stopped. I realized then what it
would do to all of you."

"But of course you couldn't." I slipped off the examining table and hobbled
to the chair where my T-shirt hung. I slipped it on, then grabbed my crutch.

"The Maxwell Church Massacre on L2 made it imperative we continue. So I did
what I did to you." His cold cyborg gaze met mine. Doctor J smiled fondly.
"I remember how innocent your eyes were, Heero. You became my perfect
soldier."

"Yeah." I limped to the window and watched the sunlight flicker though the
leaves of a nearby tree. "Perfect soldiers."

"For the perfect weapons."

"I should kill you for it." I said, keeping my hatred at bay.

He put a hand on my shoulder. "But you can't because I know how you tick, my
boy, and without me and my colleagues you'll all suffer."

He almost sounded like he regretted it. "And the insanity? Alexie wasn't
treating that, was he?"

"He was in a way. The process depletes the brain of vital chemicals that
maintain mental stability. Most of the patients who undergo the procedure
become schizophrenic. Alexie used the Zero device in your head as a double
edged sword." A flock of birds settled on the branches of the tree below.
Doctor J watched them for a while before speaking again. "When he needed it
to keep you stable, the device stimulated the centers of the thyroid to
generate the proper chemicals. When he need you to kill, he deactivated that
function and had it shut down the parts of the brain that controlled your
reason and conscience."

If the Zero device was the only thing keeping me sane, presently I wasn't
sure whether I wanted it removed. I leaned my back against the window and
looked down to the floor. "Let me guess. Neither function will work without
the other."

"You're very bright for a compulsive stubborn boy." Doctor J replied. "I
have come up with a chemical therapy for you and Duo. It should stop the
seizures you've been having as well as keeping your minds clear of any other
side effects of the Flanaganization."

"Like the link?" To be honest, I'd be sorry to let the link go. It was
rather comforting to have the little bastard in my head. I pushed my hair
from my eyes. It had grown some when the Zero device in my brain sped up my
metabolism, but it wasn't long enough, nor did I take enough damage during
the activation to make much of a difference. Duo on the other hand was
activated for about fifteen minutes and in constant action. I still didn't
believe he healed most of his gun shot wounds before they took him to the
hospital.

The Zero devices had their advantages.

"I'm afraid so. I don't think you boys are ready for becoming the next step
in human evolution." Doctor J smiled. He reached out and touched my head,
affectionately. Even though I disliked the contact immensely, I kept still
to humor then man. "Don't worry. It will be like taking insulin or other
related drugs. You'll recover in time. I'm more worried about the
brainwashing myself."

"So am I." I nearly killed Ms. Darlian and hated Alexie and his handy work
for it. I didn't dare go near the girl because of it. The only reason I
hadn't left the hospital to hunt Alexie down was the fear I'd just snap into
assassin mode and go after Relena again. I folded my arms and closed my
eyes. "Alexie had me for almost four months."

"Truthfully Heero, it may be a year before you're out of here." Doctor J
sounded sympathetic.

I had no intention on being in the loony ward for a year. "Well I guess it's
better than being a homicidal maniac."

"I'd say so, but then again, I'm mad in other ways." he said with a maniacal
grin.

I took one long look at the funny long haired man. His obvious cybernetics
frightened me as a child. Now I was actually used to him. In a way, he was
like a father to me. Yes, he did take me as a child and turned me into
something I despised, but he had his reasons, and in a way, they were very
noble. "You don't need to remind me."

"I'll arrange it so you can speak to Duo and perhaps the others." Doctor J
said, surprising me. "But tell me first, do you feel any different now that
you know your real name?"

I shrugged. I hadn't thought about it. Until now, I scarcely remembered the
name list. My name was Akira Yuy, but my parents were not mentioned. But I
had my suspicions. Odin often hinted at my relationship with Heero Yuy, but
I never remembered enough outside of knowing Odin to confirm it. "No, but I
never thought I would. I just couldn't close that chapter of my life without
knowing who I was."

"And now that you know, what are you going to do."

I inhaled and blinked at the sunlight. It was like coming out of a cave for
the first time in my life. It didn't matter I was the son of Heero Yuy.

"Now I can start all over again.... and when I'm ready, I 'll go to Relena.
After all, it's where I belong."

************

Duo sat in the corner of the room, white strait-jacket binding his arms. His
long light brown hair oozed sloppily over a bandage around his head. He was
deathly pale and his rich blue eyes were dull. They stared blankly at one of
the cushioned walls.

I paused in the doorway, looking at his face. His thoughts were muddled and
pained. The link between us was still strong. I knew it was the only
advantage I had over the doctors for reaching him. So for a couple of hours,
I chose to be an enlightened being, forgo the drugs and put up with the pain
and seizures for Duo. I squinted, realizing how strong the despair was in
his presence. It resonated though our link relentlessly, making me feel like
I was drowning in his torment. I placed a hand on a wall and hobbled in
without my crutch.

My journey was short. I picked up a few of his thoughts. It hurt a little to
read him, but I pushed myself anyway and eaves-dropped. Yes, he hated
himself and he was confused, but he didn't really want to die. He feared he
had no soul. Duo was convinced he'd go to hell.

"Hey." I abandoned the wall and clumsily hobbled across the padded floor.
"You suck as a homicidal maniac. You have no imagination." I stopped in
front of him, carefully noting how he didn't move to look at me. His
thoughts ignored my presence. He wasn't listening. "I'm still alive, Duo. So
is Relena. You're not cut out to be a real killer."

Glassy eyes continued to stare. He was incredibly thin, just a shell of the
guy I remembered. I licked my lips, hating what I saw. I insisted on
claiming he was like me, but in fact he was nothing like me. We were
opposites right down to the very music we listened to. "You also rot at
being a mental patient. You can't even commit suicide right. You should go
back to being a priest."

His eyes closed and he made a strange gurgling sob in his throat. He heard
me. He was just being stubborn. Duo wanted to wallow in his grief.

I dropped down to his level and eased myself to the floor. I wasn't very
good at expressing my feelings and wasn't sure how to go about telling Duo
how rotten I felt he got sucked into my crusade. I bit my lip and watched
his face.

When he opened his eyes, tears rolled down his cheeks. "You couldn't do any
better in the suicide department."

"That's because there was this asshole named Duo Maxwell who kept on getting
in the way." I replied. Awkwardly, I dropped a hand on his shoulder, then
lifted it to his chin. "I never thanked you for it either."

"That's because you're the asshole." He met my gaze, weak voice cracking
from lack of moisture. "I'm sorry...I don't know if I know who Duo Maxwell
is any more."

Alexie stripped him of everything. I touched his cheek, then removed my
hand. He lost his innocence, and himself. "I'm going to kill him for both of
us, you know." I said as my lip tightened.

He shook his head, his hair bobbing as he did so. "Damn it, Heero. Don't you
know when to stop?"

"Yeah, but you're hurt, and it's the only thing I know how to do." I looked
at him puzzled to as to why he appeared displeased with me. Duo knew my best
skill was as an assassin. "I lied when I told you, you were just like me."

"But you were right, weren't you?" He heaved in a shaking breath, his chin
dropping to his chest. "I killed." His mind zipped though images of death
and the last moments of his rampage as the Grim Reaper. It wasn't the
actions bothering him. It was that fact he enjoyed it.

"Quatra, Trowa and Wufei are fine. Ok, you greased a few guards, but it's
nothing compared to what I did. You'll have to work a lot harder if you want
to compare yourself to me." I folded my arms and tried to look as uncaring
as possible. Duo was comfortable around me that way. "So let's stop this
self punishment bullshit and get on with your life."

He drew his knees up and buried his face within them. "It was like dreaming.
I was Death, Shinigami...I had to kill. I enjoyed it....I..."

"Alexie screwed with your brain. He just used your fears and pain against
you." I scolded. How could I make him understand, none of this was his
fault. "You were being controlled by a Zero device in your brain."

He reached up to his head and touched a bandage there. Unlike me, Duo was
well enough to under go the difficult surgery to remove the device. "It made
me..."

"It changed your brain chemistry and turned you into a psychopath." I
explained. Relief relaxed his features. His mood lightened some. "Come on
Duo. This role reversal thing has got to stop. I think I've done more
talking in these last few minutes than I have the entire year."

He laughed and shook his head. For a moment, the Duo I remembered looked
back at me. "You were always such an dick. I was damned happy hiding in my
delusions at the church."

"Yeah, but it wasn't what you wanted. You only did it because Father Maxwell
wanted you to become a priest." In truth, I wouldn't have come down on him
about it, if I realized he really wanted to be a priest, but doing it out of
penance was down right wrong to me.

"I did it because it was the only way to wash my hands of death. I was sick
of death, OK?! I hated myself! I wanted to be free of what I had become."

He shouted, then his voice dropped into a whimper. Duo fell against me
crying.

I wondered if I had pushed him too far. Stupidly, I touched his face, then
wrapped an arm about his shoulder. He quivered and sobbed for some time.

When he finished, he pulled away.

"Are you done being a cry baby?" I asked, but remembered to keep my voice
from its habitual sarcasm.

Duo shrugged. "I'm willing to listen to reason."

"Good. Let them help you and leave the suicide business for the real
cuckoos." I said.

He cocked his head and wiggled a little, trying to move his hands. His mood
definitely changed. He wanted to be helped. "I'm sick of this thing."

"That's a start." I was happy he responded to me. "Now let me apologize. I'm
sorry I dragged you into this. You're my closest friend. I know I don't show
it, but I don't want to see you hurt."

Started, Duo smiled. "But I..."

"It's not your fault, it's Alexie's. And if you want to, I'll wait until
you're out of this joint before I track him down. Then we can both kill
him."

He nodded and turned so the straps of the jacket faced me. "It's a deal. "
He looked over his shoulder, eyes wide and wet. "Now, I've got a real bad
itch..."

********

Duo

Heero and I talked for another hour. He acted more openly to me and often
admitted his feelings. When I asked about it, he mentioned the link and said
I'd know when he was lying. We had a several chuckles and at my request, he
removed the strait jacket.

Happy to have my arms free, I stretched and walked about the room. I even
did a few tumble saults and full body falls. Heero thought I was behaving
like a little kid. I just decided rubber rooms were kind of fun. They were
sort of like a large stunt mat.

I was sad to see Heero go and even more disappointed the medicine to keep us
sane would destroy our link. So once more, I slouched on the floor and tried
not thinking about the last few days.

Faint voices spoke outside of my room. Stretching, I stood up. My belly
growled and I felt very weak. This fasting deal had to stop. I'd ask the
fellow guarding me to get some food and hopefully he'd fetch my doctor as
well. With this on my mind, I walked over to the door and peeked out the
barred window.

A tiny man with a huge head of mushroom cut gray hair and a schnoz to match
stood before my guard speaking in quiet tones about my condition. I sank
down to the door, tense and unsure what to do. The man lied to me all my
life and in truth, he could have prevented a great deal of anguish by being
honest with me.

"Did Mr. Yuy speak to young Maxwell?" The man's voice asked.

He was alive...

He staged my life.

He set me up to stow away on the sweepers' ship.

He let Solo and so many others die in order to make me Death.

"YOU GOD DAMN MOTHER SUCKING, CUM EATING SCUMBAG!" I screamed on the top of
my lungs. Furious, I slammed my body against the door several times in hope
I'd get their attention. If I was lucky, I could break out and throttle the
little creep.

"Oh dear, yes, I do think that's him now." Doctor G sounded amused. "A loud
one, isn't he? I've always been pleased with his spirit."

"I'll TEAR YOUR HEAD OFF AND EJECT IT OUT THE FUCKING AIR LOCK WHEN I GET MY
HANDS ON YOU!" I wanted him dead again and didn't care if it meant I'd spend
the rest of my life doing somersaults in a rubber room. The man had to pay
for his sins.

"He's berserking." The guard sounded worried. I heard him moving away from
the door, no doubt to summon a few hospital thugs to take me out with
tranquilizers.

Doctor G laughed to my great dismay, unaffected by my bantering. "You don't
need to call for any help young man. The boy is harmless. He just throws
quite a temper when he's upset. In fact, I do believe the boy's quieted
himself now. I'd let him out in a few hours when he cools down."

I froze and slumped against the door, weary and frustrated. Every time I got
up the guts to smear the guy, he'd say something rather heart warming or to
my advantage. Angry, I folded my arms and pouted. A part of me hated the
man, while the other liked him a great deal. Sure he destroyed my life, but
he was just doing his job, right? I shook my head and chuckled. I'd deck the
fucker when I got the chance, do a little colorful cursing, then put it all
in the back of my mind. No one could change the past and killing would never
bring those I loved back.

Especially Father Maxwell or Sister Helen. "Damn, I hate having a
conscience."

Well, at least my life was returning to normal.

**********

The new room had a window overlooking a vast courtyard with trees and a
small pond. In the distance, mountains stood like purple giants. You
couldn't get a better view anywhere. "Never thought I'd have a room with a
view in the loony bin." I thought, plopping onto the bed. There wasn't
anything sharp in the room and most of the chairs and furniture were bolted
down.

I sat down near the window on the corner of the bed and looked out at the
flower garden and shrubs below. It was very peaceful and right now, my brain
craved peace.

I took a deep breath and rubbed my brow. Shortly after leaving the padded
room, I had another headache and was forced to allow Doctor G to inject me
with the serum Heero told me about.

I didn't know what I disliked more, the headache or the foggy fuzzy headed
sensation the drugs induced. Doctor G said I'd get used to it and warned me
to stop the stims and whatever other drug of the week I used to keep myself
going. I agreed, promising myself I'd keep my act clean like it was when I
tried to be a priest.

It would be very tough. A street thief gone terrorist was a hard act to
forget.

Then there was Alexie. His programming made sure I'd be locked up until I
was free of his influence. The only problem was he used a part of myself
against me. Even though I didn't like the idea, I had to face the fact I was
all along as loopy as Heero. A part of me really believed I was a death god.

I tried to hide from it when I became a priest.

But I couldn't hide from it now. I brushed my hair from my shoulders and let
it dribble down my back. I hadn't bothered braiding it when I showered this
morning. I just brushed it out and let it hang. In many ways, it symbolized
the loss of my innocence. I'd never be able to go back to being exactly who
I was. Alexie scarred me forever.

I didn't believe Heero when he said we had nothing in common. I was a killer
just like him, and soulless as well.

I just had to learn how to live with it.

I strayed a glance to my cross and Bible on an end table near the bed, then
closed my eyes against tears. I failed Father Maxwell too many times. I
could never bring myself to disappointing him again.

I could never be the man of peace he wanted me to be.

The miracle I witnessed when I died had very little meaning now. Alexie
destroyed that too. I wasn't even sure whether it was real or not. What I
did know was I was empty inside.

"I understand you had a very bad week, Duo." Father Donaldson's voice said
from the door.

I opened my eyes and wiped a tear from my cheek. "Father? What are you doing
here?" I went to stand, but he gestured for me to remain seated.

"Well you see, I got myself a new Harley and wanted to try it out. It's a
nice little antique and took me about two weeks to put the thing together."
He crossed the room and picked up my Bible and cross from the end table.

I smirked. Father Donaldson's down to earth nature always comforted me. He
often reminded me of Father Maxwell. "So...You came all the way from Boston
to Japan to tell me this. A very long trip for a bike, isn't it?"

He sat down beside me and peered out the window. "Nice view."

"A bit too nice if you ask me. I'm sure I'll loose my mind if I start seeing
basket weavers out there." I motioned a circle at the side of my head with
my index finger. "Your bike's in good shape. Quatra has it as his place in
Saudi Arabia. I'll have him get it back to you as soon as he is well."

"I wouldn't worry too much about it. The bike is yours." He dropped a hand
to my shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. I went to speak, but he shook
his head and continued. "I remember when I first met you, what, two years
ago?"

I folded my hands on my lap and twitched my fingers uncomfortably. "Yeah,
about that...It was when I first arrived here on my mission."

"Yes, I'll never forget you, Duo. You gave me my sister Helen's rosary,
asked me for the names of your contacts here."

"I remember." I felt so small then. I stepped into his church, knowing I
didn't belong and not daring to admit to him I no longer believed in any
god, save perhaps for death.

"You were a pistol. Just like Helen described. She loved you very much,
Duo."

I shrugged. "I loved her." I wanted to cry, yet I was too numb to do so.
Besides, I let go of Sister Helen a long time ago. "What's the point."

Father Donaldson placed the Bible on my lap and closed my hands around it.
He encircled the crucifix around my neck. It dropped onto my chest. I went
to remove it, feeling like I was unworthy of its very presence. "Please
Father..."

"You had half of soul then, Duo. You traded it to protect the colonists. I
thought it was very noble of you to sell yourself to the devil for all of
us."

"He still has my soul." I said softly. I still heard Alexie's voice echoing
in my mind. My little death angel... I shuddered and involuntarily clutched
the book in my hands. "I don't think I can ever escape it."

Again he squeezed my shoulder and his soft gaze held mine. "Duo, only you
can save your soul. God forgives us every time we sin. Every life you've
taken, every lie, every broken promise, every stupid little thing you steal,
it's all forgiven. That's his job. The only one condemning you to hell is
yourself."

I fingered the pages in the book, listening to Father Donaldson. Father
Maxwell would say the same thing, if he were alive. If Christ was who he
claimed to be, he'd forgive any stupid sin we mortals dished up. If he
wasn't, then everyone on the planet would burn in hell.

Ok, so my soul wasn't condemned, but I couldn't forgive myself for letting
Alexie control me.

But then Heero said that wasn't my fault either. Alexie played on my
weaknesses. I bit my lip and rubbed my eyes. I was running out of excuses
for staying angry at myself. "Forgive me Father, I have sinned..." I
whispered, voice cracking from the guilt ridden tears spilling down my face.

"Is this a confession, Duo?" Donaldson asked kindly.

I nodded. "Yeah, a big one."

"I only expected as much."

For two hours I recapped my life, starting with the Maxwell's Church
Massacre, all the way past the flamingos and Alexie. When I finished, I
sobbed for twenty minutes, very unsure where my faith stood or who the hell
I wanted to be anymore.

Patient as always, Father Donaldson sat and listened. When I finished, he
embraced me.

I had to say seventeen Our Fathers and do some community services for
penance. Other than that, Donaldson seemed very proud of me.

In his younger years, he would have toilet papered the flamingos too. But
then again, he's a priest with a Harley Davidson fetish.

After we were finished, I felt much better. Sure, I hacked my friends up
with a scythe, but they'd forgive me. I was under the whammy when it
happened. God only knew how many times we've tried to kill each other just
on principal alone. It wasn't anything new.

I stretched and thanked Father before he left.

Together, we walked to the door, I in my jeans and tank top, he in his
priest's collar and leather Harley jacket. "We're going to miss you at the
church, you know. Miss Goodrich will have no one to accuse of cheating at
Bingo."

"Yeah, well, I can do without that, can't I?" I shoved my hands in my
pockets, feeling a little more like smiling.

"I suppose." He dug into his jacket and handed me a piece of paper. "When
you're ready, I have a friend in South America who's looking for someone
with your talents to help run a little missionary. Look her up. It isn't
much, but it will qualify for a community service."

Making a pout, I opened the paper up and scanned it. A Sister Rose needed an
assistant with a dynamic persona to help her and a Father Marcus to tend to
a village of war orphans. I shot a glance up at the priest, realizing he
gave me an offer I couldn't refuse. "I was a war orphan."

"You'd fit right in." Father Donaldson said, opening the door. "There is a
catch though."

"Oh?" I folded my arms, wondering what he meant by catch. "I avoid catches
like the plague."

"You can't lie on the resume. I strongly suggest you tell them everything.
They might find it very interesting."

"What, that I'm a terrorist? I thought this was a job as a preacher. You
know, a deacon of sort."

Amused he shook his head and walked out of the room. "Of a sort, Duo. Go and
find out when you are well. I think it will be good for you. You'll learn a
lot about life." He waved farewell and vanished down the hall.

I thought of following, in hope to have a few questions answered, but the
security guard at my door put a halt to that with a hand and ushered me back
into my little room with a view. I'd be going no place until they determined
my conditioning wasn't a threat to anyone.

Oh well. I looked back out my window and noted three figures weaving
baskets. My head swam dizzily. "They're coming to take me away, ha,ha, ho,
ho, hee, heee... To the funny farm....Where life is beautiful all the
time..."

It was going to be a long stay.

*************

Heero

  Duo was recovering and I was relieved. It was better things were back to
normal. In case of an emergency, all of us had to have our heads on
straight.

I sat down on the floor and crossed my legs. I was tired but couldn't sleep.
The last few nights were bad for me and I was restless.

Relena haunted my every thought. I despised myself for trying to harm her
and wondered if it would ever happen again. I formed tight fists sensing my
rage growing. My journey into self-discovery led me to a position forbidding
me to obtain my object of desire. My mission had failed.

I'd never be able to face or spend my life with Relena.

"Heero." Her voice drifted into the room like a mourning dove.

I opened my eyes and saw her standing at the door, pale face worn and
saddened. "Doctor J said you never wanted to see me again. Why?" Tear filled
eyes blinked back anguish.

I breathed deep and exhaled slowly. I always lost my reserve around her.
"Relena. I was programmed to kill you. I'm not safe..."

"And you were safe before?" She asked folding her arms. "Heero, I've become
quite accustomed to you trying to kill me." She said bravely. "It's no
different this time."

"Is it?" I came to a stand and walked right up to her. "I had no control
over my orders. I was conditioned to destroy you. I might not be able to
stop myself next time."

"Doctor J thinks we can deprogram you and Duo in time." She was admirably
courageous.

I suppose that was why I loved her so.

Our gazes met, but I didn't dare soften mine. Her spirit was strong when
mine resisted her. "You shouldn't be here."

"Well I am." Relena crossed the room and sat on my bed. "And we need to
talk."

"About?" I hesitated before going to her, but finally my heart and curiosity
won out. I joined her on the bed and let her take my hands. "I love you."
she said. "And I want you to stay with me."

"I don't feel comfortable." I said honestly.

"I know, but I can give you a job. You can help me during my negotiations. I
need a good terrorist in case of a conflict. Please Heero. I need you. Let
Lady Anne, Sally and Wu find Alexie."

I needed her too, I just didn't know how to say it. I folded my arms and
looked down, not sure how to express myself. "I can't give that up. He hurt
too many people. He tried to kill you. I can't rest until he is gone.
Besides, I hurt everyone I touch."

"I'm willing to take that risk." Relena was firm. She kissed my lips to
ensure I understood her feelings. Even if I said no, she'd keep bothering me
about it. She was as persistent as she was lovely.

Thoughts of Alexie and his twisted plans vanished in a wash of warm tingles.
I'd worry about revenge later. What mattered now was Relena. I let my finger
trace down her long golden locks and fondly stroked her face. It was soft
and electric to the fingers. "And I suppose you'll bother me until I give
in?"

"As always." She said warmly. "How about it? Will you help me?"

It couldn't hurt, especially if it was after Doctor J and his people
finished deprogramming me. I returned her kiss. When I pulled away, her
cheeks were blushed.

Funny, it was my first real kiss. It felt good.

In fact, it felt better than succeeding with a mission.

Duo was right. Girls were interesting.

Well, Relena was at least. "OK, but don't ask me to fall in love. Not yet."

Her gaze glittered as she looked over to the window. Her life was precious
and it meant more than life itself to me. "I don't need to, Heero." she
began. "You already are."

There was no reason to fight it any longer. I eyed the floor, then met her
gaze once more. Our relationship had been less than perfect in the past. "I
should kill you for that."

"I'll be ready then." We kissed once more and I leaned her into the
mattress.

When we pulled away, I smiled and for the first time in years felt it. "I
know. That's why I keep coming back."

Maybe it was possible for me to find peace. It was time to give it a try.
Relena was the perfect place to start. After all, I knew who I was. I was
Heero Yuy.