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He tugged on the collar of his shirt and smacked his elbow into the gyrostabilizer, hard. Again. That was the third time in the last half-hour. Then again, he was wedged in under the forward control console of his cockpit, his back curled into an awkward curve as he tried to replace the secondary power coupling. He could usually complete this repair in under an hour; record time considering the cramped quarters and delicate wiring one had to work around, but today was different. He just couldn't concentrate.

It wasn't any warmer than it had been in the last few days. The weather was fine, better than fine actually; there wasn't a cloud in the sky. They were safe at a Winner family stronghold, for the time being anyway, under no risk of enemy fire or surprise attack.

He couldn't understand why he was having so much trouble concentrating on what was normally such a simple task for him.

Swearing liberally, the boy slid out of his twisted position and flung his chestnut braid over his shoulder. He dropped the wrench on the deck plating and picked up a clean rag, meticulously cleaning his fingers of the lubricant and grease from inside the cramped panel.

The boy sighed and rubbed the back of his hand across his weary eyes, serving to smear a trickle of oil across the bridge his nose. Oh well, he thought, I can get back to this later. Right now my stomach tells me that it's time for breakfast.

The young man stripped off his black overshirt and flung it over his shoulder as he walked back to the main house of the large Winner complex. He had been up before dawn, restless and jumpy but without really knowing why. In order to work off some of that energy that no doubt would have woken everyone else in the house shortly, he had come out here to repair and tweak his Gundam, his beloved Shinigami.

He knew that his teammates viewed him as an irresponsible chatterbox, a vapid youth who only piloted a Gundam because he had some skill, and for the most part that was all right with him. He usually hid behind his joker's mask of words and cheerful smile, never letting anyone get too close to the hurt soul he kept hidden behind his smiling violet eyes. No, he had lost too many people that he had cared about in his short life already. If he opened his heart to any more he would only lose them as well, but he knew it was already too late. They were there already, worming their way through walls he had once thought impenetrable. One more so than the others, one with dark spiky hair and deep blue eyes.

As he opened the door to the kitchen he sighed, and blinked. The others were gathered around the table eating breakfast and reading the latest reports. All heads turned as the door opened and the boys all blinked in surprise at the sight of Duo not only awake before the sun, but looking like he'd been busy for quite some time.

"Ohayo," he started cheerfully, easily slipping into his old familiar mask even though something was nagging at the back of his brain.

Quatre lifted his golden head, bright eyes shining in the light, and graced Duo with a warm smile. The Arabian was probably the only one of them who didn't hide behind some manufactured mask. He had undoubtedly known his share of personal pain and simply didn't feel the need to disguise his feelings.

"Ohayo, Duo," the blond returned with his customary manner and friendship. Duo smiled back. He just couldn't not smile in the face of such, such… innocence. The boy next to the blond lifted his one visible green eye and nodded in his general direction then returned to skimming the report in his hand.

Duo sighed and shook his head, accepting the silent brunette's customary greeting with a slightly wider smile.

The Chinese boy poked his head above the open door of the refrigerator and narrowed his eyes before returning to his search for the milk. With something that sounded like a muffled 'A-ha,' he emerged again, black hair pulled back into his customary low ponytail, and set out preparing a bowl of cereal.

"Morning to you, too, Wu-chan." Duo smirked as the other boy's shoulders stiffened slightly. The American just couldn't resist teasing him sometimes… it was just too easy.

"Maxwell." Wufei turned his dark eyes to the braided pilot. "You are awake early this morning. Awake and busy." The corners of his lips twisted into a small smile as he cocked his chin in Duo's direction.

"Aa," he replied cautiously, crossing his eyes as Wufei lifted a napkin to his cheek and swiped quickly. He spotted the grease that came away with it and blushed, scrubbing a clean hand through his dripping gold-shot bangs. "I couldn't sleep." The last was quiet, much more subdued than the usual bouncy Duo.

That got Heero's attention.

The cold, cobalt eyes snapped up from the screen of his laptop and narrowed as he studied the slender black-clad pilot, noticing for the first time that Duo's usual black shirt was slung over his shoulder. He was wearing a thinner white shirt which showed off more sculpted muscle than one would have suspected at first glance at the pale boy. The bright violet eyes looked somewhat troubled.

Heero, not one to display emotion freely, sighed inwardly as Quatre asked the inevitable question.

"Oh? Is there something wrong Duo?"

The braided pilot cast his glance over his shoulder back at the blond at the table. He sighed and fiddled with the end of his incredibly long silken rope of hair. "I don't know." He replied finally, catching the open refrigerator door and reaching in to grab a cold soda, popping the tab. The boy regarded the can in his hands for a while and began pouring the fizzy liquid into a glass, slowly and at an angle to prevent too much foaming.

Heero paid close attention, his cobalt eyes surreptitiously studying the American from over the screen of his laptop.

"I feel like I'm forgetting something, somehow. Something important." His tenor was quiet and his bright, expressive eyes seemed distant, something that disturbed Heero to no end.

Quatre quirked an elegant dark blond eyebrow and made a speculative sort of noise. "Perhaps there was something you were supposed to do today. A mission?"

Duo shook his head, straggling bangs sweeping back and forth over his wide eyes. "No, nothing for about week or so. No reports due yet, either. Its just… something… I can't put my finger on it, though." He looked up at the gathered pilots at the table; Wufei now seated between Trowa and Heero, consuming his cereal.

"Today is Wednesday, right?"

Quatre nodded. "Aa, Wednesday, the fifth."

Duo started violently and clutched his glass; head snapping up, violet eyes wide and pained. As though trapped in slow motion the fragile glass shattered in the boy's hand and soda and blood spattered on the clean tiled floor.

The gathered pilots jumped at the sound of the breaking glass and Heero had to physically restrain himself from rushing to Duo's side, Quatre beat him there anyway, Trowa close behind. Wufei looked the American over with something that approached concern in his dark eyes.

"Duo? Daijobou? Daijobou desu ka?" Quatre placed a gentle hand on Duo's shoulder and felt the knotted muscles jump beneath his fingers. His eyes widened and he swept his bright blue glance around the room at the other pilots, worry written in their depths. He squeezed a bit and was rewarded by Duo turning to him, but the light in those wide violet eyes was wild and spooked and little too bright.

The slender American seemed to come back to himself and he blinked rapidly, furiously trying to clear his eyes of some annoying wet haze he couldn't identify.

The blond pilot's concerned blue eyes penetrated him and he shivered, perceptibly.

"Daijobou?" Quatre's alto was soft and fuzzed, and he could feel the waves of anguish emanating from his young companion; he could feel it in his Uchuuno Kokoro. It was taking a great deal of effort not to press the palm of his free hand against his chest to ease the pain. He blinked and noticed the blood seeping through Duo's tightly clenched fingers.

"Duo! Let me get the first aid kit and we'll take care of that."

Duo looked confused and so Quatre pointed to his fist. The violet eyes blinked as he watched the red liquid pool through his fingers and spatter irregularly to the floor. He hadn't even noticed the sting that began to creep through his palm when he'd crushed the glass.

The American looked up and met the concerned gazes of his fellow pilots and stopped when he locked gazes with Heero. The Wing pilot's eyes were burning; soul-fire licking the pools of cobalt as he regarded his longhaired partner with barely concealed worry.

That look rocked Duo to the core. Heero was always so strong, he was the one who never noticed his own pain, yet there he was displaying, to a small degree, concern for his partner, for him.

Quatre stepped away for a moment and returned with a first aid kit that had been tucked under one of the kitchen countertops, he already had it open and was rummaging through it for antiseptic and gauze. He noticed that Duo hadn't moved and still had his amaryllis eyes locked with Heero's.

The young blond flicked his glance between the two reading something that passed between them with his heart and he had to hide a small smile that threatened to quirk the edge of his lips. Now was not the time, Duo had his mind elsewhere at the moment. Just how far away became evident the moment Wufei stepped closer to the boy.

"Maxwell?" The black eyes narrowed as they studied the slender boy with the chestnut braid that dangled past his hips.

Duo whirled around as though he'd been shot, pinning Wufei with an unreadable look scrawled across his elfin face. His lips moved, repeating one word a few times before it whispered through the air, loud enough to be heard by the gathered pilots.


The braided boy choked back a whimper of some long-thought buried pain and ran out, the kitchen door banging open as he pushed through it, and tore through the house intent on getting out.

"Duo!" Quatre's worry-laden shout followed him out across the lanai, but still he ran.

The boys left behind in the kitchen exchanged confused glances, save Heero, who still had his gaze fixed on the door through which Duo had bolted.

Heero had finally caught a glimpse behind Duo's mask of jokes and witty comments and bright laughter and realized that he'd had his own share of pain, perhaps more so than most of the others in the room. He realized that he had to revise his opinion of the pilot of Shinigami, the boy was more than he seemed, and he simply let on to keep his pain to himself.

He turned his head and watched Wufei come to the same conclusion as something flickered across those black eyes.

The pilot of Shelong felt the burning gaze on him and turned to find Heero staring at him, but the hard blue eyes softened when the Japanese boy turned back to the door. He watched as Heero sat back down at his laptop, eyes more determined than ever and began typing away furiously.

He could hear the whir of the hard drive as it obeyed Heero's commands, running some search protocol at top speed.

The high-pitched noise also caught Trowa's attention, and where Trowa went Quatre was not far behind, and vice versa. Soon three pilots were glancing over Heero's shoulder as he searched the global databanks for information on the Maxwell Church. With Duo's reaction he was certain that his problem stemmed from something connected to the church from which he'd taken his name.

He was not disappointed as a number of articles came back for his request for 'Maxwell Church,' but only one of them could have been the cause of what they had just seen.

"Maxwell Church destroyed by mobile suit forces, only one survivor."

* * * * * * * * *

Oh God.

He could feel the burning behind his eyes but the tears just wouldn't come. He hadn't cried in… he couldn't even remember the last time he'd actually cried. It hadn't been that day. That day. Something had stopped him from actually releasing the tears that had quivered at the edges of his eyes. It had been the sight of her, her blond curls spilling out beneath her habit and her wide eyes open as she looked upon his small, dirty form crouching next to her. Her whisper of love and regret as she'd died in his arms.

He hadn't been able to let her go. The local authorities had had to remove his arms from around her neck as he'd curled up against her, begging her to get up. He still hadn't cried.

He hadn't been there to save her, or to save Father Maxwell. He had been out jacking mobile suits from a local outpost, rewiring their engine components, and making a general mess of things for OZ. He'd been on his way back to the church when he'd seen the fireball light up the sky. Duo had known that it had come from the area around the complex, but until he reached the smoldering ruin that had been his home for a short while he hadn't really believed that OZ would have blown up the church.

They called him "Maxwell's Little Demon."

Father Maxwell always called him "Maxwell's Little Angel."

I'm sorry to disappoint you, Father, Sister. I know you're wondering what the hell happened to me, but I told you when I first saw you that I was no good, just some street brat who was nothing but trouble. You both insisted that I was wrong, insisted that I was a good kid, that all I needed was a home. Looks like you were wrong.

"I'm sorry." His voice was soft and thick, wet with unshed tears, tears that had quivered at the edge of his soul for seven years, still refusing to be released.

How could he have forgotten what today was.

* * * * * * * * *

Quatre gasped as the search scan brought back the article requested for the destruction of the Maxwell Church on L2, complete with holovids that had been taken at the time.

The building was a blackened burnt out husk of what had once been a quaint older church, its twisted steeple evident against the looming background of the colony's artificial clouds. The milling crowds gathered around the smoking ruin, concerned faces peering around the edges of local authorities trying to get a glimpse of what had happened.

A blur of black caught Heero's attention as he watched the slightly grainy vid playback. He hit the rewind key and studied the splotch as it moved across the screen once more before he hit pause.

A boy, moving fast, away from the ruin. He turned and Heero caught sight of a swirl of long disheveled caramel-colored hair and a pair of wide expressive violet eyes that he would recognize anywhere. He wasn't the only one.

Quatre suppressed a cry, reaching out reflexively to grab the elbow of Trowa's shirt. The taller boy raised a hand to clasp the blonde's, trying to calm him as they witnessed their friend running from the destruction of what had clearly been his home.

The Arabian shed a tear for the pain he read in those young eyes, too much pain. Too much familiar pain. His whisper was a sob.

"One survivor."

* * * * * * * * *

He found the younger boy sitting on the cliffside, dangling his legs over the edge, head bent and shoulders bowed. It was so unlike Duo.

Heero approached quietly so as not to disturb the American pilot. He wasn't adept at dealing with his own feelings- whatever had possessed him to think he could help Duo deal with his? But still he was here.

Duo stared out over the sea that rushed to meet the cliff, the spray crashing over the rocks below freed for a moment of weightless bliss only to join the depths below him once again. He enjoyed the seaspray on his face and the breeze brushing gently through his hair… wait, that was a hand brushing through his hair. He started and turned.

"Hee… Heero?"


The Japanese boy watched the violet eyes before him slide shut in defeat and the heart-shaped face turned away from him, closing off. Heero sat quietly next to his partner and surprised him by presenting the boy with two white roses.

Duo huffed a little breath of surprise at the fragrant blossoms held before him.

"I read the holovid report from L2."

"I couldn't save them."

"No, you couldn't." Duo whirled on him, eyes wide and quivering. "It was not your fault."

"Isn't it?! I… she… and Father Maxwell…" a sob caught in his throat, smothering his voice.

"You would have died there, too. It was not your fault."

Duo blinked as Heero's strong, callused fingers lifted his chin and forced him to meet his cobalt gaze.

"Do you understand?" Heero seemed to be asking about more than just the Maxwell Church Massacre. He seemed to be asking about something more… personal.

Heero held his breath as he waited to see if his words had penetrated Duo's haze of old pain. He waited to see if the words he hadn't said had penetrated and was rewarded by the violet-eyed angel of his dreams curling his lips into a small smile.

Duo's eyes glazed over for a moment as he absorbed his companion's words and the emotions that were trapped beneath the steady surface of his eyes. After what seemed like a small eternity, the American smiled slowly and took the proffered roses.

The pilot of Shinigami silently removed the crucifix from around his neck, the one she had given him when he had first arrived, and carefully wound it around the stems of the ivory flowers. With a deep breath and a sigh he gently tossed the blossoms out over the cliff, closing his eyes as they arched out over the waves.

Father, Sister Helen. I'm still fighting for you, in my own way.

He smiled as the strong fingers that had rested on his face only moments before curled into his and an arm wound possessively around his waist and gripped the end of his braid. He leaned into that protective hold and sighed.

I'm still surviving. Maybe, I might even start living.



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