Written By: bikkothewriter
see Ch. 1 for warning, notes, disclaimer

Preventors' Case #84309: Splicers + Chapter Seventeen

Nature called, driving Heero to peel off from the group to make his way to the restroom. He secured himself inside a stall, having never gotten over the vulnerability he felt when using a urinal. While silly to think that two-ply walls would afford him any sort of protection, it didn't leave him in the open with at least one hand occupied with aiming. He had never been in a fight with his fly open, exposing him while in midstream and couldn't guarantee that he could properly defend himself with someone looking at the most intimate part of him swinging and urine running down his leg.

Trowa had laughed for a good ten minutes after Heero had explained his reasoning to him.

The door to the restroom opened admitting two men who were in mid-conversation. Heero stilled, listening to the two men talk, not surprisingly about him.

"I heard that Yuy's fucking that tall cat guy."

"You mean Duo Maxwell. Pilot 02."

"I don't give a fuck who he is. The guy's a criminal, what with that splicing and he works for that asshole doctor. I mean you heard about Maxwell's kid right? He's spliced with like twenty different animals. I heard the little kid has gills."

"That's fucked up. Why is the Commander even trusting this guy?"

"Because he's fucking Maxwell. He's so busy getting his dick sucked he's not even paying attention to that doctor and what he's doing. Why was he able to change the twins back but not the girl on Yuy's team?"

"She's still alive at least."

"Yeah, and ready to star in her own tentacle porn."

While Heero was used to being talked about and having negative attention focused on him, he did not like it focused on members of his team especially ones who were in no way responsible for their situation.

He zipped his pants, flushing the toilet; he left the stall calmly walking to the sinks standing between the two men. They both gaped at him stumbling over their words, apologizing to him. He read their nametags in the mirror's reflection as he washed his hands nonchalantly. He learned a long time ago that the way to be most menacing was to do nothing and let the other person imagine all the horrible things he could to them.

"Agent Beckham, Agent Adams," he said nodding to the two men as he moved away from the sinks, shaking the excess water from his hands, grabbing a paper towel as he walked out the door.

He tossed the used paper towel into the first trash bin he passed, remembering both the agents' names and faces. While he couldn't report them for what they'd said, he could make their lives hell. No Preventor wanted to be stuck on security detail for overstuffed politicians or work security at a busy shuttle port. He would make sure that both agents stayed very busy for the next six months.

He followed the sound of laughter to find Sally, with an arm in a sling standing in the clinic's lounge with Lisa and Leslie smiling with a dazed expression. They slumped, each in their own chair, though one twin had Rhys in her lap leaning against her chest, giggling.

"What's going on?" He asked Sally, who continued to laugh although it had settled more into a chuckle.

"Well, when Gervais restored the twins some of there human DNA was destroyed and needed to be replaced with animal DNA. Cat DNA," she said laughing, "They were all over Trowa when he came by. You should have seen his face. He turned beet red, then ran off."

Heero looked back to the twins and Rhys and the blissful expressions on their faces. They must have gotten their fill before letting Trowa escape from them without trying to give chase. With Trowa's mysterious smell and good looks, he wouldn't be surprised to find the tall man half-naked from the twins' amorous attention.

"Did you know which way he headed?"

"That way," Sally said pointing towards an exit. "Trowa filled me in before the girls and Kitten attacked. I'll look after Gervais and see if I can't get a couple of these nosy agents to go and collect his equipment."

He thanked the woman, leaving things in her hands as he set out to find Trowa. Sally's direction proved accurate as he found the man standing outside the clinic's main entrance with all of his clothing intact looking no worse for wear, though his hair was slightly mussed.

"Are you alright?" he asked not sure how he would have dealt with being mauled by three cats with Sally has a witness.

"I'm fine now. They caught me by surprise."

"Sally won't let you live this down," he said and hoped that when they returned there would be a repeat performance so that for once he would have something to tease the other man about.

Trowa sighed, "I know. Let's go, Dr Greyson is expecting us."

+

Doctor Archibald Greyson worked not only as a liaison for the Preventors but as a college professor as well. His office was a cluttered mess of books, papers and folders stacked across every available surface including the floor. Maneuvering through the room was difficult at best, as Heero didn't want to cause an avalanche by accidentally bumping into one of the many mountains littering the room. He and Trowa followed the thin man through his main office and into an adjoining room where more stacks took dominance over the room although they shared the space with different lab equipment.

"I've been comparing all the samples that you've given me and I think I've found some useful differences," the aging man began, pointing towards the only wall in the room not lined with posters and notes. Heero stared at it blankly wondering exactly as to what he was supposed to be seeing.

"Give me just a moment I need to find the remote," Greyson said, shuffling through piles of notes before finding the device with a triumphant 'aha'. Turning out the overhead lights, he used the remote to turn on the projector bolted into the ceiling that pointed at the blank wall showing what looked to Heero like three different sets of DNA in mixes of reds and blues.

"Now this is the DNA of a normal splicer," Greyson said coming to stand before the wall pointing to the left most picture. "The human pieces of DNA are in red and the spliced DNA in blue."

Heero noted that the DNA was predominately red with only small sections of DNA marked in blue. After looking at dozens of samples in both computer mockups and under microscopes, he was almost tired of looking at the curling chains of nucleotides.

"In the middle is the DNA of one of Dr M's victims. As you can see, the majority of the DNA is blue. That's because his recombinant completely destroys the human DNA, when too much of it is destroyed the entire chain begins to unravel."

The second strand was almost completely blue with animal DNA except where the red DNA broke apart in several places along the chain, pieces floating like debris away from the main strand.

"Which is why the Splicers die. Sally mentioned that some of the twins' DNA was destroyed and needed to be replaced with cat DNA," Heero said.

"It explains why they were so fond of me," Trowa responded, disgruntled.

"Dr Gervais was able to restore a victim of M's?" Greyson asked looking back at the two agents.

"Yes."

"It would make sense the man is a genius," Greyson said turning back to the wall. "This last strand is from the sample that you sent of the young boy Kitten. As you can see, his DNA is a complete mix of both human and animal DNA, knotted and twisted up on itself to encompass all of the animals that he's spliced with, along with keeping him relatively human. It really is a work of art."

The art that Greyson spoke of looked like a jumbled knot of reds and blues that overlapped, taking on a purple hue in Heero's mind. He could understand the point of twisting a person's DNA into an even more complex puzzle than it already was, much less the reason behind putting someone's life in danger to do it.

"From studying Kitten's DNA were you able to determine the other animals he's spliced with?" Trowa asked, pulling the doctor's gaze away from Gervais' art.

"Oh, yes, I have it around here somewhere," Greyson said casting a searching gaze over papers layered across the room.

"Never mind," Heero said, not wanting to wait while Greyson attempted to search through the many piles of papers.

"What about any special trait's the splicing may have given him?"

"Looking at his DNA doesn't tell me whether he can run as fast a cheetah or breath underwater. With the splicing the potential is there for the boy to have some of the same attributes of his animal counterparts, but you would need to test for that."

"I see. What else can you tell us about the different splicings?"

"Well," Greyson said turning back to the wall using the projectors remote to change the image. Three strands of DNA replaced the first set, all a match to Murai's work thought the each strand had an increasing amount of blue sections and more destroyed red sections. "From what I've seen of all the samples of M's splicing there is no way that any of his so-called patients were meant to survive. From the first victim to the last, each set of recombinant eats away at the human DNA faster than it replaces it until the body eventually fails."

"We have a victim who was brought in an hour ago who was spliced with multiple recombinants by Murai but he seems to be stable although he doesn't resemble anything human. Could the multiple splicings be what's keeping him alive?"

"I would think that his body would break down more quickly but the idea is plausible. I'll need time to study a sample before I could make a determination."

"I understand. I'll make sure that a sample is sent to you as soon as possible."

"I've mentioned to Agent Barton before that the concentrations are increasing giving the victim less and less time to find medical attention. It is imperative that you find this man as soon as possible. If he continues to increase the concentration at the rate he's been going there'll be nothing you can do for these people."

"We're working on it."

+

Moving the body found in Murai's fallout shelter to the Plainsboro autopsy room did nothing to alleviate the smell, though it was more manageable. The body lay open and exposed to the room, its chest cracked open revealing an empty cavity, the organs removed, set in dishes on a cart nearby. Dr. Phyllis Dellner stood to the right of the body, arms crossed as she gave her report.

"We identified the body. Brandon Moore, seventeen years old. Last known living relative is his uncle on his mother's side, Gabriel Murai."

"Cause of death?"

"Organ failure. From the crime scene photos and the position of the body he died in the shelter and wasn't moved but the blood was obviously cleaned away."

"Can you give us a time of death?"

"At least six months ago, but with the location of the body along with the warm recycled air it may have aged the body more severely. I'll be able to give you a more exact TOD in a few hours."

"Was he spliced?"

"Yes. Tests confirmed that he gave himself a very amateur cat splicing that caused the organ failure. His appearance wasn't altered at all but his DNA was corrupted."

"He did this to himself?" Trowa asked.

"Yes. I've seen two other cases like this in the last two years. Teenagers desperate to be spliced doing the injections themselves using bad recombinant."

"How? Where are they getting the recombinant from?"

"The internet. There are sites dedicated to splicing that have how-to demonstrations and will sell you the equipment. From the angle of the injection I can determine that he did this to himself."

"Why splice yourself when you're uncle can do the job for you and no doubt for free?" Trowa asked.

"You're sure he did the splicing himself?"

"Positive."

"Murai didn't start his business until four months ago. If the time of death is accurate, his nephew spliced and killed himself before Murai got into splicing."

"If his nephew's death is what set him off then everything we know about Murai is useless. He could have lied to Trent about his motive to get him to work for him," Trowa said.

"The same could be said for the story he told the victims. We need to look into Moore's past and how close he and his uncle were."

"I'll be sure to send over any more information that I find."

"Thank you, Dr Dellner."

Heero turned with Trowa following to take their leave, moving towards the steel double doors just as they swung open by an orderly pushing a gurney being ridden by a sheet-covered body. They separated, moving aside to let the orderly pass between them wheeling the gurney to a stop beside Moore's body.

"Who's this?" Dellner asked, coming around to stand beside the body pulling back the sheet, revealing the burned face of a small child.

"One of the kids from the school. Second one we've lost today."

He hadn't seen the victims during the raid on the school, his attention so focused on the agent down. He'd known the stats of those injured and those dead but he hadn't seen it for himself. Hadn't taken the time to imagine the damage done to those who'd suffered third degree burns and needed to be rushed to the hospital, hadn't imagined the children left in that precarious situation, or that they may not survive the day.

The child's face was red, with blackened veins like a spider's web running across the exposed surfaced peeling and flaking away. The child's hair had burned away in patches leaving wisps of blonde hair, a ghost of what it had been before. From the size of the body, he could see that the child was no more than seven or eight years old.

Heero moved towards the child's body wanting to touch the helpless figure, to press his fingers to what was left of the child's skin but was brought up short by Trowa's restraining hand on his arm.

"Don't. It isn't your fault and there's nothing you can do," Trowa said pulling on his arm. "Let's go."

Heero let himself be dragged away with the image of the child burned into the back of his mind, guilt following him out the door.

+

Several news crews waited outside the Preventors Headquarters, although across the street from the main building, as they were not allowed on to the property without approval. The distance however didn't stop them from shouting questions at both Heero and Trowa as the taller man dropped Heero off for the night.

They'd gone from the hospital to Trent's apartment to see the scene for themselves, learning from the CSIs that they couldn't determine if Murai broke into the apartment or if the forced entry had come from the two Preventor agents when they'd come in to stop Murai. The signs of struggle were also lost in the debris of broken furniture, as Trent's tail had smashed not only the chairs and tables but the two agents as well during his transformation. The techs weren't able to confirm Wu Fei's suspicion about there being a second person involved as no physical evidence was found on the scene that didn't belong to the agents and Trent.

The next stop had them meeting with Madelyn Gregson, the Goth girl who, had Heero's team not intervened, would have been spliced with bat DNA in hopes of having mini leather wings growing from her back. Her story proved to be the same as the first time they spoke to her after the raid. She had been met by Pepper just days before the woman's death and given the address to the abandoned building with a date and time for the appointment. When asked why she had gone to see Murai with news reports about the many splicing deaths warning against the procedure she's quoted the usual blurb about the government trying to oppress the teenage youth of the day.

Heero shook his head as he made his way into the clinic, asking himself how anyone could believe such nonsense. People had died from botched splicing from both credited doctors and backdoor dealers long before splicing had become illegal. To believe that the government had suddenly decided to lie about the facts to scare teenagers out of the procedure showed a sign of stupidity in his eyes.

The thought of course led him back to Duo and his reasoning behind splicing, for not only himself but his unborn son as well. He tried to make some sense of the things that Duo had already told him. Duo had mentioned that he was in a bad place before and that Gervais had offered him something he couldn't refuse. Rhys had not been part of the original offer but a bonus, as Duo couldn't father children naturally. The offer, whatever it was, would cause Heero to hate Duo should he learn of it. Whatever Gervais had offered had been happily accepted, as Duo seemed quite pleased with his predicament, saying that cat boys were sexy.

He sighed to himself happy to note that the number of agents milling around had decreased for the night, leaving four agents one of whom Heero knew to be Northman's partner. At close to seven pm the clinic was quiet, the staff scarce in the building leaving Heero to walk the halls uninterrupted. He met with Lucy talking to her for a few minutes, reassuring her that Gervais was making progress in her treatment, reminding himself to find out if Sally was able to find someone to deliver Gervais' equipment to the lab.

After saying his goodbyes to the young agent, he went in search of Price knocking on the door to her room before quietly letting himself in. The lights were turned out except for the bedside lamp that did little to illuminate the room although he could clearly make out the shorthaired woman where she sat propped against the bed's pillows.

"How are you feeling, Cheza?" he asked and received a frown in return.

"I'm not dying, Commander."

"What do you mean?" he asked confused at the statement.

"You only call us by our first names when we're dying or severely injured. I'm neither of those."

"Price, then," he said smiling, coming to lean his arms against the bedrails. "How are you?"

"Good, though I'll need to stay off the leg for a while," she answered pressing her hands against her right thigh. "The femur is cracked; it'll take time for the bone to re-knit. They've but metal braces along the bone to keep it straight and for support."

"You won't be cleared for duty for at least six weeks," he informed having once suffered a similar wound, knowing the pain the woman would have to endure for the next few weeks

"My hands and my brain are fine, Commander. I can still work," she said sternly. She paused, quietly staring down at Heero where he rested against the bed. "Hayers told me about the promotion. I didn't know that he wanted to leave."

"Neither did I but I won't hold him back and he proved himself today. He'll be good for Wu Fei's team."

"How bad was it?" she asked, referring to the raid from earlier that morning

"Bad," Heero said recalling the image of the child from the morgue.

"I heard that you called Mr. Maxwell in to help track Murai," Price said smoothly changing the subject.

"He couldn't pick a scent from any of Murai's clothes or from his home although we did manage to find his nephew's dead body in his house and managed to alienate Special Agent Long for the duration of my career," he grumped remembering the tall man's sneering face and rude behavior.

"What happened with Long?"

"He took offense to my bringing Duo in to help and says not come to him should me and my boyfriend need help," he said sarcastically.

"But what about you and Trowa? I thought the two of you were-" She stopped suddenly blinking at Heero. "Forgive me Commander. That was completely inappropriate. I shouldn't have-"

He held up a hand, holding off any more apologies. "No, it's alright. I've heard everyone else's opinions today, I want to hear yours."

Price looked at him with a worried expression no doubt weighing the options of not answering her commander before giving into his request. "I…I thought that you and Trowa were involved. The two of you are very close and I know that you often spend the night at each other's houses, although it is usually after a very hard or painful assignment. I thought Duo was just a good friend of yours."

"Trowa and I aren't seeing each other. He's my best friend. We've gone through some of the same experiences together. I trust him more than I trust myself at times."

"I didn't mean to offend you, Commander. I shouldn't have said anything."

"Earlier today I overheard two agents saying that I was too busy getting my dick sucked by Duo to pay attention to Gervais. I've never even kissed Duo and somehow people think that we're involved."

"They think you're being lenient with him because he's your friend."

"I'm following procedure and have clearance for everything I've done in this situation. I've done everything short of throwing him into cell."

"The rumors wouldn't stop there."

"I'm either too lenient or being an asshole because I won't ease up."

"Who said that?"

"Duo," he said with a sigh lowering his face onto his arms not understanding the sudden need to talk about his non-relationship with Price when he hadn't been willing to bring it up with Trowa during the day. "He won't tell me why he left, what Gervais offered him that would make him leave."

"Why do you need to know so badly?"

"Because it's important to our case. Because spent four years looking for him and I want a better answer than cat boys are sexy. Because-"

"Because if you know why he left the first time you can stop him from leaving a second?" Price asked quietly, forlornly.

"Yes," Heero cried, raising his head to look at the woman as she understood perfectly how he felt to find her smiling at him sadly. "What?"

"Sometimes I forget how much younger than me you are."

"I don't understand."

"Commander…Heero. You could be the best husband, the best boyfriend, the best friend a person can ask for but if they're ready to leave nothing short of chaining them in your basement is going to keep them with you."

He scrubbed his hand across his mouth, frustrated and confused. "How do I know that it wasn't me? How do I know that it wasn't my fault? That I did something to make him leave?"

"I don't think it had anything to do with you, Heero. If it did, he wouldn't be trying so hard to win your approval."

"How do you know that?"

"Heero," she said, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder, leaning down to look him in the eye, "If it was your fault, he wouldn't have gone out sniffing another man's dirty underwear for you."

He blinked then laughed at the mental image of Duo holding a smelly pair of dingy gray briefs to his face, sniffing at them delicately. He appreciated the joke knowing that Price made very few being the serious woman that she was.

"Give it time, Heero. He obviously likes you very much and will tell you when he's ready."

"I don't know that I can be that patient."

"I understand."

He sighed pushing away from the bed. "I need to check on Gervais before calling it a night."

"Goodnight then, Commander."

He smiled in return, "Goodnight, Agent Price."

He left the room, taking the two turns to the lab where the overhead lights were turned out, though Gervais had commandeered a lamp, using its light to illuminate his workstation. He was, as usual, bent over a microscope studying samples. Looking at the man after the quiet conversation he'd had with Price, he didn't need anyone to explain why he disliked the man so much.

Gervais, for all intents and purposes, had stolen Duo away, kept him hidden from Heero for the sake of an experimental treatment. Even with Duo laying only a few feet away asleep in one of the lounges armchairs, feet propped up in another making a makeshift bed, it felt as if he were miles away. Gervais was the man he'd turned to with his problems, the one he'd relied on to help him through his trouble times, the one he looked to for support. Duo worked for the man, had entrusted not only his life but also that of his child into Gervais' hands.

Not prone to being jealous of anyone especially not a sixty-two year old man with thinning gray hair and wrinkled skin who flirted with anything remotely female, he found that he was jealous of the man. He wanted to be the person that Duo depended on, who he went to in times of need. Though Price had said that knowing the reason wouldn't keep Duo from leaving a second time, it would help him to know how to be a better friend to Duo, how to be someone that Duo could come to rely on in times of need.

"What did you offer Duo?" he asked walking into the room.

Gervais looked up from his microscope, squinting at Heero from behind his glasses, "What are you talking about?"

"What did you offer Duo that he couldn't refuse, that made him go with you?"

"Give it up, Heero," Duo mumbled, shifting to sit up though Heero ignored him to keep his gaze focused on Gervais.

"That would be breaking doctor-patient confidentiality, my boy. It isn't my secret to tell."

"Why is it a secret?"

"Heero-" Duo started.

"Why is it a secret?" he asked louder, cutting Duo off. "You've had no problem with telling everyone who will listen how great your work is, so why is what you offered Duo through splicing a secret?"

"There is a difference between sharing my achievements with others and telling the world of Duo's condition. I helped him through a very hard time. That's all that you need to know."

"With splicing?"

Yes, son, I've already-"

"Do it to me," he aid impulsively.

"What?" Gervais and Duo asked together.

Heero nearly chocked himself in his effort to snatch his tie from around his neck, tossing the dark blue fabric onto the table with one hand, the other jerking the collar of his shirt open to expose his neck, a single button coming free, skittering across the floor.

"If splicing is what helped him through his problems, if it's what made him happy then do it to me too. Make me a wolf, a fox, a fucking turtle for all I care, but do it to me too!"

"Heero you can't be serious," Duo aid softly, trying to talk him down.

"Why not? It helped you didn't it? Made you happy? Why shouldn't I want the same thing?" he asked looking to Duo, where he leaned over the armrest staring at him wide-eyed.

"Oh my dear boy, I am so sorry," Gervais said softly and Heero looked back to the man finding that the older man was apologizing to him with a look of sadness on his face.

"What?"

Gervais let out a deep breath lowering his gaze, "You were so very wrong, Duo. Had I known before I would have done things differently."

"What are you talking about?" Heero asked and Gervais lifted his eyes, his gaze boring into Heero's in a way that made him feel as if the man were inside his head seeing his thoughts.

"You loved him. I don't think you realized it then but you did. I believe you still do. You simply don't understand what it is your feeling."

"That's not…"

"It's why you've been so determined to find Duo. Why you've been so obsessed with learning the truth. You care about him more than you realize."

Heero felt embarrassed and confused. How could this man perceive to tell him whom he loved and didn't love? Yes, he had some feelings for Duo, lust being the most predominate but love had never figured into the equation. Yet he couldn't help but wonder if that was what everyone else saw, why the rumors had begun, if everyone else believed him to be in love with Duo when he wasn't even sure of his own feelings.

"I need to go," he said backing away from Gervais' intense stare, "I need to think."

He left the lab all but running, needing to distance himself from Gervais and Duo, though Duo did not want to cooperate following him out of the lab and down the hall calling for him to wait. Heero would have happily escaped the man and hidden in dark hole for a few days but Duo caught his wrist instead jerking him around. He had time to notice that Duo's hair was once again unbound before the man had his face caught between his large, soft, hands and his mouth pressing against his.

Heero was not new to kissing but the kiss he shared with Duo was easily in the top three for best kisses of his life. The feel of Duo's lips working against his, the touch of his tongue twisting with his, the sweet taste filling his mouth left him panting with his knees weak from the experience.

"I don't know what he's talking about," he said between breaths.

"Heero, shut up," Duo said with a laugh swooping in for another kiss. Heero had heard the expression of people kissing as if they wanted to devour their partner but had yet to experience anything remotely similar until that moment. Duo not only had his face cupped in his hands but his tail wrapped tightly around Heero's waist holding him firmly in place while he sucked at Heero's tongue making happy encouraging noises.

Heero was happy to know that Duo returned his semi-feelings and would have continued to let Duo kiss the life out of him but the nagging questions that circled his brain refused to rest. He couldn't start a relationship with Duo without knowing why he'd left.

He pushed at Duo's arms breaking the kiss, forcing the taller man back a few inches. Duo's face was flushed his lips wet and inviting but he forged ahead.

"I need to why. I can't do this unless you tell me why you left."

"Heero," Duo sighed dropping his hands away from his face to rest on his shoulders, tail wrapped snugly around his waist still. He dropped his head pressing his forehead against Heero's, closing his eyes before he spoke again. "I…I was on every drug I could get my hands on. Vicodin, coke, heroin, all of it, anything that wouldn't make me feel, that would make the pain go away."

"Why," Heero said softly, shocked, having never imagined such a thing.

"I was depressed Heero. I thought the Earth rotated just to spite me. I felt like everyone hated me, that I couldn't do anything right. I couldn't even get a decent job after the yard went under and my life felt like shit. I was miserable."

"Why didn't you come to me, Duo? I would have helped you."

"I didn't want your pity. I didn't want you to think I was weak. I didn't think you cared about me enough to help."

"Why would you say that?" he asked balking at the idea that Duo could ever believe that he didn't care about him. Besides working with Trowa on a day-to-day basis, he'd spent more time with Duo than anyone else. It had been devastating for Heero to find that Duo had disappeared without a trace. Now to find that Duo, even if in the midst of his depression didn't think them friends was crushing.

"Because I didn't think anyone cared about me, Heero. I thought the only reason you even talked to me was because we fought in the war together, that we weren't really friends."

"But you seemed so happy. You never looked depressed to me. How did I not see it?"

"Heero some days I was so high I couldn't even remember my own name."

"That doesn't explain why I couldn't see it," Heero said pulling away from Duo completely. "If I was so in love with you, why couldn't I see that you were hurting?"

"I didn't want you know Heero. I kept it from everyone. This isn't your fault, Heero. I needed to leave for myself, there's nothing you could have done to change that."

Those words didn't reassure him; in fact, they made him feel worse. Earlier in the day, Trowa had said almost the exact same words in regards to the child who'd died at Plainsboro Medical. It wasn't his fault and nothing he could do, not in personal life or his professional life. He felt worthless and inadequate in that moment. He had failed Duo all those years ago unable to recognize that the man was in desperate need of help and if he could help the man he'd once called his best friend who walked past him day after day in need of help, how could he possible save anyone from Murai?

"I need to go."

"Heero?"

"I need to go," he repeated, pulling against Duo's tail to free himself and Duo unwound the furred appendage, making no move to stop Heero as he turned and walked away.

He managed to clear the concourse and the first few floors of the main building before the guilt began to eat away at him. He felt useless, blaming himself for the deaths that had happened that day, the charred face of the child multiplying into that of the dozens of faces he couldn't save that day. He blamed himself for not shooting Murai on sight, for not finding the man faster, for not being in time to save Leila Johnson, for not being there for Duo.

He stood outside the door to Rhys' room tears tracking down is face, feeling like an utter failure, trying to convince his body to move away, to find a different room and not disturb the boy but couldn't. He pressed his head to the door, taking deep breaths to steady himself, trying to cope with the aftermath of a long and trying day, feeling as if he'd been on a daylong rollercoaster leaving him weak and disoriented.

When he felt more like himself he opened to door to find Rhys standing docilely just inside the room, ears drooping as he looked at Heero, hands clasped before his chest. He wore the same light blue pajamas from the night before, his feet bare.

"Mr. Heero," he said quietly, reminding Heero that the boy had sensitive hearing and had no doubt heard him through the heavy door.

He picked the small boy up holding him close to his chest, letting the boy wrap his arms around his neck in a comforting hug. He stood holding the boy for a few moments before carrying him to the bed, where he lay down keeping the boy close as the three-year-old whispered assurances in his ear, running his small hands over Heero's face and hair until he fell asleep.

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