DISCLAIMER: I do not own Gunman Wing, nor it's characters. I just love playing with them.
Title: Life… Really
Parts 21-25 + Epilogue
Pairings: Eventual 1x2, 4+R, 5+OC's (you'll see what I mean), maybe others
Warnings: Neko-fic, AU, angst., sap, possible lime
BY: SkyLark
Beta Written and Plot Bunny From: Keiran and Deb


Part 21:

[To think of all the night I cried myself to sleep
You really ought to know how much you mean to me]
-Lyrics to `I Close My Eyes' by Babyface


It hurt… everywhere.

Curled into a tight ball as he lied on his side, Duo had to struggle to do so much as open his eyes. The sharp pull on his braid forced him awake with a sharp cry of pain. Looking up into Jacob's narrowed eyes. He kept his violet eyes wide as the tall man shined a light to inspect them. A thermometer was then forced into his mouth as his jaw was gripped tightly in the scientist's free hand.

When the thermometer beeped, Jacob pulled it from the cat-eared boy's mouth and brought it up to his face to read the results. Nodding down to the braided teenager, he warned in a deep growl, "Don't let me find you sleeping when I return again. You know what happens when you don't follow orders."

Duo shuddered at the harsh words. He did not need to be reminded what happened when he did not do as he was told. The things that they were doing to him…they were nothing like the things they used on him before. Everything that they came to inject into him caused pain. Time bled together as he coped with overcoming the agony of it all.

Sleep seemed the only way to escape it all. He could see Heero when he closed his eyes. Despite the relief it gave, he did not dare anger Jacob now by allowing himself to surrender to it.

Finally, Jacob stepped from the room, slamming the door behind him. As he curled into a ball again, Duo's tail wrapped around his waist like a security blanket. He couldn't shed tears anymore. In reality, it was better for Heero's sake that he did not interfere anymore than he already had.

Still… it was impossible for Duo to put the other boy out of his mind.

* * * * * *

"We're pushing it with these experiments," Jacob frowned deeply as he held out the folder containing his findings. "If we keep going at this rate, his organs will collapse on him before the end of the week."

Dekim accepted the folder, scanning it as he replied, "The Secretary of Defense will be visiting us after the weekend. Our lab rat only needs to live until then. All that we have to do is impress the Secretary when he and his staff observe him."

Leaning back in his seat across from his mentor, Jacob asked, "And after that?"

With a shrug, Dekim answered, "After that, our experiment would have served its purpose. He will be expendable after that."

A smirk tugged at the old man's lips as he stated, "It would be interesting to see just how far we can push his body. It would be beneficial to know for the next batch of nekos that we make. I am certain that the Secretary will approve our suggestion to build an army out of them as opposed to using actual people to go to war."

Jacob nodded, "Very well." Rising from his seat, he announced, "I'll pull back on the dosages just enough to have him last through our honored guest's stay, then." With that, he turned and stepped from the office.

Leaning back in his leather seat, Dekim spun it so that he could gaze out of the window to the view of the city lied out before him. "Finally," he sighed to himself with a smile of content. "In a matter of days, everything I have worked for the last twenty years will be coming to light."

* * * * * *

"Heero Yuy."

Applause followed the announced name as Heero walked up to the stage. The deep blue, silk robe and matching graduation cap shined under the auditorium lights as he approached the smiling Principal and other members of the faculty where they stood in their black robes.

Taking the boy's hand in hers, Lady Une handed over his diploma with her free hand. "It has been a pleasure, Heero," she smiled sincerely. "Best of luck to you."

With a firm nod, Heero replied with a small smile of his own, "Thank you, Lady Une." Catherine grinned and winked at him when he turned to appraise the teachers that had taken him under their wing for the last four years. Other teachers gave their own gestures as they looked on one of their favorites preparing to move on.

"Way to go, Yuy!" Wufei's voice yelled from his fellow graduating classmates. Laughter erupted along with the applause at the outburst. Whistles filled the air as Heero turned to see his smiling and waving friends waiting in their seats before the stage. With the boys in dark blue robes and the girls in white, the air of the commencement ceremony completed the reality that this really was it...the end of their high school careers.

Back in the stands, Heero spotted his mother taking pictures with a glowing smile of pride from where she stood in the stands with the large crowd that had gathered to watch. Noin and Zechs were also with her, at his mother's insistence that they attend. The young couple waved happily to the boy and he returned the gesture with a small grin of his own.

It hardly seemed possible that four years could pass so quickly. The last four weeks, however, were another story.

Returning to his seat, Lady Une returned to the podium with a pleased smile as she announced, "It is my honor and privilege to announce the Class of AC 198." With that, a road of cheers, applause and whistles rose as the graduates moved their cap's tassels before throwing them up into the air.

Hugs and kisses were exchanged amongst the graduates. Relena and Quatre managed to find each other amongst the confusion and they hugged tightly before kissing each other. Trowa and Wufei joined their tight-knit group as they all shook hands and exchanged hugs. Before long, their families joined them.

Danielle came up in her crème suit to kiss her son's cheek before embracing him tightly. "I'm so proud of you, Heero." With a gracious response, the Japanese teenager returned the hug. Zechs and Noin greeted him with their own kind words.

Once the wave of confusion finally passed and the crowd was finally moved out of the large auditorium, Heero said a brief farewell to his friends before heading to the stretch limo. Sitting in the back with his mother and Noin, the unruly-haired youth removed his graduation cap. With a sigh of relief, he unzipped his robe and undid the tie of his suit underneath.

Removing a small, wrapped box, Danielle announced almost nervously, "Heero, this is your graduation gift that I had picked out." Blinking his widened cobalt eyes, the teenager accepted the box and loosened the ribbon before working at the wrapping paper.

With a gasped, "Mom," Heero removed a key from within the small box.

"It does not go to a specific car, yet," his mother told him. "You have your choice of any vehicle at any dealership of your choice."

Lowering the box, the shock remained on the teenager's face when his eyes met hers. Finally, he grinned and replied quietly, "Thank you, mom." at that, he moved to hug her tightly. Noin watched the scene with a small smile of her own.

When he pulled back, Heero sat back in his seat and looked out the window. Watching as her son's smile faded to show the look of concern that he had worn for the last four weeks, the red-haired woman took his hand into hers and squeezed it. "We'll find him Heero."

Slightly nodding, the youth squeezed her hand back, not quite willing to trust his voice at that moment. The day had been quite difficult for him, not being to enjoy it with Duo. As much as he had hoped that they would be able to find the braided teenager, the fact that four weeks had passed with not so much as a hair found, it was becoming difficult to think of what had become of him.

* * * * * *

During the graduation party that his mother was throwing for him, Heero stayed with his friends once he welcomed and thanked his fellow class mates and his teachers that had attended. "So what are you plans now that your mother's changed her ways?" Trowa asked from where he sat across from the Japanese youth.

Heero shrugged, "I really don't know much outside of law practice, so I will just continue to study it at Wayne." As for the scholarship that he had won for the most prestigious art school in space, he did not have the heart to draw ever since duo disappeared. It reminded him too much of his braided lover.

At the frowning faces around him, Heero rose from his seat. "I'll be back in a little while, guys," he told his friends. "I need to get some air." The others watched with concern in their eyes, but did not move to stop him.

Shaking his head, Quatre frowned, "Duo should be here for this. I don't know what could have happened for him to have just disappeared like this."

Relena ran her fingers over the hem of her skirt to give her nervous hands something to do as she commented, "I just can't see him running off without having an intention of coming back. He loved Heero."

With a deep sigh, Wufei rose from his seat and announced, "I'm going to follow Heero. Whether he wants to admit it or not, I'm sure he needs to talk about it. He hasn't talked about it for weeks now."

Trowa rose from his own chair and nodded, "Yea. I'll come along." Together, the two boys walked off from the hall.

Stepping outside, Heero moved past the hall and started to walk down the block, taking some comfort in the gentle spring breeze that cooled him. His head lowered, he never noticed the looming figure that appeared behind him until he was suddenly pushed into an alley nearby.

A fist slammed into his back, knocking the wind out of him just as another fist cracked down on his face while he turned. Falling backwards, Heero fell against the wall only to be knocked in the gut with two more swift punches. Stunned and feeling a line of blood rolling down his chin from his cut lip, he forced his eyes to focus on the two faces sneering at him.

Panting heavily, Heero's cobalt eyes widened before turning into a fiery glare as he hissed, "Muller. Alex." The other teenagers smirked darkly before they went back to their assault. Being punched and kicked back deeper in the alley, the Japanese youth did his best to block as many blows while maintaining his balance in being suddenly outnumbered.

The two brutes stopped only to allow their target to regain focus on the two of them again. "We have unfinished business from back at the school yard," Alex growled deeply.

"Yea," Muller chuckled deeply. "Too bad we weren't able to repay your boyfriend the same way." At that, Heero's half-lidded eyes widened.

Just as another fist launched out to land into his face, Heero suddenly gripped it in a tight hold just before impact. "What did you just say?" he growled deeply, blood still running from his lip as he glared heatedly at the stunned Muller.

"Not bad, you little prick," Alex snapped. "But you can't stop both of us." His arm pulled back to land a swift hit, only to have his wrist to be snatched from behind and his body slammed into the wall by a force from behind.

Muller spun with wide eyes, only to see Trowa's cold glare before the world went white when a sudden punch broke his nose. Wufei kept Alex pinned against the wall from behind as he shouted, "You bastards just don't know when to quit, do you!"

Quickly, the Chinese teenager spun his assailant to hit him in the gut hard enough to make Alex double over in pain. As the thug remained prone, Wufei was able to make full on contact with his face, knocking him unconscious when his head bounced off of the wall.

After delivering several swift and powerful hits, Trowa had Muller swaying on his feet. The brute's nose oozed blood as he struggled to keep his eyes opened. "Good night, asshole," the tall teenager smirked as he pulled his arm back to knock his attacker out.

"Trowa don't" Heero suddenly yelled. Both Trowa and Wufei froze with wide eyes as their friend quickly stepped before Muller to grip him by the collar. Pulling the near-unconscious boy's face down towards his own, the Japanese teenager yelled, "Where's Duo!"

Even through his pain and stunned state, Muller's eyes widened in fear. Heero's determination and resolve only hardened. So he did know what happened to Duo. Slamming the taller teenager's back against the wall, he yelled all the louder, "Where is he!"

Narrowing his eyes, Muller hissed through panted breaths, "Like I would ever tell you." With a sharp cry, Heero just reacted as he sent a crushing blow against the brute's face, knowing the boy unconscious, his body collapsing to the ground.

Turning to his stunned friends, Heero wiped the blood from his chin and snapped, "Stay here with them. I'm going back to call the police." Breaking from their shock, the two boys nodded firmly with grim looks. Quickly, Heero turned on his heels and ran back to the hall.

* * * * * *

Everything passed by in a blur of confusion once Heero got back to the reception hall. Quatre and Relena were the first to run into the near frantic teenager. Once the names Alex and Muller were uttered along with their location, the young couple quickly went off to call the authorities.

Sally ran up to Heero immediately after, examining the boy's injuries while his worried mother watched anxiously. Despite the Japanese youth's insisting that he was fine, the braided nurse made sure to look over all of his bruises.

By the time Sally passed Heero off as not needing further inspection, and ordering him to keep an icepack on his swollen bottom lip for at least thirty minutes, the sirens from the patrol cars filled the air.

Insisting on seeing if either Alex or Muller had woken while he was getting help, Heero ran off to the scene along with his mother, Sally, Relena, Quatre, Noin and Zechs. Relena's friend, Hilde, made sure to stay behind along with Dorothy and Catherine to see that the remainder of the guests enjoyed the party without realizing what was taking place.

By the time the group reached the alleyway, both Muller and Alex were loaded into the back of one of the officer's cars. The two teenagers were still unconscious as they were cuffed and locked into the back seat. When the officer looked up, Heero was just as surprised to see that it was the same patrolman who came to the school the first time Muller and his friends became a problem

With a laugh of surprise, the young officer greeted, "Trowa and Wufei already gave me their statements on what happened. I was hoping the last time we met was the last we would see each other under these terms."

Her cobalt eyes narrowed, Danielle asked, "Those boys have been a problem for my son before?"

The officer sighed deeply, "And his friend." Raising his hand before the young woman spoke her mind, he reassured her, "Don't worry. I'll see to it that this is the last time that this ever happens again. They won't be able to get anywhere near your son or his friends again." Danielle eased and placed a hand on her son's shoulder.

As the police calls wheeled off, Heero turned to his mother and said quietly, "Mom, Muller knows where Duo is."

With a sharp gasp, Danielle's eyes widened. "What? How do you know?" she asked while those present all gathered close in interest of the conversation, their concern clear on their faces.

Swallowing hard, the unruly-haired teenager tried to keep his calm as he replied, "He told me that he was sorry he wouldn't be able to `repay' Duo the same was he tried just now with me. He called him my boyfriend. How would he know that, or that Duo was missing, if he didn't know what happened to him?"

With a firm nod, Danielle cupped a hand to the back of her son's neck as their cobalt eyes remained locked on each other. "Did he say anything else?" she inquired, her voice clear and resolute to getting answers.

Heero licked his swollen lip and choked back a whimper, unable to find his voice. Wufei stepped forward and answered for his friend with a deep frown, "Muller said that Duo is as good as dead." Relena's hand covered her mouth as she bit off a shark cry. Noin and Zechs's hands found each other as they squeezed on tightly.

Danielle remained in control as she kept her eyes focused on her son's. "Think, Heero," she began firmly. "Muller is not stupid enough to kill another person, himself. If he was, Duo wouldn't still be alive now, and out of his reach. Do you know anyone who is related to, or an acquaintance of Muller who might have the ability to hurt Duo? Anyone who would want to do so?"

Shaking his head, Heero responded in a broken voice, "I only met his father when he came to apologize for Muller's hurting Duo before."

"Okay," the red-haired woman nodded as she tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together in her own mind. "Did his father see Duo at any point during his visit to the house?" Her son took a moment to think things out before he nodded.

Noin suddenly spoke up with widened eyes filled with realization. "His father did see Duo," she commented, brining all eyes to fall on her. "I thought for a moment he seemed to freeze when he saw Duo, as if he recognized him, but I didn't think anything of it. I thought that I might have been paranoid over the matter."

With a firm nod, Danielle replied, "That's it, then. What is his father's name, then?"

Finding his voice at last, Heero looked up with wide eyes and stated, "Jacob. He introduced himself as Jacob." Noin nodded excitedly in agreement.

His own cobalt eyes widening, Danielle's hand fell away from her son's neck as he breathed, "Jacob Muller?" confused gazes turned to the young woman as she started to back a few paces. bringing her hands up to tighten in her hair, she thought aloud, "My God, that explains everything."

With his breath hitching in his throat in a swell of hope that maybe they would finally find his missing lover, Heero walked towards her with a quiet, "Mom?"

Quickly, Danielle lowered her hands and explained, "Jacob Muller is an associate to an old client of mine named Dekim Barton." At the mention of the name, Trowa's eyes widened along with his friends' when the young lawyer smiled, "No relation to Trowa, of course." The tall boy relaxed at that assurance.

"But Dekim and Jacob are two scientists who are known for gene splicing to enhance the human form," Danielle continued, all the while talking aloud to herself. Shaking her head, she said to herself quietly, "Why did I not see this before? That explains where Duo came from."

Heero frowned, "Cell splicing?"

Raising a hand as to not lose her train of thought, his mother spoke to herself in little more than a whisper, "Dekim knows how to contact me. That's how I received those pictures in my email." Her head lifting with wide eyes, Danielle announced, "I know where Duo is."

Before the shock was able to settle over everyone, the red-haired woman turned to the braided nurse and asked, "Sally, do you know where my house is?"

Receiving a sputtered affirmative, Danielle told her, "I need you to wait there with whatever medical equipment you can get a hold of. If you know anyone who works at the hospital, I need you to contact them to tell them where to meet you."

"I'm on it," Sally replied, quickly running off as she removed her cell phone and began dialing numbers that she had committed to memory.

Looking to Noin and Zechs, Danielle pointed to the young couple, "I am going to need the two of you to come with me." The pair gave their affirmatives while Danielle turned to her son. "Heero, I need you to go back to the house and wait until we return."

Heero's eyes widened and he asked, "Why? I want to go with you to see Duo."

Danielle took a deep breath and nodded, "I know you do. But this situation is going to be quite delicate. Dekim is going to be difficult, and I need to handle him the only way that I know how-without anyone else present."

Swallowing hard, her son nodded hesitantly before sighing, "All right."

With a reassuring smile, his mother offered, "Your friends are more than welcome to stay at our house with you." Looking back to Trowa, Quatre and Relena, she nodded, "Feel free to use any of the spare rooms for the night." The three teenagers smiled their appreciation for the offer.

Placing her hands on her son's shoulders, Danielle spoke gently, "Heero, I know that it will be difficult to keep your mind off all of this. But, please try and enjoy the remainder of your party with your friends. It will be late this evening before I have everything ready, but I assure you that I will waste no time in getting Duo back home."

In taking a deep breath, Heero nodded and kissed his mother's cheek, whispering, "Thank you, mother." The red-haired lawyer smiled warmly at him and cupped his cheek. Without another word, she waked off quickly, Noin and Zechs quickly following behind.

Removing her cell phone from her purse, Danielle called a line saved in her speed dial. When the voice on the other line answered, she greeted, "Judge Thompson, Danielle Yuy. I apologize for contacting you on the weekend, but this is a matter of urgency." Her voice trailed off as she walked off and out of earshot.

"She'll get Duo back, Heero," Relena reassured her friend quietly when she approached him. taking his hand in hers, she suggested, "Let's get back to the party now that we have something else to celebrate."

At that, Heero smiled at last and nodded, "You're right." Along with his friends, he headed back to the hall, trying to calm the bundle of nerves in his stomach. Silently, he prayed that Duo was all right when his mother reached him

* * * * * *

Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. This was not supposed to be happening.

Looking up from his monitor, Jacob's eyes widened in fear as the readings showed that the experiment was taking a turn he had not planned. His body temperature was dropping drastically. The image of the cat-eared creature curled in a ball showed that he was trembling uncontrollably.

"No… not now," he breathed. Quickly, he reached for some of his medical equipment along with a few syringes. Pushing the door to his cell open, the scientist looked over the serums in his collection. Removing one vile, he moved swiftly to trembling form.

Lowering his bag beside him, Jacob took of one of the needles filled with a blue liquid. "You can't die on us yet," he muttered to the whimpering creature. Entering the needle into its arm, the young man set of a heart monitor.

The elevated, irregular beeping that filled the room only heightened Jacob's concern. "Come on…. Come on," he growled as he waited for the serum to take effect and reverse the results of his last test. The beeping on the monitor only increased.

Time was suddenly running out.

"Damn it," he hissed, quickly looking through his other medications. Sweat beaded his brow as he fumbled through hundreds of little bottles in his black bag. Taking up another vile, he quickly filled another syringe.

Suddenly, the form of the tightly wrapped body relaxed as his muscles relaxed. The beeping droned out into one, continuous drone. His eyes widening with a sharp gasp, Jacob looked to the flat green line on the screen and shouted, "No! not now!"


Part 22:

The prolonged drone of the high-pitched, sustained beep of the heart monitor bearing the flat line continued to fill the small observation room as Jacob pulled the longest of the syringes from his bag. Removing the stopper to the epinephrine, the young scientist forced his trembling hands to steady. Quickly moving the braided neko to lie in its back, he tore its shirt down the middle. With a grunt of effort, he jabbed the long needle into his pale chest.

Once all of the fluid was pumped out, Jacob removed the syringe. Sweat dripped down his face as he watched the heart monitor. "Come on. Come on," he whispered urgently.

After a few seconds that seemed an eternity, the line on the screen jumped and the drone bleeped with every bounce then followed to reveal a slow, but steady pulse. With a deep sigh and a near sob of relief, the brunette man sagged heavily.

Slowly, the braided neko's chest rose and fell again. Back in the living world, his face crunched in pain in his unconscious state. Not allowing himself more than a moment to rest, Jacob quickly went about using everything he had to reverse the effects that had brought on his experiment's organs.

The door slammed open and Dekim entered, his footsteps urgent as he glared, "What the hell happened? I heard the sirens from the monitor room." Kneeling at the other side of the unconscious neko, he looked him over. The creature had a thin coat of cold sweat over his pale form. Those exposed part of his chest where the shirt had been torn revealed the edges of his ribs began to show.

Looking up as he continued to sort though his syringes, Jacob replied with a grim frown, "We just found out how far we can push him." With a silent curse, Dekim ran a hand through his hair. They could not afford to lose their prize now. They were so close. Gesturing to the now erratic pulsing on the monitor, the younger scientist commented, "We're not quite out of the woods with him yet."

With a firm nod, Dekim's face etched determination. There was not time to lose his temper now. Removing his white coat, he told his associate, "I want you to tell me everything that you had used before his heart stopped. We have to work together on this to stabilize him." Returning the nod, Jacob went down his tally of events and tests that he had run before everything went wrong.

Nearly two hours later, both Dekim and Jacob stepped from the cell; their hair slightly disheveled from sweating and both looking weary from their efforts. Thankfully for them, they were able to stabilize the neko. The strain on his body would render him unconscious for a time, but he would live. They had been lucky. Very lucky.

Gesturing to monitors in the observation room, the older of the two suggested, "We both better keep a close watch on him until the morning. It would best not to take any chances considering our close call. I want the medical reports updated with everything that we came to find from what happened." Jacob nodded his agreement and they both took their stations as they prepared themselves for a long night.

* * * * * *

As she buttoned up the front of her tan suit coat under the light of a street lamp, Danielle turned to Noin and Zechs. It had taken several hours, but everything was now in order. No stone had been left unturned and it was finally time to take action, knowing that every precaution had been taken.

"Now remember," Danielle began in a firm voice, "When we see Duo, save your reactions for when we have him alone. As much as I know you would like to have words with Dekim, and more than that, there will be time for that later. Don't even make eye contact with him. That way he would never be able to say that you made any threatening gestured towards him."

Looking up to the tall building of government science, the red-haired woman stated, "I want to be in and out as quickly as possible. This is just the first step in what we have to do, and I don't want to give Dekim any more ammo to use against us in the next move than what he already has." Taking matters into her own hands, Danielle coached the young couple as she would coach any of her witnesses before taking that stand. In reality, this matter was more vital than any case that she had worked.

Both the chauffer and maid nodded firmly, the resolve clear in their eyes. "We understand," Zechs replied firmly. Satisfied with that, Danielle turned on her high-heeled shoes, pulling the folder in her right arm closer to her side. The young couple followed on her heels, their hands joined and offering a tight squeeze for support.

When she reached the large, locked glass double doors, the young lawyer pressed the white com button to announce that there was a guest. The inside was as dark as he sky had become in the late hour. Still, she knew that someone would be inside. He would want to be close to his subject at all times-as long as that subject was still alive. She looked up when the hum of a security camera moved to aim at her. With a smile, she waved up to the lense.

Several minutes passed before the lights in the main lobby were turned on. Dekim approached, tall and confident as ever in his white lab coat. Keeping her expression from showing more than a professional smile, Danielle suppressed a sigh of relief. If Dekim was here, that meant Duo was still alive. The old man would not be here in this late evening otherwise.

After unlocking one of the double doors, Dekim pulled it open enough to allow the three guests inside. He smiled kindly, "Danielle, this is a pleasant surprise to find such a lovely young woman as yourself paying me a visit." His feet shifted uncomfortably, the redhead noticed, but he covered his confusion and concern well.

With a gracious bow of her head, Danielle replied, "It is good to always see a familiar client of mine, Dekim." Noin and Zechs stayed close, but made no move to do more than look around the old scientist as they took in the impressive surroundings. The young lawyer was quite impressed with how well they were handling themselves. Looked around the empty lobby, she commented, "I see that your business has flourished quite a bit since I was last here."

A slight bite reached Dekim's voice, showing that he was obviously not in the mood for her game. "Why don't we just cut to the chase, Danielle. Why are you here?" he snapped, his eyes narrowing a bit.

Without flinching, Danielle held up the leather folder in her possession and replied simply, "I am here to retrieve the boy that you abducted. He is to be returned to his sole guardians immediately."

Dekim laughed, "Abduction? I have no idea how you got-" The laughter and words fell short when the young woman glared fiercely at him. Slowly, Danielle forced a smile and removed the pictures that had been sent to her from her folder, handing them over.

Taking the photos of Heero and that long-haired creature in his hands, Dekim swallowed hard. So she had put all of the pieces together. She saw though his own game as he had seen through hers. "Where is the boy, Dekim?" Danielle asked calmly, but her tone left no room for further denial on the old man's part.

His own eyes narrowing heatedly, he shouted, "That thing has no soul guardians! He is nothing more than an experiment that I alone have the right to keep in my possession to control! You cannot come in here claiming he is not mine!"

A smirk tugged at Danielle's lips as she opened her folder again. Removing a long, typed out document, she held it up for him to see. "This is your copy of Judge Thompson's announcement that this lovely couple, here," she gestured to Zechs and Noin are the proud guardians of the boy until we meet in court to settle the matter in a month. Where he stays will be decided then."

Nearly ripping the paper from her hand, Dekim read over the Judge's decree. His signature joined that of the young couple in their agreement to be his lab rat's temporary providers in a temporary state until the Supreme justices heard both sides of the case to decide the outcome of what was to become of him. His face reddening, the old man hissed at the young woman, "How dare you."

"This decree in your hand is as good as law and you know it, Dekim," Danielle stated in a warning tone. She frowned dramatically, "I would hate to have to get the authorities involved now if you do not comply in taking us to the boy." She raised a red eyebrow and added, "That would be quite damaging against you in court."

Running a hand through his white hair, Dekim bit his tongue. He was backed against a wall with no way around it. He would just have to prepare himself for what he needed to do, when it came time to fight for what he owned. No need in giving a hard time now that could cost him his chance. Taking a deep breath, he spoke through gritted teeth, "This way."

With a bright smile, Danielle smiled and nodded as he led the way through the building. As they followed, Noin bit her lip and squeezed Zechs's hand. Her lover returned the gesture , giving her a subtle wink when their gazes met. After a month of looking and hoping, they would finally be reunited with the braided youth that they could now truly call their son, even if it was temporary for the time being.

Stepping into the large observation room, Dekim waved a hand at Jacob when the young man sat up with an alarmed look on his face. Shaking his head, the old man silently ordered him to keep his mouth closed. The white-haired scientist went to the metal cell door and pushed it open, holding an arm out for the trio to enter before him.

The first to enter, Danielle had to place a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out as he wide eyes took in the sight of the frail youth on the ground. His shirt still torn, revealing the bruises and bones showing through his pale skin, Duo laid with the rising and falling the only proof that he was still alive. He was in worse shape than the young woman had imagined him to be in.

Zechs and Noin's eyes were wide, their backs stiff, but they showed no further reaction. Again, Danielle was more than thrilled with their performance. She knew this must have hurt them to see the boy in such poor condition.

With a nod to the tall blonde, the lawyer gestured to the braided youth. Snapping from his state, Zechs moved quickly to lift the limp form into his arms. Duo's head fell back and the chauffer frowned deeply in concern as he peered down at him.

When they stepped from the room, Danielle turned back to the two scientists and stated, "I am also to have the boy's medical history during his time here. If he is to be treated properly, we need to know everything that has been performed on him." It was a struggle to keep her voice calm despite the rage that was raging in her.

Jacob looked to his associate with wide eyes. When Dekim nodded to him, he reluctantly gathered all of the medical files they had just finished updating and handed them over. With a nod, the lawyer took them. Meeting the old man's gaze, she warned, "I need not tell you what will happen to you should anything happen to the child between now and the trial." Dekim grunted an affirmative.

"We know the way out. Until we meet in court, then," Danielle concluded in a cheerful voice. At that, she turned on her heels and ushered the young couple out of the room. When they were in the lobby, they hurried in their steps and moved outside.

The first to reach the stretch limo, Zechs carefully lowered the limp form in his arms to lie along one of the stretched seats. As her lover stepped out to take to the driver's seat, Noin stifled a cry as she sat beside her son, tears coursing down her cheeks. Gently brushing hack his damp bangs, she whispered brokenly, "You're safe now, Duo. We're going to have you home real soon."

Closing the door after her, Danielle took the seat across from them and removed her cell phone, looking up the line she needed. Placing it to her are as she placed a call, she waited a couple of rings before a familiar voice answered the line. "Sally, we will be at the house in twenty minutes," she announced.

"Got it," the nurse replied, the relief clear in her voice. "We're all set up and ready in Heero's room. I'll let the others know to keep the path clear for when you get in. If we need to get Duo to the hospital, we'll be able to move him quickly." Exchanging a word of thanks, Danielle ended the call.

As the rush of the evening's events caught up with her, the red-headed lawyer sunk into her seat with a deep sigh. Washing her face with her hands, she calmed her churning stomach. This was a new situation for her and she just hoped that in the end, she would be able to keep Duo safe. Lowering her hands, she watched as Noin continued took her son's hand in hers to squeeze it.

Tears sprung up in Danielle's cobalt eyes. The braided youth was so pale and sickly looking. To think of what he had to endure the last four weeks made her ill. She had never wished anything like this on the child, not even when she was so blind against trying to get to know and understand him. And yet, she had been the reason he ran off, stumbling into the terror that he had run away from. A small sob bubbled out and she covered her mouth.

Sitting there, Danielle swore that she was going to make up for everything that she had done to hurt that poor boy. If was the last thing that she ever did, she would make it right.

* * * * * *

In the living room of the Yuy household, Heero paced anxiously across the floor. Ever since Sally's announcement that his mother, Zechs and Noin were returning with Duo, it was the only think he could do. Sitting at the couches and chairs, Trowa, Quatre, Wufei and Relena waited with bouncing legs, fidgeting hands and other nervous gestures as they waited in silence.

At the sight of headlights panning though the windows, everyone jumped in alert. Car doors slammed and footsteps ran up the front porch. Those seated quickly rose to their feet as they all moved to the doorway of the living room.

The front door flew opened as the electronic voice greeted Danielle. The young woman held the door opened for Zechs as the tall man entered, moving quickly to the stairs with a very pale and slack form in his arms.

His cobalt eyes widening, Heero gasped sharply. Beside him, Relena whimpered as a hand covered her mouth. Trowa swallowed hard. Wufei growled deeply as his hands clenched into tight fists at his side. Quatre's head lowered as his eyes closed as he whispered a prayer. In that brief glimpse that they had of the braided youth as he was carried upstairs, everything seemed to stop in realization of the hell that he had been through.

Both Noin and Danielle rushed upstairs after Zechs, both carrying a stack of folders in their hands. Upstairs, the voices of Sally and the two doctors assisting her could be heard as they began assessing their patient. What they said could not be made out, but there was no hiding the urgency in their words.

Suddenly feeling his knees nearly giving out, Heero found himself having to grab a hold of the doorframe for support. With a hand gently guiding him by the arm, he allowed Trowa to urge him to sit at the couch. The tall teenager ran a hand through his brown hair with a deep sigh as the others returned to the room.

Relena wiped at her shimmering eyes as Quatre wrapped a supportive arm around her shoulders. Wufei moved to gaze out the window as he lost himself in his own thoughts. Heero hunched forward, covering his face with his hands as the image of his frail lover haunted him again.

Gently resting a hand on his friend's shoulder to squeeze it in support, Trowa said reassuringly, "Duo's in good hands now, Heero. He'll be all right." Unable to look up to the tall teenager standing over him, Heero lowered his hands and gave a small nod.

Everyone looked up when footsteps approached the room. Danielle entered; her concerned gaze on Heero. Shakily rising to his feet, the Japanese teenager wrapped his arms tightly his mother when she approached. The young woman returned the embrace as she whispered, "It's going to be all right, son." With a nod against her shoulder, Heero sniffled quietly as he pulled back to wipe his eyes. Smiling sadly, his mother gently caressed a damp cheek.

As she turned to her young guests, Danielle suggested, "Why don't you all head off to bed? It's late and it will be some time before Sally and the doctors helping her will be finished." At the hesitancy in the eyes watching her, she smiled kindly, "I will be sure to let you all know the moment I know anything."

That seemed to take some of the apprehension out of the band of teenagers as they slowly departed with words of gratitude and `good nights.' When they were alone, Heero told his mother in a tired voice, "I would rather stay awake until I know how Duo is."

Nodding, his mother smirked, "I figured as much." She gestured with her head to the doors that led to the dining room. "I was going to make some herbal tea to help settle my stomach. I could go for some conversation as well. Care to join me?" she asked as she gently ran a hand through her son's unruly hair.

A genuine, surprised smile tugged at Heero's lips. In all the time that he knew her, his mother never offered to just sit and talk. He nodded with a whispered, "I'd like that."

* * * * * *

"My God," Sally whispered with a small gasp as she looked over the last of the medical reports. Scanning over the words, she read, "Body temperature rapidly decreased and signs of kidney failure also logged. The heart stopped and epinephrine had to be used to revive it." She turned to her two college colleagues that were interning at the local hospital as they both showed their shock in hearing the braided nurse's findings.

Shaking her head, Heather finished injecting the last of the medication into the IV that was sticking from the unconscious teenager's arm. "With everything they put his body through the last four weeks, I am amazed that there is no permanent damage to his organs," the blonde student commented.

Jason ran a hand through his dark hair with a deep frown, replying, "They certainly were capable of creating a human capable of tremendous stress. A normal human would not have lasted two days with the tests that they ran on him."

No longer needing the assistance of the heart monitor and other equipment that they brought over to fit in the room, the young man helped Sally turn off the machines. "Luckily for him, they created him in a way that once the effects of the poisons that they used were reversed, his body healed remarkably quickly."

Gently brushing a few stray chestnut hairs being a furry cat ear with a smile of awe on her face, Heather giggled quietly when a deep purr rose from the sleeping patient. "He's amazing," she breathed.

With a warm smile, Sally's eyes fell on her braided friend as she replied quietly, "Yes, he is." Sighing deeply, the young nurse said sincerely, "I can't thank the two of you enough for helping me with this."

As he approached, Jason smirked, "What are friends for?" Gesturing to the braided youth on the bed, he stated, "Besides, we had the privilege of being the first people ever to treat a mutated human like this. It's been an honor." Heather smiled from where she sat beside the bed and nodded her agreement to the sentiment.

Stepping into the living room moments later, Sally found Heero, Danielle, Noin and Zechs all sitting in silence with concern on their faces. The first to look up, the Japanese teenager was on his feet instantly as he quickly closed the distance between him and the nurse. The others gathered around close. "How is he?" he asked.

"Duo's going to be fine," Sally assured him with a warm smile. "His body had been through a severe amount of trauma, but the way his body was enhanced, it is healing itself. Right now, he looks a lot worse that he actually is, and it will take time for his physical wounds to completely heal, but that is to be expected. He should be awake again in a matter of hours." The four people physically eased, Heero looking as though he were about to collapse in relief following his deep concern and exhaustion.

Once the equipment was finally packed away, Sally thanked her two friends once more as they departed. Heero, Danielle, Noin and Zechs exchanged their own heartfelt gratitude to the young interns. Sighing deeply, the braided nurse looked to her watch to see that it was nearly three in the morning. She and her colleagues had been working on Duo for over three hours. Only then did her fatigue catch up.

Danielle smiled, "Sally, there are still two spare bedrooms. Please take one of them so that you can get some rest."

Nodding, Sally replied, "Thank you. I think I'll take that up. At least that way I would be close to Duo then. He was very dehydrated when he was brought in, so I want the IV in him to stay in until I can check on him when he wakes."

The braided nurse smirked to the Japanese teenager, "I am sure that I can trust you to keep a vigil over him until that happens. I want to be informed right away once he's up." At that, Heero smiled gratefully and nodded, quickly making his way upstairs.

Closing the bedroom door behind him, Heero walked over to the chair at the side of the bed. Small tears filled his eyes as he took in the pale, sickly thin form of his lover. Biting his lip, he gently brushed back the long bangs from the peaceful face.

In his sleep, Duo gave a small whimper, obviously lost in his own nightmares and unable to wake from them. "Heero," his strained, weak voice whispered pleadingly.

A lump formed in Heero's throat at the sound of his voice. How many times had Duo called for him to help him while he was in Dekim's hands? With a small whimper of his own and with tears fell from his cobalt eyes, the Japanese teenager took the limp hand belonging to the arm with the IV. "I'm here, Duo," he breathed as he squeezed his hand.

Leaning forward, Heero brushed a soft kiss against his love's temple, closing his eyes for a moment. Rising from his seat, he slipped into the other side of the bed and wrapped an arm around the thin torso of the other teenager. He had to fight back another sob when Duo's head turned to rest on his shoulder, his tail wrapping around his waist in an embrace that his braided friend could not offer.

As he held his lover like that, Heero remained in silent vigil through the remainder of the morning. Offering gentle caresses, and occasional kisses, he watched Duo sleep. He whispered words of encouragement whenever the braided teenager stirred and whimpered against the attack of another nightmare until Duo fell into peaceful slumber again. Before long, the sun began to rise, its rays peeking through the partially drawn blinds of the bedroom and filling the space.

Yet another hour passed, but Heero continued to watch over the boy in his arms. Finally, he heard a deep sigh from the cat-eared boy. Holding his breath as he sat up, the Japanese youth watched as his lover's beautiful violet eyes blinked open.

With a sharp gasp, Duo's eyes widened when they gained focus on the face smiling down on him. "H-Heero?" he whispered brokenly, his voice strained from what must have been the result of screaming previously.

Gently brushing a hand down the side of his best friend's face, Heero nodded. The cat-eared teenager sat up slightly, his head still spinning as he took in the surroundings of the bedroom. His gaze fell to the inside of his left arm where the IV punctured into his veins. Looking back to his lover, he lifted a trembling hand, he cupped the side of his face. When Heero did not disappear from his touch, Duo gave a small cry as he wrapped his free arm tightly around his neck.

Returning the fierce embrace, Heero kissed his love's cheek as the boy in his arm trembled almost violently. Sobbing into a firm shoulder, Duo whispered, "I'm not dreaming this time?"

"No, love," Heero whispered hoarsely. "You're home now."

Home. The words rang through Duo's mind, filling him with a sense of protection and warmth that had been taken from him.

When he pulled back, he wiped the tears away from the braided teenager's face. Cupping his heart-shaped face in his hands, he pulled him back towards him to press their lips together. A small whimper broke from Duo as he returned the kiss, opening his mouth to deepen it.

* * * * * *

Working at her laptop, Danielle began making preparations for what would prove to be one of her most difficult cases. She never had to defend anyone before the Supreme Justices before. Given the nature of the case, dealing with a creature that had been created to aid the government, there was no way around it. With only a month to prepare, there was a great deal of work that needed to be done.

Zechs and Noin, also unable to sleep, occupied themselves with a quiet game of chess. All eyes looked up as Sally entered the living room "Duo is awake. Other than being very hungry and tired, he is just fine," she informed.

All but jumping from her seat, Noin smiled widely, "I'll start breakfast right away, then." Quickly, she made her way from the living room. Both Zechs and Danielle shared a smile at having some sense of normalcy back in their lives, even if it would only last for a fleeting time.

Before long, nothing would ever be the same again.


Part 23:

[And anytime you feel like you just can´t go on
just hold on to my love
and you´ll never be alone]
-Lyrics to `You'll Never be Alone' by Anastacia


The remainder of the morning was a whirlwind for Duo as he was surrounded by his friends and his –temporarily named- official parents. In hearing the events of the prior evening, he was shocked to learn how influential Heero's mother had been in his rescue. With so many guests, she had opted to speak with him later.

After spending some time with the people surrounding him, despite the breakfast that he was given earlier, the weakness in his body crept up on Duo again. Sally was quick to pick up on the subtle change in the braided teenager and ushered everyone from the room, insisting that her patient be left to rest for a while. With hugs and kisses, his visitors reluctantly departed from the bedroom with promises of stopping in the next day.

Sighing deeply, Duo's violet eyes drifted closed as he fell back onto the mattress. Beside the bed, Heero chuckled deeply and carefully tucked the sheet around his lover. Brushing back the long bangs from the cat-eared youth's face with a gentle hand, the Japanese teenager smiled lovingly down on him. He bent down to place a lingering kiss on the pale forehead and whispered, "I love you."

At the soft affirmation, Duo slowly opened his violet eyes to smile a mumbled, "Love you, too, `Ro." His eyes closed again when he yawned widely, his long tail stretching along with the rest of is body.

Heero chuckled deeply again before kissing his lover's lips in a brief brush. "Get some sleep, Duo," he said quietly. "I'll be back to check on you in a little while, okay?" There was a faint, murmured affirmative from the cat-tailed youth that caused the other boy's smile to grow a bit. He waited until Duo's chest rose and fell evenly in sleep. Satisfied only then, he stepped from the room quietly.

When he went down into the living room, Heero found his mother still working at her laptop. Looking up, Danielle smiled and gave a small nod before returning to her work. Sitting in the couch across from her, the Japanese youth sighed deeply and closed his eyes.

The red-haired lawyer looked over to him and frowned in concern, "You really ought to get some rest, yourself, son. It had been a long two days for you."

Snorting slightly, Heero shook his head, "I want to help you with the case. There isn't much time to prepare for the Supreme Justices. Dekim is going to find the best lawyers he can to see that he gets Duo back."

His mother closed her laptop and moved to sit beside him. Running a hand through her son's unruly hair, Danielle smiled reassuringly, "And you'll need to be rested and prepared if you can help effectively. Now go upstairs and get some rest. I'll worry about the trial enough for the two of us for now, okay?"

His eyes drifting closed in spite of his attempt to stay awake, Heero finally sighed, "All right." Just as he rose from the couch, the front doorbell rang.

"Ah. That must be him," Danielle told herself she stood. Turning towards the other doorway, she called, "I'll get that, Noin." The young maid's voice replied in acknowledgement. With a look of confusion written on his face, Heero followed after his mother just to watch as she opened the front door.

Stepping back with a relieved sigh, Danielle greeted, "Thank you for coming so quickly. I do hope that I am not taking you away from anything important."

A familiar voice replied, "Not at all, my good madam. You are not one to call on me unless it is a matter of urgency." As the tall man stepped into the house, his kind smile grew a bit when he looked to the Japanese teenager. With a nod, he commented, "It has been a while, Heero. Good to see you."

As he broke from his confused state, Heero subtle shook his head. He grinned back with a nod of his own, "Trent." With an exchange of glances between the young man and his mother, he announced, "I'll be upstairs if either of you need me." He turned to quickly climb the stairs to take up one of the spare beds.

It had been a few months since he had seen the young prodigy of a lawyer ever since his mother insisted on their meeting when she worked to bring Trent Clark into her firm. The fact that his mother had called on him could only mean that she meant to have his aid in defending Duo. Between the two of them, and with his own assistance in the background, Heero hoped that it would be enough.

When her son was out of earshot, Danielle gestured towards the living room. "Please make yourself at home, Trent. I had Noin start some tea and coffee, so that you may have your preference," she spoke in her very hospitable voice that she had homed over the years.

Stepping into the room with his briefcase, Trent took up one of the chairs at the coffee table as he replied, "Coffee would be wonderful, thank you." Lowering his case at his feet, he folded his hands in his lap as Danielle sat across from him in the couch after collecting their steaming cups.

After taking a sip from his coffee, the young man's mouth curved in a lopsided smirk as he lowered the cup onto the table. "I may only have been working with you for a short period of time, Danielle," he began, "but I do consider it my duty to comment that you and Heero look as if you've both been drug by a car a few times around the block."

Danielle's head fell back with bubbling laughter at the attempt to lighten the tension in the air. When she regained her composure, she nodded with a tired frown, "The reason for that is why I have called you."

Lowering her cup, the young woman leaned forward and said quietly, "I need your help, Trent. What it entails may be something that you might not feel up to. If that is the case, I will hold no grudge if you decide to stay out of this."

Appreciating the fact that there was no pressure on his part, Trent straightened and nodded, "Very well. Let's just start from the beginning, then."

* * * * * *

Duo's cat ears twitched at the sound of a light rapping at the closed bedroom door. Swallowing to dampen his dry throat, he called quietly, "Come in." His ears perked and a wide smile spread on his face as Noin walked in with a tray of beverages and snacks. "Hi, mom," he spoke softly, the joy in his voice not lost.

Setting the tray down beside the bed, Noin smiled lovingly as she sat beside the braided teenager. Gently kissing his forehead, the young maid ran a hand over his hair. With a deep purr of content, her son smiled and closed his eye at the touch. "How are you feeling?" she asked as she handed over a glass of water.

His throat feeling better after a few gulps from the glass, Duo replied, "A little tired, but all right." Looking over at the box of crackers and display of cheese, his tail swished excitedly. Like his breakfast, it was light to recondition his stomach to filling. But for him, it was as big a feast as he had ever seen.

At seeing her son's anticipation, Noin chuckled deeply, "If you can handle this and what I am making for your dinner, I have ice cream waiting in the freezer for you." She laughed as Duo quickly took up a couple crackers and slices of cheese.

While the braided teenager chewed his morsels, the young maid ran a hand through his bangs and commented, "Duo, Heero's mother would like to meet with you, if you're up to it." At the wide-eyed fear that appeared in this boy's eyes, she smiled, "It's all right. You know that she went through a great deal to get you back safely."

Swallowing hard, Duo nodded with his head lowering. While it was still a wondrous shock to know that Heero's mother was the reason he was back home, it was still difficult to get past the image he had of her prior to his disappearance. That controlling, demanding behavior was all that he could bring himself to think about.

Finally, Duo had run away because he was afraid of the strain it would but on the relationship between her and Heero. He never wanted to cause any trouble, but nothing he ever did seemed to be enough to appease her.

With a gentle hand on his cheek, Noin brought her son's violet eyes to focus on her, breaking him from his thoughts. "You know that if I didn't think this was a good idea, I would never agree to her seeing you," the short-haired maid grinned. "I am your mother now, and regardless of what anyone else says, I will always be your mother. I have a responsibility to look out for you and protect you."

Biting his lip, Duo managed to contain his fears and gave a small smile of relief. In seeing that, Noin's own smile grew a bit. "If you'd like, I could get Heero to stay here with you while his mother is here. Or if you would like, I will stay here."

The braided teenager shook his head, knowing now that his mother was right. If there were any doubt of Heero's mother's intentions, Noin would never agree to her meeting and speaking with him alone. "That's all right," he replied, his voice much more certain and not lacking his gratitude for the offer. "I'll speak with her."

With a firm nod, Noin rose from the edge of the bed. Placing another kiss on her son's braided head, she winked, "I'll go get her, then." As she turned on her heels, she stepped quietly from the room.

In the brief minutes that he waited, Duo took a deep breath. Taking up his tail, he fidgeted with it in his nervous gesture. There was another soft knock on his door as it cracked open. Danielle peered into the room, meeting his violet gaze. There was a long pause as they just stared at each other, neither really sure what to do at that moment.

Slowly, the red-haired lawyer stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. Duo swallowed hard, but did not allow his worry to appear on his face as Heero's mother approached without a word. Instead of taking the chair, she opted to sit on the edge of the bed and their eyes met again. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, showing her struggle to find the right words, stunning the braided youth as he continued to clutch onto his tail.

Finally, Danielle bit her lip and lowered her head. When she raised it to meet Duo's gaze again, he couldn't help but gasp in shock in seeing the small tears in her cobalt gaze. Moving slowly, cautiously, the young lawyer reached up to cup the side of the cat-eared boy's face. With a small whimper, she whispered brokenly, "I am so sorry, child."

An onslaught of emotions coursed through Duo in that one moment. Never before did he ever see such a genuine concern and sadness in those eyes when looking into them and the last of his fears melted. Seeing for himself that Heero's mother had changed, his overwhelming appreciation for what she had done to save him took over. With tears filling his own eyes, he leaned forward to wrap his arms tightly around Danielle's neck.

Blinking her wide, dampened eyes in shock, Heero's mother felt her lips tug up in a small smile. She raised her arms to carefully wrap them around the thin, trembling youth. Tentatively, then with more assurance, the lawyer ran a hand over the back of the braided head for support. At the deep, rumbling purr that she was rewarded, her smile grew with a small chuckle of awe.

When they finally pulled back and dried their own eyes, Danielle took a calming breath. "It took me some time to see the error of my ways, Duo," she began quietly as they watched each other, really seeing each other for the first time.

She had to clear the lump in her throat before continuing, "I want to thank you for making my son happy while I could not. And I sincerely hope that you can forgive me for the things that I had said and done in the past. This transition is not easy for me, and I may slip up at times, but I am trying."

Giving her a smile of reassurance, Duo replied softly, "I'll be happy to help, if you ever need it." He bit his own lip to prevent another attack of tears before saying, "Thank you for saving me."

With a smile, Danielle cupped his face again and whispered, "You're very welcome." Straightening, she took another deep breath while wiping the last of her tears away. Her calm reserve returned in her eyes as she stated, "The reason I am here, now, is because I need to discuss with you where we stand."

Her red head tilted a bit and she continued, "I take it Heero and the others gave you that there is going to be a trial deciding your fate." Seeing how close her son and the braided teenager were, she had hoped that her client was given some kind of overlook on his future, as opposed to her having to take him off guard with the news.

As he took up his tail again, Duo folded it with his hands in his lap and nodded. "Well, I wanted to go into further detail in reference to the case with you. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. We only have a month to prepare, and I am going to have my work cut out for me."

There was a moment of hesitation before the young woman commented, "That is why I have asked one of my best lawyers working for my firm to assist me. He is here now, and would like to meet with you, so that he can decide if this is something he is up for. I wanted to wait for your permission before allowing him to come in so we can discuss this further."

Duo blinked his wide cobalt eyes. Heero's mother had waited for his permission before taking matters into her own hands. She was going through every measure she could to see that he was going to be defended properly in this case. Overwhelmed, his cat ears perked and his smile beamed his appreciation as he nodded enthusiastically.

Relieved at her client's response, Danielle smiled back and nodded, "All right." With that, she rose from the bed and opened the door. Peeking her head out of the door, she bent to take up her suitcase and there was a quiet exchange of words on the other side before she opened the door widely.

A tall young man with short, light brown hair with gold highlights that shown under the light followed Heero's mother into the room. In looking to the teenager in the bed, he froze in his steps with wide eyes, his jaw falling slack. Duo just smiled and waved with a welcoming, "Hi." His long tail swished widely behind him.

Gently lifting the stunned young man's jaw with a finger under his chin, Danielle smiled, "Trent, this is Duo." She gestured with her free hand to the braided teenager with her free hand and turned to the boy. "Duo, this is Trent Clark. He is the most accomplished of lawyers, having started on his own to win quite a few high profile cases."

His tail continuing to sway behind him, Duo nodded and grinned with another wave, "Nice to meet you, Trent."

Trent shook his head, breaking himself from his surprise before smiling sheepishly, "It's a pleasure, Duo." Stepping forward, he shook hands firmly with the teenager, blushing slightly, "I do apologize for my lack of tack just now. I suppose that I had a difficult time picturing what Danielle was trying to prepare me for."

As their hands broke apart, Duo chuckled deeply, "It's all right. I'm kind of used to it, now. No harm done." Taking up his tail in one hand and a tall, furry ear in the other, he gently tugged. "And they are real."

Unable to help it, Danielle chuckled deeply in pleasant surprise of how well Duo was responding. Trent just smiled in awe, shaking his head in wonder as he breathed, "This is remarkable." He took the seat beside the bed and folded his hands in his lap, leaning forward. "And you have been able to keep this identity hidden for almost a year now?" he asked in clear interest.

Grinning from ear-to-ear, Duo answered, "Just wear a ball cap, or ski cap and some large shirts to hide my tail, and no one could tell."

"Amazing," Trent grinned, shaking his head again. Sitting back in his seat, he watched as Danielle took a seat beside at the edge of the bed. Running a hand through his short hair, the young man sighed deeply, "Well, needless to say, this is the first I have been informed of any of this. I will be learning just as much about this trial as you will." Duo gave a firm nod of understanding.

Taking up her cue, Danielle replied, "Right. I thought it better to go over the details of the trial with the both of you at the same time." She opened her brown leather suitcase to remove a large pad of paper, notes already etched out on the top.

After removing her wire-framed glasses and placing them on the bridge of her nose, the red-haired lawyer gazed over her notes. "Duo is the product of a cell splicing experiment that Dekim Barton and Jacob Muller had conducted. Their experiment was to create what they called a neko, a combination of human cells and some animal's cells that would enhance their bodies to take on a great deal of stress. In Duo's case, obviously, they opted to splice a cat's cells."

With a low whistle, Trent folded his arms, commenting, "Dekim and Jacob work for the government. I can imagine that they were not very pleased with the fact that you managed to take him out of their hands."

Frowning deeply, Danielle lowered her notes into her lap to meet his eyes. "Not at all, Trent," she replied. "They had created Duo as a test to show that they can create any number of clones like Duo, enhanced by animal cells to do what no normal human being can do. Not only that, but they have manipulated their bodies to take on a great amount of toxins and other stresses that are used in warfare."

A shudder ran through Duo and his tail curled into his hands again. His eyes widening, Trent paled as he asked quietly, "You mean to tell me that they plan to make such clones to send off to war as opposed to normal humans?"

With her anger building at the notion, Danielle answered, "Yes. If they were able to pull this off, the Earth's government would give them unlimited resources to create an army of millions, and more as they wished to produce them, at their disposal."

"My God," the brunette lawyer breathed and began to wash his face with his hands.

Duo swallowed hard and lowered his head. Gently running a hand over the back of his head for support, Danielle tried to soothe the braided teenager as best she could. With this being his first time in learning why he was created, she could only imagine how difficult this was on him. His life was forfeit as far as Dekim and Jacob were both concerned. He was just the first of countless others that would be used, sent off to die so that normal humans could live without having to fight a day in their lives.

For a long moment, silence hung heavily in the room before Trent spoke up, lowering his hands. "Then this trial is going to have to be fought before the Supreme Justices." It was more a statement that a question, as this was the first he was given any pieces of the puzzle to the trial that Danielle insisted she needed help in.

Trying not to wince, Danielle nodded. She knew that the young man had also yet to defend anyone before the highest of juries. For any lawyer that had to stand before the Supreme Justices, it was a nerve-wracking concept.

"Who are the Supreme Justices?" Duo inquired, raising his head.

Danielle turned to meet his violet eyes and answered patiently, "The Supreme Justices consist of seventeen judges who act as judge and jury of the cases presented to them. They are mixed in age, gender, race, religion. Each Supreme Justice represents the Colony- and for one Justice the Earth- which they come from. The verdict reached by them can never be contested again."

His voice distant, Trent stated, "They are the last word of the law. That is as simple of an explanation as one can give." Danielle nodded solemnly, swallowing hard at the realization of that. Truly, there was no better explanation than that.

Lowering his braided head to stare at the tail in his hands, Duo said quietly, "So if they decide that I am no more than just an experiment, I will be sent back to the lab to die and no one will be able to keep that from happening."

Gently lifting his head so that their eyes could meet, Danielle spoke clearly, "I will not allow them to come to that decision, Duo. Whatever I have to do, I promise to see that the Supreme Justices allow you live your life."

The braided teenager's violet eyes filled with tears and his lip trembled in fear at what could happen. With a sniffle, Duo leaned forward to wrap his arms tightly around Heero's mother, burying his face in her shoulder. As she returned the embrace, Danielle slowly rocked him, rubbing circles down his back. When she pulled back, she wiped the tears from the heart-shaped face with a sad smile.

"You should get some rest," the red-haired lawyer offered. "I'll discuss this further with you when you are up to it." When Duo nodded, she ran a hand through his long bangs. Trent was already to his feet with an unreadable expression on his face. As the braided teenager settled down into bed, Danielle tucked him back in before leading her associate from the room.

Quickly, the red-haired woman moved to the spare room her son had taken up. After relaying to him what had happened, Heero went to keep his distraught lover company at his mother's suggestion. It was going to be a very challenging few weeks for the braided youth. Whatever support he could have now, the better.

When they stepped back into the living room, Trent sighed deeply as he fell onto the large sofa. Danielle stood before him, frowning deeply, "He is quite the remarkable boy."

Sighing deeply, Trent nodded, "That he is."

As she lowered her head, Danielle spoke sincerely, "Trent, as I mentioned earlier, there is no obligation to your working with me on this case. As much as I would love to have your assistance, there is a great deal that I am asking of you if you agree to this. Should something go wrong, a loss before the Supreme Justices can be devastating for a lawyer's career." Her breath was nearly lost when he looked up with a fierceness in his eyes.

"Just what makes you think that we are going to lose the case?" Trent asked.

"We?" Danielle repeated, holding her breath in hoping that she had heard him correctly.

Smiling warmly, Trent rose to his feet, never breaking their eyes. "I am devoted to this case. And I am greatly honored that of all your staff, you asked me to be the one to assist you."

All but collapsing from relief, Danielle sighed deeply with her shoulders sagging. "Thank you," was all that she could manage. "I will see that you are compensated for your work and time, she began, only to be cut off when the young man raised his hand and shook his head.

Trent smiled sincerely, "No need for that. I miss my old days of defending someone simply because it was the right thing to do. That boy deserves the right to live his life. Defending him simply for the sake of seeing that that happens will be my payment."

Small tears filled Danielle's cobalt eyes. She, too, had begun her practice with the same notion. She so badly missed those days now. Clapping his hands, Trent took on his air of professionalism as he stated, "Now, with only a month to prepare, we best start by discussing where we need to begin."

A small smirk tugged Danielle's lips, the thrill of preparing for a case enrapturing her. "I already started by asking Heero and his friends for the names and numbers of everyone who came in contact with Duo. I have a few to begin making contacts for witnesses. Heero will also be assisting where needed."

From there, the two lawyers sat together as they discussed their plan of attack.

* * * * * *

Adjusting her deep green suit coat and skirt with her free hand and gripping her briefcase with the other, Danielle took a deep, calming breath. The last four weeks had passes so quickly, she hardly had a moment to catch her breath. Now, on this morning of the trial, all that she could do was hope that she and Trent had adequately prepared.

For a moment, she just stood before the closed wooden doors that led to the court room. There would be no turning back when passing through them. The empty, marble-floored hallway took on a life of its own as she waited in silence.

Dressed in a fine, grey suit, Trent approached the young woman with a smile and suitcase in his hand. "You look quite ravishing, if I may say," the brunette smirked.

A faint blush tinting her cheeks, Danielle smirked back, "Why thank you, Trent. You look quite handsome, yourself. Is complimenting your boss in such a way a common thing of yours?"

Raising an eyebrow, Trent replied smoothly, "Only when it helps ease the tension in the air." Before Danielle could respond, the young man gestured to the two boys walking up behind him.

Their hands joined, Heero and Duo regarded the two lawyers with nods. They both seemed to age as they stood there in suits, the Japanese boy in deep blue and the braided teenager in black. A low brimmed, business cap tapped off Duo's look and his tail was hidden under his suit coat. Both boys looked terribly nervous.

With a reassuring smile, Danielle stood before the two boys. Gesturing to the hat that he wore, she addressed Duo, "This will be the last time you'll ever have to hide yourself. Your image will be on every front cover and shown as the top story on every news station throughout the duration of this trail for the next few weeks. Do you think you're going to be okay with that?"

Biting his lip in anticipation, Duo nodded enthusiastically, "Yes." Eagerly, he removed the hat and opened up his coat to allow his tail to sway freely. Whatever the outcome, he would be seen for who he was. That alone was something that he had dreamed of.

At the sight of his lover able to show himself in the open, Heero smiled warmly. Kissing the other teenager's cheek, he whispered, "I'll be sitting right behind you." Nodding his appreciation, Duo hugged him fiercely before the Japanese youth stepped into the court room after embracing his mother and shaking Trent's hand.

Clapping Duo on the shoulder after they waited a long moment Trent smiled, "Just don't forget to breathe." When the braided teenager chuckled deeply, he told him, "We're ready when you are." Danielle nodded to show that she truly was set to go.

Slowly, Duo took a deep breath and nodded to them, "Okay. I'm ready." Her smile growing, Danielle turned to open the double doors that led to the court room. Inside, cameras flashed and all eyes of the filled space turned to the back of the room.


Part 24:

[There really ain't no winners anymore
Just victims of this uncivil war]
-Lyrics to `This Uncivil Way' by Martina McBride

As cameras continued to flash all around, Duo's cat ears twitched at the sound of gasps and shocked voices whispering as he walked down to the front of the immense court room. His violet eyes looked at either side of him at the many stunned gazes watching him. Every bench was filled with people, in anticipation of seeing what was being presented before the Supreme Justices. They certainly had not been quite prepared for this.

Danielle conspicuously reached a hand to squeeze the back of the braided teenager's when she sensed him becoming a bit unnerved at the attention that he was receiving. "Just look straight ahead, Duo," she spoke quietly. Grateful for something to ground him, the cat-tailed youth gave a small nod and focused on the table in front and on the right-hand side.

When they approached the gate, Trent held it open for Duo and Danielle before following them to their table. Straight and certain of herself, Danielle took her place at the boy's right while Trent flanked the left. The two lawyers took their seats along with their client, opening their briefcases to remove their pads and paper.

Biting his lip, Duo peeked directly behind him. His violet eyes brightened when he spotted Heero with Relena, Quatre, Trowa, Wufei and Sally all sitting together in the first row. The nicely attired group smiled reassuringly at the braided teenager. In seeing his lover and his dear friends, Duo smiled in relief.

Quietly slipping into the only space left on that long bench of friends, two familiar young woman sat beside the Japanese teenager. Blinking in surprise, Heero sputtered, "D-Dorothy? Catherine? I didn't expect to see you here."

Adjusting her long, grey skirt that matched her business suit, Dorothy winked at him and smirked, "I wouldn't miss having the chance to witness your mother and the infamous Trent Clark in action before the Supreme Justices for anything."

Catherine just chuckled deeply and rolled her eyes at her friend's comments. "That and you're here to continue checking out my brother." She laughed quietly when the blonde director blushed slightly. In hearing the conversation, Trowa cleared his throat and glared at his sister with a blush on his own cheeks. The look only bade the redhead giggle more. She truly loved teasing her brother now that he was dating her best friend.

Duo turned back again, his violet eyes widening before filling with joy in spotting the young women that he had met when he had been hiding his identity. He waved to them excitedly. For a moment, Dorothy and Catherine stared in stunned silence in seeing his cat ears and tail, but regained their senses and returned the smile and wave.

When the braided youth turned back, the blonde young woman said quietly to her future student, "More importantly, we're here to support Duo." Catherine nodded at the sentiment. Heero didn't know how to thank either of them enough, but he had a feeling by the way they warmed at the sight of his smile that he managed to convey his appreciation without words.

At the sound of the courtroom back door opening again, all eyes turned to watch as Dekim and Jacob entered. In seeing the dark-haired man that walked ahead of them, Danielle's eyes narrowed as growled deeply, "Septum."

"Figures," Trent gritted as he watched the procession. "Dekim knows that our firms are competitors. If they're going to win this case, they really want to have it rubbed in our faces by losing to our rival."

When the braided teenager turned to him, his tall ears drooped and concern in his eyes, Trent smiled, "Don't worry, Duo. Septum may be good, but he has yet to win a case against the Yuy firm. It's been a constant thorn in his side. We'll see that it stays there." Duo gave the smallest smile of appreciation as he struggled to keep his fluttering stomach of nerves calm.

Septum took his seat alone at the other table in the front of the room while Dekim and Jacob took their seats in the first row behind him. The two scientists smirked at Danielle and Trent when their eyes met.

Not ones to be affected by such taunts, the two lawyers just smiled sweetly back with firm nods of acknowledgement. All the while, Duo kept his head lowered, his eyes studying the wooden table before him in effort to not feel the burning gazes of his captors on his back.

"I suppose we best take the high road and greet Septum well," Danielle suggested with a deep sigh. Trent rose to his feet with her and together, they walked over to the table at the left side of the room. Before they stepped aside, Danielle bent at the waist to whisper to Duo, "Courage, little one." With a grateful smile, the cat-tailed youth nodded up to her.

As he continued to remove his notes and other paperwork from his briefcase, Septum looked up from his work as the pair approached. Standing before their opponent, Danielle smiled kindly and exchanged her hand. In a velvety smooth voice, she offered, "Best of luck to you, Septum. I have been looking forward to sparing with you, myself, for some time now."

Ignoring the hand stretched out to him, Septum did not even bother to have the decency to rise to his feet. "Believe me, Misses Yuy," he began with a smirk, "I have been even more anxious for this day. This is one case that I do not intend to lose."

Trent had to fight to keep his voice calm when he replied, "Nor do we." With a nod of his head, he placed a hand on Danielle's shoulder and concluded, "It has been a pleasure as always, Septum." He bit back his urge to laugh at the glare that had earned him. The last time they met, Trent had delivered a crushing blow to Septum in their last case. With that, the team of lawyers went back to their table.

"Well it is good to see that he is as pleasant as ever," Danielle chuckled deeply as they headed to their table.

Another moment passed and silence fell over the courtroom, the gossipers and news anchors stilled, as the bailiff stepped into the room. Turning to face all those present, the African American man seemed dwarfed by the tall, seventeen podiums with leather seats that rose behind him. "All rise," he bellowed in a commanding voice. "The honorable Supreme Justices will now preside. Justice Harris will be overseeing this case."

Everyone present rose to their feet as two doors at opposite sides of the room's front opened. One by one, the black-robed Supreme Justices rose up to their seats with the emblem representing the Colony where they came from. A white-haired man took the center podium, the only one with an image of the Earth on it, while his fellow justices stood at their places.

As the wide variety of young, old, race, religion, men and women reached their podium, they looked down with wide eyes and just as varied measures of shock on the cat-tailed boy. Duo felt his cheeks color the slightest bit as he peered his own wide eyes up at them. He swallowed hard under their scrutiny.

The older Justice representing the Earth, his name plate in bold letters residing `Justice Harris', turned to the group gathered and gave a firm nod. "Please be seated," he spoke in a kind enough voice. As one, everyone took their seats. Silence fell heavily in the courtroom such that a pin dropping in the hallway could have been heard.

Sitting up in his seat, Justice Harris's brown eyes turned to the defendant's table and began, "Misses Yuy, Mister Clark, it is my duty as the overseer of this case to advise you that you will be fighting the uphill battle in this.

"In matters involving the government, we- the supreme Justices- tend to side with them. And so, going into this trial, you have already lost your case. It will be your difficult job to sway us otherwise."

Folding his hands together on his desk, the Justice continued, "The format of this trial will not be quite different from any other that we have presided. Seeing how we have already given the victory to them, Septum will not be calling any witnesses. You may call as many as you like, with the exception of your client, whether we have been informed of their being called upon or not. After that, allowing Septum will have the chance to cross examine them.

"If you are not able to provide any solid evidence that the government does not have the right to use its resources to better our security, the judgment will be unanimous against you."

Danielle's widened eyes blinked. She had not been expecting this. Never before had she started without the upper-hand, even if she was the only person who knew it at the time. While she knew that she had her work cut out for her going into the trial, she never expected to hear from the Justices that she had already lost. The fear and shock was in Trent's eyes as well, when she turned to him. Duo paled a couple shades as his ears fell a bit.

With a quiet chuckle, Septum smirked in amusement in watching his competition try not to physically squirm at the announcement. Behind him, Dekim and Jacob were shaking hands in what was sure to be a celebratory exchange. Heero shifted uncomfortably in his seat while his friends showed signs of their own unease.

Swallowing to dampen her dry throat, Danielle nodded firmly. "I understand, your honor," she replied in a clear voice. Trent nodded his own comprehension of their situation. Under the table, Danielle found Duo's hand at his side and squeezed it in support.

"Very well," Justice Harris nodded back. "We will begin with your opening statements, then."

* * * * * *

The opening statements were made on both sides of the fence. A brief recess was called not long after, as the arguments went a bit long. Danielle and Kent did their best to set the stage for their case, but there were no reactions from the Justices that were favorable to winning them over. Septum, on the other hand, received several nods of agreement from the jury of judges.

Running a hand through her hair, Danielle sighed in frustration. "This is… not very promising," she confided in Trent as they waited in the break room that had been set aside for them.

From where he sat across from her, the young man frowned deeply, "It certainly will be a challenge, to say the least. Calling Duo to the stand to plead his own case was something that we had been counting on. Now, we no longer have that to our advantage."

He shook his light-haired head and thought aloud, "I suppose that it would weigh less on the Justices' consciences to hand him back into Dekim's hands if he was seen and not heard. But then again, not many of them looked at him more than once since the time they entered the room."

"We have to cut our list of witnesses," Danielle stated suddenly as she watched the braided boy sitting beside her son with their friends at the table on the other side of the room.

His eyes widening, Trent repeated quietly, "Cut our witnesses? Danielle, we have the floor to use as many witnesses as we want. I don't think that it would be wise to shorten that list of people we have."

Danielle shook her head, "If we have too many people on the stand, the Justices will see through out attempt to drag this out as long as possible to find the right witnesses. They want to be shown why the government is wrong to carry out their feat of cell splicing and cloning.

"If we have Duo's friends take the stand repeating the same sentimental feelings that they have for him, we'll lose their interest and they will glaze over the rest of our case. Our only chance is to keep that list as short as possible, leave out the sentimental angle as much as we can. Keep the Justices' attention."

Weighing her words in careful consideration, Trent sighed deeply, "You're right." He had to agree with her in the end. It all made perfect sense. Removing his list of witnesses that they had planned on calling, he asked, "So who do we want to cut?"

* * * * * *

After the brief recess, everyone returned to their seats. Leaning forward with his hands folded, Justice Harris addressed the defense, "You may call your first witness, council."

Rising from her seat, Danielle announced, "The defense calls upon Vice-Foreign Minister Darlian." Behind her, hushed whispers spoke in quiet surprise.

The doors in the back opened as the tall man entered. As the Foreign Minister approached the front of the room amongst the occasional camera flashes, Septum turned to whisper amongst Dekim and Jacob. Danielle picked up on that out of the corner of her eye, wishing that she could be a fly on the wall to overhear what they had to say.

Relena practically beamed at her step-father as their gazes met. When he passes through the wooden gate, Minister Darilan smiled and winked at the braided teenager at the defense table. Duo smiled brightly, his cat tail swishing happily behind him.

The exchange was not lost to several of the Justices, the two lawyers noticed. Several sat up with looks of expectancy. Perfect. Already, they had their full attention.

After her witness was sworn in and stated his name for the record, Danielle approached the stand with a friendly smile. "Vice Foreign Minister, I thank you for taking the time in your busy schedule to help defend my client, sir."

"No trouble at all, Misses Yuy," he grinned back, sincerely. "I am happy to do my part in seeing to Duo's safety. I owe that boy a great deal of service than merely this."

Playing dumb, Danielle forces her eyes to blink in surprise, "Oh? Would you mind elaborating on what you would mean by that? Perhaps some of the Justices would like to hear what a mere government experiment would do to warrant the aid of such a high government official."

With a nod, the Foreign Minister answered, "That child protected my daughter, Relena, from a group of brutes at her high school. Putting himself in harm's way, he turned their attention on him.

"I had paid Duo a visit the following day to thank him personally, to find that he had been pretty beaten in his valiant effort. Despite his pain, when he learned that I was Relena's father, the first thing out of his mouth was his voiced concern of how Relena was. The only thing that he had been worried of was whether he had been successful in protecting her. Valor such as that is quite hard to come across with today's youth."

Danielle nodded, "That it is." Her hands moved in vague gestures as she continued, "Now, when you went to pay Duo this visit, did you have any suspicion that he was anything other than any other teenager? Did you sense that there was something different about him?"

Shaking his head, Darilan smirked, "Not at all, His tail had been hidden and his ears were tucked behind head wrappings. I was quite shocked when Relena had told me of what he had successfully hidden for months from the public eye."

With a pleased smile, Danielle commented, "Quite a feat." From his table, Septum glared heatedly at the young woman. She was steering this discussion quite well. Even a couple of the Justices who seemed less than amused at the start of the trial were now leaning forward to listen closely.

"She's doing beautifully," Trent whispered to his client with a small smirk. Trying not to show too much emotion, as he had been trained, Duo nodded subtly.

Pacing across the front of the courtroom, Danielle inquired, "What else took place during your visit with my client on that day, Vice-Foreign Minister?"

At that, the tall man sat up and answered, "I awarded Duo with a Purple Heart that I had made in his name." Several gasps rang out throughout the crowd gathered.

Her cobalt eyes widening again, as though it were the first time she were hearing this, Danielle repeated, "A Purple Heart? But that is an award presented to a man or woman who showed bravery in the face of danger to themselves, sacrificing injury to defend what they believed was right. Surely you, a member of the government, would not have given such a prestigious metal to a mere science experiment-"

Septum's eyes narrowed fiercely as he rose to his feet, shouting, "Objection, your honor! Speculation and hearsay! The true identity of the defense's client is why we are here today. There is no need to draw out negative images that could sway your decision."

After careful consideration with a hand rubbing his chin, Justice nodded firmly, "Sustained." He turned to the young woman as she trained her face to show only calm over her bubbling frustration. "Careful with your words, council."

Nodding, Danielle replied, "Yes, your honor. I will rephrase my words." Back at their bench, Heero swallowed hard as he felt small beads of sweat forming on his brow. At either side of him, his friends all seemed to be silently struggling to keep quiet in watching the braided teenager's fate being fought before them.

She turned back to face her witness. "Minister Darilan," she returned to her defense without missing a beat, "Knowing what you know now the true form of my client and how he came to be, do you feel that the metal you had given him- under the assumption at the time that he was like any other teenager- do you feel at all that his metal should be stripped away?"

Trent's eyes widened slightly at the unrehearsed question. "Brilliant," he chuckled deeply, low enough that only Duo could hear. "She is asking the same question, just in a way that it would go over Septum's head to keep him from objecting again."

A wide, warm smile spread on the politician's face while his gaze fell on Duo. "As you mentioned, the Purple Heart is an award presented by a representative of the government, such as myself, to a man or woman." Slowing his words to give them emphasis, he stated clearly, "I presented the award to a young man."

Voices from their audience filled the air in reaction, murmuring to each other. Nearly turning red, Septum rose and yelled again, "Objection, your honor!"

"On what grounds?" Justice Harris turned a confused gaze to the prosecutor. Several Justices were covering their mouths as they leaned together to speak amongst each other. There faces were difficult to read, but it was clear that several eyes had been opened.

Clenching his fists, Septum responded, "On the grounds that Minister Darilan's comment was purely a statement of opinion. The purpose of cases such as this is to hear only the facts, what can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Again, this is speculation on the witness's part."

Not needing a moment of consideration this time, Justice Harris waved his hand with a glare. "Overruled. While the statement is a matter of opinion, let's not forget that this case pertains to the government's stand on what should become of the defendant. Vice Minister Darilan is a member of that government, and so his opinion will be weighed in this matter."

Releasing the breath that he had been holding, Duo gripped his tail in both hands. That had been a huge point in their favor, he knew. By the way that Danielle smirked at him over her shoulder with a wink to him and Trent, he could feel his nerves ebbing for the first time that day. More than that, the Vice Foreign Minister just called him a young man. A young man. Small tears filled his violet eyes.

With a wide smile, Danielle looked to the Supreme Justice on their podiums and bowed slightly. "No further questions," she announced smoothly before walking back to her table. When she took her seat, she glanced over the relieved faces of her son and the friends surrounding him.

Taking her seat at Duo's left, the red-haired lawyer let out a long breath. Behind their chairs, Trent reached over to squeeze her arm with a proud smile on his face. Giving him a small nod, Danielle grinned.

The white-haired presiding Supreme Justice nodded to the other table, "Your cross examination, then." At that, the dark-haired prosecutor rose from his seat and quietly thanked him properly.

Removing a short stack of papers from his suitcase to sit on the table, Septum headed to the witness stand. "Now, Minister Darilan," he began coolly, "As you had mentioned earlier, you are the step-father to Relena Peacecraft, is that correct?"

With a look of confusion at the question, the brunette politician nodded, "Well, yes. That is correct."

"And I understand that you have children of your own as well?" The dark-haired prosecutor went on, folding his arms.

Minister Darilan shifted in his seat a bit, his confusion growing at the odd line of inquiries. "I have two sons of my own," he answered, his eyes narrowing slightly.

Turning towards Trent, Danielle frowned deeply, "Where is he going with this?" The young man shook his head with his own look of disquiet. Duo swallowed hard, trying not to think of what it was that had the two lawyers worried at their competitor's tactics.

Septum frowned, "Forgive me if I become personal with my next question, Minister. But, I understand that you had a third son who died six years ago."

Again, Trent and Danielle shared a nervous look. They had never known any of this before. Her eyes widening in worry, Relena squeezed Quatre's hand. Few people outside of her family knew of her third step-brother.

For a moment, Darilan's eyes widened. Clearing his throat, he nodded, "My son, David, was in the military. There was a disturbance between negotiations between the Earth and Colony C43. He was sent there to see that the peace was kept. He was killed during a sudden uprising while he was there."

Hushed voices from the audience began to rise. Smacking his gavel, Justice Harris's voice boomed over them, "Order!" Instantly, the whispers ceased. Relena bit her lip and Quatre squeezed her hand back, his blue eyes widening in never having known any of this.

Lowering his head in forced sympathy, Septum said, "I can only imagine the kind of pain something like that could bring. A young life taken in such a senseless act of violence." He turned his back to retrieve the papers he had left out.

The Vice Foreign Minister glared ahead, not looking at anything in particular as he lost himself in his memories. "It didn't have to happen. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he hissed.

"Like so many other men and women in the military," the prosecutor urged on. Looking to the papers in his hands, "And so, for those mothers and fathers who shared your grief, to spare those parents with children who could be sent to war, you signed the bill to call upon the services of Dekim Barton and his association to cell splice, cloning those specimen to create a limitless army. The name of that bill, `The Front Line.'"

Danielle, Trent, and Duo gasped in shock and disbelief, their eyes widening. Darilan turned ashen, his own eyes widening. "I-I didn't know that… I was grieving," he breathed. Covering her mouth, Relena held back a sharp sob as tears filled her eyes.

His own eyes narrowing, Septum spoke in a loud voice, "I have your signature on a copy of that bill in my hand, here, Vice Foreign Minister. You, yourself, signed the rights to have creatures such as the defendant to be created and cloned and yet you sit here trying to cover the fact that you are one of the very reasons he exists! Exactly which side are you on, sir?"

The voices rose again, cameras flashed and people rose to their feet at their benches to get a better view of the scene. The Supreme Justices all watched in shocked, wide eyes in witnessing the exchange. "Order!" Justice shouted over the crowd, slamming his gavel several times until people were back in their seats and silenced.

"Oh my God," Danielle whispered, covering her face with her hands. "Oh my God," was all she could whisper again. Small tears filled Duo's eyes again, only these were not out of joy as they had been earlier. He could feel a steel chain wrapping around his neck, locking into place and ready to pull him back into captivity.

The calm in the room was about simmer into oblivion as whispers grew louder. Not ready to let up, Septum stalked towards the stunned witness. "I repeat, sir, which side are you on!" he cried, slamming his fist on the wooden railing protecting the Foreign Minister.

Rising from her seat with narrowed eyes, Danielle shouted, "Objection, your honor! Badgering the witness!"

Without hesitating, Judge Harris nodded with a clear and loud voice, "Sustained." Glaring at the dark-haired prosecutor, he growled. "You have made your point." With a nod, Septum stepped back from the stand with a quiet apology to the white-haired man.

The Vice-Foreign Minister's mouth opened and closed but his voice was lost. Sweat ran down his pale face. In seeing the distraught state of the witness, Justice Harris turned to everyone gathered and announced, "We will recess for lunch and resume in two hours."

The gavel fell with a resounding, thundering echo.


Part 25:

In the private lounge that had been set aside for them, Danielle was slouched in her chair at the small round table in the center of the room. Her face in her hands, the cross-examination of the Vice Foreign Minister replayed through her mind.

The images of her worried son holding his tearful boyfriend, their saddened friends surrounding them after recess had been called, filled the young woman's vision. She thought of how Noin and Zechs put on brave faces for their son in his time of fear and loss. It was breaking her heart all over again just thinking of it again.

Mister Darilan was dismissed from having to testify again after the break. Knowing that they would not be able to recover from the devastating blow to their case with his witness, it was agreed that the young man was excused from the stand for the remainder of the trial.

Lowering her hands from her face, her weary gaze fell on the young man sitting across from her. "What the hell just happened?" she asked weakly. "How did we not know that Darilan signed that bill?"

With a heavy sigh, Trent lowered his head with a shake as he replied faintly, "I don't know, Danielle. I do believe him when he told us just now that he truly did not know what he was signing years ago. He was just starting to grieve. Emotions are one of the easy tools that politicians play on to get what they want, even if they are the emotions of another politician."

Danielle frowned deeply, "I just can't believe that Septum caught us off guard like this. We should have known about this before putting so much stock into Darilan's testimony. Duo's testimony that we had counted on before coming is no longer going to take place. What else do we have?"

For a long moment, silence just hung in the air as the two lawyers considered the question. They didn't have anything else to help their case. They both knew it, but neither would actually say it. In the end, they could not have found themselves in a grimmer situation.

As he sat up in his chair, Trent leafed through his paperwork that had been spread across the table. "I suggest that we just keep on as planned," he spoke up at last. "We still have some of Heero's classmates who met Duo on several occasions, who knew nothing of his secret. If anything it will buy us time."

With a snort, Danielle repeated bitterly, "Buy us time? For what?"

A small smile tugged the corner of the brunette lawyer's face as he commented, "I've come to learn that even miracles need time. Let's just try to bide it as much as we can." At the sentiment, the young woman's cobalt eyes widened. Slowly, her face eased and she couldn't help but smile.

* * * * * *

The next three witnesses called to the stand did very little to change the predestined ruling of the case. Trent took over the questioning of those witnesses, acquaintances of Duo who had been oblivious to the fact that he was unlit any other normal teenager.

When it was her time on the stand, Hilde won over some laughter from the crowd with their light-hearted humor. Her boldness when cross-examined by Septum also won a few nods of respect from the Supreme Justices when she was excused after her testimony.

Heero and his friends were kept away from the stand, Danielle and Trent knowing that Septum would rip into them in his turn to question them. They would be labeled as being too naïve because of their closeness to the braided teenager. And so, two more teenagers who met Duo in passing on a couple occasions followed Hilde on the stand.

Sally was called upon next. Having treated Duo on several occasions, she had relayed her findings to the court. While Trent emphasized her points of little to no difference between his client's body and the body of a normal teenage boy, a few heads leaned forward in interest from the Justice podiums.

Just when it seemed that the defense regained some ground, once again, Septum came to discredit everything that they had built in their case. Sally ended up having to admit that the toxins that had been used on Duo's body, at the level they were administered, would have killed a normal youth his age.

Pacing before the witness stand with his hands folded behind his back, Septum continued on in his questioning, "So really, the defendant is in no means normal. Is he, Miss Po?"

"That all depends on what you consider normal," the braided young woman answered. She won a few chuckled from the audience. "There is no true, scientific, definition of normal. It's all a matter of opinion."

By this time, Danielle's head was lowered as she slowly leafed through her papers. After Sally, there would be no other witness for them to call. Calling upon anyone at this point would be plainly shown as just trying to prolong the inevitable. More than half of the Supreme Justices were looking irritable that this case was still going on.

To the red-haired woman's right, Duo turned to her with a concerned look. Gazing up from the papers before her, Danielle met his violet eyes and gave a small smile that she hoped was comforting. It took everything in her to offer it, knowing how much of a lie it was.

In truth, the hard reality of it all was that this case was lost to them. And this poor, braided teenager before her would be condemned to a shortened life of torment. It took everything in her not to allow the threatening tears to fill her eyes. Her smile must have been convincing enough as Duo returned it before looking back to the witness stand.

Swallowing hard, Danielle turned back to the papers of Dekim's medical reports that had been handed over when she had taken Duo from the clutches of the cruel scientist. It was the last of the stack of papers that she had.

As the interrogation continued, the voices of Sally and Septum faded into the background while the red-haired lawyer's eyes skipped over the pages she turned. Trent watched the exchange closely as the presiding attorney at this stage of the game.

"And you are here to say that your opinion," Septum smirked, "that the opinion of a nurse intern is practiced enough to prove that the defendant is normal, then? If I were to tell a surgeon, or a seasoned doctor the defendant's abilities to overcome the toxins injected into him, would they tell me that he was normal? That his body was of a normal human being?"

With a soft gasp, Danielle's cobalt eyes widened on the page she fell on. "My God," she whispered to herself. Sitting up, she quickly turned to the next page, skimming it. Blinking his violet eyes, Duo watched Heero's mother feverishly went through the report with a highlighter.

On the stand, Sally swallowed hard with a deep frown. His eyes narrowing, Septum turned to her and asked, "Well? Would they, Miss Po?" Biting her lip, the braided nurse lowered her head and shook her head. "I can't hear you," the dark-haired prosecutor hissed.

Peering up at him, Sally growled deeply, "No."

At that, Septum smirked arrogantly and nodded, "Thank you for your honesty." Gazing up at the Supreme Justices, he announced, "No further questions." He turned on his heels to return to his desk, taking a moment to nod to his smug clients.

Justice Harris turned to the defense table and sighed deeply. At this point, even he could not hide the fact that he was growing tired of this game to change the verdict. With a firm nod, he addressed Trent, "You may reexamine the witness, council."

Returning the nod, the brunette lawyer began to rise to his feet. "No further questions," Danielle whispered urgently as she turned to her partner before he straightened. His cat ears perking, Duo gazed on her in surprise.

Trent was no less shocked. His own eyes wide, he strained to keep his voice quiet, "What! Danielle, this is our last witness. We have to try to regain some ground before we make our closing statements." The crowd behind them began talking amongst themselves in the hesitance to respond to the presiding Justice.

"No further questions," Danielle ground out quietly, her cobalt eyes narrowing.

At the fierce determination in her eyes, Trent gave pause. Clearing his throat, he turned to the scrutiny of the Justices. "No further questions, your honor." A few surprised whispers and gasps filled the air at the unexpected announcement. There were several wide eyes amongst the ensemble of judges as well.

Turning to the braided woman, Justice Harris said, "You may step down, Miss Po." With a nod, Sally rose to her feet. On her way past the defense table, she cast a confused glance to the two lawyers.

As he ran a hand through his white hair, Justice Harris began, "Seeing as how there are no further witnesses-"

Danielle rose to her feet, cutting him off as she stated, "Pardon me, your honor, put we do have one last witness to call." A few eyes rolled amongst the council of judges.

One of the few Justices who seemed to come alive with their interest in the proclamation, Harris replied, "Oh? Very well then. You may call your last witness." Danielle did not so much as bat an eye at the stress placed on the word `last.'

"The defense calls Dekim Barton to the stand," the redheaded lawyer smiled.

Instantly, voices rose in the crowd, every Supreme Justice straightened and sat on the edge of their seats in attention. Their eyes wide in disbelief, Trent and Duo watched Danielle with ashen faces. Heero and his friends all blinked in shock, whispering amongst themselves. Amongst all of this, none looked more stunned at the announcement than Dekim Barton, his back straight and looking around as though he did not believe he had heard correctly.

Just as the voices began to rise, Justice Harris slammed his gavel as he shouted, "Order!" When calm fell over the court, the white-haired man nodded to the scientist, "The defense is entitled to call upon anyone that they so wish in trials such as this. Mister Barton, please come to the witness stand."

A smug grin fell on Dekim's face as he gave a firm nod. Without further hesitation, he rose to his feet and made his way past the gate leading to the front of the courtroom. Duo lowered his head just as the scientist turned his head in the boy's direction.

Sensing the braided teenager's unease, Danielle placed a hand on his back, lightly rubbing small circles to relax his tense muscles. When Trent turned to her with a concerned look, she just gave a firm nod before rising from her seat.

Once the old scientist was sworn in and his name was given for the record, the redheaded lawyer folded her hands behind her back as she approached the witness stand. The Justices remained at the edges of their seats while they peered down over their podiums.

With a polite smile, Danielle bowed her head slightly and began, "Doctor Barton, as much as everyone here would like for this case to end, I will not make any move to make a dramatic build up to why I have called you to the stand." She cast a bold glare to the Justices, catching them off-guard and wide-eyed at her all but calling the fact that several of them seemed to be near falling asleep.

Trent made a small, undetermined sound at the exchange. "I hope that she knows what she's doing," he muttered under his breath. Beside him, Duo swallowed hard as he raised his head to watch the scene.

Gazing back to the witness, the lawyer grinned, "Instead, let's simply get to the point of why we are here." Dekim gave a firm nod, his smile of amusement ever present. As she pointed to the braided teenager at the defense table, Danielle asked, "Mister Barton, in your own words, define my client."

The question did not faze the scientist in the slightest. Without missing a beat, Dekim replied, "Your `client' is nothing more than a mass of cells merged together by human hands and technology. `It' is no more than a creation configured to benefit the human race. Our scientific term for it is a neko." Duo couldn't help the wince at perspective at what he was. Being called `it' only reminded him of how Heero's mother had referred to him for a time. His cat ears drooped as he bit his lip.

Behind his lover, Heero's eyes narrowed heatedly on the old man. Frowning deeply in concern, Noin placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it in support. "Steady," she whispered in his ear. Taking a deep breath, the Japanese teenager gave a terse nod while his fists clenched.

"Ah," Danielle replied, his smile growing. "So in your mind, as the person who created him-"

His voice sharp, Dekim corrected, "It."

Clearing her throat, the redheaded lawyer nodded, "Very well, as you are the creator, I will use your term for my client. Let's just say that you are correct in your perspective of `it.'" She made certain to stress the last word with such a harsh tone that a couple of the Supreme Justices flinched. "You have no reason to believe that `it' has the right to be considered a normal human being, then?"

Without waiting for a breath, the scientist answered firmly, "No. My team and I had created it as a tool to benefit our kind. Our findings have proven that we can create countless others like it to built massive armies, sending them off to fight wars instead of our parents, our friends, our children, our grandchildren, nieces, nephews."

As he cast glare to the braided teenager, he commented, "It was simply made to serve our needs to live on. I have never once thought of it as a human. God created man. And man created it." Small gasps of held breaths filled the air at the statement. Septum gave his client a subtle smile and nod when the scientist briefly looked over at him

Tilting her head, Danielle frowned, "Never once considered it human? Really?" She turned on her heels to retrieve the report that she had left out. Holding up the papers, she stated, "I have here a list of medical reports that had been handed over when my client was brought into safe protection prior to this trial."

Dekim nodded, "Yes, I remember. I have nothing to hide."

"Not even this?" Danielle smirked as she held up the last two pages in the stack. "It appears that while working over these medical reports, you also were going over one of your personal journals of your research. If you were not really looking, it would be ready to mistake them for the rest of the report."

Dekim's jaw began to fall slack in recognizing the pages that had disappeared from his records. In his haste while helping Jacob stabilize the braided neko, several pages of his journal mixed with the reports. His eyes filling wit intrigue, Trent sat up, leaning forward as he continued to watch the exchange.

Quickly rising to his feet, Septum yelled, "Objection! That journal was not handed over willingly by my client! It should not be used in this trial on the grounds that it was not meant to be handed over with those medical files."

Peering up to the presiding Justice, Danielle countered, "Your honor, we are here in this courthouse, today, to deliberate over the identity of my client. Who better to tell us just what he is than the man who created him? Doctor Barton, himself, stated just now that he has nothing to hide. He shouldn't be concerned over a couple pages in his own writing, whether they were unknowingly handed over or not."

Justice Harries sat back in his seat a moment, rubbing his chin with a hand in quiet consideration. "I am going to allow the use of those journal entries," he said at last.

With a small sigh of relief, Danielle nodded her appreciation. She raised the two papers again and turned back to the witness, his face ashen and dampening with sweat. "My question to you, Mister Barton," she began smoothly, "is that how can you sit here, under oath, and claim that my client has not one grain of human make-up when you wrote, `My goal has been reached. As of today, I am one with God. I have created the perfect human being.'"

The sound of cries and gasps filled the air as some members of the gathered crowd rose to their feet. Amongst the Supreme Justices, there was not one who did not show some state of absolute disbelief and shock in their eyes and on their faces. Trent and Duo stared with slackened jaws along with their friends sitting behind them. Septum and Jacob's shoulders fell along with their own jaws at the revelation. For what seemed an eternity, it seemed no one could find their breath.

Locking his lips, Dekim cleared his throat at finally finding his voice. "Just an oversight of mine," he commented with a wave of his hand.

"An oversight?" Danielle laughed. "My dear Doctor Barton, I have found that you used the term `human' in reference to my client more than sixteen times in these two pages alone." Voices filled the air as people began to react to the startling news.

She questioned with a smirk and a raised eyebrow, "As intelligent a man as you are, could you really have made such an oversight sixteen times?" Dekim's mouth worked in vain of finding anything to say at that moment. Septum's hands rose to cover his face.

With a deep sigh, the redheaded lawyer spoke up, "So really, aside from the medical advances, the only real difference between my client and any other human is mere appearance. Just as there is no difference between a white person and a black person, a tall person and a short person, an old person and a young person, the differences are only on the surface."

The scientist swallowed hard and looked away. Taking a deep breath, Danielle nodded to the presiding Justice and announced quietly, "No further question." At that, she turned to head back to her table.

Her braided client had tears running down his cheeks when she returned. Trying to contain her own emotions, Danielle just smiled warmly with a small nod. Trent reached behind Duo to squeeze his partner's hands tightly. Meeting the young man's smiling eyes, his statement earlier that afternoon came back to her. They had pulled off a miracle.

Silence had hung in the air once more and Septum rose to his feet at last to say quietly, "No questions, your honor." Danielle squeezed Trent's hand in hers in hearing that their competitor could not recover from what they hoped to be a fatal blow to his case. Dekim was excused from the stand. Walking as if in a daze, the old scientist returned to his bench.

"Any further witnesses?" Justice Harris asked the defense team. When they both replied none, the white-haired man nodded and spoke amongst his fellow Justices.

There was a long discussion between the fifteen judges, everyone of them having a chance to peak quietly amongst themselves. Finally, Harris stated, "Given the circumstances, we have decided that there will be no need for closing statements at this point." Concern flashed in the defense team's eyes in hearing that. "The decision is unanimous."

All of their eyes wide, Heero and his friends' hands all searched the hand of the person next to them. With a small whimper, Duo closed his shimmering eyes, lowering his braided head. Danielle bit her lip as her own eyes closed as she spoke a quiet prayer. Trent just held his breath as everyone else gathered in waiting.

With a deep breath, Justice Harris announced, "We side with the defendant."

Instantly, cheers, applause and screams of elation went up in the crowd as they jumped to their feet. Unable to contain their excitement, Danielle and Trent slammed their fists on the table as they rose to their feet, laughing in relief as they embraced tightly. Septum, Dekim and Jacob sank in their seats with loss on their expressions.

His violet eyes wide, Duo remained frozen in his chair as the words of the ruling rang through his head. Sitting beside him, Danielle smiled warmly with tears in her own cobalt eyes as she cupped the sides of his face, turning it to face her. "We won, Duo," she whispered as she ran a hand through his bangs.

Swallowing hard, the braided teenager turned to see his friends, the remainder of his family still celebrating and not a dry eye amongst them. Heero walked up to the railing with a loving smile, tear streaks dampening his cheeks as his gaze met his lovers'. As he shakily rose to his feet, Duo closed the distance between them, throwing his arms around the other boy in a fierce embrace that was met with equal ferocity and need.

At the slamming of the gavel and Justice Harris's calling for order, Heero pulled back enough to kiss the trembling braided teenager's forehead. With a whispered, "I love you," he gently urged Duo to return to the defense table.

When everyone returned to their seats, Harris smirked to the defense team, "My compliments to you, Miss Yuy and Mister Clark. You certainly pulled off what we had thought would be an impossible victory."

The two lawyers nodded their thanks with grins from ear-to-ear. The white-haired man turned his attention to the cat-eared youth clutching at his tail. "And as for you, Mister Maxwell," he grinned kindly, "From this day forward, you will be known by your given name. Zechs and Noin are given full guardianship. You are granted the same rights, and are to be treated no differently than any other person." With a wink, he concluded, "Congratulations, young man."

On cue, the bailiff ordered for all to rise as the Justices stepped out of the courtroom. When the doors closed behind them, the room erupted into cheers and applause again. Cameras flashed and an onslaught of reporters ran towards Duo with video cameras and questions. Danielle and Trent gently ushered their client from the room with his lover and friends close behind.

* * * * * *

At the sound of the knock on her door Dorothy looked up from her work and called, "Come in." A wide smile spread on her face when her visitor entered. "Well this is a pleasant surprise," she greeted.

Returning the smile, Heero replied with a nod, "I was hoping that I would get to deliver this to you in person. I just finished." At the questioning look on the young woman's face, the Japanese teenager held up a few sheets of paper stapled together. "Here is the assignment that you had given to me last year."

Her blue eyes widening, Dorothy glanced at her calendar. "But that wasn't due until July 14th. That is a couple weeks off yet." She took up the report that she had required of the young man as he handed it over. Gazing to the cover sheer, she smiled at the title in bold letters centered on the page and read aloud, "Life… Really."

With a shrug, Heero took a seat and commented, "I didn't need that much time to finish it." He sat patiently as the young director read through his paper. He smiled to himself as he watched her eyebrows raise as she continued on in the paper.

Dorothy chuckled deeply when she finished the report. Placing it on her desk, she smirked, "I see that you found the purpose of my assignment."

"My life is my own to live," Heero answered with a grin. A pleased smile tugged at the blonde young woman's lips. "You knew that I was never meant to become a law student," he stated more than asked.

Shaking her head, Dorothy smiled, "Why do you think I set the due date for before Wayne's enrollment date?" As she sat back in her chair, she inquired, "So, what does life have in store for you now, Heero?"

His smile growing a bit, the Japanese teenager answered, "I'll be attending the University of Visual Arts on a full scholarship that I won from a contest."

At that, Dorothy's eyes widened, "That's wonderful, Heero. It's quite the prestigious college, I understand." Her smile grew wistful, "I certainly look forward to seeing your work." He gave a nod of appreciation. The two young adults rose to their feet and exchanged a firm handshake. "I wish you all the best, Heero," the blonde director said sincerely.

"Thank you for all of your help, Dorothy," Heero replied just as earnestly. As he turned towards the door, he asked, "So will we be seeing you at dinner tonight?"

With a hearty laugh, Dorothy answered, "I wouldn't miss it. Wufei promised to show me some pretty… interesting photos of my boyfriend." The fond memories that he got to share with Trowa, Quatre and Wufei flooded back and Heero couldn't help but chuckle deeply.

Stepping outside, Heero smiled at the sight of his braided lover waiting by their bikes. Duo's cat ears and tail twitched in his approach. Smiling brightly when the Japanese teenager kissed him, he asked, "Ready?"

"Ready," Heero grinned.

Together, they took to their bikes and pedaled off… to whatever life had in store for them.



"Duo Maxwell"

As the announcement of his name, the braided teenager quickly adjusted the funny cap that had been adjusted with holes for his cat ears to peek though. A similar adjustment was made to his long, deep blue robe. He walked across the long stage at thunderous applause, his long tail, swishing excitedly and a wide smile on his face. In the large arena, everyone rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation.

On the other side of the stage, Lady Une smiled in pride along with the high school professors sitting behind her. When the youth approached, the young principal kissed his cheeks and whispered, "I am so proud of you, Duo." Whispering back his appreciation, the cat-eared boy accepted the diploma she held out and took her free hand in his with a firm shake.

It had been an amazing year, being able to attend a real school after his home teaching. Now that he had become a `celebrity' following the trial's exposure, Duo found that a great many schools had hoped to have him attend their school for his last year of high school. Of course, there was no need for the braided teenager to think over his options. He had already made friends at Heero's alma mater, so it seemed the best choice. His credits handed over by the school program Noin had been using, Duo entered as a senior classman and gradated in the top ten percent of his class of more than four hundred.

When he looked out to the massive crowd of his classmates and onlookers as they stayed on their feet with loud cheers, whistles and applause, Duo could not help but feel small tears prickling his wide violet eyes. Out in the audience, he found Heero, his parents, Danielle, Trent and all of his friends. His smile grew as he waved excitedly to them. Having to wipe his eyes as he descended the stairs, Duo appraised the diploma in his hands with a proud smile.

Finally, he had taken his first steps into being treated how he always wanted… normal.

* * * * * *

"So what do you have planned now, Duo?" Trowa asked from across the table at the restaurant where their procession went to enjoy a celebratory lunch together before that night's party.

A sheepish grin spread across the cat-eared boy and he replied, "Um… law."

Nearly choking on the water that he was drinking, Heero sputtered, "What!" around the table, everyone had stopped what they were doing to stare at the braided teenager with wide eyes of shock.

"Well," Duo began, "After watching Danielle and Trent in how they defended me, I want to do the same thing for other people. I've researched some practices that defend foreigners and illegal aliens into new colonies and societies. That's what I want to do, be their voice."

The shocked faces melted into warm smiles. It just made perfect sense for Duo to fall into such line of work. Who better to understand those unfortunate souls than someone who was once an outcast, himself. Taking her son's hand into hers, Noin smiled warmly, "You would be perfect for that."

Her husband nodded firmly and patted his boy's back with a proud, "Yes, you would." Zechs continued, "There are several colleges around here that would be happy to have you, I am certain."

With a gesture of his head to the blonde woman sitting beside Trowa, Duo grinned, "Actually, I am already enrolled in Wayne University. Dorothy helped get my foot in the door and found a full scholarship for me."

All eyes turned to the young woman. Dorothy shrugged, "Not a difficult thing, considering Duo's graduating the fifth highest in his class." With a wink, she added, "To say nothing of his celebrity status."

Danielle smiled to the braided teenager, "Considering how much time I have on my hands now that I am retired, I will be more than happy to help you in your studies any way I can, Duo." Both Duo and Heero have her wide smiles of appreciation.

Clearing his throat, Trent smirked, "Let's not forget me, Danielle Yuy-Clark. Considering how few cases I need to take now that the firm has taken off as it has, I can certainly add my own assistance."

His redheaded wife chuckled sheepishly and kissed his cheek as she replied, "Of course."

"So what time is this unveiling of your artwork tomorrow, Heero?" Quatre inquired as their courses were being dispensed by the waitress.

Accepting his plate with a polite nod to the young woman, the Japanese teenager answered, "Two o'clock. I'm trying not to think about it too much right now."

With a slight chuckle, Duo kissed his lover's cheek as he told the others, "He's nervous." Heero gave him a half-hearted glare, but did not reply further. "Well, it is your first unveiling," the braided teenager smirked. "I would be nervous, too."

Sally smiled, "I'm just anxious to finally see it. For one of the most well-known art museums to ask to have your work placed and kept at the entrance wall, to be the first painting that everyone sees when they enter, is very impressive."

With a nod, Relena commented, "I am certain that Mister Noventa and Sylvia were more than pleased at the announcement, given the fact that this is only your first year as one of their students."

"I just hope it's not any abstract piece that you made," Wufei smirked. "I never could understand any of that stuff."

Trowa huffed, "Because you don't have any taste." Turning, he winked at his blonde girlfriend. As the two sparring young men went off on another one of their verbal ways, everyone chuckled deeply and enjoyed their meal.

* * * * * *

Blinking his widened violet eyes, Duo breathed, "I-it's beautiful, Heero." Everyone present for the unveiling stood in stunned, wide-eyed wonder all around them. The Noventas smiled proudly at their student's work from where they stood in the back to appraise it.

The painting spanned the entire wall's great length and height, the first piece that everyone entering the museum would see. It was an image of a breathtaking shoreline at dawn. And at the center of the image was a man, his back to the perspective of the gazer, his legs parted as he leapt high into the air with outstretched aims to the brightening sky.

While the man's face in the painting was not seen, it was impossible not to imaging the elation that would have certainly been there. The striking, vibrant colors used for the art piece could not help but draw the eye to it. The choice to have this to be the permanent home for the piece was only fitting. It was an awe-inspiring piece aptly named `Life' displayed on the brass fitting identification card at the bottom. In the far right corer was Heero's signature.

"My God, Heero," Danielle whispered with tears in her eyes. "I never knew you had this talent." Turning to face her son, she breathed, "This is beautiful."

As he approached, the white-haired head of the Visual Arts University placed a hand on the Japanese teenager's shoulder and smiled, "And he is only starting. Never before has a freshman at the university been asked to have such a great honor. This son of yours has a very bright future ahead of him in art." Beside him, Sylvia nodded enthusiastically with a proud grin of her own. Heero flashed them a smile of appreciation for the support.

Just an hour later, after congratulations and hand shakes were exchanged, the gathered crowd filtered from the museum, leaving only Heero and Duo to stand before the large painting. The braided teenager hardly moved from his spot, unable to take his wide eyes from the image that his lover had painted.

Lightly wrapping his arms around the cat-eared boy's waist, Heero hugged him from behind and rested his head on a shoulder. "You were my inspiration for this," he whispered into his lover's ear with a smile.

Gasping sharply, Duo finally turned his gaze from the painting to meet the Japanese teenager's cobalt eyes. Heero gestured to the man in the image and stated quietly, "This is how you make me feel."

With a small sniffle, the cat-eared youth tuned in his arms wrap his own around Heero's neck. The two lovers held each other as the braided teenager's cat tail moved to wrap around their waists. Purring deeply while the other boy rubbed his back soothingly, Duo pulled back to kiss his love deeply. Closing his own eyes as he met the kiss, Heero pulled their bodies closed together.

Onlookers only smiled at the odd couple as they passed, their eyes moving to the large painting that they stood before, drawn to `Life,' just as Heero's intention had been when he made the piece. When they finally parted with panting breaths, Duo whispered huskily, "I love you."

"And I you," Heero whispered back, gently caressing the side of his lover's face. Leaning into the touch, the cat-tailed boy purred deeply while his eyes drifted closed.

Taking the smaller boy's hand into his own, Heero asked, "Shall we?" With a bright smile, Duo nodded as they stepped out of the museum with one last glance over their shoulders at the large painting.

Hand-in-hand, they stepped into the world… the wonderfully unpredictable world that was now theirs to make of it as they pleased.

It would be an amazing adventure, this life thing.