4-25-2002

Title: Le Jour des Morts, (4/?)
Crossover/Fusion with: "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer".
Author: Persephone_Elysian
Email: Persephone_Elysian@yahoo.com
Archive: Elysia http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/

Um, does anyone out there even remember this one? Sorry, I know it's been a while since the last part (try October 31st) but between schools, a couple of brief forays into "Lord of the Rings" slash, and other fics, this one got shuffled. You can thank Amet for kick starting me on this one. I had to--you can only have someone yell at you to get to Hee-chan so many times before you have to comply. ^_~

Rating: At the moment R-ish... Will mostly likely take a turn down NC-17 lane before this is over with.

Warnings: Violence, lots of bad language, creepy things, eventual lemon.

Pairings:1x2/2x1

Disclaimer: "Gundam Wing" is the property of Bandai, Sunrise, Sotsu Agency. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" belongs to Joss Whedon, Twentieth Century Fox, (currently) UPN and other such companies. No infringement is intended. Any other characters not found in either series belong to me. Please ask permission before you use them.

Thanks: Anne, Chele, and last (but not least), Amet. To be honest, if she hadn't urged me on, Chapter Three might have collected dust on the hard drive. This chapter is for you, hon. ^_^x

Author's Explanation for the wackiness:

This idea has been kicking around in my brain for half a year now. I knew I wanted to do a Buffy/GW story but wasn't sure how to get it around the way I wanted it. This story is part fusion, part crossover. For those of you who have read my other Buffy/Gundam Wing/Angel crossovers, 'Endymion's Repose' and 'And So It Goes' should find this quite different from either of those stories. This is a look at the Buffy verse from a different perspective. As such, I've bent and played with the Gundam Wing timeline just a smidge (as well as making the pilots 16 instead of 15 and giving a new spin on certain characters and their histories) while trying to incorporate the mythology and feel of the Buffy-verse.

Feedback is craved and will be adored with the proper amount of gushing.

***

Les Jour des Morts
A 'Gundam Wing'/'Buffy, the Vampire Slayer'
fusion/crossover
Persephone_Elysian

Chapter Three

 

Sophie clutched the tattering bit of paper in her hand, unfolding it again as if to see if the words had changed any in the last few minutes before closing it again, pressing the worn creases between finger and thumb. She shifted in her car seat, the seat squealing in sticky protest in the sweating confines of the vehicle. It would have, perhaps, been better to turn on the air conditioner, to banish the humidity steaming the inside windows, made worse whenever she took a breath. Instead, she endured, taking a perverse sense of pleasure in it, in ignoring the slow bake of her skin, a warm glow that almost ached but still managed to feel good somehow. It was abnormally sticky for October, the morning beginning off cool enough before the temperatures rose up in mid-afternoon, the sky threatening with clouds but no promise of rain.

She had spent the morning acquainting herself with Salem, using the Watcher's database and the town records to gain a measure of what sort of place it was. More to the point, to gain a sense of what sort of supernatural community she would have to worry about, vampire or otherwise. It might not be needed, with the propensity of her charge to move about but she would err on the side of caution first. What was needed was for her to be aware at all times of the dangers that surrounded them, so that she might prove herself adequate to the task of serving as Watcher to the Slayer.

The Slayer. She squirmed around, grimacing as her skirt hiked and wrinkled the back of her legs almost glued to the toasting seat, retrieving a manila folder from between two hefty books. A picture fell out, a grainy black and white still discernable in spite of the obvious magnification. A bruised face sneered at her, a Band-Aid set quite rakishly across a snub nose that might have hidden either a cut or broken cartilage. Dark eyes glittered at her and she wondered about their shade, having been told that the actual color footage they had of the boy was too abbreviated and dodgy to discern. The hair she'd been told was light brown and 'abnormally long for a young man' and the bit of braid she saw snaking over his shoulder in the picture gave proof to the second observation.

Duo Maxwell. She tried out the name one in her head then letting it roll over her lips. What kind of name was Duo? The 'Maxwell' surname was easy to deduce from the intelligence the Watchers had been putting together in the last forty-eight hours. The new Slayer was the pilot from Colony L2 and according to records there had been a Maxwell parish there at one time. Perhaps, the boy was a relative? Details while sketchy were still coming in and the Council hoped to present her with a more thorough composite of whom she was dealing with before the week was out. Until then, she was expected to make contact and deal with the boy using what little was known.

'I can't do this.' The thought chased across her mind, carrying with it a numbing sense of panic she fought to kill. It was ridiculous to feel this way. After all, this was what she'd waited and worked for all her life, the chance, just this once to prove that she was worthy to be a Watcher. And to be given the chance to serve the Slayer... Sophie frowned. It was a great honor, yes but she couldn't help but feel... Well, somewhat 'suspicious' was the word. The Council had made no secret of their disdain for her family and despite their grudging admiration of her efforts, she had harbored only the tiniest shred of hope that she would ever find herself doing anything other than menial research. And yet...and yet, here she was, in a position that most of her brethren spent their lives jockeying for, leaving her to beg the question of why. There were older, more experienced Watchers, men and women who had years of service, of waiting for their chance and she, barely out of college, had somehow managed to beat them all out. It made no sense to her; she had no friend on the Inner Council, no one to whisper a word in the right ear. So why now? Why her? 'And why do you look a gift horse in its mouth?' she reproved. 'You have the chance, the one you've always wanted. Take it and stop asking questions you might never know the answer to.'

The circumstances surrounding this Slayer, this boy, in and of themselves were amazing, almost miraculous in and of themselves. A male Slayer. There had never been such a thing before, not in all the countless millennia that there had been a Slayer. She hadn't believed Charles when he'd told her, thinking that perhaps it and being assigned as the Watcher to the Slayer were some perverse joke he was seeking to play on her. It had taken him several attempts and a call from the home office before things had finally sunk in. She gathered that the Inner Council was too content that the succession line had not broken to complain about the gender switch although she was sure it had raised more than a few eyebrows, no doubt being debated even now amongst the members. Without doing anything, Duo Maxwell had just made himself a topic for discussion and study for the next several years whether or not he lasted long enough in the position to make a difference.

'All of which is irrelevant at the moment. You should be more worried about how you're going to approach this boy.' He was a trained terrorist, a Gundam pilot of all things, and she highly doubted that the standard Chosen One speech was going to work. Maybe a practical demonstration would serve better? Something to test his abilities and to prove to him unequivocally that he was the Slayer. She smiled, straightening and going for her cell phone. Yes, yes that would work much better. There was still an hour or so left before Maxwell was scheduled to be in his gym class and that was more than enough time to make the necessary arrangements.

'And then we'll meet at last,' Her mouth quirked. 'God help us both.'

***

The swish of leather touched his ears, a soft caress of sound made almost physical. His fingers twitched at his sides and led to the discovery that he was the source of that pleasurable sound. Eyebrow lifting in surprise, Heero touched the sleek black leather now encasing his lower body. It was tight, not uncomfortably so but just enough to mold and stretch over every sinew, cupping slender hips and running taunt over his calves. The legs of the pants flared just a bit, but not enough to obscure the pointed toe of his boots. He flexed, rocking up and back on the toe of his shoe, testing the movement and sensation of the act. His shirt was soft, a thin midnight material that rested light against his upper body while remaining strangely warm, and the sleeves skintight as they ran from shoulder to wrist. He pivoted his wrists pleased to note that though the fabric was tight it did not hamper movement of any sort.

This wasn't real. His internal clock was telling him that it was just before three in the afternoon, which meant he should be in trig class. Further, he couldn't seem to recall how he'd gotten here...wherever here was. Or why he would be here in the first place. Add that to clothing that seemed more in place with some of those teen angst shows his classmates were so fond of and he found so pointless and all the signs seem to point to the logical conclusion. Dream. Not real. Which meant he had dozed off in class, he grimaced. The only thing to do was to wake up and yet....

...And yet he was curious, almost interested to see where this whole sequence of events was leading. Most of his dreams, when he had them at all, paralleled his waking life, always fighting, always in battle even while sleeping. On occasion, Heero found himself hard pressed to tell if he had indeed woken up or if he was still in some elaborate, all too real dream complete with the sound of explosions and blossoms of fire licking across the horizon as he battled Oz troops. Those dreams were normal, expected... but this… This was something new; this was unfamiliar territory, unexpected and unlooked for. This was more frightening than the shells that pounded his Gundam or the scream of canons opening fire on him.

Instead of troops stretching as far as he could see, he was trapped not by metal but by the crush of bodies, moving ... writhing...dancing to a slow sensual beat. The tune was vaguely familiar, probably something he'd heard in passing from Duo's music collection, his mind posited. The room was dim, the occasional flash of light striking the air even as a spotlight focused on a raised dais, a faceless singer swaying just like everyone else in the room. Everyone else moving except him. Everything in motion eddying around him like water around a stone.

The lighting was dim, not enough to obscure his vision but enough to throw shadows across the floor and the people on it. He glanced around, seeking something... someone... familiar in a sea of shapes and features that he felt so out of synch here. He wasn't used to being around so many people in such a confined space and dream or no, Heero could swear he felt his skin begin to crawl, the hair on the back of his neck raising. Rubbing his upper arms, he pivoted slowly, still searching without knowing what he was seeking. His insides knotted, stomach tight with the realization of how exposed he was. Out here he had no weapons, no cover or backup; out here on this concrete floor, he was adrift, lost amidst so many with no purpose or reason. The thought shouldn't have been panicking. It was laughable that of all the horrors and bloodshed he'd seen in his sixteen years of life, that such a little thing could make him fidget in open dread.

Then his entire body went rigid, a shiver of a thought making him turn his head to the right. The room seemed to dim even more with only a thin ray of light from overhead coming down near the stage. The light-haloed soft brown hair, hair that rippled and slipped over thin shoulders, gleaming a million different shades of auburn and russet and cedar under the glare. Like Heero, he, too, was dressed in leather pants, these perhaps a little tighter and lower than the ones clinging to Heero's skin. A sleeveless blood red turtleneck made his pale neck and shoulders svelte and graceful with a small gold cross resting in the hollow of his chest. Amethyst eyes sparkled with welcome, made almost shy with hopefulness.

Duo.

Heero felt his throat catch at the sight of his partner, a warm flush of emotions taking him by surprise. Duo was so... so... Beautiful? The word seemed almost trite and besides that Heero had no true experience of beauty to compare with. All he could safely say was that he had never seen anything like Duo at this moment, so familiar and unfamiliar with all those fey, quicksilver glints of violet in his steady gaze. Duo could be so expressive without a single word being uttered, those wide eyes awash with a million words, a million questions, not all of which Heero understood. Things had always been like that with Duo; his mouth said one thing and his eyes often said something else, the only crack in a perfect harlequin mask. And on those rare occasions when the eyes and the mouth matched, Heero often found himself reassessing his friend, struck by the silences left by that laughing voice, silences that fell deep upon the ears and soul. Heero would admit that there were times he tuned out Duo's chatter, content just to listen to the easy rise and pitch of his voice rolling like an excited wave across the ears but there was something about those blue-violet eyes that he couldn't turn away from. Often he found himself watching Duo out of the corner of his eye during those quiet, unguarded moments which were so very few and far between for the self-proclaimed God of Death. Duo's mouth said that he was happy, his prattle exuded charm and vivaciousness but his eyes... Duo's eyes were soft, sad when they were trying to out twinkle the stars, and they spoke of dark places both seen and been in.

It was what had drawn Heero to him in the first place. Not the endless prattle, or the smooth way he piloted his Gundam, hell not even the braid that swung every so gently with each bounce. It was that feeling of kinship and the weight of the darkness in those violet eyes that gave him pause, that stayed with him long after Duo was gone.

More than that, Duo was his connection in this world as well as the outside. Heero respected the other pilots but he relied on Duo. And those times when Heero tried to shut out the world, Duo was always there, sometimes picking the worst moments to try and reach out to him and inevitably Heero would lash out, oftentimes with words that burned his throat later. Those times more than any other, that damned jester's mask would slide into place and Duo would redouble his efforts, pretending as if each word didn't draw blood or sting. It wasn't the same as Relena who chased him relentlessly, seeking to pour him into some ideal that only she could see. No, Duo knew him, knew his faults and his weaknesses and seemed to accept them.

Indeed, sometimes Heero suspected his partner took great delight in his cluelessness, never missing an opportunity to share with Heero some nugget of knowledge he felt the other boy should know. Resentful at first, it had taken time for him to realize that Duo was teaching him more about the world, the real world, and about living in it than all of J's or Odin Lowe's lessons combined. The Doctor and the assassin had taught him much about killing and fighting but they had never encouraged him to have a mind or interest beyond that. Duo didn't just encourage, he expected Heero to be interested in things outside the battlefield and refused to take 'no' for an answer.

Heero had initially assumed that Duo had an ulterior motive behind his every act, seeking to manipulate him just as so many others had. It had made him wary, if not downright skittish of the boy, watching his every move and analyzing every word spoken. Those times when Duo lost his temper, he had taken some perverse pleasure in it, feeling as if the anger had proved him right, that Duo was trying to play with him. Until one night, Duo had withdrawn completely, his anger hidden beneath a vast blankness that only the sorrow of his eyes gave away. He had left Heero alone then. Just cast him an unreadable glance then walked out and not returned to their safe house for almost four days, the interim of which Heero had managed to get on his own nerves. For the first time, he had realized just how silent a room could be without the chatter that had always bothered him before. Four days might have seemed a short time but it was long enough for Heero to come to a few hard realizations. No matter how much he might think he wanted to cut Duo out of his life, the truth was it simply wasn't possible to take such an action any more. Duo had managed to push through every defense he had and even when the boy wasn't there physically, Heero found his thoughts to turning him. He could shut him out, he could turn his focus completely on the mission but Duo was always there, always in the back of his thoughts waiting to surface.

Despite his somewhat limited experience of expressing himself or even allowing himself to feel emotions unrelated to his mission goals, Heero had come to the conclusion in very short order that he just might be in love with Duo Maxwell. It was not a sentiment he tossed off lightly and had taken him the better part of a month to deliberate on but as dramatic as it sounded, he could find no other explanation for the strange emotions Duo inspired in him: hope, exasperation, longing, and occasional jealousy.

He had tried to insinuate to Duo his feelings but either he was being far too subtle with the American or Duo was purposefully misconstruing his signals. He hoped it was the former and not the latter. The latter might mean that Duo wasn't interested, perhaps even repulsed by the idea the he and Heero might... He shut his eyes. There was a whole hell of a lot they might do if he could just get past this damned block that tripped him up every time he tried to get across to Duo that he was interested. More than interested. Hell, maybe he was going about this the wrong way. He knew next to nothing about dating rituals or culture. Everything he knew was either from books or vids or listening to talk in the boys' shower and none of that was likely to be very helpful. Duo was hardly some fairytale princess, all swoony and needing to be swept off his feet; he was a trained terrorist, a Gundam pilot, and a boy who'd spent more time on the streets than any of them. Duo wasn't soft but Heero somehow doubted the strong arm approach was going to work in attracting him either which brought him right back to square one. He had no idea what Duo wanted... if Duo even 'swung that way' as it were. For all he knew, Duo could be militantly heterosexual with a girl in every port. Heero highly doubted the latter; after all, he kept fairly close tabs on the boy. It wasn't that Duo was interested in girls -- Duo didn't seem to be interested in anyone. He had yet to accept one of the many dates thrown his way and the only times he went out were with Heero or in large groups of his peers.

Suffice to say Duo confused the hell out of him.

But right now none of that mattered. All Heero could think about was how beautiful Duo was standing there, surrounded as Heero was but never touched by other people. He found himself moving, taking that first tentative step towards ending the distance between them. Duo's eyes lit up as he always hoped they would then mirrored Heero's actions, his steps more certain than the Wing pilot's. Uncertainty melted away to be replaced with a bubbling sense of... excitement? Elation? Mentally, he chided himself for giving into his dream, noting that he was only setting himself up for certain disappointment. The rest of him politely told his brain to 'fuck off' and let him enjoy what little fantasy life he allowed himself. The crowd seemed to part and there was nothing between them save the space of a step and a breath. They were close enough that Heero could just reach out and barely miss touching Duo. All it would take was one more step, one more step...

...That was never to come. Hands reached out of the grayness behind Duo, one touching that soft brown hair and the other just under his chin. Heero felt himself freeze, his body screaming long before his brain and eyes had caught up. The room went still, the light flickering as if threatening to blow out and a sharp twisting crack exploded on his ears as those hands touching Duo turned that head at such an odd angle away from that sloping, graceful neck. Violet eyes widened for just a second then rolled upward as Duo's slender body sank forward, falling to his knees and lingering there. A shape pulled itself out of non-description, a predator he had never detected in the background now grinning at him beneath a silver mask with hair nearly as long as Duo's and a smile colder and more malicious than any other he'd known.

Zechs Merquise.

The OZ soldier didn't say anything, simply tipped his head and turned away, the sound of his boots echoing across the pavement with a finality that seared him. He stared at Duo's corpse, numb as he reached down to touch his partner. Cold skin met his fingers, as if Duo had been dead for far longer than the space of a heartbeat, his skin now chalky. Somehow, he found himself turning the boy over, wincing at the awkward way his neck lolled. Cold, so very cold and hard, Heero's mind chased the image around and around until he was sure that the sight of Duo's corpse was etched behind his eyelids. Something hot and sharp pricked his eyes and he blinked, scrubbing his face with his sleeve even as he touched his partner's face. 'Duo.'

Violet eyes snapped open, almost sneering and red against gray skin. "What's wrong? Don't you want to kiss me now, Hee-chan?"

Heero jumped, pencils scattering everywhere as his head snapped upward, the club and those angry, accusing eyes falling away. Several pairs of eyes fixed on him and he felt the back of his neck go hot in embarrassment. The professor cleared her throat, "Have a nice nap, did we, Mr. Yuy?"

Heero glared at her, throwing the full force of his annoyance behind it and was somewhat pleased to see whatever other smart-ass remarks she was planning to make die on her lips. "If I haven't bored you too much, you can rejoin the class by turning to page 120 in your text."

He nodded, contemplating seeing how far he could toss a pencil across the room and hit a vital organ before dismissing it as too easy and not painful enough. Gathering up his scattered supplies, he leafed through his text, ignoring the snickers of his classmates. What did he care what they thought anyway? There was only one person's opinion that meant anything to him and he--

"Have a nice nap, Hee-chan?" an amused voice hissed near his ear. Heero gritted his teeth but glanced out of the corner of his eye, needing a visual confirmation to assure him that Duo was indeed safe, sound, and alive.

Violet eyes were positively glittering with suppressed mirth, Duo's expressive face split with a wide grin. "You were so cute just sitting there with that little bit of drool running down your chin."

"Idiot," Heero muttered, tensing at the word 'cute' but not allowing himself any hope beyond the laughing tone of Duo's voice. Duo was in teasing mode now and would probably say just about anything to annoy him further.

"Aww, and here I was going to offer you my notes," Duo whispered, his tone laced with mock injury.

***

'Man, I don't know what Heero's problem is,' Duo yanked open his locker, the rattle echoing as it smacked the rest of the row, causing the boy next to him to start in surprise. He rolled his eyes, muttering an apology before digging around for his clothes and towel. 'It's not like I was teasing him or anything. Not anymore than usual.'

Heero had all but stormed out of their class, the set of his eyes and body promising bloody murder to anyone who got in his way. More than that, he was acting like it was Duo's fault, as if the Deathscythe pilot had done something to mortally offend. 'I'm not the one who was falling asleep in class.' Maybe that was it, maybe Heero was just pissed that he'd done something human. Or maybe it was the teacher being an ass and calling him on it in such a public way. He knew how much his partner hated any sort of personal humiliation. 'Or maybe you should just stop making excuses for him, Duo.'

'Anyone else and you'd have chewed them out for treating you like shit. So why the fuck are you letting Heero's moods run over you?' He knew the answer to that before he even asked. Because Heero's moods were better than nothing at all which is what the Japanese pilot gave everyone else. With Duo, he felt comfortable enough to let down some of those walls and show the American that he cared enough to get pissed or annoyed by something. Like it or not, Heero sucked at personal relations; he shut his emotions on and off because he didn't know how to deal with them. And while his tantrums left much to be desired, Duo had long come to recognize them as the desperate flails of someone who didn't know their own mind, much less their heart. That was why Heero was such a damn good soldier. He wanted, needed a purpose, to be told what to do because he was so damn clueless otherwise. Given a mission he could function, take it and create something within its parameters that passed for a life. If he could just stop thinking inside of the damn box and realize there was no box and never had been, then maybe he could be disabused of the notion that he had to be strong all the time. And try as he might to stay angry about it, that fact always brought Duo up short with a sense of helpless desperation and admiration. It wasn't everyday you met someone so completely and utterly thickheaded that you wanted to both slap and hug him to death. 'But that still doesn't excuse him from being a jackass,' he rolled his eyes.

He shucked his clothes, slipping into the pre-requisite mustard yellow gym shorts and burgundy T-shirt the school had provided for him. Personally, he thought it was one of the uglier color combinations he'd seen in a while but he wasn't the fashion police, so what did he know? 'Enough not to put this color yellow with anything,' he made a face, tugging the long shirt outward. It was sloppy and no doubt Heero would have tucked his shirt in and scowled at him for being so lazy. Which, under the right circumstances, would lead Duo into taking his life in his hands and popping his partner a good one. 'Maybe it's a good thing he has study hall this period,' he mused. He spent enough time bandaged up due to missions without having to add injuries from a pissed off Heero to the list. His partner was never intentionally rough; he just seemed to forget that not everyone was blessed with whatever enhancements J had seen fit to pour into his protege. 'None of which are as nice as all those natural enhancements of his. Okay, Duo. New topic, now please -- before the other guys look and get freaked because you've got a hard on.'

Throwing the towel around his neck, he followed his classmates out into the gym, his body giving an involuntary shiver as the ice of a well run air conditioner hit him, surrounding and causing the hairs of his legs to stand. This was the other reason he hated his gym wear. It was too damn short, cutting off about an inch below his butt and leaving him at the complete mercy of the elements. 'I swear some horny old woman designed these. Or worse, some horny old gym coach.' His shiver became a shudder especially after landing on Coach Reynold's broken-nosed, puffy features. The man looked as if he'd gone on a week long bender and never come off it. The idea that someone like him might have been a closet letch, while not too far-fetched, was enough to turn his stomach. Fortunately, he knew from experience that the Coach loved no one, man or woman, more than he did his Scotch. 'Or so his four day old sock breath tells me,' he thought sourly. 'Nice man, but were it not for his ability to spot actual talent in his players, he'd have been cut loose long time ago.'

He let his eyes drift over the room, grinning at some of the girls trooping in from the locker room to the left of them. A few of them giggled, nudging the female closest to them and whispering. A few just rolled their eyes, ignoring him with a sigh. Only a few weeks here and he'd already gotten the reputation for being a real tease, all flirt and no follow through. It wasn't exactly something he was proud of but try as he might, he couldn't seem to get his mind off a pair of blue eyes and a tousled head of brown bed hair. He was really surprised no one had thrown any other accusations at him besides shameless flirt.

The side door opened a crack and a woman stepped in, halting and shifting from high-heeled foot to high-heeled foot. She was older than he was, probably by a few years, dressed in a khaki power suit with her wavy dark blond hair escaping in ringlets from a loose bun. The whole image should have projected confidence but was spoiled by the way she gnawed her bottom lip, her eyes darting back and forth. Hesitating, she approached one of the bleachers, eyeing the seat dubiously before claiming a seat. The whole exchange was unremarkable but the woman all but demanded attention by her very presence. Classy-suited women didn't normally frequent gyms unless someone was in trouble and seeing as she hadn't grabbed the coach and thrust a complaint in his hands, he knew that she wasn't here for that. Her dark eyes were scanning, clearly seeking something or someone. He caught her gaze as it landed on him and was surprised as she did not sweep on but seemed to fix on him. He raised an eyebrow, almost mouthing, 'What?' She nodded at him, a familiar gesture, something that one might do to reassure a friend. 'What the fuck is that about?'

"Okay, listen up," the Coach barked, taking his attention away from the woman and the rest of the stands. "The name of the game today is dodgeball. And I don't want to hear it so you can stuff those groans. I want to see some real competition here, ladies and gentlemen. Now divide up into two sides!"

'Dodgeball? When did we start kindergarten again?' He snorted but did as he was told nonetheless. For some reason, he ended up on the side with most of the girls, ignoring a few loud snickers from the boys' side asking him if he was feeling more at home now. 'Sheesh, give a guy a braid and people just assume you're some hippie or you're gay or both.' Then again, he was pretty hot for his partner ... 'So maybe they weren't all wrong on that one but still!' He thought, indignant on behalf of those people who actually weren't either. He popped his knuckles, smirking at the perpetrators. 'That's all right, boys. Payback's a bitch. Or it will be courtesy of one God of Death.'

The game in and of itself was simple. It wasn't that hard to take a rubber ball and hit someone with it. The real test was to keep from tangling up with the other players on his team, avoiding a crash with other people trying to avoid getting hit in return. Out of the corner of his eye he watched to girls collide, then struggle (unsuccessfully) to untangle themselves as a hail of balls flew their way, the other players taking a freebie where they could get it. One of the girls swore, shoving the other crashee away, and flipping off the other side as she stomped towards the bleachers. Crimson-faced, the other followed, taking care to sit some distance away from her disgruntled teammate. 'Poor kid,' he thought, ducking as red rubber flew, almost grazing the top of his head. Without thinking, he hauled off and launched the ball, as surprised as his target was when it hit with a resounding smack sending the other player to the floor. 'Fuck, that sounded painful,' he thought, dipping back to snag a ball rolling past and flattening his body on the floor as another ball went past.

It was kid stuff really compared to what he did in Deathscythe on a regular basis but it had his blood up nonetheless. He wanted to win as badly here as he did in his mobile suit and as such, he threw himself into the game, letting his instincts take over. He felt...odd, really adrenalized and jumpy, his body obeying any commands to move with instant action. He was hyper aware of everything around him, the squeak of shoes against the gym floor, the warmth from other people beside him, and the inaudible displacement of air as balls sailed back and to between each side. The longer the game went on, the more focused he became, his throws losing their teasing edge, coming harder and faster than the last. More than a few shares of curses were being thrown his way even as his teammates were cheering him on. Strange as it was, he tuned them out too, focused on his prey which currently was a 6'2 hulking tree trunk of a boy named Matlin Harriman. Matlin was a nice guy, despite his scary bulk; one of those big boys who was all sugar and little vinegar. Hell, Matlin didn't have to be nasty, his size alone was enough to deter most threats. Still, nobody in his right mind would want to take him on.

Except, at this moment, Duo found he very much wanted to try it.

The sides were narrowing down and he kept one eye focused on everyone else while tracking the progress of his prey. He was having no problems keeping up, eluding the other side's volleys much to their loud, often curse-ridden dismay. The ball came to his hand, the ball left it and someone left the square. Matlin was doing pretty much the same thing, occasionally apologizing to when he hit one of the girls.

And then there were two.

He wondered if the other boy felt it, this fever pitch and bloodlust rolled into one. It was just fucking weird, the analytical part of his brain noted. He had nothing against Matlin; he was one of the few guys who didn't act like a prick just because Daddy's money went way back or because he'd been blessed with brain power and a 'tude to spare. He was just a decent, kind of docile goof. But he made a damn big target and his instincts were telling him it was time to take down the biggest threat, friend or no.

Matlin was bigger, with a longer reach and more power behind his throws. It should have been no trouble at all for him to clock Duo a good one with the ball. On a normal day, that was. Instead, Duo watched him wind back and toss at him, the Deathscythe pilot dropping to a crouch on the floor and letting it fly overhead. Matlin blinked, shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Duo rose to his feet, the ball smacking against the court as he bounced it once, almost swaggering to the line. He didn't understand what the fuck was going on with him but he felt strong, powerful. He felt like he could and would do anything given a chance and no one, not this tree of a boy, could stop him.

The other boy started to inch towards one of the balls, and Duo reacted. The ball almost whistled as it left his hand, smacking the other boy in the face with a sickening crunch that sent him tumbling to the floor. The gym went silent and Duo felt as if the air had been sucked out of the place, wondering with a sickening pit in his stomach if he hadn't killed the boy. ‘Oh fuck,’ he loped forward, ignoring the coach's shout. God, please be alive, be alive, be alive.

Blood spurted out of the larger boy's nose and a pair of wide eyes stared at him, flinching away when Duo knelt down to help him up. But he was thankfully, mercifully alive.

‘Although,’ Duo reflected, ‘I think I just killed my anonymity.’

***

"Great game, Maxwell," one of his teammates clapped him on the shoulder.

"Yeah, thanks," he replied, with an absent nod, trying to not feel self conscious as more than a few glares were thrown his way. The back of his neck was positively burning from all the stares and he was grateful that Matlin wasn't one to hold grudges or else he might be a stain on the gym floor at this moment. 'Jesus, what was that back there?' he wondered. 'I could have hurt him, really hurt him.' It was as if somehow he'd eaten Heero's wheaties this morning and gotten some of that super strength by proxy. 'Fucking weird is what it was.'

He plopped down on the bench in front of his locker, his damp braid plopping against his back as he buried his sweat-sheened face in the folds of his towel. He was quick to notice that glares aside, no one was exactly rushing to sit next to him. 'Well, that's great. Half the class is breaking their arms to pat me on the back and the other half just wants to break my arm. Heero's right, I do attract too much attention.' It wasn't as if he had even been trying in this instance. Things had just... happened. He snorted. Yeah, right. 'Me, turning into Superman just like that, for no reason at all... Happens all the time. All in a day's work for Shinigami. Oh, God. Heero's gonna kill me when he hears about this.' Which judging from the current rate of rumor speed would probably take an hour, maybe two tops.

Maybe he was making too much of this. It was just a stupid dodgeball game. Dodgeball! It wasn't like it was football or basketball or some real sport. No one would even remember that they'd been playing it tomorrow. 'Uh huh. And if you believe that...’ They would remember and thanks to the rumor mill, everyone in school would soon know. How often was it when skinny little Duo Maxwell loses it and whales on his gorilla of a classmate with a rubber ball? People were going to remember that and probably talk it to death until the next weird thing happened. Which, he reflected, was not going to happen fast enough.

The fuck all thing was that he still felt jazzed, as if someone had plugged him into an electrical outlet and let him percolate for too long. Kind of like the rush he got from jolt cola sans the actual drink. The game hadn't done anything but make him feel more pumped, his fingers drumming against his skull in nervous, twitchy movements. Maybe grabbing a basketball and running around the court with it a few times wouldn't be amiss. If he had a confrontation with Heero like this, he might do something really stupid like haul off and hit him without meaning to.

Then again, if that stupid game had made him this crazy, a shower might be a better idea. No sense in encouraging this sickness. Duo frowned. He was feeling ... 'Off' was the word. He felt everything, every touch of air, the distance between the walls; everything connected in a way that it never had before. It was like having a really bad case of the flu. 'Well, without the pain and if the flu reacted with your body like instant steroids.' A drug, perhaps? Could be but then if so, why was he the only one feeling the effects? He wouldn't put it past G to try something like this on him but it had been months since he'd laid eyes on the scientist.

'Or maybe I'm still feeling the effects of that wicked bad pizza from the other night.' He hadn't been sleeping all that well since that night. Buffy had yet to make any more appearances but that might have been because as soon as his head hit the pillow, his nightmare world filled with yellow teeth and glowing eyes, not blond hair and smart-ass quips. A few times, he dreamed he was someone else and woken up confused as to where, when, and just who he was. What it all meant, he had yet to divine although it was probably as simple as being knocked around in Deathscythe's cockpit one too many times or being antsy from sitting in one place so long. This was the longest he'd been earthbound and stationary since the beginning of the war and the longer they stayed put, the more wary he became. He found himself just waiting for that other shoe to drop on his head and kick in his teeth.

"Duo Maxwell?"

"That's me." The words came fast and hard, his mouth on automatic as his brain tried to untangle itself and re-enter the present. He yanked the towel off his head, blowing strands of hair out of his face as he turned his attention forward and over. The blond woman he watched earlier, all elegant in khaki and lace and so out of place in the boy's locker room (save perhaps in a pin up where she'd have larger...attributes), stood poised by a set of lockers near the door.

"Can I help you?" He asked, self consciously aware of the fact that while he had been thinking, the locker room had emptied out and now they two were the only ones here. ‘If she'd been an Ozzie, she could have handed me my ass,’ he thought. ‘This is why I yell at Heero for brooding, because it takes up too much damn time and concentration.'

"I was wondering if I might have a word with you?"

‘Polite and immaculate and wanting to talk to me,’ he drummed his fingers against the bench beneath him. "What do you want?"

"I beg your pardon," She was taken aback by his bluntness.

"This is about Matlin, isn't it? Geez, I already apologized. I didn't mean to hit him that hard. It was an accident," he slowed, then sighed. "This is where you give me detention, right?"

"Not quite," The smile she favored him with was warm, understanding and it made him more suspicious than ever. "I have a different matter to discuss with you, something with far more bearing on your future than detention."

"Oooh-kay. Um, sure. What?"

"My name is Sophie Jameson, Mr. Maxwell," There was a pause and he wondered it he was supposed to like, well, care?

She peered at him and he guessed that maybe he was. "Well, that's great, Soph. I can't tell you how excited I am for you. Was there a particular reason you wanted to see me or are we going to play musical questions until your get your rocks good and properly off?"

Her brow creased and she didn't seem to know if she should be insulted or embarrassed. "You're not who I was expecting."

A chill crept down his spine, one of recognition. He'd heard those words somewhere before, said in exactly the same manner -- only in a dream, spoken by a slender girl bearing both a crossbow in one hand and sleep depriving nightmares in the other. "Well, that makes two of us."

She was studying him again; brown eyes piercing him until he felt as if he might fall to pieces from all the dissecting that was being done. He tugged at his braid and growled, "I'm pretty but I ain't that pretty, Soph. Get your eyes back in your head and start talking." He left out the implied, if not tired and dramatic 'Or else.'

"I'm handling this badly, aren't I?" She admitted.

Duo pretended to ring an imaginary bell, shaking his near clenched hand in the air. "Ding-ding-ding. Congratulations, you win the prize. I've got places to go and people to see--"

"I quite agree."

"And-- huh?"

"You do have places to be but as for those you must attend to... Well, I think they hardly can be classified as people."

Evidently, she loved playing up the cryptic, dark messenger act. 'At least one of is enjoying it,' he snorted. "Tell me we're going somewhere with this. What, you're here to tell me I have a destiny or somethin'? That I've been Chosen?"

From the expression on her face, that wasn't what she was expecting to hear. And the next words tumbling out of her mouth were so not the ones he wanted to hear. "You've had the dreams, haven't you?"

‘Shit’ he swore. They were not having this conversation. He was not going to treat the delusions of his over worked, under appreciated brain as if it had a foot in reality. And he was really not going humor this woman if she thought she wanted to indulge those delusions, too. "Dreams? Don't know what you're talkin' about really. Only thing I dream about these days -- Well, it's kind of personal and sometimes the ending requires a little clean up, if you catch my drift," he sneered at her.

She was not to be deterred. "You dreamed you were someone else? A girl perhaps?"

"I'm a guy, if you hadn't noticed and I'm pretty happy being a guy so if you don't mind--"

"Or maybe you dreamed you were fighting? Creatures with yellow eyes and faces that should have been human but weren't?" She continued, tracing a finger along her features with each word, as if drawing an invisible mask over her face, one that he could dredge up all too well from his nightmares.

He toyed with the end of his braid, wincing as he tugged just a bit too hard at the scalp. “They have sharp teeth," he said at last. "And they're fast as fuck when they come after me."

"An accurate, if somewhat vulgar observation. They are fast and they are strong and they will never stop coming. Which is why you've been called. Because," The words were quiet, spoken with a reverence that almost bordered on fanaticism, "like it or not, you, Duo Maxwell, are the Chosen One. The Slayer. The one... person to stand between humanity and the forces of the darkness, to stop the spread of vampires."

He felt cold, partly in fear of hearing things spoken in his subconscious mind brought to light and partly in recognition. Something in him turned and conceded, felt the truth of her words and responded. 'This is who you are,' it was his voice and it was Buffy's voice and it was the voice of others still, ‘This is your power, your gift.' And Sophie with her face shining at him, realizing he knew the truth of it, too, clearly expected him to step up to the plate and assume the mantle she was wanting to throw on him.

Well, screw that. He'd never played that well by other people's rules anyway.

"Look, lady, I'm not sure what Bruce Lee movie you sauntered out of but you can turn around and take your classy ass back there. I'm happy you're on some sort of quest and you got me pegged as some kind of mystical warrior but I'm here to tell you, I'm not your boy. You need someone to spout your end of the world shit at? The Science Fiction club meets in the gaming room every Saturday night. So I'd really appreciate it if you'd kindly fuck off," he snarled.

"As much as I might love to oblige given the opportunity," Sophie's voice was tight, the set and lines of her face white and almost apologetic, "That might be a bit of a problem."

"Because I'm this Chosen One, right?" He rolled his eyes. Why the hell did he end up dealing with all the nutballs? First Relena, then Buffy, and now this one. All of them were blondes, too. If it hadn't been for Quatre he might think... Oh, wait. Quat had had that episode with the Zero System. Maybe the old cliche was wrong -- blondes weren't dumb... They were freaking nuts. At least Quat had a viable excuse.

"No, because the gentleman behind me has a gun digging into the back of my neck." She clipped, starting to tilt her head then freezing up again as something pushed her forward.

He blinked, almost as surprised as she was when Heero detached himself from the darkness behind her, wasting just enough excess energy to let the gun caress a path from neck to temple. He had to hand it to her; the woman didn't flinch, just kept her eyes trained on the Japanese pilot. Heero flicked his eyes towards Duo, the action as much of an acknowledgement as if he'd nodded at him.

"Oh, Heero. Hi. How long you been there, buddy?" He leaned forward just a bit, his voice a conspiratorial stage whisper. "That's my partner. I'd keep real still, if I were you. He's way trigger happy when he gets testy."

 

***End of Chapter Three