Violent Indigo (Prologue/?)
A 'Gundam Wing' story
By Amethyst Maiden and Persephone
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Pairings: 1x2x1, 3x4x3
Graphic descriptions of murder, language, obsequious Relena, eventual lemon, violence, dark bits, major character death, excessive angst, bad things happening to good people -- you name it, we've got it.
We don't own 'em, never will. We just like borrowing them even if we can't promise not to scuff the merchandise. Oh, come on. Like Duo doesn't enjoy a bit of scuffage now and then? ^_~
Please? Well, this is assuming you're not with the pitchfork and torch crowd. If so... *points off to the right* They went that a way!
Elysia -- http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon
Random Acts of Idiocy -- http://www.angelfire.com/scifi/amethystmaiden/
Author's Notes or How We Try to Pass the Buck:
AMET: Well, it finally happened. Sephy and I started a joint project. This happened while I was working on an idea for a completely different fic and Sephy pulled up a bit of a prologue she had written a while back to show me as an example of just how dastardly and mean she could be to the G-boys in one of her darker moments. What she showed me would eventually become the first scene of this prologue, and while it was utterly, horribly scarring, (see end notes after the chapter for the reasons) it had something to it that struck a chord with me. It sounds uber cheesy, but it hit me with a dark, Jeffery Deaver murder mystery vibe that just makes me want more.
SEPHY: I warned her. I did. Me in a dark moment is a scary thing and characters can suffer because of it. Scarring? Moi? Never. I would never ever write something so dark and mean that it would... Oh, hell, who am I kidding? I scarred myself just by writing the first draft. I can assure you that Amet coming on board not only saved character lives but probably me a few therapy bills later on down the line. See, this is what happens when Sephy gets frustrated in the middle of a depression and tries to force her muse to work on something. Anything. The key word being 'anything.' I blame her (my muse) totally for this. I was just her tool. Really. *Wide-eyed innocent smile* Really.
AMET: *rolls eyes* Anyway, this looks bad, Ill admit. Okay, it looks REALLY bad, but I promise that it gets much easier to take after this chapter, and it will all be okay in the end. Well, as okay as this situation can possibly get. The boys will salvage their lives and their sanity - just after a whole helluva lot of gratuitous violence. Because really, whats a Duo-centric fic without heaps of gratuitous violence? And if that doesnt convince you not to lynch us, all I can say is; SHE DID IT!
*looks around* Uhm, Seph, I think we scared em all off
SEPHY: (Sticking her tongue out) Yeah, after that little spiel, I'm not surprised. Okay, folks, we've jabbered, you've been warned. I don't think there's anything left to say except....
*Points at Amet and grins.* SHE HELPED! *Skips out of the room.*
Okay, on with the fic!
It was like a scene from one of those bad horror vids he liked watching so much. An aging corridor, frigid and sterile with the lingering scent of chemicals in the air, lit up by the unnatural florescence of lights overhead. Duo Maxwell rubbed his bare forearms to ward off the chill, his eyes tracing the fading jade-colored tile as they passed along. Every once in a while, he'd straggle behind, staring at the covered gurneys lining the hall, his gaze inevitably landing upon a yellow-tagged pair of feet at the end. He shivered. Places like this gave him the creeps. Oh, he had seen death before in numerous forms, even been the cause of it many times over, but places like this Well, this was something altogether different. There was an unsettling energy about them, as if the dead were gone but only in the flesh. Unhappy spirits lingered here just beyond sight and touch; lost spirits seeking unknown places and things they might never find. It was the kind of place that would have caused even the most rational of individuals to check over their shoulder, cold rippling across the back of the neck with prickling fingers.
Call it superstitious, but Duo believed in ghosts. He was haunted by too many not to believe. Most of them were just wandering memories; only gaining power if you gave it to them. The others He felt himself reaching for the cross hidden just underneath his shirt, deriving more comfort from the feel of its simple clean lines in his palm than in any imagined deity it might have represented. Another ghost of memory, this one possessing more substance than the others, remembered faces seeming to glint up at him whenever he held the ornament up to the light. The others were different, beyond the ken of memory and mortal understanding with places like this only served to reinforce that belief.
He was dawdling. He knew it. The forensic technician ahead of him knew it, too although she was being morepatient than he would have been. He had seen far too many bodies in his time to be in a hurry to see another. Especially not... He shook his head in denial, tugging his cap further down to hide his eyes. There was a time and place for breaking down and this wasn't it. Not in front of an audience or in this house of death and decay.
The call had come in early this morning, jarring him out of a perfectly good dream. Une-- Well, he didn't remember much about the minutes following that, only snapshots of images really. Une's face tired and lined with sympathy. A request for him to take the next shuttle to Earth followed by the words 'morgue' and 'bodies.'
It was the call he had hoped to never receive. The call or newscast he had always expected to see during the war but not now, in these times of peace. The war was over. His job was over, their jobs were over. There was finally time for peace.
And peace had been found. Of a more permanent, eternal sort than their efforts could ever have procured.
He loped around the corner, watching the play of light against the linoleum as he stared at the floor. Ahead of him, someone held a door open and he hesitated, never once lifting his eyes.
He hesitated. He, Shinigami, was actually hesitating to enter death's domain.
"Mr. Maxwell, if you'd rather not..."
"No," his voice sounded normal. At least he had been spared that indignity. "I'm ready."
The woman nodded. For the first time, he studied her. She couldn't have been that much older than he, her round face kind and free of any sort of make-up, curly auburn hair brushing the sides of her technician goggles. The brown eyes that peered out at him were sympathetic, but oddly detached. Probably useful in her line of work, he thought. Must be nice to just disconnect from everything.
It was the one trick hed never been able to pick up no matter how hard hed tried.
She ushered him into the room before letting the door swing shut behind them. What he noticed first were the freezer vaults. It was hard not to. Such large, polished silver squares; they dominated the room, so many of them spanning the wall from floor to very near the ceiling. Huh, wonder how they get to that top one? Must have to use some kind of special ladder, he chewed his bottom lip then he stopped himself. Denial much, Maxwell? Just get it over with. Get over there and ... look.
He plucked at his braid, taking step by tentative step to where the technician stood by one of the now open vaults. She waited until he was standing across from her before removing the cloth-covered plank within, its once precious cargo rocking forward then back as the platform rolled out. Another surreptitious flick of brown eyes his way and then the sheet covering the body was pulled away. He reached out to steady himself against the metal wall, trying to resist the very real urge to sink to the floor.
His skin in life had been a rich golden hue but was now the color of shredded paper. The ebony hair he had always kept pulled from his Oriental features lay spread across the white pillow. Still glossy even under this harsh lighting, it was the only thing about him that looked even remotely alive. Duo let his gaze slide down the corpse, a hard knot forming as it came to rest on what had once been his friends chest. The entire cavity appeared decimated; a concave pit covered with blood-dyed cloth, now brown and stiff with the age of a few hours. The sheet shifted further, an audible crackling filling his ears as the woman peeled it away. It was a sound he hoped never to hear again, a sound too akin to the crushing of dried leaves underfoot and he wondered if hed ever be able to enjoy autumn the same way again.
Bits of white peeked through rent flesh, a mess of organs once whole cradled with in a shattered rib cage. This had been no simple shooting. No, there were enough bullet holes in the cadaver to supply a small army with, each apparently with enough powder behind each round to create a several good-sized craters. He blanched as a hand was uncovered, or the tattered remains of what might have been a palm and a couple fingers at one time.
There were other lacerations, some more minor than others, but he saw none of them, returning his burning eyes back to the face of the man he had called friend. If the expression was any indication, he hadn't died peacefully, nor would he be resting peacefully any time soon. How long had he lay there, taking bullet after bullet before death had been merciful and stolen him away? It would not have been instantaneous, not unless something vital had been hit. Had he lay there choking in his own blood, striving to breathe with lungs that no longer existed? Struggling to force a heart literally torn in half to beat just a little longer, fighting with that burning intensity Duo had admired and despaired of or had he given up, praying for a swift end to what must have been incredible pain?
Wufei. Duo reached out to touch his friend then let his hand fall away. He couldn't bring himself to do it. It would make this nightmare real, that there would be no waking up from this. He looked away, not sure how much more he could take but there was someone else he had to visit. He drew in a shaky breath, clamping down on the bile rising hot and fast in the back of his throat.
The technician patted his shoulder, a feeble attempt at comfort. He felt it rattle through his numbed body, evoking no sensation save the awareness of it. Her brown eyes were kinder now, but it was a kindness he recoiled from before he understood why. Sympathy, he realized. She pitied him and that hurt almost as much as being here. What would Wufei think of such pity? Would his friend think him weak for eliciting such a response or would he show more compassion in death than he ever had in life.
Dead. Hed just connected the words dead and Wufei in a sentence and the terrifying part was how easy it had been. The words just rolled out. Dead. Wufei. Wufei is dead, was dead, and forever will be dead. Jesus, he felt his knuckles tighten and pop in the strain.
"Maybe you should sit down, catch your breath."
Duo heard the pitch of her voice, each word colored more and more with concern and he wanted to laugh. Wouldnt Wufei just laugh at him now for being such a baby? What was it he would have said? That Duo was weak? That he was acting like a woman? And then hed rail at my ass for disgracing myself over his corpse. Fuck that. I can hold it together long enough to do this. There would be time later, time to find some use for the clog of emotions seeking some release. He shook his head in fierce denial. "No, no. Let's just get this over with."
It was clear she wanted to argue with him but took in his sharp glare and gave up. There was nothing she could say that would change his mind and they both knew it. This was not an experience he wanted to prolong even if the thought of moving onto the next body hurt like hell. He sucked in the hurt, holding it close, almost enjoying it for one terrifying minute because with that pain at least he knew he was alive.
Opening the canister next to Wufeis, she withdrew the second body, the same efficient movements and demeanor bringing another horror to light. He held his breath, then let it out when he saw the blood-spattered twisting gold hair, a rich parody of colors that threatened to explode in his sight. Once vibrant blue eyes now stared dull and glazed into a void only she could see, her lips bloodied where she must have bitten through the soft tissue, perhaps in pain or surprise. The scalp lay broken on the left side of her face, a breach beginning just under the temple and moving upward, the path of a bullet making bits of gray and blue matter visible. Her oval face was scratched, most likely from a stray shot, marring pale flesh with livid lines of crimson. Some of her left shoulder and collarbone was missing, a gaping hole of blood and broken bone just above the sheet covering her chest and lower body, which if the amount of blood stains were any indication was in as bad a condition, if not worse than Wufeis corpse.
Sally. Oh, God, poor Sally. Sally who used to laugh and joke with him with such ease. Sally who had taken their side and pulled their asses out of the fire during the war more times than Duo could count. She deserved more than this, more than lying gutted on a slab, a macabre pig spitted for a murderous feast. They both did and there was nothing that could be done. Nothing that would restore torn flesh and bone, nothing that would breath life back into them, or bring their voices to air, voices that were now screaming in his head with the damnable vividness of memory in the face of a horror. Duo.
So easy to think that he could hear them now, to believe they would just sit up or walk through those doors and if he could just not look at their corpses, maybe he could make himself believe it. If he could shut out the smell of antiseptic and the chill radiating out to wrap him in a tight fist and the way the woman beside him was so silent and detached, pitying his loss but secretly grateful that it was not her own. He didnt belong here. They didnt belong here but here they lay and here they would remain until someone came to take them out, dressing the bodies with a care that had never been shown any of the other people in his life. Their bodies would be arranged with almost loving care as one would beloved dolls before coming to rest in a sea of wood and cushioning. And from there beckoned the emptiness of the grave. Then life would go on just as it always had, but Sally and Wufei would not be there to share in it.
From dust we were made and to dust we return
With sudden violence, he reached over and slammed the door to the vault shut. It ratted as the bed bearing the corpse lurched forward. He leaned against the now closed door, heart thudding in his chest as he tried to shut out the image of them, horrified that he couldnt seem to remember them as they had been but only as the mutilated wrecks from moments earlier.
"No more!" he heard himself snap. He wasn't quite sure how his mouth was managing to work; his brain had long since shut down on him. His eyes fell on Wufeis still form again, so very wrong in that tranquility. The peacefulness of a body that should be breathing, a mockery of the life that beat in his chest and once in the others but now no longer. He turned away, the sight burned somewhere behind his eyes and in such a manner that he was fairly sure hed be seeing again if he closed his eyes. "No more, no more, no more."
He slammed his fist into the vaulted wall, the hollow echo from within only serving to fuel his desperation further. "No more, God dammit! This wasn't supposed to happen. What the hell did we survive the damn war for if..."
"Mr. Maxwell, if you don't calm yourself--"
He whirled on the woman. How dare she! How fucking dare she tell him to be calm when two of his friends were lying dead not more than a foot away from him, carved up like slabs of meat for a butcher's rack. He swept his arm across the room, slinging a cart of medical instruments with it. "Get out!"
"Get the hell out of here." He wasn't yelling anymore. No, his voice had entered what Quatre had once dubbed Shinigami mode. Cold, quiet with menace and promise. It was a voice that was said to haunt former OZ soldiers in their sleep even now. And he utilized it, turning the full force of that voice on the girl without thought or remorse. He watched a number of expressions cross her face, not the least of which was panic, before she backed out of the room, probably to call security. Let her, he thought. It didnt matter now. Besides, Une would clear it up. She hadn't hauled his ass all the way from L2 just to let him get arrested now. Not over this. No, Une, of all people, would understand.
Even if he didn't. Alone at last, Duo Maxwell allowed himself the luxury of leaning against the wall, feeling his eyes water and sting without spilling over.
"Why?" He asked aloud in this house of the dead and their energy. "Why now, for God's sake. We won. ...We won."
Winner, Quatre R. Post Traumatic Stress; possible Psychotic Break.
The gates had been a bitch. Two sets of reinforced doors set to lock down electronically from a small guard post set into the wall between them. The guards themselves werent a problem, they were the donut eating, stereotypical rent-a-cops who had never seen real combat and paid more attention to reruns of I Love Lucy looping endlessly on one of their monitors. They hadnt counted on Shinigami, and forcing his way past an orderly on her way through was disgustingly easy, taking the guards out even easier. It was the staffers beyond who caused a problem, the nurses and burly orderlies staffing the massive, perversely corporate reception desk. There were five of them, two of them rather large, and even in his less than cordial mood he wasnt eager to hit the women.
The scene was absurd. The reception area on the floors lower level was too comfy, too normal looking, a banal reflection of the hospitals attempt at comforting friends and relatives of its unfortunate charges. The desk to the left was large; a semi-circular, oversized cubicle populated by nurses and orderlies, strewn with flowers and those obnoxious information pamphlets doctors offices were so fond of. Garish, patronizing things with titles like Living with a Manic Depressive and Symptoms of Schizophrenia.
A detached part of his mind wondered how many of those how-to guides applied to Quatre.
There was a waiting room to his right, a collection of gray, straight-backed chairs that looked somewhat comfortable but were notoriously painful to occupy, stacked against each other and the pink toned wallpaper that seemed strangely ironic given the person he had come to see. There a familiar figure sat hunched in a corner, lanky frame folded discomfortingly into a hopelessly inadequate chair. He was dressed in an unfamiliar blue jeans ensemble, a misguided attempt at blending in that would have worked if not for the dark glasses slipping off his nose and the ubiquitous, garishly red fez.
The orderlies fanned across the hallway, all burliness and menace in peach scrubs and discount sneakers that squeaked ominously against the linoleum. They were flanked by several nurses, glaring at him from behind oversized glasses and wisps of graying hair, shaking their heads in disapproval. Beyond them was the main wing, an L-shaped structure of tiny, cell-like rooms and bare hallway that extended upward to cover three floors. He paused, eyes focused on his goal, the soft pink and earthen tones extending into the hallways beyond, absorbed in faint traces of fading anger and a profound sense of loss that was fast fading into that terrifying abyss of indifference that was Shinigami.
He shook his head softly, blinking rapidly at the moisture that threatened to spill from his eyes. He wasnt foolish enough to think that Quatre needed him, he had forfeited the right to comfort his friend five years ago. The other boy had his lover, a legion of sisters, and an entire infantry willing to help him over this new obstacle. But Duo needed to see his old friend, if only to watch the rise and fall of that pale chest, proof that life still coursed through his veins. Perhaps then he could banish this crippling sense that something irreplaceable had been ripped away before he had the sense to appreciate it.
He eyed the cadre of staffers in front of him, puffing their chests and straightening their backs in a feeble attempt at intimidation. He couldnt blame them, they didnt recognize the threat, the darkness so skillfully hidden within his soul. They saw a skinny kid whod bopped a couple of guards on the head and rushed into a restricted area without a plan, and the sobering truth was, they were right. His only thought had been to get to Quatre, anything beyond that had been instinct. He wouldnt hurt them, no matter how annoying an obstacle they made theyd done nothing to deserve the wrath of Shinigami and his anger had long since dissipated into a debilitating depression, perversely comforting in its familiarity and sickening in its pervasiveness.
It was harder to dredge up the prerequisite smile, but he forced it knowing his only recourse lay in the man hunched disconsolately to his right, obliviously wallowing in his own grief and guilt at events beyond his control.
Abdul! He bellowed, keeping the larger orderlies in his peripheral vision even as he turned in time to see the man in the waiting rooms head snap up from where it had been focused on the floor. The Arab blinked once, twice, pushed his glasses farther up on his nose for good measure and let out a relieved bark of laughter.
Duo! Abdul jumped from his chair, racing over to drag Duo into a crushing bear hug, relief rolling off him in waves.
Duo stiffened at the unexpected welcome, suddenly all too aware that while he himself had gained considerable height in the years following the last rebellion, he was still dwarfed pitifully against the Maguanacs considerable stature. They had always possessed a gentleness that belied their considerable strength, but the all too real knowledge that even the smaller of their number could crush him with little effort was sobering in the face of the path the past years had taken.
Um Buddy? We have a little problem here. Duo shrugged off his discomfort, prying the larger mans arms away and cocking his head in the direction of the nurses. Abdul glanced at the scene around them, taking in the open gates and fallen guards, frowning at the phalanx of staffers glaring dangerously at them in annoyance and confusion.
He turned back to Duo, blinking owlishly, and muttered, You didnt.
Duo shrugged. Apparently visiting hours were over.
Allah protect us, Abdul sighed, You havent changed a bit.
Abdul seemed more animated with the responsibility of waylaying security laid before him, visibly relieved to have something to occupy his mind. He was still arguing with various hospital personnel when Duo was sent off in search of Rashid, passed to an imposing escort with coffee colored skin who introduced himself as Hamad bin Khalifa. Rashid, Hamad assured him, had not left his young masters side since the incident, and would be able to explain the situation in better terms than the sketchy details an exhausted Une had allowed Duo to wring out of her before none too gently demanding his return to earth.
The first thing that hit him as the elevator doors opened on the second floor was the brightness. The upper hallways were white. Blinding white like someone had buffed them fanatically since their installation, sunlight refracting with startling intensity off the walls and floor and ceiling from a lone window set high into the wall at the very end. A strange antiseptic smell permeated the wing, an odd counterpoint to the formaldehyde and decay still lingering in his nostrils from his foray into the morgue.
It was sterile, foreboding in its impersonality, untouched by the countless souls forced through its gates since its inception.
Each step echoed off the walls with terrible finality, reverberating through the cells and reaching patients who alternately whimpered and full out screamed as they passed. The phantoms haunting this hall were tangible things. Thin, wan wraiths in blue flowered hospital gowns that shadowed the living, terrible parodies of the people they once might have been.
There were very few things that really unnerved Duo, and this was one of them. Death he could understand. Death at least offered some finality, some sense that the struggle had ended, a false peace that friends and relatives could project onto their loved ones in the aftermath and hope to move on with their lives. But this - this living death, the befuddled husks of human beings held prisoner within the impenetrable walls of their own minds - there was no hope for them, no end save the eventual peace of death and even that they were denied, forced to live in a world they could never touch, screaming out signs that no one could understand; hopeless, helpless, and utterly alone.
It made him ill to think that Quatre, beautiful, vibrant Quatre who was easily the most human of them all, could be one of them. He didnt know what exactly a Psychotic Break entailed, but it did not sound pleasant, and any trauma severe enough to throw a veteran, a Gundam Pilot no less, into shell shock was enough to give him pause.
The brightness hurt his eyes, reflecting with burning intensity against one who had spent his life hidden in shadows of his own making. He fidgeted, jamming fists into his pockets and pulling his jacket more tightly around him, burrowing into the familiar scent and softness of careworn leather in an attempt to banish some metaphysical chill. The mountain of Maguanac that was Bin Khalifa still marched steadily on before him, pulling him inexorably onward even as his mind cried out against the movement. Everything in him balked at this unnerving feeling of exposure, the painful sterility that constricted his throat and pulled at every self derisive thought hidden in the recesses of his mind.
He wanted to run, to take off in the opposite direction before they reached their destination, before he saw Rashid and whatever was left of Quatre and the nightmare became that much more real. He was ashamed of the impulse, that he could think such a thing after seeing what had become of Wufei and Sally, knowing what would welcome him in Quatre and Trowa. This, at the very least, would be his penance. He should have been here, should have responded when they called for him instead of steadily pushing them away.
Five years. Five years of avoidance and self flagellation had led him here, the prodigal son returned in repentance to find his family laid to waste.
They stopped abruptly, and Duo barely caught himself from slamming into Bin Khalifas back as they halted mid-hallway in front of a nondescript gray metal door. It made an innocuous barrier, no different than any of the dozen or so others on the floor, the enormity of what lay beyond it placidly unacknowledged. Bin Khalifa rapped gently on a small rectangular window set into its side, and Duo was gifted with a brief glimpse of a hulking figure standing stock still next to a mound of blankets that Duo could only assume was a hospital bed, hands clenched as he stared resolutely at a central mound that he similarly assumed to be Quatre.
It was sick, but all he could feel was relief. At least there was no screaming.
Rashid turned to regard them with vacant eyes, visibly sagging under his grief and Duos hard won piece of mind slipped slightly. The Maguanacs clothes, posture, even that freaky winged beard seemed rumpled, hunching in around itself as if to ward off some unseen enemy. He padded closer, arching a tired brow at Bin Khalifa before cracking the door open and sidling out. They spoke in hushed tones for a moment, throwing furtive glances at Duo, who shifted impatiently under their scrutiny. Rashid seemed to regard him warily, but whether that was due to simple lack of sleep or actual concern for his master was impossible to tell, and Duo decided to assume the former until he was presented with some hostility.
He nodded solemnly as the larger man turned back to him and moved forward. Id ask you how you are, but I can tell already. You look like hell, my friend.
His inflection lingered a little longer than necessary on friend, a subtle plea for peace at least long enough to get through this visit, and Rashid nodded.
It wasnt the unbridled acceptance hed gotten from Abdul, but not much was, and given the circumstances he could hardly blame the man for the frostiness. Rashid had always been more of a father figure to Quatre than the late, great Efram Winner himself, and it was obvious to anyone with eyes that the mans feelings for his young master were just as strong.
And Duo had hurt Quatre in a thousand different ways. Five years of ambivalence and barely checked agitation, running from anything and everything that reminded him of his past. Even his friends, his brothers in arms, the small handful of people who could ever hope to understand what he was going through. Hed hurt them all with his flight, he knew that even without seeing, with Trowas quiet bewilderment and Wufeis impassioned reprimand. But where Wufei had tried and left well enough alone, Quatre had persisted. Somehow the empath sensed his distress from the sheer distance of two colonies away and couldnt, hell, wouldnt rest as long as he was suffering.
You never could leave well enough alone, could you Quat? He shook his head sadly, motioning Rashid to the side as Bin Khalifa lumbered back in the direction of the elevator.
He hadnt asked for help, hell, hed fought it every step of the way, ignoring Quatres tears and the concern they signified, staunchly denying the reality of his situation, because as far as he was concerned it didnt matter. Nothing mattered. Not after-
Fierce, unbridled pain lanced through his system, the kind of anguish that made his earlier grief seem paltry. Oh fuck, Maxwell, DO NOT go there. He could feel every muscle in his body clench, heart thudding painfully in his chest as he fought to bring his breathing under control.
It was a terrible reminder that his flight had not been without reason, his self imposed exile the product of his inability to deal with his friends without focusing on the painful absence of the last of their number. It was impossible for Duo to see any of them and not think of him, not wonder if he was still watching the night sky, or treating his laptop like a fiber optic demigod. To live with the painful certainty that in all likelihood, he wasnt doing anything anymore, having branded himself the weapon the scientists had intended him to be and destroyed himself for the good of mankinds newfound peace.
God knew he never did anything halfway.
In the end, Duo knew with absolute certainty that at least part of the blame lay on his shoulders. He knew the intricacies of the suffocating push of loneliness, the way it seemed to reach down into ones chest and squeeze whatever vitality was left into dust. He had left Heero to that, to a void he knew the Japanese boy had neither the experience nor the intuition to understand, a victim of inner demons persistent enough to pursue through two years and two separate campaigns. He could not deny that he had seen them, glimpsed them in the shadows of too old midnight eyes, and yet he had done nothing. Nothing save run for fear of a boy he might have loved if given time, for fear of what it might mean if he allowed himself that human weakness.
Humans were frail. They lived and died within the same rigid parameters, whiling away their days with barely a thought to where their lives were leading. Duo had lived the cause for so long, based his lifes philosophy on the simple fact that he was made to protect those simpler humans, that the prospect of becoming one of them, disappearing permanently into the anonymity of the masses, made him slightly ill. The God of Death controlled his own destiny, made his own rules, and rule number one was that he would never, ever allow someone else hold over him again. Not even love was strong enough to break that.
Freedom came at a price and he paid dearly, drowning in uncertainty and ambivalence, railing against the realization that he had destroyed the person most important to him. If not destroyed, then certainly driven the other from his life, and with him any chance at real happiness in this brave new world of theirs. So he had buried himself further, buried himself in his work to the detriment of everything else, fucking the world before it was given a chance to fuck him. Despite it all, he had never managed to purge himself of his concern for his friends, even as things fell apart around him and the isolated colony that was the proverbial rock he had hidden under. He had exited the world, but the world had gone on without him, and now things were compounded three times over.
Heero was gone, Wufei was dead, and Quatre
The fine hairs on the back of Duos neck were standing on edge, and he could almost feel the weight of Rashids gaze on the back of his head as he dared a look through the glass.
The room was barely more than a closet, little more than eight feet at its longest point and as debilitatingly white as the hallway, wrapped in such unnatural stillness Duo could practically see the dust settling. It was bare save the narrow hospital bed pushed into a far corner, and a gray metal chest that wishful thinking might have made a closet. The form on the bed was twisted in a sea of white blankets, half shrouded even as his covers seemed wrenched half off the bed, visible signs of an earlier struggle. Duo couldnt see Quatres face, but a shock of gold blond hair stood in stark contrast to the pristine white of his bedclothes, drawing his eyes even as they noted a bit more color on something far more sinister. His fists clenched in sympathy as he noticed the wrist restraints, clearly visible against the backdrop of sheets and pale skin.
What the fuck?
He clenched his eyes shut against the anger, tamping his instinctual outrage at the situation before he did something he was bound to regret. Quatre didnt seem to be struggling at all, which meant that hed had a nice medicinal cocktail to go along with his new jewelry. Duo snorted. Because nothing makes a guy feel better quite like happy juice and a forced vacation after a friend dies.
Why is he tied down? He ground out, unable to tear his eyes from the pale form in the room beyond and certain that were he to turn around he would find some reason to take his frustration out on his companion.
Rashid shifted and came closer, looming behind him as he peered into the cell over Duos shoulder. We were unable to determine how long the drugs would be effective, Instructor H did endow him with the same unnatural resistance to sedatives you all seem to have and we were afraid he would harm himself if he were not restrained.
Duo swallowed, hard. How bad is it?
Rashid sighed in something that might have been sympathy and leaned against the wall, pausing until Duo deigned to meet his eyes. How much did the Lady tell you?
The Lady didnt tell me jack shit other than the fact that, and I quote, Somethings happened. You need to get here, now. He shook his head. Then I get here and shes fucking late coming to meet me, so this dipshit junior secretary whatever starts jabbering on about identifying bodies and psych wards when I didnt even know anyone was hurt, much less fucking dead. What the fuck happened?
It was crude, but vulgarity made him feel better, a little vindicated even, that others were made to share in a small sliver of his suffering through his own standoffishness. His misery didnt love company, it demanded it, often violently and in the end he hardly cared about those who were caught in his wake. The world was a shitty place sometimes and it was a rare person who cared enough to try to make it any easier on other people, most of whom would screw each other over at the drop of a hat. Duo was certainly unique, but he was not one of those people and in the end he was too jaded to care.
A sniper is what happened, Rashid grumbled.
Duos eyebrows rose. Qs been shot and you let them tie him to the fucking bed? Have you lost whats left of your mind?
Rashid glowered, raising himself up to his full height. Are you implying that I would allow the staff here to harm Master Quatre?
The words were soft, but cold as ice and Duo had a momentary flash of sanity before he drove the larger man over the edge. He dropped his head into his hands, rubbing at his temples. I dont know what I believe anymore. Eight hours ago everything was fine. Q was running Winner Corp and Fei and Trowa were happily doing their Preventer thing. Now Feis dead, Quats fucking catatonic and I dont even know whats up with Trowa, nobody even knew where he was when I got here.
Rashid softened, placing one huge paw of a hand on Duos shoulder. Hes in the ICU.
The ICU, Duo laughed, almost hysterically, Well that figures. Its the only seriously depressing department I havent been to yet. No, wait, I missed one. Maybe I should visit geriatrics on the way out and watch a few old ladies expire for good measure before I crawl back to my hotel room and drink myself into oblivion.
His comment was ignored as the Maguanac continued. And Master Quatre has not been shot. No one is quite certain exactly what is wrong with him, only that it happened out there, when Master Trowa and Master Wufei were.
What the hell was he doing out there in the first place? I assume they were on a mission?
That is what we were told, Rashid answered, looking none too pleased at having had to be informed of his masters activities. though no one seems to be able to tell me in exactly what capacity Master Quatre was working.
Duo sighed, waving his hand weakly in the doors direction. He was probably doing his Psychic Friends impression, hence the metaphysical consequences. He stopped, and they stared at each other in mutual resignation. They didnt tell you shit either, did they?
The Maguanac shrugged, quirking something approximating a smile, which on him was feral and slightly creepy. As Im sure Abdul would say if he were here, they did tell us shit. Its why I have no pertinent information.
Duo turned back to the glass, eyes still trained on the figure in the small mass of bed sheets. How bad was it? Before the sedatives?
He was screaming, crying for the others. All of them at first, but as time passed he stopped calling out to Master Wufei and Miss Sally. Since then hes been desperately calling for Master Trowa. He doesnt seem to recognize any of us, and when we tried to calm him down he became violent. I was afraid hed hurt someone, or, Allah forbid, himself if we allowed it to continue. Rashid paused, running a shaking hand over his hair. I think, that somehow, he knows they wont answer.
Duo didnt look up. I need to see him now.
Quatre had gained considerable height in five years, leveling off somewhere around 59 by Duos estimation and his features had elongated, thinned out and defined themselves, shedding the last vestiges of childhood. He was as painfully thin as Trowa had been in the throws of an adolescent growth spurt, but his features had lost none of their gracefulness or their innocence. He would always have a boyish tinge to his features, but what had once been child-like and cherubic had evolved into something more refined and seraphic.
At twenty-one, Quatre still looked like he was seventeen, and something close to beatific.
But to look more closely, the subtle signs of wear had set in, clearly visible even in paltry neon hospital light. Quatre had always been delicate, but now he was frail, angry bruising ringing each eye, face drawn and taut even in his forcibly relaxed state. Incandescent eyes seemed stripped of their spark; wide open, unblinking, unfocused on the ceiling above and they made no move to acknowledge Duos presence. No movement came from the narrow bed at all, save the slight rise and fall of the other boys chest.
Duo simply stared, watching for some sign of life in the other boy, some sign that his mind was still intact, cringing as his footsteps shattered the hush that had fallen over the cell. Quatre, who gave so much comfort and asked for nothing in return, the first real friend hed cultivated in the middle of a bloody war, who stood by him even as he was shoved savagely away. Those knowing smiles, those unfathomable liquid eyes, he would have given anything to see even the briefest flicker of emotion cross that hauntingly familiar face. Honey, Im home, he whispered, half afraid that Quatre would swat him for the idiocy of the comment, and half hoping he would. At least that would be a reaction.
He fell to his knees beside the bed, for lack of anything to sit on, taking Quatres bound hand gently so as not to chafe the area actually held by the restraints. It was strange to touch and know that nothing he did could effect the other boy, that in the end those eyes only gave the illusion of wakefulness and the chances of his friend actually hearing anything he said were something to the right of impossible. Whatever they doped him with had to be powerful to throw an ex-Gundam pilot into catatonia, and he took a quiet moment to give thanks that the OZraelites had never gotten their hands on it. Then again, he thought, It should probably worry me that this place has nastier drugs than the original evil military organization.
He shook his head, idly stroking the tapered fingers of Quatres hand, watching the play of flesh over bone as tendons flexed and relaxed in his wake. The silence left him time to think, and the thinking led to paths hed sworn himself away from. He hurt, he realized, ached from the enormity of the loss of Sally and Wufei. Something about the whole matter made it that much harder to bear, and in the end all he could see in his minds eye was a steady picture of Wufeis cold, dead face, preternaturally peaceful and more frightening than the gaping maw of Hell.
Hed thought himself beyond all this, beyond pains reach, certainly beyond grief. So many others had gone before, why should two more matter to the God of Death? Because youre no longer Shinigami, a nagging voice answered, You havent been him since the war ended. And the voice, he begrudgingly admitted, had a point. All his defenses had been built into his alter ego, the automatic shutdown switch to anything - be it personal pain or the echoes of a long lost conscience - and Shinigami only answered the call of battle, the blood that poured from his hands and the hands of his Gundam in the throw of a righteous cause. Now he was just little Duo Maxwell, ten years old again and crying over the bodies of a makeshift family that meant more to him than his own life.
If Shinigami needed blood then Duo was damned well going to see that he got it. Revenge was, of course, the most righteous cause of them all. Campaigns had been fought, civilizations leveled with little else as provocation - it was more than enough to summon his other half. Whoever this fucker was, Rashids sniper was well on his way to Hell without even realizing it, courtesy of the God of Death himself. He clenched his free hand in the bed sheets, bowing his head in supplication. Hed been fighting it, he realized, pushing the rage back in deference to whatever humanity he had left for the sake of others more than his own and in the end, they didnt need him to be human. Duo could do nothing more for his comrades, they were beyond his reach now. He had neither the responsibility nor the inclination to make things easier on whoever else was unfortunate to cross his path and in the end he was simply delaying the inevitable. He was that violence, the demon beaten back and shoved so far down he had almost fooled himself into believing it had disappeared - and he was tired of being caged. The calm came easily now, pushing grief aside with the purity of rage and he welcomed it, welcomed the fire that would push him towards his enemies and crush them into dust for daring to touch what was his.
For the first time in five years, Shinigami smiled, squeezing Quatres fingers gently.
He was more than experienced at relating to unresponsive people, and while Heero and Wufei and Trowa had never quite been this out of his reach, pretending Quatre was having a moment of Heero-ness or something made it easy to begin.
Hey buddy, he murmured, almost cooing at the prone form before him, reaching with his free hand to smooth hair from Quatres face. Im home, just like you wanted, and all it took was a couple of deaths and confinement to the psych ward. He chuckled softly. Had you but known
He trailed off, eyes unfocused as he glanced over his shoulder. He could barely make out Rashids blurry form beyond the doors small window, shifting anxiously as Duo talked with his master. Feis dead you know, Sally too. I dont know if anyones bothered to tell you. I had to go see the bodies. I was just staring at his corpse thinking, I know I called you an inanimate object before, but fuck Fei, get up. Do something. We need you here. He shook his head, smiling fondly. Obviously, he didnt listen. He never has, I suppose, so why start now?
I havent seen Trowa yet but I know where he is and Im on my way to check up on him after you. Ill look after him until youre better Q-bean, I promise, so dont worry. He paused, frowning. And you will get better. I dont know Barton boy all that well, but I know enough to tell you that hell never forgive himself if he gets better and you dont. I never thought about it but hes a lot like you in that respect - blame himself for the lack of air in space. He laughed. Martyr.
Sparing a glance at his friends frozen countenance, he continued, voice wavering slightly. I fucked up, Q. Im sorry. I was scared. The war was really over this time and I didnt know what to do with myself. I only meant to take off long enough to get my head together, ya know? Then when Hee- He swallowed hard. When he disappeared I just lost it. I mean, what was the point of coming back if I was just going to lose you all again? He chuckled, self depricatingly. Never occurred to me that I could lose you anyway. It wasnt right to shut you out like that, Q, and somehow Im gonna to make it up to you. I cant promise Ill stay, but
He ran a finger along Quatres cheek, smiling softly. I dont know what happened here, really. Une had fun being intentionally vague this morning and I wasnt about to argue with her when she said you guys were in trouble. But Im going to find out if I have to beat it out of her. He cocked his head to the side. If she ever gets here, that is. If I were more paranoid, Id think she was avoiding me. Im not /that/ scary when Im mad, am I?
Quatre was silent. Dont answer that, Duo continued, waving a hand in dismissal. I cant take back what happened. I wish I could do something to help you now, but I cant. I thought leaving was the best thing for all of us Quat, I really did. I thought youd all do better if I could sweep Shini under the rug once and for all, that you needed me to be something more human than I could be. Laughter again, and a gentle pressure on the fingers in his grasp. I hate to agree with Heero, but sometimes I really am a baka. You never wanted that, did you? And I never realized that in the end, I am what I am, demon and all. Its not worth fighting it anymore.
I cant fix things, Q, theyre too fucked up for a few small repairs and Ive always sucked at the whole home and hearth bit. He looked away, carefully tracking a crack in the drywall. But I can still do some damage. I will find the fuckers who did this to you, thats a promise. And God help them when I do, because no one else will.
A final squeeze to Quatres hand and he heaved a resigned sigh, plastering a painfully familiar grin to his face as he headed for the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob, throwing the blond another glance. Shinigami is back, he whispered, pulling the door open to interrogate Rashid for Trowas whereabouts.
In his haste to leave, the single tear tracking down Quatres cheek went unnoticed.
Dorothy Catalonia fidgeted, tugging at her uniforms standard black tie and nearly choking as the nervous action caused the rope of cloth to tighten in a stranglehold around her windpipe. Loosening the wrinkling material, she played with the ends, watching the play of light against the shiny fabric, sticking herself with the pin lodged in the middle and wincing as she lifted her nicked finger to her mouth, sucking at the miniscule wound. Of course, she rolled her eyes. Three years in the field not a scratch but the minute I step into a hospital I manage to hurt myself.
Hospitals in and of themselves were a new experience. Blessed with disgustingly good health, she hadnt any knowledge of how to behave around the sick and injured while doctors were people you visited when there was no other choice in the matter, like Preventors mandatory physical exams. Or when your damn fool of a partner managed to get himself shot up because he hadnt the courtesy to get off his ass and tell you he was going to do something stupid, she glared at the bed.
Swathed in a sea of white gauze, Trowa Barton seemed more mummy than man, olive skin washed out, almost the papery color of a shriveled flower left in the sun too long. It was just as well he was unconscious right now or else hed be getting an earful, starting with what she thought of him and his questionable ancestry before moving into some offensive conjecture about his intelligence, his gender, and his parentage. As it was, she was entertaining herself with a private fantasy of strangling him with his own bandages when he woke up. The bastard was lucky to be waking up at all instead of finding a bed down in the morgue with Chang and Sally. Fuck, she hunched forward, crushing the bridge of her nose in hopes of relieving the throb spiking just under her right eye. How the fucking hell did this happen? She asked herself, perhaps for the hundredth time this interminable evening. How was it shed gone home just four hours ago with nary a suspicion and been summoned back a little over an hour later to deal with two casualties, two men down, and a hellish circus of a crime scene?
The galling part was that she really hadnt had a clue. Barton, Chang, and Sally - theyd all been working together behind her back, in an investigation they were supposed to be equal partners in, dragging a civilian into the fray against her vehement protestations, and managed to keep her totally in the dark. Some detective, she snorted, as furious with herself as she was them. How the hell was she supposed to handle this case when she couldnt even keep up with her partner?
Two Preventer agents dead, one Preventer agent and a civilian down and nary a clue as to the perpetrators identity. And when the media got a hold of the civvies identity Fuck, she swore again, closing her eyes. The press would crucify them and if she was lucky she might get to hold onto her badge, if not the case. She was dreading the inevitable press conference, already scheduled for tomorrow morning. Up until now shed been spared the indignity of having to deal directly with them, allowed to keep a low profile as Wufei and Sally had taken charge, fielding most of the questions. As the senior, the only, member of the original team left standing, she no longer had the option of staying in the background. She would have to get up in front of the vid cameras and the flashbulbs and endure a firestorm of questions beginning with comments about her past history to allegations of incompetence on the part of Preventer, specifically against the team assigned to the case. Damage control. It was so not her style, needing a more diplomatic touch than she felt herself to be capable of. She harbored no illusions about her performance, realizing the odds were stacked against her from the onset. She hadnt the charm of the Peacecraft or the patience and for someone who had nothing save contempt for the press, it was daunting to say the least.
Maybe I should just go ahead and turn my badge in, she thought with a touch of asperity. There were those both in Preventer and out of it who would like nothing better than to watch this situation take her down with it and if she read things aright, it wouldnt take much at this point. Someone was going to have to take the blame for this and with it being wrong to speak ill of the dead and Trowa out of commission, that left her. It was through sheer force of personality and chutzpah that Une had gotten her a job in the first place. She had never quite understood why the woman had gone to bat for her but had tried to show her appreciation by doing her job the best way she could. Shed let Une down in this instance - badly and the defeat was bitter in the back of her throat.
Their meeting earlier this evening had been terse, even tight-lipped and Dorothy could not discern whether it was from Une being angry with her or with the whole damn mess or both. Recognizing the precariousness of her situation, shed kept the debriefing straight and to the point, answering to the best extent the questions her superior had thrown at her. The interview had been short, enough for the time being but she wasnt relishing the investigation into their activities and why she hadnt been there to back up her partner.
I didnt know, she thought and then shook her head. Didnt matter because she should have known. That excuse didnt even wash with her so how could she expect an internal affairs committee to buy it. Had it just been the three Preventer agents involved then it might not have been necessary for such an internal investigation to take place but adding a civilian and not just any civilian but the Quatre Raberba Winner, all but assured it.
She could expect no help, no vouchsafe from Winner. If anything, he was in even worse shape than Trowa. Her partner had just come out of surgery for multiple gunshot wounds, his case shaky enough to warrant him being in the ICU ward but Winner She cringed despite herself. Between the two, she would much rather take all of Trowas wounds than to suffer what Quatre was going through. If it were even a fraction as bad as what she observed earlier, there was no telling what the boy would be like when he snapped out of his episode.
There was nothing to do now but wait. Wait for forensics, for ballistics, for Trowa to wake up, or Quatre to snap out of it and tell them something, anything. Wait for another murder. And there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. No matter how she raged or fumed, it was out of her hands for the evening and that was driving her nuts.
Almost as nuts as having to sit in this damn hospital, staring at the same charts and machines, screaming silent threats and entreaties at Trowa. If the tension didnt break soon, she was going to hurt something.
Try as she might, she couldnt keep her eyes from straying back to the rather large, more than ostentatious crucifix someone had seen fit to nail to the wall. Ostentatious, she snorted. Hell, try grotesque. It wasnt just noticeable, it dominated the room demanding attention and you were going to give it whether you wanted to or not. Looping swirls of metal and woodwork framed a meticulously carved depiction of the crucified Christ, right down to the bloodied nails and the pouring wound, the expression torn between agony and mute suffering as he stared out from under a crown of wicked sharp thorns. The damn thing was almost a foot in length stationed strategically over the bed as if someone had taken especial care to make sure the power of Christ was going to compel the evil pain demons to go away. Throw in an old priest and a young priest and youve got the set, she thought. She shuddered, wondering what extreme sense of morbidity would cause anyone to create something like it. And what was really frightening was that someone actually thought this was comforting. She contemplated trying to crawl around Trowa to try to remove the blasted thing before anyone else was traumatized by it.
She had no use for religion beyond disgust and amusement at how easily it rendered people susceptible to domination. Her entire life had been bent towards the military and there had been little time to contemplate spirituality even if shed been of a mind to. And St. Agnes despite its fine reputation as a medical facility was a spiritual center first and foremost, at least in the eyes of those who worked here. Shed already had to deal with the grim-faced attempts by a few matrons to offer her comfort through the word of our Savior. It had almost been satisfying to watch their faces turn purple when shed assured them that He might be their Savior but she was having none of it, thank you very much. Wont that look beautiful when the press gets a hold of that tidbit? I can just see it now - Godless heathen fumbles investigation. Human error or divine judgment? News at 11. If there was a God then he was having far too much fun for her to forgive him for this. What else can go wrong?
The door swung inward and Dorothy was reminded of a quaint, pointed little catch phrase, something right out of that much often thumped Christian bible. How did it go again? Oh yes. Ask and ye shall receive. Well, she supposed she had asked for it, though that didnt mean the universe had to suddenly start answering.
Eyes the color of fine cut amethysts bored into hers, dark with shadowy flickers even as they glinted in the light. Aside from that ubiquitous braid, they were his most distinctive features, hiding almost as much as they revealed. Then again, Maxwell had always been good at hiding, from himself, from others, raising it to almost the level of an art form. Something had happened after the war, and whether it was an onslaught of conscious or a physical threat, Duo Maxwell had appeared to feel the need to put real distance between himself and his former colleagues. Trowa had been reticent on the subject but shed overheard Chang on more than one occasion express his disappointment to Sally over the matter. She gathered that there had been several attempts made to coax the boy out of his self-imposed exile, each rebuffed time and time again. Not even Quatre Winner with all his good intentions and his overpowering, sometimes nauseating sweetness had made a difference. The ghosts that haunted Maxwell hadnt just returned, theyd sent him running scared halfway across the galaxy either in search of peace of mind or to hide. Of the two she could never make up her mind. She didnt know Maxwell well enough to conjecture on the matter but if she were of a wagering mindset then judging from the amount of self-fury that was radiating from him, shed have to say he didnt have the look of a man whod found peace.
In fact, from the way his hand was twitching at his side, Dorothy thought they might get a chance to Shinigami in action again before the night was through. She hoped not; she really didnt want to explain to Une why shed been forced to find him barred accommodations for the night even if it would mean the opportunity to put herself up against the legendary God of Death. She couldnt deny that the idea was exciting; right now, shed like nothing better than to throw herself into a good fight and burn off some of her frustrations but as much fun as it might be to bitch slap Maxwell, it would only make matters worse. Besides, it wasnt really him that she wanted to beat the hell of right now, she cast another glare at the bed.
Her action was not lost on Maxwell, who visibly stiffened, hand clenching and his eyes flashing with a dark, feral edge that almost forced her back a step. The words that left his mouth were succinct and to the point. What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doing. Here?
She could have played it smart, could have just stated that Trowa was her partner and this was her case and she had every right to be here. She could have cut him some slack and chalked his rudeness up to being tired and hit with news too staggering to just shrug off. Any other night and maybe she would have, but it was just too damn much for a night that had already been years and years long. So she took her life in her hands and snapped back, My job. Whats your excuse, Maxwell? Couldnt find a shuttle back to your hidey-hole?
She had always had a way with words and from the sheer violet murder now glaring back at her, she could say that once again theyd hit the mark. The air was tense, rife with the possibility and she primed herself, falling into a defensive stance without even realizing it.
That bark shattered around them, making both of them lurch, hostilities forgotten. From over, Maxwells shoulder, Une glared down at the pair of them, her displeasure obvious in the set of her thinning lips and narrowing eyes. I didnt call the two of you down here to fight. Stand down.
Dorothy complied, every instinct in her recognizing Unes superiority, years of military training forcing her to obey. Maxwell, on the other hand
I said, stand down, Une didnt bark this time, her voice was chill enough to give anyone pause, former Gundam pilot or no.
Pause he did, glancing at Trowa and then back to Dorothy, his voice flat as he said, We need to talk. Now.
AMET: I would just like to note that before anyone tries to lynch us, this is not as bad as it could have been. In the original draft of this fic Wufei, Sally and Trowa were all laid out in that first scene and Quatre was so far gone he had no hope of recovery. But I would not stand for Trowa killing so I begged and pleaded and cajoled until my pet bishie was saved, and by extension, Quatre got a chance at actual recovery. (One does not mess with the sacred 3x4ness.) And all it took were a few minor sexual favors . *blinks* Was I not supposed to share that?
SEPHY: Sexual favors? Minor? There were sexual favors? *blinks* As I seem to recall it was the other way around. *Sighs dramatically* You're not helping my rep here, Amet. One would think you were my bitch instead of the other way around... Er... Oh, my. That just slipped out there and... Um... Yeah. *big nervous grin* Heh. *Coughs* Anyway, there's more fic to be had as soon as I can get Amet to put down the whip and let me do some actual writing on it. She's such a kink, it's so kawaii. *smiles sweetly at Amet and tries to skip off but the damn leash around her neck pulls her backward.* See what I mean?
See ya next time!