Disclaimer: "Ode to my Family" is owned by the Cranberries and Polygram International. Gundam Wing and it's characters is owned by Bandai, Sotsu Agency and a couple of other people whose names I cannot remember, but who are most definitely not me. Suing me will get you a shelf full of slightly-used textbooks, and very little else.

Author's note: I deliberately did NOT write Duo as being suicidal. I believe that after everything he's been through, and SURVIVED, it wouldtake something very terrible to drive him to kill himself. Self-mutilation, however, can be an entirely separate thing from suicidal tendancies. Having experienced both myself, I am BEGGING anyone who has ever thought about, or actually attempted, either suicide or self-mutilation, to SEEK HELP. PROFESSIONAL HELP. They CAN help you, it WILL get better... I speak from experience. If you need someone to talk to about it who will understand and not be judgemental, you can feel free to email me. I am always willing to talk, and more importantly, to listen.

Does Anyone Care?

 

Duo failed to hide his smirk as Wufei came storming into the common room. The other three pilots looked up in surprise as the Chinese boy marched up to the couch Duo was draped over, and loomed intimidatingly over the American. Well, as intimidatingly as was possible, considering that he was soaking wet, dripping on the carpet, and wearing only a small towel wound around his waist.

"MAXWELL!" Wufei bellowed, loud enough to make Quatre wince.

Duo allowed an insolent grin to cross his face. "Yeah, Wu-chan? What is it? And ya don't have to yell, ya know. I'm right here, and I'm not deaf." He made no effort to hide his blatantly appraising gaze, his eyes slowly sliding from the top of Wufei's head to his toes, and back again.

Wufei slowly turned red under the other boy's regard, and sputtered for a moment before finding his voice again. "WHAT did you put in my shampoo bottle?"

Duo let his grin widen another notch. "Me?" he said in his best I'm-just-a-poor-little-orphan-pity-me voice, batting wide indigo eyes at the furious pilot. "What makes you think *I* put something in your shampoo, Wu-chan?"

Wufei narrowed his eyes. "Who ELSE would do it?" he barked. "Now, WHAT is it, and how the hell do I get it OUT of my hair?"

Now Quatre was trying to stifle a giggle, as it became obvious that the shininess of Wufei's hair was from more than just wetness or the lighting. Something sticky and reflective was tangled in the long ebony strands, causing them to drape at odd angles over the Chinese youth's head.

Duo's eyes widened in mock horror and astonishment, while he tried unsuccessfully to conceal his laughter. "Oh, NO! Wu-chan, that was your shampoo bottle? My gel bottle broke, and I needed somewhere to put the stuff before it made a mess of the bathroom, so I just grabbed the closest bottle. Then that mission came in, and I forgot all about it…"

"Urusai!" Wufei thundered, shaking a fist at the boy slung haphazardly over the sofa. "I have had MORE than enough of your tricks and pranks, Maxwell! I am sick to death of your unfailing shallowness, and persistent inability to take anything seriously! You're endangering all of us AND the mission with your immaturity! GROW UP!" Having said his piece, Wufei turned and stormed out of the room again. Silence reigned in his wake.

//Understand the things I say
Don't turn away from me//

For an interminable moment, Duo felt his masks slipping, as his eyes widened and hurt flashed across his face. He scrambled to recover them, struggling to summon a cheeky grin to cover the slip. Before he quite managed it, Heero stood from his place on the other sofa, and cast a contemptuous glance in his partner's direction.

"When are you going to learn, Duo? The life and death of several million, maybe several billion people hangs in the balance, and you never do anything but goof off. Wufei is right for once… you need to grow up." He shook his head, tousled brown hair flying everywhere. "I'm going to check for new missions."

The masks slipped a little further as Heero stalked out of the room, trembling violet eyes fixed, unseeing, on that strong, muscled back as it retreated into the distance.

//'Cause I've spent half my life out there
You wouldn't disagree//

Echoes from the past filled his mind, swamping him, until he felt as if he couldn't draw breath, felt as if the very walls were attempting to crush his spirit.

/Stupid boy, you'll never amount to anything!/
/You little piece of street trash! Go back to the gutter where you belong!/
/Little whore. You're just begging for it, aren't you, you little slut?/

"Duo? Duo? Duo!" The sound of his name finally penetrated the fog of misery that had descended over him, and he swung around to face Quatre, startled.

"Huh?" he responded intelligently. Quatre was standing in front of him, a worried look on his face.

"Daijoubu, Duo? I've been calling your name for nearly two minutes now…"

Duo blinked, and finally managed to summon his smile, fixing it firmly in place. "Yeah, sure, sorry Q-man, musta blanked out for a sec there. Just thinkin' that's all." Swinging his legs back over the arm of the couch, he bounced to his feet, stretching mightily. "I'm gonna go check on Shini, he took a little damage in the last fight, and I wanna make sure the techs have got everything working again. Ja ne!"

He didn't miss the concerned look Quatre threw to Trowa, but he also didn't stop. He was too fragile right now, his masks cracking badly at Heero and Wufei's words; any more gentle caring from Quatre might break him. He couldn't afford to let the others see how very unstable he was.

//Do you see me? Do you see?
Do you like me? Do you like me standing there?
Do you notice? Do you know?
Do you see me? Do you see me?
Does anyone care? //

Throwing himself into the control seat of his beloved Gundam, he let the cockpit hiss shut, enclosing him in the warm folds of its darkness. He welcomed the lack of light, feeling more than hearing the humming of the life support systems, giving the sensation he was cradled inside a giant womb.

"Just you and me, buddy," he murmured softly, stroking one hand down a quiescent computer panel. The soft murmur of air in the still cockpit was his only answer, as he snuggled down into the cushioning of the seat. "Why don't they understand? Why can't they see? I'm not immature, I'm not goofing off…" he sniffled, once, and wiped his nose against his sleeve, not caring that he was ruining his shirt. "I have NEVER botched a mission 'cause of my attitude," he continued, his tone vicious, and he slammed his hand against the armrest. "NEVER! And I never will! I know what's at stake! Maybe better than they do."

Visions of starving children, huddled together in an alley for warmth, swam across his sight. Cursing, he tried to block it out, but the inevitable progression of his memories would not be stopped.

"Solo…" he whispered the name as if it were a prayer. And perhaps it was - a prayer for the soul of the one person who had ever truly understood him. Only one of many whom he'd killed.

//Unhappiness was when I was young
And we didn't give a damn
'Cause we were raised
To see life as fun and take it if we can//

/Kid, life is harsh. Ya gotta take what they throw at ya, and turn it to your advantage. Life hands you lemons? Ya gotta make lemonade. Ya hear me?/
/I hear you, Solo./
/Good. Remember that./
/Ne, Solo?/
/Yeah, kid?/
/What's lemonade?/
/Ringing laughter, a crooked grin./
/Tell ya what, kid. You go steal me a couple of lemons, and I'll make you some, okay?/

Duo smiled at the memory, and others like it. Solo had been the life and spirit of their rag-tag little band, keeping their spirits up under the most trying of circumstances. Without him, Duo would have been just one more haunted face on a street corner, with no name, no memories, and no life.

'Why'd ya have to go an' die on me, buddy? I need you, I miss you, GOD do I ever miss you. I'm tryin' to take your place, tryin' to be the cheerful one, but they just don't understand me…'

//My mother, my mother she'd hold me
Did she hold me when I was out there?
My father, my father, he liked me
Oh, he liked me, does anyone care? //

/Duo, God is always watching over you. He loves you, you have to remember that./
/The only god I believe in is Shinigami./
/Well, you may not believe in him, but God believes in *you*. Put your faith in him, and he will always be there for you./
/Yeah, whatever. Nobody cares about me. I'm just a street rat./
/We care about you, Duo. Never forget that./

"Sister Helen…" Duo clutched at the golden cross around his neck convulsively. "I haven't forgotten. You did care about me… that's why you died. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry…" A single sob worked its way between his teeth, before he managed to fight it down.

"Boys don't cry…" he repeated the words over and over, like the mantra they had become. Sister Helen and Father Maxwell deserved better than his pitiful tears. It was his fault they were dead, after all - he was Shinigami. Everything he loved died. The God of Death was meant to ride alone.

 

//Understand what I've become
It wasn't my design
And people everywhere
Think something better than I am//

Rationally, he knew that he was far from the only one to have suffered loss at the hands of the war. Logically, he understood that he wasn't actually cursed to lose everyone he loved. But that didn't stop the pain from tearing at his heart, from making the unwanted tears well up in his eyes. He swiped at them with a rough hand, cursing the trembling in his limbs.

"Why me? Why do I have to be the one? Why can't they understand me! I don't mean any harm, I'm just trying to cheer them up… trying to get their attention… trying to get them to laugh with me… why won't they see?"

He laughed, but there was none of his usual mirth and cheerfulness in the sound. It was hollow, sickening, an echo of the emptiness within him. He felt that emptiness, gnawing hungrily at what was left of his soul, tearing away the few pieces of sanity which remained to him. Dead, empty eyes, reminiscent of Heero or Trowa's flat gaze, looked back at him from his reflection in the screens.

"They don't see, because they can't. The ugliness is all inside you, Maxwell, where they can't see it. You have to bring it out on the surface, before they'll understand."

Lifting his shirt over his head, he reveled in the cool breeze of the air from the fan blowing over his skin. Running his hands over his torso, he flinched as long fingers encountered many scars, old and new. "It's not enough… it's never enough. Why should the shell be so perfect, when the soul is so flawed? Why should I be the one to survive, to be happy, while others suffer because of me?"

Reverently, almost ritualistically, he pulled a small knife from a sheath on the side of his chair. The shining blade caught what little light existed in the cockpit, seeming to channel it along the edge, glistening and shimmering in a deadly sparkle. Duo watched the light bounce off the metal with satisfaction, testing the edge against the base of his thumb. It was razor sharp, as always, the edge fine enough to be used as a surgical tool.

With a quiet little hum, Duo placed the edge of the tiny blade along the curve of one pectoral. Tracing the line of the muscle, he hissed a little as the blood welled forth from the cut. Shallow enough not to be life-threatening, it was just deep enough to leave a permanent mark. In the beginning, he'd been clumsy and unskilled, and either did far more damage than was necessary, or ended up not leaving a scar.

"Perfect," he whispered, eying the newest addition to his collection. And it was - perfection in imperfection, sense out of senselessness. The pain was nothing, a mere reflection of the torment in his soul, brushed aside easily.

And again, the shining blade, now dripping with crimson, descended on alabaster flesh…

 

//But I miss you, I miss
'Cause I liked it, 'cause I liked it
When I was out there//

'Solo… Sister Helen… Father Maxwell… you'd all be so disgusted if you could see me now… to know that this pathetic person is the boy you all fought so hard to protect, to nurture… what have I become?' With a vicious gesture, he flung the knife away from him, blood spattering across the cockpit from its flight. With a muffled thunk, it buried itself point first in a control panel, quivering slightly. He stared at it, eyes wide, feeling hysterical laughter bubbling up uncontrollably inside him.

He let the laughter consume him, the terrible sound echoing hollowly in the still air of the cockpit, ringing against his ears and shaking his slender frame. He let it flow over him, carrying him along in the tide; he let it hide the shudders of sobs in his thin shoulders, let the tears of laughter mask the tears of sorrow which coursed down his cheeks.

"Everyone… everyone leaves me… everything I love dies… I am Death… I am alone…" The words fell from his lips as if of their own will, tumbling over one another until they were mixed in his mind in a whirlwind of self-hatred and recrimination.

"I miss you… I miss it… I was so happy… Solo… the church… I was so happy… it's my fault… because I was happy… I'm not allowed to be happy… everyone, I'm so sorry, I killed you all, it's all my fault… I am Death, I am Shinigami, I am always alone…"

//Do you know this? D'you know
You did not find me, you did not find...
Does anyone care? //

Dimly, through the speakers, he heard Quatre's worried voice calling to him. Reaching out a shaking hand, he flipped a switch to turn on the external cameras - DeathScythe's 'eyes'. The blond Arabian was standing on the floor of the hanger, shading his eyes against the glare of the work lights, trying to see Duo on DeathScythe's frame.

"Duo? Are you there? It's dinner time! I think Ahmed finally got that recipe for French Fries right, but he wants you to come check them before he serves them… Duo? Are you listening? Can you hear me?"

A ghost of a real smile flitted across the braided boy's face. 'Good old Quatre… always so worried about me, about all of us. I wonder if there's as much hiding underneath his caring mask, as there is beneath my laughing one?'

"I'm in the cockpit, Q-man," he forced his voice into its normal bright and cheerful tones, knowing it would ring through the hanger with conviction. He saw the strain in Quatre's face ease a little, even as he struggled back into his shirt. "I'll be down in a sec… hang on."

Checking to make sure his priest's collar was properly fastened, and none of the buttons on the shirt were gaping, showing his new wounds, he hit the button to open the cockpit. The huge metal plate hissed slowly open, letting him scramble back out into the harsh white light. He felt a twinge as he left the comforting, sheltering darkness, but shrugged it off, fixing his manic grin firmly in place.

"Oi, Quatre! Thanks for comin' to get me, man, I was so wrapped up in checkin' the systems, I might have missed dinner! And boy, am I hungry!" Not starving… unlike most people, Duo would never claim to be 'starving'. He KNEW what starving felt like, first-hand.

Quatre beamed sunnily at him, as he grabbed the handring and swung himself down off the cockpit platform to the ground three stories below. "I was worried about you… you seemed disturbed earlier by what Wufei and Heero said. They were being harsh, but you know, Duo, they are at least partly right… you shouldn't provoke them by playing so many pranks!"

The grin slipped a bit, then Duo caught himself and forced it back. "Aw, I'm just tryin' to lighten them up, Quatre! They've got sticks so far up their asses…"

The blond blushed fiercely, and shook his head. "Duo!" Then he giggled. "Well, you may be right about that. But still…" he broke off, forehead creasing in a frown, as Duo walked up to him. One small hand shot out and caught Duo's, before the American had a chance to pull away. Internally, he grimaced - Quatre was so polite and unassuming, he sometimes forgot how GOOD the boy was at hand-to-hand.

"Duo, you're bleeding!" Glancing down, Duo saw that a thin trickle of red had made its way down his arm, staining the white of his sleeves and drying to a brown thread on the skin of his arm. He suppressed his first reaction, which was to jerk roughly away, and instead forced himself to laugh.

"Oh! I guess I must have cut myself on some of the computer parts. No big deal… it's hardly a scratch, from the looks of it. Not even worth cleaning."

'He runs, he hides, he does everything, but he never lies…' Duo's grin was more ironic than anything else now. He might never lie… but the truth could be manipulated with your choice of words. He hadn't said that he HAD cut himself on one of the computer parts… just that he guessed he must have. And if he hadn't KNOWN what the blood was caused by, that's exactly what he would have guessed.

Quatre stared deeply into his eyes, but Duo knew he would see that he was telling the truth. Of course, Quatre had surprised him with the depth of his insight a time or two before… that uchuu no kokoro he was always going on about…

Then the blond smiled again - the sun breaking out from behind the clouds, Duo mused - and nodded. "You should be more careful, Duo," he chided, already turning away to leave the hanger. "You might injure yourself more seriously…"

'Another happy customer,' Duo thought bitterly as he followed the other boy. On the one hand, he was proud of his ability to fool people - but somewhere, deep inside, a lost, lonely little boy was crying out for help.

 

//Unhappiness was when I was young
And we didn't give a damn
'Cause we were raised
To see life as fun and take it if we can
My mother, my mother she'd hold me
Did she hold me when I was out there?
My father, my father, he liked me
And he liked me, does anyone care? //

Dinner was the same as always. Duo laughed and chattered and stuffed as much food as was humanly possible in his face; Quatre beamed and smiled and fussed over everyone like the mother-hen he was. Wufei was still sulking over Duo's latest prank, brooding darkly in one corner, occasionally casting sour glances over at the American. Heero was a little more talkative than usual, outlining tentative plans for a long-range mission that had been in the works for awhile. And Trowa, as always, watched the entire proceedings in near-silence, his shuttered green eyes absorbing everything, and letting nothing escape.

'Five fifteen-year-old kids, fighting a war on our own,' Duo reflected, as he often did. 'We must all be nuts. Hell, I knew that already. Just us against the world… five feared terrorists, the bane of the Federation's existence. Nobody cares that we're just fighting for our people's freedom. Nobody cares that we're struggling to save the world, to keep other kids like us from having to do the same thing we're doing. It doesn't matter that we're still just kids ourselves… we're killers. Even Quatre - and the more we kill, the worse it gets. Just soulless, empty, hollow killers…"

//Does anyone care? Does anyone care?
Does anyone care? Does anyone care?
Does anyone care?
Does anyone care? Does anyone care?//

After dinner, the others retreated to their normal evening activities. Wufei went to 'worship Nataku', Heero to study old mission reports, Trowa and Quatre to play a duet on flute and violin. Duo debated going to his room, but decided against it… he shared the room with Heero, and didn't feel like having to keep up his cheerful, bouncy masks at the moment. Instead, he slipped outside with a muttered "I'm going to take a walk" to Quatre.

The moment his sneakered feet touched the grass, he was off, running with the wind. He didn't much care where he was going - the entire area was nothing but forest and meadowland, one of Quatre's many family estates. He ran for a small eternity, the wind blowing around him, emptying his mind of all cares and worries. By the time he stopped, the night was all around him, the full moon high in the sky. The clearing he came to rest in gave a good view of the enormous sphere, hanging in the sky like a monstrous jewel.

Collapsing to the ground, face up, Duo lay panting, staring at that shining orb. Gradually, his eyes drifted to either side, picking out the lesser lights of the colonies. L2 was in prominence in this area, at just the right angle to pick up the sun's full light without being overshadowed by the moon. He stared at it, feeling the tears well up once more, and for once not fighting them. As they flowed silently over his cheeks, tracking silver paths in the moonlight, a trembling hand rose to grip his golden crucifix.

"Why?" The word was a whisper, a quiet prayer to an uncaring God he wasn't even sure he believed in. /The only god I believe in is Shinigami…/

"Why? Why do you do this to me? What horrible things did I do, in some past life, to merit this torture? Why do you take everything I love from me? Why am I doomed to be alone?"

The litany gathered momentum, the words tearing themselves from him in great sobbing gasps, as the tears poured faster from his eyes. "Why don't they understand? Why don't they see me for what I really am? Why don't they care? WHY?" Throwing his head back, he screamed all of his misery and despair into the night. "WHY?"

The sound of his scream rolled away into the distance, fading as it traveled, until it was only a whisper on the night breeze. Slowly, the crickets resumed their disturbed song, chirping a mournful chorus, while the cold, silver light of an uncaring moon shone down on one lonely, tormented boy.