Into the Heart of Darkness
Jean rapped lightly against the heavy wooden door and felt an answering smile in her mind. Pushing it open, she entered quietly. The professor raised a hand at her entrance but finished his phone call before speaking.
" Good morning Jean." He checked his watch. " Or should that almost be afternoon?"
" I think we can consider it morning a little while longer," Jean chuckled, honest warmth circling the room and the man she almost considered like a father. " Though I think I'm being generous."
" That you are Jean," Charles said quietly. " Much more then I have been, as of late."
" I have been a terrible host to our guests," he admitted ruefully. " They've been here nearly three days now and I've barely spoken a word to them."
" But you've been monitoring them," Jean countered. " You know that we can handle our visitors - it's you that has the best chance of finding their friend through Cerebro."
" So diplomatic Jean," Charles smiled at his student fondly. " I thank you. And I believe I can now make up for my bad manners - I do believe I can at least narrow the search down for their friend Duo."
" I know they'll be glad to hear that," Jean said softly, remembering the soulful look in Quatre's eyes when they'd first learned their friend was missing. " Especially Heero."
" Such an odd young man," the professor mused. " So young and yet so old at the same time. Hardships bring about maturity in such a harsh and brutal manner. " He quirked his mouth. " I can understand why the loss of their comrade would affect them so."
" They're all they know," Jean nodded. " A life of war does not make for many constants for them to hang on to. And we, better then anyone, know how strong friendships forged in the heat of battle can be."
" All the more reason to bring the lost sheep back to the flock, no?" Charles closed his eyes.
:: Ah, Charles - ready to, as they say, give it your best?:: The Beast's mental voice seemed more jovial then it had been the night before.
:: Jean and I will be right down::
Charles felt the connection between himself and Hank dissipate and he opened his eyes to Jean who had heard everything. He offered his arm to her, hovering wheel chair rising slightly to meet her height.
" Shall we?"
" Ya know sugah, you're more nervous then a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin' chairs," Rogue said playfully as she brushed her hair. Her comment was directed at the love of her life, sitting on the bed across from her, arms crossed, clearly enjoying the view. Remy grinned disarmingly at her.
" Prof is ready to do some searchin'," was all he said, referring to the mental summoning he received. Rogue smirked and gripped his hand and dragged him out of their room in response. Remy was jerked off his feet by her strength and he literally flew through the air behind her! " AH! ROGUE! ARRET!"
Her giggle was the only response he got as he sailed through the hallways.
Quatre, Trowa and Wufei hadn't really moved since Gambit had left them early that morning to catch a few hours sleep. As Gundam pilots, they were used to keeping odd hours and going on little sleep, traits that had served them well in the past. Quatre had been lost in thought, mindful only of the strong arms wrapped loosely around him as he pondered all that they had been through since arriving in this strange world. He must have dozed off anyway, because the next thing he knew the shadows in the hangar had been chased away by sunlight streaming in through the concealed doors at the end of the large runway.
A flicker caught his eye and he saw Wufei take out his sword and a rag and began polishing the silver metal. Quatre frowned. Wufei polishing his sword was a site not uncommon - but it also served as a soothing gesture for the pilot. Meaning something was disturbing him. He had a number of ideas as to what it could be but to be honest, he wasn't really sure. They were all worried about Duo - but what beside's that could bring that little crease between the Chinese pilot's brows?
The pilot didn't bother to answer, preferring to lift a single eyebrow in his direction.
" What's wrong?"
Wufei snorted. " Need you ask?"
About to comment, Quatre was cut off by the arrival of the Chinese girl they had so briefly met before in the sickbay.
" Hey guys!"
" Hello....Jubilee, is it?" Quatre desperately hoped he had remembered her name properly. It would be so rude to do otherwise.
" And you're Quatre, right? " Jubilee smiled at him and Quatre felt relieved, returning the smile whole-heartedly. Jubilee's smile was like Duo's - large, bright and cheery enough to take on the world. Which when you stopped to think about it, he reflected, was kinda what she and the X-Men did. On a fairly regular basis. " And this must be Trowa 'cause I know for a fact that you're Wufei!"
This last statement was punctured with a finger pointing in Wufei's direction, the latter who froze, looking very much like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
" Miss Lee," he finally answered, warily eyeing the grinning girl as though she were an OZ operative in disguise. Jubilee grinned at him and them turned to face them all.
" Well, let's go!" The asian girl clapped her hands together briskly. " Up and at 'em!"
" Where are we going?" Trowa spoke up.
" The prof's gonna find your friend today," Jubilee shrugged. " Apparently, Beasty hooked an amp to Cerebro and it's gonna let him use that psy-mind of his to scan New York for your bud."
Quatre and Trowa exchanged amused albeit confused glances.
" Ano....this Cerebro unit has been mentioned several times, but no one's actually said how it's going to find Duo," the Arabian said, scratching his head thoughtfully. Jubilee blinked - and then that easy smile on her face brightened.
" Oh! Well, basically, Cerebro's like a computer that helps any telepath boost their power - the prof or Jean puts the little metal hat on and *poof* - they find what they're looking for!"
" It's that simple?" Trowa asked skeptically. " Why didn't it work before?"
Jubilee hesitated before answering. " Well, it takes a lot of power to use - Jean can only do it for so long and on a limited radius. Non-telepaths can use it too but don't get great results. The prof's the only one who can theoretically do a world-wide scan with it and that's at his full power which he doesn't have right now."
Wufei noted the dark tone in her last few words. " Why not?"
" 'Cause a while back, the prof kinda went schitzo on us and tried to take over the world," was her off-hand remark as she turned around. " Now come on - it's not every day non-X-Men get to see the prof hook himself up to an alien dishwasher and scrub out the inside of his head doin' searches."
Trowa blanched. " That was supposed to be comforting?"
Duo no baka.
If he had just gotten into Deathscythe's cockpit instead of gaping, none of this would be happening.
Heero scowled blackly at the gleaming pond, the speckles of light trailing across the surface doing nothing to lighten his mood. It had only been three days since he'd last seen his partner - why was this having an effect on him?
//Because you always knew where he was before// came a snide voice from within his mind. //And it's killing you that you, the Perfect Soldier, so BADLY screwed up his mission//
Mission? What mission?
They had taken out the laboratory as ordered.
//It's really pitiful when you argue with your own mind//
Ite. Heero scowled even more ferociously, kicking at the ground, watching as a small rock was knocked into the water, causing small ripples to disturb the formerly tranquil surface of the lake.
//He's your partner. You should have protected him//
" Iie. He's my partner - I should be able to depend on his ability to take care of himself," Heero growled at his distorted reflection in the water. " He knew the risks. I knew the risks."
//Just admit it - you miss that chatty motor-mouth partner of yours. Why else would you be trying to blow up the Danger Room every chance you get?//
" Shut up."
" Excuse me?"
Heero whirled around, silently berating himself for not sensing anyone's approach. His gun appeared in his hand automatically and he fell into a typical crouching position, gun steady in his hands.
Elapsed time: 1.5 seconds.
His eyes widened slightly and then narrowed as he realized who it was. Long white hair, carmel skin, blue eyes. He stood up slowly, tucking the gun back into the waistband of his shorts as was his habit.
" Heero," she returned. " I thought I might find you out here."
" It's a very peaceful place," she continued, settling herself beside him on a large rock. She was dressed in her battle suit and Heero suddenly smirked. Storm quirked an elegant eyebrow at him.
" What is so amusing?" she prompted him.
" Just something D...something Duo might have thought of," he admitted, looking back out at the water.
" Oh?" There was no denying the curious lilt in her voice.
" He...makes fun of me for wearing nothing but tank tops and spandex. Even if they are comfortable and efficient for mission."
" I was wondering what he'd think about every single one of you dressing in spandex armor."
Storm laughed out loud, causing Heero to flinch slightly. She smiled at him gently.
" He's your best friend, isn't he?"
Duo? His best friend? Heero thought about that for a second. A friend...did he realy know what those were? Well, Quatre, he supposed. The Arabian made friends with everybody, even that loud-mouthed Queen of the World that insisted on following him around like some deranged bloodhound.
And Trowa? Well, he and sister DID help nurse him back to health after he'd self destructed....but wasn't that out of pity? Maybe respect for a fellow pilot? Or was it because the uni-banged pilot actually did consider him a friend?
Wufei...there was definitely a respect issue there. The Chinese pilot had a deep-rooted respect for justice and illustrated this belief with every battle he fought, coming to the rescue of his...well, yes, it must be his friends he considered them to be.
And then there was Duo. The braided American had seemingly adopted him, helping him bandage his wounds, dragging him off to the basketball court for a quick game in between missions....his mind travelled back to a moment before all this madness had started, back before they had met up with Quatre and a pair of hands soothing away the aches of battle in his shoulders.
Something clicked in his mind and he opened his eyes to see Storm regarding him thoughtfully. It was small, unsure - and it may not have been the most reassuring site in the world - but Heero Yuy smiled.
" Yes, he's my best friend," he said honestly. The voice in his head seemed to vanish with that admission and the tiny smile grew imperceptibly.
Stormy nodded. " I thought so," she said softly, her voice sounding almost musical. " I was sent out here to get you - but I could see something weighing heavily on your mind." Her eyes twinkled. " Did you come to terms with it?"
Heero felt the last of his doubts fade away. " I did."
" Good." Storm stood gracefully, brushing away a non-existant wrinkle in her uniform. " Now, let's go. The professor is about to search for your friend and I think you might want to be there for when we find him."
" Yes." Heero followed the stately woman back to the house.
Sinister let the scene of the warehouse on the monitor go dark. It was time to leave a calling card for the X-Men. Threnody stood beside him, silent as she waited for her orders.
" Summon Shinigami," he told her curtly. Nodding once, she turned on her heel and left the room. Sinister smiled into the empty room.
" It's time we reunited him with his friends."
Shinigami carefully strapped his scythe into the leather harness, listening to the satisfying "shlunck" as it slid home. He then pulled on his fingerless black gloves, stretching the material over his skin, rolling the edges at the wrist slightly before reaching back and hooking the harness across his chest so that his scythe rested across his back, within easy access. He slipped a dagger into the sheath hidden inside his black combat boot, the slender handle disappearing from view, and he stood up straight, swinging his arms, making sure his scythe was situated properly, and not impeding his freedom of movement.
" Ready kid?" Forearm's harsh voice came from the doorway. Shinigmai's eyes gleamed as he echoed the unspoken laughter hidden beneath the terse surface.
" This is gonna be FUN!"
Harpoon appeared next to Forearm; even his normally angry face had the faint hint of anticipation. He jerked a thumb towards the doorway.
" We have our orders," he said tersely. " Fatale's waiting."
" Let's do it." Harpoon was eager to move. Shinigami felt his lips curl up in a familiar smirk and moved forward silently, eagerly anticipating what was to come.
Sinister watched Fatale's telltale energy signature from her teleportation circle dissipate into the air, fading with casual grace from his scanning devices. Flicking a switch, he activated his cameras again - ones he had set up a long time ago in preparation for a day like today. Sinister watched as the four of them appeared at their destination, blinking lights on a three-dimensional map, and a delicious shiver ran down his spine. One gloved finger traced the computer-generated map and he chuckled evilly. Coldly.
" Begin: End Game."
Lori Carter could vaguely remember a time, long ago, when life had been better, when she had once been truly happy. True happiness seemed like a dream whose reality continously eluded her grasping fingers, the more she searched for it. Surely someday she would feel happiness again. One day it would appear - one day her years of fear and isolation would end and she'd have back what she once had. One day.
As a child, she'd run around her parent's home and big backyard, nestled away in the Catskills, not knowing of the harsher side of life. Echos of laughter rang in the hollows of her mind and the woman brushed away a non-existent tear. Once, she had cried. Once she had blamed God for allowing her to be born. For making her...one of them. Lori stifled the scream the welled up in the back of her throat and forced it away with great gulps of air. No more. No more crying. THIS was her life. She would have to get used to it.
She rose quietly from the pile of rags and garbage bags she laughingly called a bed and stretched, noting the muted sounds of the people sharing the abandoned building with her.
They were all like her - alone, abandoned for being different. Mutants.
She shivered - the word itself meant being genetically different, but the taunts and jeers of countless 'flatscans'  had turned the clinical, scientific term into the cruelest of insults.It wasn't her fault or theirs, that one day they had woken up to a different set of puberty-induced problems. She remembered that day. Too well.
She remembered waking up one day feeling strange. For some reason, everything had seemed just a bit....more, then usual. The traffic outside had been too loud, grating upon suddenly-sensitive ears. The smells wafting up from the breakfast room had been too strong, the light streaming in the wondow seeming to be a bit too harsh for her eyes, prickling them, causing tears to form. And her face...
Her entire face felt swollen, awkward. Still half-asleep, she'd stumbled out of bed, heading for the bathroom, convinced she was coming down with something. Intent on finding some aspirin, she'd reached for the bathroom cupboard, sleepy eyes finally registering her reflection in the mirror on the wall.
The piercing, haunted scream of fear and panic had brought her parents running upstairs, crying out their daughter's name, afraid something had happened to their little girl. Lori remembered turning terrified eyes on her parents, watching with shocked detachement as they actually froze, before stumbling back slightly. They took in the tufts of fur on her ears, the elongation of a previously heart-shaped face, and the small black nose perched impertinently on the tip.
" You're one of THEM....a..a.MUTIE.." Lori trembled as she remembered the hissed words, accusations cutting through her fragile, pre-teen psyche like knives. Her parents had disowned her, casting her aside like a pair of old sneakers that had outlived their usefulness.
" We'll try again..." she remembered hearing her father promise her sobbing mother, holding her tight as he kicked the door shut behind her.
Lori closed her eyes and slowly regained her composure. No sense in re-living such painful moments of her life. It could have been worse - she was alive, right? She was one of the lucky ones - able to forage and steal with more skill then the others. Her deformities that screamed 'MUTANT' kept her from having to sell her body like the rest of them. She opened her eyes, watching with resignation as the rest of the inhabitants of the building came awake. A young man with white eyes walked up to her, silently handing her an apple.
::Breakfast:: she heard the boy speak to her mind, with some effort and she smiled at the youth, genuinely smiling for the first time since waking up that day.
" Jeremy! I heard your WORDS!"
::happy/gratitude/bashfulment:: was sent back to her and she nodded understandingly. Jeremy wasn't been able to speak. Born a blind mute, he'd been able to move around using the eyes of others. Able to feel and send emotions, Lori had been working with him, trying to increase his ability to the point where he'd be able to "talk" with them.
" That's wonderful, Jer - just think! If you keep practising, you'll be able to have 'conversations'!" She ruffled the shaggy mop of blond hair on his head and he blushed, pupiless eyes being covered by lowering lashes.
Lori bit her lip. Hope.
" Keep trying, kid," she whispered. With a final tug on the blond hair, she lightly pushed the boy away to feed the others, before biting into the apple she'd been given. Suddenly, her ears pricked as she heard sounds from outside. She dropped the apple, noting that Jeremy had froze in the act of waking a young girl. She sniffed the air uneasily, registering three...no, four new scents in the air. About to go to the main door, she was prevented from doing so by a large explosion. The door blew open, wooden shrapnel striking an old man in the head and knocking him out instantly. Lori cried out, huddling next to another young girl her age. She could feel Jeremy broadcasting his fear and terror and she raised her head cautiously.
A group of men dressed in what looked like black leather stood in the modified doorway. Two large hulking men, one with four arms, the other cradling what looked like a harpoon let their cold gaze travel over the huddled masses. Entering after them was an exotic-looking woman with Asian features, dressed head to toe in purple and yellow spandez. A third boy dressed in the same black leather as his male partners was right beside her, all of them lined up for their eyes to see.
" Wha...what do you want?" Lori asked hesitantly, automatically moving forwards, keeping the girl and as many of the other homeless people behind her as she appointed herself defacto leader and stepped in front of them. The big man with four arms met her movement and reached out with one grimy, calloused hand, tracing a lock of her hair causally. Lori knew she should have felt outraged but her stomach had collapsed out of her, fear freezing her feet in place, preventing her arms from rising him and smacking his hand away. The group reeked of danger - she didn't need her mutant powers to tell her that - and her fears were justified as the man smiled ferally at her.
" What do I want.....that's a very good question." The man's head turned fractionally to speak to his partner. " 'Poon? What do I want?"
" Probably the usual," came a snarling chuckle from the Indian-looking man. On closer inspection, Lori noticed the 'harpoon' was made of energy. She gasped as the four-armed man leaned in closer, recapturing her attention.
" Ya know...he's right. The usual." His hand snapped out and gripped her throat with crushing force, lifting her off the ground. She gurgled incoherently, eyes wide pain and surprise as she fought for breath, stars dancing in front of her eyes. Vaguely, she could hear the whimpers of fear from the people behind her. The man holding her almost casually, smiled at her attempts to breath. " The usual. Your death."
With that, he squeezed. Hard. Lori had a fleeting moment of regret that she'd never see Jeremy have a 'conversation' before her world went black.
Forearm waited until the woman stopped thrashing, until the light of life faded from her blue eyes and she hung limply in his grasp. Chuckling, he threw her body to one side, ignoring the dull thud it made as the corpse struck the wall and hit the ground. Shouts and screams began to rise up among the remaining homeless and Shinigami pushed his way forward.
" Shit, they're noisy," he growled. " What about the cops?"
Harpoon grinned. " Sinister prepared this place. Watch." Bringing out a small device, he pressed the button in the bottom corner, and an energy field sprouted up around them. Shinigami's quick eyes traced the energy back to their original loaction and he blinked at the sight of several black boxes spread out all over the warehouse main floor. " No one can get in or out. And no on can hear."
" Cool." Shinigami's gaze turned from curious to predatory. " Can I play now?"
" Go kid."
With a snarl, Shinigami leaped into the air, pulling his scythe from his back in mid-air and ripping a long slash through the floor, melting away the cement. Landing in a group of terrified mutants, Shinigami felt the last of his humanity slip away as he got drunk on their fear. The doubts he'd been having faded away - seemed the longer he was with them, the more right his actions were. His namesake reared up within him and he howled, ripping the green flame through a man dumb enough to try and sneak up on him. The man's body was sheared in half, a spray of blood painting the horrified faces of his friends. The smell of hot blood spurred on the others and Shinigami felt, rather then saw, his partners wade into the party.
Another man with clawed fingernails, tried to swipe at him but Shinigami chuckled, blocking the strike with the metal staff of his scythe, before launching his foot into the man's throat, crushing his windpipe. The man's aguished cry petered out into death gurgles as Shinigami turned, watching, eyes slitted with delight, as a handful of homeless people clawed desperately at the energy field, seeing the blue sky of freedom achingly close, but beyond their reach. A young man with black hair stared at Shinigami, defiance battling with fear in those dark eyes. Shinigami paused for a second, sensing another familiar memory on the tip of his brain before his eyes darkened, battle lust raging through his veins. He backhanded the boy with the scythe, listening with pleasure at the sound of breaking bones.
Some kind of energy struck his shoulder, and he snarled, looking up, eyes alight with fury as he traced their point of origin to a brown-haired girl who's hands were still glowing.
" Someone's been a ba-ad girl," he sing-songed mockingly. The girl trembled yet she raised her hands again. Shinigami prepared to dodge when a familiar bolt of energy lanced straight through the girl's heart, electrocuting her nerve system. The girl's body was still smoking as she hit the ground, eyes lifeless. Shinigami looked up to see Harpoon already forming another energy spear.
" Move it kid!" he snarled, before hurling the spear through the body of an old man.
Shinigami nodded, already on the hunt again. Death was wearing black leather and he was taking no prisoners.
The professor put Cerebro's helmut on his head, nodding over at Jean who doublechecked the controls. Hank bounded about, checking and rechecking the wires leading into the amplifier from the Cerebro unit.
Quatre stood next to Trowa, feeling the anticiaption building. Surely this time they'd find Duo. Quatre had the bizarre feeling something was wrong - normally he'd be able to sense when one of them was hurt - it was a talent he'd honed during all their fighting. Duo wasn't hurt - he'd know it. But something was definitley wrong. That much he could tell.
He spared a glance up at his green-eyed lover, who somehow sensed his unease and squeezed his hand comfortingly. Quatre sighed and looked across the room.
Gambit and Rogue stood side by side. The Cajun leaned against the wall, seemingly in a relaxed pose, but Quatre noted the man's hands, constantly shuffling a pack of cards between tense fingers. He could feel it too. The skunk-haired woman leaned against his arm, showing her man her support while not being overwhelming, appreciating his need for some space.
Quatre's gaze next travelled to Wufei, who stood, back to the wall, arms crossed, eyes scowling at anyone and everyone who dared look his way. Those black eyes encountered light blue and softened slightly, black-haired head nodding once before resuming it's blatant glare. Beside Wufei, the young girl Jubilee watched them all, worry evident in her dark eyes.
Quatre wasn't quite sure what to make of Jubilee - the girl was bubbly and friendly all right, but she made him nervous. The plasma sparks she constantly generated and dissipated weren't helping. She kept throwing anxious glances at the tough man beside her.
Wolverine. The man gave Quatre the shivers. He could sense years of anger, rage and hostility beneath that glare - the glare he'd thought patented by Heero. But Quatre watched the man meet Jubilee's worried gaze and he reache dout, gripping her shoulder and squeezing it once in reassurement before resuming his arms-crossed position. Quatre observed the two for a minute, noting the apparent father-daughter relationship, and knew there was more to the feral man then he'd initially thought. Logan had a compassionate streak in him. Not much, but enough to win over a street-wise young girl. Enough to reach out to a lost boy who was raised to be the perfect weapon of war. Speaking of Heero...
Quatre's eyes rested on the large metal doors, willing them to open. As if in answer to his wish, the doors slid apart with a loud 'whoosh, permitting the admittance of Storm and Heero.
Quatre spoke his name and the boy's eyes met his. Quatre sucked in his breath as he noted the calmness in the normally rigid boy's demeanor and he nudged Trowa who eyed Heero thoughtfully.
Heero, while still eyeing everyone in the room warily, seemed to have lost some invisible weight - like some mental burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Trowa stared - and then nodded, coming to his own silent conclusion.
Wufei's eyes bored into the Perfect Soldier, instantly sensing the change in him and was equally quick to make his own assessment. Heero had lost that look in his eyes, the one that constantly reminded Wufei of all the times he'd fought with himself and his emotions. The look on Heero's face was one of he who had banished the demon within himself, accepting it and making its issue pointless.
There weren't too many things that Heero worried about or even thought about that would bring about that kind of internal struggle. Wufie tilted his head at Heero who shrugged casually before turning his look on the bouncing blue doctor and the Professor.
Jean had been observing all of them since Heero's entrance thirty seconds ago and she marvelled at the boy's ability to communicate so easily without words. Initially she would have assumed Quatre had something to do with it, being somewhat of an empath, but now she dismissed that idea. It was obviously something much more complicated then mere telepathy. She snorted at the idea of telepathy being tricial - but she knew it to be true in this case. These four boys obviously communicated on a level far beyond mere words - and beyond telepathy. Bound together by blood and tears, they shared a link that Jean herself could only compare to the one she shared with her own husband, who at the moment was standing next to the Professor, talking in low tones. Jean cleared her throat.
:: Ready, lover-mine?::
:: Really Jean,:: the professor chuckled in her mind. :: Must you be so forward? Especially with your husband here.::
Jean laughed at the light teasing. :: Scott?::
:: All set.::
" Good." All eyes turned to her as she motioned for Scott and Beast to step away from the machine. The professor adjusted the helmet.
" Beginning search," she said and pushed the button. Charles Xavier's eyes screwed shut as the overwhelming images of thousands of people flooded his mind, blocking his awareness of those with him.
Charles cried out as more and more images poured into his head. People walking, people laughing, holding hands, people fighting.
A girl searched for her dog, crying as she feared he'd never come home.
A young man with two white streaks in his hair lifted his head as he felt the search before going back to his lunch.
A blond woman stopped her lecture to her gifted students as she felt the familiar mind wash fleetingly over hers, before continuing.
An older man with energy bursting out of a starshaped scar over his left eye tensed as if in preparation for an attack, only to relax slightly as he registered who was scanning.
Beast frowned at the shaking Professor but Charles looked at him, perspiration dotting his forehead.
" N-No Hank...i-it's fine....t-turn it up.."
Hank looked at Jean who was monitering the professor.
" He's with in normal levels, Hank," she said. " The amplifier just surprised him."
Heero watched the proceedings, eyes filled with hope for the first time since he could remember, as the process seemed to be working. Gambit and Wolverine traded concerned looks at each other before focussing back on the prussion-eyes youth.
Quatre rubbed his chest absently as a faint twinge of pain registered. Maybe it was being in the presence of so much psychic energy but for the first time since waking up in this strange dimension, he could feel his tenous link with Duo strengthen suddenly.
Quatre doubled over, faintly registering Trowa's arms supporting him. He could sense Duo, could feel the blood lust with in him. The laughing joker had been replaced by a snarling animal, anger and elation flooding his senses. " DUO!"
" Quatre!" Trowa looked up as Wufei appeared next to them. Jean was still monitoring the professor but her eyes locked onto the small blond who was shaking in Trowa's arms. She reached for the button to shut off the machine when Quatre staggered forward.
" NO!" He gasped, reaching out and latching onto the computer console, aware of Trowa and Wufei right behind him. He could feel Heero's eyes burning a hole in his back. " M-my space h-heart....I can FEEL him again...k-keep l-looking...." Blue eyes stared up at Jean and she automatically sent soothing thoughts out to the boy. " He's a-angry....and f-fighting.." Quatre swallowed his nausea at the bloodstained images of a snarling Duo. He couldn't 'see' what the American was doing EXACTLY, but he knew it wasn't good.
Heero's fists clenched as he heard Quatre's words. The feeling of rightness he'd had since confessing his feelings to Storm faded away in light of this new tension. Wordlessly, he turned back to the professor, mentally snarling at him to hurry up and find his baka. The tension level in the room elevated with every passing second, punctuated by the pained gasps emitted by Quatre as he received the psychic backlash of whatever was happening to Duo.
Jubilee cowered back a bit - this was something she hadn't seen before. Wolverine wrapped one arm around her shoulders and she hugged him, feeling afraid for the first time in a long time.
Jean knew the professor was still having a hard time filtering out all the minds in his head, something he had to do before he could BEGIN a more sophisticated search. Suddenly an idea popped into her head and she sent a wave of energy towards Quatre. Brushing a tendril against the barricades in his mind, she silently asked for admittance and she felt Quatre relax slightly.
Quatre was lost in his link with Duo when he felt Jean's wareness brush up against his. He gasped and straightened as she probed his mind gently, searching.
:: Quatre, relax,:: she sent soothingly. :: You're remotely connected to Duo - I can provide a link between you and the professor::
:: Will it find him faster?:: Quatre sent back.
:: Do it.:: With that, Quatre's walls simply dropped out of sight and Jean felt the full force of his link with his teammates. She gasped as she felt his pain for Duo, Trowa's concern, Heero's worry, Wufei's anger....Cyclops reached out and steadied his wife, providing her with a stable ground on which to anchor herself.
:: You can do it love:: she felt him, a faint whisper at the back of her mind and she nodded within herself, strengthening her resolve. The professor sensed what she was doing and relaxed his own walls, seeking out her mind and latching on to it. Jean let herself flow with the energy, letting her mind act as a bridge between Quatre and the professor. Used to dealing with multiple minds, she simply blocked all the other images brought out by Cerebro, easier for her since she wasn't directly connected to Cerebro like Charles. She then turned her mind towards Quatre, knowing the boy wasn't used to dealing with other people being in his head. She put up a mental wall, allowing only the images he was recieving from Duo filter through, and even muted those somewhat.
Trowa felt Quatre relax slightly in his grip and he brushed those blond bangs off his love's forhead, examining his eyes for awareness. Quatre returned the look with a shakey smile.
" I-It's okay Trowa...Jean blocked part of it," he said as he leaned closer to the brown-haired youth. Trowa still looked uneasy and he tightened his grip. Wufei heard Quatre's words and met Heero's eyes, knowing they were wondering the same thing: what was happening to Duo that could cause such pain in Quatre?
Shinigami cackled as he swung his scythe around, not caring anymore where the blows landed, slicing and dicing, letting the actions flow naturally. Blood painted the walls, the whole warehouse resembling a butchershop. The smell of blood heated his own, his excitement level rising until he lost himself in Death's revelry. He was the Reaper - harvesting souls, gathering their spirits. Death struck, scythe flashing, hints of the indestructible metal glinting through the rusty haze covering both it and its wielder.
Harpoon and Forearm were beating on a pair of young mutants who bravely fought back with their limited powers, knowing they were about to die, but not about to leave with out a fight. Fatale stood in the corner, watching impassively. This was not her fight - she did not have to participate. One eye narrowed cruelly. That didn't mean she couldn't be a spectatre.
A movement caught Shingami's eye and he saw a blond-haired youth struggling beneath a seciton of wall that had collapsed from where his scythe had destroyed the support beam. Shinigami pounced, drawing the young man out and slamming him into the destroyed wall, knocking away more bits of plaster and wood planks. The blond hair fascinated him and he pulled the youth's head back. The boys blank eyes stared back at him unseeingly and Shinigami growled. Suddenly a tingling struck his awareness, the sensation of someone invading him crawling through his mind like lightning. Shinigami shook his head and suddenly realized what he was feeling - the boy whose life he held in his hands, was trying vainly to look through his eyes, to see for himself what was happening. He dropped his scythe as he slammed one hand against his head, trying to drive out the intruder. He chuckled hoarsely, stumbling as the boy fought for control of his mind.
" Wanna see what I'm doing?" he choked out a laugh. " You can watch yourself die!"
With that, he ripped out the dagger from his boot and slashed it across the boy's throat, watching the red liquid well up and gush over his fingers, still clutching the dying boy's shirt front. He felt a scream within his mind and he fell to the ground with a thump as the boy's presence vanished from his mind, trying to block out the never ending scream of agony that followed.
Quatre cried out and the professor echoed him as a young psi's powers flared briefly and then died within their link. Quatre choked and would have fallen but Trowa prevented him from moving.
" Quatre?" he asked urgently. The boy was shaking violently, coughing and choking, clawing at his throat. A glance upwards and he saw Jean doing the same thing, one hand gripping her throat, the other having a firm grip on her husband. The professor shouted, slamming his fist down on the console. Jean batted away her husband's arm as she groped wildly for the power button. Cyclops understood her intent and punched it. Charled ripped the helmet off his head in one violent move gasping for air. Next to Trowa and Wufei, Quatre lost his battle with his stomach as he vomited, sick to his soul at what he had witnessed. Heero didn't know who to turn to - he looked helplessly at Quatre and then over to the shaking Jean grey, and finally at the professor who was being held up by both his hoverchair, and Hank.
" What happened?" Wolverine growled, body taut with tension. Gambit and Rogue had automatically assumed battle positions at the first sounds of screaming coming from all three of them. Storm, assisting Beast with Charles, looked at Jean who looked to have regained control of her senses.
" Some boy...y-young empath," Jean coughed. " He t-tried to take over Duo's mind...."
" Is he all right?" Heero asked. He didn't mention whether he was referring to Duo or the boy. He didn't need to.
" H-he severed....the link.." Jean choked out, tears starting to form in her eyes. Scott wrapped his arms around her.
Heero growled and spun around. " Severed the link?"
Quatre laughed hollowly as he looked up at Heero with blank eyes. " The link, and the boy's throat," he said hoarsely.
Heero felt like someone punched a hole through him. Duo had just committed murder.
" Boy?" He whispered in disbelief. Jean nodded roughly.
" Y-young...your age...just d-discovering his powers...I-I think..." the tears that had started to form now fell freely down her face as she clutched her husband.
" Sir?" Beast held Charles upper body by the shoulders. " Sir? Are you all right? Charles!"
Charles opened his eyes wearily, staring at his student with such sadness, that Hank bit back any further commments and merely waited for his teacher to speak.
" I am most assuredly...NOT all right..." he said at last. He looked past Hank to where Jean was sobbing into Scott's chest, and then to Quatre who seemed to be going into shock. Heero was vibrating with tension, rivulets of blood tracing down his fingers, dripping off clenched knuckles, so tightly had he clenched his fists.
" Is Duo okay?" he asked again, turning the full force of his death glare on him. Charles laughed bitterly, moping the sweat from his face.
" For now he's....fine.." Charles closed his eyes again. " But that boy is dead..."
Jean had regained part of her composure and was looking with concern at Quatre.
" Quatre felt that the most strongly," she said hoarsely. " He was connected to Duo when Duo was taken over. He felt the boy die - felt Duo kill him..."
" He enjoyed it..." came a faint whisper. Trowa's eyes snapped back to the blond he held.
" He enjoyed it !" Quatre said insistantly, eyes wild, his face nearly white. " He slit that boys throat....and he ENJOYED it!"
Wufei made a strangled noise in the back of his throat and Heero turned white.
" It's NOT your Duo!" Jean said weakly. " He's being controlled by Sinister..."
Her arguments fell on deaf ears. Her words may have been true. Probably were. But what they knew and what the X-Men didn't, was that Quatre was sick because Duo's actions were familiar. Quatre remembered seeing Duo's face in his mind for a split second - that maniacal, blood-thirsty grin as he painted the walls red. The same grin he wore in battle. Looking at his three partners, Quatre knew that they understood what he was saying. Duo had enjoyed it. It may not have been Duo agreeing to do it, but it was Duo doing the killing. It was his style - the abandonment of control, the sheer recklessness - Duo had killed the boy. Even if it was under the wrong orders, or if he was being controlled.
Quatre felt sick again. If Duo ever returned to his senses - even if they were able to break whatever force was controlling him - the braided American would never be the same. None of them would. His mind raced with the problems, concerns this raised and he felt a wave of pity wash over himself. Poor Duo. Such an understatement but he repeated it over and over in a dry whisper. " Poor Duo, oh god, poor Duo..."
Heero licked his suddenly dry lips and turned to the Professor.
" W-were....were you able to find out where he is?"
The professor nodded and pressed a button. A map suddenly appeared on a computer screen and the professor studied it for a minute before pointing a shaking finger. Cyclops nodded once and turned. Wolverine and Gambit ran after him, Rogue flying behind. Storm supported Jean who sat down heavily. Heero looked at Quatre who was still shaking and nodded. Wufei stood up, fingered his sword lightly and turned dark eyes on cobalt-blue.
Heero's mouth opened and closed a few times before he was able to speak.
Quatre's gasp echoed after them as Heero and Wufei raced out the door after the X-Men.
A hand gripped the front of his uniform and hauled him to his feet.
" Whatsa matter kid?" growled Forearm. " Gettin' soft on us?"
Shinigami forced his eyes open as the scream died and he sighed with relief. His eyes met those of his partner and he shook his head.
" Got in my mind," he said darkly, glaring balefully at the still-warm body. " M'okay now."
Forearm dropped him and he scrambled for his scythe, picking it up protectively.
" We done?"
" Almost - found a few more - they've got some good hiding spots. Flush 'em out."
Shinigami nodded and leaped to his feet, manouvering skillfully around the bodies. He heard a gurgling noise as Harpoon threw a psi-spear through a mutant girl who's body dripped with some substance that ate away at the floor where it fell. Acid or something. She threw handful's of the stuff, dodging the first spear but she fell prey to the second, writhing and convulsing as the spear short-circuted her nervous system. Her thrashing slowly ceased in its intensity and Harpoon chuckled.
" Interesting," he said, motioning to the puddle of acid spilling across the floor. Shinigami shrugged and turned to find his next target.
The Blackbird was ready when the group arrived at the hangar, having been activated by remote control. The ramp lowered and Cylops ran up, seating himself in the pilot's seat. Remy appointed himself co-pilot and Wolverine sat next Heero and Wufei. Rogue had already flown ahead, knowing the other's would follow. Cyclops punched in the VTOL and the black plane shuddered as it slowly lifted. Heero was champing at the bit but knew the importance of a clean takeoff. The Blackbird hovered for a second while Gambit entered their destination. The rear jets fired, flames shooting out and scorching the wall as Cyclops ignored the usual taxiing procedure and flew the large plane up the ramp, focusing on not scraping either side of the tunnel. Bursting free of the mountainside, Cyclops increased the speed and flew out into the sky.
It wasn't a well-known fact but the mutant known as Rogue was capable of achieving speeds that broke the sound barrier. It wasn't something she displayed on a regular basis. But this was extremely urgent and she felt the sonic boom ruffle the sound waves as she increased her speed, willing her body to go even faster. Within fifteen seconds, she was nearing the area pointed out by the professor.
It was a large building and Rogue touched down in front of it, eyeing the area with some confusion. She wasn't an expert but if people were dying, shouldn't you hear something? Anything? Suddenly, her eyes registered a faint blue aura covering the bulding.
" Well, THAT explains it," she mumbled and shrugged. She backed up and then charged the barrier.
Rogue's jacket was still smoking as the Blackbird landed two minutes later. The five onboard charged down the ramp. Gambit noticed Rogue's singed state and rasied a single eyeborw.
" Not ONE word, Swamprat." She turned towards her leader. " Some kind of energy field."
Cyclops nodded and looked at Gambit. " We can handle that."
Fatale was enjoying the show as it began to slow down, the mission nearing its completion. So thoroughly was she into it that her normally attune senses didn't register the arrival of anyone outside the building.
So it was a complete surprise when an explosion erupted behind her, completely knocking her off her feet. She looked up in shock, noting that all action had ceased in the background, as six figures appeared before her.
" Holy shit," breathed Cyclops. Wolverine snarled, feeling the rage start to overtake him at the sight of such carnage.
Rogue gasped, clapping a hand to her mouth. For her, it was like a repeat of the Morlock Massecre...her eyes narrowed to green slits as she looked for the attackers. Gambit felt himself start to shake with both revulsion and complete anger at the blood-spattered room. He locked eyes with a surprised Forearm and reached into his pocket for another card.
Finally, Heero and Wufei entered the room, stopping short at what lay before them. Bodies everywhere, mutilated, gore painting the room. The smell of blood was cloying and heavy in their noses. Wufei forced himself to stay put instead of running out of the room to be sick. And Heero...
Upon entering the room, Heero had gone into Soldier mode. He noted the carnage and set it aside to deal with later. Searching wildly, his eyes fell on a black-clad person clutching a scythe and staring at them with feral determination.
" D-Duo?" He asked shakily. The demonic apparition in black snarled, hefting his scythe. The movement broke the trance of everyone in the room and Forearm charged Cyclops. Cyclops struck him down with a burst of energy, driving the man back, slamming him into the far wall. Leaping overtop of the beam, Wolverin attacked Harpoon, raking at the big man's body with his claws. Harpoon ducked and fired up two spears, launching them one after another. Wolverine dodged the first one but his movement carried him into the path of the second one. He howled in agony as his body began twitching and thrashing. Gambit flung a handful of cards, explosions hiding the man from sight for a minute beforethe smoke cleared, revealing Harpoon on the ground, moaning in pain. His interception allowed Wolverine the time he needed for his healing factor to kick in.
Rogue had her hands full of Asian assassin. Fatale revelled in the hand-to-hand combat and sliced at the mutant with her dagger. A master of the Ghost Tiger technique, she could blend in with shadows and light, a hiding place in plain sight from which to launch her attacks.
Rogue knew the dagger couldn't harm her, but the substance coating the blade could. Fatale was known for coating her blades with varios poisens and she jumped back out of range. Fatale seemed to fade away and Rogue barely sensed her in time to turn and block the downward stab of the knife. At that point, it was all over for Fatale. Rogue used the other arm NOT occupied with holding the knife, to slam it into the assassin's face, the force of her blow rocking Fatale back, out cold on her feet. Rogue stood up and dusted off her hands, checking the progress of her teammates. She blinked. Wufei was unconscious and Heero was facing down Duo, face stony but agony written in his blue eyes. She started towards them but was held back by a firm grip on her arm.
Gambit stood next to her.
" Harpoon and Forearm are out - Logan be securin' dem," he said in a low voice. " Dis be between dem."
Rogue nodded once and he released her arm, watching the events unfold.
Quatre was still shaking even as Trowa rubbed his arms, trying to provide a measure of warmth and comfort for the small Arabian. Across the room, Jubilee blinked and then slowly came over to them. She watched Trowa murmer soothingly for a few minutes before kneeling in front of them, staring Quatre in the face.
" Quatre?" The blond looked up, still in shock. Trowa's brows creased slightly.
" I don't understand," he murmered. " He's seen people kill before - why is he taking it so hard?"
" Because it happened in his MIND," Jubilee said, reaching out with one gentle hand to cup Quatre's chin, tilting the pale face to hers. " He's in psychic shock right now - a psi's mind just died on the psychic plane - and he was connected to it via his link with Duo--"
" --whom the boy tried to posess," finished Trowa, understanding dawning in his green eyes. " Will he be okay?"
" Oh sure," Jubilee said, shrugging casually. " He's conscious and vaguely aware of us - that's better then some psi-victims I've seen."
" Least he's not drooling, or spazzing on us." Jubilee squinted, staring at the blond. " Yo, Quatre! Wake up!"
" Maybe we should take him to the medical facilities," Trowa began, looking over to where the Beast was currently conversing with Jean and the Professor, both who looked exhausted. Jean felt Trowa's thoughts directed at her and she raised her head.
" Quatre will be fine Trowa," she said reassuringly. " I'm monitering him right now - he's just overwhelmed by what he experienced. I put a mental block up for him until he regains his composure enough to do it himself. Still....Hank?"
Giving Charles one last look over, Beast bounded over to the three teenagers. Flicking out a pen light, he shone the beam into Quatre's face, the latter who blinked, irritated at the intrusion of light, and swatted it away.
" M'okay, lemme go," he said weakly, batting at the furry blue hand that was determined to stick the light right up against his retinas, it seemed. Trowa let out an uncharacteristic sigh of relief and Jubilee sat back with a smug look on her face.
" See? I told ya."
Heero had thought there was nothing left that could shock him in life. Born and bred to be the Perfect Soldier, he'd survived years of intense training to build up his strength of body and strength of mind, the perfect accompanyment to the ultimate weapon - the Gundam. Even meeting others like him, others trained and willing to fight for the freedom of their colonies, didn't faze him much - in the back of his mind he'd expected as much. After all, it was ludicrus to assume one boy was going to end the entire war, right?
No - it wasn't battle that shocked him. It had been the personalties of the other pilot. From Wufei's firm belief in justice, to Trowa's stoic determination to outrun his past, to Quatre's gentleness. Based on each of their backgrounds, he could accept this. He knew why Wufei fought, where he got his fanatical thirst for justice from. Trowa had grown up without a name, a blank spot in the past of Nanashi. Where Quatre had gotten his gentle side was blatantly obvious - he was the only one born into a family, raised by his father and twenty-nine sisters. No, all the other pilots were clear to him.
It was the cocky, cheerful pilot from L2 that had confused him. He'd assumed the maniac pilot of Deathscythe had had a similar childhood to Quatre's - how else could you explain Duo Maxwell's childish behavious, generous nature and all around happy attitude?
It had come as a complete shock when Heero, not wanting to be left in the dark over the people he had to work with, hacked into one of L2's main computers, running cross-checks on anything Maxwell. It had come as a complete surprise that Duo shared the same last name as the doomed church that met its fate in an OZ attack. Deeming it to be a coincidence, a chance glimpse at a vid-clip had frozen him in his seat.
A news report, taken just minutes after the bombing. A camera, panning the still-smoking ruins of what used to be a church orphanage, skimming over bodies hastily covered with sheets. A flash of chestnut brown hair and wide, terrified, violet eyes.
Heero remembered pausing the clip and leaning forwards, staring intensely at the picture of a young Duo Maxwell, huddled next to the body of a dead nun, staring up at the camera in complete shock. The clip continued, voices calling out in shock that there had been a survivor, hands reaching for the boy. The clip ended with Duo whirling around and flying nimbly across the destroyed churchyard. One last glance at the camera showed the shock, the fear, the overwhelming sadness in those purple eyes. Heero had shut off the computer and just thought about that, waiting for Duo to return that night to confront him.
It had been a complete revelation. Duo hadn't been particularly upset that Heero had gone snooping around in his past - no, he'd seemed shocked and even a little grateful that someone had seemed to care enough to want to know more about him. Slowly, haltingly, Duo had told Heero his story.
How he'd been left to fend for himself on the streets at the tender age of five. How a street-smart young gang leader named Solo had been impressed with the tough toddler and took him under his wing, teaching him how to survive. How a deadly virus ran rampant through the colony, leaving Solo to die in a seven-year-old Duo's arms. How, in order to preserve Solo's memory, Duo had named himself, stating he'd be living for the two of them. Living at the church. The bombing. Stowing away on a spaceshuttle where he met Deathscythe for the first time. Doctor G finding him. Becoming a pilot.
All this and more poured out of Duo, tears welling up in his eyes as he did so, grieving for the loss of everyone he'd ever known. Heero had been completely shocked. For all his problems, he would have expected someone of Duo's past to be a bitter, cold-hearted killer. Like himself. Instead, Duo had tried to embrace life, thinking that if he lived for all those who died, maybe, just maybe, there'd be someone out there for him, who would outlive what he called his Maxwell Curse.
" Everyone who gets close to me dies," Heero heard Duo say once in an unusually somber voice. " Ya get used to it."
Now, staring across a blood-spattered warehouse, the coppery scent making it hard to breathe, bodies strewn about the floor - Heero couldn't move. All he could see was a mockery of the laughing, violet-eyed boy he knew and had come to rely on. No, this wasn't Duo - this was what Duo could have become after all his trials. This was the dark side of Duo's soul given free reign. This blood-soaked demon was Shinigami.
The two stared each other down from across the room. Heero was vaguely aware that all the fighting had ceased in the background but at the moment, he couldn't care less. His entire awareness was focused on the killing machine in front of him. He cleared his throat and tried to speak, forcing his closed throat to open.
" D-Duo?" he asked shakily.
Shinigmai roughly raked a forearm across his face, brushing the blood out of his eyes and the bangs of his hair. After knocking out the Chinese kid, he'd been prepared to deliver the finishing strike when a blow came from behind him, knocking him head over heels. Whoever had snuck up on him had to be good - with his heightened abilities, it took a lot to catch him off guard. He hit the ground, rolled and landed in a crouch, focusing his gaze on the one who had delivered the blow.
A thin, yet muscular boy stood there, fists clenched. It was obvious that HE was the on who had attacked. Shinigami took in the black spandex and the green tank top curiously - they didn't look like the spandex-y armor that most super-mutants seemed to wear. Curious. His eyes travelled upwards, taking in the firm jaw, the tousled brown locks of hair that flew in the boys face. There was something....almost achingly familiar.
A gust of wind blowing through the demolished wall of the warehouse, blew the tangled strands of hair from the boys face, and in that instant, cobalt eyes locked on to violet.
Shinigami froze, staring at the boy. He knew him....he KNEW him. He blinked again, as the room started to distort slightly. A gruff laugh echoed in his ears and he shook his head, wondering if he was going crazy.
They were the same! God help him, the voices were the same. Shinigami growled, trying to bring back his comfortable feeling of rage and death, his growl growing more and more pronounced as he failed to lose himself in the moment. His eyes narrowed hatefully. He may have known this person at one time....but now he was the one making him remember, making him feel. For that.....Shinigami snarled and leaped at the boy.
Heero couldn't have moved even if he'd been ordered by J himself. His eyes focused on Shinigami, watching the small tremors course through the slim frame. Was he remembering? He licked his lips nervously - another emotion he'd never really understood before meeting the loud-mouthed American. So many emotions...and all of them making themselves known.
A low sound began reverberating through the large room and Heero realized with a start it was coming from Shinigami.
Heero watched as the leather-clad boys emotions of rage, hate and something else, whirled across his face. _Could he be remembering_? His heart jumped into his throat at the thought, before rashing back down to his chest as violet, pain-filled eyes glared back at him.
Heero braced himself as Shinigami hurtled through the air at an amazing speed. Heero barely got his hands up in time to deflect the killing palm strike the boy had aimed for his nose. He locked arms with Shinigami, each boy jockeying for position. Heero noted absently that the boy had dropped his scythe prior to his leap across the room and wondered why. His attention was snapped back when Shinigami snarled again and twisted his whole body, propelling Heero up and over, crashing him into a pile of wood and plaster. Heero shook his head and blinked, body hurting from the hard throw. When did Duo get so powerful?
" Duo!" he said forcefully, watching the boy stalk him like a jungle cat. " It's me! Heero!"
Heero? That name ricocheted off his brain and stopped the prowling Shinigami in his tracks. Inside his mind, he could feel something fighting to break free. It hurt. A lot. With a roar that was half-pain and half rage, he threw himself at the boy, determined to make him stop.
Where there had just moments ago been cold, hard logic, was now just an animalistic reaction - his thoughts deserted him as he reacted to the pain within his own mind. As he attacked, he was vaguely aware of a hint of approval coming from deep within himself - somehow he knew, enemy or not, this boy was the key to ending the pain, one way or another. Harpoon, Forearm, Sinister...they all faded to the back of his mind as the nagging doubts and half-formed memories he'd been feeling for the last few days began coming together in the face of the prussian-eyed boy. And with the revelations came pain - deep blinding pain that tore on him from the inside out. And he did what any other animal would do when in severe pain.
Wufei slowly came to his senses. He was aware of one slender, gloved hand reaching back and gripping his shoulder, helping to a sitting position. A tendril of red hair brushed past his face and he recognized it instantly.
" R-Rogue?" he croaked. Her green eyes swam into his field of vision and slowly, the blurriness faded. " What-"
Rogue pointed to a spot past his shoulder and with her help, he turned around enough to see what she was referring to.
His jaw hit the ground.
Heero and Duo were rolling across the ground, exchanging a flurry of blows that would have obliterated any other person foolish enough to get in their way. He watched, open-mouthed, as Duo slammed his fist towards Heero's face, only to have Heero move with amazing speed. Duo's fist struck the ground and cracked the cement with the force of his blow.
" Merciful Nataku!" Wufei gasped as he instinctively curled his own fists. " How on EARTH did he do that?"
Even as he spoke, the two combatants broke apart and came to their feet, chests heaving with exertion, blood streaming freely down torn bodies. Duo's eyes were alight with an unholy fire and for the first time, Wufei outwardly showed his fear of the American. Always a jester, Wufei may have mocked Duo's immature behaviour, but he had seen too much of Duo's anger and deadly effectiveness as an assassin during the battles of war to be stupid enough to NOT fear the reaper. Death was no joke. He swallowed, eyes glued to the scene before him.
" So quick," he breathed. " So strong - how is this possible? Heero is the enhanced soldier. But Duo..."
Wolverine crouched by him, his own gaze locked on the struggle. Gambit and Cyclops were watching the three Mauraders. Cyclops had gone back to the Blackbird and pulled out three collars. Genoshan collars. Designed to dampen the mutant powers of any mutant wearing it. After fastening the collars to Harpoon, Forearn and Fatale, they had turned their attention to the battle taking place among the bodies of the fallen homeless.
Cyclops stepped forward.
" We need to stop this," he said grimly, and set his sights on Duo. Wufei, hearing him, reared up, faster then would have believed possible of a concussed boy, and placed himself in front of the X-Men leader.
" No. "
" Get out of the way," Cyclops ordered. His tone gentled slightly. " I'm not going to kill him."
Wufei shrugged and held his ground. Cyclops was about to reach out and move him to one side when Wolverine's comapct frame joined the lithe form of Wufei, preventing him from going around.
" Let it play out Cyke," Wolverine growled. " All these people are already dead. Their souls are free."
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the scene behind him.
" There's a soul battling down there to get free. Let him try."
Cyclops searched the feral man's eyes for a minute before grudgingly nodding. Remy came forward and stood next to Wolverine.
" You know somet'in we don'?" he asked, eyes never leaving the struggle.
Wolverin gave a curt nod, but didn't elaborate.
Heero panted for breath, every muscle in his body screaming in agony. Across from him, Shinigami looked to be having as much trouble as he did. Heero couldn't understand why the boy didn't just use his scythe to finish the match and then chalked it up to the same reason he didn't just pull his gun, throwing it to the ground instead. This was different from all those times they had to use weapons.
As they once did on the basketball court, they were fighting to prove themselves. Except the proving was being left up to Shinigami. Heero ferverently hoped that the devastating blows he was landing, would shake Duo back into Shinigami's mind.
Shinigami growled softly under his breath. The pain was still there, but it was starting to fade as the battle peaked. He could feel it now, the explosion held back by a mental barrier, a barrier close to the breaking point. The battle was lowering his defences, making him react on a primal level. Something inside him was telling him that killing the boy who called himself Heero would be the easiest way to end the pain, but that same voice was the one that made him drop his scythe in the first place. A wave washed over him and he closed his eyes, grimacing.
" So close," he muttered angrily. His eyes flew open and he shrieked. " COME ON!!"
He spun out with a sharp kick, connecting to Heero's stomach with a satisfying thud. Instead of remaining doubled over, Heero reached down and grabbed Shinigami's other leg, sweeping him off his feet.
Shinigami landed on his back, the air whooshing out of him at the impact. Heero didn't pause; he rained blow after blow into the boy's face and torso. His mind screamed at him for doing this to his Duo, but ultimately he knew the blows wouldn't permanently hurt him - for Duo to keep up with him this long, Heero could SMELL genetic enhancement. He should know. It had been done to him too.
Shinigami caught his fist and pushed back, throwing Heero off of him. Heero clambered to his feet, wiping the blood out of his eyes as he watched his opponent warily.
The wave was so close....he could feel the sensations, the memories fluttering behind the wall that was crumbling. Shinigami tensed, the pain catching him off-guard, and Heero saw.
" Fight it Duo!" he urged, taking a step towards him. " This isn't you! Fight it!"
Shinigami heard his words and an agonized scream tore from his throat.
Harpoon blinked as he slowly came to. He noticed muzzily that his hands were bound with chain and he felt a familiar tightness around his throat that made him come fully awake.
Those damn X-bastards collared him.
He moved slowly, trying not to bring any attention himself and he noticed that everyone's gaze was focused on Shinigami. He watched as the boy's hands flew to his head, the small form trembling with pain and confusion.
_He's starting to remember_! Harpoon thought with a tinge of fear. If the kid remembered, then Sinister would be out one assassin. And he'd take it out on him and Forearm. Speaking of which... He peered out of the corner of his eye and saw Forearm out cold on the floor, Fatale next to him. Both wore collars.
He raged inwardly, knowing that with the Genoshan collars on, there was no way to activate their powers and help the kid out. Shinigami was gonna remember, and then that would be it for the rest of them.
Suddenly, something caught his eye. Black handle, shiny metal muzzle...Harpoon licked his lips as his eyes fastened on the gun so near and yet so far. He didn't know where the gun came from, but it didn't matter; he had one chance to help the kid. His hands were bound but in front of him.
Good. That would make it easier.
Heero watched Shinigmai shake, hoping against hope that Duo was breaking free of Sinister's mental prison. Movement out of the corner of his eye registered but he never took his gaze off the boy.
Until light glinted off metal.
What the-- he whirled around in time to see Harpoon lunge across the floor and snag the gun from the floor - his gun, and aim it at him. The world slowed to a crawl as the gun's retort sounded.
Shinigami clawed at his head as the barrier burst, and hsi mind was flooded with images. Some made sense, some didn't. He was still woefully confused but something clicked into place and he remembered.
He looked up to see Heero spin around and focus on something. Shinigami's eyes tracked that cobalt gaze and watched with growing horror as Harpoon got his hands on a gun, lying on the ground.
With a speed surpassing anything he'd ever done before, Shinigami threw himself into Heero as the gun went off. Pain blossomed in his side as they hit the ground, rolling and suddenly Heero was there, peering down at him in disbelief.
When the gun went off, Heero had froze, expecting to meet his death. he world moving in slow-motion, he inwardly laughed at the irony of dying by his own gun.
Then something had crashed into him, knocking him out of the bullet's deadly path and he struck the ground, crying out automatically as his battered body struck unforgiving concrete. Whatever had barrelled into him was still there as he reached down. And froze again.
His hands registered long strands of silky hair and he sat up abruptly. Duo! He rolled the ummoving figure over and stared in disbelief. The bullet had ripped a hole through Duo's side, and the boy's blood-crusted lashes fluttered before opening slightly
" Duo?" Heero whispered in disbelief, hope radiating through him like a beacon. Shinigami reached up shakily with one hand.
" ..h-heero?" Duo's voice answered, looking up at him. "..'m sorry..."
" It wasn't your fault," he ground out harshly. " Never was." He ripped off a section of his tanktop and pressed against the hole in Duo's side. " Just hang on, okay?"
Duo's eyes closed, and red-hued tears slipped from the corners of his eyes.
"...so sorry..." his voice trailed off as he lost consciousness.
Everything had happened so fast. The instant Harpoon had fired, Wolverine had thrown himself at the Indian, striking out with his claws and slicing the man's hand clean off. Harpoon's agonized howls were abruptly severed as Wolverine slammed his fist into the man's face, knocking him out. Rogue started towards the boys and Remy held her back.
" We gotta take care of dese boys firs' chere," he said softly. " Let Logan handle dem." He nodded to where Heero was frantically trying to stop the blood.
" But Duo needs HELP!"
" Look at his eyes chere," Remy said and Rogue looked at Heero, seeing the deep concern and agony over his injured friend. She looked closer and saw the possessive way he tended to the wound, watching all of them out of the corner of his eyes, daring them to even TRY to make a move.
Wolverine handed off Harpoon to Cyclops who tossed him onto Forearm. Remy and Rogue helped move all of them onto the Blackbird. Logan then turned and slowly moved towards Heero, arms out in front, hands open.
" Easy kid," he murmered. " I'm gonna help, okay?"
Heero's eyes narrowed, and he gripped Duo's prone form tightly. Wufei materialized at Wolverine's side.
" Let us help," he said softly. " Unless you want Duo to die now?"
Heero nodded and stepped back as Wolverine picked up the boy and headed towards the Blackbird. Wufei waited for Heero to gather himself, and he turned to give the boy his privacy.
The Shenlong pilot turned back.
" Didn't need....the last resort," Heero said finally. A faint smile ghosted on to his face and Wufei nodded.
" I'm glad."
He heard Heero sigh.
" Me too."