Into the Heart of Darkness
A familiar chill greeted her astral body as she materialized on the
outer plane of existence.
Jean opened her eyes, once again inside Duo's mind - once again on
the outside as well. The reddish wall glowed faintly as she
approached it, clearly warning her to stay away, and she lay one hand
on it gently, opening her mind. What she felt made her gasp.
Fear, pain, and confusion assaulted her senses, seeming to both blind
and deafen her with n emotional backlash that left her shaking and
she drew back in shock. Something was definitely wrong and she grit
her teeth, scanning as hard as she dared, delving into the young
man's mind with all the control she had spent a lifetime honing.
Wisps of images flowed past her field of vision, bouncing off her
proverbial third eye, bombarding her with unfamiliar sights and
memories of Duo's past. She could recognize Heero, Duo - and
Shinigami. Her brow furrowed slightly as she absorbed this bit of
For there to be three identities, that meant somehow, Duo's altered
personality had become its own sentient being, with its own thoughts.
Made up from Duo's own fragmented thoughts, but still its own entity,
this posed a problem she hadn't foreseen. Jean thought back to when
the X-Men had to deal with Morph and couldn't recall there ever being
another conscience mind within the young man.
_Somehow, Sinister's upgraded his software, she thought wryly. If
Duo's evil side, for lack of a better term, was actually a separate
being, then the danger was greater then they'd all originally
anticipated. Short-term mind jaunts were one thing - long-term
residence was something else entirely. The mind was only capable of
holding one conscience, and would eventually either assimilate or
destroy the interloper. The problem either scenario was that it would
tear the layers of the host's mind in half, rendering it incomplete.
What did manage to remain would undoubtedly be damaged. Such was the
danger of such mutant powers that invoked mental possession. _If one
half of Duo's mind destroys the other, they're both finished!_
A similar situation had erupted when Carol Danvers had tried to
regain Rogue's body after being trapped within the depths of her
mind. Once described as a psychic vampire, the nature of Rogue's
powers caused her to steal a person's very soul through any sort of
casual or deliberate contact. Prolonged contact sucked the very
essence that made up an individual and absorbed it into her own body.
When Carol's mind had started fighting back, trying to take control
over Rogue as punishment for ruining her life, leaving her body as a
shell and her mind trapped in another's, the professor had sealed her
away. Later on, Jean had helped reinforce Carol away in a concrete
cage where she couldn't influence Rogue's mind ever again.
_But that was a case of two completely separate entities_, she
thought, wracking her brain for a solution that didn't seem to
forming. The two had to be separated or Carol could have either
completely taken Rogue over, effectively killing the two of them.
What do I do when it's one person against himself?
It was a dangerous thing to consider. She couldn't apply the same
tactics used against Carol in this situation. If she sealed away a
part of Duo, it was akin to taking a piece of what made him Duo. He
would never regain that integral part of himself. She snorted. This
was of course assuming that he survived having a part of his mind
ripped away forever.
Still, she had a couple of ideas. However, to implement them she had
to first gain entry into the young man's head. She sighed. Heero had
already proven how difficult that was - for her, anyway. The warnings
she'd been lectured on about forced entry into a fortified mind
reasserted themselves and she took a deep breath, preparing herself.
No time like the present.
In one of the texts the professor made all of his psi-based students
read, the author had made a note about how ancient civilizations and
customs believed that there was psychic ability in everyone, and that
it concentrated in the center of the forehead. That spot on a
person's head was supposedly the location of the third eye. When Jean
had first become a student at Xavier's, she had been disbelieving of
such a disfigurement accompanying her powers,. That had all changed
when she realized that it was that exact spot that seemed to act as a
focus point for her powers. It was the same today. As she calmed
herself, finding her center and focusing her mind, she felt her
powers condense and she knew without seeing that a light had formed
on her face, bathing the astral plane with its luminescence.
Placing both hands on the glowing red wall, she concentrated, pushing
out with her mind. sending a pinkish filament of light directly into
it. It struck the wall and splattered out to the sides, but she
poured it on, focusing her energy into a laser beam of mental power,
tryin to drill past the barrier. It was useless to try and batter
down the entire wall, and even more dangerous for Duo, for whom such
walls were a protective measure against other's who would try to
exert their will over his with harmful intent. It was better to try
and carefully wedge a way through and leave his wall relatively
The beam's pressure was steady, Jean being trained to handle cases
like these since she was a teen. It required some degree of exertion
but it was nothing she couldn't handle. Slowly but surely, she could
see a small opening where her power was focused and she spread a
surrounding, lighter beam of power over the wall, to help it maintain
its integrity, even as she was drilling through it. The point of
entry seemed to struggle against her, Duo's own subconscious defenses
still attempting to protect him from outside interference and she
increased her power in small increments, carefully monitoring the
rest of his shield for any signs of collapse. The hole widened.
Jean threw herself forward, shielding herself as she went. She felt
Duo's barriers try and close in on her, trap her, desperate to keep
her from reaching the core. The feeling was like trying to wade
through waist deep quicksand, grasping at her unearthly form and
trying to keep her from completing her mission. She focused outward,
giving a short burst of power that managed to repel them just enough
to emerge on the other side, popping free. The pressure instantly
lifted, and she collapsed, her knees giving way under the strain. If
she had just barreled through, it would have taken less energy but
the damage would have been irreparable, and she took a second to give
herself a congratulatory pat on the back. Then the severity of the
situation reasserted itself and she straightened.
Never mind - you got through. Now get to work.
Sounds of battle suddenly assaulted her ears and she looked up,
blinking as she took in the scene ahead of her.
It's a war zone!!
Keen senses picked up on the action instantly. Across from her, she
could see Heero's astral body leaning up against a damaged wall of
some sort, psychic bruises blossoming all over his body in shades of
yellow, purple and brown. He looked like he'd been put through a
wrecking machine, battered as he was. He was staring at the battle
directly across from him, and she followed his gaze to what appeared
to be the cause.
Two boys, nearly identical in every way, hammered away at each other,
fists rocking heads back, legs being swept out from underneath. The
sheer ferocity with which they fought nearly made her nauseous. The
snarling emanating from the two of them reminded her of the sound of
a rabid wolf and she reflected that the savagery on display in front
of her was no less deadly. She made herself look past the imagery and
scrutinized the combatants.
Which one was Shinigami?
Jean watched the two carefully as she gingerly made her over to Heero
who was panting with exertion as he tried to stay upright. Blood was
still gushing from his failed attempt to stop the wound in his
forearm, and the rattle in his lungs told her his breathing problems
were most likely the result of broken ribs. Maybe even a punctured
lung. She winced... taking damage to an astral body was the same as if
you'd been fighting in your earthly form. It was why she herself was
currently covered in her own suit of armor that she'd designed for
such jaunts as these. She paused by the Japanese boy just as he
stumbled, catching his arm and keeping him upright.
" Jean?" Heero's head snapped around and met her eyes in shock, blue
iris widening. " H-How did you--"
" Never mind! Which one is Duo?" Jean slid under his arm, helping the
boy stand, wrapping her own arm around his waist for additional
support. Unused to such compassion, she could feel his tension rise a
notch at the close contact before giving up and subsequently giving
in, allowing her to keep her arm where it was. Heero then pointed at
the scuffling bodies, noticing her confusion as she returned her gaze
to the battling warriors.
" That's Duo."
Jean watched and saw the desperate fury on one of the two and knew
instantly. She could feel homicidal intent flowing over her like a
drenching downpour from his opponent. The raw anger battered her
already frayed nerves. She could tell that the two of them were
growing steadily weaker as each of them unknowingly drew on the same
reserves to beat each other into a bloody pulp. The source of those
reserves was dwindling rapidly, she could tell. They were running out
" This has got to stop!" she cried frantically. Never before had she
seen such a war waged on this plane. She looked at Heero quickly,
judging his ability to help her, battered as he was. She didn't want
to hurt him more. Heero caught her staring and straightened
automatically, dropping her arm from him as though he were ashamed to
admit he had needed help. Strength seemed to pour back into him, as
though he was drawing energy from some untapped internal reservoir,
and she marveled at his recuperative powers. An untrained mind
lasting as long as he was in someone else's head...she shook her head
again and grinned humorlessly. She didn't like it, but at the same
time, she was glad these kids had had such a hard past history. While
stripping away their childhood, it had at least replaced it with an
inner toughness that could only be bred by the harsh realities of
life. Heero nodded and faced the two combatants, squaring his
shoulders, looking every inch the Perfect Soldier he was reputed to
" What do you want me to do?"
" We wait."
* * * * * * * * * *
Duo snarled and slammed his fist into his double's face over and
over, trying to slake his nearly incapacitating rage by crushing
every bone in his double's face. Screams of innocents rang in his
ears; crying, shouting, panicking, dying, dead faces of bloody
carcasses hovering in his range of vision, asking him why he did it.
Why he had killed them. Why? WHY?
" NOT ME!" he growled desperately, reaching down and hauling
Shinigami to his feet. " It wasn't ME!" He shouted it as though the
louder he did, the more likely some kind of absolution for what his
traitorous mind had done would be bestowed upon him. He hurled
Shinigami across the 'room' and watched him strike the ground with a
harsh thud, skidding slightly and coming to a stop on the fringes of
his mind. Abruptly, he felt a burst of pain explode somewhere inside
him, shredding at him, twisting his very being until he screamed and
gasped, doubling over.
The longer the fight continued, the worse he felt. Even though
Shinigami had landed a few decent blows, he was doing most of the
damage so it made no sense. Shinigami should be the one fighting to
keep the blood from vomiting between clenched lips. Why was he in
Heero. Heero is trapped in here with that lunatic - I HAVE to win!
Duo straightened, wiping blood from his mouth. He pushed aside his
questions to deal with later, and tried to regain his focus. He was
learning that mind games or no mind games, blows and injuries
suffered here felt just as real. Painful.
I have to beat him. What he did...
An image of a blond-haired boy with white eyes struck him and he
cried out furiously as he remembered exactly what had happened, what
Shinigami had made him do.
The flash of light playing over razor-sharp metal as it struck true,
the feeling of warm blood running over his hands, the light fading in
those sightless eyes, the emptiness replacing what was once life...
The rage continued to bubble up within him, filling his limbs with
renewed vigor and he lashed out again, battering the dreamscape with
a wave of power unleashed.
" You MONSTER!"
His throat was raw from screaming. He started towards the shaking
form on the ground, thinking to throttle the clone with his bare
hands and then froze. Something was wrong. His played over the
sprawled figure uncaringly, trying to discern the source of his
discontent and then it hit him.
Sound was drifting up from the black-clad figure and he strained his
ears, trying to understand, determine to hear what it was.
Laughter. It was laughter. Harsh, thinly veiled and nearly
hysterical, the bastard was LAUGHING at him.
His vision was eclipsed in shades of red as the rage rose up again.
About to tear the demon to shreds, Shinigami raised his head and let
loose another demented howl of laughter, tears of mirth streaming
down his damaged face. It was almost more then Duo could bear.
" WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT??" Duo screamed, nearly incoherent with
" T-That's it!" Shinigami giggled madly, his flashing with an
internal madness. His fingers clenched spasmodically, one hand
pounding into the ground, punctuating each cackle. Each thud echoed
in Duo's ears." Give in! " He flashed a v-sign at the trembling Duo.
" Isn't it WONDERFUL?"
This wasn't right. Duo felt rage being replaced by confusion and he
took a step back, staring. " What the HELL are you talking about?"
Shinigami chortled and rose to his feet, somewhat unsteadily. " You
know what I mean," he said, licking his lips provocatively. " The
anger...the rage...the hatred. I can feel it. I can TASTE it. So can
you." He stepped towards Duo, eyes still grinning, shining with a
type of lunacy that sickened the Deathscythe pilot. " Doesn't it feel
good?" His eyes gleamed predatorily. " Doesn't it feel free? It's
pure. It's us."
Icy fear gripped Duo's entrails, his heart leaping up into his
throat, nearly suffocating him in the all-encompassing fear that
swept over him like a tidal wave.
" S-Stay away from me!" Duo choked out. The battle lust was suddenly
under attack, leaving him, draining away with each step that
Shinigami took towards him. He backed up again, watching with wide,
scared eyes as the blood-soaked spawn of Sinister advanced towards
him. " What do you want from me?"
" The same as you..." came the soft hissing whisper, words rasping
out of the amused doppelganger's mouth. The twisted words spewing
forth from that mocking clone made him sick." The rage feels good,
feels right. It's what kept us alive when Solo died, when Father
Maxwell and Sister Helen died. That rage has always fueled our will
to survive, the need for revenge was and is our reason to go on in
this pathetic excuse for a life. Admit it. Give in to it." The demon
smiled again, cocking its head to one side, flicking a small spray
off blood off the ruddy tresses and onto the ground. " I did."
" You're me," Duo gasped, shaking his head negatively. " I never
wanted to become who I am!"
" You're lyyyyyy-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnggg!!" Shinigami sing-songed
mockingly, continuing his slow advance. " Lies...lies... good little
boys don't lie..."
" Shut up." Duo squeezed his eyes shut, fingers clenching and
unclenching. His face was an alarming shade of pasty white." Just
" Let me take over," Shinigami said softly, soothingly. A deceptive
calmness that tried to encourage Duo to give into, offering warmth
and security in oblivion." Sinister helped us in the end. He let me
free - let me become my own person. I can handle the pain - I can
return it tenfold." Purple eyes flashed with a promise of death and
destruction. " Just let go."
Could it really be that simple? Duo's head shook back and forth in
denial, eyes wide but unblinking in the face of such a tempting
offer. He couldn't. He wouldn't. Too much was at stake. But the offer
a haven, a dark part of his mind where he wouldn't have to live with
the pain and repercussions of his body's actions mewled minutely at
him to consider it. A small part of him wondered of he should just
give up. In winning he'd have to live with what he did. He was so
Blackness wavered on the edge of his vision, and he felt his knees
give way as the small seed of doubt proved to be the opening of
weakness that Shingami needed. Energy seemed to wilt away from him,
leeched away by his clone. Sinking to the ground slowly, he opened
his eyes to see the look of pure malice on his twin's face and knew
he didn't have the strength to fight him off anymore.
Shinigami leaned in, hands outstretched and eager to wrap around that
slender little neck. Suddenly, an enormous surge of energy blasted
him from behind, flinging him away from Duo and into a wall that
manifested out of nowhere. The air crackled and sparked as pure
psionic waves continued to slam into him, pulsing in time to his own
heartbeat. His own power suddenly waning, Shinigami fought to pull
himself up, bracing his hands against the near transparent `ground',
small cuts appearing all over his body. He shook his head to clear
the cobwebs, glaring at his attackers.
Jean stood there confidently, pinkish fire burning like hellfire in
her tightly clenched fist. A strained but determined expression
dictated her entire stance as her muscles tensed in preparation for a
returned attack. Beside her, Heero scrambled down to Duo's side,
hastily checking his partner for serious injuries. There were a few
deep welts and bruises and hot spatters of blood decorated the heart-
shaped features that defined Duo Maxwell, but there didn't seem to be
anything too serious. Heero then stood, automatically placing himself
between Duo and Shinigami, his move radiating his intense desire to
protect the braided one from any additional harm.
Shinigami wasn't pleased. The devilish-looking boy hissed angrily but
Heero smirked, unfazed by the malice aimed at him. His hands
clenched, fisted knuckles turning white from the strain, his nails
cutting half-moons into his skin.
He spoke quietly in a tone that brooked no argument, fierce and
" No more."
Shinigami was incensed at the sheer audacity.
" You can't stop me!" Shinigami snarled. " Sinister brought me to
life - I am stronger then he'll ever be!" He began stalking the
Japanese pilot, murderous intent seeping off of him in roiling waves,
eager to prove his words. His hands morphed into outstretched claws,
and the escaping strands of blood-covered hair from his braid seemed
to gain a life of their own, slinking and slithering around him in a
grisly parody of Medusa and her snakes. Heero remained unmoving,
steadfast in his vow to protect the American. Then a voice cut
through the tension like a knife, drawing their attention.
" You're wrong!" Jean's commanding voice rang out, halting Shinigami
in his tracks.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jean was getting tired of this. The death, the blood, the violence;
all of it was wearing on her nerves, and she could feel Duo's
subconscious mind wavering in its fight. It was taking all of Duo's
energy to remain awake enough to keep Shinigami from winning, but the
sheer output of power was extremely taxing.
Heero and Shinigami's showdown played out in front of her. It was
nearly overwhelming, the hatred on display.
I never knew there could be such darkness in someone, she thought
With every individual, there was a light that shone from the inside
out. It was what made you who you were, what made a person greet the
morning with a smile for the day, and hope for the future. It was
that light within that the X-men had devoted their lives to
protecting... the innocence, the happiness that made life worth living.
Sadly though, like every physical light, it could be extinguished.
Sometimes there was just no saving a person; sometimes pain, guilt,
fear, destitution, depression all contributed to the snuffing of that
inner spark, leaving behind a hostile, paranoid and introverted shell
of what once was. It was something Jean had seen all to many times in
her career as an X-men.... even more so for having empathic abilities
that allowed her to strip away the outer layer and see what lay
A part of her wanted to place the blame for such carnage squarely on
the hands of Sinister but her study of Morph's file told her that a
large part of what made up Shinigami was the darkness that resided
within the braided boy. She could understand it though... having
learned that all of the boys trapped in this dimension had been
training for and fighting in a brutal war for most of their childhood
left her with no doubt that angry demons such as Shinigami dwelled
within the innermost recesses of their minds. This wasn't a foe that
she could obliterate with a sweep of her hand, and expect everything
to fall out okay. This required inner strength. Duo had to fight
back, and it looked like he was losing.
The despair seemed to be eating away at the very core of his power.
Boosted though it was by Sinister's implant, she could nonetheless
feel the weariness filtering through Duo's shields, and made her want
to weep in sympathy.
" I'm stronger then he'll ever be!"
Jean's head snapped back up at the shout, and her eyes narrowed as
she took in the speaker. Shinigami's confidence looked to be
repairing itself at an alarming rate, and she mentally growled. The
arrogance of the mind-demon was wearing on her very last nerve and
with that thought, a plan struck her and she knew what to do. But
first, she had to get their attention. She took a deep breath.
" You're wrong!" she shouted. Shinigami stopped circling Heero and
his charge, and the two of them looked at her, one in shock, the
other with surprise.
Well, she thought, a trifle smugly. That got their attention. She
squared her shoulders, looking Shinigami straight in the eyes.
" You've had your fun, demon," she said firmly. " But I've had enough
of this. This game ends now."
Ignoring the mocking laughter of Duo's evil twin, she sent a thread
of power into Duo's inert form.
:: Duo :: she sent, searching for the spark that made up Duo.
:: "......" ::
:: Duo, wake up.::
Hearing the weak response made Jean's heart soar, and she then turned
her gaze back to Shinigami.
:: I need your help Duo. I'll help you fight him, but you have to
fight too. He's winning because you're giving up. Don't let him beat
:: Too strong......::
:: Duo!:: Jean's mental voice shouted and she gave a grim smile of
satisfaction when it startled Duo into coherency. :: He is NOT
stronger then you! You can't think that way!:: A thought occurred to
her and she sent her next thought with a little more urgency. :: If
he wins, he'll hurt Heero.::
:: Who do you think is protecting you right now? ::
Jean nearly shouted with joy as Duo's eyes opened fractionally, mere
slits of violet peering out at her. No, she amended. Past her,
locking straight on to Heero's back that was in front of him,
shielding him from Shinigami's wrath.
The mental voice in her head was a little stronger and she took that
opportunity to fire a shot off at the doppelganger, knocking him off
:: Help me Duo.::
A sharp intake of breath, and Duo's eyes shot fully open, righteous
anger lighting them up with an internal fire. The spark was back.
Jean nearly sagged with relief.
Heero could feel Shinigami trying to drain his energy, even as they
focused on Jean. The aching tiredness threatened to swallow him up
but he remained on his feet. Jean was speaking to Shingami in
: You've had your fun demon but I've had enough of this. This game
Heero watched the clone start laughing at her challenge and wondered
what Jean could possibly be playing at. Then he noticed something,
and his eyes narrowed. It was a testament to Doctor J's dedication to
developing the perfect soldier that Heero's enhanced senses picked
out the faint glazing of Jean's eyes and the near-indistinguishable
glow of light that she sent to the still form of Duo just behind him.
She's doing something... but what?
He held his ground, still wary of an attack but the shock of movement
didn't start with Shinigami.
It came from behind him.
Heero gasped as Duo suddenly leaped to his feet, eyes flashing, hair
swirling around him in a cloak of silk. The multiple cuts and
scratches he'd seen had vanished, leaving only smooth, unmarked skin
in its place. Those once-laughing eyes held only cold fire, blazing
with an intensity that made the Japanese pilot back up a step in
confusion. He had never seen such a look from Duo in all the years
they'd been partnered together. Duo glanced at him briefly, and for a
minute, Heero thought his heart would stop at the ferociousness
Then a short warm wave of energy, familiar, friendly, washed over him
and he recognized it as a subtle attempt from Duo to calm him. He
nearly smiled as Duo nodded once in satisfaction and turned back to
" Jean has it right," he said in steely tones. " This game ends now."