Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is not mine.

Rating: NC17
Lemon: Yes
Warnings: Deathfic
Genre: AU, angst

by syrupjunkie

Heero Yuy died in a back alley on June 26, AC 195. Duo Maxwell would be the only one that remembered him.

Summer had come to L2, the way that summer always came in the colonies. Announcements were made about the coming cycles of rain and the steady increase of temperature. People were prepared for it weeks before it actually arrived. Heaters were shut off, lighter shirts were unpacked and the local economy made the subtle shift towards whatever tourism would manage to find its way onto the colony.

Things were not well at the moment. There was a war out there in the sky between the colonies and Earth. During the night, it was hard to look at the stars without wondering if some of them were soldiers being vaporized into stardust. Food supplies were low and prices inflated. The colonial government was hard put to provide for the basic welfare of the population, much less try to beautify L2. It was then, therefore, that when summer had finally come at 8 AM on June 1, there was nothing to greet the warmth but a gray-faced populace and run down buildings. Soldiers and students and workers alike toiled listlessly in a pattern that spoke of hardship and weariness.

Joblessness and homelessness went hand in hand, as perfectly as misery and sex and unwanted children. The orphanages swelled, as did the hospitals and unemployment ranks. Gangs roamed the streets without worthwhile things to steal, and children slinked in the nighttime shadows, hunting through the garbage that spilled into the streets of the poorest districts unable to afford sanitation.

It was in this world that Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell met, two boys who had survived by themselves for years on the streets of L2. They met in confrontation, like feral animals protecting their territory. They met in an abandoned shack up around the industrial quarter, in a roughly hewn town of boxes and crates that had been cannibalized for homes. It was a haunting ground for the unwanted and the irredeemable. The shack's occupant had died the night before at the hands of the local police force after being caught trying to burgle a store. Word breathed through the ranks like disease and everyone knew it was now free for the taking.

Duo Maxwell had been too late by two minutes. When he swung open the plywood door, he was met by a pair of fierce blue eyes. They stared at him darkly with the promise of violence if he dared to pass over the threshold. Duo met them defiantly and stepped into the room. The other boy sprang, without warning or pause, knocking Duo over and trying to circle his hands around his neck. Duo hadn't survived his fifteen years without being able to harness the strength of violence. He retaliated by kicking and pressing his thumbs into the hollow of the other boy's neck. They broke apart in mutual pain and scrambled to their feet.

They circled, in the airless confines of the damp room. Duo watched the other boy's movements; they were slow and deliberate, made to intimidate with their assurance of painful consequences. The boy was thin and bony but Duo knew he'd be tough and dangerous. Desperation did that to people. It heightened your awareness; you survived by sheer will and determination. It forced open that hidden place where the deepest-rooted survival instincts lay. Duo tested the air, reaching in between them with a small swipe. The boy snarled and swung at the hand with a speed and viciousness as if he'd rip Duo's arm out of his body. He probably would. If you had a chance at getting a shack, you'd kill for it. Even if you knew that someone else would probably take it away from you by the end of next week. Duo stepped back, slightly assessing the broken pieces of wood and glass about the room. He could probably do enough damage with a shard of glass…

"Get out." The other boy stopped circling, with Duo back in front of the door. It wasn't a command; it was a threat.

Duo smiled back jauntily. "Nah, I think I'll stay. You're welcome to leave if you want." He wasn't anticipating the lunge but managed to dodge it before the other boy could grab him. "Now, that wasn't very nice." He distanced himself from the boy again.

The boy didn't answer, instead crouched low on quick feet. He glared up at Duo from the ground, eyes hard and cold in a way that Duo knew all to well. This wasn't just desperation; it was a last stand. This other boy was perfectly willing to die for the shack. He'd seen it before; he'd felt it before. He felt it now.

It wasn't something you could wake up to. It grew day after day, as you knew more of the world around you, and more of society's intrinsic self-centeredness. You couldn't expect anything from anyone else. Those quickest to learn became monsters before puberty, the slower ones never lived that long on their own. It didn't have a name, because itself was a state of consciousness. Kill or be killed. Kill or starve. Fight or die. Most of all-do whatever you must to live.

Duo attacked, with a piece of wood he had managed to secret behind his back. The other boy was ready and blocked the blow with his hands. It must have hurt, the force of the splintered wood biting into bare flesh, but the other boy didn't seem to feel it. Instead he growled and pushed, trying to knock the weapon out of Duo's hands. Duo strained to hold his position against the boy's strength. The wood cracked and splintered between them and rained onto the dirt ground. Their grips shifted, each grappling against arms that had ripped handholds into the wall of life and were as strong as steel.

Blows followed, kicks and punches. Dodges and counterattacks were executed. Blood dripped and dried and left matted and cracked trails over dirt streaked skin. Hisses and groans and growls filled the small space like a dogfight. The minutes passed in breathless exertion. And through it all, exhaustion hung like a spectator, occasionally descending to steal some breath.

Duo was panting heavily by the end and shook his head faintly to get rid of his blurred vision. He spat out a mouthful of saliva and blood. That last blow had landed solidly against his jaw. He rubbed the spot and grimaced as a dull throb appeared under his fingertips and foretold the soreness that was going to stay with him for a while. He took mild satisfaction, though, that he gave as good as he got. The other boy was currently on his hands and knees, gasping for air, courtesy of Duo's knee. They were both propped up for support, clearly exhausted but unwilling to give an inch. Duo felt the fire and heaviness in his arms and legs, and doubted whether the other boy was any better off.

The artificial heat seeped through the open doorway and thickened the air with humidity. It only served to make the sweat that much more profuse on Duo's brow. "Look," he said while leaning heavily against the fragile wooden frame of the shack, "I'm used to cramped places. I bet you are too. There's space enough here for both of us."

The other boy was still on hands and knees, breathing heavily. When he lifted his head, a thin trickle of blood slid down the corner of his mouth to the chin. He wiped it away with a slow, deliberate motion. It said 'You didn't hurt me; I can still kill you.'

Duo sighed and slowly got to his feet. The other boy reeled back onto his heels defensively. "Or we could beat the shit out of each other again, so the next guy who comes can push us over with a feather. Your decision."

The other boy rose onto his feet and stared at Duo for an unnervingly long amount of time. "I have the right." He turned swiftly and dragged himself over to his respective side, favoring his right leg.

Duo rolled his eyes and laid himself gingerly by the opposite wall. "Sure, name's Duo by the way, Duo Maxwell."

If the other boy had heard, he gave it no weight and began industriously kicking scraps of broken glass and kindling and rubbish toward the center of the room. Duo followed his lead when a response from the other boy wasn't forthcoming.

There wasn't much of a change when the loose trash had been gathered and thrown out the door. The smell remained; it would always remain, moldy with a metallic acidity. The dirt floor, littered with small bits of glass and pebbles, sprayed dust into the air whenever a particularly strong draft squeezed in through the cracks and gaps between the boxwood planks of the wall.

Duo noted with bitterness that the sole window in the room, a jagged skewed square ripped out of the wood was in his half. It was almost funny and he smiled in a dark way. Having fought so hard for a roof, he'd still be rained on. The next few days, however, were clear but hot, and he was almost thankful for the fresh air his half offered.

Duo stayed in his side and never strayed out. It was a tentative truce that arose between him and the other boy. They kept out of each other's way, leaving at different times to explore the world on their limited means, to scavenge for food and water, and return under the cloak of night with their finds. Duo hid bits of magazines under his mattress of knotted plastic bags glossy pictures of women in revealing dresses and men in suits and ties with a silky shine. Sometimes, advertisements with big bright lettering and rows upon rows of machines and computers and toys and games and clothes. The words meant little to him; he only knew a handful of them. But the pictures, especially this one of a family, they called to him and told him to cherish them, if only to remind him of the dreams he might one day be able to have.

The other boy stowed nothing. Bits of food came and went and so did the wrappers and cartons. Every night, scavenges littered the ground by his bed, and every morning the dirt was as bare as it had been the day before. It was the same with his personality no excess of words.

It was infuriating sometimes, when it was raining or when the heat had been too heavy. Duo would sit and stare from across the shack, watching the other boy do nothing. He would start questions in his head and silence them. Sometimes, he managed a sentence or two before it was painfully obvious that the other boy neither cared nor acknowledged them.

He blew up at him a week after the truce had begun. The sun was out, but was obscured by a humid haze. He had spent the good part of two hours in the silence, by the window watching for signs of refreshing rain. He had asked the boy a few questions, which were not answered, and his patience ran out.

"Hey, you fucking bastard, I'm talking here." At last, he earned a vacant flicker of attention. "Yeah, that's right, I'm trying to make conversation. A deal, whatever. I asked if you wanted to look for food with me tonight."

This brought a careful furrow to the other's brow. It cleared quickly. "I don't need you."

It stung Duo, not because he actually gave a damn if the boy insulted him. He'd been called worse; he'd called others worse. It stung because it was true; it was a lifestyle they both shared. You didn't need anyone else; you didn't need friends or family cause they'd only leave and let you down. You relied on yourself for food and shelter and that was it. It was the only way to live. He threw a crumpled up piece of newspaper at the boy. It was swatted away with vicious ease and earned him a glare. "It's not like I need you either. I thought it'd be…fun or something. Someone else to talk to anyway. You may like your fucking silence, but I don't."

They sat in stubborn silence for the rest of the afternoon. The sun burned a path across the dusty ground and disappeared behind the windowsill. When the purple had begun to edge into the sky, the boy approached Duo and told him he was going out. "Heero Yuy," the boy said curtly before he turned and wandered out into the night. Duo followed. A deal had been made and accepted without formal recognition from either party.

Heero didn't talk much more after the deal than before; Duo found himself talking all the time. They never mentioned their pasts, nor their futures. Days were spent walking about the city, sometimes seeking shade, others watching the few sights. Within two weeks there was a bond between them already. Duo discovered Heero had begun to fill a hole left long ago. It was there like a curse in his head — friend.

June 10 saw an unseasonably cool and clear morning. The sky was blue-white and the wind blew refreshingly through their shack. Duo felt more audacious that morning; he dragged Heero out by force. The other boy put up surprisingly little resistance.

Uptown L2 used to be the cultural center of the colony architectural wonders, museums, galleries, expensive restaurants and plush hotels. These days, it struggled to maintain an air of decency among the increasingly poor and bedraggled people. The L2 Museum stood solemn on that day, grubby and lonely in its unoccupied square. The city had had to close it down for the winter because funding couldn't be found to keep it open. It had been meant to be reopened for the summer, but famine relief was more important than history these days. The banner for the last exhibition still hung across the columns. It was wind torn and dirty with pollution, but still shone more bright than anywhere else in the colony; its colors were still vivid enough to offset the drabness of the surrounding buildings.

The foreground was a dark blue river, small candle lit boats bobbing up a winding path into the midground where a large, garish, pearl and gold castle stood majestically in front of the sulphurous yellow rock and steaming hot springs. The roofs sloped with overlapping tiles and curled at the ends like Asian eyes. Carvings of animals shone red and gold and silver on the support beams. A figure stood in the forefront, dominating the scene. He looked dispassionately out at the audience, with a bullet shaped ceremonial hat and a thick book open upon an uplifted palm. The face drew Duo's attention most; at best it was detached; at worst it had a veiled contempt as it looked down from its high perch.

Heero had surprised Duo by reading what was left of the caption. "Death and Judgment."

Duo thought it was stupid, but couldn't remove his eyes. That wasn't Death up there, not the way he knew it. Death certainly wasn't so ornamental or so peaceful. Where were the corpses, the blood, the pox marks or the guns? He sneered as he gave the banner a last look; the artist was probably some sheltered, rich man's brat. You certainly didn't find Death in a fortress of jewels. It walked on night lit streets, always on the edge of hearing as he and Heero walked about in the dark.

The nights with Heero passed in hard wired routine. Sunsets and early twilights were moments of rest, catching the short moments of silence when the factories made their last efforts. Clear nights stained the skies purple and the lull between daylight and night lights lasted just long enough to remember that there were still worthwhile things in the world. Flickering, the night inevitably switched on, at the heels of the sun, and people breathed again and remembered that they had things to do. Nights were always Duo's busiest times; if you were lucky you'd be able to find enough food to last through the next day.

June 14 was a typical night for Duo. The trash squelched under his feet, a mixture of rainwater and decaying juices permeating paper and other organic trash. He knew it intimately. By the dim light of the street lamps, he felt along the bags for telltale lumps; not too soft and certainly nothing moving. He tried to draw the line at some point. "Any luck?" he called over his shoulder.

Heero's head appeared over the lip of the dumpster. He held a grease-stained, crumpled brown bag and an apple. "Sandwich."

Duo abandoned his trash bag and scrutinized the one in Heero's hands. "How bad?"

Heero opened it and wrinkled his nose. "Mayo went bad. Apple's half okay."

Duo nodded with what was a 'could be worse' gesture. His stomach clenched as he recalled some of the 'worse' things he'd ever eaten things that had been disintegrated, things mashed by countless feet, crawling things with iridescent shells. Heero was looking at the find with a similar ambivalence; resigned but not disgusted. Duo appreciated that, that Heero understood this was not something to be cursed but to be grateful for. And for that one moment he was happy. It passed quickly like most of the good things in his life, but the afterglow of it tingled somewhere along his spine. "We can scrape off the mayo and cut out of the rotted bits in the apple. I can't make out anything good in these bags. Wanna check the next alley over?"


The next one offered some more choices, some moldy bread and vegetables. There was also a black and red checked oilcloth with some bent bottle caps nearby. Duo looked at them in fascination as they lay together inside a garbage bag. It brought painfully wonderful memories, of nights lazy with indolence and comfort, jumping pieces and kinging by the soft glow of a reading light. And laughter, the highs and lows of voices as they giggled and tittered and rooted one another on. The itch in his spine burned and slid to the bottom of his stomach; it dropped out like a bout of vertigo and became cold. As he closed his fists around the cloth and caps, he could feel a presence behind him, breathing over his shoulder in a slow, purposeful way. The hairs on his neck stiffened and somewhere far away he could make out the sound of crackling. The moment passed and he turned around to find Heero's disembodied head looking down at him quizzically, but patient.

"Found something?" Heero had asked him.

Duo looked down at his hands, the stained and crumpled fabric and the rust splotched and warped caps. This time, the cold at his back was gone. "Yeah, something to pass the time."

In the end, they picnicked in an alleyway, sheltered from view by a dumpster. Heero sat next to Duo, carefully dissecting away the moldy and congealed bits and splitting up their loot into two piles. They ate their halves voraciously in silence, and passed the mealy apple between them for dessert. Afterwards, Duo brought out his impromptu checkers set and taught Heero the basics. There weren't enough caps for pieces so they scavenged around for dark and light pebbles. By the time the first game was underway, twilight had already passed. They jumped and captured and dueled for endless games on the wet asphalt of the alleyway, under a harsh orange floodlight. Duo won most of the games, but Heero managed to steal a few victories, and despite an honest rivalry, the night passed in contented tranquility. When they packed up the pieces after a long and desperate last game, where Heero had managed to beat Duo's four kings while being outnumbered four to one, the sky was blue black over L2's glow. For the first night in a long time, Duo saw L2 under the fluorescent lights and moon shine, and thought he could see something beautiful.

The next afternoon, trapped in the shack as the colony's heaters burned, Duo let his impulses go and got up from his perch on the windowsill to make his way over to Heero's sleeping pad. He was feeling adventurous and daring and something last night was making him feel reckless. He plopped down next to the boy and leaned back against the wall. "I'm bored, Heero." Heero merely gave him an annoyed look and returned to his task of sorting through garbage for spare change and pawnable items. Duo shifted closer to Heero's side and picked a piece of plastic out of his hands. Then he kissed Heero, pressing in and leaning down.

Heero pushed him away almost immediately and scooted away into the corner. "What was that for?"

Duo smiled at him broadly and leaned over for another kiss. He managed to hold Heero's arms at bay long enough scoot close to the other boy and press himself against Heero. When Heero pushed him away this time, there was nowhere else for him to go. Duo favored him with a smile again. "I'm bored and horny. A boy's got needs too." He kissed Heero again and rubbed his hands against the other boy's crotch. Heero grunted into the kiss, a hitch of breath.

Duo slid his hands under the waistband of Heero's pants and pulled them downward to mid-thigh. The threadbare fabric gave way slightly and unraveled at the waist seams. He grabbed at Heero's erection, wrapped his fingers all the way around and pumped the organ quick and hard. It was thin and hot and the skin soft in a way that defied Heero's cracked and calloused hands. Those hands came up to crush Duo's biceps as he thrust upward. Duo broke the kiss for a breath and squeezed the erection hard enough to feel the pulse of blood deep inside. It had a beautiful twitch. "Good, Heero?"

Duo kissed Heero like he'd seen on vid screens in electronic stores, on movie posters, the way he always thought he'd like it with a girl. Rough, with heat, wet. It wasn't sweet; he could taste the offness of plaque and food bits, and the bitterness of grime. But it was warm and wet and he pushed deeper. His fingers squeezed Heero's bony frame at the hips, digging into the skin like points. Heero shifted uncomfortably in his grasp, back and forth as if to evade and confront. Duo could feel Heero's cock making transient contact with his shirt. He lapped at Heero's neck and tasted filth. He sucked the flesh for the flavor, leaving the patch red and glistening. Heero was grunting softly, leaning back against the wall and moving his hips up and down in small fast motions against the fabric. Duo caught the bobbing cock and rubbed the coarse scratchy hair at the base. He liked that he could feel the point where the erection disappeared behind the bone of Heero's groin. "You ever come before, Heero?"

Heero moaned, a noise which didn't sound particularly human. His hips were lifting and falling in a steady rhythm just enough to slide his cock back and forth in long strokes in Duo's hand. Precum slicked Duo's grip on him and the wetness as it dried made the skin stickier. Duo adjusted his hand and trapped the head of Heero's cock in his fist. He squeezed and rubbed individual fingers against the wet slit, probing it and trailing it down to the underside. Heero rolled his hips in tight circles, twisting his erection in Duo's hand. His eyes were clenched tight and his face lost in a grimace. He hissed out a long breath. Warm semen exploded in Duo's hand, oozing through between his fingers and running down the back of his hand like veins. Duo continued to squeeze Heero until he was thoroughly coated. He wiped the back of his palm across the strip of bare flesh between the ragged hem of Heero's shirt and his cock, a smear of come from navel to thigh.

No one spoke. Heero's chest rose and fell with breathless movement. Duo kept his eyes on Heero's slack face, and freed his erection with his unsoiled hand. Heero didn't resist, and Duo didn't care one way or the other. He slipped his come slicked right hand through Heero's hair and pulled the other boy down to his groin. His free hand dug between Heero's lips, into the small space between Heero's slack jaw and teeth. He pried them open and slipped his cock into the space. He'd dreamed of this with a girl, watching his cock disappearing into a pair of parted lips. It entered easily, lubricated with saliva. Heero's teeth scratched it as it settled in the back of his throat. Duo pulled Heero's head down viciously in time his with first thrust upward. His cock rammed deep into Heero's mouth and pulled out just as quickly. He grabbed Heero's head with his other hand too and drove even deeper. Heero's nose mashed against his pubic hair. Duo's pace was relentless. Heero's swallowing and attempts to free himself from the sudden assault only made it that much better. Duo pinned Heero's arms to his side with his legs and forced his way into Heero's mouth even faster.

It was how he'd always fantasized. Wet and warm, a tongue pushing back against his erection, trying to expel it. He could even turn Heero's muffled attempts at dealing with the intrusion into unrestrained moaning. "Fuck…fuck." He came quickly, filling Heero's mouth and slipping out to coat his lips and face too. His possession traced the curve from eye to nose and from the corner of wet, red lips. "You liked that, Heero?" he panted in his afterglow.

Heero's blue stare moved between Duo's still hard cock and face. He swallowed slowly and with effort, and lifted a hand to massage his throat and wipe Duo's come off his cheeks and chin. A bit of semen remained at the corner of his lips and his tongue cleaned it away, tracing the juncture between his lips with deliberate exaggeration. Then he leaned in and kissed Duo again.

The nights afterwards were lost in humid animalistic wrestling. Heels of hands and kneecaps ground into the dust and dirt. Backs moving roughly over pebbles and debris, scratching out thin red lines. Mouths, hot and quick, gnashing, groaning, sticky with sweat and semen. And afterwards they lay in the dark, occasionally in the moonlight, but always with their heads turned toward the window. Duo would look at the dots of light, the blues and oranges and the sometimes reds, and imagine the great war machines up there, swinging around each other like a dance. The flames of afterburners, scarred and twisted metal, crashing against one another. A bright firefight up in the middle of space, until one of the suits rips through the other, through armor, and flesh and bone, and through armor again. And then the final moment, when the endless black lights up for a fiery second and the soundless explosion. When one of the stars twinkles, he always turns back to Heero and begins another round of furious sex. There's a cold presence that settles on his back, draped across his shoulders like a layer of ice. So he drives into Heero harder, looking for heat, and doesn't stop until Heero's ground into the earth, spread across the floor and screaming for more. The blood always rumbles in Duo's ears like great engines.

June 26 passed like any other summer day, and Heero Yuy passed from life into death in an unremarkable few minutes. It had happened quickly. Turning the corner of a dark alley on their nightly scavenge Duo and Heero ran into two men, smelling strongly of alcohol and volatility. The taller one collided with Heero and gave him a savage push onto the ground; the shorter one slurred out some curse as he narrowly missed stumbling into his friend's back. Duo was on the point of throwing out some insult when he found himself suddenly in the middle of a tragedy. Heero was on the ground and wasn't getting up. All three pairs of eyes watched a dark patch grow on the faded lightness of Heero's shirt. Inevitably, the eyes circled up to stare at the knife in the tall man's hand. It looked obscene and dark in the night, a wet and slick blade. The ragged teeth gleamed like a wild animal. The man dropped it when the thick liquid on the blade ran down over the grip and his fingers. The men backed away hurriedly, screaming more sober curses and disappeared into the dark.

Duo stood paralyzed at the scene. He looked between the knife and Heero, making the connection with sick clarity. "Heero?" he called out. It was a stupid question, but he asked anyway. Despite the cruelty of the years, he had still retained the human capacity to hope; it was the only escape offered to him. It drew on fantasies and dreams and inevitably made reality that much more painful. Duo cursed himself for giving into hope, knowing full well it always ended the same way. Here was Heero, another thing snatched away as quickly as it was brought into his life. He lowered himself onto his haunches and crouched by Heero's head. He brought his ear close to other boy's mouth.

Heero wasn't breathing. Bright glassy eyes, with a sheen of unshed tears looked up into Duo's face. Almost with a tentativeness and fear he thought he had driven away long ago, Duo placed his hand over Heero's chest. Nothing moved within. He moved lower and encountered the wet, sticky wound. Between two ribs. He probed the skin carefully and was sickened by the way his fingers could slip so easily between the two flaps of skin, the way the skin parted and stretched for his entry and how the warm blood was sticky but oily on his fingers.

Duo was surprised at the tears on his face. He thought he had lost the ability to cry long ago, that the tears had all been washed away that night when the church burned so bright and hot, he'd thought he was staring straight into Hell.

He cradled Heero's face in his hands, small gray black hands, ugly rough hands, thick black filth under jagged fingernails. Heero's face was a sickly yellow under the lights, and Duo smeared blood and dirt across the shadowed cheeks. The tears were smoothed into the skin too, turning the face rough with smudges. The warm wind blew around him as it rolled down the alley, but it cut him through his shabby clothes. Goosebumps rose all over his body and his insides squirmed and squeezed themselves. Something was definitely nearby, waiting with shallow breaths and rustling in the dark.

"I can't escape you, can I? You're always just behind me." The shadow didn't move, ensconced beyond the limits of his night vision. "Well, you've won; you got me. I don't got anyone more for you to take." The traffic bled through his senses, carrying music and noise. There were whispers too in the air, cramped together as if competing for attention. 'You fucking bitch; I'll make you… Yes, nine thirty. You know where the conference… Tony said 'The Panthers' are in our territory again. We're gonna… I'm sorry, this is too much, too soon. Of course I love you, but…' The light overhead flickered and the shadow moved, slunk lower, preparing itself. "You might as well have me," Duo told it. The world had stopped spinning for one beautiful moment, and coldness filled his chest like ice water. "I'm done fighting you. I'm right here…waiting."

The tears had stopped almost as suddenly as they began. Now, he really knew there would be no more. Heero's eyes flickered with the weak streetlamp, almost alive. But the blue was gone, absorbed into the muddy orange.

There was a silence in Duo's head, one that had no room for the streetwalkers, the late night drivers, the dead end drunks. His hands stopped moving, cradling Heero's head behind the ears. The shadow shifted and slithered out of hiding and filled his eyes, his nose, his mouth. It tasted and smelled of rain, cold and sweet.

The still warm skin of Heero's head slipped through his hands, and landed back onto the ground with a quiet thump. Duo slowly got off his knees and rose to his feet. The darkness shifted and the orange light once again flashed across his vision, an aura of distorted yellow and red. He picked up the knife, sticky and dark with blood. His fingers curled around the handle comfortably. He had purpose now.

Later that night, in the early hours of predawn, the makeshift town arose to a terrible uproar. Before the dim horizon light, with a wild braid snapping at the air, a boy was attacking a man twice his size. Punches and kicks rained with a violence of detached swiftness. The man dropped to his knees with cracks and thuds. He raised his voice and hands in supplication, blood streaming from swollen cuts on his face like red tears. A ring of early morning bystanders loitered about the scene, gruff and bleary from drink and dreaming. A few more alert men were smiling in predatory and cruel ways, offering offhanded suggestions for weak points and criticisms in style.

If the boy heard the comments, he gave no response, and continued his attacks. By the time light had reddened the sky, and most of the boxwood occupants had completely surrounded the fight, Duo was standing stock still before his prostrate opponent, the tall man staring up at the boy through hazy eyes. His pleadings had trailed off into hitched moans and panted broken words. And when Duo bent down over the oozing body, and without a twitch in his blank face, plunged a knife into the man's chest, the entire crowd drew back with a sudden fear. An opening cleared up for Duo as he walked away. He entered his shack and despite the rumbling in his head, fell asleep as soon as he closed his eyes. When he woke up, the neighboring shacks were empty. They stayed that way.

Heero's shack remained in Duo's care for years, until the war had long gone and the local government had finally gotten the funds to rebuild the colony. There were no intrusions during that time, not after a few hesitant but bloody tries by new drifters. Eventually, everyone knew of the boy who made no threats and no warnings, but had the coldness of a murderer. No one knew where the boy disappeared to, when the L2 government cleared away the shantytown, and no one bothered to find out.

Because somewhere under that summer darkness, sky streaming with trailing clouds and saturated with the taste of acrid fog, a new monster was born. Death had risen. Silent and formless as a vapor. It had leached into a willing vessel, filled the smallest spaces of lung and diffused through a maze of veins. It bled deep into muscle and suffused the skin. And when it looked at the world, behind a smile that cracked under the weight of emptiness, it felt a stabbing, insistent hunger. Shinigami would hunt again.

Author's notes: Basically I was going for a 'could be supernatural' or 'could be psychological breakdown' fic. You're welcome decided for yourself whether Death existed or whether Duo's sanity had disappeared. To tell the truth, I could envision Solo in Heero's role in this story. But I decided to go entirely AU and tell Shinigami's origin with Heero as the catalyst; he seems to work a bit better for me in this role…

The figure in the L2 banner is based on Emma-O, the Japanese Buddhist god of the underworld. His castle is located in the Yellow Springs below earth. He is traditionally represented by a book in which he judges the sins of the dead.

Here is an excerpt from some website I can't remember the address of: "He is the judge of the dead and notes the sins of those who are sentenced to purgatory, and decides the degree of their punishments according to Buddha's Law. Anyone who has killed an innocent will be thrown into a boiling cauldron full of molten metal. However, if they have made a pilgrimage to each of the 33 shrines of the goddess of mercy Kannon, then all the evil they have done will disappear. Sometimes he is portrayed less pitiless and returns life to those who appear before him.

On the last day of the Festival of the Dead, the sea is full of shoryobuni ('soul ships'), for on that day the high tide brings a flood of returning ghosts who go back to their spirit world. The sea is luminescent with the light these souls emit, and their whispering can be heard. While the ghosts are embarking, no human ship should come near. Should one stray into the soul-covered sea, the ghosts will ask for pails. The sailors should only offer them pails without bottoms, for if they do not, the ghosts will sink their ship. Currently, Emma-o is used as a bogeyman to scare little children."


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