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Chapter two: The Never Ending Story
The Shinigami's Mask...

" Hilde?" Duo asked, staring in disbelief at the huddled figure that desperately clung to the ground now. What on earth was she doing here, in an Oz uniform none the-less! Leaning down low, he lifted her chin to get a better view of her eyes......Duo always recognized a person by their eyes. This secured his beliefs, as the German girl at his feet was definitely Hilde. One worry from his mind was cleared, now that he did indeed know she was living. But he'd just nearly killed the girl that he was so worried about before!
"Hilde!" Duo began again, as soon as she had regained some of her lost breath, "what are ya' doin' here ya' fool, and in that uniform! That's a damn good way to get yourself killed!Yeesh!" he exclaimed as he helped her to her feet.
Only now did Duo realize just how hurt Hilde was. He had thought that she had escaped somehow from Oz completely unscathed. He'd hoped that curse hadn't touched her...
Slim and still weakened, Hilde was bruised everywhere that Duo could see. She had one black eye that was fading, and several of her cuts were healing, though mildly infected. The Oz uniform that had attracted Duo's attention in the first place was ripped badly, though it seemed that her shirt received the most damage. Various areas of the garment were stained with her blood. As she tried to straighten herself, Duo noticed that her posture was strained and slanted as she tried to avoid placing any pressure on her right leg. Duo could tell almost instantly that she had been walking around in this kind of condition for quite some time, and he silently cursed himself, certain that it was his fault that she was in this predicament. It always was....Solo, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen......all victims of his love.The nightmares of their death began to tap Duo's shoulder with their icy fingertips again......their ever constant reminder to the young Gundam pilot that they were always behind him. The destruction that the God of Death caused would always trail him as closely as a determined police officer. He'd never escape into any alley or highway......never.
"Duo....." Hilde interrupted, stopping Duo's thoughts. He held her up a little more strongly, just glad that something could halt them and their atrocious grasp over his conciousness as Hilde continued, "Duo.....did you accomplish your mission?"
Duo just smiled wryly as he walked Hilde to a nearby bench across the street from the ruins of the Maxwell Church. "Why are you worried about that when you're in this kind of shape....What happened to ya' Hilde?" He asked quietly as he sat her down on the bench.
She gave Duo half of a laugh. He couldn't help it but to notice that it was pretty, even if it was strained. It widened the semi-ever-present smile on his face. "Nothing really, compared to what could have happened, but did you, Duo?" she asked, a bit more eagerly.
"Did I what?" Duo asked, teasing her a bit. If their was one thing Duo loved, it was an accent. And Hilde had one hellava accent, and Duo was determined to provoke her to use it as much as possible.
"Duo!" she half-whined, half-pleaded.
Duo just laughed. That was too cute.
"Kinda." he responded. "I didn't destroy it, but I did get something to destroy it with."
"What was it?" she inquired, widening her eyes a bit.
"Eh..... I might tell ya' more," Duo joshed playfully, "but you gotta tell me more about what happened to you first."
"What do you mean?"
Duo just motioned toward her torn shirt and a large scar on her shoulder that traveled up her neck, missing her jugular vein by mere centimeters. Hilde just lowered her head and started to shake a bit. And though that response was more than enough to answer Duo's question, he urged her on by taking her hand, which knocked Hilde back to reality as she began to reply.
" I was given a dishonorable discharge without pay, that's all. They didn't give me a chance to get any of my stuff. They dropped me off on the wrong cluster of L-2, too. Some of my former-comrades found me and beat me up a bit, but that's nothing I didn't handle."
Since Duo could fill in the blanks of Hilde's story, he didn't pressure her on. He just smiled at that pride of hers that reminded him so much of his own. Duo wanted to help Hilde get somewhere safe and put her back on her own to feet again, but that was pretty impossible for him to do since he himself wasn't stable enough to make any kind of a risk like that without further endangering her. Duo's escape from the Lunar Base and his 'fame' that his capture before had brought him left him wandering with a great big 'car' to park and keep hidden. He stuck out like a sore thumb, and he was amazed that he hadn't been caught yet. He stayed here for now because these people were far behind on the news and most of them feared him more than Oz because they knew Duo's history. However, one thing was for sure. He couldn't leave Hilde, even if he wasn't stable, she was safer with him than she would be here alone. He was certain that those bastards that got here earlier would want to be finishing the job....
"What did you get Duo?"
"Huh?" Duo asked,"Oh yeah!" he responded, jumping back to reality. "Well, I'll tell ya' but you have to keep it quiet... "
"I will, Duo."
Looking around, Duo decided that the streets were still clear and it was still safe to talk. But to be certain, he lowered his voice a bit as he leaned a little closer to Hilde's ear, "A new Gundam. It's just 70% complete right now, but it's enough to kick all of my enemies asses."
Suddenly Duo stopped. Had he just said that...without a second thought?! He couldn't believe himself! He barely knew Hilde, and though he wanted to help her, he still didn't know how, and her knowing that information just made her situation more hazardous! He cursed himself silently as Hilde just smiled, happy with the knowledge that she had helped him retrieve something so important.
Snapping out of his rebuking, Duo decided to find out more about Hilde. Maybe she had some family that he could reunite her with. That had to be his answer. And although Duo didn't know much about 'normal' teenagers or kids, he had a little list of what he figured they were like, and having a loving family was on that list.
"So where ya' headin', babe? Got a family or anything?" Duo questioned.
Hilde just blushed a little bit. Only Duo could call someone like her that looked half-dead a babe. "No, I haven't got a family anymore." she sighed sadly. "My parents were killed by the Alliance. That's why I joined Oz. All I knew was that it wasn't the Alliance and it fought them, among others. While I was there, my grandparents died, I still don't know how or why......All I know is that I got a letter stating their death, and that they left everything to me that they had in their will. It isn't a lot, just a little house, a junkyard, and a really big empty garage....their business went dead after the war started....." Hilde said sadly, not realizing the importance of her words to Duo Maxwell. He sat slowly up in his seat, his eyes opened so wide that his eyelids seemed to disappear entirely. Right now, he was devouring ever word that came from her mouth, particularly, 'huge empty garage...' as Hilde continued.
" I haven't got any way to get there though, all my money has been stolen, and I am lucky that I kept the keys...."
"Hilde...." Duo began slowly.
"Yes?" She inquired. As she turned her head to acknowledge him, she stumbled into the intensity of his gaze.
"How big of a garage, exactly?"
Hilde fell silent, trying to contain the excitement welling up within her that she had another chance to help! "Where is it?" she whispered.
"Over there." Duo responded, drawing her attention away from his gorgeous eyes to a certain lump of rubble. Barely, she could she the dull gleam of a inactivated green eye....
"It would fit easily, Duo." she remarked, "all you have to do is get us there..."
"Hilde..." Duo started in his low and serious tone of voice. "It would be a lot of trouble. I'll understand if you don't want to be a part of it..."
"Duo! I'll do anything to help! I don't care!"
Duo just sighed and smiled. "Well, first things first. Come with me, I have to run some errands real quick."
Helping Hilde to her feet, he secured her to his shoulder as he started walking off. Once again, as the grin remained plastered to his face, Duo fell victims to his contemplations, or rather the deliberations of the Shinigami's mask. What was the mask? It was merely the image that he provided for people, the ones he fought and the ones he acquainted himself with that he hid his true thoughts and feelings behind. It was , maybe even, a mirror into his soul. An instrument he used to pacify and trick his human nature into thinking that he was still human when he used the name 'God of Death.' A device of manipulation to make certain that his compassion was not actually in control, but that let his kindness rule over him in more calm situations. But more importantly, the Shinigami's mask was a mark of his past and everything he was, everything he could never escape, and everything that would keep him alone in the future.
Why had Duo chosen to wear this mask? A plaster smile with the clear and untainted eyes that he was certain he had once owned sometime before all the sorrow...maybe when he was a baby and too young to know the crucial and devastating effects of issues like abandonment and poverty. He wore it because he had seen too much sorrow reaped by people. They harvested this gruesomely grievous crop as if it was essential for their survival. But Duo knew it wasn't.
The people of the colonies had already lost too much, and Duo vowed by the ashes of Father Maxwell and Sister Helen, whose remains still fluctuated in the air around here, that he would do his damned best to keep them from losing anymore by fighting to end this oppression! They didn't have to! Duo would do it for them! That was why the Shinigami existed. To keep the smiles on people's faces by taking all their sorrow for them. Duo didn't wear the priest outfit because it was cool, big, black and baggy. He wore it because he was preaching to a different crowd. One that was going to have to learn the hard way.
Duo took the teachings of Jesus to a whole new extreme, and just like how Jesus paid the ultimate price for sins humans committed, Duo was prepared to sacrifice his life to fight for the peace of the colonies so that the people would not have to.
This is Duo's kindness. The face behind the mask of the Shinigami. The mask itself was the will to kill to meet his goal and prevent the suffering the innocents might be subjected to. Somewhere along the way though, the people Duo fought to protect turned against him, they didn't want their smiles back, and he found himself fighting Hilde. It was hard to fight against the people that Duo was trying to save, and it was hypocritical! Now, Duo had to try to re-adapt himself to this new environment, and while the mask urged Duo to fight, now Duo had to answer the question of who he should be fighting.
The consequences of the mask had devastating and painful results that Duo had to deal with. But it was something he still took seriously. As long as war thrived, so would the God of Death. As long as war thrived, Duo would not stand aside to watch others kill themselves. As long as war thrived, that meant there were people fighting that should not be, since it was Duo's responsibility. And as a result of this cruel terms that the mask bid Duo to obey, something like a curse followed.
Every person close to Duo Maxwell died. The Shinigami seemed to have an aura around him that killed all the people he loved. Death was not a discriminator, and since Duo was the essence of death, he blamed only himself for their demise. It seemed that Death could only be approached and embraced by Death itself...
So why? Why was he helping Hilde? Getting close to her and sentencing her to death? Without second thought?! Looking again at the girl that he supported on his shoulder, Duo broadened his grin. She really did look like death itself now, maybe that's why he felt more at ease with her. And now here she was, still standing tall, ready for more. Her spirit was just as defiant as his. He guessed that he'd be as powerless refusing her help as he was trying to refuse his now.
Yes. Duo decided that Hilde was a kindred spirit. But he'd be careful to get too attached to her so that she'd live. No more innocents could fall victim to the Shinigami's mask. Their death was so much more imposing when he intimately knew their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the future that they would never be capable of achieving.
Looking around now, Duo realized that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
"Here we are!" he announced to the hobbling Hilde. "You sit right there where I can keep my eye an you." he chirped as he ushered her to yet another bench.
"What are you going to do, Duo?"
"I'm going to walk into the store, Hilde." he laughed, winking at her before he ran inside.
'OK,' Duo thought after only 5 minutes within the store. 'Maybe it is true that guys have no idea about what to do when shopping for women.' He didn't need anything fancy! Not exactly loaded with cash himself, Duo just needed something that would keep her warm and cover her up. Just about anything would be better than that torn shirt she had on now. It was driving him crazy! After all, Duo was a guy, and a guy could only take so much!
Living on the streets as a child with his gang, Duo had seen his fill of nasty women prostitutes. They were all the same to him. The God of Death desired more than looks out of a women although he did have features that he preferred, all of which Hilde held in great abundance. Like the midnight blue, almost black (his favorite color) hair whose short and spunky style highlighted her light power-blue eyes and framed her pale cream face. Short and thin, Hilde still had a very curved and beautiful form, which reminded Duo a bit of a vampire, though she lacked the fangs and bloodthirsty nature. This did more than appeal to Duo and his 'darker' side. Duo didn't know Hilde very well by her personality, but there were things about her that he already knew her loved, like her kindness, stubbornness, determination, endurance, and little things like that accent (Boy, did he ever love the accent!) and her laugh, as well as that adorable pixie-like charm.
Duo was growing desperate now as he walked past rack after rack of clothes that barely even clung to the clothes hanger, let alone human flesh. Finally, he found a purple sweater that was 'one size fits all' for $5.00. He purchased it quickly, and hid the bag behind his back as he walked out the door. It seemed that as soon had his foot had grounded itself on the outside concrete he was questioned by a curious Hilde...
"Duo! What did you do? What are you hiding?..."
"Whoa! Light on the questions, babe! Whad' d'ya say we go find something to eat...."
"Food?!" Hilde asked, forgetting about everything else as Duo directed her to a Krystal's. Promptly sitting her down so that she could wallow in the aroma of cooking meat, Duo ordered a big bag of Kystal's and as soon as he sat down with them, they both began to dig in....and it didn't take them long to devour them and fill their stomachs.
"How will we get there, Duo? Without you getting caught?" Hilde asked when she finished her meal.
"I'm familiar with every L-2 cluster. I've got connections and techniques. We're riding their in my 'car.' You can't see it when the 'hood' is down. And afterwards, I'll stop by a gas station, where we'll rent a truck and take in the rest of the way."
Hilde caught on to the double language much more quickly than Duo expected, and she smiled cheerfully. "Are you sure it will work?" she asked.
"Sure am. But I'll need some directions there. Can ya' write 'em down for me, starting at 'Stan's Station'?"
"Yes, I know exactly where that is!"
"Good girl." Duo said, smiling as he passed Hilde a napkin and pen. As she busily scratched out her directions on the napkin, Duo pulled out the sweater, tossing it to her when she was done.
"Go on and change into that while I take a look at this." Duo said as he began reading the napkin.
Hilde just smiled. "Thank-you, Duo. You didn't have to do that."
"And you don't have to help me out either, but you are."
Hilde's smile just widened a little, as she turned and hobbled off to the bathroom.
Duo made a mental note to check that leg himself later on. And as for getting them to her house, it would be easier than he thought. As it turned out, he already knew where it was. It was, or had been, one of his checkpoints as a sweeper, (though he never had to use it.) which would explain her grandparents 'mysterious' deaths. Hilde couldn't have known about it even if she lived there unless she was a part of the group. Checkpoints had to be very secretive, or they'd get caught. Duo had to guess that her grandparents got sloppy at some point. Never-the-less, Duo grinned widely. Things were going his way again...for now.
He took a look at Hilde, who was coming back out of the restroom now and held back a laugh.
"It's a little big." she said giggling.
As Hilde held her arms out in awe at the sheer bagginess of the sweater, the image of a large light purple tent accented by a dark violet stripe at the top with Hilde's head poking out like a flag flashed through Duo's mind. Indeed, the garment seemed to devour Hilde whole, and she could probably fit three more of herself in that sweater with her.
Gazing at the living testament to his poor shopping sense, Duo burst into laughter. Oh, he was horrible!That sweater hadn't looked nearly as big on the rack, and it did say 'one size fits all' on the label! And those tight black military pants and dusty brown combat boots made the gigantic sweater look even more heinous!
Finally calming down, Duo just shook his head and supported Hilde on his shoulder again.
"Let's be off, babe. We've got work to do." He said.