On the Wings of the Night
Part Two: Under the Cover of Darkness

Deathscythe moved under the cover of darkness, blending in with the shadows of the night. His stealth would take the enemy by surprise and give him the clear advantage. This was a relatively minor mission, the goal of which was to rid OZ of their excess supply of Mobile Suits. As far as Duo was concerned, the less they had the better. This was only one step in many, however. Had it been anyone else, the realization of that might have been daunting. But Duo liked challenges. Taking OZ apart piece by piece was going to be a massive undertaking. The odds were against him, but he was just stubborn enough to ignore that reality. What was the fun of living in the real world anyhow?

Within the cockpit, Duo sat, lights from the various switches and buttons contorting his facial features. The result was eerily effective, and had he been able to look at his own face, he might have wondered if there actually was a separation between Duo Maxwell and Shinigami. If there was, in any case, it was a narrow margin. One that only Deathscythe stood between, waiting to take Duo to the other side, to become Death.

Deliberately ignoring the infrared sensors, as he had no desire to know how many lives he would be taking tonight, he took note of the set of Leo's patrolling the back entrance. Announcing yourself to the world by going in the front was not only reckless, but it was stupid in terms that even Duo was above. Besides, sneaking in was so secret agent-ish, that the irrepressible kid in him could not resist finding it exciting. Circumstance might have made him far more mature than most his age, and the responsibility he carried now might be more than men twice his age had, but Duo refused to let go of that small part of himself that looked at the world through the eyes of a child. He had to hold on to it... When it died, there was nothing left to keep him from dying with it.

Duo reached above his head to press buttons rapidly. "Hyper jammers activated. They won't see a thing... Nothing like having good ole technology to enhance Shinigami's legend, eh Deathscythe?"

The better part of his day after having made it into Earth's atmosphere had been spent on reconnaissance. He had concealed Deathscythe in a nearby forest and set off on foot with binoculars so as not to be noticed. Jetting around in a huge ass Gundam during the day was a sure fire way to gain attention from a variety of unwanted parties. Since he had, had no wish to play with OZ until later that night, he felt it better to keep out of view.

Duo's naturally lithesome movements, not to mention overall lightness of frame, allowed him to get so close to the factory that he was nearly right up next to the Suitless guards. He made absolutely no noise at all, and was almost confident that he could go strolling around the grounds without being stopped. As a matter of fact, the temptation had been too great to resist. Leaving his binoculars behind and tugging his hat low over his face, he had stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked out in plain sight of the guards.

He got about five yards before he was stopped.

After offering them a bright, engaging smile, he had professed to be lost and had then proceeded to talk endlessly, barely giving either of them a chance to insert a word in edgewise. It was far too easy to effect an innocent, boyish mien when he was half the size of the guards and looked, for all intensive purposes, like an imp. When they finally did manage to get him to quiet down, they had exchanged knowing smiles and offered to get someone to give him a ride home. Score one for Duo. The fools had not even considered him a threat. Ironic, that he was chatting it up with the very people he would kill when night fell.

And they did not even suspect a thing.

Despite much begging and effective use of the 'puppy dog' look, Duo was not able to convince them to give him a tour of the factory. Not that he had expected them to. It had just been a stab in the dark, and he was feeling bold, as he had made it this far without incident. They had looked as if they regretted having to refuse his request, however. It meant that he had not lost his touch. He could even charm hardened soldiers. Charisma was a handy thing indeed. But dangerous if you let yourself get too arrogant. So he had let them escort him from the factory grounds, still talking about any random thing that came to him.

The funny thing was, as he had walked down the dirt road, hands tucked securely in his pockets, that his little act of defiance had introduced a new, unexpected element. He had actually liked those soldiers, and did not fault them for their gullibility. It wiped the smile from his face, to think that it was possible they would be among the dead when he and Deathscythe road in on the wings of the night. But that would not alter his mission in any way. OZ was a threat to the colonies. Anyone affiliated with them was a threat as well. If they got in the way, they had to be eliminated. Duo wished, however, that it was as black and white as all that...

It was easy to say it. It was quite another to take it to heart.

Pulling himself back to the present moment, he gripped the controls and felt the mask slide into place.

"'Death comes on black wings'..." he whispered, and without further thought, slammed forward, erupting into the middle of the guards like a phantom.

There was a brief panic, as the soldiers voices snapped over the communications unit in frightened snatches. Without wasting a single precious moment, Shinigami drew the thermal scythe from Deathscythe's back and ignited it. The Gundam dove forward in a graceful arch, scythe outstretched in all its elegant glory. It cut through metal, tearing and severing it as though it were as insubstantial as the wind, made of nothing more than the whisper of air. The wreckage fell to the pavement with an elongated thud, exploding around him like a massive funeral pyre.

Jerking Deathscythe around, the Gundam's weight supported completely on his back leg, he slammed the end of the scythe back and into the approaching Leo. It slashed into the torso, running into resistance half-way through. Duo drove it all the way in until it came out the other side, and then ripped it out savagely to extend the scythe in both massive, metal hands as he swung to completely face the enemy. The thermal scythe cut through the air with an angry hiss, and had nearly accomplished what it was aiming to do when Duo was thrown abruptly against his restraints as a hail of bullets struck Deathscythe's back and pushed him across the ground.

"Oh, bad idea!" He hollered, grinning, as the scythe cut the Mobile Suit in front of him down.

Rearing back as he turned, he pressed down and activated the Gundam's Vulcans. The bullets cut through the darkness, bright flashes that briefly illuminated the area in front of them before they struck the offending Leo. The OZ suit was sent back on its heels as the pilot tried desperately to keep from falling. He managed it through sheer skill alone, and brought his gun up again, opening fire. The Gundam pilot moved to the side at the last minute, avoiding a direct hit.

Not from afar. Duo rarely killed from afar. It took more skill to get up close and personal. So he activated Deathscythe's calf thrusters and tore off with a battle cry, scythe raised as he bore down on the enemy with a speed that any OZ Mobile Suit was hard pressed to match.

The Leo fired again in a last ditch effort to preserve his life. The shots all but bounced ineffectively from the Gundam, not even giving him a momentary pause. Realizing that the bullets were having no effect, the Leo braved putting himself in the path of the thermal scythe by launching his Suit at the Gundam pilot.

Duo grunted as he smacked around inside the cockpit, hitting his arms, elbows, and even his head, adding to the growing number of bumps and bruises marring his flesh. The Leo opened fire at close range, striking Deathscythe in the chest. He felt each bullet impact as the vibrations jarred him clear into his teeth. Gritting said teeth, he abandoned the idea of using the scythe, as his maneuverability with it was reduced to practically nothing with this guy pressed right up against him like a leech. Instead, he released his hold on the weapon with one of the Gundam's hands and swung it up to punch it into the chest of the Leo, driving it back enough for him to release the Buster shield residing there.

It struck the Leo and cut through it as though it were made of glass.

The close proximity of the explosion sent Deathscythe careening back too, however, and Duo strained on the controls, ignoring the way his eyes ached after the startling flash. Blinking rapidly, spots dancing in front of his vision, he pulled the Gundam around to locate his Buster shield in the dark. He found it not far away, lying amid what had once been an OZ Suit, now reduced to a pile of rubble. After securing it, he headed for the doors that would take him into the factory.

"Knock, knock!" He called out, raising the scythe in front of the Gundam to cut through the door.

The pieces fell aside easily, and metal fingers grabbed onto what was left of the door frame, climbing through the opening. Green eyes glowed briefly in the dark before Deathscythe opened fire and stirred up an inferno. Chaos erupted all around him as the pilots scrambled to figure out what was going on. Flames licked higher, bright tendrils of greedy crimson eating up anything in their path. From these flames the Gundam stepped, weapon in hand, and began cutting down any Mobile Suit in his path, whether they were moving or confined to the transports.

"What the hell is going on?!" He heard a voice yell in the communications link.

"An attack!"

"Where?! I can't find the enemy!"

"He's right behind you," Duo supplied, appearing behind them as promised, a dark angel with no mercy.

Their screams were aprubtly cut off as they were taken down with quick, sure swipes. Deathscythe continued to move about the hangar, scythe and guns taking out Suit after Suit until little of the stationary ones remained. His objective was to take out the entire factory, to leave no Mobile Suits, living or otherwise behind. Shinigami could follow those orders.

"Primary mission completed," Duo voiced, grinning, his eyes glittering.

"Time to have a little fun," he added, kicking the thrusters in to face the approaching Leos head on.

Spinning the thermal scythe out in front of him, Dou took one of the Leos out with his Buster shield and implanted himself inbetween the two remaining ones. He swung back with the Gundam's fist, the umistakable sound of metal striking metal echoing in his ears. The second Leo started firing at him, and he winced as the bullets glanced from Deathscythe's head.

"It's not wise to piss off the God of Death!" He snarled, slashing the scythe wickedly through the air and halving the Leo.

The other must have sensed he was outclassed, for he started backing up, opening fire as he went.

"I don't think so. Anyone that sees me has got a one way ticket to hell!"

Having said that, he charged the Leo and all but leapt on it as he ripped the scythe from the ground up. Turning even as the Leo was still falling, he recovered his shield yet again and surveyed the destruction. Mobile Suits lay in ruins amid roiling flames. Flames that seemed to almost part a path for Deathsycthe, as if they understood that Shinigami had no fear of fire.

"Time for us to get out of here before we're barbacued," Duo told Deathscythe, sheathing the thermal scythe and taking his Gundam toward the gaping hole that was the exit.

Being fried to death, even for Shinigami, was not the preferred way to go.

Once out in the open, smoke curling up from the ground and around him, Duo kicked in the thrusters again and took to the air, caught up in the familiar rush that came with having the power to fly like a bird. This had been a primary Northern European factory, and Duo hoped they felt the loss of it. First destroy their means to make war, and then crush the ones already waging war. It never occurred to him to wonder how it was he could accomplish this all on his own.

Still caught in the grips of battle fever, he sped across the night sky, outlined by the moon and was at once calmed. He had never seen anything quite so beautiful. From space, the moon was enormous, looming over you constantly. But here it was a specter in the sky, lighting the way with the stars scattered around it, bathing the world below in an ethereal glow of serenity. A king holding court, and the stars its subjects.

"Would you look at that, Deathscythe? Isn't this view worth preserving? If OZ gets its way, there'll be nothing left anywhere..." he mused, slowing until he hovered over the spot he had chosen to stash his Gundam away while he found a place to stay in the nearest town.

Landing in the secluded alcove, he began the tedious process of applying netting and various vegetation to keep prying eyes from becoming interested. Crawling all over the Gundam like a monkey was harder than it looked. Duo slipped twice and was quite certain he was going to meet _his_ maker when he managed to regain his balance and his foothold. After an indefinite amount of time, he was finally satisfied with the job he had done.

Stepping back, he placed his hands on his hips and lifted his head never ceasing to be awed by the sheer size of his Gundam. As lowered his head in reflection, he caught a flash of light from the corner of his eyes. Expression neutral, he reached up to close his hand over the object that had escaped its confines beneath his shirt. It was a small, golden cross dangling from a thin chain. The metal felt warm against his palm from having been pressed against his skin. Lifting it up, he stared at it, a slight smile crossing his face.

He was not entirely sure why he kept this with him. It could not be because it gave him a tie to the past. Duo rarely dwelled on the past. It could not be because of his faith in God. Duo had lost faith in the Lord a long time ago. It could not because in some small way, he felt protected by it. Shinigami feared nothing.

His lips twisted into a bitter mockery of a smile.

I thought you never lied, Maxwell...

Never to others.

Slipping the cross beneath his shirt again, he bent over at the waist to retrieve the small black bag lying near Deathscythe's foot. Slinging it over his shoulder, he paused to stare up at the Gundam again.

"I'll be back tomorrow, buddy. First thing."

Securing the bag again, he turned and started off down through the darkened trees, not at all bothered by the inadequate amount of light. Duo liked the dark. Others felt frightened by it, but he felt comforted by it. The smooth velvet of the night air wound around him like a blanket, and he knew that he was completely alone. Normally, Duo disliked being alone for too long, but there were even times Mr. Sociable needed to get away from everything. What better time to do it than at night? It was Shinigami's element after all.

Stifling a yawn, he stepped onto the worn dirt path that eventually wound its way to an interstate highway and then a city just beyond that. He would have to find a room in some small hotel that did not cost overly much, but lacked visitors in the form of roaches and rats. Since Duo was not in the mood for company at the moment, he would be forced to shoot them and he figured that would hardly go over real well. To avoid being noticed, then, he realized, he was going to have to spend more money than he had anticipated.

"Dammit," he sighed, rubbing a hand across the back of his aching neck.

Not long after he stepped on to it, the path gave way to the highway. It was nearly deserted at this time of night. Most sane people were in their beds sleeping already. Duo told himself he was glad to be one of the select few lunatics. Who wanted to be like someone else? OZ was already herding half the population around like mindless sheep, neatly controlling things in the background so not even the Romafeller Foundation was really aware of what was going on. Not that Duo himself was that big on politics. He only knew what Dr. G told him and what he was interested enough to dig up.

Sprinting across the lanes, his braid flapping against his back as he ran, Duo told himself that he was going to put a limit on the amount of time he was allowed to think about serious things. It would probably help if he could manage to get to bed at a decent hour...

Plodding his way across yet another field, he made it into the city near a gas station. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled.

Duo looked down at it in consternation. "We're tired. We don't want to eat."

His stomach was not convinced.

"Fine, fine. We'll get something fattening. Something cheap, but fattening. It'll fill us up faster," he muttered, weaving his way through the gas pumps.

Pulling his hat low, he opened the glass door and shuffled in. The gas attendant looked up at his entry, dark eyes peering over the top of his magazine as if he could not quite believe anyone would be in here at this hour. Refusing to feel conspicuous, Duo avoided the first isle since everything on it was either in a can or in a box, and definitely required cooking. Cooking was not one of his fortes.

Further exploration under the watchful eyes of the clerk (who probably thought Duo was going to steal something) brought a wealth of treasures in the form of high fat and very little nutritional value. Why was it the things that tasted so good were so bad for you? Maybe it was someone's way of testing the general population's resolve. In any case, Duo considered it a great injustice. How did they expect someone with his minimal will-power to resist chocolate cakes with cream filling?

"Heaven comes in the strangest forms..." he murmured, unable to suppress a grin as he began collecting the necessary junk to calm his stomach's, and now his own cravings.

"Funny too... it's never good for you," he added with a grimace, satisfied enough with the three packages of cakes, box of cookies, and bag of salty chips (to counter all the sweets) to head for the beverages.

Deciding that he hardly wanted to be up all night bouncing off the walls, he bypassed the sodas and forced himself to get a fruit juice.

Feeling slightly better for having done at least _something_ good for his body, he was in the process of turning to head for the counter when the clerk yelled out to him.

"Hey! I saw that!"

Retaining his cheerful expression, his entire body tensing, he asked calmly, "Saw what?"

"You put that in your bag."

Duo nearly groaned aloud. Was this guy so bored that he was going to make false accusations to liven up his otherwise dull night?

Or maybe it was more than that.

He supposed that he ought to be used to it by now. People liked to make assumptions based on appearance, and this would not be the first time someone had taken one look at him and considered him trouble. Prejudice pissed him off, but like most things, he took it in stride. He knew who he was, and that was all that mattered. But that did not mean that it stung any less. Even Death had feelings that could be trampled upon by careless words and actions.

Shaking his head, Duo offered him the brightest grin he possessed. "Sorry, but I didn't steal anything."

By now, the attendant had risen, and was making his way around the counter, his bland features tight with accusation. This was not the way Duo wanted his first night to go. Drawing attention to himself either by being hauled in on false charges, or by beating the hell out of this guy for being an imbecile was going to screw things up. He had to remain invisible from OZ for as long as possible.

"If that's the case, then you won't mind letting me take a look in your bag."

Duo's hold on his junk tightened.

There was no way this guy was getting a hold of this bag. If he did, Duo was going to be up shit creek without a paddle. He seriously doubted the police were going to find a kid in possession of massive amounts of explosives and firepower normal.

"Why would I steal something, only to pay for the rest?" Duo questioned, a slight edge entering his tone as his smile started to tighten.

It was ironic that the one time he was not stealing something, he got accused. Someone up above was certainly having a good laugh at his expense.

"How should I know?" The clerk returned irritably. "I don't profess to understand the way the criminal mind works."

Duo rolled his eyes.

Oh, great. A junior detective. Hello, Mr. Sherlock 'fucking' Holmes.

This guy was probably the type that sat around reading mystery novels, while staring out the window at his harmless neighbors through binoculars.

"I told you," he reiterated, "I didn't steal anything."

"We'll see about that. Just let me take a look in the bag."

His temper was fraying around the edges. Duo could feel it slipping through his fingertips like sand through an hour glass. He was hungry, he was tired, and he had just gotten done blowing up an entire Mobile Suit Factory. Not to mention the fact that he had just traded one environment for another all in the span of a few hours. All in all, it had been a long day. He just wanted to pay for his food, get a room, and relax.

"Why don't I just pay for my things and go on my merry way?" Duo replied a little too brightly, the smile becoming fixed as his eyes began to gleam with barely suppressed irritation.

The clerk moved directly in his path, folding his arms. "I can't let you do that. I told you, I saw you steal something. Do I need to call the police?"

Buddy, keep it up, and you're gonna wish you were just dealing with the police.

As it was, he had already had enough.

Shuffling his junk around, he reached into his pocket, taking perverse satisfaction from the clerk's reaction. The man backed up, eyes widening, as if he expected a gun to be shoved up his left nostril at any given moment. Pulling his hand out with deliberate slowness so as to increase the weasel's agitation, Duo finally lifted it all the way to wave a small wad of money at him.

The attendant let out a little squeak. "That was not funny. You-"

With startling quickness, Duo snapped his fist back, throwing his weight behind it as he shifted forward. It collided with the man's stomach, plowing into soft, unprotected flesh, effectively ending whatever it was he had been about to say. Pressing the money into one of the clerk's folded hands, he watched as the man sank to one knee, his mouth open in silent agony as he struggled to breathe past the burn.

Stepping back, everything balanced in one arm still, he reflected on the fact that it had felt entirely too good to do that.

"There. That should cover it," he told the gasping attendant, flashing him a self-satisfied grin.

Tossing his head to the side, braid swinging, he bent down until he was nearly on level with the man. "By the way, even if you spent your entire life behind that counter, playing Piorot, you could never afford what I've got in this bag."

Rising, he spun on his heel and made it all the way to the door before some devil prompted him to quip, "Oh, and you can keep the change."

The door shut behind him with a satisfying snap, echoing across the pavement. By the time he had reached the edge of the parking lot, however, some of his smugness had dissipated. Once again, he had ignored his better judgment and was probably going to feel the sting of that in the not so distant future.

"Smart, real smart, Duo," he scolded himself, as he crossed the street and glanced around, trying to find a motel of some sort.

"Now he's probably going to tell the police you robbed a bank or something."

Still, he could not help but laugh when he considered what the clerk's reaction would be if he told him what he had really been up to. Besides, something told him that the moron was all show. He had just been looking for some way to liven things up. Duo, however, was not at all pleased to have it be at his expense.

Two blocks and half a package of cakes later, he found a nondescript hotel tucked in behind a grocery store and a used bookstore.

"Convenient," he mused, almost wishing he had more time to hang around. Old bookstores were his best friend. You could find all kinds of interesting things in them. One man's junk was another man's treasure, so to speak.

Slipping into the hotel, he did his best to ignore the lingering stench of stale cigarettes and old perspiration behind the nauseating scent of lemon. It could be worse, he kept chanting, as he skirted stains on the carpet to make it to the counter. This hotel was about as secluded as it got, and despite the smells, it was clean. As clean as it could get, anyway.

"Yeah?" The woman behind it asked, shifting her bulk away from the TV to glance at him with mild hostility.

Duo glanced at the TV. Soap operas. Who knew they were on so late.

"Good show?" He asked, pointing to the screen.

She shrugged. "It's something to watch. They keep killing my favorite characters off and marrying the others to the wrong people. Never changes."

Her eyes opened wider as she appraised him. Duo fully expected her to ask him what a kid was doing out wandering the streets so late, but she must have seen it all before, because she said instead, "Rooms are thirty bucks a night. Ten extra if you want cable. No loud music or uninvited guests."

Duo fought the blush off valiantly, but felt his cheeks heat nonetheless. You would think the God of Death could take allusions to sex without getting embarrassed about it. Looking at it from the lady's point of view, however, he figured it could only make him seem more innocent and harmless.

She was smiling slightly when he reached into his pocket to pull out nearly the rest of his money. He should not have been feeling so generous in the convenient store.

"I'll just be staying one night."

"No cable?" She asked, reaching up to the wall next to her to retrieve a key.

TV was the last thing on his mind at the moment. But he supposed it looked odd to her. A teenager not wanting to watch TV.

"No thanks, ma'am. Just a room. I'm kinda tired."

She looked down at the junk food. "Don't eat too much. You'll get sick."

Duo grinned. What was it about him that made all women want to mother him?

"Naw. I've got a cast iron stomach," he tossed back, winking.

She smiled fully this time, passing him the key and his change. A pitiful fifty-four cents.

"Don't spend it all at once," she teased.

Duo grimaced. "No problems there. Thanks."

She waved him away and Duo wandered outside again, pausing to stare up at the sky. The colonies were out there in the darkness, waiting to be freed.

"Too bad they don't know I'm doin' this," Duo said cheerfully to no one in particular in an attempt to chase away the heavy thoughts. "I'd probably get more money and be just a little bit more famous. No more living on junk food and sleeping in cheap motels."

Duo could fool nearly anyone but himself. This was not about fame. It never would be.

"Jeez, I was tryin' to lighten things up for us, huh? Now be quiet," he grumbled at his mind, shuffling across the parking lot until he found his room.

"Number 13. That's either suspicious or lucky. For Shinigami, lucky," he decided, depositing his things onto the bed.

He was pleasantly surprised to see that the room was clean, and smelled faintly of roses with no underlying revolting aromas. Flopping onto the bedspread next to his things, he worked at getting his boots off. His shirts came next, a nice pool on the floor with his cap for an ornament. Holding back a yawn, he reached for the bag of chips and began munching on them absently, deciding that a shower was going to have to wait until morning. He just did not have the energy, despite the fact that the warm spray would have felt good to his aching muscles.

Situating himself so that his back was resting against the wall, he stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed them at the ankles. Tomorrow was going to be another long day, as were all the days after that. He was going to have to get used to it, however. It was what he had expected, what he had wanted. He was tired of doing nothing. He would rather die than live with things as they stood. So he would flirt with death everyday, taking his life in his hands while he fought to make that distant dream a reality.

At least he was in control of his own path. Shinigami had no master. It was his hands that piloted Deathscythe, no one else's. And it would stay that way. Because he intended to fight until all of OZ was destroyed... Or until he was.

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