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Acherontia Atropos (Part 2)

A tiny, half natural sound off to the side caught my attention and I started to turn toward it, but I was too slow. Something big, heavy, and a hell of a lot faster than little ol' me that smelled a little like snakes a lot like blood hit me from behind and sent me crashing down onto the pavement, where it did its level best to grind my head through the surface of the parking lot.

Just another normal night on the town.

I tried to struggle against the thing on my back. Whatever the hell it was, it was stronger than anything had a right to be, even stronger than Heero when he's having a bad day. I'm not a wuss, you know, I'm pretty strong considering the fact that I'm still short and very skinny, and I do know how to defend myself, but nothing I tried moved the thing even the tiniest bit. After about the third time my head got banged into the pavement, I gave up the thought of any real struggling, since it wasn't doing shit for me anyway, and just started screaming. I learned a long time ago that screaming is what you do when you're ass-deep in alligators and you don't have anything better to do with yourself; it's got to be the most useless reaction in the human arsenal.

I didn't have anything better to do, though. I couldn't fight the thing off, and after having my head slammed into the pavement for the fourth time, I couldn't move much anyway. Sparks started dancing in front of my eyes, and the sound of blood rushing through my veins got so loud that I couldn't even hear myself screaming any more. Not a good sign.

I managed to turn my head so the same place wouldn't get hit again, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a very, very pale face with eyes glowing like blue flame. I have never been so afraid in my entire life. The thing...I don't know what else to call it--it might have looked human, but it sure as hell wasn't...looked down at me with those scary eyes, and hissed. I can't think of another word to describe it. It hissed, like a pissed off cat or snake, and I caught a glimpse of a set of teeth that would have been more at home in the mouth of a wolf than a human.

There was a sharp blast of sound that somehow managed to break through the roaring in my ears. The creature's head just...well...exploded is the best word for it. Its weight was abruptly gone off my back, and I dimly heard a second blast. Somehow, I managed to lurch to my feet. I was spattered with blood, mine and the thing's, I could tell; I could feel wet warmth on my face and my neck, rapidly cooling in the chilly air. I think my clothing was ripped, too, because there was a lot more ventilation than I recall there being before.

At least I think that's how it was. At that time, I wasn't thinking all that clearly. My mind was sounding out one high, thin note of pure fear. I was beyond the point of coherent thought. When I got to my feet, I just stood there, swaying like a drunkard with blood and thicker things sliding slowly down my face. My vision was fading in and out, but I thought I saw a woman lit up by the light of my cross who was barely taller than me (which made her SHORT.) She was standing there in front of me with a shotgun held in her hands like she knew how to use it. Her mouth was moving like she was saying something, but I couldn't hear anything. Somewhere along the line, my hair had come partially out of its braid, and I dimly remember picking something out of one of the loose waves that looked suspiciously like a piece of bone, right before I collapsed to my knees and everything went mercifully black.


The first thing that I did when I woke up was try to open my eyes, which was a mistake. It was bright, way too bright, and I felt like my head was going to explode. The second thing I did was mumble out something really incoherent.

"What?" Someone...I think it was Heero...said by my ear, too loudly.

"I said..." I stated much more clearly, "That I’m going to puke." And I rolled over and did exactly that. I think I might have fallen a short distance, but I don't really remember. I was pretty much threading in and out of consciousness at that point. The floor was rough under my knees, though not as rough as it should have been. So I still had my pants on, and I wasn't outside any more. Cool fingers helped me hold my aching head up until I was done. Tears were running down my face, which normally would have pissed me off, but right then, I hurt too much to care about my dignity. I figured I didn't have much left, anyway, considering I just threw up in front of at least one person, and that person was the Perfect Soldier.

"You done now?" Heero said quietly.

I tried to nod my head, which was a mistake. It set off another round of heaving. More tears squeezed themselves out of my eyes. After the pounding in my head subsided enough for me to think coherently and my stomach stayed firmly in place, I managed a very weak, very pathetic "Aa."

"I am going to put you back in your bed, now. Can you handle being moved?"

I wanted to say no, I really did. I wanted to say 'Just kill me, please.' but knowing Heero, he probably would have taken me literally, though at the time, getting put out of my misery didn't seem to be such a bad idea. So instead, I said "Ryoukai." I even managed to smile at my pathetic half attempt at humor.

All he said in reply to that was "Aa." For a moment, between head-splitting waves of pain, I thought I could detect a hint of concern in Heero's voice. It was probably just the trauma of the situation.

Strong, warm arms lifted me up like I didn't weigh anything at all, and set me on the softness that I was pretty sure was my bed a lot more gently than I would have expected. A thin little moan of pain escaped past my lips.

"Are you ok?"

That had to be one of the dumbest questions I've ever heard in my entire life. Even cutting Heero a little slack for not being used to talking, it was still a dumb question. I laughed, very very carefully so that I wouldn't jar my head. "Yeah, just peachy."

"Baka." A hand tentatively brushed my forehead. "You can't be too hurt if you're making jokes."

I whimpered, and the hand withdrew.

"Can you open your eyes?"

"I'd rather not." My voice sounded strange to me. Way too calm.

"Open your eyes, Duo. We need to see if you have a concussion." Heero was being eminently reasonable and logical. And almost...well...kind of...nice. If I hadn't been in so much pain, I would have been suspicious. As it was, I didn't argue. I opened my eyes, and found myself peering right into Heero's eyes from very close range, for the second time that night.

And Heero looked really, really, really pissed, which was kind of funny, considering how nice he was being. I shut my eyes quickly again, because it hurt too much to have them open. Silently, I prayed that whoever Heero was pissed at, it wasn't me. When he's finally upset enough to show an emotion, you are in deep pucky indeed.

"Your eyes aren't focusing right." Heero commented. "You do have a concussion."

"Right now, I just think it's nice that I have a head left to have a concussion with." I laughed weakly again. Yeah, that's me. Mr. Comedian. "How bad is it, doc?"

"Concussion..." Heero's voice went all distant, like he was reading off a grocery list or something. "Severe lacerations on your face and head. Bad bruising on your shoulders, back, chest, and arms. More lacerations on your back."

"Funny," I said. "My head's the only thing that hurts." Of course, when I said that, I was asking for it. My body suddenly turned into one massive ache. There's a lot to be said for blissful ignorance. "Can I have a pain killer? Please?" I didn't even have to try to sound pathetic. My voice did it all on its own. Normally, I hate painkillers, because I really don't need extra chemicals messing with my head, but this time, I really wanted to make an exception.

"Aa." Heero said. "Wufei's raiding the school clinic now."

"Oh...ok." It hadn't occurred to me until this point that anyone other than Heero would know I was hurt. did he even know? "Uh...Heero?" I went over my last few memories carefully. No, no Heero in them, or anyone else I knew. Just the woman, who I was beginning to think that I'd been hallucinating.


"How did I get in here?" I cracked an eye open, very cautiously.

“I carried you.” Heero actually looked kind of surprised. "You don't remember?"

"Should I?"

"You kept insisting that you were alright and that I should put you down and let you walk." Heero said. If I hadn't known him so well, I would have thought he was trying not to laugh. But then again, I didn't know him all that well, so it was a real possibility.

"I did?"


It didn't add up, but Heero was being unhelpful, as always, so I tried a different question. He's too freaking literal at times, I swear. When in doubt, rephrase. "Why were you outside to carry me, anyway?"

"Quatre hauled me out of bed, along with Trowa and Wufei." Heero shrugged. "He was babbling incoherently about you. Then I heard a gun firing, twice, and I went outside to check it out. I figured that you were in trouble."

"Gee, thanks. It's not like I try to get into trouble, you know." I don't. Really.

"I know."

Something that Heero had said suddenly stuck in my mind. "Gun? Who was shooting a gun?"

"I was."

I turned my head to the side as quickly as I dared. That voice definitely didn't belong to Heero. Men don't spontaneously change into altos.

There was a woman seated on the edge of Heero's bed. She looked like she was just about the same size as Heero, but a lot less muscular, which means just about my size. So she was LITTLE. I can admit to myself that I'm a peanut, because at least I have the comfort of knowing that some wonderful day I'll have a growth spurt if I don't get killed first. This woman was definitely not going to be getting any taller. I don't mean that she was old. She wasn't. But it was also pretty obvious that she wasn't in her teens any more. I would guess late twenties. She had white blonde hair that was in a braid longer than mine, and her skin was fairer than Quatre’s. Put that all together, and she looked like an ice princess…or a little girl’s porcelain doll.

I've never seen a doll look at me like that, though, not hardly. There was nothing vapid or sweet about her. The only other people that have looked at me like that were Gundam Pilots. It's the kind of look that people give you when they're trying to decide whether or not they'll have to shoot you, and if so, exactly how many bullets they should put into you.

I remembered her. She was the last thing I'd seen before I passed out.

Most people would have been fooled by her looks, and assumed that she was harmless. Even if I ignored the fact that the first time I'd seen her, she'd been holding a shotgun, I still wouldn't have been fooled. I know how deceiving looks are. I mean, hell, most people think Quatre and I are totally harmless. There was also the fact that she had a sawed off shotgun across her lap. That certainly didn’t help the effect.

There was something else, though. I have no idea what it was, but something about that woman was making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I can't describe it any other way except to say that it felt like she was giving off static electricity. On top of everything else, it was making me pretty damn uncomfortable.

So I was rude. I admit it. “Who the hell are you?” It would have sounded better and more intimidating, though, if I hadn’t been sounding so totally pathetic.

She actually smiled. It was the kind of smile you would give to a little kid when you were humoring them.

I don’t like being humored. Death just isn’t something you humor.So I tried to glare at her. It didn’t work. I gave up and looked at the ceiling, firmly deciding to leave the intimidating to Heero. He’s better at death glares than me, anyway.

“My name’s Tamlin.” She said. “I already know that your name is Duo Maxwell. Your friend Heero and I have been having a nice talk.” She smiled again, this one friendly and open. A ‘trust me smile.’ Good ol’ Tamlin. The girl next door. Just ignore the fact that the girl next door didn’t even own a sawed off shotgun. Right.

“Goody for you.” I looked at Heero. Nice talk? That didn’t quite jive. I couldn’t imagine Heero talking to anyone, let alone some woman that he didn’t even know.

Heero just shrugged. Isn’t he just Mr. Eloquence. I gave up on trying to get a response from him, and turned my attention back to Tamlin. “You still didn’t answer my question. I asked you who the hell you are. Just a name doesn’t tell me a whole lot.” It’s hard to be tough when you’re flat on your back and feeling like ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag, but I did my best.

She shrugged. “I’m a…bounty hunter.”

“Of course. A bounty hunter.” Right. I really believed that. Somehow, though, I couldn’t make myself care all that much. I hurt too much. So instead, I just closed my eyes and ignored Tamlin and Heero. The image of that thing on my back with its bright blue eyes burning at me seemed to be etched on the backs of my eyelids. The enormity of what had just happened suddenly struck me. If Tamlin hadn’t mysteriously showed up, I probably would have died. I’ve never gotten my ass kicked that hard before. The room got very, very cold all of a sudden, and I started shivering. Not really bad…just a little.

Heero didn’t say anything, which was probably the smartest thing he’d done all day. Tamlin didn’t say anything, either, which made me dislike her a bit less. We all just sat there in silence until I got done shaking. It didn’t take very long, anyway.

“God, I feel like shit.” Understatement of the century on my part, but I really didn’t know what else to say, and it was starting to get way too quiet. For one crazy moment, I wondered if Heero and Tamlin had gotten up and left me alone in the room.

No, they hadn’t. I could hear Heero shift, just very slightly in his seat. The little noise was actually kind of disturbing; it’s not like Heero to fidget.

What Tamlin said next was even more disturbing, though. “You might feel like shit, but you’re still lucky. Most people don’t survive their first encounter with a vampire.”


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