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Acherontia Atropos (Part 9)


A couple notes before we start with the fic.

I had a LEETLE too much fun writing this one...

Duo finally says the 'f' word in this one. ^_^ hehehe...

I make some assumptions about the eating habits of Quatre, Duo, and 
Wufei. If you don't like it, see alternate reality warnings.

I am not insulting all high school guidance counselors. Just the ones that 
suck.

KnM

---

After our little encounter with Carmen in the happy hentai land known as 
Carmenlita's, we went back to the dorms with all possible speed. I guess we 
were just eager to get back to a place where things made sense and were 
relatively non-threatening. It's pretty sad when you want to be in your dorm 
room because it's better than the alternative.

Then again, the alternative was pretty nasty. It was dark by the time we 
emerged from the basement of Carmelita's. I'd thought it was creepy in the 
day time. At night, it was just scary. There were all sorts of interesting 
people gathered up on the main floor. Most of them were wearing long 
coats and had hats with the brims pulled low to cover their eyes. Every time 
one of them moved, it was accompanied by that soft kind of creaking sound 
that shiny new leather makes. When we pushed our way through that 
friendly little crowd, a few of them pressed in a little too close for comfort. 
At first, we all tried to ignore them. Then, some enterprising little soul 
grabbed Wufei's bottom. I've never heard Wufei make a sound quite like 
that before.

I've also never heard anyone make sounds quite like what that guy made 
when Wufei snap kicked him in the crotch, then applied a swift knife hand 
to the side of his neck.

Hara showed up right after that and cleared a path so she could throw us out 
of the shop. It was something of a relief. 

As I watched Hara's barely-clad derriere retreat back into the shop, I 
couldn't help but hope that Carmen was kidding about her being a high 
witch. It didn't seem right, somehow. Not that Carmen really fit my idea of 
a witch, either. Witches were supposed to be more...something. I don't 
know.

Wufei was understandably kind of upset once we'd gotten back to the 
dorms, though he'd managed to maintain an even strain until then. Quatre 
went right back to his room; I think he was a little disturbed by everything 
and wanted to think about it. That left me to soothe Wufei's extremely 
ruffled--er--tail feathers, and as much as I like Wufei, that's still not exactly 
quite my idea of a good time. It took nearly two hours to get him calmed 
down enough for a coherent conversation, and after that, it took still more 
work to get him wound down far enough for bed. I guess it was the first 
time that he'd ever gotten grabbed. I wasn't certain if I should be surprised 
or not.

By the time I had Wufei safely tucked in and crept my tired way back to my 
room, it was well after midnight and I was feeling pretty damn tired. I 
couldn't even go back to my room through the hall; I knew that there were 
teachers and administrators patrolling, so I had to go back by way of the 
window. That ledge might have been a piece of cake in full light when I 
was fresh from bed, but it wasn't nearly as much fun in the dark when I was 
so tired that I was seeing cross-eyed. Not to say that it wasn't easy. It just 
wasn't any fun.

Heero was back. The room was illuminated with the soft, faintly blue-tinted 
glow of the evil machine's screen, and he was seated in front of it, as 
always. The gentle light from the laptop softened the angles of his face 
until, for a moment, he didn't look like a soldier any more. He looked like 
just another guy my age, and he was absolutely beautiful. I sat on the 
window ledge for a long moment and just looked at him. Then I started 
shivering. It was pretty chilly, and I really didn't think that any view was 
worth freezing my ass off out on the ledge, no matter how nice the view 
was, so I opened the window and went inside. 

The laptop screen went abtuptly blank and Heero looked up. "You're back 
late." he remarked.

I hopped through the window and shut it quickly behind me. Damn, I was 
freezing. I grabbed the blanket off of my bed and tried to play it nonchalant. 
"Yeah, had to get Wufei tucked in." My shoulder rig wouldn't settle 
comfortably under the blanket, so I took it off and dumped it under my bed.

"Really." Heero shot me an intense, unreadable look.

"It's been an interesting night." Poke, poke, poke. I wrapped the blanket 
around myself and settled down on my bed. 

Heero glared at me. "It must have been. You smell bad."

"Jerk." I took a cautious sniff. I did, indeed, smell of eau d' Carmelita's. 
Ugh. And I was getting the smell all over my nice clean blanket. Double 
ugh. "Look at that. You're right for once." Not exactly the snappiest come 
back I've ever said, but it was the best I could think of at the time. I stood 
and ditched the blanket, then trundled over to the bathroom. "I'm taking a 
shower."

"Good."

I sneered at Heero before slamming the bathroom door behind me. The 
effect was, of course, lost in the darkness, which was a shame, because it 
was one of the best sneers I'd ever done. 

***

Some days I wonder if it is possible to die from chronic sleep shortage. This 
was one of those days. I'd gotten about three hours of bad sleep, mostly 
because I was busy brooding over what Carmen could have meant by telling 
me I'd be sorry. If she'd meant to make me feel paranoid, it certainly had the 
desired effect.

By the time it hit morning, though, I was feeling too tired to be high strung. 
Normally, getting shorted on sleep wouldn't bother me in the slightest, but 
lately I'd been feeling drained, probably because of all the injuries I'd been 
getting. Whatever the reason, it took me four cups of coffee before I was 
feeling remotely human, and it was still a pretty shaky kind of human. I'd 
had a hard time finding my way to the cafeteria, since my eyes were glued 
shut.

"Ohaiyo, Duo!" Quatre sang out. Quatre is, obviously, a morning person. 
Sometimes I wonder how the hell we manage to be friends. If he were 
anyone else, I would have killed him a long time ago.

I grunted as he set his tray down and took the seat across from me, still 
smiling cheerfully. He'd obviously recovered from the disturbance that our 
adventure at Carmelita's had caused. Either that, or he was feeling good 
because Trowa had made it back in one piece, again. I was betting on 
number two. Sometimes I wonder how Trowa can manage to not notice 
how brightly Quatre lights up when he's around. If I knew, I'd probably also 
be able to understand Heero's attitude toward me. I wish.

Quatre started to tear into plethora of food that was laid out on his tray with 
a great deal of gusto. I did my best not to watch. There's something about 
eating food in the morning that's just wrong. I'll pig out any other time of 
the day, but when it comes to breakfast, the thought of food makes me feel 
mildly ill. I'm lucky if I can manage to choke down toast. So I drank my 
coffee and did my best to not see Quatre oinking down an entire plateful of 
slightly runny, bright yellow school cafeteria scrambled eggs. I don't know 
how he manages to eat so much and still stay skinny and little. If that old 
saying was true, and you are what you eat, Quatre would be a full blown 
supermarket with extra large tea isle and dairy section. 

After I finished off my second cup of coffee, I was feeling human enough to 
attempt coherent speach. "You're in an unusually good mood this morning, 
Quatre." I said. My voice was gravelly in my ears. I hate morning voice.[1]

He paused mid-forkfull and smiled brightly at me. The eggs were quivering 
rather gelatinously on his upraised fork. I looked away. "Am I?" He asked, a 
little surprised.

"Yeah." I nodded and took a slurp of my third cup of coffee. Three sugars 
and four creams. It was like drinking melted espresso ice cream. Yum. 
Wufei had just wandered into the cafeteria, looking about as awake as I felt. 
I waved at him, and he headed over. Unlike Heero and Trowa, we didn't 
have early classes, so we normally ate together. Well, to put it more 
accurately, Quatre ate and Wufei and I watched him. Wufei seemed to share 
my aversion to even the thought of food in the morning. He usually just had 
some tea, or if he was feeling unusually hungry or awake, a little bowl of 
rice.

It must have been one of those unusual days, because he went through the 
food line and got himself a tiny bowl of rice and a very large mug of tea 
before he came over and sat down next to Quatre. He curled a lip eloquently 
at the plateful of eggs that Quatre was halfway through demolishing. I 
nodded and made a face back, while Quatre continued to snarf on 
obliviously. 

Quatre paused again. "Actually, I think you're right. I am in a good mood."

I almost choked on my coffee. Wufei made a quiet snorting sound and 
succeeded in blowing bubbles in his tea. 

"Trowa was in our room when we got back." He smiled and started eating 
again.

I recovered before Wufei, hope for Quatre suddenly flaring in my heart. 
"And?"

He paused. "And what?"

"And what happened?" I felt like crawling over the table and strangling the 
answer out of him. Sometimes I wonder if Quatre really is as innocent as he 
acts, or if it is just an act, designed to drive me absolutely bonkers. I was 
really starting to go for option two. No one can be that innocent.

"Oh, he said that he missed me." Quatre grinned.

I almost dropped my coffe cup. Just almost, though. I'd never let a cup of 
coffee go to waste like that. "That's it?" 

"It's an improvement." Quatre pointed out, raising one of his eyebrows. Ok, 
maybe someone can be that innocent.

"True." I nodded.

Quatre went back to eating his breakfast, I went back to drinking my coffee. 
Wufei, who had remained wisely silent throughout the entire exchange, just 
shook his head slowly and kept picking at his bowl of rice. 

***

The breakfast cups of coffee had finally started to kick in by the time I went 
to my first class. I was awake enough to make myself reasonably 
presentable, which is to say that my shirt was tucked in most of the way and 
my tie was laying almost flat in the general area that it was supposed to be 
in. I hadn't bothered with the gun, even though I was pretty sure that I could 
have hidden the shoulder rig under my uniform jacket without it making too 
obvious a lump. I wasn't that paranoid yet.

Class was just about ready to start when I got there, though I wasn't the last 
one to get in. A girl wandered in after me. She was wearing a white 
turtleneck shirt under her regular button shirt, which I could understand, 
considering that the day was fairly chilly and some thoughtful soul had left 
all the classroom's windows open, probably overnight. I kind of wished that 
I had a turtleneck myself.

The teacher came in and we'd all just about settled down to an oh-so-
fascinating discussion about differential equations when there was a polite 
knock on the classroom door. Not something that normally happened. The 
teacher opened and lo and behold, one of the school guidance counselors, a 
mousy little man that whose name I couldn’t even remember, was revealed.

I instantly had a bad feeling. According to my experience, the guidance 
counselors tended to keep to themselves. My theory was that they didn't like 
reality encroaching in on their little world, where kids have conflict 
resolution sessions instead of fights.

Not that I don't trust counselors or anything.

My worst fears were immediately confirmed when the little mousy guy 
said, "We need to see Duo Maxwell, please."

This could only be about one thing. I'd thought that the counselors had 
given up yesterday after I bailed out of my window. I'd underestimated 
them, my bad. I glanced at the window. The classroom was on the first 
story. It would be easy. Unfortunately, I was seated far enough away from 
the window that I didn't have a clear escape route. Damn the calculus 
teacher and his obsession with alphabetical seating anyway.

I quickly ran over the options. I could make a break for it, probably get 
caught and hauled off, or I could willingly go with them into the jaws of 
hell. 

Gee, tough choice there.

I slid out of my seat and skittered toward the window, keeping as low as 
possible. On the way there, I went by Heero’s desk. He gave me a look that 
said he thought I was being very stupid in no uncertain terms. I ignored 
him. Almost there…the window went up easily, and I had one leg over the 
sill—

"Maxwell get away from the window and come to the front of the 
classroom, please."

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck…

I didn't have a lot of choice. I got up and slouched to the front of the 
classroom with my hands stuffed firmly in my pockets. The mousy 
counselor guy waved me on, and I followed him out of the classroom and 
down the hall to the lair of the guidance counselors.

Next thing, I was seated in front of the rather large and imposing wood desk 
of a rather large and unimposing woman that was introduced to me as 
Mimura-san. She was very big, at least by my standards. She had to be at 
least twenty centimeters taller than me, and her shoulders were twice as 
broad as mine. Her hair was iron grey and pulled back so tightly that all I 
could think of was Wufei's little pony tail. Except not as friendly. Still, she 
didn't really intimidate me, because she was a little too--to put it politely--
rounded to look threatening. 

The polite, blank look and her eyes and the much too understanding smile 
that she seemed to have permanently fixed on her face didn't really help the 
look either, though. I wondered if she'd had to practice her smile in the 
mirror in order to get just the right amount of detached, superior sympathy 
into it.

The mousy counselor disappeared quickly after the introductions were 
complete, leaving me alone with Mimura. She smiled politely at me. "I 
suppose you're wondering why we pulled you out of your class, Duo."

Actually, I wasn't. But I didn't bother saying anything. I had a feeling that 
this was a memorized speech for her, and didn't really need my input. So I 
just sat up straight in my chair and smiled vacuously at her. That's me, Duo 
Maxwell, the perfect student. Trust me.

"We were told that you were one of Yan's close friends, and we thought that 
it would be a good idea to have a little talk with you, just to make sure 
you're doing alright after such a tragedy. Unfortunately, you weren't in your 
room yesterday, so we had to pull you out of class. This is very important, 
Duo."

I nodded and kept smiling.

"Grief is a natural part of losing someone. Now, I know that there is a lot of 
pressure, especially among men of your age group, to keep that grief bottled 
up inside and present a good face to the world. It's perfectly alright to let it 
out, though, Duo. That's what we're here for…blah blah blah…" [2]

For a moment, I considered dredging up some fake tears, because maybe 
she'd let me go sooner. I didn't feel up to it, though, and I didn't have 
enough stored up emotion to pull it off anyway. I was too angry over the 
entire thing. So I settled for neutrality. "I understand, Mimura-san."

She'd obviously been expecting me to break down and cry or something. 
Her smile stiffened a little. "One of the other students saw you climb out of 
your window yesterday, Duo. Were you running away from us?"

Shit. If I could find who'd squealed on me, I'd give them a piece of my 
mind. A LARGE piece. Since my little escape out the window couldn't 
possibly be interpreted as anything else, I decided to be honest. "Yes I was."

"Why?"

"I don't feel like talking." I shrugged.

"Now, Duo." Mimura grabbed a pencil off of her desk and absently began 
rolling it between her pudgy fingers. "It's not healthy to keep your feelings 
bottled up inside. You need to let them out…blah blah blah…"

I had to disagree with her there. Killing someone and ending up in jail didn't 
sound real healthy to me.

"Why are you so afraid to admit that you feel pain and loss over the death of 
your friend?"

It was true, I did feel a little upset about Yan dying...but in my experience, 
it happened all the time and there wasn't a lot to be done about it. I was 
planning to take care of the things that had killed him, so no problem. I 
couldn't very well tell a psychiatrist that, though. Not if I wanted to stay out 
of the looney bin. Besides, her superior attitude was really pissing me off. 
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I can't stand it when someone acts 
like they know everything. "I'm not afraid to admit that I'm upset. I just 
don't feel like talking about it."

"Now, Duo..."

I sighed. "Why do you find it so hard to believe that I'm ok? I am, you 
know." I stood up. They couldn't really do anything to stop me from 
leaving, and I didn't feel up to putting up with this shit.

Mimura's lips compressed, and she looked at me piercingly for a moment. 
"Fine, Duo. You know where to find us if you change your mind. Don't be 
afraid to express yourself…blah blah blah…"

"I am expressing myself." I don't know why I was bothering to argue. 
Maybe I am a masochist.

"I don't understand how you can hide your true feelings like this."

I pulled the door open. That was it. "I am not hiding my true feelings. Death 
happens, Mimura. It sucks, but there's no point in useless chest beating 
because it won't bring anyone back. Besides, " I added, without really 
thinking it through, "I've got it taken care of. This will all be over real 
soon." I hoped.

I heard a sound behind me. Mimura had dropped her pencil.

Quickly, I ran over the last bit I'd said and tried to think about it impartially.

Oh shit...had I really said that? I let out a very soft, exasperated sigh, and 
resisted the temptation to bonk my head against the wall. "Duo no baka..." I 
muttered softly. Me and my big mouth.

"Duo, I think you'd better sit down. It seems that we still have some issues 
to work out."

I knew that I couldn't escape now. So I closed the door and sat. Mimura 
fixed me with a look that was about on the level of Heero's death glares, as 
far as intensity goes.

"Duo, you are a very bright young man. You have a lot of friends, you're 
doing very well in your classes...blah blah blah…"

I wondered since when did sliding through count as doing very well. I had a 
feeling that good ol' Mimura hadn't done her homework.

"...and you're extremely popular with the girls in your age group. I'm sure 
you have several dying to go out with you…blah blah blah…"

Well...she was probably right on that one. I idly wondered what Mimura 
would do if I told her I wasn't interested in going out with girls. Now, my 
roommate...I quickly discarded that idea. It would certainly change the topic 
of the conversation, but I had a feeling that it would have been out of the 
frying pan and into the fire. I really didn't need a lecture from some quack 
on proper sexual roles.

"You have so much to lose. There is no need to be self destructive…yaddah 
yaddah yaddah…"

Funny that she was saying that to a Gundam Pilot. I had to fight off the urge 
to laugh. Somehow, I had a feeling that she would take it the wrong way. So 
I plastered my most disarming grin on my face. "I don't suppose you would 
believe me if I said that you completely misunderstood what I said and I 
have absolutely no intention of being self destructive." It was true. Being 
self destructive when piloting Deathscythe was a whole different matter 
entirely. I had no intention of doing anything stupid in normal life.

She eyed me disbelievingly. "Denial is an ugly thing, Duo."

So much for honesty. I had a feeling that this was going to take a while.

***

It was after dinner before I managed to extricate myself from Mimura's 
office. My poor hand was cramping up so horribly that I was afraid I'd 
never be able to straighten my fingers. That stupid...PSYCHO had made me 
write a twenty page essay on how I had so much to live for and would 
promise not to kill myself no matter what. Basically, she stood over my 
shoulder and dictated to me, then hovered until I signed it. 

ARGH!

Heero was sitting at the desk, working on the laptop as always when I flung 
the door open. "You're back late." 

I glared at him. He actually blanched slightly. I cradled my screaming hand 
against my chest and slammed the door as hard as I could. The window 
rattled.

Heero recovered quickly from my glare and raised an eyebrow. 

"Don't even THINK about asking." I snarled before stalking to the 
bathroom with the intention of soaking my hand in warm water so it would 
loosen up a bit. I slammed the bathroom door, too. It felt really good. So I 
opened the door back up and slammed it again. I glared at my own 
reflection in the bathroom mirror for a moment. I was actually breathing 
hard, and my hair was frizzing out like I was pulling in a major static 
charge. I had the gleam in my eye that I've only seen before in pictures of 
me when I'm fresh out of Deathscythe's cockpit. 

With a great deal of deliberation, I opened the bathroom door, and then 
slammed it again. Harder. The doorframe cracked loudly, and I grinned, 
imagining that Mimura's face had been there.

No, Mimura-san, I am not feeling even remotely suicidal.

Homicidal, though, that's a different matter entirely...



[1] Yes, morning voice. I don't know if this happens to anyone else, but 
when I first get up, my voice is about half an octave lower than normal, and 
rather gravelly to boot. Every time I answer the phone straight out of bed, 
the person on the other end always ALWAYS asks me if I'm ok. I'm 
normally hard pressed to be polite. ^_^

[2] Trust me. After someone's spouted edu/psycho-babble at you for a 
couple of minutes, you start fading in and out and only really listening to 
them with half an ear, and it sounds kind of like that. ^_^

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