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Red Jester



Duo Maxwell, pilot of Shinigami, sat down lightly on the edge of his bed and sighed, his ever-present smile replaced by lips pressed into a tight line. He had promised himself he wouldn't do this. Sometimes, though, he needed to remind himself that he was still alive. He needed to separate himself from Shinigami. Death brought life to him sometimes, and Duo was afraid he was depending on that fact too much.

He picked up the small razor blade that was sitting on the night table by his bed and placed it lightly on the blue vein of his left wrist. After a moment he began to apply a bit of pressure and slide the blade slowly down the line of the vein. A small river of red began to form behind the bit of silver metal pinched firmly between the braided pilot's fingers. Duo bit his lip as he pulled the blade out of his flesh, setting it back on the table and absently picking up the damp washcloth he had set there as well.

He wondered what the rest of the Gundam boys would think if they saw him right now, sitting alone in a boarding school dorm room, blood pooling quickly on his thin wrist, and chuckled coldly. Trowa would probably just leave, pretending he hadn't seen anything. Wufei would most likely sneer and mumble something about weakness before leaving as well.

Duo wiped the gathering blood off with the washcloth and lay down, dangling his arm off the side of the bed so the blood would flow to the small wound faster. He could easily see Quatre fussing over him, bandaging the cut and trying to get him to talk about it at the same time. And Heero would…Duo stopped himself. No, I don't want to think about what Heero would do. There are so many things I want him to do that I know he never will. Duo took a deep breath and shifted a little, making the bed creak quietly. An echo in an empty room. A lot like the sound of my laughter, the braided boy thought, He never seems to respond. He may as well already be dead. Duo shook his head, letting the braid whip back and forth through the stagnant air, and pulled his mind away from the dark-haired Japanese boy whom he seemed to be contemplating more and more as of late.

His mind kept going along those dark lines for about thirty more minutes before his fingers began to tingle. The washcloth, which had started the night out pure, was covered in pink and red streaks where the water had diluted the blood. The skin surrounding the small cut on Duo's wrist was red and slightly swollen from the cloth which had been rubbed against it so frequently. Added to this were the times when the blood had begun to clot and the pilot was forced to scrub violently until it opened again.

Duo finally sat up and wiped the remaining blood off of his wrist, covering the cut with a bandage. He wasn't sure if things were any better that they had been 45 minutes ago, in fact, he was almost certain that they weren't. At least for a little while he had been alive, and no one else had been forced to suffer for it.

* * *

Duo watched the physics teacher in front of him through hooded eyes. He knew most of this stuff already. He'd miss a bunch of questions on the test tomorrow anyway, just for good measure. He couldn't have people thinking he was smarter than he looked. Heero was sitting next to him, staring intently at the problem the teacher was working through on the board. He's probably taking it about ten steps further, figuring the velocity of his Gundam if he used the gravity of the earth to slingshot it in the direction of beetlejuice. The American thought. Quatre and Trowa were behind them, the Arabian doodling with Trowa following the lines his pencil was making with his eyes. The two of them were obviously just as bored as Duo was.

Duo reached down and scratched his wrist through the rough material of his school uniform. It's already starting to heal. He thought solemnly, To bad the war won't heal this quickly. He stopped scratching before he reopened the cut, and blew out a puff of air, making his bangs flutter in the current. He plastered his trademark grin on his face as he saw the girl in the next row looking at him, but he missed Heero's sideways glance accompanied by a slightly raised eyebrow.

* * *

The American pilot flounced up behind Heero in the crowded boarding school halls, his braid whipping back and forth while causing complaints from the surrounding students. "Hey!" Duo cheerfully greeted the other boy.

Heero flicked his eyes to the braided American but gave no other sign that he had been hailed.

A mocking pout spread over Duo's face but was quickly replaced by a broad grin. "Are you up for some one on one basket ball?" Duo dodged around a girl with an armful of books that looked heavier than Shinigami and smiled at her playfully, watching a blush spread across her face. "I feel like I’m getting out of shape." He added, turning he attention back to the Japanese boy walking smoothly next to him. Not to mention that Heero in gym shorts is an incredibly tempting picture. Duo immediately chided himself for thinking such a thing. Heero was his partner, nothing else.

"Do you have a free period right now?" Heero asked flatly.

"Heero thought about it for a moment and Duo was just about to start pleading when the Japanese boy gave a curt nod, "Let's go."

* * *

Duo's laughter entered the locker room long before the braided boy himself did, the echo giving the illusion that he wasn't the only one laughing. "You have to admit it was classic!" He said between gasps, dropping his gym bag next to the bench with a smack. He sat down next to it, pointedly ignoring the annoyed crease forming between his partner's eyes (right below the large red circle forming on his forehead). "You shouldn't have been standing so close to the basket." Duo looked up from his bag, showing off the cheeky grin that was stretched across his face.

Heero followed his partner over to the bench, flicking some sweaty hair out of his eyes, and fixed the American with a straight stare, "Omae o korosu."

Duo chuckled and began to riffle around in his bag, "You say that to all the boys."

Heero's glare faded and he raised a quizzical eyebrow at his friend.

The American boy stopped short and felt a slight blush rise to his cheeks as his braid slithered over his shoulder to hang down next to his face. He hadn't meant to say that out loud. When the expected explosion failed to come, Duo figured that his partner hadn't sensed what was hiding behind those words. He sat up to check the expression on his friends face, a hesitant smile lingering on his own, only to double over again, this time with laughter.

Heero would have raised his eyebrow again, but it was still up from the American's last comment. Why did Duo always put him so much on edge? And why had he felt himself starting to blush at such a common innuendo? And what was that baka laughing at? "Duo, what's so funny?"

"Your… the ball…" The American gasped, trying to gain control of himself but failing miserably.

Heero walked over to the row of sinks along the wall, leaning in close to get a good view of himself in the slightly crooked mirror above them. The large red welt had finished its formation just above his nose, complete with the imprinted texture of the basket ball.

Duo walked up beside him and poked quizzically at the welt. Heero swatted at his hand and Duo backed off, waggling a finger at him. "All that 'perfect soldier' training and…"

Heero grabbed his wrist to stop the offensive finger (and hopefully the offensive mouth) and was startled when his callused hand encountered a small, cloth bandage. "Duo, what…"

Duo cut off the question before Heero was even aware he'd begun to ask it. "Nothing." he said, attempting to wrench his wrist out of the Japanese boy's hand. Heero tightened his grip reflexively and the American tugged lightly one more time. "Heero, please let go of my hand." His mouth was still smiling but all signs of laughter had melted from his expressive, violet eyes.

Heero loosened his grip and watched as his friend slowly pulled away and almost sauntered back to his gym bag, obviously trying to counteract the near panic he had shown a few moments earlier. You're overcompensating, Duo. Heero thought as he stood by the row of sinks for a little while longer, watching Duo pull his uniform out of his bag and wondered how to handle the now awkward situation. He had never been very good at dealing with people and preferred Duo's expected banter to this quiet, defensive boy in front of him. Heero just shrugged his shoulders and walked over to his own bag, telling himself that Duo was probably just worn out from all of their missions. Or maybe he was tired of the war, part of him whispered, Or tired of…

* * *

Duo wove his way through the halls to his next class with Heero a silent shadow behind him. He wasn't sure why he had reacted so violently to Heero's concern. Concern? No, it couldn't have been that. Curiosity, Duo assured himself, was much more likely.

The two of them split up a few moments later, each heading to their respective classes. Heero's eyes lingered for a few breaths on the American boy's swinging braid before he turned his back to him completely.

As Heero sat down in his next class and prepared to look interested, his mind turned over and over the subject of his partner. He couldn't even begin to pinpoint the moment when he had stopped just tolerating the chatterbox's company, and begun to actually enjoy it. There was something comforting to the sullen boy about how Duo could talk about everything and nothing so effortlessly. It always seemed to take Heero so long to form the words in his mind before he said them out loud. But there was something about Duo's chatter that he had only just now begun to realize. There were certain subjects that the boy seemed to avoid. His past was one of them, but Heero had already heard that story and didn't blame him. Duo had never explained his reasoning for calling himself Shinigami. It could have been purely for the irony, Death having Duo's lopsided smile and bright violet eyes, but Heero didn't think that was all. There was definitely something smoldering under his partner's devil-may-care attitude and, for reasons he didn't want to explain, Heero wanted to know what.

As the echo of that thought faded, Heero came to another startling realization. He didn't just want to know what was bothering Duo, he wanted to ease some of his discomfort. Heero leaned his elbows on his desk and dropped his chin into his hands. What exactly was that American doing to him?

* * *

Duo stared straight ahead of himself, twirling the end of his thick braid around his fingers. It was rather obvious his mind wasn't on the timeline his teacher was writing on the board, and the boy next to him had long since given up trying to get his attention to tell him about the hot party planned for that night. Duo shifted his weight and sighed. Could he trust Heero? That was the big question weighing on the American's seemingly carefree mind at the moment.

Duo wanted to talk to someone. He wanted to explain to someone how tired he was of all the fighting. But who would understand? Quatre would, but there was obviously something beginning to form between him and the silent Trowa. Duo wasn't sure he wanted to get in the middle of that yet. Wufei was… well, he was Wufei. Duo didn't really know much about the Chinese boy who appeared for missions and left very soon after they were finished. The only person left was Heero. But would Heero even understand? Nothing ever seemed to bother the Japanese boy. Except me, Duo noted with a little bit of pride. At least he acknowledges me sometimes. The only problem was, Duo had no clue whether Heero would give a rat's ass about what Duo so desperately needed to tell him. And then there were those other feelings, the attraction, that Duo was afraid would rise to the surface. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know how strong his feelings were for his partner, and whether or not they surpassed that of mere friendship. There was a definite physical attraction, there was no way Duo could deny that, but was it more that lust? More than a teenager's passing interest?

Duo dropped his braid and reached up to finger the heavy cross hanging around his neck, an equally heavy question entering his mind. A question that he might never have the answer to. Was such an attraction a sin?

* * *

Duo stood before Maxwell church, the sun beating harshly down on his back and being absorbed by his pitch black clothing. A small girl ran in front of him, chasing a ball, but when she noticed him she stopped her activity and walked over to meet him. She was no older than five. "Who are you?" She asked in a small, meek voice.

"Shinigami desu." I am death.

Duo reached out to touch her cheek, the skin was slightly translucent with youth and it seemed to shine. When Duo's fingers made contact with the flesh, however, it felt like putty. Slowly, he saw the flesh melt off her face, an eye sliding down her cheek next to his lingering finger, as he pulled it away with a shout of alarm. The skin slid off the white of her bone, making trails around, into, and out of her now empty eye sockets. The American, Shinigami, took a step back as the girl's flesh and cloths melted off her tiny body. Soon, even her bones began to sag down into a pile of goo.

As Duo looked around, he noticed the church melting as well. The trees, the grass, and even the sky melted, leaving him in darkness, nothingness.

Duo began to walk, not knowing where he was going, just trying to get away from the melting girl and the melting world. Soon, he felt his pace sagging. He looked down and saw his feet were melting just as the girl's face had done. He grabbed the cross around his neck frantically and brought it to his lips, making one last prayer for God to save his soul.

When he kissed the cross, his lips came away sticky. Out of instinct, he licked them and found the coppery taste of blood. With another sharp yell he lifted his hands up, eyes widening at the blood dripping from them in thick, round drops. It was at that moment that he realized he was no longer alone in the darkness. In front of him, sprawled on the nonexistent ground, was the lifeless body of his partner, eyes closed with a crease of forgotten pain between them. His third cry of horror was interrupted as the world of dreams crashed down around him and his eyes flew open to the sight of Heero staring down at him and the feeling of his partner's hands clamped like vices on his thin shoulders.

"Duo, are you all right?" Heero shook his partner one more time, slightly unnerved by the haunted look lingering behind his violet eyes. Death had never looked so frightened. What monsters were stalking his dreams?

Heero had been asleep and dreaming in his bed across the room only moments before. He had been dreaming about a golden puppy and a little girl with hauntingly familiar violet eyes… Heero shook his head slightly, though the motion was undetected by the frightened boy beneath him. Heero's problems could wait. Duo was the one that needed the attention now.

"I'm fine." The American mumbled. A lopsided grin and even breathing had already replaced the open-mouthed gasping that had awoken Heero in the first place. Duo's eyes, on the other hand, were still dull and lifeless. Heero removed his hands from his partner's shoulders and sat down gingerly on the edge of his bed. Duo gathered his rumpled sheets tighter around himself as if to use them as a shield and looked at the Japanese boy curiously.

"Heero, I said I'm fine." Duo said after what seemed like an hour of unmoving silence. He just wanted Heero to leave, to go back to bed, anything but what he was doing right now. Heero was just sitting there staring at him with an odd look on his face that Duo couldn't quite place. All he knew was that he had never seen that look on Heero's face before. He's not mad, Duo thought, I'd recognize that.

Suddenly Heero sighed and settled his weight more comfortably on Duo's bed. "Duo, what's wrong?"

The steel edge under the question made the American boy cringe. Heero meant business. He was on a mission and there was no way Duo could get away from it. Heero's determination was like a 40 car freight train, impossible (and incredibly painful) to stop. A long silence followed as Duo contemplated how to answer. Part of him wanted to just repeat that he was fine, go back to bed, and avoid that look on Heero's face as much as possible. Another part wanted to pour his heard out to the Japanese boy who had shared so many of the same experiences. He wanted to cry into Heero's shoulder. He wanted his eyes to turn red and puffy and his nose to run. He wanted to prove that he was human.

A single tear escaped from its violet cage and that was the only answer Heero needed. After a slight hesitation he reached over, gingerly drawing Duo into a gentle embrace. At the other boy's touch a shuddering sob ran through Duo, followed by the breaking of the dam of tears that had held steady for so long.

The completely uncontrolled sobbing caught Heero off guard and he froze for a moment, just looking at the shaking boy in his arms. Eventually he came back to himself and tightened his arms around his partner, preparing to wait out the storm of emotions that was bound to follow.

* * *

Duo sniffled, his head still resting comfortably against Heero's chest. "Don't you ever get tired of all of this? It's so easy to loose yourself in it and forget who we're fighting for."

"But if we don't do it, Duo, who will?" Heero asked quietly, twirling the end of Duo's long braid unconsciously through his fingers. "How much of a chance would they have without anyone to defend them?"

The American boy looked up at his partner quizzically. What did Heero know of the people he was fighting for? The only one he knew was Relena. that must be it, Duo thought sadly, He's worried about Relena. Duo sighed and mumbled into Heero's chest, "You know, they're not all as helpless and unwilling to fight as Relena is."

Heero started, Relena? What does she have to do with anything? Unless Duo thinks… Duo started to pull away then and the Japanese boy tightened his grip on him. After feeling Duo relax a few breaths later, Heero closed his eyes, "There's something that happened when they were training me that I don't think I've ever told anyone. There was a little girl," Heero said, his voice steady and emotionless, "and her puppy…"

* * *

"So what did you do after you realized that you'd… after you realized what had happened?"

Heero shrugged, "The doctors said I went into shock. They had to completely retrain me."

Heero couldn't see the curiosity on Duo's expressive face from where he was, but he could hear it in his voice, "Retrain you?"

"They didn't want a little boy, "Heero sneered, "They wanted an emotionless, perfect soldier. I guess they were satisfied in the end."

The two boys say in a comfortable silence, cloaked in the unmoving darkness of night for a few breaths until Duo gained the courage to ask the one question that had been gnawing at him all night. "Heero, why are you telling me all of this?"

For a moment Duo thought he saw Heero's stoic face soften slightly, but attributed it to the heavy night shadows that bathed the room. "Everyone needs to talk about things sometimes. If you don't, they could steal your concentration when you most need it."

Duo chuckled, that last statement reeked of Heero Yuy. God forbid anything get in the way of a mission. The American let his mind wander aimlessly until the sound of Heero clearing his throat brought him back. "Duo, is there anything you want to talk about?"

"No." Duo croaked, his body stiffening.

Heero shifted the American who was half laying, half sitting, in his lap. He gently took hold of the other boy's left wrist. Duo made noises of protest as the Japanese boy began carefully unwrapping the bandage he found there.

Heero was fully prepared to stop if the other boy struggled, but Duo seemed resigned to his fate as Heero finally dislodged the bandage and tossed it carelessly to the dorm room's tiled floor. His eyes focused briefly on the cut running parallel to Duo's blue vein before he wrapped his hand gently around the other boy's wrist. "Duo, why?" He asked softly, hoping he was doing the right thing. Fresh tears dropped from Duo's cheeks and Heero wondered if he was pushing his partner too far.

"Are we even human, Heero?"

The whisper barely reached the Japanese boy's ears. Human? He wondered. Of coarse we're…"

"How can we destroy so much, kill so many, and still be human?" The American's voice was more audible this time and was laced with sadness. "The people in Maxwell church, that little girl, her puppy, the list is endless. I don't want anymore blood on my hands," Duo said, remembering his dream.

"Duo, it's for…"

Duo interrupted him, "I kill everyone I get close to."

Bingo. Heero thought, This must be what's really bothering him. "I'm not dead. Trowa's not dead; Quatre's not dead; Wufei's not dead. We're all still here."

"It's not like you haven't tried to die, Heero." Duo replied coldly.

"That's different," The Japanese boy murmured into the other boys' hair, trying to rationalize in his head how it was different.

"Don't even try. It's the same thing, Heero." The American's voice was distant and hurt. "So why do you do it?"

Heero's voice was flat. "My life is cheap. Nobody would even notice. I'd be replace in the blink of an eye."

"I'd die." Duo whispered. Then, a little louder, "I'd die. I'd lose myself without you."

Heero felt himself shaking. Duo hadn't just said that.

The American shifted in his lap until violet made contact with Prussian. "Let's make a pact. You don't self-destruct and I won't self-destruct." Duo extended his right hand and Heero's free hand came out to meet it. With one crisp shake, both boys felt an enormous weight lifted from their young shoulders.

When they released hands, the energy that seemed to have been pulsing between them faded. Duo, his eyes hooded, gut up, and Heero missed his warmth immediately. the American padded slowly across the room and crawled into the bed that he found there.

Heero couldn't find the heart, or the energy, to tell the other boy that he was in the wrong bed. Oh well. He thought, collapsing into Duo's blankets. It would be nice to spent the rest of the night surrounded in Duo's scent. Perhaps it was a promise of what was to come. Heero was certainly beginning to hope so.

* * * o w a r i * * *


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