She knew what was going to happen from the beginning. That was the thought that kept circulating through his mind. She had to have known. Why else would she have -
He shook his head, trying to clear his mind again. It seemed like this was the millionth time he'd done so in the past hour. It was just impossible. Usagi couldn't be gone.
His mind was a blank after the light. He certainly didn't remember getting back to Quatre's mansion. He didn't remember everyone else arriving. He just remembered feeling Usagi collapsing dead in his arms, hearing a few words from Amaterasu, then waking up here at the mansion, in his own bedroom.
Quatre had urged him to come downstairs about half an hour ago to help discuss their plan for what to do next, but... there was no way. He couldn't even look at the woman walking around in Usagi's body without wanting to lose his cool. He wasn't sure if he wanted to scream or cry or go blow something up or what.
I can't look at Amaterasu in Usagi's body. It's the cruelest punishment Quatre could have possibly come up with. I don't think even OZ could have topped this for sheer depravity. I mean, hell! She even sounds like Usagi. And Heero...
Well, now that he thought about it, the Japanese man had looked like he'd seen a ghost. And thinking about this whole... thing from Heero's point of view, well...
* * * * *
Who knew how long the light had been shining in the dark hallway before he finally took notice of it reflecting in the shards of the broken mirror. It gave out the most amazing reflections, sending bright streaks of light across every visible surface.
And it came from the woman he held.
He watched as Amaterasu pulled herself to her knees, while his hands frozen in place where they had been holding her arms. She began dusting the blood off the front of her shirt, and it fell away like it'd never been there to begin with.
Thanatos/Vritra began backing up into the doorway he'd surprised them from. In his hands, Duo could see Kuzanagi shaking violently. Thanatos' lips were moving in some soundless denial. Apparently the monster had no more been expecting to see Amaterasu here now than he had.
Oh, Usagi..., he thought to himself, why did you think you couldn't tell me this? I thought we weren't going to keep any more secrets from each other. We could have found a way to work around this. He sucked in a sharp breath. And what about -
Sneakered feet pounded up the steps and skidded to a stop next to him. No, no way... He wasn't going to look up at Heero; his eyes were locked on the being now climbing to her feet - Usagi's feet! - as if she hadn't had a sword shoved through her guts. Of course, she hadn't; Usagi had.
"Duo?" Heero's voice whispered, and it was very close to his ear. Darting his eyes to the side, he realized Heero had knelt down beside him, a gun in his hand, aimed directly at Thanatos; with his free hand, he helped Duo lower his arms, not seeming to notice when Duo's hands grasped hold of his in a tight grip, like Heero was his last grip on his sanity. The beginnings of a hysterical laugh began to leak through the tears. "Duo, what is it?" Man, how weird was this? Heero was starting to sound worried!
"He will be all right, Hachiman," a powerful version of Usagi's voice echoed, both through the hallway and in their minds. "Take him out of here."
He almost laughed as Heero's gun seemed to move of its own accord towards the woman who stood in front of them briefly before returning to their enemy. "Is that... Amaterasu?" Duo nodded slowly. "Usagi summoned her then?" Duo shook his head now. "What?"
"Not... now," he forced out.
"Shinigami, Hachiman," Amaterasu interrupted again, "leave now."
"Not a chance. We're not going anywhere," declared Heero. He gave the Japanese man's hand another squeeze, this time less for his own comfort and more in gratitude.
She turned to give them a sharp glare. It was so strange to see that harsh look in Usagi's normally gentle blue eyes. "How am I to maintain my promise to Selene to protect the two of you if you will not work with me?"
They both had to blink at that. "Protect us?" Duo finally asked. She rolled her eyes, as if it should be obvious.
"Where's Thanatos?" Heero's more practical question broke through the silence.
Amaterasu whirled to the doorway the monster had been occupying and sighed loudly. "He ran away again," she complained in frustration. "He always runs away." She turned back to face them. "Come. It is time for us to collect the others and leave this place. The final battle is yet to come."
* * * * *
That was his memory ended, at least till they got back to the mansion. He'd only really woken up about ten minutes later to find himself in his own bedroom, standing just inside the door. He hadn't been able to move once his eyes had locked on his own reflection and the faint bloodstain he could see on his black shirt. And it wasn't even his own blood. Of course, that had been half an hour ago, but then again, he also didn't remember moving to the bed.
His hand ran down the front of his shirt, where the blood had dried to the material, stiffening it. It almost felt rough under his fingers. No! He couldn't do this anymore! He nearly ripped the shirt trying to get it off him, crying out when he wrenched his sore shoulder in the process. He ended up with it stuck at his elbows, trapping his arms and leaving the shoulder in a position that made it cry in pain every time he tried to breathe.
A soft tap at the door barely registered. It sounded urgent, like the person on the other side had been trying to get an answer for a while. The knocking came again, then finally the door pushed open. "Duo?" Heero then... He should have known.
He turned desperate eyes on the Japanese man. "Heero..."
Heero shut the door behind him and crossed the room to the bed. As he sat down behind Duo and started helping him to ease out of the constricting clothing, he began to speak quietly. "Quatre's worried about you out there. Everyone is. You might want to -"
"No way." He shook his head in vehement denial. "I'm not going out there. I can't go out there and look at that woman walking around in Usagi's body. Not when I held Usagi in my arms as she..."
Heero tossed the bloodied shirt in the direction of the trash (Neither of them looked to see if he rang it or not.) and wrapped his arms around him tightly, pulling him back against his chest. "There was nothing you could do."
"I should have been able to, though! I'm the God of Death after all!"
"Amaterasu was talking downstairs about Usagi having to sacrifice herself to raise her. She said there was never a chance."
He had to nod in agreement with that. "One second she was dying in my arms. The next she was Amaterasu."
"You can't blame yourself for this, Duo," Heero reasoned, turning him so that they were face-to-face. "Usagi wouldn't have wanted that."
He had to ask it, the question he'd been dreading to let himself even so much as think. "Do you think our Usagi is gone forever?"
Heero's arms tightened around him briefly. "I don't know. I think the only ones who would know would be the Elder Gods or Amaterasu."
He frowned against Heero's shirt. "Aed's gone then?" Heero nodded. "Shame..."
"He left right before we went after Kuzanagi. Said he had some things to handle." Heero gave him a slight nudge. "Don't know any more Elder Gods, do you?"
He shook his head. "No. Besides, it'd be a death sentence to bring them here. We seem to end up getting the Elders killed after all. Himura, Morrigan..."
"Aya-san left on his own two feet," Heero reminded him.
"It's only a matter of time. He's bonded to Oneesan after all, and when one bondmate dies-" He suddenly stopped, as if realizing something important - and perhaps a bit ugly - for the first time. With a frustrated sigh, he rolled onto his side, facing away from Heero.
The Japanese man was silent for a moment then took an educated guess at the problem. "Neither of us were bonded to Usagi. It's not hurting either of our powers that she's... gone."
"It's like she was never here, like she never existed." He was starting to sound hysterical again, he realized, and took a deep breath to calm himself, turning back to face Heero. "We should have told her."
Heero's eyes winced shut briefly, the only show of pain that he apparently would allow himself. "We should have." Blue eyes opened again. "When we get her back, we will."
"You think we will?" Against his will, he could feel the tiniest flicker of hope beginning to build within him. For a moment, he thought about stamping it out before it really started, the better to not be let down if it didn't happen, but he couldn't. Maybe just this once, he needed this hope to go on from here.
"We will. I don't know how, but we will."
He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Heero's waist, resting his head against Heero's chest, and let his mind drift back in time, through some of the better times.
* * * * *
"Na-na-nani?!?" Usagi was stuttering, holding the menu far away from her, moving it back as if to make what she saw there change. She leaned over the table till they were nearly nose-to-nose. "Duo, did you see how much this fondewy* stuff costs?" He could tell by the look in her eyes she was holding back shrieking but only barely.
Beside him, he heard Heero snicker softly. "Is it still your treat when it's seventy-five American dollars for a meal for two?" the Japanese man asked. If Duo didn't know better, he'd almost think Heero was teasing him. He had to resist the urge to check himself for a fever. Heero never kidded or joked around.
He grinned and winked at each of them in turn. "I think I left something in the car..." Well, he had, apparently: his sense of judgment.
Usagi covered her laughter with an almost polite cough. "You know, I think I hear my cell phone ringing..."
They slid out of their respective sides of the booth and reached over to grab one of Heero's arms each. "And you have the car keys," Duo finished as he and Usagi tugged Heero from the restaurant.
* * * * *
God, he'd nearly forgotten about that.
When had that been? During that vacation to America Usagi's (always mysterious) guardian funded, he was pretty sure. It was the summer after the Christmas War*, and it had been good to just relax, and if someone else was willing to foot the bill, all the better. It had been amusing to him to watch how Heero reacted to Usagi's antics as she tried to bring him out of his shell. Now that he really thought back, he'd been trying to do the same thing. It was kind of funny how that turned around now.
* * * * *
"Don't go all Heero on me, okay?"
She grinned impishly. "Ninmu--" She burst out laughing before she could finish, mostly because Duo starting tickling her.
After she was gasping for breath and nearly blue in the face, he finally let up. "So, Usagi, what's for breakfast?"
"You're always thinking about food."
"Ecchi," she accused, still grinning widely.
"Who? Me? Never. So what's for breakfast, Usagi? And please don't say rice or anything like that because I swear that's all Wufei eats and--"
* * * * *
Yes, those were the early days of their fight against Thanatos, when it had seemed that it'd all be over in a few hours. It was definitely before the true horror of the whole mess they'd gotten themselves into had started to present itself.
He could feel exhaustion beginning to tug at him. It had been a hard month for them after all. Even the One Year War didn't really compare; it, at least, had been spread out over the course of twelve months.
* * * * *
A soft snore indicated that Duo had finally gone to sleep. Good, he needed it. The American had seemed like he was running on fumes. He had to have been exhausted, especially after what he'd seen tonight. He certainly could forgive Duo's freaking out like this; he'd felt pretty close to it himself when he realized what had happened. And it certainly wasn't any easier for him to talk to - or even look at! - Amaterasu, but he was forcing it aside for now. They had a mission to complete for now, and they would most assuredly need her help to complete it.
And in the meantime, he and Duo could try to hold onto the hope, no matter how false it may seem, that one day they might get their Usagi back. It would be enough to get them through what was left of this war. Then, if their hope turned out to be false, they could deal with it from there.
* Usagi is trying to say "fondue" here. Understand now what I meant in the dedications about the sneaking out now? ^_~ This happened to Ryoko and I on 23 March 2004. We've both since started working it into stories.
* Okay, I've never seen anything official for what the war in the series and then the Endless Waltz war were called. I know it's a bit late to be explaining it now, but for all my GundamW fiction I've called the series war the "One Year War" and the Endless Waltz war the "Christmas War". Sorry about the delay in the explanation.
28 March 2004
And here's another new part of Gods and Other Creatures. This part has been more of a challenge than the previous two chapters, but now - thank the gods - it's done.
The title of this side story comes from the song "Man of Steel", by
Meat Loaf, off the new album Couldn't Have Said It Better. The part of
the song in particular that I'm using is as follows:
"And I fall apart at the seams
It seems that I always, always fall apart
But as strong as I am
Why can't I break your heart?
I remember how it used to be
Making love to you all night long
I used to take you in my arms
And hold you there till all your fears were gone
I used to be a man of steel
I used to be a man of steel"
As always, feedback is welcome. If you are reading this on FanFiction.net, MediaMiner.org, Live Journal, or Greatest Journal, please feel free to leave a comment, or you can feel free to email me. If you're reading this on DarkMagick.net or MysticalLegends.net, please feel free to send me an email. If you send an email, I will try to respond within a few days.