Part 3

Crown of Love

Duo Maxwell walked to his apartment and scaled the stairs of wrought iron in the dead of night only a few hours after the assassination of the queen. Not even the stone walls dared to breathe, in anticipation of the world's reaction that coming morning. The streetlights dimmed, the stars hid themselves, weeping, and the elevator malfunctioned, sending one tired soldier up the stairs. Not that he really knew it. He saw instead, vivid and bloody red in his mind, Alexander being thrown from Bucephalus in the heat of battle, Joan of Arc pierced by merciless British arrow, American soldiers dying a smoldering death in the dense shadow of the Ardennes, Germans striding over their smoking carcasses to victory. The gentle dove of peace had been brutally murdered and reduced to memory, and Duo found himself again standing at war's gruesome doorstep, cheated by God. He'd been there before, and he'd earned the right to never open it again, but he also realized time cared little for what mankind deserved and God had turned the other cheek before.

He turned the key in the lock and it opened. Duo did not care to glance behind him before sealing himself into his apartment—what good was an old soldier's habit on this day, when nothing could accompany the sun tomorrow but war and its senseless repetition? A shadow within his darkened home, he stepped inside, uncharacteristically silent.

The lights remained down and a square of timid white moonlight rested just below the window, the color of a skeleton on the floorboards. He stopped after closing the door behind him, still beleaguered by images of warriors falling in battle, heroes who would have brought peace and lasting welfare but now collapsed in bleeding, heaving corpses on the ground in his mind.

The world had become a coffin, and like trapped air, time was winding down ever so painfully around him, eroding. How long could even this fragile peace last without a shield, without its delicate upholder, from the fangs of those who had never seen battle and were foolish enough to seek it? And what would happen then? The soldiers were still weary from the last war, for fuck's sake! Some were just getting out of the hospital or being put in the ground now, only a few months after the Christmas Day coup d'état. Peace had been green again, and growing.

And one motherfucking shit wallowing in self-pity had obliterated that on one asinine whim—threw away thousands of lives because he couldn't face up to his maker just yet. In one idiotic move, he had rendered the deaths of every loved one in the war totally worthless. Debased all of Duo's memories, negated Father Maxwell and Sister Helen's sacrifice. He was so selfish it made him sick.

Duo sighed sharply and hurled his keys off into the darkness, not caring where they landed. Not like he could stay here for much longer now, anyway. The entire coffin seemed to flinch at this sudden, violent motion.

"Fuck it," he breathed, still standing motionless at the door. "What is anything fucking worth?" He whirled, swearing passionately, and kicked the wall so hard his toes throbbed afterward.

But Duo's mind was distant, consumed instead by the feeling of death hanging overhead. The air was apocalyptic and stale and he knew that the sun would soon rise and bring what they all feared. The unpredicatable morn. He stood there for an immeasurable amount of time. He was lost in his own mind while it tried to make sense of the senselessness of the world, all before sunrise. It was then, as reality slowly dragged him back, that he realized he was staring at a pair of very familiar looking sneakers, politely lined up next to the doormat.

He did not move for another moment, then lifted his head, staring into the darkened shadows and somehow knowing where this polite intruder would be. He was led by his disheartened intuition sitting in the pit of his stomach to his bedroom doorway. The coffin was silent, more silent than Duo had ever heard in his life, and he stepped like it would be his last.

The door was open, letting the shadows flow uninhibited from room to room. And wrapped up in this unending ribbon of black, broken only by skeletal white and the faintest blue grace from the moonlight, sat one of those soldiers who hovered somewhere between the battlefield and the grave, meditating on the end of Duo's bed. He remained there, eyes averted to the floorboards as if he had been waiting for Duo for a long, long time, tired and distant. Maybe even since the Queen had died.

Duo called Heero's name on instinct so tiredly he barely breathed, but he still lifted his head. Painted by the patterns of light and dark in Duo's room, he looked like a memory, a fading image of something that had been. That thought made a shiver creep down Duo's spine, full of dread if that was to be all their fates, and the expression in his comrade's eyes filled his body with countless more.

It took him much longer than he thought to find his voice. "What are you doing here, Heero?" he asked, and his tone was much more lifeless than he expected. "Where the hell have you been all this time? We've been fucking nuts trying to find you."

When he gave no response except for the stare of his ghostly blue eyes, hesitating as the emotion in his face changed slowly, Duo sighed and scoffed, ready to kick off his own shoes and collapse in bed and forget he himself had ever existed. "Nice of you to tell us where the fuck you went the day the fucking queen died, you know. Hell if you need us lowly mortals."

Heero suddenly made a movement Duo had never seen before and he paused, surprised and unsure of what he had witnessed. The Wing pilot sat on the edge of the bed so delicately he might have been nothing more an eerie hallucination, his worried mouth set tragically as he couldn't form the words to respond, and flinched at Duo's accusation, hanging his head so he could hide the miniscule movement he made. Tiny, but real. The timid creature that could not be Heero Yuy hung his head, distraught within an emotion that Heero Yuy never showed and never had.

Duo felt a mysterious pain in his chest, and in his distant daze, did not realize it was heartache.

"Heero?"

The sound of his name carried through the air heavier than stone itself, and Duo could not breathe when this mysterious creature again repeated that tiny, reluctant movement. Heero wiped a hand beneath his eye, radiating the quiet shame of what he'd done. Duo could see in that foreign movement that it was what he hadn't done that had brought him here in the dead of this apocalyptic night, blinding seeking something too long gone to seek.

"D-Duo," he managed out, this impossible image of Heero Yuy, before his breath hitched. "I'm sorry. I didn't know where to go."

He looked up at Duo now. His gaze was a knife that pinned his heart to the wall, throbbing in grief. "Ah, shit, man," Duo let out in a groan, realizing it was not a cruel beam of moonlight that painted the red in his comrade's eyes. Something like a disease made him gape, then stammer out an ineffectual sound that could not form a word. It fell away from him and into the tension between them. Heero watched his lips vainly grope, then quit and Duo look bewildered, pinned again to where he stood. He looked away again and his head hung a little lower.

Duo wanted so badly now to speak, but the image of those blue eyes had robbed him of his voice and now that it returned at their aversion, he was at a barbaric loss of what to say. What to say to this, a ghost of his comrade, his blood brother, and distant temptation that wept in his darkened room?

He looked straight through me there, over Relena's dying body. Straight through me and into the tomorrow morning. He saw it, just as I can see it, and we share the same terrible pain of that knowledge. Looked straight through me like he was already dead, dying with her. Jesus Christ, why doesn't he quit staring like that?

And so the words left his mouth as a quiet consolation. "It wasn't your fault."

Heero flinched at this, looking equally as wounded as if Duo had screamed at him, with his bottomless blue eyes turning up towards him and shining illegally. Duo had to wonder if he had heard blame in his mind, tinted by the terrible responsibility tarnished in his soul, and again watched the impossible image look away. Silence followed, the most pained and helpless sound possible at that moment.

He couldn't even answer Duo. He couldn't even see him there anymore.

He's there now, going back to her, back to when we all thought we had cheated death for one last, glorious time, and death proved us wrong. He's a thousand miles away from here. And he may never come back.

Duo knew then what had to be done, what Heero had come for, searching so lost. The silence could not be allowed to spread, to fester in such a horribly intelligent and perceptive mind. Heero Yuy was the possibly the strongest, brightest human being the race had ever known—but he was just that, a human, and the weight of death destroyed indiscriminately. He knew what was needed of him, and he had, really since he'd seen that tragic face, deep in the pit of his stomach, but that solution was behind a door Duo had never dared to open before. It required an intimacy and truth he could not bear before Heero, to unlock a closely barred door and render himself an equally pathetic creature, forlorn and helpless.

He could not let it go, could not admit to himself just how young he still was, just how much he wanted to live, when he'd spent a lifetime forced into old age and resignation to death. He could not willingly open up that vulnerable part of him and surrender to it. It would consume him. So he didn't.

"Damn it," he hissed to himself. Even when he wept, full of shame, Heero was always stronger, always frustratingly perfect. He was hardened by war, but he still somehow retained that gentler, kinder nature, untarnished. He had not lost his humanity like Duo had, knocked around by life, and shunned it for once and all. He could still cry. Duo envied it terribly.

And while he wept to himself, light years removed on the foot of his bed, Duo kicked off his shoes, letting them fall in the darkness where they would, and walked past Heero to his side the bed. The red numbers glowing there, counting the approach of the apocalyptic morn, stared up at him, punching him in the hole in his heart Heero's stare had already torn.

He threw it as hard as he could in the wall with a deafening crack, then sat down on the mattress. Not sparing a glance to the stone-like figure at the foot of the bed, he laid down, staring lifelessly into the wall, refusing to further acknowledge a goddamned thing. His shoulders did not move, his lips pinched together in a blank grimace, and hair gently resting in his eyes, his braided tail arched on the blankets beside him, alone.

A pair of loath prophets, the weeping and the silent, remained still for what was to them immeasurable amounts of time, until the weeping one lifted his heavy head and turned to look at the other.

Heero, redden eyes halfway obscured by his shock of dark hair, let out a soft hitch of breath as he opened his mouth. He spoke as if he would break his voice if he lifted it any more, and called Duo's name. In that same, wrenching way, pulling Duo's heart unwillingly towards him.

"Duo."

He only laid there in response, staring fiercer at the wall.

Heero hesitated, pursing his lips to gather strength, and did it again.

Duo was not strong enough to resist his call, but he was stubborn enough to refuse it. Instead of answering to that voice, to the man to whom he owed his life and whose life he was owed in return, he rolled onto his stomach and tried to force himself into unconsciousness or preferably an eternal sleep. The broken clock lay on the floor, its partially glowing red lights flashing in distress in the corner, and moonlight pouring in, without remorse, through the opposing window.

"Duo."

Finally, he let out a growl of a voice. "What is it?"

Now Heero's voice broke and he keened out, "Duo."

Don't do this to him. Don't do this to yourself.

Duo, afraid, turned to look at him and found he was not at the foot of the bed, he was climbing onto it, intercepting him as he turned over to sit up and throwing his arms around him. Heero pushed him back with the force of his arms desperately clutching his shoulders, falling together onto the mattress, putting his face into the crook of his neck, pressing it into the blankets, furthest away from the crushing weight of reality he could manage. Duo felt himself pressed fully against him, choked by shock. For a moment, he lay there. And when Heero's shoulders began to move so painfully up and down, he buried himself in return, wrapping his arms grievously around his waist and clutching at his back. Hot breath ran down his spine as Heero grimaced, crying.

"It wasn't our fault," he whispered, feeling his barred door splintering and opening. He felt it all at once now—the horrific grief of Relena's expression, the thousands of little deaths he'd suffered to be alive now, the overwhelming betrayal of peace being forcibly ripped from them—and felt his heart break again.

The hope of humanity was lying in his arms, weeping like a child, and so was he. But that was what they were. They were still just children, and the world was large and cruel.

Heero's heat touched flush against him, tangled and touching from head to toe, and Duo now realized how cold it was in his coffin of an apartment, how the prospect of the future loomed over him. The other pilot shivered, trying to bury himself within Duo, and turned his head, hiding it beneath his chin as he spoke. "But it happened," he said, voice gravelly from crying in his silent, torturous way.

Duo squeezed his arms around him and shut his eyes tightly. "Yes, it did." The words stung so bad to speak aloud, but Heero's voice was wrenching.

"We were so close. We had made it."

He nodded, and moved a hand up to the side of Heero's face, holding it closer to his neck. As if they could just fall into each other and never have to see the world outside again. "We'll still make it. Come on, we'll be fine," he said, convincing no one.

"She depended on me. And I let her die. She didn't deserve to die like that."

"You didn't let her die, Heero," Duo said sharply, clutching him harder and pressing the side of his face against his forehead. "Don't fucking say that. Don't fucking pull that guilt trip on anybody. She died. It happened. Shit happens."

Heero snorted, the breath running shivers up and down Duo's spine as it ran gently down the length of his neck, and smiled surprisingly against him. "Only you could say such a depressing thing and make it feel so reassuring, Duo Maxwell." And then he laughed tiredly.

Nestling closer, the two reluctant prophets lay closely together, anchoring themselves desperately to each other. Duo felt Heero's breath running rhythmically over his skin, fluttering the stray strands of hair beneath his ear and closed his eyes, simply breathing in return. Heero's shoulders still trembled now and again, but Duo would hitch his brow and squeeze his arms, pushing it away. They agreed without communication to avoid any thought of bleeding doves or impending catastrophe and lie together, and they did. It was an eternity before the silence was broken again.

"Do you really think we can hold off Time?" Heero whispered suddenly, waking him from their grieving stillness. "Tomorrow will come, no matter how much we don't want it to come. You know that, Duo."

He closed his eyes again and put his arms around Heero's neck and answered grimly, whispering just below his ear, "Yeah, I do. But we'll face the morning together." He let out a sigh that betrayed his true age. "So let's make it last."


September 2nd, AC 197

The World Sphere

VICE FOREIGN MINISTER RELENA DARLIAN SHOT DEAD

PEACE BROKEN?


"The fickle finger of fate. With what motive does it choose whom it smears out of existence?"

Fin


Author's Notes: If anyone was expecting a fabulous political thriller and wonderful mutlipart drama about the world after Relena's death... well, now you know better! This was an experimental fic (which is only a warning that it's subject to my twisted imagination and very little filter) and meant to be an emotional snapshot of a "what-if" situation. It focused even more on the dread of waiting on the eve of something terrible and not knowing what's coming next. There's no definite answer to what happens after her death, either. I purposely avoided descriptions of Relena's body, or writing any kind of a eulogy for her, because it's not really about the loss of her life -- it's about emphasizing Heero and Duo and the other pilots as they really are, young and afraid despite it all, so I kind of used Relena as nothing more than a stimuli for the plot. Don't get me wrong, I respect her character, so I made sure her death had a very profound and important effect, even though you don't get to see what it is, but I did sort of enjoy killing her off. :) The chapters are very disjointed to make it seem like time is blurring by without their control, and besides, short chapters that pack a punch don't take a month a piece to churn out, which is nice. ; This story has been simmering on my hard drive for a while, and I still had the mind to finish it, so I wrote it when I felt frustrated with other stories. The title is Japanese for "Peace," and the last chappy name is a song off Arcade Fire's (frickin awesome) album, Funeral. Hope you enjoyed it and here's some soundtrack.

"Everybody Hurts" & "Sweetness Follows" by R.E.M.

"Give You Back" by Vertical Horizon

"Truth is a Whisper" by the Goo Goo Dolls