Souls Disappear in the Snow- GW fanfic
Masamune Reforged '06

Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing or any of the characters therein.
Warnings: yaoi (established 3x4, developing 1x2 and 5x2, angst, violence, supernatural, cursing, death?(see chapter 5 and 6 notes)
Archive: Anyone that wishes to archive this fic is welcome to.
Comments: to MasamuneEHShotmail

Part 10 - Frostbitten

Duo woke me up before sunrise. It was my least favorite part of the day, that lingering moment of transition. It was the time I felt the weakest, disconnected from everything. In the early hours the sharp detail of reality and the clairvoyant illusion of dreams blend seamlessly. Where memory and fantasy lie is hard to differentiate. I bolted up, absolutely awake the moment Duo woke me with a gentle shake and a soft voice. I trembled as I looked around the dark room. It was freezing.

I had had a dream. I was roaming the tundra, racing swiftly despite the icy wind harassing my face. I was hunting. I had dreamed that I was hunting Duo, schlepping a gigantic bow and arrow set over my shoulder. I had followed many tracks, some human and others wolf. Finally, I was almost upon my prey. But coming upon him I found that he was not alone.

A small wax candle burned low in a lantern that creaked as Duo held it. Right next to me lay Heero, still asleep.

I had dreamed that Heero had held a gun to my head. I could recall the vision as if it had actually recently happened, engraved in fresh memory. Sinister, insane cobalt eyes bore down on me, smirking, aiming the nozzle at my forehead. Heero was smiling… his form flickering in heat generated by the great fireplace in the mansion, the contours immeasurable and almost malleable.

My mouth curled up into a frown, and through clenched teeth I muttered to Duo, "What time is it?"

"Time to get the fuck out of here," Duo's face was deathly pale in the half-light, but he was smiling vibrantly. He looked as if he had been awake for a long time, slowly warming up to the sunless morning. "Those women were quite a show. I never knew you enjoyed that kind of company Wu-man." Duo's grin seemed plastered to his face, as if invisible strings curled his lips. "They kept us up almost all night asking the same fucking questions about Hollywood movies and pop idols. Like they were infatuated with us."

"Wouldn't the idea of the outside world absolutely crush you if this was the dirty piece of ice you lived on?" I asked through parched lips. "There anything to drink?"

The American turned away from me, and then produced a lightly frosted canteen. "I filled them up so we can get a quick start." Duo threw the water at me. "I know what being poor and miserable is like, trust me on that one. Takes all you've got just to get to the next day. But still, those women were absolute psychos. That fat girl tried to get me to sleep with her, showed me her choch when I was using the shitter. Fuckin' gruesome… Then all night I felt like I was being groped and fucked with in my sleep… Although, of course, that could have just been you or Heero."

I was preparing a sharp comeback when Heero suddenly stirred. I should have known the slightest noise would wake him, and part of me wondered how long he'd been laying there, aware. "I knew I had a good dream," He smirked, a rare sight that I thought might have been a figment of the poor lighting.

Duo's content, smug look never faded. "Let's get the fuck outta Dodge," He said.

- - - - -

The trek home was, by and large, pleasant. Even if the freezing air burned my lungs as I took in each breath, I appreciated it somewhat. The musty smell of the mansion, the heavy layer of dust, seemed to be shaken off finally, like a tree after shedding its dead leaves.

Heero and Duo were going through quite a change too. Duo had been acting strangely during the time we were forced to hide from OZ, and his bizarre behavior had escalated in frequency and intensity after the crash. But now, it was the old, grinning and joking Duo Maxwell.

All along the way back, Duo and Heero talked loudly, their voices carrying over the surprisingly serene tundra. The wind that had swept the mansion for so many days seemed to have never existed. The only sign that it had ever come was the countless snow dunes, which I knew must have been originally formed by the great gales heaving messes of snow until they formed a pile. The valleys and hills, all equally frozen solid, captivated me for half the journey.

I did my best to not be anti-social. Duo was constantly cracking jokes and bubbling excitedly about stuff we'd not even thought about since our ill-fated arrival. His favorite restaurant on L2, his recordings of music he stowed in a secret compartment on the Deathsycthe, the war, and what we might all do when it ended… I laughed along with him and Heero, weakly, sometimes wondering if we hadn't already lost the war. It had been months since we'd fought any kind of battle against Romafeller or OZ. But, I was mostly preoccupied with the two brown haired pilots walking in front of me.

As I hung back, Heero's laughter seemed to drift to me, ringing gaily in my ears. The Perfect Soldier would reply, sometimes even with, and I marveled at, a joke or witty remark. Immediately, as if signaled by the mere sound of Heero's voice, Duo would break out into laughter or keep the conversation going with an incredibly fast mouth and excited answers that seemed to spring out of a part of him that had been dormant for a long time.

I thought I hardly recognized the two. Didn't they always fight? Didn't they always get on each other's nerves? I knew I hadn't hallucinated the many scuffles where Duo would almost break down in tears while Heero calmly threatened to murder him. How then could they simply wake up one day and ignore all their differences and past conflicts? … Yes, of course they were attracted to each other. Both were handsome young men… but… was it that strong? … Was it love?

I started to wonder what Duo saw in Heero… and didn't see in me…

"Yo Wufei!" I looked up. Duo and Heero had gotten a considerable distance ahead of me. They had stopped and turned around, Duo calling out, "Get the lead out! We're almost back!"

I jogged to catch up, and when I reached the top of the dune where they were waiting, Duo was nearly in tears and hysterically laughing at the same time, apparently from something Heero had just said.

"What's so funny?" I asked, my voice sounding dead and irritated. Heero glared at me menacingly. It certainly wasn't his gentleness that made Duo fond of him…

Duo wiped tears from his face, cheeks red from lack of breath and the low temperature. By the time he had composed himself, I could clearly see that Heero obviously would prefer if I had hung back for the entire journey. Duo straightened up, smiling at Heero, then at me. Then he said, "Heero just asked me out to dinner."

"What's so funny about that?" I automatically spat. A rush of emotion, all ugly and twisted by my own bitter thoughts, blasted me. Nevertheless I registered a plastic-like smile, as if it really was a joke. But, from the horrible grimace on Heero's angry countenance, I knew he had seriously just asked Duo out on a date.

"Nothing… nothing… hehe," Duo could hardly keep back laughter as he brushed the last remnants of moisture from his amethyst eyes. "It… it was just the way he said it… Ha. Guess you had to be there for it… Oh wow. Hehe..."

I shrugged, but the jealousy and bitterness were burning in the deepest depths of my soul. I wanted to grab the smirking Deathscythe pilot and kiss him, open-mouthed and passionately, right in front of Heero. I wanted to kick Heero in the face. And still, a large part of me just wanted to disappear altogether. Still, I tried to make a joke:

"Guess you can have a nice dinner next time you two go back to that settlement," My voice was strained, but the terrible anger was snuffed under my mask of mirth. I grinned and asked Heero, "You have a reservation with those lovely ladies for when?"

"Three or four days," The Japanese youth mumbled, so softly I almost missed him. I thought my ears were playing tricks on me. "That's when I'm going back there."

My questions were answered for me, as Duo noticed the surprise on my face. "Guess you were straggling too far back to hear… When Heero went searching through the outskirts, he found a man with a small runway and a hangar." I coughed. Duo continued, "The plane wasn't there, but Heero managed to press the owner for some information." At this, he gave Heero a meaningful look and chuckled, "So it looks like we'll have our own private flight out of this place in just a couple of days."

I could hardly believe it. We were… leaving… in just a few days! I took a deep breath of air, just to see if the cold burn was the same. It tasted and felt just as it always had, stinging yet refreshing. The time had come.

"Actually," Heero started to speak, and I turned to him. "The plane is going to be back in a few days, but apparently it might not be ready for some time."

"How's that?" I wondered aloud. A part of me sneered… leave it to Duo to hype up our hopes, just to see us helplessly wallow about and wait for some cock-eyed plan to fail.

"The pilot is bringing the plane back from the last trip of the year," Heero informed me. "The owner said that he doesn't plan to send out any more flights until next spring, when the darkness lifts. The plane is a very old model, and it needs to be serviced before it takes off again… And also, the 'dark' months are supposed to be here soon." Heero frowned and said, "The guy said for some reason the winter looks like it will be longer than normal."

I looked up. The sun was already retreating to the crest of the western horizon. You could count the number of day-lit hours on one hand recently. Indeed, the days had been progressively getting shorter and shorter. I tried to imagine a day without sunshine… Entire months of darkness…

"Heero doesn't believe the guy," Duo smiled, still so hopeful. "About the plane needing service."

"He just doesn't want to lend it to us," Heero scowled at the thought. "Even after I explained told him what happened, he stubbornly refused to give it to us… But, in a few days I'll come back to change his mind." On this ominous note, Heero suddenly turned around and walked over the crest of the snow bank. I followed, and saw, after passing over the summit, that the mansion was now in sight.

- - - - -

Even though Duo was the one that despised being trapped in the musty old building the most, he broke out into a sprint once the snowcapped towers came into view. Heero and I approached the house from the kitchen's side. The door to the kitchen was buried under heavy mounds of white, but one of the windows was open, and the scent of cooking and Duo's voice drifted out, welcoming us. I slid in rather easily, and was greeted by a stench that immediately drew my eyes to the stove. I wondered if Trowa, who was standing there with a torn, silly-looking apron on, knew what he was doing. The meat was charred black.

"…and then Wufei and I heard this ghost story from an Indian about an ancient demon that haunted the area around here, but the house we stayed in was a shit hole, and some people were total head cases and didn't seem to like outsiders, but it wasn't a hard trip at all, a pretty nice vacation actually, although we'd probably have a hard time getting there and back in one day, Trowa, are you listening?" Duo had been going on excitedly about our excursion to the Inuit settlement, but Trowa apparently had stopped listening somewhere along the line. Who could blame him? Duo's ramblings were stifling.

The Heavyarms pilot was dressed in long sleeves, but had them rolled up to his elbows. He had creases under his eyes, as if he had been sleepless for many nights in a row. He limped heavily on the leg that he had injured when venturing outside. But, since he was up and about, it couldn't be a very serious wound. Trowa cut a deep slice in the coal-black meat, and sighed heavily, "Inside's still raw…"

I was going to ask Trowa what kind of meat needed to be burned to Hell and back before it was properly prepared. Before I could speak, Heero sputtered out: "What happened to all the guns?"

Trowa kept his eye on the stove, but softly answered, "Destroyed." He paused and took a long breath, like one about to dive into a story when lacking the heart to discuss such topics, but he simply said, "Quatre."

"What about the one he keeps for… protection?" I asked, hesitating because, after all, Trowa was the reason Quatre had felt it necessary to arm himself. Was Quatre trying to get some kind of edge over all of us? Duo sat in a corner, suddenly silent. Heero was taking off his top parka, dusting snow on the ground.

"He said they were a hazard," Trowa's voice was distant, strangely choked. Even his facial expressions depressed me. "And… I agree."

"It isn't likely that we'd need all of them," Heero commented. "But I don't like the idea of being out here with no way to defend ourselves." Both Duo and I nodded in unison. I knew it wasn't probable that we would be attacked by outside forces in this desolate location… I wondered what kind of enemy Heero was thinking about… "He shouldn't have left us defenseless."

Heero wasn't defenseless. He still had his handgun from before we'd came here. I asked, "Are all the guns gone?"

Trowa didn't answer, but something flickered in his emerald eyes, and he looked from Heero, to Duo, to me. His lips curled into a frown, and for some reason, I felt his fear. Fear of what, I could not be sure. Finally, he turned off the stove, pushed the meat and its acrid fumes away to the side of the counter and said, "You'll have lots of questions… Come on…" He turned and limped away, leaving the three of us startled, but eager to follow.

- - - - -

First thing coming first, Heero and I shed the thick layers of clothing that had saved our skins from freezing during the perilous journey. I was very happy to be home, but the curiosity in my gut roused by Trowa's hintings kept a dark shroud on my thoughts. I was also less than thrilled by the prospect of Duo and Heero having a nice, romantic evening together somewhere down the line. God damn it...

I cursed Yuy as I watched him pull off the last of his sweaters, the woolen fabric pulling up his undershirt and revealing a tan, muscled stomach that looked as if the sculptor of the David had chiseled it out of the finest stone. Unconsciously, I patted my own front, feeling the lean and hard skin with stinging cold fingers. I was in good shape, but no six-pack… I felt myself flare with jealousy, just as a very odd and foreign noise reached my ears. I thought the sound might have been a figment of my imagination.

Laughter?

I looked at Heero, to see if he'd heard it too. But he was putting his boots back on and was slightly surprised to see me staring at him. His nimble fingers fumbled on the soaked shoelaces and he shot me a dirty look, like it was my fault. I could feel him trying to block me out as his dark blue eyes returned to the laces. It wasn't anything new, actually. Heero had been snubbing me on purpose for a while now, passing me without a word, averting his gaze. He was the only person who refused to play me in chess. Even Duo would play from time to time, and Duo sucked at chess.

He stood up slowly, finally bringing his eyes to meet mine, with an evident, almost hostile tint of dread and grudging. It always made me smirk, knowing I had this kind of effect on him. But, today was a little different. Today Heero returned my smile with one of his own, a confident, knowing smile. My jaw clenched, my nostrils flared. But, instead, I just turned away.

Heero and I hurried to catch up with Duo and Trowa. We found them at the entrance to the main library. The door was open and the flickering glimmer from a roaring fire framed a very surprised Duo in the doorway, outlined by the crimson flare. The clear sound of laughter floated out into the hallways, assaulting the dark passageways that had been devoid of such merriment for ages. Then I noticed there were two sets of laughing voices. And although I had never heard Trowa laugh, I did not think it was his voice.

Heero pushed Duo into the room to see what all of the commotion was about. I nearly had to shove both the Perfect Soldier and the cheery American into the library, for he stopped almost immediately upon entering. I peeked over Duo's shoulder and also froze.

Quatre was laughing merrily, running around the room with what appeared to be a toy soldier in his hand. Chasing him, also squealing in delight, was a young boy with very long blond hair.

"What… the… fuck…?" Duo gagged out the mutual feeling for all three of us. Heero recovered fastest, moving deeper into the dusty library. His face returned to its usual, stony form, and he casually glanced around the room, eyes finally falling on another stranger, a blond girl who was poking a gigantic mound of dust and debris in a corner of the room.

Heero's voice was not as calm as his mask; he called out suspiciously, "Quatre?" The blonde stopped running, the young boy slamming into him at full force, knocking the soldier from his grasp. As Quatre turned to face us, the boy let out a delighted whoop and pounced on the toy, sending up loud giggles and sound effects like a GI Joe toy. He began to smash at the fallen toy soldier with one of his own.

"It's good to see you back." Quatre smiled. His voice was soft, not half as harsh or angry as he had taken to speaking with during the past few days. I wondered if he had made up with Trowa?

I turned my focus back to the strange new boy. He was actually almost as tall as Quatre was, but very thin and gangly. He had a very light moustache, the same color as his hair. I was only able to notice this small detail in the dim light of the library because the boy's skin was a sharply different color than his fair, scrawny locks. It was blanched and disgustingly pale white. I might have thought the teen boy was gravely ill if he hadn't jumped to his feet with a soft laugh, toy soldier in hand. He continued to zoom around the room, darting around the numerous empty shelves.

Quatre looked at the three of us standing there expectantly. Heero's cool façade didn't fool the Arab's perception. The Sandrock pilot gave us a meaningful nod, and, before Duo could voice the first of many obvious questions, called out:

"Hey Trowa! Is the food ready yet?" Quatre asked this with enthusiasm.

Across the room, near the little girl, Trowa simply nodded and began walking back to the door that lead to the kitchen. Quatre cupped his hands to his mouth and, taking a deep breath, shouted, "Jorgen! Hey Jorgen!" A voice imitating pistol shots giggled out from the furthest end of the library, where no one had ever taken the time to install any sort of lights. The bookshelves back there had been toppled to the floor, splintered and broken. But the boy didn't come until Quatre had called his name twice more.

The young boy, Jorgen, finally came running, and without even glancing at any of us, jumped at Quatre and tugged his arm, begging him to come play in a sing-song voice, "Please please please Quatre! Just a few more minutes! I wanna play War with you again!"

Quatre shook his head; smile never fading as he coaxed the energetic youth, "Sorry Jorgen, we'll play more later. Yes, I promise. Come on, go to Trowa and get something to eat with Svetlana." Jorgen ran over to where Trowa was standing with the blonde girl, and Quatre called, "Svetlana! Go eat with your brother." So much like a mother…

But Svetlana remained immovable over the pile of dust and woodchips. She methodically poked the heap with a stick every few seconds. Trowa also tried rousing her, but she didn't respond. Then, her brother called her name:

"Svetlana!"

She dropped the stick, stood straight up.

"Svetlana!"

She looked over in our direction. I heard Heero let out a hiss from in-between clenched teeth. The girl had about half a dozen different scars and welts on her face and neck. Her green eyes were filled with a detached emerald film, and she was trembling and seemed on the very verge of tears. I had no idea what could frighten her so.

But Jorgen called her over, "Come eat!" And she began to walk over with Trowa, never moving more than a foot away from his side. She appeared to be 10 or 11 and only reached the tall acrobat's elbows.

They walked out of the room to eat. What I presumed to be their meal could only have been the terrible looking meat Trowa had been butchering earlier. I felt sorry for the young children. Yes, they were still children, even though the boy was most likely only slightly younger than us. The reminder came to my mind slowly, as it always seemed to; that's right, most people my age are still, more or less, children.

A volley of questions assaulted Quatre, but the general theme of the inquiry was, "Where did these strangers come from?"

The Winner heir took a deep breath and at first only said, "We found them." He paused, and his aquamarine gaze rested on Duo. "We found them in a hidden room below the cellar."

Quatre had to wait another few minutes before the collective uproar from Heero, Duo and myself died down. After promising to tell the whole story, he sat down in a chair near the fire and began:

"After you all left I was sleeping still. I had a dream." His voice was low and hushed, as if he feared unfriendly ears. "I… I don't remember it… but it woke me up. I couldn't fall back to sleep. Something just wouldn't let me. It was like the feeling you get when you think somebody is calling your name, but they're just too far away still, you can't hear them yet… I went to get something to eat, but the feeling kept getting stronger. I'd check on Trowa, and he was still asleep, but I knew I had heard them. The voices sounded scared and angry and… and I just had to search for them."

"Trowa woke up and found me still looking. He helped, despite his leg. He wouldn't listen to me when I said that he should still stay off of it for a few days. We got to the stairway to the cellar and… and… I thought I could feel something, something strong and desperate. It wasn't in the cellar though, at least we couldn't get to it from there."

"There was a trap door in one of the closets in the hallway off of the main library. It led to a part of the cellar I'd never seen before. We found another trap door there, leading down into the building's sub-structure." Quatre grimaced, loath to recall the sight he eventually forced himself to describe, "They were in this huge room, in cages. Locked in a cage together… The other bodi… people… they… they were all there too."

"Was it like the diary described?" Heero asked. I thought about the deluded ramblings of the criminal who had been driven mad by cabin fever and suspicion of his own scummy partners. The passages had seemed something out of a gruesome horror story. Who could have possibly believed it?

Quatre met the cold Prussian blue eyes and nodded, "Exactly. And I got Jorgen to talk a little about the kidnappers. A lot of names and descriptions match the memoir."

"The others are all dead then..." I thought aloud.

"Guess ol' Maxwell isn't as insane as everyone thought, huh?" Duo spat sourly.

At this, Heero turned to his braided desire and said, "I'm sorry for doubting you Duo." I almost spat in disgust. So fucking dramatic Yuy… But, as I saw the Deathscythe pilots' features soften and the burning anger subside in his indigo eyes, I also knew Heero had struck a nerve.

"Seriously," Heero pressed, putting a hand on Duo's shoulder and turning the black-clad youth so their eyes met. "I just couldn't understand how it was possible that you could know something like that was happening." I turned away and pretended to pay them no mind. "I'll believe in you from here on out," Heero continued, softly and sincerely.

"Then the two are the only survivors?" I turned my attention on Quatre.

"Thank you Heero," Duo whispered.

"Yes..." Quatre's smile had faded since the children left. The signs of stress and wear suddenly became visible in him. He slumped in the seat and muttered, "There are still some of their remains down there."

"We should at least bury whatever's left," Duo said.

"It will be quite a bit of work just to get under that snow," I pointed out grimly. "In the summer it will all melt and then, unless we reach the dirt now…"

"You want to just leave them then?" Duo glared at me with a disgusted scowl.

"We'll do what we can to give them a proper burial," Heero broke in, sending another warning stare at me. "But if we don't finish before the plane is ready, I don't want to compromise our situation any more."

Quatre's brows crinkled. He asked, hope sliding into his tired body, "What plane?"

- - - - -

We told our story about the Inuit settlement and how Heero planned on coercing the old transporter into letting us borrow his plane in a few days. All of our spirits were visibly lifted as we spoke about our escape. We even discussed some plans to recover the Gundams and get in contact with the scientists. Duo was so excited that he even threw in the shaman's lore-tale about the Wendigo demon. As he concluded the story, he added, "…and Wufei actually believed the whole thing, even after always denying that ghosts or Shinigami don't exist."

"I never admitted-" I started to protest, but the energetic orphan carried on:

"Oh! But your expression was fucking priceless Wu-man!" Duo grinned from ear to ear. "You fell for that story hook-line-and-sinker!"

"It was just a story…" I muttered.

Quatre was still looking somewhat grim. "Stories can have more truth in them than anyone cares to think." He picked up a book from the table nearest his chair and fingered the pages carefully. It was a small black journal.

"What's that?" I asked, eager to change the subject.

"A diary by a French painter," Sandrock's pilot replied. "He was one of the first people put in the service of the baron who had this place built. I found it some time ago… but I haven't had any lessons in French since I was a kid, so I was very slow reading it."

"Woooo," Duo whistled. "That thing looks ancient. A good read Quat?"

Quatre shook his head, and then took a moment to brush the hair out of his face. His hair was getting long, and in a few more days the golden mess would be hiding his eyes. He said, "I think that's better to leave for later, when all of us are here and the children are asleep."

"Secrets secrets are no fun," Duo wagged a finger disapprovingly. "But at least tell me this, what happened to that girl's face? What was her name?"

"Svetlana. She won't really say…" Quatre frowned, letting the book drop to his side. "Her mental development is severely stunted. Ten years of her life, a vast majority of it, was spent down there in, in that place... She speaks sometimes, but she only will really talk to Trowa. He was the one who picked her up and carried her up-"

"I get the feeling you're avoiding saying something," Heero leaned in closer, his eyes burning into Quatre's.

It was obvious that Quatre wanted to leave some matters for another day, but the three of us had plenty of questions and issues that we didn't want to wait on. Extra suspicion that he might be hiding things from us would not be a pleasant affair.

Quatre stood up and faced the Japanese soldier. The young Arab had a saddened, but resolved and solemn face. I wondered that I had never seen him looking so rugged and weary, battle-hardened but still gentle all at the same time. He turned away and grabbed a poker to tend the fireplace.

"The leader of the kidnappers made frequent visits to the dungeon." Quatre's voice was soft but level, seemingly uncaring, as if he were discussing what to have for breakfast. "He tortured them in front of one another with various… contraptions and machines, all these fucking old bastard's machines. But it didn't end there. Later, Jorgen tells, the leader had the captives do things to each other…" Here something caught in Quatre's throat, and he paused.

"He gave some of them chances to get extra food by starving the others. He made them fight and whip each other to avoid their own torture… Even rape… From what Jorgen said, and I believe him with all my heart, the sadist always got a special thrill out of pitting loved ones against each other… Husband and wife, father and son… siblings… They were family!"

"But then, the kidnappers stopped coming…" Quatre gave a sharp stab and knocked one of the dying logs off the top of the burning pile. It rolled off, sputtering and burning alone in a back corner of the cavernous fireplace. "And they just kept on hurting and torturing each other on their own, even without the fucking bastard forcing them to! Going mad, killing the sane ones... Every day, every day on their own…" The blonde's anger and outrage had flared to its highest peak, but as the story wound down only his sorrow and lack of faith in humanity lingered.

"Imagine," Quatre's eyes were brimmed with tears, but he choked out the words, unable to stymie the rush of feelings that overwhelmed him. "Imagine a decade without sunlight! A decade of constant suffering and hatred… I… I couldn't ever fight for that long, especially against people I cared about… loved…" One tear alone broke free, clinging to his eyelashes.

Then the tears fell in earnest, one after another trickling down Quatre's cheeks. "But since you asked about her scars, I'll tell you. She told Trowa that they are from her brother."

- - - - -

Heero put the question to Jorgen later that night. We stayed in the library and threw on a fresh batch of logs to blaze. I found myself switching between watching Duo and Heero flirt (their hands occasionally finding the other's and giving a soft, if unsure, touch) and watching the children play. Jorgen always ran around, playing 'War' with Quatre, while Svetlana crouched over her beloved pile of filth, humming a tune with no clear melody. For the five of us the day had been very long, and our energy was quickly ebbing. Even Heero's eyes were drooping when Quatre decided it was time for the youngsters to retire for the night.

"Jorgen! Svetlana! Time for bed!" He called the two siblings over to his side and kissed them both on the forehead. He asked Trowa, "Would you mind putting them to bed? He's absolutely drained me. Oh!" Quatre exclaimed in after thought. "Could you also put the toy soldiers away? Thanks! But please don't let Jorgen see where you hide them." Trowa nodded, unblinking to the multiple requests. Quatre smiled, exhausted. "He would sneak out of bed just to get them if he knew where they were."

"Jorgen, come here for a minute!" Heero called out, summoning the boy back over to us. Trowa left with Svetlana and the box of toys. Heero gave the boy an accusing leer and immediately asked, "Have you ever hit your sister?"

Jorgen looked stunned, and he took several short stammers before answering, "No." He tapped his foot nervously on the floor, his eyes glued to the wooden floorboards.

"You shouldn't lie," Duo growled, making the poor kid step back from the indigo wrath.

Heero repeated the question, but Jorgen again said, "No."

"Boys who lie go to Hell and fry," Duo warned darkly. The child cringed.

I decided to try a different approach, "What kind of games did you play when you were down there?" I asked. Jorgen shrank back even further, retreating into Quatre's arms. "Well?" I persisted.

"NO!" A shrill wail stunned all of us. Jorgen trembled from head to toe. He cried, "Don't hurt me!"

Where had I heard a voice sound like that before?

"Shh… Shh… Don't worry," Quatre patted the boy's head soothingly. "Nobody here will hurt you. Don't be afraid. It's all right. Don't worry. Please just answer Wufei and then you can go up to bed."

"We played War, &… & Blind man's Bluff and we played Mommy & Daddy," The youngster murmured.

Duo leaned forward in his chair, "How do you play 'mommy & daddy'?"

"You said only one question!" Jorgen protested, turning to Quatre. But, after another minute of soft words and tender caresses, the boy was ready to speak. "We try to make a family 'cuz that's what Mommy & Daddy do. So we fuck."

The word fell like a thunderbolt. Quatre gave another pat on Jorgen's head and escorted him upstairs. Duo stood up, as if to leave, but he only walked over to the fire. Within a minute, Heero had left his seat to join him, leaving me to my thoughts.

It was incredible that mere children could face such gross violation and sadistic torture. All for... all for what? For what purpose? I pushed my thoughts on those cruelties into the back corner of my mind. The Wing pilot was holding the beautiful American in his arms, their heads pressed close, whispering. Duo's hands firmly gripped Heero, returning the embrace.

Yes, the sight made me intensely jealous. What did that bastard Heero know about love? Or about Duo for that matter? I scoffed silently. I was the only one who had any real idea what kind of person Duo was. On the surface he was the friendly, witty mischief-maker. But under his skin, in all his mind and soul, a great conflict raged endlessly. I hadn't noticed it for a while, even when it was first pushed to the surface, broken through his cheery mask. It had nearly driven Duo to insanity. The containment here in the Arctic, this imprisonment had shown Duo's true self. The bars on the beast's cage were now flimsy and bent out of shape.

But I couldn't help but think how they did fit the role each other needed. Heero, the perfect killing machine and Duo, Shinigami who would never be appalled by heartless murder. Duo would support the whole-sale slaughter and cold blooded killings, and Heero needed that support, the acknowledgment that he had done a good job completing the mission. Almost perfect, I mused… But, I wasn't giving up just yet!

Trowa and Quatre returned. Heero addressed them, "So, what's in that journal?" Both Quatre and Duo heaved loud sighs at the very same time, and Trowa was caught in the middle of a yawn. Weariness showed in all of us… Hadn't this day dragged on enough? I wondered.

"It is important," Quatre conceded, but went on to say, "But today has been hard on all of us. It's probably better to start with it tomorrow morning. Some things are better discussed in daylight."

"Hn. OK," Heero approved. "But we only had 3 and a half hours of full sunlight today, and we're going to need all that time to dig those graves."

"Eh…" Trowa seemed to want to say something, but his mouth just hung open for a full minute of silence. I was used to the Heavyarms' pilot's lack of words, but he almost seemed struck mute by something. He left. Quatre followed after bidding everyone 'Goodnight'.

Heero and Duo also began to head for the door, but I called out, "Heero!" He turned. "I'd like to talk to you for a bit." Duo gave me a questioning look, but Heero just grunted and started to come back across the room.

Then Duo caught Heero by the arm, spun him back around. I can only guess the surprise in Heero's usually steely cobalt eyes as Duo suddenly leaned in and kissed him. The stoic youth was as startled as I, but he quickly wrapped his powerful arms around Duo, holding him closer. I could not even take a breath. The kiss ended. "Goodnight," Duo breathed. He left.

"So," Heero began, his voice showing he was on edge and that this was the last thing he wanted to do right now. "What is it?" I didn't answer right away, gave him a second to wait. I drew myself out of the chair and stretched with a yawn. "What is it?" Heero asked again.

"Do you think you won?" I asked. 01 seemed confused, so I clarified, "Have you won Duo's love?" Now Heero was plainly struck speechless. "You think he'll really want someone like you when the war is over?"

"What's it matter to you?" Heero spat defensively. "My business is-"

"This is my business too!" I cut him off, walking forward. My hard words were the catalyst that made him ball his fists. "You think you can play Cassanova and win him while I just sit by like a defeated dog?"

Heero smiled, a wide, malicious flash of his perfect white teeth. The challenge came, "What are you going to do about it Wufei?"

I closed the gap between us to a few yards, yards filled with tension and anticipation like the atmosphere on a battlefield before the first shot. Wordlessly, our alliance had broken, our camaraderie snapped. Now we were plain opponents ready to duel over this conflict. We sized each other up for a while.

"Ch!" I spat at his feet, now only six steps away. "I'll do as I please!" I let the anger, the jealousy and hate flare up in my tone. "I advise you to back off." I cracked my knuckles. "You don't have a fucking clue as to what's really going on."

"I don't retreat unless ordered to," Heero played the calm, emotionless hand. He turned his head from one side to another in a quick motion, his neck cracked loudly. He was on the balls of his feet. "Some battles are won by the desire of the heart and the condition of the soul." I hesitated. These words I would never expect from Heero. "Win him? I already have," Heero boasted. I readied myself… "It was his idea to go out to dinner after we-"

I lunged.

Heero dodged my initial attack with ease, stepping back and to his left. But I followed after him with a swift series of three punches. Two landed on opposite sides of his face. And even with my full force behind the blows, Heero just grunted and continued to retreat. Quick jabs weren't going to do it. I took a second to get my feet under me, squaring up against him.

The calculating killer used the small window to change to the offensive, and I found myself following my instincts, blocking his punches, which were surprisingly quick and accurate. Heero was pulling nothing, and I realized, even as I blocked another right hook with my forearm, that one good shot to my head was all he was looking for.

Then, for a moment, Heero rocked back onto his heels, and I stopped, caught between my desire to pummel him and my caution of any trap. It turned out that I was already in the thick of the web; Heero gave a fierce snarl and lowered his head, barreling down on me without even raising his fists.

There was no chance to evade, so I did the only thing I could think of. I too gave a war-cry and lunged. The top of our heads cracked together with a sickening slam and we both locked our arms around the other, planting our feet into the ground. Our eyes were perfectly level. Only a few centimeters away, I could smell his bad breath.

The stalemate persisted for some time, neither of us able to gain the advantage needed to execute a throw. Heero's strength and my balance made it a perfectly even match. I smiled as I saw the strain in Heero's face, the bulging of his neck and his ragged breath. I blocked out the pain in my leg, the first real test of my injured body. Then I threw myself backwards, pulling Yuy with me.

I hit the floor first, and nearly cried out as Heero immediately landed on me, using his elbows to take a shot at my chest. Spiting the pain, I kept rolling, and as the ceiling and the floor and the bookcases all seemed to spin, I knew Heero would be unable to stop the reversal. But, with a grunt and a bearing of his teeth, Heero's arms locked into place, his grip on my arms turned into an iron vice. My head made a slick crack as I was pinned to the floor. Heero was grinning with an insane glimmer in his eyes that I had never seen, except in the thick of battle. He laughed:

"Duo's mine." Then Heero surprised me again; "You'll never beat me because you don't really love him."

"How would you know?" I shouted, and took my left leg and sent a blow into his side with my knee. He'd failed to pin my legs. I rolled away quickly. Heero took his time getting to his feet, coughing and gagging for air. As I also tried to muster a second wind, I scoffed, "You think you're what he needs? You're hardly human! You're just a tool used to kill people! You may look hot, but nobody could love a machine!"

We were both on our feet. Heero's eyes never wavering, he said, "You don't get it. You won't ever be with Duo. You don't really love him."

Again I roared, "HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?"

"Because I see the way you look at him, the way you regard him as a simple prize to be claimed," I would never have guessed that Heero played such mind games during combat. But… this wasn't like any battle Heero had ever fought. There were no commands or mission objectives, only his thoughts and emotions to guide him. "It's lust, it's dirty, it's greedy!"

I sprang directly at Heero, tired of his talk. Did these words make a difference? Of course not! The Wing pilot brought his hands up to guard his face, but, the blow did not fall… at least, not from the direction he had expected. In the last second before I reached him, I jumped to the side. He was guarding an attack from the front and so my right fist landed perfectly on the side of his head. Now it was my turn to smile.

But my delight was short lived. Heero was still standing. I drew myself up into a stance again, surprised, but unwilling to show that he had surpassed my expectations. His stamina was god-like. It didn't make sense. That blow should have knocked him unconscious! At least it should have made him dizzy or see stars.

"If that," Heero cracked his neck from side to side again, his smile gone. But the fire in his eyes remained, smaller in the pupils than before, yet many times more intense. "If that was all of your 'love' for Duo, than this fight is over!"

Heero came for the finishing move, his eyes told me everything in the few brief moments before his right arm shot out to end me. He did love Duo, and Duo had, at least in Heero's eyes, returned those feelings in more than one way.

I should have used my left to parry, should have maybe even grabbed Heero's hand as it reached out to strike. Then all I would need to do would be to use Heero's weight and momentum to throw or trip him up. The parry would have left him open for a good second or two.

But I didn't do those things. I froze. My mind seemed to focus on a single thing, and, unfortunately for me, it was not the fight.

Heero loved Duo.

Duo loved Heero.

The punch landed directly on my left temple. The world swam in creeping darkness, and I was aware that I was sinking towards the floor under failing legs. I reached out to execute the parry, too late, and although I have no recollection of it, I believe I grabbed Heero by the head and pulled him down on top of me.

- - - - -

I awoke to a tremendous headache, a rattled and confused mental state, and I was only partially aware of shouting coming from downstairs.

I could see out of my left eye again.

-end "Frostbitten" Part 10 in

Souls Disappear in the