by Anria Chiou Lalumin

What Comes After Death + Part One
Pain and Regret

Heero stayed behind long after everyone else had left, including the people who had filled in the grave.

He stared at the turf that had been rolled out over the new grave, at the carved headstone, at the flowers people had left. He'd been standing there for hours, waiting for it to finally sink in.

Duo Maxwell, A.C. 179 198.


Duo was dead.

Really dead, this time. During the wars they'd all nearly died hundreds of times, and Heero had lost count of how many times he had been terrified that it really was all over, that Duo was dead. Yet somewhere, deep inside, he had known his lover was still alive, somewhere.

But now he really was dead.

He had seen the body. He had been asked to verify its identification, asked whether or not the dead lump of flesh lying in the morgue in the hospital truly was Duo Maxwell, former Gundam pilot. He had seen the bloodstained braid, the bullet wound, the whitened skin, the glaze over the cobalt eyes. He had been the one to close those eyes, simply needing to touch Duo, to see whether it really was him lying there dead on the cold metal bench.

Heero shut his eyes. Duo, his lover, his love, the person he had lived for during and after the wars, was dead, killed by a teenage punk barely more than a year younger than them so he could buy drugs with the two dollars and fifty cents Duo had had on him.

And the last thing he'd said to him had been. . . .

Heero fell to his knees, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. This was the memory he had been dreading. He had tried to stop it coming, tried since he had first got the call from the hospital, but his mind was merciless in its punishment of him.

He remembered. . . .

+

Duo peered over his shoulder into the laptop's screen. "What are you doing?"

Heero knew something was wrong instantly. His lover's voice just didn't hold the usual amount of customary cheer that was Duo's trademark. "What is it, Duo?"

For once he didn't side-step the question. There was a long pause, and then; "Heero . . . I need to know."

Heero frowned and twisted in his chair to see his lover's face. Duo had plunked himself down on the bed, eyes wide and serious, chewing on his bottom lip. "Know what?"

Duo remained silent for so long that Heero began to focus on the one sound in the room, the song blasting out of Duo's stereo, Chrissie Hynde's nasal drawl assailing his ears.

"I play a good game
But not as good as you
I can be a little cold
But you can be so cruel
I'm not made of brick
I'm not made of stone
But I had you fooled enough to take me on. . . ."

"What, Duo?" Heero repeated eventually, beginning to get irritated. In the years since the end of the wars he had mellowed considerably, especially with Duo. It took him a lot longer to get irritated with his loud-mouthed lover now.

"Heero, I. . . ." Duo bit his lip and looked at a loss for words, which yelled from the rooftops that something was up with him. Heero's frown deepened into a scowl.

"I need you to tell me how you feel," Duo blurted. "About us, I mean. I love you, Heero, more than anything, but we've been together for what, nearly three years now and still you haven't said. . ."

Heero knew exactly what he hadn't said.

"Duo, spit it out."

"I could leave it for so long, but I can't any longer. Heero, I need to know if you love me. I need to know if you truly care about me the way I do about you. . . . Please, tell me you love me. . . ."

Duo's face was a study in hesitant hopefulness. So, even after all these years, he still had doubts. Heero stared into his lovers eyes and had doubts, too. He was silent for a long time, thinking. He knew he loved Duo, without a shadow of a doubt. But he had thought that Duo would know it too, whether he said it out loud or not. He had thought Duo would trust him enough to not need words. Obviously he had been wrong.

And that hurt.

Even as he was thinking this, his mouth opened, lips and tongue working independently of him when he said, "I don't love you, Duo. I've never loved you, and I never will." Hurting Duo like he had been hurt. Taking away security and need.

It was a stranger who had taken over his body. Heero sat in the back on his mind and watched in amazement as he turned away from Duo's stricken face, a broken heart scrawled all over it, and resumed typing on the keyboard.

He would turn back in a moment. He would regain control in a moment, and tell Duo he was sorry, he hadn't meant it, he truly did love him but that it hurt that Duo doubted. . . .

A small choking noise sounded behind him, and then the door slammed behind his lover as he ran out of their tiny apartment.

Suddenly Heero was in control again, and he jumped up, sprinting to the door and running after Duo. He bolted down the stairs in time to see a black-clad figure crash out onto the street and run. And for once Duo was faster.

Breathing hard, Heero came to a halt a few blocks away from his and Duo's home. Duo had outrun him, sprinting hard and relentlessly. A couple of years without a war had left Heero in a worse physical condition than he'd realized: still fit, but not fit enough.

So he'd go back home. Duo would have to come back at some point.

Heero returned. He waited. And waited. And waited. For three days. He didn't eat.

Duo's music taunted him.

"If love was a war
It's you who has won
While I was confessing it
You held your tongue
Now the damage is done
Well there's blood in these veins
And I cry when in pain
I'm only human on the inside
And if looks could deceive
Make it hard to believe
I'm only human on the inside. . . ."

The phone rang on the third day. Heero stared at it, not daring to hope.

"I thought you'd come through
I thought you'd come clean
You were the best thing
I should never have seen. . . ."

He moved towards it, put a hand on it and took a deep breath, steeling himself to face Duo's anger and Duo's pain.

Both would rip his insides, but he had to tell Duo. . . . Had to tell him. . . .

He picked the phone up.

"But you go to extremes
You push me too far
Then you keep going till you break my heart
Yeah, you break my heart
See I bleed and I bruise
Oh, but what's it to you
I'm only human on the inside
And if looks could deceive
Make it hard to believe
I'm only human on the inside. . . ."

A stranger's voice. "Mr. Heero Yuy?"

Heero's fledgling hope deflated. "Yes?"

"This is St. George's Hospital. Do you know one Duo Maxwell?"

"I crash and I burn
Maybe someday you'll learn
I'm only human on the inside
I stumble I fall
Baby under it all
I'm only human on the inside. . . ."

Fear put a cold hand in Heero's gut and clenched. "Yes," he replied cautiously. "Is something wrong?"

"I think you had better come down here. . . ."

"What happened?"

"I'd rather explain face to face, if you wouldn't mind."

"Is Duo okay?"

"And the damage is done
Well there's blood in these veins
And I cry when in pain
I'm only human on the inside
And if looks could deceive
Make it hard to believe
I'm only human on the inside
I crash and I burn
Maybe someday you'll learn. . . ."

"Please, Mr. Yuy, just come down to the hospital."

"I -- I'll be there in ten minutes," he said, and hung up.

+

Heero knelt in front of Duo's grave and remembered it all. The mad dash to the hospital, the doctor explaining to him that Duo had been shot, there was nothing they could do, he was DOA. . . .

Dead on arrival.

Duo's eyes, staring at him. Accusing. It was your fault I left, they seemed to say. Your fault I was killed. You ruined it. We could have had the rest of our lives together, but you had to screw it up, didn't you. . . .

I'm sorry, Heero tried to tell them. I never meant to hurt you, I don't know what I was doing, please forgive me. . . .

Heero pulled Duo's crucifix out of his pocket, gold chain wrapped around his fingers, intertwined with them the way Duo had been intertwined in his heart and mind. So tight he could never let go.

Heero fisted the cross. It was Duo's, it should have remained with him, but he couldn't let go. He couldn't ever let go.

"Heero."

He stiffened, dark head bent. The last thing I want is pity. . . .

Quatre came forward and put a hand on his shoulder. "Heero. Come away. There's nothing more to do."

"What do you know," Heero muttered, and wrenched his shoulder out from under the other boy's hand, standing up.

Quatre's large blue eyes were compassionate. "Do you want to stay with me and Trowa for a while?" he asked gently.

"No," Heero answered. "I . . . I think I'll go home now."

"Do you want us to drive you?"

"No. No."

"Heero. . . ."

"No."

Quatre nodded. "If there's ever anything you want, don't hesitate to ask," he said, and turned away. He paused. "Heero, Duo would want you to live and be happy." His blue eyes bored holes into Heero. "Don't deny him that."

Heero turned away.

After a moment he heard Quatre walk off, Trowa's low murmur greeting him. He knew they were both staring at him, worrying. He knew they wanted him to accept their offer of friendship to get him past this.

He kept his back towards them.

Quatre was right, that was what really galled. Duo would want him to live. The loud-mouthed, long-haired, irrepressible baka would want him to live. Would want him to live, when all he wanted to do was die. Unconsciously, the cross slipped between Heero's fingers to the grass at his feet.

So he would give his lover that much.

But he couldn't be happy. Duo was his happiness.

Heero bowed his head over the grave of the one person he had given himself to, body, heart, mind and soul. And whose he had shattered with one lie. "Duo . . . aishiteiru. Forever."

But he would never be able to tell him that.

+

"I'm worried about Heero," Quatre told his lover as they drove back from Duo's funeral. "He's really fallen to pieces."

"Give him time," Trowa said. "He'll pull through."

"But what if he doesn't want to?" Quatre bit his lip, eyes troubled. "I mean, you know Heero. He doesn't cry, doesn't really show anything, but I get the feeling that somewhere inside he's screaming."

"He won't try to kill himself if that's what you're worried about, Quatre," Trowa told the Arabian pilot, gently stroking the back of his neck. "I think something happened just before Duo died, and argument or something. Heero won't kill himself because that's not punishment enough for how he failed Duo."

Quatre bowed his head. "You're right," he said. "I hate to say it, but you're right." He raised his head,

face determined. "We have to help him."

Trowa made an affirmative noise. "Let's wait until he wants to be helped, though."

"No. If we don't start now, it won't ever get to the point where he wants to be helped."

"All right, then."

"I'll go to see him tomorrow -- "

"Quatre!"

Quatre had suddenly doubled up, groaning, spots clouding his vision. There was blinding pain tearing into him, ripping him apart, he was dying, he was going to die . . . oh, God, Duo, I'm sorry. . . .

Big blue eyes slammed wide open as Quatre realized it was Heero's pain he was feeling.

Both physical and emotional.

Trowa's arms closed over him, pulling him close and soothing the aftershocks of pain as the contact snapped in an instant, leaving him with final, definite knowledge.

God, this was the same as with Duo. "Heero . . . Heero is. . . ."

Trowa pulled him closer. "I understand," he said.

[part 2] [back to Anria's fics]