by Anria Chiou Lalumin

What Comes After Death + Part Two
A Lack of Remembrance

Heero floated.

He had no idea where he was or what he was doing there. He drifted in a calm white mass of something.

He had been floating for what seemed like hours, when a small noise caught his attention. The echo of a child, laughing.

The laughter came closer, and with it the sound of small feet. Heero kept his eyes shut.

"Niisan . . . are you lost?"

Oh, no. Not the nightmare again.

Heero screwed his eyes up tighter and tried to sink further into sleep.

"That won't work, you know. You're not asleep."

His eyes flew open and he slammed into an upright seating position. Involuntarily, his eyes strayed to the small girl standing beside him. She gave him a sunny smile.

"Where am I?"

"Oh, so you are lost. Lost without your lover."

Heero blinked. She had the appearance of the girl he had killed, the appearance of a small child, yet she spoke like an adult, and she couldn't be here with him, because he was alive and she was dead and the two did not mix. . . .

Suddenly he remembered.

Duo's funeral. Driving away. Sudden noise and blinding pain. . . .

Then nothing.

"Where am I?" he repeated.

"Silly, you're dead. You're hovering between heaven and hell."

"I don't believe in heaven or hell."

"Doesn't matter. You're the one who decides whether you go somewhere you suffer, or somewhere you have fun."

"What?"

"You died, Heero Yuy. And you were so screwed up when you did, so much in pain with so much to think about, that your subconscious could not decide whether to send you somewhere you could live and be happy, or somewhere you would be completely miserable." The girl folded her hands in front of her and smiled an angelical little smile at him.

"I. . . ." Suddenly it occurred to him that he was here, with the girl he had killed so long ago, and that this was his chance to say sorry. "Girl . . . I'm sorry," he said in one big rush. "I never meant to hurt you or kill you. . . . I am so sorry I took the rest of your life away from you. Please, forgive me."

"You didn't," she said sunnily.

"What?"

"You didn't take the rest of my life away from me," she said. "I wasn't going to have a rest of my life. When your explosion killed me quickly and without any pain, I had already developed the beginning of a painful, incurable cancer. So you see, you did me a favor. And my name isn't girl, it's Maria."

"Maria," Heero repeated, then looked at her sharply. "Where's Duo?"

"Duo was miserable when he died, and was so confused that he took your apparent rejection of him as failure on his part. He's in hell." Maria shook her blond head. "Catholicism. If I had a gun, I would go shoot Saint Peter. He's the one who has made hundreds of good people over the ages send themselves to hell because they didn't live up to the Catholic church's standards."

The white mass of something flickered briefly, then settled into exactly the same texture as before.

Maria looked at him curiously. "Oh, so you've made your choice."

"Nani?"

"You've decided on hell."

"I have?" Heero paused. "Makes sense," he muttered.

"Why?"

Heero stared at her for a long moment out of Prussian blue eyes, then said, quite deliberately and clearly, "Heaven without Duo would be hell."

The white mass was beginning to coalesce into a street. People were appearing, walking along on the pavement around the newly-appeared Heero and Maria. They paid absolutely no attention to them.

"I can't stay here for long," Maria said. "But . . . think about this. You've brought yourself to hell, because that is where Duo is. But hell isn't nasty little demons toasting you over an open fire. Hell is the worst possible thing your life could turn out like. And you're in hell. If a world without Duo is hell for you, what makes you think you'll be able to find him?"

Heero looked down at her, considering. "Hell would not be a world without Duo," he said. "Hell would be . . . something worse. And I think I've already been there, so I know how to deal with it."

Maria looked skeptical. "Well, good luck," she said. Her small form was already fading. "But Heero . . . if you do find Duo. . . ." Her voice was fading.

"What?" Heero called, and strained over the noise of the street to hear her reply.

"Don't expect him to know you. . . ."

Momentarily confused by this enigmatic statement, Heero steeled himself and looked around. Yes, he knew this place. It was only a short walk away from the apartment he and Duo had shared.

So, time to find out what Duo's hell is.

Heero began walking towards their home.

+

Duo crashed on the bed. Shit, another long day at work. Oh, well, it kept his mind off things, he supposed. Kept him from dwelling for too long on. . . .

He shook his head abruptly, short ends of his hacked-off hair whacking his cheeks. He regretted cutting it off now. But Heero had always been playing with it.

It was too much of a reminder.

Duo buried his face in his arms. He kept trying to block the memories out, but they kept coming back. Everything, every little thing that hadn't made sense, the cold mask that had sometimes slipped over his face when Duo was saying he loved him, the never-ending silence, the suicidal tendencies. All of it added up in one big rush when Heero had finally told him the truth.

I don't love you, Duo. I've never loved you, and I never will.

Kuso!

Duo shoved himself up off the bed and went into the bathroom. Heero had been gone by the time he got back. His laptop had vanished, and so had his clothes. So quickly. Maybe he'd been planning to leave for a while.

He stared at himself in the mirror. Hildie, sod her, had said he'd lost too much weight. God, she'd been behaving like a mother hen recently. "Duo, you have to eat. Duo, come out with me. Duo, stop overworking yourself." Duo snorted. His falsetto impression of her voice echoed around the tiny room in increasingly sarcastic tones.

But then, he was gaunt. His eyes had sunk into his head, his cheekbones stood out in stark relief against his skin, and his clothes hung loose. He'd been slender to start off with, but now he was skeletal.

The hair didn't help.

The bangs had grown until they were almost the same length as the hair. The hair itself was barely chin-length, and had ragged edges. Duo had sawed it off the day after Heero left. He remembered cutting himself, because he couldn't see for the tears.

"Jesus, man, get a hold of yourself," he muttered, staring into his lifeless eyes in the mirror. "Heero's gone. He's not coming back. Ever. So get on with your life."

But without Heero, what life would he have?

Duo scrunched his eyes shut at the insistent little thought at the back of his mind. Ever since he was sixteen, Heero had been at the center of his thoughts. His life. His world.

It obviously hadn't been reciprocated.

He swore viciously, and knocked the soap and toothbrush flying with one savage sweep of his arm. They flew across the bathroom to crash into the opposite wall with a satisfying thwack!

Someone knocked on the door.

Duo gripped the edge of the basin hard, and wished the person would leave. If he stayed here long enough, they would think he wasn't home. They would go away.

Someone knocked again.

Duo shoved away from the basin and stalked to answer it. He yanked the door open and was faced with a tall boy about his age, with an unruly mop of brown hair and Prussian blue eyes.

He didn't recognize him.

"Yeah? What do you want?"

The boy was staring at him in shock. "Duo, what happened to your hair?" he blurted.

Duo frowned. The boy obviously knew him, but while there was something naggingly familiar about him, he couldn't place it. "Do I know you?"

"You don't remember me." It was a flat statement.

"No, I'm afraid not."

"Can I come in?"

Duo tried to stare him down, hoping he'd get the message and backtrack. He didn't, and Duo heaved a reluctant sigh and stood aside. The strange boy walked in.

"What happened to you, Duo?" he asked as the formerly long-haired pilot closed the door. "You're gaunt. You're hair's gone. And you look half dead."

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to criticize someone in their own house?" Duo snapped.

The other boy looked at him out of eyes that were suddenly sad. "And you don't laugh any more."

"What's there to laugh about?"

"You always used to laugh at anything. It was one of the things I loved about you."

Duo stiffened. "Who are you?"

The other boy snorted softly and looked at the floor, unruly bangs shading his face. "We lived together for three years whenever we got the chance and you don't remember me."

Duo stared harder. "I don't know who you think you are, but I would remember somebody I had lived with for three years. And I don't remember you. So I think you have the wrong person, and I would like you to leave."

The other boy stood up from where he had been leaning against the chest of drawers and walked over to where Duo was standing, holding the door open. He paused beside the other boy.

Duo saw him open his mouth, and hesitate. He stared at the parted lips and wondered why there was this intense impulse to lean over and capture the lips under his own, to feel the other boy's arms around him and lips on his.

He'd only ever felt that way with Heero.

The boy took a step closer, and suddenly Duo's face was taken between two strong hands. He stared up into Prussian blue eyes that were only an inch away from his.

"Duo." The boy breathed his name like it made him ache. "I told you I didn't love you. I told you I had never loved you, and never would. I lied, Duo. I don't know why, I have no excuse. But I needed to tell you that I lied."

He paused, and Duo found himself waiting with bated breath for his next words. Somehow they seemed to fall into the emptiness left by Heero inside him, and start to heal the wounds.

"I . . . Duo, I've had to fight myself for years to try and say the words to you, and I haven't yet. I didn't think I could, but the thought that I'd lost you has made me come here, and it's let me say this. Duo . . . I love you. I loved you almost since the first time we met, never mind that you shot me then. And I will always love you. Whether you remember me or not."

The boy moved forwards, and Duo's eyes shut of their own volition as he felt lips on his. Somehow, this felt right. It felt like home. The way Heero had.

It was over too quickly. The other boy moved back, still cupping his face securely between two strong yet gentle palms, and breathed, "You don't remember me. But I will always remember you. Aishiteiru, Duo, forever. And if you want me to go I'll leave."

The boy choked the last sentence out as though it shredded him inside. He took a step back and let Duo's face go, intense blue eyes searching for any hint of recognition.

He didn't find any.

Something very close to pain flickered across his face, and then a cold, expressionless mask slammed down in place of it. And the boy walked out.

Duo stared at where the other boy had stood for the longest time, before finally snapping out of it long enough to shut the door. He slumped on the bed, still staring at where he had stood, remembering.

Something about him. . . . His voice, his eyes, his kiss. . . .

Duo shook himself. Despite the strangeness of the encounter, the other boy's words had fallen inside of him like water on a burn, not healing but soothing. Soothing the wound left by Heero.

Almost absently, he made his way back into the bathroom. Staring at himself in the mirror, he suddenly felt shocked that he had let himself get into this condition. Putting a determined expression on his face, he drew out a pair of scissors and cut the bangs to their proper length, then, wincing inside that he had actually cut off his braid, his pride and joy, he trimmed the ragged edges until they were all roughly the same length.

Then he went in search of food, still pondering the identity of the strange boy whose words had left him both shocked and unsurprised, but overall, with a feeling of peace.

Now, like a burn, it would heal given time. And the scar would fade.

+

Heero leaned against the wall outside the building and hung his head, hair hiding the tears streaming down his face from passers-by.

God, it hurt. Maria had warned him that Duo would not remember him, but to be confronted by a complete mess who didn't recognize him. . . . What hurt the most was that Duo looked like he was trying to starve himself to death. His hair was gone. His long, beautiful hair, was gone. And his cobalt eyes were sunken and bruised, looking as though he had seen a lifetime of pain.

And he'd stared at him like he was a stranger.

Heero wiped the tears off his cheeks. The only good thing to come out of that meeting had been that he had finally told Duo the truth. He had finally told the one person he truly loved how he felt about him. And had given him one last kiss.

Heero stared up the building to the window of his and Duo's room. No, just Duo's now. He no longer had a place in his lover's life.

No, that was wrong. He no longer had a place in his lover's death.

This was hell, then. There was only one thing left to do.

He hung his head, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and walked away.

Time to go pay a visit to Relena.

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