Author: Maldoror
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing and characters belong to Bandai, Sunset et all. If they belonged to me, they'd probably kill me for this one.

Dedication: To Dacia, for her wonderful site's anniversary, Little Piece of Gundam Wing (it's late, but the promise to write the fic was sort of the present). This is, ah, a bit darker than she anticipated when she gave me a loose description of what she wanted. I'll try to kick something a bit more positive out of my bunnies asap!

Huge thanks to Tsuki who braved the weirdness and depths of my imagination to beta this, erm, fic. I'm glad you liked it, Tsuki! (I'm not sure other readers will but oh boy did I have fun writing this!!)

PLEASE READ THIS WARNING!!
This is me, playing around with my weirder bunnies. Please do NOT take this too seriously, do not read if you are at all attached to the clean-and-squeaky image of the boys, do not go any further if you're the kind of sensitive reader who needs proper warnings to decide what they want to read, because odds are, you shouldn't be reading this. The only thing I can promise is that there is no NCS, mainly because I think it's a rather over-used trauma generator, and besides, I didn't want angst.

Darkside Tales + Part 1

Some people would pay good money to get tied up like this.

Duo was definitely not among that strange number.

He just hoped nobody would take a picture. He'd found photos of rich people getting up to some pretty weird shit while he was going through safes and locked cabinets. He'd come to the conclusion that you needed to be a professional magazine model to look suave, cool and desirable while hog-tied. Ordinary people just couldn't pull it off.

Shinigami wasn't an ordinary person, but he didn't think the look did anything for him either.

Eyes closed, he tensed slightly, testing his bonds as discreetly as possible. Shit, this wasn't a slapped together job. Metal bars fastened to the manacles kept his legs and hands apart. The chains from the cuffs hung from the ceiling - Duo's shoulders were telling him that he'd been in this position for quite awhile and that they were not going to be happy moving out of it again unless they were subjected to the effects of a dozen aspirin and a good massage. A quick peek through his eyelashes, as he kept his body slumped, showed that the chains on his legs were also fastened to the floor, which put his captor in the ranks of very lucky or very knowledgeable about Duo's ability to kill a man with a single kick. He wasn't sure, but he thought his braid had been messed with too, so he might have lost his picks even if the metal bar didn't keep his hands apart and away from his hair.

What he felt about someone touching him, touching his hair...was kept carefully tamped down where it couldn't betray the fact that he was conscious again.

Deciding he was effectively caught, for now, Duo scanned his last few memories for clues. What the fucking hell had happened...?

The glimpse of the floor through barely opened eyes indicated he was probably on a ship, but not his own. The light ‘wwiiiiish' of ventilation and the familiar flat, chemical smell of compressed and recycled air confirmed they were probably space born. Last he remembered, he'd been near the docking ring, going back to his shuttle. There had been no movement behind him. No signs of pursuit. Just a sudden sense of something wrong. Followed by a strong pinch of fingers on his carotid artery while an arm like a steel band immobilized him.

Damn.

There were only a very limited number of people in the known universe who could do that.

Huh. Wonder which one it is? Duo tried to recapture every fiber of memory. Smell - neutral. The guy had been good. Cloth...rough. Jacket. Coarse and scratchy, a feel Duo associated with government issued clothing. And the hold had been firm, but relying on knowledge of the way people moved and fought, rather than brute strength.

That narrowed it down considerably.

Huh, waddya know. Well, playing possum would get him nowhere if that was the case.

"Why, Chang, I didn't take you for the kinky type," Duo drawled to the utterly still and silent presence he'd felt for the last few minutes.

He slowly straightened and opened his eyes, trying to will life into his muscles, and pain out. Getting tied up just wasn't fun.

It was Wufei alright. He was sitting in a chair, cool as you please, watching Duo with an unreadable look on his face.

Duo glanced around discreetly while stretching. He was indeed in a shuttle, a very small one he judged. Beyond Wufei, he could see the main section, the cockpit, the door to a small head, a bunk bed folded up near the seats. Duo was in the cargo and airlock section. He didn't think this type of shuttle normally came with hooks soldered to floor and ceiling, but the job looked thorough and very solid. Even Heero would be hard put to bash his way out of this one.

Wufei still hadn't moved. The chair was an oddity in the shuttle, low and squat, made of black-lacquered wood. He was sitting a few feet away, on the other side of the doorway which framed him solemnly. He was wearing light black cargo pants, the cheap kind dockhands wore under their protective gear, and a black tank top and those cute little black slippers Duo remembered from the war. Duo was momentarily surprised his captor wasn't in uniform, he was quite certain he'd felt the cuff of a Preventer jacket against his throat earlier.

This was unexpected. Oh, not the fact that Wufei had jumped him, knocked him unconscious and tied him-...no, actually tying him to the ceiling was a bit unexpected, but not hugely off the map. No, what was unexpected was for this to happen now. He hadn't been doing anything much. The satellite they'd just left was the central habitat for several mining colonies, and pretty damn dull. The criminality there was all the petty drunk kind. Hell, it was already weird for a high-flyin' Preventer like Wufei to be there in the first place.

Duo had gone there for a job, something Hilde had wanted him to do. So he had. Then he'd broken into the central bank for the mining company, and also the director's suite while he was at it. Though that last had been boring, and had contained nothing of any interest whatsoever. No pretty curios, or unusual weapons, or anything that Duo might fancy. No naughty pictures of the director in bondage for him to pin up where the staff might find them the next day. He'd left, a bit disgusted. At least the bank had been okay. Hardly the best he'd seen, security-wise, but okay.

Was this why Wufei had caught him?

Didn't seem to be much point. He'd not taken anything from the bank. He didn't need to; money wasn't that hard to come by, in ways that were much safer than using numbered creds that would flag up as stolen if you took them from a bank safe.

Weird. Well, he'd find out, soon enough.

Wufei hadn't moved a muscle since Duo had spoken. Not a hair, either; damn, still that tight hairdo. And tighter ass, by the looks of things. Fuck, this was probably going to be boring. A lecture on the downfall of heroes, a slap on the wrist, and a jail sentence for breaking and entering. Crud. Why couldn't it have been Heero? Even Trowa would have been more interesting.

The silence was supposed to make Duo tense and nervous. The thought drifted through the back of Duo's mind, not connecting with anything much. Duo looked around the cargo bay with interest, noting a few boxes in a net fastened to one side, and what looked like a medical kit on one of them. Why, Fei, didn't know you cared!

"So, we headed dirt side? Or to L1?" Duo asked, turning back towards Wufei when the cargo bay and room beyond had surrendered any possible interest they contained. He could feel the faint vibration of propulsion beneath his feet, and the creak and clank of metal resisting vacuum. He wondered how long he'd been out of it.

Wufei was looking at him fixedly. He still hadn't said anything. Duo checked him over.

"You're looking fit. Put on a bit of weight there, muscle. Of course, you've been working hard with the Preventers these past three years. Hey, have you had any news from Heero? Or Trowa? Or Quatre?"

Duo noted absently the way Wufei's eyebrow twitched minutely. He hoped Chang would say something soon. This was getting old.

"You know, I've managed not to get tied up since the good ol' days of OZ." Duo looked at the cuffs, then closer with renewed interest. Even without the bars separating his hands, he'd not get these off with his emergency stash of picks in his braid. Good quality. "These aren't Preventer issue, are they? Look dandy! For your own recreational use?" He laughed, trying to imagine Chang being so original and failing miserably. "That's okay, man! You wouldn't believe what people get up to sometimes! The bars are a bit over the top, mind you." He tried to roll his shoulders to ease the bite of cramp.

He thought he caught an angry glint in the black eyes. Same old Chang. Straight as a poker. Why couldn't it have been Heero? It should have been Heero. It should have been someone real.

"So, you treat all your suspects like this? And don't you have to read me my rights at some point?" Duo's knowledge of the law was hazy at best, well, the newfangled ones. He knew all he had to about martial law: who to avoid, who to bribe, who to kill on sight. It was part of his education on L2.

Wufei stood up. Duo watched him approach curiously.

Chang had been interesting during the war. Not like Heero, of course - no way - but there had been that moment in the OZ cell, with the air running out. Chang had looked like he was going to cheat God, with his meditative trance. Now that had been very interesting. And Wufei had been intriguing on Peacemillion. Duo had rarely seen a guy who could so wonderfully not give a damn about anyone around him.

But after that, nothing much. He'd lost whatever small dimension he'd gained during the war. Just another little 2-D figure, scurrying around. Ran over to the side of law and order, a Preventer. How disappointing.

He was standing in front of Duo now, arms crossed over his chest, looking deep into his eyes. Duo looked back, waiting for something to happen. Anything, at this rate-

"Hng!"

The bars screeched against the chains as Duo's body tried to curl around the pain. It obliterated him for a few seconds, before he managed to breathe, deep rasps that eased the knot of hurt in his gut.

Fast. He hit me real fast. Right in the solar plexus. And...Duo analyzed the pain like a connoisseur tasting wine. Wufei had done something...hmmm...Duo tried to move, but his body was still leaden with shock and pulsing agony. Each breath was a battle. Wow. For a simple blow, that had been...Wufei had twisted his knuckles as they connected. After the impact had already done the damage, but it had added a little extra turn of the screw.

Duo blinked, and shook his head to clear out the pulse knocking in his ears. He took another shaky breath, pushing the pain away deftly. Well, well, well, who knew Chang had it in him.

"Huh. What was that for, Fei? If you're not happy to see me, I think I should remind you that you're the one who jumped me, put out my lights, dragged me aboard and chained me to the ceiling."

He had a closer view of Wufei's face now. He noticed the eyes widen slightly. He couldn't tell what the pupils were doing. Guy had eyes darker than a hole.

Duo braced himself as Wufei drew his fist back again slowly. Here we go again.

The dark eyes seemed to drink in his reaction, puzzled by something. Duo waited, but the blow didn't land.

"It was to get your attention, mainly."

Duo relaxed a hair's breath. "'Hey, Duo!' normally works," he pointed out mildly.

He thought Chang looked every so slightly perplexed.

"It was also to test something," Wufei added slowly.

"Fair enough. When I want to test something, I normally bang on it. If it holds, it'll be reliable in battle," Duo agreed sagely as he straightened. It didn't look like any more blows were forthcoming. For now.

The confusion before him increased. It had been...too long since Duo had been with someone who actually paid attention to what he said. His patter was a bit off. He should be begging Wufei not to hit him again, or protesting angrily or...he fished around in his store of knowledge about how the little people thought, for an appropriate reaction.

Shinigami didn't feel like bothering though. Which was strange...Duo poked the instinct throbbing through him like the echoes of Wufei's blow, wondering where it had come from. The guy was nothing; just a Preventer. Though an unconventional one. Normally the pigs asked you the question before beating you up, not after. Duo almost chuckled at the thought of Wufei reading the 'Cop Manual' from back to front, Chinese style, and getting it wrong.

"I wanted to be sure I remembered it right." Wufei said slowly, still scrutinizing Duo's features.

"Wazzat, Fei?"

"The way you seemed resistant to pain. Normally, someone who is as loud, glib and boastful as you are is only hiding cowardice behind a facade."

"...isn't this getting off the subject of my arrest?" Duo was thoroughly puzzled now. "And I'd add that that macho shit about being resistant to pain being the same thing as brave is bull. Avoiding pain is not a sign of cowardice, just a sign of bein' smart." Duo went to great lengths to avoid pain. Pain had the power to get inside your head, change it. Shatter you from the inside. Duo had known pain for a long time, he had spent a considerable amount of time and suffering, occasionally self-inflicted, taming the motherless bastard; but he still kept a great respect for it.

"You don't fear it though." Wufei had crossed his arms over his chest, and was scowling slightly.

"I took as many lumps as you during the war, pretty boy. A good deal more, I recall," Duo sniffed. It was automatic. Wufei had hit close to something that was not his to look upon. Duo quickly wrapped it in empty words. "You want to beat up on me, you better have some brass knuckles handy. Don't want to damage those lady hands of yours."

Pain came in many varieties. The brutal beating of an angry man was much preferable in the long run to the more clinical blow Wufei had proven himself capable of. Duo wasn't sure he knew where Wufei's buttons were - the little he thought he knew about the man was obviously wrong. But some things were pretty much universal.

Or not. Wufei looked like he hadn't heard a word.

"I am going to ask you some questions-"

"Oh, so you did read the 'cop manual' the right way around,"

Wufei stared at him blankly for a second, before ignoring that as well.

"You are going to answer. Without all this useless jerking around."

"Wow. You said 'jerk'. You actually said-"

Wufei stepped aside and his leg flashed out.

Duo gasped and his muscles clenched and then turned to water under the abrupt shock. Wufei had struck right on the side of the articulation of Duo's knee, pushing it inward, against the resistance of the bar holding his legs apart. He hadn't done too much damage actually, Duo realized as he channeled a bit more pain into the darkness. Considering Wufei could have very easily dislocated and broken his entire knee and his ankle as well, he'd shown some restraint. The blood throbbed in the wrenched muscles. It was a warm pulse of pain, timed to his heartbeat. Duo ignored it. It didn't matter.

"Stop. Talking."

"Huh?" Duo regulated his breathing and his voice found its usual cheeky drawl by itself. "Do you want me to answer your question or do you want me to stop talking? Make up your mind, Chang."

Black eyes rolled briefly in annoyance.

"Just answer my questions and stop this- this verbal outpouring."

"You haven't actually asked your question yet, Wufei," Duo pointed out reasonably.

"That's because I'm waiting for you to start taking this seriously," was the ground-out answer.

Duo thought about that for a few seconds. Seriously? Wasn't he taking this seriously? He wasn't sure what Chang meant. Unless he meant that he wanted Duo to treat him like he was real. Like he mattered. Well, Chang was slightly more interesting than Duo had given him credit for, but hardly that much more.

The sudden grip on his chin was like a vise. "Pay. Attention."

But he was. He was testing out Wufei's resolve, and looking for the words that would spin Chang's little mind around and make him set Duo loose. Or get Wufei to knock him quickly unconscious; he doubted the Preventer was pliable enough to get around with just words. So, pretty boy, just where are your buttons nowadays...

There was a moment of silence. The grip on his chin would leave bruises. Chang was very close now, and Duo tested the leeway of his chains mentally, to see if he could get a head-butt in. Not yet. Maybe later. Make it a bit more fun.

"There's not much point in me beating you up, is there..." Wufei was staring at him as if seeing him for the first time.

Duo smiled, the movement crooked against the pull of fingers on his skin. "I'd rather you didn't, if that makes you feel any better," he admitted, because he always told the truth. "And you still haven't asked me your question. You know, it might be something I woulda answered anyway, without actually tying me to the ceiling, and introducing your fist to my solar plexus."

"No. No, I want actual answers. And I won't get them from you, not like this." Wufei was talking softly, almost to himself. This was actually getting a bit intriguing. What did he want to know? Surely, if he was aware of Duo's little jaunt through the director's private suite, or even the bank job, there wasn't all that much to ask. Just clap him in irons - oh wait, done that already - and haul him off to jail, from which Duo would probably break out pretty damn quickly.

Maybe it was something else...

But if it was something else, the other stuff, then surely Chang would be...donno, showing something else than this slightly annoyed perplexity. He looked like he was lost in Duo's home slums, trying to get from Avenue M to Hope Street, with all the road signs stolen and a few bomb craters in between, and he didn't really want to ask for directions.

"Pain is a good tool, and it comes in all shapes and sizes," Wufei suddenly announced, dragging Duo's attention back to him. "I didn't think I would be able to get what I wanted from you the physical way."

Duo shifted against the restraints. Although he really wasn't looking forward to the pain, he was curious to see what Chang was going to try now, almost as curious as to know why. As for the beating itself, or whatever Wufei had in mind, that probably didn't matter. He had to present a prisoner in roughly good shape at the end of the journey, after all, so he couldn't damage Duo permanently. Duo knew there were many ways of hurting people that didn't leave much visible damage, but he wasn't worried about that either; he could slip into unconsciousness as quickly as he could snap out of it, a good defense that had protected his body from other severe beatings in the past. And Chang was waaay too straight ‘n narrow to try any kinky stuff. If he did, Duo would know just which buttons to start pushing, and they'd be back to straight old punching before Chang could get whatever he thought he had in his pants out.

"It's all a question of leverage," Wufei murmured, looking very composed, clinical. "And I don't think you know pain as well as you believe you do."

Wufei's grip slipped from his chin to fasten to the back of Duo's neck, and he leaned forward. The hand removed the possibility of a head-butt, unfortunately. Damn, if he was going to get the crap kicked out of him, it would be nice to have some sort of reason fi-

"I fucked Heero Yuy."

The words were soft and gentle, right next to his ear.

Duo gaped blindly at the far wall in pure shock.

"Shortly after the war. Twice. The second time, he asked me..."

...what?!

"I was his first..."

It had been easier to breathe around the punch to his gut.

"...and probably his last, to date..."

...

"He likes it rough...I guess you're not surprised to hear that..."

Wufei's breath was cool against Duo's ear; the words seemed to slither through the whorls and eat into his brain. Then his captor leaned back a bit. He was watching Duo as if judging the effects of his words. He showed no emotion, no satisfaction, no involvement at all. Duo wished he could believe this was a lie. But he seriously doubted it.

Heero...?!

The magnificent soldier with a heart like space...cold and empty. The man courted Death like a lover, and Death had loved him. He was too perfect, too...unreachable. Heero should not- Heero being touched by anyone, anyone, didn't - just didn't-

Black eyes trailed over his face.

"I thought that would get your attention. I saw how you looked at him during the war. When you thought no one else was watching. I thought that that would hurt."

Hurt? Probably not in the way Wufei was suggesting but yeah, in a way it did. Something he'd cherished - the image of Heero, the child-killer pushing the button to his own self-destruct sequence with absolute uncaring - it had been...soiled. Contaminated. The picture of Heero on his back, sweating and moaning and wanting and living, with Chang over him, Chang, of all people - oh, that definitely got his attention. Heero's inaccessibility wasn't anything Duo would have fought over. It wasn't that kind of pain. But it did bother him.

And the way Wufei had used it... That had been a very good blow. Masterful, and Shinigami was a competent judge. What did Chang hope to accomplish with it? What possible kind of question could he have that would require something like that? And incidentally....straight as a poker? Better revise that opinion.

"Yeah, you have my attention. What do you want, Chang?"

"You don't want to hear any details?" Wufei's head tilted to one side, a gesture that might have been meant as coy but was too calculating. The man's entire being was a set of brass knuckles. And just about as subtle. "Do you want to know what kind of sounds he makes when he comes? Do you know what position he prefers-"

"I'm more curious about what you want to know," Duo interrupted a bit impatiently. The brief flash of pain, of disappointment at the loss of Heero's purity, slipped into the past and no longer touched him the same way.

Wufei was silent, watching him. He didn't look happy; maybe Duo should have showed more anger, more pain, but the latter didn't feel like wasting time posturing. Finally Wufei turned away and started pacing the cargo area. Apparently he had judged that Duo was taking this seriously enough now.

"I've been aware of your little thefts for some time," Wufei announced, speaking slowly.

"...Oh?" Duo didn't bother to hide his surprise.

"Yes. You were careful, but I recognized your MO a couple of times. And no one else would be weird enough to break into Zurich's Etablissement De Credit Suisse to steal a small pair of diamond earrings, a packet of letters, an original edition of Hemingway, and then paint a smiley face on their main vault before leaving."

"It was beautifully round and had these two wheels on it that were just at the right spot for the eyes," Duo pointed out reasonably. He remembered that one. It had been Hilde's birthday and he'd forgotten to shop for it, and he knew that after that little break-in he'd have to get outta town pretty quickly. She'd liked the earrings. The letters had witnessed a torrid romance between two high-ranking Romefeller officers, and Duo still read them and howled with laughter on occasion.

"The book had to be the only thing of real value, to the right collector." Wufei was watching him from the corner of his eyes.

"Really? It was a bit dog-eared. And it was just a book."

Wufei blinked. He tried to cover for it but Duo had seen it.

"Then why did you take it?" Wufei asked slowly.

"Quatre once told me that I'd like 'The Old Man And The Sea', so when I saw it in the insurance listings, I thought-"

Wufei was waving his hand to interrupt him, looking a bit annoyed. "No matter, no matter. I don't care about that stuff."

"You don't? Aren't you a cop?"

"I'm a Preventer, yes, but I work on serious crimes against Peace, I track war criminals and crime lords. I don't do petty theft. Or...grand but slightly deranged theft," Wufei added in a mutter that Duo managed to catch; it made him grin inwardly. "Let the police worry about that, it's their job. If they are unable to do it when it comes to you, that is none of my concern."

"O-kay," Duo rattled his chains a bit, like a slightly puzzled ghost wondering what he was doing at this particular haunting.

"You were beneath my notice. I have more than enough work as it is." Wufei was pacing back and forth and Duo thought he looked a bit harassed. Poor bugger; no wonder Duo didn't want a regular job if that was the kind of stress it generated.

"Then I was questioning a suspect a couple of months ago," Wufei continued. "And he asked me if I was the God of Death."

What?!

In his narrowing vision, Duo barely noted black eyes looking at him obliquely; they slitted in satisfaction at the clank of chains as Duo's surge of emotions caught against them.

"He said a lot about this person. A killer who strikes only the most protected crime bosses. No one knows how he gets in. He only kills his target, and none of the guards or entourage even catch sight of him. Some people even think he might be the ghost of fallen war victims, because he tracks down and carves up hidden OZ war criminals-"

"Who." Shinigami whispered. "Who talked..."

Wufei spun around to stare at him fully, and then his eyes narrowed. Duo didn't bother to try to cover it. He was furious. Someone had talked. There were Rules. No one broke the Rules.

"That does not matter," Wufei said slowly. But it did. It mattered a lot. Duo broke through the seal of the present, reached into the future and placed a bloody cross on someone's lifeline. How could he get that name out of Chang...? The Preventer probably kept files-

"Maxwell?"

Preventer systems were the hardest to break into; Yuy had seen to that. There might be an easier way-

The slap made him stagger against the chains, the injured knee throbbing with pain as it took his full weight. He blinked, and licked the blood from his lips.

"Pay attention!"

Chang. Chang wasn't important. He knew the information though- but he'd never spit it out, not even under torture. That was just the way he was. Duo looked at Wufei, knowing it would be better to pretend to care about what this negligible entity said, to avoid injuries that might slow him down, but Chang was already just one more obstacle in his way, something to work around.

"I'm glad you're not going to pretend to be ignorant about this," Wufei declared archly; still a stuck-up, self-righteous asshole, Duo noted absently. "Now, let's have the truth."

"Chang, I never say anything but," Duo murmured. Lies were for those who couldn't stand the truth. Duo had stared God in the face. He could stand anything.

"You are this contract killer they call the God of Death, right?"

Except for that!

"Contract killer?! Me?! I'm no contract killer, Chang!"

Wufei took an instinctive step back as Duo threw himself against the chains furiously. The pain in his knee didn't exist. The chains were an inconvenience he wanted to ignore. This annoying little man had just accused him of being a contract killer, treating Death like a whore, selling God on his own altar!

Damn. I may just have to kill Chang if he says that again...

"Then why do you kill these people? Is it for revenge?"

Duo just snarled.

Wufei watched him carefully, and continued speaking, slowly. "Once I realized what this suspect was talking about - and once he gave me all the details about this God of Death- "

Oooh, someone was so going to have to die.

"- I thought of you. I remembered your nickname during the war. Besides, not many people could match your MO. I didn't think it was Yuy. He'd use a gun, not a knife. And the way security was bypassed...The first few victims I positively identified as your signature were ex-Alliance officers in hiding."

A look flitted across Wufei's face, like he'd smelled something bad. "Some of them were people I'd wanted to bring in for questioning. They were the worst, the venal, the greedy, they couldn't even justify their crimes with their ideals. But the Preventers would never touch them. When you spend twenty years skimming off the top, you can afford the best in security, and pay off the hounds. I'm sure you have a few corpses out there we don't even know about, they were so well hidden when you killed them."

Duo swallowed the feral laughter that was tickling him inside. Yeah, a few corpses.

"I thought it might be revenge. The few I leaned about, all but one, had been garrisoned at L2. Is that why, Maxwell? Looking for revenge?"

Duo didn't answer. He was listening to Wufei but what the little man was saying wasn't making sense when applied to him.

"But then I don't understand the others. The crime lords, and the couple of industrialists who were running weapons factories. I was almost wondering if this wasn't your twisted sense of keeping the peace, or justice, but then I remembered how little those things seemed to count for you back during the war."

Hard fingers caught Duo's chin again, forcing his head up. He glared into black eyes. Wufei didn't seem very excited by all this. Duo didn't waste a mental breath to wonder why; the creature didn't matter.

"That's why I assumed you were killing on contract. All these men had plenty of enemies who would pay for their deaths. I could see you taking up that career. Not as much as Yuy, or Barton, but yes, I could imagine that."

"You have an imagination? Will wonders never cease?" Duo laughed, ignoring the pinch of fingers. He ignored the punch - short, clinical, and quite neat - that followed, too.

"Now, tell me, Maxwell-"

"Yeah, I killed them. And probably a few more you don't know about." Duo shrugged, trying to temper his grin which was twisting the bruises on his face. "Haul me before the judge, put me in jail. Hell, if you let me out of these chains, I'll even write down the names and dates for you." Duo clinked the cuffs hopefully, though he didn't think Chang was that dumb.

"Why?"

"Well, not much point being coy," Duo chuckled. "It sounds like you figured out most of it by yourself. Good job, copper. I might as well-"

"Why did you kill them?"

"Heh?" Duo looked at him. Chang had crossed his arms over his chest again. That strange calm was still cloaking him. Duo felt a very faint surprise. He'd have thought a Preventer, and particularly Mr Justice Freak, would be a bit more excited by Duo's admission that he had a few corpses to his name, bar the ones from the war.

"Why did you kill those men? Some could be for revenge. I'd understand that. But not the others. If you say you didn't do it for a contract, why go to all that trouble and risk to kill these high-level criminals?"

"Why do you care?" Duo countered, puzzled.

They stared at each other for a second, and Duo thought his answer had caught Wufei by surprise.

Duo saw the blow to his gut coming, and he managed to both twist his body and relax into it, lessening the impact. He still saw little wobbles of color in his vision, and a couple of big bells were clanging in his ears.

Huh...Weird...there was a strange undercurrent here, like the taste of blood in his mouth. What exactly was Chang after?

"Tell me." Wufei sounded...business-like, and bored. It made Duo almost feel sorry for him. Duo hated being bored.

"Tell you what?" Duo coughed, trying to force the pain back into its kennel. "I told you I killed those guys."

"But why did you kill them?" Wufei's voice was so mechanical, so calm, like he could repeat that question again and again.

"Hmm. You used that tone of voice during the war. The 'it's all decided, and so I'm not going to get excited about it' voice." Duo had liked that voice. Chang had been interesting then. "But you'd lose your cool when you were fighting. You'd rant about weakness and justice and stuff - I'm surprised you're not - hng!!"

Duo licked the blood from his lips. But wow, those blows were so measured. Anybody else would knocked Duo unconscious by now.

"Why. Did. You. Kill. Them."

"...Chang..." Duo inhaled. The mass in his abdomen felt like it had grown claws and fangs, an entity in itself, trying to tear itself out of his body. "...you're a crap cop...what matters is that you can prove I did it, and that I admit I did it, so who cares why I did it? If you get me to tell you that, it might be some shit about my childhood, like my daddy beat me up when I was ten so I hate the world. It's boring and it might even sway a jury. It's better to keep that under wraps. Just take the fact that- aoow!"

"Talk."

"....uffff....might be...easier...if you s-stop...pu-punching me..."

"Tell. Me. Why."

"Why should I tell you?!" Duo coughed; he was getting annoyed. Getting beat up was something that happened in his universe, like hunger and dirt. But getting that question hammered into him along with a hard, clinical fist was just- "I don't spill my guts to the pigs, Chang. You're on the good side now - same as OZ when they wanted to execute me for the good of the fucking public! They didn't get much more out of me than 'yeah, I blow you guys up and I like it!', so why the fuck should I tell you more?!"

The fist had paused half way to his gut again. Duo stared into black eyes like a tunnel. A small part of him was wondering where it led. Probably somewhere boring, where Justice was a universal truth, and bad guys got put in jail and good guys went to bed happy.

"...you're still not taking me seriously..." The words were slow, less mechanical. But still...no anger. Just a bit annoyed, like he was trying to find some files someone had misplaced. Strange. Wufei was a cold fish, Duo remembered that much, but he was surprised the man was still acting like this was another day at the office.

"Right..." the hand left Duo's chin. He braced himself - but Wufei just walked away. The surprise actually piqued Duo's interest.

"You gonna give up?" I should probably shut up, Duo thought. Nah, he immediately decided. "I thought you were a bit more, I donno, persistent than that. Or-"

Wufei turned neatly outside the door and sat down on his chair again. He leaned forward and picked something up off the floor, a little box with switches on it. Then he leaned back, a pose that was more relaxed than any Duo had seen him in before. He tilted the chair up on two legs slightly, and put a foot up on one side of the door seal. Nice legs, Duo thought, getting a very good view of them in that position. Not just the legs, either, he purred, as he noticed that the cargo pants were light and clung to some interesting curves. Heero must have had fun.

"I am persistent. But I do not like wasting my time," Wufei announced coldly, fiddling with the box. "There's not much point hitting you; you'd ignore it, or pass out."

True, Fei had shown a remarkable amount of understanding about Duo's reaction to pain. Hence the Heero thing. Duo hadn't forgotten about that, of course, but it was the past. And in the future, he didn't think Wufei would be able to top that for shock value.

"You're probably right. So, what are you going to do now?" Duo looked at the small control box Wufei held. There wasn't anything mechanical around him. Maybe the cuffs were wired for electroshocks...? Hell, that would be...strange. It would make Wufei a bit more interesting, yet again. But still, pain was pain. Duo knew the bite and savage tingle of electricity running through his muscles and nerves, the way your heart seized and clenched, the helpless jolt and spasm that would last until you thought your spine was going to snap like glass. Been there, done that, Chang. Want to see the t-shirt? I gotta warn you, it's got puke on it.

Wufei was sitting there. Calm. No, not calm. Duo looked at him thoughtfully. Calm was something. What Duo was looking at was an absence. A pit. Like his eyes. It was waiting for something. It wanted something. And it was remarkably patient, considering this was Chang.

...interesting...Duo wondered how he'd missed it before. It had been there all along, but it had been covered by a veneer of business-like calm. Now Wufei wasn't bothering with it. Now he was taking off the gloves. Whatever he was going to do now, it would match the darkness in his eyes. Duo glanced at the cuffs, but could see no evidence of wiring.

This is probably going to hurt. The thought didn't elicit more than a faint weariness and annoyance. The pain was in the future. Then it would blanket the present. And then it would be in the past. That was the way of things, since as far as Shinigami cared to remember.

Wufei flicked the small plastic guard off a switch, and thumbed it. For a second, nothing happened-

A howl, brief and startling - ears popped and rang - the air became a hard, tangible thing that grabbed him bodily, sucked him towards- then it was gone, and he was trembling, muscles clenched in raw fear, sweat leaping out over every inch of his body.

"Fuck!"

Duo's ears were ringing and his lungs ached. He panted. The air was cold, harsh and rare in his lungs; it tasted of iron. His eyes throbbed as if they were trying to squirm out of their sockets.

Wufei was still sitting there, in the red haze of Duo's vision. He held the control box casually. He was staring at Duo. Waiting.

Shinigami stared back.

Stared at the black shape, draped casually in the chair, body and mind a weapon to cut through to the bone. Terrible. And beautiful.

Duo shook his head, trying to clear the ringing out. I can't believe he did that. No-one - no one! - rigs their own spaceship to have the airlock open on command like that, while in space. He must have cut through ten layers of automatic responses and alarms. Fuck.

The door Wufei was bracing himself against to resist the brief, savage pull, had whined a bit, and its servomotors were still purring.

For once, Duo could see the future in a way that mattered. A press of the button, and the cargo bay door would open for good, and Wufei's door would slam shut and seal automatically in response to the air pressure drop, protecting him from the cold vacuum of space that would kill Duo within a few long, agonizing seconds.

"You..." Duo licked his lips, reluctantly awed. Wufei was like him, a child of space; as such, it would take a lot of balls to rig his ship like that. To hit that button.

And he might do it again.

Duo bared his teeth. Yeah. Yeah. That could do it. Pain - he could deal with. Death - that was the future, it didn't exist. Words - coming from someone who wasn't even real, they didn't bother him.

But Wufei had mastered space...

It was the one thing Shinigami respected. Something that was even greater, crueler and more perfect than God. All the children of Earth respected it and feared it, when they'd been born in the pitifully flimsy tin cans they called Colonies. Once you'd seen what a hull breach could do - cold, uncaring fingers of vacuum ripping a man inside out, exploding eyes, lungs, blood vessels with a touch - you never forgot it.

Wufei knew this. He knew the fear bred into their cells, their bones. He felt it too, he had to, but he'd conquered his fear and turned it into a weapon.

"You...know what you're doing alright...Holy fuck..."

Shinigami stared at Wufei Chang. Seeing him for the first time.

This man was real.

This changed everything.

And suddenly things started to make sense. Duo managed to tear his eyes away from the dark shape on the other side of the door, waiting for God knew what, to stare at the medical kit. Its true significance hadn't occurred to him before. It was big. It had shifted in the netting that held it, under the savage tug of vacuum that had ripped through the hold for a split second. It had a resuscitation unit strapped to the back.

...Real indeed...

---

Wufei slowly held up the control box. His thumb caressed the button slowly. He measured Duo's flinch with his eyes, precision instruments to weight the exact amount of fear he'd managed to generate. Apparently he must have been satisfied. He put the control box down again and stood up from the chair.

He walked up to Duo slowly, pulling a red cloth from his pocket. It was soft as it passed over Duo's lips, cleaning up the blood and spit. Silk. The pressurization ache in Duo's ears was beginning to subside.

"Are you willing to talk now?"

Yeah.

"Why did you kill those men?"

"Because I could."

The cloth paused as it wiped the tears that had beaded from his eyes under the effect of the dry cold that still lingered in the cargo hold.

Duo didn't wonder if his words made sense. Wufei had turned out to be real; he'd understand.

"What do you mean, because you-"

"They had the best, security-wise," Duo licked his lips, a bit dreamily. The cloth had felt very soft against them. "They were arrogant. You can't cheat Death though. Sometimes I don't kill them-"

Because it was random. Death was random, and he was Death. He would watch them, silent as their shadow. The little men, the fake people, played with their money or their whores, or ran their empires, or sat back and thought and feared, and he'd be there, he'd watch them.

"Sometimes, I let them see me..."

Just so they'd know that Death had come that night, that Death had been there, and had not touched them. Not tonight. And he'd leave them, frozen in fear, or cursing and reaching for a weapon he'd already removed, or just screaming their heads off, like primitive apes trying to scare away a predator.

"And sometimes..."

"What? Sometimes what?"

Duo focused on black eyes again. Oh yeah, Chang.

"Why do you kill them? Is it because you want power over them? To try to prove to yourself you're better than them, when you see the fear in their eyes?" Wufei's voice was rich with condemnation and contempt, the most emotion Duo had heard from him so far.

"Hmm?" Duo blinked, considering the question seriously. He'd never really thought about it. "No, I don't think so. When I kill them, most times, they don't even see me."

Not until the blade had sliced into their throat. With the little catch and then give which meant he'd slid from the jugular to the trachea.

"There's a spot you hit - takes out the vocal cords. Stops them from doing more than blubber and groan. It gets noisy, otherwise. They're incapacitated, unconscious within a few heartbeats, dead soon after that. There's a trick, to stepping away at the right moment. I hate having to throw away...my...clothes..." Duo trailed off, as another interesting fact popped into mind. Huh.

"Then what's the point? Why do you kill them?" Wufei sounded confused, though he was apparently trying to keep his voice cold and business-like.

"You do keep harping on that. Why not?"

"Why them? Why not anybody?" Wufei probed with steely patience.

"...why not anybody...ahh, but Wufei, you just heard about the ones who had the best security, where my MO is the most obvious..."

A hand grabbed him by the hair and jerked his head back. He let his eyes focus lazily on dark, intense features, scrutinizing him like some bug under a microscope. With a snarl of anger, or revulsion, that marred his lips - Wufei was really quite a nice-looking guy when he wasn't scowling like that.

"You mean you kill innocents, too?!"

"Who's innocent?" Duo found he didn't mind the hand in his hair. "No one is innocent. We're not even born innocent. We're all one and the same before God."

Duo was observing Wufei just as closely. What was the darkness in those eyes waiting for?

"God? Is this related to the Maxwell church massacre?"

"Oh, you did your homework. Poor Father Maxwell. He was a good man. Real. But a stupid one, in the end. He met my God before he met his, that's for sure. And at the end, there's just bones."

"What?" Once more, poor Wufei looked confused.

"Father Maxwell tried to persuade me - prayed over me nightly - that his God was stronger than mine. Before proving, rather conclusively, that this wasn't the case." Duo sighed. He didn't know what regrets were - they were something the little people had invented to make the past more real, and bargain with the future - but he felt a slight taste of them when he thought of the Church, of Father and Sister. He'd wanted to defend them. He'd wanted them to go on trying to turn him away from God, because it was fun to argue with them, and because it was nice to have someone who cared about him. But God had decided that wasn't to be. And now they were the past and Duo had no regrets. He had God.

"But...but you were fighting the war to avenge their deaths. Weren't you?!" The hand pulled his hair but he didn't think it was intentional this time.

Duo wondered why Wufei was suddenly getting agitated; he'd wanted this explanation. "...Revenge? No. To be honest...it's not a concept I grasp."

"What?!"

"The concept. I don't get it. What's past is past. It can't touch you anymore, hurt you any more. Why fight for it?"

"But- the war- why did you fight?"

"Why? Because I could!"

Wufei was silent, his mouth slightly open. He had very beautiful lips, thin and delicate, the color of crushed orchids.

"It was Death on a grand scale, wasn't it...?" Duo murmured dreamily, eyes still on those parted lips. "Besides, the pigs were killing L2. The colonists wanted to fight back. But they don't know Death. They're...they're lambs, not wolves. And they're mine. They shouldn't fight. They just get themselves killed before their time. It was almost a relief when they took themselves out of the fight and turned their back on me, though it did bite a bit, to start with. A bit cheeky of them. But I couldn't stay mad at them; they're too small to matter. I just defended L2, and the slums." God's temple. His favorite place of worship. "Yeah, the war was fun...me and Deathscythe. But it was a bit indiscriminate. Messy!" Duo drawled with a grin. "Everybody killing each other. That's Treize's thing. But he's not God. Besides, if everybody dies, then it's no fun."

The hand jerked his hair as it left it, whipping away as if burned. Duo pouted a bit; he wasn't sure if it was because that had hurt, or if it was because Wufei was now standing further away. Eyes wide, mouth working. Looked quite stunned.

"You're a psychopath," Wufei said slowly.

Duo nodded enthusiastically. "That's what G said!"

"He knew?!"

"Oh yes. Said it should come in handy. He said I was the real deal, too, the full clinical psychopath. Very rare, actually. He said I could either be a great monster or a great hero, depending on the times; apparently when chaos rules, in civil wars, great heroes can be monsters. Or...vice versa. I can't remember which he said. He said a lot of shit, really. But he made a mean mecha!"

"...I should have realized..." Wufei looked like he was staring at the result of a long equation he'd suddenly worked out. "You were the only one of us who never had any guilt over all the killing we did...the war barely seemed to affect you. All the others changed, were stretched to the limit, but this was just a sort of game for you!...I didn't realize."

No guilt? That's an interesting point, Wufei, Duo reflected dreamily.

Wufei grabbed Duo by the collar, jerked him against the chains. His black eyes were endless depths, seen up close. Desperate holes. "You must regret something! You must feel some guilt! Some remorse!"

"...Regret...?" Duo hesitated, mumbled. "Regret...yes, I- I guess..."

He looked down at the floor, then quickly glanced up through his lashes. The darkness in Wufei's eyes seemed to pull him forward, drag the words out of him. "I have some...regrets..." he whispered, so low he could barely hear it himself.

Wufei leaned closer, body, face, eyes, everything tense as a wire. Waiting.

"...One regret..." Duo leaned forward slowly against the hold on his collar and breathed the words into the ear near his mouth, "I do have one regret; I could have done so much more if you hadn't caught me..." and kissed the cool skin near his lips.

Wufei stiffened. But he didn't move away. Like a black moth nearly pinned to the flame.

"Tell me..." Duo whispered. Wufei smelled of clean skin with the faint bite of a crisp winter morning behind it, it was fresh, appealing. "Tell me, Wufei...that man who broke the Rules..." his lips brushed skin the color of copper, "the one who told you about me..."

"...Rules?" Wufei still hadn't moved. His voice was hoarse.

"Rules. The little crooks all know about me. They defend themselves as they can." He was whispering the words into Wufei's ear. He could feel the brush of delicate skin against his lips, the heartbeat in the throat near his own. "They put up their defenses and sometimes they can keep me out. It they can't, their fate is up to me. But they don't call the law on me. That's against the Rules."

"Wait. Wait. Law? Rules?" Finally Wufei drew back a tiny bit, turning his head. "You said you killed other people than criminals."

"Sometimes," Duo whispered to those dark, searching eyes. "A lot when I was younger. But that's too easy now. I don't like getting bored. And my skills are very useful. I can't afford to get rusty; there might be another war tomorrow. So I break into just about anything. Keeps me in practice. I do try to kill only the criminals. I may be a psychopath but I'm not crazy." He sniggered, wrinkling his nose, and Wufei jerked as if finally waking up. "I don't want all the pigs after me, like during the war. Messy. Complicated. So I only play the game with those who know the Rules, who respect them and me, because they also come from the house of God, they've also seen Him, and they fear and respect Him. Oh, I don't leave you pigs alone, mind you," Duo murmured dreamily, eyes wandering to the view screen of the cockpit over Wufei's shoulder. "I have a lock of her hair...Une's...she sleeps very soundly in that little cubby-hole right off her auxiliary office on L4..." he kept the lock with a few other odds and ends...but he didn't feel like telling Wufei about that. That was too personal.

"...You only choose your victims because-"

"It's merely convenient. As I said, they try to stop me, but they don't set the pigs on my trail. Now...about the man who told you about me." Duo focused on Wufei once more.

"Don't worry about him!" The arrogant snarl was back, though Duo thought it looked a bit shaken. "You will not have the occasion to add him to your collection of bodies! How many, Maxwell? How many have-"

"He's already dead, isn't he..." Duo whispered, smiling.

"...what?" Wufei's words ran out and his eyes widened.

"Tell me...Wufei..." Duo leaned forward, against the hold on his collar which had loosened. "What were you doing to him? What were you doing to him that he thought you were God?" Duo felt the trickle of breath from open lips caress his own, an inch away. The black eyes were big enough to eat the world. "Did you have him in this cargo hold?" Duo whispered. "With its neat hooks and the bypassed security that allows you to shoot the bodies out into space? With your medical kit, to make it last long enough, and your cheap throw-away clothes you can bundle off with the corpse, to get rid of blood stains?"

Duo leaned forward that last inch, touched the open, silent mouth with his own. Soft. Like the silk.

"Don't lie to me. I've been very honest with you. And now that I look at you...really look at you...I can see the pain and the blood on you. You don't just kill them, do you. You tear out their minds and souls. What did you do to him...?"

"None of your business." Voice hoarse. The eyes suddenly came back into focus and the hand on his collar yanked him back a few inches.

"I might say it is," Duo chuckled, clanking his chains. "Besides, hey, I'm curious too! You said I was the only one among us pilots without guilt, but that wasn't true. You never showed the slightest hesitation or remorse either. I don't think you were entirely what you appeared to be back then either, Wufei Chang. Hmm? So come on, let's get to know each other properly here!"

"If you want me to be honest, fine." The fine lips twisted in a snarl. The eyes were still black, empty holes. "You know I'm going to kill you."

Duo shrugged.

"You don't believe me?!"

"Death? It's in the future."

Wufei stared. Then dropped the collar, took a step back and rubbed his eyes. "Right. Disassociated state. You're a real psychopath, in the full sense of the term. Charismatic, obsessed with your own ends, completely amoral...Other people have no existence for you; you have no empathy for them. And even your own death doesn't scare you; you're too dissociated from it, you're unable to believe it's going to happen."

Duo looked at him in some amusement. He was the God of Death, he killed, forever, he would always be here, steeped in blood. And he was about to die - every second, since he was a baby, he was about to die, a lamb before God, his life snuffed out like one of millions of candles, and nothing much more to get excited about. These two facts existed side by side in his mind, without conflict. For they were both true. But he didn't say anything. He felt it would give poor Wufei a bigger headache. He seemed to have a hard time wrapping his head around certain concepts.

"What did you want me to say? Hmm? Tell me." Duo murmured, voice warm and persuasive. "Why are you threatening me? What can you threaten me with anyway; you just told me you're going to kill me." The thought didn't mean anything; it never did. Even when Duo hit the self-destruct button, Death was always in the future. Always. Next second or next century, his own or someone else's; it was the only constant. Until it happened, it didn't exist.

"I'm going to space you, Maxwell," Wufei looked up at him with cold lethality. "If you tell me what I want to hear, I will space your body with a bullet between the eyes. Otherwise I turn around right now, close the inner hatch and crack the airlock."

Duo grinned. "Go ahead."

"...what?"

Shinigami smiled. The fear of the void was clawing inside, but he'd accepted it now. In a way, he even wanted this. If he had to go, he wanted it to be the best, the most perfect way. What better way than raw space, the greatest, biggest killer of all?

"Go ahead and space me, Chang. I told you all I can. I mean, I can give you names and such - but I don't think the trip is long enough."

The black eyes just stared at him. Duo thought he detected a bit of reluctant respect. He bet Chang didn't often meet someone who'd bested this deepest of fears, like Wufei himself had done.

"And that's not what you want to hear, anyway, is it..." Duo whispered, the smile pulling at the bruises on his face. "What is it, Wufei? What can fill the darkness in those beautiful eyes of yours...? I can feel its shape. I can taste it. It tastes of screams, and tears, and blood and pain, but not the pain that you have in those clever fists, not even the pain in that remote control over there. What do you want-"

The eyes went cold, hard as space. Wufei grabbed him by the throat in one lighting movement. The chains clanked. Fingers tightened, Duo could feel the blood pounding on either side of them. The future reached out for Duo and he grinned at it like Shinigami.

"I want to know..." he whispered, the air choking. He moved his lips; the dark eyes fixed on them, hoping that in this last instant he would give Wufei...what?

"...I want to know you..."

The fingers tightened. Blood screamed in his ear as it rushed back up to drown his mind in spots of red. "Don't...Wufei..." he mouthed, pleading, smiling, laughing, wanting. "I don't want to die...I want to know you...and I have a lot more to do still..."

A lot more to do...The universe was a giant obstacle course and shooting range. Shinigami defended some portions of it, with magnificent randomness - some people, some colonies, or just a flower he fancied - and he kept score with the rest, but at the end, there was only him and his God, as always, as it had been since his first real thoughts, after Solo and the plague...Shinigami, and his big, violent buddy Deathscythe, and a few real people, like Heero. And...it was too bad that God was reaching for him now. This Wufei - not the stuck-up little brat of the war, but this one, the real one - was...interesting. Very...interesting...

Darkness swam up from Wufei's eyes, and buried him.

---

Duo opened his eyes. He wasn't particularly surprised. Death stayed in the future, but that's where it had always been, and always would be. He wondered, as he blinked the blurriness from his eyes, and tried to swallow through a badly bruised throat, why people cared so much about it, feared it so. It was wise to respect it, worship it, try to avoid it. But fear it? Try to bargain with it when it was reaching out for you? Try to whimper and run for it, when the future became now? No. He'd never quite grasped the concept...

Hmm. Where the hell was he...?

He almost chuckled. Oh, lovely. He was on his ship, in his bunk. That was just so deliciously unexpected. Of course Wufei couldn't have put him in jail, not with the mark of his knuckles all over Duo's stomach, and what Duo knew, and guessed. And he couldn't space Duo. Right? Because Duo hadn't given Wufei what he needed.

Duo rolled himself painfully off his bunk and hobbled towards the cockpit screen. He was still on the mining colony. And he'd probably better get away from here fast. He'd left traces of himself in the bank - a detailed and rather sarcastic analysis of their security flaws spray-painted across their main vault. They wouldn't report it, once they realized he'd not stolen anything. But they might have private investigators who could make life tricky for him if they found him still docked when they decided to check outgoing ships.

He slipped into the seat, ran through take-off checks, warned the little men at Control, who thought they were real and had a really important job, that he was about to take off.

His mind was elsewhere.

Preventers had the best security system, but there were ways, there were ways...Duo chuckled as he began to plan, and stared out at space, dark as a pair of black eyes.

You probably should have killed me, Wufei. Though I don't think you could. But now I'm curious. Very curious. You're real to me now. And...very interesting. My beautiful dark angel. I'm dying to learn what drives your heart to beat, what feeds the darkness in your eyes.

It was quite likely that one or the other of the two men would not survive Death's sudden passion. But that didn't matter, really.

Shinigami was going to have fun!

[part 2] [back to Maldoror's fic]