Learning to Fly Carefully I tapped the needle and squeezed it so the bubbles collected by the suction splattered out the hole. I watched the precious fluid blaze out, then stopped squeezing when I had the proper amount. I hated wasting good dope. I used it often and didn't like the idea of running out when I needed it. Stims. They kept me going on days like this one. I had three sleepless nights, and a headache the size of a meteor. I'd never get through this mission alive if I went straight. I rechecked the rubber thong around my upper arm and searched for a vein. For an old pro like me, it wasn't difficult to find; I had needle tracks all over from my heroin days when I was a kid. Like then, I still hated injections, but I was out of the happy pills so I had to suffer. I felt my face grimace as the sharp prick of the needle sank into my flesh. Damn, I was going to bruise again. Good thing I lived the life of a terrorist. I always got enough bumps and scrapes to cover up the damage I did to myself. No one asked questions then. "Duo..." Quatra's voice trembled from behind. Shit. My luck these last few days sucked. I slowly removed the needle, still feeling its cold venom in my veins. It wouldn't be long before I felt a charge. It was always a thrill to ride any high, especially when I was entering a combat situation. "What's up?" I asked the blond Arab boy turning my gaze to him. I placed the syringe into a nearby garbage pail and closed my little black leather case. I knew he saw my supply, so it was useless to pretend it wasn't there. Yet I still didn't like the idea of him poking into my drugs. "We have to leave in ten minutes." The boy said, his gaze followed the box suspiciously. "I didn't know you were on insulin..." he said hopefully. One thing I liked about good old Quatra, he thought the best about everyone. I didn't deserve it of course. It would have made him feel better if I lied, but I didn't. "It's stims, kid. I had a bad night." Concerned eyes became downcast. Quatra bit his lip. (Damn it, I hated hurting him; get all puppy dog on me.) "Stims...I didn't know." "Well, now you do." I found myself sounding strangely cold. I didn't like people knowing what I did to get through the war. Not that it was embarrassing; no one ever understood such a habit. That is, unless they walked that road. "I'm OK, though. I'm not an addict. I just do stims to keep me awake on long days." Disbelieving, Quatra lifted his gaze and captured mine. His face pouted. He folded his arms, as I suspected, with disapproval. "You handled that needle like you've been doing this a long time." "Me?" I pointed to the bruise in the crook of my arm. "No way. I keep beating myself up. Honest, I'm not stoned all the time. I just needed it today. I'm not a junkie... I know what I'm doing." I stood up and crossed the room to his side. Nice guys like Quatra didn't deserve to be concerned about asses like me. He had enough to worry about. Reassuringly, I dropped my hands to his shoulder and gave them a squeeze. "Quatra, trust me. I'll be fine." The boy shook his head sadly and refused to meet my gaze. I knew the look well. He was disappointed in me. "Why do you do it?" "I'm dead on my feet." I said softly. I never liked to explain my relationship with drugs to anyone. It just was. It started when I was eleven. I did favors for a drug runner and he'd give me some crack or some samples of a new and expensive psychedelic drug called Angel's Breath. By the time I was twelve, I discovered the world was a much easier place to live in when doing hits of narcotics. I stopped the habit when I joined the sweepers and Professor G. It only restarted when I returned to Earth and needed to live with myself, the Shinigami. "I need something to get me through this war, OK?" I almost pleaded with him. He didn't appear convinced, just worried. With a tired sigh, Quatra touched my arm. "OK, Duo. Just don't let it become a habit." He studied my face, a little frightened I'd let him down in the next few hours. If we didn't finish this mission, we'd never escape Earth and save the colonies from OZ. Vexed, I dropped my hands from him and looked to the window at the end of the room. I wasn't planning to let anyone down and hated it when people underestimated me. That's why I juiced up. "Trust me. I'm not an addict. I can quit any time..." ********* How did I get here? It was one of those mornings. Every now and then, I'd wake up, not so bright eyed and bushy tailed. In fact, I was down right blurry eyed and piss-assed. Numb, disjointed thoughts flickered though my mind as I dizzily turned my head. My vision streaked with brightly colored blotches from the movement. I felt bizarrely slow and very weak. It was an effort to make heads or tails of my surroundings, but I managed. Damn, why was it I kept thinking of Lucy in the Skies with Diamonds? I lay in a small room, my battered body stretched out on a couch. My clothes had been removed, so all I wore were a pair of ratty old briefs and an over sized T-shirt. I didn't recall changing my clothes, but then again, I didn't recall the last few hours at all. Lucy in the Skies still plagued me and I found myself humming its tune and muttering its lyrics. "Picture yourself on a boat on a river..." The last thing I did remember was watching OZ destroy my poor beaten partner as an example to L2's repressed citizens. If I were still in their hands, I would have been next. Christ, (forgive the name in vain) I can't stand it when I can't rid myself of a repeating song in my head. I tried to shake it away. "With tangerine stream and marmalade skies..." In desperation, I shook my head and tried to direct myself to my inner thoughts. Death Scythe...It was gone. My mobile suit, my instrument of revenge, wiped away by the dictators I swore to purge with it. I closed my eyes against tears. I failed. I swallowed. My mouth was dry and my throat ached. Where was I? "Rocking horse people eating marshmallow ties..." I had to be tripping still. Where was I? The room was white with a card table and I lay on a broken cot. It looked very familiar. Taking care of my sore ribs, I sat up slowly and squinted. The room shifted in and out of focus. "Someone calls your name and you answer quite slowly. The girl with kaleidoscope eyes..." "Oh man, I'm really stoned..." I said, touching my forehead gingerly. I recognized the feeling from my childhood days before joining the sweepers. I often ran contraband for Jack Kennedy, a local dealer to Federal soldiers, in order to get free hits of crack and whatever candy my friend the pusher had. The song kept rolling and rolling in my brain, and I found myself whispering the chorus. I didn't do him favors too often, because I knew what fate awaited a kid like me if I had become a junkie. Most of the time, I kept my nose clean of drug running, unless things got dangerous. Things were real bad now. I dropped my gaze to the card table and the vial and syringes scattered on its rotting surface. "Jeezzz, I was a busy little bastard last night." One sniff told me I had been playing around with heroin again. "Good morning, Duo." A voice said from the door. Jack Kennedy stood in the doorway, a cup of coffee in his hand. He carefully scanned me and smiled affectionately at my disarranged condition. Sometimes I wondered about him. He, on occasion, acted like a perv. "Are you feeling any better?" He asked, mock concern edging his voice. "You were quite a mess when I found you last night. It's not wise to scream in the streets when you're a wanted man." Embarrassed, I looked down at my hands. I clutched my fists trying to recall the previous night. I hated it when I was so stoned I lost my memory. I swore to myself in frustration. Apparently, I was very distraught about the public display of the destruction of my mobile suit. I screamed my bloody head off and drew a great deal of attention. The next few hours, I avoided the local authorities who were hot on my tail. I normally wouldn't have lost my cool, but I had been very intoxicated from a shot of heroin I administered just a hour or so before. Kennedy located me hiding in a nearby porno theater and offered me shelter for old times sake. Yeah, that was right. I gave up watching naked lesbians (note, awesomely sexy naked lesbians) to take a few hits of dope. I weakly smiled up at the man noting how he had aged since I was a small kid. His hair was graying now and his face sported several lines. The war effected his business and was stressful. I didn't admire him. It made me ask myself why I didn't stay and watch lesbian theater. After all, they were screwing in a hot tub filled with Jell-O. Red cherry Jell-O. Just the thought gave me a hard on. "You never said how you knew I was here last night," I said. With an effort I came to my feet, weaving some. I tried to blot away the memory of the ladies and the hot tub with my current dilemma. "I know it doesn't seem like it, but I am trying to keep a low profile." Jack took a sip from his coffee. His small eyes captured mine and he smiled thinly. "One of my boys said a kid with a braid and lots of bucks had been purchasing some dope from the competition." In this business, it was wise to know who the competition's clients were. For the last few days, I had been getting heroin or opium regularly. I tried to stay away from the angel's breath because of its mind-altering side effects. "I've had a rough week." I said brushing my hair from my face. The hard stuff made all the complications caused by the war seem less troubling. It also helped me to sleep better. "If I had known you were still around, I would have gladly turned my cash to you." "That's my boy." Jack turned to the door. Then paused long enough to look back. "Coffee?" "Yeah, I think I've had enough." I said pointing to the needle on the table. In the past, I used opium and a rather stylish bong and wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to use it again. "So, you still have that silver bong?" I asked, curious. "I'd be crazy to ditch a water pipe like that. It's an antique." Jack smiled. "Why? You want to buy it?" "No." I waved him away. I didn't use the stuff that often to justify the purchase. Jack smirked and shook his head. "I don't know about you, kid." He exited the room and a moment later he entered with another cup of coffee. "We've missed you around here, Duo. I understand the sweepers kept you busy." I shook my head, laughing at the thought. "Well, I never liked playing middle man. You know that." He shrugged. "You were good though." I was a good Gundam pilot too. I stayed my tongue, not wanting to draw his attention to my recent career and bounty on my head again. Jack was a bright guy who, like anyone in his position, looked out only for himself. Even though he claimed to like me, he'd turn me in like a shot if it would benefit him. Wearily, I pushed my hair from my face and looked across the room. I'd feel safe only when I was back to Heero's hideout. "Yeah, but I'm not planning on being any one's lackey." Jack shrugged, disappointed. "And you think in your shape you'll be able to return and be a pilot?" What did he mean? I studied myself, knowing yes, I was stoned, but I could, as always, control any habit. Besides, I spent a great deal of my time fighting on stims, so being stoned in battle didn't seem any different. "I've been worse." "Worse?" Jack smiled, amused. "You're a God damn junkie kid. The only thing you're good for now is as a prostitute." He reached out and touched my hair affectionately. "You're damned nice looking and I could get quite a bit for you..." "Fuck off." I grabbed the coffee and flipped him off. He didn't mean it of course. He never did. It was Jack's favorite threat. If he did mean it, I'd just kill him. I took a sip from my cup and savored the bitter coffee. It was to my liking, creamy and sweet. Jack may have been a real asshole, but he made a mean cup of coffee. "I don't plan on hanging out around here." I said gruffly. I looked about for my clothing and spotted none. "You don't?" Jack lifted a brow. "I'm hurt." "Hurt, my ass." I said. I finished the cup and set the mug on the card table next to the heroin. Still no sign of my clothes and Jack made no move to find them for me. Weakly, I stood up again and surveyed the room. White walls with peeling paint and ratty old furniture. Even the table was peeling cardboard. It reminded me of a prison. I shivered, another memory from my dark past threatening to emerge. It looked like the room a few Fedies tortured me in when I was a kid. "Hey, how about my clothes?" I asked. Jack made no move. "You don't need them, because you're not going any place kiddo." The floor began to tilt and my head fogged. My sight dimmed. The coffee... Horrified I shot a glance to the cup, realizing it was a little too bitter. "You poisoned me?" Swaying, my legs buckled and I sagged into the cot. "Poisoned? Hell no. It would be a waste of perfectly good merchandise." Jack said stoically. "I'm turning you in." The scum bag! With relentlessly drooping eyes, I glared at him. My body weakened by the moment and I fell I back. Whatever he used on me was mixing rather badly with the dope in my system. It would be a bad trip. Colors twisted in a mosaic of patterns before me. I smelled flowers. Jack began to laugh. "Serves you right. No one betrays old Jack Kennedy. Never should have gone to anyone else for your dope kid. I'm the only one for you. You've always been my favorite junkie. Useful one too. Maybe a few clients of mine will have a little fun with you before I pick up my reward..." Nothingness enveloped me. *************** Blackness...I swam into consciousness, brain struggling to seize control over my senses. Jack, the prick, slipped me a mickey in my coffee. Damn, I was slipping. Years ago, when I lived on the streets, I would have been wise to his plans. I would have been happier watching the lesbians. What a way to top a bad week, I thought, forcing my eyes open. First, I'm injured while escaping Earth. I lost contact with Quatra, Wufei and Trowa. Then I'm captured by Oz and set up for execution. Things still didn't improve even though Heero rescued me and returned me to L2. Instead, Oz nuked my partner, and I, being a dummy, walk right into the hands of a reward happy dope dealer. Things had to improve, or my present mood wasn't going to remain as good-natured as I liked it to be. Bright light streamed in, blinding me. I turned my face away, dizzy flashes of color blotting my sight. Sleep pulled at my limbs and mind, making me lethargic and weak. Just moving almost sent me back into oblivion. I took several deep breaths. Pacing my self as I struggled to return to the waking world. With all my strength, I squinted once more. A bright, elegant, Victorian decor room slipped into focus. I sat in a chair, hands bound tightly behind my back and calves tied to the carved legs of a red wood stained chair. Whoever owned this place was loaded with cash. I eyed the woven gold and lace curtains draped around a large picture window overlooking a balcony and rose garden. "I guess business wasn't too bad for Jack after all." I said to myself. Though light headed, I let my gaze sweep across the room. There was a large canopy bed a few feet away from me and a figure leaning over a tray on it's red bedspread. "Jack?" My words slurred with a thick and clumsy tongue. "What the hell are you doing?" Jack faced me, a smile forming on his face. He prepped a syringe in his hand and walked over to my side. His face wrinkled into concern for a moment as he reached over and touched my cheek. "Oz is paying a lot for you." I scanned myself. I was dressed, though not in what I came with. I sported a pair of black leather pants and a baggy, laced poet's shirt, the collar of which insisted on sliding past my right shoulder. I swallowed. "Oz, eh? Are you sure it's Oz? I don't think they really give a flying fuck how I'm dressed, and you've put out quiet a bit of effort to make me look...errrr, presentable." My hair was free of its braid and slipped into my eyes. I faintly recalled him mentioning having fun with me before collecting the money. I let my gaze narrow. "Jack... Don't piss me off. We've known each other a long time..." A moment of fondness flickered in Jack's eyes. He touched my cheek with the needle. "Yes, yes, I know, and I don't like doing this to you. But, I don't want to lose my standard of living and selling you is the only choice I have..." Disgust and hatred tightened my gut. "Selling me to whom?" I spat. "Certain aristocrats in Oz are very interested in a boy like you. They are willing to pay a great deal more than a simple reward for your arrest. I suppose they'll just do what they will and kill you, but that's not my concern." Roughly, he jerked my head back and held it. I tried to thrash and jerked my body back hoping to topple the chair and slip out of its binds. After all, I was an escape artist and mere ropes could never hold me. Unfortunately, my drug laden mind and weak state made Jack considerably stronger than I. He over powered my efforts by locking his free arm about my neck and shoulder and holding me still. I felt the cold sting of a needle in my throat. He pulled away moments later and studied me. "It will be all right for you Duo." He said fatherly. "I'm making sure you'll feel very little pain. I've always liked you." My fists tightened and relaxed, working at the bonds. I had to move before the drug affected my mind. "You have a very strange way of showing your friendship. So, what you give me?" "Angel's breath, black ice...Your favorite." He said as tossed the needle in a nearby garbage can. A shiver spread over my body. Angel's breath. I remembered it well. As a kid I messed with it a few times, but stopped when I realized, that despite the euphoria and carefree state it imbued, it destroyed almost every one of its users. It made them mindless and pliable to anyone's will. It was a psychedelic drug designed to addict and burnout its victims into lifeless husks. On the street, they called them sensation addicts. Breath users often made very good prostitutes and toys for the sicker populations. I almost dropped into that black hole when I was eleven, but wised up very quickly when I was molested by an very impulsive pimp. I closed my eyes knowing my time was running out. Angel's breath worked fast. Soon I'd be assaulted and overwhelmed by its twisted mind warping sensations. Lesbians sounded better by the moment. Jack laughed at my wrenching and jerking at the ropes. "It's too late, Duo. The stuff is already making its way to your brain. Relax." He caressed my chin and fingered my hair. "You're not going to give a damn soon." No sooner did he speak did the world around me shift out of focus. Colors knotted and swirled in my brain. The room around me was hazed and all I could make out were streaks of light and shapeless blobs of bright colors floating about in what seemed to be a large tank filled with water. I felt submerged, the sounds around me muffled and indistinct. The touch and tickle of my clothes, the burning of ropes, blotted out my thoughts of escape. All I became aware of was the feel of fingers tingling against my cheek. Intoxicating flashes of arousal gripped my body, sending goose bumps over my flesh. I felt warm and safe. Nothing mattered to me. All I wanted was to feel. Pleasure, pain, floating, hazy and numb minded, I stared at the clouds of color. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. I couldn't recall my purpose or even my name. Without any more struggle, I let it take me. ************** "Angel..." Honey coated words whispered sweetly in the void of spinning pastel pinwheels. "My little death Angel..." Warm nectarine breath tickled my face, trailing down my chin and nestled moist delicate lips on my throat. Petal soft fingers probed me with their tantalizing touch. The sensation of rumpled cloth streamed over my prone form, tingling every inch of my body. It was as if I were the sandy bottom of an ever moving sea, being eroded by the currents of sensation. I moaned, hands closing about the liquid fingers and squeezed. I brought them to my lips, tongue roving over the artful waves, tasting their salt. Ripples of a still pond echoed endlessly, their gentle splashes washing over my being. "There, there, Angel...You've come so far from the child I remembered years ago." Those lips burned to my chest, suckling and arousing passion. A breeze rustled though my drawn out hair and passed though the veil and down my side. Moaning, I arched my back, my wretched soul screaming to grasp at the wafts of air caressing it. Bubbles floated around me, the rainbow spheres just touching my body with their wet kisses. A weight gently pressed into my form, holding me down to the softness of the flowered field beneath me. The hand freed itself from my grasp. It slipped to my thigh and stroked the taught leather around my member. I swallowed, feeling my senses scream as my body reeled with the whirling of storm clouds. "I remember your mother, Angel. I see her when I look upon you. You have her beauty..." I gasped, unable to make out the words whispering in the trees around me. They crackled endlessly, yet were comforting. I reveled in them, thoughts rolling in the musical rise and fall of each breath spoken to me. I was alive. Lips covered mine and silk rolled over into my mouth. Our tongues tangled in a dance of wills, then explored each others' vastness. I felt the pulse of a thousand hearts as our lips hungrily struggled against one another. "Angel, your will is mine." Words penetrated in my mind. A form haloed in light appeared above my body as a room seemed to blossom into focus. Cold blue eyes held mine and a devil's smile seemed to flash across his liquid face. He slipped to my side. Rivulets of water shimmered in the air around us. I lay motionless, my hair around me like a blanket of shimmering gold and deep amber threads. The blue eyed devil nudged the collar of my scalloped shirt over my shoulder and placed his lips on the base of my neck. White light flickered though nonexistent trees and bathed my body with its sensual tendrils. I felt the peel of leather over my thighs. Silently, he snared them around my ankles. I didn't care. Yet, those eyes were familiar. They watched my face hawk-like and studied my form with unswerving intricacy. His hand lifted from my legs and trickled over my calves to the edge of my knee length poet's shirt. Fingers traced under the fabric, over my pelvis to my belly. I felt a spark of pain as he touched my ribs. The mists around me cleared some. A part of me recalled this was not what I wanted and that even if my body screamed for it, I had to resist. But resistance didn't make any sense. Only the touches did and I didn't care who made them. The patter of rain drops drummed around me and the room filled with colored fog. "Who...?" I couldn't speak, but my thoughts thundered between us. Cotton candy clouds and gingerbread trees creaked long candy coated limbs in a storm of black ice hail. His face hovered over mine like a disembodied sun. "Your maker, Death Angel. I am your master." Angel. Angel. He mocked me. Before I could conceive of fighting him, a black starless sky enfolded me. The moon cupped me in his hands and held me in his womb. A star streaked through me, bathing me in its pain filled wake. I gasped, falling over its edge, climax threatening to converge on my virgin innocence. I thrashed, sweat beading off my face and into the Big Dipper. The pain continued, blazing into me over and over, until I screamed. There was no fighting him. The blue eyed devil was the world, and I his pleasure. Helpless and enticed by his touch, I fell back into bliss and surrendered to the galaxy swirling infinity around me. ************** Blackness. Pain throbbed stiffly over my back and rear. Why was I thinking about lesbians? "I want him ready." A voice said from no place. "Dress him. I have a shuttle ready to leave in twenty minutes. I want him there." Him? There? Who him, me him? My fog filled brain strained to grasp the meaning of those words, but couldn't quite place a finger on them. Who's him? Who was I? "Just give me my money..." A familiar voice said. "When I get the delivery. OZ never pays unless we have what we want." Weakness clung to my limbs and it was an effort to move, but I managed to roll onto my right side. Fabric slipped over my body, tickling my skin with its soft cotton caresses. The voices were close and I heard the distinct shifting of cloth. A faint breeze of movement chilled my face and I felt a hand touch my head. The tangle and caresses of fingers though hair sent shivers down my spine and into my groin. "Soon, you'll be home, where you belong, Angel." Angel. I couldn't open my eyes. Still, icy blue eyes stared down from the blackness, making me feel naked and vulnerable. Fear clutched my heart until I trembled like a broken engine. I knew those eyes. They watched me once before a very long time ago. When or where, I could not recall, but I knew them... They were watching. They were always watching me. My brain swam and I found myself sinking back into unconsciousness. I fought against it, not wanting to topple, because instinct said if I lost, I'd never see the real waking world again. The moment of terror passed. Footsteps clattered away and faded into the distance. I heard the door close. "He bothers me..." The second voice said. "I don't envy you. Angel, eh? It sort of fits you kid." Angel. Yes, it did fit me. It was my childhood nickname. It also hurt when other people called me it. Who was he? Who was the jerk talking to me? Jack. Jack the cunt sucking pimp ass twat wad Kennedy, that's who was speaking. Memory trickled back slowly. My name was Duo Maxwell. I was a pilot for L2 and a wanted man. I thought Jack was my friend, but I was a stupid naive kid with his head in too many clouds. Instead, Jack turned me in to the Ozies for cash. The part of me that was still clinging to the leftover euphoria from the drug, didn't give a shit. The rest of me almost wanted to puke (you know, big Technicolor blow chunks the size of golf balls). By the way my body tingled and my senses assaulted me, I knew I was coming down off of angel's breath. It amazed me, even after one dose, I craved more. The stuff had a nasty psychological effect. Life was easier when intoxicated by it. I didn't need to worry about what happened to me. The craving was unbearable. With an effort, I focused my thoughts, knowing I had to move before Jack sent me off to OZ. I clenched my teeth, cursing my own stupidity. If I hadn't wanted to escape with the drugs, this never would have happened. I really should have stuck to the porn flick. It was escapism without the lasting effects. I didn't remember the high at all, but I didn't want to know what happened. I could live without the memory. Besides, the way my body ached, I easily guessed. Next time, I'd stay home and watch Oz nuke my mobile suit. I'd stay out of trouble that way. I groaned. It was unfair. How come everyone used me as their fuck toy? It had to be the hair. God damn it! If I didn't have fond memories about Sister Helen and the braid, I'd whack the stuff off. "Ok kid." Jack's voice was inches away. With an effort, I opened my eyes. At first, the room and his face were blurred and I had to blink them into focus. As things cleared, I became aware of the brightness and intensity of all the colors around me. It hurt my eyes to look. Painfully I squinted. "Jack..." My voice rasped. Of all the ugly pusses I had to wake up to, why his? I could have dealt with Heero's in a bad mood a lot better. A second of guilt wrinkled his brow. It faded a moment later into a broad smile. "Wasn't all that bad, was it kid? He was rather pleased with you. You're very responsive." I didn't want to hear this. It was bad enough I let some OZ perv toy with my manhood. Finding out I was more than a stationary plush toy hurt. Clumsily, I lifted my body into a sitting position. It was difficult. My legs and arms refused to cooperate right away. Sheer willpower fueled me though, and in a matter of seconds, despite my grogginess, I was sitting with no support. My legs were bare and all I was dressed in was that damned fluffy poet's shirt. My hair was disheveled and tangled and all I could smell was the stench of sweat and semen over all over my body. I was sure I looked like a damn harmless girl. "It sucked." I said coldly. "Just like you." Jack looked puzzled as if he expected a different answer. Apparently, he didn't calculate I'd recover myself so quickly. I, on the other hand, had no doubts about it. My drug tolerance was so high from constant use, nothing kept me stoned for too long. "Well, I guess I miscalculated. You are tough." Tougher than the normal street punk, I thought, but showing it wouldn't help me any. To take him on hand to hand would be suicide. I wasn't in the shape. I let my eyelids droop and sagged into the bedpost. If I could fool Jack, I might be able to get the drop on him. "Yeah. Well, thanks to you I feel like shit." "You look like shit." Jack informed. He knew I was too weak, so he didn't fear me. That's why I wasn't tied. "But I have something that will make you feel much better..." He touched my cheek and rolled his fingers down my chin. A wave of dizzy tingles swept over me and sent my mind tumbling into a sea of sensation overload. Frozen, I sat soaking in the touch. I found my face pressing into his hand as I unconsciously nuzzled his fingers. Fuck it! This wasn't me! I didn't want to be like this. I felt like an attention deprived dog. With an effort, I pulled away, weaving back drunkenly. The drug in my system was still running strong even though the initial high was waning. I'd rather shoot myself in the foot than get all snugly with Mr. Prick. I shot him an annoyed glare, angered by my own behavior. "Well, I guess you're not as tough as you thought." Jack said, content. He turned to a bed stand and poked through its drawer. "The nice thing about angel's breath is once you're past the high, you can do a follow up dose. Wouldn't you like that?" I felt myself rubbing my arms and easing the sleeves of my shirt up. In my state, I'd sit up and beg for the stuff. "Not really." I said. I hated myself for being so weak and had to be defiant just to live with what I was feeling. I was acting like a God damned breath junkie after one dose! Was I sure it was just one dose? I hadn't thought about that. It was possible Jack had slipped me some the other night when I was thinking I was on heroin. I wouldn't put it past the dirt bag. His back was turned to me now as he prepped a needle. He had a gun shoved into the belt of his pants. Blue eyes really did make him nervous. I smirked. Jack was always a dumb shit. I was surprised he lived this long. You never turn your back to a dope addict,...especially one with combat training. "Hey Jack." I said in a dazed voice. "Do you know what they call me now?" I crawled to the edge of the bed, gaze narrow and set on the gun. Nimble, I reached out and effortlessly extracted the weapon from its resting place. He barely felt it. Even stoned, I was the best Goddamned pickpocket in the L2 quadrant. I licked the barrel, and took aim. Numb horror spread across Jack's face as he stared at me and the gun. At first, he didn't appear to believe it. "You don't want that.", he said, reaching for it as if he could pluck it right out of my hand. "You could hurt yourself with it..." His words throbbed over and over in my head. To my surprise, I felt myself wavering. I nearly handed him the weapon. Why would I want it? I could have more angel's breath and forget about all of my worries... No way! I had no intention of going to OZ and being a boy toy. Shaking, I cocked back the hammer and leveled it at Jack's face. "Of course I want it. I can use it too. Now, I asked you a question. You're going to answer it." I ran my tongue over my lips. Living on the edge of life and death gave me a rush. I felt my cock grow. Jack's lips trembled, but his hand still moved towards the gun. He didn't think I could do it. Poor old Jack was sure I was the skinny little priest's kid. Sadly, I wasn't. Angel's breath slowed the reflexes and interfered with motor coordination. I felt like a slug. However, even though it was difficult to concentrate and coordinate my brain and body, guns were very simple instruments. His hand was nearly on the barrel of the gun when I fired. The bullet connected with his face and sent him flying back. Blood splattering the wall behind him. I heaved a breath, seeing him flop to the floor, eyes staring in shock as life slipped from his body. I was covered with his brains and blood. My body shivered and pleasure exploded around me. When I came to my senses, the bed beneath me was wet. It was the angel's breath of course, so I tried to ignore my own reaction. I'd never normally got off on killing people. With a sigh, I looked at Jack. There wasn't much left of his head but a large mess on the floor. The blue eyed devil's angel of death struck again. "Shinigami." I said, knowing he'd never hear me but never wanting to lose a good line. "They call me Shinigami." ************ With Jack's death, I inherited a great deal of money and a very large stash. The money, I invested in a few bank accounts and stocks. At the end of the war, I used it to start a salvage and travel (and some smuggling) business with Hilde. The drugs, well, I kept them around and did a lot of experimenting. I didn't touch the angel's breath for several weeks. I still didn't remember the trip Jack so kindly initiated before the end of the war, and it scared me off. I made avid use of the marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and even introduced Hilde to the wonders of shrooms at a wild party. Both of us were rather disturbed by the war and our parts in it. Drugs made things simpler. My business was running well. I kept the drugs out of it and moderated myself so not to spoil what life I had in the outside world. Besides, keeping it home made sex interesting, and both Hilde and I enjoyed that aspect. Hilde had less interest in the stash and often pleaded me to ditch it. "Blow it up." was one of her favorite pieces of advice, next to get a shrink. Never once did she tell me I was an addict. Never once did I believe it. Everything was perfect. The war was over, I had a good woman who tried to understand me, my business was running very well and all my friends tried to keep contact. The only thing bothering me were the night terrors. I stood over the bathroom sink and stared at my pale features. My eyes were bagged and my face ashen from lack of sleep. For months, I kept seeing the twisted fiery forms of my victims as they died in battle. Over and over, I wondered who they were and what families they left behind. At first I didn't care. The Federation and Oz made me a war orphan. They deserved it. Yet, over time, it gradually dawned on me that I was just as evil as they were, for it was I who now made the war orphans and widows. "What comes around goes around?" I moaned to the reflection. I scooped water from the sink and drowned my face in its cool depths. Was that why the drugs seemed so easy? I didn't think of death when I used them. I let the water spill away. Blood shot eyes blinked back. Pain and madness hid in their vast space. "Oh man, what's happening?" Maxwell's Church Massacre, it haunted me every moment of the day. The images of blood and fires etched themselves permanently on my mind. Every time I looked at myself, I saw the same soldiers who slaughtered Father Maxwell and Sister Helen. "Duo." Hilde's voice said from the bedroom. "Duo, where are you?" "Taking a whiz." I called back to the bedroom. We were only fifteen and behaved like a married couple. I don't really recall the night we started having sex, I was stoned at the time. But after the first night, we began to act married. Married. I twitched at the word and wondered if it was a good thing. Father Maxwell and Sister Helen would be very disappointed in me. I hunched my shoulders shamefully and wondered why I hadn't even attempt to become a priest like they wanted. "Too many sins on my hands." I said to myself. "You say something?" Hilde stood in the doorway now, a simple cotton nightgown clinging to her form. Worry vexed her delicate brow and her hair was in disarray. Gently, she touched my face and hair with perfectly manicured fingers. "You haven't been sleeping." She said softly. "I'm worried." I shrugged. "I'm ok." As long as my work life wasn't interrupted by my bad nights, life was still good. Besides, a stim in the morning kept me going during the day. Who needed sleep? "You need your beauty rest. I need to be alone right now." Sadly she smiled. "Are you sure?" I nodded. What I really needed was a few hours watching videos of Bug Bunny to cheer me up, then I'd sleep better. "I'm gonna watch some Loony Tunes." I said to her. "Then I'll be back." "You're such a kid, you know that?" Hilde smirked. She leaned over and kissed me on the lips. We held there for a while and parted when we needed to take a breath. Concerned still, but respecting what I wanted, Hilde returned to the bedroom. Not long after, I found the TV and a few tapes. Unfortunately, I was too depressed for even good old Bugs to cheer me up. With a heavy sigh and nothing better to do, I shot up with angel's breath. After that, the war and blood disappeared from my life. ************** Several Months Later My head spun. Moaning, I turned over to my side and gripped the sheets on my bed. Twisting cramps and stabbing flashes tightened my guy, making me grab my pillow and clutch it into my stomach. It was over. We had destroyed the Gundams, but the dreams kept coming. Only the angel's breath seemed to keep me sleeping at night and now I was beginning to suffer from loss of memory in my everyday life. It was subtle at first, so I could ignore it, but now I was forgetting important things like clients and appointments. I was losing myself. Painfully, I opened my eyes. I was lying on my own bed in the dark, nude and alone. I told Hilde I was too sick to go to work. Worried about me, she resigned not to argue and left. She had been keeping to herself lately. About a month ago, she moved out of our room and back into her own. The sex stopped then too. Although, she did mention rehab and a psychiatrist once a week now. We were drifting apart, and I hated it. Unable to find the words to say to her, all I could do was watch as our relationship disintegrated. I was out of control, she said. I didn't want to believe it. After last night, I had to face some serious facts. Last night. I ached. Every inch of my body screamed when I dared to move. The flu, I told myself. I had a bad case of the flu and that's why I couldn't get up. Last night. The night that never happened...or so Heero said early this morning as he dressed and left me broken under the sheets. I didn't recall what transpired. I had no memory of last night at all. All I knew was Heero claimed he had to teach me a lesson and was very disgusted with me. I was on angel's breath at the time so I didn't have any control over myself. So I had to assume I did something rather uncharacteristic to Heero to inspire him to beat the crap out of me. It was another one of those times where I was really glad I lost my memory when I was stoned. Stoned... By the way my head throbbed and my joints ached, I knew I had to take another hit. Flu or no flu, a hit would make me feel much better. I'd worry about any problems later. Besides, if I left the room, I'd have to face Heero and explain actions I didn't recall. I could easily guess. Angel's breath was an aphrodisiac. The problem was, it made its user indiscriminate as to who they wanted to screw, or be screwed by. I groaned once more and buried my head under a pillow. I vaguely recalled mentioning experimenting to Heero. My gut wrenched, making me gag on acid. "Oh Christ..." He decked me, but in my intoxicated condition, pain was a turn on. "No more, no more..." I whimpered to my memory. "I think I will shoot myself." The door opened and bright morning light streamed into the dark room, stabbing my light sensitive eyes. "Duo?" Quatra entered with a large tray of muffins, eggs and ham. "Good morning!" Good morning? He would be perky when my life was falling apart at the seams. I clutched my pillow over my head. "Go away." "It's time to get up and go to work." The boy continued as if he didn't hear me. I heard the clatter of his tray on the bed and the tug of his hands on the pillow over my face. "Come on Duo, its time to get up!" Effortlessly, he yanked it from my grasp. An incredibly large plastic smile grinned ear to ear on his face. Without mercy, the boy yanked me up into a sitting position and fluffed pillows behind me. He was a sadist (a sugar-coated sadist). I was sure of it. Agony stabbed at my head as the pain grew. Helpless I covered my eyes leaned into my palms. "I have the day off." That smile didn't vanish. Quatra sat beside me and placed the tray on my lap. "You're so silly, Duo. Of course you have to work. Hilde said you had clients today and you've slept the morning away." As the demon in lamb's clothing spoke, he carved up the meat on the plate before me. "I cooked you a wonderful breakfast." The luscious aroma of honey baked ham and eggs enticed my senses. I stared at it a long time, feeling my belly rumble uncomfortably. I nudged the tray away and tried to sink back under my blankets. "I'm not hungry." I said. With a sigh, Quarta shrugged. "Ok, then I guess, we're gonna have to do this the hard way." I didn't care. I succeeded in turning back to my side, away from the light, and closed my eyes. Hopefully Quatra got the clue and would leave. Then I'd take a little angel's breath and deal with the world later. An explosion of bright light flooded the entire room, washing away the shadows and dark encompassing my form. I screeched and struggled to hide my face again. By the window, I could hear Quatra's delighted contralto. "Why, Duo! It's a beautiful day! Wakey, Wakey! You'll miss it, like you missed yesterday!" His cheerful manner made me puke green bile over the flowered patterned bed sheets. The Arab boy's voice suddenly silenced. I felt his hands on my back immediately. He eased me over, concerned face hovering just above mine. "Allah and the prophets! Duo, you really are ill!" "No shit, Sherlock." I snapped, jerking myself from his grasp and slipping back to the pillow. I felt like a worn old dishrag after cleaning a barbecue grill. "Now go away." The stubborn kid didn't budge. Rather, he cleaned up my mess and placed the tray on my bed stand. Pale, he finally sat down beside me and touched my forehead. "Heero said you were..." "Stoned. Right?" I glared at him, annoyed. It made sense now. They were tormenting me. Quatra only came into the room because Heero told him about my condition and asked him not to be gentle about it. It was his way to make sure I'd clean up my act. Well, the kid did a good job of making me even more miserable. I looked away from Quatra's frightened blue gaze and swallowed stomach acid. "I'm fine now. It just takes a bit to come off." "You're not all right." Quatra said firmly. "Duo, Heero left here yesterday. You've been in bed for almost 48 hours. You should be off the effects by now." Two days? I had been lazing it up in bed for two days? (Jeez I hadn't been that wasted since I was grabbed by Jack more than a year ago). Maybe I was a junkie... No. But I had no control now. I turned back to face the kid, stunned. "You're not joking, are you?" Grim, he shook his head. "No." Ashamed by his rough behavior, Quarta looked down and squeezed his hands into fists. "The other night, after you retired, I cornered Hilde. Hilde said you had a drug problem." "So, everyone knows." I licked my lips trying to find a way to justify it all to myself. Stiffly, he nodded. "No, just me. Heero suspects something, but he kept his opinion to himself." "Shit. What the hell does she think she's doing?" I said. If I were in better shape, I'd have words about keeping quiet to Hilde, but I knew she spilled the beans to protect me. If the others knew, I'd have to do something about it. "Is that why Heero came in the other night?" "He told me he suspected you were upset about something and took a narcotic of some sort to deal with it." Quatra came to his feet and walked about the room. He stopped in front of the window and stared out. Light flickered across his young face, showing the drawn lines beneath his mouth and eyes. "He's worried. I'm worried." "Well, I'll survive." I said gruff. "Hilde's exaggerating." "I don't think she is, Duo. None of us do. I guess you having a drug problem explains a great deal of things that puzzled me." The boy inhaled and looked down, tears shimmering in his eyes. He really knew how to pull on those damned heartstrings. I felt like a washed up boozer who disappointed his only child. "Duo, let me help you. We'll take you to a hospital and you can sweat it out." Yeah right, and I'd spend the next couple of days agonizing in withdrawal and get no work done. I shook my head, not sure what I should do. I pulled my blankets around me and cursed Jack, drugs and my entire life. There had to be an easier way out. Anyway, everyone on the street knew sweating out angel's breath was fatal. I was as good as dead. "No way." "You might die." His voice shook. Quatra's moist gaze captured mine. "If you continue the way you are, you'll never be able to stop." It was painfully true, and I knew the fate of all Breath users. They lost their minds and became listless brain damaged nothings. I was already showing the symptoms. I searched Quatra's face and saw terror for me there. I gritted my teeth together and sat up. "Ok, so I'm a little out of control, but I can quit." "Right now." He said very firmly. His eyes narrowed. "You'll quit today." "I..." My mouth went dry. Quitting today wasn't exactly in the plan and if Quatra forced me to give my word, then I'd have to... Faint memories of Heero sliding into his jeans flickered into my thoughts. The last thing I wanted was another episode like that. I sighed and shook my head. Clumsily, I brushed strands of hair from my face. "Quatra, I'm going to die if I quit cold turkey." "No you won't. Who can kill Death? Besides, I'm sure the hospital can help." A faint grin crossed Quatra's face. He crossed back to my side and took my hand into his. "We'll find a way." Stepping down would take months. I exhaled and closed my eyes. Damn the little bastard. He acted so much like a girl, I felt obligated to do as he wished. Besides, I hated making Quatra emotional. He gushed all over and I had no intention of being a prick. "Ok. Today, but no hospitals. If I do it, I do it on my own." Quatra's brow furrowed, vexed. "But you need a hospital." "No way. Those are my conditions. No hospital. If I die, I die. It's up to God now." Teary eyed, the boy nodded, helpless against my insistence. "Ok." Without warning, he tossed himself into my arms and embraced me. The jolt of his warm body churned my already upset stomach and nearly made me barf again. With a supreme effort, I held it down. Awkward, I placed an arm around his back. "Ok.., Ok...You know I'm gonna pay for this." I didn't look forward to the nightmares. Or the withdrawal. With my luck, I wouldn't die. But it couldn't be all that bad. "Tell Hilde I'll fight the stuff. I'm gonna be ok." Enthusiastically, he nodded and pulled away. "Ok, and I mean it. If you need any of us, just call. I'll be here in a shot." "Thanks." I rubbed my arms, noting the scars and bruises. "And Quatra?" The boy paused before exiting the room. His large blue eyes sparkled in the morning light. "Yes, Duo?" "I owe you. I won't disappoint you. Ok?" His smile brightened. "I know that, Duo. Don't worry. I haven't lost any respect for you. We all have problems. That's what war does." The seizures hit then. *************** Four days later. Voices spoke from far away, invading the blackness surrounding me. "How is he?" A woman's voice said with vexed tones. "He still has a very high fever. He was hallucinating, but I think he's back with us now." A boy replied from no where. I felt something cool close about my fingers and the urge to open my eyes. "Duo..." Golden white rays bled through my cracked lids, breaking the black velvet void trapping me. Hilde's pale face leaned over mine, with Quatra equally as concerned at her side. I could see nothing behind them. The room was too bright and blurry to make out shapes. I was too weak and tired to care about where I was. The dark haired woman squeezed my fingers in her own. "Hey, sleepy head. Two more days to go, and I think you'll lick this." What did she say? The words bombarded me with blinding speed, echoing endlessly like I was trapped in a canyon. Two more days? Two more days of barfing and stomach cramps. My head spun with her kind words. Dizzily, I closed my eyes. There was no describing how my body ached. It was like someone dropped a few tons on top of me and left me flattened in the street like a Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon. Every square inch of me throbbed and ached, even my hair. "Hil..." I worked the syllables of her name up into my throat, but my mouth was too thick with slime and stomach acid to speak. Ever determined not to die until I had the last word, I tried once more. But just as I managed to gurgle a sound, I felt a spasm quake through my body. The seizure was brief, but left me no strength at all. With a pained gasp, I let myself slip away from the real world. War is nothing compared to the agony of withdrawal. Most drugs had the decency of giving you severe cramps, vomiting and an occasional headache. Angel's breath did all three and then some. The hallucinations were the worse. I found myself spiraling into the depths of dream. I was stumbling down a street. Tattered and crumpling buildings surrounded me. My clothes were in shreds and a Bible was clutched in my bruised hands. Behind me in the distance was the remains of a burning bombed out church. Limbs were scattered across the road before me with smears of blood splattered artistically about the landscape. All about me, rotting skeletal deaths wheeled wooden barrows filled with remains. One turned its leathery weather worn face and seemingly smiled large needle like yellow blood stained teeth. I stared into its empty socket eyes. "Thank you." It seemed to say. Blue eyes flickered out from those soulless sockets, then faded into midnight stars. Shinigami. I stopped my walk, feeling numb inside. Angel. My little Death Angel. Shivering, I sank to my knees. The movement made my legs scream. I sagged before the mutilated form of a body. It was once a child, but now lay in a puddle of blood and guts at my feet. This was my fault. The child's eyes flashed open. Her mouth moved, spilling thick scarlet and a spider from within. Despite the condition of her broken form, she managed to clutch a dirty leg-less torso of a doll with matted blond hair. "You took my daddy... You took my mommy..." War orphans surrounded me. They were tattered corpses shuffling lamely around me. Flesh peeled from their ghastly features, reminding me of an old Hammer film I had once seen. I stared horrified at the bloodied forms, remembering myself as I stumbled out of the wreckage of a spaceport when I had first arrived in L2, and realized I was alone. Dead, dead, everyone was dead. I killed them. Demons slipped out of the ground, their translucent forms just shadows to the darkened street. The Bible in my hand burst out into flames. "Your immortal soul is ours!" Rasped a demon's death-like whisper. A leering face with glowing cold silver eyes mockingly grinned long needle like teeth. Skeletal hands roughly seized my arms and yanked me violently back. With a valiant effort, I twisted to toss my assailant off balance, but only succeeded in reaffirming their grasp when I lost my own footing. The demon in front of me stopped laughing. His hand ran along my body, rumpling the clothes clinging to my sweat covered form. A knife like talon cut the bindings on my braid, freeing my hair. "Pretty, pretty boy." It said. The creature slashed down with its impossibly long crystal claws. My clothes crumpled at my feet, leaving me nude. (I hated nude dreams, unless there was a lady nude with me, then they became interesting...) Lesbians... The beast looming before me leaned, his tongue touching my cheek. Sickeningly slow, the cold wet thing slobbered over my face and down my chin. I swallowed, terror gripping my soul. They hungered for me. It was more than being accosted or raped. Their touch drained what and who I was away, turning me into a lifeless husk. Hell. I had fallen into hell. The air blossomed into fire, stealing the oxygen from my lungs. I gasped and tried to wrench my arms free of the hands holding me. "Pretty, pretty little death angel... You know what you're good for... It's time to take your punishment." "Duo, Duo!" Voices cried out from beyond, directing my thoughts from something other than hell. I struggled away from the apparitions and focused on the sounds crying out to me. The shadows faded. Thankful blackness returned to me and the weight of the hands slipped away from my form. I felt a wet cloth touch my forehead. "He's dying. Quatra, we have to get him to a doctor." "I'm making the arrangements now. We know so very little about this drug. I hope Sally can help." Sally? It was unfair. Why did she have to know I was a damned junkie. I tried to object, but my brain swam away. I wanted to keep my condition as private as possible. Why was God always playing cruel tricks on me? I forced my eyes to open, but only saw a blur of white and pastel colors. I gurgled weakly. Nothingness rushed up and tackled me. Without any strength, my will gave. Moments later I plunged into hell once more. ************* "What in the hell do you two think you're doing?" An enraged voice shouted over the crackling of black fire. My body exploded in agony as consciousness began to seep into each of my limbs. "He wanted to keep it quiet." Quatra's voice peeped sadly. "I had no idea..." "He's badly dehydrated, his pulse is irregular..." I felt hands lifting me, sliding me over to another soft surface. There was the clang of metal bars and the gentle touch of a woman's hands rolling up my sleeves. Fingers tickled my wrist, followed by a sharp prick. A cold piercing touch seeped into my vein, freezing my arm with its icy touch. I gave a strangled cry and instinctively attempted to pull away. No one, but me, was allowed to dope me up. "Duo! No!" The woman's voice said firmly as hands closed about me. "It's all right." "Honey, please, it's Sally! She's trying to help you!" Hilde sobbed. Her tender touch tickled my hair, easing my fever worn body. "He has seizures and they are becoming worse." Quatra said, voice trembling. "I've never seen anything like it. Sally, I'm so sorry. I just didn't realize..." Something clattered on a steel surface. Fingers forced one eye open and bright light flashed. It blinded me for a second and vanished. "He's still aware and responding to stimulus." Sally. She was still doing the doctor's gig. I just wanted her to leave me be and let me die in peace. If God wanted the Shinigami to live, he'd save me. As of now, I thought he planned on letting me pass away. "Do you know the mortality rate of Breath users?" Sally continued to scold. "Ninety five percent, Quatra and out of the five percent who survive only a half a percent live without severe brain damage." "It's only been forty eight hours." I sensed Quatra's voice fill with remorse and grief. "Sally, it was what he wanted." "I know, but Duo is sometimes rather stupid. I just expected more from you and Hilde." What was I doing to them? My gut tightened as I realized how I had let one of my closest friends and the woman I love watch as I committed suicide. In fact, in a way, I forced them to partake in it. Quatra. Hilde. Forgive me. I had no idea that was what my subconscious planned. Yet it was, wasn't it? I wanted to die. I was a sneaky bastard, wasn't I? I wanted to burn in hell. My guilt was unforgiving and death was my only penance. Light years away, sobbing echoed. Poor Quatra. The kid didn't deserve this. I put him in unfair position. When was I going to stop being an asshole? I had to live now, for them. I always hated being a jerk. Damnation had to wait till later. I felt a painful jerking. Another seizure washed away my thoughts and blackness reclaimed me. ******* Nothing. Blackness. I lay frozen in a barren wasteland, my form stripped and naked to the elements screaming around me. Hell. The icy plains whistled vastness in the howling winds. Hail and snow whipped the beaten landscape, pulverizing it into towering ice spires and canyons of cliffs. Still, I lay frozen, wrists and ankles encased in ice. Strangely enough, my hair lay arranged neatly about me like a veil. Ice. Murderers were sentenced to ice according to Dante. Glassy eyed, I stared helplessly at the ashen sky. Thick black clouds rumbled, showering me with bitter cold. "Welcome home." The shadow above me leered. His glowing crystal teeth glinted. The demons. Why did they keep coming back to me? Wasn't one hallucination of them enough? Helpless, I stared, recalling my last vision with them. Their touch terrified me the most, for I felt my life slipping away with it. The life I now desperately wanted to cling to. "Soon, you will never leave this place." "Fuck you." I said to the apparition. If this was a dead man's dream, I'd be damned if I didn't fight it. "I'm done with dying." "Are you?" It seemed to say. It flowed out over me, its frigid tendrils trickling over my chest and thighs. "You call out for death and now it has come, young Maxwell. Embrace it." My body responded, sending shivers down my spine. With an effort, I turned my face, realizing the very touch of its body ignited pleasure. I felt it sapping my strength, but the erotic sensations flooding me washed away any care. Like angel's breath, it was comforting. My breathing became unsteady as my lungs struggled to grasp for air. Fighting it seemed impossible. I had an erection. The desire for death became unbearable. To my surprise, I began to give into it. "That's right. There, is it all that bad, Angel? My little Angel. My little death angel..." Blue eyes stared down from the shadowy thing above me. A sculpted face rimmed with dark hair and golden light formed and smiled. To my horror, it was familiar. I struggled to withdraw the memory, unable to place who I was staring at. It was those cold blue eyes. The devil...Was he Satan? God and all his saints, help me. When I was a boy, the Bible offered a little security. I only half believed it, but now, to believe in something other than death was my only salvation. Did I deserve salvation? I was a murderer wasn't I? Ethereal hands turned my head. The face descended over my lips and clamped over my mouth. A weight of a body pressed me deeper into the ice. I tried to resist, but the binds holding me stung my flesh and held me motionless. Pain penetrated as he thrust against me. Why did I think I deserved this? I'd have to have a serious talk with my morbidly sick subconscious when I woke from this nightmare. If I ever woke from it. His breath was foul and filled me with poison. My limbs quickly became numb and heavy. I began to feel an unbearable hunger. I needed it. I craved the demons touch. It was all that mattered. The moon, the stars and vastness of space spread out before me. A chorus of voices cried out my name, threatening to wash my identity away. Who was Duo Maxwell anyway? Why would I care. I could become a part of this thing and live forever. "Duo...!" Hilde's voice cried from the sky above. "Duo, don't leave us!" "I believe in you, Duo. Fight it! You can't kill death, remember...?" Quatra said between sobs. It was too late, wasn't it? I was fading. Already my body was half buried in ice. The demon kept slamming into me, each pulse bringing me closer and closer to rapture. Death, I craved death. Wasn't that what we addicts really wanted? I was a junkie right? My gut twisted. Not long ago, didn't I say I wasn't going to let it beat me? You're only a junkie if you can't control the habit, and I was trying to do that now. If I gave into myself, I'd only prove to everyone how weak I was. And God damn it, I wasn't a wimp ass! I focused on the pain and cold and let my mind pull away from the intoxicating swirl of the voices calling to me. A little discomfort didn't hurt anyone. Hell, I was a masochist anyway. A little pain was a bigger turn on than dying any day. Hilde. I thought of her round face and tear filled eyes. Quatra. His broken heart and wracked conscience reminded me how I couldn't let him down. My death would destroy the innocence we all needed in him. Warmth trickled back into my toes and spread up my legs. The shadow's gaze widened and those blue eyes transformed into fiery gold. "Fighting me only prolongs the pain." "Yeah, well, I'm used to it." I said with determination. "It makes life interesting." It hissed, long fangs dribbling green acid. Its frigid essence pooled on my cheek, stealing heat and encasing it with frost. I gritted my teeth. I was a man, and no Goddamn hallucination was going to goad me into giving up again. "Nothing can save you, Angel. It's much too late. Even if you live, your mind will never be the same." I was used to changes, traumatic as they might be. I closed my eyes and wondered if it was worth living the rest of my days as a vegetable. The feeling in my body suddenly started to recede. It laughed. "That's right boy. It's much, much better this way. Come back to me." But it wasn't better. I did something I hadn't done in years. I began to pray. I prayed for Quatra. I prayed for Hilde. I prayed for Sally and the others. If I were to pass, I hoped God wouldn't abandon them the way I had abandoned him, for wasn't that the case? When Sister Helen died, I left any hope there was a loving God in the rubble of the church. Wasn't that why I let the drugs and pain get to me? I thought I was fighting in the name of God, but I really wasn't. I was fighting in the name of Hell. I abandoned Father Maxwell and Sister Helen because they represented peace, a peace I didn't have within myself. I hated God because he got them killed. Now Satan, the beast who let me live, the creature I sold my soul to, had come to collect payment. God loves, man kills. God forgives, man condemns... "God forgive me." Could he? Oh hell, why not become a catholic again... Wasn't it too late? A light sparkled beyond the shadow before me. Sunlight washed away the clouds and hand seemed to reach for me. I was a murderer... "Duo?" My bonds melted as cold ice turned into rivulets of water. "Duo, come back to me." "You can never go back." The shadow thing grasped at my arms, its long clawed fingers slipping though my wrists as it struggled to reaffirm its hold on me. Life called. The heat returned to my body as rays of light broke past the clouds and kissed my face. Its forgiving essence burned away the shadow form's hold on me, driving it away. I reached out for the pale fingers emerging from the clouds. Hell vanished. A room exploded into view. I was beneath a sheet, the remnants of a fever drenching my form with sweat. Hilde held my hand and Quarta stood at her side, his hand tight over hers. Weakly I smiled. I was alive. ************** "There is no permanent damage." Sally said lowering her clipboard and smiling down at me. Her shapely long legs slipped free from her lab coat, catching my attention. Gracefully, she strolled about the room and placed her files on the table beside my bed. It was strange seeing her in something other than fatigues, especially something as short as the mini dress she wore. Her legs were well toned and creamy. My raging teenage hormones cried out in uncontrolled lust. Why couldn't she dress like this more often? I pressed my head into my pillow and surveyed the hospital room for the millionth time. it was plain with four cheery canary yellow walls (actually, closer to piss yellow, now that I thought of it) and one large window near a radiator. The orange locker at the end of the room was open and my clothes were hanging visibly from a hook within. Other than the TV over my head and one table, the only other furniture in the room were two puke orange chairs and a swinging tray. Up until a few minutes ago, both Hilde and Quatra were visiting, but Sally insisted on a private talk so they left. Now I was alone with my former colleague/boss, and readying myself for the biggest scolding of my life. Damn, and I couldn't run away. I was still suffering from minor brain damage and my legs weren't about to move when I asked them too. A helpless hostage to Sally Poe's wrath, I stared up at her wondering if she looked as hot as I imagined when she was on a rampage. "Of all the stupid asinine things for you to do, Duo, why angel's breath? Why drugs at all for God's sake? You're a God damn mess." The women leaned so her hands pressed on to the foot of my bed, her sharp eyes capturing mine. I gingerly touched the bandages on my wrists and fiddled with the wrappings. "Sally, I've always been on drugs." I said matter-of-factly. "I don't think there was a time in our working relationship when I wasn't on something." "I know." Her brow narrowed and her cold eyes flared with anger. "I took urine tests when we were on the Peace Million. You were hopped up on stims then. I let myself assume, since they aren't illegal, you were using them responsibly. I didn't have a chance to question you about it." I shrugged and folded my arms. Sally had a way to make anyone feel small and insignificant, and it wasn't just from her height. Shamed, I looked from her gaze, to the wall. Of all the colors, I hated piss yellow. It made me feel damned depressed. I like black better. "Sally." I said evenly. "Angel's breath made me forget what I had become in the war." The weight of her hands shifted. "Look at me, Duo." Reluctant, I pressed my palms into the mattress and lifted my body into a half-sitting position. My numb legs tingled some. I was lucky. Breath often caused stroke damage to its victims, but this was minor. I was getting the feeling back in my legs a little each day. It would be three weeks or so before I started walking again. It was a small price to pay for being a Breath addict. It was difficult to meet her in the eye. I hated seeing disappointment, especially when it was to do with me, even if I did deserve it. I inhaled and stared at my stupid knobby knees. I didn't look forward to the physical therapy or living with the fact I'd most probably have to teach myself to walk again. But then again, how bad was it going to be? Besides, I deserved everything I got for being stupid. Couldn't Sally understand I was punishing myself for it? "I know I'm stupid. I'm sorry. I'm paying for it, OK. I've learned my lesson." Unswerving eyes didn't leave mine. "I don't think you have, young man." Accusingly, he she pointed a harsh finger at my nose. "That stuff is illegal. You've put me in a very awkward situation. To be honest, my position with the Preventers warrants me to put you under arrest. To possess angel's breath is a ten years minimum in prison or an asylum." Prison didn't sound all that bad, but an asylum where shrinks messed with your mind disturbed me. I heaved a breath and exhaled so the air tickled my bangs. It was going to be a long arduous lecture. "Sally, I've heard it all and to be honest, it's never worked. When I was a kid, the Fedies..." "I don't give a shit what the Fedies let you do when you were a kid." Sally snapped. "What I care about is one of the best God damn pilots I know is screwing his life up with illegal substances." I opened my mouth to object but her pissed glare stopped the words before they emerged. "Now, before you attempt to explain away your habit, I want to make something clear. I know you have a psychological problem and it's the only way you think you can deal with it. The war upsets many young men and it takes lots of time and help to make the nightmares go away. You have something called post traumatic stress syndrome." I remembered how the idea crossed my mind now and then, but for some reason, today it struck home. I couldn't live with myself or what I did in the war. "Yeah, tell me something I don't know." I told her sourly. "All right, if you insist on being difficult about this, I will have to make it a little clearer for you. I want to help you, Duo, but you have to help me." As if to emphasize her annoyance, Sally spoke very slowly and deliberately. Reality dawned on me. It was time to face the real consequences of my actions. I licked my lips, suddenly feeling a little nervous. Sally was very angry. Yes, she did care, but she knew the only way to get me to cooperate was to be firm. I'd resist her help of course, but that was my nature. A moron to the end. Why couldn't I just let go. Sally waited until I returned my full attention to her. When she noticed I was once more staring her in the face, she continued to speak. "First, you'll tell me who your supplier is. Second, I want you seeing a psychiatrist for your post traumatic stress syndrome and third, I want your ass in drug rehab or I'll have you in the funny farm so fast you won't know what hit you." "Yeah, I guess that's right. I'm a breath addict. That means I'm legally insane." Numb, I scarcely heard my own words. Wide-eyed, I looked to the window. I gave a new meaning to the words fucked up as all hell. Sympathy crossed Sally's brow when she realized I had come somewhat to my senses. She touched my check, her palm warm against my face. "That's right, Duo. I can't have you wandering the streets like this. You are a trained terrorist. If your mind snaps, you may hurt many people." I pouted and crumpled the sheets in my palms. "Damn it Sally. You fucking know I've been legally insane for years. That ain't the reason why you'd plop me into a shrink trap." "No. Bottom line is, I never want to see you go through what you went though the last four days again. We nearly lost you." Her fingers slipped from my face, to my hair and stroked the long strands. "I've seen other breath addicts. You were lucky. Now, where did you get the drug?" I bit my lip and studied my knuckles as they squeezed fabric. By the time they were so white, I swore the skin was going to split, I began to talk. I told her everything. She paled when I got to Jack and how he sold me off and was sickened when I recited the entire experience as if reeling off data on a print out. I finished up with poor old Jack's fate and the address of the warehouse I stored his stash in. When all was done, all Sally Poe could do was stare. It seemed she was doing all the feeling for me. I saw anger, grief and pity in her gaze all at once. She heaved a steady breath, then patted my shoulder as if I needed her support. Instead of crying or getting distraught, I returned the favor and smiled. "Hey, don't feel sorry about me, Sally. I don't. It's in the past, and to be honest, I'd like to keep it there. It's not worth getting all choked up about it. Besides, it will ruin your make up, and I for one don't like seeing black streaks obscuring a pretty face." Shaking her head, Sally chuckled. "I can't believe you. How can you be so resilient?" She took my hand, prying the blanket from my fingers and was surprised when she discovered, my fingers refused to budge. Well, I wasn't as resilient as I thought, but that was expected. I didn't blubber. Blubbering was for girls. Or Quatra. But he was raised by women, so that didn't amount to a hill of beans. I for one kept my cool about these sorts of things. I sighed with a heavy breath and slouched my shoulders. "I take one day at a time, Sally. That's how I survive." I released the sheet and gingerly touched my bandages again. I harbored frostbite all over my body. Sally claimed it was a common for Breath users to have psychosomatic reactions to their hallucinations. So in a way, I did escape Hell. A hell I created of course. I shivered. "Sally..." I said softly, unable to imagine myself in drug rehab. {Could you see me standing up with a bunch of burnt out drug users and saying "Hi I'm Duo Maxwell (with two Ls) and I'm a part time terrorist and a full time dope addict, but you can just call me Ben Dover when I'm stoned"} "I don't think I can do this." God help me. "Of course you can." Sally said encouragingly. She took my hand into her own. "If you put your mind to it. You can do anything, Duo." I shrugged. Sure I can, but it would be tough. I'd be straight this time, not stoned. Amen. ****** Four weeks went by, painfully slow. I spent most of the time in rehab or with one kind of a shrink or another. According to Quatra, the Preventers destroyed Jack's warehouse and searched Hilde's and my home for contraband. They did everything in their power to make sure I'd stay clean. Poor Hilde. When I spoke to her about it, she seemed very subdued as if embarrassed by the whole matter. Why the hell did she stick around me? Sally was a tough cookie to please. I had to promise to continue my therapy when I left the hospital. As for my legs, the feeling came back by the end of the second week and I was on the long path of rehabilitation. It was funny. I always took my body for granted, but standing at the parallel bars and discovering how difficult it was to keep balance taught me a very important lesson. If you got something good, don't screw it up. And boy did drugs screw me up. Every time I fell, I reminded myself how easy it was to run before I fried my brain. By the end of the forth week, I had come up with numerous paraplegic jokes. Poor Hilde and faithful Quatra sat in the car, my captive audience on the way home. They failed to laugh so I assumed it was my delivery and focused myself on my routine. A few good Bugs Bunny Cartoons would set me straight. We were almost home when I had a brainstorm. I begged them for a detour and dished out directions after I convinced them of such. Hilde was reluctant and voiced her opinion. She said it would just cause me more hurt. I promised her I was a tough little fucker and I'd let her know if I was in trouble. With a sigh, Hilde turned the car around and drove down several blocks. ************** "Well, that's how I got here." I said aloud, looking up at the marble monument of a man in a priest's collar holding several children in his arms. "Amazing eh? I actually lived through it all." The statue was in the center of the rebuilt slums. It was erected shortly after the war concluded when everything was repaired and the standard of living improved. Yet, even though the buildings around me were new and the people had food on their tables, I never forgot what happened here. "So Father, they didn't build another church." I said, leaning my arms on my lap. I sat in my wheelchair, a bouquet of flowers in my hands. "I'm sort of glad they didn't. I know I'd be disappointed." I gave a sour little laugh and looked at the neatly placed cobblestones in front of my feet. A bronze plaque sat at the base of the statue. I stopped speaking long enough to read it. "In memory of those who died in the Maxwell Church Massacre." A lump snagged in my throat and my eyes teared. "I couldn't make it down the day they commemorated this place. I'm sorry." I sighed heavily, remembering how stoned I was that day. I didn't want to be here, nor did I want to remember the massacre. So I ran away. "I let you down." The words fumbled from my heart to my lips and fell dead in the air. I heaved a shaking breath. Part of me wanted to cry and was probably doing so, but I refused to acknowledge it. "I became everything you and Sister Helen despised." The statue looked down at me with stone eyes. I felt a wash of helplessness. I hunched in my wheelchair, feeling small and insignificant. How could I compare to a man like Father Maxwell? All I ever thought of in my life was myself. I was a selfish little bastard. The nightmares of Hell were still strong in my mind. I was sure I saw something of my true fate upon death. It terrified me, and that was why I had to come here. I had to find salvation. All the rehab and shrinks couldn't save my soul. I forced myself to study the face of Father Maxwell. It was the same as I recalled. Stern, yet tender. He had a way to make me behave without being threatening. I guess it was why I liked him so, and why I felt so much remorse for him and Sister Helen. Good people shouldn't die. Rotten punks like me on the other hand should. I wiped my wet cheeks and bowed my head in prayer. My answer for salvation lay here with Father Maxwell and the Church. I just needed to listen to my heart in order to discover it. "Duo." Quatra's hand dropped to my shoulder. "You've been here an hour. It's time to go." I swallowed, but didn't dare look him in the eyes. I hurt too many people these last few days. "Hilde still in the car?" "Yes. She's very worried about you." Quatra said softly. His fingers squeezed reassuringly. "We both are." "It's the jokes, eh?" I clearly recalled their pale faces as I rattled on in the car, making fun of my almost useless legs. I tapped my thighs with a smirk. "I can't help it, Quatra. I hate what happened. It's how I live with it." "I know." Our gazes met. Damn kid, he had tears dribbling off his face like a leaky faucet. Guilt churned my gut. Why did I keep hurting the people I loved. I tightened my lip, returning my attention to the statue. "I just need to pray Quatra. Give me five more minutes." His voice was hollow. "Ok." I scarcely heard the clatter of his feet on the sidewalk as he moved from my side. Quietly, I bowed my head. "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned." Confession. I never got confirmed, the only declaration for my faith was Communion. Why was it now I turned to God after all the horror I accomplished? Perhaps it filled a part of me the Shinigami failed to fill. God let me live for a reason. I needed an answer. Again, I looked back to Father Maxwell's face. For a second, I saw him smile at me. Yes. The answer was in my past. All I needed to do was give into it and return to the life I almost had. For the first time in years, my heavy heart lifted and I felt a smidgen of hope. I would become Catholic again and start from there. Perhaps then I'd find a way to repent. After all, wasn't there always salvation with God? Maybe I'd even become the priest Father Maxwell wanted me to become. I smiled. With an effort, I forced myself to stand and dropped the flowers at the foot of the statue. "Well, I guess its time to go back home." *****FIN***** Accompanying illustration: Duo On "Breath" - Any questions? Any comments? E-mail Red Rose