by Maldoror


Chapter One: Whispers

I awake in silence, as always. Heart pounding, scream caught in my throat. As always.

I hate it when we have more than a few days between missions. It's been five days now since our last fight. I am Shinigami. I live, breathe, thrive on death. Keep me away from it too long and things get ugly. During the daytime, my antics go up a notch until the others are ready to strangle me. Sometimes I make them laugh. Sometimes I end up with a gun or katana in my face. The rush is the same for death's favourite jester.

At night, though.when I'm not sleeping the sleep of the righteously exhausted, that's when the nightmares start eating me alive.

I stare at the ceiling without seeing it. I could take the pills. These aren't little itty-bitty nightmares about creepy-crawlies or the monster under the stairs. These are the full-blown results of psychosis, the legacies of my unusual childhood and upbringing, and Dr G is well aware that they could tear my mind apart. Hence the pills.

I haven't taken them in awhile though.

If he knew that, he'd be mad.

If he knew what I was doing instead, he'd be *furious*.

I let my head turn slowly on the pillow. The other bed is faintly illuminated by a streetlight further up the road from the safe-house. My instincts tell me it's three in the morning. He was working for twenty hours straight before hitting the sack two hours ago. He'll be fast asleep.

Better than pills.

Duo the jester smiles, but it's Shinigami who slithers out of bed without even disturbing the sheets. The floor boards are cold against the balls of my feet. I'm sitting on my haunches, balancing my weight, pulling stealth mode over me like a cloak.

It's not like I'm harming him. In fact I think Heero would be the only one of our elite little group to understand why I do this and not mind. I mean, he'd still kill me. But it wouldn't be personal!

I know this because I know why he spends hours on strenuous physical activity, pounding his body into submission when we don't have a mission planned or things have been quiet. He's not trying to keep in shape, oh no. As if he needs to, my body adds coyly, hoping my mind will replay some of my favourite Heero-home-movies I keep locked away in my brain, stashed right next to my libido. No, the perfect soldier isn't working on those muscles. He's got his own childhood demons to tame, before they rise up and make him hit that self-destruct button again.

I shift on the balls of my feet, rising smoothly, half crouched and balanced, lowering my centre of gravity to give me utmost control over the movement of my legs. My senses concentrate on the sensations in my soles, feeling for the slightest shift in the wood below me, ready to draw back before a gentle creak can get me killed.

I take a step. As I shift, the light of the streetlamp curls around the slat of the shutter like a tongue licking lips. There is no movement from the bed beside the gentle rise and fall of his chest.

I have to be extra careful tonight. There was a slight possibility a mission might come in at any time -the slight flicker of the lit laptop near his bed is the only other source of light, it's turned on waiting for that call. So his daily workout wasn't too strenuous. His sleep will be lighter.

I shift my weight again, ever so slowly. My legs feel and compensate for any slight give in the wood, and I take the next step more silently than a ghost. I move into the danger zone. I have to trust my legs to do some of the work automatically now. I am concentrating elsewhere.

My breathing slows, smoothes, and falls in synch with his. I love this part. It feels strangely.intimate. All extraneous movement of arms and upper body are ruthlessly suppressed. Heero is a coiled spring, a minefield, a hair trigger. Even slight changes in air pressure around him will set him off.

He shifts slightly, but I know his sleep patterns better than my own, it's normal movements. It was a gentle shift of the arm, not a twitch. That means he's not paralysed in REM yet, he's still hovering at the brink of dreams. But his respiratory rate is too high for delta, which means he's in transition, light sleep.

My mind tells me this is a stupid time to do this. My adrenaline tells my mind to screw it and get ready for the ride.

Another step, slowing even more. Continents move faster than I do, but then they're big and tough, they can afford to take risks. Me, I'm frightfully aware of my own mortality right now. The god of death feels his life beating through his veins, chasing away the last dregs of the nightmares that pursue him. I grin in complete silence.

I'm moving into the killing zone now, a few feet away from him. If I'd screwed up while in the danger zone, he would have woken up but probably not moved, trying to analyse the threat he'd sensed. It's happened before. And because I know him better than he knows himself, I had sensed it and managed to ghost away, back to my own bed, before he figured out what had woken him. Hmm the rush. Getting back in bed swiftly and silently and then seeing those blue eyes crack open just a slit, puzzled, wary, sweeping the room and his apparently sleeping roommate before closing again, the hand drifting away from his weapon.

But now I'm in too deep. If he wakes now, he'll have his gun out and centred between my eyes before he even opens his. He'd probably squeeze the trigger before he sees it's me. He'd probably squeeze the trigger *after* he sees it's me. Well yeah, I don't have any illusions on that account. A slight bitterness there, but I'm realistic. Even when he's wide awake and in perfect control -and we all know how much he gets off on control- he still has that cannon of his pointing between my eyes at the slightest provocation. And boy do I like to provoke him. It's a wonder I'm still alive, especially with my little nighttimes stunts.

It's bizarrely comforting to know that the war is not what is most likely to kill me. It's as if it reinforces my invulnerability. OZ soldiers? Don't make me laugh! I stalk Heero Yuy as a nightly pastime and I'm still sucking air! Those uniformed clowns don't stand a chance.

Oh, why am I doing this, you wonder?

I'm up against the bed now. He's on his back, his head slightly turned away from me, one arm up near the pillow -the right hand, three inches away from his gun- the other is loose by his side. His face is almost at peace, he actually looks his age. The night is hot, he's in boxers and t-shirt, the sheet pulled down to his thighs. I don't lick my lips because of the slight rasp that might make, so I hope I'm not drooling. Now I know why my body was making me go forward when my head was telling me to wait for deeper sleep, or maybe tomorrow night, or maybe never again and get out while you can.

I loosen my muscles. The forced relaxation makes me feel as if I'm floating next to him. I can't afford a creak of muscle or sinew at this point.

What shall I do? I can ghost my hand above that smooth hard chest -not touching of course, I'm not insane! A slow gentle movement an inch away. He won't let anyone get that close to him when he's awake without all his defences crashing into place. I wonder if the others notice, the way he ducks and weaves away, always keeping a back to the wall, a hand in clear reach of his gun. He knows where each one of us is at all times; his senses are like a spider web reaching out around him, tingling with our voices, our movements. When someone gets into the danger zone, he knows it. He scowls or snarls or walks away, if he can. If proximity is needed, he allows this. But if you get into the killing zone.Each touch he allows at that point is a bonus, and you're risking your life and limb. He won't actively try to kill us most times, he's got that much control over his inhumane reflexes. But the possibility is there, and it's a good chance.

I almost snicker -and also seethe- when I see Relena try to grab his arm or cling to him. I feel sorry for her too. He's so far removed from her. She thinks she's making contact. He's trying not to kill her. She thinks she's being nice. He's being dragged over red-hot coals, and at any moment she could pay the price. They're on different planets.

I'm from Heero's planet all right. Just a different country. I don't shun contact, I thrive on it. Which is why my hand is drifting out, across forbidden frontiers and a palpable no-mans-land, to ghost an inch over his thigh.

I am also a killer, and a hair trigger. A touch is also a potential threat to me, and has been as long as I can remember. But I am Shinigami. I don't tame and bind down the beast within me. I feed it. I taunt it. Until I can unleash it and let it kill.

My hand stills. It was barely moving anyway, to avoid any shift in pressure, any breeze. Heero has sighed, twitched. My heart tries to speed up but I won't let it. I can't afford an increase in breath rate or even body heat right now.ÿ My lungs ache, my mind hushes, my body floats as I push myself into that space where I barely exist, where my presence is so diminished I dissolve into the night. It feels.liberating. Heero relaxes again as I drift into full stealth mode. But he's slightly more.tense than before. My mind swims back to the shores of the dark sea in which I am suspended, and tells me to retreat.

But I want to do more. Once I even brushed those bangs a hair's breath away from closed eyes. Granted he'd come back from a three day mission with two hours sleep under his belt and was practically clinically comatose at the time but I clutch the tactile memory to me as closely as my cross.

Why do I do this? Why do I fall towards him like I'm swept by vertigo towards an abyss?

My stilled hand above his thigh drinks in the warmth from his skin.

Because the rush I get from this helps put the nightmares in their place, reminding me that they can't hurt me as much as those steel fists can? Yes.

Because somewhere in my manic mind and heart, I actually have deep feelings for him? Because I want to touch him, really touch him and not have him recoil, and this is as close as I can get? Yes.

Because I am only alive when I am walking side by side with death, dealing it and risking it in equal measures? Yes.

I lean my body back slightly and take a drifting step sideways, closer to the head of the bed. Heero is still again, muscles relaxed, only the soft sigh of his breathing disturbs the air. It's like a hurricane compared to my movements. I should leave. I don't. My ritual isn't finished. I need to circle him, approached him several times, like I'm stalking death, courting it, dancing with it. And I also have to creep up to him and listen.

It probably won't do any good tonight. He's not in deep enough sleep to be dreaming, except light inconsequential visions darting across mind and eyelids, not stirring the deeper pools of the consciousness beneath. But I still have to go and try to listen.

He talks in his sleep you see. He'd have Dr J give him electroshock treatment if I ever told him this; what a bonanza for OZ interrogators otherwise. But I won't tell him or his master, and it's not like he's really talking anyway. His lips hardly move, his voice is silent. It's just a simple modulation of breathing that whispers words into my ear, a few inches from his lips. Sometimes I feel his breath on my cheek and I burn inside.

I'm not eavesdropping. This may seem strange, but if I could actually understand what he said I would hardly do it anymore. But the son of a bitch always dreams in Japanese. He's probably doing it on purpose, I grumble in my mind. But I'm relieved too. Heero is the one person whom I respect, and as I don't have a very good opinion of human beings in general, that's saying a lot. I'm a thief but I don't want to steal secrets from those lips without consent. I just like hearing those unspoken words drift like ghosts from his mouth. Sometimes, I feel like I'm a confessor -sorry for the blasphemy, Sister, Father, but I think you have so much more to forgive me that this harmless little conceit won't stop you praying for me, up there. Yes, a confessor, who accepts the burden of the whispers of pain without needing to understand them, and, forgiving, takes them away. I would like that.

My breath, still in synch with his, is so shallow now, to avoid the whisper of it on his skin, the sound of it sighing in his ear, that I'm almost dizzy. My entire body nearly spasms when he moans.

It's as soft as all the rest of his night time noises, but it's a definite moan. My first rush of heartbreaking sympathy -*it's ok, Heero, it's ok love, no more nightmares, no more bad dreams*- crumbles as I realize this wasn't that kind of moan. Nope, not even close.

I glance down. The yellow light from outside the window, hacking through the slats in the blind, offers slices of Heero to my eyes. A piece of his cheek below mine is visible. There's the slightest hint of a blush there.

And I'm glad. Unconditionally. Because I know him. I've watched him so often, so closely, awake and asleep, that I know the perfect soldier gig is as much Heero as a shell is a part of the snail. It's part of him, he would die without it.but it's also the protection around something deeper inside him. Something that will strangle and die if it doesn't have the occasional gentle dream or erotic fantasy.

But of course, there is part of me that, while rejoicing that my soldier is not having nightmares tonight, wishes I could do more than witness this dream. Wishes I could be a participant.

Hell, I wish I could be a participant in the real thing of course! But I live in the real world. And it's time I got back to it, pronto. He's more deeply asleep than I thought, but those kind of dreams can drag you to the surface in a hurry, especially -a glance down past the length of his chest confirms it- when the body is also getting into the act.

I start pulling back with the slowness of a glacier growing, when a breath that is almost a word caresses my cheek. He's still talking. Oh fuck.

I hesitate, then pull back faster, as fast as I can. I don't want to hear this. That's right; rewind to what I was saying earlier about respect and not eaves-dropping. I meant it. I might not understand erotic Japanese mutterings but I could still understand a name, and I didn't want to. And also, it might crush me.

He's not dreaming of me. But knowing who he is dreaming about would destroy me.

I'm finally standing, looking down at him. I'm safe now, his non-voice is so soft I wouldn't be able to hear him at this distance. I can slow down and go back to the job of not getting killed.

My own lips shape words that no breath animates. Sleep tight, babe. Pleasant dreams, whoever's lucky enough to be in them. Shinigami wishes he could kill that person by the way, but Duo won't begrudge you this.

And then it happens. For the first time in all the months I've been doing this, an actual sound passes his lips. Barely above a heartbeat, a whisper of a whisper, but with all my senses screaming in stealth mode it's louder than a gunshot, and it stops my heart like a bullet.


What? *What*?!

Different planets my *ass*!

I feel upset, betrayed, very, very stupid, and completely confused! My body jerks, and my finely tuned balance comes crashing down around me. I find myself pitching forwards, down towards the bed. I catch myself and my muscles screech as I jerk to a standstill a foot away from the death-trap that is his perfect body. I feel like screaming but the danger has me in full stealth mode and I should get away with my life and dignity intact, if not my mind or heart.

I'm still upset. I take a breath, try to recapture the rhythm of his gentle respiration and straighten up, but much, much too fast.

Nothing creaks, except maybe my back, and yet-

There's a hand around my wrist. I didn't even see it move. It's on me like a bear trap and I am going nowhere.

My eyes wild, still reeling from the painful shock and this new surprise, I turn to stare at him, expecting the muzzle of a gun and a final flash to put an end to my hunt, predator turned prey at last.

He hasn't moved a fraction, apart from the arm now fastened to my wrists. His eyes are closed! This... this doesn't make any sense! His breathing... he's still asleep??

All my finally tuned Heero-senses tell me he's still fast asleep, yet the arm gripping mine can't be a reflex. The gun beneath his pillow is a reflex, this is.

His eyes open a crack. His breathing, his slight movements, the very looseness of his muscles, every inch of his body tells me he's asleep but his eyes have opened and are fastened on mine.

The hand is like steel hawsers and is slowly reeling me in. My own body is wobbling with surprise and offers no resistance.

My face is once more a few inches from his. My eyes are caught on his, as firmly as my wrist is caught in his grip.

A breath trickles from his mouth, teasing my cheek, breathing two words in the Braille that needs all my senses besides my hearing to decipher.

"Fooled you."

*How long*.

I've been hunting his shadow for months now.

How long as *he* been stalking *me*?

His lips curve in a small, triumphant smirk and the hand on my wrist continues to pull me in closer still.

On to Chapter Two



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