Author: FancyFigures ([email protected])
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, wish I did, just enjoy writing about ‘em for free etc
Category: Angst, religious themes, Heero POV
Warnings: Yaoi (slight)
Notes: Maybe the greatest abandonment of them all.
Feedback: If you liked it, PLEASE let me know!
It was pitch dark in the corridor, and I stumbled a couple of times, just trying to get to the doorway. The floor was cold stone beneath my feet – the walls rough with broken plaster. Everywhere I could smell the thick richness of old wood; the cloying fragrance of burned candle wax. Finally reaching my goal, I leant against the thick wooden door, but was frustrated again - it seemed to be too heavy or stiff to open easily. It wasn’t until my eyes began to acclimatize to the blackness that I realised the door was blocked at the base of its hinges, hindering my efforts. What was actually stacked there made the bile lurch up in my throat.
A small pile of tumbled, inert bodies. I could see the pale glistening of blood still fresh. Some of the limbs looked very slight, the perspective distorted by the poor visibility. Small limbs. Young.
I tried to harden myself against the shock. I had a mission of my own, didn’t I? It wasn’t as if I’d never suffered; as if I’d never seen such horrors in a war zone.
“Duo?” I called, very softly. I knew he would hear me, if he were there. “Are you here?”
The atmosphere inside the room was eerie; there was the sound of breathing, as if from several people. But no voices; no words. I had braced myself – what for? For hostility, perhaps, or attack; but there was none. There was the occasional cough – a stifled moan. I likened it to the devastation and the victims that I’d found throughout the whole city – but this was different, somehow. There was no aching stench of fear, nor any blinding, helpless rage – no overwhelming pall of terror that I’d come to expect from any inhabitants still left alive. No, things were very different here. I stood just within the doorway and let it envelop me; a blanket of something far more distressing – misery. A fog of total, debilitating anguish.
I tripped on an outstretched leg, and cursed softly. No-one cursed me in return. The leg lay immobile at my feet; no-one snatched it back. I knew without being told that everything was finished here. But then I heard an answering noise to my right, and I turned to peer into the darkness. There was a trace of movement; there was the sudden glint of a large, wary eye.
“Duo? It’s me. The city’s been taken back under Peacekeeper control. The assault is over. The invading army has been routed; they’re either fleeing or surrendering.”
The voice that replied was nothing more than a whisper. Even then, it was harsh. “Surrendering?”
“For punishment.” I peered into the shroud of dark, trying to see him properly. “They’ll be taken before the world’s court – the scale of this atrocity is unprecedented. There will be retribution for this attack, Duo – there will be justice.”
Was he hurt himself? I couldn’t see any movement of his body. He appeared to be crouched down somehow – he was at the far end of the room, between rows of broken, uneven benches. I could feel a draft of air on my skin, but it was only from the broken windows above me; from the night wind, wheezing between the jagged edges of the smashed walls, the rubble still gently smoking with dust from the burning strike of incendiary devices. I could hear the shriek of carrion birds as they passed the building on their way to forage.
“Justice, you say. And what will that mean to the people here, Heero?” The accusation was unmistakable. It was Duo’s voice, of course it was, but his tone was shocking. Unfamiliar. Frightening, on several levels. For the first time, I felt a shiver of fear for him. This place was too close to his own life; too damned close to his own demons! We should never have sent him ahead of us to scout; not here.
Not to the church.
His words rang out sharply, echoing against the pathetic, broken remnants of the stone walls. Walls that had been built to last for centuries, maybe. We were in a small, primitive chapel, set at the far end of the clutch of church buildings. Or at least, that’s what it had been – a chapel – until a matter of hours ago.
“Got no answer, Heero?”
Hell, I knew he wasn’t looking for my answer! “Duo –“ I tried to be placating – to be sympathetic. I started to step forward, towards him. My eyes were clearer now, and I could see him kneeling at the foot of the altar steps, facing me, his legs apart, creating a kind of lap. He nursed a pile of clothing, balanced on his thighs. I suspected it was a body, even before I approached and could see for definite. My heart ached at the sight of the many corpses lain at his feet; the trails of dark fluids on the wooden flooring, following many an attempted escape – but my heart ached for Duo even more.
If I were to be honest with myself, he was all I cared for at this moment.
I tried to draw his eyes, but they were lowered, staring down at the bundle in his lap. I was only a couple of feet away from him when it stirred, and a small, bare foot emerged from the grubby blanket that covered it, and wriggled itself to some greater comfort. A child’s hand gripped briefly at Duo’s shirt, as the person settled itself against him.
I was close enough to see his expression now, and the streaks of dirt and grease and blood on his skin. His trousers were ripped – there was the hint of dark shadow between his chest and armpit that may have been a bloodied surface wound. His gun lay at his side, within reach, but his hands were around the bundle instead.
He still looked down, and now he smiled.
I narrowed my eyes, and watched as the child – a thin, dark-haired, dark-skinned girl – nestled her head against his chest and brought her stubby-fingered hands together in a clasping gesture. She gave a soft cough, almost like a giggle. She didn’t bother passing me even a glance; when she looked up, her eyes were for Duo alone.
“Who is she, Duo?” I asked, softly. I crouched down in front of him, concerned that I didn’t add to the child’s stress and fear.
“She lives in the city,” he replied. The cadence of his words was very slightly sing-song; I wondered if she couldn’t understand English, but he didn’t want her to guess what he was saying from his tone alone. “Her community came here for refuge when the attack started. The women and children were sent into the church to shelter; to protect themselves from the hostilities. They were driven further and further to the edges of the compound – until this chapel was the only place left untouched.” He looked up then, and gazed straight at me; almost as if he were willing me to understand the feelings inside him. I’d tried so often, over the last few years; and I was proud that I’d often succeeded. “A familiar tactic, eh, Heero? Many’s the time we’ve seen it; the attempt to save the innocent from the warmongers’ enthusiasm.”
“The chapel was hit in the crossfire –“ I moaned slightly. The bodies around me were all young; or female; or very old. Few still had signs of awareness, and none looked fully alive.
“No, the chapel was hit by a deliberate strike,” said Duo, very calmly. It made his words all the more shocking. “They had no interest in differentiating the innocent from the guilty; no respect for the significance of a place of worship. Indeed, that was the objective of this whole campaign, right? All the city’s inhabitants must be eliminated; they are all the enemy – all of them are deviants from the one true path. However small or infirm the feet.”
The girl tugged at her hands; her lips were moving slightly, and her brow furrowed as if she tried to remember particularly hard words. She flickered another look up at Duo through lashes thick with dust and grime. “Must pray, tall man,” she said. “Papa told me so.” Her eyes glazed over slightly with concentration.
“I don’t pray,” said Duo, but very gently. It didn’t seem that she heard him, anyway. She was concentrating on words that were obviously well practiced, and that she could recall, even in the midst of this carnage.
“God is good, God is truth, God is beauty.. praise him.”
“No…” It was only a murmur of distress from Duo. His eyes flashed at me again, aching with a mixture of pain and need. I wanted so very much to help him; to offer the support he needed - but I didn’t know how.
“God will be constant – God will not be scared. God will hear me… Papa says so.” Another of her strange little giggles.
I glanced round at the dead and the dying around me. “Her father?“
“Is dead,” he groaned softly. “She crawled to me from under his body, where he’d tried to protect her. He was disabled himself – unable to fight obviously, so they left him with the others.”
“Any other relatives?”
“Her grandfather, I think, only because he was in the same –“ he paused, struggling with words, “same heap as she was, draped around her and her father. Frail – thin. Probably ill himself, even before today – life in this community has suffered under the same siege that we’ve witnessed across the city. A perverted preparation for the inhabitants, weakening them for this final act of aggression. He was also dead. No sign of any mother or siblings. People have huddled here together, Heero, in a semblance of the family units they held in life. Seeking sanctuary. Gathered – praying – hoping – begging…”
I wanted to tell him to hush, if only to save his own anguish, but I wouldn’t embarrass him with it. “We will be the peace keepers, Duo. For now, we’re fire fighters – justice dealers…”
“Garbage sweepers!” he snapped. “Those are noble terms, Heero, for times of battle – for the honour of the military. There are no soldiers here, are there? This isn’t war! This is a church – meant to be a place of religion; of sanctuary.”
“This is – persecution,” I said, slowly. My eyes ranged round a few bodies still stirring – knowing that the medical help was still too far behind us, too far beyond us to help them.
“Yeah, this is persecution,” Duo’s words came from gritted teeth. “For the sake of religion. For the sake of being different. Women and children – what were they guilty of, then? Guilty of seeking their God? Damned futile quest –!”
“But not the same God,” I felt a soft agony in my words, as if I were exposing things that I’d never thought through for myself. “A different God. Different – not compatible – not submissive…”
Duo’s eyes glinted at me in the semi-darkness. “An excellent summation, Heero. Not submissive - to political as well as religious agenda. And so their precious religion has been the very thing that has brought them to this – that has destroyed them!”
I turned back to the child, who was still running half-silent words through her chapped lips. “Why are you praying, child? What for?”
She still looked at Duo, but her scorn was for me alone. “For salvation, ‘course – for rescue. And you came!” She gazed up at him with something like adoration in her expression. “Didn’t you, tall man?”
“No – “ I was struggling with my own words. “But we’re not salvation – we’re not sent by God –“
“How do you know that?” she whispered, and her hand tugged at Duo’s arm, trying to get his attention away from me. “God won’t tell you straight out, like a priest – like Papa –“ She was impatient with us, I could see; I thought she was becoming distressed again, but I didn’t see what we could do to pacify her. “Why did you come then?”
“Because – we had to,” I said, sounding very simple.
“It’s where we were ordered to be!” Duo’s reply was angry, but she didn’t respond to his emotions in the same way as mine.
“So that’s how he tells you, right? His men tell you to come –“
“Not God’s men! Soldiers – officers of the military –“ He was trying hard not to inflict his contempt on her.
But she was unaffected. “Yes, like I said. God made men. All of ‘em. You’re silly sometimes, tall man. You should pray too, now. For the sick ones.”
I wondered whether she meant the victims in the chapel, or maybe the perpetrators of this. I realised that Duo was crying – it was a sudden shock to me, but I couldn’t mistake the glimmer of damp on his dirty cheek.
“I’ve tried, believe me,” he muttered. “But I don’t see God here today. Communication lines are down.”
“Try harder,” she announced, in obvious mimicry of a parent.
“You wouldn’t like my prayers,” he groaned. His eyes met mine. What work has God done here? he was asking. What God allows this to happen?
The thoughts were in my expression, too.
“Teach you prayers o’ mine,” she said, very softly. She coughed a few times; her hands went back to their clasping gesture.
There was a broken candleholder on the floor beside us – I snagged it over to us and lit one of the stubs of offertory candle still remaining. I propped the holder on a spliced plank of wood, maybe from the pulpit, or from one of the small confessional booths along the wall beside us. A cruel sign of the shattering of their world around them. The shadows were long and ghostly around us; the flickering light sliced over one side of Duo’s grim face.
He looked up at me over her head, his eyes wild; the flame reflected in his pupils. “It’s tortuous – impossible to argue with her - to refute such an attitude! She wants to believe, however ludicrously it compares to the truth around her.”
“That’s faith,” I said, and I spoke to him directly.
“That’s stupidity!” he bit out at me. Our voices sounded strangely loud amongst the chilled silence around us. There was less and less noise from the others in the chapel, even as the night enveloped us; as the temperature dropped. Occasional chunks of stone from the bombardment of the walls hissed and crumbled to the floor around us; some kind of rat ran across the far side of the altar, pattering amongst the broken glass and wood, its claws skittering on the marble tiles. I tried to hear the sounds of our vehicles approaching, but there was nothing. I’d tried hard to reach him in advance of everyone else – and I’d succeeded too well.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he muttered down into her hair, so that I hardly heard him. She was gathered close into his chest now. “Religion is the opium of the masses, don’t y’know. There’s nowhere else to go.”
“When there’s nowhere else to go, that’s all they have left,” I said, softly. Some emotions stirred in me that were both thrilling and terrifying. I didn’t think I had any such memories of my own to trouble me; I was a child of my time. I had my masters, and religion didn’t figure there. I was closer to Duo than he would ever think – and also further apart. “All they have is God. Their faith.”
“It’s that faith that has brought them to this place, Heero. That’s taken everything they have. All in his name.”
The girl’s voice suddenly rose a little in pitch. “Ternal rest give unto them-o Lord, petchell light shine upon ‘em –“
Duo caught my confused look, and sighed. “Eternal rest, Heero. A prayer for the dead. Let perpetual light shine upon them –“
“May they rest in peace Amen!” she finished, with a satisfied smack of her lips; as if Papa would have been proud of her performance.
“Can’t help them now, love,” Duo said, gently.
“No, I’m helping you, tall man!” she almost snapped.
The candle sputtered suddenly, though there’d been a lessening of the wind since the night had sunk deeper outside our battered, incomplete shelter. One last grasp at life – then the tortured flame was extinguished. We were plunged back into darkness.
I could hear Duo’s voice, a thread of misery in the gloom – was he continuing the prayers? His hand was a wraithlike movement, a contrast against the pale colour of her blanket. He was making the sign of the cross.
“Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pray for us. Grandfather, Papa and daughter – the three all lost – all gone!”
“Duo?” I whispered to him in the darkness – I touched at his shoulder to find his whole body was shaking. The bundle in his arms was still. “She’s gone, Duo.“
His body tensed, abruptly. “Of course, Heero! She’s been dead for three hours or more – since I first arrived.”
I felt a chill that was from the inside of my heart. My hand hovered over the child on his lap – there was no body warmth from it. No lingering movement.
“She collapsed on my lap and choked on her own vomit. All I did was pull a blanket round her and hold her until you came.”
I stared at him. I’d heard the voice… I’d seen the small, possessive hands, clutched in prayer.
“I know, Heero,” came his tired voice. “But don’t you think I know enough to recognise signs of life? – or not. She was dead. Until you came – until we were here for her.” He quoted softly, from a text I didn’t think I knew. “God is not a man, that he should lie.”
I felt a weakness that I’d never known before. A voice cried out inside me – crying in confusion; crying for comfort.
Duo gave a low, gentle laugh, not of mirth. “But still I can’t believe her. I can’t believe the same as she did. She wanted to believe – hell, maybe I do too. But just the same, I don’t.” He stared at me, his eyes fierce. “Will we rest in peace, Heero? Will any of them?”
I just stared back at him.
I thought my eyes might burn out before I could ever be easy again.
hope you got the letter, and...
I pray you can make it better down here.
I don't mean a big reduction in the price of beer
but all the people that you made in your image, see
them starving on their feet 'cause they don't get
enough to eat from God, I can't believe in you
Dear God, sorry to disturb you, but...
I feel that I should be hear loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in amount of tears
and all the people that you made in your image, see them
fighting in the street 'cause they can't make opinions meet about God,
I can't believe in you
Did you make disease, and the diamond blue? Did you make
mankind after we made you? And the devil too!
don't know if you noticed, but... your name is on
a lot of quotes in this book, and us crazy humans wrote it,
you should take a look, and all the people that you made in your
image still believing that junk is true.
Well I know it ain't, and so do you, dear God,
I can't believe in I don't believe in..
I won't believe in heaven and hell. No saints, no sinners, no
devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
You're always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found, and it's the same the whole world 'round.
The hurt I see helps to compound that
Father, Son and Holy Ghost is just somebody's unholy hoax,
and if you're up there you'd perceive that my heart's here upon my sleeve.
If there's one thing I don't believe in