HUMAN

by Tari Gwaemir
Heero searching for meaning after the war.

"The war is over," I whispered to myself. I stopped in my tracks, shocked by the force of those words.

The war was over.

For a few minutes I stood there feeling lost, then continued walking to the hotel where the other pilots and I were staying. Journalists glanced up eagerly and some even followed after me, but the blank look on my face must have discouraged them. We were symbols of peace, and the whole bloody world welcomed us as saviors, but the only reason we stayed was because we had nowhere else to go. For now.

Soon we would drift back. Trowa to his circus, Quatre to his estates and business empire. Wufei to the remnants of his clan, Duo to that salvage dump he was always talking about. Me? The others expected me to disappear, or maybe do bodyguard work for Relena Peacecraft. After all, how could the pilot of Wing Zero ever face the prospect of living...a normal life?

It is a well-known law that all individuals are universes unto themselves. But they all behave on the surface like cartoon characters, two-dimensional drawings that classify so neatly into stereotypes. It is a fact that there is a truth in every caricature, because we create those stereotypes, whether we intend to or not. Few people make the attempt to look at the world behind a person's facade, behind their surface being. But then again, few people try to stare into the star-bowl of the night sky and see the depths of space.

I knew everyone, even the other pilots, believed me to be made of ice--so cold and unemotional, obsessed by my missions to the point of self-destruction. Some, like Quatre, with kind and compassionate hearts tried to look beyond the stereotype and find a troubled young boy who couldn't deal with his emotions except through aggression and war. Traumatized by my training, psychologically wounded, inherently unstable, emotionally insecure...They called me the Perfect Soldier, both those who admired that so-called perfection and those who pitied my inability to allow for any weakness. Perfect. Inhuman.

No one seemed to realize that a Perfect Soldier must also have perfect obedience: a blind, unquestioning and automatic acceptance, no matter what orders were given to him. No one seemed to realize that a Perfect Soldier took no initiative of his own, that a Perfect Soldier by his very nature was automatically disqualified from ever being a good leader. A Perfect Soldier was a robot, not a human being, not even a genetically engineered, technologically enhanced one.

But Heero Yuy, gundam pilot, happened to be all too human. And I could never let myself be content with blind obedience. Strange though it may seem to the others, I believed in my ideals. I believed in what I fought for, the right of the colonies to stand up against the Earth's hegemony, the right of all people to resist injustice and oppression. My training was perfect, even if I wasn't, because it brainwashed these assumptions so thoroughly into me, that I still believed now that peace was a possible, if improbable, goal. People will always be driven to war against one another...but they will also long for lasting peace. It was an equation that could not be disproven, at least not for me.

Of course, there was more to it than mere ideals. No one dies for ideals alone, although Relena might come close to it. The possibility that an individual could shape the course of history was intoxicating. It was a taste of power. Who would believe that five young terrorists, barely men, could play games with the fate of human civilization? I've read the work of writers and thinkers at the beginning of the modern era. Many of them believed that the forces of determinism were too great for free will. But others said that individuals could create not only themselves but also the universe, making each human being face a crushing responsibility for their lives that most ran away from. I hadn't run away. How many people could say the same?

But in the end, we were all manipulated, not just us gundam pilots, but even Treize Khushrenada and Zechs Merquise. When we were fooled...no, when I was fooled into attacking the OZ plane carrying the only hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, it devastated me, driving me to circles of neverending doubt. Doubt could be more corrosive than oxygen, and throughout the rest of the war, I never effectively silenced those questions. Human history was too powerful a force to resist. The fact that we were all used and were continuing to be used still haunted me sometimes. What if I had destroyed myself? Would it have meant nothing?

The key to self-destruction was to constantly feel you were living for something greater than yourself. A cause, an idea was so all-encompassing that living for only a single person, including yourself, pales in comparison. Nobility had nothing to do with it. It's just that simple pleasures, desires and instincts seemed so petty compared to the intensity of living through each moment as if it was your last. Some doctor had told me once that I repressed my emotions too well. If they only knew! I didn't suppress my feelings; I ignored them, because this intensity was too consuming to pay attention to anything else. Odin Lowe once said that only someone who loves life could leave it easily. I never thought I would understand those words until I first piloted Wing.

But the war was over. And I had nothing left to live for. Moments slipped by before I could concentrate on them. Pale, empty days, for the rest of my life. Why was I doomed to survive this war and have the rest of my life ahead of me? I tried to drop that despair, tried to let go, as I walked into the suite that I shared with the other pilots.

Quatre and Trowa, their arms wrapped around each others' waists, looked up as I entered the room.

Trowa asked, "How was the conference?"

"Pointless."

They both nodded and dropped the conversation.

I walked into the kitchen, where, predictably, Duo sat biting into a huge, and utterly disgusting, homemade sandwich.

" 'i, 'eero!" He managed to mumble from a full mouth.

"Is there anything to eat?"

Duo pointed at his sandwich, then shrugged. I sighed, opened the refrigerator, and saw the empty jars. "Next time you raid the refrigerator, leave something for me."

Swallowing, Duo finally spoke clearly. "Wow, you've actually spoken more than five words at a sitting! What's the occasion?"

I felt a flash of anger. Why did everyone insist upon making me into some kind of misanthropic fanatic? I was an intelligent, sapient creature like the rest of them, so what if I suddenly choose to express myself in more than a few words? Just because I was too focused on my own thoughts to talk frequently did not mean that my vocabulary was in any way limited.

I suddenly realized that I'd been glaring at Duo, when his face flushed and he turned his back on me. I sighed inwardly. Duo was my first friend that I didn't lose permanently in less than a month. I didn't want him to hate me.

"I apologize."

"For what?"

"For being angry at you. I know you were just teasing."

"Well thanks. I was beginning to worry whether you even knew the meaning of the word."

I tensed again, but tried to keep my voice calm. "I do."

"I was being sarcastic, Heero. Man, don't you even have a sense of humor?"

This time, I really stiffened. "I actually do, you know. Even if you don't believe it." I grabbed a half-full soda can from the counter and walked towards the door. "But a joke isn't funny if it hurts." I slammed the kitchen door behind me without bothering to see his reaction.

In the safety of my room, I could finally clench my fists and kick the walls. Damn it. I hated it when they did this to me. Already the articles were being written about the young boy who had dueled with the former Lightning Count, already the telemagazines were speculating about Heero Yuy's namesake, and none of them knew me! Yet the other Gundam pilots, who I fought with, still looked at me the same way--a face, a name, not a person. They, who knew better than anyone else why I fought this war! And Duo Maxwell, the one boy who I envied most, also hurt me the worst with his careless words.

I made sure the door was locked, and then leapt facedown on the bed, as if somehow I could smother the strange pain out of me. It hadn't hurt so much before when I hadn't felt so lost. The war was over, I told myself over and over again. The war was over, and I mourned its death like a lost lover.

***

Tonight had been the first of many nights without still yet another formal celebration to attend. We lounged in the common room of our suite--Duo flipping through the television channels, Quatre practicing his violin, Wufei meditating in uncomfortable positions, Trowa sitting balanced on the arm of a chair, and me, typing away on my computer as if it still mattered. The odd combination of static from the television and the pleasant music from the violin created an even cacophony in the background.

Finally Duo turned the television off, bored even by the commercials. "Let's do something, guys! Talk or fight or sing...anything! I can't stand doing nothing all night."

Without looking away from the screen, I replied, "I thought you would want to relax. For once."

"This isn't relaxing. This is rotting. We're slowly decomposing into bits of dead matter."

Wufei murmured, his eyes still closed, "Life is simply an act of dying anyway. Accept it."

Duo exploded, "What if I don't want to accept it?! Don't expect me to be happy that the freakin' war's over! Don't tell me to be absolutely delighted about this crazy world peace idea! I don't care! What am I supposed to do now, huh? I practically lived to pilot Deathscythe! How can I give that up?"

We stared at him. He glared back, fuming. "We're pointless now! Good publicity for the government, nothing more. Oh how wonderful, they won the war for us, goodbye. They'll never remember us. We'll just die, rot away, nothing more than faces in the pictures. How can all those days, hours, seconds we sacrificed be nothing more than--"

"Just shut up!" I yelled, unable to bear it any longer. Duo shut up immediately. Into the silence, I spoke softly, but bitterly, "We were supposed to die in that war and we survived. It's our fault for not obeying orders."

"Well, looky here, Mr. Yuy, freakin' Perfect Soldier, I never intended to obey those orders! I was all plannin' on livin' through this war, don't involve me in your stupid self-destructive death wish!"

I flushed angrily. "If you were intelligent enough to notice, you'd have seen that I was being sarcastic, you who call yourself Death!"

He looked away from me. "But I am Shinigami, I've never stopped being Shinigami..."

He crumpled, drawing his knees up to his face to hide the tears running down his cheeks. "I was going to kill all of them for what they did. I was going to give every one of those bastards a taste of all they did to me when they took away my only family. I was going to condemn myself to eternal damnation so that I could revenge their deaths. But the bastards still survived, and everything I lived for is dead."

Quatre silently sat down next to him, letting the boy cry on his shoulder. His eyes were bleak and empty, and I knew he was thinking of the colonies he had destroyed in revenge for the death of his father. The rest of us stared into ourselves, locked in our own personal tragedies.

Eventually Duo's gasping sobs quieted to whimpers, and he could look up again without being ashamed. "Hey, guys," he asked listlessly, "what would you pray for on New Year's Day?"

"Justice," Wufei answered immediately.

"No, I mean, for yourself. If it was a completely selfish prayer."

"Justice."

Duo groaned and flopped over on the coach, turning his back on us. "Forget it."

To my surprise, Trowa said musingly, "I'd want...to be forgotten. And nameless."

Immediately, Duo turned around again. "Forgotten? Why? And you are nameless."

Quatre looked ready to protect his boyfriend at the remark, but Trowa shrugged it off.

"Trowa Barton has become my name. I wish it wasn't. The world was more predictable when I was just Nanashi. And besides, it rightfully belongs to a dead man. Not the best of names to bear."

"Only Quatre and Wufei have real given names. I was named after a dead man as well." I added quietly.

"What would you wish for, Heero? It doesn't seem like you'd want anything."

"I want to sink into some dark corner and never come out again."

"Boy, you are in some mood tonight."

I closed my eyes. I am sixteen, and my life is already over. Suddenly, I couldn't bear sitting in this hotel suite waiting for something to happen. I stood up, and they all looked at me. Expectantly. As if they thought I knew what I was doing. I am not your commander. Leave such military mannerisms for others, you fools. Besides, the war has ended. It's gone. But instead of saying anything, I gave them all a desperate look and walked out the door.

***

After wandering in the hotel for a few hours, I returned to my room at midnight and tried to go to sleep. Before, I'd always been too worn out from a mission to stay awake for more than a few minutes, but now...I tossed and turned on the uncomfortably soft mattress trying to fall asleep.

"Oh, just get up and do something. Don't just flop around and try to sleep."

I jerked up from my bed and stared. Duo's silhouette was leaning against the doorframe. "I can't fall asleep with you wrestling with the mattress all night."

"What should I do?" My voice sounded strange in my ears, too high, too small, too young...like a child's voice, asking for reassurance.

"I don't know, go type on your laptop or something. Just let me go to sleep."

He turned to go, but I called him back in almost a quavering voice, "Duo?"

"What?"

"Do you..." I frantically searched for an excuse to have him stay, to have some kind of distraction from the unhappiness that was about to surface at any moment if I lost control. "Do you know any lullabies?"

"Why? You want me to sing you to sleep, poor baby?"

I shook my head in frustration, and I turned back to lie back down on my side. "Never mind. Go away."

Footsteps, and something heavy weighed down one side of the mattress. A soft voice began humming above my ear, and I felt a hand stroke my hair in rhythm to the beat. And in the silence between the notes of that song, I drifted off to sleep.

***

Did I regret all the deaths? All the blood? I skirted the question, left it unanswered. Therein lay the path of instability, no, of madness, when the insane laughter escapes my mouth and I can't help feeling desperately trapped. They're necessary statistics, consequences of war. Someone must die--a universal rule of conflict. They will eventually die, sooner or later. All lives come to an end...better that they die in honor. I told myself this many times, wincing at the last excuse which sounded too much like Wufei's fanatic insistence on an outdated code of chivalry.

How could I justify the fact that I enjoyed killing people...or at least destroying those mobile suits, shooting those bodies? I never knew their names. I could not kill Relena because I knew who she was. How can you commit murder? Murder was a far cry from executing soldiers on a battlefield. That was how we all preferred to think of it. Execution. Justice. Not taking over Fate and snapping the thread of someone's life before it was fully spun. Sometimes, I thought of how unfair it was that I could successfully kill so many people, while so few tried to kill me. Perhaps that was the real reason why I threw myself into my battles, my duels, my self-destruction. It wasn't right that someone like me continue on living without receiving his due punishment.

Wufei once told me that Khushrenada memorized the name of every soldier who died in his battles. How he ever bore the guilt was beyond me. How he justified the war was even more incomprehensible.

And yet, I still resented this peace that had taken my war, my purpose and meaning, away from me. Should I desire an endless war, locking myself into more painful cycles of killing and avoiding guilt? This irrational insecurity, this feeling of being more and more lost as I walked blindly into my nonexistent future, forced me to cling to that memory of Duo's hand on my head as he sang me to sleep. I wanted so badly to forget this madness, this sea of grief heaving beneath my mind.

What do I do now? What future is there for me? What past is there for me? Nothing to return to, nothing to look forward to, only the frayed threads of now. Do the other pilots feel this way?

***

One day, at breakfast, I said, "Enough. I'm leaving this place."

Trowa and Quatre looked up simultaneously. They had become nearly inseparable in the past few days, almost as if they were trying to merge into each other. Perhaps they too felt the incompleteness, the gap left by the war and thought that the other could fill it.

Trowa was the first to respond. Nodding slowly, he said, "I was thinking the same thing."

Quatre looked at him with wide, frightened eyes, and tightened his grip around Trowa's waist. "You can't...not now. Don't leave me."

"I won't leave you, love. Not yet."

"Not ever."

"I can't promise the impossible."

Quatre sighed and looked away.

Wufei had already disappeared, perhaps off into space or somewhere on Earth. Duo talked more and more often about his salvage dump, but his eyes had remained blank. Now, he studied his cereal bowl silently. Uncharacteristic for Duo to be so gloomy.

"Where are you going to go?"

"I don't know." Odin and I had wandered the colonies once. I could do it again, alone.

"I'll go with you."

I stared at Duo, who continued to stare at his bowl. "Nani?"

"I'll go with you. That is, if you don't mind me coming."

"What about your garbage dump on L2?"

"It's not a garbage dump and I don't care. Hilde can have it. I'm coming with you, as long as you don't mind. Do you?"

I hesitated, then said, "No. You're welcome to come with me."

"When are we leaving?"

"As soon as we can disappear from the Sank Kingdom without Relena tracing us."

"In other words, now. When we don't turn up for that big summit that she's holding for the new government of the World Nation."

"Hai."

He finished his cereal and drank up the remaining milk with loud slurps. He wiped his mouth on the sleeve and looked up with a grin. "Then I guess I have some packing to do."

***

"Hey Heero, come up here. Who would have believed that ol' Mother Nature could have thought up somethin' like this?"

I clambered up onto the rock where he was standing, and stared over his shoulder into the valley. It was like being in a Gundam again, staring out at the world laid out below me. Except I wasn't waiting to kill anyone. I breathed in heavily and stared around me. Leaves filled the space around me, and somewhere, the boundary between myself and the sun, sky, mountain, clouds and trees disappeared. For the first time, I felt the knot around my throat relax.

"Beautiful."

Duo gaped at me, and for once I didn't blame him. I hadn't spoken a single word during the weeks since we left. He had filled in the empty space with his chatter as usual, but there had also been a hurt look in his eyes whenever he asked me a question and I couldn't find the voice to answer.

"You spoke."

"Yes. I spoke."

Duo continued staring at me, as he babbled, "It is beautiful isn't it? Absolutely gorgeous, this place. It must be one of the few mountains left preserved in eastern America. Industry's taken over the rest, and as for the colonies, it'll be a waste of space to imitate a whole big mountain. Boy, it's tough going, mountain climbing isn't it? I mean, technically, we're physically fit and all, but I'm for a break, all the same. It's taken the breath out of me, I swear. And it's such a beautiful place, why don't we sit and eat lunch here?"

Amused, I smiled weakly and asked, "But you still have the breath to speak?"

Again, he gaped at me. "So it wasn't me imagining that you spoke? I mean, I've been pretending your side of the conversation for so long I can't even believe that you're really talking. Have I heard straight or do I need my ears checked?"

"I spoke. I really spoke. Now do we take a lunch break or not?"

"I'm surprised your voice isn't hoarse from disuse," he remarked, but there was relief on his face and I felt sorry for what I made him endure.

"Gomen nasai. For my silence. I had no voice to speak with."

He looked up quickly from spreading the picnic blanket and flashed me one of his trademark grins. The ones that split his face in half. "No problem, pal."

***

The next day we were on a shuttle to L1. I stared out the window and into the stars, clenching my fists with the memory of having fought in that space. There, I was sure, was where the old Peacemillion was, although I couldn't see anything but stars from the shuttle.

It had been so consuming. I was trying to fill the emptiness left in its wake, but I could manage nothing but indifference. Where had the passion, the excitement gone? And even more quietly, that small boy's voice in my mind, the one that sounded so much like an innocent child, asked precociously, Where went Death's embrace?

So much for innocence.

A hard, cold, logical self-analysis turned up an emotional need within me to throw myself unhesitatingly at the brink of self-destruction--perhaps to remind myself that a universe beyond a puny, insignificant me existed and I was part of it. I was sharing in the human urge to drown in something greater than myself.

That was Code Name Heero Yuy speaking. As for me, nameless as Trowa, all I knew was the vacancy left by my first true love.

You wouldn't have believed that we could cling so much to our memories of the war, when all of us were hurt and scarred by it, when all of us longed desperately for peace, when all of us fought so that peace could be possible. Or at least, I fought for peace--the lasting world peace that would restore independence to my beloved space, to prevent the thin brilliant lights of the stars from being chained to the decaying ambitions of Earth. And then, peace for humanity, peace for my war-torn soul, because I always knew that it was wrong to cause so much bloodshed. Even when I laughed.

You wouldn't have believed we could cling to those memories of war at all. Duo and I spent every night in long do-you-remember's, laughing like the boys we were, even though it was all just a performance. He followed me to fill his own emptiness, and yet there was a thousand miles between us, where the hidden meanings, the unspoken words, the silent understandings only served to keep both of us lost and isolated.

He dozed in the seat next to me, and I turned to study his face, the curve of his nose and jaw, the long sweep of his eyelashes, the round cheek, the heavy braid framing the picture. Camera-perfect, that face. All our faces apparently, since the photographers loved taking our pictures. I looked at the ghost of my reflection in the window and tried to trace the same curves in my own face.

***

"Where next, Heero? We've walked through every colony in space, we've traveled to every continent on Earth. Have you found what you're looking for?" Duo spoke with a slightly mocking tone in his voice, his eyes half-closed and amused. It was so uncharacteristic of him.

"What's wrong with you today?"

"Just don't feel like being cheerful. I want to be nasty for once."

"Hn. You were nasty enough when I first met you."

"Oh, please, don't tell me you're still holding that against me! I thought Her Highness Peacecraft needed help! If I'd let you kill her, what would you have done to yourself now?"

"I've killed millions of people. How worse can my nightmares be with one more death?"

"There's a difference when you're killing the only girl you've ever loved."

"I already killed the only girl I ever loved when I was thirteen. I never loved anyone after that. Not even Relena."

He stared at me. "You don't love Relena?"

"I'm not capable of love. War broke my soul at thirteen, and it broke my heart at sixteen. I'm waiting for it to break my spirit at nineteen, and then my life will fly to Shinigami. The real one, of course."

"What a horrible thing to say. But why don't you love Relena?"

"Because I never had any love left over for her."

"You couldn't kill her. You almost hated yourself for not being able to kill her."

"She was just one more face of OZ, at the time. Rich, pampered...had the world on a platter. My vision of Earth. Except she told me that she was on my side while she danced with me, and for the first time, she became human. Not even you can commit cold-blooded murder of a person you really know."

"So, you're telling me you aren't a murderer? Ha, that's really funny."

"Professional assassins don't know who they're shooting at. It's just a face, a name. Not a person. Same for the soldier on a battlefield. You don't see the pilots in the mobile suit that you kill one after another. You see a lump of walking metal armor which you demolish."

"If you don't love Relena, you don't love anyone at all. You don't care about anyone. You're really just a cold-hearted, unfeeling brute."

"That's so illogical."

"No, look, she's the only one who cares intensely for you. If you don't love her back, it means you can't love anyone."

"She can live with unrequited love. And so can I."

"So who do you love?"

"I told you. War broke my heart at sixteen. And I will never love again."

"Dramatic, aren't we? Sheesh, Heero, have a little dose of reality. You can't 'love' war."

"It wasn't just any war. It was this war, the one I fought in and gave everything for. It sounds horrible, but it's true."

"You can't love war, Heero. It'll never love you back."

"Why didn't you enlighten me before I went and plunged myself into it?"

"Always the Perfect Soldier. I mean, if you liked the whole crappy experience so much, why don't you go and start up another war? You fought so hard for peace and you're saying you don't want it anymore? What's wrong with you?"

"Shut up! You lived to pilot Deathscythe, remember? You lived for your revenge, remember? Out of everyone in this whole miserable universe, you of all people should understand!" I walked back into the bedroom, slamming the door behind me, angrily, but Duo followed me inside.

I circled around to glare at him, and he glared back. We stood like that for several seconds, then looked away.

"Look, I'm sorry. I...didn't mean to make you angry. I can't understand where you have room to bury all your feelings."

"Apology accepted."

He rolled his eyes.

"You're upset today. Did something happen?"

He winced at my question and flopped himself down on his bed. "Yeah. Something happened."

"What?"

"I don't feel like telling you."

"When it actually matters, you close up like a clamshell."

"Shut up. I don't always have to be a chatterbox, you know. Just because I've more of a personality than you do doesn't mean I don't have my silent moments."

"Hn."

"Just shut up Heero. I can hear the sarcasm in the monosyllable."

"Why don't you want to tell me?"

"Why do you want to know anyway?"

"I'm curious."

He hesitated, then said, "All right. I'll tell you. Hilde's been buggin' me to come home, and since we've practically gone to every single place worth going in this sorry little world, I've got no excuses anymore. I told her this morning that I'd be leaving tonight for L2. And the thing is, I don't want to go back to that salvage dump. I don't want to go anywhere anymore. I just want to hole up in this place and stare up at the ceiling."

"Oh."

"Do you understand? I don't want to get up in the mornings. I want to stay asleep, locked in my dreams. I don't want to meet anyone, go anywhere, do anything...do you know how frightening that is? All my life, I've been on the move, and now I just want to stand still. I've changed. You've changed me. No, you've drained me. Every day of your silence, then your memories, then your bleak eyes...I can see how empty you are, and I can see how empty I am. I don't want to move, because I'm afraid that this gap I see in myself is going to tear me apart."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault. The gap isn't anyway. The war left that in me, and being with you reminds me that it's there. I can't stay here any longer, d'you understand? If I stay here longer, I'll get lost forever. I won't be able to start a new life again. But all I really want to do is stay here with you, lost in my memories and in my emptiness, because I don't want to forget...what it was like."

"Pack your bags. Go. Leave. If you have a life to begin, better to live it and forget, than be a dying husk all your life."

"What about you?"

"I told you. I'm living through the next three years, waiting for war to break my spirit and then I'll have nothing left to keep me living."

"You're going to commit suicide in three years? That has got to be the most ridiculous thing I ever heard."

"Perhaps."

"You stupid, self-destructive bastard! Why can't you die on your own? I wasn't planning to die at nineteen!"

I blinked in surprise. "I am going to die on my own. You're going back to L2."

"You thought that I was going to leave you here, after you just told me your suicide wish? You really thought that I could...my God, Heero, what kind of person d'you think I am?"

"You have no obligations to me."

"To Hell, I don't. I'm your friend!"

"You don't have to be."

"Well. The thanks I get for following a guy to the ends of the earth. Sounds like a bad romance novel."

"You followed me of your own accord. You can leave of your own accord."

"Not if you're going to die."

I looked at him, almost desperately. "And why not? Why not? I was supposed to be a hero--to save the world from devastation by dying. But I survived. Where am I to go now? What am I to live for?"

"Heero, normal people don't spend their lives living for a cause. That's only messed up people like us. Most people just keep on living."

"So. Keep on living."

"Yes. Can't you be content with that?"

"Are you content with that?"

He winced. "No."

I didn't say anything.

"Fine. But I'm dying with you. So there. You can't get rid of me Heero. I'm goin' to haunt your footsteps, even to the grave. Because if you're not around, what chance do I have of saving myself?"

"What?"

"If you, Mr. Perfect Soldier, can't learn to live with the peace he's created, what chance does a pitiful mortal like me have? There's never been anyone who's been so full of purpose, so secure and confident as you. To see you broken like this, Heero, it's like seeing us all shattered."

"Do whatever you want. Leave, stay, I won't stop you. But don't expect anything else from me."

His face fell. "I understand. I'm staying."

I gave a curt nod and curled up on my bed. He came over and sat on the edge, stroking my head, humming a lullaby under his breath. Just before I closed my eyes, the hand went away, and I heard Duo whisper to himself, "I'd probably kill myself too, no matter what happened."

***

Three years passed with Duo and I continuing to move from home to home, colony to colony. He tried occasionally to drag me outside--to hikes, to concerts, to sports games, and even once to school. But I was busy trying to trace my footsteps back to the places that Odin and I visited, trying to find where Odin Lowe Jr. and Heero Yuy connected. Trying to find where they connected to me. I am nameless too. Who am I?

Duo and I dragged around an old rickety bunk bed that we reassembled at each new home. He had the top bunk; I had the bottom. Every night he would come in late, from mysterious and smoky places, and as he changed and climbed up the ladder, I could smell strange and exotic fumes that still clung to him--the scent of alcohol, of steel, of tobacco smoke, of perfume, of silk. They fascinated me for a while--glimpses into a world I never knew, but once I let myself be persuaded to come with him for a night out on the town, and it was only a nightclub, only a bar. I let the scents remain beautiful and alien, and no longer believed that Duo somehow had a key to a place I could not reach.

But every night he passed me when I was supposed to be asleep, and my nose grew keener. In the spring, he carried smells of crushed grass and damp soil; with summer came sweat and hanging thunderstorms; the fall was made of crisp dried leaves and the winter of pine needles in wet snow. I measured the seasons by Duo; he reminded me there was a world outside, even if it was a world at peace, which had no room for me or him, for any of us pilots. What business does he have, being out there? I often wondered, but I was trying to prove that the universe outside me existed, and I did not spend too much time thinking about it. To me, war was the one great reality that I could be alive in. Since it had ended, I was no longer sure whether a reality was still there. I knew I had a physical body, but what held my mind? Nothing left into which I could plunge my very existence, nothing left to flood my senses until I was sure where I belonged. Sometimes the room around me whirled until the floor was slanted and I knew I was about to fall...

My nineteenth birthday fell in a cold, dry September day. I stood in the ruins of the buildings I had once destroyed accidentally, when an unexpected collapse spread flames to houses nearby the base I was supposed to demolish. Somewhere here there were the fallen walls of a room in which slept a little girl with large eyes and a favorite puppy dog, who once asked me, "Are you lost?"

Duo asked curiously, "Where are we?"

"This is where war broke my soul."

He fell respectfully silent for a while, then asked, "What happened?"

"Let's go to the cemetery first."

I never knew her name, but I remembered the day that she died and I searched for her tomb among the little stone slabs that marked the children's graves.

When I finally stopped to sit cross-legged at one of them, Duo asked hesitantly, "Is this the only girl you've ever loved?"

"She was only five or six years old. And I killed her."

He opened his mouth in a silent "oh." Then, "Was she your sister?"

"In a way."

"I see."

I glanced up from my contemplation of the grass and studied his solemn expression.

"What are you thinking about?"

"I've killed people I've loved too."

"The Maxwell Church?"

He looked away, his face pale. "If only..."

"I know. But we were both innocent then."

"Were we?"

"We believed in what we were doing. At least for a while."

"When did we stop believing?"

"When we achieved what we had fought for. Peace."

"Can we ever live at peace?"

"Perhaps. I did say that war would break my spirit at nineteen. Maybe I will be able to understand peace from now on." I took out my gun.

"Your nineteenth birthday, eh? Happy birthday, Heero," Duo said sarcastically, although his eyes had widened and he looked afraid.

"I'm going to leave you now, Duo. Please don't say good-bye," I said in a calm, expressionless voice. Then, a little wistfully, I asked, "Will you join me soon?"

"This isn't funny."

"I'm not joking."

"I wasn't gonna let you alone ever again! I was gonna go with you everywhere, no matter what kind of hellhole you chose for yourself!"

"Then do. I brought an extra gun, just in case."

"But Heero!"

"What?"

"You're not...you can't just kill yourself."

"I am already dead. I was a soldier. And my war has ended without me. I must join it in death."

"Isn't there anything you can live for?"

"Is there anything you can live for?"

"Yes," he blurted out impatiently.

I raised an eyebrow.

"I can live because I know that I'm not alone in this universe. Because ever since I've met you, you've always been there. Space, battles, the Zero system, not even self-destruction could kill you. You always lived. And even after the war, I knew that there must be something to life, if you could keep on living. Please...stay alive Heero."

"I can't. There's nothing to life. There's nothing but me. And war has drained everything out of me."

"Well, too bad! You gotta keep goin' or you're gonna to fall. That's all there is to life, Heero. You keep on going."

"I can't do that."

"Well, if you can't, how the hell am I supposed to? No, you've got to live Heero, if only to keep me alive."

I simply turned around and pointed the gun into my ear. It was the quickest, most efficient way of shooting yourself. But a shot rang out behind me before I pulled the trigger, and I felt a bullet hit my shoulder. I immediately turned around and reflexively shot back at my attacker. Certain instincts had been trained into me. But I gasped as I saw Duo double over and fall to the ground. He was laughing. "See Heero? You've got to keep on living now. You've killed me, and you owe me your life. And I say you can't die yet."

"No."

"Find a purpose, find a meaning. I daresay it doesn't exist. But searching for the rest of your life is better than giving up. That's just pathetic, and we can't see Mr. Heero Yuy be pathetic, can we?"

"Shut up. I'm getting you to a hospital, now."

"What's the use? I'm dying." His eyes closed.

***

My aim was fortunately less than perfect. Though the bullet did a lot of damage, but the doctor managed to sew up the wound before there was too much internal bleeding. Duo would spend the next ten months recovering, but he'd live. I let out a sigh.

"Hey, looks like you're no longer the Perfect Soldier! You missed the heart." Duo joked, though he gasped in pain soon afterward.

"Don't speak or else you'll be stuck in here for a full year," I snapped, then added, "I was never the Perfect Soldier. A Perfect Soldier isn't human."

"Whatever. But Heero, I'm still holding you to your debt. You owe me big. You nearly killed me, and that's the same thing as actually doing me in. You're going to spend the rest of your life making it up to me until your sense of honor's satisfied."

"You tried to kill me when I first met you."

"That's why I owe you too. That's why I can't let you kill yourself. I'm Shinigami, and you can't die without my permission."

I closed my eyes and put my head in my hands. "So what am I to do now?"

He carefully pushed himself closer to the edge of the bed, grimacing from the pain, but finally he was able to lean down and whisper in my ear, "You know, if we can't live for a war that's ended and if we can't live for ourselves, we might as well live for each other. Is that large enough? Even for you, human?"

I looked into his large, somber eyes, and I remembered the wandering, the silence, the painful wonderful memories, the dark empty void that waited just out of reach no matter where we went. Then I also remembered the nights spent lying awake, waiting for him to get home, because I could smell the world outside from his skin. My laughter. His scowls. The curves of his face in my reflection.

It wasn't intense or inspiring, it didn't leave me wild-eyed and determined to live, it didn't make me feel powerful or ecstatic--but it was worthwhile. For me. For now.

And I whispered back, "Yes."

END

Gundam Wing belongs to Sunrise.

My first finished fanfiction.

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