By: Cassima
Sequel/Series: Beginning of the "If I Should Die" series.
Summary: Let's say things had turned out a little differently... and, after several years, the war has finally ended.
Pairings: None in this part.
Rating: Um, PG in this part.
Warnings: AU. ...yes, definitely AU.

THANK YOU DEARLY to my dearest betas, Bronze and my Kitten. You guys rock so much I'm dizzy.

If I Should Die... + Prologue
So You Want to be a Hero

"Am I late? Did I miss any exposition?"
--Buffy the Vampire Slayer

*It all returns to nothing.
*It all comes tumbling down.
*It all returns to nothing.
*It just keeps letting me down...

--Komm, Susser Tod


Peace at last.

Duo let out a whoop of delight and threw open Deathscythe Hell's hatch almost before he remembered to shut the engines off. As the last of the power lights flickered off he was nearly to the ground, rappelling down in bounds from joint to joint down his gundam's legs, barely feeling the weight of the line as he descended and touched down lightly on the ground. "It's over!" he hollered, racing towards the crumpled form of Wing Zero. His short ponytail bounced as he ran. "We did it! War's over!"

Heero crawled out of the slightly-mangled Zero a few seconds before Duo tackled him. The force of the motion sent them both spinning dizzily, and Heero found himself bringing his hands up to steady Duo's hips where the other pilot was clinging to him. "Get off."

"Come on, you sourpuss!" Duo said with a laugh of delight. "We kicked ass!"

"Hn," was all Heero deigned to comment, but Duo saw the slight smirk of triumph threaten his dour demeanor.

Sandrock and Heavyarms landed nearby, and Duo sprang off Heero to spread the joy. Trowa, the first on the ground, was the next recipient of Duo's triumphant noise; Duo ignored his confusion and hugged him anyway. "We won! No more war!"

"Yes," Trowa replied. His smile was much more visible than Heero's.

Quatre was moving a little more slowly to the ground, cupping a bloody side but still grinning. "Thank Allah it's over!"

Whooping with excitement, Duo let Trowa go--much to the shy boy's relief--and led Quatre in a manic parody of the tango. "Break out the champagne!" He dipped Quatre over Sandrock's foot. "There's gonna be a party tonight!"

As Trowa and Heero were very carefully not laughing at the ridiculous demonstration Quatre and Duo put on, Shenlong descended behind them, finally settling in the dust.

"Hurry up, pokey," Duo called, and spun his dance partner again.

"Duo, I'm getting dizzy," Quatre giggled giddily, letting the next exaggerated dance move find him seated on Sandrock's foot. Duo noticed the blond was a little paler than usual, and grabbed Trowa for the next round of dancing, despite Trowa's protests.

Finally, Meiran exited the hatch, gracefully springing down to the ground. "Stop screeching at me, Maxwell."

Duo spun away from Trowa to sweep her up and spin her around, dropping her feet-first on the ground when it became evident that she did not share his level of exuberance. "War's over, Mei!" he crowed.

"Yes, Maxwell, I am aware of that." Her smirk echoed Heero's. "The weak will always be defeated by the strong."

"No moralizing," he told her, shaking a chiding finger, and they joined the rest of the group. "Whaddya all say we party tonight?"

The response was an overwhelming affirmative. Well, Quatre's was overwhelming, anyway.


Duo was running a few minutes late, as usual, so Meiran already had a table by the time he arrived, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"What did you want, Maxwell?" She stood as he joined her, a gesture of politeness left over from her traditional upbringing, and sat immediately after. Her napkin returned to her lap, and she lifted her glass of water to take a healthy drink.

"Good morning, Mei-mei!" Duo also took a drink of water, eyeing the folded napkin at his place as if it were alive. "Is this supposed to be some sort of animal or something?" He poked at the folds with his salad fork, looking for a pattern.

"Just pretend you're a civilized creature for once and put it in your lap, Maxwell." She did not look amused, and raised her menu, effectively blocking Duo's view of her face.

"What's the fun in that?" he asked with a wink, but snapped the napkin open and laid it on his lap.

Any further comments either may have had were cut off by the appearance of the waiter. After he'd taken their orders and made his exit, Meiran once again gave Duo a steady look. "Why did you ask me to lunch?"

"Can't a guy just ask his fellow ex-soldier to a celebratory meal without an ulterior motive?" He finished the water in his glass and smiled at her.

"No," was her calm reply.

"Mou," he pouted, "you're just like Heero sometimes. Sourpuss. Why can't you emulate Q or me? Even Trowa would be an improvement." He forestalled her growing ire with a raised hand. "I know, I know, if I don't get to the point within the next five seconds, you'll leave. I just wanted to know what you're doing now that the war's officially over."

She gave him a blank look. "Excuse me?"

"Oh, you know," he said, "Quatre's heading back to his big company and his family, Trowa's got the circus--which, you know, is like his family--Heero's shadowing Relena, who's been talking about *making* him family... heh, I wonder if he's going to stalk her like she did to him...? ...but no one knows what you're doing." He put his arms behind his head and stretched. "You know, now that there's no one left to beat up, how're you gonna figure out where to deliver that justice of yours?" He did not mention the destruction of L5, and with it, the last of Meiran's family; she felt absurdly relieved. But, of course, if there was one thing she had in common with Duo Maxwell, it was that they both understood loss all too well.

Meiran unfolded her hands from her lap and smoothed back a stray strand of hair. "If you must know, Colonel Une has discovered a plot led by that snake Dermail to bring back the authoritarian government. Guided by this possible threat, she decided to found an organization devoted to maintaining peace."

"You're gonna work with Psycho-Bitch Une?!" Duo said with a laugh. "Ms. Multiple Personality herself? No shit?"

"She, Sally Po, and I are co-founding it." There was a bit of a smirk on her face. "We decided it would be the best way to represent all sides in this oncoming era of peace. Une is handling the political aspect, Sally will supervise health issues and biological warfare, and I am taking care of internal policies. The Earth-Sphere Alliance has already agreed to sign a contract and give a rather sizeable grant; we are in the midst of negotiations now."

"No shit," Duo repeated softly. His gaze turned from his lunch companion's face to the window; it was a beautiful day outside, and people seemed to be determined to enjoy it and the new peace. "You guys already have that all worked out?"

"The fighting ended a few weeks ago, and the peace treaty was signed last week," Meiran pointed out. "There has been plenty of time." Duo didn't answer. "What will you do after the war?"

"Dunno," Duo said softly, still staring out the window. "I mean, I don't have any family or nothing, so that's out... no commitments... the only people I really know that well are you guys, and you've all got plans..." His lip twitched.

"Surely that floozy who followed you around during the war has extended an invitation of sorts." Hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago counted as "during the war;" it already seemed like an entirely different era. "You can't tell me that your own personal Relena has given you up."

Duo rolled his eyes. "She's not a floozy, Mei, she's an ex-soldier. And, yes, Hilde offered me a job in her junkyard, but..." He looked over at Meiran, who was staring at him not-quite-impassively. "Ever feel like you're missing something?"

Meiran lowered her eyes to the tablecloth in front of her; it was as white as her clothes. "No."

Duo nodded and looked back out the window. "Maybe I'll go back to school."

Meiran snorted.

"What?" he asked, offended. "I'm smart enough!"

"You lack discipline," she said. They waited for a tense moment while their food was placed in front of them.

"I was disciplined enough to save the world," he said, after they were alone again.

"You're unfocussed."

He scowled. "Well, I'll just have to focus, then, won't I?"

The sudden hostility in his voice surprised Meiran, and she paused with her fork poised over her plate. Duo paused, a forkful of potatoes in front of his closed mouth. His eyelids lowered slowly over the overly-intense glare, and when they re-opened he was calm and pleasant again.

She set her fork down slowly, the food on her plate untouched. "You're acting strangely, Maxwell."

He took a big bite and grinned at her. "Weren't you the one who told me I was dropped on my head as a child?"

"You're confusing me with Yuy." She gave him another considering look before picking her fork up again and beginning her meal.

He was his cheery self throughout the rest of the meal, but Meiran remained strangely wary.


After lunch, Meiran only briefly considered going back to work with Une before she pulled out her cell phone and made her excuses. Instead, she headed over to one of the larger, more heavily-guarded warehouses scattered around the edge of the country--an hour's drive, by the clock on her car stereo, which continuously ran a little slow--and slipped past security with an ease that would have infuriated those in charge. Her target was one of the innermost hangers, filled with weapons that had been sealed away since the end of the war a few weeks ago. Keying in the code, she allowed the door to slide shut behind her as she fumbled a little for the light switch. Fluorescent lights flickered on around her, reaching to the back of the large room.

Shenlong looked strangely empty under the artificial lighting; Meiran stared at her gundam, wondering where the spark of glory and life had gone. Was it just her imagination, or was there something final and abandoned about the mecha? She climbed up easily and seated herself on its shoulder, next to the giant head.

"I've paid my debt, Shenlong," she told it. Her voice rang a little in the bare room, and she continued at a softer level. "I've done my best to protect the honor of all the people who died for my sake. I've rid us of this war. Pointless death will now end. Can you forgive me?"

Shenlong remained silent. The room felt like a tomb.

If she closed her eyes, she could see it: herself in that piece-of-crap Tallgeese, determined to protect the colony; that stupid scholar, running into the fray like the idiot he'd always been, no mecha or anything; the field of flowers afterward, where she'd laid his head down and watched him breathe his last breath. She could feel the dead weight of his head on her lap as his eyes slid closed that last time. She'd pushed him off and run back to O to prove her strength as Shenlong's true pilot, and every time she fought, she could feel his dead weight on her back, or in her arms, or lying on her thighs, pushing her on. Every time she fought Treize, she saw her scholar's blood on her hands, staining her clothes and the ground beneath them. She'd been furious; how dare he die like that? How dare he pity her while he was the one too weak to move? How dare he forgive her as he choked on his own blood?

She sighed and relaxed, laying a hand on the smooth guard on Shenlong's head. "It is time for me to move on. You have been avenged, Wufei."

His body was irrecoverable; she made a note to put up a grave maker on Earth so he would not be forgotten.

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