"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end..."
The Beginning's End + Part 1
Happy Birthday to you!"
I hate that song. God. It has to be the most insipid song in the history of human civilization. How it has survived all of these centuries, when philosophies and ideals and sacrifices and loves have faded and disappeared, Iíll never understand. Moronic sentimentality prevails.
"Make a wish and blow out the candles, darling!"
Speaking of moronic sentimentalityÖ
But thatís not quite fair. Despite all appearances, Relena isnít moronic, and she certainly isnít sentimental. Right now, she is - as always - playing a part. Today, it is part number seven - loving wife, adorably besotted with her gruff but ardent husband. Thatís a slight variation from number eight - loving but exasperated wife, gently remonstrating with said husband, persuading him to tone down the gruff and turn up the ardentÖ
"Ödarling! Wax is dripping on your cake!"
Ah, there it is. Number eight.
I stare, rather stupidly, at the merrily burning candles, which, as Relena pointed out, are beginning to drip wax onto the pristine surface of my birthday cake. Twenty-one candles. I am twenty-one today. At least, Relena decided that today is my birthday. Iíd always approximated it before, but she was appalled when she discovered I didnít know the actual date. So, she chose one for me. Just like she chooses my clothes, and my personal servants, and my daily scheduleÖ
"Heís thinking of a wish. Man in a position like his, must be hard to think of something he hasnít got!"
A resounding laugh rises as all the other half-wits chortle at the stupid joke made by Montaigne, chief half-wit since Durmail died and Romefeller was officially "disbanded." As they giggle, I finally think of something to wish for, and blow out my candles.
But they have a point. What in the world could I, Heero Yuy, possibly be lacking? I am married to a beautiful, rich woman who is one of the most powerful people in the known world. I live in a huge house, where servants and luxuries and amusements abound. It would seem I have nothing left to wish for.
But I have a wish none the less.
As I watch the smoke drift lazily upward from the huge, ornately-iced cake, my wish pounds again and again and again in my mind, as though perhaps those wispy spirals might carry it upward to be heard by some deity that I have never believed existed.
It has been so long since I had a mission.
A tie to the reality everyone else lives in.
I wish for an escape from this world I am enmeshed in, a world as false and as sickly sweet as the fat decorative roses covering the surface of my birthday cake.
Apparently, blowing out the candles is something amazing, because everyone applauds. The applause and polite catcalls grow louder as my wife leans down and presses a kiss on my lips. Good Heero. You did the trick. Hereís your treatÖ
"What did you wish for?" a simpering young lady near the front of the crowd asks.
I stare at her, allowing for one moment the coldness I feel to be apparent in my gaze. "I canít tell," I tell her slowly, the way I used to tell enemy forces that they were going to die. "I wouldnít get my wish then, would I?"
"All right, everyone," Relena says brightly, pretending that she didnít hear this exchange. "Time for the first cut!"
She puts a long, sharp knife into my hand. Reflexively, I shift it into a throwing grip. Almost instantly I relax my hold, moving the knife into a more conventional hold. None of the pampered fools around me notice my momentary aberration, but a few sharper eyes catch on, and I pick out a few muffled snorts of laughter over the noise of the crowd.
I look up and meet Wufeiís amused eyes. Heís standing next to Quatre. Winnerís wealth, and Wufeiís position as a Preventer, assure them both a certain status within this group. I have to crane my neck, though, and look to the very fringes of the group to find the source of the other amused chuckles. They stand there, together, of course, at the very back of the large crowd. I can only see them because noone is standing near them, noone is paying attention to them. They arenít important enough to merit the attention of anyone here. A circus performer and a free-lance pilotÖNever mind that theyíre heroes; that they helped save the world. They arenít worthy of the honor of being acknowledged by these pampered fools. I am separated from them by more than distance. A sharp pain tears through my chest.
How have I done this? How have I allowed them, of all people, to be shoved to the back? Why are they allowing themselves to be treated like this?
I know the answer to that one. Theyíre putting up with it - with being ignored, sneered at and snubbed - for me. They wouldnít miss my birthday party.
I know the answer to the first questions too, as to why I have allowed this to happen.
Weakness, as Wufei would say.
I want to jump to my feet, knock the gaggle of over-bred idiots out of my way, and drag them up to the front. By me. Where they belong. The impulse grows stronger within me. Thereís a mission - cleanse my life of hypocrisy, apologize to my friends, and show the ex-Romefellerites what I think of them, all in one fell swoop.
Heat rises to my face as a sense of purpose sweeps through me. I plant my feet more firmly on the ground, my muscles tense in preparation to standÖ
Öand Relenaís hand descends on my shoulder. "Öthe first cut, Heero! Itís good luck."
Good luck. The heat fades from my cheeks, and the sense of purpose from my mind. Quietly, meekly, I make the first cut, slicing through one of the tipsy icing roses, gauging the pristine purity of the cake with a long black gash.
After all of the guests have received a piece of my cake, I pick up my fork to eat my own slice. Apparently, I canít go without sampling my own birthday cake. That would, it seems, be very bad luck indeed.
I wonder irritably if there is any ritual at all associated with a birthday celebration that doesnít somehow involve accumulating good luck or preventing bad.
I force myself to swallow bite after bite of the cake. Relena had managed to get me a huge piece, complete with two full icing roses.
The roses are pink. The roses - on my twenty-first birthday cake - are pink.
The slab of cake sheís cut me seems never-ending. It seems that with every bite I take, thereís that much more. The cake itself tastes dry, and the icing is so intensely sweet it makes my teeth ache. I scowl, annoyed with myself that I even feel so insignificant a pain.
Somehow, this stupid wedge of cake has taken on the character of a mission for me. I will finish it. It will be gone. Every last crumb will be devoured, if it kills me.
And it just might.
Finally, I win.
The cake is gone.
I am the victor.
Well, thatís just great. I can defeat my birthday cake.
I am losing my mind.
For the last several minutes, Relena has been tugging on my sleeve, trying to get me to go and mingle with "my" guests. Iíve been ignoring her. Thatís harder than it sounds, but itís easier with practice. Especially in public, where she has to make it appear that sheís not nagging me and that Iím not ignoring her. She hates it.
Actually, itís kind of fun.
Thatís the only type of pleasure I get. Annoying my wife, and battling my birthday cake.
You know, there are people that envy me.
But once the cake has been vanquished, I finally allow her words to penetrate my consciousness. Sheís right - I do have guests I want to greet.
I rise to my feet and start to move through the crowd. My sudden movement startles her, and for a moment, I am moving alone through the crowd.
My instant of freedom doesnít last though. Some fool steps into my path, grabs my hand, and pumps it furiously while stammering out some facetious birthday greeting.
I glare at this obstacle in my way. But itís too late - he provided the rest of the vultures an opportunity to gather. Relena is back at my elbow, and dozens of people are pressing in, shoving each other out of the way to offer me congratulations and suggestions for alternate celebrations, to seek my opinion on current political issues, and the weather, and if the newest fashion is flattering to their figures, and the same bland inanities that constitute all of their conversations.
Years ago, I would have shoved them out of the way and continued. A little earlier, with the heat of a mission warming me, I just might have done the same. But now, somehow, Iím trapped. I hear my voice mechanically repeating thanks, smiling slightly at the more risquť suggestions as Relena blushes behind me, assuring some "former" earl that I do in fact believe that Une should continue in her role with the Preventers, agreeing that it is a fine night, and hoping it doesnít rain later. Itís when I hear myself, as though from far away, assure a young woman that puce does complement her complexion that I am shaken from my fog. Puce?! What the hell is puce?
Abruptly I turn and murmur into Relenaís ear. I almost shove past her, and exit the ballroom. Sheíll make some excuse for me - sheís good at that sort of thing. I just need to get out of that room, out of this building.
I exit one of the back doors, into the gardens. Even after all these years, I instinctively make no sound as I move. Some habits are hard to break.
Blindly I make my way out, into the gardens surrounding the palace I find myself living in. I wander until I come to a low stone wall, built at the top of a small hill overlooking a smaller lake.
Actually, itís a pond. But itís in the wrong place for a pond, so itís a lake.
Donít ask me. Relena said itís the wrong place for a pond. I wasnít aware that there were rules governing pond placement, but it seems that there are.
I sit on a bench directly in front of the wall and lean forward, resting my elbows on the smooth stone and my head in my hands.
There are rules governing everything. What to wear, what to say, what to doÖhow to feel when wearing and saying and doing. How to talk to your wife, how to look at your wife, how to make love to your wifeÖ
Of course, the foremost rule there was that you had to want to make love to your wife.
I jump, startled, and see Duo and Trowa standing beside me in the moonlight. I start to move over, but before I can, Duo plops down on one side of me, and Trowa sits calmly on the other.
"I didnít think there was a chance weíd get a word in tonight, birthday boy! Youíre the man of the hour today," Duo teases.
I grimace, not speaking.
"Are you enjoying your birthday?" Trowa asks politely, a little smirk on his face.
I look back and forth between them, staring into the laughing violet eyes and the serene green ones. Itís funny. Trowa still has that overhang of hair, but somehow these days itís always pushed to the side enough that you can see both of his eyes. He doesnít hide any more. And DuoÖheís still loud and laughing and bouncy, but the frenetic edge that characterized his moods and actions before is gone. The need for exuberance has vanished - his vitality and happy air are genuine, now.
Peace has been good for them.
But, no. It hasnít been peace, or at least, not just peace. Itís each other. Duo and Trowa have healed each other. I wonder what they would do forÖ
Suddenly, I realize that I havenít spoken since they sat down, and theyíre both frowning confusedly at me. I also realize that theyíre both sitting very close to me within the confines of the small bench - I feel the brush of their legs against each of mine, and for once Iím thankful for the bulky folds of the prissy Sank clothes that have been foisted on me.
"Iím sorry," I manage. "I wasÖ.I was thinking about something else. What did you say?"
Trowa stares steadily at me, his eyes narrowing. "I asked if youíd enjoyed your birthday," he repeats mildly.
I laugh, and I can hear the bitterness in it. I stand, and move to face them, perching on the stone wall. "Oh, itís been great," I say sarcastically.
Duo is frowning at me. "YouÖyou sure got a lot of presents!" he says with forced lightness.
I sigh, bowing my head to rest my chin against my chest. "Yes," I agree, in a subdued tone. "Yes, I got a lot of presents."
There is silence. I peer up at them, not lifting my head, and observe them. Theyíre frowning at each other, and as I look, Trowa lifts one shoulder slightly, in a gesture of confusion. Duo tilts his head back toward the palace, an inquiring look on his face. Again, Trowa lifts his shoulder. Duo responds with a scowl of impatience, an expression which brings a slight smile to Trowaís face as he nods toward Duo, then jerks his head toward me.
A hot feeling burns through me as I watch them silently communicate, sweeping through my body and leaving me feeling cold in its wake. This isnít the first time that I have experienced this feeling in their presence, but itís the first time that Iíve been able to put a name to it.
Iím jealous of them.
Iím jealous of their closeness. Jealous of how they can have a conversation without saying anything. Jealous of that connection that they have to another person.
Isnít that how itís supposed to be when youíre married? Why donít Relena and I relate that way?
I pull myself to my feet, and my sudden movement startles them. They look inquiringly - and a little guiltily - at me.
"I have to go back into the party," I tell them. "I just left Relena with everyone."
Duo smiles at me, and I see the relief in the expression. He approves of the concern Iím showing toward my wife - it shows that I care about her, and that our relationship must be ok, and that he has been worrying needlessly about me.
See. Trowa isnít the only one who can talk to Duo without words. Of course, of we two, he is the only one who isnít silently lying.
But it wonít be a lie for long, I resolve silently to myself. I will heal this breach that has grown between me and Relena. That will be my mission. I will make this marriage work.
Firmly deciding on this course of action, I bid farewell to Duo and Trowa, and head back to my birthday party.
I lean back against the worn upholstery of the car seat, and canít stop a small sigh from escaping.
Trowa shifts his gaze from the road, his calm green gaze meeting mine for a moment.
"Is something wrong?" he asks quietly.
I sigh again. "Not really," I say vaguely.
"Youíre worried about Heero?"
It sounds like a question, but it isnít. After three years together, Trowa can read my mind like one of those cheap paperback mystery novels that are his secret passion. He reads them all the time, in constant search of one whose ending he canít guess by the middle of the book. When he finds one where the solution eludes him, youíd think he found gold. Itís then worthy of being stored in the bookshelf built into the headboard of our bed.
Heís a really weird guy, sometimes.
If youíd have told me in my wild youth that I would be shacked up with a guy who keeps detective stories in the bed shelf rather than the Kama Sutra, I would never have believed you. If youíd have told me Iíd be liking it, Iíd have believed you less.
But I do like it. I more than like it.
Iím shaken out of my little sparkle moment by a pointed cough. He thinks Iím eluding his question.
"SorryÖI was thinking aboutÖsomething else," I tell him, deepening my voice on the last two words.
A faint smile crosses his face, but he keeps his eyes steadily on the road. "Uh-huh," he says, his tone disbelieving. But the little smile is still on his face.
I grin, and settle back in the seat. "Ok. Yes, Iím worried about Heero," I declare. I look over at him, and the smile is gone.
"Didnít he seem weird?" I demand.
Trowa nods slowly. "Yes, he did seemÖweird," he agrees slowly. Somehow, I have a feeling heís talking about something different than I am.
"I mean, he wasnít enjoying the party."
Trowa smiles again. "Neither was I, for that matter," he points out mildly.
I make a sound of impatience. "But he should have been enjoying it," I insist. "It was his birthday party!"
"But is it his birthday?" Trowa asks.
I shrug. "Hey, thereís a one out of three hundred sixty-five chance that it is," I say. "Itís as close as our guesses."
Trowa and I have assigned ourselves birthdays as well. Well, I did most of the assigning, after a long, studious perusal of many astrological and numerological sources. It took me forever, and I just about drove Trowa nuts analyzing our personalities and reading aloud to him from books with titles like Moon Signs for Lovers. But now, we have carefully researched birthdays of our own. Weíre even astrologically compatible. I checked.
"I just find it a little strange," Trowa muses, "that his birthday happens to fall exactly four months before their wedding anniversary and four months after her birthday."
I stare at him, frowning, for a long moment before I understand what heís saying.
"You mean she gave him a politically convenient birthday?" I manage after a moment.
Trowa shrugs lightly. "Seems awfully neat and tidy, doesnít it?"
"You mean," I stammer, outraged, "She didnít even try to match his sign? Didnít think about his being a cusp? Didnít even take name numerology into account?"
The smile is back, more pronounced this time. "Iíve never been convinced that name numerology should be a factor when working with code names," he comments.
"Itís the name you go by that matters," I respond automatically, still absorbed in my indignity over Relenaís thoughtlessness. Doesnít she want to know his real birthday, so she can compare star charts?
"Poor Heero," I mutter.
Trowa makes a non-committal sound. The smile is gone again.
After a few moments of silence, he pulls the car into the lot behind our apartment building.
"Maybe we could look in some of those old books and see if we can findÖ," I begin, my mind still on Heero.
He unfastens his seatbelt and turns toward me. His face is shadowed, his eyes unreadable in the dim light.
"I can think of a few things that Iíd rather do than look up Heero Yuyís ascendant," he breathes huskily, seconds before his lips meet mine.
Itís unusual for Trowa to kiss me anywhere thatís not completely private. Itís hard for him to be physically affectionate in front of other people, although he has no trouble at all when weíre alone. So, even as I eagerly return the caress, Iím surprised.
But not as surprised as I am moments later, when I find myself on my back in the back seat of the car, moaning his name as he presses into me.
The question of Heeroís birthday and astrological sign might as well not exist. The last coherent thought that passes through my mind before reason is lost in a white hot haze of pleasure is that if this is how Trowa is going to behave after boring parties, we have got to go to more of those.