by: Shoori

The Beginning's End + Part 12

I feel cool air drift across my skin as the body that had been pressing me down against the rough surface of the floor finally finishes its act and moves away. I don't really know if its Barton or Oslo. I don't even care.

Whoever it is wanders away, but not before they rub their hand roughly over my back, painfully pressing the open wounds and half-healed scabs that cover the skin there.

I shudder uncontrollably, and am aware of a mild disgust as I hear the pained whimper that escapes my throat, and the laugh the sound provokes from the departing man. That kind of touch is the only thing that still has the power to disturb me after all this time. And it does; God it does. They know it. I think on some level they realize that everything else, all my other protests and struggles, are a sham. I stopped caring about what they do to me what seems like a very long time ago. I need to act, to behave in the manner in which they expect for the sake of the mission. In reality, I feel nothing. The abuses they've heaped on me have been many and creative, but I've hardly noticed them in weeks.

Except when they involve my back.

Every time the whip descends on me, every time an open gash is prodded or an older wound reopened, every time insolent fingers chafe the abraded skin I want to scream, to cry, to be gone. I want to die.

That's my only goal, the only thought that occupies my mind. I'm not really sure how long I've been here. It feels like forever - even when I try, I can barely remember anything that happened to me before I came here. The faces of my friends have faded; at times even their names elude me. The one thing I can hold on to is the mission.

I have to have been here for weeks, at least. They've been toying with me. They push, and push, until I think I'm going to finally be released, finally escape…then they back off. They leave, and I am allowed to rest, am given food, water. I slowly drift away from the edge of that precipice, regain some strength, begin to remember, resolve not to be broken again…and then they return. And it all begins again, with even more fury for having been postponed.

But soon…soon the production of the new suits will have been completed. Soon, the possibility of Barton's forces discovering the base will no longer be a threat. Soon I will no longer have to struggle to heal, to live, to avoid falling into nothingness.

Soon, I can die.

I must admit, that had I been able to find the opportunity, it's possible that I would be dead already, mission notwithstanding. But they've been careful. My hands have not been unbound since the first day I was here. Whenever I am alone - which is rare - my arms are bound tightly behind me, my elbows bound together, in bonds that I am not able to escape. The blindfold has been an almost constant fixture. My world has been one of almost perpetual darkness.

Soon, though, I will be free. Even if I am not able to die on my own, soon the attack will come. Five weeks, I told them. It has to be close to that time. The attack will come, and I will perish with the rest of the insurgents on this colony.

We will all die.

And I will be free.

_____________________________________

I stand in front of the large viewing portals at the top of the base, staring up at the stars.

I've stood here a lot in the last month. I've been watching, and waiting.

So far, it hasn't done me a lot of good.

I close my eyes and count to a hundred, sure that when I open them, the thing that I'm looking for will be there.

I used to do this when I was a kid, back on L2. I used to convince myself that if I could count all the way to a hundred, without stopping or even thinking of anything else, when I opened my eyes somehow something to eat would have appeared in front of me.

I open my eyes, and scan the empty sky.

Nope. It doesn't work any better now then it did then.

I hear a step behind me, and turn around to see who's joining me in my vigil.

I nod slightly when I see Heero, then continue staring out into space.

"Anything?" he asks abruptly, standing beside me and scanning the sky himself.

I shake my head. "Not yet!" I say as brightly as I can, trying to inject some optimism into my tone. "But you know, the day's not over yet. Not that you can tell in space, really, since there's really no orbit on these satellites, and they're not rotating, so day and night as they exist on earth don't really happen. But, by earth time, its only about eight p.m., so I guess you could say that its technically ‘day,' even though there's no light to separate it…"

He's not listening to me. It doesn't matter - I'm not listening to me. I'm just talking to fill up the silence, to try to distract us both from what we're looking for.

There's another sound behind me, and this time its Quatre and Wufei. They don't say anything, they just stand beside us and stare.

I can't keep babbling, not that any of them would be inclined to listen. I can't talk at all.

It's been a month to the day since Trowa left. If he's coming back alive, he said he would be back today. There's less than four hours of ‘today' left, so if he's not back within four hours, he's not going to be back.

I try to suppress that thought. For a moment, I look at my companions instead of at the stubbornly empty sky.

Quatre looks terrible. He's pale and drawn, and there are dark circles under his eyes. Ever since that terrible day he got that message from Trowa, he's been trying to establish some kind of contact. He hasn't succeeded. I think he's torn between being upset by what that failure might imply, and being relieved that he hasn't made contact. I don't think he really wanted to experience that again. Can't blame him, really. I know I wouldn't.

The signs of stress are less visible on Wufei's impassive face, but they're there. He looks tired, and angry. He's been working crazy insane hours on the mobile suits. It's like he's trying to build the entire force himself. He's worried about Quatre. He's worried about Trowa. He's still mad at me and Heero.

Heero.

I stare at his face. His expression is calm, but the skin around his eyes is tight and his mouth is grim. He and I have been together every night since that first. Every night, we have helped each other, gained a brief escape from the thought of what's happening to Trowa, and from the thought of how we made his last weeks of freedom, perhaps of life, unhappy.

But Heero…This has been unfair to him. There has been too much going on around us to concentrate on us. I don't even know if there is an us. I don't know if he wants there to be an us. I don't know, if Trowa is truly dead, if I could ever again have the sort of relationship I had with him with anyone else.

But I know I can't be alone.

And I know I want to be with Heero.

He hasn't said it, but I think he believes I am with him only because I need to be with someone. But that's not true. The shock of Trowa's departure made me realize how fragile love can be. It can't keep people with you, and it can't make the people you love happy. But I'll be damned if I ever waste it again.

So. I love Heero. But I don't know what will happen. What will happen when…if…Trowa returns? I don't think that that declaration will thrill him. I love Trowa. If he's returned to me, nothing - not even him - will keep me away from him again. But I can't just blithely send Heero away, either. I need them both.

Of course, it may not be an issue.

Please God, let me have that problem. Please, let me have to sort out how to keep both the men I love in my life. I ask for nothing but to have that dilemma.

I stare back into space. We've been standing here for hours now. Still, nothing.

Nothing. He's not there. He's not coming.

"It's after midnight," Wufei says suddenly.

Silence.

"He…he didn't come," Quatre murmurs.

"A few more minutes…" I beg. XV7870 is a long way away. And who knows what routes he may have had to take to elude pursuit?

"It's one a.m.," Wufei says finally.

"He's not coming," Quatre confirms dully.

"Trowa is…gone," Heero whispers hoarsely.

No. It can't be. He's been delayed, or they're making it difficult to find the route back, or he got delayed in a stop for fuel…

"We need to plan the attack," Wufei tells us flatly. "It will commence six days from today. When the troops wake up, we'll each take charge of a squadron and start intensive training with the new machines."

"NO!" I protest, shouting at him. "There's still time! There's still…"

"Maxwell," Wufei snaps, stopping me cold. "Trowa isn't coming back. He said he'd be back by now. He is dead."

"Shut up!" I bellow. "He's not! He's -,"

"Duo," Quatre interrupts. His voice is barely louder than a whisper, but I still hear him. "Don't do this. Don't do it to yourself, or us. It won't bring him back, and it won't make things any easier."

I stare at him. That's the closest to sharp Quatre's been with me this whole time. It must be…he believes…It's true.

"We have to plan the attack," Heero says, his voice lifeless. "And we have to win. Otherwise, it was for nothing."

The others nod, and I feel my head move in the same gesture, but I don't feel it, don't connect the movement to any emotion I'm experiencing. Whatever happens, it was for nothing. Trowa died because of some stupid, rich, spoiled asshole going off on a power trip. He died for nothing.

Even that thought doesn't provoke the rage I expect, that I want. I feel cold. I feel nothing. I wonder if this is how Trowa felt when he wore his 03 face.

Quatre and Wufei are gone, suddenly, and I am alone with Heero. I stare again at the stars, still hoping…But there's still nothing. And I still feel nothing. Something in me has died with Trowa.

Then Heero puts his arms around me, and silently draws me against him. He holds me tightly, and the comfort he silently offers wakes something in me. As I drench his shirt front with my grief, I realize that all emotion isn't dead after all. There's still heartache.

And sorrow.

And hate.

Trowa Barton, son of Dekim Barton, will pay.

Shinigami is after his soul.

________________________________________

[cont]