The Beginning's End + Part 6 (cont)

Well, here goes nothing. A confrontation that's been years in the making. I square my shoulders and stride up the steps of the palace: a solitary solider, unaccompanied by any comrades. Noone can help me in this fight. I must be detached from others, isolated, alone.

Quatre and Wufei are waiting in the car.

Wufei didn't want to. But I insisted - I need someone to drive the get-away vehicle, and witnesses in case I don't come out alive.

Duo took off in search of Trowa as soon as the plane landed back at Quatre's airstrip. I can't tell if he decided that he was furious that Barton had left in the Aires without a word to him or despondent that Barton had left in the Aires without a word to him.

But I can't think about that now. I can not allow my focus to be marred by guilt.

I open the door, and enter the hall.

Just as I thought. She's lurking, waiting for me to arrive.

"What exactly has gotten into you today?" she demands. Ah. She's taking the offensive.

I stare impassively at her, noting in my peripheral vision the presence of several servants skulking in the background.

Strategy: lure her into a more secure area, less surrounded by her reinforcements.

I walk past her without speaking and begin to ascend the staircase to my bedroom.

I hear her behind me, uttering wordless sounds of enraged indignation.

As I near the top of the stairs, I hear footsteps furiously beat up the stairs behind me.

She can't stand to be ignored.

Know your enemy.

By the time she reaches the top of the stairs, I'm already in the bedroom. I drag a bag out of my too-large closet, and begin to pile my essentials into it. There isn't really a lot here that I want.

The door slams open, and Relena bursts in. She slams the door again behind her.

She didn't used to be this loud.

I glance up at her in time to see her eyes narrow angrily as she observes what I'm doing.

"Where are you going?" she demands, gesturing abruptly at the bag.

I sigh, as I stuff the last few articles of clothing into the bag. That'll be enough to last me until I have a chance to purchase some more.

"I'm leaving, Relena," I tell her calmly, squarely meeting her gaze.

Anger roils through her blue eyes. "Where are you going? And when will you be back?" she grills, moving aggressively closer to me.

I heft the bag over my shoulder. "I am leaving," I repeat firmly. "And I'm not coming back."

"You're leaving me?" she asks incredulously.

I nod slowly. "This isn't working, Relena," I say bluntly. "It never has worked. We've let it go on too long. It's time to stop pretending."

"You think you can just waltz out without a word?" she demands. "You wouldn't dare to…"

"Yes, I would, actually," I interrupt. "There's no point to this, Relena. Tell people you threw me out if it makes you feel better. But this is over."

I begin to walk toward the door, intent on passing her and getting out. This is actually going better than I had thought it would.

She grabs my arm as I pass her. "You will regret this," she hisses at me. "If you leave like this, I'll…"

"You'll what?" I half-shout, pulling away. Now I'm starting to get angry too. "Cut off my allowance? Please do. Fire me from the Preventers?" I laugh scornfully. "You couldn't even if you tried, Relena."

She flushes an angry scarlet. "Oh, you think I couldn't?" she repeats. "I could…"

"It would take the express approval of a lot of people - including Commander Une - before you could fire me. I'm damn good at that job," I remind her. "They aren't going to let me go because you're bitter that we broke up."

She stares at me in helpless rage, tears of frustration glimmering in her eyes. Damn. I can't deal with tears.

"Relena, you aren't happy, any more than I am," I tell her, purposely gentling my tone. "You're twenty years old. You want to be locked forever in a marriage to a man you don't love?"

For a moment, she seems to be softening. For the briefest instant, she looks like the girl who threw herself in front of Duo to protect me, the smiling face in a space helmet pressed to mine, the woman who caught me in her arms as I collapsed after battle.

But only for a moment. Her eyes harden, and she is again Queen Relena. "I warn you, Heero," she says in a low, threatening tone, "if you leave this house I will make you very, very sorry."

I shrug. "If that's how you want this to be, Relena, I can't do anything about it," I say fatalistically.

I turn again, and leave the bedroom for the last time. I close the door quietly behind me.

As I descend the ornate stairs, I'm followed by a roar of rage from above, and the sounds of destruction and breaking glass.

I nod sympathetically to the hovering servants as I cross the huge foyer. They should get combat pay.

I walk out of the palace and stand on the steps for a moment, inhaling deeply. I get into the car where Wufei and Quatre are waiting.

Quatre ignites the engine and guides the car down the long drive, through the gates, and off the estate to the road beyond.

"Where to?" he asks, glancing at me in the rear-view mirror.

This morning I lived in a mansion. Now I'm homeless.

I haven't had a day like this in years.

I grin suddenly, startling Quatre as he catches the expression in the mirror.

"Anywhere," I say. "Anywhere at all."

__________________________________________

I pull my borrowed car into one of the ‘employees only' spaces, shift into park, and turn the engine off. I put the keys in my pocket. I take off the seatbelt, and carefully feed it back into its slot. I make sure the visor's put up, adjust the floor mat with my foot, glance into the mirror.

I'm stalling.

I don't want to see Catherine.

The real reason that I accepted Quatre's invitation yesterday was to put off the time when I would have to see Catherine.

It's likely she'll be angry. That will bother me. There's nothing to be angry about. Duo is taking the advice that Heero gave me so long ago - always follow your emotions. I hope it works better for him than it did for me.

Or rather, I hope he is more true to them than I was. I hope he listens when his emotions tell him something, rather than allowing hope and desire to mute their message.

But worse than the angry, protective side of Catherine I expect to flare up will be her sorrow when I tell her of my plans to leave. She'll want me to stay with her, at the circus. She'll worry that returning to L3 will only hurt me more.

I don't want her to know that I think I am beyond hurt.

I glance again into the mirror of the car, the car that commander Une pressed on me when I refused to take the car that Heero had left at Preventer Headquarters.

Une had been vehement in her insistence that I take one of the Preventer vehicles. I didn't really argue, not relishing the thought of carrying my suitcase across town again.

I had to leave Quatre's. I hid there for a day, and that's enough. I need to face Catherine, and then leave. I can't allow myself to be distracted from that plan.

Une looked at me very strangely when I arrived in the Aries. Then, all the while she was talking to me, receiving my brief on Heero, thanking me for the return of the mobile suit, she seemed oddly unable to look at me at all. Une is not a woman given to nervous habits.

I know why she first looked at me that way, and then seemed unwilling to meet my gaze. I saw the same looks on Quatre's and Wufei's faces, and Duo's. I see the reason now, as I stare at my image in the rear view mirror, and watch the flat, dead gaze reflected back at me.

I heard Quatre and Wufei whispering. Wufei called it my ‘mask.' He is a scholar at heart - he sees everything in terms of symbols and images. The expression on my face now, the one cultivated through the years of my childhood, honed during the blood and betrayal of the war, is to him a facade I hide behind to protect my true self, much as the clown mask I wear at the circus is a disguise used to hide my identity while I perform.

I think he's wrong. I think that this visage - this blank, empty, barren aspect - is the true me. The other face, the one I've been wearing for some time now, was the mask. It was a mask that I prefer to my actual self, one that I borrowed from Duo.

But he's taken it back now, and I'm back where I started from.

And I'm still stalling.

I sigh, but finally open the door and step out of the car. I wonder how much of this sordid little tale Catherine has heard; she probably called the apartment yesterday to see why I hadn't come to work, and so may have spoken to Duo. Also, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that Quatre called her to clue her into the latest drama.

I hope she's heard it all. I don't want to discuss it again.

I walk behind the tents, carefully stepping over wires and hoses, and let myself into the little trailer Catherine occupies.

I step in and meet her eyes, and know that she has indeed heard. Those eyes are brimming over with concern, caring, sympathy. I don't have to see her pity for me for long, for she rushes at me and throws herself into my arms, hugging me tightly.

"I'm sorry, Trowa," she whispers against my shoulder, and I hear the suffering in her voice. "I'm so sorry."

I run my hand gently along her back, soothing her. "There's nothing to be sorry about," I say automatically. "I don't want you to be upset."

I feel her body shake as she laughs humorlessly. "You shouldn't be comforting me," she protests, pulling back to look up at me.

Her eyes narrow as she stares into my face. I know what she sees, and I know how the sight will affect her, but I can't change it. My mask is gone.

"Oh Trowa," she breathes, her voice catching. "Don't look like that. Please…"

"Catherine," I interrupt, "I have to tell you…"

"I've heard," she interrupts before I can finish. "Trowa, he was wrong. You must be so hurt."

I look away from her for a moment. Still stalling. I want to change the subject, to tell her I'm leaving. Instead, I stand and listen to her comfort me.

"He didn't mean to hurt you, I know he didn't," she assures me. "He was stupid and I could slap him, but I know Duo loves you, Trowa."

I stare impassively at her shoulder. It is not stupid for Duo to pursue what will bring him happiness. I don't want to argue with Catherine, though.

"Do you hear me?" she demands, tugging on my sleeve.

I raise my eyes to hers again, still not replying.

She sighs slightly.

"Trowa…It is all right to be upset," she says.

"I'm not upset," I assure her tonelessly.

It's plain from her face that she doesn't believe me. "And it's ok to be angry," she continues.

"What is there to be angry about?" I ask. Were I to be angry, I would end up railing uselessly at fate. Duo and Heero are not to blame for being themselves.

"What is there to be angry about?" Catherine repeats incredulously, spots of pink appearing on her cheeks. She grabs hold of the material of my shirt near the collar.

"Trowa - you woke up one morning to find that the person you love more than anyone had had sex with someone you consider to be one of your best friends. They both cheated on you, Trowa." She stares steadily into my eyes as she speaks. "They may not have meant to hurt you, but they did. It's not ok for people to hurt you, Trowa," she finishes heatedly, punctuating the last sentence by shaking me gently.

I stare helplessly at her as she continues. "You should feel hurt, you should feel angry. You don't have to blame yourself, Trowa. It's not your fault."

I continue to stare at her. I don't know…I can't…

Tears well up in her eyes, and she throws herself against me again, hugging me hard. "Let yourself hurt, Trowa," she whispers. "Let yourself feel."

People who are blind sometimes have companions that they refer to as their "eyes," people who help guide them, who do things for them, and who describe for them the wonders and the sights that they are unable to see.

For me, Catherine has been my emotions. From the time she met me, she felt for me. She felt my isolation when I joined the circus, felt my sense of hopelessness the night she wounded me with the knives, felt my worry for Heero when he lay wounded, felt my fear when I determined that I too had to self-destruct, felt my remorse and confusion when I sat, silently, before the fire with Wufei after the fiasco at the New Edwards base.

All those times she felt the emotions that I could not name or understand, that I had attempted to block, to keep at bay. She felt them for me, named them, defined them, and gave them back to me so that I could feel them myself. She has given me the opportunity to experience these emotions that everyone else in the world seems gifted with the ability to perceive and endure and grow from throughout their lives.

She's doing it again. Hurt. Betrayal. Anger. Sorrow. All of these emotions are in her eyes, in her voice. I feel them move between her body and mine, feel them transfer themselves to me.

Standing in her embrace, I begin to feel the pain that I have been trying so hard to keep at bay.

Duo.

Hurt.

I tried to be everything he needed, everything he wanted. I should have known that I couldn't be enough, but I tried so hard…

Betrayal.

If I wasn't enough, if he didn't want me, he should have told me, not left me to find out that way…

Anger.

He should have had the courage to face me with his feelings, rather than cheat on me behind my back…

Sorrow.

But I would still rather be in that fool's paradise, believing that Duo loved me, than know beyond all doubt that he doesn't…

I inhale sharply, and pull quickly away from Catherine. I can't let her do this, can't let myself do this. It's ridiculous, pointless. Could have, should have, wish, want, hope….It's all pointless. What's done is done…and this is done.

"Catherine, I'm leaving," I say abruptly. Enough stalling. "I'm going back to L3. I want to find…"

"What?!" she shrieks, interrupting me again. She pulls back and glares wildly up at me. "What do you mean you're leaving? You can't leave! You…"

"I can't stay here, Catherine," I say, a trifle more harshly than I intended. I take another deep breath, and begin again.

"I'm going back to L3 for awhile. I'm looking for…where I came from."

She glares at me, tears gleaming again in her eyes. "You're running away," she accuses coldly.

I stare at her. I have no reply. I'm not running away. I'm trying to find the past. The present makes no sense. The future holds…more of what there has always been. It holds no promise, no hope. Not anymore. Maybe if I can somehow find my past, find where it went wrong…maybe I will find some peace.

I can't vocalize this to Catherine, can't even say it in my head in any way that makes sense.

"I can't believe you're just going to give up like this," she rails at me. "You aren't even going to try to work it out? Doesn't he mean anything to you, Trowa?"

Doesn't he mean anything to me? How can Catherine even ask that? He means more to me than I do, which is why I have to walk away, leave him free to do what he wants without hindrance from me.

"I'm sorry, Catherine," I say. I can hear the blankness of my own voice. "I wanted to say good-bye to you."

"You're staying here at least a day or two," she orders me firmly, abruptly shifting tactics. I assume she believes that, given a few days, she'll be able to convince me of the foolishness of my decision to leave. "Shuttles to the colonies don't leave during the week. You can't go anywhere until at least the day after tomorrow, so you might as well agree now as later and save us both the argument."

How is it that everyone I know is so informed as to the travel procedures between earth and the colonies? Maybe they too have felt, over the years, the pull of outer space, and have, like me, done their best to ignore it.

I nod slowly. I can no more argue with her now than I could with Quatre yesterday. I feel drained, emptier even than I did when I entered this trailer.

"I'm going to go see the lions," I announce briefly, turning and letting myself out before she can say anything more.

I sigh as I head toward the cage. Visiting the lions is a good idea. Noone is more likely to understand my state of mind right now than wild, caged beasts.

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