The Beginning's End + Part 8 (cont)

Scowling, I wander through the large hanger area of the carrier, past the huddled bulk of the mobile suits we'll be using in the upcoming battle. I woke up this morning afire to complete my mission.

My determination has been thwarted by the object of that mission himself.

I can't find Trowa.

We're all on a ship, hurtling through outer space. Admittedly, it's a big ship. But it's not that big - I should be able to find one lone man aboard the carrier.

But I can't find him.

He wasn't in the room that was assigned to him.

He didn't come to breakfast.

He wasn't at lunch, and everyone denied seeing him.

It's almost as though he has somehow caught wind of my mission, and is trying to prevent it.

If that's the case, I can't say I don't know why.

I have been over this carrier four times. The first two times I made my search, I followed the same path. The third time, I realized that if he were trying to elude me, I would have a better chance of success should I vary my search pattern. So I randomly selected sections of the ship to search, changed levels at odd intervals, backtracked several times. The third and the fourth circuits have, therefore, taken far longer than they should have.

But it hasn't done any good. I still haven't found him.

I'm starting to get paranoid.

Just as I'm about to embark on ship circuit number five, I see a flicker of movement at the far end of the area.

It's only a slight motion. If I'd been looking in the opposite direction, I might have missed it.

I don't even know that it's him. It could be a mechanic, or a soldier or a janitor. It could be my own imagination. I should investigate before I assume it's him.

But he might get away.

"Trowa!" I shout, at the top of my lungs.

Maybe I don't need to be quite so loud. But damn it, my feet are starting to hurt from hiking all over this damned ship.

Staring at the spot where I saw the motion, I see nothing. No further evidence that anyone was there. Maybe I did imagine it after all.

Just as I'm about to go and check to make sure that no one is there before I embark on yet another tour of the latest in carrier models, Trowa steps out from behind one of the mobile suits.

I can't believe it. Finally!

I stride purposefully toward where he's standing, arms again folded protectively across his chest. Now I can accomplish my mission, can tell him.…

Shit!

I never thought about what I'm going to say to him! I was so intent on finding him that I never even considered what I would do when I did.

What in the Hell can I say to him?

I stop a few feet from his still form, hoping that my face doesn't show the sudden panicked confusion my brain is experiencing.

"Can I…talk to you?" I ask hesitantly.

He stares at me for a moment. I marvel - not for the first time - at the incredible, vibrant, emerald green color of his eyes. Well, of his eye. His hair hangs neatly and impenetrably over one side of his face, completely shielding that eye from view.

Even if I can't heal what has happened between him and Duo, I hope I can wipe that look off his face, if only for a minute. This tense, guarded, silent person is not the Trowa Barton that I have come to know over the course of the last five years of peace.

He's still staring at me. He hasn't answered my question. Does his silence signal agreement, or refusal? Insufficient data.

"Can I?" I repeat.

His expression doesn't change, but he jerks his head once, in affirmation.

Ok. Now…

"I wanted to talk about….about the other night."

Good one, Yuy. He probably thought you planned to discuss the price of tea on L5, but now he's on the right track.

I'm such an idiot.

I might as well have started in on my dissertation on tea, though, for all the reaction I get. He just keeps staring at me with the same closed-off look in his eyes.

"Duo didn't….I mean, it wasn't his idea. It was all me."

I stare intently at him, sure that he has to visibly react in some way to the news that I, his friend, wantonly and purposely seduced his lover. But I see nothing. Determined to get some type of response, I plunge on.

"I was drunk. And…," I feel myself redden. I thought this was humiliating when I was thinking about it inside my head; saying it out loud is pure mortification. "Well, I was pretty pathetic. He felt sorry for me, so…"

"So he had sex with you."

The remark is delivered in a completely flat tone, robbed of all inflection. I can't tell if it's meant as a question, sarcastically, or as a statement of fact. The third option is the correct one, though, so after a moment I decide to proceed on the assumption that Trowa has finally come to see the situation for what it is.

"Yes," I nod. "I asked him for something, and he didn't refuse me because we're friends. It was…" I stumble to a halt, unable to continue looking him in the eye while I admit what it was. "It was…sympathy sex," I manage, staring at the floor. "A pity f-"

I don't even get to finish my confession. Suddenly, my feet leave the ground and I find my back slammed against the metal side of one of the mobile suits. I gasp as my air supply is cut off by the combined pressure of Trowa's fist and my own shirt collar twisted around my neck. Trowa's face looms in very close to my own, so close that I have trouble focusing on him. His hair is brushed to the side by the rapidity of his movement and the expression in his eyes is no longer blank or detached; rather, it's furious.

"I've always respected you, Yuy," he tells me evenly. Frighteningly, his voice is still devoid of any feeling, in sharp and eerie contrast to his blazing eyes and contorted face. "Even after I found that you obviously don't feel the same loyalty to me that I felt to you, I still respected you."

I struggle, trying to push him away so I can breathe. He loosens his grasp enough to allow me to breathe, but not enough to allow for speech.

"I respect how you always finish what you start. You complete your mission, whatever the cost. I respect your dedication."

Why is he talking about my "dedication?"

The rage in his eyes begins to cool, and his upper lip curls in a sneer as he stares at me. "Frankly, Heero, at this point that's about all I respect about you. So don't lose it now." He's silent for a moment, as if considering his words. "When you sleep with someone - someone you know, someone you have a history with - you create certain expectations, whatever the circumstances it happened under. You have a responsibility to that person," he explains coldly

What's he talking about? What happened that night wasn't something that 'created' anything for anyone. Duo only did it because I asked him too. It wasn't anything bigger than that to him.

I try to shake my head, try to indicate to Trowa that he is mistaken, that he has interpreted what happened wrongly. He pulls me forward slightly, then slams me back against the mobile suit again, my head banging painfully against the hard metal. Damn! He's stronger than he looks - he hasn't even broken a sweat yet.

"Don't even try to downplay what happened - what you did," he orders tersely. "Do not cheapen Duo."

Cheapen Duo? I'm not cheapening Duo; Hell, if anything, I'm cheapening me.

"Duo's felt bad for people lots of times. He doesn't jump into bed with them to make them feel better," he continues relentlessly. "If he slept with you, that means that his feelings for you are deeper than empathy, deeper than friendship even."

I really think he's reading too much into it. I open my mouth to tell him so, but he tightens his grip on my shirt again, and my words are arrested as I squawk for air.

He moves his face even closer to mine and speaks very slowly, emphasizing each word. "Duo doesn't give himself lightly. Don't suggest that he does. If you say - if you believe - that he slept with you without feeling, you insinuate that you did the same - that you slept with him although he doesn't mean anything to you."

He's really thought about this way too much. He's attributing motives and beliefs to me that I couldn't possibly have conceived of, considering the state of inebriation that I was in when all this happened.

Trowa's expression goes blank again, and his eyes are cold and dead as they bore into mine. "If you are playing with him, Heero…if he means nothing to you…if you have done this to me with no cause other than momentary satisfaction of your own hormones, I swear," he pauses, and when he continues, his voice lowers menacingly. "I swear, I will make you very, very sorry."

That's the second time in two days that someone has warned me that I am going to be "very, very sorry." It's starting to make me a little uneasy.

His gaze holds mine for a moment, allowing me to read the truth of his threat in his eyes. His fist tightens for a moment, then he throws me aside, dismissing me in the most unsubtle of ways. I find myself hurtling through the air and feel the sharp, jarring impact as I land ingloriously on my backside on the ground.

I look up from where I'm sprawled on the floor, but Trowa is gone.

I lean back, lowering myself so I'm lying on the dusty floor. Talk about Mission Failure. I completely failed to patch things up between Duo and Trowa. The only thing that's different is that I have a sore throat, an aching ass, and have gone from being convinced that I know exactly what has happened and why to being utterly confused.

It looks like this is going to be another great day.

_________________________________________

Space. It's been five years since I've been here. Five years since I've had to face the gigantic, cold emptiness that is the backdrop of all that exists.

I still have nightmares about it. I dream of floating through blackness, able to see nothing, hear nothing but the harsh rasping of my own breathing, feel nothing.

That was the worst. There was no sensation. I couldn't feel my suit or my body within the suit, couldn't feel the air circulate through my helmet or move through my lungs, couldn't feel any pain from the explosion that destroyed my machine. Nothing.

I feel like that now.

I tighten my grip on my knees and dig my chin harder against them, trying to assure myself that I can feel, that physical sensations aren't lost to me. I close my eyes tightly and my ears ring with a faint swishing sound - the sound of my heart beating. I press my back against the steel behind me, feeling its coldness seep through my thin uniform shirt.

There's very little room for me up here, up against the ceiling of the loading area of the carrier. There's no ladder or stairs up to here. That didn't hinder me - I haven't spent years practicing on tightropes in the circus for nothing. I need to be here because it's one of the only places on this ship you can actually see out. We're moving through space, surrounded by space, and there's only a handful of places on the whole ship you can actually see space.

I'm hiding here. I don't know how long I've been sitting here - I'm sure at least a day - and I finally have to admit it. If I were just here for peace, or solitude, I'd have left long ago.

I'm hiding from them all. From Wufei, with his sharp gaze, trying to peer into the heart of what's wrong with me, so he can fix it.

From Quatre, whose blue eyes brim with concern, sympathy and sorrow every time he looks at me.

From Heero, whose air of bewildered, dejected guilt has begun to seriously exasperate me.

But mostly, I'm hiding from Duo.

Duo.

I've tried not to think about him, tried desperately. But trying to attain such a goal is like trying to hold your hand perfectly still - the more you try, the more it trembles. I've learned that in my years with the circus. Stillness must come not from the absence of movement, but from total movement - every part of your body must move in synch with every other part, with the sway of the rope, with the brush of the breeze. So here, in my refuge, staring at the faraway stars, I've tried to apply that knowledge to my present situation.

Instead of trying not to think of Duo, I've thought of nothing but him.

The first time I kissed him.

The first time we fought.

The day we moved in together.

His inexplicable fondness for slapstick comedy.

The many times I tried to convince myself that the ghostly, half-formed presence of Heero Yuy in our lives was just a product of my own imagination.

Our last, aborted night together.

The other morning, when I left our empty bed to find him lying naked beside Heero.

As that image flashes through my mind for the umpteenth million time in the last few days I wince, reflexively. The other pictures in my mind I've come to be able to deal with, over the course of the last hours alone. I can think of Duo smiling at me over morning coffee; lying, cheeks flushed, among all the tousled glory of his unbound hair, bounding ahead of me into the tent at the circus, eager to see the new home for my lions…I can think of all of that with scarcely a pang.

But whenever I think of that moment that I stepped through the door and realized what I was seeing I feel a tearing pain in my chest, feel it move down through my body, feel it clench in my stomach and cramp my back.

I don't like it.

I force myself to think of it again and again, certain that with repetition I'll grow used to it, that the pain will fade and eventually disappear completely. But it doesn't.

If anything, it grows. My neck is growing cramped, my head pounds, my throat aches. And I can't forget that picture. Duo, eyes wide with surprise and alarm, hair down - down! - around his shoulders, his hand resting on Heero's…

I lash out suddenly, my fist arcing around viciously to slam into the steel beside me. My hand spasms from the sudden violent pain. It's different - it's an external pain - I know its source, I know how to stop it.

But I don't.

I slam my hand into the metal again and again, harder and harder. The dull banging reverberates through the still hull, as I swing my arm more vehemently and violently, mindlessly beating the unfeeling steel.

I stop this destructive action only when the sudden excessive movement offsets my balance, and I nearly topple from my precarious perch. The muscles in my body react instinctively - the hand that was just beating the steel scrabbles for finger holds, the soles of my feet press harder onto what purchase they can find, and I abruptly shift my center of balance backwards. My sudden spill forward is arrested; after a moment I carefully pull myself backward and I am safe again.

I stare at my already swelling hand and begin to laugh hollowly as that thought crosses my mind. Safe. Not damn likely.

I think I'm going crazy.

I close my eyes and drop my head to my knees. This has to stop. I can't continue like this. Why is the loss of Duo affecting me like this? When did I come to need him so desperately that I can't do without him?

My entire life was barren, as far back as I could ever remember. There had never been anyone who cared about me, and I believed that I never wanted there to be. I was alone, but I was free. Noone needed me, but I needed noone. I was convinced that that was the only way to live.

Then I met them.

Even then, I was determined not to need them, or even want them near me. I spurned Quatre when he offered me help, coldly telling him I could handle my mission on my own. I didn't realize then that he wasn't casting aspersions on my abilities, but offering me the assistance of his.

The first of the pilots to make any lasting impression on me was Heero. I couldn't tell you, even now, why I picked him up and carried him away from the scene of his self-destruct. In the months that followed, I thought he was crazy. I couldn't understand why someone would offer up their own life in penance for a mistake. But the puzzle intrigued me - in trying to understand him, I found myself grow closer to any person than I had ever been.

That was the beginning - from that time on, I was no longer alone. I was Trowa Barton, Pilot 03, one of a team.

When Duo and Quatre and I destroyed our Gundams on that hillside, I felt the chill of the old loneliness. I was no longer part of that team - my Gundam was gone. I was once again a nameless, aimless nobody.

But Duo and Quatre banished that feeling. To them, they promised, I would always be Trowa. Several years later, Duo affirmed it. I would always be his. We would always be together.

And then…I feel a shudder run through my body. The person who first drew me into the world of other people and the person that had promised he would keep me there betrayed me - with each other.

Duo thinks I'm overreacting. Wufei, I think, rather agrees - or at least thinks I'm being overly melodramatic in my method of dealing with it. Wufei would either challenge them both to battle or be fiercely cold and bitter for a length of time until he decided that the crime had been adequately repented. Quatre doesn't know what to think. I don't know what Heero thinks.

What do I think? I think I have never felt so alone, so empty. I was accused once, when I was younger, of being empty, of having nothing or noone that I cared about, noone that I would sacrifice to protect. My response then was that I was not empty - that I was but a traveler, in search of a place to call home.

And I found that place. I found a family with my fellow pilots. I found a home - a place where I finally belonged - in Duo. Now that it's gone, I feel its absence far more keenly then ever before. Something that's missing, but has never been experienced, can never be longed for so powerfully as something that was possessed, but taken away.

I've lost my home.

I've lost my heart.

I've lost Duo.

I lift my head slowly, and stare out at space. I've lost everything. That's what I came here to realize, to accept. I can go now, can engage in this useless, stupid fight to protect people that I never knew and no longer care about, because there are no longer any stakes. I quite literally have nothing left to lose.

I stretch toward the ladder, feeling the strain in my incredibly stiff muscles. I must have been here longer than I realized.

I begin, slowly, to descend the ladder. I have to see what's been going on. We must be nearing the base. There's no longer any need to hide. I have found my answers in my loss of everything else.

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