NOTE: see part 1 for notes, warnings
AUTHOR: shira

Papillion + Part 3

As both he and J had expected, Relena insisted that Heero stay with her for a while, until he was able to figure out what he wanted to do with himself. As uncomfortable as he felt doing that, not wanting to be a burden on his friend, he realized that he had no choice, because even he understood just how unprepared he was to face the world alone. Besides the obvious fact that he just had no practical knowledge of anything other than espionage and combat, he knew that he still had a long way to go before he could confidently say he was comfortable cohabiting around the masses of people that lived in the world. Having grown up in solitary the way he had, being around groups of people tended to make him uncomfortable, so say the least. But he knew there was hope. While he did feel strange and out of place as part of the general population now, Heero also felt some of his true self trying to break through, and that true self was attempting to tell him that he wanted to, somehow, be with people -- where human beings usually are -- with other human beings.

He decided that day, after grudgingly accepting Relena's generous offer, that he would remain with her only long enough for him to get settled with a job and a place to live. After that, he would thank her, then move on, so that he could try to really discover who he was and where he fit into the bigger picture of life that had now been opened up to him. He refused to allow himself to take too much advantage of a good friend who was nice enough to help him when he really needed it most.

He was given a pleasant bedroom on the south side of the mansion facing the beautifully manicured flower gardens and an exquisite reproduction Grecian fountain that spilled blue-dyed water over its edges and into a big basin below. There was a comfortable-looking queen-size bed that swam with fluffy, clean-smelling bedding. A nightstand stood beside the bed, under a window. Against one wall was a tall chest of drawers, which matched the bureau on the adjoining wall perfectly. Across from the bed, a generously sized desk of cherry wood in the same Queen Anne style as the rest of the bedroom furnishings. The carpet was plush and soft, a rich maroon color that corresponded nicely with the hue of the wood pieces and also the floral draperies that hung from the frames of the room's two windows. The space was very similar to the one that Heero had stayed in years before during the Colony Wars, but he had no way of knowing that since, during that time, his mind was preoccupied with only one thing, and it certainly wasn't the way the guest bedrooms were decorated.

Heero gingerly walked over to the bed, setting his bag down beside him. Sitting on the edge of the plush mattress, he noticed its softness, then took a startled look around the bedroom. The windows were open on this warm summer afternoon, allowing a floral-scented breeze to waft in from the gardens below. Heero breathed in deeply and closed his eyes, letting himself experience his environment through his other senses -- the birds chirping outside, the sweet fragrance of the air, the cushy softness of the quilts in the bed. His world was suddenly so filled with things that he had missed before -- the little details in life that he always knew were there, but never was allowed to consider unless they had something to do with his mission. Then opening his eyes again, Heero just stared this time, as if he were trying to memorize everything before him and lock it all into his steel trap of a mind.

He had a lot of living to catch up on, Heero realized.

Rising from his perch at the edge of the bed, Heero took his bag over to the bureau and began to unpack it. His moves were slow and deliberate as he unzipped the bag, removing his few meager belongings with care. A pair of jeans, the only pair he had besides the pair he was currently wearing; a few shirts and T-shirts; a week's worth of socks and underwear; a pair of jogging shoes. He placed the items, one by one, in a top drawer, then noticed that the drawer was still half-empty. These few items, replaced when necessary but hardly ever added to throughout his years, represented all that he had in life for his eighteen years now. Simplicity had been his life, since few belongings made him hard to follow and less occupied with material possessions. Sure, he had a nice pension to fall back on, a bonus plan that the Gundam pilots had been supplied with out of thanks from the Earth and Colonies, but he wouldn't be able to draw on that until he was much older. For now though, he didn't have much. Not much at all and, until now, that had been just fine. Heero sighed.

Dropping his running shoes to the floor, Heero pushed them to the side of the bureau with his foot, then went back to his bag. Reaching inside with both hands now, he grasped his final belonging, his souvenir from his service to the colonies and the universe, his laptop computer. He walked it across the room and placed it down on top of the desk. The computer had already been stripped of anything that connected it with Dr. J. or the Gundam projects. All files and software had been formatted, leaving the computer clean and fresh and ready to start anew.

Looking down at the apparatus, Heero recalled the way he had used it -- he'd programmed his Gundam with it, sent and received top-secret encrypted messages with it, he'd even blown up buildings via remote charges with it. Now, however, it was nothing more than a glorified word processor and databank. Lifting the screen lid, Heero switched the computer on and watched the machine go through its setup and diagnostics. When it finished, displaying a plain blue desktop and a couple of software icons, he shut it back down again, then closed the lid.

Going back to the bed, Heero sat again and pushed his boots off. They hit the carpet, one by one, with a low thud. He rolled himself onto the bed and lay back, his tired body and stressed mind lying staring at the ceiling, which was also decorated with ornate patterned wallpaper and a crystal light fixture. Fingers went to the sutures at the back of his head as his thoughts began to wander, and before long, he was in a deep sleep.

When Relena stopped a few moments later to make sure he was settling in OK, her knock went unanswered. She opened the door a crack, just to be sure that Heero was indeed still there and hadn't flown the coop yet again. What she saw through the slim opening brought a small, sad smile to her face as she looked upon the former Gundam pilot that she had been so madly in love with not a year ago. He was curled in a loose fetal position, unconscious to the world. As strong and capable as he was, Relena thought, now he was being forced to start over, like a new infant just being born.

Her heart ached for him, and she resolved that she would do everything in her power -- everything that he would allow her to do -- to see that he was taken care of. After all, the peace that now existed in the universe was just as much a result of his doing as it was hers. She may have orchestrated the plans, but it was Heero and the other Gundam pilots who carried them out and brought them all to life. It was Heero who had fought so fearlessly, bloodying his own hands in the thick of the battle. And to think now that he did it all while being forced to hide his natural fears as well... that definitely deserved whatever care she could provide him in her book. Finally satisfied that Heero was all right, Relena shut the door quietly, leaving him to sleep.

+

Relena's attention was stolen from her work by a light knock at the door. It was Heero.

"Am I interrupting?"

She pushed the stack of papers in front of her to the side. "Not anymore." Relena smiled.

"I wanted to talk to you about something. About the Preventers."

Heero had heard that Sally Po had finally been successful in strengthening the Preventers organization, which he had fought to the aid of in the Eve War about a year ago. He'd also come to understand that this organization was now the governing body for universal peace after being officially instated by Relena to be the "universal watchdog," as it was.

"What do you want to know, Heero?"

He shrugged, then approached the large desk, sitting in the armchair in front of it. "Everything."

Relena told him everything he wanted to know.

After a few moments of contemplation, Heero then asked, "Do you think Sally could use another Gundam pilot?"

Relena's face lit up initially, but then she hesitated. "Is that really something you want to do, considering... "

"Actually, I think it is," Heero said, his eyes pierced on Relena's. His glare was something less than a glare these days, but it was obvious enough that he was serious. "I think working for the Preventers is just what I'd like to do."

"But after everything J put you through... "

"I never said I disagreed with his motives. What I disagreed with were his methods, but I have to wonder, too, how I would have turned out if things hadn't been the way they were."

"What do you mean?"

Heero adjusted his position in the chair. "If he hadn't been as hard on me, would I be the way I am today? Would I be as capable of everything that I'm capable of? Would I even be alive?"

"You'd be happier," Relena said. "You wouldn't be so afraid right now." The girl was astute if she was anything. It was hard to hide things from her. In the week's time that Heero had been staying at the mansion with her, she'd already been able to figure out the fact that even though J's computer chip had been removed, Pavlov's dog still anxiously awaited the dinner whistle.

Heero was still very much afraid to be anything besides what his training dictated, even if he did seem a little more relaxed about it all. It was obvious in his reaction to a lot of things, or, more accurately, his non-reaction.

"I... yeah." Heero paused. "I want to become a Preventer, Relena. I think it's the right thing for me."

"I think you could be right, but you still have a lot of things to come to terms with before you wind up living the rest of your life just as miserably as you began it."

Her insight surprised him. "Yes, I know. I have to un-learn a lot of bad habits, don't I?"

"Not necessarily bad habits, or at least not at the time. Self-preservation is a natural instinct for all of us, Heero. You learned what you had to do to avoid the punishment of pain. But the punishment isn't there anymore now. You have to teach yourself that it's OK to do the things that you want to do now. You have to promise yourself that you will become a Preventer because you want to... not because you should."

Heero nodded, his face solemn. He knew she was right. Things were different now. There was nobody waiting to press the buzzer and send him collapsing into a fit of uncontrollable pain. The buzzer didn't even exist anymore. But old habits die hard, and Heero realized that undoing nearly eighteen years worth of behavioral conditional training wasn't going to be easy.

Relena smiled again. "I'll call Sally for you and set up an interview. I have some business to discuss with her anyway."

"I'd appreciate that," Heero said. Then he rose from his seat and turned to leave just as quietly as he came in before Relena stopped him.

"Heero?"

He turned to look at her, his body stiff and awkward in his discomfort of just being him.

"Are you busy tonight?" She asked, even though she knew that he wasn't.

Heero looked at the girl with a blank expression. "No."

"Want to go out tonight? To have some fun?"

Now here was a concept that Heero knew absolutely nothing about. Having fun.

"S-sure. What did you have in mind?" His voice gave away his nervousness.

"What about dinner and a movie?" She looked at him hopefully. "Star Wars -- Episode 15 is playing and I haven't seen it yet. I'd be honored if you'd accompany me."

"I know this is going to sound really stupid but, I've never been to a movie before."

"I figured as much. Well, it's lots of fun, something YOU need to start having. So... how about it?"

A faint smile flickered on Heero's lips. "Sure. Sounds great."

"Wonderful. Be ready to go by six."

+

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