It began about four and a half weeks ago. A Thursday morning, about quarter to eleven, my phone rang. It was Halef, my foreman, captain in the Magunacs, who was in charge of erecting the newest Winner Enterprises building, in Baghdad. I was in a meeting at the time, and politely excused myself to take the call.
He told me that Trowa had had an accident with a power tool on the site. A drill of some kind, it had somehow managed to chew up most of his left arm and part of his leg. He was being rushed to the hospital as we spoke. I asked him how bad it was, and there was a long silence.
"I think he'll live," Halef told me. But his tone told me otherwise. My blood ran cold in my veins, I hung up the phone, and was out of the building before the other members of the meeting had even finished their coffee.
I should change that. It really all began years ago. See, Trowa… after the war, he never really came back. We all had a place to go to, a place to belong. He didn't. In the first few years, he lived with Catherine, and worked with the circus, be we all knew, including him, that such a life could not stand the crushing memories of violence and battle we all carried.
He came to live with me when we were nineteen. I had just officially become CEO of Winner Enterprises, and I realize now that the timing of his arrival was terrible. I barely had time or energy to speak to him, and he was in the middle of trying to put his life back together in a city that was unknown to him, in a strange and oft-times fanatical part of a planet he had not grown up on. Somehow, it worked out that he found a job doing construction for the firm. It was grunt work, but with his mechanical skills, and cat-like balance, he was perfect for clambering about 50 storeys up in half-finished buildings.
We were in extremely Muslim territory, and it had not escaped the attention of my employees or the press that Trowa and I, two grown men, were sleeping under the same roof. Rumours sprung up about the state of our relationship, few of them complimentary. It meant a lot of public attention and scrutiny, something I was perfectly used to, but Trowa was not. He was accustomed to being able to blend in anywhere. As a slim white boy in city of Iraqis, he was easily recognizable.
Suffice to say, I wasn't much more successful in giving Trowa a home that Catherine had been. The rumours, of course, eventually came her way, and she was smart enough to know what the implications were for Trowa. I don't know if she believed them or not, but she'd never been too confidant in my ability to look after her self-styled baby brother. She got a call, too, that lazy Thursday morning, though it was early, before five, her time, and she had barely woken up. But I daresay it more than confirmed her opinion.
I made it to the hospital in twenty-five minutes, and would have been quicker except for a blocked road that meant I had to park a few blocks shy of my destination and walk the rest. Trowa was in surgery by the time I arrived, and I was ushered into a small waiting room and handed a cup of coffee by a candy-striper.
A few people came and went, in the eighteen hours I spent in that waiting room. Catherine showed up around ten-thirty that night, settled herself in a chair in the other corner from me, affording me a glance that was half-accusatory, half-sympathetic. I offered her the coffee I'd neglected (I forgot it was a little cold by then, but then, my sense of time was a little warped), and she understandably declined. I drifted in and out of consciousness, crammed into my uncomfortable seat.
At five o'clock the next morning, a doctor finally found his way in to see us and let us know that Trowa had made it through the surgery, and would live. Catherine's death grip on my hand—she'd grabbed it when we'd both shot to our feet at the opening of the door—loosened considerably with relief when I translated for her. But she didn't let go until we'd followed the doctor along the length of white hallway and entered Trowa's room.
He looked a mess, pale and sickly, wrapped in bandages and gauze from his left hand up and over his shoulder. His legs were covered by the blanket, but I assumed the affected one looked similar. Catherine was at his side instantly, stroking his hair, holding his hand, and whispering to him softly. I stayed frozen in the doorway, staring at them.
Now, Trowa might have been the tallest among us pilots, but that hardly made him a giant, and I was struck at how tiny he looked, swallowed up by the bed and all the assorted gadgets and tubes and wires he was hooked to. A bag of blood, a heart monitor… I didn't know he was conscious until he sighed and opened his eyes to look at his sister.
He breathed a word, a name, and to this day, I don't know if it was Catherine's or mine. I guess she didn't either, because she glanced at me, and he followed her line of sight to fix his gaze on me as well. Even muddled and half-anaesthetized, he still pinned me with that stare as easily as Catherine could have with on of her knives.
It broke my paralysis, at least, and I quickly closed the distance between myself and his bed, settling on his other side. That seemed to make him happy, and he fell asleep again without saying anything else to either of us.
I don't think Catherine wanted to leave, but she was in no position to argue with the hospital staff, and I made arrangements for her to be picked up by one of my English-speaking house-staff, and put in a guest bedroom. I, on the other hand, had the benefit of language, influence and money. No one argued when I slept on the floor.
Trowa was awake when I finally opened my eyes again, and he half-smiled at me as I clambered painfully to my feet. I was sore in about a dozen places, but I put that aside and plopped into the chair someone had considerately left for me. "So," I began briskly. "Feel like telling me what the hell happened?"
The smile was gone from his face in an instant, and he looked away. My heart thudded to a painful stop in my chest. That was it. That was the non-verbal confirmation of my suspicion. I forced myself to breathe, and tried again more gently.
"Come on, Trowa." He didn't look at me. "Talk to me. I know you're not clumsy, or stupid. Tell me what happened?"
He finally turned his head back to stare at me with that eloquently sardonic expression of his. "If you're so sure of what happened, why don't you tell me?" he demanded.
Oh, God, I hoped I was wrong. "I would," my answer shook. "I'd tell you everything that I think happened, and exactly why it was a dumb thing to do. But I'm hoping you'll prove me incorrect."
Trowa didn't turn away this time, but his eyes closed for a moment. His unwrapped hand drifted unconsciously towards the bandages, and he flinched when he touched them. When he put me in his sights again, and spoke, the malice was gone, replaced by a soft, sad wonder.
"It was so easy," he whispered. "The drill is really heavy and awkward. I've seen people have difficulty with it before. I just waited until no one was looking, and then let gravity take over." He paused, and stared at the ceiling, slowly fingering his bandages. "I can't believe how easy it was."
"Well, it wasn't easy for the rest of us!" I snapped. "Your sister flew here all the way from L3 at no little expense, while Doctor Muataz worked for over fifteen hours to bring you back!"
He blinked. "Fifteen hours? What time is it?"
"Four twenty-five on Friday."
"Really?" I could see the wheels in his head turning, working through the rust and cobwebs from being under. He fixed me with his stare again. "Have you been here the whole time?"
Now it was my turn to look away. That was answer enough for Trowa. He gave an almost imperceptible eye-roll when I faced him again, and I took the opportunity his acquiescence afforded to try to change the subject again.
My normal diplomatic skills were completely abandoning me. All I could get out of my mouth was a quiet, desperate, "Why?"
"Why what?" he asked, startled into sincerity.
Why are you thinking you can leave me here alone? Why can't I give you a home that's good enough? Why didn't I see this coming? Why can't I help? Why, why do you want to die, my friend?
"Damn it, Trowa, why did you do it?!"
I watched him chew on it, trying to decide what to answer with, if he should answer at all. I wanted to know so badly it made me ache. My breath was quickening and catching.
"It's just… hard. Being here. Getting out of bed every morning." He was staring at his hands again. "This was easy."
I scrubbed my face with my palms, searching for a proper response. "I know," I finally settled on. I did, too. There were times, in my late teens, when the memories would start to press and smother, and the one gun I kept around started to look awfully friendly. "I know."
"I'm nothing but a leech," came the hushed reprise. "I can't take care of myself. I hang off you and Cathy. All I do is cause people trouble."
"No," I denied helplessly. "That's not true, Trowa."
"It is." We'd had this argument before, actually. He'd been as adamant then as he was now. "Look how Cathy holds a grudge against you because of me. Look at the bad publicity you're getting for having me here."
Everything was starting to make me really mad. I was just frustrated that I couldn't make it better myself, I guess. I'm a control freak. But I jumped up, and when I spoke, I nearly shouted at him.
"You're my best goddamned friend, Trowa Barton! I can handle all of that! For you, I can!"
"Well, maybe I can't!"
And it stopped me cold. I stared at him and caught my breath and tried to still my heaving chest. A few orderlies poked their heads in to see what all the noise was about, but they didn't stick around.
It really hit me then. There was nothing I could do. I couldn't save him. Only Trowa could do that, and it looked like he had given up. There was nothing I could do to give my best friend a reason to live.
I sank to my knees beside the bed and wept silently into the blankets, balling handfuls of the soft knit in my fists. Once the tears started, they just wouldn't stop, and they soaked through the blanket quickly, through the sheet, into the strange hospital mattress. There was nothing I could do about them, either. They just kept coming.
"Quatre," I heard Trowa's pleading voice. "Don't cry. Please?"
I drew a shuddering breath and forced my words out past my sobs. "I can handle your sister," I informed him unsteadily. "And I can handle the rumours and I can certainly handle an extra mouth to feed. But I could not handle you dying. Do you hear me, Trowa?"
His good hand found mine, and I squeezed hard. It gave me the strength to climb back to my feet, and I stood there interlacing our fingers for a long few minutes, until Trowa's eyelids started to droop, and Catherine tip-toed in at my back. She spared a glance at our joined hands and my tearstained face, but made no comment, simply sitting down in the chair I had long since abandoned.
I let go and started to walk away. My visiting hours were over, and my own bed was calling. He called to me in his half-awake, and I moved beside him to smooth his hair and kiss his cheek. "Shhhh. Go back to sleep."
It was a long drive home.
Eight days passed before Trowa was released to come home. Catherine had gone back to L3 on Saturday, but I had a feeling she would be back once she got herself cleared for a few days off work. I myself had been back in the office for about four days, but my heart hadn't been into it.
His call for me to come get him brought mixed feelings. I wasn't sure if I wanted him in the hospital, where there was help and doctors and disinfectant, or with me where I could keep an eye on him. Like it or not, though, I got help wrestling the seats in one of the company limousines around for Trowa to stretch out his leg—it was still heavily bandaged, and he didn't have much mobility with it, but the bone and most of the muscle were undamaged, and he could hobble along with a cane—and went to pick him up.
To my great disquiet, I found that in the middle of all this, my company had undergone a minor crisis, one which though I would have loved to, I couldn't ignore. I had to go back to work. I had to leave Trowa alone.
I was happily surprised, however, that he was relatively well behaved, so to speak. Normal, or as normal as he could be, shuffling around and meeting with the foreman over engineering equations for the new building. I would often come home and find them with their heads together over a stack of loose-leaf and a calculator. I liked to see him with something to do, someone to talk to, since physics meant nothing to me.
He never talked about "the accident," never made mention of the bandages or acknowledged a comment or offered help. I tried to suggest he talk to a counsellor once, and he pretended he hadn't heard. I brought it up another time, on the phone, and he hung up on me. I don't think it ever occurred to anyone else that he had done it on purpose.
I would have liked to hear him say that he was willing to give life another try, even if he lied to me. The silence gave my fears power, until it roared in the back of my head. I made sure all the staff kept a close eye on him. I didn't tell them why, but they were paid to not ask questions.
Catherine, however, did ask questions.
She'd known Trowa a long time, Catherine had. Almost as long as I had, and in very different circumstances. I knew she wouldn't buy the accident theory, though I doubted Trowa had spoken to her as candidly as he had me—with me, he had the benefit of an understanding ally. She loved him, but would never be able to see both sides. I have never seen anyone evade questioning as thoroughly as Trowa did when she chanced to call. And I know some very skilful people.
Of course, the question evading worried us both, though who more, I can't say. Where she was just looking for answers to confirm or dismiss her suspicions, I had my conclusion, and was just praying for something to come up to disprove me. Trowa had been home for a week when we got a phone call from Catherine that chilled me more than anything else either of them had said or avoided saying until that point. She was coming back, and she wouldn't be leaving alone. She was taking Trowa with her.
I had six days left to spend time with my best friend, before he wouldn't be mine anymore. Then I had four days to get used to giving him up. And then he would be gone, stepping onto the metal floor of one of those massive grey transport ships, blending and disappearing into the crowd. Ten days before I would be alone.
I booked them off work. The crisis could wait.
We spent a lot of time at the house, on the balconies, looking out over the desert. We talked about the war, and before the war, and after it… it was funny how our lives were so divided up like that, so centered around a violent but brief period. We talked about the others, a lot about Heero, who I think Trowa was closest with, or at least, Heero was the one who really, really thought the same way that Trowa did. I listened to them converse once, and didn't understand it at all. They speak a different language, those two.
We didn't talk about the accident. I didn't even bother to bring it up. Once or twice he actually acknowledged his injury, but the source thereof was never discussed. We just spent as much time together as we could muster.
Catherine arrived, and we both went to pick her up at the port, Trowa now graduated from using a cane to using me when walking on his own became too painful. This pleased her I think, seeing him standing on his own. I'm not sure if him using me for a crutch did much for her, though.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activity, getting Trowa ready to leave. Most of this I left for Catherine to handle, the packing, and the shopping… things that didn't require a translator. There was paperwork, of course, and I helped them with that. Throughout the whole time, I could never quite discern Trowa's attitude towards the changes, whether he was happy or not. He acted like it was an everyday occurrence to completely strip one's room and stuff all the items into a duffle bag, or to fill out forms stating change of address, and licences to live on a colony.
The last Tuesday before Trowa left, we found ourselves alone outside, in the garden, swaying gently in the porch swing as the sun set. We had been chatting aimlessly, and the conversation had finally dwindled down to a comfortable silence. I sat there beside him, our shoulders touching and feet dangling, and it sort of hit me all of a sudden that he was leaving the next day.
"Hmm?" I think I had partly woken him up there, with suddenly speaking.
"Do you like it here?"
He shifted next to me, and his face was graced by a thoughtful frown. "Here as in the garden, or here as in Baghdad?"
"Both," I decided. "Being in the garden, living here with me?"
"Yes, of course," he replied like it was a silly question. "You're my best friend."
"Do you like working with Halef?"
"Well enough. It keeps my mind engaged and the rest of me busy." He put one foot on the ground and pushed against it, making the swing sway slowly up and down. "I like living with Catherine, too, you know. Quatre, she's not that bad."
I sighed, my charade over. Hopping off the swing, I offered him my hand, and he accepted my help in climbing to his feet. Whether he needed to or not, I don't know, but he put his arm around my shoulders and let me support him as we made our slow way back to the house. I left him off at the guest room he was staying in next to Catherine's, since his own had long since been gutted. The guest wing was a long way from where my room was, and it took me some time to walk back.
I showered off the day's grime and set my alarm to early, so I could see Trowa and Catherine off at the port come sunrise. After climbing into a pair of pyjama bottoms and an undershirt, I crawled into bed and closed my eyes. Sleep, I figured, would not come easily, but staying still would at least afford me enough rest that I wouldn't be a zombie tomorrow. I gave up on that quickly enough, though, and finally turned on the light and opened a book.
I hadn't read ten pages when my door opened. I jumped so hard my book went flying to land with a plop on the floor beside the bed, and I looked up to see Trowa standing in the doorway in boxers and a tee shirt, still half-swathed in bandages, regarding me through the dark curtain of his tousled bangs.
"Tro?" I whispered, still getting over the mild shock. "What are you doing?"
"I…" he seemed unsure, and that was odd, because he never really seems anything, he just is. "I couldn't sleep. Could—could I sleep in here, with you, tonight?"
I opened my mouth to say, "of course," and closed it. "Why?"
He chewed on his lip. "At the hospital, you cried. I remember it, too well. If…" Though he trailed off, he didn't have to finish. I got it. "I want more to remember about you than that."
It killed me, he looked so unsure. "Of course," I said, letting those words out. I scooted over to make room for him and pulled back the covers. "Come on."
He had some difficulty getting on the bed and under the sheets with only two good limbs. I helped him, reaching over him and spreading the coverlet over his side. "How long did it take you to walk down here?" I wanted to know. "Did you have any trouble?"
"No, it was fine." He found a comfortable position on his side, facing me. "It's gotten a lot better. Barely hurts at all anymore."
He was lying down, but I stayed sitting up, and leaned away from him, over the edge of the bed to retrieve my book and flip through it to find my page again. I couldn't bring myself to read any more, though, so I folded a tissue in half and stuck it in as a bookmark before reaching over Trowa to place the book on my bedside table, and pulling my knees into my chest.
"In the garden—" Trowa started quietly, and paused, still so uncertain. "When we were talking about Catherine…"
"I don't hate her," I reassured him. "I mean it. I'm glad you have her looking out for you. She's just, I don't know, a little smothering sometimes. She doesn't like to share you, or she just doesn't trust me."
This pleased him, I think. I got a smirk. "She can be a little over-protective," he allowed. "I suppose I give quite enough reason to be. It's me she doesn't trust, you know. Not you."
That, at least, was something I understood. I couldn't say I wasn't guilty of it myself, which probably contributed to our little understanding of mutual dislike. Trowa smiled wryly at me, knowing what I was thinking, and I returned him a self-deprecating grin. "We're all human, right?"
"So it would seem." Now his smile went soft. "Though some of us try our damndest to be saints."
He took my shoulder and pulled me down to lie beside him, awkwardly reaching with his bad hand to hit the switch on the lamp. I squirmed around a little, trying not to fall off the edge of a bed that really wasn't supposed to hold two people. It was tricky business, especially with trying not to kick my friend anywhere that was still healing.
"So, how long will it take you to get back to L3?" I asked the dark, trying to make small talk because I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep like this.
"About seventeen hours," he replied. "Plus all the time spent sitting in the terminal. I'll be there by this time tomorrow night."
"Are you going to go back to the circus?"
I could sort of hear him chew on it. "Maybe. I'm not sure. I don't think so, but Cathy might be able to convince me."
"If you don't?" I wanted to know. "Construction again, or Preventers, maybe?" The sheets rustled as he shrugged, but he didn't have anything to say to that.
I figured that meant he wanted to sleep now, so I didn't continue, just closed my eyes and tried to relax. I actually started to drift off a few times, but Trowa moving beside me, or an itch, or a sound in the house would jerk me awake. I noticed that eventually my eyes got used to the dark, and where my room had been black before, now the tiny bit of moonlight through the window was enough to illuminate the desk in the corner, my sweater draped over the chair, my bookshelf in all it's oft-visited disarray… and the lump beside me that was Trowa. The clock behind his shoulder read two fifteen AM. In three hours, I would be getting out of bed to take him to the port and say goodbye.
It took me a moment to realize, as my gaze affixed on his face, that his eyes were open and staring at me, shining in the silvery light. I just about jumped again, and he told me, "Whatever question is keeping you awake, you might as well just ask it and get it over with."
To my credit, I did manage to come up with a diplomatic way of wording the question very quickly, but I still almost didn't ask it. "Whatever you do," I decided on, "will—will there be a chance for more… accidents?"
Predictably, he didn't answer.
"I wanted to give you a home, Tro."
"I wish it could have been good enough."
"I'm sorry—" Sorry that what? That I couldn't save you. That I didn't see it. That I'm not a saint. That I'm not good enough. My breath caught.
A hand touched my shoulder, his hand.
"Trowa, I don't want you to go!"
By some feat of physics, and I don't know if I pulled him close or if he crawled into my arms, but suddenly he was there, wrapped up and hugged tight against my chest. His long arms were wound tightly around my back. I was shaking by now, but I had no tears to cry. Who was holding who? I'm not sure, and I didn't care. I just clung to him, and buried my face in his tousled hair.
We stayed like that for a along moment, not bothering with words, or even the communication of a hand stroking hair or anything. Just frozen, until my trembling stopped, and Trowa's arms lost some of their death grip on me. He stirred a little, and lifted his head to look at me properly. "Quatre?"
"I'm ok," I whispered. "Listen to me, Trowa. Catherine loves you. And I love you, too. Don't ever forget that, all right?"
For a second, he had a look like a dog about to be hit by a car. Then he looked away and curled against my chest again. "I won't."
It wasn't comfortable, lying there squashed together like that. Both our arms were a little too tight, and there really wasn't enough room, and we'd been in the same position long enough to need to move around a little bit. But neither of us could bring ourselves to let go, so we just stayed still, frozen in the moment. The only thing that moved in the room were the numbers on my clock, clicking slowly away towards morning.
Storms of this violence are rare. He wonders to himself, as the spray plasters his hair to his face, as he wrestles with a thick rope to hold a sail in place, if this tumult can be natural. The sky is grey, but no rain falls. The wind does not moan around the ship. Only these crashing, grasping waves, and the backlash of air that comes in their wake.
He ducks a swinging post and lashes his rope to a bar in the railing. As he turns to survey his next task, a wave breaks over his head, and nearly knocks him over. Shouts arise around him. A few sailors are pointing. He looks, and recoils.
Over the edge, a few feet below the water, a vast serpent uncoils. Several scales break the surface, glimmering in the scant light. Glancing over to the other side of the vessel, he can see a powerful tail thrash and writhe, churning the waves, knocking against the hull. A cry of horror escapes him, and he claps a hand over his mouth.
"Captain!" he shouts. "Lower the anchor! We can tangle this creature in the chain!" Other sailors pick up the call, "Weigh anchor, weigh anchor!"
"No." The captain's green eyes flash, and his quiet voice is heard by all. They still. "We cannot fight it."
The ship pitches, and the sailors scramble for purchase on the slick deck. Sprawled on the wood planks, he can hear china smashing in the levels below, tipped off their shelves. He darts to his feet and struggles to the bridge, where the captain stands calmly, hands relaxed on the wheel.
"Stand down, sailor." There is no room for argument.
He takes a breath and lets out his last words in a rush. "You can't mean to surrender, sir!"
"I mean," and the voice has lost no control, but gained no emotion, "to decide the fate of my own ship. We cannot win. Would you dispute me, Quatre?"
In the silence before he can answer, another wave shoves the ship sideways, and he is knocked off his feet. The captain holds his ground. From his sprawled position on the deck, he lowers his head in a makeshift bow.
"Captain." He meets the kelp-green stare. "I would not. I will follow your orders."
He receives a nod, and is able to speak no more, as the shouting around him rises to a collective terrified wail. Beneath the surface of the water, the serpent's gaping mouth is opening, overtaking the ship's shadow, and it is steadily rising to take in the ship itself. He launches himself at the rigging and scrambles up the ropes like a monkey. The sailors below him scurry about on the grey deck, as he climbs ever higher to disappear in the storm-coloured sails. The captain stands unmoving at his wheel, staring resolutely out at his fate through his wet hair.
The shouts fade. Cracks and groans come in their wake, as the maw begins to close and the wood of the hulls splinters and snaps. A swell of seawater washes over the whole thing, carrying away a few sailors, and the mouth closes over what's left behind.
In the after, silence.
The serpent sinks once more beneath the foam. No hint of the ship remains, but the small section of pole he clings to, which has broken off. Barely a ripple stirs the water. The clouds break and the sun pours in between them, blinding.
He floats, and drifts, and waits for land to find him.
A shrill ringing jolted me out of my dream, but it stopped before could register as to what it was. I shifted and half rolled over, blinking in the beam of sunlight that was pouring across my pillow. Something was tugging at my memory, I knew I had to get up for some reason, but the alarm was quiet, and everything seemed so Saturday-morning that my brain wouldn't engage enough for me to wake up.
Someone blocked the light, and then the drapes swished shut. "Trowa?" I mumbled. "What time is it?"
"Never mind," I hear his voice.
"What are you doing?" I asked stupidly. "Come back, Trowa, it's cold."
He was beside me, then, smoothing the blankets over my shoulders. "I have to go," he told me instead. "Thanks, Quat. For everything."
Something in the back of my head tugged some more, making me roll over and try to see him. "Go where? Is it time to get up?"
"No." I relaxed, and I heard a smile in his voice when he ordered, "Shhhh. Go back to sleep."
My eyes fell shut, and the world slipped away. I vaguely felt the brush of his lips on my cheek.
"Go back to sleep."
And I did.
And when I woke up several hours later, he was gone. The servant who had come to see if I was sick told me that he and Catherine had left alone, in a taxi, at five thirty. Well, it was nearly noon now. I wasn't going to catch them. So I scrambled out of bed and into my work clothes and headed for the office.
The crisis I had ignored took long into the evening to clear up. God, I need to take less time off. By the time we were done, I had a whole other day's worth of work piled up, and I knew the next day would be just as crazy. It kept me busy, at least. When I got home and went to bed, I didn't dream.
I realized, sitting at my desk the next morning, that it had been four weeks to the day since Trowa's accident. To the minute, in fact, the clock proved. A shiver ran down my spine, and I glanced warily at the phone. It actually rang then, and I nearly had a heart attack. My secretary never did find out why I sounded so relieved to hear her, when she informed me the reports I'd requested were in.
The rest of the day passed without incident. I did get an off-world phone call, but it was from Duo, dropping me a line to say hi. I went home at a decent hour, though I'd left a fair amount of work behind for tomorrow. I figured a proper night's sleep for a full eight hours would up my productivity. Dinner was uneventful—not surprising, given that I ate alone—and I watched a rugby match on TV. I was in my pyjamas and climbing into bed, completely unprepared. A Thursday night, twenty past eleven, my phone rang.
It was Catherine's voice. Kind of. It was Catherine's voice after a trip through a meat grinder. My blood turned to ice.
"Yes." I sat down on the side of the bed and twisted a handful of the coverlet in one fist. "Did you make it home all right?"
I didn't want to hear it, not at all. "Did you get an in-flight movie? Was it ok?"
"Yes, we did and no, it wasn't," came the weary reply. "Listen—"
"All your bags came through?" I desperately wanted her to give up on me and disconnect. There was more coming, and I knew what it was. "And the chair he took?"
"Yes! Will you just—"
"Taxis didn't overcharge?"
I shut up. Actually, we both did, and for a second I thought she really had hung up on me, until I realized I could hear her breathing. Then I realized I wasn't. I sucked in a lungful of air and asked, "He's dead, isn't he?"
The response was hushed and forced. "Yes."
Oh, Allah. I felt like a clawed hand was squeezing my heart, I closed my eyes and bit my lip hard. On the line, I could hear Catherine starting to cry. "How?" I whispered.
There was a hiccup before she answered. "In the shower, an hour ago. Shot himself in the mouth."
I hate being right. I really do. Some people like to point out how smart they are, but not me. I'd seen this coming. But that did not mean I was ready to hear it.
"I found him," she told me, maybe checking to make sure I was still there. "I went out to get groceries, and when I came back—" But she couldn't go on. She didn't need to, though.
I took a few deep breaths and pulled myself together, figuring she had the right to e the hysterical one. I sure didn't. "It's ok," I murmured. "I know. You don't have to tell me. Go phone your boyfriend and let him take you home, all right? In the morning, send me the information, and I'll make arrangements for the funeral. You don't worry about a thing you hear me? I'll be on L3 by Saturday."
"But…" she started, and had to stop and catch her breath. "You don't have to…"
"I will anyway. You've got enough to handle right now."
"All right," she finally whispered, and hung up the phone. I stared at the receiver for a long time before I could bring myself to hit the "off" button.
That was five days ago. It seems like months. The funeral was this morning, a memorial, really, since his body was cremated. It was at a little Catholic church that Catherine and her boyfriend Marco attended—most of the ceremony was lost on me, I daresay. I wasn't listening to most of it, though. I kept getting distracted by things, like the window, and the little donation forms in the pews, and the fact that Duo's hair was brushed straight and gleaming, and that Heero was hiding his tears in it.
Afterwards, we all stood around with Catherine, a receiving line of sorts, getting hugs from people we didn't know, but apparently Trowa had. None of us were that comfortable with it, Duo and Heero mostly keeping to themselves, and Wufei managing to convey his sympathies wordlessly, but avoiding the embraces. There was nothing I could hide behind, though, so I just stood beside Catherine and endured it. I felt terribly alone.
We're all sitting in Marco's living room now, curled up in our respective little balls around rapidly cooling cups of tea. I feel like I can't breathe in this room, the air is so thick with… something. From Catherine, at least, grief. From the guys—I think we're all pretty shaken up by the whole thing—no one was really terribly shocked by this happening, but for so long, we were five against the world. Now we're only four. It's a sobering, disturbing thought.
Marco finally takes our teacups and clears away the service before kissing Catherine on the forehead and saying he's going to bed. Wufei peels off next, he has a flight to Brussels to catch in the morning. Funny, that man. I've never seen him look dependant, ever. I ache for a shoulder to lean on, right now, I can't fathom him coming here all on his own. He's engaged to a Chinese girl, but she stayed home.
Duo and Heero untangle themselves from their mutual ball on the couch and excuse themselves discreetly. Now there's a look I sympathize with. Heero has on a lost, terrified expression I recognize from the war. Duo will have his work cut out for him tonight, trying to pull his partner back from the edge. They'll go upstairs and close the door and chase death away with bittersweet life, and wake up tomorrow with blotchy faces and bodies completely ensnared in Duo's hair. But the difference is that Duo can do it. He can keep his best friend and lover's feet planted firmly on the ground. Heero will be alive when the sun comes up.
Finally, it's just Catherine and me, sitting across the coffee table from each other, she curled into a sad wad of blankets, and I sitting straight in my chair, ankles crossed in front of me.
"Catherine," I begin once the silence finally gets to me. She meets my gaze with a sapped one of her own. "What ever you're thinking, it's not your fault. You couldn't have done anything. You couldn't have known."
She sighs, and deflates, if possible, even further into her little makeshift cocoon. "I know," I hear. "Nor you, Quatre. I don't blame you for what happened. I may seem to, sometimes, but I don't."
I can't answer for a moment, just chew on my lip. See, she's wrong. It is my fault. So many things could have been different. I could have given him anything. Everything. So many things, I didn't see.
"Don't," she scolds, and I realize I'm either saying it out loud or just really, really letting my state show. "It's not your fault, Quatre."
"It is," I whisper, unable to look away from eyes that, even liquid with grief, are so compelling, as compelling as her brother's.
"It's not. It wasn't your job to make a life for him. If there was one to be made for him, there would have been one made, and neither of us could have changed that. This was his decision."
She silences me with a look and pulls a box out from under her chair. A shoebox, or a hatbox, maybe, plain, she puts it on the table and nudges it over to me.
"Before…" Catherine searches for a phrase that's gentle enough to maintain the quiet of the room. "Before I left to go grocery shopping, he locked himself in his trailer. I heard him rummaging around a lot. On Friday, I found this beside his bed."
If I expected a letter or something, some comforting, profound words to speak to me from beyond this plane, I was to be disappointed. That only happens in movies, and everyone bawls as the actor's voice gets transposed over the footage to seem like they are speaking from the grave. But lifting the lid on the box does relatively the same thing. The faint scent of metal and grass hits me like a blow as I pull out one of his turtlenecks. A pin from Mariemaia's army. The old half-mask, the clown mask. A chain jingles and I find a set of dog tags, a collection of mercenary with no name, Oz with a name I didn't recognize, and rebel with the only name I had ever known him by grooved deep in the metal. Trowa Barton. And the name wasn't even his.
A small CD in a case. "I watched that," Catherine tells me. "It looks like a record of his mobile suit's view screen, and the comm. You're on it." I frown, and glance repeatedly between her and the unmarked minidisk. "You say something about not fighting, and you come out of the cockpit. The picture stops there, and it's just talking. But I'm pretty sure it's you."
He must have downloaded it from Heavyarms before we blew up the suits. It's the day we met, the first time we ever saw each other face to face. Preserved forever on this tiny circle of plastic.
In the very bottom corner of the box is something I hadn't noticed at first. I dig it out from amongst a plethora of newspaper clippings and magazine articles about the war and the Gundam pilots. It's a miniature ship in a bottle, maybe four inches long, corked and sealed. It's grey, like the one in my dream. I stare at it a long time before putting it back in the pile of remembrances.
"I don't know who was supposed to find that," Catherine tells me. This is the most stable she's sounded all week. "Maybe both of us. But Quatre—" I have to look at her, even though doing so makes my eyes sting with a month's worth of unshed tears. "You made a difference in Trowa's life. A huge one. I know it, and I hope you know it, too. I was his sister, but you were his best friend. You're the only person I trusted with him."
She gets to her feet, bringing her cocoon with her, and climbs the stairs in silence, leaving me to my solitude. I want to thank her, but for what? Instead, I hold my tongue, and finally break out of my erect posture, and curl into my seat around the deep green sweater that smells so much like him. It's quit late. Even so restricted in the chair, it doesn't take me long to fall asleep.
I could see him, as I had known him, short (but taller than me), skinny, crazy hair, austere clothes. Standing at the prow of the ship, watching the fluffy clouds float past.
"Where are you going?" I called up from the dock, as the gangplank was pulled away. "Will you come back?"
A shout rose from the crew, and the wind billowed into the silvery sails. With a groan, the ship slunk forward.
"Home," he told me quietly. "I'm going home."
Tell me what you think? This one took a nice long time to write, but now it's done *sigh* I hope you liked it.