Disclaimers: Heero, Duo, Trowa, Quatre, Wufei, Relena and anyone else I mentioned from the GW show belong to Sunrise and Ban Dai and all those people--not me! I really wish they did, but they donít, so I borrow them once in a while.

Pilot 01 - Lessons
by INK

Iíve known a lot of people. They come and go from my life as easily as regularly as the passing seasons each year, there and gone, sometimes there again, but usually gone forever. Some were friends, some enemies. Most of them are dead now, by my hand or by the hand of someone just like me. I try not to let that bother me--it was a war, I did what I had to do. Even if it meant damning myself to years of torture. It didnít used to bother me. But that changed.

Out of all the people Iíve met, there have been maybe four who had a real influence on my life. Not just an in-and-out person, but someone who put a mark on me, changed who I was (for better or worse), and made sure I would never forget them.

Odin was the first one. Odin Lowe, he was the first person I ever remember caring about me, even in the most detached way. He was as close to a father as anything I had or will ever have. He taught me what I needed to know to be a soldier--how to shoot, how to track, how to move without being noticed. He taught me a lot of things.

He died when I was seven.

I saw it happen.

It was then that he taught me his most valuable lesson: Follow your emotions. Follow your heart. At the time, there was too much going on for me to give it much thought. I had places to go, people to kill. Odinís last lesson was forgotten in the crush of hardship and poverty that became my life for the next few months.

I should have remembered it. There are several incidents, years after that, which would have been avoided had I listened to my mentorís words. But there was someone else, a new authority that appeared in my life. And what he gave me erased all knowledge of such a lesson.

Dr. J didnít teach me. Everything I learned at his hands I already knew. No, he trained me. He refined me. He took the promising body I had been cursed with and tempered it, built it, burned a new set of instincts into its brain. He put a mobile suitís controls in my hand and violence in my head. He made me the Perfect Soldier.

And he made me forget that I had a heart.

I should hate him for that, I guess. I could hate him for everything he did, whether it included me or not. He and that madcap group of scientists. They controlled my life completely, toyed with me, used me as needed and discarded me just as easily. As they did with all of us, all the Gundam pilots. I wasnít human, then. By their doing, I was a machine. And at the time, I didnít care. Jís training had instilled a warped sense of duty in me, and, in my obsession to follow orders, I forgot to hate. I didnít hate. I didnít have enough human in me to hate.

But I didnít do much else, either.

I fought. I killed. I never repented. I just reported back, and got a new mission. And I fought and killed again.

Years passed. The body I was in grew and transformed, even if I didnít. I remained what that grizzled old scientist had made me.

When I was fourteen, that changed. I was given two alternative orders. Either I could kill the Vice Foreign Minister Darlain, or I could thwart the assassination attempt. I had every intention of killing Darlian. I came very, very close, too. But Odinís words came back to me. And, in the last second, I didnít.

Actually, that wasnít the real change for me. After that, I went back to what I had been. I forgot the tiny flash of emotion that had changed my mind in the decisive moment. I had new orders, I new mission. I couldnít afford to dwell on such insignificant things as a bit of indecision. I had more important things to worry about.

No, the real change came many moths later, when I was sent to Earth as part of the first attempt at Operation Meteor. I saw a girl. Or rather, a girl saw me. More importantly, she saw my Gundam, and sheíd seen me with it. That meant only one thingóshe had to die.

The girlís name was Relena Darlain. As it turned out, she was the daughter of the man I had nearly killed.

I didnít kill her either.

I donít know why, to this day. At the time, I was still as much machine as human, and should have just blown her up without thought. But I just ran. When I saw her again, I promised her that I would kill her. But again, I didnít. I had her at gunpoint, but I didnít kill her.

I saved her life. Later that same day, I shielded her tiny body with the bulk that was my damaged Gundam. She asked me why. It was the same question I asked myself.

I didnít see her again for a long time. When I met up with her next, it was months later, and so much had changed about her that I wouldnít have known it was her but for her own gentle recognition of me.

She wasnít Relena Darlain anymore. Now she was Relena Peacecraft, Princess. And within another few months, she was Queen.

Relena had a crush on me then, I know this. I donít know why--why would anyone like someone who had promised to kill them? But she did. A lot of people think I hated her. Justified, I guess, after so many death threats. No one knew, though, how that promise had come from a soldierís mouth, unthinking of anything but the mission before him. More than once, I found myself regretting that promise.

Relena understood, I think.

I never hated her. She irked me, sometimes, but I never hated her. To tell the truth, I had, have, great respect for her. At fifteen years old, she found herself responsible for a nation torn by war. And I have never seen someone handle such an impossible task so gracefully. She may have been naÔve at times, infuriatingly so, even, with her unattainable dreams of complete peace. But the girl was fifteen! A child, as much as I was, and as bound to her duty. It was her job to carry her late fatherís legacy. And considering she had never met the man, she did a damn good job.

It didnít work out, of course. Something like that never could. But she handled it with such dignity that it blew my mind. And she took up her adoptive fatherís title maybe a year later. Now she was Vice Foreign Minister Relena Darlain, age sixteen.

She was a threat to everything I was. She was peace to my war, publicity to my secrecy. Sun to Moon, Yin to Yang, love to hate.

And I couldnít ignore her if I wanted to.

It was Relena, in the beginning, who reminded me that I was human. That I had emotions, a soul, a heart. She cared for me like no one else had ever bothered to. She forced me to feel.

Relena taught me how to love.

Yes, loved her. I still love her. Sheís an easy person to love. Iíve never met anyone whose heart is in such the right place. And I know she loves me.

It didnít quite work out the way she wanted it to, I donít think. I didnít end up in love with her. And for all that she had done for me, I canít give her credit for the biggest change that took place. You can love and still be miserable. Even with all she taught me, I was still a dead man.

But she taught me to love. And through her, I found the one person who could save my soul.

Itís fitting, I think, that Duo was wearing a priestís collar the first time I met him. Fitting and ironic, as while the symbolism spoke of a person in a position to redeem the souls of others, it clothed a boy who had as little faith in God as I did. More irony in that before I could even begin to process the image of him, he had managed to put two bullets in my body.

Come to think of it, I almost did kill Relena, just that once. But Duo shot me instead. He saved her from me.

Heís smarter than he lets on, sometimes.

He was beautiful. He still is beautiful. Even if I refused to acknowledge that at first, even if I spent the first few months that I knew him just wishing he would shut his fool mouth and leave me alone. There is a fire in him, beneath the silly exterior, and even beneath the insightful and calm mantle. Most people have to look very, very hard to find it.

He just out-and-out showed it to me.

When I say that Duo doesnít have faith in God, I donít mean in the least that he doesnít have faith. He doesnít believe in a supreme being, or even the God of Death he so skillfully portrays. But he has faith in other things. He believes in other things.

If you havenít met Duo, there isnít much I can say to describe to you the effect he has on people. He just fills the room with his presence. The moment he walks in the door, everyone knows. He does, of course, announce his entrance, usually in a loud and fairly vulgar manner. But beyond that, there is an aura around him, one that burns away pain in anyone it touches.

Somehow, he always manages to touch everyone.

Duo believes in life. He believes in anything alive.

Itís weird, he is beautiful, I wonít try to deny that. But it isnít his body that makes him beautiful. Itís everything else about him. He just has this way of making everything new and wondrous. Itís at truly heady feeling until youíre used to it, I assure you. Sometimes even now it makes me dizzy.

Heís a collection of irony, Duo is. Iíve always heard that a healthy body meant a healthy mind, a healthy soul. That being fit and well would ensure a pleasant disposition. But Iím as healthy as they come, I eat vegetables by the ton and work out on a regular basis--and look at me. I still think about killing myself when Iím away from him for too long.

And then thereís Duo. I donít think anyone I know bares as many scars as he does--physical and mental. Heís short--an inch or two shorter than me, and Iím short by heritage--because of malnutrition as a child. He has a boyís body, for all that he must be a man after all these years. His voice, God, his voice is so rough, from smoking, he told me. He used to smoke before the war. And thereís a real jaded tone to it, like if you didnít know him better youíd think nothing meant anything to him anymore--that heíd seen so much, too much of everything to care about anything anymore.

His skin is webbed with little white lines. Souvenirs from a life of pain. I donít know what colour his wrists were originally. Theyíre mostly pink now. He cut them, even after I knew him. I saw him do it, once. It made me sick.

I made him promise never to do it again. As far as I can tell, he hasnít.

His body and my soul go together. My body and his soul go together. He deserves a body that isnít so decrepit.

He amazes me.

It doesnít make sense, how could he go through such a life and come out with a smile on his face? It boggles my mind. How can he walk around with that easy grin when I can barely find the will to lift the corner of my lips?

Itís a testament to his strength that he can, I guess. Most people would tell me he puts on that joker mask to hide that heís hurting inside, but I know thereís only partial truth behind that. I know he hurts sometimes. Itís those times when he lets me hold him, and give him strength for once.

But thereís just such a lust for life in him, a lust for beauty, for happiness and nature--a little bit of pain could never douse that fire.

I fell in love with him. It was inevitable. He represented a lot to me: Saviour, teacher, friend, confidant, partner, brotherÖ I didnít mean for it to happen. Just one day I saw him walking around outside, "absorbing sun," he called it--and I knew there was no going back.

Odin taught me how to feel. J taught me how to fight.

Relena taught me how to love.

But Duo taught me how to live.

on to pilot 02

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