It was a pleasant autumn afternoon. The sun was shining and a nice breeze
blew through the red and orange blurs that were the trees. Duo and I had
been on the road for a few hours. We'd "emancipated" a truck for
transportation. Earlier that morning, the two of us had destroyed another OZ
base, killing a few hundred soldiers in the process. Since it was early, the
soldiers stationed there hadn't been expecting an attack. That made our
mission rather easy. We only had to deal with about fifteen mobile suits
each. Duo ran into a few problems, but we were able to neutralize the enemy
within a short amount of time. Only one pilot was really necessary for the
assignment, but Duo had requested that I go along as well. Probably for
someone to talk to. At least, that's what I told myself.
Out of the corner of my eye I watched Duo shift uncomfortably in his seat.
Something was obviously wrong - he looked almost nervous - but I didn't
comment and turned my eyes back to the road ahead. We still had a long way
to go before we met up with Quatre and I didn't need to be distracted.
A few minutes later Duo coughed, drawing my attention yet again. He looked
paler than usual - he must have been getting sick. I was making a mental
note to remind him to take better care of himself when he started to talk.
"Ya know, Heero," he began in that lazy drawl of his, "I bet that most of
those Ozzies we fight never thought they'd grow up to be soldiers. Have you
ever thought about that?"
There he went, trying to get me to talk. He always tried to include me in
his one-sided conversations, usually without success. Truth was, I had
thought about it - every time I blew up a base or blasted a mobile suit out
of the sky - but I didn't feel like talking. I answered him with a
He breathed out a long-suffering sigh. "Since I can't determine that to be a
'yes' or a 'no,' I'll continue. You see, when I was little, I remember
wanting to be a veterinarian."
I must have looked a bit puzzled by that confession, so he explained. "Okay,
I lived at this church for a while when I was younger. Anyways, at this
church there was a little stray dog that came around a lot. He was a mutt I
guess, kinda looked like a mix between a Cocker Spaniel and a Dachshund.
Funny lookin' little thing. Never seen another dog like 'im. I played with
him all the time. Probly 'cause I related to being a stray or some sorta
psycho-bullshit like that. Well, as time progressed, I noticed that he was
walkin' a little slower than normal and he just wasn't actin' like he usually
did. I asked Fa...the priest if we could take him to the doctor, but he told
me that the church didn't have enough money for it. Then one day, he didn't
come when I called him. I found 'im dead in the alley behind the church.
Tore me up. And I always knew that if we'd had a little more money, maybe we
could've taken Frankie - that was the dog's name - to the vet and he wouldn't
have died. So ever since then I've wanted to be a vet so I could help the
strays and maybe give 'em a second chance at life or something."
I gave him a quick glance. "What about the soldiers?"
He must have been impressed that I was actually paying attention to him
because he flashed me a mega-watt grin. "Well, I started to thinkin': 'What
did the soldiers want to be when they were little?' I wonder how many guys
are in it because they got their girlfriends pregnant and needed to support
her and the kid. Or if they're trying to take care of a sick parent 'cause
their families can't afford to. Or if they're using the military to pay for
college. Now I know that's not the case for all of 'em. I'm sure some of
'em are in it 'cause they like that control aspect of the military or 'cause
they just want legal excuses to kill people. And every time I take one of
'em out, I really hope that got of those power-hungry bastards or a homicidal
maniac, 'cause those other guys don't deserve to die. I mean, they're just
doin' what they're told."
Duo paused to cough again, this time a bit longer and sounding a lot worse
than before. I definitely needed to give him a lecture about taking care of
himself - probably all of those candy bars he ate weren't giving him enough
nutrition. Lack of sleep most likely contributed to his condition as well -
though I knew as well as he did that his sleep was not shortened by his
excessive intake of caffeine, but by nightmares.
Duo waited until his coughing fit had died down before he began again. "Now,
just because I don't think they deserve to die don't mean I won't kill 'em.
I'll still fight 'em 'cause they're the enemy." He paused, reflective. "And
I wonder if they think about us like I think about them. Ya see, Heero, I'm
the kind of soldier that's expendable, so they won't hafta feel bad when they
kill me. I don't have a family to support or anything. No ties to anybody.
The colonies'll be out one defender, but the rest of you can manage. I just
hope I'm done in by a guy who wanted to do his job so he could get back to
his wife and kids, not some psycho who wanted to paint his house with my
He stopped again, maybe to collect his thoughts or maybe to let his words
sink in. What he'd said had somewhat disturbed me - the words seemed too
morose for Duo, even if he did call himself Shinigami. Sure he was cynical -
one had to be in this war - but I'd never heard him speak about such morbid
topics. He was always the upbeat one, trying to keep our minds off the war
as much as possible. Perhaps what bothered me the most was the fact that he
said all of that like it was fact. The way he said, "when I die," not "if I
die," seemed strange to me. Like he was resigned to the fact, maybe even
knowing, that he wouldn't last to see peace. I was so caught up in my own
thoughts that I nearly missed what he said next.
"So, Heero, what do you want to be?"
Maybe I was fed up with him constantly changing the subject or maybe it was
something else entirely, but I couldn't help responding in a hostile tone.
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
He blinked once, twice, before an easy smile slowly spread across his face.
"Well, Heero, I know that you are gonna live through the end of this war, no
matter how many times you try to self-destruct. Don't ask me how, but I know
you won't die any time soon. And you'll hafta do something after the war's
over, so that's why I asked ya. Surely you must have some interests other
than fighting and flying mechs, so -"
"Duo, is there a point to this? If not, I suggest you shut up and try to get
some sleep. We've got another mission tomorrow."
"The point is this: I'm not ever going to be a veterinarian." His voice
still sounded resigned and a bit melancholy. "And I'm not going to live to
see the end of this war -"
"You don't know that!" I interrupted again. "You might live a long life and
I might die tomorrow. Don't keep saying you're going to die before the war
ends like it's a fact!"
I didn't want him to stop so much for his own sake as for my own. Honestly,
I couldn't fathom him not being there, fighting - living - beside me. I
didn't want him to bring up a topic that blew my mind. It was like he was
telling me to contemplate infinity: I simply couldn't do it.
"No, Heero, you don't understand!" It was his most impassioned statement of
the evening so far. I doubt his emphasis on that sentence was intentional.
It wasn't that I didn't understand (though that was completely true - I had
no idea what he was talking about), but that I didn't really want to.
He took a few deep breaths. I guess yelling winded him, though he it never
had before. "The thing is, I'm not going to last through tonight, much less
the rest of the fighting." He held up a hand to stop me before I made
another outburst. "When we were fighting those Tauruses back there,
something happened. I was taking a beating, if you recall, one thing led to
another, and my harness broke right when one of 'em rammed me from behind..."
The next few seconds I must have zoned out. I knew what must have happened
next without him telling me. He took a hit, flew out of the pilot's seat,
right into the console. Probably got the brunt of force directed to his
abdomen, considering the layout of the cockpit. The force of the impact
would have caused internal injury, most likely severe. Duo would bleed to
death. And he knew it. He knew what would happen to him, but he was telling
me hours - almost half a day - after the incident. It was far too late for
me to do anything to save him or to at least ease his discomfort. He had to
have been in a substantial amount of pain. It was a wonder he wasn't already
dead. But even as I considered his miraculous ability to stay conscious, I
became angry. Angry with Duo for not telling me. Angry with myself for not
being able to help him. Angry with God for taking him away.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I ground out through clenched teeth.
He ran a shaky hand through his jagged bangs, a nervous gesture if I ever saw
one. "Well, I think part of it was the adrenaline. I guess it kinda numbed
me for a while. By the time the numbness wore off, we were too far away from
civilization to make a difference. And I just didn't care." He gave me a
pleading look. "I don't want to fight anymore, Heero. It seems like I've
been fighting my whole life. I don't want to do it anymore. I can't." He
took in a shuddering breath. "I can't."
At that, my anger and hostility faded away. I couldn't hate him for not
being able to take the strain anymore, though I did wonder in the back of my
mind how only four Gundams could win a war when five were barely making
progress. Realizing that, I thought how selfish Duo was being.
"What about the rest of us, Duo? What are we going to do?"
"Oh, you guys'll be fine. You'll win the war and -"
"NO!" I don't know why I was making a habit of interrupting Duo on the last
night I would hear his voice, but I had to correct him. "I'm not talking
about the war." He looked confused. "What I mean is, what are we going to
do without you? Not you and your Gundam. We need you. I need you. You've
been my best friend. How can I replace that? A pilot can be replaced, but
not a friend..."
I didn't realize that I'd pulled our truck over to the side of the road until
I looked down and saw my hands, now clenched into fists, resting in my lap
and not on the steering wheel. I also didn't realize that I'd been crying
until Duo tilted my face toward him and smoothed away the wetness that
trailed down my cheeks with the pad of his thumb.
"It's okay, Heero," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I'll always be
your best friend. You know you'll always be my best friend, too, right?"
I nodded and he smiled. A lone tear spilled from those bright violet eyes
and fell onto my hand. He had moved to sit right beside me, but I hadn't
noticed until that moment.
My question still had not been answered. "But what do I do when you're
Duo took one of my hands in his own and squeezed it gently. "I had a friend
a long time ago - Solo. That's where I got my name. Solo, Duo, ya get it?
He was the best friend I ever had until you came along. I'd say you're both
about equal in my mind. Anyways, Solo died on me. I tried to save him, but
I couldn't. But before he died, he told me that just because I wouldn't see
him anymore, it didn't mean that he wouldn't be with me. He said he'd stay
in my heart forever, and he has. He told me that as long as I never forgot
to remember him, it would be like he never left. I'm sure that sounds kinda
cheesy now, but when you're about seven, it's rather profound."
I laughed. He laughed with me, the sound almost musical to my ears, and gave
me another magnificent smile. "So just don't forget to remember me and
you'll be alright."
I nodded, not quite trusting my voice. He was close enough for me to draw
him into my arms in a loose embrace. I couldn't hold him too tightly because
I didn't want to cause him any more pain, but I desperately needed the
contact. Duo rested his head on my shoulder and my world was complete.
We sat like that for a long while, not talking, just thinking. I tried to
imagine not hearing my friend's voice or seeing his smile. At that time I
had an idea. I had brought along a vid recorder with an eighteen-hour disc.
I'd planned to use it on our next mission for surveillance, but I figured
that I could make better use of it. I could record Duo and through that I
would be able to see him and hear him anytime I wanted.
I carefully maneuvered over to the glove compartment and removed the
recorder, checking to make sure the disc was inside.
Duo picked up his head. "What are you doing with that vid recorder?"
I momentarily froze. Would Duo object to being recorded? The idea sounded
great in my head, but I felt foolish having to explain it to Duo.
Luckily, I didn't have to.
"Hey, I've got an idea!" He perked up slightly. "We can record the two of
us and that way you'll always have something to remember me by. So even when
you're old and gray the memory won't leave. Just don't forget you have the
recording." Duo chuckled, probably imagining me bald and hobbling about
playing shuffleboard or something crazy like that.
Happy that I had his blessing without having to ask for it, I set to work. I
mounted the recorder on the dashboard with some heavy-duty tape, making sure
that it would get both of us in the picture. That done, I set Duo beside me
and pulled back onto the road. Even though Duo wouldn't make it to our
destination, I couldn't waste too much time.
"Hello! My name is Duo Maxwell and I'm fifteen years old. I may run and
hide, but I'll never tell a lie. That's me. I was raised on L2 and now I
fight for it. I am a Gundam pilot and my partner's name is Deathscythe.
We're a great team. And this is my best friend in the whole world, Heero
Yuy. Say something to the camera, Heero..."
Duo loved playing to the camera. Even then he was still the center of
attention. At least mine. For several hours he talked on his past, his
favorite movies, foods he loved, the other pilots, and whatever his mind
thought of. And this time, I talked with him. We laughed together about the
fun times we'd had, told each other jokes, and just enjoyed each other's
About six hours into the recording, Duo became more and more fatigued. He
began coughing a bit more and talking a lot less. I began talking for him.
I told him about some of my favorite things. I told him that my favorite
books were Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird. I told him that I hate
broccoli and onions. And I finally answered his question.
"Duo, remember when you asked me what I wanted to be after the war?"
"Mm-hmm," was his sleepy reply. His head rested heavily on my shoulder and
it was obvious that he wouldn't be with me for too much longer.
"Well, I never answered you."
"Oh. Well what is it then?"
"I think I'd like to paint."
Duo made a little sound of agreement. "You'd be good at that. But do you
know how to paint?"
I blushed. "Well, not really, but I'd like to learn. I think it would be
fun. Something different."
"That sounds nice. But are you talkin' house paintin' or picture paintin'?"
"Good. I bet you'll have all of these great exhibits at all the famous art
galleries and you'll make a ton o' money, and you'll have everything ya ever
"Except you won't be there." I didn't know I'd said it out loud until Duo
squeezed my arm a little.
"Yes I will. Just think of me and I'll be with ya all the time. Now let's
not think about stuff like that. Let's sing a song or something."
He was obviously trying to hang on for as long as possible before calling it
quits. Probably for my sake. So I humored him. Together we sang "Amazing
Grace" and "How Great Thou Art" and every other hymn he could remember until
he could stand to sing no more.
Nine hours into the recording, he let out a loud yawn/cough/sigh. I knew I
couldn't keep him awake for much longer, but I knew that if he fell asleep,
he'd be gone forever.
"Duo," I said, my voice unsteady, "I think you should go to sleep."
He picked up his head a tiny bit from its resting-place on my shoulder.
"Heero," he said softly, "you know what will happen if I do."
"I know," I nodded, "but you won't be able to hang on much long anyway. Just
rest. I'll be alright." It was the biggest lie, I knew, but it was his time
"Okay, Heero. But one thing: I wouldn't 've want'd to spend this time with
anyone else. I jus' wan' ya t' know that. And thanks." Sleep was taking
over and his voice was a bit slurred, but I got the message just the same.
"Thank you, too, Duo," I said, allowing the tears to fall freely and not
caring if my voice cracked. "I'm glad I know you. Thanks for being my best
friend. My only friend."
Duo smiled and settled onto my shoulder. "'Night, Heero..."
"Goodnight, Duo. Sleep well."
Duo died twelve hours into the recording, three after he fell asleep. I had
been paying rapt attention to his breathing and on November 16, AC 195 at
8:45 AM, he stopped. His sleep was calm, not plagued by nightmares -
probably for the first time in his life. The look on his face was so
peaceful; he truly did look like an angel. I didn't stop the truck when he
died; I just placed a kiss upon the top of his head and turned off the
I met with Quatre at one of his hidden estates a few hours after that. We
arranged Duo's funeral and burial within a matter of hours. He's buried on a
hill, under a beautiful shade tree.
I visit his grave every year on the anniversary of his death and most days in
between. I built my home on that hill. And I still watch the old recordings
every now and then. It's been almost fifteen years, but the pain is still
there. It seems like only yesterday that he was being the God of Death.
Sometimes I can still feel the weight of his head on my shoulder. I miss him
I did become an artist, just like I told Duo. I do sell a lot of paintings,
but my most prized works I keep to myself. I keep the one of a black-winged
angel with long, flowing chestnut hair in my study. I also have about a
dozen paintings all around my house, each a subtly different shade of purple,
each the color of his eyes, depending on his mood or the lighting.
I volunteer to work at the local veterinarian's office. They can't figure
out why I bother, but if I can help one stray and give it a second chance,
I'll feel better about my life.
Relena and the others call once in a while and occasionally drop by the
house, but I am still alone. Alone, but not unhappy. Sometimes I think that
the space in my heart has already been filled, has been for fifteen years.
That I have a constant presence filling my heart and looking over my
shoulder. Or perhaps I know that nobody could hope to fill that emptiness
that was left. I cannot say. But as long as I take the time to stop and
remember, I can never be truly alone.