Crossing Part 1
Once upon a time there were two guys who started out hating each other and trying to kill each other and ended up best friends. That is where I should begin, I think. It summarizes the first year we knew each other.
No. I take that back.
I don't think he really hated me, and I didn't really hate him. He was just an obstacle, not an enemy, and I was just a cold bastard who didn't know how to be friends with anyone -- certainly not a loud-mouthed baka who seemed more interested in goofing off and having fun than completing a mission. So maybe I should say we annoyed the Hell out of each other and tried to kill each other. That would be truer.
It would also be true to say I was surprised when the war ended and I realized that what I felt for him went beyond the simple attachment one would expect of camaraderie to the complex form of love -- though I didn't think of it as that -- that is best-friendship. It was the first emotion I had ever experienced that was strong enough to challenge my psychological programming. Looking back at the end of the war, I realized it was the thing that had kept getting in the way, making me do things that made perfect sense at the moment, but when I looked back on them later were clearly stupid. Like risking my neck to haul him out of an Oz prison when it would have been a Hell of a lot easier to shoot him. Or choosing a more difficult path through a mission if it offered a chance of survival.
I don't pretend I was interested in him romantically or sexually at the time. Having him around felt good and right for some strange reason that I in my innocence or ignorance or ineptitude didn't understand -- even though he was usually annoying the Hell out of me on purpose. And I did find him physically attractive in an objective sort of way, though I recognize now that there was a lot of subjectivity in play there too. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.
I just didn't think in those terms then. I wasn't looking for those things. Or if I was, I didn't know I was looking for those things. We were best friends, though no one else would have believed it. Hell, we didn't believe it. We thought we were uneasy allies at best, but does that make it untrue?
I don't think it does.
After the war, after all the parties where even I got drunk occasionally, after I vanished for a few months to think about it, we were able to admit it to ourselves. I was at least. And if I could I am sure he could. He was usually better at understanding what his emotions were telling him than I was, even if he chose to hide them.
Yes, I had come to understand that the grin was usually fake and the jokes and clowning were a desperate attempt to make people leave him alone so the grin didn't crack and reveal the cold, dark emptiness that hid beneath his skin. The others would probably be surprised to know that I saw that, but I did the same thing. Except it was an icy glare instead of a grin, and silence or a hard word instead of a joke.
It wasn't that hard to see. He never lied, and whenever I called him a baka, he usually said something like, "Yeah, but it takes one to know one." When he said that, his face was always smiling, but his voice was always deadly serious. Given time to think about it, the truth was obvious.
I came out of my retreat two weeks before the second war, so it wasn't until after it was over that I found a moment to tell him that I liked working with him and considered him a friend. He smiled at that and hugged me and said he was glad because he would hate to think that two people who worked so well together couldn't be friends.
The hug confused me. I had never been touched like that before.
Not that I had never been hugged. Relena had done that more than once by then... But with him it was different. He didn't expect anything back, wasn't asking for anything in return. He did it simply to let me know how he felt about what I had said and that he, at some level, felt the same way I did. It made me want to shiver and it made me want to hold him so he couldn't let go, because I liked the strange sensations that touch caused inside me. Foremost among them was something calm, quiet and warm. I like to think it was a sense of peace. The first time I had ever felt peace outside a battlefield.
But it was different. It wasn't the "ninmu kanryou" peace of the battlefield. It wasn't "the world at peace" peace that we had fought for and won -- twice. The only way I can express it is "heiwa". That moment in his arms, everything inside me and everything around me felt perfectly right. It was that kind of peace.
The understanding of how good that sense of peace felt had barely begun to work its way through my mind when he pulled back and looked at me and said, "If you ever need anything, let me know. I always help my friends." And with that, he walked onto a shuttle and out of my life.
Well, not entirely.
We kept in touch. We would send brief emails to each other every few weeks, just to keep up. Gradually it became every week, then every few days. He told me about Hilde and about his beloved junkyard and the things he found there. Most of it was really junk, pure and simple, but he had this childlike way of looking at the things he found that made even the most mundane garbage into something strange and wonderful. It made me feel good. For all the Hell we had been through, some part of the child had survived in him. And in the back of my mind I was doubting and hoping that there might be a chance for me too.
Sometimes he would find a piece of junk that was really worth something and then he would tell me about cutting a deal with someone who wanted it, making the whole thing sound like an epic adventure. Maybe it was. He also told me about trying to decide if he was ready for commitment. He struggled with the idea of being bound to Hilde -- or anyone really -- by anything so momentous as marriage. It was Father Maxwell's and Sister Helen's teachings that made him take it so seriously, I think.
And I think there was a certain fear of being close to anyone. So many of the people he had been close to in the past had died. I was one of the few people who had survived his friendship.
When I wrote, I told him about shuttling between Earth and the Colonies. A Preventer. Part of Relena's entourage. I was in charge of her security detail, of course. It was an easy way to disappear. No one ever sees the security guy, except the bad guys. I usually saw them first. I told him about some of the more interesting places we traveled -- Singapore in the spring, Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, Toronto covered in winter snow, Madagascar for a late autumn conference. He was always interested in where I was and what I was seeing, even if he knew it was delayed at least a week for security reasons. I got in the habit of including a picture or two, occasionally one with me in the frame because I knew it would make him happy.
Besides the emails, I always found reasons to travel to L2 every two or three months on business and he always offered to put me up -- him and Hilde. I always declined the offer after the first time. It made me uncomfortable to stay in the same house with them. I didn't understand why. He and I had shared rooms together during the war -- even beds occasionally -- and my only discomfort then had been his annoying chatter and utter lack of neatness. Why should laying in a bed down the hall from him and Hilde make me so unsettled I had trouble sleeping?
I always accepted the offers of dinner though. And they always let me take them out a couple of nights in return. And he and I would go out alone one night and drink a little too much and talk about the kinds of things old soldiers talk about, though neither of us looked nearly as old as we felt.
Those were good times. I remember them fondly and often wish I could go back to them. Innocence and ignorance are two things that, once lost, can never be found again.
My advice -- hold on to them as long as you can.
As for ineptitude... If I ever learn how to lose ineptitude, I'll write a book.
It was two years after the second war that Relena and I became involved romantically and, nearly a year later, sexually. I loved her. I thought I loved her that way. Maybe it was a reaction to reading his emails about him and Hilde moving slowly closer. Maybe it was the subtle hints she dropped, or being around her all the time, or maybe I really did feel something for her. I don't know now. There has been so much water under the bridge and over the dam since then that I can't say why we started dating, then sleeping together. Just that we did and at the time we both believed it was right for some forgotten reason.
I trusted him so much that I told him about Relena and me, even though we didn't want it in the headlines. I can't explain why other than to say it felt wrong not to tell him. I never had a reason to regret that trust. He never told anyone about us. Not even Hilde until after it was over. He was, of course, happy for me and encouraged me and occasionally dropped a few sentences of advice and support if I told him about a problem or uncertainty in our relationship.
A year after Relena and I became lovers I got a message that I had never expected to see. He asked me to be the best man at his wedding. As I faced the fact that I was feeling resentment and anger and disappointment -- all centered around a person, not what that person represented -- and that for the first time in my life... That was when I realized that what I felt for him went further than I had thought. I didn't love him simply as a best friend, I wanted him to be available. I didn't want to feel like I was imposing on him and Hilde -- mostly Hilde -- when I wanted to go out drinking with him, or tell him about something that was bothering me, or ask him to help me understand what I was feeling.
I was jealous. I know that now.
After three days, I finally found the self-control I needed to tell him I would do it.
I had expected an elaborate Catholic wedding with flowers and candles and priests and prayers and altar boys and incense and the whole nine kilometers, but they had chosen something small and simple. A handful of friends and a couple of her relatives. Not half an hour from the bridal march to the recessional. He was handsome, if a bit uncomfortable, in his dark blue tuxedo, his braid hanging down his back in a soft, shining chestnut fall, neatly tied with a violet ribbon that matched his eyes. The ribbon was what I took when he asked me what I would like as a souvenir. She was lovely in her simple, white dress. They said their vows. Exchanged rings. Kissed.
The whole time I felt disassociated from myself -- as if I was standing a meter or two away from my body, watching, moving it through the motions of the ceremony and the reception with marionette strings.
Fortunately, I had been trained well. That training helped me hold myself together well enough that I made it through the weekend without announcing that I felt this was all wrong. It also helped me pretend to sleep on the flight back to Earth so Relena wouldn't bother me while I tried to understand why I felt like there was an empty place inside of me beneath the violet ribbon I had folded and put in my jacket's breast pocket.
I still didn't understand, though. And when I got back to Earth there was another trip to plan and secure and Relena and I got back into the routine of being lovers and hiding it and I mostly forgot about that little hole.
It didn't go away though.
I have come to believe that, at first, Relena thought or hoped I was struggling with the idea of marriage and the whole concept of being that tied to someone. She was right in thinking that if I ever took that step it would be as binding to me as a mission -- do or die. But by the time six months had passed, she knew it was something else.
I remember it very well. We were alone on a shuttle between L1 and L3. She was scheduled to give a speech about incentives for economic development at an L3 Colony Council session. We were both tired from two days of non-stop meetings, photo-ops and press conferences. I was staring out the window, watching the stars slide past the shuttle's wing and contemplating nothing -- simply letting my mind run idle for a few hours.
That's when she said, "Heero, who is it that you love more than me?" Very simple. Very direct. She knew I wouldn't be offended by it. In fact, she knew I appreciated directness.
Of course, I told her there was no one. And while I now know that wasn't true, I don't consider what I told her a lie. It isn't a lie when you tell someone what you sincerely believe to be the truth, even if you find out later that it isn't the truth.
She looked a little confused then. "You look like you're telling the truth, but I know there's someone else." She couldn't explain how. It was just a feeling. But suddenly I knew she was right. I just didn't know who. Or maybe I was afraid to look too closely because I had a feeling I wouldn't like what I found.
But I knew she was right.
The hole inside me became a hole in our relationship. We fell out of sync. Words that had been friendly jokes became barbs. Looks that had been endearments became daggers in the heart. The secret touches and glances stopped. The things that we had once done for each other willingly became chores that we tried to avoid.
Not all at once.
No, nothing so obvious. We came undone millimeter by millimeter until, without warning...
We were on the same flight a year later. She suggested we take a break from each other for a month. Nothing hard and final, just room to think and try to understand why what had been so good for nearly three years was starting to fall apart, and how to fix it. She said she still felt like there was someone else. Maybe, she said, maybe I needed to find out who it was. Maybe some time to think would help.
I didn't like the idea, but I agreed. She was right that our relationship was coming apart and that we needed to fix it before it weakened to the breaking point. I didn't think distance was the way to do that, but I didn't want to argue with her about it. If distance was what she wanted, I would give it. I looked at the extended tour of the Colonies she had coming up and laid out a month-long security check to look for weak spots, places to slip through the lines, risks along the various travel routes.
I assigned myself to do it.
She was right about one thing. The time alone gave me time to think, and plenty of it. All those hours traveling alone from place to place, looking at blackness through shuttle windows or sitting alone in a hotel room or eating alone at a restaurant forced me to look at and begin to understand the things I had been avoiding. It made me see the hole again. It made me see who and what had caused the hole. It made me scared when I looked at the hole and saw how big it was.
The last stop on the tour was L2. I was walking to the hotel, thinking about calling him to get together for a few drinks somewhere, but wondering if I really should -- really dared. The understanding that had shown me its broad outlines and made me uncertain about everything distracted me as I walked. I bumped into someone and looked up to find lovely violet eyes under jagged bangs and the rakish grin I always loved to see, even if I had never told him so.
The grin became surprise, a flash of uncertainty, then returned to make sure I knew he didn't quite mean it the way it sounded when he asked, "What the Hell are you doing here, Heero?"
It took me a few seconds to remember. "Advance scouting." Heero no baka. I laughed a silent, bitter laugh in my head as I realized I was retreating into the same old pattern of hide and seek, setting myself up to be the hunted.
"Aa. Wanna get a beer somewhere?"
That was exactly what I had wanted to do, and he was the one I had wanted to do it with... But as he asked I caught the way I had been thinking about his eyes and his grin and remembered the violet ribbon that was tied around the chain with my dog tags on it, resting against my skin as we spoke -- and the pieces that had been assembling themselves in the edges of my mind for three weeks.
A number of those assemblies of pieces suddenly joined together, and I saw enough of the picture to make me more than a little nervous. I wanted him to be happy. I would risk my life to save his. I wanted to talk to him more often than we had in the past. I really liked the way he looked. I didn't want to feel like I was sharing him with anyone or taking him away from someone else when he was with me. I liked being with him. I liked having him near me. What I felt for him was at least as strong as what I felt for Relena on all those fronts.
I could guess what the rest of the picture might be, but I chose not to. There was no need to act yet. This was only the beginning of an understanding and I was probably, I hoped, jumping to the wrong conclusion. I had time. It would be better to have all the pieces in place before acting. Then I could act from certainty.
All that happened in maybe two seconds.
It was an overwhelming feeling.
I don't know if he saw a hint of it in my face, but he changed tack. He took my bag from my hand before I could stop him and said, "You look beat. C'mon. Where're you staying? I'll help you get settled in, then we can plan from there."
A plan. He knew I liked to have a plan. It wasn't the most thought-out plan we had ever built together, but it was a plan nonetheless. Go to the hotel. Get unpacked. Extend the plan after I had a chance to think. It would work well enough and it gave me something solid to hang the next hour or two on while I tried to get oriented to the new ideas running through my head.
Or maybe they were old ideas that had been there all along and they seemed new because I was truly looking at them for the first time.
It was nearly nightfall. We went to the hotel. I checked in and we went upstairs and I began unpacking while working on the rest of the plan. I decided try to get rid of him politely so I could spend the evening rearranging the pieces in my mind to find a different view of things. "Do you need to call Hilde? Let her know when you plan to be home or something?" I asked as pulled my bathroom kit out of my bag.
The grin I had been quietly enjoying, even if I didn't show it and even if the fact that I enjoyed it did scare me, disappeared. I wondered if he had seen through my rather transparent attempt.
"We, uh, we had an argument."
I paused for only a second, then turned to the sink, laying out my toothbrush and toothpaste, stealing a quick glance in the mirror. "You left her?" I knew I should have been upset by the thought, but I wasn't. That and the tiny shot of adrenaline that I felt kick into my body as I asked the question were more pieces sliding into place. Unfortunately, they fit the answer I didn't want to consider.
"Just for a couple of days. We argue sometimes. I stay away for a few days until one of us figures out they were wrong." I had a feeling I knew which one of them always decided he was wrong. "Then we make up and things get back to normal." He shrugged as if it was nothing unusual.
Maybe it wasn't. Maybe Relena and I should do that more often. Maybe not the argue part, but take a short break from each other. Maybe she was right and this month of separation was making up for all the times we hadn't taken a break. Maybe we could do it his way in the future and avoid long, confusing, frightening divisions like this one.
My voice sounded hollow and disappointed in my ears. Maybe, I thought, I am lying to myself.
He didn't seem to notice.
"Need a place to stay?" The words rolled off my lips as if someone else was saying them. I struggled not to scream, "No, I didn't mean that," in their wake.
It was surprisingly and disconcertingly easy.
It was harder not to show relief when he said, "Nah. I'm staying..." Then harder still not to show happiness and fear at once when he trailed off and said, "Uh. Yeah. ... That is, if you don't mind."
I was in so deep my only choice was to swim. I fell back on the automatic, polite responses I had learned over the course of five and a half years working for a diplomat. "I wouldn't have asked if I minded." The truth and a lie in the same words. It was definitely both.
He grinned again. "It'll be just like old times. Oh, and dinner's on me."
"Aa." I knew better than to argue with him about dinner. For one thing, I knew letting him buy would make him feel like we were even. For another, he knows the best places to eat on L2 -- and they weren't places most visitors would ever find.
We had a good meal and a good time talking. The beer left something to be desired. That wasn't unusual for me on L2, though. As usual, the company more than made up for it.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped by a homeless shelter run out of the back of a church and picked up his stuff. A couple of days worth of clothes plus a toothbrush, a razor and two bottles each of shampoo and conditioner, all in a beat up gym bag. I didn't ask about his choice of accommodations and he didn't volunteer any information, which was unusual for him. But I understood without the explanation. It was cheap, easy and familiar. I made a mental note to remember that if I ever needed a discrete place to stay while on a mission.
We went to bed that night, me wearing a tank top to hide the ribbon on my tag chain and feeling more than a little discomfort because I really wanted to reach across the scant centimeters separating us and hold him and couldn't -- wouldn't let myself -- understand why. I tried to convince myself that it was because I was used to holding Relena in bed. A habit seeking an outlet.
We lay there after we turned off the lights, talking off and on. He asked about Relena. I told him we were fine and that I was prepping security for her upcoming tour of the Colonies. The latter was entirely true, but I had begun to have doubts about the former. We talked about woman troubles. He and Hilde got along okay except for the occasional arguments. He didn't volunteer any details of what came between them and I didn't pry. After an hour, I could hear his voice beginning to blur with sleep and I realized I had remembered that he usually talked himself to sleep, often falling off mid-word. It was one of his habits that had annoyed me to no end during the war. In that hotel, I had been listening for it. I had wanted to hear it again after all those years. Five minutes later, the soft snore began.
I closed my eyes and let the sound lull me to sleep.
He helped me with the security check. I was really better at that kind of thing than he was. I kept up with all the latest technology and tactics. But his mind worked different than mine, and he came up with ideas I never would have thought of, and he knew the ins and outs of L2 a Hell of a lot better than I did.
The afternoon of the third day, he called Hilde from a pay phone along the motorcade route we were inspecting. I kept a discrete distance, but my ears are too sharp for my own good. I heard as he apologized for "being a pig-headed ass" about how to arrange the pots in the cabinet, sounding suitably repentant. It seemed like a silly thing to argue over, but I didn't want him to know I had been eavesdropping, so I didn't ask.
As I lay in bed that night, painfully alone, and thinking I must be crazy to feel the way I did, the last pieces of the puzzle dropped into place and I faced the answer to Relena's doubt. All the times we had held each other or kissed or made love, I had never felt that sense of heiwa that I had once and briefly felt in his arms -- that I still remembered and wanted every time I thought of him. In our month of "distance", I had never felt the pain of separation from her the way I felt it from him after just a few hours. I really did love someone else more than I loved her. And I wanted to be with that person. I still wasn't sure what else I wanted, only that I wanted to be able to find him simply by turning around or looking across the room or reaching across the bed.
But he wasn't there and there was nothing I could do about it.
It wasn't so much the idea that I loved a guy more than I loved Relena -- or even that it was him in particular that I loved. I knew it would take time before I could accept either idea completely, but I knew that, given time to become accustomed to them, I would.
The problem was that he was married to Hilde and loved her and there was no way in Hell that I was going to come between them. He took the commitment he had made far too seriously for me to run roughshod over it in an attempt to make myself happy. If I did that, he would always have regrets, regardless of which choice he made. I didn't want that. I would be miserable every day of my life that remained before I would do that to him.
I loved him that much.
And with that thought, I knew I was crazy.
I spent hours that night trying to understand how I had fallen in love with him. In the end, I realized it hadn't been anything as drastic as falling. There had been the initial lurch that I hadn't understood or noticed because it happened during the war when all Hell was breaking loose around us and nothing short of the sun going nova could have distracted me from my mission. After that, I had slowly floated deeper and deeper. Or maybe it is more correct to say that I grew to love him little by little. Even now, I don't think of it as a bad thing, like a fall. No. I grew to love him, and that is why my feelings for him are so binding, like a vine that has become part of the tree because they have grown together.
I did very little sleeping that night. Fortunately, my body is designed to operate acceptably for up to three days without sleep.
We finished the security check the next day. I paid him the same rate I would have paid any local consultant I hired. He didn't want to accept the money. I insisted. I would have paid anyone else for the help he provided. There was no reason I shouldn't pay him just because we were friends, and just because we were friends was no reason for him to refuse.
Finally, I pulled out my palm comp, tapped the transaction icon I had prepared at breakfast that morning, and told him the money was in his account. He could keep it or give it to the homeless shelter or cash it out and use it to light his fireplace or whatever else he wanted to do with it. Then my miniscule diplomatic skills kicked in and I hinted that my budget might be cut if I didn't use the money I had allocated. It wasn't true, but I only hinted.
It worked. He fumed a bit, but he knew I had won the argument. A minute later he was smiling and patting me on the back and wishing me a safe trip back to Earth. And for me, the really beautiful thing about it was that he meant it. Sixty seconds earlier he had been so angry he had wanted to punch me in the jaw. Now he was my best friend and was hoping I would get in touch when Relena came through in a few weeks so we could go out for a few drinks and a good reminisce.
I silently noted one more thing about him that I had never consciously considered, but which was part of who he was and why I loved him.
I resisted the urge to hug him. In part because I wasn't sure I could, or that I really understood what I felt. In part because I knew it would surprise him and might reveal too much about how I thought I felt, breaking my promise not to come between him and Hilde.
Who was I kidding? I was afraid. Afraid I might lose control. Afraid he might guess. Afraid I might be wrong. Afraid I might do something that would make him angry with me permanently. But it was a healthy fear, I think.
It is ironic that, while L1 is the Colony closest to Earth and L2 the farthest, they are closer to each other than any other pair of Colonies, floating on opposite sides of the moon from each other. Still, the shuttle from L2 to L1 takes longer than the run from L3 or L4, the next closest colonies. The physics of getting around the moon while conserving energy is counterintuitive. And for those traveling from L2 to Earth, the layover at L1 is always four hours or more. I had plenty of time to catch up on lost sleep and think.
I didn't do much sleeping, but when I finally arrived on Earth and walked off the shuttle and out to the waiting car, I was ready for Relena's question. As the driver wove us through the streets of Johannesburg to the ambassador's mansion where Relena was staying for the month -- she was mediating a land-use negotiation between half a dozen not-quite-warring clans -- I wondered what I was going to say.
"Did you find any answers?" she asked as we sat together in the receiving room of her suite after dinner.
I looked at my hands in my lap. "Aa."
She caught my tone. Knew I wasn't happy with what I had found. She skipped the second question, "What?", and went to the third.
"Who?" The quiet, soft Relena voice. What I had always thought of as the child Relena voice.
"Relena, I love you. I really--" I stopped, seeing her face. She was waiting for the answer to her question. I struggled for a moment, not wanting to hurt another little girl, not wanting to put us apart, not wanting to admit the truth of what I had found even though the picture was complete and hanging before me and I couldn't ignore it any longer.
Not wanting to end what had been one of the best relationships in my life.
That last thought, in the past tense, made me realize it was already too late. Out of instinct I groped for the quiet loneliness that I had known too well when I should have been a child, which had served me well in the hard times before and would serve me well in the hard times to come. I found it more easily than I had expected. I wrapped it around me, insulating myself from what I was about to do, and in my quiet, unaffected soldier voice answered. "Duo."
I waited for I am not sure what. Shock? Anger? Hurt? Ridicule?
It didn't matter. I had armored myself against everything with my familiar cloak of loneliness.
It did matter. But, with the aid of loneliness, the wounds would be so deeply buried that I would only feel them in nightmares and unsettled dreams.
Eventually, I heard her say, "Let's go to bed."
I looked at her. She had the calm, sad expression on her face that she had worn during the war when everything she had touched had fallen apart around her. Now it was happening again, and just as I had reached for the comfortable cloak of the lonely soldier, she had gone back to the past for the inwardly weeping pacifist who showed the world a strong face.
It hurt. Both of us.
"One last night together," she said.
"Heero, I won't be second. I deserve better than that. Anyone does."
I nodded. "Aa. You do. But I am not going to do anything about--"
The soft voice again. "I won't be second, Heero, and I can't ask you to not love him. I understand. I should have... Heero, I've known I wasn't first in your heart since three months after we started dating. After he got married I though... I'm sorry. I should have told you before."
"Aa." I wasn't going to tell her she shouldn't have, because she should have. She shouldn't have put up with me and my ignorance -- or was it ineptitude, or maybe just plain blindness -- that long. She should have told me and sent me packing then. It would have hurt, true, but not like this.
I held her that night. She offered more, but I couldn't, not knowing what I had learned -- how I felt about him. She was right. She deserved someone who loved her first. I wasn't going to take advantage of her again.
I explained that to her and she kissed me and smiled bittersweet. "Bastard. Trying to make me take you back by being honorable."
I wasn't and we both knew it, but somehow the words made me feel better. In coming apart, we had rediscovered the roots of soft friendship we had once shared. With a little care, we might be able to nurture that back to life.
It still hurt, though.
During the first war, when everything was looking its worst and I was ready to go out on a suicide mission and not come back because, secretly, I had endured all I could, Quatre told me, "If you want to see the sun rise over the ocean, you have to cross the desert." I pointed out that the nearest desert was over a thousand kilometers away while the ocean was visible from the window. But I did find a way to complete the mission without dying.
After Relena and I... After we ended... I felt like I was in the middle of the desert. And I knew there was no ocean over the horizon. There would be no sunrise. Only the long, hot noon beating down on me. Alone.
In a word, I was depressed. I guess that is normal. I had been alone before, though. I knew I would survive.
I stayed on through the Colony tour because I had done all the preliminaries for it, then I transferred back to the only place I had ever vaguely thought of as "home" -- L1. Relena would have let me stay as her head of security, but I didn't want to have her in front of me all the time, reminding me of what I had once had but couldn't hold because I had been too stupid and too afraid to look at what I really felt until it was too late.
The tour was also a good opportunity to size up her new head of security and make sure he wasn't going to get her killed. He was a bit in awe of me at first. A lot of people are. I have found that ignoring it and going on with business as usual is the most effective way to overcome it. By the end of the month he was calling me "Yuy" and I was calling him "Barrins" and he wasn't afraid to tell me I was doing something stupid when I did something stupid to test him. And I was comfortable leaving her life in his hands. If I hadn't been, I would have told the Preventers to find someone else.
I think she knew that. I knew that, somehow, after all that had happened between us, she still trusted me completely.
At the end of the tour, on the shuttle to L1, where I would get off and Relena and her entourage would stay on for the drop to Earth. That is where I first heard it. It was in the background and, for some reason, I tuned it in and heard the words and almost laughed. It was the perfect song for me and the way I felt. I had already attached the word to myself and my brain stored the tune and the lyrics and played the song back for me frequently in the years after. It was the simple, familiar explanation.
I was crazy. Crazy for feeling depressed. Crazy for wanting to be with him. Crazy for loving him. There were worse things in the world to be. At least I had a sense of humor about it, though that probably meant I was crazier than I thought.
I kept this opinion and my reasoning to myself. I wasn't sure anyone else would understand and I didn't want to try to explain it when they didn't or correct them when they misunderstood.
Relena would have understood, but I was still sore from our separation and wasn't ready to talk with her about it -- about him. I wondered if she was crazy for thinking she could hold me all that time when she knew I loved someone else but I was too blind to see it.
I didn't know. I still don't know. But I knew I was crazy, just like the song said.
I didn't want to sit behind a desk, so I requested and was given a field role, doing undercover operations, investigations, surveillance, and occasional security work, but I drew the line at wet work. Yes, even in a world at peace, security agencies sometimes have to kill people. It is always a last resort. We don't prevent anyone from talking against the peace, but if we find hard evidence that they're beginning to arm themselves or preparing to commit violence, we stop them. Preemptively so they don't start another war. It may sound harsh -- it is harsh -- but the only way to keep the peace in a world without armies is with an invisible army. And the only way for an army to stay invisible is to act before it has to show itself.
I did a few behind-the-scenes checks for Relena's travels, but was careful to avoid anything that put me in direct contact with her. Except once. Four months after moving to L1. Half the security team for the Inter-Colony Trade Agreement negotiations on L1 ate fugu that wasn't properly prepared, so the Preventers called in everyone with security experience to fill in for them. I asked Barrins to put me on the floor instead of in the group of bodyguards that would be hanging close to Relena.
I assumed he agreed because I had asked him. Later that evening, as I saw them dancing, together, the way she held him, the way he leaned forward to whisper to her, I knew she had fallen in love with her head of security again.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. The head of security's bed was always in a room that adjoined hers or, if that wasn't available, on the sofa in the outer room of her suite. Always sat next to her on the shuttle, checked her room at least three times during the night, sat in on most of her meetings. They would have spent a lot of time together, seen a lot of each other, got to know each other. I knew because it was exactly how we ended up together, from a purely mechanical perspective.
I still don't know why we ended up together emotionally.
I spent five seconds too many watching them. He caught me staring and nodded faintly, waiting for my reaction. So he knew about Relena and me. Well, I didn't mind. I nodded back, tossed him a tiny smile and disappeared into the crowd, watching for anyone who shouldn't be there, trying to listen in to three or four conversations at once. I wasn't going to get in his way. I hoped they worked out better than she and I had.
But I wasn't particularly effective at what I was trying to do. All I could hear were the words, "Crazy. Crazy for feeling so lonely..."