First of Five
I didn't understand why Heero wanted to come to this place so badly. Sure, the world was a better place because the Gundams had been built, but it wasn't until we were there, standing atop that windy hill and staring at the five stones that I knew.
It was how he touched the marker. First of five. He ran his fingers along it and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. He touched it like a lover. Like he traced my jaw when he thought I was asleep.
I wondered morbidly if some day there would be five more stones on this hill. One for each of us foolish boys who'd risked our lives fighting in those old geezers' beautiful machines. Would our stones be nameless too? Just numbers engraved instead of letters?
I shoved my hands as far as I could into the pockets of my jeans and fingered a bit of lint as I turned my face upwards. The sky was so very blue above us. Cloudless today, it looked like it went on forever. The wind up here stung my cheeks, and although I hadn't planned to say anything at all, I found myself spitting out a few words. "You had guts, old man," I said to that second smooth block of granite.
I stared at the sky a while longer, waiting for Heero to say whatever it was he'd come here to say, but he remained silent.
"You done?" I asked, squinting through the hazy yellow afterimage of the sky as I looked over at the serious, quiet boy who had become the most important thing in my life. I wanted to leave; walk away from that grassy rise in the middle of nowhere and start my road to forgetting all over again.
"Not yet," Heero answered me quietly.
He knelt down in front of that first marker and I shivered as he brushed his thumb across the curving letter. My head filled with a thousand things I didn't want to think about as I read from his lips the words he whispered to that stone.
'I'm glad I didn't have to kill you.' The wind ruffled his hair, tossing it around and throwing it forward to obscure half his face. He almost looked fifteen again.
'I've learned to smile again.' I saw his lips turn at the corners as if to prove it.
The last thing he said before he rose to his feet and bid that old man goodbye was, 'He reminds me of you.'
It was months before I asked him about it. I'd tried to just put it behind me, but I couldn't get it out of my head. What did I have in common with some broken old man?
"You're beautiful," Heero told me. His speech was slow and heavy; the fingers of sleep already curling around his conscious.
"Yeah, but answer my question," I said.
He drew a deep breath and untangled himself from beneath my arm to rise on one elbow. He stared at me for a long moment, measuring me with the river blue depths of his eyes, then he cupped my cheek in his palm and his lips stretched into one of those strange new smiles that he was growing so fond of giving me.
"I don't understand," I said.
"You don't have to."
"But I want to," I insisted.
"Do you really?"
I nodded because I didn't trust my voice.
"You're brave, you never lie, you prefer to see the good in people, and," he said, as he lay down again and slid an arm across my chest to stay close to me, "you have a smile meant just for me."
I felt ashamed. Mostly because nodding that yes had been the closest thing to lying I'd ever done.
"Did he fu-"
Heero pressed a finger against my lips before I could ask that question.
"Does it matter?" he said, after a long span of silence.
He dragged his thumb across my lower lip, as I said I didn't know.
"Ask me again when you do."
I still didn't know if it mattered when I brought up the subject again. But this time, I had different questions instead of the crude ones spawned by jealousy. This time, all I wanted was to understand the way Heero thought.
He answered everything with unflinching honesty, and although I had correctly anticipated what he'd say, hearing it still made my guts twist.
"If he hadn't, you know..." Died. Passed away. Blown himself to atoms. Sacrificed his life to save Earth. I searched for the right thing to say and failed. "Would you have gone back to him?"
"Why?" I asked. I was thinking, 'What sane person would return to inevitable heartbreak?'
"If you knew I would die in just a few years, would you stop loving me?" he said.
I hadn't thought of it that way. I told him so and he smiled.
I kissed him then. Made love to him right there on the kitchen table. I shook like a virgin when I pulled his pants down and stood between his thighs; hesitating as I wondered if I was only doing this because I needed reassurance that he was mine and mine alone.
But, when his slim legs wrapped around me and he pulled me down on top of him, I kissed him again and decided that I didn't need reassurance. More than anything, I just wanted him to know that I loved him no matter what. I'd never stop loving him.
And if sometimes in the years that followed, the boy in my arms grieved for the first person he'd ever loved, well, I never knew it.