The boy sat in the small lunch room, eating cereal and watching techs straggle in, in ones and twos, aiming for the coffee pot in the small kitchenette. They gave him quick little glances if they saw him in his little corner, shadowed slightly by the television just overhead. He didn't glance back because when he did they would usually pick up their pace and either disappear into the kitchenette or leave the room entirely. It had been like this for three days now, ever since he got the Gundam. Won the Gundam. Everyone avoided him, dropping their voices to whispers when he was around. If they were forced to work with him they put on a professional front, some more strained than others. Even Mike had started to act differently. Once jovial and friendly he was now subdued and gave the boy wary looks as if he was afraid of him.
It made the boy uneasy. He didn't desire their friendship but they were building his Gundam. He needed to trust them. They might not do anything to sabotage the Gundam but they might try to sabotage him. The boy was on guard against it even as he was confused by it. They were the people he was fighting for, so didn't they have every right to sabotage him if they felt he wasn't the right one? Dr. J said not to worry about it. Dr. J said that people were just reevaluating him and they would get used to him in time and come to accept him. In the meantime, Dr. J had said. Just continue training and learning and let them come to their own decision. That was the best approach, the boy felt. It made sense. Still the boy kept the gun close to his side. For what, he didn't know. Even if they attacked him, if he shot them…well…what did he have to live for after that? All by himself he couldn't protect anyone from anything.
The boy sighed and spooned milk from his bowl and then drizzled it back in. Mitsuyo was gone too. Somewhere. Dr. J had told him not to worry about it. That Mitsuyo would be taken care of though what exactly he had meant by that, the boy couldn't tell. Then there was Howell and Domo too. He couldn't prove that Howell had done anything. Domo's laptop had disappeared from his room so, by extension, he couldn't prove that Domo had done anything either. That was another thing Dr. J had told him not to worry about. He was putting a lot of trust in Dr. J, the boy realized—but also that he had to trust someone.
He finished his cereal, draining the milk which was slightly sour but the last of it and wouldn't do him any harm. Then he sat, unsure of what to do with himself. It was too early yet to go to Wing. No one would be there, or at least not awake enough to start any real work. Maybe he could work out, or go see if Dr. J was in his office. The boy went to the sink, a techie was in there, Akira, making coffee and watching him from the corner of his eyes. The boy pretended he didn't notice and washed the bowl and set it to dry before going out into the corridor. Dr. J wasn't in his office and the tiny weight room was grey and quiet, the treadmill in the corner reminding him of Hana. It pressed heavily on him for some reason. It shouldn't. Hana's death wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last and it was stupid not to use the weight room because he felt guilty.
Still the boy left and found himself wondering to the med room. It was small but close enough to Wing's hangar to be useful in an emergency. There was a window in the door, too, but a small bar at the top and too high for the boy to look in, even on his toes. Instead he quietly opened the door. There was an old man lying on the bed. No, it was Domo, the boy realized with a startled blink. There was barely anything left to him he was pale and sunken in and seemed dead but for the machine hooked into him, slowly beeping with his pulse. Howell was there too, sleeping, arms crossed on the mattress pillowing his head and strands of blond hair were coming out of his braid. How long had he slept there, the boy wondered. And why? It couldn't be comfortable and sleeping next to Domo wasn't going to make him any better.
The monitors beeping increased slightly and Domo sucked in a rattling breath to cough it back out again but weakly, as if had barely any strength even to breathe. His eyes opened, dark brown and bright against the paleness of his face. The boy felt absurdly as if Domo had snuck up on him, catching him unawares, but tried not to let that show, instead folding his arms over his chest. A thin smile lifted the corners of Domo's mouth and his fingers twitched. Howell stirred, opening his eyes but looking away from the boy, instead running a narrow hand over Domo's pale bald head.
"Why do you hang on, sweetheart?" Howell murmured. Domo said nothing, didn't even look at Howell, instead just continued to stare at the boy as if it were a challenge. The boy stared back and soon Howell had turned to look at him too and straightened in surprise. There were bags under his eyes and he looked haggard as well, but he smiled in that small bitter way, as if Domo's personality was rubbing off on him.
"Hello, kodomo," he said. "Come to kill me?"
And in that moment the boy knew without a doubt Howell was guilty. For whatever reason Howell had programmed those bugs into the test and made the boy fight that much harder to win.
"No," the boy said, coming into the room and shutting the door. He couldn't say why he had come and so he didn't, instead he came to the bedside and stared down at Domo, flexing his fingers absently. He wanted to do something. Felt as if he should do something but he wasn't sure what to do. He had never seen a person die like this before. So slowly. He thought he would prefer to be shot in the head. Domo's smile seemed to deepen and he blinked in a slow way, as if he was trying to tell the boy something.
"I had to," Howell said, stroking Domo's head. "I couldn't let him go back to that. I couldn't let him die like that."
"I know," the boy said, because all of a sudden he did, and all of a sudden what Howell had done didn't matter. In the end he had the Gundam anyway. Still… "Stay away from Wing," he said.
"Of course," Howell said. "I plan to go back to L-3 and immerse myself in communications there. It's what I'm good at. What I'm best at, if truth be told. Nattering at people." Domo's smile shifted, so that it reached his eyes and it was an expression both familiar and one that the boy couldn't remember. He felt on the verge of understanding something. Something important. But he couldn't. Howell turned his attention on him.
"I'm—we're glad you have the Gundam. I want you to know. We knew you could." Here Domo snorted and Howell smiled and said. "Or at least we hoped." His smile faded and he looked away. "Hana's death was unfortunate."
All deaths were unfortunate, the boy wanted to say. Even Domo's. He was suffering, obviously and death would be easier to bear, the boy guessed. But Domo was intelligent—and even if he was as dumb as a brick, Howell still cared for him so that was enough reason not to die; yet he would anyway. The boy wished he could stop it somehow. He wished he had the power to shoot people back to life…but that definitely wouldn't save the colonies. The room was silent then, except for the beeping. After a moment Domo stirred weakly and grunted again, soft and insistent, fingers twitching as he glanced at Howell and then at something beyond him. Howell blinked at him a moment and then said:
"Oh right." As he turned away Domo rolled his eyes. Howell was soon back with Domo's laptop which he held out to Heero with the ghost of a smile back on his face.
"Sorry that I took it from your room. Domo wanted to put some programs in for you to learn with before it was…" he paused, seeming to choke on the words. His smile disappeared and came back again and his eyes became glassy and he blinked hard, shaking his head. The boy took the laptop, holding it under his arm and glanced at Domo who was still staring at him. He nodded then and started to leave but Domo said:
It was a whisper and the boy had barely heard it. When the boy turned back, Domo's eyes were closed as if even that small effort had exhausted him. The boy was unsure why Domo wanted him to stay. He couldn't do anything to help. It seemed illogical somehow. A misuse of resources. Still, there was no harm in staying, It wasn't as if he had something better to do at the moment. The boy looked around for a chair, and, finding none, perched on the end of the bed, kicking his feet idly at the metal bedpost. Howell glanced at him, then glanced away. Domo had his eyes closed for so long the boy thought he was asleep but then slowly he opened them again, watching him in a heavy lidded way. The monitor continued to beep in the stillness, something unidentifiable whirred and Domo took a deep breath.
Bored and a little restless, the boy settled the laptop on his knees and opened it, booting it up. It chimed pleasantly at the login screen. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do. Explore the programs, maybe. Really anything to keep his fingers busy. The wallpaper was still the same; that square big brown thing with teeth and beedy black eyes.
"What is that?" the boy asked. Howell chuckled softly.
"That," Howell said. "Is a Domo-kun."
"Oh," said the boy, glad to at least have a name. He filed it on memory just in case it popped up later.
"It's was a fairly popular kami in pre-colony Japan. It was supposed to bring good luck or money or frighten away evil, or something quaint like that- at least according to the packaging." Howell smiled and looked at Domo as if sharing some private joke. "Whatever it was it became fairly popular as a toy and ramen line in L-1, oh about seventeen, eighteen years ago."
Which would have made Domo about seven at the time, the boy guessed. Was Domo named after the kami or did he adopt the name himself? The boy didn't really know and didn't expect to know. It was an idle curiosity that in a few hours wouldn't matter anyway.
"I've been to Japan, you know," Howell said, talking, it seemed to some fourth party or maybe to himself. It was hard to tell sometimes. "It's beautiful," the scientist continued. "Gentle mountains, cities of metal and glass, thick green forests, beautiful ocean views..." He sighed deeply. "Don't get me wrong, the colonies are my home but there are some things that just can't be manufactured in the depths of space."
The boy had seen Earth, of course, pictures and movies from the linkup and in various classrooms. Even Odin had talked of it fondly once or twice. The boy had only gotten a real sense of it in Howell's test program. He wanted to go there some day. He would go there some day with Wing but then there would be shouting and bullets and death.
"I had hoped to take you there one day," Howell said softly, voice wavering, talking to Domo, obviously.
"Why don't you show him your simulation?" the boy asked, closing the laptop. It felt good to say. A simple equation. True there was a chance that all the equipment had been disconnected but it was likely still around and even then Domo could see Howell's version of Earth on the screen at least.
"It's too bulky to set up in here," Howell said, passing the heel of his hand across his face before blinking and smiling tightly. It wasn't too bulky. It could work, the boy thought, analyzing the room. Things could be taken out temporarily. Stuff could be rearranged. On the other hand that might take too much time. The boy looked at Domo who was staring at the ceiling. He wondered how many times Domo had done just this, staring at a ceiling with machines hooked into him- the steady, irritating beeping noise of the monitor reminding him he was still alive.
"So we'll take him to it," the boy said, tucking the laptop under his arm and sliding off the bed.
"Kodomo… We can't. Unhooking him—Moving him even that far--" Howell closed his mouth and tucked a strand of hair over his ear. Then he shook his head and shook it again.
"He's going to die either way," the boy said, annoyed that Howell couldn't see that.
"Yes…but….even just a few more hours…"
"Why?" the boy asked, not getting it at all. Was it a scientist thing? Howell being Howell? He didn't know. It didn't matter. It was frustrating. What did it matter if Domo died now or a few hours from now? Lingering deaths were stupid. That Domo was even dying was stupid. But stupid or not it was the truth.
"You wouldn't understand," Howell murmured, not looking at him, not even looking at Domo just staring at the sheets. "You're just a kid."
No he couldn't understand. Domo having the chance of seeing something beautiful before he died had more benefit then staring up at the ceiling and listening to Howell cry over him. The boy thought to argue the point but changed his mind. Domo didn't have the time. He would have to do it himself. The boy set the laptop on the floor, went over to the bedside and pulled the plug on the monitor. Howell shot to his feet.
"What are you doing! Stop!"
The boy ignored him, pulling the needle out of Domo's arm carefully. Domo looked at him and seemed to smile. His fingers curled against the sheets. Howell's face changed. The raw emotion in his expression made the boy look away.
"Oh, come on, then," Howell murmured. The boy stepped away as Howell shifted Domo into his arms and picked him up. Domo was taller than Howell and hung awkwardly but Howell didn't seem to have much trouble holding him. Domo's head was on Howell's shoulder, his forehead pressed against the scientist's neck. It was as if all the pieces had come together, the boy thought, unsure even of what he meant. Like he was seeing the whole picture. Something moved in him but the boy couldn't identify it and there wasn't time so he tried to forget about it and turned and lead the way.
The simulation room was empty when they came in. One chair had been taken away and the blood had been cleaned from the floor. It was always that way. He had killed people but he had never cleaned the blood away. He had never carried a corpse. Never sent it to the incinerator to provide fuel for the colony. He wondered if he should, one day- to see what it felt like; to understand.
Howell set Domo in the chair carefully then went to the terminal to set up the program. Fortunately the chair was inclined just enough so that Domo could lay against it and not slide off onto the floor. He looked wilted, dead all ready except for his eyes and the slight trembling of his fingers. Excitement? Fear? The beginnings of a seizure?
"Now would be a really stupid time to die, Domo," the boy said, not completely serious. Domo looked at him and grinned, looking just like he used to for all that his teeth were only a shade whiter than his lips.
"Tomohiro," he said. The boy blinked. A name, obviously. But whose? Domo's? Someone from Domo's past? A name that Domo was giving him? Maybe he was calling someone else. It was impossible to say.
"That's his real name," Howell said. "It's cute, isn't it? At first I thought it was fake because at that time there was this cartoon that was pretty popular. Something like Go Gettar? Or the equivalent? With kids in giant robots or something. I used to watch it once in a while but it came on too early and I--"
"Alec," Domo said. "Shut up." And even though his voice grated he managed to sound fond. It was weird. The boy didn't think he would ever understand. It was an adult thing, the boy realized. He picked the VR helmet off the stool, watching Howell work. After a moment he checked back on Domo to make sure the man was still conscious. He was, and staring at him as if expecting something. If it was a name, the boy couldn't give him one. If it was something else, the boy didn't know what it was.
"It's all ready," Howell said. The boy nodded and held up the helmet.
"Are you ready?" the boy asked. Domo nodded and mouthed: Good bye. The boy nodded slowly to acknowledge that he understood and carefully placed the helmet on Domo's head.
The boy could see Howell's world from the flatness of the computer screen. He remembered the hills sloping into a blue sea, the forest dappled with sunlight. There was a field of flowers the boy hadn't seen, white and red, trembling and bowing with the brush of unheard wind. There seemed to be someone sitting in the middle of the field. A dark haired child. Domo made a strange wheezing sound and it took the boy to realize it was a laugh.
"I told you I would," Howell said, sounding gently amused. The scene moved past the boy, through the forest. A realistic deer startled and bounded further into the gloom. Gradually the forest melted away and they seemed to be in some sort of valley, with mountains green and rugged in the distance. This area was familiar. The boy remembered crossing it a few times, usually under a hail of pitiful gunfire from several bases dotted along the curve of the valley. The bases had vanished. Only knot of houses gleaming in the distance showed any sign of human presence. It was as if Howell had changed the program just to show Domo.
"Is this Japan?" the boy asked. It looked similar to the pictures he'd seen but not similar enough. Howell smiled and shook his head.
"This is Scotland," he said. "Where I grew up."
The boy watched a while longer mildly interested as Howell began to give a sort of tour, explaining places he had lived and talking about what he'd done there. He seemed to be talking half to himself, half to Domo. The boy half listened, absently storing the information just in case he ever ended up there. Domo sighed, distracting him. It was soft and shuddering, seeming to thin before fading into nothing. Howell's voice cracked and he stopped talking, instead bent over, cradling his face in his hands. On the screen, the day slowly faded into twilight. The room was silent. Domo had stopped breathing, the boy realized.
He felt for a pulse on the inside of Domo's wrist but there was none. He was dead. Just like that. A second he was there and the next he wasn't. The boy pulled off the helmet. Domo's eyes were still open, halfway, as if the muscles in his face hadn't yet realized it. At any moment, the boy expected Domo to look up at him, but of course he didn't. There was nothing in him. It was just a body, a corpse, a store front mannequin, except with needle tracks in its arm. A sudden, searing flash of anger overtook him, making his hands shake. He wanted to kill Mitsuyo. He wanted to put the gun to his head and pull so that brains and blood spatter the wall. He wanted to shoot again and again until blood covered the floor, red and gleaming in the light.
Except that he knew that he couldn't. The boy didn't even know where Mitsuyo was and Dr. J had all but said he wasn't to interfere and it wasn't fair. The boy fisted his hands at his sides, feeling helpless and hating it. He wanted to break something, to hurt something but there was nothing and no one here to deserve it.
So he stood, useless and angry and even that feeling faded after a while, leaving a cold stone weighing heavily in his chest. He set the helmet on the stool and listened to Howell cry and waited for something he couldn't name.
Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing but if I did I would make it a blockbuster with such good graphics that it would put Avatar to shame. Pop Culture reference, Oh yeah I went there.
Thanks to my lovely beta West Side and all my lovely reviewers! :) It's nice to know people still care.