Ok, so this smacked me upside the head.  Had to start it.  I'm a horrible person.  Nyar.  But once it's done I can actually concentrate again on the other fics I'm writing. . .  right?  Right?  ::lip quivers::

Disclaimer: I don't own any sort of rights to Gundam Wing whatsoever.  I'm just borrowing some names and personality traits. . .

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He picked his way across the desert.  Endless miles of hazy heat, like some sick tormented nightmare, where you find yourself alone and facing the prospect of walking until judgment day.  Maybe beyond.  The only sounds he consciously honed in on were the sloshing of the water in the canteens in his backpack.  He had enough for several days.  Enough to live, but not enough to feel sated, and already the parched quality of his throat was making his tongue feel like sandpaper to the roof of his mouth.  He sucked at the inside of his cheeks in hope of moisture.

The worst part about all this was that he had nothing better to do than cross wasteland in search of a base he only somewhat remembered the location of.  He might very well die, but then he had been ready to face death.  The only shame, he personally thought, was that death had never found him.  She had been lucky, all those years ago, and he knew that the first thing he had to do was visit her grave.  His guardian angel.  She wouldn't forgive him if he didn't say hello after all this time.  It had been just shy of a decade since he had left.  Ten years since Relena had died.

Secretly, his viciously atheistic mind had conjured up a picture of her with little angel wings, lying in perfect stasis in a tube underground.  Her spirit was always with him, chiding him every step of his journey until now.  The reason he had decided to come home was because her voice had stopped.  There were no choices to make anymore, no orders to follow.  In the mental silence, Yuy had felt the pull to return to where it had all begun.

She was a rotting corpse under the hot earth in this hell.  There were no wings.  That is, he hoped there weren't.  His father had a tendency to use fresh bodies for strange experimental purposes.  It was a boon that he had taken so little interest in Yuy, else his own son might have been subjected to experiments as well.  Maybe his mother had helped stop him in the beginning, and absentmindedness did the rest after she died.

"God damn you, old man.  I bet you knew it was coming too.  Bastard."  He spat the words out in the silence because he had to say something.  He talked more now that there was no one to hear. 

There was no one to hear, because when the disease struck there had been few survivors.

Governments fight, and governments make weapons, but when the two combine with an explosive and unpredictable leader it ends in tragedy.  It hadn't been Yuy's job to ask questions.  He was never trained for that.  Even as he was sent into the cities with the rest of his squad as a desperate measure to help the dying populace, Yuy still didn't question it.

He had watched hundreds of people die with his very eyes.  He watched as they coughed up blood, as their bodies swelled and discolored.  As they bled from their pores in a sheen of crimson sweat. . .they begged him to kill them and end the misery.  He complied for a few, but there were too many even for him to try to guess who deserved a quick end when he knew he might need those bullets.  He had been a monster because he killed, but now he was a grisly sort of compassion incarnate.  The few survivors, who were unhappy enough to contract the disease and live, proved to be nearly mad from the high fevers they ran and permanently scarred from the violent ripping of the skin that signaled either the end or a breakthrough to health.  There was always the terrible hope and fear that you were one of the "lucky" ones.

But the luckiest of them all were those in the protective suits.

If Yuy had really wanted to die, he would have just broken the seal on his suit.  Why had he wanted to live in this world?  In the back of his mind, Relena whispered to him that he couldn't die.  So he kept going.

He kept going when his orders no longer came.  When the TV no longer broadcast.  When the pyres on which people threw their dead immolated whole cities for lack of a fire department.  When the entire country was cut off from the rest of the world as a dead land.  Maybe someday soon they would try to find the survivors, because the disease burned itself out so quickly.  It mutated so many times, killing millions, and then it was gone.  In just a year an entire continent had been brought to its knees.  Maybe the world too.  He didn't know, and only cared to the extent that he hoped others had suffered, thus proving that they really were a global community.

With no military to guide his actions, he knew that he only had so long before he would be forced to lead his own life in this empty new world.  More often than not people ran from him, dressed as he was in frayed military garb.  It was the military, the government, that had brought this curse, and no one wanted to get near the devils associated with it.

Fine by him.

The lump on the horizon grew bigger.  Maybe he really did have a guardian angel.  To remember the way, backwards, from when he ran at 15 to find a different life for himself, was just short of miraculous.  Then again, his nickname had always been "the perfect soldier."  And it wasn't a friendly expression of envy, it was one of jealous spite from those who couldn't be as outwardly mechanical.  They were wrong, of course, because he was just as human as they, and right now he was feeling very real apprehension.

Maybe an hour past sunset and he would be there.  He would stand at her grave and fall on his knees and cry for forgiveness.  She had stopped talking to him because she was disappointed in him, he knew.

He also knew that he should have died.  He should have joined Relena.

The sun took a long time to set, it seemed to him, but once it did the desert appeared to come alive again.  Scribbling noises, hisses, the sound of sand scraping in the wind—all made him feel less alone.  Life had to go on for everything else.  With most humans gone maybe life would even be better for all the denizens of the planet.  He had heard people be likened to viruses before, and he could understand it.

You went in like an exterminator, one superior officer had told him once, and you find the root of the problem and take care of it.  Killing people is just another extermination job to make sure the functions of society are not interfered with.  We aren't assassins, no, we are social pest control.  He remembered Relena, and what she had said to him about wanting to live just a little longer.  It was amazing her voice hadn't deserted him then.

The moon was so large on the horizon.  He knew it wasn't actually large, simply a trick on the eyes from relative distance to objects and filtered lights.  Or something along those lines.  Science had been his father's forte, and Yuy tried to get as far away as he could from the man, even going so far as to change his name.  It was a good name, Yuy, his mother's maiden name.  For a moment he wished very strongly that she was with him.  When she had died that day, about three weeks before he turned nine, he hadn't missed her.  It was later that the soft pats on the head were missed.  The gentle hugs, too.  She had been frail and the cancer had hit her so very hard.  That's part of why they had moved to the compound, Yuy realized belatedly.  His father had never been the same after she died, throwing himself into finding a cure with all the grief he never expressed.

Yuy had only cried for his mother once.  And he hadn't even finished before he was interrupted.  That was the first time they had really talked. . .

Relena.

No, it couldn't be her.  This ghost was too old.  Not the teen girl that had haunted his dreams and whispered sweet loving things to his tortured brain, but a woman.  The hair that should have been long and flowing, the color of corn with the texture of silk, was matted with oils and looked dull grey in the moonlight.  She should have a white robe, tied with a cord, trailing behind her. . . not a dirt smudged hospital gown with visible holes ripped in the sides.

But the face was the same, and he couldn't deny it seemed like it was her to his rough intuition.  She hadn't noticed him yet.  It was only a matter of time before she did.  His mind frantically scrambled for an explanation, but came back to his conscious thought devoid of answers.  His brain ached, and visions flashed in rapid succession through his memory.

Once he had control of his senses again, he had to confront a face lit up in joy.  It had been so long since he had seen a real smile.  It was unnatural for someone to be so happy.  Her arm gestured for him to come closer as her face turned back to the sky full of stars; no city lights diluted them anymore.

This was madness, he should just end it now.  The gun trained itself on the head of the vision, and he walked closer with the resolve to end things here and gain back the sanity he was sure he had lost.  When she looked back at him, mere feet away, her smile fell only to be replaced by a more subtle one.  Just a pull at the corner of her mouth, really.  She rose from her spot leaning against a low rock and dusted herself off.

"Relena. . ." He felt as if he should apologize now, while the vision was here, instead of to the grave site.  Then again, he didn't know if he would be able to find the grave site. 

Her body shook at the sound of her name.  "I see you've come at last for me.  I waited for you for so long."

The words were right, but the strange gleam and the eerie smile didn't fit his Relena.  Her eyes closed.

"Do you remember me then?"

Those fevered eyes opened again.  "You were sent here, as they always said you would be, because I ran from the room.  They warned me of what would happen.  Those men, they told me that I needed my white coat and to stay in the garden and everything would be ok.  I had to leave, I was so hungry, but there was no one left."  She opened her arms as if to hug him but didn't move from her spot.  "Then I found them, with holes in them, and I knew someday it would be my turn.  I'm the only one left. . ."

His gun lowered.  "Is your name Relena?"

She was singing some sort of song to herself now.  She seemed to be insane, but she had none of the scars that the disease's survivor's possessed.  It was just as if she were in her own little world.  It had to be her, somehow, despite logic dictating otherwise.  He would help her remember.  She had to remember.

"Show me, Relena," he demanded as he caught her arm.  "Show them to me."

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There was light inside of the compound despite his doubt that anything would be working, let alone a generator.  Whatever was left would not last much longer, as the lights flickered in a manner reminiscent of florescent morse code.  He didn't know what it told him other than that he needed to check that generator tomorrow.  Assuming he could find it.

Relena led him along by the hand, having not relinquished it since he had grabbed her.  He wondered when the last time he had touched another person was.  Did he shake someone's hand?  Clap them on the back?  Move a body to the pile?  They were far away memories now, and his head burned with a strange pressure as he walked down the terrible and vaguely familiar halls.

"Here."  She said as she came to a set of laboratories behind glass.  With almost childish simplicity she pressed her face up to the glass and cupped her eyes as if that would allow her to see more.

Yuy tried to make out the bodies with either flare of power through the lights.  There were five. . . ah. . . six bodies.  One of them looked to be fairly healthy despite the long dried pool of blood around it.  There were a couple of other bodies nearer that looked as if they had contracted the disease and died inside.  He pulled at the door to find it securely locked.  Apparently, this room had been sealed to protect the rest of the compound.  Poor bastards.

"Anyone else?"

"No."  She lost interest as he turned away to face her, and looked down at the ground.  "I buried the rest.  There were only a few.  They wanted me to, but I couldn't get inside there.  I apologized to them, but they are still mad.  I told them I'm sorry."  Relena crouched down and shuddered as if she expected to be hit or scolded.

It was so pitiful, and Yuy felt an empathy he had never sensed in himself before.  He could imagine her efforts, dragging out each body and trying to bury it before the animals got to it.  The hours she must have spent alone, screaming her "sorry" to the dead men in the lab.  It was a miracle she wasn't dead herself.

"Is there anywhere to sleep?"

Unfolding slowly from her crouch, she seemed to take a moment to process the question.  Then her eyes lit up.  She took off running away from him, surprisingly fast for seeming so frail.  He followed the sound of her steps, and the occasional pant as she led him far away and back into the center of the complex.

She waited in a doorway for him, her hands on her hips.

"You must take off your shoes."  Obviously his expression had been less than accommodating because she inflated her cheeks in displeasure.  "If you don't take off your shoes you cannot enter."  With a sigh of great suffering, Heero took off his boots and was promptly told to take off the socks as well.  Once he had complied, feet feeling oddly cold on the linoleum floor, Relena grabbed his hand again and pulled him inside.

It was a garden.  As if someone had just taken beautiful rolling grass and lush green trees and simply placed them in the middle of the city.  All around were windows, all but one still intact, and obviously the circle around this miniature park had been to view this lovely addition.  The glass above let in the light, but how did it keep out the heat?  Why was everything so green?  How could there be life like this left without human hands to tend it?

"This is home.  They told me it was mine.  It's ok right?"  Her eyes waited for the approval she needed, even if it was a moot point.

It wasn't his place, but who would come and contradict him?  "It's all yours Relena."

"You can have the blanket tonight.  I'll find another one tomorrow, don't worry.  It gets cold when the birds carry the wind behind them.  I've told them not to bother anymore, but they must make their quotas."

The more Relena talked, the sadder Yuy became.  How would he bring her back?  She needed to remember the truth.  She needed to remember him.  Even if she could not tell him how she survived, then she could at least tell him how she had lived her life from day to day.  It was important to him that she remember the past.  If they could live in the past together then. . .

Then what?  What did he want from this? 

The truth?

His head pounded.  He would drink some water and then sleep.  Most likely it was just dehydration.  When Relena pressed the blanket to him he was so tired he couldn't even think enough to refuse it.

*

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Fire! 

The spray that covered his face startled him awake as he was quickly soaked.  For a moment he had to reorient himself.  There was light overhead, enough to be late morning, and for some reason there were sprinklers going off.  Relena stood with her mouth near the ground, drinking as best she could.  This solved some of the first puzzle about how she had managed these past months alone in the compound.  Here was water.

She saw him sit up among the sprinklers, and waved from her squatting position.  With something along the lines of a waddle, she moved to a bush and got out a mug.  After holding it next to the sprinkler a moment she waddled over and offered him the mug while covering her eyes with one hand.  Rivulets of dirt ran down her hands and legs and the white gown was soaked, but remained opaque.  He accepted the water silently.

After she had rolled around in the grass a bit, she got up, looking mostly clean now, and walked out of the room.  Yuy gave her some time before following the evaporating trail of footprints to the outside.  Now she was on a rock, eyes closed, letting herself dry out.

From the ease with which she had gone about this, he was sure it was a daily ritual.  It seemed like a good enough idea, and he allowed himself to air out, undoing his jacket and tying it around his waist.  Carefully, he chose a spot not too far away and tried to keep an eye out for any change in behavior.  When she did get up, she only stood in the entranceway long enough to grab something by the door.  The black umbrella was a strange contrast in the bright morning light.  She started to walk around the compound to a building off to the side.  Yuy got up and followed, not willing to let her out of his sight.  In the back of his mind he expected her to sprout wings and fly away.  The airy insanity she exuded only further enforced the idea.

She picked her way along a rough path.  There were rocks that had been placed on either side, creating a weaving path, and she followed the sinuous trail.  No doubt she had made this too, as it had little order or purpose, but was still functional.  When they reached the building, he had a flash of memory.  This was the dining hall.  They had brought him down here when they wanted to show him. . . something.

As always, the memory was indistinct.  Incomplete.  And the headache from the night before came back with a vengeance.  Obviously he was dehydrated.  He would get out some water from his supplies soon.

The wind changed to blow against them and Yuy caught snatches of some song Relena was making up about rocks.  It may have seemed unimaginative, but then, there were a lot of rocks and when it filled your vision maybe it filled your mind too after a time.

"Stop!"  Relena did an about face, and he saw her clearly for the first time.  Her face was hollow from what was probably a lack of food, but she didn't seem to be starving.  Sadly, her hair really was a tangled and ratty mess, but then he couldn't exactly claim to have much improvement on her in that department.  Everything else was so shockingly. . . her.  The lips, the nose, the way her ears turned out a little, and the lines of her chin seemed to confirm in his mind that this was without a doubt Relena.  His doubts had been few, but now even the glimmer of distrust was gone.  The only problem were the eyes.

They should have been crystal blue.  Clear and sharp, but they were full of clouds.  The clouds gave her an unfocused look, as if she couldn't see.  The blindness was all in the brain, however, because her lithe movements showed how healthy her body was.

"We must turn around three times and ask permission."  The ridiculous practice happened once, then again, and then they waited.  They waited for a long time.

Finally, Yuy couldn't take it any more.  "When will we get permission?"

She just put a finger to her mouth to signal silence.

After another five minutes of waiting, the sun crested a point on the complex and the doorway lit up.

"Now we may go in."  She folded her umbrella carefully and shook it, as if to get the water off, before she pushed the door open.

The cafeteria was just as he had remembered it, only empty of the masses of people.  The strange salad bar with the sneeze guard, the line where people could pick up food, even the arrangement of the tables was perfectly identical.  Relena didn't stop at any of these, though, and went straight back into the kitchen.

When Yuy bothered to follow, he saw her looking at packages.  She handed two to him and took two for herself.

"Now we must eat here or else they will lock me up again.  I have been a good girl.  I did just as they said.  And we will sit at the second table, because now there are two of us and not just one."  As always there was a strange logic to her actions.

Yuy sat where she directed when they emerged from the kitchen, and he opened his freeze dried food.  The nutrition information claimed it had everything a growing body needed.  It must if she lived of it, but when he bit in he realized it had everything a body needed except for flavor.  There had been thousands of those packages. . . how had they ended up here?  Did someone know that the compound would become isolated? 

He didn't want to consider the implications of that.

"Have you finished it all?  If you don't finish it all then you will get in trouble."

Tired of her tone and irritated at the people who took care of her for instilling such a fear of breaking even the smallest of rules, he tried to help in his own way.  "They changed their minds.  They said we can eat as much as we want."

Relena looked down at her empty packages, with almost comic dismay.  "But I didn't want any of it!"

Yuy wondered if now he would have to force her to eat the packets of flavorless substance.  It was not a happy prospect.

"Let's go then.  There is so much to do today.  I must talk to the Green.  And then we can do whatever you want."  Relena got her umbrella and made sure to step outside before she opened it.  Yuy was left to walk behind her and ponder what 'the Green' could be.

She walked ahead of him, but as the headache worsened, he found himself glancing back.  There were lights, and the muffled sound of long since departed voices. 

He may have screamed.  Yuy didn't know.

He woke up a few hours later, propped up next to the side of a wall with the black umbrella shading him.

*

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"Are you done?"  Relena saw him enter, behind just inside the doorway.  "I get tired too, sometimes, just like that.  When I asked the Green if I should get help, he just told me that you would be ok if I put some shade on you and waited.  He's so wise."

Irritated, and with sunburns still beginning to give a dull ache to his skin despite her shading efforts, Yuy almost snapped at her.  Where would she find help?  The morgue?  Some cacti?  But getting mad would do no good.  It wasn't her fault that he was suddenly experiencing these things.  He knew coming home would be traumatic, but he had no idea that he would experience things like this, or even find Relena alive.

Then again, in his heart hadn't he always known she was alive?

The rush of guilt he felt at not coming back earlier for her was startling.  Plus the headache was surging again.  It took a moment of deep breathing to pull himself back into reality.  Relena looked as if she didn't even notice the emotions that flickered through his eyes.

"What. . . who is 'the Green', Relena?"

For a moment she looked at him with a condescending glare, as if this should have been knowledge he possessed.  "He is my friend.  I've had him since. . . that time."  And without warning she burst into tears and threw herself on the ground.  The sobs kept going as he looked down at her.  When it looked as if she would never stop, he finally relented and awkwardly patted her on the back.  Crying women were not his specialty.

This was just getting more obscure and confusing in his mind, as he tried to put together everything that had been happening and come to some logical consensus all the madness.  If only Relena were not so changed.  What had they done to her in his absence?

Eventually Relena cried herself into exhaustion and went limp on the ground.  Yuy picked her up and carried her inside to the small park space she called home.  He should never have answered the siren song of this place, and chained himself to this crazy woman.  There was no way he could or would abandon her, but living here indefinitely was perhaps not the best choice.  There were better, more lush places they could rebuild.  Yuy saw himself caring for Relena, and even as she was the idea was not unpleasant.  He wanted to give some solace to her, even if she never understood how she had been his comfort for all these years.

"You aren't very squishy."  Relena prodded his chest from her place in his arms.  He set her down but she continued to poke him.  Why did her attention span for aggravating actions seem to span so long?

"Why don't you show me where the power comes from, Relena.  Is there a place that hums, even at night?"  She nodded.  "Take me there."  It was as if he was leading a small child, he thought, as she chewed on her bottom lip and again took his hand. 

They walked down more hallways, until she showed him a door and refused to go any further.

"The Green always told me never to go down there.  It's dangerous.  I won't disappoint him."  She sat in the hallways, legs crossed, and seemed ready to wait.  "I promise to stay right here. . . unless you need help."  The last part was added after some consideration.

Yuy nodded his thanks and opened the door that exposed a staircase.  It was nearly black, as the door automatically swung closed behind him, but he held on to the railing and followed his ears to the generator.  It turned out to be four generators, one of which was already dead and the other three looked as if they were laboring quite hard.  Carefully, and only with the lights their safety lights gave off to guide him, Yuy estimated how many days they would function further.  If he was optimistic, they had another month or two, and at worst only three more weeks.

The hardest part of preparing to leave, that he could see, was finding enough water.  Possibly, Relena would be upset at leaving, but there would be no choice soon.  This oasis was doomed with each faint chug of the monstrous generator triplets.

He picked his way back up the stairs, only stumbling on one step at the bottom.  It turned out to be a leg.  Well, it made sense, if she had never come down here she wouldn't have found this unfortunate.  His steps were brisk to rejoin the living on the surface.  Relena was rocking back and forth, her eyes rolling anxiously in her head.  She leapt up and clung to him, shaking violently, when he got near.  Once again, Yuy was at a loss.

"I thought you had left me again."

The words sent a thrill up his spine as he wondered if she had remembered, finally, that they had met before.  Grabbing her chin, he pointed her face up at him only to find a blank and confused stare.  Disappointment deflated him and made him tired.  She didn't know what she was saying.  He wanted to shake her, as if the shock would restore what she had lost, but as he restrained himself he felt his head begin to ache again.

. . . there she stood, eyes downcast, crying.  Her hand reached for his, and he just looked at it.  It took a while for her to realize his inaction, but rather than giving up she simply pressed his hand to hers forcibly and wrapped her fingers around his. 

"They're coming for us.  We can't hide forever."

This time, when the lights cleared from his eyes, he was face up on the floor in the hall with Relena sitting on his chest.  It was difficult to breathe.  He leaned up, but she didn't move, choosing to stare at him intently instead.

"Are you sick?"

Her solemn tone was a whisper that didn't even have the strength to echo in the empty hallway.

"If you are sick, I can share my pills with you."

Something clicked in his brain.  "Pills?"  Relena nodded.  "What sort of pills?"

Again she gave him the look of one who cannot believe they were asked such a moronic question.  "The pills I must always take everyday no matter what.  They are there to make me better, ever since. . . that time."  The tears were gathering again.  He sat up quickly, displacing her, and grabbing her arms to purposefully startle her.

"Show these pills to me."

Relena sniffed all the way back to the park area.  It was getting to be early evening.  The day had been wasted by his alarming fainting spells.  What if this was a sign of something worse wrong with him?

"Here they are."  She deposited about five full and one partially full bottle of small oblong capsules.

Yuy was no chemist, nor a pharmaceutical expert, but he did have a basic knowledge of the sorts of drugs he had to look out for in his job.  Hired assassins needed to be able to tell a poison from a narcotic, and what he was holding in his hand was something he vaguely recalled being instructed about a long time ago.  These pills would cause the user to experience symptoms very much like those of a PCP addict, only without the aggression.  No wonder Relena was psychotic, if she had been given hallucinogenic substances.  First thing was to stop this.

Of course, she wasn't about to let him walk away.  He only made it to the door before she threw herself in front of him to block him.

"You can't take it away!  I have to have my pills!  Of all the rules I cannot break, this is the one that I mustn't ever ever break or else they will come for me, and you too, and then the pain will never end!  You must see!"

There was no more patience in Yuy, as his anger at the doctors who medicated her gave him an acidic edge.  He tossed her aside from the doorway, noting how thin she was (now explained by the hyperactivity and reduced appetite from the drugs) and she hit and clawed at him as he walked outside with her precious drugs.

When he began to crush each pill into fine dust by grinding rocks on top of them, then the real fits began.  She hit, cried, screamed, threw rocks, but he ignored the pain and noise to fulfill his mission.  If he threw them somewhere, she would simply look everywhere until she found them.  He had to destroy them and hope there were no more.

Of course she would never trust him again after this.

And he would have to help her as she went through the painful withdrawal process.

But in the end, maybe she would get better.  And in his mind getting better was becoming synonymous with 'remember him.'  In the end, she would thank him.

He hoped.

*

*

*

The first few days were rough.  He didn't see her, even at night, because he didn't want to disturb her and so he slept in a corridor and got food at times she didn't allow herself to enter the cafeteria.  Her routines were so strictly set that it was easy to allow her space.  Often he saw her standing near where he had crushed her pills, just staring at the mix of dirt and drug.  She did this the second day for nearly four hours.

When she didn't come out the fourth day for food, he sought her out.

On the grass, damp from the morning spray of water she hadn't dried off, she looked nearly dead.  Pale, shaking, eyes dark from lack of sleep, a ghost of a ghost.  This was the corpse Yuy had pictured in his mind, but her moans made the scene more grisly than the peaceful ideal.  It looked like she had been crawling around, as there were some ripped up portions of grass. 

Her bloodshot eyes appealed to him for comfort, sharper than he had ever seen them before, almost hateful.  She reached up a hand, which he took, and she pulled herself up slowly with a determination that was impressive.

"Take me to the Green."  Her chapped lips look like they had broken a few times and bled.  He wondered if he shouldn't have at least kept some to offset this terrible reaction her body was exhibiting.

"I don't know what you are talking about.  Point the way."

It took a couple tries, but one arm pointed slightly left of center in the park enclosure.  She moved her arm like a compass needle until she finally pulled away and hugged a tree with a sigh so aching, Yuy wanted to punish himself in some way just to commiserate.

"I feel like I'm dying."  He couldn't tell if she spoke to him, or to the tree.  Pressure in his head built, and the same terrible flashes of light that had preceded his fainting spells began again in earnest.  "But so long as you are here with me, I can go on. . ."

And then he was lost to darkness.

. . . "I feel like I'm dying here."

"Are you sick?"

"It's just an expression.  You're so funny sometimes, Heero."

Relena sat across from him in a small room that had nothing in it but a bed, a desk and chair, and a bookshelf.  She leaned back on her arms on the bed while he sat, straight backed, in the chair.

"Do you like my dad?"

"I don't know."

"How can you not know?  You must feel something.  What about me?  Do you like me?"

It was not said with any sort of slyness, and he decided that the 'like' she was referring to was not the romantic kind that the doctors had warned him to stay away from encouraging.  These visits were purely intended for him to improve his social skills.

"Yes."

"Why?"

She never stopped asking these questions.  They made him uncomfortable.  He wanted to tell her to get out, but that would mean he had failed his set objective to successfully socialize.

"I. . . just do."  He saw her wrinkle her nose up as if she smelled something distasteful.  "Did I answer the question incorrectly?"

"No."  She changed position, now leaning forward and hunching her shoulders.  "I was just thinking that they must be telling you a lot a strange things to confuse you so badly."

"You know we are not allowed to talk about—"

"—your mission parameters and anything pertaining to your classified program of education.  I know, I know, but I can still tell you what I think even if we can't discuss it."

Someone knocked three times.  Relena stood, running a hand through her hair.

"I guess that means our time is up for today.  See you tomorrow, Heero."

She had almost left when he spoke up, spontaneously, surprising even himself.

"I like. . . how you laugh.  And how you move.  Sometimes your nose twitches when you lie.  And that you're overly trusting."  Her eyes were round and large, hand frozen on the doorknob.  "That is all."

Looking from side to side, she moved over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.  It was just friendly, but he got the feeling they had both just broken outside of the confines of the required protocol for these visits.  She winked at him, and his face got warm in response.

That was the first day he realized that he wanted more than just a half hour visit from the enigmatic girl. . .

"Please wake up, oh please, please."  The same voice, only now fuller and slightly deeper than that of the thirteen year old in his vision called him back.  His deep blue eyes focused in on Relena and for a confusing moment he thought he was thirteen again and she had magically transformed into an adult.  Then memories flooded back as well as the splitting migraine.

Yuy grunted and gave a weak half smile to reassure Relena of his conscious and living state.  He focused in on the tree, smaller than the rest in the park, and thought it strange that this is where she wanted to be.  So she talked to trees, and somehow also received answers. 

"Watch me as I sleep?"  Her eyes shifted around, involuntary tears falling as her whole body seemed to glisten with sweat.  Yuy nodded.  Relena slumped with her back against the tree trunk.  "Thank you, Heero."

The pressure in his chest released in proportion to the amount that the pain in his head renewed.

Since when had his name been Heero, and how could he have forgotten that?

*

*

*

Relena woke up for what felt like the first time in years.  Her body was demanding something, and she had some vague anger at Heero for denying her, but she couldn't for the life of her put together more than a week of memories at a time.  There was a hazy recollection of words and actions, but she couldn't align motivation with any of it.

How many years had she been in a daze of drug induced ignorance?  Already her mind was trying to shake off the specters of goblins, demons, and shadowy authoritarians who gave her orders she was too far gone to question. 

It was early morning, and there was just that dirty yellow tint to the sky rather than full blown sunlight.  Slim fingers of clouds glided along, heedless.  Heero slept next to her.  She looked down at her dirty and cracked nails being too afraid to examine the rest of herself.  Years of neglect made her self conscious about her appearance.  At least she assumed it was years of neglect, she wasn't sure exactly how many years it had been since the first day they forced the medication down her throat.

Her last untainted memory was sitting, silently, in her cell and waiting for the drug to take effect.  She was sixteen, and it had been their last resort because she had threatened to go find Heero.

When did he get here and how did she end up alone in this place?  The vague memory of digging in the sun smoothed into hours of talking to. . . the tree she sat under.  That in turn morphed into memories she couldn't trust of people talking to her, laughing at her, feeding her, trying to get her to come down off of tables, restraining her, and the like.  How was she supposed to trust any of those memories when she was decently sure that they were all experienced in a drug addled haze?  She felt cheated.

Most of all she felt anger at her father.  Damn him.  He didn't do anything to stop it.  He probably even wrote the prescription.

Thoughts of pills made her want to vomit, but all she managed were dry heaves as warm hands eventually rubbed her back, making the skin go numb where his hand circled.  What a terrible way for Heero to wake up, she thought with some empathy.  It wasn't exactly a banner day for her as well.

"You ok?"  Her stomach had given up, finally resigned to the queasiness, and she concentrated on standing and moving around.  There was no food here, and she knew that her body was close to failure if she didn't put something in it.

"I need food."  The automatic smile that graced her lips merely broke the dried blood and reopened the small cracks all over them.  The smile, at first fetching, perverted itself with pain.  "And water."

Relena inched up the tree in an attempt to stand while Heero went to go get a canteen from his pack.  He returned, still giving her that expression that she so freshly recalled from the last time she had seen him.  It was blank but not threatening.  Then she recalled all too vividly the last expression she had seen him wear before they were separated.  Relena's body shuddered involuntarily.  The water was like syrup going down her throat, and as soon as it hit her stomach she wanted to vomit again.  Instead, she clutched at her stomach and leaned heavily against the tree.

"How long. . . since you left?"

"Close to a decade."

"Damn."

There wasn't much else to say.  She forced herself to finish the water.  Heero offered to carry her to the cafeteria, but she decided to walk.  Somehow it was important to her to stand on her own feet and haltingly make it outside again.  It took a good while to make it to the door, and her body instinctively grabbed the umbrella sitting there.  It entered her choppy memory in a few points.  It was a find in one of the rooms, left behind from when the panic. . .

Panic?

What had happened here?

Just Heero couldn't have caused such a change in this complex.  As she shaded her eyes against the sun, staring down at spot where Heero had crushed her pills, but not knowing that she did so, she asked him what brought him here.

And he told her.  All of it.

This time the heaves weren't as dry, but they certainly felt just as bad.  When Heero asked if she wanted to be carried afterwards, and she said she did, she wondered if this was the worst or the best day of her life.  It felt as if she were going to die, but since everything he told her correlated to fragments of understanding she possessed she thought that now it was more important than ever to live.

*

*

*

The beat of her heart was arrhythmic, and she didn't know if it was Heero's presence or if it was the continued symptoms of withdrawal.  She was still getting chills, and it took a sunburn and near heat stroke to convince her that it was just an illusion her mind was feeding her.  There were marked improvements to the state of things, such as that she was able to recall more memories she was decently sure were real, and that she was able to clean up herself after raiding the soap in a dusty bathroom.  It was dusty except for a small trail of footprints that crisscrossed on the floor, and the faucet that dribbled water was probably the reason she had come in at any point in time.

There were some advantages to being crazy, she thought ruefully as she hacked at the greasy mass of hair with scissors.  When it was approximately shoulder length she attacked it once again with fingers and tried to gain some semblance of order.  When you were crazy, she finished, you didn't have any vanity.

A small wave of nausea was helped along by the answering spark of memory of Heero telling her about the disease.  They were linked in her mind now, both being traumatic experiences in their own way.  Rather than dwell on it, she wetted her hair and vigorously rubbed soap into her scalp.  She had tried to stop it in her own small way, and that act had saved her at a terrible cost.

But Heero didn't remember any of it.

She discovered the first gap when she asked him what had happened to him after he had been taken away while she was having her first meal after the pill incident.  The blank stare he had given her was not his usual one, but frosty, as if she had just taken her pills in front of him.  Then, alarmingly, he had simply collapsed while she tried to digest the nearly unpalatable food substance from the packets.

An hour later, when he regained consciousness, he refused to tell her what happened.  She kept asking, but Heero merely looked annoyed and then avoided her the rest of the day.  It took her an hour to get back to her park.

The second gap was more alarming.

They went down together to check the generators, Heero making strange terse statements in answer to her many questions, until she touched another taboo subject.

"If Trowa were here I bet he'd know how to get these going again.  He was always so good with machines."  Flashes of fond memories talking more at than with a young Trowa gave her a brief warming smile.

Looking like a demon out of hell lit only by red running lights on the machines, Heero stared at her a moment.  "Who?"  He seemed to be disgruntled by this spurt of emotion.

She couldn't believe he even asked.  Heero had known Trowa far longer than she had.  Trowa had helped them bypass security.  He had even thrown himself in the path of their pursuers to give his friends a little more time.  A noble sacrifice, and one which she had tried to prevent.  Heero had had to drag her literally away.  That day, in its entirety, was engraved into her heart and that Heero wouldn't remember was beyond shocking and more in the realm of heartbreaking. 

The worst part was how he just looked past her as he said it, as if he wasn't even seeing her.  And then he had just left, without another word, not even waiting for an answer.  Frankly, it enraged her, this avoidance of his.  If Heero had a problem then why did he just run away from it?  Relena tried to chase after him and make him talk about these little memory lapses of his, but true to form when Heero didn't want to be found it was like searching for a brown rice grain out of a pile of white.  If only she could vanish with such efficiency.

In his own strange way, he apologized for leaving her alone by making an extra effort to talk to her.  After a while she just felt bad for him; his halting conversation was beyond awkward.  But no matter how bad she felt for Heero, she was not going to let him off the hook.  If he didn't remember then he would make him remember.  What they had risked and lost that day was so great, and it had determined her very real imprisonment for nearly half her life.

So here she was, soap drying into her hair as she stared at her somewhat gaunt face in a dirty bathroom located in the middle of nowhere.  This was how life was going to be, and she should get used to it.  Crying wouldn't help, and she tried to stop it before she stepped out of the bathroom.  It was just soap in the eyes.  But he wouldn't ask in the first place, so she didn't need to think up excuses.

*

*

*

Relena looked so much different when she emerged that Yuy didn't know what to do.  Her eyes were red, but other than that, she looked markedly improved.  Since they had not been able to find anything suitable for her to wear, they had grabbed a lab coat and torn off the sleeves to ventilate better.  It was almost like a sundress, she had said at the time, and Yuy wished he could have shared in her smile.  He envied a damn piece of clothing.  None of her smiles seemed to be for him, it seemed.

It was all his fault somehow, he got the feeling.  That was unrealistic from his point of view because it was she who spoke such crazy nonsense still.  Her hallucinations stretched back so very far.  Had she been on the pills when he knew her?

A voice in the back of his head screamed for attention, with the answering throb of pain, but he shoved away the reminiscing with a tearing of consciousness and the throb subsided a little.  It was all her fault.  She was giving him a mental breakdown.

"Heero,"  She just wouldn't let go of the name.  He didn't understand.  It was equally baffling that he answered to it.

"Hn?"

"We need to talk."

Those were fighting words.  Already he started to form a plan to retreat and regroup.

"I need to go to the bathroom."  He was already moving quickly away, scuttling in a guilty way out of her vision, but she followed him.  When he sped up, so did she, but he couldn't bring himself to just sprint away from her and finally he slowed somewhere around the area he thought she wouldn't follow: the graveyard.

There was terror in her eyes, but also a determination to match his own.  Relena stood defiant in a torn lab coat, her face red from running, and nearly tripped over a mound of earth at her feet.  After swallowing visibly, she turned the force of her emotions upon him.

"You won't run from me this time.  I won't let you."  When she wasn't looking at him, she was looking up, doing everything in her power from acknowledging where she was.  Morbidly, Yuy wondered if her father was buried here.

"We have nothing to talk about.  Your memories are still confused."

"My memories are not confused.  I may retain little to nothing from after they injected me, but that was eight months after you were taken away, Heero."

There was a subtle shift in weight from foot to foot, as Yuy tried to contain his irritation.  "I left, Relena, I ran away when I was 15.  I wasn't taken."  Her words brought pain, and took solace in his own statement.  If now was the time to talk, then he had to get something off his chest.  "And my name, Relena, is Odin.  There is no way you could have forgotten that, which is why I know you aren't better."  His teeth were bared like a feral animal.

"Listen to me Heero, Odin was the name of the man who worked with my father.  Odin Lowe was head of security.  He taught you how to shoot a gun and god knows what else, but you never bore his name."  He clutched at his head.  Every sound out of her mouth was anathema.  He didn't want to listen anymore.  Barging forward, he pushed her down into the dirt, growling at her to shut up. 

She didn't.

"If nothing else I know the last forty-eight hours we spent together.  They were carved into my mind, and I could never forget them or you and I'll prove it to you that I am right." 

Then there was blessed silence.

He wasn't sure of what he wanted, but he needed to see this proof if it killed him.  From the way his head pounded he wondered if it just might kill him.  The grit that fell from Relena's body and the way he saw her limp a little made him profoundly regretful for losing his temper.  Nothing had ever gotten to him like this.

Relena's hand was cold and sweaty, but he didn't mind when she slipped it into his own.  There was comfort in human contact, and he vaguely remembered something about children needing to be held to develop correctly.  The only personal contact he could remember came from the woman who was leading him back inside and away from the graves that reminded them why they were here just as the flickering lights inside reminded them that they couldn't stay.

To the park, to the tree. . .  and then expectant impatience.

"Well?"  Relena gave a severe frown as she concentrated on the branches.  Then she gave a little hop and pointed up.

"Right there, beyond the second branch.  Can you help me up?"  He nodded, and climbed up before extending his hand to aid her.  He had forgotten how light she was, and decided to make her eat more.  She would never make the march out of here in her current condition.

She edged over, grabbing on to a branch to steady her walk, and then she pulled at something in the leaves.  With a rather bilious curse and a rough tug that nearly took her down to the ground again, Relena managed to break off the end of a high up limb.  It dropped to the earth, followed shortly by the two of them.

"There was a reason this tree was important to me, Heero.  It took me a while to remember, but when we were tearing the sleeves off of that coat. . ."

"I'm sure this is all very interesting, but could you get to the point?"  Her enthusiasm dimmed a bit at his flat demand.  She held out the broken limb, and pointed at the off white strip of cloth tied about it.

"Cut that off and you'll see my proof."

Yuy took the knife from a pocket in his pants and sawed at the fabric.  It was tied on tightly, but the tautness of it only helped him get through it more quickly.  It fell slowly, but out of it first slid a folded scrap of paper.  Relena wasn't going to pick it up, so Heero did it for her and carefully unfolded it.

It wasn't paper, but a photo.

There was a young Relena, with long hair, in a party dress.  A boy with hair obscuring one eye was to her side.  The grainy coloring spoke to how old it was, but that wasn't remarkable.  Instead, the skinny boy who stood with his arms folded as Relena practically strangled him in a hug dominated his incredulous mind.

"Turn it over."  Relena ordered and he obeyed woodenly.

'You always look so sour.  Maybe next time you come to my birthday you could smile.  Call it next year's gift.  You slay me, Heero, I don't know why I put up with you.  Love, Relena.'

It wasn't true.  If it was true then it meant. . .

This time the light that invaded his senses was a welcome relief to the pain.  He hoped Relena hadn't tried to catch him.  He was quite heavy, and she was much too weak.

Heero. . .

Heero. . .

"Heero!"

He snapped back to the present.  She was going to be irritated, and probably ask him a question about what she had been talking about. 

She blew at her bangs and prepared to readdress her passive friend.  "Seriously, I had to pull more strings than you can imagine making my father get the clearance to let you come to my birthday party.  I had to even pull the guilt card."

"Guilt card?"  As always her phrasing seemed so foreign sometimes.

"Oh you know the sort of thing, I'm sure."  She got a pout and watery eyes almost without effort.  " 'Oh daddy, you know I'm the only teenager in this place besides Heero and the rest of the trainees.  Heero is my friend and it would break my heart to spend my birthday all alone. . . with a cake. . . by myself. . '. "  Even Heero felt moved to try to pat her shoulder, as her tears were making him feel ill in a way unlike his experiences of being sick.

"I will come to your party."

It was a panacea it seemed, for Relena leapt up and hugged him fiercely.  With a slip into selfish desire, he found himself hugging her back.  This was a much better prospect than spending tomorrow studying weapon diagrams and common building schematics of military installations.  Relena's head was buried in his shoulder, and he allowed himself to enjoy it for a moment before extracting her.  He saved up those moments in his mind to last him through a particularly grueling exercise session, or when they were injecting him with chemicals to stimulate his senses to sharpen and he could feel the fluid traveling through his arm like disturbing tendrils in his vessels.

For all they knew, he was still the weapon they had been training, but Relena's words and her very humanness had given him a goal beyond what they had offered.  If he could protect Relena, it would be enough for him.  He may kill, he may lie and deceive others, but so long as he did it knowing he was making the world better for this girl and the people she cared for then maybe it was worth it.

Killing was worth it. . .

For her. . .

"Heero!"  He surfaced long enough to look into the same sky blue eyes he had left, something clutched in his hand.  Then she faded back into light.

She would protect him. . .

His guardian angel. . .

"She'd dead, 01!"

"My name is Heero, and I know you are lying.  Your eyes shifted to the side as you said it.  You need better control."  The lights were burning into his cornea, and the straps cut off his circulation giving the ghostly sensation of being disembodied, but he had been trained to sustain worse than this.

The man seemed to inflate in his anger before striking Heero across the face.  He landed a punch to the boy's stomach before someone pulled him off.

"Damnit, Phil, get a hold on yourself, he's just a boy!"  One of the other men who had been questioning him yelled so loud it echoed a bit in the warehouse room they were using.

"He's not a boy, he's a robot."  For a moment, Heero thought Phil was going to rush him again.  Instead, the man threw up his hands and stormed off, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

They left him alone for a few hours and he tried to rest and think of a plan.  The light made sleep difficult, and his body was sweating from the constant heat, but it was merely mild discomfort.  What tormented him was the worry.  Did they really shoot Trowa?  What had they done to Relena?  Her screams seemed to fill his brain even now.

The agents came back, this time with a man who carried a tray full of needles full of those injections he never questioned before.  Heero could guess what was going to happen.  He could only fight this tactic for so long.

After the first injection, their questions began to become confusing.  He kept track of his answers, but when they began to make him recite the lists of procedures he had to have memorized long ago it was as if he couldn't stop himself from responding.  There was no fighting training, habits engrained through the years.

The second injection made everything swim.  There was only one of them, his giant yellow eye radiating Heero, and his voice multiplied and amplified.  He was trying to tell Heero something, but he wouldn't let it.  It wasn't true.

"She isn't dead!  I'll find her, you bastards!"  He had never risen his voice at anyone in his life, but he wasn't himself anymore.  The agents were baffled.  This boy could maybe take one more injection before it was in danger of causing real damage to his nervous system.

His conscious mind no longer processed his surroundings, but unconsciously he picked up on strains of conversation.  They would be back.

But when they came back, with another injection and a video, they had to hold up Heero's head so that he could watch as Relena screamed and was strapped down to a bed.  A solemn man came up as she called out Heero's name and gave her a shot in the arm.  Her struggles lessened, then stopped, and her body went limp.  A doctor pronounced her dead.

The tears didn't stop, but they were not because he had broken his restraints, aggravated his gunshot wound, and dislocated his shoulder.

Relena was dead.

And it was all his fault.

When Heero collapsed on the ground, the man known as Phil actually laughed.

"That little fucker is going to be a bitch to reprogram."

"Don't worry about it, we're off this case now.  Some other poor bastard will have to deal with this monster.  They've spent too much money on him to give up their precious weapon.  What with 03 disabled. . ."

. . . .

Running.  Pain.  Gunshots.  Anger.  Fear.

Relena.

And he really was Heero.

She was right.

*

*

*

The transition back to consciousness was seamless.  It was like something in his head had released all this pressure.  He called to mind both sets of memory, the true and the implanted, letting them mix and transpose like a mangled photograph before forcing himself to choose one and examine it.

Someone was stroking his hair.  It felt indescribably sensual, luxurious even.

Relena hadn't died.  He had never run away, not alone anyway.  He had told her what he was being trained for, before he was removed from her birthday party.  Trowa was there too.  The three of them had talked.  They decided to run away.

Or rather, Relena had decided to run away and delegated the planning of said operation to Heero and Trowa.

She said it was criminal to train people to be living weapons.  The best way to protect one another was to live right and fight ideologically rather than with guns.  Her idealism sparked something in the boys.  They made a pact, sealed in the most childish of fashions with some spit on the palm and a handshake.

"Are you awake?"

He allowed his eyes to open, only to find her staring at the picture in one hand.

"I was always jealous of Trowa."  Heero's words caught her attention away from the past.  "You looked at him in a way you never looked at me.  I knew because I had classified all your glances in my mind."

Relena's eyes were moist, but she tilted back her head to keep the tears from spilling over.

"Did you know he was my cousin?"  Heero sat up quickly, shocked.  Relena nodded her head, but as soon as she lowered her face a fat tear escaped from one corner of her eye.  "I saw some of mother's old letters. . .  father couldn't bear to throw them away.  I wanted him to be my brother so badly."

"What happened after the. . .escape attempt?"

"Crippled from the waist down.  When he fell of the cliff side grappling with that security officer, he landed badly on his spine."  She was shaking with the effort of holding back the tears now, however unsuccessful her efforts were.  "He shot himself a week before I went on the pills.  I couldn't take it anymore, after Trowa left and you were taken. . . I. . .I guess I didn't know what to do anymore.  My life was a wreck.  I went from being under house arrest to being nearly imprisoned in a room after I pitched a fit for not being allowed at the funeral."

She curled down into a ball and etched cuts in the grass and earth with her fingers.

"I broke things, I babbled, I made demands to see you, to be able to know that you were ok.  I told them I would stop them, I would end their program of violence and manipulation.  It was their training that made Trowa fall into despair, I'm sure.  His whole identity was wrapped up in being a weapon, and our escape was his last chance.  There are so many things I wished I had done. . .  if I had just thrown myself in the path of those men then maybe you two would have gotten away."  She was ripping up whole clods of dirt now, her frustration being expressed towards the ground now, what with the lack of ability to dispel it.

Heero gave some thought to her words.  There was little room left in his heart to mourn for yet another dead person, especially one so far removed from him, but it pained him to see Relena affected.  It was a damn shame Trowa was gone, he had been a fine sold. . .a fine man. 

Now that the tears had started, they weren't stopping.

Her voice was a whisper, choked out by her swollen throat.  "We have to leave.  Right now.  I need to see a book, or some clothes, or a tree not contained in a bubble.  This place is best forgotten, Heero.  I have to get out of here."

Heero made quick calculations in his head.  They could maybe last on the number of canteens he had brought with him if they were sparing, and the packets of food substance were very light.  They could make it to civilization with relative ease if they traveled at night and took shelter during the day.  She could carry a couple blankets easily enough, he was sure. . .

She was hugging him.

His mind was officially blown.

There was a lingering feeling of guilt, as if he needed to ask permission to hold her, but the absolution he felt in this act was greater than the voice of Relena in his head had ever promised.  She would forgive him, trust him, even though he had forgotten about her in a way.

"I'm sorry, Relena."  He couldn't offer any more than this.  Some dirty clothes, some canteens, some gear, and a name that was given to him.  He remembered now, as Odin came in and told him he would be answering to the name Heero Yuy since he would be meeting with a girl his own age for conversation and a person who went by a number might make the situation a little too surreal for her.

It seemed that everything that made him human came from Relena.  An alarming prospect, certainly, but now was not the time to discuss this with her.  He didn't know if he could articulate it properly.  He concentrated on what he knew, instead.  The time was right to leave this place and find livable land and maybe even other people.

They could escape this place, their past, and move into the world with slates about as clean as they could be.  No one knew them.  They barely knew themselves.

"I got goo all over your shoulder."  She said softly into his ear.  Then a giggle escaped with a wet gasp.

Her laughter became clearer and more real between the sniffs, and even Heero graced her with a real smile. 

They were going to escape, and this time no one could stop them.

*

*

*

Relena slung a makeshift bundle of goods onto her back.  It would become burdensome quickly, but she would faint before she admitted it to Heero.  He was carrying the lion's share after all, and she needed to regain some tone and bulk to her body.  She bit her lip in a thoughtful manner, until Heero finally asked her what the delay was.  If they didn't leave now, then they would be losing prime traveling time.  The sun was already setting.

"I need to show you something."  She dragged him over to the tree, her special tree, and told him to climb back up to the first branches.  "You should still be able to see it.  I figure, we'll never be back, so. . ."

Heero shrugged and dropped his backpack, hearing the water slosh, and knowing that soon the same sound that had greeted his arrival would be seeing him out.  Lithely, he swung up again, and looked out from the tree.

"No, no."  She waggled a finger at him from the ground, craning her neck like a curious bird with her bright eyes shining from the last light that lit the dome.  "Look at the tree.  I just know it wouldn't have gone away."

He turned back and searched around, moving from branch to branch until he was sure he found what he was looking for, presumably.  Scrawled in blocky, shaky script, as if someone had used a fairly blunt tool to carve it in, was his name.  'Heero' and a date.  The date was followed by tick marks, and it took just a moment for him to realize that each mark covered a year since he had left. 

"Why do you think it was so important to me?"  Relena looked at him through leaves, not making out an expression but convinced that he was probably disturbed by her apparent obsession.  "I think I called it The Green because it reminded me of you. . . you know, so solid and unmoving.  I asked it things constantly and it seemed to me that it gave me answers.  Pretty insane, huh?"

Heero thought of all those years of internal conversations with his 'guardian angel' and decided against bringing it up just yet.  She would probably ask him what she had said, and why.  There was no shame in explaining the things she had said, but justifying why he had gone ahead and disobeyed those pacifistic orders would be a far less pleasant experience.

"Let's go.  We have a long way to go.  Go ahead; I'll catch up when I have put all my gear on again."

She was walking down the last dark hallway, with lights only giving off little flickers like dying fireflies.  The generators were on their last few days of power, certainly.  And when the generators died, so would the water pumps.  Relena knew that this little oasis in the desert would quickly die without its morning watering.  Wildlife would move in as it could.  Everything would end.

But Heero's name would remain.

A quarter of an hour later, Heero caught her as she waited near the west end of the compound.  He looked satisfied, and Relena knew how he felt.  At least she thought she did.  The real answer lay back at the compound, in the tree doomed to die, where six important letters had been carved beneath her previous inscription.

Now he too could take a sense of ownership in that tree.  In a hundred years, unless standards of communication had drastically changed, an observant person would see 'Heero + Relena' and realize the meaning behind it.

It had only taken ten minutes, but it was ten years in the making.

This time, it was Heero who grasped Relena's hand.