Hey guys! Eh heh . . . it's been 5 years . . .

But I wrote again! This chapter is shorter than all the others, sorry about that.

On to reviews!

Omnicat: The last poem references a phrase from an old TV show called Babylon 5. And yeah I don't really have a plot for this, I'm just winging it really! I actually miss you a lot. I've not been able to get in touch with you for a long time. I hope you're doing okay!

My Final Death: I'm so sorry I've taken so long to update! I really didn't intend on this but around 2008 I just stopped writing. I "took a break" and then found that I was unable to "get back on the horse" so to speak.

I hope everyone still likes this, and maybe that somebody reads it.

9: Tattered

Dreams so fickle
Flit around our minds
When young it's said
We think we "can never die"
But Death hangs his guillotine
To swing above our heads

For weeks I'd visit, nearly every day, to watch him sit and stare at the ceiling. Sometimes I'd show up to find him gone; tracking him would normally have been difficult, but I found my ethical code wavered when it came to utilizing private video feeds, and he didn't seem interested in hiding.

I'd see him slinking down the streets in the rain, or on cloudy days. Especially at night, Duo would find dark, dank places to brood in melancholy solitude. It was I who found him, bringing coffee or tea (never alcohol, though he doesn't share my religious beliefs) or even soup to his frail form. We'd sit, or lean against walls as he'd drink haltingly from my canteen, and look out at the moon or peer through the rain . . . and the silence was as comfortable as possible considering the circumstances.

Seeing him laughing for the first time in months . . . for the first time since her death . . . well, I can only smile and eat in relieved silence. I knew that getting him to Heero would be good for him. Duo and Heero have always had a strange relationship, but over the years it became a close friendship. Still strange, but certainly close.

Yet his eyes are still haunted. I should have known better than to assume he was fine in his room this morning. I drop my eyes in shame, remembering my failure. It's been so long since I had to hone those instincts; unlike Wufei, I don't continue to work in the field. Nor do I live with vigilance as Heero does. Having nothing better to do, he's become something of a vigilante hero, except he has a bounty-hunter's license to make it legitimate. I can only wonder now if I should have done more over the past years to keep my instincts in shape. If it means helping Duo, I wouldn't mind at all.

It's lonely at the top.

I ponder that as I slowly eat, replying eagerly to any topic thrown my way as Relena and I do a little conversation waltz around the room, Heero and Duo (mostly Heero) cutting in with dry observations as if a brutish man had asked mid-step to dance with my partner. But really, she is the partner to the brute, the beauty to his beast. I only borrow her time, measured carefully out amongst her interests and concerns; Heero and I respect each other, and I'd like to say we were friends, but even now I'm not sure how to define it. He's lucky. I am merely another interest of hers, allowed a sliver of her attention.

At one point I wistfully dreamed of Relena on my arm, but those days are long past. And such visions seem to mock the pain Duo has gone through.

Since Hilde's death, I've found it much easier to crush any fanciful ideas about Relena. Or anyone, for that matter. It seems selfish to have romantic inklings when a close friend is in so much pain. Perhaps the anguish and death hanging in his deep indigo eyes is not my burden to bear . . . but I find that I can't help it.

Relena has a plan. She and Heero work well together at creating plans. Of course, she would, being the United Earth's favorite politician for the next president after Noin's eight years is up. But be that as it may, Heero is the one who has the best strategies for staying hidden. And any move with Duo in public will have to remain hidden; paparazzi on Earth are much harder to avoid. On the colonies, there is still a semblance of decorum and politeness about her privacy.

So far I know little of the plan, except that I will be a part of it. I know I'm just an observer in this, really. Even if I was there every day, shouldering his pain as best I could, I wasn't the one he really needed.

I'm too vulnerable. In Duo's eyes, I'm an innocent, and he shuts me out nine times out of ten. It hurts a bit, knowing he's trying to protect me. And it does frustrate me at times. But whatever method he needs to cope – as long as it's not alcohol or drugs, gambling or Russian roulette – I'll accept him and what he needs.

Still, as we watch him eat - waiting for the hungry tiger to lash out again in pain and fear – I wonder if any of us actually know what he needs. And I hope we can somehow give it.

Soldiers die in war.

It's a phrase that's bothered me for a while. Something Wufei murmured to me at the funeral. "Soldiers die in war."

All I could think to say in reply was that the war was over. And Hilde wasn't a soldier anymore.

Wufei just shook his head, as if I didn't get it.

And maybe I didn't then, but I've thought of it often and I think I might get it now.

Some people never stop being soldiers; I think maybe it helped Wufei deal with Hilde's death on his own terms by telling himself she was still a soldier: sometimes soldiers die in friendly fire. Sometimes accidents happen.

Collateral damage.

Unforeseen circumstances.

Civilian casualties.

After our whispered exchange, Wufei had stepped forward to give what seemed an impromptu speech at her funeral. He said she was a soldier. She was ever vigilant, and she died a warrior.

Nobody dared to contradict him, to point out that she died in a car accident, that she hadn't seen combat in years; It would have been cruel.

And his words . . .

I think he was trying to say so much more, but in his own reserved way, he couldn't say it right. So he said all he could, hoping it would be enough.

I am startled by the sound of plates and glasses being moved, and realize all the food is gone, the table being carefully cleaned off by Relena. Quickly I eat the last of what remained on my plate and go to help her.

Heero is wrangling Duo back out of the room, presumably towards either his bedroom, or more likely the pond again. I'm sure they'll . . . talk . . . I guess . . . but not sure exactly what could possibly be said.

Relena's eyes are on me, and I guess I seem suitably distracted.

"Are you okay?" she asks me, and I nod and give her a (hopefully) cheerful smile.

"Yeah, sorry. Just . . . thinking."

Soldiers die. They live to die.

What happens if they don't?

Am I still a soldier, who is somehow convinced – fooled – into thinking I'm a civilian?

I load their dishwasher methodically, mind on broader subjects, and marvel at Heero's ability to move on beyond his past.

One can live to die.

But you can't die to live.

A soldier lives to die:
When death is removed,
Life becomes a bitter pill
Taken with the draught of pain
And the drug of Lethe. . .
When living becomes the mission
What orders can you find to follow?