AN: this is a fic that has been in my head for at least a year... everytime i heard 'The Freshman" by the Verve Pipe on the radio, these images would come into my head... and if you've heard the song you know this is gonna be a major major angst fic... also let me warn you that this is a deathfic (and that's an understatement), has profanity that would make a sailor blush (ok maybe not but still..alot), and some OOC-ness because i made them go through a lot in two yrs after the series ended.. oh and it was Lars' "Reunion" challenge that finally got me to get this written down... thanx to Zapenstap and Coley Merrin for read-through and comments :)

The Freshman

by Miaka Mouse

Dear Heero,

You've been so hard to contact, I hope this letter gets to you. I know you're probably already aware, but I've been trying to keep track of you with what little resources are available to me. You're not exactly in hiding these days so I know more than I expected to. You haven't been staying in one place for more than a few days at a time, and I wonder if you have a permanent place to stay at all. This isn't why I fought so hard for peace. I want you to be happy, Heero, and I'll do anything in my power to make that happen. Won't you let me help?

I wonder if you know that Quatre Winner was injured last month. He won't tell me how it happened, but he's had some nerve damage in his arm. I feel like I'm losing hold of everything that's happening. Duo Maxwell's friend, Hilde Schbeiker died a few weeks ago as well. I don't know whether you're still in contact with him. I wanted to offer condolences but he seems to have disappeared. I know that if you were with me, I wouldn't have to worry about these things alone. I need your help as well, you know.

I'm speaking at the Summit Conference on L1 tomorrow. I know you're in the area these days. Come by and say hello, let me know you're all right. I just want to see you again. There are so many things left to be said.

Love,

Relena

Heero stared at the paper in his hand blankly. Any feeling of surprise was crushed under the overwhelming numbness he felt at that moment. He swung his gaze to the vid-screen, wondering if the color had gone out as every person seemed to be swathed in black. There was a thread of chaos that seemed to weaving its way through the people, awakening a panic that could only mean the rebirth of something he thought he'd destroyed. His fist tightened around the letter, crumpling the edges as he stalked away from the crowd on the street. He had an appointment to keep.

Wufei examined the blade of his katana appraisingly. It was good weapon, and he was glad he'd hung on to it. The dried blood on it created an illusion of patterned shadow and the light reflected at blinding angles at times, like the starkness of Truth weaving into blinding Justice. His musing was interrupted by the sound of footsteps.

"So it's done." Wufei locked gazes with Heero and nodded grimly. Heero walked over to his comrade and carefully relieved him of the sword. "His blood?" he queried, running a finger along the dark pattern of rivulets.

"It's true then." A third voice joined them and both pilots tensed into defensive position at the sound of it. They were met by the emaciated appearance of one unnamed man known as Trowa Barton. His eyes were bloodshot and sunken, skin pale and stretched across his cheekbones as if the layer of muscle tissue on his skeleton had disappeared. "She's really dead." His chapped lips quirked into a half-smile that resembled a grimace more than anything.

"And so is the man who killed her," Wufei replied defensively, snatching the katana out of Heero's hands and offering it to Trowa as proof.

"Who was he?"

"Does it matter? A terrorist bent on bringing us back to war. A psychopath who couldn't realize the gravity of what he had done. A bastard whose head is lying three feet away from his body." Trowa kept his dead stare on Wufei's eyes, never glancing at the sword. Wufei seemed to regress into a sort of panic as Trowa's gaze bore into him, and he threw the blade aside in a sudden fit. "It changes nothing! This is not justice. There can never be true justice for her death, because it's my fault. I am to blame." No one argued in his defense, no one seemed perturbed by his confession in the least.

"Maybe we should kill you too."

Duo knew it had been a good idea to come when he saw Trowa enter the abandoned safe house. Deciding he'd waited long enough, he walked in spotting Wufei standing between the two pilots in an agitated state.

"Having a party without me?" He grinned. "I'm hurt."

If Trowa's skin had been stretched across his bones, then Duo's had been emptied of all his flesh and left hanging loosely. He looked like an old man, sagging wrinkles and gray skin, with stringy hair that didn't look quite as thick as it used to. Heero remembered the letter crumpled in his fist.

"Where have you been, Maxwell?"

"Around. If I'd known I was expected I would have come earlier, but I seem to have misplaced my invitation." His mock indignation seemed more exaggerated than usual, almost as if he were trying too hard. Heero tossed him the ball of paper and Duo caught it with ease, pulling it open immediately. His face seemed to shut down as he read what was written, hands trembling so hard that the letter fell from his hand. "Lucky bastard, you got a goodbye letter," he said hoarsely, leaning his shoulder against the wall for support. His eyes squeezed shut as if in pain as he rocked his head back banging it, over and over, harder and harder.

"Duo?" The four of them turned so fast, it looked as if they'd been hit simultaneously in the face by some invisible force. Quatre stood in the light streaming from the street lamps through the lone window. His right arm was clad in a brace, and all the naivety that made his face beautiful had hardened into sharp planes on his face.

"Did Heero contact you too?" Duo replied. Quatre trained his eyes on Trowa as he spoke.

"I've been following Trowa's movements since the war ended." The slight tremble in Trowa's expression was so quick, that everyone except Quatre, who was staring at him like a hawk, missed it. "Yes Trowa, I know about all of it."

At this, Heero finally took in the track marks against Trowa's forearm. It certainly explained the deterioration in his appearance.

"What happened to your arm, Quatre?" Trowa's quiet voice pierced the pregnant silence. Quatre's eyes narrowed before he released a harsh bark of laughter.

"An accident. Only a fool is bitten twice they say. Well hand me a dunce cap and put me in the corner, because I've got a pair of bite marks to prove it."

"Dorothy."

"I don't know any other snakes." Their gazes remained locked and Quatre was reminded of their first meeting, the first face off.

"Well now that we're all caught up on how much our lives suck, let's get back to what this reunion is really about." Duo called out, raising his head that had been hanging between his knees as he sat slouched against the wall. The katana lay on the ground a few feet in front of him. "Wasn't somebody suggesting we kill Wufei when I walked in?"

"Fuck you, Maxwell."

"This is no time to get all uppity Wu." Duo stood up slowly, picking up the sword and turning to the Chinese pilot. "You said it yourself. It's your fault she's dead. You were supposed to be protecting her. You should have taken that bullet for her. We can make sure that happens. That would be real justice." In Wufei's mind it all made sense. His whole life he had been intent on being the warrior of justice and now he knew how incompetent he really was. He had no business trying to do something he was sorely lacking in qualifications for. His life had no purpose but to let the most important people in his life down. He'd been responsible for too many deaths, seen too many good people die because of his mistakes. But he'd be damned if he let Duo be the one to take his life.

"We're all fucking hypocrites," Quatre interrupted. "That's what Dorothy told me before she stabbed me in the back." His smile was bitter. "I was trying to embrace her," he said, dark humor creeping into his voice, "trying to tell her she could let go of war and start her life anew. And she put her arms around my shoulders and whispered in my ear, 'you've killed more people than I ever have and you're telling me to let go of war? They say a killer's blood purifies the blood of his victims. Maybe I can redeem myself with your blood on my hands.' And then she stuck that knife right in the middle of my back while I was still holding her in my arms." He finished it off as if he were telling an anecdote and had just delivered the punch line.

"I wish Hilde had stabbed me in the back." Duo scoffed. "Justifes the guilt in a way, doesn't it? I knew I was screwed up. I knew I shouldn't get involved with her, but I did, and I fucked it up and tried to break it off. I ran away and she fucking killed herself." Duo noticed as Heero's glance flickered to the letter on the floor. "I disappeared so that she wouldn't run after me! And instead she takes a handful of sleeping pills and leaves me first." He ran a shaky hand through his bangs and laughed. "She was always one-upping me, the crazy bitch." He raised his other hand to his head, pressing his palms against his eyes trying to stop the tears he could feel threatening to trickle out. "Jesus, I never cry about this kind of shit. Why the fuck did I have to break down in front of you guys?" His voice vacillated between a laugh and a sob, as he bent his head over his knees with his palms on the ground. He clenched his fingers against the concrete floor as teardrops fell against the back of his hands.

They all watched him, none saying a word, but all wishing they could break down as well; to just give up and let this be over.

"You guys and your guilt… Don't you realize that with Relena gone, there's no way peace is going to last? We're going to war again. We'll be hired killers all over again. Nothing we did meant anything. We all thought the crimes we were committing were for the greater good. Well our greater good is dead. And so is any reason we might have had to fight." The tone with which Trowa said this was so matter-of-fact and conversational, no one could argue.

"During the war," Heero spoke up, "I didn't need a reason to fight. I didn't give a damn about the greater good. All I needed were orders. But she broke me. I can't work anymore. There is nothing left for me to do. She told me I should never use my gun again unless it was to kill her. But she's already dead. What the fuck do I do now?" He stared down at Duo's prone form. "What the fuck are any of us going to do now? We couldn't have known it would end up like this. But these are the consequences of all the crimes we committed, all the things we thought we could get away with. This isn't just Wufei's fault either. It's mine too." He pulled his gun from his waistband. "I should have been the one to kill her before anyone else could. It was my duty to protect that promise." He gestured to Wufei with the gun. "One bullet for you, and one for me."

"And one for the useless hypocrite," Quatre inserted, "but Trowa has to be the one to kill me. I owe you that, Trowa. You owe me that."

"There's no fucking way you guys are gonna leave me here to rot." Duo suddenly exclaimed, jumping up in fury. "One of you is gonna have to shoot me too. " He stared pointedly at Wufei, who nodded in affirmation. "I can't do it myself. I don't want to go to hell to top of everything else. How ironic is it that even after all this shit, I still believe everything Sister Helen told me? If she could only see me now," he chortled. "She always wanted me to go to school. Yeah, right."

None of them had actually completed high school and they realized now how young they really were in the great scheme of things. At eighteen years old, they would have been entering their freshman year of college. If it weren't for the war, they would have been looking forward to starting new lives right now, instead of planning to end them. It was enough to make them go crazy with the possibilities, with the idea that any life would be better than the one they had now. They would do anything to escape. In Trowa's case, he'd already tried. He'd tried every drug known to man, looking for that release from his non-existence. Who knew that the thing he needed to put in him was a bullet.

"Let's do this," he said to the rest of them firmly, extending his hand toward Heero for the gun.

"I'm ready," Quatre's eyes met his, almost exuding a sort of relief. They stood in a malformed circle, Quatre dropping to his knees in front of Trowa. "I'm sorry, Trowa. I should have been there for you." He closed his eyes as Trowa raised the automatic to his forehead.

"It would have been the blind leading the blind, Quatre. It's not your fault. We weren't meant to live this long." As he felt the tip of the gun against his skin, Quatre breathed out his last words,

"Thank you."

It was amazing how gunfire could make you feel like you'd gone deaf. No one looked at Quatre's crumpled form, instead focusing on the blood splattered on Trowa's hand and face, thick and dark, like a mark, a brand, a scar. He wiped the gun on his jeans and glanced at the other three occupants of the room.

"She's my sister. Catherine is my biological sister." He looked at Duo. "I'm going to hell anyway." He put the gun in his mouth so quick no one had time to react. When he fell, he landed draped over Quatre's body, their hands touching.

Heero bent down to retrieve the gun and handed it to Wufei. Duo grinned at them, though his changed appearance had erased any hint of charm from that once disarming expression.

"I bet Hilde's waiting for me on the other side. I'm probably gonna have to go down and save her from purgatory because of the way she left. I'll get to be the hero for once. She's gonna be real happy to see me. I just know it."

"Don't keep her waiting any longer."

"Yeah." He pulled Wufei's hand toward his chest so that the gun rested right on his heart. "Don't wanna mess up this pretty face. It's one of the reasons she likes me." He took a shaky breath and dropped his hand to his side. "You're a good guy, 'Fei. You're making things right."

When Duo fell, it looked as if he'd been yanked downward by his braid. His shoulders arched back while his hips jutted forward and his knees gave out. It was oddly graceful. The relaxed half-smile on his face somehow brought his features back to the way they once looked, charming and carefree, and just a bit mischievous.

"And now we can get down to business. Tell me Heero, knowing what you know now, would you have killed her the first time?" Wufei handed the gun to him.

"I would have destroyed her. Erased her existence." Heero held the gun carefully, tracing the barrel with the tip of his finger, while the other hand played with the trigger.

"She was in love with you." His hands trembled, and then clenched around the weapon as if to steady themselves.

"No. She never understood the way things were supposed to be. If I'd killed her, none of this would have happened." He adjusted his grip on the gun, holding it in one hand, finger wrapped around the trigger.

"You think she'll be waiting for you, like Maxwell was talking about? I think Meiran will be, for me. She is stubborn like that." He paused and looked Heero in the eye. "Relena was shot in the lung." He gestured to the right side of his chest. "Here." Heero pictured it in his mind, the bullet entering her, the blood gurgling out of her mouth as she collapsed and struggled to breathe. And as he imagined those agonizing seconds before she finally suffocated to death, he pulled the trigger. When he looked down, it was Relena's body that lay in front of him in that growing puddle of blood.

"I killed again, Relena. But it was you I killed, just like I had always planned to do. Wufei was just the sacrificial lamb. But you know it can't stop here. A war is going to start soon, and I'll really have to kill again. I can't do it, Relena. I can't live through another war without you to guide me. Every single time I tried to end this life, you held me back. But now you're on the other side. Will you pull me forward this time?"

He cast the gun aside and found the katana that had been left on the ground. Maybe if he didn't use the gun it would be ok. Maybe it would be easier to forgive. He fell to his knees, remembering that in a faraway time and place, this was the honorable way to die. He was grateful to have honor in something he did, at least once in his life. It was right somehow.

He hardly felt the blade penetrate, though the muscles in his abdomen were tough and difficult to pierce through. As he fell forward, he saw Relena waiting to catch him with her arms wide open. And she was whispering,

"I forgive you…"