Written for the GWA Angst Contest, back in '04, but never posted here. Note: this is a deathfic, but it has a happy ending -- or at least bittersweet. It is not particularly angsty in the bemoaning-death part. It isn't in chronological order, either; for that matter, it might not make a lot of sense the first go-round. Just FYI.
...And Takes Away
---listed to port, rolling heavily in the sea's curling embrace. Her sails were in rags, and the mizzen was broken, shattered wood pointing up into clouded dark skies. He twisted the wheel beneath his hands, struggling to keep her from breaching the waves. The last two dories clattered against each other; his crew was silent, bundling the bodies of their lost friends. Rudderless, the schooner drifted more than pointed, and he swore, squinting across the black waters.
In the distance, he could see fire---
Heero woke, blinking into the dark room before sitting up with a grunt. Beside him, his wife rolled over, turning towards him in sleep, and he muttered something reassuring before getting up. The room was hot, and he wondered if Relena had jabbed the heater again before coming to bed. Even in winter, Sanq wasn't half as cold as his childhood colony.
Grabbing his bathrobe from the back of the door, he belted it around his waist and stumbled blindly down the stairs, pulling the bathrobe even closer. In the kitchen, he opened the orange juice and drank from the carton, the fridge's light cold across the linoleum floor.
"I wish you would use a glass," Relena said, leaning against the kitchen doorway. She was naked, but uncaring. Her hair was tangled; soft gold-brown strands hung down in her face. She gave him a rueful look, and opened a cabinet, pulling out a tumbler.
"Done now," he said, and put the juice back. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"The war? Your latest case?" She cocked her head at him, curious. He'd had nightmares for years after peace began, but the memories faded with time, with a little therapy, or perhaps he'd just locked them away at last. When he shook his head, she frowned, puzzled. "Are you coming back to bed?"
"Yes," Heero replied, and moved for the stairs, his head down. "I was dreaming... " He paused, a foot on the first step, and considered it. "I can't remember," he said, and wished it weren't so.
"It's a child slavery ring," Heero explained, handing over the rap sheets for the seven suspects. "So far, victims range in age from three to nine."
"And they call this peace." Quatre exhaled slowly, and accepted the papers, glancing over them. His eyes were bright when he looked across Heero's desk at the piles of paperwork. "You have the medical records in there, I presume."
"Somewhere." Heero dug around until he found the folder, and tossed it across the desk at Quatre. He spun his chair, looking out the window across the city while his friend read. Down below, the pear blossoms were covering the streets in a springtime blanket of white confetti.
The phone rang, startling him.
"Darling," Relena's soft voice came over the phone, and he tensed. "Just thought I'd call. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine," he answered. When Quatre looked up, Heero shook his head, and turned back to stare out the windows. They were grimy, and he wondered if the cleaning staff ever made it that far into his little office. Perhaps the paperwork everywhere kept them out. "You?"
"Not so fine," she said, and took a deep breath. "It's okay to say if you're not fine, either."
"I miss him," Heero admitted. "But I have work to do."
"At least say his name," Relena whispered. "You never say his name."
Heero was silent. He wanted to think about the upcoming case, and the appeal with Judge Thomas that afternoon, and interview for new clerks. Anything but the empty space in his life.
"Just once," Relena begged. "Wufei. Say it, just once. Wufei."
"I have to go," Heero said, and hung up.
---wind was fierce, whipping at the sails of the fullriggers in port. He shoved his hands in his pockets, hunching against the wind, and stared down the lee side, picking out the whipping flag of his own brig. His fingers brushed against the pay in his pocket, and he sighed, turning on his heel and heading into the pub. Elena would be upset that he didn't come home right away, but the journey home had left a bad taste in his mouth. He needed beer to wash it down, before he could face her with the news.
Inside, the pub was black with smoke from a hundred years, and lit only by the massive fireplace along one side. Two barmaids were lighting lamps for the evening crowd, reedy golden beams barely breaking through the pipe smoke as the sailors gossiped quietly. The last storm had damaged three ships, and the feeling was subdued. Two ships out to sea had been caught, and four women were now mourning their kinfolk.
Five, once he told Elena.
"What'll it be, Young?" The barkeep wiped his hands on a rag, and let it drop back to his waist. "The usual?"
"Yeah." Harry picked a spot by the wall. He wasn't the most social at best, but he didn't feel like risking even a short conversation. His best navigator, and there was no reason, no rhyme, pure chance...
"This seat taken?" A baritone voice interrupted his thoughts.
Harry scowled, not looking up, and didn't bother to answer.
"Guess not," the stranger said, and settled onto the bench across from Harry. The stranger leaned forward, and something in his voice sounded like a sardonic smile. "Good to see you again."
Harry grunted. He didn't need a crazy man to keep him company. He stared pointedly down into his beer.
"I see I made a big impression," the stranger said.
"I'm not interested," Harry said. "My friend... " He frowned, looking up to see the stranger regarding him with open curiosity. "My wife's cousin," he explained, looking away under that penetrating gaze. "Fey."
"Storm," the stranger said, but he sounded like he expected Harry to deny it.
"Yeah," Harry said, not sure why he'd answer. "We'd just left Nova Scotia. When the storm rolled in, Fey---
"Heero?" Quatre paused in his review, and cocked his head. "You're not getting enough sleep again."
"It's this case," Heero said, wincing at the images spread out before him. He shoved them away with a growl. "It turns my stomach."
Wufei raised his eyebrows, startled at Heero's rare admission of weakness. Quatre looked away, and rustled through the papers.
"I think the jury's going to find Martins not guilty by reason of insanity, to be honest," Wufei said.
"Damn." Quatre had spoken truthfully of the evidence found, but the defense was good. And it was hard for anyone to rationalize sanity in the face of such vicious and brutal slayings. Quatre sighed and leaned forward, clasping his hands together and resting his forehead against them.
"Une should've kept this as a military tribunal. Civilian juries are too risky." Wufei turned away, leaning against the table. "How long do you think they'll be out?"
"I don't know." Heero turned to look out the conference room window, at the snow blanketing the city. The jury had been deliberating for four hours. His gut instinct told him that if they were in there for another four, his chances of a conviction went down with every hour after that. "Ask the professional people person."
"I'm not psychic," Quatre retorted.
"Just psychotic," Trowa interrupted. He stepped into the room, kicking the door shut behind him, and dropped two white paper bags on the table. "Brought you something to eat."
"Not hungry," Heero said, and ignored the bags.
"Damn, another five bucks to Relena," Trowa said, and collapsed into the chair next to Heero. He took out a sandwich and set it in front of Heero. "Eat."
"One day you'll learn to stop making bets with her," Wufei replied, digging in one of the bags for his share.
"She knows him too well," Quatre added, and picked out a sandwich and salad for himself. He unwrapped it, and gave Trowa a thankful look. "No mayonnaise."
"I pay attention," Trowa said, graciously. "Come on, Heero, eat."
But it was starting to rain outside, and Heero was distracted. The case, the murders, the image of Martins in the courtroom, and... He frowned, picking up his sandwich automatically. He bit into it, chewing without tasting, and swallowed, on auto-pilot. "There was... "
"Hunh?" Quatre looked up from his salad. "Heero?"
"In the courtroom," Heero whispered, trying to remember. "When I turned around, when everyone was standing, at the back, there was someone... "
"There were a lot of someones," Quatre pointed out, baffled. "Heero... are you---"
Heero remembered: a sardonic smile, and the flash of fingers tapping a forehead, a quick gesture of greeting, or farewell. He stared down at his sandwich, and the bread was too white, the meat too lean, the taste too spicy. He was suddenly thirsty. He realized his friends were staring. He shrugged, and ate the rest of his sandwich without paying attention.
The bridge was dark, few cars traversing the road in the silent hours before dawn. Autumn leaves huddled in the gutters. He walked the pedestrian path, his hands in his pockets, the wind ruffling his hair until it was a tangled mess falling into his eyes. He had no need to see, because it was all darkness.
Heero undid his shoelaces and toed off his standard issue boots. He was never that methodical or neat, or so he'd been told. He smiled and shed his jacket, folding it neatly over his shoes. Uncharacteristic, perhaps, but something in the moment demanded a ritual. He pulled out his wallet, and set it on the jacket. He had lost everything that mattered to him. He removed his holster and gun, and placed those on the jacket next to the wallet. Setting aside the things that mattered only to other people was of little import.
The road was empty. The bridge lights shone down on the yellow stripe, flashing down the middle, and Heero stood on the side, imagining a procession passing him, a parade with one spectator. In seven months' stretch, he had watched it all pass him by and leave him behind. In seven months, most nights were empty, but sometimes he dreamt of the ocean swallowing him.
He turned and climbed up onto the railing, staring down at the river below. A breeze swept the leaves off the empty bridge, swirling down into darkness. Somewhere, out beyond the stretch of his fingers, the river flowed into the ocean.
That's where I must go, Heero thought, and stepped away from the world.
--didn't make it," MacDonald said, and twisted his cap in his hands. "Sorry, cap'n."
Harry stared down at his charts and nodded. There was no point; the stars were hidden, and they were off-course. Their only hope was anchor and wait for morning. The last two soundings had only told him they were sitting above a whale hole, but the North Sea was pocketed with them. That was no real clue as to their whereabouts.
"Baron," Harry repeated, reminding himself to breathe. The first friend in Aberdeen, the only man who'd ever been willing to wait until Harry found the words to speak. Tall, laconic, a fine sailor; a finer friend. Triton was a good name, but even his strength had to give way before the relentless sea.
"Sorry," MacDonald repeated, and left the cabin.
"You've gone to join the rest," Harry said, to the empty room, and the passing ghost of his last friend. "Tell Winter--
"I talked to Wufei today," Relena said, the knife clattering in regular time against the chopping block as she chopped the vegetables. "He said you cracked the Oettinger ring."
"Yeah." Heero unwrapped the thawed chicken, and dropped it onto the cooking pan. He checked the stove's temperature, and drizzled oil and herbs across the meat. He realized Relena was watching, her face lined with worry. There were a few gray hairs at her temples, which he'd never noticed before. He turned away, shrugging. Oettinger was a bastard, and deserved the death penalty. "Yeah."
"That's great, darling," she said, and patted him on the shoulder. "You must be very happy."
Must be, he repeated, his mind stumbling over the affectation of a sweet-name she sometimes used. Mostly, he recognized, when she was thinking he wasn't talking enough. He sighed, and put the chicken in the oven.
"I have some filing to review," he said, though he had no such thing. He just wanted to be alone, in his study, to listen to the winter rains, thrumming on the roofs and sidewalks of the city.
The phone rang at two in the morning, and Heero groped blindly for the phone. He blinked at the caller ID, didn't recognize it, and put the phone to his ear.
"Sir," and it was the voice of the district dispatcher. "We just received word... Agent Barton... "
Heero was wide-awake instantly, dreams gone in a rush. "What---what happened, what---"
"Hunh?" Relena rolled over, propping herself up on one elbow, and leaned over him to look at his face. "What is it?"
"I don't---" He started to throw her off, but couldn't find the air to breathe. "What," he said again, unable to articulate. He remembered a man, wringing a dark wool hat between his hands...
"The Indian rebel infiltration assignment... he's been shot. Mumbai Central Hospital. They just wheeled him into the OR."
Heero repeated it, numb, to Relena, who was out of the bed in an instant. When Heero didn't move, she yanked the phone from his hand.
"We're on our way," she said, and hung up the phone. "Come on, darling. Move." When he stared at the phone, she snapped her fingers in front of his face. "Go into shock later. Move, now."
---pub was warm, voices receding into the background. A man sat down across from him, and leaned forward, his head tilted to the side. He rested his cheek on his fist, and tried to see into Harry's drink.
"That beer must be a fascinating conversationalist," he observed. His hair was a ruddy brown, a shade or two darker than Baron's. His eyes glittered in the lamplight.
Harry snarled and pulled away, hunkering down over his beer. He let his thick bangs fall down in his face, masking him from seeing the stranger.
"Are you going to drink that?" The man didn't seem to care that Harry didn't want company. A barmaid came by, refilling the stranger's beer, and the man tossed her a quick grin, raising his pint in toast. His grin remained long enough to include Harry, then faded. "Look, that letter... it's a bad idea."
"Yeah," Harry whispered, fingering the paper in his jacket pocket. He froze, and raised his head to get a better look at the stranger. "How would you know about the letter-of-marque? I just got it today from---"
"No matter, no matter," the stranger said, waving one hand. "I pay attention, is all."
He must have seen the king's seal. Harry nodded, still suspicious, but slightly mollified. He dropped his gaze back to the beer, but didn't drink. "Elena's going to be furious," he muttered. "She's against the war."
"A lot of people are," the stranger mused. "Most of them dead, now. And the dead---
"It's not working," she said, and her hands became fists on her legs. Relena looked like she was going to start pounding on her thighs. She was shaking, biting her lower lip. There were lines around her eyes, around her mouth, and he'd never noticed them before.
"What do you want to do," he said, his mouth moving.
His mind registered her words, yet could not comprehend. The room seemed foreign, despite the signs of their life together: knick-knacks on the mantel, the magazines piled on the coffee table. There were shoes abandoned by the front door, next to the box brought down from the attic, filled with Halloween decorations. They were hosting the annual party, in four days.
"Separation," she said, and she said the word as though it hurt her on a visceral level. A twist, a choked sob hiding in the midst of the single word.
"I see," Heero replied. "I... I'll draw up... "
"I've already spoken to someone," Relena interrupted. She stood up, not quite looking at him. She raised her chin, and took a deep breath. "It's Lisa Gilberston. She should be serving you with the preliminary papers tomorrow... I just wanted to warn you."
"Warn me." Heero blinked, and nodded. He looked away from his wife of eleven years, across the room to their wedding picture. His best men, all three, lined up, grinning at his side. He recalled thinking them an inadequate substitute for the one who couldn't be there, but he had told himself that he would be happy with Relena. "Eleven years," he said out loud.
"I'm sorry," Relena said, hesitating. She sank back down on the sofa, facing him, her honey-blonde hair a shade darker than the perfectly matched living room. Her feet were bare against the Oriental rug, her pink toenail polish clashing with the burnt umber and ochre of the weave.
"I've tried to be a good husband," Heero replied. His voice sounded distant in his ears. He stared at the picture of the two of them, in the garden at the embassy in Brussels, smiling at the camera. Next to it was a picture of he and his three best men. There should have been five in the picture.
Now there was only one.
"You were," Relena was saying, in a tired, worn tone. "You were always supportive and caring, but you never let me do it for you in return."
"Did I... " And he wasn't sure whether he was asking a question or agreeing. He stared at the picture, and wondered whether he could even remember the first loss. After two decades, and he wondered whether it hurt less, or if everything hurt so much he could no longer tell. "I meant to."
"It's too late now, Heero."
It surprised him, to hear her say his name.
Trowa leaned against the police car, his arms crossed, and said nothing as Heero approached. For a long minute, Heero stood by the car, staring down at his feet, feeling the spring wind pull at the hem of his coat. Finally Trowa shifted, moved, pushed away from the car, and opened the door. Heero got in, without a word.
Coming around to the other side, Trowa slid behind the wheel, and they drove to the morgue in silence. The halls were empty, sterile, and Heero had to bite down on the impulse to say he'd changed his mind. He'd seen enough dead bodies in his lifetime, he thought; there should be an end to this, eventually.
Death is with me, he thought, and it was cold comfort.
The man behind the counter accepted their identification, and Heero braced himself while he waited. The man jotted down the information, glancing up once to confirm the pictures on the identification matched the two men on the other side of the glass. He nodded, then, sliding the cards back through the slot. When he turned to enter the visitor information into the computer, Heero caught sight of a deep chestnut braid swaying with the man's movements.
He blinked, frowned, and opened his mouth, but Trowa's words stopped him.
"Yuy," Trowa said, calmly. "The victims... "
"Right," Heero said, shaking the peculiar image from his head. The short-haired man behind the counter gave Heero a puzzled look. Heero only shrugged and followed Trowa into the morgue, prepared to view one more set of grisly nightmares come to life, trapped forever in the first throes of death.
---condolences," Harry said, his head down.
The two women sat in the front parlor, their backs stiff, their demeanors frozen. His captain's sister was older, silvery streaks in her once-golden hair. She was wearing black for the loss of her husband, a year before. It made her look fragile, but her expression was resolute.
"The sea gives, and takes away," Dorrie whispered, and didn't look at the woman who was to have been her sister-in-law, come the spring.
Harry nodded, unable to say more. There were no words to explain watching helplessly when the North Sea took Cort Winter away in a broad dark wave. Not even a body recovered, to bring back in silence and cold to the women waiting for his return.
Or to the only other man who would truly grieve, Harry thought, the one who would never be given an hour to grow accustomed to the news, the settling sun falling beyond the pier, silhouetting the masts while a part of his life ended. But that hour was not needed; that hour had passed as two months between the storm and this brisk winter day. That man had also had days on end to watch the sea, to ask questions and accept that the sea would never answer.
Harry's gaze took in the bric-a-brac on the mantel, and the mended nets piling out from under a basket lid, shoved into the corner. That's what the women would want; push the sea away, forget it for the time within-doors, and deny it was the source of their existence. To accept it would be to give it more power.
He waited until dusk, an hour past his entrance, and the two women moved in the encroaching darkness. Their simple nods dismissed him; their grieving would only begin now that they had accepted the silence of Harry's regret.
Outside on Ship Street, Harry placed his cap on his head and pulled his coat tight around him. A block away from Elia Winters' home, and he nearly ran into someone.
"Watch---" He stopped, stared.
"I'm watching," the stranger replied, affable. "Are you?"
Harry couldn't find the words. The stranger was his height, or an inch or two taller, his hair a dark brown, hiding his face in jagged, unkempt bangs. His eyes were deep blue, the color of fathomless water over a whale hole.
"Hey," the stranger said, shaking Harry by the arm. "You don't look so good."
"I lost my captain," Harry replied, automatically, the words coming unbidden to his lips.
"I know," the stranger said, and his hand tightened on Harry's arm. "Let me---
"Sailing?" Trowa paused, the beer halfway to his mouth. The early spring weather was beautiful, and the caf茅's outdoor seating was full. "Thought you didn't like water."
Heero scowled. "It's for fish, not people." He stabbed at his steak, and shrugged before shoving another bite in his mouth. He drowned the bite with a draught of beer. "It's the fourth time, now."
"Strange. Talk to Winner. He's big into that kind of stuff." Trowa chuckled.
"Not sure I want to even go near him, feeling like this." Heero cut into his steak with vehemence. "Winner would take one look and dissect me then and there."
"But he'd listen. This case is doing a number on you," Trowa pointed out.
"I didn't have to see the scene," Heero replied, calm. He leveled his gaze on Trowa. "I only had to see the pictures."
"Yeah." Trowa lowered his head, to stare at his half-eaten meal. He sighed and pushed his plate away. "The smell... I can't forget it. I don't know if I ever will." He rubbed his nose, and shrugged. "Just one of those things, I guess."
"Don't get used to it."
"If I did, my heart would be dead." Trowa sighed, and waved to the waitress for another beer. He flashed a wry smile at Heero. "I'm going to try drowning it, first. See if that works."
"Drowning... " Heero felt a cold thread of fear stab his gut, and he stared down at his meal. The solid wood table wavered in his vision, rolling with a long movement from one side to the other. He blinked, and realized Trowa was calling his name, shaking him a little. Heero glared until Trowa removed his hand. "What?"
"Nothing," Trowa said, but his green eyes were sharp.
"Assassination," Heero repeated, and shook his head. Quatre had known the dangers, had taken precautions, would have... . Heero stared down at his clothes, and realized he was wearing a t-shirt he'd borrowed from Quatre. They'd spent an afternoon working on their cars together, the weekend before. He blinked, grabbing the shirt's hem, as if it could provide a foundation. "The threats from Corden's men... "
"Sir, sit down," the nurse said. "Please. Take a deep breath, sir, you're going into shock." Heero obediently sat, and the nurse hovered over him. "Do you want me to call someone? Someone who can be here with you..?"
"I... " Heero dug in his pocket for his cell phone, but the nurse put a hand over it. "Preventers called," he told her, his voice flat. "I was with my wife at dinner. She had to stay to pay the bill, but they didn't tell us... " He raised the phone, preparing to enter a number he knew better than his own.
"Not in the hospital," she admonished. "Use the pay phone, unless you need me to make the call... "
"I can," he said, and struggled to his feet. "I should let everyone... but first I want to see him. I need to see---"
"There's nothing left to see," the nurse replied, her gaze steady when Heero flinched. "Mister Winner was at the center of the blast, and was dead on arrival. They did their best, sir, but I'm afraid---"
The cry rang out across the emergency room. The nurse stepped back, startled. Suddenly Trowa was there, eyes wide, teeth bared.
"Heero, is it... it's not... "
"It is," Heero said, and all pretenses of being gentle were gone. He had no words left but the words said to him. "Dead on arrival."
Trowa's eyes blazed, then went flat. Heero caught Trowa, and fell with him.
--was crushed, smashed, limping back to port with half its crew dead in the last battle. He stared up at the sky, counting constellations as well known as his own hand, and as far away as the souls he'd lost under his command.
"A mistake," he whispered, and let the wheel run in his hands. The fog was rolling in across the water, cloaking the world around him. "A mistake," he repeated.
At least Elena would not know it, he thought, but it was little comfort. They'd gotten the message, delivered by the captain of the Carrie MacIntyre: typhoid. She hadn't lived to see her husband broken by his last friend's death, nor had she lived to see the war end.
"Cap'n Young," Bill said, close enough to speak but outside the cold walls wrapped around Harry. "Cap'n, if'n you want to stop now, Sam's willing to do the service. We've got them weighted."
"No," Harry said. "We'll take them home."
Bill, lined and reddened by a life on the water, stared into the younger man's face. He was quiet, then nodded, tipping his hand to his forehead in an unusual gesture of respect. Harry gazed past him, out at the fog.
"Tell Michael we'll need him to sound," Harry said. The fog swept onto the deck, hiding the white-covered bodies. "The shoals aren't far, by my guess."
"Aye," Bill replied, and slipped away in the fog to---
"What was he really like?" Relena leaned over Heero's shoulder, staring down at the picture of the five Gundam pilots, taken shortly after the first Eve War. She pointed to the cheerful grin on the face of the boy who'd never lived to see his eighteenth birthday. "I heard Trowa say once... "
Heero grunted, and closed the photo album, barely catching his wife's fingers. "I don't recall. It was a long time ago."
He got up, striding to the bookshelf where he slid the album back into its place between World Geography and the scrapbook his wife had made for their honeymoon, ten years before. A forgotten Christmas ornament sat on the shelf. He idly placed it on the mantel, reminding himself to put it away later. The fireplace's heat battered him, standing so close.
"I know it's hard," she said, coming to stand behind him. "But it's been years. You can let it go, now. These secrets... "
"They're not secrets," he retorted, moving away from her. "It's just the past. It can stay in the past."
Relena sighed, and moved to the coffee table, picking up his forgotten glass of wine. He took it from her automatically.
"Here, darling," she said, and picked up her own. "Enough of that, then. Tonight, let's think of the happy things. Like... " She smiled, and raised her glass, clinking it against his. "To your promotion."
He smiled, just a little, embarrassed by his momentary melancholy. Twenty years, he thought, and sipped his wine. It was bitter on his tongue, but perhaps that was because he couldn't remember the face of the first friend he'd ever had, and the first person he'd ever loved. He promised himself that he would return later, and look again, but Relena drew him towards the rug before the fireplace, pulling him down, placing his arm around her shoulders.
"This is nice," she said, whispering into his ear.
Heero set his wineglass on the hearth, and leaned over, kissing her deeply. She returned the kiss, sinking backwards onto the rug, murmuring encouragement in his ear. He slipped the buttons on her blouse, his tongue running down her sternum, but he found his attention drawn back to the fireplace. The wood crackled on the hearth, hot-tempered but contained.
Even as he lay with his wife, he stared into the fire. He imagined himself falling into the flames, following their path into oblivion.
"He was the best of us," Heero whispered. Relena's hand, clasped with his, gave him a short, quick squeeze. He managed a smile for her, aching to see the tears trailing down her cheeks.
"Yes," Quatre said, and moved to put an arm around Relena's waist, so she was flanked by them both. Trowa remained at Quatre's other side, hands in his pockets, his gaze far-seeing and troubled.
"It---it doesn't make sense," Relena choked out, stumbling when the two men moved her forward, away from the rows of white stones. Ahead, Une was directing several Preventers to ward off the reporters, waiting at the property's edge. Relena's heels sank into the soft spring grass. "It was just a simple arrest, and the guy---"
"I know," Quatre said.
Heero couldn't say anything. He'd been listening to his wife's denials for three days. Reluctantly he pulled away from Relena. She gave him a confused look through her tears, but he waved her to head on with Quatre.
He turned, heading back to the simple square set into the ground. He couldn't kneel, could only trace the simple lines of his friend's name, carved in elegant calligraphy. An impermanent art, carved in marble.
"It's a fitting tribute to Wufei," Trowa whispered, at his side.
Heero started, realized Trowa's meaning, and nodded. "I keep feeling like I want to tell him... "
Trowa shifted, almost imperceptibly, beside him.
"Never mind," Heero whispered.
---sounding rope twanged, a splash, and the distance called, the depth registering in Harry's mind, and he calculated their course without effort. The rudderless brig twisted in his hands, fighting his control. He shouted for the few remaining crew, furling and shifting the sails, bringing them about in the wind.
Ahead, the fog parted, swirling away for a heartbeat. He could see fire, blazing above the surface of the water. It was far enough away that it cast no reflection, and he instinctively turned towards---
The river was cold, but Heero was more shocked by the way it draped itself around him, holding him safe and secure within its depths. He hovered there, below the surface, drifting with the current, until the fire in his chest drowned out the chill seeping into him.
He came to the surface with a cry, startled at the unending darkness around him. The city lights were gone, the bridge a distant past and determined to stay there. Heero slid through the currents, his head falling below the surface and rising again.
---loomed up from the water, hulking shapes overhead. The crew stayed silent, holding their collective breath as he guided the reluctant brig through the rocks. His focus never wavered from the distant beacon.
When the crash came, the brig lurched, pinioned on the rocks. He clung to the wheel for several minutes, watching the bow rise into the air, shoved by the breakers. His crew was clinging to the ship. He smiled, seeing the fire on the hill above the sea.
Understanding, he let go, and slid down the deck into the water's---
In the distance, he could see a bonfire, and its reflection danced on the water. His arms began to move, his legs kicking languidly at the black waters. He was weightless, moving inexorably towards that destination, drawn to it. The bonfire waited at the edges of his sight.
The current moved him, a sluggish awareness against the river's destination. Heero continued to swim, even as his dazed mind struggled to understand why he'd bother. But the fire on the shore called to him, and that was where he'd have to go.
---rocky shore cut his legs, and sliced open his hands. The waves battered him, undercurrents tossing him about. He was thrown up against a rock, caught the rough surface, and clung to it. When the wave receded, he scrambled over the rock, past it, onto the sandy surface of the beach.
Above his head, the fire beckoned. Shapes flickered around the flames, and he nodded. The women had set up the bonfire, to draw the ships in, to call them home. Gasping with the effort, he climbed to his feet, falling to his knees again when he came to the bottom of the cliff.
Low tide, his mind told him, and he clambered up the cliff face. The voices faded, covered by the roar of the fire. He reached the top, a forty-foot climb, half a keel length. He reached up to grasp---
Heero knelt on the sandy shoreline, coughing, but no water came up. His lungs felt full, his body heavy, and he came to his feet with a grunt. The bonfire was ahead of him, on the bluff, calling to him. There would be people, women, carrying wood and torches. He braced himself to explain how he had lost his crew, his brothers, all that was important to him.
His bare feet touched grass, pebbles scattering silently with his footsteps. At the top of the bluff, Heero halted.
There was no fire, no women, no burning beacon; only one person, watching his progress. The wind caught the person's braid, whipping it out, a snapping panache like the highest mast of a sea-faring brig.
"Duo," Heero whispered, lurching forward. "But you're... "
"Yeah," Duo said, and caught Heero, lowering him gently to the ground. Heero stared, and Duo laughed, tapping Heero on the nose. "What? You say it, and I'll tell you it's a clich茅."
"I won't," Heero said, managing a stunned smile. "But... your hair... " He reached for the braid, clutching it in his frozen fingers. "And you're taller... "
Duo shrugged, and ran his hand across Heero's forehead. "There will be plenty of time for that, later."
"Later... " Heero frowned. Three figures appeared behind Duo, kneeling down around Heero, and he looked at their welcoming smiles. His shock melted into baffled pleasure, and he stared at Duo helplessly. "I don't---
He lay in the circle of the arms of his childhood friend, and the warmth of the beacon existed in the space between them. The fog was rolling back, revealing the jagged teeth of the shoreline. There was no brig, skewered on the rocks.
"I dreamt," he whispered. "I was in a city, and the people I knew were there, but different. We survived a war, but afterwards... " He raised a hand to his friend's face, smoothing the tousled chestnut-brown bangs, and running a hand down the braid lying over his friend's chest. "I lost all of them, in my dreams." He shuddered. "I lost them here, too."
"Yes, you did," his friend replied. "But I found them. I've taken care of them."
"And me?" He looked up, into irises of deep blue, fathomless as the cruel sea that had taken all their lives. "And me?"
"Yes," his friend replied.
"I followed your light," he said, and sighed. The stars above them pinpricked into life; a thousand distant beacons. "Ever since you left, it has been dark."
"Shush, friend. It won't be, now, or ever again."