CHATPER 1

'So many stars.' He marveled slightly. His eyes roamed over as many as he could find while he was in space. Because shortly, he was going home. 'Home.' He ran the word through his mind, trying to acquaint it in his head. The only home he'd ever had was wherever he and his Gundam went. 'And on this ship.' A hand came out from his crossed arms and slowly moved up to the glass that separated him from the vacuum. 'For now. Then I leave.' relief washed over his psyche in small waves. He was tired of fighting. He was glad the war was over. 'Back to my previous life.' He stared at his hand with a sudden bored fascination. 'Whatever that is.' His hand dropped from the invisible barrier and he shoved both hands in his pockets.

"Hey Trowa!" Lifting his gaze from the floor, it turned up toward the one calling his name. Leaning against the wall of the ship, he let a wisp of amusement into his eyes as he watched his friend smile. "Everyone is making final preparations for departure." Trowa nodded. "A few of us were wondering where you'd wandered off to." Trowa observed his friend's easygoing manner and wished for a brief time that he could be more like him. Then he pushed emotions and wishes into a deep corner of his being. He was needed; he could use the rest of his life to wish he was different. "Trowa?" Blinking, he turned his attention to his friend.

"Just taking one last look at the stars before we head to Earth." In a fluid movement, he leaned away from the wall and took a step from his post. "Let's go." He was halfway through the desolate room when he realized he was the only one walking. "Quatre?" He let a bit of a question enter his voice as he stared at his friend. Their eyes met and Quatre gave him a soft smile. Trowa cocked his head to a barely noticeable degree.

"Feels weird now that it's all over. No more worrying, no more fighting." Trowa took a few steps toward his friend till he was an arm's length away. Tentatively, he reached a hand out and rested it in a comforting gesture over his shoulder. "It's finally over." Trowa lifted the corners of his mouth just a little.

"Bout time peace gets the upper hand." He agreed monotone. Reaching a silent agreement about the war, both left the dark room and the stars in all their glory.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I want a full report of all systems running, fixed and damaged!" Commotion and movement followed the order in their haste to get finished and get home. "NOBODY goes home until I get those reports!" She bellowed, yet it was an empty threat. She wanted to go back to Earth as much as everyone else did. There were things that NEEDED to get done. Melting down all cursed mobile suits, the horrifying task of counting the dead for records, but most importantly protecting Miss Peacecraft. Along with Noin, she had protected Relena, though she didn't need to worry with Heero around. An orderly came up and handed her part of a diagnostics test. She looked at it, a part of her sad. Now that the war was over he had disappeared and left Relena wondering where he was. But if Relena longed for Heero, she didn't show it.

"Miss Une! I found him!" Turning toward the one calling her name, she spotted two of the pilots running into the hanger.

"Good, final departure begins as soon as everyone is aboard...WHERE ARE THE REST OF THOSE DIAGNOSTICS?" Her commanding voice bellowed. She waved the paper around. "NOBODY LEAVES PEACEMILLION TILL I GET THOSE STATS!" She walked away from the two, muttering something about incompetence. Trowa and Quatre looked at each other, Quatre shrugged.

"I guess this past week has taken its toll on everybody." He speculated. "Come on, let's go get aboard before Lady Une takes off without us." He smiled and the two floated up to the hatch. "Sally said earlier that she was putting Hilde up front so she could keep an eye on her readings." He nonchalantly said. Trowa followed Quatre up to the front and stopped in front of a closed door. Quatre knocked softly and then opened it, letting some light into the dark room. "Duo? We're taking off soon." He softly reported. The sight of Hilde hooked up to a few machines was horrible for Quatre to watch. By the protective way Duo kept watch, letting emotion slip from his eyes when he thought no one was looking, showed Quatre he cared for Hilde more than he let on. Duo didn't move from her bed.

"I heard Une." He said bluntly, his eyes never leaving his beloved. "Someone needs to tell her to keep it down before she wakes Hilde." He smiled, but it was as empty as his eyes. Quatre managed a small smile at the attempt of a joke.

"Quatre, I see you found him." Both Quatre and Trowa turned to see Relena float to the doorway. "We were wondering where you'd wandered off to." She smiled a little, but her eyes held only haunted emotions. "I'm glad you agreed to stay at the Sanc Kingdom while you find what you're looking for." He nodded politely, staying quiet. She looked at Quatre. "I'm going to get strapped in. Lady Une said we'd be taking off very soon." Turning, she floated into the passenger area. Looking at Trowa, Quatre smiled and followed Relena. Standing in the doorway, one half of him was covered in darkness, the rest bathed in light.

'How ironic.' He pondered lightly.

"I take it you're staying here?" He asked. He finally met Duo's eyes as he waited for an answer he already knew.

"I stay with her till she wakes up." He vowed, turning his eyes back to gaze at her heroic beauty. Trowa bowed his head and then grabbed the doorknob. Without another word, he closed the door behind him. Freezing with his hand on the knob, he quietly marveled at Duo's obvious love for Hilde. He first suspected something when Duo flew off to help her and returned moody, carrying the unconscious girl in his arms. Trowa had to respect Hilde somewhat. She risked her life to help them; she was extremely brave. Turning away from his thoughts, the shout for stand-by reached his ears. Pushing off the door, he floated to the closest seat and strapped in as the engines started. Turning to look out the shuttle window, he noticed people waving. A select few that stayed on Peacemillion wanted to help or had no home to go back to. The girth lurched and everyone cleared the hanger for safety. Minutes later, the shuttle began its assent into space, flying towards home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

'They fly like comets.' He mused. Once everyone was able to move around, he had moved closer to the window to view the stars. At first, he went back to see what Relena and Quatre were doing, but both had stacks of papers situated around them that needed to be gone through. So he decided to let them work and had gone back to his spot. The stars were flying past the ship at the right velocity to copy comets, their tails of light trailing behind them. He seemed mesmerized, watching the indefinite darkness go by till a glimpse of light could be seen from Earth. He leaned forward in his seat toward the window. The sphere of life never looked more inviting. Any other time he'd cast his eyes on it, he ignored it. He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms, his eyes locking on nothing. The cursed war. The main times he'd been in space were due to the damn war, save for the week on Peacemillion. As Earth's gleam brightened, he made his way for Hilde's room to inform Duo. Not bothering to knock, he opened the door wide enough to get his shoulders through.

"We're approaching Earth." He softly informed. The grief stricken pillow nodded, saying nothing. Floating out of the doorway, he closed the door and went back to his with an eerie feeling in his heart.

'I've just never seen Duo like this.' He surmised. The plane began its long journey into orbit and landed in the vicinity of the Sanc Kingdom. An ambulance came to pick up Hilde, Duo following closely behind with a pained look of nostalgia on his face. A limo pulled up in place of the ambulance for the rest of the passengers. An elderly, kind looking man got out and walked to the edge of the ramp.

"Miss Relena! So GOOD to have you home." He smiled happily through a thick mustache.

"It's good to BE home Pagan." She agreed, eyeing the Sanc Kingdom in the distance, nestled among the groves of trees. "These two are going to be staying at the Sanc Kingdom for a while." Her arm stretched to wave at the two next to her. "Trowa Barton and Quatre Rebaba Winner." She introduced. Each man nodded in greeting. "Also once we get back I want a list of the best doctors and nurses in the area. The ambulance that just left holds an injured and another friend. They will be staying somewhat longer." Noin and Sally Po walked off the plan and near the others.

"Why Miss Noin. It's good to see you again."

"As it is with you Pagan." Noin smiled kindly. "Been keeping safe, staying out of trouble?" Her eyes danced with merriment.

"Of course. Wouldn't want the captain of the royal guards after me, would I?" Noin chuckled.

"We should hurry back Relena." Sally intervened. "I want to make sure Hilde took the trip okay." She nodded.

"Yes of course." Pagan walked to open the door and let the five enter into the luxurious setting. Quatre took that time to review a document he had started when the shuttle approached Earth. Upon arrival in the Sanc Kingdom grounds, Relena stopped and looked lovingly at her home, now to be occupied by more than just her and the workers. She smiled. "There are thirty bedrooms and twenty bathrooms. Take whichever you want." She explained, sweeping her arm in a grand introduction. "Most of the bedrooms are in the expanse of the third floor, above the classrooms. The kitchen is on the ground floor, along with a dinner hall, ballroom, library, and study. There are classrooms along the west wing there," She pointed as they walked up, "along the first floor to the main staircase by the entrance doors." Trowa listened as he looked at the immense size of the structure. Quatre looked around, knowing the grounds from his stay with Heero. Worriedly, he glanced at Relena and gave her his full attention. "The gym and fencing room are in the basement along with all the other pipes and machines that run this hulk. If I remember correctly, I read something about a mechanic's garage that connects with the outside." Arriving to the main doors, Relena opened them both and walked inside. Stopping at the main stairs about ten feet away, she turned to her group and smiled. "Welcome Trowa and Sally to the Sanc Kingdom. Quatre, it's a pleasure to have you back, under better circumstances of course." He smiled. She looked at a nearby ornate grandfather clock and her eyes took on a surprised note. "Well, the time sure has passed. Why don't you three go pick out your rooms? Noin, yours should still be next to mine. Would you show the others the way?"

"Actually Relena, I wanted to go check up on Hilde first." Sally cut in. "Do you know where she might be?"

"I'm afraid I don't Sally. But we can go and check with the servants. And I'll tell the cook to make something light for everyone." Going their own ways, the group split up for now.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A few days searching paid off for Trowa. Finding Cathy was easy; the rest of it was spent with his companions and roaming through the main grounds. The actual DAY he'd located Cathy, he felt something akin to relief. He had the schedule and he had a full day to waste before flying out to their next show. He would meet up with them there and rejoin the circus, getting back with his life. Walking past a rosebush in the extensive garden, he admired nature's beauty before continuing down the path. He left in a few hours and he still had so much to see in this magical place. The palace itself took nearly a whole day of exploring. He was also stalling on another pretense. He looked at the palace. It was true he could leave anytime he wanted and wait for Cathy at their next show. His gaze drifted to a wilting rose in the bottom half of the bush. Keeling down, he indulged in wanton normality and held the near limp rose in is hand. In truth, he was waiting for Hilde to wake up. He stared at the rose sadly. 'Will it EVER get to live? Or will it die too soon?' He theoretically stated. He craned his head towards the general direction of Hilde's room. He wanted to thank her when she woke up, but he didn't know when that would be. And he couldn't POSSIBLY stay however long that would take. Gracefully standing back up, he followed the granite path till it came to a large beautifully detailed fountain. He marveled at the size, walking around to see the entire design. Angel cherubs held buckets that water flowed from, positioned nicely in a center to the top. Their faces were happy with their short curly hair, a crown of leaves all over their heads. The pool had an extremely realistic design of an olive branch, the symbol of peace. 'In a pacifist land? Of course.'

"That's always been my favorite part of the grounds." Spinning around defensively, he relaxed when he saw only Relena. She smiled serenely and gave the fountain her attention again. "Millardo and I used to play out here when we were younger." She walked forward to stand by Trowa. "If I remember correctly." She shrugged lightly. "That seems like another time." Both stared at the fountain as sounds of water reigned. "I wish you didn't have to go, but you have a life to get back to. Quatre leaves a day after you." She smiled wryly. "He's procrastinating going back to sort through the paperwork at his father's office. I guess I'm keeping as much possible freedom to myself until I'm needed too."

"One can only imagine the burden both of you face." Came the monotone answer. "Facing up to expectations of your previous generation won't be easy." She nodded.

"Such is the sacrifice for peace and prosperity." She softly lilted. "He's also hoping to say goodbye to Hilde before he leaves." Slight surprise showed in his eyes.

"As was I." Relena smiled at the ironic twist.

"You two have a similar thinking." She joked softly. "Scary." His eyes looked down at her sideways face. Humor danced in her eyes as she stared at the Angel fountain.

"So it appears." He felt the humor from her radiate to him. He turned his head back to the fountain.

"Well I've dallied around enough." A hand came up and rested on his shoulder lightly. "Come see me before you leave eh?" He nodded and she turned to go back to her office.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I'm leaving." She looked up startled from her paperwork and looked at the clock.

"That time already huh?" Pushing her chair back, she propped a hand on her desk and leaned over it a little. With a smile, she extended her other towards him. "I shall miss you Trowa." He walked over and clasped her hand yet she did not shake it, only held it in her own. "I hope that whatever you're looking for leads you to happiness Trowa." She smiled warmly. "Be sure to come back and visit sometime eh?" He nodded and she let go of his hand. He let a lisp of a smile come to his face in departure and left her to the work on her desk. When the door clicked shut, she sat back down with a sigh. She folded her hands over her desk and stared at them solemnly. "I miss him already." She missed his quiet, comforting presence. She picked up the document and propped her chin lazily with her hand as she stared at it. She missed her friend and he probably hadn't even left the front doors yet. "Oh well, back to work." She muttered and adjusted her position for the long haul.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I'm leaving." He repeated again. Quatre looked up from his own papers and checked the wall clock. He'd wanted to get as much done as possible before he went back to the colony.

"Already? Time flies when you're trying to delve through accounts." He joked, tossing the paper down. Trowa's eyes showed amusement. He deftly walked in and closed the door behind him. Quatre got up from his chair and walked over to his friend. Standing near him, he looked into Trowa's eyes and smiled sadly. "I guess this is it for now huh? Going back to the circus?" He nodded quietly. "See if you can talk to the ringmaster into flying out to the colony. I'll pay for the travel." Trowa's mouth tilted. Seconds quietly ticked by before Quatre gave Trowa a soft hug. Surprised, it took him a second to uncomfortably respond. "I wish you could stay my friend, but you have your own life to get to." He sadly whispered. Pulling back, Quatre blinked back tears. "I shall miss your presence Trowa."

"And I shall miss your friendship Quatre." Trowa softly commented. Quatre beamed through shiny tears. "You have a safe journey to the colonies and don't work TOO hard." He admonished. Quatre smiled and nodded. Backing up, Trowa opened the door and looked at Quatre again. "We will meet again, don't worry." And shut the door behind him. Quatre sighed and covered his face with his hands. Loneliness speared through him. He looked at his desk with distaste.

"Oh to be as carefree as your life Trowa." He wished. Walking back to the leather chair, he sighed. "As empty as you make it sound."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He softly knocked so he wouldn't have to listen to the whining later. Not hearing anything, he opened the door and was mildly stunned at the scene before him. Duo was...PRAYING. Trowa's face showed disbelief at the picture. Although he couldn't figure Duo believing in any type of God, the stance complimented what he wore. He quietly shut the door, his eyes still on Shinigami. The only thing that moved was his lips as he chanted his silent prayer. Every once in a while, anguish and defeat would pass over his face. Trowa waited a little longer by the door till he slowly walked to the edge of Hilde's bed. His hands rested on the top of the end bed frame, staring at her face. If he could will it, he would wish her to wake up, if only to end Duo's obvious torment. He hated seeing the once friendly and joking Gundam pilot in such a disarray of haggard emotions. It just didn't seem like Duo. "She's not awake if that's what you're wondering." Cam the soft and even, yet defeated voice. Trowa looked directly at his friend, still in his praying stance.

"I came to say goodbye." He softly replied. A minute seemed to pass before Duo looked up at him with dead eyes.

"So soon?" Trowa nodded.

"I know when the next show is and where. I'm going to meet up with them." Duo nodded absentmindedly and dropped his clenched hands on the bed near Hilde's feet. Trowa watched him, as he turned to Hilde's expressionless face, almost pleading with his eyes for her to wake up. "She'll wake up Duo. You just need to give her more time. She was pretty beaten when you brought her to Sally." He pointed out. The braided pilot bowed his head, then looked up at Trowa with glistening eyes.

"You know this isn't the first time she's been at death's door because of me?" He smiled sadly. "We were just play fighting...and I pushed the bottom part of her sternum into her chest." A tear fell from his eye, but he made no move to brush it away. "She nearly died. All because of my experience as a Gundam pilot." He unclasped his hands and left them limp next to each other, his weary eyes staring at them. "She went into cardiac arrest and I nearly lost her." He ended in a whisper as all the horrible past emotions haunted him. "I can't LOSE her Trowa. I can't live without her. I love her so much..." Trowa's mind was reeling from this new, horrific information. Yet that was a different time and Duo would NEVER hurt Hilde now. He would most likely kill himself before he turned on her in ANY way. "These hands have caused so much bloodshed. Everything that got near me crumbled to dust. She was the only one that stayed pure around me. I would never forgive myself if she didn't pull through." He rasped. His hands went up and covered his upper face, yet Trowa saw his chin tremble.

He'd never been good with words of encouragement or comfort. He knew he would never be able to calm Duo down; the only person that COULD was Hilde. But he had to try. "That praying you did when I entered." Duo looked up at him with lost, childlike eyes. "Keep at it. Maybe somebody will hear you. You may wear a preacher's garments, but that doesn't mean you believe in God. Use your love for Hilde to keep your faith lit and you strong." Duo gave him a small grateful smile and nodded slightly. Silence dominated as their gazes drifted to Hilde. "I need to be going." He softly announced. Reaching into his pocket, he handed Duo a folded note with Hilde's name on it. "Give this to her when she wakes up. It's what I would have said to her." Duo nodded and reached over to put it on the nightstand. Trowa looked at his resumed praying stance from his spot in the doorway. "She'll wake up Duo, don't worry. Just stand by her and find your inner strength." Reaching for the doorknob, he closed it behind him.

After a minute wait for his ride, it appeared in front of the grand staircase outside. With a mental sigh of resignation, his inner determination strengthened as he walked to the cab. After he was in, directions were given and they took off, he felt strange. Like he'd been cut from his family. Yet at the same time, he was going towards his TRUE family. It was a puzzling and intriguing feeling. To feel like you were leaving something behind and finding something else. The entire ride was spent trying to fight that feeling or get over it. The scenery flew by until they stopped at his final destination in this land. He paid his way through and sat in his seat on the train. 'I'm coming Cathy.' He silently promised. When the trained lurched and started to pick up speed, he bowed his head from a bout of sadness. 'Goodbye Relena, be safe. Quatre, I shall miss YOUR presence as well. Duo, you'll be okay, I know it.' He looked out the window as the land flew past him in a rapid, steady pace. Relaxing in his chair, he blanked his mind out to endure the long ride across the continent.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"You always WERE a nuisance!" He stumbled closer in his rage and struck her across the face. She was knocked to the ground and scrambled to get away from him. "Just like your mother." He spat out in distaste, lumbering closer to hit her again. Her small size allowed her to scramble under the table in the dining room. "You're both WEAK!" He shouted, bending to catch her. She shoved the chairs away in her haste to get away and get some room to defend herself. "Stand still and take what's COMING to you!" He yelled. His long arm shot out and clenched her ankle, cutting into her skin. She cried out in pain and kicked out with her free foot. "OW! You little BITCH!" He cursed at her. Yet her ankle was free and she had a split second to look at what disarray the house was in and winced. Her mother would NEVER have allowed such a mess. "THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!" The outrage snapped her back to the situation at hand, making her remember the peril she was in. "We were FINE until YOU came along!" She didn't know what to do. She HAD to leave to stay alive, no question about that. But she doubt she'd get to the front door without being caught. She wasn't listening to ANYTHING her father was saying because NONE of the war was her fault, he just wanted someone to blame and she was the only one left. She kept a full attention on every move he made. "You'll pay." He promised with malice. She took note of the deadly gleam in his eyes as he glared at her. "You should've NEVER been born!" He lunged across the table, but she backed away to avoid his strong hands. "You BOTH ruined my life!" He yelled; face contorted in anger. She ran past the kitchen and blindly into her parent's bedroom. Hearing his stomping coming closer, she fought not to panic. She knew there was no place to hide. Remembering her mother, she felt anger and turned to face her only exit as she saw him walk to the doorway.

'Gappa, give me strength.' She silently wished. Assuming a fighting stance, she felt every muscle in her body become alive and rigid. Her leg muscles worked as she ran forward toward her father to attack him and save her life.

"NO!" She shouted. Her eyes popped open and she turned over to get away but fell onto the floor. The blanked had been wrapped around during her tormentuous slumber and half of it got yanked with her. Kicking them away was no god in her haze and her hands wrestled with it to frantically untie herself. Popping up, her glazed eyes looked around wildly as she looked for danger. Seeing nothing but the walls move as the wind blew, she silently told herself she was ok.

'It's over. You're safe.' Her fists dropped from her fighting stance and relaxed. She ran a hand through her tumbled hair and reached around for the tail end of the braid. Taking out the ponytail holder, she set it around her wrist and walked out of the tent. The camp was basically deserted; of course, they were all in BED too. She walked over to the fire and jabbed it carefully to rouse the tinder, but keep the sparks from flying and dropped the stick in after it. Her eyes fixated on the burning object until her ears picked up sounds of late night movement. Knowing where it came from, a small smile graced her otherwise stony face. Her arms wrapped around her torso in a protecting gesture. Slowly, she turned around and looked at her friends sitting near her tent. They were ALWAYS near; it was her job to take care of them.

"I know I'm up late." Her soft voice cut above the silence. One of them looked at her tiredly. "But you look like YOU'RE up late too." Her hands unraveled from her chest and gripped the bars. "I had another dream, about that night." The two in front of her stared at her slightly miserable face and gave their full attention. Her head bent forward and leaned against the cage. "It keeps haunting me, why?" She closed her eyes in anguish and felt something warm and wet run across her forehead. It was harsh, yet comforting. "You ALWAYS know what to do to make me feel better. Thank you." Without care, she reached into the cage and ran her hand over the mane of their youngest lion. He in turn, licked her bare arm fondly. The female's ears jerked and her walls immediately went back up. The smile left her face and smoothed from any emotion. Her back went rigid and the hairs on her neck stood up.

'Probably one of the moron workers thinking I'm a ninny for being too close to the lions.' She thought snidely. She looked back at the only beings she'd let in and found them staring behind her, almost happily if she looked hard enough. Without caution, she reached up to pet the youngest again; just to show them these lions weren't dangerous.

"Who are you?" the low, dangerous voice that she didn't recognize caused her hand to pause. Her eyes widened. Could it be a burglar? Her hand slowly gravitated back to wrap around the bar. "What're you doing here?" It was an even tenor, yet held authority and promise of pain if not answered immediately.

"Why should I tell YOU?" She asked with a slight edge to her cool tone. Suddenly, she swung around to get a look at the intruder. She didn't know him and he wasn't working here was all she thought. She sized up his lanky, tall frame and started to think of all the quickest possible ways to take him down, quietly of course. She took note of his relaxed, yet guarded face and searched for any dishonorable emotions in his eyes. Yet she saw none other than fierce protectiveness and wondered what a possible THIEF would be protective about; unless, he planned on taking the animals for some twisted reason. She kept her anger off her face and out of her voice, yet inside she was boiling. "My name is for my friends and I doubt a would-be thief qualifies." She stared at him with a small measure of contempt.

'THIEF?' He thought confused. 'Who does this TWIT think she IS?' He angrily thought. Yet he let no emotion show, he needed the upper hand if he was going to get her before she got anyone else.

"I'm not thief, and you'd do well to get away from Vestal and Tireen before you regret it." He stared at the lions behind her, his face relaxing a bit. She looked behind her quickly, than back to his eyes. So he knew their names eh? She kept her surprise hidden.

"And what if I DON'T?" She curled her lip slightly. "You can't threaten someone unafraid of you." He raised his eyebrow to a slightly noticeable degree. Not afraid? His gaze passed over to the other tents. Well he was HOPING not to wake up anybody, but it would prove an interesting reunion at least. And this little girl would need a lesson in manners AND trespassing. He would be happy to give it to her. Glad he had nothing to carry, he effortlessly jumped over the fire that separated them and landed with a soft thud on top of the lion's cage. He looked down at her and crossed his arms.

If it had been different circumstances in the past and present, she would've commended him on such a jump. Narrowing her eyes at him, she judged the distance before launching herself from the ground. She landed deftly in front of him and quickly assumed a fighting stance. "You want a fight? Fine. You SHOULD have left." She warned evenly. He looked unperturbed. She narrowed her eyes and jump-kicked off the metal. "KIA!" She yelled. He dodged it easily and jumped off the cage, landing near the lions. Forgetting her, he walked over to them and stuck his hand through the bars to pet them. She jumped down after him and tossed a kick to his head. It was easily dodged, but she hit her foot on the bars with a resounding CLANG. Her clenched jaw was the only indication she was in pain. Putting her weight on her foot, she swallowed harshly and clenched both fists until her knuckles went white. The two stared at each other as they sized up newly discovered abilities and determination.

"What's going ON out there?!" An angry voice shouted. Her ears picked up the underlying sleepiness and felt chagrin for waking the person up. But her eyes kept on the nitwit in front of her. His eyes widened and an actual smile graced his features, lighting his face. She had to attribute to how handsome it made him, then quickly dismissed the idea. "Is that YOU Washu? You know better than--TROWA!" The amount of happiness took her for a loop, confusing her. The once angry voiced turned to pure joy as a body blurred past her and nearly choked the person in front of her with a hug. She dropped her arms and stared dumbly as he hugged back.

"Surprise Cathy." He murmured softly. He looked into her eyes and smiled at her. He saw tears come to her eyes. "Why are you crying?"

Need he ASK that? She hugged him tightly again. "You're BACK Trowa! You're SAFE. THAT'S why I'm crying." Her tears dampened his shirt, but neither noticed. She looked into his eyes before running to the ringmaster's tent happily. She disappeared behind the fabric, leaving the two in silence. Trowa felt a substantial urge to gloat in the fiery girl's face. he turned his attention to her and raised an eyebrow minutely in challenge.

"Anything else you'd like to say?" He asked without emotion. Yet inside, he felt like laughing at her. The little fireball was too stupid to switch the fight-and-ask-questions situation to find out if he was friend or foe. She reminded him of Heero.

"I have NOTHING to say to you." She shot back coldly. She raised her chin at the harsh blow to her pride and tried to salvage it. She saw the look in his eyes, asking, daring her to challenge him again. She turned to give him her back, but stumbled at the amount of pain that passed up her leg. Her hand shot out and gripped the cage, trying to send the metal her pain. Her head bowed as it throbbed, having been transferred from her foot. She clenched her teeth as tight as she could. "We're finished here." She gritted out and stumbled into a group of nearby trees before disappearing.

"Trowa my boy!" His head whipped around to see the ringmaster walk forward, his arms outspread. His attention shifted from the girl to the two approaching. He took a few steps toward them and was clapped on the back. "Good ta see ya again son!" He crowed. Trowa looked at him with a small smile.

"Who's the girl?" He asked, wondering why she was here. Catherine looked around.

"Where IS Washu?" She asked, concern in her voice. That was her name? Trowa blinked.

"She hobbled off into the woods after attacking me." He explained evenly. Cathy grimaced and the ringmaster shook his head tiredly. "Something I should know? She thought I was a thief."

"Let's go in my tent and I'll explain our little 'situation' to you." The ringmaster took a chair, as well as Catherine while Trowa stood. "In a nutshell? She's taking care of the animals while our previous caretaker is on her honeymoon." He entwined his fingers and looked at them. "We found her clinging to the bottom of the train, probably stowed away from our last show. We didn't find her till we stopped to check on the animals. One of the clowns found a guitar case behind some of the bedding. When we checked it out, there was a small duffle bag hidden not too far away."

"The lions actually found her." Catherine continued. "They were acting strange and pawing at the floor. I ducked underneath the rail and there she was." She shook her head, still unbelieving the actions of the girl.

"She wouldn't come out until we threatened to have her thrown in jail, once we reached the next town anyway. She looked panicked for a split second before she seemed to turn all her emotions off." He rubbed his beard thoughtfully.

"She didn't apologize for stowing away, but offered to WORK her 'crime' off." Catherine finished. "In a strange, fated way, it all worked out. The main caretaker was leaving to get married in less than a week and showed Washu everything. She picked it up rather quickly." She smiled wistfully. "She's taken to all the animals."

"But that's about IT." The ringmaster butted in darkly. "She's cold and rude to almost everyone except Catherine. That's why I've told her to watch over her. Since they're almost the same age, I thought it would be a sister-like relationship."

"She mostly ignores me though." She explained to Trowa. "I can hardly keep track of her. she keeps wandering off, so I make sure she behaves." She tossed up her hands slightly. "That's about all I CAN do."

"I'd 'fire' her, except we'd be stuck. And since you're here, the knife act is back, so there'd still be no one to keep a full eye on the maintenance and well-being of the animals. Besides, she's devoted to all of them and does a good job. The only problem I have is the rudeness."

"But I've seen it more around the males rather than the females here." She explained. "When I first found her, she was quiet, but never rude to ME. I suspect it's her past she's running away from, but she won't open up enough for me to find out any details."

"And you let her guard the animals?" Trowa asked, still a little skeptical. His mind was storing every bit of information. "What if she's a criminal running from the law?"

"That's why I put Catherine in charge."

"I really don't think it's the LAW." She added, seeing Trowa's eyes narrow protectively. "I think it's something ELSE. Just stay away from her till she can get used to you." She couldn't help but smile. "She's quick to judge sometimes. That's why she probably thought you were a thief She's fiercely protective of the animals and you may have wounded her pride."

"As well as her foot." He bluntly added. Cathy's eyes widened.

"Is THAT what I heard? Oh dear, I hope the poor girl is alright." She looked at the flap, biting her lip worriedly. "Her pride won't let me tend to it. I can only hope she didn't hurt it TOO bad."

"She was barefoot." He added evenly. Both of them winced.

"Well there's not too much that can be done now." The ringmaster amended. "She'll be back before we leave to pack up. Just stay clear and give her some space my boy. Better if she approaches YOU." Trowa nodded, but had no intention of talking to someone who let her pride blind her to friendly help of others. Wufei popped into his head. "We don't have any place ready, but it can be arranged if you want."

"I would've been here a few hours earlier, but my departure took a little longer than normal." He answered, keeping it vague. The faces of his friends floated through his mind. "I had intended on being here before sundown."

"That's no biggie. I can put an extra cot in my room till we get other arrangements made." Cathy offered. Trowa nodded, feeling in no mood to dispute the topic at this time of night. Since the war ended nearly a week ago, he was starting to feel fatigue of many sleepless nights catch up to him. The two walked out of the tent and Cathy directed Trowa to hers before going to scrounge up an extra bed for him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

'Stupid, pompous, arrogant, self-righteous...MAN!' She winced as she flexed her foot. She only got to clenching the muscles to MOVE the foot before the pain forced her to stop. She bit back a cry, but a painful grunt sounded instead. Her eyes scanned the small forest she was in, hoping to see SOME-thing she could use to walk with, or some cool leaves to rest her foot against. Unsteadily, she managed to get to her feet and hobble to a low lying tree. Eying the larger branches, she silently apologized to it and broke a branch off. Now having SOME type of walking stick to lean on, she wandered farther into the forest, memorizing her way in the dark. She came across a small puddle that was left over from day old rain. Carefully crouching down, she dipped her finger in; it was nearly ice. Nodding in satisfaction, she carefully set her foot in, feeling goosebumps from the water. 'It isn't broken.' She surmised, gently feeling the bones around her ankle. 'I might need this stick for a few days though.' She turned to it and picked it off the earth. Holding it near her face, she started picking the bark off to pass the nighttime.

After what seemed like a few hours, she pulled her foot from the now warm puddle. Crossing her foot over her knee, she touched the clammy skin with utmost care. The temperature was extremely cold and it numbed her foot to the point that she didn't feel a thing. 'Bliss for now, pain later.' She thought. But UNTIL later came, she was free of the pain. But that didn't mean she was going to try and WALK on it. Looking up at the moon through the cracks in the leaves, she gauged the spot it was in and looked towards the clearing. 'I'll be back by dusk.' She promised. She wasn't THAT far from camp anyway. Sitting lotus position, she rested her hands limply over her legs. Back poised and ramrod straight, she closed her eyes but knew she wouldn't be able to sleep after the reminder of her past. She killed the shiver at the base of her spine. 'Though I almost wish for warmer clothes. ALMOST.' She looked down at the simple t-shirt and sweats she wore. They would only keep out so MUCH of the cold. 'Suck it up.' She ordered harshly. Clearing her mind, she inhaled a deep breath and watched a small amount of steam that was created. 'Better to let the cold dull your senses so you can plan a strategy for that boy.' She clenched her jaw and forced herself to get rid of all anger. She would NOT think about him now. Just because he made her look like a FOOL...her fists clenched. 'FORGET him.' She commanded irate. 'Indifference has ALWAYS kept them away as well.' The old jauntiness returned to her blood, beckoning all cold emotions to follow. The youthful cockiness made her smile boastfully; her chin tilted proudly after it. She closed her eyes and waited for dusk.

After the first strains of daylight came through the trees, she opened her eyes and forced herself to wake up. Her conscious had been in the dream state, yet she was fully awake. But she had been able to pass the night by conjuring up images of her mother and grandparents' loving faces for company. As long as their ghosts stayed with her, she NEEDED no one else. Moving her legs from their mediating stance, she felt the protestations of her joints. Her hands and eyes went to inspect her wound and was mildly satisfied the pain went down another notch. The light was able to show her the large amount of discoloration, but she could put socks on and cover it. She would just have to watch how she walked for a while. Grabbing the stick, she used it to carefully get back up and turn in the direction towards camp.

No one was up and the lion's cage had been covered up for the night. Seeing the fire smoking, she knelt down by it and put dirt in the center, dousing the remains. Standing up, she went toward her tent and inside to start picking up, wondering how she was going to be able to collapse it without getting set behind or ask for help. She scowled as she hopped around on one foot, hands trying to compact her cot. She needed NO ONE'S help. Taking apart the cot was more challenging when half her attention was on her foot. She tried to scurry about as fast as possible before half the workers were up. Most of them paid her no mind anyway, which suited her JUST fine. She left the small amount of belongings in the center while she undid the clasps inside her tent. She was thankful that she had asked for a small one because it would be quicker to take down than the larger ones they offered. Balancing on one foot, she raised her stick and jabbed the makeshift ceiling, dislodging the metal ring keeping everything in place. Grabbing the center stick, she yanked it from the ground and slid it to the opening. Going outside, she laid her stick on the ground and yanked the pole out of the ground. Unhooking the fabric, she set the outer sick next to the other one and repeated the action five more times. By he time she'd gotten to the last, it had nearly toppled over, making it much easier to take down. Now came the long task of FOLDING the canvas.

Unknown to Washu, Trowa had seen every step she'd taken outside since he'd spotted the center pole curiously slide out the flap. He knew someone as stubborn as her wouldn't want an audience, so he kept his body hidden as he watched. It looked stressful, but she adapted to her injured foot rather quickly. He'd taken note of the rather large branch she used as a makeshift crutch and had to give her credit for using the forest's resources in such an efficient way. He watched as she folded the canvas awkwardly and decided to make his presence known. She seemed to have a rather good sense of hearing and he was mildly surprised she hadn't felt eyes on her yet. Walking out of Cathy's tent, he walked over to the lion's cage and grabbed the fabric, revealing the sleepy inhabitants. Lips curving to the slightest degree, he folded the large blanket over the top and opened the door. The lions watched as he entered, as did Washu. Having folded the canvas, she set it with her belongings and went to gather the poles. Light peeked a little more through the horizon, but anybody with normal sleeping habits wouldn't be up for another hour or so. Even with her bad foot, she had time to take it slow in her morning chores. Eyes drifted back to the cage, she watched as he bid her friends good morning and petted them contently. She was about to say something, but remembered to stay indifferent. Realizing she was in her sleeping clothes, she went to her bag and ruffled through it. Finding something appropriate, she went deep into the woods to change.

When Trowa's attention as finished with the lions, he realized that Washu was gone. Closing and locking the steel door, he took note of her open bag and new scuff marks in the cold dirt. Looking at the sky, he marveled at the view of the sun from Earth. It always looked better on Earth; outer space was nothing to gloat about. Sunrises were always breathtaking to watch. His ears perked up when he heard movement inside a tent. Minutes later, Cathy came out and stretched. Rubbing her arms in the brisk air, she gave him a sleepy smile. His lips tilted in response. He watched as she bumbled about the camp, trying to wake up. She stopped near him and rested her forehead on his arm. "You woke me up." She tiredly joked. He heard her chuckle softly and raised an eyebrow.

"Doesn't look like it." He replied evenly, looking down at her. She looked up at him and rubbed her eyes. She yawned and looked around the camp.

"Did Washu come back yet?" How she failed to notice the folded tent was beyond him.

"She went back into the forest. I'm assuming to change." His hand moved from the comfortable position over his arm to point at the gap where her tent had been. "She put that down earlier." She nodded and turned to her own tent.

"I'm going to make some coffee, want any?" She asked, half to it.

"No." He declined. She nodded in acknowledgment before disappearing inside. Rustling nearby caught his attention and he cast his eyes in that direction, not bothering to turn his head. Watching her hobble back to her bag, now appropriately clothed, he dared to look at her injured foot. Spying a quick glance, his eyebrow moved at the discolored, swollen appendage that was limply hanging in the air. "Catherine inquired about your whereabouts." He piped up, casting his gaze back to the sky.

"I'm still HERE, aren't I?" She indicated coolly. His eyes followed her with a bored attention as she hobbled to the supplies. She ignored him as she difficultly walked to the cage he was by. She walked past him to greet her friends and give them their breakfast before doing the same with the other animals.