~3~

It was very dark. The sky was dark, and the ground was dark, and he sat next to a long road that was also very dark. There was nothing else. He didn't know how long he'd been there. It didn't seem to matter. Time didn't seem to exist in the rational sense. Nothing seemed to exist. A brief part of his mind was slightly worried by this, but mostly he simply couldn't feel worry. He couldn't feel anything at all. He sat by the endless road in the endless darkness and…

…drifted…

And then he felt himself pulled ever so slightly down to earth, and she was there.

She didn't talk this time, didn't smile and say hello. She just stood in front of him and waited, her face creased with an expression that was almost… disappointment? But that was okay. He expected that this time would be different.

He stood up and looked at her expectantly. Still, she didn't move. Why didn't she move? What did she expect him to do? Surely it was up to her now? He was beginning to feel uncomfortable and he did not like feeling uncomfortable. Fine. If she wouldn't make a move, he would.

He stepped forward and held out a hand to her. "Take me then."

She didn't move. She didn't take his hand. Instead, she smiled the faintest of smiles and said gently, "Why, Heero. Are you flirting with me?"

Blank incomprehension. What?

"I'm not here for you yet, Heero."

What?

"I came to keep you company for a little while, is all. I imagine you must get lonely, being unconscious and stuck here for so long."

"That's not possible."

"That I'd want to keep you company? Well you were a little abrupt last time we met…"

"That I'm alive! I cannot be alive!"

She cocked her head to the side, crossed her arms and gave him an amused look. "You think?"

"I self-detonated. I blew up both myself and Wing to prevent our actions being used as an excuse to attack the colonies. There was no way I could have survived!"

"I hate to point this out to you Heero, but I am kind of an expert in these matters…"

"How!?" He spat at her, suddenly furious. He had done so badly on his missions of late. Could he not even accomplish something as simple as this?

She shrugged, still looking amused. "You have a strong constitution. All those neat little genetic enhancements that have been done to you did their stuff. The explosion caused a lot of injuries, but you were thrown clear. It didn't kill you."

"I was lying in the middle of a battlefield! I must have been bleeding. Even I could not survive that for long."

"The battle pretty much ended after that. Your little statement distracted the bad guys and the other four Gundam pilots took the opportunity to escape. And of course, OZ was secure in the knowledge that their little ploy of threatening to blow up several colonies with their new weapon if the pilots tried anything would keep them from any more random terrorist hi-jinks."

"But if I was lying out there…"

"One of your friends got you out."

"I don't have any…"

She rolled her eyes, dusted off a bit of road, and sat herself down comfortably. "…don't have any friends. Right. Sorry. One of the other pilots then."

He crouched down to her height, still disbelieving. "Why would they do that? I had barely met them, and I did what I did for a reason. Surely they could see that?"

"You talk as if it were completely obvious!"

"It was! I had been given instructions not to allow myself to be used like that. I had to show them that I would never bow to their demands."

"And you were told to by Dr J."

"He is the one who sent me to earth. He is the one who gives me my missions. I was directly instructed to…"

"Kill yourself?"

"If necessary, yes. I am fighting a war against the alliance, against the forces of OZ who hid within their ranks. I will do anything that is necessary to fight that war. I told you last time we met that I was not afraid of you. I am not! And now I have botched yet another mission, and OZ…"

"Hey, calm down there…"

"I am calm!"

"Hah! You could fool me!"

He clamped his mouth shut and glared at her, feeling more and more infuriated.

She cheerfully ignored his dour mood. "So! Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about, or do you just want to spend the time in companionable silence?"

"Companionable silence?"

"Or bitter and awkward silence, if you'd rather. I've always found companionable silence much better, though."

He stared down at her. She smiled up at him. There was several long seconds of a silence that was anything but companionable.

Then he scowled, and flopped down beside her.

It wasn't that she had beaten him down, Heero told himself. It was just that, by talking to her, he could acquire useful information about his current position.

"Which pilot?"

"Hmmm?" She had taken a looped piece of string out of her pocket and appeared to be twisting it into different shapes by twirling it around different fingers. He had no idea why she would be doing this.

"Which pilot picked me up?"

She glanced up from her string. "His name's Trowa. You haven't met him properly yet. I think you'll like him, though."

"He's the pilot of the Gundam with the most ammunition, correct?"

"Assembling all the facts together?"

"Yes. Why did you say that I'd like him?"

"He's very like you. He's a soldier too. Much more than the pilot you have met properly. Duo, is his name?"

"Yes. And it would not take a lot to be more of a soldier than him."

"You sound disapproving."

He thought about this. "I am, I suppose. I do not think he takes his job seriously enough. The fate of the whole of outer space could be riding on his battles and he makes jokes."

"That's bad?"

"Yes!"

"Have you ever stopped to consider…" She bit her lip as she twisted the string in a particularly difficult way. "…that maybe he's got his own way of doing things? Just because he's different doesn't necessarily mean his ways don't work just as well."

"I've seen his work. He is good, but he is not as efficient as myself."

Her tone was dry. "Oh, I don't know about that. He's sent his fair share of people to me, especially lately."

"I am not necessarily talking about death."

Her smile quirked. "I'm hurt."

He gave her an exasperated look. "I wasn't referring to you specifically. Our job is not to kill people. Killing people is simply a necessary part of our attempts to bring down this corrupt government."

"But you have killed a lot of people, Heero. I should know, after all." She pulled her hands up and peered at him through the spider web of string looped around her fingers. Her face was deadly earnest.

"What do you wish me to say?" he answered, irritation creeping back into his voice. "That I regret their deaths? I do. I regret that they were necessary…"

"All of them?"

"That's what this is about, then. The death of the peacekeepers on the plane."

"I wasn't actually trying to steer the conversation in that direction, Heero, despite what you might think. However, since you mention it…"

"It was a mistake. I was foolish."

"You were tricked."

He ignored her. "I will find some method of restitution when I awaken. I believe I will offer my life to the relatives of those killed."

"Oookay. I don't think that's what everyone would do…"

"I deserve nothing less. And I told you that I'm not afraid of you."

"I am aware of that. The very fact that our conversations have been so… civil..."

"I have… gradually… come to terms with who you are. I still don't know why you wish to talk to me but…"

"Despite the fact that I've told you several times…"

"There is something more to it than that. There must be."

Her laughter cut through the darkness. He looked at her questioningly.

"I'm sorry. It's just… That's such a human attitude, Heero. Always looking behind things, never accepting things at face value." She smiled and with a last twist, she brought her two hands forward and showed him what she'd made. To his astonishment, the string had been woven into an intricate pattern that looked quite remarkably like his Gundam.

Intrigued, he reached out a hand and touched it. Just string, nothing more. A lot of string, woven into something far more complex. "What is that?"

"Cats Cradle! It's a game, children play it. A lot of patience, and a lot of string, and you can make nearly anything."

"Is that supposed to be some kind of message?" He looked at her doubtfully.

"A message?" A flick of her fingers, and it was gone. She stowed the string back in her pockets and pulled herself to her feet. "Heero, anything can be a message if you want to look at it that way. Myself, I think that maybe you ought to just listen to your feelings a little more. Didn't Odin tell you to do that once?"

"He told me just before his death. He told me just before you took him."

"It's amazing how much clarity of vision I can give people."

He pulled himself up beside her. "You're going now?"

"Sorry. Wish I could spend more time but…" She shrugged. "You know how it is. Far too much work."

"I doubt that I will make your job any easier when I awaken."

She agreed easily. "I doubt you will."

"Well…" He stared at her, suddenly feeling awkward.

She stuck her hands in her pockets and gave him a slight bow. Unsure of what else to do, he returned it. "I'll see you again."

And as his head dipped down and his eyes met the floor, he heard her add, in a wistful tone, "Hopefully next time it won't be because you're seeking me out."

His head snapped up, a protest on the tip of his tongue. But she was gone, and he was left alone in the dark with only the echo of her last words to ponder.

-+-

When he next saw her, he was in space…

************

To be continued…