Part One:

"And so we lay to rest our beloved friend..."

The priest was talking again.  Blah blah blah, he was such a special person.  Blah blah blah, we'll all miss him.  Blah blah.  I could remember a time when I had pictured myself in that outfit, in that role.  That was long ago, and those days were as dead as the friend we were sticking in the ground.  The friend we had lost.

That damn priest.  He thought he had the right to speak of my friend like that, with the disgusting smirk on his face.  People, citizens here, had all come just to watch as the casket was put down, and to smile and wonder how long it would be before the rest of us joined him.  Only a year had passed, and they had already forgotten that we had risked out lives to save them.  We were Gundam pilots.  To them, we would always be the symbol of war.  To them, we would always be the enemy.  We were to die.

And that man, that boy, being put into the ground, that was my friend.  My friend.  Those were words neither of us would ever have said out loud, but yes, we had been friends. Hell, we had been more than friends.  We had both known it.  What right had the other people, the 'citizens,' to attend the funeral of my best friend and to scorn him?  A dead man can't retaliate.

"Amen."  The priest again.  He was worse than the 'citizens.' 

"Amen," I answered softly, bitterly, crossing myself.  Wufei looked over at me.  Wufei.  He had changed over the past few weeks, since that last mission.  Sure, he was still ranting about justice and being weak and all, but he was a better person now.  Nicer, maybe, more tolerant.  It was hard to pinpoint the change exactly, but it was there, and he was slowly becoming a friend.

"Are you alright?  No one will call you weak if you wish to leave," he told me.  I smiled weakly and shook my head.  I had dragged everyone here to begin with.  And I was going to see it through.  Besides, the 'citizens' were like vultures, and by leaving they would be free to prey on the flesh of the dead, and of the living.  We were the symbols of war, after all.  We couldn't possibly have feelings.  And I couldn't allow that.  No, I couldn't allow that at all.

But then they put the casket in the ground.  And it was the dull thud of the coffin meeting earth that really got me.  All of a sudden I felt very sick.  I turned and walked a bit away, gesticulating for Wufei and the others to remain where they were.  The three of them, Wufei, Quatre, and even Trowa, all threw worried glances my way.  I was acting a bit unusual, for me, I guess.  I walked a bit more, a bit further, before I was out of sight and my legs all of a sudden got really weak.  I sank to the dank ground in a sitting position, hugging my knees to my chest, and leaned my back up against a tombstone.  I was well aware that, six feet below me, were the rotted and decomposing remains of some stranger, who had probably once had a best friend.  And maybe this best friend had acted like a best friend and stayed for the whole funeral.  I had spent a lot of time in graveyards as a kid, and I ignored the stench of grave dirt that found it's way to my nose.  I lay my head on my folded up knees and, forgetting any comments Wufei would have made about my being weak, I began to cry.  I sobbed like a beaten child, finally dragging myself into the unconscious state of sleep.

I don't know when I woke up, but it must have been a good while later, because the sun was beginning to set.  The sky was stained a bloody red, with dark streaks of blue shining through.  I sat up, ignoring the stiff crick in my neck, and stretched.  With luck, my friends would still be here, in the church parking lot, probably.  I'd find them soon enough, but I first wanted to see the grave.  All the 'citizens' had dispersed, thank God, and the grave marker had been set up.  A brand new, freshly carved gravestone.  I approached it slowly, with some caution, gingerly stepping over the newly covered grave.  I knew from previous experience that the ground was still extremely soft, and that a wrong step could get you stuck up to your knees in grave dirt.  We used to play a game with that on L2, daring other kids to step over the graves.  We always promised that we would pull them out if they got stuck, but no one was ever foolish enough to try.

Except me, of course.  And as I stared down at the place my friend was buried, I kept thinking of that time I had been stepping on the graves and got stuck in a brand new one, up to my middle at least.  And I remember screaming, as loud as I could, for the others to get me out, but no one came.  I stayed there for an hour or two before one of the priests in the church heard me and ran out to fetch me. I swallowed hard, remembering the way the grave smell had become overpowering, and by the time I was out I had been thinking so much about death and dying that I wasn't scared of it anymore, and said I was the ruler of death.  That, I think, is when I first came up with the idea of calling myself Shinigami.  But I looked down at the fresh gravestone again, and realized that if I really was Shinigami, I would have been able to save him.  My best friend.

I pushed the thought away and kneeled by the grave, lightly touching it with my fingers.  Some idiot had already scrawled profanity on the back of it, despite it's newness and the respect the occupant deserved.  I rubbed at it with my sleeve, remembering a book I had read once, about a guy who was always rubbing out profanity asking what happened to the ducks in the winter.  It had been a really battered book, a classic of some sort, and I had enjoyed it, actually, up to a point.  It was by some guy named Salinger. Catcher in the Rye, maybe?  I smiled a little.  What I would give to see the guy's faces if they discovered that I enjoyed reading things besides my mangas!

I touched the freshly carved letters in the stone.  They were cut deep, and they were still bold and could be read.  I sighed.  It was time to say good-byes.  I carefully read the stone.

"Heero Yuy... AC. 180- 197.  For a true hero such as this, there is a place for a warrior once the bloody battle ends."  I smiled.  In God's kingdom, I remembered hearing from my childhood, there is a place for all.  Even for the likes of us, the Gundam pilots.  Now that's a place I'd like to see.

"Duo!"

I glanced around, seeing Wufei standing by the church doors, not exactly looking happy or pleased with me, or this place.  "I'm here.  Just checking out the grave."

"Hurry up.  Night is falling, and none of us wish to stay here any longer."

I nodded.  "It's alright, Wu-man, I won't let the ghosts and scary things get you."  I stood up as I heard Wufei say something about injustice and Nataku, then turned back to the grave.  "I'll be back, Heero.  You and I still have a few battles to fight, and I'll be there soon enough.  Save me a seat at the table."  I took a step backwards.  "You and I will always be together."

With one final glance to Heero's silent grave, I turned and walked back to the church, where my friends were waiting for me.

~tbc