Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing and all related characters. But if I did own Heero, I'd keep him as a pet, chained to my bed.

Title: Higurashi [Mundane life; living hand-to-mouth].

Author: Elle Smith.

Beta Reader: Death Meets Life (Skye).

Summary: At the end of the EW movie, every pilot is shown finding his own place in the world, and only Heero is seen looking up at the sky as he stands in the middle of a large Tokyo-like crossing. This story tries to answer how he got there and what might have happened next.

Warning: Rated M for alcohol abuse, suicidal themes and (very) light swearing. Heero-centric, major angst, some non-graphic 1xOFC.

Author's Note: I was planning on finishing 'Mundane' before I wrote this, but I couldn't wait any longer. The words for 'Mundane's seventh chapter refused to come until I wrote this one first. The two stories were supposed to be connected, but I decided to write them separately since I don't know when I will finish 'Mundane' (hopefully soon). I am planning on writing a sequel for 'Higurashi' in the future, once I've finished 'Mundane'.

In any case, that is why 'Higurashi' was written as a one-shot, for now. Well, it used to be a one-shot, but it was so long that I had to split it into 6 parts to make reading easier. The plot structure is intended for a one-shot, that's why there won't be any crazy cliffhangers and such. I hope you'll still be interested to read the next chapters anyway.

Also, while I'm usually an avid 2x1 fan, I don't mind experimenting with het relationships, as I did in this story. Since there is no graphically descriptive sex in this story (it's all about Heero's feelings), I hope that even some yaoi fans will read this anyway, because I might write something more "yaoish" in the sequel.

Elle.

. ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ .

Higurashi

. ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ .

When he finally made it home, an eviction notice was pinned to the front door of his apartment. He reached up shakily to tear it away, leaving a small shred of green paper pinned under the red thumbtack. His fingers trembled with strain and weakness as he unfolded the green form.

'Notice of intent to terminate right of occupancy for non-payment. Resident: Heero Yuy. Date: December 27, A.C. 206'.

An angry 'Merry Christmas!' was scribbled in sharp Katakana at the bottom of the notice.

Heero's tired, bloodshot, Prussian blue eyes skimmed through the details, noting that he was in dept of 61,950₯ [1], a dept due to be paid within 24 hours of the notice. A long, miserable sigh slipped past his lips. The deadline had passed two days ago; he had not been home to see the notice or to pay the debt, not that he had that kind of money available in the first place.

Heero resignedly reached a hand to test the doorknob. He had not locked the apartment when he had left; he was in no condition to do such a thing. He hoped that his landlord had not locked him out yet; at the moment, he was unable to bring himself to face the man and beg him to let him in for at least another day.

Surprisingly, the knob turned and the lock clicked open. A rush of stale air brushed against Heero's face as the door slowly swung inwards. Perhaps the old grouch had heard of his hospitalization and decided to wait for his return before kicking him out, Heero mused. Once the door slid fully open, he had a full few of his modest 1K apartment [2]. The small residence was in a state of total chaos; someone had completely turned the place upside down. Heero knew better than to blame a thief, as he could vaguely recall wrecking his own apartment in a state of frenzy, and there was nothing of value to steal, anyway.

Carefully putting one leg in front of the other, he limped into the dark and messy apartment, aided by a battered wooden walking-cane. He made his way across the small combined living and bedroom space and towards the unfolding sofa, which served as his bed. His legs were trembling with weakness by the time he made it to the couch. He collapsed on it gratefully, sinking into the cushions with great fatigue. The cane fell to the floor as soon as he let go of it; the clatter it made echoed throughout the bare apartment. Heero leaned his head against the backrest, closing his eyes as he rubbed his face tiredly.

His face had grown thinner and his features sharper and more distinct over the years. His hair was shorter, darker, and no longer fell into his eyes in a childlike manner. His skin tone had darkened to a deeper golden hue due to years of working under harsh sunlight; faint freckles blemished his nose and cheeks. His blue eyes also seemed to have darkened, perhaps due to the heavy bags always present underneath. Some women had mentioned that he was quite handsome, but he rarely paid their remarks any heed.

His body had also changed over the years. He was no longer muscular and taut as he had been as a teenage soldier. He had grown a few inches taller, his shoulders had broadened and he had filled out in a few places, giving him a more masculine appearance compared to the awkwardly skinny frame he once had. His figure was still quite slim for a young man his age; he looked almost sickly. Despite the tan he had gained over the years, his complexion was now unhealthy pale; he seemed dejected and fatigued. At the ripe age of twenty-six, Heero was a far cry from the boy the world used to recognize as the infamous Gundam pilot 01, savior of Earth. He felt as removed from that image as the earth was removed from the heavens.

Heero's life had been nothing but turmoil since the day the Eve Wars ended. His so-called 'career' as a Gundam pilot, as a symbol of hope, had been a brief period in the living-hell he called his existence. Back then, at the young age of sixteen, he had been certain that he had already seen it all, that he had endured all there was to suffer through; however, civilian life had proved him wrong. Surviving the war and dealing with the "real world" – the civilian world of peacetime – inflicted much more pain than his intense training had ever caused. He had survived years of torment under the treatment and discipline of Dr. J; he had survived gruesome battlefields and dreadful encounters with peril and death. He had survived, only to be defeated by the peaceful world he had helped to create. It was ironic, but fate was hardly anything else.

Heaving a long sigh, Heero slowly lifted his head away from the sofa. He turned to examine his dark apartment – it was a small, featureless habitat – all the while still clutching the crumpled eviction notice in his hand.

Was it also considered ironic that, after years of being ignored by the bureaucratic world, he was now holding an official form telling him to go fuck himself?

For years ESUN bureaucracy failed to acknowledge his existence, refusing to give him an official place in the world. He had fought hard for recognition as a resident of the ESUN and a part of humanity. Eventually, after years of seemingly endless struggle, bureaucracy finally decided to allow his name to be officially written on its endless forms: electric bills, gas bills, water bills, phone bills... cable, internet and what-not bills; his name was printed on each and every one of them until it all became too much. He disconnected the phone, cable, internet, and even the gas. The money he had saved by doing so went to municipal property taxes after he had missed three payments. When one dept was covered, another one formed. The bills just kept on coming, and he wished that bureaucracy would just leave him alone.

Heero threw the eviction notice angrily to the floor. With a groan, he reached down for his cane and stood, barely able to support himself even with the aid of the walking stick. Clutching the staff, he limped away from the sofa. He had stopped feeling bitter towards the cane years ago; he simply accepted the fact that he could not manage without it, particularly now, when his body was still weak and healing.

His physical disability was a result of a reckless move he had made for peace: crashing his Gundam at the end of the Marimeia rebellion. The crash had almost killed him; he had suffered from many internal injuries, including shattering the bones in his left leg beyond repair. The doctors managed to salvage some of the original bone tissue and reinforced it with bone plates and screws, but he was left with an accursed limp.

On account of the severe condition he had been admitted in, which demanded various other surgeries, Heero was forced to stay at the hospital for weeks after the end of the war. The others moved on while he stayed put, confined to bed and under the affects of heavy pain-killer medication, barely conscious for most of the time spent in the hospital. The treatments were financed by the newly founded Earth Sphere United Nation government as a sign of gratitude for his "extraordinary valor in battle" and for his "great sacrifice for the sake of humanity." Once most of his injuries had healed, he began to receive excessive physiotherapy; he was allowed to stay in the hospital's convalescent home for that period of time. During that time Heero mostly read books or played chess with his elderly roommate. Three months of physiotherapy allowed him to use his leg again, but he still had to live the rest of his life with a serious limp.

The cane scrapped against the dirty floor as Heero made his way across the small living area and towards the kitchen. His apartment was in a state of total chaos, exactly the way he had left it three days earlier.

During a fit of despair and anger, he had trashed his own place. Nothing was left unturned. Whatever little possessions he had – a few books, some knickknacks, photographs and a small flat-screen television set – lay broken on the floor. He had even ripped off the aluminum blinds from the living room window, exposing the city lights. Angry at the window for revealing his shame, he had smashed it as well. Now the floor was covered with glass, and a large sum would have to be paid for the window.

Sighing, Heero opened the ugly PVC folding door which separated the kitchen from the bedroom/living area. The kitchen was a narrow room containing an old refrigerator, a laundry machine and a stove. Two doors – one leading to the lavatory and the other to the bathroom – stood opposite the kitchen counter and cupboards. Next to them was small kitchen table and a single chair which was still standing; a second chair was lying smashed to pieces on the floor.

Ignoring the mess he had left in the kitchen, Heero limped towards the sink in search for some water. He did not even bother opening the refrigerator; he knew that he would find it empty. He did not have the money or the will to buy supplies. In truth, he had not planned on ever needing either money or nutriment every again. Sadly, that plan had been foiled, thus being added to the long list of failures that marked various checkpoints in his life.

The sink was filled with dirty dishes; flies and maggots were nourishing on some leftovers clinging to the plates. Ignoring the disturbing sight, Heero reached up to pull a clean glass out of the cupboard. He filled it with tap water, all the while staring numbly at a small note hanging on the cupboard above the sink. 'Good morning – pills! :-)' was scribbled on it in feminine handwriting; there was even a smiley face drawn under the instruction. On some mornings that smiley would actually raise his lips upwards, but, just like he had stopped following the note's instructions to take his medication, he had also eventually stopped smiling in the morning. There was nothing left to smile about.

Heero ripped the note off the cupboard, crushed it in his fist and threw it away. It landed on the floor, along with other assorted broken junk. He briefly wondered why he had not thrown the note away while vandalizing his own apartment. He chose not to dwell on it and slowly turned away from the sink. The single chair by the kitchen table screeched against the floor as he pulled it out. Quietly, Heero settled into the chair and put his cane aside. He sipped his water while staring numbly at the table; its surface was filthy with crumbs and various sticky stains. A trail of ants were making their way across the tabletop, carrying white grains of sugar on their backs. There was an almost empty bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey standing next to a dirty shot glass, soiled with traces of golden liquid at the bottom. The ants did not dare to approach the bitter liquor.

Next to the bottle lay a plastic lighter and an open box of a cheap brand of cigarettes; there were only a few left. Heero picked one up and drew it to his mouth, expertly catching it between his lips. He lit the cigarette and leaned back into the chair, inhaling the smoke deeply. Smoking was a habit he had picked up years before; he smoked like a steam-engine, sometimes two or three packs a day. Science claimed that smoking would slowly kill him, so he waited to see when and how that might occur.

The thought tore a bitter chuckle from his lips. Looking down at his scarred wrists, Heero knew that he was not fooling anyone with his long-term death wish. He hardly had the patience or the will to wait for the cigarettes to kill him; he had tried taking matters into his own hands on numerous occasions. His wrists bore the ugly scars of one suicide attempt; the other two were not visible on his skin, only in his tired blue eyes.

The one he had made that week had been the third, and the most pitiful attempt. He had been so damn drunk while attempting to kill himself that he accidently swallowed a whole bottle of vitamin supplements instead of his sleeping pills. Realizing his mistake, he drunkenly called his psychiatrist, Dr. Tanimura, slurring in broken English and Japanese that he made an error in judgment. Heero was hospitalized and had his stomach pumped to avoid vitamin poisoning, which could be rather deadly, but hardly anyone ever died from its immediate affects.

Tanimura-sensei must have had a good laugh when he heard about it. Tanimura had only been his psychiatrist for a few months, so Heero was sure that the old geezer still felt it was appropriate to have a laugh at his expense. He could not bring himself to care, though. Tanimura could laugh all he wanted; he did not matter. The only person who did matter to him, Heero hoped, remained ignorant of his attempt to take his own life; it was better that way.

Swinging back and forth on the creaky chair with his good leg, Heero finished his first smoke and pulled out another cigarette from the box. He lit it thoughtfully, sinking into a state of bitter reminiscing.

The first time he had tried to kill himself after the war was during the first year of peace. Heero could clearly recall the bitterness he had felt after being released from the hospital in Brussels. As compensation for his efforts in the fighting, the government offered to pay his travel fees to wherever he had chosen to go. On a whim, he had decided on Japan, and the government covered his expenses with a modest grant.

Despite being of Japanese origin (or so he was told), Heero had little to no connection to the land of the rising sun. He supposed that, back then, all he really wanted was to go to a place where he had never waged battle. Japan had been the only pacifist country to really pull through the Eve Wars unscathed. While pacifist by nature, Japan was by no means anti-militaristic like the Sanc Kingdom; its great defensive forces were enough to ward off any malicious attacks by the Alliance or OZ. Furthermore, Japan's economic strength and stability were far too precious to various political forces; they had no intention of destroying a country from which they could benefit. Many of the colonies also depended on Japan's wealth and peaceful economic interventions, so an attack on Japanese soil was never considered on either side of the fighting.

During the war, Japan had provided financial and logistical support to allied fighting forces, continuing its long tradition of non-offensive 'checkbook diplomacy.' No battles were waged within the Japanese archipelago, with exception of the American bases at Okinawa. Being the only politically stable country in the region during the war, Japan had blossomed. While others waged battles, Japan took advantage of the vacuum left in the financial arena providing the nations of Earth and the Colonies with cheap and reliable goods.

At the dawn of A.C. 197, experts had been talking about another 'economic miracle' era for Japan. Therefore, Heero had assumed that Japan would be a good place to start anew; he had assumed that he would not be reminded of war as often as he would have been elsewhere. When he arrived in Tokyo, he could hardly find traces of the war that had raged between Earth and the Colonies for so long; it was a perfect place to start building himself a life off the battlefield. In retrospect, Heero now knew that he had been naοve, still oblivious to the hardship that was to come. Starting anew was never easy, especially when one starts from scratch among people who were already living comfortably.

Back then, Heero had been looking forward to make the best out of his situation. He had survived the wars and was no longer under the control of Dr. J, meaning he was free to do as he chose. Hardly an optimist by nature, he nonetheless felt secure about his future. Being only seventeen years of age, he was aware that he still had his whole life ahead of him. He was determined not to waste time on making up for all the years and experiences he had missed while growing up as a soldier. What was lost was lost; the past was unattainable. All he had was his future.

While hardly knowledgeable about mundane life of contemporary A.C. society, Heero was nevertheless aware of the basics. He knew that what was expected of an average human being was to use his skills in order to play a productive role in society. A pragmatic and a realist at heart, he was certain that his vast knowledge in natural sciences, combined with his practical skills in many fields of expertise, would provide him with a good starting point. Once he had found an environment that both suited his needs as an individual and was also a place where he could contribute to others – thus achieving self-fulfillment – he would build himself a life there.

It was a simple enough plan, or so it had seemed at the time. In reality, the world did not operate on principles of logic and considerations of value and efficacy, much less in Japan. On the contrary, the very system that was designed to take young men his age and transform them into productive adults became his demise. Despite his extraordinary knowledge in advanced mathematics of science and engineering, his understanding of physics, chemistry and mechanics, plus his exceptional computer skills in both hardware and software, he was condemned worthless by the trivial and indisputable fact that he lacked a simple high school diploma. With no official education, no one would even speak with him about a job. Japan was known as a 'credential society'; formal education was highly regarded.

His young age also made him undeserving of proper, rational, attention from the adults around him. To top all of those was the fact that he had lacked an officially documented identity and only possessed a temporary visa granted to him by the ESUN branch in Brussels. Bureaucracy was his ultimate downfall – it deemed him unworthy because no piece of paper on both Earth and the Colonies bore his name; a fake name given to him absentmindedly during wartime, and not even at birth.

According to the bureaucrats of the ESUN government, 'Heero Yuy' had never been born, never went to school, never had a vaccination record card or even a library card for that matter. He was unofficially alive, which meant that he had no rights as a member of humanity. He merely existed – an undeniable fact even for the ESUN bureaucrats – but he was never alive by their standards.

In the end, being underage, physically handicapped and without official education foiled Heero's plans to start living like his fellow human beings. After weeks of unsuccessfully searching for employment and getting nothing but ignorant refusals thrown in his face, Heero eventually ran out of the money he had received from the government grant. His visa also expired and the damn Tokyo ESUN bureaucrats refused to renew it because he did not have a job – because he was not contributing to society. The only reason he did not have a job was because no one would hire someone on a temporary, nearly expired visa. He was caught in a 'Catch 22', and it frustrated him beyond belief. He ended up penniless, stranded on the streets of Tokyo. His only possession had been the walking-cane he had received in the hospital at Brussels. He was living on the streets; homeless, hungry and in great despair.

Surprisingly, there were many homeless people living in the streets of Tokyo (most of them were foreigners), even during the current 'economic miracle'. Heero's only advantage over them was being under the age of eighteen, which earned him the right to stay at a homeless shelter without having to stand in line with the rest of the unfortunate ones looking forward to a warm bed and a meal. Women with children were allowed to enter first, then the underage teenagers like himself were let in (unless they were drug addicts), and finally what little beds were left were handed to the homeless waiting in line in front of the shelter. Ironically, his young age earned him a bed in a homeless shelter, but denied him of proper employment.

The doors to the shelter had opened around three-thirty in the afternoon. The lines were formed hours earlier. Since Heero could enter without waiting in line, he had until three p.m. to search for a place of work. However, the Japanese were very reluctant to hire foreigners, let alone illegal ones. There were plenty of both legal and illegal aliens flowing into Japan in search of work and the competition was great. To top that was the fact that the Japanese did not look fondly at strangers. For many years, Japan had been a closed society, isolated from the world for over two hundred and fifty years. Even though more than five centuries had past since Japan had opened its gates to the world, the Japanese still took pride in their allegedly homogenous society. Outsiders were usually looked down upon because they were unfamiliar with the ways of Japanese culture.

Heero had only a few advantages over other immigrants: his Japanese origin and his basic knowledge of the Japanese language. Therefore, on a good week, Heero was able to convince some business owner or another to let him work for a day or two, despite his illegal status. It was hardly a substantial income, but it still gave him hope. He had been determined to make himself a place in the world. He had known that the current 'bubble economy' sweeping Japan would lead the locals to seek higher education, more prestigious occupations and a luxurious lifestyle. Many would become unwilling to man simple positions, which will leave a void for people such as himself to enter. Secured with that knowledge, Heero continued on his search for a job.

He left the shelter early in the morning and scouted the streets for any business that might hire him. His goal was to find someplace that would be willing to offer a job and a place to stay, even if it was merely a futon spread across a kitchen floor of a restaurant. He hoped that if he could find such a place, he might be able to save enough money to take the 'Certificate for Students Achieving the Proficiency Level of Upper Secondary School Graduates' exam; the certificate would certify him as having an academic ability equivalent to a high school graduate and enable him to enter the job market more easily.

In the end, long months spent on the streets and in various homeless shelters had turned Heero bitter. He grew tired of spending his days begging various people for employment; he became sick of having to fight for a bed and a meal each time he reached a homeless shelter and some dense volunteer worker insisted that he looked older than eighteen. There were many nights when he found himself sleeping out in the cold. Each day was full of struggles and disappointments. Heero became ill with fatigue and hunger; it wasn't long before depression settled heavily on his heart.

In retrospect, it might have been a bad decision on his part to try his luck in Japan out of all places, Heero mused as he continued smoking. Then again, he had no guarantee that things would have ended up differently if he had gone elsewhere. If he took into consideration that he had managed to live in Japan for the last ten years, perhaps it had been a good decision after all. There was something about the Japanese that understood war and suffering on a much deeper level than most nations in the current A.C. era. Most nations were still coming to term with the ramifications of the recent war; still trying to make sense of what had happened and what it all meant. Japan, however, had no need for such a period of self-contemplation; it already understood the meaning of war.

The Japanese have not forgotten the anguish brought on by acts of aggression resulting from a fallacious sense of pride and accelerated modernization. While other nations on Earth developed a sense of superiority towards the Colonies, Japan was not misled by the notions of 'space-age orientalisim'. Japanese history had taught them a lesson regarding acts of aggression that spawn out of such notions. That was probably why Japan had refused to take an offensive position during the Eve Wars. Perhaps it was no wonder he had finally managed to find compassion while living in Japan; there was a kindness in people that eventually allowed him to survive living among them. However, he had to sink much lower than simply being homeless to gain that compassion.

Sighing under the burden of memories, Heero reached for the whiskey bottle. He toyed with the bottle for a while, swinging it back and forth, staring at the body of liquid swaying inside of it. He poured himself a shot of whiskey, using the dirty shot glass already on the table. He gulped it down and slammed the glass back on the table, feeling sick. His stomach protested the liquor after the violent stomach-pump procedure it had gone through three days prior. Heero stubbornly ignored the ache; it raised too many dark feelings.

Back in winter A.C. 197, Heero had grown tired of struggling, tired of the constant aches and punishments life delivered him. One night while lying in a filthy Tokyo alley, he had suddenly wished to end it all. Using a sharp shard of glass he had found, he slowly cut down his wrist, digging deep into his flesh, drawing a thick gush of blood from his artery. He lay curled into himself in that dark alleyway, shivering and hugging his walking-staff (out of a habit, so it would not be stolen). He had closed his eyes and waited for life to slowly seep out of him. He had hoped to die alone, to end his frustrating existence, but instead he ended up waking in a public hospital a few days later. As fate would have it, an old lady stumbled upon him on her way back from volunteering at the homeless shelter.

He woke up angry and upset, with nothing on his mind but a second suicide attempt. Since all suicide-attempt patients were forced to stay for a two day observation period, held at the psychiatric ward, Heero was denied of that second attempt. By the time he was released from the hospital, he no longer wished for death. The old lady who had found him – Matsuda-san – had come to visit him at the hospital under the pretence that his cane had been stolen from him while he lay dying in that alley, so she had bought him a new one. In truth, Heero knew that Matsuda-san could not have possibly known about his cane unless she had seen it for herself, but he decided not to mention the fact.

After he had accepted the new cane, thinking it would be the only way to make her leave, Matsuda-san had insisted on staying with him, keeping him company while he recovered. She had forced him to eat when the orderly had brought food and he had refused to eat it. She sat with him and told him stories about things he had not wished to hear about, but nonetheless listened. Ten years later, Heero still fondly remembered the soothing affect of her soft, elderly tone, speaking to him even while he still wished for the silence of death. She became his anchor, promising him a better future and giving him hope. He found himself clinging desperately to her promises, to the anchor she was offering him. He wished for a chance to live like everyone else, and Akiko Matsuda had made that wish come true. She had not abandoned him after he had been released from the hospital; she had instead offered him a chance to fulfill his wish.

Smiling slightly at the memory of the old woman, Heero turned to look down at the cane resting against the table, the same cane Matsuda-san had given him. It was the only possession he owned that somehow made him feel good.

Although Matsuda-san was living on a small government pension, she had taken him into her home. She asked for nothing but help around the house while she had allowed him to stay in her home until he got his high school diploma. The exam included many subjects he was already knowledgeable of, including English, mathematics, natural sciences, world history and geography, but he still had a lot of the curriculum to cover by himself, such as social studies and Japanese history. The biggest challenge he was facing was actually quite basic: the Japanese language. Compared to reading about history, politics and economics, learning how to read and write Japanese kanji and expanding his vocabulary had been the toughest and most time consuming assignment.

Matsuda-san helped him find work at the Tokyo Fish Market, where her son-in-law ran a large fish stand. The middle-aged man was unhappy to employ an illegal worker, but Matsuda-san was very convincing (for some reason, her promise to never move in with her daughter and son-in-law seemed to do the trick). Heero would arrive to work at the Tsukiji fish market as early as 2:30 a.m. and leave at about 12 p.m. He would then go back to Matsuda-san's place, catch a few short hours of sleep and begin studying into the night, before having to go to work again.

On most days, Heero had also made sure to clear enough time to help Matsuda-san around the house. The old lady had been nearing her eighties and could no longer perform the regular house chores. Aside from cooking, which was still Matsuda-san's territory, Heero took care of cleaning, shopping and the laundry. Sometimes Matsuda-san had insisted on helping him; she had loved to go shopping with him, as it allowed her to go outside for a while. On his few days off work, Heero would escort Matsuda-san to the park, the local Shinto shrine or sometimes take a train ride out of Tokyo to see the countryside. Those were the only occasions when Heero felt close to Matsuda-san because, on most days, he did not have any time to spend with the old woman. They were not as close as one would have expected them to be, but Matsuda-san never complained; she always said that he was much better company and more grateful than her real family.

His existence back then had not been an easy way of life, but it had certainly been a fulfilling one. It topped living in despair on the streets, or even struggling to survive another bloody battle during the war. Heero had never been intimidated by hardship and he had felt content as long as he had a purpose to fulfill. It took him a year of hard labor and late-night studying before he could finally take the high school proficiency level exam. After he received his credential, Heero spent a few more months working at the fish market until he was able to save enough money to move out of Matsuda-san's home.

While most people found that living in Japan tended to make bowing in front of someone a second nature, the only time Heero had ever bowed was when he had left Matsuda-san's home. He gave her his deep and sincere gratitude before leaving Tokyo. Thanks to her, by mid A.C. 199, Heero had finally been able to get back on his feet and try his luck fending on his own.

Nevertheless, in the year A.C. 206, sitting by the kitchen table in his shabby apartment, Heero could not help but feel foolish at his younger self's optimism. Back then, things had seemed so simple; he had honestly believed that doing things by the book would get him somewhere in life. Now, he would give anything to go back to the sense of ignorance he had possessed at nineteen. He would give anything to go back to the naοve belief that he had survived the war generally unscathed. Except for a limp and a few scars here and there, Heero had been certain that he could move on as though nothing had happened. While all he had wanted was to put the past behind him, the past had different things in mind.

Heero finished his second cigarette and took another swing at the whiskey bottle, gulping down a few sips of the warm acid-like liquid; it made him feel sick. He lit up another cigarette and slowly got up to get himself another drink of water before his nausea worsened.

As he stumbled towards the sink, without the aid of his cane, he could feel the looks the shadows of his apartment were giving him. They liked it when he chose to walk without his staff; they found it very amusing to see his pathetic wobbling. Heero tried to ignore them, but he knew that they were snickering. The back of his head always tickled whenever they mocked him. For a brief moment, he considered going through the rubble left of his apartment in search for his medication, but then quickly dismissed the thought. Let the voices taunt him, he thought bitterly, at least they lifted the burdening silence.

Securing his cigarette between his lips, Heero poured himself another glass of water. He could feel the shadows watching him, whispering amongst themselves and laughing madly at a joke only they understood. The voices had not always been there. His paranoid personality disorder was something that had developed over the years, and it had only recently become a severe delusional disorder; since he had stopped taking care of himself. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disease, a result of a lengthily untreated posttraumatic stress disorder. Many medical terms had been thrown at him over the years; he had listened to all kinds of explanations about one disorder or another and had been prescribed all sorts of medication until he lost count of them. All he knew for certain was that his mind was a mess and that, without his meds, he simply could not function. Not that he cared anymore.

Fuck the meds, he thought bitterly and made his way back to the table. He never felt like himself when he was on them, anyway. With a sigh, he sat down, holding the cigarette in one hand and his glass of water in the other. He stared ahead numbly, both cigarette and water forgotten.

Things haven't always been like this, he recalled sadly. At first everything seemed to be going well for him. His mental illness came without warning years after the war had ended; it struck him when he had least expected it. Back in A.C. 199, Heero had been so goal-orientated that he never allowed anything to bother him. His mind was completely focused on achieving the next goal, of getting his life in order one step at a time. Between A.C. 199 to 201 he traveled across Japan, working in various blue-collar jobs. He applied to any job that did not require him to use his handicapped leg too much, managing to do hard manual labor despite his disability. The difficult part was getting to his work station (which was never a desk but every other hellhole imaginable), after which he could do whatever was asked of him. He performed almost every dirty job in the book, from being a mushroom farmer, a crab fisherman, a shrimper, a concrete truck cleaner and an oyster shucker, to recycling garbage, cleaning animal skulls for museums, picking up roadkill or doing bridge maintenance.

He did whatever was necessary to both earn and save money: he slept in humble trailer-park residence supplied to him by his workplace; he ate only what the workplace provided him with; and his only garments were various work attires. He never stayed in one place for too long, always moving on in search of a better paying employment. When he turned twenty-one, Heero could finally afford to settle down somewhere and search for a more easygoing, white-collar occupation.

Indeed, back in A.C. 201, his life seemed to be moving on the right track. Since his leg had suffered greatly during the years of hard labor, he no longer felt able to perform anymore strenuous tasks. He moved into a small 1K apartment in Yokohama and began searching for a desk job. By some miracle (but mostly due to his English and typing skills), he managed to get a job as a low-ranking office clerk at a small exports firm. During the time he had worked there, Heero took a few courses at a local vocational school, studying computer network maintenance. It was something of which he was already knowledgeable, but still he had to earn the proper credential.

After the two strenuous years of combined hard work and schooling, Heero managed to earn his diploma. He was then able to find a better paying job as a network system manager at a small communication firm in the Yokohama business district. As his income increased, his life settled into a more comfortable routine of work and leisure. His workplace was a calm and pleasant environment, which allowed him to be productive, innovative and be rewarded for it. The years he had spent doing hard labor across Japan had taught him much about Japanese culture and also had helped him develop better social skills. He was not intimidated by working as a part of a team; in fact, he appreciated its benefits. His job had been very fulfilling; he had no complaints at the time.

As his worries gradually lifted, Heero began to take better care of himself. He took the time to enjoy finer cuisine; he began to exercise again and rehabilitate his damaged leg. He took the time to relax in front of the television, watching soccer with a cold beer and a box of takeout. In time, he even began accepting offers from his colleagues to join them for a drink or a trip to a ramen or sushi bar after work. While his connections with his peers were loose, he was nevertheless beginning to make real social connections with fellow human beings. His loneliness lifted and he became content with life. On Christmas Eve 203, Heero had even attended the company's annual Christmas party. To celebrate the 'rare event', his colleagues bought him a bottle of Jameson whiskey as a present. They had all raised a toast in his honor, so to speak, and joked good-heartedly at his expense. That moment had been one of the very few positive pinnacles of his life.

At present, Heero wondered how that sense of satisfaction was so easily lost. Now, he was ready and willing to give anything to go back to that exact moment, to Christmas 203, and ask Watanabe-san – a female colleague – for a drink. It used to be a well known fact throughout the office that Seiko Watanabe was very fond of him; the office ladies would gossip about it next to the coffee machine when they thought he was out of hearing range. If he would have answered Watanabe's timid advances, he might have been spared the hardship that came later on; he might have actually been happy. What happened to him? Why did his life take such a turn to the worse?

It was that damn desk job, Heero decided and lit up another cigarette, a bitter expression on his face. It had been just another foul move made by ironic fate. His quiet mundane life became a source of both blessing and pain. Suddenly, his days were no longer composed of arduous dirty labor and a mere five hours of sleep. His steady-hours job (with little overtime required of him), allowed him to have plenty of free time. At first, that time of leisure was a welcomed blessing; however, it had soon became a curse: long lonely hours in which he had nothing to do but think about his life, about what he had been through, about what he had done.

That had been when the nightmares began. He would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, begging his dream-self to stop whatever atrocity he had been performing. On other nights, he would wake up covered in cold sweat, shivering at the aftermath of a hellish dream of being tortured, mutilated, and raped. He soon became an insomniac; his nights were long, torturous hours of darkness, panic, remorse, and pain. Out of pure boredom, he picked up smoking to pass the time. He sat all night in front of cable television, smoking and staring numbly at various late night programs and crazy Japanese game shows.

In contrast to his hyper-alert state during the nights, he had trouble keeping his eyes open during the days. He began having trouble concentrating at work. He became extremely moody and irate on some days, and indifferent and aloof on other days. His leg began to ache chronically, which added to his anger and self-loathing; he hated himself for becoming weak and useless. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, isolation, and hopelessness haunted him day and night, constantly swapping places with feelings of empowerment, enthusiasm, impetuosity and impulsiveness.

He would feel depressed one day, and the next day he would feel optimistic suddenly, like there was nothing in the world he could not do. He would catch himself behaving abnormally, like drinking more often or renting a sports car to take wild drives speeding down the highway. He would accept invitations to social gatherings, getting drunk and enjoying acting like everyone else around him. He would exercise a few extra hours at the gym, feeling unstoppable, and the next day wake up feeling weak and pathetic. The smallest of events would either throw him into a dark pit of depression or cheer him and fling him into a blessed state of euphoria.

On his elated days, pressuring adrenaline would make him feel so powerful he could not stop to take a minute rest from what he was doing. He came to work full of energy, despite spending a sleepless night arranging and re-arranging things in his apartment or doing some sort of vigorous sports activity. His mind would race and his work quota would be doubled or even tripled. Quite the opposite, sometimes he was so agitated he became easily distracted and could not get any work done at all. He would spend a day moving from one assignment to the other, never finishing what he had started. He would make endless trips to the coffee machine and even stop to share a word with the office ladies who always hung around the office kitchen. Apparently, he had been one of the offices most sought out bachelors; some women seemed to find his quiet, brooding, demeanor and his physical disability quite endearing. On his 'good days', the ladies enjoyed flirting with him, as he was more approachable, and Heero found their flirting very gratifying. He would share a smoke with them outside on the balcony and laugh about things he never really managed to comprehend; he would laugh anyway simply because it made him feel good.

During episodes of mania, his sexual drive (something that he usually ignored) would double, fueling his aggression and need for contact. Too afraid to approach the ladies in the office, he had found himself on a few occasions going to a hostess club in search of companionship. On one particularly harsh lapse of impaired judgment, combined with too much liquor, he had made an aggressive and forceful advance towards one of the hostesses, and was nearly arrested for assault. When he became unsatisfied with the false flirtatious nature of the women in the hostess clubs, he even resorted to using the services of escort girls. Somehow, the tight restraint that had always contained his sex-drive loosened; he no longer wished to avoid contact – in fact, he hungered for it. As a result, Heero had ended up losing his virginity to a young (possibly underage) Korean prostitute and barely having any recollection of it. Waking up in a cheap Tokyo Love Hotel had been a major wake up call for him; he realized that something was very wrong with him and tried to better his ways.

His efforts to suppress his sexual hunger had been successful for a while, until one night when he had been asked to do some overtime in the office. Sayori Ozuma, who was rumored to be the 'office slut', had asked him to aid her with a computer problem after work. She had easily seduced him, and he had willingly complied with her advances, having been denying himself contact for too long. Soon Heero had found himself out on the balcony, staring wide-eyed and yet unseeing at the Yokohama night skyline, as Ozuma's wet mouth engulfed his manhood. It had been raining hard and the wind howled as it rushed past enormous skyscrapers. In the freezing cold, all he knew was her hot mouth.

That incident had been one of his more thrilling sexual experiences. Also, it helped ease his apprehension to approach other office ladies. A few more sexual indiscretions around the office, including a wild encounter with a married woman in the copy-room, had undermined his colleagues' trust in him. Rumors tended to spread like wildfire between the office cubicles; stories were often twisted and altered for the worse as they spread. Many men began to resent him and the women either stayed away from him or doubled their seductive advances towards him. The office became a very stressful place for him; Heero soon became uncomfortable going to work. He always felt that people were gossiping about him behind his back, simply because he had the courage to act on his needs while others were still bound by workplace ethics and a typical nervousness that he, as a foreigner, had always lacked.

Subsequently, paranoia began to twist his mind. He became suspicious of people without sufficient basis, certain that others were exploiting, harming, or deceiving him somehow. He became distrustful of everyone and anyone, even towards the office ladies or the elderly clerk at the convenience store by his building. Every little remark or event, no matter how benign, he interpreted as a threat or an accusation. He shunned people away with no reason; even Watanabe-san (whom he'd gotten close to during his 'good days') began to keep a distance from him. Not once or twice was he called to his superior's office for a talk about his often offensive behavior towards his colleagues. After he had thrown a box of pens at one particularly annoying employee, his boss threatened to fire him. It was his first and only warning before permanent termination of his employment. The talk had been another powerful wakeup call, because Heero did not wish to go back to the streets. He did his best to try to better his ways, but his mind was constantly working against him.

Just as the period of pure adrenaline came, it quickly faded, leaving him feeling tired, small, helpless, drained and depressed, before the cycle would repeat itself. He lapsed back and forth from depression and optimism, again and again until it drove him mad. Gradually, Heero lost all motivation to do anything at all, work or non-work related. He ceased going to the supermarket for supplies or socializing with colleagues after work. His apathy and self-isolation only added to his depression, but he was too indifferent to stop it. When he no longer had friendship and trust, his self-loathing worsened. On some days Heero blamed himself for being a worthless human being, and, on others, he was angry at everyone and everything for making him the way he was.

Morbid thoughts of suicide began floating in the back of his mind, constantly staining his thoughts. Even the smallest of things, the smallest error or fiasco made him want to just drop everything, quit and end his miserable existence. His insomnia worsened; he would sit on the sofa for hours on end, helplessly watching night turn into day outside his living room window. He would smoke up to three packages a night until he could no longer see through the smoke filling his apartment. Then he would usually take long trips around the block, trying to fatigue himself so he could sleep. On one of those nights he stopped at the convenience store down the street, wishing to buy some herbal tea to help him relax. Instead, he ended up buying a bottle of Jameson whiskey.

That was when he had started drinking himself to oblivious sleep. He knew that he was ill; he knew that his thinking was impaired, but he was unable to care anymore. He had refused to ask for treatment, for any kind of help. He had been reluctant to confide in others due to an unwarranted fear that the information will somehow be used maliciously against him. He was alone and distressed, with no way to reach out to anyone. Suicide became more and more alluring as his drinking worsened. By A.C. 204, Heero was once again jobless and struggling with a growing overdraft when he was in no condition to deal with such hardship. A night spent sitting in the park, drinking, led him to an obvious and simple conviction: to end it all.

Heero crushed his still burning cigarette on the kitchen table. He did not feel like smoking anymore as he recalled his second suicide attempt.

Lacking the mental strength required to cut himself, Heero had actually tried performing the clichι act of jumping off a bridge. His choice of bridge had been an impaired one, for he only ended up crushing a few ribs and cracking his skull as he fell into the river below. A small fishing crew saved him and again he was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. During a three week hospitalization period (until his bones healed), Heero stopped eating and gave the nurses and doctors hell. His fight was a passive one, a useless resistance which only resulted in readmission to the psych ward. He had become aggressive and violent towards the people who were trying to help him; he had been furious that they had denied him the freedom to end his own pathetic existence. All he could think of was that he was too useless to even kill himself properly.

He finished drinking the water he had poured for himself, trying to calm the tickling sensation in the back of his throat. The tickling usually meant that he felt like screaming, shouting out all the pain he felt inside. It would do him no good, though. There was no one there to hear his cry, only the shadows on the walls will be there to snicker in his face if he screamed out his frustration. Desperate and distraught, he looked down at the floor, staring at the note he had thrown there earlier.

The note had landed a few inches from the table and he bent down to pick it up. Carefully, he unfolded the crushed memo and looked at it lengthily. He studied the neat feminine handwriting which spelled 'Good morning – pills! :-)' and a heavy weight settled over his heart.

The note was written by his former psychiatrist on one of her many visits to his apartment. Prior to Tanimura-sensei, Heero had been under the care of one Dr. Sharon Kelsky. Dr. Kelsky took her work very seriously, especially when it came to him. She used to visit him at least once if not twice a week, making sure he had enough food in the fridge, that his apartment was clean, and that he had been taking his medication. Sometimes she cooked for him and brought the food in neatly labeled plastic boxes. There used to be a time when his freezer was full of her cooking, back during the days when he had still bothered with eating and taking his meds. It seemed like a century ago, when in fact only half a year had passed since he had last seen her.

Back in A.C. 204, Sharon Kelsky was a thirty-six year old British citizen working in Tokyo University as a researcher on Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome. She was an attractive and confident woman, usually clad in a fashionable business suit, a pair of stylish glasses and a luxurious half up-do. She wore no wedding ring, though rumor around campus had it that she was going through a rough divorce with her Scottish husband and had therefore accepted a research grant in Japan.

After Heero's second suicide attempt, one of the doctors at the psychiatric ward where he was hospitalized turned to Kelsky, telling her of a unique patient he and his staff could not reach to. He had asked for her expert advice on the matter, for he suspected that her field of expertise could be of help. During Heero's stay at the hospital, Dr. Kelsky came to visit him almost every single day. While the other doctors in the ward had given up on him, Kelsky tried every method possible to convince him to ask for treatment as a research subject of hers.

When he told her that he could not afford treatment, she had said it would be offered for free, as part of her research. When he said that he did not wish to be a charity case, she had reminded him that he would be contributing to science, to society. When he said he was sick of being a guinea pig, she had promised that she was only there to help him. When he claimed to that he had no time for it, Kelsky had said she would play by his rules, that he would set the time and place. When he yelled and cussed at her to leave him the Hell alone, she had sat quietly and allowed him to shout out all the poison filling his insides until he could shout no more. When he said that no one could possibly help or understand him, she had dared him to try her. When he timidly asked her if she could help him sleep at night, she had smiled softly and responded with a 'yes'.

Kelsky persisted in her visits day after day, and, eventually, Heero agreed to receive her aid. It had been the best decision he had made in a very long time.

They began with a few difficult and intense counseling sessions, in which Heero hardly offered his cooperation. Dr. Kelsky put him on some standard medications and continued their counseling sessions. Gradually, during the course of a few weeks, his paranoia quieted down and his mood swings stabilized; he was also finally able to sleep during the night, thanks to the sleeping pills she had prescribed to him. Finally rested and with a clearer head, Heero had been able to offer more of his cooperation during their sessions. He felt less hostile towards her as time continued to pass by.

Kelsky had never pressed him to talking; she had simply asked him questions and had allowed him to choose whether or not he wanted to answer them. Sometimes they would simply sit and talk about the weather, or about a soccer team Heero favored. As time went by, he began telling her about simple, but more personal things, like how he had not had a good night's sleep in over a year, or how he had started drinking so he could catch at least a few lousy hours of sleep. Later on, he told her about his mood swings, about things at work and about the lonely hours at home. Then, he told her about the horrors he saw in his dreams, about the paranoia he constantly felt, about how he felt small and unsafe, how he hated himself, hated what was done to him, hated what he had become.

Little by little, he had volunteered more and more information; it made him feel better, so he had persisted. Finally, about five months into his therapy, he told her about his past. He told her everything. She did not look at him with horror or pity in her eyes, she did not judge him, and so he told her more and more. The more he spoke about his past, the more he remembered of it, the more horrors came back to him and the more he wanted to let all the pain out. Dr. Kelsky's support allowed him to finally deal with demons that had never been put to rest.

While Heero was never able to confirm it, he was sure that Kelsky had persisted with his case because she had learned of his past as a Gundam pilot, which made him a unique case study for her research. She had asked for his permission to participate in her research; she had wanted to try new drugs on him, instead of the standard medication she had already put him on. Kelsky promised that the new drugs she and her colleagues were developing would make him feel even better. Trusting her, he agreed, and the medicine did wonders. Heero finally felt in complete control of himself again; he could finally think clearly, plan ahead, concentrate and accomplish the goals he set for himself. As long as he kept taking his prescriptions regularly, he was able to function in daily life. He found a new job and slowly covered his overdraft. He resumed eating properly, exercising, getting out of the house and forming social bonds again. By mid A.C. 205, things were looking up again; Heero finally had his life back.

Sharon Kelsky had been there for him in every step of the way. During a second year of constructive therapy, Heero had opened up to her more and more. He had bared things to her he had never dared to disclose to anyone. He spoke of things he had never dared to even admit to himself. Speaking about his life, about the hardship he had been though, about his thoughts, his feelings, his doubts and his fears helped ease his troubled mind. He had felt liberated after their sessions together. He had felt like he was finally making progress, finally moving on.

However, onwards was not the only direction he had been moving at – he was also moving closer to Sharon Kelsky. Believing that she was the only human being capable of understanding him, of being with him without passing judgment, the only person he could confine in and put his trust in, Heero slowly began to develop feelings for her. He began looking forward not only to the feeling of ease he gained during their sessions, but also to the feeling of being near her. In return, Sharon answered his growing dependence on her with warm acceptance. Whether her decision was conscious or not, the result was the same: they grew closer, more intimate.

Sharon began making regular visits to his apartment, under the pretence that she was 'checking up on him'. Not only would she cook for him, but she often stayed to share the meal with him as well. As time passed, she would also stay after dinner and they would watch a movie or just speak about anything and everything there was to talk about. Despite their great age difference, the two found plenty to talk about, sharing their thoughts and feelings about this or that. It did not take them long after that to become physically intimate.

While he had had sexual encounters before, they were a poor excuse for sex in comparison to what he had with Sharon. His sexual experiences with tramps and one-night-stands with numerous office-ladies were nothing compared to what he and Sharon had shared. She taught him what lovemaking was, she helped him mature both emotionally and sexually. Through her, Heero finally understood the true meaning of a bond by flesh.

As they grew closer, Heero became unsatisfied with only seeing her on their weekly sessions or their occasional shared nights at his place. He began seeking Sharon's company more and more. He would finish his work day in downtown Yokohama and catch on the first bullet-train to Tokyo, sometimes surprising Sharon in her office at the university, sometimes waiting at the entrance of her apartment building holding some takeout. She never berated him for constantly seeking her company; in fact, she seemed flattered by it and enjoyed his courtship. The more she answered his need to be close to her, the more he needed to be near her. The more he needed her, the more she felt compelled to be with him. His repressed infantile needs and her maternal instincts fueled one another. It was an unbreakable cycle composed of his desperation for love and her drive to answer it. Boundaries became blurred and indistinguishable. Their doctor-patient relationship formed into a passionate, erotic, and romantic love.

For a whole, wonderful year Sharon had been his therapist, his best friend and his lover. Heero had never felt happier as he had during the time spent with Sharon Kelsky. As long as he had her by his side, he felt safe, secured, and empowered. Sharon had been a better drug than any pill she could prescribe to him. When he held her in his arms, he felt that the world was finally set just right.

However, the marvelous dream soon faded away when Sharon left for a two week seminar in London. When she returned from her homeland, Heero was waiting for her at Narita Airport holding flowers and wearing a smile on his face. The minute he saw her grim expression, his smile faded. He knew then, the moment their eyes met, that his happiness was over. When he called her by her first name, asking if she wanted him to carry her suitcase, Sharon politely asked him to call her Dr. Kelsky. When he asked her why the sudden change (hoping that she might be playing some sick joke on him), all she did was give him a sad, forlorn look. She said that they needed to talk. Like many newlyweds who parted ways once they were back at Narita after their honeymoon, Sharon Kelsky chose to end her relationship with him right there and then, at the airport.

They sat in her car in the airport's massive parking lot and Sharon explained to him all about transference, counter-transference, and erotic-transference. She claimed that their relationship was nothing but the result of a complex psychological reaction they both experienced during their sessions together. He became dependent on her due to his need to compensate for a lost and abnormal childhood, and she, in return, as a therapist, became emotionally entangled with him as a patient. His alleged transference towards her resulted in an erotic attraction on both their parts. Sharon explained how his attraction to her elicited a deep emotional reaction on her part, which manifested itself sexually under the false pretence of romantic love.

She had spoken about how her career and reputation were in danger; about how their love was nothing but a lie that might end up hurting them both. For the first time she had referred to their great age difference like it was something bad, denying her of self-fulfillment with men her own age. She had called him a 'rebound', a substitute for love after her divorce. She had said that she would never be able to fulfill her wish for a family if she stayed with him, that he was still too young, too 'confused' to sustain such a life. She had concluded by saying that it would be best for them to part ways before they crossed the point of no-return.

Heero had simply sat at the driver's seat and gaped, his eyes wide with hurt and disbelief. The only person he had ever loved was calmly telling him how their love was a lie, a result of a twisted psychological affect. Sharon claimed that he was never loved by her and that he had never really loved her.

The more he had tried to make sense of it, the more he had refused to believe it. He could not fathom how all the nights she had spent in his bed, lying next to him, one naked leg draped over him as she curled his chest hairs around her slim fingers, basking in the afterglow of sex – how could that have been a lie? All those times when she had held his hand during sessions, silently giving him strength while he had tried to put horrors into words, explaining his life,himself, to her – were those times also a lie? And how about the outings they had, the precious dates to Tokyo Disney Resort, Shirahama beach or that ride they took for a weekend in the country – were those times also a part of a lie? And the heartwarming card she had written him on Valentine, the gifts they had exchanged on Christmas, the silly times they had at the New Year Eve's festivities – were they mere fantasies, false feelings of joy, content and hope? Why was she denying all that they had shared?

The woman he loved simply sat next to him as she methodically disassembled and destroyed the meaning behind every single memory he had of being happy with her. Sharon seemed to firmly believe in what she was saying. She had not given him any options. She was breaking things up without considering him at all. She had hurt him, crushed his heart to pieces without even blinking. Angry, Heero had stepped out of the car and slammed the door behind him. He could remember the feeling of her eyes on him as he purposefully tried to keep from limping as he walked away from the car. He had not dared to look back, unwilling to risk the chance of seeing that she was not gazing at him with regret in her eyes.

That had been over six months ago; Heero had not seen Sharon since. She assigned him to a new psychiatrist, Tanimura, a trusted colleague of hers at Tokyo University, and she had flown back to England. She must have felt the need to put as much distance between them as possible, which hurt Heero even more. She was so determined to kick him out of her life that she denied him the option of ever seeing her again. He lost his faith in mankind again and sunk quickly into a gaping chasm of depression.

Over the course of six months, Heero had relapsed into his previous state of mental instability. He ignored Tanimura's attempts to offer him treatment. He began skipping counseling sessions and neglected taking his meds. It was not long before he suffered from difficult lapses of depression and mania, as his bipolar disorder resurfaced.

As his condition worsened, paranoid delusions kicked in. They haunted him, sometimes whispering to him about secret shadows hiding behind the walls, waiting to attack him if he dared to look away. Invisible eyes were constantly watching him; tiny, filthy claws were always lurking under his bed sheets. His insomnia returned with a vengeance, denying him sleep and rendering him helpless to attacks of acute delusional paranoia. At some point, he was even too afraid to leave the apartment to go to work in the morning. Anxiety paralyzed him, grounding him to bed where he had felt relatively safe. Unable to function at home or at work, he lost his job again and ran into numerous financial difficulties. He had managed to save a decent amount of money during his latest job, but it only kept him on his feet for a couple months more before it ran out. Penniless, hopeless and severely depressed, Heero had found himself wishing for death again.

As Christmas, 206 approached, his feelings of loneliness worsened. He had spent the last Christmas with a loved one, for once in his life feeling the joys of the holiday he had heard so much about. That joy was taken away from him, brutally torn away from his arms by sterile medical terms and politics of the academic world. On Christmas, 205, he had been able to hold Sharon in his arms; on Christmas, 206, all he had for company was a bottle of Jameson whiskey, an Obento he had bought at the supermarket and an army of pill containers ready for him to swallow after dinner. As he sat alone by the kitchen table, about to take the proper pill out of each container, Heero had been struck by extreme anger. He was quite simply sick and tired of just about everything.

He stood up, swung his hand back and threw the containers off the table in a swift blow. He gulped down on some whiskey and then turned to smash a chair – Sharon's chair – to pieces against the wall. His anger yet to be satisfied, he turned to throw other things; dishes and kitchen appliances were smashed to pieces on the kitchen floor.

In a fit of frenzy, he destroyed the entire apartment. He threw every little memorabilia he had to remind him of Sharon to the floor. Dissatisfied with throwing small things, he even picked up the television and slammed it to the floor. The more he drank, the more his anger raged. He tore off the blinds and used his cane to shatter the window. He beat up the already broken flat-screen television set with the staff, smashing it to pieces.

When there was nothing left to break, he simply sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, panting. As his breathing slowed, his mind cleared. Heero knew what had to be done next. Sipping his whiskey – which he was still holding in one hand – Heero stood up with a groan. He had begun searching the rubble of his apartment, looking for the pill containers he had thrown earlier. He had been determined to end his suffering once and for all.

Three days ago, Heero had been certain that no one would find him that time, no one would help him. He would finally be able to die peacefully, unbothered. As it had happened, however, his plan had been unsuccessful, what with his confusion of his vitamins and his sleeping drugs.

A short, bitter, sarcastic chuckle tore from Heero's lips. He reached to light up another cigarette. He should have waited for the eviction notice before trying to kill himself; the extra sense of desperation might have ensured he would do it properly for once. His landlord was about a day too late delivering him the news.

Sighing, Heero reached for the whiskey bottle again. There was not much left in it, which was too bad because he could not afford a new one. Instead of drinking some more, he toyed with the bottle, thoughtfully swinging it back and forth. His stomach turned; he was beginning to feel both nauseous and hungry at the same time. He stared at the body of liquid rocking inside the green bottle, mystified by the simple monotonous movement.

Should he finish what he had started? He was sober enough to make sure he would do it right this time. No more failing; he had to get this one right because… because he had nothing else to live for. His landlord would probably come knocking furiously on his door first thing in the morning. He would have no money to give the old grouch. He would end up on the streets again.

No, that was unacceptable.

He had had enough of that, enough hardship. Tonight – he would make sure that all of his anguish would come to an end; he would take the right poison this time and end it all.

Heero took a quick drag from his newly-lit cigarette and then threw it into the shot glass to burn away. With a heavy sigh, he reached for his cane and stood up. Slowly and methodically, working on automaton, he began to tidy up his apartment. He was not sure why he was bothering, he just did. A small part of him wanted the apartment to feel pleasant again, peaceful, like it had been during the days he had spent content in Sharon's company.

He swept the broken glass off the floor and threw it to the garbage dispenser. He picked up the kitchen chair he had broken – Sharon's chair – and placed it back in its place, though it was tilting sideways on three crooked legs. He picked up everything from the floor and put all of the dishes, kitchen utilities and appliances back in their place. It did not matter if the objects were broken beyond repair, he just wanted them to be back in their place; he wanted the place to look tidy again, like it had been during the times Sharon came to visit. He took the time to wash the dishes, clean and disinfect the sink and even wash the filthy floor.

He then moved into the living room and picked up the broken flat-screen TV. Although the screen was damaged and cracked, Heero put it back on its stand. Carefully, he turned to pick up the various knickknacks he owned – small and seemingly insignificant things he had picked up during the last ten years, each one representing one memory or another. He placed them back in their places on the shelves or the TV unit. He paid special care to a broken photo of the Sharon and him, and placed it back on its respective place on the small TV cabinet. Then, he turned to pick up the blinds from the floor and straightened the thin aluminum stripes the best he could before hanging them back in place, above the missing window. He then swept and washed the floor, much like he had in the kitchen.

Everything was done in an eerie silence; even the shadows had stopped talking. Every move he made was calm and serenely composed. Gradually, the small apartment regained its usually tidy appearance.

When everything was in place, Heero turned to unfold the sofa and make his bed. He put on clean new sheets and fluffed the pillows. Afterwards, he went to take a long warm shower, feeling exhausted. When he stepped out of the shower he felt strangely at peace. Clad in his pajamas, Heero tousled his hair dry with a towel and then threw it into the laundry basket on the way out of the bathroom. Stepping back into the kitchen, he reached for the cupboard and pulled out a clean tall glass and a small cereal bowl. Placing them on the (clean) kitchen table, he filled the glass all the way up with what remained of the whiskey, and poured all the pills from their various containers into the bowl. He picked up the two dishes and made his way back to the living room.

He placed his last meal on the coffee table by the unfolded sofa and flipped the covers back before settling in bed. He placed the bowl of pills on his lap and reached for the glass of whiskey as well. Taking a long, quivery breath, Heero threw one pill into his mouth. He sipped some whiskey, and swallowed. Then he took another pill and drank it down with some more whiskey. And then another and another and another until both the bowl and glass were empty. Calmly, he placed them back on the coffee table and then finally lay down in bed. He settled comfortably under the covers, curling on his side, nuzzling the pillow. He closed his eyes and heaved along, content sigh.

His mind was clear, empty, as he waited for sleep and death to finally claim him.

He felt a cool hand touch his face lightly. Gentle fingers caressed his cheek, sliding slowly down to trace his jaw, and then up to fondle his ear; finally, a slender hand ran through his hair, petting him. Moaning, he opened his eyes. He blinked repeatedly to adjust his vision, but it remained blurred. Although his vision was unfocused, he could make out a blurry, shadowy figure sitting on the coffee table in front of him. The figure was slim and petite, distinctly female. Even while he could only make out a shadow, he could still recognize her familiar half up-do. Certain that he was dreaming or hallucinating, he closed his eyes again and prepared to go back to sleep.

"Heero?" a soft voice whispered; it ran chills down his spine.

Moaning sluggishly, he tried to signal her to be quiet. "G'way…" he slurred heavily, lifting a hand up to unsuccessfully push her away."...s'eeping..."

"Heero, please wake up. It's me."

"...'s not..." he droned with a heavy, drunken voice.

"Yes, it is me. You left your door unlocked, so when you didn't answer the door, I let myself in."

"...'kay..." he sighed and rolled over to lie on his other side, facing away from her. He heard her sigh; she usually did when she was displeased with him. Damn woman, he mused absentmindedly.

He wondered if she brought him cake, because he had this craving for a hot chocolate cake. He would eat it quickly before anyone else could take it away, because he had to get to the hanger soon and fly Wing to someplace dangerous where people died.

His mind drifted in and out of a dream; he was not sure what was real or not. He just knew that he really wanted her to give him that cake!

"Heero, please wake up," he heard her voice again, pleading with him, "I flew all the way back here to see you. I know you're still very angry with me, but the least you can do is wake up and face me."

"...later..." he moaned tiredly, "...haf'sum cake f'st..." His head felt funny and he wondered why his whole body felt so heavy. It was also getting a little difficult to breathe; his chest ached. Something was very off with the cake; he must have been poisoned by the damn people who wanted to take away his hot-chocolate cake!

"Heero – it's Sharon," the woman tried again, speaking more slowly and clearly to him. "You are not dreaming. Please, open your eyes and turn to face me."

"Fine..." he sighed heavily, annoyed. She probably wanted to know what happened to the cake she brought him, but he could not recall if it was stolen or if he had eaten it.

The covers rustled as he turned to lie on his back. He opened his eyes, blinking repeatedly until he somehow managed to focus his vision. The image remained double, though. He turned to look at the two Sharons sitting on his coffee table, leaning forward and watching him with worry.

"Wha..." he let out, but his lips were too heavy to form words. He tried again. "Wha… you... here?"

"Tanimura-sensei called my office in London. He told me what happened."

"Oh," was all he could say. He could not really recall if something had happened, he was too disoriented to think. Was Tanimura the one who made the cake?

"He told me that you stopped coming to sessions, that you stopped taking your pills."

"Why... here?" he asked again, unsure if he was thinking the words or actually speaking them out loud. Everything was so confusing. He now knew that she was not there because of a silly cake; something far more terrible had happened, but he could not recall what it was.

Sharon sighed sadly. She reached a hand to take his; his palm was very sweaty but she did not seem to mind. Her hand was cool against his burning skin, it felt so good. He wished she would strip him down and touch him everywhere; his body was so hot he felt like he was catching on fire.

"Heero, are you drunk?" Sharon asked worriedly. He watched her pick up the glass from the table, sniffing it. Her face twisted in disapproval. "You shouldn't drink after what you've been through. It's not good for you, physically and mentally."

"Mhmm..." he agreed, nodding his head. He felt very dizzy; he thought he might throw up, but something deep inside him reminded him that vomiting would only spoil his plans. He could not recall clearly what the plan was exactly, but if the shadows were telling him that it would be a bad idea to throw up – then he would not.

Sharon was speaking to him, but he was not listening; the shadows were all whispering at once, it was too loud. He tried to concentrate on her words and again he heard her sigh; she was looking at him with sadness and regret.

"Heero, have I made you so bitter that you won't even talk back to me? Or are you too drunk to speak?"

He did not have the strength nor will to answer her.

Sharon sighed and bowed her head sadly. "It was never my intention to hurt you like this. I made a mistake. I… I was scared, Heero. People at home were starting to talk… they put stupid ideas in my head. I should have acted more wisely. I should have been more considerate, I should have ended things more thoughtfully." She gave his hand a squeeze while running her other hand through his hair. "I betrayed you, both as your physician and your friend. I'm sorry."

The heavy clouds hovering over his mind cleared a bit. He opened his eyes again and turned to look at her. Yes, he now recalled, she was his friend – he loved her. Wishing to touch her attractive face, he raised a hand up, but he was unable to coordinate even that simple movement. He ended up throwing his arm up in her general direction, missing her head by a few inches.

"Oh, Heero..." she whispered sadly, reaching for his hand. She cupped it in both of her palms, bringing it close to her chest, over her heart. He could feel it beating, it was very soothing.

"I am so, so sorry... I know I can't take back what I've said, but I hope that you'll still be willing to let me help you."

He smiled at her, a wide, goofy kind of smile. "You... with me?" he asked in a small, hopeful tone.

"No, Heero. I'm afraid I can't be, at least not in the kind of way you want me to be." She reached a hand down to caress his face; he was covered in cold sweat.

"But... dun... leave... 'gain... 'kay?" he whispered, slurring heavily.

She ran her hand through his fine hair, being as gentle and soothing as always. "We'll discuss it later, when you're sober," she promised his quietly.

Tears filled his eyes. He was not sure why, but he thought he knew that there would be no 'later'.

"Sharon..." he turned to her, moaning her name and squeezing her hand tightly. Tears gathered in the corner of his eyes as he looked up at her pleadingly. "Sha'on..."

She smiled sadly at him. "I will help you, Heero, I promise. We'll get you back on your feet again, you'll see." She continued running her cool fingers through his hair, soothing him. "Everything is going to get better from now on, I promise you that. Dakara... anshin shite."[3].

Heero chuckled, for he liked it when she spoke Japanese to him. Her voice and her British accent were beautiful, music to his ears. He smiled at her and then suddenly shivered violently.

Sharon's hand, still petting his hair, froze in mid-stroke.

"Heero?" she asked, worried.

"Sharon?" he asked back, looking at her curiously.

"Heero, what is it? What's wrong?"

He kept smiling at her; a small, helpless, little smile. "Sharon... mou ichi do... nihongo de... kikasete... one last time..." [4]

An expression of dread drained the color from Dr. Kelsky's face. Her eyes widened, mortified. "Heero – what have you done?"

He squeezed her hand lightly, using every last bit of strength he had in him. He looked deep into her frightened hazel eyes, and smiled reassuringly. "Sharon... yurushite... ne?" [5]

"I don't understand..."

"Just... forgive... me..." he mumbled, unable to keep his eyes open any longer, "...ne?"

Heero could no longer oblige her with an answer. His hand went limp, slipping from her grasp. His arm dangled down lifelessly, curled fingers brushing against the floor. Her screams were the last thing he heard before darkness claimed him.

"Heero! HEERO!"

. ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ .

The giant clock at the top of Royal Halloway University of London's red clock tower rang twelve times to signal the arrival of mid-day. It was a beautiful spring day in the midst of May 208. The heavy clouds that usually obscured the skies of the United Kingdom had floated away, leaving behind a clear, blue sky. Soft rays of sunshine engulfed the ancient buildings, bringing their usually grim appearance back to life. Warm sunlight fell upon the lush gardens around campus, painting the lawn with a vivid, green hue. Various students walked down the paths and hallways of the prestigious university. Some were hanging out on the lawn, either studying or having lunch in groups. Many of the paths that surrounded the buildings were shielded from both sun and rain; ancient English architecture formed stone poles and cupolas to keep the elements from bothering any passersby.

Sunshine filtered from behind the slim, stone poles, falling onto the floor in stripes of light and shadow. Walking down such a path, Heero passed through a spot of sunshine to a cool, shadowy stripe and then again, watching the interchanging light and shadow on the floor in mild fascination. He was dressed in bright denim designer jeans and a black V-neck cashmere sweater with an argyle pattern. A black Armani men's messenger-bag (a gift from Dr. Kelsky from when he had been accepted to the university) was draped over his shoulder. He was also wearing a pair of black and thinly framed designer reading-glasses, which were slightly obscured by bangs of brown hair falling into his eyes. He was holding a stack of heavy books in one hand and a brand-new metallic walking-cane in the other. Unhurriedly, he limped down the path leading towards the Bedford library building.

It was Heero's freshmen year at the Royal Halloway University of London, where he was majoring in Earth Sciences – a field he had chosen quite randomly, simply because it encompassed a lot of the disciplines he was knowledgeable of, such as physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. Mid-terms were approaching and he had a lot of studying to do, which was a great excuse to leave the house. He preferred to study at the library rather than at home. In fact, he would have liked nothing more than to remain hidden in the library forever, rather than to return home. Home was a very stressful and unpleasant place for him at the moment.

"Home" was also a small, two-story suburban house he shared with one Dr. Sharon Kelsky, a lecturer and researcher at Halloway. They lived in the outskirts of London, a train ride away from the university. Dr. Kelsky worked at Halloway, and he studied there, so she was always within an arm's reach of him. At home, that closeness was even worse because he could never get away from her unless he found an excuse to leave the house for a few hours. At least while they were both at Halloway during the daytime, he could find some peace and quiet.

Some would think him lucky, living with one of the university most attractive staff members, but life with Sharon Kelsky was no picnic. All people could see was that Heero lived a comfortable life on her income, never having to work or suffer from any kind of shortage. Almost ninety percent of his clothing, shoes and accessories were of a designer brand (the other ten percent he had purchased by himself – with Kelsky's money but without her picking out the items for him). Kelsky would insist on providing him only with the best. Whatever he wished for, even if he would just mumble something wishful as they walked down Oxford Street, she would not hesitate to hurry and buy it for him. Even now, he carried a state-of-the-art laptop in his bag, wore designer clothing and walked in designer shoes. He felt overly spoiled at times, but, whenever he complained, Kelsky would take offense, so he had stopped protesting a long time ago; if buying him luxury items made her feel good, then so be it.

Kelsky did whatever was necessary to make his life a comfortable and easy existence. He hardly had to make an effort to achieve anything. In fact, mid-terms were probably one of the very few things he had to struggle through on his own; it was a welcomed struggle, for he had even been spared of the arduous exams everyone else had to take in order to enter Halloway. If people knew that he had been accepted to the prestigious university solely on behalf of Kelsky pulling the right strings, he would be both envied and resented. It was one of the many secrets he kept from people, and the reason why he had so few friends.

Indeed, at twenty-eight years of age, Heero's life was one big secret. Not only because he kept many things to himself, but mostly because he had no recollections of his life prior to living with Kelsky.

His earliest memory dated back two years earlier – to the day he had woken up in a London hospital with Sharon Kelsky by his side. Upon awakening, Heero's mind had been empty and numb; it had been so hollow that it hurt. Sluggishly, he had turned his head aside and there she was, sitting in an armchair by his bed, her bare legs curled under her as she read a book. Heero had numbly stared at her long tanned legs for a good hour before Kelsky finally looked up and met his eyes, surprised to see him awake.

His first real memory was the look of horror and guilt in Kelsky's eyes as she met his gaze. The image of her mortified, hazel eyes was imprinted so deeply onto his brain that it became a regular sight in his dreams. Until this day, two years later, Heero had little idea why she had seemed so frightened when he first woke up. Since that day, Heero began to suspect that he had some sort of dark past Kelsky refused to tell him about. His life was a riddle and Sharon Kelsky was one of many mysteries; like the limp he possessed or the scars marring his wrists. Whenever he had dared asking Kelsky about either of them, she would tell him that some things were better left forgotten. He went on living without ever knowing who he was.

As Heero came to better know Kelsky, he also came to know that there were many contradictions about her. Kelsky would refuse to give him information about his past, but she would always want to hear about his day, about his thoughts and feelings. She would treat him kindly and sweetly, but she would look at him with pity or sometimes resentment in her eyes. She would take care of his every need, but she would become upset, calling him "ungrateful," if he even so much as tried to act independently and to fend for himself. On some days, she would smile at him happily, encouraging him for his successes, and then the next, he could clearly see the anger and remorse lurking in her eyes, darkening their rich hazel color.

Then, there was the way she would sometimes touch him, her touch lingering a little too long to be casual or mere friendly. She would casually pet his hair when walking past the breakfast bar in the kitchen while she prepared to leave for work. She would reach for his hand on odd occasions, like standing in line at the supermarket or at a line to the movies. Her touch always made him feel uncomfortable; it was always unexpected and she would always pretend like it was an accident and that it meant nothing. Heero was certain that Kelsky was almost being intimate with him at times, before quickly pulling away and keeping her distance from him for days.

One Friday night, many months ago, Heero had decided to confront Kelsky about her peculiar behavior. Resolutely, he had insisted that she would tell him who he was and why he was living with her. It was obvious to him that she was not some distant family member of his, and he knew that he was too old to be her (perhaps adopted) son, or too young to be her lover. He had wanted to know why she was taking care of him and what she knew about his past. Kelsky had refused to give away anything and his determination had turned into anger.

Pinning Kelsky against a wall, he had thrown his arm in her face, forcefully pulling his sleeve down to expose his scarred wrist. Shouting, he had demanded that she explain his scars, that she explains his damaged leg and his loss of memory. He was no fool, he had reminded her – he knew that something dark and painful had to be involved. He had simply wanted to know what it was. Why did he have so many scars across his body, why had he slashed his own wrists and why could not he remember anything about it?

That night, Kelsky finally had broken. Weeping, she had told him about how he used to be a patient of hers. She had told him that he had been very ill, that his mental illness drove him to try to kill himself, and that was when he had begun receiving her treatment. She had told him that due to a mistake she had made – never specifying what that mistake was – he had ended up trying to commit suicide again, by taking an overdose of experimental medication. The overdose resulted in a coma, from which he had woken up with a serious case of amnesia. While an overdose of some antipsychotic agents could indeed cause a temporary type of amnesia, his case was far more severe. The drugs had induced a chemical state in his brain which had denied him access to his long-term memory centers. According to her, it was a miracle that his short-term memory had not been affected as well. While his overdose provided quite a breakthrough in her research, it had been an accident she wished would have been avoided. After telling him that, Kelsky had closed herself in her room for the rest of the weekend; even from the confines of his own bedroom, Heero had heard her crying silently.

Feeling guilty for causing her anguish, Heero had decided to drop the issue, at least for the time being (which by now lasted nearly a year and a half). While many of his questions remained unanswered, he refused to make her go through anymore pain. He decided to let go of the past and learn to deal with the emptiness in his head. With time, he had learned to accept it and moved on. Since life with Kelsky was all he had and all he knew, he continued living with her.

Kelsky had encouraged him to sign up for schooling at the university and Heero had agreed, for the lack of anything better planned for his future. Sitting at home drove him crazy with boredom; he was sick of the neighbors gossiping about him being Kelsky's playboy. With Kelsky's aid, he was accepted to Halloway and soon found out that he was very knowledgeable in many fields of science, even while he could not remember ever learning anything.

Entering the library, Heero went to find a quiet table to settle at and begin studying for his tests. Placing his books on the table, he put his bag and his cane aside and sat down. He opened one science book and began to leaf through it, though his mind wandered constantly.

He could not get Mrs. Downey's critical eyes out of his head; she had given him such a glarethat morning when he left the house, scrutinizing him from behind the mail she had pulled out of her mailbox. Kelsky always told him to ignore the old woman, but Heero knew it bothered her that the old hag gossiped about them with the whole damn neighborhood. A few nights ago, during dinner, Kelsky had even muttered something about moving back to Japan, where neighbors 'at least pretended to be minding their own damn business'. Heero had stopped in mid-bite and turned to look at her. He asked if the two of them used to live in Japan, but all Kelsky did was to pick up her glass of red wine and sip it slowly. She did not give him an answer, so – to tease her into answering – Heero then repeated the question in Japanese (a language he had no recollection of ever learning but was still fluent of).

Kelsky angrily glared at him in response. She got up swiftly, telling him to stop asking annoying questions as she cleared her plate without finishing her meal. She threw her plate angrily into the sink and stomped up the stairs towards her bedroom. 'When are you going to let things go?'she had demanded angrily and slammed her bedroom door shut. Heero remained sitting by the dinner table, indifferent to her shouting. Quietly, he returned to finish his meal. He knew that she was not angry with him; Kelsky had often explained that she was angry with herself, and not with him. She had said that she was suffering from her own foolish mistakes and not because of him. Sometimes, so she had explained, she just could not take it anymore and unintentionally took it out on him.

Running a hand through his hair, Heero shook his head and closed the book. He took a different book from his pile and opened it, thinking that a different topic might help him concentrate. Still, his mind insisted on reflecting on Kelsky.

It was clear to him that he was the real cause of her anguish. He had accepted her explanations only to put her mind at ease, to assure her that she caused him no harm. He couldn't help but constantly feel guilty for the pain he was causing her. Kelsky seemed to be sacrificing a lot for his sake, and he, on his part, continuously blamed her for driving him up the wall. Perhaps he was as ungrateful as Kelsky sometimes claimed him to be.

Kelsky always begged him not to take her outbursts to heart and so, the other night, Heero had quietly finished his dinner and turned to tidy up the kitchen. He filled the dishwasher, musing on how sensitive he must seem in Kelsky's eyes, how fragile she thought he was when in fact he felt empty, unable to conjure up enough feeling to be offended by her outbursts. Heero was too indifferent to care much for anything; he felt emotions, but they were all superficial and vain. Inside, he was completely hollow; he simply went through the motions, living everyday life because he had no other choice. He envied his old self – the person he had been before the amnesia; he envied that person for having the emotional capacity to feel so intensely, so profoundly, that he had tried to take his own life on more than one occasion. He could not imagine himself hurting or rejoicing over anything at all; he wondered how he had been like before, when he had had the ability to really feel.

Due to a chemical imbalance in his brain, he was suffering from a bipolar disorder. That was how Kelsky had explained it, but since her field of expertise was PTSD, Heero suspected otherwise. In any case, he had to regularly take mood-stabilizing medication or else he would fall into fits of mania and depression. On account of his amnesia, when he first woke up from the coma Kelsky had waited to see if the disorder would still surface. After a few weeks of observation, when she suspected that he was beginning to show symptoms of the disorder, Kelsky had prescribed him with the proper medication. He was never sure how she became convinced of his illness; sometimes he wondered if she was only taking extra precautions, being overprotective of him as always. While the meds allegedly kept his state of mind steady, sane by definition, at times, Heero felt like they were denying him of the power to feel; he felt as though the meds made him even emptier.

As time went by, Heero came to hate taking the pills. He became angry with the pills for denying him of the ability to be his real self; he even blamed the meds for his amnesia and inability to regain his memories. He began to suspect that Kelsky was indeed keeping him on some kind of a leash by prescribing him with the medication. Therefore, about a year and a half ago, he had stopped taking them.

For a while, he felt free of their burden: free to feel, to reach deep inside himself and bring out something genuine. Unfortunately, the emotions began to get the better of him. He would feel either deep sadness or maddening elevation, constantly bouncing between the two intense moods. It seemed that his disorder actually resurfaced, and with a vengeance too. That was when he had violently confronted Kelsky about his past, pinning her to the wall and demanding that she supply him with a clear answer. He had broken her that night – finally getting a few answers he had so longed for – but he had also proven to himself that he needed the meds to keep his moods in check. The violent urges he had felt that night, coupled with the helpless feeling of melancholy that had yielded him under its dark will, offering no escape and leading him to the point of using violence, had made Heero realize that he was truly ill. He resumed taking the pills, never telling Kelsky that he had taken a break from them in the first place. He continued living his daily routines, feeling hopelessly empty, but stably sane.

Sighing, Heero leaned forward to rest his head on his hands. Using two fingers, he shoved his glassed up a bit and tiredly rubbed the bridge of his nose. He simply could not concentrate on studying. There were days when he found it difficult – if not impossible – to focus on anything. Kelsky had implied on a few occasions that he might be suffering from ADHD [Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], overlapping with his bipolar disorder. Saying that the symptoms of the two diseases were sometimes confused by doctors, and therefore ADHD could be overlooked in bipolar patients, Kelsky had suggested that he should stop by her office one day for a proper diagnosis, but Heero refused to do so. His limp, amnesia and manic-depression were enough deficiencies; he had no need to be informed of more. Furthermore, Heero didn't wish to give Kelsky yet another reason to fuss over him. Another disorder was the last thing he needed, for he was fragile enough in Kelsky's eyes; he did not need to give her another excuse to overprotect him.

When she was not in one of her more bitter moods, Kelsky tended to walk on eggshells around him and excessively mother him, thinking that she was shielding him from the world. All she asked of him was to concentrate on his degree while she took care of everything else. Kelsky's pampering was so ridiculous at times that Heero considered it to be a miracle when she allowed him to go pick up her dry cleaning or cook dinner for himself while she was working late. A few of his classmates envied him for sharing an (apparently) easygoing life with Dr. Kelsky; they too were certain that he was her gigolo, a playboy using her for money and a comfortable life. Heero, however, never felt like he deserved such twisted envy. Of course, he was aware that the forty-year-old doctor was an attractive and successful woman who seemed very alluring to most students, but he never shared their juvenile fantasies. He did not enjoy living under her materialistic pampering.

Heero often wondered what would benefit Kelsky more: if he continued living with her, satisfying her compulsive need to compensate him for something he could not remember, or if he chose to leave and rid her of the constant reminder of guilt. Heero could never decide what would cause her more pain: him leaving or him staying. It seemed to be alose-lose situation. Unable to make up his mind, he simply stayed put and bore his life with her as much as he could.

Tapping on the table with a yellow marker, Heero struggled to concentrate. He read and reread the same line over and over again, but his mind would not absorb anything and continued to wander, and with good reason. How could he study – pretending that nothing was out of the ordinary – when in fact he knew that the time has come for him to finally make a decision?

Sighing, Heero stretched, straightened in his seat and then tried to focus on his studying again. He successfully made it through two whole pages of his biology book, before his mind started wandering again. Mrs. Downey's harsh eyes kept glaring at him from between the lines of the book. Heero knew why she had given him such a harshlook that morning – she knew. Hell, with the decibel level Kelsky's shouting had reached last night, the whole bloody neighborhood probably knew!

"Shit," Heero cussed softly under his breath. He leaned forward again, burying his face in his hands. He tried to get the image of Kelsky's nude body writhing underneath him, but the tighter he clenched his eyes shut, the more vividly he could see her in his mind's eye. How could he have been so stupid? How— why?

Heero leaned back into his seat again and tried to concentrate on the text in front of him. He had no time to dwell on the mistake he had made last night; it was not his fault anyway. He had only obliged her because she had been so desperate, so demanding of him. What was he supposed to do? They both needed it; it seemed like the only logical choice at the time. He had not had the time to think of consequences, not while Kelsky was making her desperate feminine advances towards him. If he had denied her, he would have caused her even more anguish than she was already feeling.

Last night, Heero had come home to an empty house. Happy to have some peace and quiet, he had taken a snack and a can of soda out of the fridge before propping himself on the sofa in front of the large flat-screen TV. He was just beginning to watch a fascinating historical documentary about the Eve Wars – 'OZ's Top-Secret Files Revealed: Who Were the People Behind the Gundams?' – when Kelsky had returned home carrying a hefty bag of groceries. Sighing, he had switched off the television and went to help her unpack. He could immediately tell that she was in one of her more bitter moods. She had worked in silence, putting things in place, her every movement giving away her gloomy state of mind.

As he helped her unpack, Heero had quietly asked if something was wrong. All Kelsky did was murmur 'nothing' as she pulled out a bottle of red wine from the wine cooler and poured herself a full glass. Seeing her distressed state, Heero had offered to make dinner while she relaxed in front of the television. Giving him an uncertain look, Kelsky silently agreed. She took the wine bottle with her and threw herself on the sofa, watching a British soap-opera while Heero cooked.

He served her whole-wheat pasta with salad and broccoli pie, and they both sat down to eat. By the time dinner was served, Kelsky had already emptied a few glasses of red wine. It was very unlike her, so Heero had once again asked if something was the matter. Kelsky have given him the oddest reply. She had turned to him, looking at him with such despair in her rich hazel eyes that he began to feel uncomfortable. She had told him that 'some prick came into my office today', and then fell silent before looking up at him again, asking: 'Heero, you're not planning on leaving me, are you?'. He was so stunned by the sudden inquiry that, almost naturally, he had replied 'no'. Kelsky had nodded silently and sipped some more wine. She did not say another word during dinner, and Heero found himself wondering if he had blown up a chance to bring up everything that bothered him about living with her.

By the time they finished supper, Kelsky seemed to have calmed down a bit. When he offered to make some tea, she gave him a quiet nod and a guilty look. Their gazes locked for a moment, and then Kelsky bowed her head, sighing heavily. Her head bowed, she had suddenly whispered an apology, telling him that she was sorry for ruining his life. Heero simply stood there, unsure what to do. He could not recall the past she was referring to, the life she was claiming to have ruined, so it did not bother him. Eventually, he chose to remain quiet and turned to make the tea he had promised her, hoping it would help ease her distress. He caught her looking at him as he worked, and once again he could see the pity and shame in her eyes. He wondered what might have brought such misery upon her. As he had served her a steamy cup of tea, he dared to ask if the 'prick' who had come into her office that day had said anything to upset her. Suddenly, he had felt a need to protect her, to take care of her problems and help her in a time of need. If some bully was threatening her, causing her anguish, Heero had wanted to make sure he will do her no harm. He was surprised at his own feelings, of the need to be a sort of knight in shining armor; he never expected to feel that way towards her.

Then he made his next mistake, Heero now recalled as he leaned over his textbook, reminiscing about the night before. He had offered that they watch a movie together, thinking that Kelsky needed his company to ease her mind. If she was upset because she thought he might be leaving her, then the least he could do was to keep her company, staying close to assure her that he was not going anywhere. His sudden compassion towards her was also surprising; once again he considered if the reason he felt that way towards her was because they used to be intimate in the past, before his coma. Kelsky never said anything to imply it, but Heero still suspected. It was in the way she behaved around him, especially at times like these.

The two took a seat on the sofa and ordered a movie through cable TV. By mid-film, Kelsky was curled up against him, holding his hand like it was the most natural thing in the world. Heero let her, simply because he knew she needed him. A few too many glasses of wine had impaired her judgment, Heero suspected, for suddenly she did not restrain herself as she often did. By the time the movie ended, Kelsky was all over him. He could smell the strong scent of red wine in her breath as she nuzzled his face gently, running her cool fingers up and down his neck, down his arm, and then his thigh. He held his breath, unable to move, as she seemed to reacquaint herself with his body. Her touch was vaguely familiar, and that feeling of intimacy stirred something deep inside of him. It evoked a need he had not felt – or could not remember feeling – ever before. His mind had forgotten, but his body did not. Still, Heero was unwilling to succumb to something he could not fully understand. Gently, he had pushed her away from him, telling her that they shouldn't do something they would both regret.

Now, sitting in the library, Heero could still feel the sharp pinch of guilt he had felt when Kelsky turned to him with those sad, remorseful hazel eyes of hers. Sorrowfully, she had told him that she could never regret doing something she already regretted. While her reply had been confusing at the time, Heero now knew that it had been a confession of a past relationship with him. Sadly, Kelsky had whispered to him about how much she missed being with him, how she missed touching and being touched; she missed being a woman and she missed him being her man. 'Don't you remember?' she had murmured in his ear, expertly nibbling his earlobe; she knew exactly what he liked, how sensitive his ears were and how much nibbling them turned him on. 'No,' he had whispered back in a trembling voice, 'I do not'. Since the day he had woken up from his coma, Heero never had any kind of sexual encounter; he was not even sure if he was a virgin or not, but Kelsky had now provided him with a clear answer: they used to be a couple. That was why she was so desperate to keep him near; that was why she looked at him with such guilt and longing. His sudden sense of understanding only made succumbing to her advances easier.

Kelsky had promised to make him remember and a part of him was desperate for her to fulfill that promise. She had promised that they would both enjoy it, they would both benefit from the release sex provided. Her husky words ran a tremble down his spine; they tingled under his skin and echoed in his flesh with promises of pleasure. 'Lets give the neighbors something to really gossip about', Kelsky had whispered seductively against his neck as she tilted his head back to kiss his collarbone. She had known exactly where to touch him and how to tease him; she left his body no choice but to comply. Heero had found himself leaning into her caresses, responding to her touch. He had covered his face shamefully with his hands as she had pleasured him orally, right there on the sofa. He mumbled incoherently, asking her to stop when all his body really wanted was for her to go on.

Their lovemaking had been mechanical, desperate and hollow; it was devoid of meaning, of trust, of warmth and understanding. While it had not been passionate, still Kelsky had screamed, moaning his name; she had kept begging him to bring her to the peak she longed for. He remembered climaxing and then becoming numb, empty. Guilt instantly flooded him and Heero had silently excused himself and hurried up the stairs to his room. He had not heard Kelsky come up to her bedroom that night. When he had come downstairs in the morning, she had already left for work.

Heero slammed his textbook shut. He was in no mood to read or study. He was in no mood for anything at all. He was unaccustomed to dealing with problems, and right now he felt like he had gotten himself into one big mess. He had no idea what would happen once he will see Kelsky again. If she will pretend like nothing had happened between them – will he be relieved or will he confront her about it? If she'll decide to kick him out of her home – will he be happy to oblige her or will he feel frightened by the sudden change?

An irksome feeling made him restless and annoyed. He wanted to go outside, sit on the lawn and absorb some sunlight; the library was too gloomy for him all of a sudden. Picking up his books and his cane, Heero threw his one-strap bag over his shoulder and limped out of the library. Heading down the stone path leading away from the ancient building, Heero's eyes carefully shifted left and right, searching the faces of the people around him, making sure none of them was Kelsky. The library was only a building away from the Psychology department, where Kelsky's office was; it was dangerously close. Sometimes she'd catch a sight of him on campus during lunchtime and insist that they'd eat together. She'd pest him about every little thing – like why he had ordered chips or why he had neglected taking his pills after lunch (he didn't like taking them at the university). Kelsky had a knack for frustrating him. She didn't mean any harm so he never dared to complain, but still – life with her was maddening at times. Now more than ever Heero wished that she will not find him. Who knew in what foul mood she might be in after last night's events; she might prove to be even more difficult than ever before.

Walking down a path crossing between the Career Service and Mathematics department, Heero reached a square of green lawn set at the heart of three buildings encompassing it. He placed his bag on the grass and sat down, leaning backwards on the bag. He looked up at the clear blue skies, gazing at few sheep-like clouds from behind his reading glasses. He didn't need to wear glasses all the time, but he felt secured behind them. The glasses kept a certain distance between him and everyone else; they were a physical representation to the way he felt inside – alienated and aloof, like some invisible barrier was separating him from the rest of the world. The hollowness in his mind could quite possibly be the cause behind that barrier, he often mused. Whenever he tried to reach inside himself, all he could come up with would be a loud supersonic shriek echoing in a dark space. He had hoped that, somehow, the black framed glasses and the long bangs he had grown to hide his eyes would keep people from seeing how empty he was inside. They were his protection from inquiring gazes he got from the people around him, such as female lab-partners or nosy neighbors.

Closing his eyes, Heero took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh air deeply into his lungs. He could smell someone smoking nearby; the familiar cigarette stanch tickled his nose. At some point he had thought about picking up smoking, but then dismissed the thought once he figured that Kelsky would give him hell for it. She didn't even allow him to drink wine with her, so he could imagine what kind of a reaction he would get out of her for smoking.

Heero felt a shadow fall over him, someone suddenly blocked his sun. He could actually feel the eyes of the person looking down at him; it was a gaze he was very familiar with. He took a deep breath, preparing for what was to come.

"Heero?" he heard Kelsky's voice call to him softly, "I thought I saw you lying here. Why aren't you at the library?"

Sighing, Heero opened his eyes and sat up. He saw Kelsky standing in front of him, dressed in her usual stylish business suit: a turquoise skirt and matching jacket clinging to her feminine curves. Her long brown hair was tousled by the cool breeze and she tucked it behind her ears while waiting for his reply. She was looking down at him from behind a pair of fashionable sunglasses. He couldn't see her eyes behind her sunglasses, so it was hard to tell if she was angry, upset or even comfortable with what had transpired between them. Her body language seemed to indicate that everything was as usual; she was still standing tall, proud and confident as always. Since he took his time answering her question, she planted a hand on her hip, waiting impatiently for him to speak.

Heero could see himself reflect on the dark lenses; he looked like a little boy being berated by his mommy. Angry at his own analogy, he hardened his expression and cleared his throat.

"I'm taking a break," he finally said, speaking quietly as he squinted against the sunlight, looking up at her. He hoped she wouldn't choose that moment to talk about last night. He still hadn't reached a clear enough conclusion on what it all meant and he didn't feel like dealing with it at the moment. Of course, with Kelsky being a shrink and all, he was always at the risk of being forced into a soul-bearing conversation with her. It was a good thing he had chosen to rest on the grass, he mused, because Kelsky would never degrade herself to sitting out on the lawn to have a talk with him. There was enough talk about them around campus as it was and she wouldn't want people to catch them sitting together like two students in love.

"Are you having difficulty studying?" Kelsky asked politely as she flipped her hair back to avoid the wind shoving it into her face. Heero stared, recalling the way her long hair swung back and forth as they moved on the sofa, softly bouncing against her breasts, again and again. He swallowed, but his mouth was dry. He forced himself to concentrate on what Kelsky was saying.

"You really should come to my office for a diagnosis. I can ask Dr. Hall to test you for ADHD. If you come out positive, the university will make the proper accommodations to help you get by. You can get extra time on you exams."

"I don't need it," Heero grunted, irate. Apparently, he noted to himself, Kelsky was going to act like nothing was out of the ordinary. Last night's events were doomed to be buried under a mountain of 'Classic Kelsky Denial'. If she was going to pretend that nothing happened, perhaps it would be for the best. Then again, Kelsky might drive him into an early grave if things continued to be the way they are now. The woman drove him nuts! He had to constantly remind himself that she only had his best interest in mind, but still – he was going insane under her excessively motherly care. And now, after they had had sex – what will become of her odd behavior? Will it become even more intolerable?

Sighing, he looked up at her again. "I'm fine," he assured her, "I'm simply taking a break from studying, so stop jumping to conclusions."

"It's almost lunchtime," Kelsky pointed out, changing the subject before they'll get into one of their many fights. "Aren't you going to eat? You need to take your medication."

Heero felt like screaming, but he remained composed. "Yes," he nodded, "I will eat, don't worry."

For a moment, all Kelsky did was stare at him and Heero began to fear that she was going to say something after all. Then, she sighed quietly and adjusted her sunglasses before smiling sweetly; it was a fake smile, and Heero briefly wondered if things between them will turn cold, polite and artificial. Would he be able to live that way?

"I was just headed to Cafι Jules to get myself a sandwich and a cappuccino. Would you like me to bring you something as well?" She asked and her tone clearly suggested that she would never take 'no' for an answer.

"Yes, that would be great, thank you," he replied quietly.

Kelsky nodded in approval. "What would you like in your sandwich – tuna or egg salad?"

He would rather have a bag of greasy fries and a hotdog, but since Kelsky always commented about his diet, he knew better than to ask for what he favored. "Tuna please," he replied slowly, feeling like a child and hating himself for it. One would expect her to start treating him differently after they slept together, but that would be asking for too much, so it seemed.

"All right," Kelsky nodded, "I will be back soon, so wait here."

"Sure," Heero muttered and ran a hand through his hair, shoving his long bangs up for they kept obscuring his eyes and Kelsky hated that, always remarking that the needed a haircut; he didn't want to hear her say it again, for the umpteenth time. Kelsky left for the cafι and the long locks of brown hair ended up falling back into his eyes, obscuring her retreating figure. People could practically smell the sex off her, he imagined. The woman had too much sex appeal for her own good, he thought as he watched her walk away. She had tricked him into her web, he decided, noting how a few male students eyed her behind after she had passed them. As always, he mused, Kelsky had used him to feed her guilt, grief and compulsive self-loathing and he had let her; because of his weak male needs and her irresistible nature, he had helped fuel her steadily growing need to keep him by her side. He was slowly but surely digging his own grave and last night he had added a few more inches of depth to his final resting place. After giving himself to her, he had probably sealed his own tomb. He will forever be trapped in her web of deceit and remorse, unable to leave now that he had promised himself to her completely.

Sighing, Heero leaned backwards to lie down on his bag and placed two arms behind his head as an extra cushion. He returned to watching the clouds, trying to keep Kelsky out of his head. Again the scent of cigarettes drifted his way, tickling his lungs with something familiar. Closing his eyes, Heero inhaled the smoke deeply. Perhaps he should pick up smoking – just so he could spite her. He should give Kelsky a taste of her own medicine! Plus, she'd never lay a hand of him again if he reeked of cigarettes – right?

"Pfft," Heero snorted again, shaking his head at his own juvenile thoughts. Because of her, he was even beginning to think like a child!

"I should get the hell away from here," he mumbled to himself. His eyes still closed, Heero tried to picture what life would be like if he ran away from Kelsky and moved to Japan. Perhaps he will be able to find some answers there. He was Japanese after all, perhaps his past lied somewhere in the Japanese archipelago. Sometimes he would get the feeling that he came from someplace far away; perhaps he was from space. Could he have been born on the Colonies? Then why was he living on Earth? There were so many places for him to go in search of an unknown past; without Kelsky's aid, he wouldn't know where to start.

"Hey man, got a light?" a male voice suddenly asked; it came from above him. Heero felt a cool shadow of a person fall over him, obscuring the warm sunshine. He opened his eyes, looking at the man who had approached him. The man was well-built and seemed to also be in his late twenties. He was wearing a pair of dark worn-out jeans and a black leather jacket. His hair was a light chestnut color, with long bangs framing his face. A pair of reflective sunglasses concealed his eyes, giving him a rather distant and official demeanor. Again Heero could see his own reflection; he thought it seemed rather small – perhaps lost – compared to the other man. Even when Kelsky was no longer around, he still felt like a twenty-eight-year-old child. Quickly, Heero sat up, trying to close the height gap a bit and gain the illusion of strength.

"No, sorry," he finally answered the man's question, shaking his head. "I don't smoke."

"Oh," the man let out, though he hardly looked disappointed.

Looking to his right, Heero spotted the source of the cigarette smoke he had smelled a moment before. There was a group of young students sitting on the grass a few meters away, smoking, chatting and having lunch. Frowning, Heero wondered why the man hadn't approached them instead.

"Mind if I sat down?" the man asked and Heero turned to look at him again, confused.

"Uh, sure," he said, still frowning.

The man gave him a small smile and propped himself down on the grass, sitting in front of Heero. He then pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket; when he opened it, Heero could see that there was also a lighter inside. He frowned as he watched the man light up his smoke before he took a long drag. When the man caught him looking, he smiled cannily.

"What do you know, I had a light anyway," he said with a shrug.

"Yes..." Heero mumbled as he watched the man numbly. Suspicion was tickling in the back of his head, making him uncomfortable.

"You're Heero, right?" the man asked casually as he smoked.

Surprised, Heero snapped back into focus. "How do you know my name?"

The man gave him a cunning smile and reached to take off his sunglasses. . With the burning cigarette secured between his lips, he folded them neatly and placed them in the front pocket of his jacket. He turned to look at Heero with a pair of vivid cobalt eyes.

"Because I know you," he stated simply, looking intently at Heero. "Don't I look familiar?"

"Is this a joke?" Heero asked, raising a skeptic eyebrow, "because I don't find it funny at all."

"No, Heero, it's no joke. I'm as honest as they come." The man finished his smoke, crushed the still burning bud on the grass and threw what was left of it aside.

Heero noted that the man did not have a British accent, but an American one. He tried desperately to remember if he had met him someplace before, but came up empty. "Have we met?" he finally asked, confused.

"Yes, yes we have – many years ago," the man nodded his head before he fixed his gaze on Heero's eyes again, looking grim all of a sudden. "I understand that you have no memory of your past."

Alarmed, Heero stiffened in defense of his dignity. "Who told you that?"

"I have my sources," the man shrugged casually. "Is it true?"

"It's none of your business."

"The fact that you don't recognize me is evidence enough."

Sighing, Heero looked away shamefully. "Yes, it's true."

"Dun worry about it," the man assured him, "I won't tell anyone. In fact," he added dramatically and then paused, smirking, "I'm here to tell you something, something about yourself."

Heero looked up again, suspicious. "What?" he asked, to make sure that he had heard right. "But…" was all he could think of saying, because his mind suddenly raced a hundred miles an hour. He felt bewildered and confused, unable to comprehend the offer the man was making. He was there to tell him about himself? "Why?" Heero finally managed to ask, looking uncertainly at the man in front of him.

"Because I need your help, Heero. Believe me, I wouldn't have come otherwise. You seem to have some pretty good shit going on here, or so they tell me."

Heero didn't like the man's tone of voice; he seemed to be referring to the rumors around campus that he and Kelsky were a couple. Heero had a right mind to just get up and leave, but he chose not to. He was too curious.

"It's not what you think," he said harshly, glaring at the other man, "and who the hell are you?"

"Me? Why – I'm death!" the man proclaimed with a sneaky smile, shrugging casually. His smile faded and turned into a more serious expression. "I'm the death of your confusion, of your ignorance, if you so choose."

"You are not making much sense," Heero grunted and prepared to get up. He reached for his messenger-bag and cane. "I think you have the wrong person," he grumbled, standing up, "the psych wing is over there," he pointed at the building, pulling his bag over his shoulder, "go ask for help."

With that said, Heero prepared to leave as much distance as possible between he and the strange man. He walked as quickly as his limp allowed him, carrying his books, his bag and cane along with him.

"You didn't always have that limp!" the man called after him, "Ever wondered how you got it?"

Heero stopped, frozen in his tracks. He didn't dare turning to face the man again. He clutched the cane tightly in his fist, feeling an old and familiar sense of bitterness bubble inside him. Ever since he had woken up at the hospital, with Kelsky by his side, he had learned to take the limp for granted. It was a part of him, just like the emptiness in his mind and the shadowy figures at the edges of his dreams. He had never really considered how things might have been like without a limp or a chasm stretching inside his head. He had many questions, yes, but never enough answers to help him picture himself as someone other than who he was now.

The man's footsteps threaded softly on the grass as they approached him. Hearing the man nearing, Heero tensed. Common sense implied that he should continue to walk away, but Heero was unable to take another step forward. A large part of him wanted to stay, wanted to hear the man out. Slowly, he turned to face him again, meeting a pair of grim cobalt eyes.

"Believe it or not, Heero," the man said softly as he approached, "I'm someone you used to trust." He came to stand in front of Heero, forcing him to meet his eyes. "Please, could you spare me a few minutes of your time?"

"I have to get going," Heero mumbled and hurried to turn away, "I'm... I'm meeting someone," he lied and began heading back towards the library. He could feel the man's penetrating gaze on the back of his head.

"Don't you want to know?" the man insisted and Heero stopped again. He allowed the man to close the distance between them once more.

"I don't know if I should," he whispered, staring down at the floor. Kelsky had always led him to believe that he would be better off not knowing. Even while he had always wanted to know, now that he was finally presented with an opportunity – he wasn't so sure anymore. Doubt filled him, throbbing in his heart. Was he really ready to face the darkness he knew was hidden in his unknown past?

"I can tell you who you are, or at least, who you were," the man promised; his voice sounded a bit desperate in Heero's ears. "I won't ask for anything in return, but I would appreciate it if you'd at least hear me out afterwards."

Heero swallowed, hard. He felt himself tremble deep inside, but he refused to show his distress.

"Even if you do tell me about myself, my memories will never return to me," he murmured, still gazing down at the floor, "I cannot help you. Look at me – I can barely even walk straight."

"I don't know you to be someone who enjoys torturing himself with self-pity," the man stated grimly, "Maybe you used to succumb to some self-flagellation every now and then, we all did, but the Heero I remember never feared to face hardship if it meant that he could make a difference." He took a step closer to Heero, looking at him with hope in his eyes. "I think you are still that person, Heero, you still wish to live a meaningful life. Please," he added pleadingly, "think about it – don't you want to know who you really are? Where you came from? What you've done? None of us would even be alive if it weren't for you, and I'm talking about freaking everyone. Isn't that something worth knowing?"

"I..." Heero began slowly, but his voice trailed off. He was completely at lost. His head still bowed, he took a deep breath and released it in a long, heavy sigh. He turned his gaze to look at his hand, the one clutching the walking-cane. Although his wrists were covered by long sleeves, Heero stared beyond the fabric, at the scars he knew he bore on his wrists. A cloud of darkness tickled and sizzled in the back of his mind. He knew that there were horrors waiting there for him, they were waiting for him to acknowledge them. He wasn't sure if he should.

What would Kelsky do if he left her? How could he do it to her after promising that he'd stay and after sealing that promise with a bond of flesh? It wouldn't be fair to her if he left; but then again, as she had often mentioned, life was never fair. She had ruined his life and he in return had ruined hers. They were doing each other more damage than good. Perhaps, he thought, especially in light of what happened last night, it would best if he left... wouldn't it?

"Heero?" the man called his name softly and placed a warm hand on his shoulder to gain his attention. Heero tensed immediately and the man pulled his hand away.

"I'm sorry," he said as he turned away from Heero, "You should consider yourself lucky," he said, putting back his sunglasses. "I suppose that some things are better left forgotten."

Heero listened to the man's footsteps fall against the stone path, growing distant. He still did not dare to turn back to face him. A headache throbbed between his temples. Wincing, he shook his head, willing the pain away. Would he really be satisfied being as ignorant as Kelsky wanted him to be? Wouldn't it be better to have the hollowness in his mind replaced by something more substantial – no matter how painful?

Slowly, Heero turned back towards the man. He saw his retreating figure walk away, heading out of campus. His eyes narrowed as he spotted something unusual swinging back and forth on the man's back. The man's hair was gathered in a thick braid, reaching down to his shoulder-blades. A painful, nagging feeling itched and crackled in the back of Heero's head. The sight was both familiar and unfamiliar. Something deep inside him was convinced that the man's braid should be much longer.

"Wait," he called and the man stopped dead in his tracks. Carefully, he turned to face Heero again, looking at him behind his reflective sunglasses.

"Yeah?"

Heero limped towards the man, dragging his cane which scrapped loudly against the stone floor. He stopped right in front of the braided man and looked at his own reflection again, gazing back at him from the man's sunglasses. His mirror image seemed so pale and confused, much like the child Kelsky usually made him feel he was. It was an image he had grown tired of; it never felt like his true self.

The braided man pulled his sunglasses up over his head and the reflection was gone from Heero's sight. He was met with a pair of expressive cobalt eyes, looking at him intently. The braided man cocked his head aside, looking curiously at Heero.

"What is it? Changed your mind?"

Heero's heart began to race, again unsure if he really wanted to know about the past that had led him to at least two suicide attempts. His current way of life was comfortable; he could remain content not knowing the origin of his scars, his limp and loss of memory. But wouldn't such an existence would be a stale and meaningless one? He needed a way out of his numbing existence. Even if a terrible heartache might be installed for him, Heero still wanted to know. It would be the only way he could really feel something; the only way for him to go on living. Even if it would be a harsh, day-to-day struggle, there was no other way for him to appreciate life.

"I do," Heero finally blurted out, referring to the man's last question. "I do want you to tell me who I am."

The man seemed doubtful. "You sure?"

"Yes, I am."

The man still didn't look convinced, he was still frowning. "You know, what I have to tell you might be even worse than you think. It could get ugly."

"I'll take that chance," Heero said, looking resolutely at the other man.

"Why?" the man insisted on knowing.

Heero got the feeling that the man was testing him. He took a moment to think about his reply. "Because..." he began slowly, still thinking, "Because without that ugliness, I suspect that I am no longer myself."

A wide smile graced the man's handsome features, lighting up his cobalt eyes. "In that case," he said and reached his hand out for a handshake, "I'm Duo Maxwell, and it's very nice to meet you again, Heero."

Hesitating only for a moment, Heero shook the man's hand and nodded in greeting.

"Duo..." he said thoughtfully, testing the name on his lips, "That is a very unusual name, if you don't mind me saying."

"Ch," Duo snorted, "You don't know the half of it," he added with a smile and put his sunglasses back on, pushing them down so they would fall from the top of his head and over his eyes.

"Mind if we get outta here?" Duo asked, smiling sarcastically, "Smart places give me a headache."

Heero found himself awkwardly smiling back, hesitant and yet, at the same time – he felt relieved, almost rejuvenated. In the end, he found that he could not live without his hardship; it was much a part of him as his limp or his scars. Even while anguish had threatened to bring him to the brink of self-extinction, it seemed that hardship was what made his life worth living. It was a natural part of every-day life; it was a natural part of him.

"What do ya say," Duo said to regain his attention, "You ready to get outta here?"

"Yes," Heero replied simply, nodding, "Lead the way."

When Kelsky returned to the lawn holding a bottle of minimal water and a tuna sandwich – Heero was nowhere to be found.

The End ...

Or Another Beginning?

Gosh... I wonder what might happen next...

Meanwhile, I would really like to know what you thought about this story. I really want to learn how to improve my writing, so your opinion means a lot to me. What did you think of the plot structure, about the way I wrote Heero and about Kelsky as an OFC? Please let me know.

Please (please!) leave me a review... anything you have to say will be welcomed.

Elle.

[1] 61,950₯ are about $650 in current currency.

[2] A 1K apartment is a small Japanese apartment with a separate bedroom and a separate kitchen, toilet and bathroom.

[3] Therefore, be at ease.

[4] One more time... in Japanese... let me hear...

[5] Forgive me, okay?




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