By the time he found Odin, the man had already lost too much blood.
He lay on the floor of the hangar, his hand pressed to the bullet wound in his chest. Dark red rills squeezed out between his fingers and stained the front of his stolen uniform. His face was ashen, but he appeared serene and relaxed. He turned his head when the boy knelt at his side, and gave him a smile.
“I heard the explosion,” he said roughly. “You took out the Command Tower?”
“Good job, son.”
The boy stared at the bloody hand on the man’s chest. “You’re going to die.”
“Afraid so. Think the bullet nicked my aorta. It won’t be long now.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Not as much as I thought it would.” Odin closed his eyes. His breath came in quick, shallow gasps. “You should go. They’ve probably started—searching the base by now.”
“I want to stay.”
“Why? You’ve seen men die before. This—is nothing new.”
The boy looked at his mentor blankly.
“Go. If they catch you, then I’ve failed the”—he coughed, a harsh, ugly sound—“the only mission that ever really mattered. Now get out of here. Stay sharp, don’t forget—what I taught you. Listen to your gut, but follow . . . follow your . . .”
“Follow your heart,” the boy finished.
“Or . . .”
The boy frowned. “Or what? Follow my heart or what, Odin? . . . Odin?”
There was no response.
There never would be.
Twelve years later
On a two-acre block off Vrovická Street, just north of the train station, was a graveyard of shattered bricks and crumbling concrete. Once it had been a formidable building, its lawn and hedges well-kept and its lot under 24-hour video surveillance. Now it was a ruin, charred and crushed beyond recognition. Twisted steel beams jutted from the rubble like the bones of a decayed corpse. A hastily-erected chain link fence stretched around the perimeter, signs in six different languages warning away trespassers. Heero could read them all, but that didn’t stop him; he climbed up the fence, carefully maneuvering around the strands of razor wire, and dropped onto the other side.
He moved easily through the dark, having studied the hazardous terrain in daylight and being already familiar with its topography. This was his sixth return to the site of the former United Earth Sphere Alliance Intelligence Headquarters—and with any luck, it would be his last. He had located the administration wing a few nights before and begun retrieving all the intact hard drives he could find. Hopefully one of them would contain the information he was looking for.
Navigating through a maze of debris, Heero located his access point: the partially-blocked remains of the Headquarters’ elevator shaft, plunging three storeys into the earth. It yawned before him, a black maw of an otherworldly beast. Heero crouched at the lip and shrugged off the backpack he carried, removing a coil of nylon rope, a headlamp, harness, gloves, and anchoring hardware. In less than a minute he had set up his anchor and strapped himself into the harness. He pulled on the gloves and headlamp, slipped on the backpack, and threw the end of his rope down the shaft. Crawling over the edge of the chasm, he checked himself one last time and began his descent.
Three years of peace had not dulled Heero Yuy’s tactical skills in the slightest.
He rappelled into the void, the scraping of his boots and jingling hardware echoing in the deep silence. What he was doing was extremely dangerous, as he was fully aware; the structural integrity of these underground levels was uncertain, and if the shaft were to collapse or a roof to cave in, he would be trapped underground, prematurely entombed and condemned to die of suffocation or thirst if he wasn’t crushed to death in the initial avalanche. His body would never be found. No one knew of his whereabouts, and it would be at least two months before he was missed. It was a monumental risk—but the reward, if it lay within this darkness, would almost certainly be worth it.
A bat swooped past Heero’s head, clicking and squeaking as it soared out of the shaft and into the night. For some reason he thought of Duo. A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. He resumed his descent, steady and careful, and soon reached the bottom. He unbuckled his harness and crawled from the crumpled top of the elevator car and into the corridor beyond.
It was like walking through a ship at the bottom of the ocean. Heero’s headlamp cut through the blackness, its beam bouncing erratically over broken glass and tile. The floors were littered with damp, moldering papers and twisted pieces of office furniture. Here and there parts of the wall were caved in, spilling insulation and coils of electrical intestines out into the corridor. It smelled of rot, smoke, and death down here; some of the bodies had never been recovered and still lay in their urban grave, decomposing far from the sun’s light. Heero passed a brown streak of blood on the wall and kept moving.
He came to a familiar 4-way intersection. The right hallway was completely collapsed, inaccessible. He turned left, heading toward the records department. There was one last room at the end of the hall he wanted to check, then he would head topside.
The air grew thinner and harder to breathe. Heero knew he wouldn’t be able to stay down here more than fifteen or twenty minutes. The lack of ventilation and his previous visits had probably reduced the amount of breathable oxygen to hazardous levels. He would have to be careful.
He glanced down at his wristwatch. Seven minutes since descent. He had to move quickly, but he also couldn’t afford to overlook anything. This was his last chance to salvage any computer hardware from this place. He didn’t want to leave without knowing he had turned over every stone.
The door at the end of the hall, like the other doors he had encountered on this floor, was locked. Heero crouched down and took a small, scalpel-shaped tool from his belt and slipped it under the handle fixture, prying it loose. It came off a little too easily; a closer look revealed that the heavy steel door was under a lot of tension. Heero studied the ceiling, trying to gauge its integrity. There was no telling what it was like on the other side. The whole ceiling might be ready to collapse. Even pushing the door open might set off a structural chain reaction and send the floor above tumbling down onto his head.
But he had come this far. He wasn’t about to turn away.
He put his shoulder to the door and slowly pushed. It protested, scraping and screeching against the vinyl composition tiles, but soon there was a wide enough opening that he could squeeze through. He shined his light in, checking for obstacles, then flattened himself and slid inside.
The air was even fouler here, and there was much less of it. Heero went into conservation mode, slowing his breathing and expending as little energy as possible, as if he were freediving. He turned his head, shining light over a bank of charred servers and flat filing drawers against one wall. Industrial shelving units covered the other two walls from floor to ceiling. Boxes and papers and manila folders were scattered in thick, musty piles. A cluster of workstations stood in the middle of the room, chairs knocked from their desks and monitors lying busted on the floor. Most of the towers looked to be in fair condition. A layer of dust and ash covered everything. There must have been a small fire in here before it was evacuated. That would explain the servers and the discarded fire extinguisher by the door.
Heero’s brain ran the calculations: twelve computers, approximately 30 seconds each for dismantling and extraction—that came to six minutes. There was probably only two to three minutes of oxygen in the room, but Heero could make it on less. He could do this—if he was fast.
He darted across the room and launched into action, snapping and tearing into the computers with the multi-tool he carried on his belt. He slipped his backpack from one shoulder and stuffed the harvested drives into it, moving quickly and methodically.
By the time he reached the last computer he was beginning to feel lightheaded. He needed oxygen, soon.
He ripped open the tower chassis and yanked the drive out like a tumor, trailing wires and connectors. Then he made for the door, zipping up and shouldering the backpack as he went. He got halfway through the opening before the pack, bloated with hard drives, snagged on the door’s edge.
It was a waste of breath, but it had to be said. He didn’t have time for this—he was beginning to feel dizzy. Heero braced himself against the frame, put his foot to the door, and shoved as hard as he could. He spilled into the hallway, gasping for breath.
From somewhere deep in the bowels of the building came a low, metallic groan.
Heero went stock still. Then he leaped to his feet and bolted.
The ceiling collapsed behind him, steel and wood and tile tumbling down in huge, thundering chunks. The beam from his headlamp jerked crazily as he sprinted down the hallway, illuminating buckling walls and crumpling overhead pipes. Drywall powder filled the air. A massive object—some kind of safe or storage vault—dropped in front of him, bringing a rain of ceiling tiles, flooring, and furniture. The last thing Heero saw was a silver glint of metal before the bulb on his headlamp was smashed, plunging him into total darkness.
It was interesting, the things that went though one’s mind when death seems imminent. There were no flashes of faces for Heero, no instant replays of battles in space or wordless nights in a bed in L2. There was simply Odin, saying, “Afraid so. It won’t be long now.”
And the bats.
Yes. Bats were zipping past Heero’s head, squealing angrily. Dozens of them poured unseen from the hole in the ceiling, scratching, stinking, flying rats, panicked and—
Fleeing. Flying rats on a sinking ship.
Afraid so, repeated Odin’s ghost. It won’t be long now.
Heero shut his eyes and threw himself forward. He ran, arms stretched out in front of him, immersed in the cloud of winged rodents. They knew the way out. All he had to do was follow them.
It took a lot of balls to run full speed through a gauntlet of falling rock, and that was when the runner had the benefit of sight. But Heero was nothing if not ballsy. Even if he hadn’t trained under circumstances such as these, his instincts for self-preservation were so strong that even the longest shot was worth a try. It had kept him alive this far. Besides, what other option did he have?
The floor quaked beneath his thumping boots. Wall studs burst into the hallway like compound fractures, tripping him, smashing into his shins and arms. Timbers splintered and I-beams screamed as they bent under the pressure of tons of building material.
This was the Alliance’s last chance to bury Heero Yuy.
He felt the air change suddenly, a space opening up to his right. He swung toward it and entered the main corridor. The bats flew ahead, toward the elevator shaft at the end. Heero opened his eyes and barely made out the dim shape of the elevator car about ten meters away. Up ahead the ceiling distended, preparing to cave in. He surged forward, arms pumping, legs pounding, heart thudding.
He reached the car. The ceiling gave way, burying the corridor and everything in it.
Above ground the rumbling stopped. The bats that had managed to make it out disappeared into the night. A plume of dust rose from the elevator shaft—one final sigh before thieving death stole the last bit of life from the body. Silence settled on the ruins of Alliance Intelligence Headquarters. The stars stared down impassively, winking in their cold, distant mansions.
The nylon rope anchored at the mouth of the chasm suddenly went taught. It shuddered, jerked to the left an inch, shuddered again. It did this for several minutes. Then a dusty hand appeared over the lip, clutching the rope and pulling.
Heero emerged, coughing, his hair covered in a film of fine white dust. He hauled himself from the black hole and rolled onto his back, panting, ignoring the sharp edges of the hard drives in his backpack.
The stars looked beautiful tonight.
He lay there for several minutes, regaining his breath, then sat up and did a quick self-check. He had a gash on his right shin that was bleeding pretty badly; a thick flap of flesh hung down, revealing the smooth red shine of bone. He put the skin back in place and secured it using the headband to which his lamp had once been attached. He had a few smaller cuts and scrapes, nothing serious. No broken bones, no sprains, which meant he could still climb the fence. Unfortunately.
He stood up with a grimace, wiped the powder and dust from his eyes, and walked away from the clutches of death one more time.
Any normal person would have gone to the emergency room and had stitches put in his leg—the psychological trauma of nearly being buried alive would have warranted several years of nightmares and possibly a prescription for benzos—but Heero was far from normal.
He had limped back to his hotel room, gave a nonchalant wave to the startled night clerk at the front desk, and took the stairs. He’d had his fill of elevators for one night.
He entered his room, shed his dusty clothes, and sat in the shower for a long while, eyes closed, appreciating the warm, relaxing patter on his back. Blood ran in diluted pink ribbons down the drain, mixing with chalky streams of dust. Alliance Intel already seemed distant, a nightmare to be forgotten with the first light of dawn.
He finished showering and dried himself off, leaving bright red blots on the hotel towels. Then he pulled out his travel-sized medical kit and sat on the toilet lid, doctoring his leg with saline, iodine, and several butterfly bandages. The wound would be fine in a couple weeks. He healed quickly.
Before calling it a night—or morning, as it was nearly 04:00—he opened his laptop and checked his messages. There was a new one waiting for him. He clicked Retrieve.
Heero smiled. This was fortuitous. Prague was only a couple hours from Munich by train; he would go to the station in the morning and get a ticket. Maybe a late afternoon departure.
He shut the laptop and crossed the room, gingerly lowering his sore body onto the bed.
On second thought, the train station could wait. He wasn’t going anywhere tomorrow morning.
The sun was beginning to set when Heero Yuy stepped off the train at München Hauptbahnhof, wearing his faded blue backpack and carrying a small sport bag on his shoulder. He looked like a typical college student on holiday, right down to the baseball cap and denim jacket. Harmless and unimportant, just another face in the crowd.
He found an acceptable hotel not far from the station, booked a single room, and locked the silver attaché case containing the hard drives in the in-room safe. The case was more secure than the safe in which it was housed, but Heero wasn’t too concerned by that. It was more of a legal precaution; if a would-be thief were to lose a hand or a few fingers because he or she was unable to diffuse the explosives wired to the case’s interior, no one could say that the Defendant didn’t properly secure his volatile belongings.
On his way out, Heero stopped by the front desk. “Der Zirkus?” he asked, pointing first one direction then another.
“Yes, by de English Garten,” said the clerk, picking up on Heero’s limited German. “To de nors two kilometers, off Königinstraße.”
A taxi would have been quicker, but Heero was in no hurry. Besides, walking was good for his wounds. More movement meant more circulation, which accelerated the healing process. It was worth a little soreness tomorrow.
He probably would have been able to find the circus even without directions; there were enough pedestrians en route that all he had to do was follow them. He smiled, reminded of the colony of bats from the previous night. He’d probably be dead if it weren’t for them. Strange how a creature so often associated with death and evil, at least in Western culture, had helped save his life. He would have to mention that to—
Heero’s smile faded. No, not yet. He had to do this first, get his life sorted out. Then he’d begin to clean up the mess he’d started in 195.
Thinking about the past always made him edgy and irritable, and the circus was no place to be dismal. He tried to shift his focus to the present as he paid admission at the gate and wandered into the crowd. The smell of popcorn and hotdogs and cotton candy floated on the cool breeze, the night punctuated with laughter and jolly music and the delighted squeals of youngsters. Balloons bobbed over heads and vendors in brightly colored costumes called out to passersby, inviting them to partake in the fun they offered. Parents strolled with happy, exhausted children at their heels, young couples with massive stuffed animals tucked under their arms.
Heero walked with his hands in his pockets, taking it all in and wondering what Trowa found so appealing about this multicolored madhouse. The two of them had a lot in common, but Heero disliked crowds and noisy, farcical environments, and he mistrusted the cheerfulness of the circus employees. Surely it had to be put on. No matter how much makeup they wore or how cheerful they acted, at the end of the day when the costumes came off, they were still adults with adult problems and adult responsibilities. Why put oneself through that kind of duplicitous nonsense? It was difficult enough trying to get one life right, much less two. Trowa didn’t need the added stress, surely. What could it possibly benefit him?
Perhaps it was an outlet for emotions he was uncomfortable expressing, thought Heero, watching a young woman with purple pigtails and a red foam nose paint a frog on the cheek of a grinning little boy. Trowa always seemed to have difficulty articulating his feelings. It was possible that the clown persona helped bring those blurry emissions of his heart into focus.
Maybe Trowa felt there was more security in playing rather than being. It wasn’t a novel concept; a person taking a holiday abroad might behave quite differently than when he was in his homeland. A person wearing a mask—or half of one—might be more comfortable shouting his heart to the world than whispering barefaced to a loved one. Or maybe Trowa genuinely enjoyed being an actor, amazing and delighting his audience, relishing their feedback.
That was ultimately what it was all about, wasn’t it? Escaping reality for a little while and pretending to be normal.
Because sometimes being yourself was just too fucking horrible to bear.
The clown-girl smiled as Heero sat in the chair before her. “And what would you like, little boy?” she asked archly, brush poised above her palette.
Heero told her.
A few minutes later he walked away with a little brown bat painted on his left cheek. Strangely, it pleased him very much.
He arrived just in time to catch the last acrobatic feature of the evening, and found an out-of-the-way place to stand and observe.
Tense orchestral music was playing over the speakers. Trowa Bloom—wearing sparkly yellow pants, blue arm sleeves, and little else—was in the middle of his tightrope routine, balancing precariously on a wire 15 meters above the ground, with a perfectly useless parasol in one hand. All was well until he suddenly lurched to the right, lost his balance, and dropped the parasol.
Heero’s breath stopped as he watched Trowa topple—and catch himself at the last second. He hung from the bouncing wire with one hand, his legs pedaling the air. Cries of shock rippled through the audience. He finally managed to lock one heel around the rope and scurried upside-down to the platform. He crawled up and gave the crowd a weary wave to show he was alright. A few people clapped. Most of them murmured to one another, probably something along the lines of day jobs and mediocre entertainment.
Then Trowa abruptly did a cartwheel off the platform and onto the tightrope, and the real show began. The delighted spectators cheered as the young performer dazzled them with an amazing show of balance, agility, and hair-raising feats of acrobatics. He was positively fearless, moving with none of the hesitation and awkwardness he displayed earlier. Of course, that had all been a part of the plan.
Heero grinned. Still a master of deception.
A spotlight suddenly illuminated the opposite platform. Catherine Bloom stood in a glittering sequin skirt, smiling and waving to the audience. She had a bandolier of knives around her waist and a large, sharp-looking boomerang in a sheath on her back. She danced onto the tightrope and began “attacking” Trowa, throwing knives which he would dodge, catch, and throw back. The music escalated to a heart-pounding level.
Then Catherine pulled out all her blades and the two siblings tossed knives back and forth at one another, jumping and flipping. The spectators howled and hurrahed as the astonishing exchange went on. The knives were soon cast aside and Catherine spent several minutes chucking the boomerang at her brother, who quite literally bent himself backward to evade the attacks. At the climax, Trowa jumped completely clear of the wire, did a somersault over Catherine’s head, and landed behind her.
The audience roared. Trowa snatched away her boomerang, drew back as if to throw it . . . and with a few clever movements, magically turned the boomerang into a bouquet. Catherine clasped her hands together and accepted the flowers. The lights dimmed and the audience cheered. The spotlights came on one last time to illuminate the pair as they held hands and bowed.
Heero slipped away without applauding. He would pay his respects in person.
Just north of the circus was an open area where the troupe had their camp set up. Trailers, tents and caravans huddled together under the night sky, yellow lights twinkling and voices engaging one another above the warm notes of a brass band playing on someone’s stereo. It was en route to this place that Trowa and Catherine met Heero, who was waiting for them at the last win-a-toy kiosk.
“Impressive show,” he said, stepping into their path. “I never thought near-death could be so entertaining.”
Cathy beamed and hurried over, greeting him warmly and remarking what a surprise it was to see him, how was he doing, what brought him to Munich?
“I was in the neighborhood,” said Heero, sharing a knowing glance with Trowa, who grasped his hand and put one arm around him in a tender half-hug.
“What a lucky coincidence,” said Trowa with a hint of a grin. “It’s good to see you again, Heero.”
It had been over a year since their last face-to-face meeting. Trowa had gotten taller, his hair shorter. Same style, only now the ends of it brushed against his cheekbones. He was still flushed from the performance and shiny with sweat. Body heat radiated from him like a furnace. Instead of a mask there were small blue stars painted in the corners of his eyes. He arched a brow when he noticed the decorations on Heero’s face as well.
“Looks like you met Penelope. Did she give you that, or did you ask for it?”
“I’d say I was definitely asking for it.”
Trowa laughed softly. His eyes sparkled. He looked happy and healthy—physically and emotionally.
Heero was suddenly aware of a very empty, uncomfortable feeling in his chest. It must have shown on his face because Trowa’s smile faded.
“Why don’t we catch up someplace proper,” he suggested, putting a hand on Heero’s. “Besides, I could use a shower.”
Trowa was sharing a camper with the Magical Mister E, whose real name was Emilio Bernardini. Emilio was doing a show and would be away for the next couple hours, giving Heero and Trowa some time alone.
“Make yourself comfortable,” said Trowa, peeling off his armsleeves. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”
Heero, recalling Trowa’s self-conscious tic, politely turned away while he undressed, and inspected the camper’s interior. It was a strange combination of circus paraphernalia and the flotsam of two young men’s lives: silk scarves, glittery costumes, and playing cards juxtaposed with textbooks, dirty laundry, and dumbbells.
He picked up one such textbook—a massive hardcover entitled System Dynamics Volume 2—and leafed through it. He gathered from the notebooks and laptop sitting on the dinette table that Trowa must be completing his university coursework online. That would make sense, considering he left in the middle of the semester to take care of Catherine when she was having her kidney problems.
The thought of managing student obligations, family needs, a career as a technical advisor, and a flamboyant hobby all at the same time made something in Heero’s being creak with displeasure. If anyone could juggle responsibilities, it was Trowa; however, Heero understood that the number of tasks a person handled was inversely proportional to their effectiveness, which is why he preferred to focus on one thing at a time. But if Trowa wanted to do it, could do it, and was satisfied with the results, it didn’t matter what Heero thought.
When Trowa emerged from the bathroom, Heero was sitting in the dinette booth with Fundamentals of Partial Differential Equations in front of him. Trowa tied the belt of his bathrobe and walked over to the table.
“This is pretty fascinating stuff,” said Heero, his eyes glued to the page.
“I’m glad you think so.”
“What’s the matter? Don’t like numbers?”
“It’s not that,” said Trowa, rubbing a towel over his head. “But when you combine math, physics, and chemistry, it can be a little overwhelming.”
“Try focusing on one principle at a time.”
“Can’t. I’m afraid I’ll lose my grip on the other principles if I spend too much time analyzing one.”
Heero quietly shut the book. “Funny, I know a guy like that. A little insecure. Likes to juggle things, lead multiple lives. I think he might be schizoid, though.”
Trowa grinned. When Heero made a joke, you had to be on your toes if you hoped to catch it. “You’re not the first person to tell me that. Cathy’s been on my case about it a few times.”
“She wants you to settle down here?”
“She wants me to be happy. But I’m still trying to figure out what makes me happy.” Trowa suddenly narrowed his eyes at something below the table. “And you still haven’t figured out how to take better care of yourself, have you?”
Heero looked down at his leg. Red blotches had bled through his jeans. “Well, I tried.”
“Let me get my med kit.”
“No need. I’m fine.”
Trowa ignored him and pulled a large plastic case off the kitchen counter. Apparently the first aid kit saw regular use in this household. Trowa grabbed a chair and dragged it over to the booth, sat down, and patted his thigh.
Realizing it was futile to protest, Heero obediently removed his boot and stretched his leg across Trowa’s lap. Trowa rolled up the cuff of Heero’s jeans, revealing the oozing U-shaped gash and feeble, clinging butterfly bandages. The flesh around the wound was bruised and stained with iodine.
“It looks worse than it is.”
“What the hell did you do, run through a scrap yard in the dark?”
“That’s actually not far from the truth.”
Trowa shook his head. He plucked the butterfly bandages off one by one and pumped a mound of foamy antibacterial cleanser onto a sterile pad. He cleaned the area around the gash, wiping away the brown smears of old blood and traces of iodine. Fresh blood welled up from the torn skin and formed thick beads. He blotted them up methodically.
“What were you doing, if I may ask?”
“I was in Prague,” said Heero, watching as Trowa squeezed a clear antiseptic gel onto his shin. “Alliance Intelligence Headquarters.”
“I thought that place was leveled back in 196.”
Using his fingertips, Trowa carefully smeared the gel around the wound site. “Let me guess: you went spelunking.”
“In a sense.”
“What on earth for?”
“Hard drives.” Heero rested his elbow on the table. “When the Headquarters was bombed, they left a lot of computer equipment down in the lower levels. They probably figured it was either destroyed or too dangerous to retrieve. So they fenced everything off and left it.”
“And you went in there alone.”
“At night, I’m guessing, in a structurally unsound building.”
“That was very stupid, Heero.”
“I know. I learned my lesson.”
Trowa sighed and pulled a roll of gauze from the kit. He began to wrap Heero’s leg. “What happened? Did the roof cave in?”
“And you ran for your life.”
“God damn it, Heero,” Trowa muttered. “When are you going to grow up? You’re not fifteen anymore.”
“Neither are you, Jingles.”
“I know that. But at least I’ve got more sense than to go digging around a deathtrap all by myself.”
“You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish when you actually decide to stand up and do something.”
The hand cradling Heero’s calf tightened. “How’s Duo?” said Trowa suddenly. “You talk to him anymore, or did you run for your life from that one, too?”
Something flammable sparked in Heero’s blood. He gripped the sides of the booth and clenched his teeth. That was a low blow and Trowa knew it—of course he did. Trowa was a great tactician, but sometimes he underestimated his opponent. And he was no Heero Yuy.
The Perfect Soldier relaxed as everything became clear.
“If you’re expecting me to chastise you about your life choices,” he said, “you’re going to be waiting a long time.”
Trowa looked up, green eyes wide. Heero glared back.
“What do you want me to say, Trowa? Hide in the circus for the rest of your life? Throw everything you’ve got into your education? Get on the next shuttle to L4 and ask Quatre to marry you?” He closed his eyes, shook his head. “I can’t tell you what to do, what choice is best. I don’t know what’s in your heart. I know you’ve got one—a kind, gentle one—but what good is having a heart if you never act on it? You might as well be dead.”
Trowa was quiet for a long time. Long enough that Heero began to think his words had been too strong. Trowa was more sensitive than he liked to let on, especially when it came to friends and loved ones.
“I’m sorry,” said Heero. “I was . . . I’m in a weird place right now. I’m trying to get my life sorted out. That’s why I was in Prague. That’s why I contacted you, why I’m here now. I want your advice.”
“Yes. That surprises you?”
“I suppose so,” said Trowa, blinking. “You’re usually the one dispensing wisdom, not me.”
Heero smiled. “You’re an excellent follower, Trowa, but every now and then you need to step up and lead. It’s good for you.”
Trowa snorted. “Like that. Tell me, Heero, were you born with a compendium of life lessons implanted in your brain, or are you just that enlightened?”
“You’d have to ask my mother.”
“Is she around?”
“No—and that’s what I’m here to talk to you about.”
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