Heero Yuy was the first to go, but nobody was really surprised when he was found dead in a bathtub full of bloody water, his blue eyes staring sightlessly up at the ceiling.
Nobody but me, that is. Nobody else seemed concerned that, for a man given to extravagant acts of violence, his going had been more of a quiet sigh than an explosive release. Nobody else seemed concerned that, despite the fact that the smooth golden flesh of his inner arms had been cut to ribbons from wrists to elbows in an evident suicide, there was no razor or knife or sharp object to be found anywhere near the body.
The body. He was a friend, a hero, a solid, welcome presence in our lives, reduced to "the body" in a few minutes' time. Duo had seen him head to the bathroom and had gone to the kitchen to make tea, and by the time the tea had steeped... Heero was gone.
Normally Duo would be the curious one, incapable of putting a mystery aside, but needless to say, he didn't want to talk about Heero.
"Quatre," Wufei told me, "let it go. He was suicidal. He tried it so many times during our acquaintance, I lost count. It's tragic that he finally succeeded, but not surprising. There is no mystery here. Let it go. Let him rest in whatever peace he may have found."
"But where is the blade?" I persisted, and Wufei turned away with a snort of exasperation, irritated to have his advice ignored.
I tried to let it go; I really did. I held my peace through all the funeral preparations and the unavoidable work of administering his small estate. Heero didn't own much; his laptop was the only thing of any real value, and even it was obsolete, practically an antique. It just seemed so pathetic, that a man like Heero, to whom the world owed so much, could die all but penniless.
Then again, that was how he chose to live; he could have had anything he wanted.
He would have hated his funeral. All those people crowding in to see his beautiful corpse and cry over him, all the pomp and circumstance the world could afford a fallen hero, all the maudlin focus on the one-time Queen of the World and the loss of her perfect match. He would have absolutely despised it.
After the service was over, and the earth had been smoothed back in place like a blanket drawn over a treasured sleeping child, and the crowds had gone back at last to their busy lives, I went alone to visit his grave.
There had been yellow flowers covering his coffin; a large bouquet of them rested on the bare earth by his headstone. He had always been partial to yellow flowers, though they always brought a bittersweet smile to his face.
"Why did you do it, Heero?" I whispered. "And how? And where did you hide the blade?" But of course there was no answer.
The world was still recovering from the shock of Heero's death when Trowa was found dead. Duo had gone to stay with him and Catherine for a while, until things settled down and he felt he could cope with clearing out the apartment.
"I can't live there any more," he stated, once, and refused to discuss the subject again, and when Trowa offered to let him move in (temporarily), Duo jumped at the chance.
Catherine hadn't thought anything of it when she woke in the morning to find Trowa already out and about and Duo sprawled on the couch snoring; it was Trowa's habit to rise early and feed the animals. It wasn't until some time later, when breakfast was ready and Catherine and Duo were just beginning to wonder when he would come back to eat, that they heard the screaming. Apparently, Trowa had taken it into his head to step into the lions' cage, and been mauled; the human cannonball and his girlfriend had been the ones to find the cage opened, the beasts circling around Trowa's mangled body and snarling.
Heero had died penniless, and it had broken my heart; Trowa died unnoticed, and that was worse. It was just the four of us at the funeral, Duo, Wufei, Catherine and myself. We buried him next to Heero, and the only mention made of him in the papers was a small article about an anonymous circus hand being attacked by lions.
Wufei had a ready explanation for that, too. "Either he miscalculated the lions' reaction to him invading their cage, or he was suicidal and did it deliberately. He had his suicidal moments. Maybe Heero's death was the last straw."
It sounded logical... and how was I to argue with that? Instinct told me there was more than met the eye--instinct and the murmurings of the ucchu no kokoro--but one does not approach a man like Chang Wufei with suspicions based on fleeting psychic impressions.
My restlessness of spirit was as pervasive and unavoidable as the itch of poison ivy; once it had bitten in, it contaminated everything, just like a spreading rash. I was convinced that Trowa had not died by suicide, and neither had Heero. The whispers of my heart told me so. I had seen Trowa not 48 hours before his death, and there had been not the slightest hint of despair, nothing to indicate he might consider taking his own life. He had Catherine, and work that he enjoyed, and, as far as my best divination could tell, he was content.
That left the possibility of accidental death, and while that might hold up in Trowa's case... there was no way Heero could have died by accident.
But what was there to do? I left flowers on Trowa's grave, as I did for Heero's, and I helped in settling his worldly affairs, and when Catherine expressed a desire to move, I made sure to get her a trailer that was as different as possible from her previous home.
There is nothing sadder than the absence of a loved one, turning and half-expecting to see him at the kitchen table or stepping through the doorway, and realizing in that half-instant that it's only your imagination, because he's gone. And even though you know he's gone, even though you watched them lower him into his grave, even though you've visited and left flowers on the cold, dead ground... even so, that little shock of surprise when imagination meets cold reality--that, to me, is the true horror of death.
So I did everything I could to make sure Catherine wouldn't suffer that, wouldn't turn half-expecting him to be stepping through a familiar doorway, or slouching over the table nursing a cup of coffee in that brooding way of his.
I'm sure it still happened, but I hoped it would help, being in a new environment.
By the time the news came out that Relena Peacecraft had been murdered, Wufei was no longer dismissing all the mysterious deaths as coincidence or suicide. Then again, it would've been a bit hard for Relena to commit suicide by cutting her own head off, and even harder for her to hide her head once it had been separated from her neck.
Duo took the news especially hard; he'd only gone to see her a day before, I think to talk about Heero to the one person who would understand. "I really am the God of Death," he told me, when the gruesome story first splashed across the news channels. "I bring Death everywhere I go."
It was true that Duo had been with each of the deceased shortly before death, but the problem was nothing so simple. The fact that several of the Maguanacs had suffered suspicious, fatal heart attacks the week prior led even Chang Wufei to suspect that someone was targeting those of us who had been in the thick of the war. He and Duo and I moved to a house, easily secured, in the heart of a gated, regularly patrolled neighborhood.
"Nobody's gonna be able to break in here!" Duo said, an immensely satisfied grin--the first smile I'd seen him give since Heero's death--spreading across his face. "This place is safe!"
Wufei grunted and nodded agreement; I wasn't so sure. That same restless feeling was there, a prickle at the back of the neck, a shiver down the spine when it was least expected. I felt that we were being observed, watched... stalked. Whoever was after us wasn't going to be deterred by a simple electronic gate and a few guards, not when he had managed to sneak into the heavily-guarded palace where Relena had lived.
We attended her funeral, of course, stiff in our formal suits, ignoring the speculative whispers of the people around us. Some said that one of us had killed Heero in a fit of jealousy over Relena, or killed Relena in a fit of jealousy over Heero. People will say anything when they're desperate to make sense of a senseless act.
They never did find Relena's head.
After the funeral, I left flowers on her grave, but this time I was not alone; Wufei had decided that the three of us should stick together as much as possible, watch out for each other, and Duo and I couldn't help but agree. So as I knelt to pay my last respects, they stood nearby, keeping an eye out, and then we all went back to the house together.
Dinner that evening was oddly strained, despite Duo's best efforts to break the silence.
"Who would want to do this to all of us?" he asked at last, his rich voice reflecting his frustration. I didn't have any answers for him, and Wufei wasn't inclined to speak; his keen, dark eyes hid whatever his private thoughts were. I couldn't imagine how anyone could catch Heero by surprise, or Trowa. There might be plenty of people who would *want* to eliminate the Gundam pilots, and maybe even Relena... but I couldn't think of anyone who would be able to do such a thing. I supposed if I'd really tried, I could have 'masked' my presence and sneaked up on my fellow pilots... but that line of thought really led nowhere, either.
Together, we secured the house, checking that the doors and windows were locked and the alarm system set. Together, we went upstairs, each of us heading to his own room to get ready for bed, and I imagine that each of us felt that prickling sensation between the shoulder-blades, that sense of being hunted.
My nerves were jumping; in the dead silence of the night, I could feel a chill, a wrongness somewhere. I was just on the verge of breaking down and asking Duo to stay in the room with me when I heard a harsh scream, and I was out of my room and halfway down the hall before the horrified sound had faded.
Wufei lay on the floor of his room, dead, slit from groin to throat with bright blood pooling over the pajamas he'd been getting ready to don, an expression of shock frozen on his face; he'd been sneak-attacked, and his death was one he would have found dishonorable. Duo was crouched over him, blood-spattered, holding Wufei's intestines in his hand.
I tried to scream, shattered, but all that came out was a hoarse squeak. As Duo turned to me, eyes gleaming violet, face chalky white under the streaks of red, I turned in terror and ran to my room and locked the door and shoved the heavy chest of drawers in front of it. I didn't think that would hold him long, but I needed to get to the comunit...
which, of course, was dead.
"Quatre!" He was pounding on the door, and I heard the swift snick of the lock being picked open, and then more pounding as he tried to shove the chest out of the way. "Quatre! You don't understand! I didn't do it! We need to stick together!"
I was weeping as I shoved hard against the chest, holding it in place, keeping him out.
"Quatre! Quatre, let me in! QUATRE!" He screamed, and the scream ended in a wet gurgle, and then there was silence. I waited, unnerved, but the silence stretched into an eternity. Perhaps an hour passed, perhaps more; eventually, recklessly, I decided that I couldn't stay cooped up cowering in my bedroom forever.
Duo slumped in the hallway just across from my door, slick trails of blood streaming down his face from hollowed eye sockets, poured from the slit across his throat that had nearly--but not quite--taken his head off. Duo. My dear friend, dead because I'd doubted him.
That was when I truly knew. In my life, I'd only met one other person who possessed the same skills, the same ability I did--my match, and then some. There was only one other person who could have invaded the house, hidden her presence even from us, even from me. Only one other person who could have clouded our thoughts, my thoughts.
There was a bloody sword by Duo's body; I picked it up, clenching my fingers hard around the grip.
"It's time we finished what we started, don't you think? Quatre Raberba Winner."
I blinked away my tears and turned to face her, my enemy, knowing that I had no hope of winning, and that she'd already systematically eliminated anyone who might have come to my aid. Heero died penniless. Trowa died unnoticed and unmourned. Wufei died deprived of honorable combat. Duo died under suspicion, knowing that his own friend didn't trust him.
And I... I shall die alone.
"Yes, let's finish this... Dorothy Catalonia."