The Blood of Peace
Third Movement, the Fifteenth Part: Another Duet
Ever so carefully, WuFei placed Meiran's body beneath a tree in the middle of the field. She looked so peaceful and beautiful that it could have been that she was simply sleeping. But WuFei knew that she would never awaken in this world again. Gently, he rubbed his wife's face with his thumb, remembering all those times that they had spent together. From their first auspicious meeting to their last argument, he remembered everything clearly. He could still see Meiran's face light up in a smile, feel her body next to his as they slept, smell her light perfume that she denied wearing.
The memories assaulted him until he was steeped in the past. He had not known his wife long but he had loved her so much. He had never told her so, but she had known, just as all women know when a man loves her. WuFei felt fresh tears well up around his eyes and angrily dashed them away. Meiran would not abide him crying, not at a time like this. He had to stay alive, to take her back to the camp. She deserved to be buried like an honored warrior, like her hero Nataku. Biting down on his lip until he tasted blood, WuFei swallowed the maddening grief that threatened to overtake him once again. Meiran had wanted to be just like Nataku. If she could hear him now he would tell her how she had surpassed a being of legend, for she had been real. Meiran had been the embodiment of her mythology and he loved her for it. Behind him, he heard footsteps. Not turning from his wife, WuFei spoke.
"Whoever you are, leave me. I'm taking my wife back to camp. I have no fight with you."
The footsteps stopped. Then there was a reply.
"We have an appointment with destiny, Chang WuFei."
WuFei turned his head and saw Treize Kushrenada standing not ten feet from him. Treize wore in his blue coat and white pants and held his sword in his hand.
"YOU." WuFei spat out with venom. "You are the reason why Meiran is dead. I'll kill you."
Smiling sadly, Treize watched as WuFei drew Altron from its sheath. The fiery young man he had encountered in his tent was gone, replaced by a warrior with murderous rage in his heart. War had claimed yet another beautiful soul.
"You are angry. I understand your grief. It seems that beautiful souls suffer more than others. I am sorry for your loss."
WuFei gripped Altron so hard that his knuckles turned white and bloodless.
"How dare you mock my grief. A murderer apologizing to the victim. How fucking civilized."
"War isn't about civility; it's about death, grief and cleansing. Welcome to the real world, WuFei."
Unable to articulate anything coherent due to his absolute rage, WuFei struck out with his sword. All WuFei understood was that here stood the one person who was responsible for Meiran's death. Here was the person who had turned Earthian into a bloody plain, the man who had stolen his wife, the man who had taken his dignity. Treize Kushrenada represented everything WuFei had to stop. The war, the death, the sickening smell of despair. He was it. Kill him and everything would be okay again. The war would be over. He would have his ultimate vengeance. With every ounce of strength and skill, WuFei attacked Treize, the emperor of Oz. WuFei never once thought about winning. Treize parried and attacked, parried and attacked. He was having a hard time fighting WuFei, for this time WuFei was fighting with everything in his soul. It wasn't a mission; it was a crusade. Treize rejoiced in his heart. Here was someone who understood the fighting spirit, the grim realities of war, the pain of loss. Here was someone worthy of dispatching his soul into the next world.
"WuFei, only you understand me now. You know the grief better than any warrior."
Snarling, WuFei attacked with even more fervor than before. His thrusts became sharper, his swings swifter. Treize stepped back with every blow.
"What the hell do you know? Everyone involved in this war has suffered. They all grieve. I'm no more special than the next."
"But you're wrong, my young warrior. You are special. You have lost the one you love most right in front of your eyes as the result of this war. You have lost the only thing you might have considered your future. How does it feel, to have nothing left but your fighting spirit?"
Treize continued to parry, harried by WuFei's faster blade. Every swing brought him closer to death.
"I have more than that. I have my brothers. I have a wife to bury."
WuFei's voice came in between pants of breaths, but he did not slow down. He would continue to fight at this pace until he was dead.
"I have a daughter whose future depends on me, WuFei. But for her sake, I will leave this world."
With that, Treize missed a parry and WuFei's Altron made a clean thrust into his chest. For what seemed like an eternity, Treize stood before WuFei, impaled upon his sword. Then, Treize reached up with his hand and grasped Altron's blade buried into his heart. Treize smiled as he uttered his last words.
"Thank you for fulfilling my destiny. Live well, WuFei."
Treize's hand went limp and he slid off Altron soundlessly. WuFei stared at the peaceful body fallen before him. Absently, he wiped the tears off his face.
"I didn't think I'd win," WuFei whispered. He fell to his knees before Treize's body and screamed out, "I didn't think I'd win! Damn it! DAMN IT!!!!"
Treize's still body gave him no reply. Staggering to his feet, WuFei made it back to his wife's body beneath the tree. Tears trailed freely from his eyes as he grasped Meiran's cold hand in his.
"I didn't think I'd win, Meiran. I wanted to join you in warrior heaven. I didn't think I'd win. Meiran.."
Then somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard his wife's bright voice.
'You idiot! Death is easy; living is hard. As a warrior, you should never look for the easy way, right?'
"I didn't think I'd win."
WuFei kept repeating that one sentence like a prayer. He then recalled Meiran's last words. 'Live.'
Wiping his eyes, WuFei picked his wife's silent body up from the ground and began the walk to the Earthian castle.
'I will come when my time comes, dear love. Wait for me, Meiran.'
He would fulfil his wife's last wish and live. For her sake.
Noin watched as Zechs faced off against Heero. Deep in her heart, she knew that one of them would die during this duel. Neither would give ground, they were both so damn stubborn. They were superbly matched, both so skilled and exceptional that the outcome was uncertain. Epyon slid down the length of Wing, causing bright sparks to fly between the duelers. Zechs sidestepped and swung in a tight arc. Heero parried and kicked Zechs in the stomach. Zechs recovered and knocked Heero's face back with a fist. If it hadn't been so deadly, it would have been a beautiful symphonic dance. But Noin saw more than the beauty, she saw the deadliness of it all. One of them would die, but which one? Could she even wish for one death? If she had to choose, would she choose a man she had loved her entire life? Or would she choose the man she thought more righteous?
Shaking her head at the unanswerable questions in her head, she again put her concentration on the fighting pair. They had been dueling for a while now and both were showing signs of fatigue. Zechs's swing was not as fluid or precise as it had been, and Heero's steps were becoming sluggish and heavy. If this continued, both of them might die. It would be a draw. And it would have been as pointless as this whole damned war. Noin debated whether or not to interfere. If she did, Zechs would never forgive her. She knew that with all her heart. But she would rather save these two warriors than see both die. Could she crush their destiny without destroying their spirits? Did she even have skill to stop these two? Once more, Noin had to stop her mind from trekking into the farther reaches of possibilities. She had to focus on the now, on the reality of things. She had fought by Zechs all this time only to become a watcher. If that was all she could do realistically, than that was her mission. She would watch and record this event in her mind for future generations.
Zechs felt his arm becoming heavier with each thrust, each swing, each parry. He gave ground, he made Heero retreat. He felt as if he were in an endless loop, making the same motions over and over. His tiring muscles screamed for him to stop while his mind, resolved in the course of destiny, spurred him onward. He saw the determination still shining brightly in Heero's eyes; the cobalt fire not dimming with time, but burning hotter and hotter with every movement. Zechs envied Heero more than he realized. Heero fought for his country, his men, his brothers, and undoubtedly for that violet-eyed assassin he loved. Heero had a cause. Heero had a future. However, Zechs Marquise, formerly Milliardo Peacecraft, had no such cause nor future. Zechs had a silver mask which had severed his pacifist connections with his sister. Zechs was a false name to protect Relena. That was all Zechs Marquise could claim, a false man without a face or country to call his own. In a way, Zechs Marquise had never lived. He had only occupied the empty body that Milliardo Peacecraft had left behind. Milliardo Peacecraft. Had he really existed? Dragging his mind out of his musings, Zechs renewed his efforts in the duel. Heero had gained quite a bit of ground while he had pondered about himself. Selfish actions usually got someone into trouble, so he would think of himself no more. He would just fight. As he got back into the rhythm, Zechs heard a voice scream to him. It made him pause for just a fraction of a second. It was the most costly fraction of a second in his entire life. Wing slammed into his chest.
Relena screamed her brother's name as she ran. Her breath hitched unsteadily and her slippered feet slipped and twisted beneath her. Stumbling on her high heels and her bulky silk skirts, Relena hobbled towards the falling figure. She was right; it was her brother. And he had been fighting Heero in that ghastly silver mask. But now he was falling, falling so slowly towards the ground. His beautiful hair swirled around his body, dancing and shining like spun gold. His slack arm loosened its hold on a bloody red sword and the silver mask came tumbling off. It had only taken seconds for it all to happen, but Relena saw it through the eyes of eternity. It could have taken days, years, centuries before her brother hit the ground. Relena would never be able to say for how long her brother fell in slow, suspended time.
Relena sailed past Heero who stood rooted to the ground with a stunned expression on his face. She nearly stumbled over Noin who had already reached Milliardo. When she finally reached her brother, he was on the ground and blood was spilling out of him. It pooled around his body and soaked into the already saturated earth.
"Millie!! Millie!! Millie!!"
Relena knelt by her brother, not taking notice of Noin who was weeping quietly beside her. She did not feel the sticky wetness that was her brother's life blood seeping through her dress. All she saw was her beloved brother, lying on the ground. His blue eyes were lusterless, his blond locks becoming red with blood.
"Millie!! How can this be? Why are you here? Why are you fighting? Why are you dying?!?!?"
Relena's voice held an edge of hysteria, but she somehow managed to keep her mind from going insane. She had to keep her tenuous grip on sanity if she wanted to save Milliardo.
"Relena, Noin. My favorite two women."
Milliardo's voice sounded so raspy and rusty that Relena almost convinced herself that this was not her brother. Almost. Choking on tears that would not fall, Relena grasped Milliardo's right hand while Noin reached for his left.
"Is that you? Are you Milliardo Peacecraft?" Noin asked in an uncertain voice filled with longing. Somewhere, she heard some fool shout for a medic, but the wound was too grievous. Milliardo would not make it.
"I'm sorry Noin. I promised I would live, but I can't keep it. I couldn't promise you I would be Milliardo, but here I am. I am not a man of my words, am I, my love?"
Noin brought Milliardo's hand to her face and rubbed her cheek against it. It was meant to be a loving gesture, but Milliardo perceived it as a gesture of farewell.
"Oh, Millie.. I'm just glad you're back. It is you. I've missed you so. I've longed for you."
Noin let her tears wind their way into Milliardo's hand on her cheek. Milliardo felt the rapidly cooling droplets on his hand and smiled. Noin had forgiven him a long time ago for his actions, but it made him happier still to know that she had never stopped loving him. He was a lucky man. He felt a slight tremor in his right hand. Turning his head, he saw Relena looking at him with eyes so much older than he had last seen.
"Relena. I'm sorry you had to see this. What I did, it was for you. All for you. I want you to have all that you wish. Please, forgive me."
Relena felt her heart constrict in her chest. Her brother was using his last precious breath to apologize to her. It was not right.
"There is nothing to forgive, Millie," Relena replied with a tear-stained voice, "you did nothing wrong in my eyes. Please, Millie, just try to get well. Someone sent for a doctor. You'll be fine. Just fine."
"Relena, denial does not become a queen. I'm dying, and you know it. I missed your smile, dear sister. Won't you send me off with a gentle smile?"
Milliardo's voice was a soft whisper in the wind. Relena could not believe that this was her brother. Where was that man who had teased her about Heero? Where was the brother who laughed with her, admonished her, comforted her? This man lying before her was dying. Her brother could not be this man. Her denials echoed in her brain like a dissonant bell. It made her throat close up in unspent grief and anger.
"Millie, don't you DARE leave me! You promised me you would come back to me. You promised. Millie, if you die, I swear.. I swear.."
Milliardo smiled weakly. Here he was with his two most beloved, his sister and his love, and all he could do was make them hurt. Noin was still soaking his hand with her soundless tears while Relena railed against him and his conviction to die. He wanted to leave them without hurting them further, but he could not think of a way.
"Relena.. Noin.. I love you both.. Please, forgive me. I wanted to see you grow to be the greatest queen, my little sister. I wanted to have children with you and watch them run around the palace, Noin. I can't. I sacrificed all.. I cannot die a hero.."
Milliardo let go. He loosened his grip on life and let his spirit fly. With a parting breath, Milliardo Peacecraft relinquished life and became as ethereal as the air.
Relena stared at her brother's body. The hand she held within her grasp no longer had any strength. The face she saw no longer sparkled with life. He was gone. Then she heard Noin cry out. Noin wailed like a lost soul, shattering the moment with a piercing and heartbreaking sound. She buried her head into Milliardo's bloody and still chest, and sobbed. Relena watched as Noin poured forth her grief. Numbly, she turned her head towards Heero who still stood behind them. He held Wing in his hand, still dripping Milliardo's blood steadily onto the ground.
"Heero.. What.. What have you done?"
To her shock, her voice was calm. It did not reflect the anguish burning hotly in her heart.
"I only did as fate determined. Zechs wanted this, Relena. He wanted to die."
Relena screamed her denial and launched herself at Heero. She pounded his chest mercilessly and felt her tears coursing down her face. Tears that she had promised to hold. But they were no longer Heero's to claim.
Heero merely held Relena in his arms as she cried and cried. He had nothing to say to this lost girl. Anything he said would sound patronizing and conceited now, anyway. After all, he had just killed the only family she had left. When Relena slumped to the ground, Heero gently knelt before her and smoothed her hair away from her face. She slowly picked her head up and stared into Heero's impossibly beautiful cobalt blue eyes. They seemed to hold absolution.
"Oh, Heero, why did he have to die? He didn't have to die. He didn't."
"No, that's not the point. Milliardo did not die for you or for anyone else. He died for himself. Relena, Milliardo was already dead when he donned the mask. His first death was for your sake. This one was for himself. Let him go, Relena. He wouldn't want you to cry."
Relena looked over to her brother's fallen body. Noin was still holding onto him in silent grief, her body shaking from dry sobs. He looked so peaceful, so content.
"You know, Heero, Millie was wrong. He did die a hero. To me, he will always be my hero."
The setting sun left the sky slowly, weeping for the fallen warriors. The wind that heralded death blew again, carrying with it the souls of the dead. In the quickly darkening sky, three bright stars fell from the heavens. To the north, WuFei saw the falling stars as he continued his trek to the Earthian castle. One was Meiran, teasing and smiling at him. One was Treize, saluting him like a warrior. The last falling star held more significance to Relena and Noin than it did to WuFei. Relena and Noin saw the bright soul of Milliardo Peacecraft finally at peace. And Relena gave her gentlest smile to send the star to its next existence.
"Good-bye, brother. I will see you someday."