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Saying Goodbye
By Ken Hidaka

 

Saying Goodbye
by Team Bonet
1997

     Dedicated to my good friend's beloved Oneesama, Kukuri

Part I

She went on a thursday. Because, according to Officer Catorce, the base would be empty on
thursday. The officers, and all other personel, that had remained there had all been permited to go
home after word of Colonel Treize Khushrenada's death had reached the OZ bases on Earth. No
one would be there, except maybe some maintainance crews, till after the official funeral and the
seven days of mourning called for by the members of the Romafeller Board sympathetic to
Khushrenada.

Pausing on the lower stairwell, Relena Derlian took in the severe, metal interior of the base. In the
early morning winter light, the hallways looked ghostly. An unearthly quiet hung over the abondoned
decks and darkened corridors. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to live in such a place. Iie,
she thought, shaking her head, I wouldn't want to live here at all. Especially not now. Not
after...

Sighing, Relena put one hand on the cool, metal handrails of the stairs. She couldn't allow herself to
think too deeply about what she was doing there, at that base. Thinking too much would only make
her cry. And she had promised herself not to cry.

Taking a deep breath, she continued her silent ascent. Officer Catorce's voice echoed down towards
her, as he took the ring of room keys they had driven to Sector TY6 to get and tried to fit one of
them, the one marked 4R, into the keyhole. When she reached his side, he was cursing silently to
himself, twisting the key inside an unwilling lock. Relena smiled to herself, her expression sad and
pitying. It was obvious that he was uncomfortable to be there. Without saying a word, she put a
reassuring hand on his arm. He sagged with relief for a moment, stopping to sigh, then smiled at her
in silent gratitude.

"Thanks," he murmured, "but I'm all right. I don't like having to do this, you're right, Miss Relena, but
I just couldn't let the others do it. They're much more sentimental than foolish Catorce."

With one last, forceful twist at the key, the lock finally gave way. Catorce stood away from the door
and sighed. "There we go." Smiling grimly, he held the door open for Relena to pass. She stopped
before going in and smiled up at him, her hands folded calmly over her waist.

"Thank you, Catorce. I know this must be very hard for you..."

The young officer smiled warmly, touched by the young lady's conscern. But he shook his head.
"No. No, Miss Relena. I'll be fine. It's you I'm really worried about. Will you be all right ?"

Relena looked into the empty room for a moment. Her eyes were not yet accostumed to the
darkness, and all that she could make out was the dark silhoutte of the bed, framed against the pale,
ghostly shimmer of the glass windows. She sighed softly. It was so simple to tell others not to feel
uncomfortable, so long as they themselves did not try to do the same. She could remain calm, she
knew she could. But only if Catorce did not try to ressure her. He meant good, and she thanked him
for it. But sometimes, even the best intentions can backfire on us.

Turning, she smiled warmly at Catorce. "Is it all right, I mean, if it's not a bother, if I could be left
alone ? I won't be long, I promise."

Catorce bowed gravely. "Of course, Miss Relena. I will not bother you." With the short, precise
movements of the military youth, he reached beside the door of the room and switched on the lights.
Relena raised one hand slightly against the momentary brightness. She could hear the soft thud of the
brown paper packets they had brought with them as Catorce reached into the room and placed
them inside. She lowered her hand, the momentary brightness of the light receding.

"Most of his things are really just scattered over several bases," Catorce was saying, standing at
rigid, unconscious, attention, his eyes fixed grimly on some distant point, "H-He moved around a lot,
in the last months. Onze and Baker are over at Nairobi right now. They'll bring whatever they find
here. If you'd like to come back on..." He stopped then, closing his eyes, and bowed briefly.
"Forgive me," he murmured, "I wasn't thinking..."

Relena shook her head and put out a ressuring hand. "It's all right. I'm fine."

Catorce sighed. "Oh, God," he murmured under his breath. Relena lowered her head, folding her
hands over her waist tightly. She did not dare say a word. It seemed forever till the young officer
took one last, deep breath and began again.

"M-most of his things are here, though. And since you are the only remaining familiar..." Catorce
looked down, unable to go on. He sighed before pulling off a habitual salute. When he lowered his
hand, Relena reached out. Catorce looked down at her delicate hand over his own. He smiled softly
and looked into her eyes. Relena saw the silent thank you reflected in his eyes, and she squeezed his
hand gently, hoping to give him some strength. For a moment, they just stood there, the light from the
empty room spilling out into the hall, illuminating Catorce's closely cropped, auburn hair, enveloping
Relena in the shadows.

As she stood back, he saluted again. This time, with deep respect. She watched him turn on his heel
sharply and go to the stairs, his boots clicking hollowly on the metal floor. He looked back once,
from the head of the stairs, smiling. She raised one hand in a gesture of farewell, and doing likewise,
assuring her that he would remain near the car at all times, should she need him, he went on his way.

The echo of his steps on the stairs stayed with her for a while, as she stood before the doorway of
the empty room 4R, uncertain. The overhead light made it seem smaller, much too bright.
Impersonal. Perhaps it was for the best. She was not sure what her reaction would have been if the
room had seemed more relaxed, more familiar.

But what did I really know about him ? I hardly knew who he was. The OZ officers know
more about him than I do. Onisama...

Taking a deep breath, she settled her shoulders into a straight line, willing her pulse to slow down
again. Courage, Relena. You can do this. You wanted to do this, remember ? That's why you
went through all the trouble of getting the special permit. Don't back away now... Sighing, she
closed her eyes. All of her words sounded so meanigless, empty.

The empty room before her was militarily spartan. There was nothing in the room other than the
modest furnishings provided by the military base. A bed, a night table, its lamp's shade turned down,
a chest of drawers, and a wooden trunk pulled up to the foot of the bed. A wall closet spread out
beside the night table, it's doors closed.

There were no pictures, no forgotten communication pad, nothing in the room save these furnishings.
Taking a tentative step forward, Relena wondered if perhaps all of her trouble in coming here had
been for nothing. She bent down to pick up the brown paper packets Catorce had left by the door
and set them on top of the chest of drawers. She untied the packets slowly. It certainly seemed as if
she wouldn't be needing much paper, if any at all.

She spread one leaf of paper on the chest's surface and turned once again towards the empty room.
Her gaze traveled slowly across the surface of the bare furnishings. The light from the overhead bulb
made them stand out in a shrill, yellowesque shimmer. Going over to the night table, she checked to
see if the lamp was plugged in, then switched it on.

As she switched off the overhead light, she turned to look at the room again. Now it looks better.
The light from the lamp was muted and warm, reminding her of the hotel rooms she had lodged in so
many times with her father, whenever she had been permited to travel with him.

Otosama Slowly, she sat on the edge of the bed, her hands folded over her lap. Outside the room's
only window, she could see the north wing of the base, green moss growing beneath the leaking air
conditioner stumps sticking out onto the open, shilled air. Snow still lay, fresh and cristaline, over the
silent, yawning window sills and air conditioner stumps. Beyond the north wing's wall, she could see
the downcast winter sky, interrupted here and there by a telephone pole. Only a few black birds
were perched on the wires, their calls muted by the cold air and the closed window. They seemed so
lonely.

Relena sighed as she turned her face towards the head of the bed, feeling the cool metal sting her
skin. She closed her eyes. Thinking about her father would do her no better than thinking too deeply
about her brother. Still, she could feel a dull pain pulsing at her throat, squeezing gently at her heart.
Too many images were flooding into her mind. She raised her hands, striving to block them out, to
steady herself, but they would not go away. Lady Une shoving her roughly aside, flinging her
compact towards the window of the room her father was in, the thin, metallic smell of useless
medicine as those strange men had taken her father and her, the corase fabric of the covers
that were placed over her father's still face, the sheer panic she had felt as she picked up the
gun, aiming it at those men that had done nothing for her father.

Shaking her head, Relena stood up. She smoothed down the folds of her plain, black skirt. Easy,
Relena. Keep your head. She put a hand to her brow, moving aside her bangs, and massaged her
temples slowly.

It was a while before she squared her shoulders firmly again and turned her attention to the drawers
of the night table. She bent down and pulled the bottom drawer out. Empty. Sighing softly, she
closed it again, reaching up to open the next one. She frowned slightly as she pulled it out, its hinges
creaking. A white shirt was neatly folded inside, the sleeves resting over the front. She took it out
slowly, almost reverently, and ran a hand across its surface. It felt silky to the touch, softened by the
slight shill in the room, lying, quiet and dormant, in the corners of the table's drawers. Resting gently
now over the silk of the forgotten shirt she now held in her hands.

Leaning her back on the bedside, she unfolded it slowly, holding it up to the light. Judging from the
long, decorative neck, it must have been a part of the OZ uniform. But why would he leave it here
? Turning it around, she thought she found the reason why. A slight tear ran down one of its sides.
Looking at it closely, she could see a few, somewhat clumsy stitches sewn on it. She smiled. Did
you try to fix it yourself, Onisama ? Your stitches are too wide.

Folding it again gently, she stood up. She lay it on the bed, careful not to wrinkle it too much. She
was, she had to admit, not very good at folding clothe in a military fashion. She tried to imitate her
brother's folds as best as she could, but it still looked messy. She smiled, shaking her head.

Turning, she tried the very top drawer. Empty as well, save for a lone, rusty paper clip. But that has
probably been lying there even before Onisama ever came to this base. Closing the drawer, she
turned her attention to the closet.

She ran a hand slowly down its surface, feeling the dust settle on her fingertips. She turned her palm
over, looking at how the dust caught the dim light of the lamp, turning it a strange, metallic brown.

The closet doors came open with a slight tug. Narrowing her eyes, she leaned forward to look
inside. The light coming from the lamp was too weak to illuminate the entire closet, and the furthest
end remained in shadows. She tried not to become too dissapointed at the fact that there was
nothing in the closet save empty clothe hangers. There weren't even any empty shoe boxes. She
sighed as she pulled open the left closet door. There were several compartments there, hidden in the
shadows.

She was about to reach out a hand, to try and open the nearest compartment, when she drew back.
There's. Someone--

"I'm sorry. Did I bother you ? I'm sorry. You can go ahead and open it, if you'd like to."

Hands buried deep into a thick winter coat, an empty, brown paper bag held beneath her arm, a
young woman stood by the door, her smile sad, but warm. She walked slowly into the room, almost
as if she were afraid to. Her gaze passed slowly over Relena's paper packets and leaf of paper
spread out on the chest of drawers. She lay her paper bag beside them, careful not to put it too
close.

Turning, burying her hands deeper into her coat, she smiled at Relena once again. "Hello, Relena."

"Hello, Noin." Folding her hands across her waist, Relena could do nothing but look at the floor. She
could not bring herself to look up and see the sadness reflected in the older woman's eyes. She
could hear her as she took careful steps around the room, could hear as her hands ran slowly across
the surface of the furnishings, the bare walls, the dust, and the memories they must surely have
evoked within her.

Noin's steps came close by her, and Relena felt the woman's hand squeeze her shoulder gently.

"We must have come for the very same reason," she said quietly. Relena kept her gaze fixed on the
floor, her throat refusing to work. "It's all right, Relena. You can keep looking. I can go away if
you'd like..."

"No. Please. You can stay, Noin. I-I could use some company."

Noin smiled, patting Relena's shoulder. Putting one finger carefuly under her chin, she lifted her face
gently up int Relena did not try to pull away, but Noin could see that it painher to look at her. The
older woman strived not to hang her head. It would only sadden Relena further, and Relena needed
her strength now, not her tears.

She smiled, hoping that her smile would reassure the young girl. "I came to look for a photograph.
The boys down at Nairobi told me that they'd found no pictures over there, so I thought that perhaps
it was here."

Relena shook her head, trying to clear it. When she spoke, her voice sounded frail and small, but she
could not make it stronger, try as she might. "I'm afraid you won't find much here. I've only found an
old shirt..."

Noin laughed quietly to herself as she saw the shirt lying on the bed. Walking over the bed, she
picked it up. Relena closed her eyes and turned away as she saw Noin hold it close to her chest, her
eyes misting over. She saw, from the corner of her eye, as Noin brushed away at her tears quickly,
placing the shirt back on the bed. Her fingertips trailed across the buttoms of the front for an
instance, before she turned again to Relena, her smile radiant.

"He tried to fix that one while he was still at Victoria. I was teaching him how to do it, but he never
had a chance to finish, because Graduation time had come, and he had been moved to a new base a
couple of days later. I guess he must have taken it with him." Noin shook her head, laughing to
herself, momentarily lost in her own memories. "Oh, Zechs," she murmured.

Looking at the shirt, Relena couldn't help but smile, the lump in her throat slowly easing. "His stitches
were too wide." Noin laughed. "Yes, they were. He got the hang of it later on, though."

Noin walked towards the closet then, and Relena watched her move in silence. She couldn't quite
imagine her brother, that quiet, driven man she had met during those last, frantic days aboard White
Fang's Lybra Base, actually fixing his own clothe. She always assumed he had left other people do it
for him. Like she had.

She blushed slightly at that guilty thought, and was glad to hear that Noin had begun talking again.
She had opened one of the closets many compartments, moving across them with the ease of
someone who had lived out of drawers for quite a long time. Peering over Noin's shoulder, Relena
was surprised to see that these drawers did have things inside them. She sighed silently to herself,
hoping that Noin would not hear her. She had hoped to be able to find at least some of his things on
her own. Still, she did not want to hurt Noin's feelings.

"He was always hiding his things," Noin was saying, "I guess it came from wearing that mask. He
could never hide the material things well enough from me, though. I knew, somehow, that he'd
choose to statch them away in places like these." Stopping, Noin laughed softly. "Sometimes, he hid
things so well, I think he clear forgot about them. He could be so narrow minded at times."

"Yes," Relena said quietly. Noin stopped in her almost girlish rumage of the compartment's drawer
and turned to face Relena, her clear blue eyes sad, muted. "Iie, Relena. Don't judge your brother
based on what he did before the end. That was not the Zechs Marquise I knew."

"No. That was Mirialdo Peacecraft."

Noin stepped away from Relena, her head falling against the closet's open door. Relena looked
away. She had not meant to hurt Noin's feelings, but she simply could not understand why Noin
would have loved her brother so much. He had been so cold...

"Forgive me, Noin. I didn't mean--"

"It's all right. I know. you have no idea how I suffered, seing him during those last days. He was like
a complete stranger to me..."

Stepping forward, Relena tried to reach out for Noin's shoulder, but Noin merely shook her head
and smiled sadly. "I'm fine." Relena lowered her head. She could find no words to say, only forgive
me. She heard her voice crack as she said it, Noin becoming a blur of black and military green
before her eyes. She couldn't even quite explain what was coming over her, but her throat hurt. She
couldn't swallow. Her words sounded far away, as if they belonged to someone else.

She didn't even try to put up a fight of dignity as she felt Noin's arms wrap around her, pulling her
close, stroking her hair. She could hear Noin's voice as if from a great distance away, and she just
lay in her arms, suddenly weak. Don't cry, Relena. Don't cry. She shut her eyes tightly, squeezing
the tears that threatened to spill dry.

Taking a deep breath, she stood away from Noin's embrace. She coughed slightly, arranging the
folds of her skirt. She could feel Noin's eyes on her. "I'm sorry," she hear Noin say. "I shouldn't have
said that. It was selfish of me."

"No, it's all right, Noin. It's I who should not have said those things. I hardly knew my...my brother. I
was being rude and--"

She stopped suddenly. Noin was holding out a brown envelope towards her. She smiled as she
pressed it into Relena's palms, patting her hands gently. "What...?" Relena mouthed weakly. Noin
only smiled, and Relena turned the envelope over in her hands. There were no other marks on the
outside save for a pre-printed OZ logo. Relena frowned dissaprovingly at it, but drew back the
envelope's flap. She was perplexed to see that Noin was nodding at her, her smile steady, expectant.

Curious, Relena turned the envelope over onto her palm, emptying out its contents. She drew back,
startled, as a couple of loose photographs fell out, some of them scattering onto the floor. Noin bent
down to pick up the few that had fallen, while Relena turned over the ones which had remained in
her palm.

Onisama. The photos in her hand looked old, some even had the rectangular shape of old flash
cameras. They must have been taken over the course of many years, because in some of the photos
his hair was shorter than she remembered it to be. She flipped the photos in her hand slowly,
enthralled.

There were many different people in the photographs: a young man with goggles holding an empty
green tray before a wall that read, in faded letters, Mess Hall A, a curly haired man leaning against
some rails, holding up his thumbs, his smile comical, and Noin, her hair longer, standing beneath a
palm tree, her smiling face turned towards someone not in the picture. Lastly, there was her brother.

She held his photograph over the others, pausing to look at it closely. He was standing in a lighted
hall, very much like the ones she had seen, darkened and empty, as Catorce had led her to this
room. His face looked directly at the camera, hidden beneath the sharp features of the silver mask he
had worn while he had still been Zechs Marquise. He was smiling, and Relena turned the picture
slowly in her hands, wondering at that smile. It seemed so kind, so peaceful. She had never seen him
smile like that.

Looking up, she saw Noin's face, still smiling softly. "When--?" she started to ask. Noin sighed, her
smile unwavering. "I took that when I first met him at Victoria. It has almost been three years now
since then. He must have been about sixteen when I took that."

Sixteen. Just one year older than I am now. Looking at the picture again, she could see now that
he did in fact look leaner, younger, than what she remembered. It was the mask that made him seem
so old. Relena sighed softly, running her fingers slowly over the photograph, over the mask. If only I
could take this off. To see his eyes. Could they have looked as they did when I met him...?
Maybe they looked like Hiro's...

"He thought he had lost these photos. He had wanted to look for them, but then everything got so
out of hand. He never had the chance. I...I promised him that I would look." Noin's voice failed her
then, and she stamered slightly, one hand rising to massage the bridge of her nose. "I-I never had a
chance to tell him that...that..." Turning away, Noin looked up at the impassive metal ceiling, willing
the damn tears to just go away. She took a deep breath, swallowing the lump that had risen in her
throat. "I never had a chance to tell him that I'd found them. I left them there for him...I guess I had
forgoten I had, myself..."

Unable to look into Noin's face, Relena moved the picture behind the others. There was another
photograph behind it. It was him again, older this time. He looked just as she remembered him, his
mouth set in a silent, grim line. He was looking away, at someone she couldn't see. Her fingers
tightened around the borders of the photo as she gazed at it. She wanted to be able to know what it
was he had been doing when the picture had been taken. What was going through your mind,
Onisama ? Why do you look like that ? Can you hear me, see me ? It's Relena. I'm looking at
your photograph. Onisama.

As she looked up, she saw Noin holding out one last photograph. She could see that the older
woman had been battling down tears, and she felt her heart contract painfuly inside her chest as she
took the photo from her silently. "The others are all pictures of Otto and the boys," Noin said quietly.
relena could detect a sadness in her voice as she said the name Otto, and she did not have to ask
why. Otto must be dead as well...

She felt a bit uncomfortable as she looked down at the picture Noin had given her. All of the people
in the photographs seemed to be dead, gone. She did not want to think about how Noin must have
been feeling. She had know these people as more than just companions of war. They had been
friends. And lover... But Relena had no chance to continue her thought.

Blinking, she looked up at Noin, comfused. "But-but how--?" she mouthed. Noin only smiled, her
eyes slightly mischiveous. "It was a personal photo. I promised never to show it, and I never did. He
never even saw it again."

Still perplexed, Relena looked down at the photo. It was him again, but this time, for some reason
Relena did not want to fathom, he was not wearing his mask. He was leaning against a wooden,
paneled wall, his hands inside the pockets of his pants. His military coat was hanging, unbuttoned,
down across his bare chest. He did not even look like himself. There was a strange light in his eyes,
strikingly clear and blue. His smile was too open, strangely sensual. Relena found herself blushing
slightly, and she could feel Noin's mischiveous amusement. "H-he looks so...so..."

"Handsome ?" Noin laughed at her own joke, but hugged Relena to her as she saw the young lady
blush scarlett. "Iie. Iie. Yodan yo. Just joking. I only wanted to make us both smile again. And you
see ? I did."

Without knowing quite when, Relena had begun to laugh, too. She wasn't sure if it was out of sheer
embarassment, or simply because of the expression of guilty pleasure in Noin's face. It didn't really
matter to her, it felt good to laugh out loud again.

Noin wiped away the tears of mirth as she stepped away from Relena, still chuckling to herself. She
looked at the photo one more time, her smile growing slightly wistful, and Relena couldn't help but be
touched by the love she saw reflected in her eyes. Sighing, Noin brought all the pictures together,
slipping them back inside the envelope. "But your brother was pretty darn handsome, you know,
whatever else he might have been."

Relena felt herself blush again, and Noin patted her shoulder kindly. "This is what I came to take. Do
you mind me taking them, Relena ? Perhaps you want to keep them yourself." Relena shook her
head, smiling. "Iie. I can see that they mean a lot to you, it wouldn't be right of me to take them."
Squeezing her shoulder gently, Noin smiled in gratitude.

Putting the envelope in a pocket of her coat, Noin held out her hand to Relena. She took it silently,
hoping that her eyes reflected all of the words she could not say. Noin squeezed it once, before she
pulled off a sharp, respectful salute and turned to go. Relena watched her leave in silence, thankful
for the other woman's understanding.

Noin looked back once, smiling, before she stepped out the door, her brown paper bag once again
below her arm. Her footsteps sounded briefly on the steps leading down, strangely hushed and
dignant in the cold emptiness of the abandoned base.

Going to the window, Relena watched her exit the building, her gaze turning briefly towards the
window where she stood, and go to the jeep she had parked beside Catorce's. She flung her
paperbag unto the back, the door slamming with a sharp thud as she got in and turned the ignition
key. for a moment, she just sat there, her hands gripping the stearing wheel, and Relena could feel
the painfuly slow beat of her heart again. Noin was trying so hard not to cry. Her shoulders shook
with the effort, her mouth trembling. Relena saw her square her shoulders sharply as she turned the
key again, the engine's cough startling the lonesome birds on the telephone wires, and backed the car
down the street.
 

Part II

Relana watched as the car turned and moved away, leaving its tracks on the snow, its back burner
staining the white gray. She lay the palm of her hand on the cold window pane, her fingertips tingling
slightly, in a silent farewell. She could fel the oppresive emptiness of the room behind her, and she
did not want to turn around and face it yet. She leaned her forehead agaisnt the glass of the window,
watching till she could no longer Noin's car. When it had gone completely beyong her sight, she
turned around slowly.

The room greeted her in muted, tired silence. It seemed bigger now with Noin gone. The closet
doors lay open, yawning into a dimly illuminated abyss. They seemed to mock her with their
emptiness.

So. Onisama. I came here looking for you, but what little I did find of you cannot belong to
me. Hanging her head sadly, Relena moved to close the doors of the closet. As she placed the left
door's edge on the rolling bar at the foot of the closet, her attention was caught by a dimly
smimmering bundle placed by the back. She stopped in her actions, reaching a hand out towards it.

As she pulled it out, she saw that it was a black clothing bag, the kind used to put away party clothe
and old letters. She set it carefuly on the floor, drawing the zipper back slowly. She pulled the flaps
back and settled on the floor comfortably, pulling the heavy bag unto her thighs.

Leaning on the now closed left closet door, Relena took the bag's contents out slowly. It's
Onisama's tuxedo... A bit perplexed, she held up the ensemble's white shirt. What's it doing here?
She turned the shirt over in her hands, finally laying it down beside her. The pants were folded over a
hanger, neatly pressed. The tuxedo's jacket had a hanger all for itself, the bow tie clipped beside it.
Relena ran her hands slowly over the jacket's front. It felt soft to the touch, slightly cold from having
been kept away fro so many days. He must have come here before he died, but when?

As she ran her hands across the jacket, she felt something lying inside one of the pockets. Careful
not to wrinkle the fabric, she undid the pocket's buttoning and reached inside. She pulled out a
square of folded, cream colored paper. She smiled softly, it reminded her so much of her father. It
seems we all forget things in our pockets. Unfolding it carefuly, she settled back comfortably to
take a closer look. The paper had been scribbled on hastily, probably aboard some plane, or
perhaps even a Mobile Suit, but she had no trouble making out the words. Is this Onisama's hand
writting? How tiny. Squinting slightly, she tried to read the small, neat words writen out on the
paper. It was hard to see by the light of the lamp, now that it was beggining to get darker outside,
snow clouds threatening on the horizon.

Relena frowned slightly. It was a speech. Probably the one he had given while he had toured the
Colonies as Mirialdo Peacecraft. Sighing, she folded the paper again. Seeing his words in paper was
like hearing him again, in that space shuttle. The space shuttle you did not think twice about as
you aimed a shot a the Earth, Onisama.

She placed the papers inside the pocket again, fastening the button close again. Did I matter to you
at all, Onisama? Did anyone matter more than your ideals to you? Even Noin? Leaning back
against the closed door, Relena closed her eyes, running her hand silently over the shirt she had laid
beside her. Even now, even after she had seen Noin's photographs, where her brother had not
seemed merely a soldier, but a human, capable of truly smiling, not even now did she feel close to
her brother. She felt distant among his things, touching the tuxedo he had worn. It all seemed unreal
somehow.

Lifting up the shirt, she brought it to her face. It felt soft, smooth, cold. Like any other shirt. But It
was Onisama's shirt. Doesn't that mean anything, Relena? Closing her eyes, she buried her face
deeper into the soft fabric. It smelled faintly of flesh, if she inhaled deeply enough. Your scent. I
should have known this scent better than my own, but I only felt it once, aboard the Lybra,
when you held me. I did not understand you then, Onisama, and I don't understand you now.

Lowering her hands, she looked at the white shirt lying, cumpled now, in her arms. It looked
creamish by the mutted light of the lamp. Looking at it, Relena felt a strange longing she could not
understand come over her. She ran her fingers over the fabric slowly. Her throat was begginig to hurt
again, and she did not want it to.

Curse you, Onisama. Why did you have to be that way? What did you think you were doing
then? Frowning, she slapped the shirt, feeling her arm strike only the clothes bags. Her lip trembled
slightly. And curse me, too. Because I didn't hold you then, when I had the chance. How could
you, Onisama? How could you die without letting me hug you?

Her throat was throbbing now and she was finding it hard to breath. She knew it wouldn't be long
before she would start to cry like a fool and she hated herself for that. But, she felt as if she hated her
brother more. Brothers did not die. He should have been here now, to comfort her, to tickle her and
say some stupid joke. To tease her. Like her friend's brothers did.

Looking down, Relena watched, silently, as a tear spilled down over the white shirt, spreading
slowly over the fabric. She went on staring as more tears fell down. She felt them trail down her
cheeks and into her mouth, salty and bitter. And she couldn't make them stop. She lifted her arms,
hoping to dry them with the shirt, but instead, she buried her face in it again. She could feel his scent
now, carressing her nostrils, and for a moment, she could feel his arms around her, could feel the
slow cadence of his breast as he drew her near to him. I did not hug you back then, Onisama. I
didn't hug hug you. And I am so sorry. I'm so sorry. I should have put my arms around you. I
should have said something. Anything. But I didn't. And I'm sorry.

The tears were running down her cheeks now, bitter, stinging her skin. She could taste them in her
lips, could feel them stain the shirt. But she couldn't make them stop. She heard herself speak aloud,
her voice trembling and hoarse, whispering ridiculous, empty phrases, making her heart ache.

"I'm sorry Onisama, I stained your shirt..."

Hearing her voice only made her cry harder and she wrapped her arms around the shirt in a useless
gesture. I'll hug you this time, Onisama. I promise. Come back, please. I want to know you,
Onisama. Come back.

Letting her head fall back, she heard herself cry out, her voice small and frail. She didn't know how
she had somehow laid out her side, her brother's shirt craddled in her hands, lying, crumpled and wet
with tears, beside her cheek. She could feel the cold floor cutting through her bones, dragging her
back to reality. She lay there for a while, silent, her eyes stinging with the salt in her tears. It seemed
to her that she would be there forever, crushed beneath the weight of his scent and his distance. His
great, aching voide of 15 lonely years. But, It's alright, Onisama. I don't hate you for that. Not
really...

Picking herself up, she whipped the trails of her tears away, steadying herself. She looked around for
a moment, slightly dissoriented, before she stood up slowly, the shirt still in her hand. She crushed it
to her chest, before folding it back inside the clothe's bag. Picking it up, laying it across the bed, she
closed it again. For a while she stood there, holding it against her chest, steadying herself, feeling as
the cold sharpness of the bag brought her back to reality.

Sighing, she placed it back inside the closet. She would have to tell Catorce that she had found it,
but she dared not want to take it. It belonged there, in the darkened corner her brother had chosen
for it.

Turning, she went to teh bed, still sniffling silently, running the back of her hand across her nose. A
small smile came to her lips as she invisioned both her father and brother silently admonishing her for
such behavior. But her smile was soon replaced by the grimace of threatening tears, and she shook
her head against such thoughts. She turned her attention instead to tying the shirt she would take into
the bundle. She found some comfort in the mechanical actions of folding the brown paper and tying
the knot.

Packet in hand, she switched off the lamp and picking up the unused packets, she walked to the
door. She stopped only once, turning her head to see the room one last time. It still looked just as
empty and as impersonal as it had ever looked. Hanging her head, her heart heavy, she began to
descend the metal steps. The way seemed longer now, somehow, the packet in her arm seeming to
weight a ton.

When she finally emerged, the weak winter light seemed much too bright. She squinted slightly as she
made her way to Catorce's waiting jeep, her boots crushing on the snow. Catorce must have gone
into one of the snack bars nearby. He had left his uniform's cap lying on the jeep's dashboard, but
the keys stil hung, limp and silent, from the ignition slot.

Relena placed her packet and the remaining papers on the back seat, her fingers lingering for a while
over the careful knot she had made. Stepping back, she turned her head to give one last look up
towards her brother's empty room.

The window lay dark and mute above her and she closed her eyes. When she opened them, she
gave a step back, uncertain. For an instant, she thought she had seen her brother up there, looking
down at her. Bringing her hands up, she rubbed her eyes, turning to look again.

And this time, she could see him. Standing straight, in full, red uniform, his hand raised in a quiet,
dignified salute, his smile slightly tight beneath his mask. As his hand lowered, it seemed to Relena
that she could see him as he had been near the end. His pale bangs obscuring his eyes, his smile sad.
He looked down at her with melancholy, his eys muted. For as moment, relena wanted to walk
towards him, to rush up the stairs and run into his arms.

She took a step forward. And she saw him smile, his hand lowering from its salute, his eyes
becoming bright, kind. His lips parted briefly to form a word, his smile still melancholic, but warm.
Relena.

Smiling, relena raised her hands, reaching out towards him. Here I am, Onisama. But the vision
faded then, and her hands were reaching out for empty air. The window lay silent and dark before
her, her hands lying worhtless and aching before her.

But as she lowered them, she smiled, remembering the kind look she had seen in her brother's eyes.
Onisama. I am no closer to understanding you now then I ever was, but I don't think that I
need to.

Looking up at the darkened window, she facied that she could still see him again, bowing gravely to
her, a smile reflected on his eyes. Taking up the corners of her skirt, she curtsied low. When she
looked up again, teh window was again silent and empty. Relena felt the tears begin to form in her
eyes again, but she smiled, her smile sweet, embracing, warm.

"Goodbye, Onisama."

Turning, the cold wind playing idly with the hem of her skirt, she walked towards teh nearby stores,
ready to look for Catorce, ready to go home again. behind her, she could feel the quiet, watchful
eyes of her brother, his hand rising slowly to rest beside her cheek. In the distance, she heard the
deep rumbling of the incoming snowstorm. The birds cried out from their perches on the telephone
poles. It was a quiet thursday.
 
 

 

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