Late February found the city of Brussels recovering from a harsh winter and a difficult war. It was the year AC 197, a year of peace as the citizens of both Earth and the Colonies had hoped. Winter was slowly making room for spring, the thick piles of snow dissolving into clear puddles that reflected the sky. Up above, a layer of clouds merged into a blanket of white and grey, lightly tinged with blue. The weak rays of the European sun filtered through the clouds, gracing the streets below with a warm golden touch. Like a rain of gold, the rays came and went, never touching the same place twice, pouring down to Earth where ever the clouds granted them passage. Cobblestone streets and tall Gothic buildings greeted the sun as if begging it to shed some light into their gloomy world. Brussels stood as a beautiful display of ancient architecture, blessed with the rich range of medieval design. Massive buildings stood tall and proud as a testimony to agone times. The Gothic structures and Baroque masterpieces were the pride and joy of Belgium, one of the few European countries that somehow managed to preserve its classical and ancient appearance.
Thousands of people walked among the vast squares and luxurious cafés, filling the city with their joy. The scars of the recent war were not seen on the surface. The end of the long, harsh winter and the coming of spring symbolized the new time of peace. People reached out to grasp joy like a lifeline, turning to the luxuries of life in order to avoid the darkening pain. Various street-artists played music and danced for the crowds: clowns and jugglers, magicians and other street performers did their best to raise a smile on people’s faces and earn a few credits.
Even nature struggled to revive itself within the city, as little green sprouts persisted in appearing between the cracks in the cobblestone roads and park grounds. The large canal flowing through the city made the landscape richer, reflecting the sky's heavenly blue as the boats on the water and bridges over it burst with life.
In the city gardens, the soft brown earth began to nourish new plants, and lush green treetops swayed lazily in the chilly breeze. The gravel roads were wet with rain, a few droplets still dripping off the bushes. Children ran after each other, laughing, as mothers pushed prams down the winding paths of the park.
On a lonely bench in the park, a young man sat, watching the people around him with solemn blue eyes. He watched a man walk his dog as the two walked past him and slowly, almost lazily, shifted his gaze to a pair of young men jogging down the path.
He sat quietly, his body gathered into himself as if trying to appear as small as possible. His features were young, but full of pain. His dark cobalt eyes spoke volumes of sadness and anguish. He seemed lonely, but none of the passersby spared him a glance, ignoring him as they ignored all homeless people. The young man didn’t fit the neat societal image, and was thus shunned with all the others, made invisible by apathy.
His clothes, a checkered wool jacket and black trousers, were shabby and old, riddled with tears, and far too big for his small frame. His dark brown hair was disheveled, messy bangs obscuring his eyes. There were stitches on his forehead, veiled by his hair, and a bandage wrapping his left wrist. His clothes masked the remaining extent of his injuries.
Next to him, lying on the bench, was a small duffle and an empty bag of tortilla chips. He sat slumped on the bench, tired, depressed, and exhausted in every way possible.
It had been a very tiring day for the boy, known as Heero Yuy to the people he trusted enough to give away his name.
He had woken up in a sterile hospital room three weeks after falling unconscious at the end of an excruciating battle. The injuries were caused by a reckless move he had made for peace, a move that almost cost him his life, but that most certainly ended the war. For peace, he was willing to die. He had been almost relieved to die, and the first thing he felt when he had opened his eyes was the deep sorrow for being able to wake up.
The doctors said that it was a miracle that he had survived the crash and made it through surgery. They said it was even a bigger miracle that he had woken up after a three-week long coma. The way he saw it, it was more of a curse.
They wanted him to stay in the hospital until he was able to move on his own. For the lack of nothing better to do, for he knew that nothing waited for him outside the hospital grounds, he agreed. Two weeks after waking up, the doctors deemed him healthy enough to be discharged. They gave him some clothes, ones that were too big and smelled like an old man, a small duffle, and asked him if he wanted the hospital to pay for a cab fare. It was a painful reminder that he had nowhere to go, no one was waiting for him anywhere. He refused the offer, signed the papers, and left the building.
One step into the street and he stopped, simply looking around him. In front of him, the city of Brussels spread as far as the eye could see, enormous buildings in a rich variety of shapes, forms and designs. Each building had a unique ornamentation, fascinatingly complex in the way that only European architecture could be.
The historical structures were something that he, as a colony born, was not used to seeing. For years he had been trapped in a narrow cockpit, surrounded by battles and scorched metal, and the sight was a blessing to his sore eyes. He took a minute to absorb it before returning to deal with his current problem.
Where should he go? Left or right? It was such a simple choice. Chose a direction and start walking. Left or right? Perhaps forward? It would be nice to move forward for a change. And so he did. For hours he walked aimlessly through the gray streets of Brussels, trying to find a cause.
During his wandering he stepped into a local bank and withdrew the little money he had left in an account he had opened before the war. It was money he had stolen, hacked from various accounts, for the sole purpose of use during the war. He cashed out what little he had left and vowed never to steal money again. That practice belonged to the war, and the war was over. He should start living on his own, by his own means. If he could only find a reason to do so.
With his duffle full of 5000 Euro credits, he continued to wander through the city. He bought newspapers to catch up on things, and, when he was convinced that the war was indeed over, and that peace was there to stay, he threw them away and continued walking. Like a stranded dog, he wandered from one street to another, from shop to shop, until he came upon a small grocery store.
There he bought some basic necessities, such as a toothbrush, a bottle of water, and something small to eat. For a reason unknown, he stopped by the snack section and, for ten minutes or so, stood there and stared at a bag of tortilla chips.
He had never eaten a snack in his life. As a soldier, he was always on a strict diet, one his superiors decided for him. Even though they were long dead, he still ate according to that diet, never daring to break the rules he had been trained to follow.
But now, the war was over. The loneliness and confusion he felt were proof enough of that. He shouldn’t act by their rules anymore. He was his own person.
His hand shook as he reached for a bag of barbeque-flavored tortillas. It was forbidden, his mind told him, but he pushed the persistent voice aside. This was the first day of the rest of his life, he would do whatever he wished.
He took the chips and stared at them for a while. He remembered that, during the war, Duo used to thrive on the stuff. His fellow pilot, now nothing more than an ex-comrade, always munched on that particular brand. He saw him eat it while fixing his Gundam, when he lay on his bed listening to music, and, even when piloting Deathscythe towards a bloody battle, he kept a bag in his cockpit just to calm his nerves.
Were they really that good? Heero wondered, carefully placing the bag in his shopping basket. It felt wrong, so terribly wrong, but it was something he wanted to do. It was the first decision he had made for his own sake ever since he became a soldier. He wanted to get used to the feeling, if only because he knew he had to. No one would tell him what to do anymore. He had to learn to make his own decisions, not for the sake of a mission, not for the result of a battle, but for himself. He only hoped that, one day, he would discover a new reason to live.
In the late afternoon hours, he arrived at a small park on the outskirts of an old residential neighborhood. He took a seat on a wooden bench, and there he remained, watching the world pass him by. He opened the bag of tortilla chips and ate the first one timidly. They tasted odd at first, but after a few chips he began to like the flavor and found it quite addictive. Famished, he quickly relieved the bag of its contents.
He was tired. Even though he was allowed to leave the hospital his body was still weak, still healing. There wasn’t a part of him that wasn’t throbbing with either numbness or pain. He had pushed himself too hard with hours of walking, and now his body demanded rest.
It was getting dark, and the park slowly emptied. Heero sat still on the bench, his eyelids half closed as his head slowly sank toward his chest, plummeting towards slumber. He quickly jerked awake, forcing his eyes to remain open. The street lamp next to the bench flickered three times before lighting up, shedding a pale purple light onto the bench.
Heero sighed and wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly feeling very lonely and very cold. He was too tired to get up, and he didn’t have the strength to go search for a place to stay the night. His body was becoming heavier, sinking slowly towards the bench. In a last effort to move, he brought his duffle under his head, using it as a pillow. Heavy eyelids slid shut, body relaxing in spite of the cold. He gratefully fell into an oblivious sleep.
He awoke to a scream. For a split second, he was sure that peace had been a nightmare and that the war still raged outside his dream. Before even coming to full awareness he was ready to jump out of bed and run to his Gundam, ready for battle.
But, when he opened his eyes and saw the bench he was lying on and the trees in the park, that sense of purpose was crushed, along with all hopes for peace to vanish. That’s why he hated hope so much. That’s why he did his best not to harbor it in his heart. It hurt too much.
In a flash, everything came back to him, including the aches in his body and the stiffness of his cold limbs. Shakily, he pushed himself to a sitting position, and listened carefully.
The scream echoed through the park again, a female voice that called out and then released a stream of what could only be curses. From his distant position, he couldn’t recognize the language. But, whatever was said did not matter. He knew that, whoever she was, she was in trouble.
For some reason, he felt the need to help. With the speed of a well-trained soldier, Heero jumped off the bench, threw his duffle over his shoulder, and ran towards the direction of the voice.
From a distance, he could already see the damsel and her obvious source of distress. A gang of malicious looking men surrounded the young woman, trapping her against a lamppost, shoving her around, pulling at her clothes, and calling her names. Now he was able to recognize the language as Dutch. He didn’t understand their words, but their foul meaning was apparent.
The woman kicked and slapped them, shouting back her own share of obviously foul Dutch words. When one of them grabbed her by the hair and tried to pull down her skirt, she screamed again.
Faster than the eye could follow, Heero took that man down before he could see his intention to fruition.
The gang turned to look at him with wide, disbelieving eyes, before they focused their attack on him. He took them down quickly, with the efficiency of a well-oiled fighting machine. The gangsters soon realized that they were no match for him and ran away, unwilling to risk his wrath, and thereby their general health, for a woman. The last of them staggered to his feet and hurried to follow his friends, wailing in pain as he ran.
Once he was sure that the enemy had retreated, Heero turned to face the woman.
She was sitting on the dusty ground, where she had fallen after being pushed by one of the men, looking up at Heero with wide, stunned eyes. Heero gave her a quick once-over, examining her properly for the first time. She was older than him, around her mid-twenties, and, by her questionable appearance, she was most certainly a prostitute.
Her most distinct features were the two intense stripes of color in her hair- one side green and the other red - each covering half of her locks. Her hair was long and spiky, sticking out in every direction. At a closer look, he noted another odd detail about her, she wore contact lenses, one green, and one red. Whereas the left side of her head was dyed in green, her left eye was red, and vice-versa. The sight was quite unique, if not disturbing.
Quickly gathering his wits, Heero reached out and offered her a hand. She took it, and he helped her get up.
“Dankjewel (Thank you).” She said, bending down to brush the dust off her short leather skirt. “Stomme gasten (Stupid jerks)!” She continued angrily, trying to tidy her long spiky hair.
Heero did not speak Dutch, although he was familiar with several European languages. In an attempt to answer her, he asked: “Est-ce que vous parlez Français? (Do you speak French)?”
The young woman looked surprised before waving her hand dismissively in the air. “Oh, oui, oui (Oh, yes, yes.)”
She then smiled, and with a slight accent added, “Est-ce que tu parles anglais? (Do you speak English?)”
Heero resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and sighed in exasperation. “Yes, I do.”
The woman smiled again without looking at him as she adjusted her bra. “Good, because I can’t speak any Chinese.”
“Japanese,” Heero corrected, watching her make sure her breasts were sitting in place, properly hinted at by her cleavage.
“Whatever,” the woman muttered, finally looking up at him. “Anyway, dank u.”
He stared at her for a moment more, trying to sort out her broken English, before nodding his head. He turned around, ready to go back to his bench and let his aching body continue its interrupted rest.
“Tu as un peu d'argent?” She suddenly called after him, and Heero stopped, standing with his back to her. She took a few steps towards him.
“You got some money?” The hooker asked again, softer this time.
Heero sighed, his back still facing her. “I’m not interested in sex.”
“Comme si je te le proposais! (As if I was offering)!” The woman snorted. “I’m hungry.”
Heero turned to her, frowning. “So?”
“So, I’m asking if ya got some cash to buy me dinner.”
Heero stared at her, speechless. He had just saved this woman’s life and she had the nerve to ask him to buy her dinner?!
“Well?” She asked impatiently, planting her hands on her hips, “as-tu hungry, or what?!”
If he had to be honest, he was starving. His stomach was cramping in a desperate attempt to find potential nourishment, for all he had eaten that day had been a bag of tortilla chips, hardly a filling diet. And, as tired as he was, he couldn’t refuse her request. Dinner sounded tempting, although he couldn’t fathom a reason for her to join him. Despite that, he decided to oblige her. ‘What the heck!’, as Duo would have said.
“Fine,” he finally grumbled, preparing to leave. The young woman grinned nastily, and hurried to run after him.
“I know a great place!” She called with her light French accent, and wrapped her arm around his. Heero hurried to shake her off of him, glaring down at her. She gave him a careless shrug, and continued leading the way, leaving a trail of her perfume behind her. Heero had no idea why he had bothered to acknowledge the scent, but he found it very pleasant.
She led him back towards the streets a few blocks away from the park. He memorized the route, simply out of habit. All of his senses were screaming ‘DANGER!’, but he couldn’t care less. Whatever had to happen, would happen. That’s how it had been ever since he could remember himself. He never saw a point in caring for his own wellbeing.
The streets were dark, the gothic buildings suddenly threatening under the guise of darkness. They loomed above the empty streets, as if watching, guarding the city as they had done for centuries. A few men stumbled drunkenly down narrow alleys, and punks gathered around a stone bench in front of a liquor store. Once is a while a motorcycle or a car whistled as they passed by, cutting the silence of the night.
They entered a small diner standing at a corner of two streets. The large wall-to-wall windows allowed some light to be shed upon the street, giving it a welcoming aura, as if beckoning the weary night travelers to its fold.
“Ignace always keeps the place open,” the young woman informed him as she stepped into the diner. She greeted an old waitress, and headed to a table by the window. Heero followed her silently.
The place looked filthy and cheap, Heero mused as he sat on the opposite side of the table. The young hooker motioned the waitress, and the old woman slowly waddled towards them.
“Een hamburger, een patatje en een sinas alstublieft (Give me a hamburger, fries, and a soda).”
The waitress nodded, curly gray hair falling into dark eyes. She turned to Heero, an impatient, almost disgusted, look on her face. “En voor jou (And for you)?”
Heero glanced towards the menu standing at the head of the table, but it was all written in Dutch. He turned back to the waitress, clueless as to what to say. He had never eaten in such a diner before. He couldn’t remember ever eating something that was deep-fried. His diet always consisted of vegetables, fruits, and grilled fish or beef, all tasteless and without an ounce of fat.
“Geef hem maar gewoon hetzelfde als mij (Just give him the same as mine).” Heero’s unwanted companion finally said, and the old woman nodded, rolling her eyes. She left the table, muttering to herself.
Heero turned to glare at the woman he had rescued.
She just gave him a wicked smile, her unnaturally colored eyes glinting with mischief. “Trust me, kid, you’ll like it.”
“Don’t decide for me.” Heero growled, his features angry. She had no right to take away his freedom of choice, especially not after he’d just barely regained it.
The woman nodded carelessly, as if she wasn’t listening, “sure, sure,” she said, playing with the tips of her spiky hair. “By the way, I’m Adèle.” She turned to look at him with her unnerving red/green eyes, “you?”
Heero cast his gaze down. He was, in fact, nameless now that the war was over. “Nobody,” he finally mumbled, and turned to look out the window. He examined his reflection, suddenly aware that he looked so young, and almost frightened next to her. The large, grandfather-like jacket he was wearing didn’t help, as it also made him look younger and smaller than he was. He tried to compose himself by hardening his features, but he was weary of keeping his mask on. His pale features made him look like a ghost anyway, which only added to his lost and terrified visage.
Adèle smirked and shrugged his answer off as unimportant. “Well, it’s nice to meet ya, Monsieur Personne (Mister Nobody). Thanks for asking me out for dinner.”
“You asked yourself out,” Heero reminded her with a glare, turning away from the window.
She chuckled hoarsely, amused. “But you agreed!”
She had him there, Heero mused, and turned to face the window again. He was not interested in any more conversation.
The elderly waitress served their meals, glaring at Heero as she placed the order on the table. Adèle gave her a smile, and the old hag retreated, muttering to herself again.
Heero watched his dinner companion raise a greasy, gravy-dripping burger from her paper plate, and he watched with a horrified expression as she devoured it savagely. Gravy leaked down her chin, and pieces of vegetables fell from the greasy bun. She was quite an obnoxious sight, eating with her mouth open and wiping the gravy with the back of her hand. She was half way through her burger in a matter of seconds, and he hadn’t even looked down at his own meal.
“Are ya gonna eat that or what?” Adèle asked, with a mouth full of bread and meat, and reached a hand into their shared basket of greasy fries.
Heero forced himself to look away. Not even Duo was that obnoxious when he ate.
He sighed, and timidly picked up his own burger. He stared at it as if it was an OZ mobile suit he was debating whether or not to crush. Gravy slid down his fingers and he stared at it, fascinated. Duo liked burgers, he suddenly recalled, he ate them like a pig, and then ran three extra miles to make up for it. Heero never saw the point; were they really that good? The tortilla chips were to his liking, so perhaps the greasy pile of dead meat would be too.
Slowly, he brought the burger to his mouth and took a timid bite, it tasted awful. He resisted the urge to cough it out of his throat and forced himself to swallow. With a sour face, he put it away and reached for his soda.
Adèle, who was also sipping her soda through a straw, opened her mouth and laughed, nearly choking on her drink.
“That’s the first REAL expression I’ve seen on your face, Monsieur Personne!” She laughed, wiping the soda and gravy off her chin with her sleeve, “that burger must be really shitty!”
Heero glared at her, and wiped his mouth with a napkin.
Adèle calmed down, and gave him a softer, less teasing, smile. “So, ya dun like it?”
Again Heero frowned. Like it? He never had any likes or dislikes for food. He ate whatever J put on his diet. Even after J died he continued eating according to that diet. He was somewhat glad to have found a dislike. It was better than nothing.
“I hate it.” He finally said, pushing the burger away.
“Suit yourself.” Adèle shrugged, and grabbed the uneaten burger. She shoved it into her mouth, ingesting it like a cow. Heero wondered how she could be so skinny when she ate like that. Never before had he met a woman who was such a... brute. He was used to well-mannered, sweet girls who followed him around to various private schools. Adèle was the complete opposite however.
He watched her finish her second burger, and begin to pick the leftovers from between her teeth, using her long red and green fingernails. Heero stared, appalled by her boorish behavior. She took her time with the task, like an animal picking dirt from its fur. He wondered if she would start licking herself anytime soon.
“Are you done eating?” He finally asked, tired of waiting.
Adèle looked up at him, a finger still in her mouth, “ya in a hurry somewhere?” She asked, cocking a green eyebrow. Only now Heero noticed that her eyebrows were also dyed, one green, one red, like her eyes.
“No,” he mumbled, confused. The whole situation was new to him, he was unused to human interaction outside of the battlefield. Her green/red gaze was making him uncomfortable.
“Figures,” she snorted, and resumed picking her teeth.
“Why did those men attack you?” Heero asked, not really interested, but he preferred a conversation to the sight of her so-called dental flossing.
Adèle stopped, a bit abruptly, and looked at him silently for a while. She sighed, brushing a few colorful bangs out of her eyes. “If you must know, Monsieur Personne, I ran away from my pimp. And no pimp means no protection on the streets, get it?”
Not quite, but he didn’t want to get into that too deeply. It really wasn’t his business.
“And what about you?” She asked casually, looking at him up and down, “ya ran away from home or something? Wearing your grandpapa’s jacket?” She chuckled at her own joke, and reached for the last greasy French fry.
He resisted the urge to shift in his seat, for he was uncomfortable under her scrutinizing gaze. He wasn’t used to people looking at him so closely, he’d never allowed it before.
“So what’s your story, Monsieur Personne?”
“Nothing.” He answered curtly, his features hardening, “and stop calling me that.”
Again she laughed, and threw the last piece of fry into her mouth. “Isn’t that how you told me to call you? How old are you, boy? Sixteen? Seventeen?”
Heero didn’t answer. She was asking too much of him. He was tired, hungry, and his head hurt along with every other part of his body. He wanted to sleep. Without another word, he got up and threw some cash onto the table, turning to leave.
“Oh, allez (Oh come on)! You don’t have to be so rude!” Adèle called after him, and hurried to get up. She shoved some napkins, salt, ketchup, and mustard into her jacket, and hurried to follow the boy out of the diner.
She caught up with him on the street, panting as she approached.
“That was some exit!” She huffed between breaths, brushing her spiky bangs out of her eyes. “Where ya headed in such a hurry?”
“Nowhere,” Heero grumbled, turning away from her. She stood still, staring at his back.
“Well, uh, okay. Have a nice life, Monsieur Personne.” She muttered sarcastically, rolling her eyes behind his back. “Thanks for dinner.” She added, and then turned to walk away in the opposite direction of where the boy was facing.
Her high-heeled boots tapped loudly on the pavement, echoing in the still night air. She stopped after a few meters and slowly turned to look over her shoulder. The kid was still standing by the diner, looking like a lost puppy waiting for his owner.
She frowned at her own thoughts. The boy was nothing like a cute little puppy, he was more like a Rottweiler ready to bite. Despite his poor and gloomy looks, there was something almost feral, almost deadly, in his eyes. She watched him for a moment more, biting her lower lip in thought, he seemed so lost and alone...
“C'est pas mes affaires (It's none of my business).” She muttered under her breath, and continued walking.