****

Desperate for changing

****

            They were just pale-brown. Not exactly brown, more like a dappling mix of red and tan and white, but they were after all colored like any number of other palms…

            He was rambling again. The cobalt-eyed boy sighed and pressed the hands he had recently been contemplating into his face. What a joke – Heero Yuy, infamously silent pilot of the Wing Zero, had thoughts as rambling as Duo's words could be. He ground the heels of his wrists into his eyes, as if trying to chase away sleep.

****

Starving for truth

****

            No matter how clean his hands seemed, Heero could sometimes see blood on them – red and dripping, or dark-dried brown – just a flash and it was gone. He knew it was just a figment of the imagination, his mind playing tricks on him. He knew it was a common syndrome of post-war trauma.

            Knowing all that didn't stop him feeling guilty whenever it happened; it didn't stop the self-loathing that bore down on him like a hundred worlds upon his shoulders.

            'Isn't it over?' he asked. To who, he didn't know. Maybe to God, if any part of him still believed. Maybe to his mentors, who taught him to survive but never showed him how to live. Maybe to the cold dark night sky he had, as a Colonial brat, grown up with – loving the stars but hating the emptiness. Maybe to everyone, maybe to no one.

            'Isn't it over?' Isn't what over? The war? The guilt? The atonements? All of it, maybe.

He wondered if you should be worried when you don't know what your own questions meant. He was standing now, face turned upwards, unheeding of the light drizzle that had begun to fall. His hands were fisted at his sides, and his entire stance bespoke tension and rigidity.

            Heero found he was trembling, so full of pent-up anger and despair and loss that he didn't even know which he was feeling, or even at what. He should walk away – the rain had increased to a pounding downpour – but he found he couldn't tear his gaze away from the night sky, still clear despite the rain. It was a night for not knowing what he was doing or feeling, it seemed.

****

I'm closer to where I started

****

He wondered if boys his age had such problems. Maybe they did, in intensity the same if not in reality. But they at least had parents to talk to. What if he had parents? Someone to talk to, someone who would always want to try and help him – someone whom he loved, freely and without fear?

            'Wishful thinking.' It was wishful to try and remember anything of his parents. He never could – he'd been taken away too young and trained too hard. He had as much memory of his parents as he would have if he'd been taken away the day he was born.

****

I'm chasing after you

**** 

            He'd hated that. He'd hated not having anything but what he needed for the mission, not knowing anything but the training. He'd heard once that humans were the sum of their memories. He hadn't wanted to be that, not with the type of memories he had, so he'd made himself a promise. He'd buckle down, and get all his missions done, so well the old doctor wouldn't have any reason to punish him or deny him anything.

            And when the war – and his missions – was over, he'd go and find his past. Despite all his war-weary cynicism, he had retained enough naiveté to believe he'd succeed.

            He'd forgotten that to hunt, you needed a scent. He had nothing, and about as much chance of finding his family or any connections to them as a snowball in hell – to borrow one of Duo's typically American sayings.

            He was soaking wet now, being as that he'd been standing in the open for around ten minutes, lost in thought. 'Stupid rain.'

*****

I'm falling even more in love with you

****

            Heero was seated at his office at Preventers HQ when an aide poked his head in. "Hey, gater," he called, using the rather derogatory AC term for computer geeks. (It was based on the infamous geek of Before Colonies, Bill Gates) "Lady Une wants you in her office."

            Heero rose smoothly, setting his computer to security mode before leaving. He walked to where the impatient Preventer agent-in-training stood. "I'm coming," he told the boy – who was nineteen, almost two years older than he was. Funny, how he thought of people older than him as being kids. "By the way," he added, as if in afterthought, "you want to show more respect to your superiors, gofer." This was generally what an aide was, though they hated to be reminded of it.

            The dark-haired aide sneered and was about to say a rather insulting reference to this…this…kid's ancestry and probable social life when he caught sight of a falcon on the right breast of the other Preventer's jacket – where the name of the jacket's owner would usually be sewn. He gulped, and fell into silent, respectful step behind the agent he now knew to be Preventer Falcon, one of the most important people in the Preventers Agency…and definitely the most deadly.

            They entered Lady Une's office, bypassing the security measures – both electronic and human – with a speed not usually permitted to normal humans. "Preventer Falcon reporting for duty, ma'am," Heero said, saluting Lady Une crisply. She saluted back. "Thanks for coming, Falcon. You are dismissed, Matt," she added to the goggle-eyed aide, who did all but bow as he hurriedly backed out of the room. Lady Une chuckled with some amusement before turning to her main objective.

            After explaining what she wanted to Heero, Lady Une sat back and braced for the storm.

            "Me? Why me? I'm in the computer division of Preventers. I'm not a field agent. Not anymore. That's Chang and Sally's division."

            The excuse was flimsy, and both of them knew it.

            "You're still one of the best field agents in the world, not just Preventers, Heero. Look at your record: trained by the legendary Aden Lowe, leader of the Gundam pilots, hero – no pun intended – of wars of AC 195 and the Marimaia incident. Heero, we need every man out there that we can get."

            Heero stared at her, eyes as distressed and pleading as they got.

            "Heero, she needs you. Besides, you know that the part about you being in the IT division is as flimsy an excuse as anything Duo could come up with."

            Finally, he bowed his head in defeat.

            "Ninmu ryokai. I'll go undercover as Relena's escort."

****

Letting go of all I've held on to

****

            He found, somewhat to his surprise, that he was enjoying himself. The black tuxedo he'd had to wear was as itchy as he'd expected, the punch as watered down as he thought it would be, and the food as unsatisfying as he'd dreaded.

            But he liked being with Relena. It was unexpected, how he had been strangely touched by how she smiled upon seeing him and fussed about his tuxedo. It was surprising on how affected he'd been by her as she descended down the stairs, dressed in the pride of the Sank Kingdom's finest tailors. It was alarming how he wanted to dance with her.

            'Heero's got a cru-ush! Heero's got a cru-ush!' He was somewhat disconcerted on finding that the voices in his head sometimes sounded like Duo Maxwell. Heero had come to the party as Relena's escort, but had not been within twenty feet of her since they walked through the door. The high and mighty Vice Foreign Minister was not to be wasted on young men of no political standing; oh no, she must needs dance with every single politician, diplomat and member of the aristocracy, instead.

            Or at least that's what everyone thought. Startling his fellow Preventers, the party-goers, and most of all himself, he walked up to Relena and bowed courteously. "May I have this dance?"

****

I'm standing here until you make me move

****

            Relena gaped at him, hiding her open mouth with a hand upraised in shock. Heero kept perfectly still, bent over from the bow. He raised his face to meet her surprised and increasingly happy gaze. 'I'm not moving until I get an answer,' his eyes seemed to say.

            Relena extended her hand to him, smoothing her face so that the smile only showed in her dancing eyes. "I would be delighted to, sir."

            Heero, surprising everyone in the room further, took her hand and kissed it. "I was hoping you would be," he said softly.

            They moved onto the dance floor, oblivious to both the disapproving murmurs and the admiring glances at the figure they cut. Dark knight and bright princess: for some reason these old fairy tale images popped into the minds of many of the partygoers, even if the thought was summarily banished by the cynical, world-weary politicians.

****

I'm hanging by a moment here with you

****

            Heero had read books before (contrary to his teammates' beliefs) that had often mentioned 'the moment which lasted forever'. He has scoffed then. Now he wasn't quite sure if he was right in doing that.

            It wasn't as if he felt frozen in time, as he thought that phrase meant. It was like his senses, which most people would have accounted as uncannily sharp most of the time, had suddenly come to life. He noticed and noted everything – the diamond-glint of the chandeliers and their lights, the low hum of voices from around the room, even the smells…even the feel of moving air across his skin, and the coolness of air-conditioning and the gentle contrast of shared body heat.

            And yet at the same time, he shunted all of this extraneous information to the back of his consciousness. He was concentrating more on matching his steps to those of the girl in his arms, and finding it both easier than he thought and such an engrossing exercise he wasn't thinking of anything else.

            Maybe that's what they meant.

****

Forgetting all I'm lacking

**** 

            Heero let out a quiet sigh and relaxed slightly, shoulders slumping as if he'd just shrugged some heavy weight off. Relena, with one hand on his shoulders in the position dictated by the dance, could feel it, and looked at him inquiringly.

            Heero caught her inquisitive gaze and returned it. "Relena," he began. "What…?"

            "It's nothing," Relena replied before he finished the sentence. "It's just that you…."

            "I what?"

            "Nothing, nothing," Relena said. Mentioning it might make him self-conscious. She liked that he was more relaxed when he was with her. The fact that he was so rarely relaxed made it all the more special.

            But Heero would not let up. "What is it?" His eyes began to narrow, the way they did when he was anticipating danger – which seemed to be his perpetual state of mind.

            Relena thought fast. He rarely let himself be so unguarded, his eyes so wide and trusting and so…open… She wasn't going to let this slip away any moment sooner than she had to. Already she could feel him tensing as they moved, still graceful and flowing in the dance, as if coiling for some sudden strike.

            "…that you're wearing a tux!" she exclaimed. "I've never seen you in formal wear before – that OZ uniform doesn't count – and well, it's sort of surprising!" She was beginning to babble, but she didn't care. "It looks good on you!" Now that sort of babbling she cared about.

            'Oops!'  She would have clapped her hands over her mouth if one hadn't been held by Heero.

            Then she forgot her own embarrassment as something more important caught her attention. Heero didn't raise an eyebrow for that sarcastically dry expression she was dreading. No…he was…he was…he was blushing?!

            "Uh, thanks," Heero said. And as Relena had, his mind temporarily lost control of his mouth. "You look good, too," he told her, and smiled.

            Relena was staring openly now, and as Heero's mind informed him of what he had just said and done, his blush deepened. But he didn't take the words back.

****

Completely incomplete

****

            The music ended just then. The sounds of quiet applause broke the silent reverie Relena had found herself in, and the outer world began to register in her mind again. She noticed that a lot of people were looking at her, still in Heero's arms even when most couples had stepped away from each other by now.

            She hurriedly removed herself from his embrace – 'dancing position! Dancing position!' she reminded herself – clapping for the music which had, indeed, been above par. Facing the orchestra as she was, she didn't see the disappointment that flashed through Heero's face. And when she turned back, Heero seemed perfectly composed.

            He did, however, offer to escort her back to her table. He even pulled her chair out for her, an unexpected gesture of chivalry that made her smile in happy surprise – again; this night was turning out to be full of them – and made his teammates, watching surreptitiously from various vantage points, turn goggle-eyed.

            They'd only been seated at the table for a few minutes – barely enough time to drink some cold water – when a fairly young man with non-descript features but very rich-looking clothing came over to the table and asked Relena to dance. Relena knew him – he was the Viscount Danim, son of Duke Danim. Relena needed the Duke's political pull to succeed in passing a law on arms-control – a law which was coming up for deliberation in a few days.

            'Back to the world of politics,' she thought to herself. She accepted graciously, sending a brief glance over to Heero. 'Thank you for the break,' her eyes said, 'but I'd better get back to work.'

            She stood, gracefully, as if already dancing, and allowed the Viscount to lead her to the dance floor.

****

I'll take your invitation

****

            Heero was drinking his glass of water as they left, not watching them for fear of…fear of what? Heero didn't know, and he didn't want to. He drained his glass of water, and reached for another – filled with champagne this time.

            He had first met Relena on that beach where he'd crash-landed, of course, but he'd been more determined with escaping and finding his Gundam to pay much attention to the girl whose lap he had woken in. He had been seriously stressed out then, though he thought he had done a good job of hiding it. It was his first time on Earth, after all, and the start of the biggest mission of his young life.

            Meeting up with her again at the school was as big a shock for him as for her, though he rather thought he had hidden the shock better than she had. He had recognized her instantly, of course – too instantly, in fact. He was somewhat surprised to find how well the exact shade of her aquamarine eyes had lodged in his memory.

He'd just stared at her when she gave him the invitation, shocked beyond belief. Why should she want him – a boy she'd only just met, and not someone who'd gone out of his way to be particularly friendly – why should she want him, of all people, to come to her party?

****

You take all of me now

**** 

            He'd been so completely sure that she didn't really want anything to do with him, that it was just some sort of bored-rich-girl curiosity thing. And he'd been just as sure that he didn't want anything to do with her either. She was just some brat who didn't yet know how harsh real life – war life – could be. What could they have in common?

            But she wasn't just a rich brat. She wasn't just curious – she seemed to genuinely be concerned about him. And she had proved to be more like him, in more ways, than he had ever expected.

            And he'd proven to be more like her than he had expected, too. That last battle on the Libra – sparing Zechs' life? Because it would make his sister sad? That was not the sort of thing the soldier who'd first arrived on Earth would have done. Neither was the quiet determination he'd found in himself when he'd had to confront Marimaia. Or the allowing to show weaknesses, and friendship.

            Had his being around her changed him? Heero paused, and examined that thought more carefully. He'd changed a lot since the first days of Operation Meteor – sometimes, he didn't want to think how much, because then it would open up a whole new set of problems and questions.

            Was it because of her? Here he was, guarding her – out of his own conviction that she was important, not out of any assigned mission – and dancing at parties, and….and enjoying it. How had she gotten to hold so much influence over him? Why did she have so much power over him?

****

I'm falling even more in love with you

****

            Perhaps it was Fate. Perhaps it was Chance. Maybe it was just the random luck that seemed to surround each and every Gundam pilot, and Duo Maxwell in particular.

            "Man, have you got it bad."

            Heero spun around to face Duo. "What!?"

            "I said, you've got it bad." Duo grinned, a wide, ear-to-ear flashing of teeth. "Oh, come on, Heero. You don't really know how obvious it is? I mean, you got all dressed up for this shindig, when usually it's like pulling teeth to get you to change your tanktop. You even wore cologne, for crying out loud!"

Heero responded stiffly, "I know what's appropriate for a formal ball, Duo. I would just attract more attention and make it harder for myself if I came in looking like a Preventer instead of some dolled-up geek."

"Huh, you weren't trying to look like a geek. You were trying to look good for the princess." Duo's grin widened, impossible as it seemed, and before Heero could reply, he went on. "When she came down to meet us (Duo, being the Preventer Lady Une had assigned to be Heero's partner/back-up for this affair, had been waiting with Heero to meet with Relena) you looked as though you'd been hit with a two-by-four. Good thing she was staring at you too much to notice. And very good thing Zechs hadn't come out of his room just then. Or come to the party."

"SHE WAS NOT STARING AT ME!"

"Denial doesn't change anything, Heero," he informed his partner cheerfully, drinking some of the champagne that, he was sure, had helped with the success he was currently enjoying. "And you didn't seem to be that unhappy when she fixed your bowtie and smoothed your jacket. And here I thought you hated people invading your personal space?" He mock-toasted Heero with the champagne. "Ah, ah, ah. Don't say anything, Heero. I understand. Honest, I do."

"And there's the matter of the corsage you bought her. Really pretty – Jallis blossom, wasn't it?" He had looked up the flower on his PDA's Internet as soon as he'd seen it. "Really rare orchid, that one. Only grows on that L1 colony, right? And I also know for a fact that Lady Une didn't order you to get one, just to wear the tux and show up."

"Your knowledge of botany amazes me," Heero replied coolly. "It is customary for the escort to bring a corsage with him. If she'd shown up without one, they would have thought I wasn't really an escort…and they might have guessed I was a bodyguard. It's harder to be a bodyguard when they know you're one. I'm sure Lady Une would have told me to bring one if she'd remembered." No reply to this terse justification, except…

"You always watch her, Heero." And while it was true that Heero had hardly taken his eyes off her throughout the dance, Duo was talking about more than that. And both of them knew it.

****

Letting go of all I've held onto

****

            Heero glared at Duo. Duo didn't grin cheekily back or flinch – he just met Heero's angry blue eyes steadily. After a while, the glare dropped off Heero's face. He turned and looked at Relena again, who had been transferred (there was no other word for it) to dance with some other young nobility.

Duo smiled again as he tracked where his friend's eyes were. His smile rapidly faded, though, as an irritated Lady Une caught his eye. "Right…I have to talk to you later, man," he told Heero. "After the party, because now I'm off to my duty station. Yup, that's where I'm headed," he repeated, and whistled somewhat unsteadily as he rose from the table.

****

I'm standing here until you make me move

I'm hanging by a moment here with you

****

            Relena sighed wearily as she bid yet another party-goer goodnight. The party was ending – not a moment too soon, if you asked her – yet here she was, still, taking the role of polite hostess seeing each and every guest off.

            She hid a grimace as one of her many dancing-partners for that night leered at her. That jerk had been horrible – always talking about himself, and stepping on her toes too. Not to mention he had been half-soused when he danced, and was rude and boorish to boot.

            She fought the urge to slump her shoulders – a former Princess and current Vice Minister never allowed her posture to be anything less than perfect. No matter how tired she was.

            She looked up, ready with yet another courteous goodbye, to see there was no one there.

            'I'm done! Yes!' she thought gleefully.

            She turned to head for her car. She'd begun driving herself to her various functions and events as soon as she got her driver's permit at the age of sixteen, albeit with an escort of Preventer vehicles around her. At least they were discreet.

            She was still watching the young Preventers prepare to party, rather than where she was going, and so she bumped into something.

            Or rather, someone.

            "Heero!" she exclaimed.

            "What's wrong, Relena?" Heero asked in his usual monotone, somehow managing to sound concerned. He had untied his bowtie, rolled up his sleeves and removed his tuxedo jacket by now. Relena wished, a bit enviously, she could get rid of at least some of her finery as easily as that.

            "Nothing's wrong, Heero," she answered. She finally allowed her shoulders to slump. "Just a bit tired."

            "I can see that," Heero replied. "Where are you headed off to?"

            "To my car," Relena said, "I'm going home."

            "Want some company?" Heero offered. Tentatively, and quietly, but he did offer. Relena did her best not to gape. She only half-succeeded. "Um…ahhh…thanks, Heero," she finally managed to stammer out. "You…you don't really need to, you know…"

            "I want to," replied Heero firmly, heading out into the parking lot. He knew which car she owned anyway.

****

I'm living for the only thing I know

**** 

            Heero had the car doors open and the engine idling by the time Relena had caught up. Relena raised an eyebrow – she still held the keys. Heero shrugged, and tucked the lock-picking kit back into his pocket.

            Relena slid into the driver's seat of the sleek coupe. Heero looked a bit disgruntled – he wasn't used to not being in charge of whatever vehicle he was riding – but entered the passenger's seat obediently.

            They were silent until they hit the main road. Heero seemed entirely comfortable with the lack of conversation, but Relena was getting fidgety.

            "So…" she asked him, finally. "How come you're here tonight, Heero? I haven't seen you at any field operations lately."

            "Maybe I've been there, and you just didn't see me."

            "I thought your division in Preventers was Information Technology."

            "Actually, I'm not really in any division. I'm sort of a wildcard – Lady Une puts me where I'll do the most good or wherever they're most lacking," he admitted, shrugging. "My training lets her do that because I've got some proficiency in all areas."

            "How do they decide where to put you? I mean, what sort of priority gets you put into which division?" Relena was just trying to make conversation, but the answer shocked – and pleased – her.

            "I'm assigned to whatever division is doing more to protect you. I'm part of your official detail."

            "…I didn't know that."

            Heero shrugged. "Now you do."

****

I'm running and I question where to go

**** 

            They pulled up to Relena's elegant townhouse – her having moved out of the Cinq palace some time ago. Now only loyal Pagan remained her servant, and only because he would have been horrified and aghast at the thought of leaving his young princess alone. Relena had given up on making him take a much-deserved retirement and just tried to keep Pagan from doing too much for her.

            Heero was sure she'd be surprised at how much he knew of the nuances of her life.

            "Heero," Relena said, a thought just occurring to her. "Thank you for the escort back home – but how are you getting back?" The roar of a motorcycle answered her question, as a sleek black street-racer rolled to a halt near the curb. Heero pocketed the GPS device he had used to remote-summon his bike to him.

            "Don't worry about me, Relena," he said expressionlessly as he exited the car, eyes scanning the darkness for possible danger before he opened the door for her.

            Since he was out of the car, he didn't hear her soft "But I always worry."

****

And I don't know what I'm tapping into

****

            Once he had seen her safely inside and bade her 'good night', he immediately started prowling around the building, double-checking both the standard (if extremely high-end) security system and the numerous 'extras' he had installed covertly. He even vaulted the six-foot-tall chain link fence and checked around the lawn before being satisfied.

            He walked over to the cycle and stuffed the tuxedo jacket into a compartment built into the bike's chassis. He straddled the seat and opened up the throttle as he roared away.

            He didn't notice the face watching him from the window.

            He raced through the mostly-empty streets with reckless abandon; trying to outrun the voices in his head that called him a fool for what he'd shown Relena this night. Trying to outrun the feeling of helpless loneliness that was worse than the voices.

            He found himself speeding along a winding road on the outskirts of the city, a road that led up the mountains. He stopped only when he began to feel the ear-popping that signified a drastic change in altitude.

            He was near a copse of pine trees, on a large grassy shoulder off the road. Propping the black Hayase on its kickstand, he walked to the edge of the shoulder. He inhaled the sharp scent of pine in the air as he leaned forward on the railing, watching the twinkling lights of the city below him. A wind kicked up then, ruffling his already-messy hair further.

            It seemed like he hadn't been out of the city in months – he, who had been so constantly on the move from mission to mission that staying in the same country for more than a week had made him jumpy. Now, not only had he been in Cinq for more than a year, he had an apartment and a job and…

            Heero shook his head. This wasn't him. This steadiness, this predictability – he hadn't really been on an operation for weeks; only staying plugged into his computers for weeks on end, for month after month after month. Or roaming the streets, watching the people go about their normal, day-to-day lives. Doing useless stuff like that? He was getting soft. Sure, he tried to keep his edge in the gym and in sparring sessions, but it wasn't the same.

            The idea that came was simple. Why not leave? It wasn't like there would be any great challenge in forging himself a new identity. And he could make it difficult – if not impossible – for anyone to find him. He knew there was a large market for mercenaries in the Colonies, as armies were now illegal. He could go back to the life he had before.

            He teetered on the edge of indecision, a hair's breadth away from getting on his bike and roaring away – forever.

****

Just hanging by a moment here with you

****

            What does a person need to change a decision? A bigger incentive, a different view, a new discovery? Maybe all three? It depends upon the decision involved, of course, but really, what does a person need?

            How important does the decision have to be before a choice is incontrovertible? How dramatic the new aspect which might change the person's mind?

            In this case, all that was needed was a memory of a single moment.

            Warmth in between his arms…the feel of air-conditioning whispering across the skin left exposed by the tuxedo…light gleaming off a cut-glass chandelier as though off diamonds…dancing, dancing, dancing…

            And it was all that would have stayed him. In that frame of mind, when all he could see was an old life beckoning him back to the familiar, a soldier's heart yearning for battle – it was everything, and it was the only thing.

****

There's nothing else to lose

****

The next day, when Preventer Falcon reported for duty, he handed in a request for transfer – from the IT section to the Operations directorate. Still, of course, working under the priority of protecting the Vice Foreign Minister. Lady Une, and most everyone else, assumed it was because of missing the thrill of battle. Even the person in question himself could sometimes hardly remember what the hell he was thinking, back on that night spent amongst pine trees on a cold mountain.

            All he knew was that he didn't regret it. A week later, the others didn't either. In the middle of a speech being delivered for the United Earth Sphere House of Congress, an assassination attempt was made on Relena Darlien's life. A sniper, well-hidden in a latex mask and the stolen clothing of a representative (who would later be found murdered in the bathroom) fired off the round that could have very well ended the young government official's life – had it not been for her bodyguard's split-second reflexes, and a desperate hurling of his body into the line of fire.

            Amidst the screams of shocked spectators and the sudden chaos of Preventers agents on the move, Heero Yuy collapsed to the ground, bleeding heavily from a gunshot wound to the ribcage.

            Relena Darlien was whisked away immediately to a secure location, and was unable to see her yet-again savior as he was brought to the hospital. With the bullying and negotiation techniques years of playing with politics had brought her, she managed to wrangle a cellular phone, and dialed the number of the hospital.

            "What's wrong with him? What possessed him to do such a damn-fool suicide move like that!?" she demanded into the silver Nokia as on the other end of the line, Duo Maxwell listened. He was in Heero's hospital room, watching the doctors examine his unconscious friend.

            "He's lucky to have gotten out of this with his life. The fact that there's no permanent damage is a miracle," said one, shaking his head. "I mean, just a fraction of a centimeter to the side, and…"

            "I think," Duo finally said into the phone, looking at Heero but actually seeing a memory of his friend, of his expression just before the shot had been fired, "I think…I think that for him, the most foolish thing he did was not finding the sniper. Relena, he's terrified you'll be gone one day…"

            "How about me?! Doesn't he think that his death wouldn't be horrible to me, too?"

            "He isn't the one ensuring the Earth doesn't go to war, Relena…"

            "Yes he is…in the war, he was the one who saved us all…and all the work I do now…it's for him…"

****

There's nothing else to find

****

            The two never spoke of this conversation to anyone – not to Heero, and not among themselves. But the words, like a scar, may have seemed totally faded – but it would never really go away.

            Heero didn't know this, of course. Upon recovering – a good two weeks sooner than the doctors estimated – he was back at Preventers HQ, training day and night when he wasn't working, trying to ensure he would be at peak performance – that he would never allow something like that to happen again. Lady Une tried to make him take a leave to rest up from his convalescence, but he refused it point-blank, and seemed offended when they tried to press it on him. So they let him be.

            Late one night, when most of the staff had gone home, he was walking back from the training gymnasium when he noticed a message waiting for him on his computer. Curious, he clicked on it.

            When he saw it was from Dr J, his eyes turned wide with shock. 'I thought that guy was dead!' was his first thought. 'Oh shit, what does he want from me?' was the second. And the third, and the one that made him even more anxious, was this: 'If he's still alive… then I might still find out something about my family…'

            The message icon on his screen blinked impatiently. Heero stared at the computer, dumbfounded. Then, finally, he reached out a hand and shut down the computer.

****

There's nothing in the world that can change my mind

****

            Heero did not tell anybody of this except Lady Une, and in this case just telling her that he'd obtained information that seemed to indicate the Gundam scientists were alive. He didn't elaborate, and she didn't press him.

            Dr J, if it really was he, was tenacious. Heero's computer was bombarded with messages, confirming the young agent's suspicions that he was wanted for some sort of mission. Dr J wouldn't be so obsessed if not. Heero didn't open them, and trashed them immediately, using a scrubber program to totally wipe any trace of the messages.

            He would have thought he'd be tempted. The obvious lure was Dr J's thinly-veiled hints that he would tell him something about his family. The subtle one was the call to action. In this, he was fortunate he had been transferred to Operations, because now he needed no suicide Gundam-pilot missions to get his adrenaline rush. And as for the family angle – how many times had Dr J used that, dangling it in front of him like a carrot on a stick, and how many times had it all come to naught?

            A deep part of him didn't want to admit, too, that it had given up on looking for traces of his family – and that he didn't particularly care – not anymore.

****

There is nothing else

****

            Heero stalked by Relena's side, assassin-trained eyes darting here and there across the crowded mall. Relena tried, for her part, to ignore that. It was fortunate that Heero was talented enough that he could replace her normal honor guard of fifteen men all by himself, but was being so obvious about what he did an absolutely necessary evil?

            When she voiced this question to him, he shook his head and said, "Relena, I don't think you quite appreciate the amount of security you should be receiving. I think that you need more people, not less…"

            "That's because you're a security guy," pointed out Relena, with no small amount of mischief in her voice. Only she would dare tease Heero – everyone else would just as soon stick their arms into the jaws of a hungry wolf. And if someone ever made a study, they would find that, in fact, the Preventers agent was the only person she ever teased so.

"You're all professionally paranoid anyway. If ever I hear you complain about security being too tight, I'll die of shock."

"I'm serious, Relena. You're the main reason we have peace now…if we lost you, we'd get something like war on our hands in a matter of days, I bet."

            "Now Heero," Relena began, falling into the easy speech-patterns of something very well rehearsed, "It is a mistake to assign something as stupendous and precious and far-reaching as peace to a single person. It is the work of every single person around the world who has ever made a conscious decision to avoid conflict…"

            "Fine," Heero interrupted what was promising to be a monologue. "Okay, you're right, peace isn't the work of any single person. It needs cooperation. But…but," he pressed on, ignoring her attempt to interject something, "the fact remains that you are one of the main lynch-pins of the peace we are currently enjoying, and removing you from the equation will almost certainly result in chaos that leads, in turn, to war. And don't give me any of that political bullsh…bull that you made up so you don't make anyone feel small about their parts in the war, which were, in fact, small. Modesty is fine, Relena, but knowing your real worth is much better for the real world."

****

There is nothing else

****

There was such conviction and such an unaccustomed fire in Heero's dark blue eyes as he said that, that Relena didn't even voice the automatic argument she had been preparing, but nodded meekly and decided to continue her shopping..

He drove her home from the shopping center, using a Preventers-approved AlTer jeep. He had agreed to it because it had a radio-band scanner and was regularly swept for car-bombs. She had agreed to it because it had more room to store her mall purchases than her small sports coupe. Heero helped unload the bags when they arrived – that is, he carried seven of the bags, Relena carried two, all on one trip. As he prepared to return home, his shift now over, Relena said softly, "This was fun. Thanks for approving the trip to the mall, Heero."

Heero shrugged, slightly awkward with the gratitude. "Even you need some time to act like a normal teenager sometimes, I guess."

'How about you?' was what Relena wanted to say. Instead, she said, "It was interesting, that's for sure." She grinned at him.

 He really should have left then. It would have been the typical thing for him to do – anything more would have been a potentially dangerous change. But instead he grinned back at her. "I had fun too, actually."

Then he left.

****

There is nothing else

****

            The change in their relationship was very subtle. A wider smile when she saw him, a softening of his eyes that only she could see; a little more contact with each other, hands brushing each other seemingly accidentally, more small comforting touches that were hardly noticeable at all. They talked about more things, now, with less hesitation and more honesty. More honesty meaning that she wasn't afraid to proclaim loudly to him the things she wouldn't dream of letting the public know, lest they destroy her in the press; less hesitation meaning he would give her the normal conversation, like how much he hated ketchup or his tastes in music, that he wouldn't tell anyone else, for fear of destroying his ice-blood reputation.

             Since neither could confide in other people the way they did in each other – Relena because of her position, Heero because of his personality – what they were, essentially, to each other had to be what most other people used several different people for. They were best friends, rivals in certain matters, squabbled sibling-type over the most inane of objects…and, slowly, they began to try for the last branch of human relationship there was.

            It continued like that for two years. The other pilots got married or settled in business, but Heero continued in this vein very comfortably. Zechs and Noin had a child, and Relena was the godmother, but rarely saw any of her family – since they were on Mars, literally, she did not have much choice in that. Heero and Relena seemed to remember what the others disregarded; they were still very young, and they could take the time to dawdle and dream.

            It was on Relena's nineteenth birthday that Heero asked her out, on a 'date-date' as Duo would have put it, instead of the many outings they had gone on as slightly-more-than-best-friends, slightly-less-than-girlfriend-and-boyfriends.

            It was on her twentieth when Heero, her boyfriend for exactly a year now, got down on his knees and stuttered for nearly five minutes before Relena, teary-eyed in sheer happiness yet laughing at the rather hapless Preventer in front of her, took mercy on him and flung her arms around his neck, telling him "Yes, yes, yes!" in a voice half-choked with tears and giggles.

            It was on Heero's twenty-first that he lost it all.

****

There is nothing else

****

            They had been, again, at the mall – this time looking at furniture shops, preparing for the home they would soon share. They looked like a totally normal pair of in-love fiancés, except that a troop of Preventer agents were attempting to shadow and protect them inconspicuously.

            "Calm down, Heero," Relena whispered, hugging her agitated fiancé's arm to herself. "They're incompetent, Relena," Heero whispered fiercely back, dark blue eyes glaring at the numerous agents scattered through the perimeter. "Look at the way they…"

            "Heero Yuy, you promised you were going to relax!" Relena reminded him in a stern tone. "You promised you would help me pick out the new furniture without complaining, or running off."

            "Hn," Heero grunted sullenly, but turned back to the display on Swedish furniture they had been perusing before his attention was drawn by the agents. Relena sighed a little in relief, then smiled in anticipation. Today was Heero's birthday, and he had forgotten – as usual. She wondered for a moment what other girl had a boyfriend who had no problem remembering her birthday (and Valentine's too!) but had trouble with his own. Never mind, though – she had, along with Duo and Hilde's help, coordinated a surprise party for the young Japanese man.

            She smiled at the thought of the party awaiting them that night. She glanced over at Heero, studying his profile as he creased his brow in thought, looking at a sofa with some puzzlement. Relena loved that expression – well, actually, she was fond of several, if not all, of Heero's facial expressions, seeing as how he used to not have any. Still, the sight made her grin and, purely on impulse, kiss her fiancé's cheek lightly.

            Heero turned to her with some surprise and amusement in his eyes. "What was that for?"

            "For being you," she told him, smiling brilliantly. The smile abruptly turned into a surprised expression, eyes widening and mouth dropping open, as her chest exploded in a shower of red.

            Heero caught her as she fell into his arms, eyes just as wide, only in horror, not shock. He glanced around wildly, ears distantly registering the 'poofs' of silenced sniper rifles going off as he watched several agents fall, their chests bloody – just like Relena's.

            He returned his gaze to her face, drinking in the sight of the impossibly pale skin and the wide wide blue eyes as if he would never see them again. And somehow, he knew he wouldn't. She slowly, shakingly, raised a hand to his face. He pressed his cheek into it, beginning to mouth, 'no no no no' in a desperate litany. Her eyes saddened, accepting the inevitable.

            "Heero," she gasped out, voice wet-sounding with the blood currently flooding her lungs, "I love…" Her voice faded. Her eyes closed, and her hand fell from his face.

            Heero hugged her body tighter to himself, sinking to his knees. The other Preventers had by now located and taken out the snipers positioned around the mall, but Heero didn't notice.

            When Duo Maxwell, called by a frantic Preventers officer, arrived at the mall, he was confronted with the sight of a crowd of silent Preventers watching the man who knelt in the middle of the floor. No one was willing to approach. Duo swallowed hard, tears beginning in his own eyes, as he walked to his friend, who was holding his fiancée's body to him, shaking his head slowly and mumbling under his breath. As Duo came near, he could make out the words….

            "No, no, no……not her, please not her…she's all I have…"

****

Desperate for changing

****

            The wind was cold and whipped around them like some monster from the arctic wastes, but in every other way the day was totally unsuitable for what was happening. The sky was a clear, flawless blue, crisp in the way only an autumn sky can be. The sun was crystalline, bright, the weather perfect.

            Heero almost felt it to be an insult.

            He was standing right by the edge of the grave, holding a single, perfect red rose in his hand – her favorite flower. There were other people there, too, but not a lot – the state funeral for Relena Peacecraft, which would be attended by thousands of grievers and broadcast to millions more, would be later in the week, using an empty coffin. This was a private funeral for Relena Peacecraft, secret and attended only by her inner circle.

            Relena Peacecraft. She'd never had the chance to add Yuy to her name.

            Heero wasn't going to the state funeral.

            As the priest began the services, Heero raised his gaze, studying that too-beautiful sky above him. He ignored the priest's words, ignored the sobbing that began to wrack the bodies of his friends. He ignored everything.

            He had been a casket-bearer. He threw in the first shovelful of damp earth into the grave. But he didn't respond to the priest's words, did not give a eulogy, did not cry. He had not, in fact, shown any emotion since that day Duo found him kneeling with Relena's body cradled in his arms in a most gruesome embrace. And he hadn't cried then either, just chanted "No no no no no…"

            But as he knelt to toss the rose into the coffin, Duo could see him whisper something to the earth, a prayer to speed his offering, a last message – he would probably never know.

            He lingered by his best friend's side as the others left – ostensibly for the shade of a tree, really to give them privacy. They were worried about Heero, worried enough for it to rise above the sorrow of losing Relena. And they knew that Duo was the only one who could help.

            If anyone could.

            "I wish I had never met her," Heero said suddenly, making Duo jump. Heero had been so silent for so long that anything he said was a bit of a shock.

            "I wish I hadn't…that I hadn't met her, that she hadn't met me, that we hadn't fallen in love, that I hadn't proposed to her…" Heero continued. His eyes were flat, and he still didn't look at Duo, instead studying the sky.

            "I wouldn't hurt like this if I hadn't. If I hadn't changed…"

****

Starving for truth

****

            "Heero, you can't…you can't mean that," Duo finally said over his growing shock and fear. "Relena and you…I mean…she was the best thing that ever happened to you…"

            Heero whirled around to face Duo, eyes alight and angry; Duo was almost glad for that, they had been so lifeless recently…

            "The best thing? The best thing is supposed to be snatched away from you right when you need it most and leaving you feeling more pain than should be in the universe? Is that your definition of what I need in my life, Duo?" he hissed, advancing upon the American.

            "If she was the best thing…then why was she taken away?"

****

I'm closer to where I started

****

            As the weeks rolled past Relena's death, the world slowly and reluctantly began to return to everyday life without its beloved princess. One person didn't.

            He returned to his post at Preventers, despite Lady Une's offer of more time off. He didn't need it. He was the Perfect Soldier. He attacked his duties with, if anything, more fervor than before, burying himself in work.

            His friends knew why he did that. They knew he was using the work to block out the pain, and that the memories just being with them brought up of Relena made him avoid their company. It didn't make it any less painful watching him gradually evolve/regress into the cold, unfeeling pilot he had been at the beginning of the wars.

            Heero Yuy had died with Relena Peacecraft on that day. Now all that was left was the shell of the Perfect Soldier.

****

I'm chasing after you

****

            Heero stood in front of the simple marble cross marking the grave of his fiancée. It was night, the stars hidden beneath a thin veil of clouds, the moon a bare crescent hanging in the velvet of the sky. The wind whistled through the graveyard, ruffling the grasses and setting his wild hair to waving.

            Relena had liked it when that happened.

            Heero closed his eyes against the rush of pain recalling anything about Relena brought him. No one knew he ever came out here to visit the grave – he liked it that way, so he confined his visits to late in the night.

            He didn't talk to her about his day, or sit in the grass and contemplate life, or any of that stuff people who visited graveyards always claimed to do in the books. He just stared at the cross, mind blank, and…

            …and the knife was out, blade dull in the lack of light, but oh so sharp…

            …and it was going across his wrists, too light to draw blood but…

            Heero snapped to himself with a slight shudder. He looked down at the knife he had nearly used to commit suicide. This happened so often he wasn't keeping count anymore. Sometimes it was the knife, sometimes a razor, sometimes he found himself idling with a pistol in his hands.

            He always came back before anything much happened, though. And like on every other night, he left the graveyard with a thought in his head – 'What if I had? Would I see Relena?'

****

I'm falling even more in love with you

****

            Heero opened the refrigerator door and hauled out a beer. Snapping the tab off the top of the can, he gulped down the beverage in three quick gulps.

            He'd been drinking a lot more these past few months – not quite enough to qualify him for alcoholism, especially since his genetically-enhanced body did not really get addicted to alcohol – but there was a lot more alcohol in his apartment than had been before.

            He sat down at the kitchen table, taking out a six-pack from the fridge. He stared into space as he drank yet another beer, eyes unfocused.

            It had been seven months since she…since she had died, and he hadn't stopped missing her then. Whoever said 'time heals all wounds,' obviously hadn't considered his case when saying that. If anything, all the months of not having her around made him miss her more.

****

Letting go of all I've held on to

****

            Later that night, slightly drunk due to very great effort, Heero staggered into his bedroom. He collapsed onto his bed in a disorderly heap, not even bothering to remove his rather sweaty Preventer uniform.

            He turned onto his side and caught sight of himself in the mirror: clothes rumpled and stained, eyes bloodshot, face haggard and pale. A small voice, shocked into life by the sight of himself looking so ragged, said in his mind, 'What would Relena say if she saw you now? Do you think this is the type of guy she wanted to marry?'

            Heero winced at the hurt the question caused. 'Shut up!' he told the other voice. 'Relena's dead! She's dead! She can't correct our wardrobe or help us with some weird protocol thing ever again! She's dead!'

            He rolled onto his stomach, away from his reflection.

****

I'm standing here until you make me move

****

            He was dreaming, an odd dream-collage of events he had experienced. The dream was clear, sharp, the details bright-edged.

            Relena entered the small dorm room and smiled at him. Surprised at how she had managed to find him, Heero found himself pointing his pistol at the blond girl's face. She had stared back at him, over the gun's barrel, with no fear in her eyes…

            …Heero entered the ballroom, arm in arm with Relena. She was resplendent in her deep blue-green evening gown, so much so that his tuxedo did not seem so bad an inconvenience…

            …she dropped a curtsy in front of him. 'Would you care to dance?'

            …he bowed, taking her hand and gently kissing it. 'Would you care to dance?'

            Heero awoke, eyes wide. They seemed so bright in the starlight from his window that someone might have thought that he was crying.

****

I'm hanging by a moment here with you

****

            He was in the graveyard again, and again had the knife pressed to his wrist. This time, though, he was fully aware of what he was doing. This time, the knife was drawing blood.

            He almost went through with it. The loneliness was unbearable, and he missed her so damn much…but then he remembered. Her face when he had taken that bullet for her, that horrified look – she hated to see him hurt; she would hate more to see him dead.

            It was strange how a memory of an expression, just a moment of recall really, kept him from suicide.

****

I'm living for the only thing I know

I'm running and I question where to go

***

            Preventers HQ was jumping – with the death of Relena, several groups had come out of the woodwork to start waging war or rebellion or anything. The Preventers had to track down, keep tabs on and catch all these instigators. No one was busier than Heero, who was indeed using the work to bury the pain but also…

            …but also was trying to do his best to keep Relena's dream of peace of unraveling. It was as if Relena's dream of peace and Relena – his Relena, his ideal, beautiful, gone Relena – were bound up together. As if allowing peace to fail would really be letting Relena die; as if keeping it alive also kept alive the chance she would return.

****

And I don't know what I'm tapping into

**** 

            Heero sat down at his desk, legs quivering slightly as he sank into his chair – he had been on his feet for five hours. Even that would tell on his enhanced body. He stretched, trying to work out the tension in his muscles. Kami, but he was tired…he wanted to rest…

            But he couldn't. No way, not with all the threats Preventers was scrambling to defuse, not with so much work to be done…and besides, sleep would bring back the dreams. Those dreams…

            Heero glanced, once, at the picture frame holding a photo of him and Relena together. She was leaning against his chest, a gentle smile on her face. Heero had been resting his chin on top of her head of blond hair, a small frown creasing his lips – like he'd been worrying about something, pondering. That was the night before he proposed to her.

            Duo had given him that photo, knowing that Heero had stored all of his away in a box at the very back of his closet. Heero had almost refused it. Now he was glad he hadn't…

            When Heero rejoined the other Preventers in the ready-room, the photo was tucked inside his pocket.

****

Just hanging by a moment here with you

****

            Heero strode across the dew-soaked grass in quick long strides, his long jean-covered legs eating up the distance. He ignored the other people in the graveyard on this morning, intent on reaching his destination.

            The sun was rising as he stopped in front of the white marble cross, painting it gold and making it seem like the cross was on fire on the inside. He crouched down in front of the cross. "Hey Relena," he said softly, tracing her name out as he said it. "I'm sorry I haven't said much lately…"

He had succumbed; he was talking to the dead like everyone else who ever visited a grave. Heero spoke for a long time that morning – about how much he missed her, about how he'd nearly slipped totally back into Perfect Soldier mode following her death. He told her about his suicide attempts – "…but you already know that…" – and how the world was faring today.

            Unsaid, but equally understood, were the assurances Heero was giving to Relena that though he'd always miss her, he was finally getting over it, and would try having a life. He had accepted she was dead; now he had to accept that he was still alive, that he still had a life to live out. That he owed it to Relena to do so.

            He finally rose from the grave, noting idly that the sun, which had been rising, was now directly overhead.

            He had to leave, but before he left, he whispered a last promise: 'Every moment we ever shared is more precious to me than anything else. If it weren't for those moments…'

            He reached up, to the chain around his neck. He'd thought Relena had been buried with it, but apparently Hilde had saved the engagement ring from the body. He had been too numb to do anything but accept it as a tearful Hilde dropped it into his palm on the day following that horrible one. When he realized what it was, he was angry – it was Relena's, it should be with her! But he soon found unexpected comfort in having it nearby – a momento of her. It was a beautiful affair of white gold and platinum worked in an eternity helix, a twist with a diamond, a ruby and an opal set into it; and now it hung on a chain around his neck, forever close to his heart.

            'I will never forget you…'

****

Just hanging by a moment

Hanging by a moment

Hanging by a moment

Hanging by a moment here with you

****