DISCLAIMER: I don't own Gundam Wing. I don't have any money. Any questions?
By: Lara Winner
We're here and now
But will we ever be again
'Cuz I have found
All that shimmers in this world
Is sure to fade
- Fuel "Shimmer"
The sudden ring of the vid-phone shattered the quiet stillness of the small apartment. Heero Yuy looked up from the screen of his laptop and blinked, the shrill noise taking a second to process after being disturbed from his deep concentration. Sighing under his breath, he pressed the connect key and a moment later the blank screen of the small device came to life with the image of a familiar face.
Dusty blue eyes stared at him somberly from under the spikes of mused honey colored bangs. The cap the young woman wore cast her face in shadows from the street lights and her hair ruffled in the nipping winter wind. He caught the trembling of her lips from the bitter cold.
She didn't smile. Only nodded her head, almost undiscernibly as she replied quietly, "Hello Heero."
The smooth tenor of her voice had a disarming effect. For a moment he could only stare at her, unable to do anything but fall prey to the multiple contradicting emotions only she could make him acknowledge. The irony that she couldn't have picked a worse time to intrude upon his life, once again, made old feelings of bitterness and resentment rise forth. Yet he couldn't deny that she was a sight to behold even after all the time that had passed since the last they shared anything, even a simple greeting.
"Hello Relena," Heero managed to say, surprising himself at how steady and despondent his words sounded, even to his own ears.
Relena shivered, huddling deeper into her coat. Her teeth nearly chattered as she replied. "Merry Christmas."
The inane well wishing almost made Heero smile humorlessly. He knew as well as she did that the reason behind her unexpected call had nothing to do with spreading the seasonal cheer. There was a stack of impersonal, bulk-mailed holiday cards from years past, sitting in his desk right now. Not once had she ever bothered to call him personally. At least not in the past six years…
Heero let the unwanted thought trail off. This was not the time to breathe life into old wounds, given or received. Instead he took the moment to study her. She was still beautiful as ever. But there was something in her eyes, a shielded almost guarded weariness that told him she was no longer the girl he once knew. She was a woman now, focused, self-assured, maybe even a little jaded, but no longer the bright-eyed optimist she had been when they were children.
Which brought him back to the real reason for Relena's mysterious and, glancing at the clock, late phone call. He tried to read her but she gave away nothing. Her true intentions were hidden behind a well practiced facade of aloofness. She had become the master politician, never giving away her stance through physical impression. Even her emotions were no longer there for the world to see. Relena was ever composed, ever the picture of regal sophistication. Heero's annoyance rose.
"Get to the point. Why did you call?"
"I should have known better than to come to you." Relena sighed, not batting an eye at his scathing tone.
"Do you want something or not? I don't have time for this." Heero snapped.
He watched as her eyes narrowed, glowering her anger at his careless words. They were experts at hurting each other, knowing just how to get past the walls each erected and cut the other to pieces. Guilt nagged at him, his heart pleaded for him to hear her out, his anger wanted to lash out at her, but his pride would not allow him to show the havoc she created.
"Well?" He persisted, then almost flinched at the self-defensive edge to his question.
She regarded him silently, as if weighing all other options, then finally shifted her gaze to stare at something beyond the screen. For one fleeting second a wistful expression crossed her rigidly serene features, then it was gone and he had to strain to hear her soft reply.
"I'm sorry to bother you. It's just that I really need to see you. I'm asking you as a friend." She met his gaze once again and Heero swore she was on the verge of tears, "Please Heero. If it wasn't important I wouldn't ask this of you."
If she had argued he could have held fast. If she had tried to persuade him he would have ignored her. If she had acted the high and mighty princess he would have hung up on her. But she did none of those things. Instead she let him glimpse how much this was affecting her. He had to give her credit. She knew how to play her cards with him. There was very little he could refuse her, the real her, not her public persona or the spoiled little rich bitch act that she could loose her self in on occasion.
"Where are you?" He asked softly.
She shivered. "The corner of 31st and Burgundy."
The location caught Heero slightly off guard. The Vice Foreign Minister's arrival had been broadcast throughout the city and even Heero had known where she was lodging for the duration of her stay. But according to her whereabouts, Relena was a good distance away from the elegant and costly Clearwater hotel, at least a mile in his estimation. And she was obviously alone…
"I'm on my way." He leveled her with a stern glare, "Don't move from that corner. You're not in the best of neighborhoods."
With that said, Heero terminated the connection, tugged on his jacket, and nearly flew down three flights of stairs. Once in his pick-up truck it only too him twenty minutes to cross town and in that time he could do nothing but think of the situation at hand.
Relena said she needed to see him. It would be the first time in over five years that they were alone together. The thought made him shift in the drivers seat uncomfortably. There was so much he didn't want to remember about the girl that had taught him how to love and then taught how much it hurt when it broke his heart.
He shook himself out of his stupor. That was years ago. It was an attempt at a relationship that was doomed to failure from the start. Yet somewhere deep in his soul Heero knew that what he felt for her could never be duplicated with anyone else, and oddly enough he had no desire to even try. It was a shame he couldn't say the same for Relena.
Pulling up to the curb he steeled himself for the coming confrontation. It was inevitable. And as Relena opened the passenger door and climbed into the truck's cab, Heero huddled deeper into his leather Preventers jacket though the chill had little to do with the nipping wind outside.
In a quick glance he appraised her appearance, his lips quirking in amusement at the faded blue jeans and flannel shirt he could see under her thick and protective tan trench coat. Relena only wore civilian clothing when she wanted to disappear. Undoubtedly her bodyguards were in a frenzy looking for their missing Vice-Foreign Minister. The fact that she could fool them so easily didn't sit well with him. They were clearly incompetent.
Gripping the steering wheel tighter, he had to remind himself that she was no longer his concern. He wanted to reprimand her for her lack of caution and reckless tendencies but he kept his worries silent. It was easier to pretend he didn't care. It allowed him the option to forget unwanted emotions. And it had worked for past few years. But seeing her again was bound to make at least a few of them resurface, he realized.
"I'm surprised you came." Relena whispered, breaking the stiff silence that filled the air.
"You thought I wouldn't?" Heero asked quietly.
Relena eyed him for a moment before smiling ironically. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but there was a chance."
At his lack of response Relena heaved an exasperated sigh. "I suppose this means you actually want to hear what I have to say?"
"You did mention it was an important matter and it must be if it prompted you to contact me." He reasoned tonelessly. "Of all the people to come running to…" Through the corner of his eye he saw Relena stiffen.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Heero ignored the question as he glided the truck back onto the thoroughfare. He kept his eyes focused on the road and waited patiently for her to explain why they found themselves here after all this time. He didn't have to wait long.
With her posture rigid and her head held high but averted to face the window, Heero could literally feel Relena's unease. A slight tremor ran through her otherwise indifferent voice as she explained. "Well, to put it bluntly… Certain issues are forcing me to resign from office. If recursive action can not be taken then my resignation to ESUN will be submitted by the end of the month."
Heero's gaze jerked from the road to stare at her disbelievingly. It wasn't the first time Relena had ever rendered him speechless but now he caught himself holding his breath. He couldn't help but stare at her stoic profile, his thoughts too muddled to even ask the simple question why. She was quitting. She was going to turn her back on everything she worked for with a simple dismissive resignation. She was going to throw ESUN into an upheaval that could possibly disrupt the fragile peace that seemed barely maintained. She was giving up on everything he fought for. Relena was once again putting herself first-
"Heero! Watch out!"
The startled shout sent Heero focusing back on the road and he jerked the wheel narrowly missing pedestrians as the truck's tires nearly jumped the curb. With deft reflexes, he straightened the vehicle and only then did Relena let out the breath she had been holding in a relieved sigh. Slowly her knuckles released the death grip they had on the worn seats as she pressed one hand to her chest.
"What the hell are you doing? For god's sake pull over before you run down someone." Relena seethed.
Jaw clenched, Heero sped through the yellow light, turned the corner sharply, and then slammed on the breaks bringing the truck to a screeching halt despite the no parking sign two feet away. Killing the engine he turned to face her. Anger, beautiful in its simplicity, steamed and boiled inside of him igniting an inferno that needed an outlet for eruption. Glaring at Relena he let her have the brunt of his frustration.
"I expected better from you. I knew you were a selfish brat but this is the lowest you could possibly go. You are a necessity to ESUN. The people support you. No one else has ever managed to create a semi-pacifist movement, much less one that has lasted twelve years. I knew you could do this and I also know if you back out now it will all be for nothing. But that doesn't matter to you. Nothing ever matters to you but you." He accused quietly, yet the malice barely hidden beneath his dangerous calm was unmistakable.
Relena said nothing.
Heero dragged in a few deep breaths trying to regain a hold of his temper. She was the only person who experienced this passionate side of him. And he wasn't about to mince words to spare her feelings. They were far beyond polite pretenses and skirting issues. Yet as he continued to stare at her, waiting for any reaction, he felt his chest tighten as tears of frustration suddenly glistened in her eyes. She looked straight ahead not making a sound.
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?" he questioned coldly.
"Would you try letting me explain before you jump down my throat." She ground out between clenched teeth, "I didn't not say I am going to resign but it is a drastic measure the ESUN Ambassadors may force me to take as a last resort. I'm no good to anyone if I'm dead."
"Dead?" Heero echoed blankly. The sudden stab of fear he experienced was both surprising and disturbing to say the least. In the blink of an eye every intention he had to stay out her affairs went flying out of the window. "What do you mean dead?" He growled, his tone taking on an uncharacteristic edge.
Resting her head in her hand, Relena closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose not caring that the tiny, nearly insignificant action told Heero more about the level of stress she was under than any words could. It took her a moment to gather her thoughts, but when she finally spoke again there was a sense of defeat about her that startled Heero.
"Eight months ago I started receiving death threats in the form of letters and e-mails. This type of thing has happened before, as you well know, and nothing serious has ever become if it so I didn't particularly worry about it. But this time is different. I've found three hand-written notes in my office and two in my home. Whoever is doing this is toying with the fact that they can get very close to me. And now, just two days ago there was a breach in security at the shuttle port on L-4 and explosive devices were found on the shuttle I was scheduled to board."
"I'm beginning to feel very afraid, Heero. Even though I've braced myself and prepared myself for assassination attempts and unauthorized attacks I still feel as if I've failed in my attempts to achieve true peace." She confessed, her voice trailing off in a whisper.
Everything in her demeanor, from her shaking hands to the way she worried her bottom lip absently, screamed the honesty of her emotions. As always, his protective instincts were in high gear insisting that he once again he take on the mission of Relena's safety. But the cold facts remained and she was not his responsibility any longer. Though the remark would sound callous, Heero could not help but ask, "And what does your husband say about all of this?"
It was obvious Relena had been waiting for him to broach the subject from the very beginning of their meeting but her reaction was all the same. The tension in the small truck cab seemed to thicken as every muscle in her body went completely taught. Heero watched has her eyes darted a weary glance to his face, hoping to judge his feelings. Though his expression remained impassive he felt as if his soul were on display as a myriad of emotions played in the depths Relena's eyes.
"He worries." She breathed softly, then winced as if pained and looked down guiltily. "Quatre tries his best to keep an eye on me but he can not organize Winner Co., juggle the responsibilities of earth/space resource trade relations, and play personal bodyguard for me. Especially with all of the traveling we do, usually in opposite directions…" in a helpless gesture she lifted her shoulders then let them fall in a shrug. "He's only one person. He can't do anymore than he already has."
The intimate way in which Relena spoke of Quatre made Heero's fists clench around the steering wheel. It was what he expected. It was only fair, after all, Quatre was her husband. There had been plenty of time to get used to the fact that his former comrade and his former lover were now a married couple. It was ridiculous to be jealous over something in the past. Especially when that something had nothing to do with the present.
However, the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach told him that all of his mental urgings were irrelevant due to the open wounds still harbored behind his mask of apathy. He hated to acknowledge the truth, but it would not be denied when Relena was sitting beside him, close enough to touch if he so chose. And when faced with memories of the life they had attempted to achieve and failed, it hurt like hell.
Then again, it didn't take a genius to figure out where the blame fell. He brought this heartache upon himself by refusing the let the past go. He knew his soul still raw, mainly because he had never really tried to find closure. The tricky situation he now found himself in stemmed from his habit of pushing his vulnerabilities away and forgetting their existence until forced to once again confront the issue.
After six years, this confrontation was long over due.
It took effort for Heero to force himself to relax his death-grip on the steering wheel and lean back in his seat. He took a deep breath and fell back on the rigid discipline of his youth to regain control of his emotions.
Casting Relena a sideways glance, he willed himself to keep the conversation on the topic at hand. "Exactly how many people are aware of the situation?"
"All security personnel and the Preventers intelligence unit. Une has assigned Wufei as Director of Security Operations and every precaution has been taken , or so I'm told. I'm always the last one to know anything these days." Frustration was nearly radiating out every pore as Relena turned in her seat to face Heero. "It seems as if no matter what is done this person is still getting past their guard."
Relena's life was continually being threatened and the Preventers could not eliminate the obstacle? The information did not sit well with Heero. There was no room for error when lives were on the line and he knew from past experience that neither Quatre nor Wufei would leave this assassin an opening. "Sounds to me like the enemy has infiltrated and is working from the inside."
"That's exactly what they think. All forethought has been taken into consideration and as we speak Wufei is conducting personal investigations on all security personnel. However, there is still one facet of the formula yet to be utilized."
"And that is?"
"The reason I called you tonight." Relena whispered. Unable to hold Heero's pointed stare, she looked down almost appearing defeated. "I'm sure you can guess what I'm about to propose."
Cold washed over Heero's heart, chilling him from the inside out. He knew. There was no mistaking his intuition and right now it was warning him that he did not want to hear the rest of this conversation. Even so, there was nothing he could do to prevent the words from tumbling from her lips.
"Quatre and Wufei both feel that the primary security force is mismanaged and inadequate. A decision was reached to contact you due to your exceedingly flawless resume. You will receive a call tomorrow from Wufei requesting your assistance-"
Prussian eyes flashed. "Just stop!"
The angered, slightly raised tone of Heero's voice was enough to silence the young woman sitting beside him. Glaring at her from the side, he smirked, "There are only two reasons you wanted to see me privately. Either you want me to reestablish my position as head of security or you don't. Which is it?"
Looking down, fiddling with the hem of her flannel shirt, Relena was honest with her answer. "I'm not certain if either course of action is the correct solution. You are the best in your field Heero. Your competence is an undisputed fact and we both know that. I am confident that if your were to take the position offered you would uncover whomever is behind these threats."
The satisfaction of her praise was a small conciliation for Heero. Dismissing her claim, he sighed, "Yes or no Relena."
For a moment the cab of the truck was filled with silence. Not particularly caring if he was compounding her discomfort by watching her so closely, he remained pinning her with his blank stare. With her head bowed her hair fell forward, shielding her face behind its honey colored veil. The fine trembling of her hands and their nervous toying of the material told Heero that she was cornered, unable to separate her emotions from this discussion just as he was.
Finally, after an eternity of pondering the least hurtful but still truthful answer, Relena's shoulder lifted in a listless shrug. "I don't know. I can't tell you yes or no. Things between us were never that simple."
She was right and it fueled his animosity. "How is this between us? We are talking about a job and nothing more." He asked coldly.
"Of course we are. How could I forget?" She countered bitterly.
"Then practice some professionalism and answer the question." He snapped. "Yes or no?"
Heero was well aware of how insensitive he appeared and when Relena's head snapped up, her pale face turning to him with a shadow of pain written in it's delicate features, he felt slightly guilty at provoking her in such a way. And as expected she suddenly flushed with anger.
"You haven't changed one bit, you know that." She accused. "Everything is a job or a duty or a goddamn mission! That's why I left you, because I was sick and tired of your asinine professionalism!"
"So that's the reason 'you left' me?" He asked snidely, biting sarcasm lacing his words. "I want to know because I remember it differently. I remember asking if you wanted me to leave and you didn't hesitate to say yes. You wanted me gone Relena. Remember?"
I the midst of his soft tirade Relena closed her eyes, pressing trembling fingers to her lips trying to hold back the sob that nearly choked her. She struggled and after a moment she sniffed loudly and wiped her eyes. "I loved you," She whispered. "but I needed to know I was loved in return. Three years and you never once said the words. Just three little words Heero. That's all it would have taken but you could never say them. I felt like I was another mission to you, like you weren't really there with me. I'm sorry, but I couldn't live like that."
It was a simple explanation and almost a mockery of the complex emotions that still existed between them. Could he describe the lingering power she held over him as love? It had taken him many years to learn that love was not an emotion you could give a single, concrete definition. It varied from person to person and circumstance to circumstance. There were many degrees, multiple levels and depths of how it made a person feel. It had taken her leaving for him to realize he didn't want to live without her.
Raking a hand through his wild hair, he stated the obvious. "I tried but it was never enough, was it?"
"I wanted it to be but no… it wasn't."
The words, now spoken and hanging in the air between them, were not as painful to hear as Heero had believed they would be. Perhaps he had finally faced and accepted the truth of the matter. He could not give her what she needed and though he had tried, maybe his efforts lacked genuine conviction. There was a lot that was taken for granted in their fumbling attempt at love. Maybe the realization that ideals of the heart and phases of reality were drastic opposite mental states and to think one could equal the other without some measure of conformity and compromise was asking for disaster.
"We were young and had no idea what the hell we were doing." He said softly, speaking mostly to himself. Through the corner of his eye he saw Relena close her eyes and nod in silent agreement. For the first time in years he felt as if there was nothing left to say.
To Heero's chagrin, it wasn't exactly a bad feeling. Though the hurt would always remain buried deep in his heart, it felt good to have some sort of finality pass between them. They could never go back and, if he were to be completely honest, he didn't want to. He had grown and matured in the time he'd spent moving on with his life and it was glaringly obvious Relena had also.
Heero's estimation was proven as Relena turned in her seat, facing him the faint light that made its way through the fogged windows. She sniffled, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear, and smiled faintly. "Yes I want to work with you. You asked for a simple answer and since we're baring our souls here then you should just as well know that I've missed you." Dropping her gaze back down to her hands, her voice took on an uncertain edge. "After everything we've been through, I don't know if we can be friends. I don't know if we can work together, but we'll never know if we don't try."
"Besides," she laughed shyly, "There's no one else I trust this much."
Leaning his head back, Heero raised his eyes to the ceiling deliberating a careful response. Hell, who was he kidding, his decision had been made the moment he realized her life was in danger. Long ago he had promised to protect her and he had no intention breaking that promise should she have need of him.
"You know I would never let anything happen to you." He stated evenly. "No matter how frustrating I find you to be."
"Me? Frustrating?" She arched a delicate bow smartly, "Now that's the pot calling the kettle black."
The soft, melodic chuckle that erupted from Relena set the tension draining away from the fairly confined space in the truck's cab. Meeting her eyes, Heero felt the corner of his mouth quirk upward as an unspoken truce was called. Like cleansing rainwaters, the sight of her genuine smile eased away many of the burdens that had weighed on him for far too long.
And again Relena was right, in some way he had not changed at all. The prospect of a mission, of security assignments, data briefings and covert operations, had something akin to excitement racing through his blood. It would be good to be back in action, living the life of the soldier he would always be.
Tough Heero's decision was already made, there remained a few things he felt needed to know for his own piece of mind. "Don't take this the wrong way Relena, but enlighten me. Why was it so important you explain the situation in person? Why not let me hear it from Wufei?"
Not for a second did Relena's smile falter. She didn't even blink in surprise. If the question caught her unawares it didn't show in her expression. Instead she explained patiently, "Originally, I was not going to call you. But then I thought if I were in your position I'm not sure I would appreciate being thrown this kind of disruption clear out of left field. So I decided that the least I could do was explain things to you myself."
He had assumed as much. Satisfied, he asked the next question. "Does Quatre know you're meeting with me?"
Heero nodded in approval. "Last question," he said, this time searching her face to watch as well as hear her answer, "Are you happy with him?"
This time Relena's composure cracked and she frowned, her glassy, blue eyes reflecting weary confusion, "Heero…"
"This is imperative information if I'm to make sure you're well cared for." He reasoned, almost coming across as nonchalant. To Relena he still looked mildly concerned.
"Right." She sighed, conveying her skepticism with her tone. They both knew she saw through his excuse, however, she obliged his request with all seriousness. "Yes, I am."
It was only natural that the words would sting. Receiving verbal confirmation directly from the source was always the safest way to get information that was needed. Having asked the question that had plagued him for quite some time, it was strange to finally know Quatre was able to give Relena what he couldn't. Yet, in it's own irony, Heero was relieved to know that she was content.
Once again his response surprised her with its frankness. "Then I'm happy for you."
Heero let Relena ponder the legitimacy of his admission as he reached for the key and turned it in the ignition. The steady rumbling of the engine was like a gentle hum, filling the sudden silence between them as each lost themselves to their own musings.
Sadly, there was nothing left to say. Heero knew this moment was the end. He had tried to forget and he had tried to hide but, in his heart, he had known that one day the past would indeed become the past, once and for all. For the fist time in as long as he could remember, he felt as if the burden crushing his chest had been lifted.
Like the oasis that shimmers just out of reach for the thirsting man in the desert, the memories of what could have would remain with Heero forever. But the soldier's spirit, the survivor's determination that drove him when all else was lost could see the new beginning placed before him. And it was this precious gift of forgiveness and understanding that made completing the final chapter of his youth a bittersweet achievement.
It was this acceptance that brought the slightest hint of a smile to Heero's lips as he parked the truck safely in the shadows cross the street from the back entrance to the ClearWater Hotel. Armed guards paced the perimeter of the building and the deserted alley where the entrance was located obviously having discovered the Vice Foreign Minister's disappearance. To Heero's disapproval, no one noticed the arrival of his truck or it's thought to question anything suspicious. Another mental note was made.
Relena adjusting her garments to face the bitter cold once again, tucking the jacket about her tightly in a protective manner. With one hand on the door, she turned slightly and admitted, "It was good seeing you again, though I'm sure we'll be meeting again soon."
Heero nodded, a response she seemed to expect. She smiled, "Goodnight Heero." And like a fleeting summer breeze, she departed into the cold night.
Heero stayed put, watching until Relena was noticed by two guards and ushered into the hotel. Knowing that she was safe and that tomorrow looked brighter, he allowed himself to say the one thing that had remained unspoken for six long years.
A.N.- Can you actually believe that the original idea for this story was supposed to end happily? What the hell happened? Okay, don't hate me for doing this. I've been fiddling with this story on and off for almost a year now. Took me long enough, huh? I told you I hadn't abandoned Gundam Wing. I hope you enjoyed the fic, well as much as you could anyway.
Thanks for reading! *hugs* You guys are the best!!!!!!