By the Black Rose
Six weeks later…
Heero glanced in the mirror the church had provided in the makeshift 'changing room'. It had probably been a broom closet before the weekend – as opposed to the women's quarters which could have housed a monster truck rally. His reflection glared back wearing a black tux with a long jacket, green vest and matching bow tie. He sighed, shrugged his shoulders inside the coat and lifted both arms chest-high. Heero fumbled with his right cufflink, and then repeated the fumbling-and-cursing for the left cuff. The muscle in his shoulder stung from the activity. It hadn't yet fully regained its strength.
Wood splintered and showered the stage with debris. Heero lunged towards Relena. He grabbed her waist with his right hand. His legs pushed against the stage in order to lift them both to a standing position.
A white-hot flame bit into his left shoulder. Heero stumbled forward. They sunk back down to the stage.
He tried to balance, but his body protested all movement. One of her arms went around him.
"Relena." He didn't know which way to maneuver to shield her from the gunman. "Get—"
He placed his left hand on the stage floor and tried again to lift them both to their feet. 'I've got to move. We need to—' Heat seared through his arm when he shifted his weight. The air around him turned white…
He gasped for air and stumbled again.
"Heero, y-you're bleeding…"
The stage began to fade…
His reflection straightened its tie in the mirror. It shifted back to its slightly cock-eyed position. 'I guess I owe Trowa one.' Heero sighed and turned to open the door to the hall.
He stepped out into the carpeted corridor that stretched several yards in each direction. A few steps away lay the outside wall to the church sanctuary. The hallway led visitors around the building with three possible entrances to the service – which was set to begin in approximately…twenty-seven minutes, according to Heero's watch. He was only allowed to enter from the one that happened to be the farthest from his current position. He pivoted to his right and started the trek down the hall.
'I'll be glad when this is over.' Heero mentally groused as he made the sharp turn at one end of the corridor. 'Why Relena insisted I go to this damn thing…I don't understand.' The Preventer growled under his breath. 'Why I agreed to it is another mystery.'
She pressed closer in a silky nightgown that sent a million electrical thrills through his system. Her arms went around his neck. "Heero…"
He rounded the next turn. Approximately halfway down the hallway was the entrance. Across from the restroom. He seethed at the sight, but continued trudging towards his destination. Heero glanced at his watch again. 'Twenty-six minutes.' He stopped at the position just to the right of the sanctuary entrance and leaned back against the wall.
Heero woke to overpowering bright lights. And they all seemed to be glaring down on him at once. He blinked and closed his eyes again.
"Heero?" The voice sounded small – like she was a young girl–and frightened.
Consciousness dipped its toe into the rest of his body. His legs were cramped like they'd been in one position too long. He tried to shift towards the sound of her voice— Heero groaned. 'It hurts to move…' He decided against moving and settled for opening his eyelids again. His eyes stung when they met the overhead lights.
His…The owner of the voice held on to his right hand; her fingers pressed against the center of his palm. "Relena…" He let his head fall back against the pillow.
In other circumstances, he would have kept his eyes open – to look at her. But the light felt like it was searing his retinas.
Her fingers slipped through his hand and then they were sliding across his cheek. Both hands... When she bent over him, she blocked out the stark light. He opened his eyes again in time to accept a soft kiss.
"Heero." She pressed her forehead against his and shut her eyes. He saw the tears in her lashes an instant before drops of warm water touched his cheek.
Heero opened his eyes this time to see his neighbor's fiancé, Nick – wearing a matching tux minus the green color of the vest and bow tie. The Preventer shut his eyelids again and tried to go back to his memory.
Strands of hair brushed against his neck. Relena kissed his temple and then moved down to his cheekbone. Cobwebs threaded through his brain; for a moment, he had no idea how he'd gone from her never wanting to see him again to…this. But, he figured it was safer not to ask.
She kissed the hollow of his cheek. Her breath and hands felt warm against his skin. He craned his neck and finally seized her mouth—
"How yous holdin' up?" Nick's voice dispelled imaginary Relena's kiss.
The Preventer opened his eyes and silently willed the man to disintegrate. "Fine."
"Yeah? Good," Natalie's fiancé said as he hopped in one place. The man swung his arms in front of him, tapped the fist of his right hand with the flat of his left palm. He snapped his fingers and repeated the motion.
A door opened, and Heero identified the beginning notes of the 'enter groomsmen' music introduced during the rehearsal. He stood up from the wall.
Nick took a deep breath and grimaced. "I guess this is it. No turning back, now, right?"
The Preventer stepped across the hall into the waiting assembly.
The organ struck a powerful chord. Rows and rows of guests rose to their feet. Nick's bride stepped into the sanctuary wearing a long, white dress. Heero scanned the crowd and found his, sitting in the fourth row, three seats from the center aisle. Relena glanced over her left shoulder and met his gaze.
She gave him a smile – the kind that crinkled the skin around her eyes and lit her entire face. "I love you," she mouthed to him from across the room.
Heero felt the stage lights beating down on his skin like rays from the sun – only hotter. He wiped away a bead of sweat and wondered why the ring in his hand was shaking. "This time I'm asking… Relena, will you…Will you be my wife?"
She stopped. He hadn't even realized she was moving…"Heero, I want—"
"It's taken me too long. But, I…I was wrong."
Relena took another step.
"I want…" He swallowed and gulped down a breath of air. "I want to be near you. I want to protect you." One of them moved again. She was closer… "I tried to keep these emotions separate, but somehow, they blended together and became something else."
"Heero?" Her hand trembled in his. Or maybe his hand was making both of them shake.
"Relena." He pulled her hand and tugged her forward. "I lo—"
A red light appeared at the same time she fell to her knees. Every muscle in his body tensed. He leapt forward…
Something sharp nudged him in the ribs. He blinked and the congregation came back into focus. The guests were all seated and he was still turned halfway towards the back of the room. Nick shot him a look out of the corner of his right eye. Heero held Relena's gaze a second longer before spinning to face the front of the sanctuary.
"…have gathered together friends and family alike to witness the blessed union of two hearts, two souls…"
"Tell me you didn't come here just to protect me." Relena's voice wavered. He shut his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at her expression… With her eyes filled with so much pain. "I need to hear that what you said to me—"
"If anything, I put your life in more danger by being here." The words tasted like acid to his tongue.
"What do you mean?" Her voice changed to a softer tone. He felt the end of his bed dip near his feet.
"I knew that Preventer thought there was some amount of danger, but I never saw the official reports." He opened his eyes and stared at the mattress where she sat. "Partly because I was detained from my regular duties by a certain loud-mouth and that know-it-all brother of yours."
"Yeah." He looked up at her. She wore a different suit than the last time she had visited. A duffle bag rested on the chair next to the door – she must have brought it for him, for his release. "They took it upon themselves to 'help' me."
"Help you? With what?"
Heero glanced away. "Just…to figure things out. It…it hurt. When you left. I kept thinking that those emotions would eventually go away. Or, that you'd come back and forgive me. But, then you weren't going to come back. And the pain kept getting worse."
She moved. Relena stood up and stepped towards the head of his bed. She sat down, again, with her knees brushing the 'nightstand' situated beside him. She placed one hand on his leg. "I'm still… I'm still not going to come back."
Pain seared through his shoulder and pulsed down his arm. He gritted his teeth.
"To Earth, that is. Not…not permanently, anyway." She leaned forward. Part of him wanted to pull away, but the larger part of him felt…Her hand brushed pieces of hair away from his face. He met her eyes.
"I'm sorry I hurt you, Heero. I'm sorry I didn't have more faith." Her face crumbled; she started to turn away. "I told you once that I believed in you, and yet—"
He caught her hand before she could stand. "You had every right to do what you did. To doubt me." She shifted her weight back down to the bed and turned to look at him. "And now that I'm actually partly responsible for the attempt on your life." He released her hand, crossed his arms against his chest and averted his eyes towards the window. "I guess I'm not really fit for duty as your bodyguard anymore."
"As a Preventer, you would have lost that responsibility, anyway."
The room, or his vision changed. It was like…every line, every feature changed from something definitive to something grey, indistinct. Haze filled the room and clogged his lungs – the only part of him that didn't feel completely empty. "Relena, can… Can I…go with you?"
"I would hope so." The air lightened into something breathable again. She leaned forward, stretching over the top half of his body to rest her head on the right side of his chest. Her breath against his neck breathed life into the rest of his body. His uninjured arm came up to hold her there.
"It wouldn't be much of a marriage with you living on Earth and me in space now would it?"
"I now pronounce you husband and wife."
Heero stood in the corner of the room, leaning back against the wall of the reception hall – the one nearest the exit. He'd heard someone remark that it had been a small wedding, with approximately sixty people of his neighbor's closest friends and family. Said 'closest friends' were now more than a little tipsy and whirling around the dance floor in an inebriated manner. An older woman whom Heero had been introduced to as Natalie's mother, clung to Nick as he twirled her around and threw several helpless looks at his new wife.
A small crowd of people still gathered around a large, round table, seemingly separate from the rest. They were the ones that kept dragging him away from his wall and asking him lame questions he didn't want to answer.
He glanced away as Duo waved at him again.
"You realize, you're lucky they didn't shoot you." Lieutenant LaFllaga said from the doorway of his hospital room. "Our guys, I mean."
He groaned. "I'm not sure…it matters who shot me."
The Lieutenant chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He stepped into the small hospital room. Heero watched as the older man came to stand at the end of the bed. LaFllaga crossed his arms and gave him that reproving look. "You know, I've gotten a lot of grief over letting you 'go missing' or whatever."
"I thought the Colonel was going to have my spleen for breakfast," he said with a wry smile. "But, I figured you needed time to work things out on your own. I'm going to miss you in my division, Sergeant."
"Sounds like you got off easy." Heero leaned on his right arm as he struggled to sit up.
"Oh really? How's that?"
The Preventer smirked. "You don't need a spleen to live."
"Duo says you're ignoring him," Relena said in a low whisper next to his ear. It made him think of other sounds…
Heero turned to look at her. "That's new?"
The corners of her mouth twitched. She leaned back against the wall next to him. "Hmmmmm. True. But." Her eyes flicked up and he found himself staring into them. "You're not on duty today. You could dance with me."
Heero blinked and found that he'd moved closer - had turned his back to the rest of the reception, and had her caged against the wall. He pushed himself away. The Preventer returned to his previous position. "Is that wise, Minister?" He asked as he turned away.
"It's a small reception," she said and grabbed his arm. "And I don't think any of them recognize me anyway." She moved closer, threading one hand around his waist. The other snuck under his jacket to rest lightly beneath his left shoulder. Her head nestled under his chin.
He wrapped his right arm around her just as she looked up. Her lips moved – teased was more like it – about an inch away. "I bribed the DJ to play a slow song so I could dance with you."
Heero leaned down to steal a kiss, but she had already slipped from his embrace. She took his right hand and tugged him away from the wall. He let that hand find the right side of her waist; it settled there as they crossed the room. Just in time, the music gave way to a slow, jazz number. Relena wrapped her arms around his neck; she brought his head down to rest against hers. He tried again to get a kiss. She buried her face in his chest and began to sway.
"You're trying to kill me."
"I am?" She lifted her head and grinned. He knew he wasn't imagining the playful gleam in her eyes.
Her fingers slipped through the short hairs on the back of his head. On purpose. Little shivers ran down his spine and caught the attention of his entire body. "How so?"
Someone tapped his shoulder. His left shoulder. "Heya buddy. Hilde and I, we're outta here."
Heero didn't bother to turn around. Relena nudged him. He grunted and tightened his grip on her waist.
The idiot's head appeared on Relena's right shoulder. Complete with wide grin, dazed look, and the smell of alcohol. Heero recoiled. Relena had to let go of his neck.
"Aw, you didn't want to let me dance, too?"
"Duo." Hilde's voice cut in an instant before she yanked her husband from his position draped over Relena. The former Deathscythe pilot stumbled backwards. "It's okay, Heero." She shoved Duo forward a few steps – towards the door. The small girl – who was apparently stronger than she looked – frowned at Heero, then turned to smile at Relena. "I'm taking him home. Somebody's had a little too much of the champagne punch."
The braid-wearing Preventer slapped Heero's wounded shoulder again. "I'm just glad we didn't have to go through all this 'trouble' for your wedding."
"We won't go through any trouble for your funeral," Heero said in a low voice.
Duo apparently didn't hear. "Hey Rel," he shouted. "How's ma—"
Hilde clamped a hand over her husband's mouth. "Definitely too much punch." She started dragging him away, but paused to tell Relena over Duo's shoulder: "I'll call you later, Relena."
"I'd like that, thank you."
Heero didn't bother to watch the rest of the spectacle that was Hilde dragging her husband out the door. Instead, he gathered Relena back into his arms. Her hands settled on his shoulders. The couple returned to swaying to the beat, but this time…she remained further away.
She seemed to be studying something on his chest. "I guess you return to duty on Monday."
She lifted her head and gave him a small smile. But her eyes…and her heart weren't in it. "I'm sure Duo and Wufei will be relieved."
"What's really on your mind?"
"You know he's taken himself off active duty again."
"That's Trowa's decision."
"I know, I just…" She met Heero's gaze. "I never wanted to hurt him. He's still a dear friend."
The Preventer nodded.
One of the shadows in the corner of his room moved. Heero tensed. He stared into the darkness and silently wished he had his gun.
"I should have killed you when I had the chance."
The Preventer recognized the voice long before his comrade became visible. Heero took a deep breath and leaned back into the pillows of his hospital bed. "Why didn't you? I was a danger to her safety. It was your job to eliminate me."
"Because by the time I had a clean shot, she had already identified you. If I shot you, or didn't shoot you the result would have been the same."
Heero felt one corner of his mouth twitch up. "So I was a danger to her safety dead or alive."
"Moreso dead. As it turned out," Trowa said and smiled back.
The former Heavy Arms pilot moved to the other side of the room and sat down in the chair positioned next to the door. He leaned forward, resting both elbows on his thighs, and put the palms of his hands together. He rubbed his hands back and forth for several seconds.
"I see she finally accepted your proposal." Trowa spoke while staring at his hands.
"You'll be getting married, then. For real this time."
"If it takes having all the shuttleports in a 200 mile radius shut down, yes."
"Amidst all this publicity and the ensuing investigation…" The former Heavy Arms pilot looked up and stared directly at Heero. But the Preventer couldn't read Trowa's expression. "…is that really a good idea right now?"
"He'll be fine, Relena." Heero tipped her chin up to look at him. "And he'll show up again." She smiled – a little better this time. He nodded at the scene behind her and added: "Probably sooner rather than later if that keeps up."
Heero spun her a quarter turn so she could get a look. At the large, round table Nick and Natalie had set aside for "Heero's guests", Dr. Styers had turned his chair to face Catherine, and was leaning forward in said chair. His thumb stroked her thigh in the span above her knee but below the hem of her skirt. Relena turned her head, looked, and then returned her attention to Heero. "You mean Trevor and Catherine? I think they look nice together."
Heero raised his eyebrows.
"It was a promise I made," she said with a slight frown. "But, I'm glad. It seems to be going well, I think."
"I think they've had too much of the champagne punch themselves. And if I were him, I'd watch where I put that hand."
The slow jazz number ended and something with a quicker tempo began to play – at a much higher volume. Heero grabbed her left hand with his right. His other arm pulled her close. "Yeah." He leaned down to speak next to her ear. "Making enemies with the brother of the woman you're in love with isn't a good idea."
She laughed, and her whole face lit up. "Is that so? Well…I hope now that you two are related, you and Milliard can get along."
Heero grimaced. He spun her around and then pulled her tight against his body. Her eyes danced as she looked up at him. He bent down; they stopped swaying…. Heero watched her lips part and her eyes close.
"One thing at a time," he said in a low voice. Her eyelids fluttered open and he seized her mouth into a kiss.
AN: For those of you who can remember that far back, I started this fic in the midst of writing/posting Dangerous Games and Traitor to the Cause – back in Nov 2000. It was my first comedy and I was extremely nervous about it. I really didn't think I could write comedy, but despite my inexperience, I think we've managed to have a few laughs along the way.
For the most part, it looks like I'll be going back to my romantic suspense / action fics. I have more story ideas in those genres. But, I have a couple of shorter 1xR romantic comedies in various stages: Work Daze and Quite the Good Kisser (Work Daze was yanked from FFN for being too mature ratings-wise, so if interested, you can find it on Blissful Ignorance – links are in my FFN profile). I may, also, one of these days, do something with Of Men and Matrimony – a Gundam Wing / Fruits Basket crossover (I think Heero and Kyo would understand each other). That would be my next multipart romantic comedy, I think. And more traditional, too – like Love's Labours Lost. Less action, more drama…that sort of thing.
I do try to update my livejournal as close to daily as possible, usually with snippets of what I'm working on – it's all under friends-lock since the updates are very rough. But if you have an lj and wish to add me, I'm happy to add you back.
I've been saying this the last few chapters, but I really mean it. Those of you who stayed with me the whole way, thank you so much – for your time, your support, your threats, your enthusiasm, and occasionally, your faith. I wouldn't have made it without you.
May 14, 2006