:) missed y'all.

When Opportunity Knocks

-Chapter 8-

"Nothing hurts worse than the pain of knowing you're right for each other…but not right now."

The emergency ward doors of Banner Baywood City Hospital hadn't seen much use in the past week; there had been few serious cases and most of the patients had been elderly men and women there for their regular checkups. The nurse at the front desk, a petite redhead in her mid twenties, was yawning at her post, flicking glances at the clock, when suddenly the doors blasted open with a furious bang. Before she could comprehend what was happening, there was a man at her desk, dark and wild-looking, with deep blue eyes glaring daggers at her.

She gulped visibly. "Can…I…hel - "

"Relena Peacecraft," he snapped, fire blazing in his eyes and voice, "where is she?"

The nurse's mouth dropped in surprise. "Relena Peacecraft is here?"

Heero's hand gripped the countertop in an effort to contain his impatience. "Tell me where she is."

Shocked, the nurse typed the name into her computer, attempting to regain some composure as she studied the database on the screen. Finally, she asked, "Are you – family, sir?"

The glare intensified. "No. Where is she?"

"Well - she's in the emergency room, sir, but I can't let you - "

He whirled and began to walk away, and somehow calling after him didn't seem like such a good idea.

At that moment, the door burst open again, and a flurry of people tumbled into the hospital, all wearing the same frantic, worried expression - though none as frightening as the first. They caught sight of the dark-haired man, and one of them called, "Heero! Where is she?"

"ER," he growled, and they took off after him.

Feeling completely out of control of the situation, the nurse cried after them, "Wait! Only family is allowed - !"

They were already gone.

By the time Heero rounded the corner towards the emergency room, the rest of the group had caught up with him. Everyone was talking at once, asking questions of Lucrezia and Heero – the only two who seemed to have any idea what was going on – but Heero was oblivious to their voices. He was focused on one sole objective: finding Relena.

However, as they turned again and suddenly found themselves directly outside the room, Heero stopped short – and the rest of the pilots and their wives followed suit, narrowly avoiding running into the Perfect Soldier from behind. The ER was just ahead, beyond a closed door but visible through large windows that looked into the area. And there, seated on a chair just outside of the main door, was Derek Tannon.

The blond billionaire looked up at the commotion and, upon recognizing Relena's friends, gave a tired and relieved smile. He stood quickly, saying, "Thank God you're here, I didn't know who – "

"What did you do to her, Tannon?" Heero's voice cracked like a whip across the hallway.

There was a short, stunned silence from the group, before Hilde hissed, "Heero."

Tannon's face was grim as the quiet stretched between them. "I beg your pardon?"

"I know you hurt her," Heero growled, low and dangerous. He took a step forward. "What did you do?"

The group erupted -

"Yuy, what the hell has gotten into you?"

"Derek, he just got here, he doesn't know -"

"- of all the ludicrous accusations to make -"

" – her fiancé, Heero! For Christ's sake – "

But as the voices cried out around him, Heero was focused solely on Tannon. He took three quick paces forward and, entirely without warning, gripped the man by his shirt and shoved him up against the wall. There was a collective gasp from the pilots and their wives as they hurried forward to stop Heero from committing murder in the middle of a hospital.

" – tell me, goddamn it," Heero was snarling into Tannon's face, "or I swear I will rip you apart piece by piece - "

Choking slightly as Heero's hands pinned him to the wall, Tannon spat back, "I didn't do anything to her, you jealous prick – " Suddenly, he fell quiet, studying the way Heero was almost shaking in anger. And then, though he was struggling for breath and entirely at the mercy of this fierce, dark-haired newcomer, a small smile spread slowly across Tannon's face as he murmured, "Well, well, well. I finally recognize you. It seems as though the hick-town mechanic thinks he's in love with the queen of the world."

Heero was silent.

"Astonishing," Tannon continued, as the smirk spread even wider. "Did you come all the way down here to tell her you're in love with her? How fascinating that you believe that she could actually feel something for someone like you – "

It was the wrong thing to say, and the pilots knew it. Quatre and Duo both cried out, "Derek, don't – !." but it was too late. Heero's eyes narrowed in fury as he growled, "I will destroy you, you fucking bastard," and let his right fist fly. Tannon saw it coming, but his attempt to avoid the blow was mediocre at best, and as Heero let go, the billionaire slumped to the floor with blood trickling from a deep cut on his cheekbone.

"Heero! Are you out of your mind?" Sally cried and immediately rushed to Tannon's side as Zechs, Wufei, Duo, and Trowa pulled Heero away from the blond man. Under any other circumstances, they would never have been able to constrain him, but Heero's attention was immediately diverted from Tannon as, at that instant, the door to the emergency room opened and a physician stepped into the hall.

Mass confusion ensued for a moment as everyone began asking the doctor questions, desperate to know where she was, but the doctor spotted the dazed and bloody Tannon on the floor and cried out sharply, "What the hell is going on here?"

"That man should be thrown out of this damn hospital – " began Tannon unsteadily, but all eyes went to Heero, whose face was devoid of any emotion. "Where is Relena Peacecraft?" he asked calmly.

The doctor eyed Heero warily, and then asked of Derek, "Mr. Tannon, sir, are you all right? What happened?"

Tannon opened his mouth to say something, but Sally cut in: "Doctor, I need a suture kit and extra gauze. This laceration is almost down to the bone."

"Who the hell are you?" the doctor cried, and here Tannon finally said, "Do as she says, Dr. Manning. This is Sally Po; she's the chief medical officer for the Preventers. That man," he added angrily, glaring at Heero, "should be deemed clinically insane and removed from this facility."

"Yes, sir," the doctor responded, picking up a phone on the wall nearby. "I'll have him removed right away - "

"Don't do that," interrupted Zechs quickly.

The doctor paused, and Tannon cried, wincing, "Why the hell not, Merquise? He just – "

"If you want your security guards alive by the end of the night, don't do it." Zechs paused in the sudden silence, then continued, "Retrieve the suture kit for Mr. Tannon, but first, please give us an update on my sister."

Recognizing the Foreign Minister's infamous brother, Dr. Manning did as he was told. "Y-yes, of course, sir. Miss Peacecraft arrived at the hospital about forty-five minutes ago. She has numerous lacerations and bruises, as well as two cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder. We also believe she had a concussion, and will be taking her for a CT scan within the next half-hour to check for bleeding in the brain."

Catherine drew in a sharp breath and whispered, "Bleeding in the brain?" Zechs and Heero had both visibly paled, and it was Zechs who pressed, "What happened to her?"

"She fell down the stairs." That was Tannon.

Everyone looked to the blond man, who was pressing a handkerchief to his bloody cheek as he continued, "In my house."

"What the hell were you doing?" pressed Zechs. "Relena wouldn't just fall – "

"She was drunk, and it was dark."

"Dark?" Trowa questioned. "The house was dark?"

Tannon nodded, appearing reluctant to continue, but when Trowa cocked a skeptical eyebrow, the billionaire begrudgingly added, "We were – we had been – intimate – "

Heero went still, and the pilots nervously tightened their grips on him, though he made no move toward Tannon.

" – and afterwards she was going downstairs to get another drink, but the lights were off, and I was waiting in bed, and the next thing I heard…"

Zechs' expression was grim. "She was drunk, and fell down your stairs in the dark."

Tannon nodded once, but Zechs slowly questioned, "One flight of stairs gave her a concussion, broken ribs, and dislocated her shoulder?"

"Merquise," Tannon snapped, "I live in a thirty-five million dollar home. It's a three-story, winding staircase."

"I suppose you're right, it's just so - "

"I want to see her."

That was Heero. Silence fell as they watched him warily, but the Perfect Soldier appeared completely stoic and calm. Quatre, however, eyed his comrade with much unease. He knew that the storm raging at that moment beneath Heero's surface must be fearsome indeed.

"She just barely woke up," Dr. Manning replied. "She can have visitors, but only one at a time and it's family first – "

"Of course," Tannon interrupted, getting shakily to his feet. "I'll go in right away."

Heero snarled and made to intercept him, but the Gundam pilots grabbed their friend immediately. "Heero," Duo muttered, "he's her fiancé."

He struggled briefly against their hands, but the opportunity was lost – Tannon stepped quickly past, closing the door behind him.

Through the glass panes that allowed one to see into the emergency room, Heero watched as the young billionaire made his way to Relena. From his angle he couldn't see her lying there, but he saw the sickly sweet smile that spread across Tannon's face as he spoke a few words to the prostrate form in the bed. The image forced a hot surge of anger throughout his body, and though his bodyguard's intuition was telling him to watch them carefully, in the end Heero had to turn away.

His friends were watching him cautiously, as if they expected him at any moment to pull out his pistol and shoot up a storm. They weren't too far off; the power and fury of the rage inside him was surprising even Heero. He wanted to destroy everything that meant anything to Tannon, force the man to watch, and then tear him into pieces. Slowly, methodically, and absolutely without mercy.

These mental plans were interrupted by a cold voice.

"Yuy," Zechs said, slowly and dangerously. "What the hell has gotten into you?"

There was a moment's pause as the two men glared at each other in the silent hallway. Then, Heero muttered, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Bullshit!" Zechs exploded, taking two quick steps toward the Perfect Soldier. "You are deliberately here trying to ruin my sister's life. You rip her heart out by disappearing for four years, then you kidnap her and take her to your hellhole of a life in the mountains – "

"Zechs, I didn't – "

" – but then, when she finally gets rid of you and finds happiness with someone else – did you hear that, Yuy? Happiness! She has someone who makes her happy, which is a hell of a lot more than you have ever done for her. You bring my sister nothing but heartache and pain, you selfish, cold-hearted prick. I should kill you for what you've done to her."

Zechs' voice rang throughout the hallway, and the rest of the group was silent, stunned by the force behind his words. Heero was standing alone in the middle of the hall, facing the General, who was pale with fury. For one moment, Heero's gaze fell to the floor, and he drew a long breath. Finally, he lifted his head again to face Zechs. When he spoke, his voice was low.

"I know." The words hung tenuously in the air. "I'm not…what she needs. But Zechs, you have to believe me. You know Relena as well as I do. She would never have fallen down those stairs."

Zechs eyes flashed again as he said coldly, "Accidents happen, Yuy. Stop blaming everything on your competition."

"She didn't fall, Zechs."

Relena's brother shook his head with a snort of disgust. Heero looked at the blond general and realized the hopelessness of the situation, until he glanced to the right and saw the way Lucrezia and Hilde were looking at him. Noin stood there near her husband, her eyes searching Heero's piercingly, and Hilde's brow was furrowed in something between confusion and deep thought. But when Zechs began speaking again, neither woman moved to stop him.

"After tonight," he said, "you leave from here, Yuy. I don't care where you go, but I want you away from my sister and her future. I want you to drive as far – "

Zechs' orders were interrupted by the sudden opening of the emergency room door. Tannon sauntered out, still holding a fold of gauze to the cut on his face. Upon seeing him, Zechs immediately stopped himself to ask, "How is she?"

Tannon smiled crookedly and responded in his handsome deep voice, "She's in great spirits. She's pretty embarrassed for being such a klutz, but other than that, she's not feeling too much pain. I think – "

"I think," interrupted Dr. Manning, who had just arrived from the opposite direction, "that you, Mr. Tannon, sir, need to have that cut stitched immediately. If you don't mind leaving Miss Peacecraft for a few moments, Alicia here can take care of that for you."

There was a pretty brunette standing next to the doctor. Quickly, Tannon broke into a grin, said, "Certainly," and moved through the group towards the girl.

Hilde couldn't be sure, but as Tannon passed her, she thought she saw him wink and smile at the nurse, looking her petite form up and down very quickly. This exchange happened within milliseconds, and Hilde immediately wondered if she had imagined it; but the feeling of unease persisted.

"….now," Dr. Manning was saying, "she is feeling up for another visitor, if you'd like. Family first, of course."

For a split second, the group glanced at Zechs, who was the only family member in the group and had the right to enter the ER first. But as Heero began to walk towards the door, the pilots and their wives suddenly – involuntarily – found themselves stepping to the side, allowing the dark soldier to pass. Before Zechs had realized what had happened, Heero had silently closed the door to the emergency room behind him.

"What does he think – " Zechs snarled, moving quickly to the door. But before he could get there, his wife placed a hand on his shoulder and stopped the blond general in his tracks.

"Zechs," Lucrezia murmured, watching her husband. "Let him say goodbye to her."

Silently, the two looked at each other, but Lucrezia was eventually the victor. Zechs took a step back from the door to the emergency room, and his gaze dropped to the floor. There was a brief quiet in the hallway as Dr. Manning left to finish his rounds and Sally and Lucrezia thoughtfully watched through the glass as the Perfect Soldier took a few steps toward Relena's bed. But suddenly, as they watched, the women were overcome with the urge to move away, to give them some privacy. It was almost as if a mental message had made its way through the entire group at the same time; without directions or conversation, they all silently took a few steps down the passageway to allow the Perfect Soldier to speak to Relena in private.

Even Zechs, following his wife's lead, moved to sit on a bench a little ways down the hallway.

And as Lucrezia met Hilde's eyes, both women knew they were thinking the same thing. There was something between Heero and Relena that simply didn't exist between Relena and her fiancé.

But how could that be? thought Hilde, feeling the cold fingers of concern and worry begin to grip her heart. She and Derek are so… perfect for each other. And yet…

It had been a while since she had been in a hospital. Ever the workaholic, she usually blasted through her under-the-weather days by drinking lots of vitamin C and keeping pain relievers nearby. One would assume that having a serious accident that resulted in a hospital stay would find her frantic, anxious, worried. But here, lying in the hospital bed, staring up at the pale green ceiling, Relena found her thoughts were surprisingly calm.

The scent of Derek's expensive cologne was still hovering around her bedside. As the all-too-familiar smell continued to fill her nostrils, Relena closed her eyes, attempting to banish it away by sheer will.

"Instead of going to the after-party, darling, I thought it would be nice to spend some time at home."

"But – Derek – the organizers of the benefit will be expecting – "

"Sweetheart, I'm sure they'll understand. Get in the car, it's too cold out there."

How bizarre that only a few hours ago she had been seated at a beautifully set table in one of the fanciest restaurants in the city, eating filet mignon and caviar. It really was a lovely place, somewhere she should have enjoyed; but her memory of the meal was tainted with the dark pit of dread that had quietly gnawed away at her insides throughout all four courses.

She closed the front door quietly behind her, still holding her clutch as she ventured, "I told Lucrezia we would be here for just a little bit… I really should finish some work at home tonight."

He flipped on the lights in the grand entrance of his mansion and began untying his bow tie, giving her a kind smile. Too kind? "Relena, you work far too hard. Let's just relax here for a while."

She swallowed, so unsure of what to do. Anxiety was there, but… he seemed genuinely concerned about her and determined that she should stay away from work for the evening. Of course, it was not the pile of paperwork on her desk that was calling her back to the Peacecraft estate. At the thought of the dark pilot, standing at the bottom of the stairs earlier that evening, Relena felt her breath catch as she remembered the intensity and – yes – emotions in those dark blue eyes. The decision was made.

"Derek, I really appreciate this – I know you're trying to help – but honestly, there's just so much to catch up on – "

"You can work on it tomorrow."

He didn't even look at her. The gentle tone had abruptly become matter-of-fact and stern.

She did not protest again.

It had only been a few minutes after she woke up that Derek had come into the room. Now, in the quiet, Relena managed to briefly calm her thoughts and take a mental inventory of her body, connecting the words the doctor had spoken with the aches and pains.

Her right shoulder throbbed, but it was more of a steady fire than a hot sear. Glancing at the IV in her arm, she said a brief prayer of thanks for modern medicine and painkillers. As she took a breath, Relena winced; any movement in or around her torso sent sharp pains across her sides. Cracked ribs, the doctor had said. She hadn't looked, but Relena knew that if she were to stand in front of a mirror and lift her left arm, there would most likely be a very ugly bruise just below and to the side of her left breast. Her head ached, and ever-so-gingerly she lifted her arm to touch what she knew would be a large bump on the back of her skull. The whiteboard next to the door listed her for a CT scan in about forty-five minutes.

The doctor's words came to her again. "A fall that traumatic," he had explained slowly, as if she were a small child, "might have really injured your brain - you've probably had a concussion. You should really be more careful."

She closed her eyes again. Yes, more careful.

Dutifully, she had followed him up the stairs into his large bedroom. Regardless of how she felt about the rest of his house, Relena loved the balcony that was attached to Derek's living area. It overlooked the rest of the city, and since his mansion was perched on a hill much higher than the Peacecraft estate, it afforded her a view of the metropolis that she couldn't find anywhere else.

Now, as he went into the closet to change, Relena stepped out into the night and walked to the railing. It was cold, but the chill air felt good on her skin, almost as if it were waking her up from a dull sleep. She watched the lights of the city far below - the hundreds of cars on the wide freeways, the tall skyscrapers of downtown, the darker and calmer areas that marked residential subdivisions. For a moment, Relena's mind was caught up in the sheer numbers represented by those lights below her. All of them, her people. Her employers. The people she truly loved and loved to serve.

It had been foolish to leave them. There was so much to do here, so much good that could be accomplished.

Without warning, there were warm hands on her upper arms. Relena stiffened ever-so-slightly, immediately trying to calm her speeding heart. "Derek," she murmured, "you scared me."

He said nothing, and her pulse quickened.

"Thank you for accompanying me," she continued, her nerves bidding her to fill the silence. "I hate going to benefit dinners alone, and I know you're so busy with work – "

She stopped. He was kissing her shoulder, with slow, precise movements.

The dread multiplied.


The kisses traveled across her shoulder to her neck, and he stepped closer to wrap his arms around her more tightly. As he did so, Relena felt icy fingers prick at her heart. He wasn't wearing a shirt.

"Derek – h-honey, I – "

"Shh," he hushed her, and his strong hand gripped her wrist. "Come inside."

She knew all too well the strength of that hand. Relena turned as he led her across the balcony and into his bedroom, watching as the starlight illuminated the strong muscles of his back. He was fearsome, this man. A face meant for an Armani model, a body most men would kill for, billions of dollars at his disposal and a winning, debonair charm that could sweep any woman off of her feet. Destiny – that's what the newspapers and magazines and radio shows were calling this. They were destined to be together.

The bedroom was much warmer than the frigid night air outside, but Relena still felt cold. He led her to the foot of the bed and turned to face her in the quiet. She was frozen, her mind blank with dread and fear, and as his fingers brushed her chin to tilt her lips up to his kiss, Relena suddenly felt adrenaline course through her body. She was terrified.

The kiss continued, and though it wasn't rough, it wasn't the sweet, tender caress she was used to. For a split second, Relena flashed back to another cold evening – but this one was spent wrapped in a thick, comfortable quilt, encircled in strong arms and gazing into Prussian blue eyes that somehow managed to make her feel simultaneously completely vulnerable and totally secure.

The memory of him was far too much to handle while she was being kissed by another man. Almost without thinking, Relena placed her hands on Derek's solid chest and pushed back slightly, breaking the embrace a little more forcefully than she had intended.

At first, he didn't seem concerned.

"Baby," he whispered, reaching behind her to begin unzipping the black evening dress. "Come get in bed."

She twisted away, trying to laugh it off, though the fear was thick in her throat. No matter how hard she tried, the memories of Heero would not retreat, and continued to cloud her senses as she struggled against Derek's advances.

"Derek – I can't – I mean – "

"Baby," he repeated, stressing the word and sounding almost as if he were chuckling. His voice was so sweet…. Too sweet. Far too sweet. "Forget about the work. I promise I will take you straight to the office tomorrow. Come get in bed. It's been way too long."

"It's not about the work," Relena replied quickly, praying that her voice sounded sincere enough even as she hastily tried to hold up the dress that he was stubbornly attempting to remove. "I'm sorry, I'm just really tired and – "

"Honey, you can sleep in tomorrow." He had won the battle with the zipper. His hands were on the bare skin of the small of her back, moving slowly forward to her stomach. As she desperately tried to hold up the thin fabric covering her chest and torso, he gave a low chuckle and dug his fingers into her skin, pulling her towards him. Relena winced slightly in pain, and tried again:

"Derek, really, I'm too tired. I'm sorry, I just – "

All of a sudden, his hands stopped on her skin. When he spoke, his voice was low, slow, and dangerous.

"Is this about him?"

Her heart leapt into her throat, and she immediately – too quickly? Oh, God – scrambled for a response. "W-what?"

The silence stretched for one beat too long.

"Is this about him?" he repeated. His fingers were still pressing into her sides.

"Derek," she said, trying to pull away, "you're hurting me – "

"Tell me the answer."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Even to herself, Relena's voice sounded surprisingly solid. Derek must have thought so, too, because there was a moment's pause, and he lessened his grip on her body. He tilted his head back to look at her, and after a second gave her a quiet smile. Then he stood, wrapping his arms around her body and pulling her tightly against his broad chest.

Inwardly, Relena felt her heart calm a little. She breathed a small sigh of relief and inhaled the scent of his expensive cologne. Crisis avoided.

Then Derek kissed her neck once more, and lifted his mouth to murmur in her ear, "Did you sleep with him?"

Panic shot throughout her veins. "Derek – I don't know who – what are you – " she stammered; he was still holding her tightly against his body.

"The mechanic," came his voice, quiet and chilling. "You slept with him, didn't you."

A memory flashed through her mind – waking up one winter morning to feel strong arms around her body and listen to the steady breathing of the former Gundam pilot lying beside her – but before she could say anything, Derek drew back and slapped her across the face.

Knocked off balance, Relena scrambled to bring a hand to her stinging cheek and straighten her dress at the same time. Hot tears sprang to her eyes at the pain and she cried, "Derek, stop it! – I didn't sleep with anybody, I – "

"You know exactly who I'm talking about." He was standing calmly at the foot of the bed, still shirtless, his arms folded across his chest. The very picture of cool dignity, as if he hadn't just slapped his fiancée hard enough to knock her backwards.

"I don't," she insisted, trying to steady her voice as much as possible. There was a danger here that she had never felt before with him. Too-strong grips and bruises had happened before, but the violence of that slap – and the completely calm way he was regarding her now – was something new, and in that newness, terrifying.

"Admit it, Relena. You can't admit it to my face that you cheated? The Foreign Minister can't tell it to me straight? I want to hear you say the words."

"Derek," she said firmly, holding the tears and fear back by sheer will and putting as much strength into her voice as possible, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"ADMIT IT, damn it!" he roared suddenly, slamming his fist against the foot of the bed. "Stop lying to me!"

"I didn't sleep with anyone!" she cried in retort, terrified and angry and desperate all at the same time. "I didn't do anything, and you can't… treat me like this, Derek." Nearly choking on the well of emotions in her throat, and still smarting from the slap on her cheek, Relena turned and unsteadily made her way to the door, attempting to zip up her dress as she went.

But he would not let her go that easily. In a few quick steps, he had caught up to her just outside of the doorway, near the gorgeous staircase. He grabbed her arm and swung her around to face him, his fingers digging deeply into her skin. When she struggled, trying to tear herself away from his grip and escape down the staircase, Derek gripped her other arm with his free hand and yanked her back towards him, his face so close to hers she couldn't tell if he was about to kiss or spit on her. Relena's heart was pounding with a panicked mixture of adrenaline, pain, fear, and desperation – the cold expression in his eyes was nightmarish, something out of horror movies. She could feel the bruises already forming on her upper arms as he clawed into her skin. All she could think was that she had to lie, had to convince him that everything was okay, that she loved him and wanted to be with him, that she would never cheat on him, ever. And she knew she could do it. She could lie to him.

But at that moment of clarity and temporary calm, he stood over her and commanded, "Tell me it isn't true."

Thinking she was safe, that her years of diplomacy training and masking her emotions would save her, Relena held back more tears and said with as much fervor as she could muster, "What isn't true, honey? You know I could never – "

"Tell me you're not in love with that mechanic."

At those words, Relena felt all the blood drain out of her face and her body grow numb. Whereas just seconds ago she had felt prepared, ready, able to defend herself, now those words left her completely crippled. That mechanic. The weeks spent with Heero rushed through her mind, the memory of him and all he meant flooding through her entire body. She remembered the gentle laugh, the protective embraces, the quiet voice and the fierceness of his care for her…and she couldn't say the words.

The seconds ticked by, her arms crying in pain and Derek's gaze growing colder and colder as she scrambled to say something, to tell him that the mechanic meant nothing, it had been nothing, that she wasn't thinking about him every second of every day –

- but she could not. And in the horrible, deafening silence, Derek knew.

It was enough. Within a few short moments, his fury was unleashed in a way that Relena would not soon forget.

When she woke next, it was to the sound of a heart monitor.

The fluorescent lights of the emergency room gleamed on the myriad of screens and monitors that surrounded her bed, and caused the diamond ring on her left hand to flash against the wall. Lying there, Derek's sugar-sweet words of apology and affection still ringing in the room, Relena found herself oddly calm. Almost… empty. No, this should not have happened. No, this was not an ideal relationship. No, she couldn't trust her fiancé.

But the bright smiles and overjoyed congratulations from family and friends when they announced their engagement were still fresh in her mind. Relena knew she would never forget turning on the television that next morning and seeing channel after channel talking about how thrilled and excited the population was for their former Queen of the World and her handsome, charming fiancé. It was as if she were giving them a front-row ticket to a real, live fairy tale, and in the violent, troubled times in which they lived, such instances of joy were few and far between. To break this off now would destroy not only that joy, but would also place Relena and her career in a very negative spotlight. She knew that she herself, and the people, could not afford that. There was no time to waste, and especially not on such trivial matters as broken engagements. There was too much to do, and far too much at stake. She had worked too hard for too long to let it fall apart for something like this.

Besides…. It wasn't as if episodes like this happened often. This was the first time it had been this bad. And now that Heero would leave – because she knew he would leave; he had no reason to stay – Derek would forget about the "mechanic." Things would return to normal. The wedding would unite the populace in a wonderful way, and would hopefully set the tone for some significant and necessary work in the upcoming year.

She would forget about Willow Lake – the snow, the cabin, the peace, the gentle but powerful strength of the man at her side – and she would not, would not, cry. It was time to press forward, just as he had, without her, four years ago.

But at that moment, her thoughts were broken by the sound of the emergency room door opening and quickly closing. She turned her head to greet the visitor, and instantly, the emotions hit her like a punch in the gut.

Heero stood in the doorway, disheveled and exhausted, stopped still at the sight of her in the bed. But the look in his eyes – a wild, stormy concern and hurricane of emotions – was something entirely new and unknown. Immediately, the walls she had so carefully constructed around her heart crumbled to the ground, and when she heard him speak her name in that low, quiet voice she knew so well, Relena had to close her eyes to keep the tears from falling.