Author's Note: This begins the morning after Endless Waltz. Please enjoy…

by: Isis cw
Chapter 1

The door was open a wide crack as Relena Darlian walked down the hall towards it. She stalled for just a second before she resolved herself and pushed it open. The hospital room was exactly like all the others; the door opened in, facing away from the bed for privacy. The cramped room held a small bathroom closed off in the corner, a green overstuffed chair next to the window on the opposite wall, and a bed, surrounded by various equipment and an IV hanger.

It was late morning, and a pale shadow of light draped across the floor and chair, filtering in through the paper blinds. All but one light above the door was out, leaving it just dim enough to sleep by.

Relena slipped in silently, stepping in just a few paces in order to see the bed… and its occupant. She stopped, suddenly aware that she had been expecting the bed to be empty, IV's pulled out, and none of the hospital staff the wiser. Instead, she found Heero Yuy, lying exactly where he was supposed to be.

His head and back were propped up against a collection of pillows; his face was turned toward the window, eyes closed. The blanket was pulled up to chest height, his right arm draped over the top, and the other was against his side with two IV tubes puncturing his exposed elbow. He had bandages around his left hand and forearm, his right forearm, both elbow and biceps were also wrapped, and a patch was taped lightly to the right side of his neck. The nurse on duty had already told her when he was brought in that the burns he suffered from the explosion of Wing Zero were not life threatening. But they would need antiseptic treatment.

The concussion of the blast was another thing. Relena was now part of the search and rescue crew who were still digging out the wreckage and she had seen the corpse of the gundam herself. The noble machine had literally torn itself apart; pieces where blown in a nearly mile wide debris pattern. The cockpit and the sensitive instruments were fried beyond recognition, and just for good measure, the fire had melted down any of the control boards that might have been salvaged.

The sight of the dead machine had been enough to make her feel sick. The thought of Heero climbing out of that, and making it back to the underground safe house was all she could take this morning. The search had been on for nearly thirteen hours now and no other survivors or bodies had been recovered. They had sketchy reports of around twenty-five people unaccounted for, but Relena was beginning to suspect that perhaps those few people had managed to sneak off during the confusion and had chose to avoid relating to the world that they were still alive. Part of her could understand that, and empathize with those who wished to move away from war as someone else entirely…

The young man in front of her had made a declaration last night that would no doubt end his life, as he had known it. Heero had sworn that he would never be forced to kill again.

Relena let out a silent sigh and smiled at the sleeping figure in front of her. He hadn't stirred and she wondered if he had ever regained consciousness during the night. She closed her eyes a moment and decided it would be better if she didn't try to disturb him, even if it meant that the next time she came, he wouldn't be here. She had assured herself that he was all right and being carefully looked after. That was all she really needed to know.

She turned to leave, trying to silently close the door behind her. There was a soft rustle as she left the room that made her pause in the doorway long enough to hear a raspy voice whisper her name. She froze a second, letting out her caught breath. Opening the door wide again, she slipped back inside the dim room. Peeking around the door she found Heero awake and waiting for her.

Relena blinked back her surprise and drew herself up to full height with a smile. She stepped fully into the room and swung the door closed behind her. "I didn't mean to wake you," she commented softly, walking over to his bedside.

He blinked at her and shook his head once. She stood beside him, folding her hands in front of her. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," he mumbled, his voice still a bit fuzzy. He looked up at her again and his expression changed. He moved his good hand to her face and tilted her chin away from him for a moment. Relena started; she didn't dare move, or even breathe. Out of the corner of her eye she watched his determined features scrutinize something as his fingers ran over a spot along her jaw line. He pulled his hand back and took a look over her hair, the borrowed overalls, and her dirty tennis shoes.…

Realization kicked in and she blushed lightly. "I know, I'm a mess," she chuckled to herself. Taking her own hand she rubbed at the same spot along her jaw and came away with a smudge of dirt or grease on her hand. She smiled in spite of herself as he nodded, his features back to their usual passive calm. "We organized search groups last night, and we've covered most of the area now."

"Are there missing?"

It was an earnest question that she knew he didn't really want to ask. Relena understood very well that if Heero's third shot had been precisely on target she—and the rest of the shelter—would be ash around a very large hole right now. She had seen his marksmanship under more dire conditions than that of last night. Her own explanation was that he had made a conscious decision not to hurt anyone inside.… She met his eyes steadily, "There are reported missing, but we haven't turned up anything."

He turned toward the window and nodded slowly. Something in that humbled expression didn't sit well with her. She placed a hand over top of his and gently asked again, "Are you sure you're all right?"

He blinked and looked back up at her, "Your hands are cold."

"Sorry," she gasped, blushing profusely. She snatched her hand back, holding both of them in front of her again.

Without a word he reached back and took both of her hands in his and brought them back to the bed, covering them with his hand to warm them up, giving her no choice but to take a few steps closer. She watched him, watching their hands. And at that point she didn't care if her overalls were filthy as she carefully sat down on the edge of his bed.

"I half expected you to be gone when I came up here," she said softly, finding something to break her own nervousness.

He blinked once, obviously in no hurry to answer her. "I haven't figured out where to go yet."

Relena was surprised for the tenth time since she had walked into this room. But why should it have surprised her really? Heero had been fighting his whole life; exactly what did he have left, now that he had sworn that away?

She stared at him; his quiet eyes still focused on something else. That soft expression was one that she had been privileged to see only a few times through their dealings. It revealed his inner kindness, that gentle purity that gave him that imposing strength that was so addictive to her. She couldn't imagine what she might have done during these times without the hope that he inspired in her.

Relena focused her eyes on his hand covering hers and let out the breath she'd been holding. "You could always stay if you wanted."

Heero blinked and looked up at her face again. Relena was quiet and kept her eyes down. There was nothing demanding in her voice, nothing pleading, not even an earnest desire. It was a genuine offer, given for him to freely take or leave. Perhaps she really did know him enough to realize that this had to be his own decision.

Slowly she lifted her head up and looked him in the eye. Heero didn't have an answer for her. How could he? He had never been in the same place for more than a few months, and always because there was something there for him to focus on. This past year had been maddening at times. He checked the Preventers' reports and work logs constantly, antsy for a reason to do something.

He understood Wufei's question yesterday. He had wondered over it many times himself. What was there left for the soldiers who never knew peace before? What were they to do now that there were no more battles to fight? What use did they have now?

But Heero understood something that Wufei didn't at that point. What was the use of soldiers fighting if they didn't have something to protect?

Looking into Relena's eyes, he realized that his choice to protect was made a long time ago.

Time ticked by, and he still found nothing to say to her. But it didn't seem important that he give her an answer now... she wasn't really waiting for one.

Slowly a smile formed on her lips and her eyes closed. Her hands moved up to surround his instead. "Please know that you're always welcome, no matter where you go, Heero." It wasn't over a whisper but it made him marvel at her emotions.

"Relena…." He still didn't have anything to say but it seemed like a response was needed to an offer like that.

She looked up at him again, her smile soft and relaxed. There had always been something about her that made him feel like she knew him, now was no different. He nodded, knowing she understood.

That only made her smile widen, but she pulled back from him. Slipping her hands away from his she stood up, smoothing down the front of the large overalls she was wearing. He watched her prepare to leave, knowing that she wanted him to think over what she had said. She caught his eyes again and smiled once more. "Please get some rest. I need to get back before they miss me."

"Hn," he nodded.

She turned and opened the door, letting in the noise of the hallway. He saw her pause just a second and then turn over her shoulder, "Please take care." And that was all, she was gone. The door had been left, as always, as a wide crack to the outside.

Relena walked slowly away from his room, a smile still touching her lips. It didn't matter if he had responded to her offer to stay or not. She really hadn't expected him to. It was alright.

She walked back out of the hospital and flagged down the Preventers' unit that was waiting for her. A large part of her expected he wouldn't stay, she wouldn't lie to herself. And she knew that when she returned, he would be gone, IV's pulled out and none of the staff the wiser. Somewhere inside she wondered if she would ever really see him again. If this era was truly over, and war was no longer being fought, there was a good chance that he would slip away and start over in life.

Somehow, it wasn't as sad as she imagined. Somehow, she could handle knowing that he could move on, that he would be all right. He deserved any life that he wanted.…

"Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution." - Kahlil Gibran

AN: Originally, this was a one-shot, but I had so many ideas I wanted to continue. Please enjoy!

Proofed by: Lisa. Thank you.