By the Black Rose
AN: The final installment of the "Holiday Arc" consisting of "Santa Baby", "Midnight Chimes and Pink Roses", and finally, this one: "February Ice".
Relena paced the wood floor behind her desk. The heels on her loafers made a solid clicking sound with every step. The sound was satisfying, steadying, even as she was trying to keep hold of her temper.
"Relena." Her publicist's voice sounded strained in the speaker phone, and she could just imagine the scowl on his face. "This is not the time for you to start shacking up with some…some—"
"Mr. Parker, I advise you that if you value your job, not to finish that sentence." She had to grab her left hand behind her back to keep her fingers from shaking. "What I do in my personal life is none of your concern."
"None of my—I'm your publicist." The man practically shrieked into the phone. "I should have been notified FIRST, not last, that you'd decided to start living with…" He paused for a moment, and Relena caught her breath. She could deal with any insults on her person, but would not tolerate any insults to Heero.
Relena let out a long sigh and sunk down into her seat. She leaned over her desk and spoke directly into the microphone. "It was a holiday party. We danced. I had no way of knowing Beverly and Albert Holliway would be such gossip mongers, much less how many people would believe it. I told you as soon as I wanted you to know. But I take exception to the term 'shacking up'." Her fingers felt like the tips were encased in ice, and she couldn't stop them from trembling.
John cleared his throat. "As old-fashioned as the term may be, an unmarried woman sharing her bedroom with a man is considered 'shacking up' by all interested parties."
She heard him take a breath.
"And with the issue of your possible candidacy—"
"I haven't decided what to do about any 'possible candidacy', so it shouldn't be anyone's business but mine whom I share my bedroom with, married or not."
"But, Relena, he told those reporters three years. That information could seriously undermine—"
"He may as well have said six years for all I care." Relena slumped against the back of her chair. Her publicist tried to interrupt, and they ended up talking over each other.
"Again, it's none—"
"…your chances at— Wait. Six years?" His voice rose an octave. "Who is this guy?"
Her heart thudded against her ribcage. "You have his Preventer profile, I presume."
"Yeah, his classified Preventer file, where everything but about six months over the past not-even-four-years has more black marker on it than the former United States government's Kennedy Assassination papers. Aliases: Heero Yuy, Ace Lowe, Duo Maxwell?" She could hear him snapping the pages as he flipped from one to the next.
"His name is an alias."
Relena brought her hands up to press on both sides of her head.
"A politician, a young, female, politician should not have a boyfriend with an alias. His rank in Preventer is already cause for suspicion without throwing aliases into the picture! What the hell am I supposed to tell people about him?"
Relena sat up in her chair. Her hands dropped onto the top of her desk with a loud thump! "You tell them that Heero is a highly competent officer for the Preventer Corps on L2 in the process of transferring back to Earth." Ice-cold perspiration stung her skin, and her stomach churned. "We met in high school, have been friends for six years, and are finally being honest about our feelings."
She stood up and continued. "We are in a mutually exclusive relationship that we consider as committed and sacred as marriage itself. That is all they and you need to know."
"Relena—" His speech dropped back to a normal level; he sounded almost apologetic. But it was too late. Her whole body was shaking, and she feared that her voice was, too.
"Good day, Mr. Parker." She terminated the connection. The adrenaline rush that accompanied her anger kept her upright a bit longer. She bent forward, both elbows leaned on top of her desk; Relena buried her face in her hands. 'Breathe. Breathe.' She coached herself with calming breaths.
A prickling sensation at the base of her neck caught her attention. She sighed and finally allowed herself to relax back into her chair.
"How long have you been standing there?" She said to the shadow in the corner of the room. It moved.
"Long enough." Heero stepped forward, appearing like he had just entered her office from some hidden door in the wall. "Your publicist considers me a liability." He continued forward until he stood just on the other side of her desk. She glanced up at him; his face held no expression, but because she knew him, she could see the small lines at the sides of his eyes and his mouth that said he wasn't happy.
"He liked you better as Santa Claus," she said with a sigh. "I just…I don't know what to do. My term of office is up at the end of March, forty-seven days, and John's been fielding calls since October of last year - when I publicly announced I wouldn't seek re-election." She leaned forward again and placed both hands on top of her desk; her eyes dropped to study them instead of him.
"Marquise Weyridge says he can guarantee adequate support and funds for a Senate bid. There's even a group of Colony activists who have already started a campaign fund."
"Hn." Heero's butt found a home on the edge of her desk; she looked up at her - whatever he was – half-sitting on her desk, his arms crossed and a half-smile on his face like he was amused.
"Colony activists! I don't…. Their government is entirely separate from ESUN's."
Heero arched an eyebrow. "They figure you'll be sympathetic to their needs."
"I don't even know… I don't understand…." She brought her hands up to her temples, but continued to talk. "The Colonial Confederacy has been hinting. Their government is desperate for a strong leader who can steer them through the unification process. But, I don't think I'm right for that job, either."
Heero didn't respond.
She shifted in her seat and glanced up at his profile. Of course, there was no one she trusted more… And no one else who had any advice. Relena's knees started to feel cramped. She stretched out her legs, and rested the back of her heels on the floor.
"They're all as bad as Romafeller was. They want me as a symbol." Relena shoved her chair away from her desk and stood up. She needed to pace. "They figure if I join their cause, they can put my face on a coin or my name on a banner and claim they're somehow more virtuous because of it." She stopped and turned back to face Heero. "I feel like I'm a pro athlete trying to choose which shoe to endorse. It's miserable and I don't want any part of it."
"So, what do you want to do?" He sounded far too calm and rational. She really hated that about him sometimes.
"I want to understand the people that live on the colonies. The ones who were born there." She began to pace the length of her room again. "I want to see the world or universe as they see it, to know what they hope for. What they dream of."
"A world of peace."
Relena stopped pacing.
"A home. To raise a family not to be torn apart by war, I'd imagine. Same as those that live on Earth." His deep voice was soothing when he spoke. It made her calm and yet….
She moved closer. "But I feel like someone who takes a vacation to a tropical island and thinks they have some grasp on what life is like for those people. It's not the same as—" She leaned back against the edge of her desk – only a few inches away from Heero. "I…I just don't know."
"What? What don't you know, Relena?"
She turned to stare at him. 'What will he think?'
"I'd like to spend some time up there. Living on one of the colonies. As a normal person, getting to know the citizens of outer space."
She held her breath and waited for some sort of reaction. It was slight, as she expected, but it was there. But only because she had spent hours studying him…
"My commanding officer is blocking my transfer to Earth."
Relena swallowed against a knot in her throat. She stared at the floor; her fingers gripped the edge of her desk beneath her. "I could make some calls—"
"He's offering me a promotion."
"Heero?" She glanced up at him. His eyes were dark beneath the fringe of wild, brown hair that always covered his forehead. Dark, and serious.
"Come with me."
"What…what are you saying?" She felt something unsteady beneath her, and realized they were both standing – away from the desk and in the center of her office.
"Come with me. I have eight months of active service left. After that, I can either re-enlist and transfer or apply for a discharge."
"But—" Air seemed to be in short supply. Her pulse raced. What he was offering…it was daring, it was—
"You can spend time doing exactly what you want - living a normal life and getting to know the citizens of the colonies." He stepped forward, and there was no longer any distance between them. His voice lowered, and the rest of what he had to say was barely more than a whisper: "As my wife."
"Marry me, Relena." His hand grasped her chin. He knew exactly how to trap her - exactly how to back her into a corner and gain the upper hand. She couldn't even look away to compute what he was saying.
"Your political career can wait for a year. Or however long you want."
"I…I don't know. I mean—"
"It's a yes or no answer."
Her heart jumped out of her chest and into her neck. She swallowed against it, but couldn't speak. 'I…he's asking me to marry him?'
He dropped his hand, pulled away, and started towards the door. "I understand if you need time to think about—"
"Y-yes." Her voice managed to un-stick itself from her body.
Heero stopped and spun slowly back around to face her.
"It's crazy and illogical, but—" Her heartbeat was slowing. The decision was made…
"I don't see it that way." Heero tilted his head where he stood only a few feet away. "This seems logical to me. It's the only thing that makes sense. Can you honestly say that your feelings have changed over the last six years?"
"Yes." She nodded. "Yes they have. I…I didn't love you back then. I cared about you; I wanted to know more about you. And as I have gotten closer to you, I've grown to love you very deeply." Relena closed the distance between them; she grabbed his hands and held them. "My feelings have changed over the last six years. They will continue to change. But I will never stop loving you."
He nodded, mutely, his eyes transfixed on her.
She smiled and gave him back his hands. "I…well, this was so spontaneous." Relena started back towards her desk. "I…I imagine we have to start packing immediately." She sat down in her chair and pulled a sheet of her office's stationery out of her desk – to write her resignation. "So, if it's all right, can we pick out a ring together once we get to L2?" The minister looked up at her…fiancé—
Heero frowned. He stepped around the side of her desk; his hand disappeared into the pocket of his jacket and emerged a half-second later with a small box in his palm. "I'm not spontaneous."
She couldn't help but smile; he held the ring box out to her. Relena had to stand back up to receive it
"It may need to be re-sized. You've grown since I bought it."
Relena blinked at the ring box resting in the palm of her hand, then glanced up at the back of the man who had handed it to her. He was walking towards the door like he was leaving.
"Grown? How…How long have you had this?"
Heero halted in the doorway and turned his head. She stared at the profile of the man who, though she knew him, was still in many ways a mystery to her.
He glanced at her from the corner of his eye; a slight smile curved the side of his mouth she could see.
"Longer than six years."