Oh, why oh why do I always seem to be the one writing the author's notes?
*Stella sighs* I'll keep it short, I swear!
Hello again! I know it's been… eek! Six weeks since we've updated this story… I was so stuck with parts of this chapter, and Luvspook had all kinds of things happen to her over the last month, so I thought I'd be on my own this time. But low and behold, we've gained another author! The Black Rose has joined us, and co-authored this part with me, so without further ado (and babbling from Stella), here's the story.
And we know the disclaimer drill: None of own these characters – sad, it's so sad…
* * *
"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it... always."
ACROSS ENEMY LINES
Chapter 3 – Good Night
"Where'd Heero get to?" Duo wondered out loud as he and the others sat in the spacious library of the Peacecraft Manor's west wing. The four young men had retired to the room for the evening as Trowa sat at the edge of a long table, attempting to get an old radio that Sally had given him modified. They were hoping that he would manage to reach the secure frequencies and make some sort of contact with the Allied forces in order to inform them what had happened to the transport and receive new commands; telegraph lines to the front had been down for quite some time.
Quatre looked up from the book he had been reading and spoke up in reply to Duo's question. "I haven't seen him since before dinner. I thought he went back to his room, but the door was open when I walked passed and it was empty. Maybe he went for a walk, I know all the 'resting' was getting to him."
Duo smiled, thinking about the icy expression that crossed his injured friend's face every time Quatre instructed him to stay in bed. The medic turned his attention back to his book, leaving Duo to look around the room, taking in the floor to ceiling shelves of countless books in intricately carved cases. Large portraits of past monarchs hung in gilded frames, their painted eyes glinting in the light cast by the chandeliers that lit the extravagant room furnished in shades of deep red and gold.
By the window at the far wall, Wufei sat looking out on the setting sun, his eyes roving over the hill beyond the gate – to where Li had been laid to rest that morning. The funeral had been simple and solemn, practically non-existent, really. The others had not attended; he had wanted it that way. Three of the Sanq guards had helped him carry the casket, and the brother that had been by his side for as long as he could remember was commended to the earth, never to wake again.
Wufei's mind wandered back, still stuck on the events of earlier that day, back in the infirmary room. Before the other men were about to place Li in the coffin Sally had walked up to the surviving brother, holding something very tiny. His eyes followed the miniscule object between the tips of her fingers as she offered it to him, dropping it into his outstretched hand. A pearl. She had taken it from the pendant that she wore around her neck.
"To light his way to the afterlife," she said quietly with downcast eyes. Wufei was unable to say a word, at first utterly shocked that this woman knew of the Chinese tradition of placing a pearl in the mouth of the deceased, and secondly, that she would do this for a person she hardly knew. Their eyes met for a brief moment, but she had to turn away – the look of loss on his face too painful for her to bear.
"I'm sorry that I couldn't save him," she whispered in a voice too low for the soldier to hear, and then quietly exited the room.
Wufei snapped out of his thoughts as a hand clapped him on the back.
"Heck of a nice sunset out there, eh?" Duo grinned in an attempt to cheer him up. Wufei stiffened and ignored him entirely, still staring off into the horizon.
A few smart remarks flew through Duo's mind, but he held his tongue knowing that the fellow had just buried his brother that morning. He felt that stifling twinge of remorse grab his heart, threatening to chill his soul entirely and in an attempt to lessen its effect, turned away to offer up a lighter subject for discussion.
"Hey," the braided soldier called out with forced cheerfulness, causing Trowa to glance up from the dismantled radio, "I never asked you guys where you were from."
Quatre set his book down, looking eager to talk about anything besides fighting and war wounds. "Chicago," he offered. "Born and raised."
"New York here," Duo said walking back across the room. "I wasn't born there, but I lived in the city for as long as I can remember." He paused for a moment, seeming lost in thought. "I think I miss that skyline the most, you know? At night when the skyscrapers are all lit up, and the sky is clear with the stars out… nothing beats that."
"I miss my family," Quatre remarked softly, a twinge of sadness evident in his voice. "My sisters – even my father, though he hasn't spoken to me since I enlisted. He was against my joining the army, becoming a doctor. I haven't heard from him, but I've gotten a few letters from my sisters. At least I know they're all well."
"So you have a big family, Quatre?" Trowa asked from his place at the table, the question being answered with a chuckle from the soft-spoken medic.
"You could say that," he laughed. "I have more sisters and step-sisters than I can keep track of! But we're all very close. My mother died when I was young, so they all helped raise me."
Duo nodded, "Both my parents died when I was just a little kid. I grew up on the streets, pretty much, until one day when I picked the pocket of this priest. He caught me, and could've called a cop because there was one standing on the corner. " A wistful grin crossed Duo's features as he shared his memories. "Instead, he took me back to his church. The nuns fussed over me so much that Father Maxwell said I could stay. He really has been like a dad to me, and I had no last name when I went to enlist, so I used his."
Quatre glanced quizzically at his comrade. "So he wasn't angry when you signed up?"
Duo crossed his arms and reclined back into the sofa. "Well, he wasn't happy about it. I think he was hoping that I would be priest someday, too," he said with a shake of his head, as though the idea wasn't likely. "But he said that God leads us down our paths in life for a reason. I do miss him though – and the sisters." Looking over his shoulder, Duo twisted around to look at the man still determinately hovering above the pieces of a radio. "Hey, what about you, Trowa?"
"I don't have any real family that I can remember," Trowa said, turning in his seat to face them, having momentarily given up on his project. "I traveled with a group of drifters for most of my childhood, but I've lived in Kansas for the last couple years. We were passing through Wichita a while back and needed money, so the bunch of us took a job working on the harvest for a small farm just outside the city. The people who owned it took me in and let me stay when the others moved on. The Blooms, well, they're pretty much like family to me."
Duo sat there, drumming his fingers on the armchair and processing all the information, but suddenly he stopped and raised an eyebrow, smirking. "So, aside from your sisters, Quatre, any special ladies waiting for either of you back home?" He looked from one to the other. Trowa seemed unaffected, but Quatre reddened a little at the question.
"No, not really," he answered shyly, looking from Duo to Trowa.
"Catherine, the Blooms' daughter – but she's more like a sister to me," Trowa said, pushing his long bangs out of the way and resuming his efforts with the radio.
"And you, Duo?" Quatre asked.
He laughed and ran a hand through his hair as he began to answer. "Not unless you count the nuns," he smiled. "Sister Helen told me that she'd keep praying for me. Must be working, I'm still in one piece. I got a letter from her just before we shipped out for Normandy."
Quatre smiled. "It's always nice to hear from home."
It was at that exact instant that the radio crackled to life. Trowa sat back abruptly, surprised that he had actually managed to get the thing to work. Unable to make out what was coming through in the waves of static, he reached out and adjusted the various knobs and tuners until the sound became clearer.
Duo stood up and moved closer to the source of the noise as their ears were met with the strains of a familiar melody. A smile worked its way across his face as he began to sing along with the smooth tenor coming through the speakers. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," he bellowed, throwing his arms up and moving in time with the beat.
"Trowa," Quatre called out, shouting over the music and standing up as well, "You must have picked up a signal from the States!"
A hint of a grin tugged at Trowa's lips as the music stirred up more memories of home, and he joined the other two men across the room singing along. "It don't mean a thing, all you gotta do is sing!" The three of them laughed between steps; each showing off some of the moves they had learned in their hometown dance halls. For just a little while, it seemed as if they were back home.
It wasn't long before all of the commotion drew Wufei's attention away from the quickly darkening landscape outside. He turned around, scowling disapprovingly at his comrades, and stood up, storming towards the door with tightly clenched fists. "If that's what you're going to do with your time," he spat in a low voice, annoyed that they had given up on their effort to contact the Allies for orders, at least for tonight. So intent was he in his sour thoughts that he just barely avoided colliding with Relena in the doorway. Without a word, he pushed passed her, and the bewildered young woman's eyes followed his retreat down the hallway before turning her attention back to what was going on in the room. She'd heard all the noise from her office down the hall, and had come to investigate. Leaning against the paneling at the room's entrance, amusement twinkled in her eyes as she watched the three of them.
Duo was the first to notice her presence. "Princess!" he called, stopping in mid-step and winking at her good-naturedly. Relena had become accustomed to his lack of formality in the short time she had known him, and found that it didn't bother her in the least. She gave him a shy smile of her own as he walked towards her, holding out his hand.
"Tell me, pretty lady, do you know how to swing?" She shook her head, giving him a puzzled look, and Duo took her hands. "It's real easy, just like this…" he instructed, showing her the basic steps. "Go on, try it!"
Relena mimicked him, hesitantly at first, but fell into the rhythm after just a few moments. Seeing that she was getting the hang of it, her dancing partner grinned wickedly, and without a word, spun around, releasing her hand and catching it behind his back in order to whirl her around until they were again facing each other. Relena laughed, nearly out of breath, as she was spun again and this time caught by Quatre.
"May I cut in?" he asked in a charming tone, leading her into another dizzying succession of turns and then handing her off to Trowa. Before Relena knew what was happening, his strong arms lifted her off of the floor and she found herself being tossed over his shoulders, but held securely and placed safely back on her feet only moments later. They stood still as the song concluded, casting wary glances at each other and smiling at the same time, feeling as though they had stopped the war and stolen a forbidden moment of joy. All of them knew that it had been far too long since they had laughed like that.
Trowa looked up as a shadow darkened the doorway. Heero's familiar silhouette quickly dissipated as he stepped farther into the room. Upon his entrance, the radio began to play a slower song, and Duo, who was standing next to Relena, took her hands again and began to dance, but his movements were far too quick for the tempo of the music. "Just showing the Princess a few steps, buddy," he said to Heero, twirling Relena around as his friend approached. "But it's awfully hot in here. I think I need some air. You're a great dancer, gorgeous," he winked again at the woman across from him. " But I'm sure Heero has a few moves of his own that he'd like to show ya!"
Duo's violet eyes sparkled mischievously as he released Relena's hand in the middle of the spin, sending her flying in a flurry of whirling blue silk and long golden hair to be caught by Heero. Trowa, along with Quatre who was trying not to laugh, fell in line behind Duo and exited the room. Quatre couldn't claim to know Heero very well, but there was something in his new friend's eyes and demeanor that he couldn't quite describe whenever the princess who had been so kind to them all was present.
* * *
She came to a stop within the circle of Heero's arms and looked up at him with a smile that quickly faded when she took in the grim set of his jaw, the tightly closed eyes and the ashen pallor of his cheeks. She felt the tremor of what had to be pain course through his body and instantly became concerned. She quickly moved her hands up to undo the buttons of his dress shirt in order to inspect the damage.
"I'm…I'm so sorry," she whispered, a feeling of panic invading her senses as her fingers trembled along with the tears that had come to her eyes. She worked the buttons opened and pulled the stiff material aside. She gasped at the spots of fresh blood that already stained the outermost white cloth of the bandages that dressed his tender wound. She needed to make sure that she hadn't torn any of the flesh around the delicate stitches and so her hand traveled further to move the fabric aside.
"I'm fine," he protested, annoyed that he was having trouble moving his arms. He wanted to push her away, but was unable to as pain continued to radiate through his upper body. She didn't appear to hear him, continuing to work at peeling aside the bandages, still intent on checking for fresh damage to the gash in his side. She shouldn't be so concerned for me, he thought briefly as he finally got the pain under control and reached down to stop her ministrations.
"I said I'm fine," he repeated in a cold tone, opening his eyes to glare down at her, but was instead surprised to see hurt flash briefly in her eyes just a moment before she turned her gaze towards the floor. Regret washed over him in a heavy wave and he closed his eyes when he heard the barely whispered apology fall from her lips.
She had been so kind to him; he had never known such kindness in his life, and he felt the desire to make amends for the unjustified pain he had just caused her. The soft melodic strains of the song on the radio reached his ears and though he didn't know what to say to the woman standing before him in order to set things right, she had seemed to like dancing with his comrades. In an attempt to sooth her distress, he moved closer, pulling her gently towards him until her head rested lightly on his chest. He began to sway in time to the music and saw her close her eyes as her body began to move with his own.
He brought his right arm up to encircle her waist, and he looked down intent on studying the woman he was holding. It was unsettling, this closeness, yet strangely comforting at the same time. Over the past few nights, he found that he had grown accustomed to her presence in his room, watching over him, soothing him. He even began to look forward to time of night when he would feel her delicate fingers on his forehead checking for a fever, and her soft hand brushing against his skin as she adjusted the covers of his bed, when he would hear her gentle voice as she spoke aloud to him when she thought he was asleep, telling him things that her father used to say and how she wished for peace…
He took a deep breath and couldn't help but breathe in her perfumed scent; it was the same delicate fragrance that lingered in his room long after she had retired to her own quarters for the night. He glanced downward, and noticed a loose lock of hair hanging in her face and gave in to the compulsion to brush it gently back into place. Her eyes darted up as he did so, meeting his so intensely that he was almost startled by the sudden burst of blue-green color staring back at him.
"Heero…" she breathed in askance, her soft voice reaching his ears and catching in his chest. There was something he needed to tell her, he thought vaguely as her hand reached up to clasp the one that was resting on her cheek. He traced a line along her chin with his thumb, and almost gave into the unfamiliar urge that settled over him.
"Thank you," he said, pulling away slightly only to see her eyes widen with surprise and regard him strangely.
"For… for what?" Relena stammered in reply, blushing at their closeness and finding herself once again drawn into those deep blue eyes that were staring down at her – at least for the moment.
"For taking care of m-…" he looked away for just an instant, "For taking us all in," he corrected, his posture stiffening a bit.
"Oh…" she murmured glancing away and shifting somewhat uncomfortably from one high-heeled foot to the other. She didn't miss the sudden tension that crept into his shoulders and the arm that was holding her so tight. She could tell there was something else he wanted to say to her, and felt anxiety move in along side the disappointment she was already feeling at his words.
She couldn't explain why it was she cared so much for him, why she liked the feeling of him being so close to her, holding her, dancing with her. Almost as if sensing her thoughts, he stopped swaying to the beat of the husky melody. His gruff voice and cessation of movement interrupted her thoughts.
"Especially when you have such close ties to the enemy."
She gasped in astonishment at his words. "Is that what you think?" She asked, looking up to search his eyes for some hint of humor or anything suggesting this was nothing more than a cruel joke, but his gaze was cold and unwavering.
Relena broke from his embrace and squared her shoulders. "I've told you before; we have no stake in the war. In fact I've done everything I can to thwart the Reich's efforts here."
"I meant to Zechs Merquise," Heero replied, his ever-watchful eyes noting her defensiveness at the simple statement.
"You mean Milliardo? My brother may be your enemy, but he is not mine. Though my father disowned him, he still protects his homeland. He would never allow Germany to take us."
Heero blinked in marked disbelief, finding her complete faith in this man difficult to fathom – it was endearing and disconcerting at the same time. And he understood then that what he was about to say was going to hurt her terribly. Regardless, Heero knew he had to tell her now, in hopes that perhaps they could find away to keep the inevitable from happening.
"Germany will take this kingdom, Relena. I saw the plans when I was captured behind the lines. Sanq has been targeted, and without defenses, you will fall and the Reich will take everything that you have." He watched the frown form on her face at his words, but pressed on. "Hitler's getting desperate and he needs all the resources he can get. Your brother's promises mean nothing to him."
The sweet expression that normally graced Relena's features had long since disappeared, and her lips now formed a thin line as she glared at the blue-eyed soldier venomously. "That's not true! Germany's been invading for years, and the Sanq has always been safe. Milliardo swore that…"
Heero shook his head, and once again reached for her arm. "The Reich will come, Relena. You're being foolish if you think otherwise," he said, his voice remaining calm and matter-of-fact. She pulled away from him completely, and he felt the breath go out of his body when he saw the mix of pain and anger on her face as she fought to blink back the tears that stung at her eyes.
"Who are you to presume to tell me that I am foolish?" She spat, her voice rising as she lost her battle with the tears. "Fighting is foolish, Heero – killing each other, now THAT is foolish! What you are saying isn't true, you are mistaken! My brother would not let such a thing happen, so weapons in this country are unnecessary. We are not now, nor will we ever be a part of this war!" She quickly turned on her heel and nearly ran from the room, her shoes clicking on the floor and echoing through the vastness of the room. As she retreated to her office a few doors away, she barely noticed the other three American soldiers making their way back towards the library. They froze in their tracks at the sight of her, looking at one another in question as to what could have upset the young woman that had been so kind to them. Her office door slammed shut, and so they walked swiftly in the direction of the room she had just come from to find out what the source of her distress could have been. What they found was Heero, standing alone in the middle of the library, hands shoved deep in his pockets as he stood facing the windows.
"You've really got a way with the ladies, there, buddy," Duo said sarcastically as they walked through the doorway. Heero turned slightly, but made no response. Duo, however, was undeterred and pressed the matter. "Just what did you say to her?"
"I told her Germany was going to invade her country, no matter what her brother said."
Duo leaned against the wall and ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, well I can see how that might ruin the moment. You could have said, 'Gee, Princess, you look lovely tonight,' or 'May I have this dance…' But no – you have to say 'Germany's invading your country.' Man, you are one smooth fella. Remind me NEVER to ask you for romantic advice," the braided soldier quipped with a roll of his eyes.
"Romance has nothing to do with it," Heero replied flatly, still not bothering to look in Duo's direction.
"Right, whatever you say, pal." Duo glanced over to where Quatre and Trowa stood at the door, and then back at Heero. "So, I take it that you didn't kiss her."
"Get lost, Maxwell."
"Is that a no?"
Heero turned and shot a threatening glare in his comrade's direction.
"Ok, that's definitely a no – pay up you guys!" Duo called out over his right shoulder. Quatre and Trowa began digging through their pockets as Duo pushed away from the wall and walked over to them with his palm outstretched.
"Five bucks each was the bet, I believe, gentlemen," he grinned, collecting his winnings.
Heero moved towards the others, eyes slanted in irritation. Duo hooked a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at his friend, but addressing the losers of the bet. "I knew he wouldn't be able to pull it off – even if she is rather taken with him."
"What do you mean by that?" Heero all but growled through his clenched teeth.
"Oh come on!" Duo howled. He turned to glare at Heero and then shook his head. "I used to think you were a real smart guy when we were stationed back in France, but I think that plane crash must have messed up your head."
Trowa stood back watching the scene unfold, wondering to himself if Heero was feeling strong enough to punch Duo in the mouth, because it certainly looked as though he wanted to.
"Hey," Duo asked, looking from Quatre to Trowa, "Am I wrong or does the princess have a bigtime crush on our soldier of fortune over here?"
The communications officer pushed his long bangs aside, nodding in agreement. Quatre reddened slightly as he smiled and nodded as well.
Duo looked satisfied, and showed no signs of letting up. He turned back around to Heero and nudged him playfully with a wide grin. "And you're sweet on her, too – admit it!"
It was then that Quatre noticed Heero's fists clenching at his sides, and decided that he best try to put an end to the situation before he had two injured men on his hands. "Heero, we should probably get you back to bed," the medic suggested warily, attempting to usher his patient through the doorway as Duo continued to laugh.
Heero shrugged out of Quatre's grasp and looked menacingly at each of them in turn. "I'm glad this is all one big joke to you," he seethed, and shoved Duo aside as he left to go back to his room.
* * *
The wounded soldier lowered himself slowly onto the bed, sucking in a breath and holding it until he managed to lie down, then exhaling slowly as the pain in his side dulled to an ache. The sheets were cold because the window had been open all evening, but the tired young man decided he lacked the conviction to lift himself back up to go and shut it. In the distance, a clock chimed the late hour and it occurred to him that she was usually here at this time, sitting beside him as he drifted in and out of sleep. His body was exhausted, yet his mind would not let him rest. He lay there, his thoughts unconsciously going back to her, trying to figure out what was bothering him most; the fact that she was in danger and refused to believe it, or the fact that he had upset her so much and made her cry.
He could still hear her voice, strained by her emotions, "Fighting is foolish, Heero… Killing each other, now THAT is foolish!" Is that what she thought of him? That he was just some fool fighting for the sake of fighting? And why should that bother him? But for a reason he couldn't explain, it bothered him very much.
His thoughts were cut off by the sound of footsteps in the hall, growing louder until they stopped at his door. Heero closed his eyes, pretending to be asleep, not wanting to talk to anyone – it was probably just Quatre coming to check on him anyway, since he felt sure that Relena wouldn't be coming to stay at his bedside tonight. The idea of her not being there disappointed him, and he let a frown settle on his face as he heard the doorknob turn. The swishing of a light fabric interrupted the silence of the room, and Heero suddenly realized that his nighttime visitor was certainly not Quatre as the familiar scent of Relena's perfume reached his senses, and he tensed momentarily, fighting not to give himself away.
Relena ventured in further, moving silently towards the bed and its occupant. She watched him for a long time, just as she had done since the first night he and the others came to stay in her kingdom. His features never seemed to soften, she noted; he seemed just as determined in sleep as he did when he was awake – the look on his face the same as when they had talked in the library... A wave of remorse washed over her, and she let out a long sigh, remembering how she had behaved earlier that night. She'd had no right to speak to him like that, and had come here intent on apologizing, though admittedly, Relena was very relieved that she had found him asleep.
Slowly, she moved his shirt out of the way and checked his wound – 'no more bleeding, that's good,' she thought to herself and gently folded the covers up to his shoulders. The princess quietly studied him again for a long time, and finally reached out to cover his forehead with her hand.
Heero felt his body relax with her touch, and hoped that she hadn't noticed the change. Her soft fingers danced along his hairline, smoothing back his disheveled mane and he could see her in his mind's eye; her long golden hair glinting in the light coming through he window, and that hint of a smile. Heero reveled in his waking dream, but became alert when he realized that she had begun to speak.
"I'm sorry, Heero. I acted like such a child tonight and it was inexcusable." He panicked for a split second – did she know he wasn't asleep? Steeling himself to keep his breathing slow and rhythmic, he listened as she continued. "I know I should tell you all this when you're awake," she stopped, and Heero felt her weight shift on the bed as she fidgeted a bit. "But I find that I can't say the things I want to say when you're staring at me with those eyes of yours…" Again she paused, "I've never seen eyes like yours," she added in a whisper.
"If only you knew what my eyes have seen, Relena – I can only hope that you will never know the ugly sight of war right outside your door,"Heero thought quietly, trying not to flinch as the fabric of her sleeve tickled his arm.
The princess settled back into place, and continued to confide in him. "I know that it's silly to talk to you when you're asleep; I just can't help but feel that somehow you understand." She fussed with his covers, smoothing them over his chest. "I don't really have anyone here that I can talk to. They all look to me to keep things from falling apart, and if they knew how lost I feel sometimes, I think they would be really very frightened." A ragged breath escaped her lips, and he wondered if she was about to cry, but then he heard her take a deep breath and begin to speak again.
"Anyway, I shouldn't have spoken to you that way earlier tonight, you were only expressing your concern. Now your fever is back and the last thing you should be doing is worrying for me. Milliardo, I know, does enough of that. And no, I don't make it easy for him, taking in refugees, deserters - and American soldiers," she said with a short, nervous laugh. "You may see him as your enemy, but you don't know him as I do… he is not a Nazi, not in his heart. Perhaps you would be suspicious of me for saying so, but it's what I believe. What the Reich has done is deplorable, and I loathe them for it, but I cannot hate my brother. I know he loves me dearly and he fights for me, too – he fights to put an end to this war, just as you and your friends do. I can't see it all in terms of just allies and enemies. All I see is people suffering because of politics and prejudices. He wants to stop that just as much as you do, that's why he fights…"
"Have you ever asked him why he chooses to do fight with the Nazis, though?"Heero asked her silently. "Is he really so selfless? You believe in him so completely, but he stands with those you despise. I also fight for all the reasons you say he does – will you believe in me, too?" he wondered.
The princess stood up slowly, and moved to the table beside the bed. Dipping a cloth in the water basin, she set the dampened material on her patient's hot forehead. "I'm worried for you, Heero," she confessed in a whisper. "You must rest and get well, and while you are here in my kingdom, I will do whatever I can to keep you safe." She pulled a chair next to the bed, and wrung out the cloth before dipping it into the basin once again.
"I…I've been praying since the war began, every night that it should end. But ever since we found you, I have added another prayer. I say one just for you, that you will survive and make it home to your loved ones, your family." She smiled tenderly down at him through the relative darkness. "I pray that you will be safe, Heero – that all of you will be, and that you won't have to fight anymore…."
"You worry for everyone but yourself Relena. Who watches over you?"Heero asked in his mind before he silently made a vow to protect this young woman who was so strong she sought to carry the burdens of the entire world on her shoulders alone.
Before replacing the cloth on his forehead, she leaned down and touched her lips to his fiery skin. "Maybe when this war is over, Heero, we can meet again. Maybe then things would be different and you could dance with me and feel peace in your heart instead of suspicion. Maybe then you'll be able to smile. I've never seen you smile." She rested her cheek against his for a few seconds, his feverish skin burning even more against the silkiness of her own. "Good night, Heero. Sweet dreams." Relena leaned back in the chair, and slipped into a deep sleep.
He didn't know how much time had passed when he made the decision to slowly open his eyes. The fever was getting the better of him, and his body screamed for rest, but his mind would not comply until he saw her. She had fallen asleep quickly, he surmised, and he turned his head slightly in search of her through the darkness of the room. Most of her face was hidden in the shadows, but all Heero had needed was a glimpse of her before he gave himself over to sleep.
"Good night, Relena…"
* * *
She woke up to windows smashing around her, and she stifled a scream of horror as a loud blast rocked through the courtyard, lighting up the tree-lined driveway as the foliage burst into flames. Staring blankly ahead, Relena lifted a trembling hand to her face, feeling the tiny cuts on her cheek from the flying shards of glass. Was it a bad dream? Yes, it had to be. This wasn't happening, this wasn't…
The roar of engines overhead began drawing near again, and Relena moved away from the chair by Heero's bed where she had fallen asleep and stood up, the chill of the night air biting at her through the shattered windows. "Heero?" she asked out loud, carefully making her way towards one of the windows, trying to avoid the sharp pieces of glass that were littering the floor. Her eyes frantically searched the room, stopping at the empty bed – there was no sign of him. No sooner had she come to stand at the nearest window than the manor was hit again. The jolt threw her to the floor, knocking the wind out of her. She slid across the cold marble towards the entrance to the room, stopping only when the back of her head and left shoulder slammed into the corner of the doorjamb. Gasping for breath, she attempted to lift herself up, but found she lacked the strength. The wounded princess could feel the frigid stone beneath her, and she closed her eyes, finding that all she could hear was the sound of her own heartbeat, deafeningly loud.
Moments later, the door flew open and a voice called out for her. She tried to focus on his face, but all she could see was his silhouette against the light. "Hee… Heero?" she stammered, mumbling his name as he limped towards her. Suddenly an explosion shook the building again, and she found the young soldier on top of her, shielding her with his own already battered body while even more glass and debris flew around them.
They stayed that way, huddled on the floor, until the dust in the room began to settle and the only noises around them were the sounds of the wind rushing through the hollow windows, and the distant crackling of the burning trees outside. Heero coughed and Relena could hear the sounds of his labored breathing as he brought himself up to a kneeling position, glancing down at the healing wound in his side that was the cause of his discomfort. Noting that no farther damage had been done, he looked down at the girl still lying on the floor, just staring up at him.
"Can you move?" he asked, wondering just why she had made no attempt to get up. Had she been hurt?
She looked up at him, but gave no response. His voice sounded so far away; her ears were still ringing from the loudness of the explosions. She could feel the throbbing ache in her bruised left shoulder, and she slowly brought her right hand up to the back of her head, expecting to feel a flow of blood, but instead found it only swollen and tender to the touch.
"I, uh…" she faltered as he helped her to sit up. "What was that?" Relena asked dazedly. She knew the answer, but she just didn't want to believe it.
"It was a bombing raid," Heero stated matter-of-factly, taking her hand as she attempted to steady herself on her own two feet.
"No…" she said quietly, still holding onto the back of her aching head. "No, he wouldn't." Tears welled in her eyes as she let go of him and stumbled across the destroyed room, sharp pieces of glass and broken wood and stone cutting her feet along the way, but she seemed not to notice. Finally Relena came to the large opening where a floor to ceiling window had been, and stood at the edge, surveying the chaos below. The courtyard and entranceway were in ruins, the destruction evident as the light of the flames licked at the cloudy night sky. Everywhere there were shadows of the skeletal burnt out west wing, and her ears were met with the frantic yelps of the small team of gardeners fighting to put out the blazing trees.
In the meantime, the others had gathered at the door, silently watching the young woman wade through the remnants of the room.
"Heero, are you alright – Miss Relena?" Quatre asked quietly, genuinely concerned about the two of them. "Is she hurt, Heero?" the medic questioned.
"I don't…" Heero was interrupted as Peygan and one of the groundskeepers found their way to the corridor.
"Miss Relena!" Peygan called, gasping for breath and he came to a halt. The woman inside the room showed no signs of acknowledgement, she merely stood still with her back to all of them, still staring out at the scene before her.
"Are you hurt, Miss Relena?" Peygan tried again, still receiving no response. He moved past the four young men standing by the doorway and began to walk towards her.
The groundskeeper spoke up upon the butler's departure. "Please, any of you that are well enough. We need all the men we can get to help put out the fires."
"Right," Trowa said as he and Duo fell in line behind the soot-covered man. Quatre turned to Heero, as he began to follow them.
"Heero, you can't," the medic commanded, giving his patient the fiercest look he could muster. "Please… don't argue with me, your wound still isn't healed." The dark-haired man standing opposite him still looked as though he were ready to protest, and Quatre realized that he must give him another task or else he would resist. "Do what you can to help Miss Relena," his comrade called over his shoulder as he ran to catch up with the others.
Heero still had half a mind to follow them all out to the burning courtyard, but thought better of it as a sharp twinge of pain jabbed at his abdomen. Instead, he turned his attention back to the decimated bedroom, watching poor Peygan still attempting to pick his way through the wreckage. But the kindly old butler stopped in his tracks when the lady of the house turned around and began to speak to him.
Her tears had come and gone – now there was something far greater than shock or sadness shining in her eyes.
"Peygan, help me pack my things. I am going to Austria to find Milliardo. He never would have allowed them to do this. He never…"
"Miss Relena, you can't go! You can't cross the enemy lines! There's a war going on out there," Peygan argued, raising his voice slightly, his concern for the girl who had become like his own child getting the better of him.
"I'm going. I'll find a way!" She shouted back furiously, and with that she began to trudge back across the ruined room. Relena walked past her stunned butler, but met some resistance as she arrived at the door. Heero stood in front of her, blocking her path.
"You can't go out there," he stated flatly.
No hint of fear or hysterics was in his voice. It was just as if he'd asked her not to do something terribly mundane. He could see the fury etched on her face as she stared up at him defiantly, yet he stood in the way.
"Do you want to get yourself killed?" he asked, again so calmly that it only served to agitate her further.
"Right now, all I want to do is save my people from the fate that has befallen all of the countries around us," she spat, trying to push past him.
He reached out and caught her arm, forcing her to turn around and face him. She whirled around, glaring at the man who held her, and with her free arm, raised her hand to strike him across the face for his trouble.
Heero caught her hand a split second before it struck his cheek, but his eyes never left hers. "So you think you'll be able to save your people if you're dead?"
She stopped, and he felt her body go limp in his grasp as the meaning in his words began to take hold of her.
"I…" Relena looked up, unable to answer. She never would have let anyone else speak to her that way, let alone listened to them if they had. But there was just something about him… Heero gently brought her arm down to her side before letting go of her as she continued to stare up blankly at him, the bewilderment of all the emotions flying through her being evident on her face.
"Miss Relena!" The cook and her assistant came charging down the hallway, the portly chef waving an envelope in her hand. She was very out of breath as she arrived before the young sovereign, and gave a half-hearted attempt at a curtsy as the assistant cook explained the details of the item they were delivering.
"One of the guards from the eastern border brought this, ma'am," she stated excitedly as her superior handed the envelope to Relena. It bore the telltale insignia of the Nazi party, and the princess hesitantly tore at the paper, finally lifting out the message contained inside it.
The members of the household stared at her, waiting for the news. The paper suddenly took flight, fluttering gracefully to the floor as it slipped from her shaking fingers. Relena looked at the people gathered around her, then turned her attention back to Heero.
"It's from Milliardo… he's coming back."
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I promise we won't take so long next time! And keeping with tradition, here's an idea of what we're working on for next time.
Preview of Chapter 4
He walked alone from that point on and came to an abrupt stop in front of the riased platform at the end of the hall. The princess stepped down, moving just inches away from him, not able to speak as she fought to catch her breath. It was him… but at the same time, it wasn't…
His once sparkling and joyful blue eyes were steely and detached, as if ice had formed in the irises and continued to spread throughout his body. He was taller and seemed so much stronger, but in a fierce and brutal sense – not at all like their father's gentle and protective strength. The officer stood before her, rigid and silent – frozen at attention as if challenging his younger sister to find any trace of the brother she had once known, of the boy he had been. Relena shivered involuntary, and fought to keep her hand from trembling as she reached out for him.
"Milliardo," she whispered in a tone audible to no one but him. The cold eyes met hers and studied them intently. She took yet another step closer, and with that, he made a sudden movement, raising his right arm as if he were reaching out for her as well. Relena relaxed, smiling as she prepared to embrace the brother she has missed for so long. But instead of falling into his sister's outstretched arms, the SS Colonel moved aside and glared at the young woman.
"Heil Hitler," he said sharply, and watched has her arms fell back to her sides.
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Let's hope for Luvspook's triumphant return to this fic for ch. 4. Until then, thanks for reading! Love, Stella, (Luvspook and Rose)