Brief author's note: One of my readers asked for another 1xR one-shot, so here it is. This was also written in light of a loved one's passing.

~o~


By Your Side

"Always, I'll be by your side, I want to protect you, tightly take my hand and don't let go.
You're my only one, these feelings, whether it be now, tomorrow, or eternity,
will surely never change~"

By Your Side by WISE feat. Nishino Kana


~o~

She was losing her focus.

Relena Darlian, the youngest Vice Foreign Minister in history, had been reading the same paragraph about the progress of the Mars Terraformation Project for the hundredth time. But it seemed like no matter how intently she read syllable by syllable, it was no use. She was too distracted.

She sighed, a sign of resignation, before placing the documents on her desk and leaning onto her seat. The pacifist princess pinched the bridge of her nose while she closed her eyes and willed herself to wrap her head around work. What was it with this day? Suddenly, the room felt too small for her, choking her. She had to get out of here. She had to be anywhere. Anywhere but here.

The buzz of the intercom tore her away from her reverie. "Ms. Relena, Agent Yuy is here," said Kris, her assistant.

Oh yeah. The briefing. And Heero. Heero. Relena sighed, this time from relief. Just the diversion she needed. But the uneasiness, the suffocation still won't go away. "Send him in," Relena answered back and exhaled heavily before removing the files on her desk into the drawers as Heero entered her office.

"Hi," she said, but not looking. It was always the same whenever he was near. Her heart raced; her breathing uneven. But even if this was Heero whom she had entrusted her heart with, the uneasiness and distracted feeling overwhelmed her senses. She was not feeling well.

Heero stood in front of her desk and waited until she had emptied it of any paperwork. When she was through, she nodded for a 'Go' signal for him to finally lay down the blueprints of the building for her next conference. It was one of the times of the year when he would have to brief her on the location of her next large-scale event, explaining to her the various exits of the location and the other security measures of the Preventers for her own safety.

Eighteen minutes passed when Heero looked up from the blueprint on the desk to look at her. "Relena?"

"Yes, sure. I got it," she lied. Even his voice was not enough to pull her in today. Her gaze remained fixed on the blueprint of the conference hall in the L2 Colony Cluster, and then to Heero's hands on the material. There was a momentary question in her mind if those pair of hands could even hold her someday.

Seconds passed, silence lingered. She could feel the weight of Heero's stare on her, a multitude of unspoken questions stretched between them.

"Is that all?" asked Relena, growing even much uncomfortable with Heero staring. She was still looking at the blueprint, unable to look at him in the eyes. She hoped she had not offended him this time by listening half-heartedly. It wasn't her intention.

"Hn. I'll pick you up at 6." Heero rolled the blueprint once more and stood straight. "Call me when you need me."

Relena's head shot up, her eyes locking onto his for the first time today. It was the first time he had uttered those kind of words. There was little hope that flickered in her that made her want to confide in him, here and now. But she knew that if she opened her mouth right now, she would break. So instead, she smiled at him and whispered a "Thank you."

Heero nodded and made his way to the door. He took one last glance at her direction, only to find her staring at the window. He stared at her for a moment too long before walking out.


~o~

The following day nothing changed. It felt like she had been waking up on the wrong side of the bed, feeding the unwelcome feeling she had been harbouring for a while now. It was the kind of feeling that can trap you with your own thoughts, compelling you to ignore the world, and any disturbance makes you upset, frustrated, or annoyed.

On the previous night, she had barely said a word before, during, and after the car ride to her quarters in Brussels. She was silent; gaze fixed outside the limousine, and had barely touched her food before retiring to her room for rest.

And Heero had not missed it. How could he when the Relena he knew would always go about the significant points needed to be raised in each of the documents she had been reading. She'd be talking about the development in Mars and how the disarmament project had been going. No matter how tired she was, she'd be asking how his day went. And how she'd smile at him for reasons he didn't know.

Now she won't even look at him.

They were seated side by side in the limousine. He was seated with his arms crossed against his chest, and this time he felt unabashed when he watched her. It was the same scene as yesterday. She was facing out the window; her golden hair fell over her shoulders to mask half of her face. Her cerulean eyes that were always so full of life and honest were looking at a distant.

She did not even notice him staring. Something was troubling her. And whatever it was, it was keeping her from being the Relena whom he had always known.

He was all set in asking her if she was alright. But then again, it was none of his business to meddle with her personal affairs. Whatever was troubling her, his main duty was to protect her from any danger, from any threat, from anything that can hurt her physically. That should only be his concern.

But as he watched her lean her head on the window and remained looking outside, why did it feel like he'd fight a thousand armies just to see her smile again?

After loading their bags and the rest of her staff and other Preventers had boarded the plane, he was not surprised to see the same scene when he sat beside her. She was looking out the window, at the blue skies that had the same hues as her eyes. What perplexed him this time around was the single tear that made its way out of the ocean of her eyes.

Heero was reminded of a conversation with Trowa about women's tears, and how they had the power to make them –at least in Trowa's case- stay. Another tear followed the first one, and Heero was beginning to understand what Trowa meant. Whatever Relena was thinking or feeling right now, he will not let her out of his sight.

As if he had not been doing that all along.

But there was this feeling inside. Like there was a part of him that wanted to do more. More than just sit by her side. He had no idea how to comfort someone, had no experience in dealing with women who cried, had not experienced being comforted himself.

Until she came along.

And worried for him, cared for him even, smiled at him during best and worst times, stood by him, and so much more. He had not understood the reasons why she had been so nice to him, when he was the one who had threatened her several times in the past. But she still held so much faith in him, so much faith in his goodness that he had no idea if he truly possessed them. She made him feel he was still worth something, always made him welcome in this new world of peace. She did that for him, and to all the soldiers who had been fighting in the war.

So what could he do for her now? She was hurting as far as he could see, but what could he do? He had not been trained to comfort someone.

Before he could act on anything else, Relena's head thumped against the window as she drifted to slumber. Now that wouldn't be a comfortable sleeping position. Unsure of what he was doing, the former Gundam pilot reached over her frame and wiped the wet trail of her tears on her cheeks. He then slowly guided her head to his direction, nestling her under the crook of his arm and let her head lay against his frame.

Relena stirred but did not wake. Instead, she unconsciously lifted an arm and wrapped it around his waist before snuggling closer.

Heero was sure that she was not aware of what she was doing; nevertheless, he accepted her gesture though he still cannot wrap his head around her trust in him. After all that he had done in the past, here she was, vulnerable, and still believed that she could be safe around him.

He then put his arm over hers that was wrapped around his waist and let his other one settle on her shoulder to hold her still. Was it enough? It then struck Heero that this was his first time to hold a woman in his arms. And… and he was okay with it.

He took a glance at the field of stars outside. They were now in outer space. While leaning further into his seat, Heero realized that this was actually the first time that he had, truly seen the stars as they sparkled and decorated the dark of Space. Years ago, he had always been fighting in these grounds, though; there was no time in pausing to admire the barren surroundings.

He then watched as a shooting star passed in a blink of an eye. Heero often heard that shooting stars can grant wishes, though scientific explanations say otherwise. Once, too, Relena told him that she had mistaken him for a shooting star on the day they met… before he landed on her lap. She told him that she had wished for him, and that he had actually fallen on the beach where she was headed. He told her it was just a part of Operation Meteor. Now, as he held her, he continued to watch as a couple more shooting stars passed in his line of sight, thinking of that fateful encounter when the universe conspired for him to fall for her right from the start.


~o~

When they had arrived in the mansion reserved for the Vice Foreign Minister in the L2 Colony, Heero took it upon himself to bring all of her bags in her room despite the help offered by the other Preventers and housekeepers. Somehow he had this feeling to check up how she was doing before shutting everyone out again. After all, her tears kept falling even when she was asleep against him on the plane. And when she woke up when they had arrived and realized that she had fallen asleep against him, she kept on muttering apologies as if she had just launched Operation Meteor all over again.

He would just see how she's holding up. After that, he'll go, was what he kept on telling himself. He just had to know.

Just.

"Thank you, Heero," said Relena, when he had straightened up. "I'll take it from here."

But the Preventer agent did not move. He only stared at her, his brows furrowed a bit when his gaze held hers and felt like he was digging into her soul, asking her to reveal what was hiding behind the lenses. He took note of the large, round, dark circles below her swollen eyes.

Relena felt uncomfortable. Heero was looking at her as if she had been a traitor in their midst, questioning her with his eyes, demanding an answer with his silence. What was wrong? Had she done something? His gaze commanded so much that she had to look away. She couldn't give herself away.

"Is there…" Relena swallowed, she should redirect any conversation from her personal life. "Is there anything that you have to brief to me about the conference tomorrow?" She was looking at the television against the wall then at the couch just in front of it. She had to look everywhere. Anywhere except for the man standing in front of her. The man who can read her so well. The man who she wanted to confide with, but can't. She had to. She could even barely prevent her voice from shaking.

"Relena," said Heero.

There is always something in the way he says her name that makes her heart race each time. Something that nobody can emulate.

"Yes?" she was staring at the huge, white closet now, which has its handle and outlines made of gold. How can anyone fill that with so many clothes if the Vice Minister only stays for 2-3 day conference?

"Look at me." Heero's voice brought her back to reality.

"You can just tell me what you still need to say. I really am tired now." Relena was looking at the door now, right over his shoulder. There was this huge part of her that just wanted to run straight into his arms, but thought better of it. She, of all people, wouldn't want Heero to see her like that, to scare him off like that. But he was reading her so intently right now, she just had to send him away. Why was he still in the room with her?

"Are you alright?"

Three words. Just three, personal, words made her body stiffen. Wide-eyed, she turned to him, loving the way his eyes reflected her face. She could just drown in his eyes; she wanted to. Instead, she just shrugged and gave a forlorn smile.

"Listen," she began. "Sorry if I… worried you," she said, testing the word as her balled fist rested on her chest. "It's nothing big to worry about. You've got other matters to attend to."

But her bodyguard did not move from his place. He remained there, studying her intently, questioning her with his eyes. A deep part of her wanted him to stay, but another part of her wanted him to just go away before she lost herself. Why was he looking so concerned now? Maybe she really did look too transparent since yesterday.

"I'm fine," she said once more and closed her eyes. If she did not, she would dread the look in his eyes. "Just, go already. Please, just. Go. Please."

"Hn."

When she opened her eyes, Heero's back was already facing her and he was headed out the door. For some reason, she felt a hollow ache and unconsciously tried to reach out a hand to him. Had she offended him?

"Wait," she almost choked. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"

"There's nothing to apologize," Heero cut her off. "You have a big day tomorrow. The best thing to do is for you to rest." He was already holding the brass door knob. "We leave tomorrow at 7." The Preventer agent was about to open the door when she called out.

"Don't leave yet."

Suddenly he heard footsteps heading towards his direction, stopping right behind him. And then she said, "Don't turn around."

The next second Heero felt her head rest against his back, followed by her hands gripping the fabric of his shirt. Heero wondered if Relena had breathed in all of the air when she inhaled because right now, he just couldn't breathe.

He stayed where he was, and Relena revelled at the feeling of finally leaning on to someone. And that someone happened to be, well, Heero.,This time she allowed a few tears to fall with some of them vanishing into Heero's shirt. When more silent tears fell, she shifted closer to him until their bodies were completely against each other as she held on to his shirt tighter.

"Relena?" Heero asked, unsure, after Relena sniffed for the second time.

His voice cracked her eyes open. "I'm sorry," she pulled away, biting her lip. "Oh my, I wet your shirt." Running a hand through her golden hair, she turned her back to him. "Sorry. I'm a mess," she said, followed by a hundred more apologies as she continuously wiped away her tears with her hands.

"Heero, could you please lea…"

Relena was cut off when her body was forced to turn around and strong arms enveloped her frame. It took her a moment to get a grip on the idea that Heero was holding her, embracing her, his arms were wrapped around her waist, until one of his hands slipped up to tuck her head further against his chest. Her cheek rested on his chest and she could hear the racing beat of his heart that would have probably matched her own.

And then she heard him speak. "I won't look."

"Hm?" Relena asked, at a loss of words.

"Cry. Cry all you want. I won't look," said the Preventer agent whose gaze was focused on the sparkling lights of buildings and skyscrapers from outside the huge glass window of the room.

That was all it took before Relena wrapped her arms around his waist, tightly, as she rested her head against his chest for comfort and let more silent tears fall.

Heero was unsure if he was doing the right thing, but more than twice, he kept on rubbing her back when Relena was sniffing heavily that it was almost like a hiccup. When her crying subsided, they still remained standing, still holding on to each other as if the whole Earth Sphere would be destroyed tomorrow.

"We were really close, you know?" said Relena, breaking the silence. "My father," she added, answering Heero's unspoken question.

"He was a very, busy man; always going in and out of the country, and even Earth. Sometimes I don't even get to see him for months when he was on tour in the Colonies."

Heero had a faint idea of where this was going, still he said nothing. Instead, he held Relena tighter, encouraging her to continue. At least she was talking.

"But he never missed any of my momentous days. He always made it for my birthday parties, on my on my ballet recitals, declamation contests, everything. He always made it in time for everything."

Relena closed her eyes and smiled, as if the darkness in her vision could actually bring her back to her childhood. "I was his princess. He would hand me chocolates secretly whenever mom forbid me 'cause I just suffered from toothache, he tucked me in bed every night, he taught me how to ride a bike at the age of five, he taught me how to read, he… he…" She took a deep breath. "He died in front of me." And tears obscured her vision once more.

She was shivering once more and her voice was cracking, so Heero continued to rub her back, encouraging her to let the words and emotions out. He was finally beginning to see another side of her, the reality that he had hideously been a part of. Here in his arms was the Relena, not the strong-minded politician, but the girl who had also been a victim of war – a girl who had not even met her biological parents; a girl who had met her biological brother in the worst circumstances; and a girl who had lost the person whom she had always known as her father.

When he had seen her again years ago on the day she took him and Quatre as refugees in Sanc Kingdom, he figured that she had finally pulled herself together regarding the latest discovery of her birth. She was already so determined then, so strong-willed, firm, the symbol of hope, but deep inside she was still the broken girl who had been left with no choice but to grow up immediately and take the burden of pacifying the whole universe. Maybe they were alike in those aspects. But during those moments, did she even have time to grieve?

"A few days after my fifteenth birthday, I found the bomb. I found it. I thought I got rid of it. But it ended up in the wrong hands." Relena opened her eyes, eyes fixed at the queen-sized bed, eyes that still had a supply of unstoppable falling tears.

"He managed to survive the blast, but he was severely injured. Someone grabbed me, told me that they were allies. We got father in an ambulance. The militarywas chasing us. OZ. Gunshots. Gunshots were everywhere. Father was fighting for air. I didn't want him to speak, but he kept on talking about a monarchy. About a Sanc Kingdom. About Peacecrafts. About how I was not his real daughter."

"And then he closed his eyes. I fell unconscious. When I woke up, they had just covered his body with the blanket. Then the gunshots were back, and I ran. I ran. I left my father. My father, who was one of the strongest and most compassionate men I've ever known, writhed in so much pain. And was given a death he didn't deserve. He was killed while fighting for good."

"I'm sorry," she said as she closed her eyes. "It's his death anniversary tomorrow. And I just… I miss him. Sometimes when I wake up I just pretend that he's just at home, reading newspaper, sipping his coffee, and is waiting for me to get back home. Sometimes I'm still trying to catch his scent in any of the conference with diplomats that I attend. Sometimes I still long to hear him laugh. Sometimes I still wish to be tucked at night and be told of how much he was proud of me for following in his footsteps. Sometimes I wish… that it would have been me who had been blasted that day. It's easier to accept a death that you know will come, rather than a death so quick and unpredictable. I didn't even get to tell him I love him. He was wronged. And I saw everything happen. I was so weak then. And now, as well."

She was crying again. And Heero had never felt so useless in his life. He had never seen Relena like this. He had never heard of how her father, the former Vice Foreign Minister, had actually died; and how Relena was left to fend for herself in a Colony far away from home. Back then, he had watched the reports of her father's body being transported back to Earth, of how he had been given a private funeral, and an honourable burial. But Heero had not heard of how his daughter managed to hitch a ride back to Earth safely. And he did not expect the ache in his being when he thought of a fifteen-year old Relena who travelled back to Earth, alone, right after witnessing her father's brutal death. It would be her father's third death anniversary tomorrow. And he wondered if Relena had also been like this, alone, every year, whenever the date came close? Or whenever lights had been dimmed as she retired to her room? How could he have overlooked such a thing? But then again, why did he give a big damn about it?

"Do you know…?" she began, tearing him from his reverie. "Do you know just how much it hurts to remember everything so vividly and know that you can never have them back?"

No. Of course not, Heero wanted to say. He had not acquired any fond memories for as long as he can remember. Only trainings, only practices on how he could be the perfect weapon. He could only remember taking lives and enjoying it. Yes, he can remember them so vividly. But no, he'd never want them back.

He had no recollection of any father or mother tending his wounds whenever he acquired cuts and bruises from training of parents kissing him good night after successfully perfecting the shooting practice, of being told bedtime stories instead of war strategies and tactics, of knowing the basic premise of comfort, of comfort by being embraced, by being held. He had never known any good memories nor felt being worthy of being alive, until… Relena happened. She was the first one who actually showed she cared about him, his welfare, his… future. She worried about him, so sincerely he almost hated himself for he was undeserving. She was the bringer of peace in the midst of his battling inner demons. And whether he would admit it or not, the alliance formed with his fellow Gundam pilots and their comrades in the last war, too, were finally making him understand the necessities of belonging in something.

"Heero?"

"No. I don't."

Relena pulled her head away from his chest to look at him, and Heero's face fell at the sight of her swollen, wet eyes.

"I don't want them back," he said. "My childhood… I wouldn't want to live like that again."

"I'm sorry."

He shook his head. And then it struck him as hard as lightning. Seeing Relena's pain, her tears, her emotion that she had been harbouring, a question dawned on him. In the universe, how many broken children like Relena had been suffering the same longing and pain – when it was him who had taken the life of their fathers and brothers away. Once again, he had been reminded of the little girl with her dog whom he had accidentally killed. Of how innocent people had been victims of his. Of how deadly he could be. Of how it was hypocritical to be comforting someone right now, when in fact, he was the bringer of death to begin with.

Heero stared at Relena, hard, and lifted a hand from her waist to touch her face. Three fingers grazed the side of her face, tucking strands of golden hair behind her ears before settling on her cheeks. His touch was soft, like a touch of a feather. And then it made its way to the side of her neck before settling on the back. He leaned forward until their foreheads were against each other. Closing his eyes, he whispered, "I'm sorry."

He was too close. He was too close that she realized that this was the closest that they had been, physically. Too close that it almost caused her a mouth to brain malfunction all because she couldn't breathe, and he was apologizing for something that she had no idea what for. Was he sorry for her loss? No, she would not allow him to pity her. Sorry for what?

She was about to ask him, but then he opened his eyes and their eyes locked and she felt like everything in the world had stopped.

"I'm sorry for not being there with you," said Heero finally.

Tears welled up in her eyes. "What are you sayi…"

"I wish I was there with you. When it happened. I wish had protected you, so you could have stayed with your father a bit longer. So you would not have taken the ride back to Earth alone. So you would not have endured this each time alone."

Looking back, Heero grew up with the ultimate goal of protecting the Colonies. Of the people living in the Colonies whose names he did not know and those who did not even know him. He had not known what it was like to really lose someone you hold dear. To feel the ache of losing someone, and longing for them to laugh like they used to, just how Relena described them. But now as he held her, as she clung to him like she would fall, Heero was finally able to connect the dots between the ache that he had been feeling and the information that he had just come to know now.

For the first time in his life, Heero was afraid of losing someone. And it had everything to do with the woman in his arms. It frightened him, the idea of losing her, the idea of him being unable to protect her. And at the same time the very discovery of it strengthened him, his resolve, his will to live.

And then for the first time in what felt like an eternity, she smiled. It was a full smile that even reached her tear-stained eyes. "I would have loved that." She also lifted a hand and ran it down Heero's cheek. "I wish I was there with you, too."

Her face was close. But still not close enough. Heero gave in to his emotions and leaned down to seal her lips with his. Both of his hands now held her face as he kissed her again for a second too long. He pulled away ever so lightly, and held her gaze with his. Her eyes were so full of him. And only him.

"You're so strong," he said.

Relena shook her head, her smile fading.

"You are," said Heero, willing her to understand. "I want to make it up to you."

"For what?"

"I want to make up for all the times that I wasn't there with you."

Relena swallowed, clinging on to a hope and a future being mapped by his voice and his words. "How?"

Heero pressed their foreheads against each other and breathed in her scent. This time he was certain. "I'll stay forever. Here. With you."


Author's note:

Back after a long time! There's only a month left before the new school year starts in our country, so I hope I get to finish Soul Mates by then. :|

To the one reading this, thank you in advance! :) To those whose reviews I haven't replied to yet in my previous story, sorry. Still busy. But I'll reply, promise. :)

Take care, everyone! Keep your loved ones close. :)

P.S.

By Your Side english translation credits to musicbox-trans at livejournal.