Disclaimer: The Gundam Wing characters and all that relates to the After Colony universe belong to Bandai, Sunrise, Sotsu Agency & TV Asahi. I use it for no other purpose but to relieve some of the awful dreariness that is my life.

 

Summary: Post EW (disregarding Frozen Teardrop and Glory of the Losers): Preventer agent Heero Yuy is driving ESUN's Vice Foreign Minister Relena Darlian to a global conference. The ride soon becomes a road trip from Hell, threatening to bring their difficult relationship to a disastrous end.

 

Warnings: 1+R+1/1xR*. Rated PG-13 for mild sexual content (nothing more graphic than a dirty joke), mild violence and mildly obscene language.

 

* I'm a 1x2x1 fan at heart, so don't expect their relationship to be all "lovey-dovey". Read this only if you can tolerate the idea of a story focusing on those two somewhat getting along.

 

Fire and Ice

 

It was a cold, rainy day in the home of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation's capital Belgium. The month of December AC 205 was noted by weather forecasters as the coldest and wettest of its kind in the past ten years. That wasn't such shocking news to the public, because ever since Christmas AC 195 when the space station Libra was obliterated in Earth's orbit and disintegrated into the atmosphere, the planet had undergone many severe climate changes. Scientist claimed that the delicate balance of Earth's atmosphere has been corrupted by the hazardous materials that dissolved into the upper layers of the atmosphere. Summer brought on lengthy droughts that damaged agriculture all around the globe, and winter brought on the risk of repeated floods.

They said that it would take at least fifty more years before the effects of the cataclysm will begin to dissipate. The population was getting restless. Famine threatened to hit the more undeveloped regions of the world. Food shortage was being felt even in the most developed countries. Prices skyrocketed. There wasn't enough grain to feed livestock, and therefore not enough food to feed the overly populated planet and space colonies it supported. Earth was already cutting down exports to Space, shipping only the bare minimum it was obliged to supply according to the peace treaty of January AC 196, but that wasn't enough. Drastic measures had to be taken, or else the situation might ensue in a conflict between the two sides over the developing food shortage.

A conference was being held at Brussels by ESUN officials and world-renowned scientists to discuss global policy on the matter, come up with legislative solutions to aid farmers deal with hardships that worsened with each passing year, and to aid weak populations by establishing a worldwide food-voucher program. As if to make a point, a few days before the conference torrential rain across Belgium caused floods and mudslides, killing at least fifty people and causing severe damage to local farmland. Heavy precipitation caused a drastic increase in water levels. The river Meuse's upstream flooded the Beaumont region, blocking local access to the French border. Merciless rain poured relentlessly upon open fields and defenseless villages, turning farmlands into dangerous swamps.

It was in these dire weather conditions that a sleek, black executive car drove down a desolate country road stretching across a large region of wetland, once a lush countryside flourishing with livestock and fields. The car's front wipers labored to sweep the violent torrents of rain crashing against the windshield. They squeaked with each swing as the heavy shower pounded loudly against the car. Surrounded by this deafening orchestra, the car's two occupants sat in silence, listening to the rhythm of rain and screechy wipers.

Vice Foreign Minister Relena Darlian was one of those two passengers. The twenty-five year-old politician, the youngest in her trade and current administration, sat at the passenger's seat, gazing numbly out the windshield. She was dressed in a smart black business suit; her long dishwater-blonde hair was swept up in an immaculate French twist. She watched the rain pound against the window with dull blue eyes, a blank expression on her elegantly made-up face.

The drive has gone on for over six hours now, heading from Geneva to Brussels. She had finished her duties in Geneva that morning and immediately departed to meet her next appointment at the ESUN Capital. She was to participate in the Global Agriculture Crisis conference tomorrow morning. Usually she would have traveled by plane, but all flights to Brussels airport have been cancelled due to the storm. Trains were also rendered nonoperational since many routes have flooded. The only viable option left to get to her destination on time was by car. It was about an eight hour drive from Geneva, through Luxemburg, France and then finally Belgium. Eight hours in optimal traffic and weather conditions, but not during the worst rainstorm the region has seen in years. Highways were flooded, bridges collapsed and traffic jams stretched dozens of miles long. GPS navigation software directed the vehicle through isolated country roads in an attempt to bypass the mess on the main highways. ETA was in about six hours or more.

Relena sighed and shifted her gaze down to her lap. She spotted a small wrinkle on her suit pants, ironed it with her hand and then heaved another melodramatic sigh.

"Sighing repeatedly won't get us there any faster," she was rebuked by a steady, baritone voice belonging to the driver sitting to her left. He was a young man, also in his mid-twenties. He was dressed in official law-enforcement uniform: black trousers, a black jacket bearing khaki shoulder patches and a khaki dress shirt and black tie underneath. The sleeves bore a "P" insignia; they were Preventer uniforms. His hair was a rich chocolate brown, cut short but unkempt at the front. A spiky mass of unruly bangs fell over his forehead in an enticing heap he somehow managed to uphold with little maintenance. His slightly Asian features were sharp, firm and sculptured to perfection. His Prussian blue eyes were fixated on the slippery road as he drove. His gaze shifted to the side for a brief moment, long enough to reprimand her with a silent glare, before he fixed his eyes on the road again.

"Staring at me won't make a difference either."

"Don't flatter yourself, Heero, I wasn't staring," she snarled and turned to scowl out the passenger's side window. She had long outgrown the habit of staring dazedly at his handsome face. He was without a doubt stunning a dark, intense kind of beauty but she was no longer interested. She used to think of Heero as the ultimate embodiment of the saying 'if looks could kill': he was drop-dead gorgeous and lethal in every way. She sometimes swore the Colonies did that on purpose, sending such an alluring operative to raise havoc on Earth; a vengeful fallen angel sent down to deliver punishment. However, his dangerous aura has diminished over the years, and so did her interest. In the past, sitting near him in the closed confines of a car would have left her flustered like a lovesick schoolgirl. His intensely solid presence, the intoxicating heat and scents of his body would have caused her to blush endlessly. But that was in the past. She was used to him now. Everything about him was so God damn familiar. Things that used to thrill her were now just a mere footnote in her daily routine.

She has known him for just over ten years now. They were merely fifteen when they first met. Under any other circumstances, people would have called them high school sweethearts, but the very notion was absurd. Sure, as a teenage girl with raging hormones she had been tantalized by his exquisite good-looks, enchanted by the mystery he represented, the thrill he had provided, but that was then. Now, years later, much has changed.

The ride continued in silence. Relena considered making conversation, but decided against it. She already knew his answer to anything she might say:

'How about some music?' she'd suggest as a means to break the maddening silence and he would say 'Fine'. She'd turn on the radio and ask 'Anything in particular?' and he'd just keep staring at the road and say: 'Whatever you like', because he had no preference of his own. It's not that he disliked music; it's just that he never bothered listening to it or to develop his own taste. Like any leisure activity, perhaps besides sports, he found it redundant. So she'd flip through the stations and finally settle on some AM talk-radio show; anything but radio-counselors giving careless advice off the top of their heads, because he found it very irritating. At some point she'll get fed-up with the useless chatter, turn the radio off and the silence would return. So what was the point?

Instead, she considered asking him to let her drive for a while, but then he'd just ask 'Why?' and she would reply 'Because I'm bored.'

'Then go over your speech,' he'd suggest and she would tell him what he already knew: 'Reading makes me car-sick.' Then she'd accuse him of being a chauvinist because he wouldn't let her drive. He would resent the accusation, turn to look at her with those intense blue eyes of his and his lips would curl slightly upwards with a smirk as he would argue that 'If you'll drive, then I'll have nothing to do but stare at you.' She would laugh at the image, Heero would keep driving and the silence would resume. So what was the point?

The silence engulfing them was a result of too much time spent together. No words were left to be said. Lately, their conversations involved only the mundane; daily small-talk about routine and tasks to be accomplished, and even those conversations were becoming rare. They knew all there was to know about each other's habits, schedule and routine. Anything deeper than that was seldom shared. She knew every single one of habits backwards, as he did hers. Like his morning routine for example, which hadn't changed in the slightest for years: 06:00 a.m., he wakes up, takes a leak and washes his face (usually she'd hear him blow his nose). He then comes down to the kitchen and reads the news on his tablet computer. 06:20 a.m., he makes himself breakfast: coffee and toast. 06:35 a.m., he goes to the bathroom to take a dump, read the newspaper and then showers. 06:50 a.m., he gets dressed, goes down to the main living room in his Preventer uniforms and puts his shoes on as he sits on the couch. 07:00 a.m. sharp he leaves for work. The schedule hasn't varied one bit since they moved in together back in AC 197.

She knew every part of him by heart. They worked so well together, always anticipating the other's needs and wants. They didn't even discuss the option of getting to Brussels by car. She heard about the floods and the flights being canceled and she already knew that he'd be waiting for her outside the Geneva courthouse with a rental-car and a full tank of gas, ready for a long drive. Everything was so God damned predictable. Who could have guessed that the most exhilarating, staggering, enigmatic person she had ever known would become such a banal part of her life, that she could read him like an open bookoh heck, who needed reading anymore she knew the book by heart!

Ten years ago, if someone would have told her that she would get to spend so much time in his company, she would have been ecstatic. She had fallen head-over-heels for him when they first met. She had followed him to all four corners of the Earth and even to space, ignoring all reason and mortal peril, just so she could be by his side. Heero on his part, brushed her off at every opportunity, but still came to her rescue whenever the situation called for his intervening. He has never let her down, not then and not now. The only thing that changed was that today, more than ever, she wished for nothing more than one lousy day apart; just one day without having him by her side.

Many thought they were lovers. It made for a perfect story: the lost princess of the vanquished Sanc kingdom and the warrior who fell from a shooting star, descending from the heavens to protect her. But such insinuations belonged in fairytale books, not in the real world. She was never comfortable with the noble title thrust upon her out of the blue one day, and he was never sent to Earth to be with her. Heero was sent by the Colonies to destroy the Alliance and she just happened to be there when he crashed into her world pun intended. It was pure coincidence, an incident that changed her life forever. He had literally shaken her world and she had fallen in love with him for it. But that was then. She had since relinquished her title as the heir of the Sanc kingdom and Heero had abandoned his role as a weapon of mass destruction. She was never meant to be a princess and he was far from being a knight in a shining armor. The truth was that they were just two kids, forced to walk a path that lead them to change the world.

That was all behind them now. These days their struggle was a different one: she was following her step-father's footsteps and fighting her way through the complex post-war political arena, while Heero struggled daily to adjust to the world he helped to create. After eight years of peace on both Earth and the Colonies, Relena Darlian was just a dreary politician and as far as anyone else was concerned, Heero Yuy was just her bodyguard.

Though, she could see why people thought otherwise. First of all, he's been her bodyguard since the war ended. While there were many other assignments he could have been handed by the Preventer Organization, tasks that would put his unique skills into far better use, he declined them time after time. Some believed that it was because he didn't wish to fight anymore; others assumed that it was because he didn't wish to leave her side. It was all part of a false tale people liked to tell themselves. Naturally, the truth was precisely the opposite and never made it to the tabloids. Only Relena knew that, if given the chance, Heero would get as far away from her as he possibly could. And she would understand. Sometimes, she wished he would; she wished to be freed from the burden of being tied to him constantly. However that was impossible and she had learned to accept it, possibly even depend on it. He could never leave, and maybe deep down she took comfort in the fact that she could always count on him to be there, even on days when he drove her up the wall and she couldn't stand being in the same room with him. Heero was always there, for better and for worse, until death would do them part.

At first, she hadn't minded it that much. She actually thought that they might end up being together as more than the protector and the protected, but those were the delusions of a once naïve eighteen year old girl. She had later learned the difference between a juvenile crush, burning physical attraction, delusional fantasy and real life. She had wised up and fallen out of love rather quickly. At twenty-five, Relena was mature enough to admit to herself that she didn't love him, not in a romantic sense. If anything, he was like a brother to her. They've been together for so long. She could love him or hate him or not care for him at all, and he would still be a part of her life. One didn't choose one's family, but was stuck with them for life. Therefore she believed that siblings would be the best way to describe their relationship... if one ignored their occasional booty calls. Sometimes they were close, sometimes they weren't; and still they were together. It was a compulsory closeness they both had to endure. And while many thought that he was sticking around to protect her, in essence Heero was her charge, and not the other way around. They were together because it was the only way Heero was allowed to live.

When the battle over the ESUN capital ended back in Christmas AC 196, Heero was gravely injured. He had spent the following six months in a hospital, recovering and undergoing grueling sessions of physiotherapy. However his battle didn't end there. Once he was deemed fit to be discharged from the hospital, Heero was forced to stand trial for his violent actions during wartime. ESUN officials branded him as a war criminal rather than a savior who fought to gain freedom for all. Influential public figures with a thirst for vengeances did whatever they could to effect the prosecution. She had watched, helpless and horrified, as events unfolded far too quickly to be stopped. They trailed him, a mere seventeen-year-old boy, as an adult, threatening to give him the death penalty. Humanitarian organizations went out to the streets in protest. The whole planet was in turmoil and the Colonies threatened to break all diplomatic ties with Earth if the ESUN court actually went through with its plans to execute Heero. She used every connection she possibly could, even her step-father's old contacts both on Earth and the Colonies, to help him. Eventually, a deal was made: Heero was to be put to sleep in a cryogenic chamber instead of being put to death. They were going to freeze him and store him so that perhaps one day, if his dangerous talents were ever needed, he could pay for his crimes by fighting for the ESUN.

She had been mortified by the inhumane verdict, but at least it meant that she will still have an opportunity to save him. He will sleep, oblivious and frozen in time, while she will fight for his freedom. It was better than being given the chair or locked behind bars, but Heero didn't see it that way. He refused to be put in storage like the rest of the armaments the ESUN administration had banned. He didn't want to serve as a weapon anymore, and certainly not to be stored like one[1]. He tried to break out of prison, but his body was still recuperating from the fatal injuries he had somehow survived. His attempt to escape ended in failure, so Heero turned to the only other option he had left: he tried to take his own life by slicing his wrists with shards of glass he had acquired in prison.

The night she got the call about his suicide attempt was dark and stormy. She had rushed to the hospital, speeding over the limit, her car splashing torrents of water as she raced through the streets of Brussels. Rain pounded hard against a large hospital window as she stood by his bedside, waiting anxiously. He awoke groggy and confused, but soon horror filled his Prussian blue eyes as he gradually realized that he was still alive. She stood by his side in a stupor, staring in disbelief as his eyes slowly welled with tears. She watched, her heart squeezing painfully, as he rolled over on his side, facing away from her and clamped his mouth shut with his hand to hold back a sob. His back quaked with repressed whimpers. He had covered his face with his bandaged hands, shameful, and cried silently. After a moment's hesitation, she climbed onto the narrow bed and gathered his quivering form into her arms, holding him against her, spooned together on the bed. She caressed his hair tenderly until his sobbing calmed. Lightning split the sky and thunder rolled as they remained together on that bed, listening to the rain.

'Please don't let them take me...' he had pleaded with a tortured, tear-soaked, voice. 'I don't want to do this anymore...' he wept. Before that night, she had never heard his firm voice waver even slightly, and suddenly he was crying brokenly in front of her; afraid, helpless and defeated. Her heart caved under an unbearable burden of angst. The person pleading with her for his life wasn't the soldier she had known thus far, but a lost, frightened boy who's never been given a choice in life, robbed of everything others took for granted... even hope. She had to make others see what she saw; she had to fight for this boy. Cryogenic sleep, even temporary, was not an option. She had to offer the ESUN an alternative. She had to bargain for Heero's life.

To do that, she sold the Sanc kingdom; yes, sold it. She relinquished her title and sold her biological father's land, dividing the small kingdom's territory between three surrounding European countries. She made billions and bought Heero's freedom. The Earth Sphere Unified Nation was still in its diapers and struggling to recover from a lengthy war. They were hungry for money, but each individual country under the union strived to keep its assets to itself and win the race to full financial recovery. So she gave the Union what it craved most in exchange for an alternative solution that would allow Heero to walk free. There simply had to be irony in there somewhere: Heero has always regarded his life as something cheap and easily discarded, yet it had cost her billions to answer his plea and allow him to live it.

Heaving a weary sigh, Relena turned away from the passenger's side window to look at Heero again. His features were cool and composed, his eyes focused intently on the road. He seemed nothing like the fearful boy she had held in her arms that night. Looking at him now, one would never believe that he could break down like that. To most he seemed resilient, untouchable... but she knew better. He was strong on the surface, not all the way through. There was constant turmoil under his cool, desolate visage. He was ruled by his emotions like any other; he just hid it better than most.

They never discussed that night. It was a secret to be buried and denied, but there were times when she could catch its reflection in his eyes when he looked at her. Sometimes he would pause, turning to stare at her silently and she could see it: a darkness swirling inside the deepest, bluest shade of his eyes. She had seen a part of him no one else knew of; she had seen him vulnerable and it made him uneasy. When he looked at her like that, eerily silent and subtly apprehensive, she could tell what he was thinking: he feared the exploitation of that vulnerability.

In the end, her efforts to buy his freedom only went so far. Heero was put inside a different kind of prison, and she was to be the walls confining him. It was all very simple, albeit morbid. She has taken responsibility over him and as far as the ESUN was concerned, she must continuously vouch for his very existence. He was only allowed to live and walk free if she was around. His bonds were invisible, but powerful nonetheless. They planted a chip in their brains, connecting them for life: if he was to move beyond a 2 mile radius away from her, he would start to feel pain. Up until 4 miles, the pain was at the limit of what was humanly bearable, but beyond that it would become pure agony, increasing exponentially with each additional mile. It was a wall-less prison; one he was thankful for at first, foolishly believing that it will suffice because it was better than anything he had had so far, but as the years went by he came to resent it. They both have.

They got a place together in Brussels: a two-story penthouse apartment at an exclusive condominium complex halfway between the parliament house where she worked, and the Preventer Headquarters where he decided to work. They divided the two floors between them, trying to achieve some sort of privacy, and only shared the living room (which they seldom used) and kitchen. They were hardly ever home, both engrossed in work. She was trying to build herself a successful political career, while he tried to pass the time working a desk job at Preventer, doing mostly risk management and expert consultation work on a very highly classified level. Although young, he was considered an expert risk analyst and was handed some of the most sensitive intelligence reports gathered by Preventer. Despite her high security clearance, half the time even she didn't know what he was working on. All she knew was that his job involved identifying vulnerabilities and potential threats to Preventer's secret "fire extinguishing" missions, and deciding what countermeasures to take in reducing the risk to an acceptable level.

It was ironic that a guy who used to hold such little regard to his own life during dangerous missions would be the one consulting others on how to avoid unnecessary jeopardy. Still, he was good at what he did and has been doing it for close to eight years now. She hoped that he found his job as fulfilling as she did hers, though it was clear that it wasn't easy for him to sit by a desk for eight to ten hours a day. It had turned him tense and easily irritable; adding fuel to the fire of his already difficult nature. Hardly anything would relax him. He spent hours at the gym or shooting range, but that wasn't enough to vent all of his frustration out. He craved action, however the only field assignments he could take on had to involve her. He worked as her bodyguard whenever she had to leave town; otherwise, the distance would kill him.

Keeping track of the distance between them was something they had to get used to and not once it ended in a blunder. She was given a small tracking device, shaped like an unstylish wristwatch, to alert her if Heero ever left the allowed perimeter and to keep track of her own distance from him. As part of his punishment, Heero wasn't given any means to determine his distance from her and he had to rely on her constantly informing him of her whereabouts during the day. Moreover, Heero was usually the one who was forced to adjust his schedule according to hers. It was a restriction that hindered his freedom immensely and often became a great source of friction between them, especially when she got so busy that she forgot to update him that her ever-changing plans were altered again, after he had already made adjustments to his own schedule.

On some unfortunate cases he only found out that she had left the safety zone when the pain flared up without warning. One time it happened while he was driving. Overwhelmed by the sudden pain, he had lost control over the vehicle and crashed into the car in front of him. Thankfully, the incident only resulted in two dented bumpers, a sprained neck on the other driver's part and a small lawsuit, but the financial penalty had been big enough to teach her a lesson and make certain that she'd remember to update Heero on her whereabouts.

Even worse were the times when she was so preoccupied before leaving the house that she even forgot the damn tracking device at home and accidentally began traveling outside the allowed perimeter. Heero would immediately call her on her cell, groaning in pain as he asked her why she was hurting him. It used to take her a moment to realize why he was asking her such a strange question, and when she finally did she'd turn around and open in a frantic run back into the perimeter, without wasting time getting her car and driver. She'd run and run, apologizing breathlessly into her phone, until Heero told her she could stop, the pain was gone. Eventually she asked that the tracking device will be installed on her smartphone as well; she was far less likely to forget her precious phone. After it was installed, such grim incidents rarely happened, but when they did, it was nearly fatal.

Risk analysts, like Heero, called it the Swiss Cheese Model, using the term to explain through analogy why catastrophic failures may occur despite multiple layers of defense against such mishaps. Those layers were compared to slices of Swiss cheese, piled upon each other. The holes represented small, potentially insignificant weaknesses. Things would totally collapse only rarely, but when they did, it was by coincidence a cumulative act effect, when all the holes happened to align so that there was a breach through the entire system, a hole through the entire block of cheese. About five years ago, such an unfortunate chain of coincidental events had nearly killed Heero.

It was AC 200 an election year and thus hectic. She was always so busy that she probably hadn't been home for more than a few lousy hours each day, hardly ever seeing him. She had been up most of the night preparing for an important speech she was to deliver to the ESUN assembly the next day. The parliament was scheduled to assemble in the late afternoon hours, so she slept in late and by the time she woke up, Heero had already left for work. She sat at the breakfast bar, sipping coffee and reading the news on her smartphone screen when suddenly the battery went dead.

She tried to plug the device to a charger, but the connector didn't fit. She then realized that Heero had accidently taken her charger instead of his. Up until then they both used the same type of charger, but Preventer had issued its employees new mobile devices a few days prior, and he probably forgot that the new charger looked different from the one he had used to so far. She walked upstairs to his room in search of his old charger, but couldn't find it. So instead she decided to use a spare cellphone she held in her den, took the SIM card out of her inoperable smartphone and put in the spare phone instead. After getting organized for the day, she nearly left for work before recalling that without her smartphone she couldn't keep track of Heero. So she went back to her bedroom to fetch the ugly wristwatch tracking device from her night table. She shoved it into her suit pocket, grabbed her old mobile phone, texted him a pre-written auto SMS: 'a day at the office will update if otherwise', and left for work, thinking all was well.

Her usual driver was out with the flu, so her office sent a replacement. She gave the man a brisk 'hello' and stepped into the backseat of the black executive's car, talking on her phone. She spent the whole trip to the office on her cell, stressed, solving one crisis after the other, tending to other people's problems. A group of influential businessmen was lobbying against the motion the ESUN parliament was trying to push through that day, and the assembly was postponed until further notice. It was also one phone call away from being canceled altogether. She was trying to prevent that by arranging a meeting with one of the lobbyists. After much convincing, he agreed to meet her for lunch so she told her driver to head there immediately, leaving the parliament district. She was in such a rush, stressing over the meeting, that she neglected to update her secretary, and more importantly Heero, that she won't be making it to the office.

Because she hadn't used the wristwatch tracker in a long while, it was out of battery; it wasn't working since she had left the house that morning and so it didn't alert her that she was leaving the 2 and then 4 mile radius. She was too preoccupied to even check it, trusting that it would beep if necessary, and therefore didn't see that the screen was dark.

Because she had switched phones, she also didn't have the application that warned her if she was leaving the perimeter.

Because she hadn't used the old spare cellphone in ages, she didn't have the proper charger in her car and after making so many calls, it went dead in her suit's pocket minutes after she entered the café.

Because her usual driver was sick at home, Heero had no way of contacting her once her phone went dead. He only had her usual driver's number stored on his phone and when tried to call her office, no one could tell him where she was. He even tried to call home, leaving her a voice-mail message with an urgent request to call him straight away once she heard it, but the blinking red light on their landline phone flashed unseen for hours, without anyone knowing the distress it signaled.

The holes, all of them, aligned.

It was only five hours later that she returned home and saw that there was a voice-mail message waiting. Tired, she ignored the blinking red light and went to take a shower, wishing to wash the day's troubling hardships away. She returned to the phone much later. Her face drained completely of color as she stood there with the handset pressed against her ear, listening to Heero's groaning, wheezing, and trembling voice. She didn't even listen to the whole message, already knowing the tragedy it signaled. Her heart raced with fright as she hurried to call his office, and then it sank down painfully once the department's secretary informed her that Heero had collapsed and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. His doctors had later explained that the pain he had experienced was so severe, that it resulted in fatal seizures and eventually a heart attack. The acute spasms damaged his coronary arteries irreparably and he was rushed to the OR for an emergency heart bypass surgery. He's been on heart medication ever since.

"You're staring at me again," Heero reprimanded and Relena realized she had been gazing at him for a while now, lost in grim thoughts. Embarrassed, she turned to look the other way. Her reflections brought back an enormous amount of guilt. Because of her, his heart had suffered permanent damage. He could no longer do the remarkable things he was capable of before, but at least with the right diet and medication, he could still function normally, if less vigorously. He never blamed her for crippling him for life; he simply accepted it as another shitty hand life has dealt him and moved on, but she suspected that deep down it did bother him that he could no longer live up to the amazing standards he used to uphold. Sometimes she swore she could see accusation in his fierce gaze, a certain gloom darkening his eyes whenever he found that he couldn't do something because it might endanger his heart.

He usually fell into such a dour, bitter mood after his annual physical exam at Preventer, when he was forced to face up to the fact that he wasn't such a perfect soldier anymore. He had pulled some crazy stunts in his days, achieving what was considered inhumanly possible, and those daredevil moves have begun taking their toll over the years, manifesting in various cardiac, gastrointestinal, bone and nervous diseases, each to a different degree and thankfully none too serious. Then there was the deep psychological trauma, which was just as crippling as his heart condition. Post-traumatic-stress often went hand in hand with coronary disease and because of her stupid carelessness he was now in the high-risk group for both. The only reason Preventer medical officials approved him for active duty was because she continuously pulled some very powerful strings. She feared the day his doctors would no longer agree to bend the rules for her; it would devastate him. His last medical checkup was about six months ago and she was still waiting for his broodiness to wear off; it seemed to be taking longer and longer with each passing year.

"Stop it," Heero snapped, because she was still staring at him with a pained, grimacing expression that probably gave away her troubled mind.

"Sorry, I was just thinking..." she mumbled, dejected. She wished she could share her thoughts with him, but she knew better than to bring up such a touchy subject.

"Then do it without gawking at me," he complained irately.

"Aren't we self-conscious today," she rolled her eyes, trying to joke; "Look at you: I don't let you have some for a few days and you get all insecure," she added with a taunting smirk, trying to lighten the mood with a little dark humor. He snorted in response, dismissing her provocative remark callously.

Of course, Heero has nothing to be ashamed of, she mused with a naughty smile and turned to the passenger window, smirking impishly. He ate well, he worked out as much as his condition allowed him and he spent just enough time out in the sun to maintain a healthy tan. He was very handsome and, unlike her, he didn't have to make much of an effort to look so damn good. He could walk out of the house in ragged old jeans, a plain T-shirt and scruffy hair that screamed 'I just got out of bed!', and he would still look good enough to eat. She on the other hand, took at least an hour to get ready to leave the house something he often complained about.

She was certain that he was aware of his appeal, though never enough to actually do something with it. They've been living together for eight years now and he never brought a date home once. To be fair, neither did her. She knew that there were quite a few office ladies in Preventer HQ who were practically drooling over him, but they never went beyond flirting, because they all thought he was with her. He ignored their flirtations even though he could probably have a lady-companion for every damn night of the week. His alleged devotion to her earned him even more credits with the ladies, but romance simply did not concern him. If she had to be completely honest with herself, she didn't care much for it either. That was why, way back in AC 199, she had turned to him with a question:

'Have you ever been with anyone?' she asked out of the blue one night. They had just finished a Friday night dinner of chicken, pasta, salad and red wine. Friday night was usually the only time they had dinner together. Heero had cooked, so it was her turn to clear the dishes. Having finished his house chores for the day, he was just about to retire to his bedroom upstairs, leaving her alone at the table with her third glass of wine. He only had a few sips, and his glass still stood full of red wine next to an empty plate. He stopped in the kitchen doorway, and turned to her, frowning.

'Do you mean sex?' he asked to clarify, as she expected he would when it came to such a sensitive topic. Unlike her, he was not one to prevaricate. He only hesitated when he assumed his words will offend her, and that was most likely because he wanted to spare himself the unpleasant tension in the air for the few following days.

'Yes,' she snarled nastily and took another sip of wine. 'Of course I mean sex!'

'No, I haven't,' he answered truthfully, as he always did. 'Why?'

'Because neither have I,' she confessed quietly, swaying the wine in her glass from side to side, watching it stir with a pair of bitter blue eyes. 'It's kind of embarrassing, don't you agree? We're almost twenty.'

Heero thought about it for a moment. 'I supposed that it could indicate some level of incompetence,' he finally agreed and she had smiled at his typical, pragmatic, approach. She could be just as practical.

'Then how about we do something about it?' She had turned to him with suggestive eyes, smiling seductively. The wine was making her cheeks blush.

He frowned at her sultry gaze. 'Are you proposing that we have sex?' he marveled with obvious disdain and she had punched the table, frustrated.

'It's not like I'm asking you to jump of a bridge for me!' she grunted hurtfully; ' which I'm sure you'd rather do than fuck me,' she added, glowering at him fiercely; 'but I'm sick of being criticized for my inexperience! No one takes me seriously. People can tell. I'm the parliament's laughing-stock. I'm sick of being a fucking saint! I heard they even held a poll about who will finally "pop my cork". You're at the top of the list, in case you're wondering.'

He considered her words silently for a moment, frowning. 'I suppose that I would be the obvious candidate,' he eventually concurred and she smiled drunkenly, calmer once she realized that he had reached the same conclusion.

'So, what do you say?' she droned seductively; 'Feel like giving it a go?'

Heero frowned upon her suggestion; he actually looked upset. 'Does it really bother you that much?' he had asked carefully and she sighed, tired of his need to rationalize everything. If there was ever a time to act out of pure, feral, impulse that was it. But no; Heero was too uptight to surrender to spontaneity. A girl was practically begging him to sleep with her, but he still had to stop and think it over!

'I can't say I'm happy about it,' she finally admitted as she resigned to having to plainly explain the most obvious of things to him. 'But it's a man's world. Women with... experience, are more highly regarded. Isn't it the same for guys?'

'I guess,' he mumbled thoughtfully, still frowning as he contemplated the matter; 'But you shouldn't care what others think.'

'I don't!' she grumbled defensively; 'Jesus, Heero! Look, it's not that a big of a deal, alright? It's just that, under the circumstances, I rather fix this little problem with you than embarrass myself in front of a total stranger. It doesn't have to mean anything. Just think of it as another task to accomplish, I don't mind.'

He thought about it for another long moment, weighing pros and cons, trying to decide if it was a risk worth taking always the analyst. Finally, he concurred, nodding his head curtly as though he had just accepted an official assignment.

'How do I start?' He took a step forward and asked, approaching the task just like any other: asking for instructions. She gave him a pitying smile and reached for the bottle of wine, knowing that she had to loosen him up a bit or else she'd wake up very sore in the morning.

'I think we better start off with a few more glasses...' she said and poured herself another glass. He went to fetch his as well, gulping it down quickly, suddenly nervous.

He found his resolve soon enough and took the assignment hands-on, dutiful as ever. They did what they figured they should do; it was all very technical. They didn't kiss and never even took their shirts off, just the lower garments. He was careful and considerate enough during the act, bordering on warily cautious, but he was out her bedroom the minute it was over. She remained lying on the bed, staring numbly at the ceiling. She didn't feel a thing beyond his physical presence inside of her. She was sad to say that compared to masturbation, sex wasn't the mind-blowing experience people made it out to be; perhaps they had done something wrong. Oh well, in the very least her virginity was finally out of the way.

Their sexual encounters got better gradually. When treacherous urges arose again, either in her or him, they slept together, getting it out of the way. Sex was simply something they did from time to time, no strings attached. No senseless romance, just useful release. It worked perfectly and even improved over time, because without the shackling bonds of romance they were unashamedly honest with each other, giving the other detailed instructions about what they liked and disliked during sex. She felt free to tell him to back-off if he did something that bothered her and he would bluntly tell her that she was doing a lousy job trying to please him one way or another. She had no complaints. After sufficient tutoring, he performed in bed as immaculately as he had performed on the battlefield and she was proud to say that she had also managed to make his head spin on occasion.

All in all, she figured that it was easier to sleep with him than to actually put herself out there and search for a meaningful relationship, having to wait for a certain level of intimacy before she dared opening her mouth and telling her partner what she liked. She didn't have time for such nonsense anyway, so for now Heero had to do. He was a means to an end, and he was fine with that; perhaps because no one has ever treated him differently.

Her therapist rebuked her for her constant use of him as an excuse not to form any real relationships. She wondered if Heero's psychiatrist made the same infuriating claims. Sometimes she got the feeling that the two therapists were conspiring against them, working together in an effort to do some secretive couples counseling. She had no way to prove it, and even if it was true, she has been going to the same therapist for over eight years now and she wouldn't change her for the world. She assumed that Heero must be pleased with his counselor too; otherwise he wouldn't have stuck with her for so many years. That made her a star-psychiatrist in Relena's book. Heero's doctor probably knew things she wished she hadn't; unimaginable atrocities that lingered in his heart and tainted his soul, and yet, despite his horrific past, she was able to help him. Psychiatric therapy has done Heero loads of good, albeit at first it was mostly the prescribed medication that kept him stable and allowed him to sleep at night.

His doctor had put him on all sorts of medication to counter post-traumatic-stress, depression, paranoia, insomnia, anxiety and whatnot. Initially, Heero refused treatment, thinking he could brave through the trauma on his own. He had foolishly believed that he had come out of his many ordeals unaffected. He thought that the emotional detachment he was forced to develop during his gruesome training will protect him from harm. He assumed he was above psychological trauma and it wasn't easy to make him see otherwise. In his vanity, he failed to see that the once massive walls he had erected around his heart have cracked, eroded by repeated emotional tides thrust upon him during wartime. The dams were no longer able to hold back the flood, and once the levees had failed Heero drowned.

Forced to live a quiet, civilian life, he didn't have the means to repress his problems anymore. He had no battles to occupy him, no soldier-pretense to hide behind. Peacetime became his worst enemy. Paranoia kicked in fast; images and sounds haunted him day and night. He suffered from repetitive, intrusive recollections of his traumatic past; horrendous memories attacked him in daydreams and nightmares until he could no longer function during the day or sleep at night. He tried to fight the disorder on his own, attempting to completely detach himself emotionally and avoiding anything that might arouse traumatic recollections, but just about anything and everything made him snap. He became restless, always stressed, hyper-vigilant. Despite his extreme alertness, the simplest of things could startle him and his response was usually exaggerated to the point of dangerous.

Eventually, he accepted his need for medication and began taking his prescriptions regularly. The change was astounding. He was finally calm, rested, composed more like the person she used to know, but still... not quite the same. The psychoactive drugs took it a bit too far, changed him too much. On some days he displayed eerie apathy, on others he was extremely moody and every now and then he went completely mad and became outright creepy. Fortunately, the drug-induced bi-polar disorder was only temporary. It took his psychiatrist a while to adjust the dosage and after a taxing trial period Heero was himself again, or at least the person he was before the PTSD took over. Finally, she didn't have to hold her breath nervously in his presence, afraid he might snap.

Months would go by and he would be fine, stable, until suddenly he would get sick of his dependency on so many drugs and stupidly stopped taking them, claiming that he hated how they altered his mind and made him lose sight of himself. Soon after his problems would resurface and he had no other choice but to go back on medication, reluctant but resigned to the fact that he couldn't function otherwise.

He required less and less meds over the years, slowly learning to cope on his own. She was often amazed by how well he had accustomed himself to a new life, although, sometimes she feared that he was still repressing his troublesome past and that one day he would crack. There were days when she felt on edge in his presence; there would be a certain tension in the air, a dark cloud hovering over his head. She had to walk on eggshells around him on such days, fearing that if she made the wrong move or said the wrong thing, that day might turn out to be the day when he finally explodes or worse... shatters completely.

"OBSTACLE AHEAD," the GPS navigation software warned in a monotonous female voice and Relena looked up, torn out of her musings.

"Must be another flood," Heero said and reached a hand up to the small display on the dashboard. He pressed in a few commands, instructing the software to find an alternative route.

"Another detour?" she protested; "You've got to be kidding me!"

"Complaining won't make any difference," he rebuked, much like she knew he would, God damn him. For once she would have loved him to say something new and unexpected, maybe something along the lines of: 'You know what? Forget about the damn conference! I'm taking you to Paris. We'll sip wine on the Seine and make love by moonlight...'

Making love... wouldn't that be something? Relena almost laughed.

She studied Heero's stoic face as he waited for the navigation software to offer him an alternative route. When it finally did, he glared at it, displeased.

"Well?" she asked huffily.

"There's a way around the district, but it will add three more hours to our trip."

"Three hours?!" she exclaimed; "That means we'll get there at around..."

"Two a.m."

"Christ help me."

"The conference starts at nine," he reminded her, "you'll make it."

"Yeah, great. After over a day's drive. I'll march in there looking like Hell."

"I can stop at a motel."

"Don't be stupid. Keep driving."

And he did. They drove on in frustrated silence. Relena glared at the road ahead, angry with each passing mile of useless wetland. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, tired of sitting as she had been doing for over four hours since their last pit-stop.

"I have to pee," she finally said.

"Can you hold it?" was his automatic response.

"No," she emphasized harshly, annoyed. He knew she wouldn't have said anything if she could hold it. Why was he so God damned anal!

"There's nowhere to stop for miles," he said and she swore that she would kill him if he'd remind her that back in the day he had managed just fine relieving himself into a damn bottle while being stuck in his cockpit for days. His veteran tales always got on her nerves, mostly because he only divulged such stories when he was trying to belittle her current predicament. There was simply no way of arguing with his comparisons; he always had an example of how he had had it far worse than she did, even when it came to something as painful as her step-father's death. Once, during a heated bickering over something she could no longer recall, she had barked at him that she had had her share of pain too, like watching her father die in her arms and then being told that she wasn't even his daughter. Heero immediately retorted that he had watched both his parents die and one didn't hear him bitching about it like a snooty child! He told her to shut her trap and be grateful that her step-mother was still around!

Oh, now she remembered what the fight was all about. It was way back in AC 198; soon after they moved in together and before they became physical. Back then, Heero was still in the experimental stage of his psychiatric medication. The tension between them was great. Their fights were fierce, brutal and offensive. Heero's trial medications only made it worse, removing all of his otherwise tight restraints. For a typically quiet and reserved guy, Heero sure had a flare for trash-talk; each of his words had cut her to the bone. They argued a lot, over things big and small. That time, the fight was about something big, and therefore the argument was exceptionally crazed.

Her mother was coming to town for a "diplomatic family visit", as part of her life-long effort to keep up appearance in the European high-society. She hadn't seen the woman since the conflicts ended, but she refused to meet with her. Heero arrogantly claimed that she was being childish. She got angry with him for intervening in her complex family affairs, while he knew nothing about the cursed upper-class world she was raised in. He retorted spitefully and she lashed out at him with a vengeance. She shouted at him to butt off, because he could never understand what it was like to be forced to love someone who wasn't really her parent. He claimed that he did know[2], and that was why she should hold on to what she had, even if it was an illusion. His words rang so true and felt so heartbreakingly genuine, that she only got angrier with him. She was furious for losing what she considered to be a single ownership on that kind of pain; she hated him for once again pulling a skeleton out his closet that made her suffering seem like nothing compared to his.

She could tell that he immediately regretted slipping and telling her something so personal about his past. Back in those days she was still in the nasty habit of prying, trying to dig out as much as she could about him. She figured that living with him would become a bit easier if she knew what made him tick. Heero, of course, rarely shared anything willingly, but she had shaken something inside him that day, catching him off guard. In the heat of the argument, he told her that she was stupid if she thought that he came into the world out of thin air. He wasn't born a soldier; he used to have parents too... once, long ago... and he had lost them all: a mother, a step-father and a man he often wished he could've asked whether or not he was his real father, instead of settling for wishful-thinking[3].

Heero's aggrieved words had left her speechless. Suddenly he became so much more... real to her; more than the flat, two-dimensional character she had mistaken him for while blinded by the perfectly polished plaque reflecting the immaculate image of The Soldier. The thought that he used to be someone's child had never even crossed her mind. She felt foolish, fooled by his ever-desolate soldier persona, never considering that he used to be a boy before his superiors had stripped his humanity away from hm. He had lost just as much as she had, apparently more, and yet there she was, childishly holding onto her anger, refusing to feel thankful for her relatively good fortune.

Once the dust had settled after their vicious fight, Heero offered a truce: He said he'd escort her if she agreed to meet with her mother just once. Realizing how important it was to him that she reconciled with the woman who had raised her since early childhood, she agreed. They went together to meet the woman at a prestigious café uptown. Relena used to opportunity to tell the woman that the young man sitting next to her was more of a family to her than she ever was, thus telling her mother off and confessing her feelings to Heero at the same time killing two birds with one stone.

Heero was sitting next to her quietly, his entwined fists resting rigidly on the table as he accepted her direct statement in mute, brooding calm. Her mother's eyes on the other hand, welled with tears. The woman studied Heero in guilty silence and he returned her gaze evenly, his Prussian blue eyes burning with a fire seen only in a lioness eyes as she protected her young. Her mother's eyes never burnt like that for her, never. Instead, they shone with remorse and adverse acceptance. She will never forget the intense gaze the two had shared as her mother passed the torch over to Heero. That was seven years ago. She hasn't seen the woman since.

"You'll have to rough it," Heero's steady voice cut into her ruminating. She looked up at him, surprised by his unusual offer. He was proposing that he'd pull over instead of criticizing her perfectly natural need to pee. How unusually considerate of him!

"Fine," she huffed, less than thrilled by the idea of peeing at the side of the road. "But you're holding an umbrella over my head," she informed him haughtily and his lips curled slightly upwards with a sarcastic smirk.

"I live to serve," he muttered cynically and she slapped him on the back of his head something only she could get away with rolling her eyes as she muttered an affectionate: "Asshole."

Heero slowed down and finally stopped the car at the left side of the road, because the ditch to the right was overflowing and there was nowhere to pull over. The road ran across an enormous green meadow, flooded with large puddles of water reflecting the clouds above. There was a thick tree line up ahead, and above it stretched a gloomy grey sky. The thick storm clouds were touched with a tint of purple and orange; the sun was setting. Rain still drizzled relentlessly, but at least the downpour had eased up a bit.

Heero stepped out of the car first, stretching his arms and legs. His hair and Preventer jacket were sprinkled with droplets of water by the time he reached into the backseat and grabbed an umbrella. He circled the vehicle, holding the umbrella over his head, and opened the door for Relena. She stepped out, ironing her black business suit with her hands as he held the umbrella above her, leaving himself exposed to the rain like a true gentleman. They were standing on sticky mud, which had already stained Heero's black dress shoes and was now beginning to cover her own elegant high heel shoes.

"God damn it," she muttered infuriatedly.

"I don't suppose you expect me to carry you?" he made one of his infuriating sarcastic remarks.

"Watch it"," she hissed, raising her eyebrows in warning.

"Come on," he said, and guided her around the car, holding the umbrella above her head. They walked towards a ditch at the side of the road. It was flowing with raging whitewater. Heero turned around respectfully, his arm stretched backwards, holding the umbrella above her.

"Knock yourself out," he muttered and she sighed exasperatedly, annoyed by his cynicism. The past few years had turned him frustratingly disgruntled, sometimes even bluntly resentful, and she was always on the receiving end. He couldn't take his frustration out on the entire ESUN administration for putting him in this entrapment, so he took it out on her. Usually, she ignored his snippy comments, unless he pushed her too far when she was also in a foul mood. He wasn't such an easy guy to live with, and on some days she got fed-up with his ill-tempered attitude. When she complained about it, her shrink hypothesized that Heero probably never dared to talk back to his superiors, so he was making up for the loss of typical-teenage behavior by acting up now. Her therapist told her that she should humor him and then it would vanish on its own, but that only made matters worse, because Heero knew exactly which buttons to push in order to drive her over the edge. Not once she had stomped to her room in a display of fury, just so she could cry behind closed doors. Heero could hurt her like no one else could.

He hardly ever apologized for his rude behavior and she just tried to forgive and forget. Her therapist claimed that it was yet another sign that they weren't in a real relationship: Lovers would have quarreled over such deliberate insolence, had wild make-up sex and later they would have reached a compromise, but they just moved on until the cycle repeated. Lately, it has been happening quite a lot. Heero was getting more and more difficult with each passing day. He had bottled-up so much inside and the bottle was now finally overflowing; his bitterness was sipping out, sometimes gushing in torrents. She feared that the day he will finally burst was just around the corner.

She scowled sullenly at the miniature fast-river raging before her. She felt the same inside; Heero probably did too. Heaving a long sigh, she finally moved to pull her suit pants down and crouched over the slippery mud. She looked at the tree line up ahead while relieving herself, wondering whether they were traveling through what used to be Sanc. They were close enough to the French and Luxembourgian borders, approaching Belgium, so she could be looking at what used to be her father's kingdom; it had been a narrow but long piece of land, a territory stretching across three borders and all the way to the North Atlantic Ocean.

Did he know that they were standing on the land she had sacrificed to save his life? Did he care? Was he grateful because he never said anything about it; and why should he? He had given up so much for others, for peace and freedom, and no one has ever shown him one bit of courtesy. In fact, they took away his freedom in return, the ungrateful bastards. It was wrong of her to expect his gratefulness; she felt foolish for even thinking about it. Was she so desperate for some genuine emotional reciprocation that she would settle for his eternal gratitude instead? That was childish. He knew that he owed her his life; she could see it in his eyes whenever he was in one of his moods. He hated it; every lousy minute of it.

She stood back up, zipping her suit pants. "Let's go," she muttered morosely and snatched the umbrella from him. She stomped around the car, back to her seat and slammed the door shut after her, angry with herself for going down the path of such destructive thoughts. She flipped open the car-visor mirror to check her hair and makeup. Not much damage, but she could still use some freshening up.

Heero often accused her of becoming vain over the years, and she didn't blame him. Over the past few years she had gotten a nose job, a boob job and some other minor cosmetic adjustments. She found that she got her way much more easily in the political arena with the right amount of cleavage and narrow waistline. Considering he was the only one to ever rip the benefits of those cosmetic upgrades, she felt that he had no right to complain. If he accused her of vanity, she simply informed him that he could forget all about sleeping with her for a while. Eventually, he got off her back, only so he could climb another part of her instead. She smirked at her reflection, feeling quite pleased with herself. They might not be madly in love, but he still wanted her. It had to mean something, didn't it?

She turned to look out the driver's side window and saw him still standing out in the rain, looking over the ditch. His back was facing the car; he was taking leak. She watched him silently, her blue eyes shining sadly.

Then again, maybe all it meant was that he was comfortable around her. It was a false sense of coziness born out of years of compulsory familiarity. He was with her because he had no other choice. He slept with her because she was always accessible, attainable, easy... familiar. It didn't mean anything beyond that, did it?

She watched him zip up his pants and turn back towards the car. He settled back into the driver's seat, dripping water and soaking wet. The drizzle had turned into a fierce downpour banging loudly over the car's rooftop. He wriggled in his seat as he shed his drenched jacket and then dumped it in the backseat, where it landed on the leather covered cushion with a loud splat. Relena observed him quietly as he ran his fingers through his long, sopping wet bangs, fluffing them up and out of his eyes. A few small droplets slid down the side of his face, tracing his cheeks like tears. He was so God damned sexy. It was a shame that their relationship was solely platonic, with occasional benefits. If she hadn't known him so well, she would have flushed red just by looking at him. Her heart used to flutter in his electrifying presence; there was a time when she would've gotten wet just by looking at him. Now, while she still enjoyed observing him as one would always enjoy gazing at something so aesthetically pleasing, there was no more mystery.

Still, she wouldn't give him up for the world. She was fucking one of the most dangerous men to ever walk the Earth nothing could be more empowering than that. Sleeping with him filled her with arrogant confidence. Her whole body boasted about it when she went to work the next day. Her cockiness was evident in her proud stride: shoulders back, boobs front, her smug smile telling the envious women staring at her resentfully that: 'Yeah bitches, I just got out of bed with someone you can only dream about!'. She was fucking Heero Yuy; she could do fucking anything. He was like a drug and she was hopelessly addicted to the power she drew from him. So when it came down to it, she didn't really care why he slept with her, as long as he was hers. She wondered if that made him a sort of "Trophy Lover", and couldn't help but laugh at the idea; he'd kill her if he knew what she's been thinking just now!

"I'm glad you find me so amusing," he said dryly as he started the car again. His eyes were focused on the road, ignoring her pleased face.

"Not one bit," she replied mischievously; "I was amusing myself."

"Usually you'd call for my aid," he teased back and she reciprocated with a nifty smile.

"Are you offering that we have car-sex?"

"Rain check," he replied wryly and turned on the wipers to battle off the rain pounding on the windshield. Relena burst into laughter.

"Good one," she complimented. She enjoyed his dry, witty humor. Most believed he was incapable of joking, but one simply had to know him well enough to pick up on his subtle sense of humor.

Heero shifted the car into first gear and tried to accelerate. The engine roared, but the car remained immobile. She watched his face carefully, and noted that he was frowning, displeased. He tried again. The RPM meter was rising, but still no movement. Relena paled with dismay as she realized what happened:

"Are we stuck?"

"It would seem so."

"Really?!" she exclaimed, aggravated; "Stuck in the God damned mud!?"

"I'll go see if I can dig us out," he said and stepped out of the car again. "Take the wheel," he ordered and slammed the door shut. Relena released a frustrated sigh and maneuvered over to the driver's seat. She watched him through the rearview mirror as he circled around the car, examining each tire. His khaki Preventer dress shirt was gradually soaking with water, clinging to his muscular torso. It was getting dark outside and rain was pouring down hard. It was also getting cold. She reached to turn the heating on and suddenly heard him bang three times on the trunk door; he was signaling her to try accelerating. She pressed hard on the gas pedal, but nothing happened the car wouldn't budge. Looking up at the rearview mirror again, she saw him bending down to look under the car.

The sun had already set, its last rays barely filtering through the thick rainclouds. Relena bent over to the glove compartment and pulled out a small flashlight. She then reached to the backseat, grabbed the umbrella she had thrown back there minutes earlier, and stepped out of the car. Her expensive high heel shoes sunk into the gooey mud. She cussed under her breath, turned on the flashlight and made her way around the car, towards Heero. She found him crouching next to the back tire on the driver's side; it was sunk deeply into the mud. She noted the splashes of mud all over Heero's black dress pants. His hair was drenched in water, plastered to his head and face. His hands were covered in sticky muck; he must have tried to dig the tire out by hand.

"Let me guess," she opened with a sigh; "We're not going anywhere."

"Not unless you brought a shovel," he replied wearily and stood up. He wiped the wet sludge off his hands by rubbing it on his already soiled pants.

"I thought you're supposed to be Mister Ready-for-Anything."

Heero sent her a quick glare, silently telling her that he was not in the mood for her criticism. She remained standing by the sunken wheel, holding the umbrella over her head, as he walked back towards the driver's side and entered the car. Relena sent the muddy tire one last hateful glare, before circling around the car and entering on the passenger's side.

The engine was still running and the heating was now working full blast; Heero must have turned it on a higher setting. She threw the umbrella to the back of the car and when she turned to face forward again, she saw him loosen his wet black tie. He threw it off and began unbuttoning his water-saturated khaki dress shirt.

"Sorry, but I'm no longer in the mood," she teased him with a cocky smile, but he ignored her suggestive remark. Apparently, he wasn't in such a good mood either. He was only taking the shirt off because he was cold and wet. Beneath it, he wore a white tank top undershirt and it was also drenched. He took it off as well and threw both wet garments to the backseat. He remained nude down to his waist, still wearing his wet, mud-soaked, dress pants, held by a black leather belt. Relena's eyes lingered on the elegant silver buckle just below his navel. His torso was well-toned; no six-pack he had let himself go a bit over the years and his once great abs were now just a delicious memory but his abdominal muscles were still very well defined. She loved staring at the perfectly toned triangle sneaking under his waistband, outlining his groin.

Eventually she shifted her gaze up to avoid staring down there for so long, and her eyes traveled up his naked torso, finally settling on a faint, long scar running across his muscular chest, splicing its center; a tragic reminder of his heart bypass surgery. It was one of many old scars marring his flesh and she knew each one by heart. She noted that his nipples were erect; he was cold. She took off her suit's jacket, remaining in the white blouse she wore underneath, and handed it to him. Heero accepted the blazer silently and spread it across his naked chest like a blanket.

They sat in silence, looking out the window and into the stormy evening.

"This is your fault," she finally broke the silence with a vicious accusation. Bickering seemed like the only thing left to do; plus, a heated argument just might lead them to a more pleasurable recreational activity...

Heero turned to face her, frowning. "How could this possibly be my fault?" he protested; "You're the one who wanted me to pull over."

"And you're the one who blew up that damn space station!" she snapped back.

"Seriously?" He raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "You're blaming me for the weather?"

"Well I can't blame it on the weatherman..." she muttered resentfully.

"Then you blame it on the Gundam pilot," he grunted disgruntledly; "What else is new. I should have just let that damn ship crash..."

"Sure," she rolled her eyes; "only you would sit idly by and allow all life on Earth to be obliterated."

"It would have saved me a lot of trouble down the road."

Relena sighed, somewhat subdued by his bitter remark.

"I'm sorry, Heero, I didn't mean anything by that," she apologized halfheartedly. "I just can't believe you could do all that, but we're still stuck here like an average Joe!" she added spitefully, crossing her arms over her chest. Maybe if she bruised his ego hard enough, he would pull a rabbit out of his hat and fix this damn mess.

"There's only so much I can do," he argued in his defense.

"Bullshit," she retorted; "Civilian life spoiled you, that's all. You got comfortable."

"What if I have? I think I've earned it."

"You'll get no argument from me there, but I'm sure you would have improvised something amazing by now if this was a life or death situation."

"I don't see your ass hanging on the line, but I'm open to suggestions."

"Well what would you have done back then? What if you were stuck here while you had a mission to complete, what would you have done?"

"Walk."

"Through that storm?"

"Yes."

"In the middle of the night?"

"Yes."

"Forget it!" she shook her head; "We should call a tow-truck."

"I don't have any reception, do you?"

She checked her phone. "No."

"Then we wait."

"For what?" she snapped, annoyed.

"For either the rain to ease up, or for someone to drive by," he explained calmly.

"Right," she grunted; "We might as well wait for the revival of Christ!"

"Whichever comes first," he replied smoothly, smirking just to spite her.

"Argh!" she groaned, frustrated beyond words, and slumped into her seat.

* * *

The next two hours crawled by in infuriating silence and maddening idleness. Outside, darkness ruled and rain pounded constantly against the car. Heero had turned the headlights off and switched on the car's interior lights instead. Relena passed the time solving crossword puzzles on her smartphone while Heero slept, leaning against the driver side window, snoring softly. He never believed her when she told him that he snored, albeit quietly. She suspected it was a result of having his nose broken one time too many. She briefly considered capturing a video of him on her smartphone so she could let him listen to it later, but she dismissed the idea shortly, finding no point behind the exercise. She knew of very few things he hated more than seeing footage of himself.

He awoke a while later and immediately checked the digital clock display on the dashboard. It was 22:00. Turning around, he reached for his shirt lying on the backseat. After he determined that it was hasn't dried yet, he threw it back down and turned around, still half-naked. He adjusted the blazer she had given him to cover himself again, released a quiet sigh, and resumed staring numbly out the windshield.

"That motel you offered sure sounds nice right about now..." Relena said just to break the heavy silence.

"You're welcomed to walk twelve miles out in the rain," he replied sarcastically, without shifting his gaze away from the window.

"Only if I intend to kill you," she returned the favor with her own portion of cynicism. Heero didn't respond and just glared out the window, fuming quietly. She had touched a nerve. He hated being reminded of his bonds. After all, twelve miles were well over his limit.

"We've been here forever and not one car drove by," Relena changed the subject.

"The roads are probably blocked," he mumbled direly, obviously not in the mood for talking.

"Always the optimist..." she teased and he sighed.

"Try to get some sleep," he said; in essence telling her to shut up. She chose to ignore his hinted insult.

"Unlike you, I can't fall asleep just about anywhere," she condemned nastily; "Besides, I'm too hungry to sleep."

In a flash, Heero bent over her, reaching for the glove compartment. His body heat crashed against her like a train-wreck. He opened it and reached in, his elbow brushing against her thighs, and pulled out a granola snack bar. He straightened back up and threw it in her lap, leaving her flustered by his sudden invasion into her personal space. He could have just told her to get the snack herself. She wondered why he chose to initiate contact. Perhaps she was seeing too much into it; it probably came naturally to him because they were always so God damned close. For some reason, that made her angry. She found herself wishing that the intimate contact was a result of something else.

"How long has that been there?" she muttered irritably, pissed for a whole other reason one she chose to deny and peeled off the wrapper.

"Just eat it," he garbled petulantly.

"Want some?" she offered out of courtesy as she took her first bite, and he shook his head, like she knew he would. She shrugged and continued munching on the bar.

Heero checked the time again: 22:07. He turned to fetch his wet jacket from the backseat. She watched him take out a slim plastic stick-pack from the inner pocket, pop the lid open and throw a large white capsule into his mouth. He also pulled a bottle of mineral water from the door compartment on his side. He drank the tablet down with water and Relena realized that it wasn't some kind of breath-freshener, but medicine; one she hadn't seen before, however she assumed that it was his heart medication. He had to take it every twelve hours, or else his angina[4] will start acting up, and the last thing they needed was to be stuck in the middle of nowhere as he started having chest pains.

"New prescription?" she asked as she watched him put the stick-pack back into his jacket and throw it to the backseat.

"Yes," he said and took another sip of water.

"You didn't tell me Doctor Burke changed your prescription," she commented carefully, threading on thin ice. He resented it when she meddled in his affairs; her nose was buried deep in them as it was and he was jealous of what little privacy he could salvage.

"Well now you know," he muttered irately and shoved the water-bottle back into the side compartment.

She regretted hogging the snack bar all to herself, because she knew he shouldn't take his heart medication on an empty stomach. She pointed the empty wrapper at him, waving up and down it in a reprimanding gesture.

"You should have eaten it yourself," she rebuked him just so she could elevate her own guilt.

"I'll be fine."

"Of course you will. You're always fine," she droned sarcastically, which earned her a confused frown from Heero, who turned to face her with demanding eyes.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," she sighed tiredly, regretting ever bringing it up. All it did was leave room for unwanted conversation. Heero was still looking at her intently. His potent gaze demanded nothing but honesty. She tucked a lock of hair that fell from her French twist behind her ear, casting her gaze down briefly.

"I know you've been seeing Doctor Burke again, okay?" she admitted reluctantly, unable to keep the truth from those fierce blue eyes. "You know you can't go anywhere without me knowing," she reminded him even if it would anger him. "If you're fine, then why is she suddenly changing your medication after all these years? Something's up and you're not telling me."

"It's a new brand," he said, his gaze still leveled with hers to convey honesty. "It's supposed to work faster if I have an attack. Burke called me in for some checkups to make sure the new medication is working properly."

"You're lying," she accused knowingly, because he only volunteered so much information if he was trying to sell her a lie. "You've been going to the clinic every week since your physical six months ago and you've been alarmingly upset ever since. Why? What's wrong?"

This time, he lowered his gaze to the floor, avoiding her eyes. He only did that if he didn't want to say something that might end up hurting her feelings.

"You wouldn't have gone to see Burke if the results of that physical were fine," she pressed on. "Tell me what's wrong. Are you getting worse?"

Heero leaned back into his seat, turning to face the windshield again. He watched the torrents of rain sliding down the window in thick currents.

"It's not that," he sighed.

"Then what is it?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Are you sleeping with her?"

"What!" He whirled his head around to scowl at her, angry.

She returned his fierce glare evenly. "You heard me."

"No I am not sleeping with my cardiologist!"

"Then why are you there so often?"

"That is none of your business."

"Everything you do is my business," she pointed out smugly.

"Maybe that's the problem!" Heero exploded violently, punching the steering wheel forcefully. The car honked, just a short burst of noise that died out quickly. Relena gaped at him, stunned by his atypical outburst. Heero never raised his voice like that never. He never expressed his anger so animatedly either. He could be seething with anger, shaking as though about to burst; his words could be poisonous and spiteful, his voice laced with fury and contempt, but he never reached the boiling point. He would always simmer down before he exploded; always. Apparently, she had just touched too many raw nerves. Heero wasn't holding back anymore. The day of reckoning was at hand; it won't be long now, she realized.

A tense silence filled the car, turning awkward.

They never really opened up to one another; that was what their therapists were for. Up until now, she trusted that therapy provided him a sufficient outlet, because he has been sticking with it for so many years and he was doing fine. It would seem that she was wrong. Therapy was not enough; talking about his problems was not enough. Heero was a man of action, not words. She on the other hand, was a politician; she was all about talking. But in over ten years, she never found the right way to talk to him. She wished he would allow her a glimpse, even a small one, at what went on inside that incredibly complex head of his, then maybe she could find the right words, but despite the forming cracks, his walls were still very well-guarded.

The only time she ever got a peek at his troubled soul was back when he was still in the initial stages of psychiatric therapy. He came home one evening after a particularly long session, pale, shaking and distraught. She was sitting on the sofa, sipping red wine in the dark, watching the rain wash down the large living room window overlooking the city. He simply stood by the closed front door, gaping ahead blankly. His silent distress alarmed her. She got up slowly, placing her glass of wine on the coffee table. She approached him carefully, and wrapped her arm around his shoulders. She felt him tense under her touch. He turned his head around slowly until he was facing her. They looked into each other's eyes for what could have been an hour. His eyes shone in the darkness of the room, glistening with unshed tears that reflected the nighttime city lights. She was barely breathing and his breath was heavy and shallow; she waited for him to speak.

'She said it wasn't my fault,' he whispered with a trembling voice that pinched her heart painfully. 'I argued, but... she said it... wasn't.'

'What wasn't?' she dared to whisper a question. She watched as his tears overflowed, spilling from his eyes. Ashamed, he closed his eyes and the droplets squeezed out, streaming freely down his pale cheeks. He swallowed, hard, and her eyes followed his Adam's apple as it bobbed up and down, forcing down a sob.

'Do you want to talk about it?' she offered carefully and he shook his head, his eyes still closed and his tears still flowing.

'Enough... talking...' he had whispered with a cracking voice and finally moved away. Her arm slid off his shoulder, falling limply at her side. She watched helplessly as he shuffled tiredly up the stairs. He hadn't left his bedroom for over a day and when she finally worked up the nerve to go up there the next night she found him lying curled in a fetal position on his bed, hugging a pillow as he stared blankly ahead at the open window. It had been raining, of course, and the room was terribly cold. She stepped inside to close the window. He ignored her. She approached his bed, but he didn't even look up at her. She covered him with a blanket and finally turned to leave the room.

'Did you love him?' he suddenly asked, speaking with a voice rough with tears. She stopped a few steps away from his bedroom door, but didn't turn to face him, thinking he'd be more comfortable that way.

'Who?' She asked.

'Your step-father,' he elaborated in a shaky whisper; 'did you love him?'

She paused for a moment, before answering truthfully: 'As much as he allowed me to... yes, I did.'

'Even if he wasn't your real father?' he had asked brokenly and she felt that she would say anything to soothe his aching spirit. Suddenly she spoke words that no amount of soul-searching or therapy would have been able to uncover:

'It's not the same as with mom,' she had said; 'I was always my daddy's girl. I can't help it... he's special to me, maybe even more so because he's gone. I admired him. That's why I kept the name. I wanted him to be proud of me for keeping his legacy alive.'

'I couldn't help it either...' he confessed with a hoarse, muffled voice. She finally turned around to face the bed and saw him lying there with his head buried in the pillow.

'I wanted him to... so much... I...' He shook his head, burrowing deeper into the pillow hiding in disgrace. 'I didn't mind the pain. I could take it... I just... I wanted... I... I had hoped maybe... he'd...' he stopped, shaking his head in denial against the pillow; 'She said it's not my fault for wanting it so much, but I...' He clutched the pillow so tightly in his fists that the fabric nearly tore. 'I hated myself for it... for... for wishing... all the time... for wanting him to... but he... and I... I was such a failure... I couldn't help it.'

Was he talking about love? About being loved? She didn't know. She had stood there silently, rooted to her spot, paralyzed by angst. Heero's sketchy explanation left her hungry for details, but she didn't dare asking him to clarify or verify her suspicions. She waited quietly, giving him time in case there was something more he needed to say. He didn't.

'We can't help loving our parents... real or otherwise,' she finally said, hoping she was on the mark. 'Even if they mistreat us, they're still our caretakers. It's not our fault for wanting to love the people who are supposed to care for us. You were only a child... you deserved all the love in the world.'

'I was never his child...' he mumbled into the pillow, shaking his head against it.

'Yes you were,' she argued; 'Otherwise, you wouldn't be feeling so heartbroken over his love.'

She left him with those words, closing his bedroom door behind her. They never spoke of it again and she never knew what sad story stood behind the meager words he spoke that night. All she knew was that Heero felt guilty for loving someone he believed he shouldn't have loved, most likely someone who had taken care of him as a child, probably an abusive parental figure he yearned to love despite of everything, as most abused children do. She was curious to learn more, but by then she had already learned that it was better not to pry. She waited patiently for months, hoping he might explain what hurt his psychiatrist had exposed that night, but he never did. His hurt was his and his alone, and she had learned to respect that.

She refrained from discussing the painful past. They stuck to the present and on a good day they were bold enough to discuss the future, but nothing beyond the immediate and mundane. It has been so long since they talked, really talked; she didn't even know how to ask the right questions anymore.

"Fine," she finally grunted and turned to face the other way, gazing out the passenger window. "Forget I even brought it up."

They resumed sitting in tense silence, staring out at the rain. Heero glanced at the clock for the third time in the last few minutes, clearly impatient. It was 22:22.

"Expecting someone?" she taunted, just because he had upset her and when he did, she fought back by pressing his buttons one by one, trying to unsettle him as well. But Heero didn't play into her game (he rarely did). He ignored her insolent tone and continued gazing broodingly out the window. She sighed, her shoulders slumping tiredly. Why was she so keen on disturbing him anyway? She knew why, but she hated to admit it: His outburst left her hungry for more. She craved another emotional response from him. He's been so distant lately that she would even settle for his antagonism.

"Would it bother you?" he suddenly asked.

"What would?" she huffed petulantly.

"If I was sleeping with other women," Heero clarified quietly.

Her pride aside, she turned to look at him, somewhat alarmed. "Are you?"

For a moment, Heero continued gazing out the front window impassively, before he shook his head to indicate that he wasn't. She was relieved and he could probably tell. She had just answered his question whether she had intended to do so or not.

"Yes, it would bother me," she confessed even though it was no longer necessary.

"We're not lovers," he said, finally turning to face her. His Prussian blue eyes shone calmly under the faint interior car light. "We only do it because we're lonely, sometime horny, but that's it."

"I know that," she muttered bitterly, offended, and cast her gaze down to avoid his intense blue gaze.

"But you still fool yourself into thinking otherwise," he accused.

"What are we then?" she challenged him, raising her chin up in spite. "What would you call two people who've been together for over a decade, sharing good and bad, occasionally sharing a bed, sharing their lives day after day?"

"Trapped."

The word cut her straight to the bone. She glowered at him angrily.

"So what you're saying is that you have no feelings for me whatsoever."

"I didn't say that."

"But you feel like a prisoner."

"Don't you?"

"I do now," she snarled resentfully, crossing her arms over her chest and turning to glare out the passenger's window. He was right. She hated it when he was right. Their conversations never ended well when they tried to approach delicate issues. Maybe that was why they never really talked. She's been keeping so busy lately, just so she could avoid dealing with this bitter truth. They were falling further and further apart. It was a wonder they could still stand each other. She had been feeling this way for quite some time, but she chose to deny it, hoping that it would go away. What other choice did she have they were stuck together for life! All this free, useless time spent sitting in a damn car was foiling her plans to ignore the problem forever.

"This trip just keeps getting better and better," she muttered sulkily, glaring daggers out the window. She looked out into the stormy night, hoping that a car would finally pass by and free her from this suddenly way too intimate prison.

"I didn't mean to offend you," he offered a quiet apology, always the bigger person, God damn him.

"Shut up, Heero," she snapped, hurt; "I'm done talking."

She heard him sigh and lean back into his seat. She has upset him, but she didn't care, not right now. She was angry with him for bringing up their relationship. It wasn't like him to raise such sensitive topics. The rain must have turned him wistful. Oh, who was she kidding! He's been probably trying to find the right time to get it out in the open for a while now. Heero wasn't the type to go beating around the bush, unless it involved hurting her feelings. He could dance around such topics for days, trying to find the right time, the right words. Usually, he would grow tired of his useless stalling and just walk into her room, drop the bomb and retreat, leaving her to deal with the consequences. He would only apologize later if he had really hurt her feelings; after so many years together, he could tell when he had crossed a line.

She knew that he cared for her, enough to try to spare her feelings, but suddenly it wasn't enough. She wanted him to care enough to... to... to what? What did she want from him anyway? What could she possibly expect to get from a guy who was forced to be with her, tied to her against his will? For the past eight years he has been doing his best to try and live with the hand he had been dealt, yet here she was childishly asking for more! She knew that she was very possessive of him, her therapist certainly enjoyed reminding her of that, but there was no real competition, so why should she feel jealous for him? She knew that she would never lose him to anyone; she will always win because he would always have to come back to her at the end of the day.

And yes maybe that was the root of their problem. Heero was right. They were trapped; stuck in a loveless relationship they had no way of escaping.

Releasing a long, tired, sigh, Relena leaned her forehead on the cool window, beaten by despair. She gazed sadly out at the wet, black night, and wondered how much longer they could go on living like this?

A bright beam pierced the darkness, shedding a long yellow column of light on the slick road. A vehicle was approaching. Relena raised her head from the window.

"Heero," she said and he immediately replied: "I see it."

He turned on the car's emergency blinkers and the vehicle started slowing down. A large, white van stopped next to their stranded car. Its bright headlights split the darkness around them, illuminating the heavy raindrops as they fell to the ground. There was a blue logo on the side of the van reading: 'Carl's Plumbing Services Inc.'.

"Saved by a plumber," Relena remarked with a conceited smile; "That must be a new low for you. Even lower than being saved by me..." she added, deliberately touching yet another one of his raw nerves.

Heero bluntly ignored her. He stepped out of the car and into the freezing rain, shirtless. She watched him circle around the car and walk towards the van. The van's driver was also stepping out. He was a large, burly man dressed in a worn-out blue jumpsuit and a matching baseball cap. He tilted his cap and smiled slyly at her in greeting, winking. Relena rolled her eyes at the untimely gesture. She saw Heero approach the guy. The other man was taller, heavier. Suddenly, her "knight in a shining armor" looked like a mere kid again, a mountain of a man towering over him.

The two exchanged a few words. She couldn't hear anything over the rain pounding on the car's rooftop, but by looking at their faces she concluded that they were speaking English rather than the local tongue. Due to its past international role, English naturally became the official language of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation, even though he Union was formed on European ground, mostly by German and French speaking nations. She herself was fluent in three European languages, which came in handy in her line of work. Heero's language skills on the other hand, were somewhat lacking. Although after years of living in Brussels his French was acceptable, English was still his first choice. It was also the native language on a few Colony clusters, mainly L1 and L2. She never asked him where he was from, but since L1 was inhabited mostly by an ex-American and ex-Japanese populace, there wasn't much room for speculation. She only heard him speak Japanese once, when he had been mumbling slurred words in his sleep during a long flight. Awake, Heero spoke English and only resorted to French when absolutely necessary. She liked to think it was because he was self-conscious about how awkward he sounded. A perfectionist, he was sometimes even vainer than he accused her to be, and she on her part loved every single one of his flaws, for they humanized him despite his efforts to act like he was above everything.

She studied his face as he spoke to the van's driver. He seemed rather irritated with the man. It actually looked like he was admonishing the guy and she snickered at the absurdity of it all. Leave it to him to scold someone who was actually willing to lend a hand. She must have really upset him if he was venting it out on the poor guy. She has succeeded in unsettling his nerves of steel!

She watched, amused, as the van's driver spoke back, probably saying something unpleasant if she was to judge by his nasty expression. Heero ignored whatever he said and pointed at the car with his hand; she assumed the he was explaining their situation. He was completely soaked with rain; his damp hair falling into his eyes and his nude chest was glossy with water, every muscle gleaming deliciously under the van's powerful headlights.

The big guy, Carl she assumed, nodded at Heero's brief explanation. He said something too, pointing at the back of his van. He was probably saying that he will go fetch some tools. Good; now they could finally be on their way and put that whole miserable conversation behind them.

She watched as Heero followed Carl to the back of the van. The man opened the back doors and Heero waited at his side. Carl bent into the van for a moment and when he straightened back up he was pointing a large 40 caliber handgun at Heero.

"Jesus!" she exclaimed, jumping up in her seat. What the Hell just happened?!

The man held the gun aimed steadily at Heero's head, at close range. Heero stood edgily before him, glaring at him silently, his fists clenched at his side. Suddenly, another man stepped away from the van, coming around the back. It was another bully dressed in a ragged blue jumpsuit. He too was holding a gun.

Two against one; that wasn't good...

Carl if that was even his name was speaking again. Whatever he was saying, Heero didn't look pleased. He glared up at the man with cynical, scornful eyes. Were those two idiots trying to rob them is that what Heero found so God damn comical? Highway robbers trying to hassle an ex-Gundam pilot and his "girlfriend" what a joke! Those two poor thugs will soon discover that they didn't even bring any luggage with them for the trip, so unless they planned on taking the clothes off their backs and make a run for it, they better save themselves the trouble and leave now, before Heero got really mad.

She waited to see what he would do.

Meanwhile, the second armed man was marching towards their car. She hurried to move out of her seat and into the driver's chair, but before she managed to do that, the man tapped with his gun on her window and when she looked up she saw him smirking darkly at her, waving his gun in a 'no no no, no you don't' gesture. She froze, and he sneered. He kept the gun pointing at her through the windows as he circled around the car, walking towards the driver's side.

She shifted her glance sideways, where Carl was holding Heero at gun point as well. Heero was looking intently at the man circling their car; his expression hard, angry. She knew he wouldn't dare making a move as long as she was in danger. He will act when the time was right.

The second bully opened the door on the driver's side and slipped into the chair. His gun was still aimed at her head.

"Evenin', ma'am," he greeted with a heavy Southern American accent. He sounded like an illiterate hillbilly. "And how are you this fine evenin'?"

"Pissed as Hell," she retorted poisonously. "What do you want?"

"Your guy out there said you needed a ride," the man explained with a snooty smile. He gestured at the passenger side window with his gun, and Relena turned around. Carl was marching Heero into the van at gunpoint. Heero climbed in, glowering menacingly at the man, and the doors were slammed in his face. Carl rushed over to the driver's cabin. She watched, horrified, as the van sped away, taking Heero with it.

She whirled back around to glare at the bully. "What the Hell do you want with him?!" she demanded and her heart was racing. If that car drove more than 4 miles away... she shuddered at the thought, seething with anger.

"Aw, nuthin'," the man sneered; "All we want is your cooperation, Vice Minister."

they knew who she was! They weren't any highway robbers.

Relena hardened her glare, struggling to remain composed.

"To do what?" she grunted impatiently; "What do you want from me?"

"Let's not waste time talkin'," the ugly man droned playfully; "We better get this rusty ol' bucket movin'," he added with a creepy smile; "It wouldn't take 'em long to leave that four mile radius of yours... would it? We better catch up."

She gasped, surprised and mortified that he knew. How could he possibly know?!

"You idiot! " she shouted, panicked; "This car isn't going anywhere! Get him back here right now!"

"Really? That's too bad," the man jeered, smirking slyly. He pulled out a small radio communicator from his jumpsuit pocket.

"Carl, you read?"

"Yeah Carl," a man's voice crackled over the short range radio; he too had a heavy American accent. The two idiots were both using the same stupid codename!

"Word up, man?" Carl no.1 (dubbed as such because he was the first one she saw step out of the van) asked over the radio. They were not professionals, she gathered. Being around Heero for so long, she knew exactly how professionals were supposed to conduct themselves. Under any other circumstance, she would have been relieved to know that they were dealing with amateurs, but sadly, as long as they had Heero in that van, speeding further and further away, those amateurs had the upper hand.

Her smartphone started beeping in her pocket and she jolted, gasping in alarm. The van has just passed the 2 mile mark. Her face paled and she looked up at her captor, horrified.

The man, Carl no.2, raised the radio to his mouth. "How's your passenger doin'?" he asked with his thick Southern accent, smirking insolently at Relena.

The radio crackled loudly and the Carl no.1 said: "Squirmin' like a worm 'n moanin' like a randy whore," he boasted smugly; "Quite a sight on my rearview mirror."

Carl no.2 laughed. "Keep goin', man. Tell me when he starts screaming."

The beeping was getting louder, more frequent, urgent. She didn't need to pull out her cellphone to know that the van was nearing the 4 mile mark.

"Get him back here right now!" she screamed, mortified.

"I promise we'll stop, just as soon as he starts screaming."

"You sick son-of-a-bitch!"

Her phone was beeping like crazy, vibrating in her pocket. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Just scream, she begged him; God, Heero, you stubborn asshole... just scream...

A minute passed, and then another, and another... an eternity altogether. The radio communicator crackled again.

"He's out," Carl no.1 reported dryly. "No screaming."

"Aw, too bad," her captor pouted mockingly; "Distance?"

"Umm, make it... eight," the man replied over the radio and Relena's heart clenched painfully. Eight miles... that was the furthest he had ever been from her since the chips were planted in their heads; even farther than that time she sent to meet that lobbyist at a café in downtown Brussels. She could only imagine what it must have done to his heart, the pain he must have suffered... She could picture him, writhing in agony in the back of that van, biting his lips down until they bled, pounding with his fists against the metallic floor in an attempt to hold back the screams burning in his lungs and throat... the tightness in his chest, the clamps closing around his already battered heart...

"Oh God," she cried, tears welling in her eyes. "You God damned bastard."

The man just sneered at her nastily. "I'm impressed," he said; "I wonder what distance would kill him."

"I won't cooperate if you'll kill him," she hissed, glowering at his ugly face through tearful eyes.

"Of course you won't," the man snarled poisonously; "but you'd do anything to keep him alive, won't you, princess?"

Relena glared at the man defiantly, but he just laughed. The bastard was right and they both knew it. She would do anything for Heero anything, because he deserved nothing less.

"Don't worry," Carl no.2 jeered; "we won't ask you to sell any kingdoms this time."

"What is it you want then?" she snapped.

"All in good time, princess," the man muttered arrogantly; "But let me assure you that this was just a demonstration... a test to learn his limit. If you don't do as we ask, we will take him much farther than eight lousy miles. It'll be a slow, torturous drive, I assure you. Mile after mile... slowly... we won't stop. I want to see your face as we make that man scream... We won't stop until he begs you to do what we want."

His vicious words painted a horrific picture in her head. She closed her eyes, attacked by an impossible vision of a future that could never be allowed to happen. She could see herself being held at gun point as Carl no.2 shoved the two-way radio in her face. Tears soaked her cheeks as she listened to the tortured, broken wails crackling through the speaker: 'Just do it... just do it... Lena... just... make them stop... please HELP ME!!!'

Heero was not beyond breaking, not anymore. He was susceptible to torture, succumbed and defeated by pain. He'd scream and he'd cry and he would beg for relief because he knew that he wasn't expected to bear such pain anymore. Without a just cause to fight for he would become a victim, and therefore he would break. She had seen him crumble before, so many times. His breaking point was farther than most, but not unreachable. Like any other, Heero had vulnerabilities one could exploit, if one only knew about them. That was why the chip was a highly-classified secret. Even the dumbest clerk in the ESUN's halls must know better than to expose an ex-Gundam pilot to potential threats who might abuse such a crippling fault. The last thing anyone needed was a terrorist organization getting their hands on Heero so they could control them through the chip. Then again, she was being proven wrong at that very moment. Someone didn't do his job, and Heero was the one suffering for it.

Her fists clenched angrily at her side. Relena's whole body shuddered with rage. She opened her eyes, glaring at the man in front of her.

"Does this have something to do with the conference?" she demanded furiously. "Who are you working for? The Farmers Association? Agricultural Retailers Association? The Agricultural Department? Who?" She suddenly gasped, struck by a terrifying notion: "Are you from space?" she inquired with horror; "You're here about the exports' sanctions, aren't you?"

"It ain't nuthin' so fancy," the man laughed boorishly.

"Then who are you working for!"

"Wouldn't you like to know," the man laughed. He raised the radio back to his mouth again. "Bring him back around, Carl," he said. "We gotta long drive ahead of us."

* * *

About ten minutes later, Relena saw the white van approach, its headlights splicing the rainy night. It made a U-turn and stopped next to the stranded car.

"Your chariot awaits," Carl no.2 announced mockingly and stepped out of the vehicle, pointing his gun at her through the window. He gestured with it sideways, signaling her to move out. She glared at him hatefully, stepping out of the car and into the cold night air. It was still raining hard and soon her blouse was drenched in freezing water. The white, now close to transparent, fabric clung to her ample breasts; courtesy of cosmetic surgery of course. She could see Carl no.2 was ogling her with disgustingly hungry eyes.

"Get your filthy eyes off me!" she hissed, but he just smiled nastily.

"You shouldn't have pumped so much juice into 'em if ya didn't want people starin'," he teased and walked around the car towards her, still aiming his weapon at her head.

Obviously, he was well versed in what was written in the tabloids. Relena ignored him and reached to open the back door.

"Ep, ep, ep..." Carl no.2 warned; "Da fuck you think you're doin'?"

"Getting my jacket," she grumbled cheekily.

"No one told you to do that."

"I wasn't asking," she retorted viciously and opened the door anyway, despite the gun being pointed at her. He wouldn't shoot her. He needed her.

She bent into the backseat and grabbed her jacket, the one she had given Heero and was later thrown into the back by her captor. She also reached for Heero's Preventer jacket and then stood back up.

"One jacket," the man warned, his voice menacing.

"But"

"One," he emphasized coldly and she got the feeling that she shouldn't provoke him further. She chose to keep Heero's jacket and tossed hers back into the car. He was going to need it more than she will and besides, she had to get the medication he kept in the jacket's inner pocket. She slammed the car door shut and turned around to face her captor. She put on Heero's jacket, glaring wrathfully at the burly man through wet blonde bangs clinging to her face. Her hair was in shambles, the French twist falling apart.

"Into the van," the bully said, pointing his gun at the back. Relena did as ordered. He opened the back door for her and she climbed in. The door was slammed shut behind her. She took a look around. It was dark, aside from a narrow slit of light up ahead allowing a limited peek into the driver's cabin. She could see a hint of Carl no.1's face in the rearview mirror.

"Heero?" she whispered shakily, fearing the worse.

No answer.

The van started moving.

She got down on her knees and began feeling around the small dark space. The floor was cold, dusty. The van shook and vibrated as it sped off. Finally, her fingers came in contact with wet fabric. She found him, lying curled in the corner of the van, next to the partition separating them from the driver's cabin. He was cold to the touch, wet, and he wasn't moving.

"Heero?" she shook him gently, her hands feeling around for his neck so she could check his pulse. His skin was freezing. She stopped her search to take off the jacket and placed it around his nude torso. She then reached a hesitant hand up to his neck and pressed two fingers against the carotid artery. She closed her eyes, held her breath, and waited.

One. Two. Three. Four...

There was a pulse: strong and steady.

"Thank God..." she whispered, choking on a cry; "Don't scare me like that..."

He was starting to shiver, a result of the jacket beginning to provide some heat to his frozen body. She sat down beside him and pulled him close, wrapping her arms around his trembling torso. She placed his head in her lap, allowing him to rest more comfortably. She hugged him, trying to share some warmth. She sat still, watching the blackness with glassy eyes and listening to the sound of the engine humming.

"Wh-where are they... taking us?" Heero croaked weakly; his voice was hoarse and shaky. She looked down even though she could barely see him, and smiled faintly, relieved that he was awake.

"My guess is to the conference," she answered quietly.

"W-why?" he asked with a cracking, feeble voice, and then coughed, finally moaning; he was in pain. She held him tighter, pulling him closer against her to offer some comfort he probably won't appreciate.

"So I could do their evil bidding," she sighed; "I don't know what yet, but I'm guessing that some big fish are trying to influence either the food voucher program or the exports' list. The same thing happened back in AC 197. The dairy industry had some powerful lobbyists in the ESUN Agricultural Department. They tried to promote certain agricultural products, mostly unhealthy ones, pushing them into the programs. Food politics... it makes me sick." She was rambling, but only because she was thinking out loud, trying to make sense of all of this. "These two hillbillies could be working for the meat, dairy, or egg industries... They probably want me to do something to help them."

"Like... what?"

She thought about it for a moment. Maybe their captors weren't as unprofessional as she had initially thought. If they've obtained knowledge of the chips, then they could be working for a high ranking figure in the ESUN itself; someone who worked for the lobbyists with influence over food politics. But why would they be after her? She worked for Foreign Affairs between the ESUN and the Colonies... what did she have to do with anything? Unless... unless someone was worried that the Colonies were hogging all the food. Maybe the ESUN was planning on cutting down exports even more, violating the AC 196 peace treaty. That might lead to another violent conflict. Maybe they wanted to use her to sell the idea to the Colonies peacefully. She had many supporters in Space, mainly because she was associated with the Gundam pilots. Could that be it? Did they want to use her the same way the Romefeller Organization wanted to use her as the so-called "Queen of the World" a peaceful, respected image to sell a ferocious, despicable idea? That was it, wasn't it?

"Oh God," she whispered, horrified. "What if they're planning on cutting down on export? If Earth refuses to ship agricultural products to space, it could instigate another conflict," she rationalized out loud; "People get desperate when they're hungry... it's already happening here on Earth... what if they want me to offer my support as a way of making the Colonies accept it peacefully?"

"Then don't... do it..." Heero wheezed with a suppressed, pained, groan. He was still hurting; his whole body probably throbbed painfully. Past experience has taught her that after a penalty-attack by the chip, his muscles would be terribly sore for days. Heero had a very high tolerance for pain, but the ESUN's scientists took it into account when they programmed the chip. They ran tests on him first, in essence torturing him, all under his reluctant consent and her watchful eyes, so they could learn how to exceed his limit to endure pain. She insisted on being there to make sure that the tests were purely clinical and that no one was causing him unnecessary harm. It was the only time she had ever heard him scream in agony. She couldn't bear to stick around afterwards and, as much as she hated to admit it, a part of her was glad that she could never be around to witness the torture the chip inflicted.

"Lena... promise me," Heero asked quietly; "Don't do it... whatever it is."

She couldn't help but to laugh bitterly at his useless plea. "I sold a country for you, Heero. I'll sell-out completely if I have to. Everybody knows that."

"You're being... stupid..." he rebuked weakly, shaking his head against her lap.

"I learned from the best," she used her best argument, one she knew he could never disagree with. After all these years he had finally matured enough to admit that he would have done some things differently if he had known that he would survive the war and be forced to live the rest of life with the consequences of his reckless actions. Old injuries bothered him to this day. Improperly mended bones and unhealed stress fractures still gave him grief and hindered his athletic ability and that was just to name a few. She was certain he would have thought twice before jumping off buildings or moving vehicles if he had stopped to consider that the resulting injuries might have a long-term affect. He was certain that he would never live long enough to suffer any consequences, but the joke was on him because in the end of it all the only thing he wanted was to survive. Stupid indeed.

Silence fell. Heero was thinking; probably of a way out. She allowed him to contemplate their situation quietly, until she could no longer hold back the question burning on her lips:

"How could they possibly know about the chips?"

He didn't respond to her question verbally, but she could feel his body tense. Had he been pondering the same thing?

"A breach at Preventer?" she offered.

"Only a few know about this," he murmured quietly. "High ranks."

"This could indicate a serious problem," she realized with great dismay. "These are powerful industries we're talking about. God knows who they might have bribed..."

He didn't answer; he had nothing to say on the matter. It wasn't his job to save the world anymore. He only consulted the people who were sent out to do the dirty work. These days his job was to minimize and avoid risk, not to plunge straight into it. He didn't want to be responsible for the whole damn world anymore, and who could blame him?

Heero sneezed, his body rocking momentarily in her arms. The sound tore her from her wandering thoughts. She heard him sniffle and felt him move his hand up, probably wiping his nose. He must be freezing. She was beginning to feel a little numb and drowsy herself, considering her blouse was soaked and plastered to her skin like thin sheet of ice. She let go of him for a moment and unbuttoned her blouse. She slipped out of it, remaining only in her white bra and black suit pants. If they were going to Brussels, then it was going to be a long trip. By the time the two thugs come back, her shirt will hopefully dry. And if not, then let them enjoy the view who cares.

She raised the jacket she had wrapped around Heero and he got the hint and sat up, groaning. They sat side by side, pressed close shoulder to shoulder, leaning against the partition separating them from their captors. She wrapped his Preventer jacket around them both. Spread open, it was enough to cover most of their naked torsos. She leaned her head on his shoulder and he rested his head on hers. They sat together in silence, watching the darkness. Together under the thick jacket, their bodies managed to produce some heat. Relena closed her eyes and listened to the sound of his breathing; it was short and shallow. Alarmed by his shortness of breath, she raised her head up and therefore he did the same. He leaned his head back against the partition and closed his eyes.

"Are you in pain?" she asked worriedly, squinting her eyes so she could get a good look at him under the faint light pouring from the small hatch above them. His eyes were closed; his expression focused on breathing as he struggled against the pressure building up in his chest. He had once described it as a burning-hot balloon inflating in his ribcage, leaving no room for him to breathe, choking him from the inside. Not enough oxygen was reaching his heart muscles he was having an attack. She read all about the symptoms when he was first diagnosed with chronic angina. It was typically precipitated by exertion or emotional stress and exacerbated by cold temperatures. Considering the painful torture he had just been subjected to, it was no wonder he was stressed, and obviously very cold. If the fit will last for more than a few minutes, he was in risk of another heart attack.

"Jesus..." she hissed angrily, upset with him for not saying anything sooner; "I have your meds..." she mumbled urgently and reached her hand inside the jacket, searching for the inner pocket where he kept it.

"No," he protested, shaking his head. He leaned his head back, choking out a pained groan. She ignored his objection and flipped the stick-pack open, shaking a pill out into the palm of her hand. She handed it to his lips, but he refused to take it, turning his head the other way.

"Heero, come on," she whispered urgently. His breathing was erratic and she was starting to panic.

"I j-just... t-took... one..." he stuttered through chattering teeth.

"That was before you were tortured," she argued; "Don't be an ass, come on. You need another one."

"I-it... it won't... work..." he huffed, breathless.

"What are you talking about? You said"

"No!" he insisted and then stopped, gulping fervently for air. He sagged back against the wall, clenching his eyes shut, his hand clutched over his chest, gripping the jacket tightly.

"Just give me... a minute..." he rasped, panting heavily; "We can... use... this..."

"How?" she wondered and her voice was laced with panic. Why was he willingly putting himself through this?!

"Argh!" he suddenly choked and threw himself forward, clasping his chest with both hands.

"Heero!" she cried out, frightened. She watched helplessly as he curled inwards, groaning loudly.

"Oh my God!" she screamed; "STOP THE CAR!"

The Carls must have heard her hysteric shriek, because one of them hit the brakes.

The tires screeched and the van came to an abrupt stop.

Heero was flung forward. He collapsed to the floor, still clutching his chest, gasping hoarsely for air. Suddenly, he stopped. His hands fell limply down, sprawled lifelessly at his side.

"Oh shit!" she cussed as she huddled over him, panicked. She rolled him over. He fell on his back, facing upwards. He wasn't breathing!

She heard a door slam shut at the front of the van; someone was stepping out and heading their way. She didn't have time to think and dove in, ready to administer CPR.

Suddenly, Heero's eyes flew open. She stopped an inch above his face, feeling his breath against her lips. Their gazes locked; his Prussian blue eyes were alert and lucid... they were all she could see. For a moment, she was mesmerized, drowning in a sea of blue. So used to the sight of his face, she had nearly forgotten how breathtaking he could be, especially when faced with danger. Peril made him truly shine.

"Get him to help you," he whispered with urgency; "I'll give you a sign."

The van's back doors were flung open. Heero hurried to close his eyes. He held his breath. She had only a split second to process all that was happening and when she finally did, she whirled around and shouted at Carl no.2

"Get the fuck in here and help me!"

The large, ugly man seemed confused, but he climbed in nonetheless. She noted that he was holding a gun.

"His heart stopped," she explained breathlessly, trying to appear as flustered as she had been a second ago. It was a good thing her heart was still racing and her whole body shaking. Heero had deliberately scared her half to death so she could pull off a convincing show.

"He's not breathing," she continued hysterically; "Put that God damn thing aside and help me with CPR!"

The man hesitated.

"He's no good to you dead!" she exclaimed urgently and threw herself down, locking her lips around Heero's to administer mouth-to-mouth. She blew air into his mouth and felt him accept it hungrily; he has been holding his breath for a while now.

Carl no.2 finally got his wits back together, if he had any to begin with, and placed the pistol at his side, on the floor, right next to Heero's limp hand.

"Come on!" Relena urged him as she rose for air and then resumed mouth-to-mouth. Carl no.2 didn't look pleased, but obliged her implores. He placed both hands on the center of Heero's chest and began performing chest-compressions, very unprofessionally, like he was only imitating what he had seen on TV. She feared he might fracture Heero's ribs he must have been causing him more pain but it was too late to back out now. She continued breathing air into Heero's open mouth, waiting for his signal.

Three heartbeats later, he suddenly flicked her tongue with his. It was time.

Relena pulled back.

It all happened so fast.

She saw Heero jerk off the floor swiftly, throwing the large man off him. He was holding Carl's gun in his hand. He used one leg to kick the man away, while he aimed the gun, and fired.

Carl no.2 recoiled with a loud groan, crashing against the van wall. She didn't even have time to verify if he was dead or alive, because Heero then shouted: "Go!!!"

She scrambled to her feet and dashed towards the open doors. She jumped out of the van and onto the wet asphalt, wearing nothing but her bra, wet pants and cursed high heel shoes. It was dark and it was raining. The air was ice-cold. Raindrops hit her like sharp needles as she ran, pricking her face and bare torso.

"Keep running!!!" she heard him shout after her. His cry was followed by the sound of another door slamming. Carl no.1 has just opened in a chase.

Gun shots four of them. She looked back over her shoulders, panting as she continued running. Her eyes searched the darkness frantically for Heero.

More shots two this time. She could see two quick flashes flare from the barrel as a pistol fired and knew that Heero was the one shooting; a professional, he never fired more than two shots at a time. He was running a few feet behind her, gripping his Preventer jacket in one hand, and Carl no.2's gun in the other. He turned around every few seconds, aiming at their chaser.

"Off the road!!!" He ordered her, and then another three shots were fired he wasn't the shooter this time. She watched with wide, panicked eyes as he staggered forward for a moment, but then he straightened back up and kept running.

She took a left and stumbled off the road and into the ditch running beside it. It was gushing with water, cold and filthy, reaching up to her knees. She cussed and dragged her aching body through it, climbing out on the other side. She stood there for a moment, wheezing loudly, and looked up at the road. The van was parked a few dozen feet away, its open back doors flapping in the wind. Its bright headlights split the darkness like a sharp blade. There wasn't much light behind the large vehicle, but she could still make up two silhouettes: one was Heero, standing still, facing the van, his arms stretched forward, aiming the gun. The other was Carl no.1, heading towards him in a run, his own weapon pointed at Heero.

They fired simultaneously. Two shots echoed in the night.

Silence fell. No one moved.

Relena held her breath.

Then, one silhouette fell to the ground; it was Carl.

She exhaled with relief, feeling her whole body sag as tension dissipated.

Heero kept his aim on the fallen man as he approached him, still holding the jacket in his other hand. She saw him crouch next to him and pick up the fallen gun. He let go of the jacket and searched the man, probably making sure he wasn't carrying anymore weapons. Then he stood back up, tucking the pistols into his belt. She watched as he leaned with both his arms on his thighs, bending forward to catch his breath. He remained in a hunched position for a while, until Relena began to fear that he was having another attack. She prepared to walk back across the ditch and join him, but then he straightened back up and looked around, searching for her. He was by her side a moment later, pale and panting but otherwise fine. He had brought his Preventer jacket with him.

"Shouldn't we commandeer the van?" she asked, confused.

"We can't," he replied calmly and placed the jacket over her trembling shoulders. "He shot the tires."

Those must have been the four shots she had heard; the bastard.

"Are they dead?" she asked instead.

Heero shook his head. "Neutralized," he replied simply as he guided her arms into the jacket sleeves, dressing her, and then closed the zipper. She opened her mouth to ask why the Hell he hadn't killed them, but then quickly snapped her jaw shut as she realized: he had sworn off killing when the war ended. For the first time since, it finally occurred to her that he had actually meant it.

"But this means we're still in danger!" she protested. "They'll call for help!"

"Then we better get going," he said and turned to walk away. She gaped at him, at a loss for words as she watched him head for the open, marshy fields.

"That's the plan?!" she called after him, stupefied; "Head for hills?!"

Heero continued marching towards the tree line far ahead. His silence was a confirmation to her question and she sighed tiredly.

"Great," she grunted, and followed him.

* * *

They walked in darkness, making their way through soggy tall-grass and slippery mud. Her high heel shoes were not designed for nature walking, and certainly not through such soggy ground, but she refused to take them off and walk bare foot through God knows what. Water reached as high as her ankles. She stumbled here and there, shuffling tiredly through the swampy field, trying to keep up with Heero. In the very least, the rain finally stopped and a few clouds drifted away, exposing a clear patch of starry skies. The moon was high, but obscured by the heavy rainclouds. Its halo provided just enough light to see what lay directly ahead. She kept her eyes focused on Heero's bare back as he walked ahead of her, shirtless. His wet skin glistened under the faint moonlight, every muscle emphasized. Her gaze was locked on his well-toned shoulder-blades, gawking mindlessly at the taunting curves of flesh moving back and forth as he marched on. God, she wanted him so much right now. His divine body simply begged her worship. She was so cold and he could make her feel so feverishly, outrageously, hot.

Daydreaming, her mind fled to a warmer, more pleasant time and place; recollections of blessed summertime, August AC 200, mere weeks after Heero's heart bypass surgery. It was her first vacation since she started working in Parliament and she chose to spend it in a beautiful beach house in Spain, away from the election commotion sweeping the ESUN capital. Heero of course didn't want to go, claiming that he had too much work to catch up with at the office. In essence, or so she suspected, he simply didn't know how to spend some quiet leisure time, but he needed it just as much as she did, maybe even more, considering he was still recuperating from a difficult surgical procedure. Besides, she was fairly certain that he has never taken a break just for the sake of recreational activity and she couldn't think of anyone more deserving of a vacation. He had been in a dark, brooding mood ever since the surgery, and his melancholic coolness was starting to unsettle her.

So she had insisted, they argued and in the end, after some tension and compromise the biggest one being that Heero will stay at a separate, adjacent, villa they went on holiday. He took his work with him and she took anything but. She spent her time tanning and lounging on the beach, sending annoyed glances from time to time towards the beach house Heero had closed himself in so he could work and sulk in peace. Once she realized that she had no intention of indulging her with his presence, she found comfort in other men's company, secretly hoping that it would arouse his jealousy. It was the first and only time she had made deliberate advances towards other men.

She saw him through her bedroom window one morning as he stepped onto the balcony, dressed plainly in a pair of black shorts and a white, loose, dress shirt; its first three buttons open. The pleasant sea breeze tousled his sloppy shirt and messy hair in a tantalizing dance, exposing the bandage concealing his bypass scar. The sight of it always caused her stomach to turn with shame and guilt. She suspected that Heero was aware of it; that he flaunted her mistake in her face just to upset her. He was good at playing such games, but she was just as crafty. Seeing him there, she stepped to her bedroom window and opened it as though just to let the breeze in, but all she really wanted was for him to catch a glimpse at the man lying naked in her bed. Her intentions did not escape his perceptive eyes. He observed her silently with those intense, brooding blue eyes of his, and then turned away as though he didn't care. She was so fucking angry with him for it!

That night she stomped into his villa, drunk and furious. She found him sitting on the sofa, reading. She yanked the book out of his hand, threw it to the floor, shoved him against the backrest and climbed on his lap, straddling his hips. He glared up at her defiantly and then smirked slyly. Apparently, he enjoyed playing hard to get. Holding out on her seemed to be his favorite choice of weapon, a symbolic and subtle resistance. She had slapped him for his insolence, cussed him for his arrogance, and then she fucked him right there on the couch, riding him like there was no tomorrow. He was under doctor's orders not to exert himself, and she was more than happy to take charge and show him whose boss.

The next morning she had changed his bandages for him as a wordless apology for her roughness and they sat down to have breakfast together. He sat on the sill of a large window overlooking the beach, observing her with a contemplative, penetrating gaze as she peeled an apple for him. She ignored his intense stillness and served a sliver to his lips using the knife, smiling softly to declare a truce. He glared at her dismally for a moment before lifting his hand to take the offered slice, refusing to be pampered and fed. She rolled her eyes and continued peeling the apple, aggravated by his desolate manner.

Heero brought out the worst and best in her, usually simultaneously. He made her head reel with senseless lust, exhilarating peril and irrational anger. There was something very primal about him; raw, liberating, intense and deliciousshe should really stop pretending that she wasn't interested, even her ego wasn't buying it anymore and the pleasant tingling between her legs clearly suggested that she did. She tried to ignore it and focused on keeping up with Heero.

Her legs ached and her feet were completely numb, frozen. It felt as though they've been walking for hours when they finally made it to the tree line. Heero turned to lean against a wet tree trunk and crossed his arms over his naked chest, waiting for her to catch up. She reached him a moment later, huffing breathlessly, and leaned against a tree as well, thankful for the rest. She allowed herself a moment to catch her breath, closing her eyes briefly, and then finally turned to examine Heero. He was leaning against an opposite trunk, his muscular arms folded against his slick torso and he was holding one of the two pistols in his hand; the other gun was tucked into his belt and waistband. Suddenly, she wondered why he hadn't been carrying a gun on him during the trip; he was her bodyguard after all. Usually he carried one in a chest holster and another in an ankle holster. She must have been frowning at him, puzzled, because he glanced at her in annoyance and snapped:

"What?"

"You're unarmed," she observed dazedly and he scowled at her reproachfully. She had mis-phrased her statement and he hated that; obviously he was armed now.

"I mean earlier," she added cautiously.

Heero turned his head to look out into the field they've just crossed. He studied it quietly for a while before speaking.

"It was a long drive," he explained simply; "I kept it in the glove compartment."

Funny, she had searched the glove compartment for a flashlight and she hadn't stumbled upon any weapon. Perhaps she had missed it? In any case, it was very unlike him to walk around unarmed, although lately he has been acting rather strange, always preoccupied and mysteriously distant. Something was on his mind but he refused to tell her about it. He's been this way since his physical a few months back. Could it be that he got wind of her arrangement with Preventer? Did he find out about her altering the ruling on his physical exam results? That would explain why he was behaving extra nasty and obviously upset, suddenly doing all sort of unusual things, like raising his voice and punching the steering wheel in frustration... or walking about unarmed. Maybe it was his way of saying 'fuck it if they don't think I'm fit for duty then I'll simply won't do it anymore'.

But Heero would never do something so irresponsible just to punish her for protecting his feelings and settling on him as an incompetent bodyguard... would he? Wait a minute would he?! Ten years ago she would have said 'no' with great confidence, but now she was leaning more towards 'yes, he would'. Such vengeful, immature behavior was not beyond him these days. Could it be that he was intentionally slacking off? Did he want her to have him relieved of active duty? She wouldn't dare making such an offensive suggestion, so if he wanted out he should just say so! She could get someone else to do it and he'll just tag along as an idle escort... is that what he wanted?! Of course not, so something had to be wrong. What was he hiding?

"I just think it's... unusual," she said slowly, carefully, hoping he might confirm her suspicions. "It's not like you to be caught unprepared..."

Heero turned to her with a nasty scowl. "Are you blaming this one on me as well?" His blue eyes burnt intensely; he was on the defensive again. His ego must have been seriously bruised tonight, both by her snippy comments and by those damn thugs getting the better of him. She should cut him some slack; he's been through enough for one night. Perhaps she was jumping to conclusions far too rashly.

She sighed and shook her head. "Of course not," she mumbled, pacified; "I just blame you for the weather," she tried to joke, but Heero didn't appreciate it. He scoffed, rolling his eyes impudently, and pushed off the tree trunk.

"We should keep moving," he muttered and turned to walk onwards, heading deeper into the grove. Only now, when she was finally close to him, she noted the deep, bleeding gash on his backside, just above his left waistline. Blood and water sheeted down the left side of his lower back, soaking his pants. He's been injured.

"Jesus, Heero, you're bleeding..." she said and pushed off the tree. He stopped, glancing back briefly. He reached a hand behind his back, feeling for the open wound. He must have failed to notice it; his body was probably too cold for the feeling to register.

"It's just a flesh wound," he finally determined; "A bullet must have grazed me." He resumed walking.

"It could get infected out here," she rebuked and caught up with him.

"I'll be fine."

"At least let me stop the bleeding."

"Later," he said; "If there's a tree line, then there must be a farm nearby. We should search for cover first."

"Don't try to play the hero with me," she grunted and grabbed him by his arm, stopping him. "No one's buying it anymore," she added just to spite him.

Heero turned around, glaring impatiently. "We don't have time for this," he warned.

"Sure we do," she chirped playfully and reached her arms up the sleeves inside her jacket, unhooking her bra. "I had time to do this while Duo held you at gunpoint," she said as she maneuvered her arms inside the jacket, removing her bra; "and I have time for it now," she concluded, pulling the white lingerie out through the jacket's collar, smiling smugly. "Take off your belt."

He frowned at her, confused, but after a moment of consideration, he did as she asked. She folded her brassiere in half, pressed it over his bleeding cut, wrapped it tightly with the belt and fastened it securely above his waist. Heero watched her work silently. The expression on his face was simply precious, much like it had been back then when they first met: Duo had shot him, mistaking him for her attacker, and she had dressed Heero's bleeding wounds with pieces of fabric she had torn from her dress, surprising both young pilots. Heero looked at her with such awe in his eyes as she tended to him... It was probably the first time he had been shown a bit of kindness. She wondered if he ever thought back on those days. If he did, then from his current perspective he probably resented always having to end up as her damsel in distress...

"There, this should do it," she determined in approval of her work.

Heero looked down at the improvised bandage, scowling in dismay. "This is ridicules," he grumbled.

"I won't tell anyone if you won't," she promised with a smug smile.

"We should keep going," he ignored her teasing and moved away, walking ahead.

Relena heaved a frustrated sigh and followed. What was she expecting a thank you?

By the time they made it past the tree line and into another open field, it started raining again. Without the shelter of the trees, the rain came crashing down on them mercilessly. She was somewhat safe under Heero's Preventer jacket, but Heero was still shirtless and soaked to the bone. He tramped on without complaint of course, but his pace had slowed considerably. He was reaching the end of his rope. She was about to suggest that they take another break no one seemed to be pursuing them but then they reached a raggedy wooden fence a sign that they were actually getting closer to civilization and she decided that it would be a shame to stop now.

Heero climbed over the fence and waited for her to reach it as well. He held out his hand for her, helping her across, and they continued walking onwards side by side. She stole a few glances at his water-dripping face. He looked beat, staring ahead blankly as though walking in his sleep.

"There should be a barn or a farmhouse nearby, right?" she asked what he couldn't possibly know, just so she could say something. She was worried about him. He was too quiet, almost dazed. He looked so worn-out he might collapse.

"Maybe," Heero replied raspingly, short of breath.

"It'll be nice to get out of this dreadful rain..." she commented, just to keep him talking. She feared he might faint otherwise.

This time he chose to keep silent, saving his breath. His silence worried her even more.

"How you doing? Any chest pains?"

"I'm... fine," he groused bleakly, keeping his eyes front to avoid her prying gaze.

No he wasn't. He was beyond exhaustion and he was overexerting himself after an angina attack. She knew him well enough to read the signs. He was in pain and was trying to focus on anything but the discomfort in his chest; that was why his features were so blank but his eyes were so focused.

Concerned, Relena pulled a hand out of the jacket's pocket, reached for his hand and held onto it tightly. It was freezing to the touch and wet. She entwined their fingers together and Heero turned to look at her, puzzled by the unexpected intimate gesture. She smiled awkwardly, trying to offer some reassurance, but he just frowned and turned to face forward again, keeping his eyes focused on the horizon as they walked through the soggy field, hand in hand.

Suddenly, Heero fell to his knees, letting go of her hand. The gun he held in his other hand dropped into the puddle below with a splash. He stood still on his knees for a moment, before slumping down tiredly.

Relena halted, alarmed. She knelt down beside him, watching him carefully. He was sitting on his knees, panting harshly, clutching his chest.

"Heero?" she called shakily. "Is it bad?"

"The pain is" he wheezed, gasping raucously for air; "it's... spreading..."

That wasn't a good sign, she realized with horror. When the pain spread to the neck, jaw, arms, shoulders and back, it meant that the attack was severe: not enough blood was reaching his strained heart. She hurried to unzip the jacket, mindlessly exposing her naked bosoms, and searched for the inner pocket containing his medication. She fumbled with the slim stick-pack with trembling, slippery fingers, anxiously trying to get it open. The lid popped-off and fell to the soggy ground. She shook a pill into her hand and then shoved it into Heero's gaping mouth. The pill was larger than his old prescription, hard to swallow. He crunched down on it with his teeth and gulped down the pieces with great effort.

The next few minutes passed in an excoriatingly slow pace as they waited for the pill to take effect. She wrapped her arms around his naked shoulders and drew him closer, guiding his head to rest against her bare chest. His wet hair felt so cold, dripping into her cleavage. She held him, feeling helpless as she watched him struggle against the recurring waves of pain. His body quivered against hers; his chest was heaving up and down with each labored breath. The fit wasn't subsiding. The pill wasn't working as fast as he claimed it should. Something was wrong.

Heero pushed away from her abruptly and shrugged her arm off hastily. He straightened up so he was standing on his knees again and shoved a trembling, clumsy, hand into his pants pocket. She watched, stupefied, as he pulled out another prescription bottle: a small, bulky cylinder one, no bigger than a salt shaker his old prescription. Once she recognized it, she was not surprised to see that he had been carrying it with him just in case the new one failed him. Heero always had a contingency plan always. That was why he carried the two prescriptions in different pockets, to reduce the risk of losing both.

He shook a small pill into his hand and gulped it down quickly, swallowing it dry; it was much smaller than the new one and went down more easily. He fell back down to sit on his knees. She wrapped her arm around him again, pulling him towards her, sitting shoulder to shoulder. He accepted the invitation gratefully and leaned heavily against her. They sat together in a puddle of cold wet mud, waiting for the nitrates to take effect. Rain was still pouring down hard, but they were so drenched that they no longer felt it. Heero laid his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes, exhausted. She listened closely to his ragged breath: in and out, in and out... fast, then slow; heavy, and then shallow... in and out... just barely.

Minutes passed and her mind wandered. She recalled holding him like this after the battle over the ESUN capital ended close to a decade ago. He had been gravely injured in the final battle, overloading his Gundam while firing on the bunkered palace. The massive machine couldn't take it and crashed, crumbling to pieces on its way down. By some marvelous Christmas miracle, Heero survived the crash and stumbled into the palace wreckage, where he finally collapsed, unable to hold on any longer. She rushed over to catch him just before he hit the floor, gathered him into her arms and cradled him against her protectively. His limp head had lolled into her chest and she leaned over him, shielding him from the debris still falling piece by piece from the fractured ceiling. She felt his unsteady breath heaving into the hollow of her neck, closed her eyes and breathed with him as though the synchronization would help keep him breathing until the paramedics arrived.

She sat by his hospital bed for days, simply listening to his shallow breath, thankful for every breath he drew on his own after the intubation was removed. He awoke over a week later; the first sign of his reemerging consciousness being a slight hitch of his breath. After listening to his steady breathing for so long, she had picked up on the change in rhythm easily and immediately rose from her chair, took his hand in hers and leaned over him so that her face will be the first thing he sees. Heero had gaped at her dully; a numb, empty expression on his grey, haggard face. She had smiled at him gently, fighting an outright grin, and he had blinked, dazed.

'...still... here?' he had rasped forlornly yet she had ignored his obvious disappointment and nodded eagerly, squeezing his hand tightly as she leaned over him, smiling.

'Yes,' she confirmed softly; 'we both are.'

Heero nodded his head slowly and closed his eyes, accepting his life-sentence in doleful resignation. Numb and aching, he had drifted back to sleep, his breath evening, becoming low and heavy. It was a few days more before he had regained consciousness again and she had spent those days by his side as well, guarding his sleep, engulfed by the sound of the breath he so resented. She hasn't stopped listening to it since. Her whole being was tuned in on it at the moment, her eyes closed as she focused on his struggle to breathe over the pressure blocking his chest, mentally urging him to keep fighting, keep breathing... forever.

Gradually, Heero's breathing steadied, finally coming out in short yet even gasps for air. The pain was gone. She felt him sag against her, his whole body slumping as the feeling of suffocation melted away. She gave him a long, quiet moment to calm down before speaking again:

"We should look for that farmhouse."

He nodded his head against her shoulder in agreement. She felt him try to push off her, but he only ended up sagging against her once more. He couldn't; it was too soon, he was still faint. She felt for him, but they couldn't just stay there in the rain. He was more prone to an attack out in the cold. He needed to rest someplace warm, and fast.

"Come on," she encouraged, getting up and closing the zipper to cover her wet and naked chest. She placed her hands under his armpits, ready to help him up. "It's probably close by," she added an empty promise and groaned, pulling him up to his feet. He rose sluggishly, swaying from side to side once he was standing. She draped his limp arm around her shoulders and wrapped her own arm around his injured waist, supporting him. He was so exhausted that he couldn't even lift his head up; he kept it bowed, staring down at his feet as they marched on together slowly, step by step.

She didn't know how long it took them, but finally they reached a second tree line. It was a single row of dense Cypress trees, ending in a small slope of ground and beyond it salvation: a two story farmhouse stood a few more dozen feet away. It was surrounded by a wide lake. It took Relena a moment to realize that the house wasn't really standing in the middle of a large pond, rather that the area around the house was flooded. She sighed tiredly.

"I should have brought my bikini," she muttered for a laugh and turned her head aside to look at Heero. He was still leaning against her for support, looking ahead at the house with a bland expression.

"What I wouldn't give to be back at that beach house right now," she joked, referring to their vacation in Spain. "Are you up for a swim?"

"The water's shallow," he determined, studying the slope at their feet.

"I know that," she retorted; "I was just kidding."

"Hn," he grunted, uninterested. He seemed to be feeling better. He let go of her and approached the edge of the incline. He stepped into the water carefully. Once he was standing steadily, water up to his knees, he reached his hand up for her. She took it and climbed down as well.

They made their way through a few dozen feet of cold shallow water until they reached the house. By then she had lost all feeling in her legs.

The house was dark, abandoned. Its residents must have deserted it due to the floods. The first floor was underwater, at least two feet high. Furniture floated back and forth across the rooms. The stench of wet wood, wool and mold was in the air. They found a staircase leading to the higher floors; the first four steps were submerged, but after that they were on dry ground. They stumbled tiredly up the stairs. Heero leaned heavily on the wall for support, having a hard time making his way up. She was a few steps ahead of him and she stopped to look back, making sure he was all right. He wobbled slightly as he climbed, his head bowed and his hand on the wall, but managed to steady himself before he toppled over. She pitied him, but said nothing, knowing he would resent her aid.

Finally, they reached a long hallway at the top of the stairs. She opened the first door she saw it led to a messy den. They shuffled tiredly towards the next door, where they were thankful to find a large double bedroom. They fell on the bed in exhaustion, like two ship-wreck survivors who had just swam ashore. They were asleep in no time.

Relena awoke mere minutes later. She was cold, wet and sore. She opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was Heero's sleeping face as he rested in a prone position next to her, his mouth agape in heavy slumber. He was too fatigued to be bothered by the cold, but he needed warmth.

Groaning, she pushed up, rising on all fours despite the protest of her aching muscles. Although exhausted, she crawled backwards and got off the bed, standing behind Heero. For a moment, she simply stood there, dazed, gazing down at his bare back, before bending down to take off his drenched, muddy, black dress shoes and socks. She then unbuckled the belt she had wrapped to keep his wound bandaged; her white brassier was soaked with blood. She threw them both to the floor and turned him over so she could unzip his pants.

"...Lena... no..." he slurred in his sleep, turning his head aside. Relena rolled her eyes and muttered "Oh, shut up!" nastily. She pulled down his wet, mud-soaked pants, right along with his underwear and threw them to the floor as well. Now naked, Heero turned to lie on his side, folding his legs up as he curled into himself, shivering. The bed was made, covered by a thick, old-fashioned patchwork quilt. She pulled the blanket from underneath him and covered him tightly. She then slipped out of her wet clothes and joined him under the covers, completely nude. He remained deep asleep, his back turned to her. She nudged closer, snuggling against his bare backside to share some warmth. She wrapped one arm around him, her fingers hovering just above the thin hairline framing his groin. She drifted back to sleep, thinking that she could easily stay like this forever...

* * *

Daylight filtered in through the cracks between the wooden shutters obscuring the window. Relena woke up with the crack of dawn, feeling comfortable and warm. Heero was lying next to her, snoring quietly. They fell asleep spooned together, Heero wrapped in her arms, his naked back pressed against her nude chest, his firm bottom tucked between her folded legs and groin. Waking up next to him was a rare event, hence a moment to be cherished. She relished in it for as long as she could, basking in the illusion that her feelings were mutual. She huddled closer to his warm body, nuzzling her face in the nape of his back, inhaling deeply to fill her lungs with his intoxicating scent. He smelled exactly like their ordeal: a combination of sweat and gunpowder, the earthy fragrance a field after the rain and a faint touch of men's shampoo.

Heero moaned sleepily and stirred, about to roll over. She made him some room and he turned to lie on his back, unwrapping himself from her hold. His eyes were still closed, but she knew that he was mostly awake; his features weren't as lax as they were in slumber. His harsh expression always betrayed his awareness. Still, since he simply lay there motionlessly, she cuddled close again and he did not object as she pressed her nude body to his naked side and laid her head on his chest. His arm rested beneath her. He wrapped his hand around her in a loose hold, the tip of his fingers touching the small of her back. His fingers brushed against her skin softly, caressing her idly. She smiled, pleased with the rare intimate touch. She closed her eyes, content, and listened to his steady heartbeat: thump-thump... thump-thump... thump-thump...

Tears gathered behind her closed eyelids. She took a deep breath, trying to hold them at bay. She couldn't believe that she had nearly lost him to something as conventional as a heart-condition. This was a man who had jumped off buildings without hesitation; a man who had once self-detonated and survived; a man who had leaped out of a moving spacecraft flying at a staggering speed to rendezvous with another craft hurtling towards him, just so he could get to his Gundam faster and come to her rescue! He had done so many impossible things and yet now... now he couldn't walk across a few measly miles without succumbing to chest-pains and it was all her fault.

Her carelessness has damaged him in an irreversible way. She was somewhat of a Delilah to his Samson; she had stripped him of his once magnificent powers and tonight was clear evidence of that. They got away by the skin of their teeth and only because he had improvised a stupid, rash plan that involved nearly having a heart attack. She knew him well enough to know that he never would have come up with something so reckless if he hadn't been desperate. Even though he had pulled some questionable moves in his days, Heero never allowed fortune to play such a significant role in his plan. As a soldier, he had been extremely calculated; he had never treated his cause so carelessly in fear he might fail. Now, however, he was willing to risk it. He knew that his options were limited, so he foolishly tried to use a fatal flaw in his favor. If the Carls wouldn't have played into his game, his plan would have failed, or worse he could have suffered congestive heart failure!

She reached a hand up, caressing his bare chest timidly. She ran her fingers up and down his breastbone, stroking the soft heads of dark hair that hid his bypass scar and guiltily reflected on the defeated, miserable expression on his grey and haggard face after the bypass procedure. She walked up to his hospital bed terrified of his reaction to her thoughtless abandonment. Apologies could never to excuse her negligence; they were just words and Heero resented her verbal charades. She feared his anger and accusation, but when she finally approached his bed, he had turned to her with numb, tearful blue eyes, looking up at her in silent despair, humbly accepting the abuse as though he deserved it. He didn't ask for an explanation. He didn't question why she didn't answer his calls or why she left the perimeter without telling him. He never sought a reason for his unmerited suffering, rather resigned to his misfortune quietly. The only evidence of his pain was the sorrowful tears sliding mutely down his gaunt face. He knew that he would never be the same again, and he grieved for the loss she had caused him.

Emotionalism was common after coronary bypass surgery. He could not control his tears and she pretended that she couldn't see them, wishing to spare him the humiliation of having her witness his naked misery. They carried on as though nothing happened and maybe that was a mistake. She should have handled it better. She should have offered her support instead of acting as if she couldn't see his pain. Heero was used to being left to fend on his own; he was used to people disregarding his difficulties, leaving him to struggle alone, expecting him to single-handedly overcome any trouble thrust his way, no matter how horrific. She hated to admit that she no better. She had done him so many wrongs over the years... so many, and still he moved on, accepting her wrongdoings time after time. He believed that he was someone to be scorned and mistreated, and she had done nothing to make him see that in fact he deserved every bit of kindness she could muster.

More tears of regret welled in her eyes. Her gaze was still focused on the old scar and her eyes shone with self-doubt as she struggled to phrase a question she never dared to ask until today:

"Do you hate me?" she finally blurted out, avoiding eye contact.

His hand, which had been caressing her back absentmindedly, stopped.

"No," he said simply. His sleep-bleary voice vibrated through her softly and she nearly lost her nerve to keep talking. She didn't wish to confront and aggravate him now that he was finally calm. Nothing good ever came from their fights. He was as stubborn as a mule and she was just as bad. She simply wouldn't take 'no' for an answer and Heero was the only one resilient enough to try wearing her down.

Her mind flashed to a few years back, recalling yet another wrong she had done him, not long after their vacation in Spain. As the AC 200 elections approached, she was asked to fly to space for a diplomatic visit to all five major colony clusters. It had been the first time she was to travel to space since the conflicts ended, and, naturally, it was to be Heero's first trip back up there as well. She had naively thought that he would be pleased about going back to the place he used to call home, even if it was just for a short trip, but his reaction had surprised her:

'I'm not going to back to space,' he had declared with a harsh, defying, tone.

'Heero,' she tried to reason with him; 'I have to go and that means you must join me. It's only for a couple of weeks. You won't even have to leave the shuttle. I'll arrange for private quarters.'

'No.' He had insisted and all Hell broke loose as they had the worse, most fierce fight ever. She couldn't understand his refusal to go back to his homeland, to the place he had fought so hard for, to the people he had sacrificed his humanity for... and he was too hardheaded to explain his reasons. She tried to manipulate the truth out of him, telling him that if he took the time to help her understand, she'd reconsider. Heero refused to share his reasons, but she suspected that his apprehensiveness stemmed from the unfortunate fact that the Colonies spat in his face one time too many. Heero was betrayed by his homeland so many times... sold out to the enemy and worse. She assumed the he must be too proud to go back, too angry... and too wounded. She confronted him with those questions as well, but that just made him angrier. They argued heatedly. In the end, he implored her to respect his wishes just this one damn time! but she refused to budge. She claimed that she couldn't; it was her job and her career was important to her yes, more than he was. So Heero left the apartment, furious, and she went to bed, upset but confident that once again she will get her own way.

He stormed into her office unannounced the next day and slammed a white piece of paper on her desk, scowling at her angrily.

'I am not going to space,' he repeated his words from the night before; a defiant glare gleaming coldly in his Prussian blue eyes. She looked up and he stared her down in a silent battle of wills. Finally, she reached for the paper and skimmed through it. An artful smirk twisted her lips as she did. It was a note from his cardiologist stating that due to his heart condition, he was not fit for space-travel and that exposure to the powerful G-forces while leaving Earth's atmosphere will have a severe effect on his coronary arteries.

She nearly laughed in his face. Heero had chosen to fight fire with fire, using her bureaucratic world against her.

'Really, Heero a doctor's note?' she had jeered, amused that he had stooped to such a lowly tactic.

'They'll never let me on a shuttle,' he stated smugly, certain that he had won against her for a change. Medical clearance was mandatory for all space-travelers and even more so if one suffered from any chronic condition. She fought to keep cool and never let him show how aggravated she was by his dirty move.

'Well played,' she congratulated him, meeting his ruthless eyes with her own fierce gaze, allowing him to think that he had won. She knew how to manipulate his physical exam results at Preventer, so what was a little doctor's note? Properly medicated, he should be fit for space flight. Once she had foiled his little plan, Heero came quietly. She made it clear that if necessary she would leave without him and he knew that there was no point in staying behind just to test her resolve she will call his bluff. His passive-aggressive retaliation would be futile and they both knew it, so in the end Heero had reluctantly joined her on a three-week trip to the Colonies.

Once they got there, he tried to obstruct her plans by refusing to leave the shuttle, but she just moved all of her business to the proximity of the spaceport, usually a nearby hotel or the VIP lounge. She was willing to put up with his crappy attitude throughout the trip as long as she could fulfill her duties and advance her career. She was hoping to spend her second term in office as the ESUN's Foreign Affairs Minister rather than his second. So goal-oriented, she barely spent any time around Heero's sulking face during the trip. The poor shuttle crew was the one to truly endure his broodiness and childish tantrums.

She recalled checking up on him in his quarters one night before bed. The sliding door opened and a column of harsh light tumbled into his dark room, illuminating him as he lay in bed, his back to the door, his posture stiff as he lay there, moping.

'Get the fuck out,' he had grumbled fumingly so she left and stayed away for the remainder of the trip, giving him time to cool off. She knew that he will forgive her sooner or later. He had no other choice. He couldn't possibly spend the rest of his life avoiding her and that was why she had taken the risk of bluntly going against his wishes.

Then, halfway through the trip, she finally discovered why Heero had been so reluctant to go back to space. About two weeks into the tour she was called out of a meeting because Heero had suffered what appeared to be a second heart attack. She rushed back to the space port, flustered for she feared that perhaps there was some truth behind his doctor's note after all.

When she arrived at her private space-shuttle, she found him in his bed, surrounded by paramedics. They told her that he had suffered a severe anxiety attack, which was initially mistaken for a cardiac event. She remained by Heero's bedside after they cleared the room. He lay there in bashful silence, an oxygen mask over his fatigued face, tears glistening in his eyes as he stared numbly at the ceiling, disgraced. She approached the bed and took his hand in hers.

'I'm so sorry, Heero...' she had whispered regretfully; 'I didn't realize...'

'I wasn't trying to be difficult...' he mumbled with a trembling voice, closing his eyes sadly as he fought to repress his tears. 'Why wouldn't you listen? I wouldn't have asked if it wasn't...' His voice trailed off and he sighed through the oxygen mask, shaking his head miserably; 'Did I have to spell it out for you?' He turned to her, opening his mournful blue eyes. 'Space... it... it brings back... everything...' He had wept, wounded and ashamed. 'I hate it here. I can't... I can't... I can't be here... I can't... so just... just... just let me go home...'

It was the first time she heard him use that word 'home'. It was probably the first time he had ever bestowed such an intimate title on a place of residence. She on the other hand had never thought of their duplex apartment as more than a piece of real-estate with an overly-exaggerated rent, but Heero obviously did. It was ironic, because she was the one who had unintentionally drilled the term into his psyche, back when his PTSD was at its worse. He had suffered from paranoid delusions and not once he had lost touch with reality, sometimes wandering away from home, completely disoriented; sometimes he even failed to recognize that he was in his own bedroom. She would always pull him out of the webs to illusion and soothe his distraught spirit by repeating the same mantra: 'It's okay Heero. You're safe. You're home. Nothing can hurt you here. You're home. You're safe here'.

Their apartment became his sanctuary, a fixed anchor-point to a more bearable reality. It was probably the only place he felt truly comfortable in; a place where it was safe to fall apart. Their apartment was his little private corner in a hostile, estranged world a haven. Without it, he was forced to hold everything in until it became too much and he fell apart.

She had then realized, with great embarrassment and suffocating self-abhor, that she should have listened to his implores instead of butting heads. Heero had never asked anything of her before that trip, and the one time he finally dared speaking up and ask for her consideration she had let him down. It was clear to her now that Heero didn't want to go back to space because he feared that his PTSD would resurface, as it had. He had been off antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medication for a while before the trip, since his condition had stabled, and therefore he had been uselessly trying to fight his demons on his own all trip long, until it became too much and he had succumbed to anxiety. Alone in his dark room, memories devoured him and he had flashed-back to his nightmarish past. The shuttle crew heard his anguished shrieks and rushed in just before he had collapsed.

The diplomatic tour was cut short. The doctors advised her to send him home, where memories weren't hiding in every shadowy corner. He couldn't even listen to the sound of the shuttle's engines roaring without shaking uncontrollably, let alone look out a window and see the old war wreckage floating in space. He had to be sedated during the flight back to Earth. She has never seen him so shell-shocked, not even during his worse PTSD episodes before he went on medication. Returning to space shook him so hard he had shattered. It was a long while before he was himself again and even longer before he could bring himself to look her in the eye after she had witnessed his absolute disgrace. He never said another word about her selfishness and she never saw him shed a tear since; he was too proud, too angry, to cry in front of her again. They moved on, sweeping matters under the rug as always.

Ultimately, Heero got what he wanted. She never traveled to space again, sparing him the pain of facing his haunting demons up close and saving herself from the horror of witnessing his pitiable frailty. She has made a lot of compromises over the years, sacrificing her personal life and her career, which was why she was still a vice minister for her second term in a row, instead of anything greater. The sad thing was that she didn't think Heero appreciated any of it. He felt entitled of his anger, perhaps justly.

"I know you're angry with me," Relena whispered carefully and cast her gaze down, studying the thin sheet of hair on his chest. "I can't say I blame you," she added wistfully, sighing.

"I'm angry with a lot of things," he gave a quiet, evasive answer.

She raised her head up so she could see his face. His eyes were open, two pools of amazing blue looking up at her attentively. His features were hard, guarded; wary of the gravity of her words. She hesitated, contemplating whether or not she truly wanted to have this conversation. Eventually she realized that there was no point behind avoiding it any longer. The cat was already out of the bag.

"But mostly at me," she stated for him, speaking words he was too kind to say. He sighed and turned his head the other way, staring numbly at the wall, avoiding her prying eyes.

"Is there a point to this?" he grunted drearily.

"Do you resent me for what I did?" she dared to ask the next question that has been nagging her for too long. Heero turned to her, frowning thoughtfully, so she elaborated: "For cutting a deal with ESUN... for binding you to me like this... for being too absorbed in my own damn self... for breaking your heart... You know, for the past eight years."

"Your terminology is flawed," he reproached, turning to glare at the wall again; his eyes were hard, cold and defiant. "You didn't break my heart. You've damaged it indivertibly."

She sighed, frustrated. "Don't get snippy with me," she warned; "I'm trying to apologize."

"I don't need your apology," he muttered, his tone weary and resigned. "I've learned to accept it." He stared numbly at the wall for a moment and then added: "Shit happens," in a jaded whisper; "You tried to help me the best way you could... I can't resent you for trying to do what you thought was right."

It was nice of him to say it, but his grim tone of voice didn't leave her feeling very reassured. His response sounded automatic, like he had practiced it in his head, ready to recite it when the occasion finally arose. She searched for words, feeling like there was so much more that had to be said, but she couldn't determine what exactly. Did she really want to know what went on in that dark, brooding, unbelievably complicated head of his?

She inhaled deeply and took a moment to think. Finally, she decided that honesty would be the best policy. They were carrying way too much baggage; it was time to finally start sorting through it.

"I worry about you," she admitted candidly, her eyes searching for his face, but he was still facing the wall, avoiding her demanding expression.

"You're so dear to me..." she continued and felt her heart pound strongly in her chest, crushed by a sense of forbiddance. She bowed her head, humbled for she felt that she was speaking words of blasphemy, confessing what she probably shouldn't. They weren't ready for it yet, and still she soldiered on:

"I think what happened tonight made me realize just how much I... how much I care for you. I thought I was going to lose you... when that van took off with you inside, I... I... I was never so terrified in my life. I can't imagine living without you. We've been together for so long... almost half my life. We grew up together. We learned how to live in this crazy post-war world together." She raised her head up and offered him a gentle smile. "You know, under any other circumstances, people would call us high-school sweethearts..."

Heero broke out in laughter; an extremely rare gesture, and therefore very disconcerting. She looked at him with wide, gaping eyes, stunned by his atypical reaction.

She would only have to use one hand to count the number of times she had heard him laugh, and most of them weren't out of genuine, good-hearted amusement. Four out of five times were back when he was first put on psychoactive drugs and suffered from crazy mood swings. The other time was after over half a bottle of wine, when she had drunkenly tried to seduce him, zeroing-in clumsily for a blowjob. She yanked his pants and underwear down in one too swift a move and his erect manhood sprung out forcefully and slapped her in the face, poking her eye. A strong, bubbly laughter had burst from his throat at witnessing her drunken stupor. It was the only time she had heard him really laugh. It was such a smooth, rich, laughter; as rare and precious as a gemstone. The memory of it still raised a smile on her face, even if it had been a laugh at her expense. Still, she wasn't smiling now. She cocked her head aside, frowning in disapproval.

"Is that so preposterous?" she demanded harshly even though the same thought had crossed her mind the day before, while he was driving.

"More like delusional," Heero muttered, his cynical laughter subsiding.

"Well excuse me for trying to find a single thing in my life that could be considered normal!"

"There was nothing normal about our lives," he reproached.

"And now there is? Is that what you resent so much normalcy? Is it really so bad living a quiet, normal life?"

"Normal to whom?" he mumbled, sighing, and then shook his head to demonstrate his own frustration. "This isn't the normal I had imagined."

Now they were finally getting somewhere. Relena propped herself up on one elbow, looking down at his brooding face. Her own expression was calm; she was trying to look sympathetic.

"Then where did you imagine you'd be once the war was over?"

"Six feet under," he mumbled, casting his eyes down.

She huffed in disappointment, grabbed his one free hand by his wrist and tugged it up forcefully, shoving it in his face so they could both take a good hard look at the jagged mended scar-tissue on his inner wrist a testimony of his suicide attempt in prison eight years ago.

"Really?!" she hissed crossly; "You'd rather be dead than living with me?" she spat, jerking his hand roughly to make her point.

Heero didn't answer. He stared mutely at his scar, his expression far away. She waited. A long, tense moment crawled by in dense silence, until he chose to reply:

"No," he said and yanked his hand out of her grasp, turning to gawk at the wall again. He sighed ruefully, looking tired. She observed his face warily, trying to decipher what went on inside. His Prussian blue eyes shifted uneasily back and forth as he studied the wall to his side. His lips were pressed together and his eyebrows burrowed, forming a bleak and brooding expression as he arranged his thoughts, struggling to master words he rarely used.

"It wasn't easy for me to get used to this kind of life," he finally confessed, speaking in a low, guarded, tone of voice. His gaze was fixed on the wall as he spoke; a distant, melancholic shine gleaming faintly in his eyes. "I had to come to terms with many changes," he continued; "many limitations... trying to simultaneously deal with my past and the present, and..." he paused, sighing, taking a moment to think, re-phrasing. He turned his head to face her again, looking up at her with a grimacing, tortured, expression.

"It's frustrating," he admitted in a guilty whisper; "Half the time I don't know what I'm supposed to do with myself, and on any other time I don't feel like doing anything at all. I just... try to make it through the day, going through the motions... I don't really care. All I want is for the day to finally end so I could go to sleep and... and take a break from dealing with this shit."

His grim, candid words remained hanging in the air like a dark, ominous storm cloud. She accepted them in contemplative silence, processing.

Heero felt weary, bored... empty of purpose. He was merely existing, never alive. He probably didn't even care what would happen to him when Carl forced him into that van and drove off. He simply accepted everything in quiet surrender. He was kidnapped and tortured fine. He broke free and fled to safety that was fine too. He didn't care. He was depressed. It was painfully obvious, but she had stubbornly refused to see it until now.

Heero has been carrying these dark feelings for a long time now. It was no wonder he was always so sullen, so withdrawn, his words so spiteful and biting. She sighed, bowing her head down shamefully. She felt sorry for being unable to sympathize with his pain. Her life was full of purpose, full of drive and ambition to still make a difference, shaping the world he had created by sweat, blood and tears. How awful it must be to just sit on the sidelines, watching others carry on a legacy he had started. How empty a life... how void an existence. He couldn't even try to find fulfillment elsewhere, because he was forced to sit tight, circling around her wherever she went, bound to her by a 2 mile long leash.

Heero lived his life as her damn lapdog and she carried on as a willingly ignorant bystander, never once considering that he was miserable, withering away in his invisible cage. She had turned a blind eye to his suffering, trusting that if he was stable 'going through the motions' as he had phrased it then he was fine. His strict routine was her guarantee that he was doing okay, functioning as expected of him: waking up every morning, going to work and then coming back home just so he could wait for the routine to start all over again.

The dreary routine only changed when he went out on assignment with her, but only to be replaced by a different routine: They'd travel someplace in tedious silence and Heero would escort her to wherever she had to go; sometimes as a bodyguard, sometimes just because he had no other choice. He would wait patiently until her business was done. On some occasions he'd visit nearby museums and tourist attractions while he waited (she often wished she could be there to witness the look on his usually stoic face as he observed awe-inspiring arts). Then, once her business was done, he'd take her to a hotel where they usually shared a two-bedroom suite, have a quiet dinner with nothing but pointless small-talk to break the heavy silence and then bed.

Day after day, time after time, he carried on without complaint. She thought it meant that he was doing well, that he was fine with the life he was forced to live... but that was simply a lie she enjoyed telling herself. Everything she told herself was a lie... Heero was miserable; one had to be blind not to see it.

It was so tempting to mistake his stability for his wellbeing. She was so comfortable living with him that way; so proud of herself for being able to keep him around for so long, for luring him into her bed whenever she pleased, for sharing her life with him, for being allowed to see him bare and wounded, for witnessing every side of him the good, the bad, the strong, the weak, his tears, his smiles... everything. It wasn't fair to him. He didn't choose this nakedness; he didn't choose to share himself with her day after day until he had nowhere left to hide. He didn't even try anymore. He had turned from a caged lion pacing restlessly in his coop to a submissive, obedient puppy circling the carpet in its owner's den, alone and neglected.

That wasn't living that was torture, and it has been going on for too long. It had to stop. He didn't deserve to be treated like a prized pet, but... but did she have it in her to cut him loose? She could plea for an appeal on his behalf; ask them to reconsider their verdict... But even if by some miracle they let her, would she let him go? The mere thought of it twisted her gut painfully. Something hurtful and desperate stirred inside her, poisonous and strong. She realized that if she won't, then Heero won't go on living this way for much longer; eventually, he will look for a way out, even if it would mean taking his own life.

What would she do if he left her? Life wouldn't be the same without him. What would she do without the comforting knowledge that he is always near, always reliable, always there when she was lonely? How will she be able to sleep at night knowing that the bedroom just above hers is empty? How would she live without the small, rewarding thrill of crawling into his bed in the middle of the night? Nothing could ever compare to the feeling of his strong arms wrapped around her. Where else will she find the fulfillment she felt as he allowed her to be there for him when he needed someone to hold him, someone to help him keep his head above water when he drowned in his anguish, buried alive under suffocating insanity? Who will be there to make sure he was taking his medications, keeping his doctors' appointments, making certain that he ate regularly? Who will be there to help him back to bed, soothing him when nightmares became too much and his insomnia came back with a vengeance? Who will be there during the crazy, difficult, unbearable times when he insisted that his soul was healed and stopped taking his prescriptions? Who will be there to pick up the pieces as he crumbled, broke down and collapsed into himself? Who? Who else would stick it out to the end and help him back on his feet? Who else knew him well enough to forgive the terrible things he said and did during those awful times? Who else was resilient enough to endure his fierce umbrage, his frustrating wariness, his dark agony? Who else loved him enough to face those wild emotions and still never let him go?

Only she did. Heero needed her just as much as she needed him. Giving him up was not an option. They will be lost without each other.

She rolled on top of him quickly, straddling his hips, grabbed his head by its sides, bent down and kissed him fiercely, determined to make it clear that she wasn't about to let him go anywhere. He accepted her kiss impassively at first, but once her hands began roaming expertly up and down his naked body, teasing him as only she knew how, he surrendered to her seductions. She rubbed her hips against him hungrily, building up a rhythm. His hands shot up to grab her forcefully by her arms, pulling her closer, pressing her against him lustfully. They huffed heavily, moving together in hungry, clumsily passion. There was something different in the way he moved against her, something beyond desperation; something... more. She actually felt like she was being made love to for the first time and the sensation brought tears to her eyes.

She entwined her fingers with his as her body exploded with ecstasy, squeezing his hand so hard as though saying that she will never let go. They collapsed back on the bed and remained lying close together, simply breathing. She placed her head on his chest and he pulled the blanket up to cover them. They lay embraced. She closed her eyes and listened to his wild heartbeat as it gradually calmed down. The steady pounding engulfed her; it was all she knew as she drowned herself in the thumping rhythm of his life. Stubborn tears pricked her closed eyelids. She loved the sound of his heartbeat so much... she loved him so much it hurt her soul.

"I think I've fallen in love with you again..." she whispered wistfully and raised her head up to kiss the soft hairs on his chest. She turned to him, smiling sheepishly, but then her face fell sadly when she saw that he was already asleep; eyes closed, lips agape and his expression oblivious, lax with fatigue.

She sighed wearily and rested her head on his chest again, closing her eye dejectedly. Maybe it was best that he hadn't heard her, yet she secretly wished he had. She wondered what he would have said if she told him that this time her love was genuine and not merely a teenage crush over an idyllic hero. She loved him because and despite of the fact that he was far from the perfect idol she had admired childishly in the past. She fell in love with the person he's become in the aftermath of pain and destruction, the person underneath the cold pretense of the soldier. She loved the young man she has gotten to know intimately over the past eight years. She loved him for overcoming his impossible, horrendous past; she loved him for his strengths, his weaknesses and for so much more...

She loved his loyalty, his dutiful and committed nature. She loved that she could always count on him to be the bigger person, the one mature enough to discard his reluctance, oblige her sometimes childish notions and do something he absolutely didn't want to, like escorting her to the annual Christmas ball as her date rather than a bodyguard.

She loved the feeling of his strong arms around her as they waltzed. She loved the warmth of his body as they embraced and the closeness only she was allowed to experience.

She loved the desperation in his strong embrace, the coy need in his quiet blue eyes. She loved that he trusted her to see his pain and offer him comfort.

She loved the quiet reservation in his eyes as he looked into hers or the way the usually fierce blue orbs softened as they watered with sorrowful tears once he lost his struggle to contain them.

She loved that he could cry, weeping his sorrow and growing stronger as he overcame his hardship.

She loved his timid smiles, the ones that rarely graced his handsome face but when they did her knees became weak.

She loved his cynical sense of humor, the way he joked through subtle subtext and implication.

She loved his ferocity; the way he fought, the way he played sports, the way he argued just to spite her, the way he moved against her in bed, the way he dedicated himself to whatever task he had to accomplish and the intensity in which he carried himself through it.

She loved that he could be so strong and yet vulnerable at the same time. She loved his every virtue and accepted his every flaw. If that wasn't the kind of mature credence required out of the real romantic love like the one her therapist was always babbling about, then she didn't know what was. She loved him pure and simple. There was no way in Hell she was ever letting him go.

Resolute, she huddled closer, hugging him tightly, and drifted to sleep, trusting that he will always be there when she woke up.

* * *

She dreamt of him; visions of feral blue eyes and firm bronze arms. He was floating naked in a large body of water. No he was drowning! He struggled against the underwater currents until there was no more air left in his lungs. Eventually his muscular arms ceased their useless struggle and stilled. He was looking straight at her even though she wasn't really there; a sad, resigned expression on his face. The light in his eyes died slowly. His fierce blue gaze dimmed, turning glassy. He drifted motionlessly, dying. She panicked and reached for him, wishing to pull him to safety. She touched him and he faded away... vanishing from her grasp.

Relena shot up, gasping as she jerked awake. She whirled her head aside to look down at the bed, but Heero wasn't there. She lifted the blanket up to cover her naked chest and scanned the room anxiously. Her heart palpitated intensely in her chest. Heero wasn't there!

She was two seconds away from being flooded by irrational panic, when he suddenly walked back into the bedroom, wearing his muddy black dress pants, still shirtless, a gun tucked into his waistband. He was holding a soft drink bottle in one hand and chewing on a chocolate candy bar with his other hand. The minute their eyes locked he stopped dead in his tracks, like a predator picking up on the scent of panic. He frowned and put the candy bar down; some chocolate lingering to the corner of his mouth. Mud still streaked one of his cheeks and his hair was a mess, spiking out in every direction. His shoes and pants were soaked with water up to his knees. She concluded that he's been downstairs, searching for nourishments.

"Only some junk food survived," he spoke quietly, choosing not to comment about her bizarre alarm, and tossed the bottle he was holding in her direction. It landed next to her on the bed. She turned to look at it with dismay. Cherry soda; she hated cherry soda. She sighed and reached for the bottle anyway, feeling parched.

Heero settled back onto his side of the bed and took another bite from the chocolate snack. He pulled a second bar from his pants pocket and handed it to her as well. She accepted it reluctantly and opened the wrapper. It was going to go straight to her thighs!

"You know," she said as she nibbled reluctantly on her snack; "I read once that fruitcakes can survive up to one hundred and thirty years in a world without people."

"I'll be sure to stock-up next time the world is about to end," he muttered dryly and reached into his pocket again, pulling out yet another chocolate candy bar. "I'm sure it can't be worse than battle rations," he added cynically and Relena smiled.

"Don't underestimate junk food," she scoffed playfully; "it can outlive us all."

"Jars of honey remain edible for millennia," he offered his own portion of useless End of the World Trivia and took a bite out of his second snack. He was obviously very hungry, because he usually avoided sweets like fire; not because he was some obsessive weight-watcher, but because he had suffered a lot of dental damage during wartime. His mouth was full of dental crowns and he frequented the dentist. Soft drinks and candy hurt his sensitive teeth.

"Really?" she marveled as she munched on her own chocolate snack; "Well, did you know that head lice would become extinct without people?"

"Cockroaches can survive a nuclear holocaust," he returned the favor.

"So if you hadn't blown Libra, Earth would have been ruled by cockroaches living off fruitcakes and honey..." she concluded with a cunning smile.

"On the bright side " he added in a deadpan tone, scratching his head nonchalantly "no head lice."

She laughed. Sometimes he picked the oddest times to be playful. It was his calm after a storm and one of his more surprising qualities. He could be sitting in the back of an ambulance, filthy and tattered after he had wandered off into the city in a temporary fugue state caused by his PTSD, and still tell her something along the lines of 'I've found that elusive coffee shop you're always searching for...' while being treated for a dislocated shoulder, a paramedic guiding his arm into a sling. She would laugh anxiously and he would offer a small apologetic smile and she would know that everything was alright, the storm has passed. She wondered if anyone else has ever seen this side of him and jealously hoped not. She liked to think that she was the only one who knew the person behind Heero's iron mask. It made her feel special; more than just his custodian.

The playful exchange of words ended and they fell silent again, staring numbly at the bed. The sheets were tangled, a remnant of their passionate lovemaking a few hours ago. She studied the large wet stain at the center of the bed, where she had leaked his seed in her sleep. They never bothered with condoms because they were each other's first and they were exclusive; they promised to tell the other if they ever slept with anyone else. Plus, she was on the pill, so they were safe. Now she suddenly wondered what would become of them if she accidently got pregnant because she hadn't had the chance to take her pill that night. She had forgotten it before and it never resulted in pregnancy, but what if one day it suddenly would? Would he remain willingly by her side if she had his child, or would a baby become yet another unwelcomed leash around his neck?

She didn't even want children they would only hinder her career plans. She was fairly certain that Heero didn't want kids either; the thought was so estranged from him that it probably never even crossed his mind. Chances were that if she ever got pregnant, she would just have an abortion without even telling him, fearing that he might ask her to keep it. Even though he was very pragmatic and by no means religious, she had a feeling that Heero would consider an abortion murder.

God! Was she so afraid that he wouldn't stay by her side without those damn chips stuck in their heads, that she was even considering having his kid!? That was ludicrous! Absurd! Disgraceful! Pointless. Those chips weren't going anywhere. Heero wasn't going anywhere. She didn't have to do much to keep him by her side and maybe that was why she was so desperate to find a sincere, keen reason for him to be with her willingly.

She looked up, studying his stoic face quietly. He was staring broodingly at the bed, his expression giving away nothing. She chewed nervously on her lip, daring herself to find out if he truly intended to be with her.

"What if I made an appeal?" she blurted out before even reaching a sound decision.

Heero turned to look up at her, frowning. "Appeal to whom?"

"The International Court of Justice," she clarified carefully; "I can ask them to disable the chips, to cut your sentence short."

He gaped at her, taken aback. Then, his features hardened into a resentful glare. "Where is this coming from?" he demanded harshly, his whole body tensing with bubbling anger.

Relena shrugged helplessly, sighing. "It's been over eight years..." she mumbled, finding it hard to meet his ruthless gaze; "I think it might be worth a shot," she explained, struggling to keep her eyes locked on his despite the strong urge to recoil; "Even if they'll only agree to widen the perimeter, give you more freedom, it's still something."

Heero scowled at her darkly, clearly offended by her offer.

"A leash is still a leash, no matter how long," he muttered and got out of bed, stomping towards the window. He pushed the wooden shutters open, exposing a cloudy grey sky and the flooded fields below. It was raining. He leaned against the low windowsill, looking out at the gloomy view, and heaved an exasperated sigh.

"Increasing the chip's range won't make a difference," he grumbled in disdain; "Don't bother making empty promises. This is just the serotonin speaking."

His sullen words pinched her heart painfully, hurting her where only he could. He didn't believe that she was sincere. She had wronged him too many times... failing him again and again. Heero had no more faith in her. He thought that she was merely being influenced by post-orgasmic love hormones. He didn't believe her care was genuine. That was why he's been so distant lately. He was shutting her out, because he felt that he could no longer depend on her. She had to make him see that it wasn't true! She would have done anything to get him back safely from those thugs! She would do anything for him anything! She knew that now. Heero was more important than her reputation and career. She would have chucked them both out the window to save him. It might have taken a near-kidnapping experience to make her realize it, but she knew now that she couldn't possibly fail him again. She will fight for him against emotional demons, real-life villains and the ESUN court. She would wage every single battle out there just so she could win him back!

"There's still a chance they'll agree to disable it altogether," she insisted desperately, trying to make him see that she meant well. "Maybe if we showed them how this thing could also be used against us, like what happened tonight, then maybe they'll comply. We should at least try. Please Heero... let me do this for you."

"Shit, Lena!" he exclaimed and punched the windowsill in frustration. "Why now?" he hissed, shaking his head, his fists gripping the window ledge tightly. "Why the fuck now?"

His troubled tone confused her. She honestly thought he would appreciate her offer; that he would be happy that she finally came to her senses. She gaped silently at his naked back, at a loss for words. Why was he so upset by her offer? Was it so untimely? She believed that her timing couldn't be better... she wouldn't have considered giving him more leeway if not for their recent ordeal.

Outside, the drizzle turned into a loud, violent downpour. Cold winds gust by, a chill creeping into the room. The tall tree-line surrounding the farm area was swaying wildly with the wind. She could hear a distant roll of thunder. A new storm front was coming. If they waited much longer, it would be impossible to go outside. She wondered for how much longer they could risk staying at this abandoned farmhouse. It was oddly convenient that they've managed to find shelter in the middle of nowhere and she was certain that their attackers would be quick to find it as well once they had their backup. Heero should have come up with a plan by now, yet there they were, spending the morning in bed together.

She looked up, studying his naked back. He stood unmoving, facing the window as he gazed mutely at the storm. Her forehead creased with a wary frown. If she didn't know any better, she would have determined that he was... stalling? Her frowned darkened into a deep scowl. Was he? Why? Was he up to something? Why were they talking about their relationship when they should be planning their next move? She has never felt suspicious towards or intimidated by him in her life, yet suddenly she felt disturbingly vulnerable in his powerful presence. She clutched the blanket protectively to her naked chest and bent down to fetch her clothes from the floor. Her tailored trousers were still moist, but she put them on anyway.

Heero finally turned to face her, watching her dress quietly. Usually she didn't mind his scrutinizing gaze, but now it made her feel very uneasy. She grabbed his Preventer jacket off the floor and hurried to put it on, zipping it up quickly, hiding herself from his penetrating blue gaze. She turned to glare at him, her eyes full of distrust. Their gazes locked and Heero tensed, every muscle on his bare torso primed for battle, ready for when she would finally lash out at him.

She didn't. Instead she peered into his eyes, trying to peek behind his guarded façade and dig out the truth. Something didn't feel right. There was a kind of tension in the air she hasn't felt in years. The last time she had felt this kind of gut-wrenching anxiety was just before Heero took off to face the final battle on Libra, when they said their goodbyes. Back then, his eyes were soft, compassionate. Now, however, they shone with resentment and blame.

As though sensing that she had seen through him, Heero cast his gaze down to the floor. He stared at it mutely, avoiding her sharp eyes. She continued to observe him warily.

Outside, rain pounded mercilessly on every hard surface. Menacing dark clouds obscured the heavens as if signaling their personal apocalypse. The wind howled as it rippled through the water surrounding the farmhouse. The flooded terrain almost looked like a raging ocean.

Minutes passed. Relena shifted her gaze back to Heero. He still hasn't moved and his lengthy stillness was becoming eerie.

A loud thunder rumbled in the distance. She decided to finally speak.

"If you mean that it's too late to fix this," she said in the most imperturbable tone she could manage; "then look me in the eye and say it. Tell me that I could never redeem myself to you. But you know what I don't think you can. After all the shit I had to put up with for your sake, after all the things I've learned to accept about you, I don't think you're in any position to tell me that I can't fix this. I think I've at least earned the right to try, so just... let me make this better, Heero, please. We can do this. It doesn't have to go on like this... we can make something of this, something... something more than just a legal arrangement. I can be more than a warden."

Heero raised his head, finally looking up at her. His features were blank. If he was moved or angered by her implore, his face didn't let it show. He stared at her with a stony expression, standing rigidly by the window. Only she could recognize the struggle raging in his eyes. It was there; he couldn't hide it from her. She had unnerved him, touching something he hasn't guarded well enough. She forced herself to keep her gaze leveled with his, her blue eyes bearing into his very soul, searching for answers. After a long, tense, moment, Heero could no longer keep the numb visage. A wretched expression contracted his features in a display of barefaced agony. For a moment she thought that she had gotten through to him somehow, but then she noted how much his face has suddenly paled. The pain in his eyes wasn't emotional... something was wrong.

"Heero?" she whispered his name fearfully, taking a small step closer.

His pained expression cracked with a cynical smile. "Your timing is impeccable..." he rasped with a strained voice. Then, with a quiet moan, he fell on one bended knee and remained hunched over the floor, succumbed by an unseen force.

"Heero!" she exclaimed and jumped towards him, panicked; "What's wrong?!" She knelt next to him, searching his face for an answer.

He didn't respond. His head hung low as he gawked at the floor, his expression shell-shocked.

"Heero?" she called his name fearfully and reached a hesitant hand up to his face, brushing gently against his cold cheek in hopes to stir him from his eerie trance. The second she touched him, he jerked back as though he had just been burnt. She pulled back, staggered. She watched, utterly confused, as Heero curled on the floor, groaning in pain. He folded his legs up to his chest, hugging himself, and closed his eyes tightly. His whole body trembled strongly, and it was getting worse. He bit down his lower lip, fighting back a miserable moan which escaped his lips nonetheless. She could do nothing but watch, dazed out of her wits.

"Get... back..." Heero grounded through clenched teeth. His tortured voice snapped her out of her stupor and she hurried to move back anxiously. Her heart was pounding and her mind was reeling; she couldn't figure out what was wrong!

"More!" he shouted urgently, curling further into himself, shaking. "Just... just... shit... Lena... Get back!"

She scrambled hastily to her feet and rushed to the door. She stood at the bedroom's doorway, looking at him worriedly as he lay squirming on the floor, eyes clenched shut, moaning and cringing with pain.

"What's going on? Heero what's wrong?"

"I don't... know..." he grated out painfully; "Something's... wrong..." he rasped, panting; "it hurts like... when... like you're... too faurgh!" his words were cut off by a loud, pained cry. He writhed in agony, shaking uncontrollably on the floor. Her heart broke. Is this what happened to him when they were apart?

"Is it the chip?" she ventured a panicked guess; "Is it the same kind of pain?"

He nodded his head frantically, his hair brushing back and forth on the filthy floor. She gaped at him, stunned. "But how is that even possible?!" she cried helplessly; "Could they've done something? Played with the chip?"

"I don't know!" he cried back, his voice cracking with a pitiful sob.

Relena's eyes welled with tears. She recalled his tortured shrieks back when the ESUN doctors first tested the chip. He had lain strapped to a dentist-like chair as they played with the chip's settings, raising the level of pain higher and higher until he couldn't take it anymore. He had endured the agony quietly at first, but at some point he must have realized that the torture won't end unless he gave in. The whole point behind the exercise was to learn his breaking point so they could set the chip. She could actually see it on his face when he made the conscious decision to let go. His strained and guarded expression melted away, replaced by a blatant display of anguish. Her heart had nearly stopped when she saw the tears well in his eyes.

When they finally reached his limit he had let out a small, pathetic whimper and turned his head aside, closing his eyes. His tears finally spilled. She remembered how his restrained fists had clenched tightly as the doctors continued their experiment nonetheless. He began to thrash in his restraints, moaning helplessly. The bastards weren't satisfied with his subtle gestures. Breaking his stoic façade wasn't enough. They didn't stop until he was downright sobbing:

'It hurts enough...' he had wept pitiably; 'Please... it hurts enough! I won't run away... I promise... I promise! Just make it stop...'

They didn't know him as well as she did. They didn't know that if he had resorted to such pathetic weeping then it meant that they had long reached their goal, achieving what no previous torturer had done before: breaking him. They broke him because he allowed them to, because he knew that he had to break, but his broken pleas weren't enough. They kept going until his tortured shrieks filled the room and only stopped because she finally threatened to have their license revoked if they continued their sick game. They set the chip to deliver that same amount of agony on the 2 mile mark and made sure that it would increase exponentially with each additional mile, thus crippling Heero completely if he ever dared to leave the perimeter.

'I'll stay with you...' he had rasped the words breathlessly once the pain subsided and she walked back into the examination room. 'Tell them... I'll stay...' he promised faintly as he finally surrendered to the torture, and lost consciousness.

A wild stallion had been tamed that day; his spirit broken, his body bound to a single owner her. Witnessing the chip's torture again, it finally occurred to her that she had been blinder than she had initially thought. All those years she has been telling herself how she had saved Heero, how she was always willing to fight for his rights, but in essence she had stood idly by as he was chained to her by this pain. For eight years he has lived bound by reins of agony. Eight years during which he had stayed by her side because he feared this terrible torture. Eight years during which she has been lying to herself that it was anything else.

"Are you sure it's the chip?" she asked shakily as she wiped away her tears with her hand, refusing to process the consequences of her epiphany just yet. "Could someone do that? Change the setting so it'll work the other way around?"

"I don't know!" Heero cried out petulantly, cringing violently on the floor. "It just... hurts! Get back! Just... just get back, Lena... please!"

"But Heero, this doesn't make any sense!" she insisted; "Who could do this?! Why?"

"URGH!!!" he groaned loudly and rolled over, trying to crawl away from her to the other side of the room.

"Heero, stop!" she called and ran after him. "You shouldn't exert yourself! You'll have another episode!"

"It hurts!" he wept, shaking. Tears streamed freely down his pale face. She reached a hand for him, but he shoved it away violently.

"No!" he sobbed; "Please!" he cried and dragged himself by his elbows as though advancing under fire. She watched his pathetic retreat with wide, shocked eyes. How could this be happening?! Who were the Carls working for? Who knew about the chips and of a way to control it?! And what for? Why? Nothing made sense!

"Dammit," she cussed, frustrated as she watched Heero writhe in sheer agony on the floor. He curled into himself in the far corner of the room; his fists were clutched over his chest, his eyes clenched tightly in a pained grimace. His heart was suffering. He was moaning miserably, panting harshly, trying to ride out the pain, but failing. It won't stop until she'll walk away.

"They're trying to smoke me out," she finally concluded. "It's me they're after," she realized with great dismay. "I have to go."

Heero shook his head against the floor, hissing as he inhaled sharply. "Too... dangerous..." he argued weakly.

"I don't have a choice," Relena sighed. "I'll make a run for it, try to get help."

With a trembling hand, Heero reached to pull the pistol out of his waistband. He slammed it clumsily on the floor. "Take it," he groaned; "There should be... a few... a few rounds... left."

She stared at the weapon with apprehension, unable to move. Heero used the tip of his quivering fingers to nudge it towards her slightly, insisting that she'd take it.

"You'll have no way to defend yourself if they find you first," she warned him, but he already knew that.

"Go," he whispered weakly. "I'll be... fine..."

He braced himself for the pain as she approached him carefully, but still he screamed when she stepped closer to retrieve the gun. She whispered a useless apology and hurried to retreat from the room.

"I'll try to create as much distance from here as possible," she promised at the doorway; "Hold on. I'll run as fast as I can."

She didn't give him time to respond, and ran out of the room, leaving Heero behind, trembling helplessly on the floor, sobbing quietly in pain.

* * *

Outside, the storm front had finally hit. The skies have darkened considerably, even though it was still early noon. Black rainclouds poured heavy rain down mercilessly. Wild winds were blowing, moving debris across the flooded field around the farmhouse. The water was littered with floating rubble Relena had failed to see at night: wheelbarrows, tractor tires, barrels, a broken doghouse, wooden planks, pieces of a fence, dislocated gates, crates and whatnot. She made her way through the dangerous minefield, dragging her aching body through the ice-cold water as fast as she could, holding the gun up above water.

Rain hit her face like needles and torrents of it slid off the Preventer jacket she was wearing. Although its outer layer was soaked, she was still dry inside. She shoved her wet bangs out of her eyes, looking around for more debris in her way. She pushed a large tin barrel aside and kept walking, heading to the tree line from which they came last night. She was barely making any progress. She had to get at least two miles away and fast.

Her mind drifted at some point, so she was unsure of how long it took her to reach the slope leading up to the tree line. She climbed up the slippery mud on all fours. Once on dry ground, the tall Cypress trees protected her from the rain. She turned to look at the farmhouse a few dozen feet away, her eyes focusing on the open bedroom window. Was Heero alright? Has the pain subsided somewhat? Is his heart handling the strain? What if he had another heart attack and she wasn't there? What if he died and she wasn't there to hold him!

No, she couldn't think like that. She mustn't. Heero will make it. He always did. She simply had to keep moving.

Bidding Heero a silent farewell, hoping she will get to see him again soon, she turned around and headed into the fields leading back to the road from which they came last night. She didn't know what else to do, so she marched on and prayed that she won't find the Carls there. The road was her best chance. Heero had mentioned that there should be a roadside motel about a dozen miles from where their car got stuck in the mud. She will find help there.

Halfway through the marshy field she could see the road up ahead. It was empty. The van was gone. The Carls must have gone to lick their wounds someplace. Relieved, she picked up her pace. She jogged along the road, panting heavily, her wet blonde hair bouncing up and down with each stride. Resolve kept her stamina up. She had to help Heero. She had to save him. He had to live. He had to live so she could fix everything and make it up to him for eight years of ignorance.

At some point she ditched her cursed high heel shoes. She ran barefoot for what must have been at least an hour. The soles of her feet hurt at first, but after a while they were numbed by the cold asphalt. She sprinted fast enough to move away from the farmhouse quickly, but lightly enough as to not to exhausts herself too soon. Her personal trainer would have been so proud. She smirked at the thought.

The roadside motel was finally in sight. It was a modest establishment, its dozen rooms set in a long brown-bricked row along the country road. Only two cars were parked there one by the office and the other by the only room that seemed to be occupied. Relena headed for the reception office, running alongside the building. She could hear a vehicle approaching from behind her; a big one by the sound of it. By instinct, she peeked over her shoulder to look at it. It took her less than a split second to recognize the vehicle as the Carls' van. She didn't think, and scuttled straight into the bushes under a nearby window.

The large white van stopped two rooms ahead, right next to the single car that was already parked there. Relena peeked behind green branches, her heart racing dreadfully. She saw Carl no. 1 step out of the driver's side, still dressed in the baggy blue jumpsuit he had worn last night. There wasn't a scratch on him, and Relena frowned warily. Hadn't Heero shot him? She saw the man collapse to the ground!

Carl no. 2 stepped out of the passenger side and circled around the vehicle, joining his accomplice. He too was wearing the blue overall and, like his partner, he seemed perfectly fine for a guy who was shot from point-blank range merely a day ago. What was going on!

The two walked to the back of the van and opened the doors. A moment later, someone else stepped out, shuffling tiredly out of the van, his head bowed. His dark brown hair was wet and plastered to his head. A grey wool blanket was wrapped around his naked torso; he held it closed around him like a cap as he stepped onto the wet driveway. Relena fought back a horrified gasp. It was Heero, looking utterly fatigued and miserable. He's been captured again!

Shit, she thought, wincing in disappointment. The guy simply could not stay out of trouble! She should have known better than to listen to his stupid promise that he would be fine if the Carls found him. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

The constant drizzle strengthened into a fierce downpour. Carl no. 1 slammed the van's door shut and the sound rumbled along with a distant thunder. Relena's hand hovered above the gun tucked into the waistband of her pants. She chewed on her lower lip, trying to think of a way to get Heero away from the two thugs. If she jumped out now, aiming a gun at them, she might surprise them and give Heero the chance he needed to retaliate. Then again, one look at him and it was clear that he was in no shape to pull off any miracles. He was barely standing.

The Carls ushered him towards the motel room, Carl no.1 shoving Heero from behind, urging him to walk faster. Carl no.2 knocked on the door and then opened it. He stood in the open doorway while his partner elbowed Heero into the room. Heero walked in silently and the Carls followed him, closing the door behind them.

Relena hurried towards the room, hunching low under the windows as she made her way towards the bush near the door the three had just entered. She took a deep breath and carefully peeked in through the window.

Heero had taken a seat in a small armchair by the wall, the two Carls standing next to him like bodyguards. He sat slouched tiredly, still holding the blanket around his naked chest, leaning his head against his arm, elbow supported by the armrest. He stared ahead blankly, exhausted. He didn't seem to be in any pain, which made her wonder if the Carls have switched the chip back to its original setting. Maybe they were hoping that she'd get far enough to hurt him again. Would that make any sense? She didn't have time to dwell on it, because someone else suddenly approached, a tall, masculine figure walking into her line of sight: the room's occupant.

The man's back was facing the window, so she could not make out his face. He was holding something in his hand, a large bag, and talking to the Carls. He handed them the bag and Carl no.1 stepped up to take it. She could see Heero looking up, watching the scene quietly. She shifted her glance back at Carl no.1. The bully was unzipping the bag and checking its content. He pulled something out; it was a thick stack of cash. The Carls were being paid for their troubles! They were just mercenaries... their job was to deliver Heero to this man. But why?

Carl no.1 nodded in confirmation at his partner and then turned back to the man who handed him the payment. They shook hands and then both Carls turned to leave. She hurried to duck back into the bushes as they walked out the door and into their van. She heard the ignition start and held her breath as the vehicle sped away. Then, she slowly rose back to the window, her hand clutching the handle of the gun tucked into her pants. The odds were more in her favor now. It'll be two against one once she entered the room. She had to make a move now!

She peered in through the window, squinting her eyes to get a better view of what went on inside. Heero was still sitting in the armchair, hunched forward and leaning his bowed head on his arm, looking beat. The tall man's back was still facing the window, so she couldn't see his face, but she could tell that he was speaking to Heero. The young man looked up bleakly, listening. He nodded slowly at something the man had said, rubbing his face wearily as he straightened in his seat. The other man reached into his pocket, pulled something out and threw it towards Heero.

Heero's hand shot up by reflex and he caught it. It was a slim plastic stick-pack; just like the one that was tucked into the Preventer jacket she was wearing. She watched with wide, stunned eyes, gaping in shock as Heero opened the lid open and threw a large white pill into his mouth.

Suddenly, everything started to make sense:

 

"New prescription?" she asked as she watched him put the stick-pack back into his jacket and throw it to the backseat.

He had suddenly been carrying a different type of medication...

She was not surprised to see that he had been carrying his old prescription with him just in case the new one failed him. Heero always had a contingency plan always.

Oh, Heero had a plan alright... he was carrying two types of pills for a reason.

 

Heero glanced at the clock for the third time in the last few minutes. It was 22:22.

"Expecting someone?" she taunted.

He'd been expecting the Carls...

 

"How could they possibly know about the chip?"

They knew because he told them...

 

"A breach at Preventer?" she offered.

He was the breach...

 

"Are they dead?" she asked instead.

Heero shook his head. "Neutralized."

"But this means we're still in danger!" she protested.

He didn't kill them because they were working together...

 

"But Heero, this doesn't make any sense!" she insisted; "Who could do this?! Why?"

The God damned bastard!

Relena stormed into the motel room, gun aimed forward, the barrel fixed on Heero as she barked:

"You've been going to the clinic every week for the past six months tell me why!"

Still seated, Heero looked up in surprise, but only for a second before his expression turned stony. He got up slowly, his calm blue eyes leveled with hers. She could feel the other man's stare on her back, but she ignored him and kept glaring at Heero, holding the gun aimed steadily at his head.

"I've been given a way to disable the chip," Heero answered coolly, as straight forward as always. He didn't bother with asking how long she has been watching. He knew that his gig was up and he won't try to hide anymore.

"I had to run some tests. Took it a while to work properly."

"You staged this whole thing!" she accused bitterly; "You stranded us here on purpose! That's why there was a farmhouse nearby... and a motel... you chose this place. This is you, isn't it? This is all you!"

"Yes."

"Shit" it was all she could say. She sighed, her shoulders slumping as she lowered the gun. Her mind was reeling, struggling to process everything. "Those thugs weren't trying to get me to the conference, were they?" she mumbled, casting her gaze to the floor.

"You came up with that all on your own," Heero explained, not the slightest bit apologetic; "I simply didn't refute your theory."

She nodded, accepting the explanation with resignation. Inhaling deeply, she raised her head and turned around, finally facing the other man in the room. A fleeting expression of surprise swept over her face, vanishing once she recognized the other young man as an older version of the boy she had once known as Duo Maxwell ex-Gundam pilot and currently a most-wanted war criminal. By the nasty smirk on his face, aside from growing taller and older, Duo hasn't changed a bit.

"I should have known," she muttered resentfully; "Heero never would have hired those amateurs."

Duo snarled spitefully. "L2-trash is my specialty. You'd be amazed at what money can buy..." he scoffed; "then again... you should know, right? You sold a whole country to buy this guy here," he gestured at Heero with his head, his cobalt eyes seething with resentment.

"But you were shot!" Relena ignored Duo's blunt abhorrence and whirled back around to face Heero; "You were bleeding! I saw you shoot them down! I saw you get shot!"

"They were just stunt-guns," Heero explained calmly; "They cause a flesh wound at worse. I never really hurt anyone."

"You God damned BASTARD! I was freaking out thinking they were torturing you! But the chip wasn't working this whole time! It was all a charade, wasn't it?! That's how the chip suddenly changed polarity it didn't! You were just pretending to be in pain, weren't you? So I would walk away!"

"The pain was real, but moderated," he confessed quietly; "I'm not that good of an actor."

"Those new meds... they're not for your heart... you take them to suppress the chip. Jesus, Heero!" she reproached; "You could have had another heart attack! Is that how desperate you were to get away from me?"

Heero merely stood there, abashedly silent. His silence was his confirmation. Her eyes watered. It was true; all of her assumptions were true... everything that happened that night has been a lie.

"But we... we made love..." she cried, feeling hopeless; "Finally, after all this time I... I felt... I felt something behind it. I thought... I thought you were actually feeling something for me this time..."

"That was goodbye," he apologized quietly. "I wanted to give you some closure."

No, no, no... This cannot be happening! She thought, panicking. Heero can't leave her... he simply cannot leave her!

"I can't believe this..." She mumbled, stunned, and took a deep, shaky, breath, trying to compose herself. It took her a moment before she could look him in the eye again, angry and hurt. "You made me go through all this shit, making me realize just how much I love you, and now you're leaving me hanging like this?! After all we've been through together... can you honestly say that you don't feel the same way?"

He cast his gaze down before leveling his eyes with hers again, determined. "Under any other circumstances maybe I would, I don't know," he confessed carefully; "I lack the experience to say for certain. All I know is that as long as you're my warden, it's impossible. You're burying me alive, Relena. I can't do this anymore. I'm done."

She turned to glare at Duo and he just smiled cockily.

"Don't gimme that dirty look," he warned; "I'm just the delivery boy. Heero's the mastermind... point your glare at him."

She turned back to Heero, her eyes shining with tears. She couldn't be angry with him... not when his every action was justified by years of her neglect.

"You wanted me to believe you were dead," she deduced dolefully; "that's why you faked the pain so I would leave and then you'll just be... gone. That's harsh, Heero. That's really harsh."

"It would have been easier for you to let go that way," Heero explained quietly and she sighed, hurting. She was unable to look him in the eye as she asked her next question.

"Do you really have such little faith in me?"

"It's not a question of trust."

She looked up, frowning. "What is it then?"

"Plausible deniability."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"I needed a clean break."

"And you couldn't just tell me that?!"

"Would you have let me go?" he asked plainly and she knew that her answer was obvious: no, she wouldn't have. He had to be hers. Having him by her side was a testament of supremacy; the empowering feeling of triumph and domination achieved by in taming a wild stallion. She will be nothing if he left her; nothing. And that is exactly why she had to let go. She couldn't keep him as trophy anymore. It was wrong.

"So you're... leaving? With Duo?"

"Yes."

"Would it bother you?" he suddenly asked.

"What would?" she huffed petulantly.

"If I was sleeping with other women," Heero clarified quietly.

She felt so stupid... blinded by presumptuousness. Heero wasn't sleeping with other women. That much was true. Heero never lied, but he never told the whole truth either.

Relena sighed, leveling her eyes with Heero's shamefaced gaze. "How long?" she muttered quietly.

He looked at her in question.

"Don't fuck with me," she hissed; "How long have you been sneaking behind my back to be with Duo?"

He paused; surprised that she was actually on to him even though he had given no indication of his involvement with Duo. "Since our trip to the Colonies..." he replied truthfully nonetheless; "since we stopped on L2. Since you made it clear that I'm nothing more to you than a trophy."

His words stung, so she reciprocated by shouting: "You've been seeing a wanted war criminal for over five years!? Do you know how much trouble you could have gotten us into? You put my career in jeopardy! You put your life in jeopardy! Do you have any idea what they would have done to you if they found out?!"

"It was worth the risk."

She sighed, her shoulders slumping tiredly. She shouldn't argue. What was the point? It was too late... it has been too late for a long time. There was no denying that a part of her has been looking forward to this day... the day she will be freed from her responsibility towards and her custody over Heero.

"I thought you hated space," she mumbled, uselessly trying to convince him of his mistake; even while she knew that he was right, even when she knew that she should let go already. A part of her, the jealous, stubborn part, refused to let go without one last fight, however futile.

"Things haunt you there," she reminded him wretchedly.

"It's a lesser evil," Heero pointed out sullenly. "I'm haunted wherever I go."

"The ESUN has an extradition treaty with many colonies," she warned him; again useless. "You'll be a fugitive."

"I've been one all my life."

"You can never come back to Earth..." she tried another futile argument, "you can never come back home."

"I know," he sighed; "but it hasn't been a home in a long time."

It was easy to read between his lines; their shared life was no longer a home, but a prison.

She looked up, her eyes watering. She was grasping at straws, reaching the last one. "You're breaking my heart," she whimpered; "you know that?"

"I'm sorry, Lena," he apologized softly, the accusation gone from his Prussian blue eyes; "but you've been making me heartsick for years."

She knew that he meant it; figuratively and literally. That hurt even worse. A bitter chuckle/sob escaped her lips. She didn't know whether to laugh or to cry at her own stupidity.

"So this is it, huh?" she mumbled, feeling numb. For some reason, she wasn't feeling as helpless, terrified and disappointed as she thought she'd be once he left her. It was clear to her that she will get through this and maybe that hurt the most, because it just came to show that it was all a lie... a fairytale she has been telling herself for over ten years.

"All those years... they meant nothing," she determined ruefully, staring at the floor.

"That's not true," Heero objected and she looked up, eyes agape with disbelief. Heero was trying to comfort her. His gaze was intense, honest, as he spoke:

"For what it's worth, I do value your friendship. You've helped me to the best of your abilities. You've seen me through some very rough patches and I won't forget that. I just... I can't go on like this for the rest of my life. Please try to understand."

"Oh, I understand, Heero. I understand perfectly," she spat, suddenly angry, but as soon as the words were out of her mouth, the anger dissolved. She sighed, shaking her head in apology. "Forget it," she muttered; "This has been a long time coming. In a way, I suppose that I should be thanking you... you're freeing both of us from these bonds."

Heero smiled; one of his rare, genuine smiles... the ones that made her knees weak. God damn him, he was beautiful. He was beautiful and he deserved better than a life in a cage. She had to let him go.

"No more excuses," he said and stepped forward, offering her a handshake. She stared at his hand; the same hand she has held in good times and in bad, in his sickness and in health, in passion and in wrath. The same hand that has come to her rescue countless of times; the same hand that has reached for her in times of need, trusting her to soothe unspeakable aches. She's seen this hand preform an array of impossible contradictions. She has seen it kill and maim, rescue and heal, destroy and restore. She has seen this hand pale and trembling, bloodied and hurt, strong and unyielding. She has seen this hand wipe away shameful tears and conceal timid smile. She has felt it stroke gently through her hair, glide heatedly over her naked body, hold onto her desperately or slap her angrily in the face. She gawked at his hand as a lifetime of memories rushed through her mind, unable to grasp that this was the same hand she swore to never let go only hours ago.

She smiled back, defeated by irony, and looked softly into Heero's eyes. "I guess not," she finally said and shook his hand. "At least my shrink will be happy," she joked miserably; "Good luck, Heero. Make the most out of this life. You better find a way to contact me from time to time, let me know how you're doing."

"I will," he promised and she felt Duo step forward behind her.

"We haffta go," he reminded Heero quietly as he stepped past Relena and handed Heero a plain black jacket. "The shuttle's waiting."

Heero nodded and accepted the jacket, putting it on. Her eyes remained glued to his bypass scar until the zipper went up and concealed his naked chest. In the very least, he will always carry her in his heart along with that scar. It was a sick and twisted notion, but she found comfort in it nonetheless.

She looked up, her eyes meeting his one last time. He held her gaze for a moment, a thousand and one emotions raging like oceans in his Prussian blue eyes, telling their shared tale.

Finally, he cast his gaze down and joined Duo at the door. He never turned back to face her and the two left without another word. Standing by the window, Relena watched their car drive off, disappearing behind a curve. That was the last she had seen of Heero Yuy. No more fairytales, no more excuses, no more pretend... no more lies. It was time to start living without a safety net.

 

Every word you're saying is a lie
Run away my dear
But every sign will say your heart is dead

Bury all the memories
Cover them with dirt
Wheres the love we once had
Our destiny's unsure
Why can't you see what we had
Let the fire burn the ice
Where's the love we once had...

Is it all a lie?

And I still wonder
Why heaven has died
The skies are all falling
I'm breathing but why?
In silence I hold on
To you and I

You run away
You hide away
To the other side of the universe
Where you're safe from all that hunts you down...

 

 

But the world has gone
Where you belong
And it feels too late so youre moving on
Can you find your way back home?

And I still wonder
Why heaven has died
The skies are all falling
Im breathing but why?
In silence I hold on
To you and I

Every word youre saying is a lie.

 

 

Lyrics out of "Fire and Ice" by Within Temptation

 

The End

 

I told you I'm a 1x2/2x1 fan at heart! LOL

 

Thank you for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this story, so... please review?

 

Also, I will be back (one day soon I hope) with a novel-length fan fiction I've been working on on-and-off for the past few years. It's a Heero and Duo centered piece... not exactly a 1x2/2x1 story, but it does walk a fine line between het and slash so I hope there is something there for everyone. I truly hope it'll still have an audience by the time I'm done writing it. By the way - know a good, devoted, beta-reader anyone?

 

Anyways, there's a teaser on the next chapter if you're interested.

 

Until then!

 

Elle S.

 

 



[1] Yes, yes this is a direct criticism against the whole Frozen Teardrop idea! Take that Sumizawa-san!

[2] See Frozen Teardrop, chapter 4 and Endless Waltz Glory of the Losers, chapter 7.

[3] This is a reference to Odin Lowe and according to Frozen Teardrop he was.

[4] Angina  Latin for "a strangling feeling in the chest" is chest pain, discomfort, or tightness that occurs when an area of the heart muscle is receiving decreased blood oxygen supply. It is not a disease itself, but rather a symptom of coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease. It can lead to a heart attack and even death.




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