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Reporting For Duty by Tabula Rasa

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, and I never said they were, neither.

Rating: PG

Summary: Love was hard, but sacrifice was easy.

Notes: This is a present, for my rather constant co-writer Harley Q. She finally got her ass out of high school. Now that I've embarrassed her, on to the story.

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"So this means what?"

Her voice sounded like rice paper. Thin, soft, easy to destroy. Sometimes that was called fragile, he reminded himself.

There were dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was flat and thin at the ends, stringy. Girls probably had a name for it. Duo probably had a name for it too, come to think of it.

She looked too thin-- she had always been slim, of course, very thin when he first met her, but she'd put on some weight in the intervening years-- just enough to make her more mature-looking, he thought. Now it was all gone, all that and more. She was tired. He didn't miss much. He never had, except his own heart, perhaps.

He stared at her, openly now, since he had very little left to loose, as did she. It was always either bad or good for her, triumph or despair, never some relaxing middle ground. Just, he thought, not without dark humor, an endless waltz. Over and over.

He would like to dance with her again. Maybe then he could control it, if she would let him lead. Dance them to a happy spot and hold position. He would like to see her happy. He was almost embarrassed to finally admit he would like to be the cause of her happiness.

He'd certainly been the cause of enough of her unhappiness. Most of it, really. That was what had kept him away for so long. "Better off without you" was a refrain that settled easily into his thought pathways. Right after he'd left her for the second time, he had played it over and over, so that it became the constant undercurrent to all his other thoughts.

"Coming up on the left...better off...docking's backed up today...without you..."

Better off without you better off without you. Betteroffwithoutyou. Frightening, how easy it was to start that again. He must be a little mad. Not in the way everyone always thought he was. He felt himself starting to panic--what was he doing here? She didn't need him, exactly the opposite, more than the opposite, in fact. He would ruin her...

Heero got himself firmly under control, clearing his head by focusing on her. Maybe she had been better off, maybe not. But she did need him now, that much was clear, and he was here, and it was far too late to back out.

He straightened his shoulders.

He had done nothing wrong yet. She had lived, and he had watched her (it was not living, what he did without her). Her eyes did not spark like they used to, but she was always only talking to reporters or elected or appointed officials, so why should they? He had assumed that in private, she would be fine...whomever she was talking to. He very carefully did not ever think about whom her eyes might be sparking for.

Love was hard, but he was used to suffering. Love was hard, but sacrifice was easy.

But she needed him now. Knowing that gave him pride, which was comforting. It was not all for nought: she needed him to be himself. Now, for her. That knowledge had filled him up with a sense of peace that silenced the Betteroffwithoutyou voice for the first time in years, and he felt calm and ready. Destiny or politics had pulled them together again, and he allowed himself a moment to relearn how it felt to be in her presence again.

In the end it was Zeches who got him here-- got him to bring himself here. Getting there was a test for Heero. Only someone who'd been paying attention would find the clues and hints Zeches had dropped. So it was up to Heero to know if he was being called back.

If he was still doing his duty, watching out for Relena, Heero would understand the hidden meaning behind Zeches's soundbites. Then it was up to Heero to make contact. Report for duty.

He had, of course, already committed to doing whatever it took. "We have to get her out of here" Millardo had said, laying his cards on the table. "She has to go away with someone who will keep her safe for an indefinite period of time...I'll let you know, somehow, when it's time to come back, but I can't promise that it won't be years down the line, or even that we'll ever reach that time. You were the only person, Yuy, that I could think of who could take that task." The older man had looked down, and Heero had read the call for peace in his gesture. "You are, of course, the most able man for the job...I'll trust you with her life. But, you were the only one who could...well...I'm going to have to trust you with a lot more than that." He paused, to let Heero think of all the other things. Body, heart, soul, mind. Fine.

Peacecraft continued. "And I think, that in spite of all this time, you're still the only one she'd want to trust..." He trailed off. This was hard for him, Heero appreciated that. So Heero stood impassively, just nodding to show he understood. The less emotions involved here, the better for Zeches, who was much harder to please than Millardo.

He would take her away now, to keep her safe, for however long it took. However long she wanted. And, regardless of their identities--married, of course-- it would be whatever she wanted. He would follow her lead. He was patient. It was nice just to be useful to her again.

The evidence of the plan was spread out on the table before her. All the necessary new identity papers. Not even necessarily forged--that was the beauty of having the government in on your plot. Perfectly official passport and national id cards. New birth certificates. Driver's licenses. Marriage certificate. A variety of phony job references. Two plain gold wedding bands, one diamond solitaire.

He'd received the impression Zeches didn't think the latter was necessary, but someone had insisted. Heero wondered who he had to thank-- Noin, maybe.

He'd already tried his ring on, but had taken it off to present the idea to Relena. He didn't want to influence her one way or the other.

"Heero?" He started. Right. She'd had a question.

She looked up at him, her face held up by her hands, her elbows balanced on the table.

"So this means what?"

"It means...whatever you want it to mean."

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An ending