Disclaimer: I own nothing but my notebook.

Notes: 1+4/4+1 friendship, or maybe a hint of something more?

A sequel to Cugami Michiru's Blind Anger. Check it out!

Blind Hope

Quatre woke slowly and painfully. What happened? He was lying crumpled on the bottom of Sandrock's cockpit. The suit was resting on its side and Quatre was lying on one of the vid-screens.

He tried to push himself up to the main control panel and was sharply reminded of the bullet in his right arm. As he fell back against the screen he also remembered why he was not strapped into his seat. A long shallow gash ran from the top of his shoulder, down across his chest. He had received the wound on a previous mission. It was heavily bandaged, but it ran right under Sandrock's flight harness. Every time Quatre was jolted the straps would rub into the cut, reopening the wound. When his present mission was completed, he had undone the harness for the flight home.

Home. What happened? He had completed his mission and was returning to base...? Where am I?

Sudden fear seized him. He ignored the pain in his arm to reach up and punch the visual controls. A blazing rouge desert spread before him. The sun hung like a blood stained ruby on the seemingly vertical horizon.

Sunset... already? What time is it? He bit his lip and reached to press another button. As he fell back, gasping, a number appeared beside his head. He grimaced. 7:30 PM. Heero is having a fit.

Quatre had left the house at 2:00 this morning and was scheduled to return within twelve hours. The mission was another of the highly challenging and dangerous type. He seemed to receive nothing else, lately. Not that any of the pilots' missions were easy, but for several weeks, now, those missions with the least chance of success had invariably fallen to Quatre. The blond boy had been fighting a losing battle with exhaustion and depression, and had nearly ended his own life before Heero had noticed the situation and intervened.

Quatre's humanity had been eaten away by pain and relentless killing. He had not even flinched or felt remorse for killing his own sister. He was a soulless monster. The conscience and compassion that had made him valuable to this war were gone. What good was he now? The war did not need another Heero Yuy, one was fully capable of succeeding on his own. Quatre's prolonged exhaustion was becoming a weakness in the team, and despite his loss of compassion, he did not want to be responsible for their deaths. Beyond the battlefield... no one needed him. The scientists obviously wanted him gone, so why fight?

He had felt the cold metal between his teeth and been ready to pull the trigger when Heero had woken up and stopped him. No, he had probably been awake and watching the whole time, just waiting until he was sure of my intentions. Heero had stopped Quatre from shooting himself and run after him (both legs wounded) when he had fled life the second time, off the top of a cliff.

After halting his plummet and hauling him back onto flat ground, Heero had stated flatly that he would not let Quatre die.

And I still fought him.

"Life for a life. Your debt is paid, you can leave now Heero. Let me be."

Heero slammed his fist hard into the ground, breathing heavily.

Quatre stood and walked towards the cliff again. Heero immediately followed, stopping him with fingers like frightened talons around his arm.

Quatre shook his head and said, "I will not jump. Not today." He then looked down on the cliff, where he was supposed to be, but for Heero. "Maybe next time when you're nowhere near." He looked at the other boy and found himself staring to a very scared child. He blinked in surprise at the look of fear, anger, and relief in Heero's eyes. He always thought that those cobalt blue orbs would always look cold and uncaring, but if anyone looked closer, they'd see it...

...Heero's heart.

Quatre touched Heero's shoulders and shook him a little, "Heero?" The other hadn't moved for quite some time now, just stared at him. "Heero? Are you okay?"

Heero blinked at Quatre's soft shaking. He looked at Quatre and replied, "Then I'll always be near." He pulled Quatre close to him in an embrace.

Quatre was shocked to say the least. Then I'll always be... near? And he was pulled into an embrace, by Heero? Who wouldn't be surprised? "Heero... wha...?"

"You'll never jump..." Heero tightened his embrace on Quatre, "...because I'll always be near to stop you and carry you back up if you choose to fall."

Quatre understood, and he smiled serenely. He buried himself deeper in the embrace and nuzzled his nose in Heero's neck. He embraced Heero and whispered in his ear, "Arigatou... for being here... arigatou... for caring... arigatou..."

Heero looked at Quatre, and for the rarest opportunity, allowed himself to smile at Quatre. "Hai... I'll always be near."

- CM

I've been missing for over five hours. Heero will kill me himself when I get there. I have to figure out where I am.

As the sun dropped lower, the rusty view deepened to burgundy waves. Quatre scanned the dunes on his screen, but this area of the desert had no mountains or other features the Arab could use to orient himself. Finally he spied an odd looking image on the screen beneath him. He rolled carefully to see the strange shape, but as his fingers brushed the 'image' it smeared across the screen. Quatre blinked as he realized it was the pool of blood that had formed beneath his wounded arm.

The entire desert was glowing the exact same shade. He shivered. I have to get back.

Taking a deep breath, Quatre pulled himself back up into the crooked pilot's seat. He strapped himself in, grasped the controls, and slowly brought Sandrock to his feet. Gasping, he flipped on the suit's navigation system. Warm blood ran down over his fingers from the reopened bullet wound, and he hissed as a wave of dizziness washed over him. He closed his eyes and rested a moment to allow his spinning head to slow. The mansion was only a few kilometers to the north, so the blond pilot set Sandrock to walking. He didn't really trust himself flying again, anyway.

Quatre sighed heavily. Heero's going to have a fit.

x x x

Heero arrived wearing his usual stoic expression. Trowa had called him the moment Sandrock appeared on the mansion's extensive surveillance system. He had been hidden away in his room, searching through his computer for any trace of Quatre. I need to know if the mission was successful. Just gathering information, he had told himself, but in truth searching the electronic jungle for the blond boy and his golden Gundam.

Quatre had been due back about 2:00 PM. Heero had been able to keep himself from worrying until nearly 3:00 PM, at which time he activated his trusty laptop and began to look for any evidence that might alert him to the success or failure of his friend's mission. Of course, he knew the chances of finding anything were slim, but his endless hours spent before this screen had not been for nothing. Anyway, even without results this was better than listening to Duo's endless chattering and Wufei's grumbling.

The longer the pilots were together, the more Heero found himself gravitating toward Trowa, the silent one. Well, silent when compared to Duo, but wasn't everyone quiet when compared to the rambunctious American?

Actually, Trowa was far from silent, but unlike the braided wonder who spouted meaningless babble until everyone's ears had gone conveniently numb, Trowa reserved his words for times of importance. When the brunette boy spoke, everyone listened, and for the most part, he spoke only with Heero and Quatre.

Despite his unmoved exterior, Heero was flattered by this communication. He and Trowa were connected by their mutual stoicism. He often felt they were the only two pilots who understood each other. Trowa's willingness to open himself to Quatre was different. Anyone could speak to Quatre, because Quatre listened.

Until the last few weeks, the Arab was the only one who ever listened to Duo anymore. The other pilots would simply tune the chestnut maned pilot out, while Quatre would sit attentively and absorb, if not every word, then at least the underlying concerns. Duo needed to talk to assure himself that he was alive. Embodying the God of Death took its toll on the young man. His constant activity (which drove the other four up the walls) was a way to link him firmly with the world of the living and separate himself from his own double bladed weapon. All the pilots knew this, but Quatre was the only one with the patience to indulge Duo in this need. Until now, when it takes all his energy and concentration just to survive.

And Trowa? Trowa was Quatre's best friend, and Heero often envied him this position. The two had been the first pilots to meet on Earth, and since then had formed a special bond. Trowa was the only person Heero knew to whom Quatre would reveal his inner feelings. He spends all his time listening to others' burdens, but hardly ever shares his own.

Yet, as he slowly succumbed to the threatening darkness, Quatre had not turned to Trowa for help. He had not asked for help from anyone. He had silently hidden the doomed battle from everyone, and when the abyss had become too great, he calmly fell . . .

...and Heero had pulled him back up from the depths.

Not Trowa, the best friend, not Duo, the intuiter, Heero, the stone pilot who a year ago would not have thought twice about a fellow pilot blowing his brains out. That was what these months with Quatre had taught him; that life is valuable, and to care for and preserve that life at all costs. That was what they were fighting for, after all, to save the lives of the people on Earth and the colonies. Thus he had pulled Quatre from the abyss, and was daily struggling to hold him back, safe from the drop.

Heero strode quickly through the halls and into the hanger where their suits were stored. As he moved to Sandrock the blond pilot heard his approach and leaned out to smile somewhat sheepishly at his friend.

"Gomen. I did not mean to be gone this long." There was a smudge of blood on the boy's pale cheek, but it did not appear to be a wound, more as though it had been wiped there accidentally.

Heero frowned. "Are you wounded?"

Quatre grimaced. "Yes, but not seriously. A bullet in the arm."

"What are you doing?"

Quatre winced further back into the suit, blond head nearly disappearing behind the hatch. "Cleaning up."

Heero's frown deepened as he jumped gracefully up to Sandrock's open cockpit. Quatre was crouched awkwardly in front of the pilot's seat, rag in hand, bucket of darkly pink water at his feet, wiping long trails of blood from Sandrock's left vid-screen.

"What happened?" Hero asked, glaring at the thick crimson rivulets.

"I... I think I passed out on the way back."

Heero wanted to yell, to curse, to ask what Quatre had been thinking, why he hadn't radioed for help, if not as soon as the mission was complete, then the moment he had regained consciousness. Undirected anger flared up inside him, but never reached his set features.

Whoever was orchestrating this underhanded attack on Quatre would pay. Whether it was the scientists or another influential party, Heero didn't care. He would deliver on them the pain they had caused the young blond tenfold.

Quatre glanced up nervously at Heero's silence, bringing the dark eyed pilot out of his violent musings.

"Where?"

"About 26 kilometers south of here." Heero pictured his friend crumpled in his fallen Gundam, the pool of blood growing beneath him.

The anger returned.

Quatre took a final slow swipe with the rag and tossed it in the bucket. He stood and turned to Heero, swaying as another wave of dizziness struck him. Heero grasped his shoulders to keep him from falling, but the smaller boy winced as Heero's hand brushed his wound.

"Quatre?" Sapphire eyes slowly rose to meet his own cobalt blue. They spoke of exhaustion and pain, both longstanding and deep.

Once Quatre had regained his balance, the boys jumped down from the mobile suit. Heero did not miss Quatre's hiss of pain as he landed, or the slight limp as they moved down the hall.

Once inside Quatre's room, Heero directed the patient to a chair, gently removed the blond's shirt, and opened the waiting first aid kit. Thank you, Trowa. The bullet was still lodged against the bone in Quatre's upper arm, and Heero had to find the damn thing and pull it out before he could dress the wound. Quatre had swallowed some pain killers, but they wouldn't kick in for a while.

Heero gritted his teeth and went to work, trying to be as gentle as possible. Though he was skilled in battlefield medicine, he had never put any effort into being gentle before, and cursed his uncaring fingers. Every slight wince that instinctively drew Quatre's arm further from him twisted something inside Heero, painfully.

Quatre had his eyes and jaw pressed tightly shut. His skin was paper white. His breath would catch whenever a touch was too painful, despite his best efforts to keep it even and controlled. It was the only admission of pain he showed, and Heero was once again impressed by the seemingly fragile boy's hidden strength. At last Heero drew the bullet from his friend's flesh and proceeded to clean and bandage the wound. Once it was bound tightly, he moved on to Quatre's shoulder and chest.

x x x

Quatre leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, willing his body to heal. The shallow shoulder wound did not hurt as much as the bullet, and as the pain faded, exhaustion rose to take its place. He was vaguely aware of Heero's callused hands moving efficiently over his skin, and a sudden warmth sparked in his chest. He cares. Heero Yuy actually cares... about... me... The idea was still so new and seemingly impossible, the simple warmth it brought was enough to dull the pain and carry him off to sleep.

Consciousness returned slowly, as Quatre blinked up into a pair of cobalt blue eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head.

"Don't be. You need to sleep..."

"...but I have to send my report to the scientists first." He finished for him. Heero nodded.

Quatre sighed and pushed himself gingerly from the chair. He felt stiff and shaky. He remained still for a moment to be sure of his balance, and could feel Heero's eyes on him, ready to assist if he started to pass out again, but he really did not want to need that assistance. Once he was sure on his feet - or as sure as he could be while so short on blood - he crossed to his desk and clicked on the computer. Heero's eyes were still on him as he sat down and began typing. He knew the other pilot was only concerned for him, but the desire to shrink away from that penetrating gaze remained.

After assuring himself that Quatre would not need him, Heero rose and walked to the door. "Do you want any food?"

"No, thank you."

Heero waited a moment longer before leaving quietly.

Quatre breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes for a moment. When he tried to open them again he realized this had been a mistake, as his body had taken the cue to relax, and now it would be much harder to complete this report. Light blue eyes glanced to the soft pillows lying only a few feet away, but turned resignedly back to the computer. He had gone without sleep for days now, he could surely last another hour. The letters blurred and Quatre shook his head and blinked several times, trying to make his eyes focus on the screen before him. Maybe he should have asked Heero to stay, he did not want to pass out and wake up with the keyboard imprinted on his face, and this report had to be sent soon so as not to arouse suspicion.

No. I couldn't have asked him to stay. He's already done so much.

He sighed, focusing all his attention on the screen and his report.

The base was destroyed, wiped clean of life, information, and any possibility of threat. The required files were saved safely onto a disk in Sandrock's computer and were being transmitted with this message, hidden beneath two more layers of encryption and three more secured codes. Since the message itself was wrapped in four layers of encryption and five codes, the chance that it could be discovered and deciphered was too small even to be of concern to a Gundam pilot.

He had infiltrated the base as a guard, reached the objective computer terminal with minimal casualties, hacked past the security, copied the data and released a killing virus into the computer. This last step was really not necessary, since the entire system was about to be blown to bits, but none of the five were trained to be anything less than thorough, and the virus would also wipe out any system that might be connected to this database. He had been discovered on his way out, but returned to his Gundam and proceeded to demolish the base from the outside in. The few mobile suits stationed there posed no serious problem to Sandrock's superior abilities, and when they had been dispatched, he had used the specially installed rockets to completely level the compound. No building was left standing, no life spared. The mission was accomplished.

They were all dead, as he should be - as he should be, but for Heero.

He had begun the return to their present base as scheduled, but an unexpected malfunction in Sandrock's rockets, caused by damage received while battling the enemy suits, halted his progress for several hours, as he was forced to repair the damage in the desert. Thus, the lateness of his report.

Quatre sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. He was feeling very light-headed again, but knew there was still something missing from the message. Oh yes, the damage report. He carefully listed the damage done to Sandrock during battle, even remembering fuzzily to add the conjured engine failure and his fictional repair work. He dutifully reported the bullet in his arm - such injuries were not unusual among their group - but left out details of its location and the amount of blood he supposed he had lost. Even half conscious, the instinct to hide weakness from the scientists was strong. Any weakness could easily be used against him...

: If any pilot fails to complete a mission, kill him. :

Heero had told him about the Doctors' command. At first he'd found it morbidly hilarious. They clearly thought him too weak to continue as a pilot, yet they somehow couldn't manage to kill him on their own. They had to sic Heero on him like some twisted version of a hunting dog.

With time, though, his feelings had changed to some strange emulsion of sadness, frustration and fury. He had been ready and willing to give them exactly what they wanted. He had leapt from that cliff with no regrets, but Heero had stopped him. Heero had cared. Heero had cared enough to go against protocol, safety and a direct order just to save Quatre's own worthless life, the very life he had been ordered to take. Quatre may not have regrets about his death, but Heero clearly would. That was his reason for being here, for going on, for refusing to just collapse where he had been in the sand and let the lifeblood seep from his body.

Heero would care. Heero did care, and the bastard scientists had betrayed his trust and his nearly unflappable loyalty. Quatre was not going to let them get away with it. Damn them all for asking something so horrible of their most loyal soldier. Quatre wasn't sure what would come next, but by Allah he would survive long enough to make them pay for what they'd done to Heero.

...and then, well, if he could rid the world of the evil scientists and the vile monster he had become all at once, all the better. The others, with their strong spirits, lead by Heero's pure heart, would surely end this war, once his own weakness was no longer dragging them down.

Maybe - maybe that was the best way. Maybe he should have let the desert take him, but it would hurt Heero. Heero would never have forgiven him for giving up. Heero would have been betrayed, again, and that was something Quatre swore by heaven and earth he would never do. Never again.

No, he was not ready to die... not yet.

x x x