Disclaimer: I own nothing but my notebook.

Notes: I have absolutely no clue from whence this came.

Pretium Fidelitatis

Heero sat in rapt concentration. His thick battle armor, a rather ingenious emulsion of metal and leather, lay before him, sprawled haphazardly across his work table. The battle had been exceptionally violent, as most were, and bloody brown splotches marred much of the armor's hard perfection. He had been left no time directly after the fighting, when these stains would have been fresh and easily removed, due to the capture of General Marquise and the need for a speedy reorganization of his rebels. Zechs's defeat had left his soldiers under Heero's command, but to prevent further bloodshed he had needed to take immediate and total control, especially in light of Trowa's refusal to kill the enemy leader. With General Marquize still alive his men could still hope for his return. Hope was a dangerous thing among enemy soldiers. The situation required Heero to assert unquestionable control from the very first moment. Those men could never doubt his resolve, nor power to carry out any order. If he acted wisely, the Pharoh's men could remain safe and passive under his command, allowing them to live long enough to eventually return to their families. If there was anger and chaos, many more lives would be lost. Though he despised useless bloodshed, Heero would do whatever was required of him to protect his Emperor.

At his capture Zechs had grudgingly conceded defeat, allowing himself to be taken captive rather than killed. Trowa had taken this concession as a sign of good will, and in return for Zechs's loyalty, had agreed to grant him both his life and his freedom. It was a reckless decision, but one entirely in character for the Emperor. If one characteristic could be used to sum up their leader's philosophy, it would be hope. Trowa was eternally hopeful.

This had earned the undying loyalty of his soldiers, and their devotion allowed that hope to continue in the mind, heart and decrees of their Emperor.

Heero was scrubbing away at a particularly dark stain when he heard a quiet shuffling from his doorway. Looking up he found Quatre leaning nonchalantly against the open frame. Heero scowled and returned to his armor, choosing to ignore his visitor in the hope that he would take the hint and leave. No such luck.

"Zechs is dead." Heero froze. The words had been spoken almost too softly to catch, yet they rung through his head like a bell. No explanation followed, so he finally looked up, skewering the blonde with his icy glare. Quatre's face was turned downward, his long spidery bangs hanging limply before his downcast eyes. He hadn't moved from the doorway, but Heero rose in physical challenge.

"Trowa granted him his life."

"Yes." The response was light, airy and completely unlike Quatre's usual speech.

"You killed him." It wasn't a question.

"Yes." Only one thought entered Heero's mind.

"Why?" Quatre blinked, slowly, and Heero's frown deepened, waiting for a reply.

"He would have killed Trowa."

"You don't know that! He was defeated! Trowa wanted him to live. He may have proven a valuable ally." Heero's hands flexed angrily at his sides. They were itching to reach for any one of the weapons only inches away, but he would not succumb to that impulse. No matter how foolishly Quatre may have acted, he was still a friend.

"No."

Heero seethed. How could Quatre be acting so calmly about disobeying Trowa's direct edict? Why would he have acted so rashly, and... and why was he here? Something was not right with this entire scenario. Heero's battle instincts were screaming at him, insisting that something was amiss, yet Quatre was standing there as though nothing had happened. He even looked relaxed!

Suddenly his mind clicked back to a distant memory, the final time Trowa had ever sent Quatre as an assassin. He had completed the mission successfully, but returned... ill. Heero's mind snapped back into focus, his full attention trained on his friend with new deliberation.

"How can you be sure?" Quatre paused and lifted a hand to scratch lightly at his chest, chafing the fabric just over his heart. The answer, when it finally came, was a bare whisper, and would have been lost to any ears but Heero's.

"I could feel it."

Quatre finally looked up, peering through messy bangs, and Heero was startled to discover that his friend's eyes, normally a light brilliant blue, were nearly black with dilation. Heero began to move forward as everything came crashing together in his mind. Quatre wasn't lounging in the doorway, he was using it for support. He was pale, panting, and as Heero drew near he noticed the faint tremors running all through the blonde's thin frame. Quatre sunk back as Heero approached, cringing ever so slightly as the tan callused hand reached for his pale arm - something else completely out of the ordinary, Quatre did not "cringe" - but instead of acting harshly, Heero pulled him smoothly into the room.

Quatre's movements were loose and clumsy, flowing with his natural grace, but lacking any and all control. Heero led him to the bed and sat him down. Now that he was looking, Heero could see clear signs of shock. Not only were Quatre's pupils wide enough to nearly swallow his large eyes, but his skin was pale and clammy and his breathing was shallow. Heero felt like a fool not to have noticed this the moment his friend arrived, but he had been so caught up in his frustrations...

"What did you feel, Quatre?" The blonde man scrubbed at his heart again and Heero noticed a growing number of angry red scratches peeking from the cloth loosely folded across his chest. He knelt and grabbed Quatre's right hand as the other skimmed uselessly over the sheets. He checked for a pulse at the pale wrist and was not surprised to find it weak and rapid beneath his fingers. "What did you feel?"

"I... " Quatre's breath was quickening and his shallow gaze was flitting around the room, finding anything but Heero. He hated to push the blond, especially in this condition, but this was something he needed to know. "I could feel his hatred." His voice fell to a hush and Heero somehow felt as if he were treading on sacred ground. "I could feel his single desire to kill the man he held responsible for his own suffering. He may have pretended to serve Trowa, but it would only have lasted until he could try again. Trowa would never have seen it. All Zechs yearned for was to kill him, and the next time we may not have been prepared." Wide turquoise eyes were suddenly locked with Heero's own, searching for understanding, for acceptance, for forgiveness. He held the unsteady gaze until Quatre broke it, pulling his fingers back toward his aching chest.

In one smooth movement Heero rose, lifted Quatre's feet and spun his friend's lanky body, gently lowering his head back onto the pillow. Quatre looked up in momentary confusion, but relaxed as Heero sat next to him on the bed. Raised, taught and trained together, nothing felt more natural, or more safe, than to have his best friend, his brother, close by his side.

"Is that all?" Quatre's warm gaze darted away again, giving Heero all the answer he needed. "What happened? Tell me everything."

"I went to talk – to... understand." That ethereal quality had returned to his voice, breathy and insubstantial, but Heero remained still, listening. "He knew. The moment I walked in he knew why I had come and... and hated me for it." Quatre shifted, closing his eyes and stretching uncomfortably, as though the muscles across his chest were too tight. His hand moved back over his heart, trying to rub away the ache. "I couldn't just... but he didn't want to... to die. He hated me." He panted and stretched again, fighting against invisible bonds. Sharp fingernails scraped across his chest and Heero grabbed his hand again, holding the delicate fingers warmly between his own.

"But, Quatre. You have killed hundreds in battle. How is this different?"

He sighed, struggling to vocalize a purely emotional response and finding words utterly inadequate. "In battle the deaths are diluted, lost in the pain and fear and anger and excitement, but Zechs... everything was focused on me." He squirmed again, gasping, but Heero held the cool hand firmly, calmly. "He knew, and he was afraid, and angry, and sad, and bitter and so so hateful..." Quatre's other hand began clawing at his chest, but Heero caught it, moving to pin them both to the pillow above the halo of fine blond hair. "...and it was all directed at me... just me." Quatre was fighting now, eyes clenched shut, struggling against himself and Heero, trying to wriggle away from the pain in his heart and the constricting pressure that would not let him breathe!

"Quatre!" No response. "Quatre, look at me." Dark eyes opened to gaze blearily into Heero's own seas of deep cobalt, poised mere inches above. "Just look at me."

Heero knew the blonde could feel his calm center the way he had felt the other's roiling hate. He watched as the ragged breathing slowed, the straining muscles relaxed, and finally even the oddly black eyes began to return to their usual light shade. Within moments Quatre was lying still beneath him, gaze never wavering, but beginning to blink sleepily. Heero loosened his hold on the thin crossed wrists, lowering them to rest across the flat stomach. He sat back and breathed a quiet sigh, feeling turquoise eyes still following.

"Do not tell Trowa." Heero nodded. "Thank you."

Heero watched as his friend drifted off into unconsciousness. Quatre loved Trowa with all his heart, but there were some things that the green eyed boy's status as Emperor simply would not allow. This was one such sacrifice. His solders hurt so he would not have to.

Pulling himself off the bed, Heero quietly returned to his armor. There he remained, watching over Quatre for the rest of the night, guarding his dreams, waking him when they became too dark, and smiling gently in the early hours of the morning, as the blonde finally drifted into a quiet healing slumber. When the first rays of sunlight crept across the boys, lying side by side in the large wooden bed, she hadn't the heart to disturb them.

x x x

Notes: Okay, so there's a lot more to this story. It's all centered around the ancient Mediterranean empires. It's long, though, and I've only gotten about half written so far. I don't want to post the beginning without having everything finished, since I've done far too much of that in the past, but I thought this could stand alone just fine. Plus, it will let me know if anyone's interested in the full ballad. Love and Peace!