Disclaimer: I don't own them, I just love them.

Pairings: 1x4

Tenderness

by Spencer

Heero stared, unblinking, at his computer. Columns of numbers were speeding before his eyes, casting an eerie green glow over his stony features. He had been reviewing these reports for four hours now - finding absolutely nothing of any significance - and the figures were beginning to blur before his eyes. He scowled at the screen and hunched closer.

"Heero?" A light knock to his opened door accompanied the soft voice.

"Hn." This was actually more of a response than he would have offered two weeks ago. It was a testament to both his fellow pilot's persistence . . . and thick skin.

Heero and Quatre had been stationed at the same hideout for two weeks, working solo missions and returning to base to monitor OZ activities and await their next assignments. Since their arrival, Heero had been constantly annoyed by Quatre's attentions. He was acting just like Trowa, forcing the Wing pilot to take care of himself, sometimes even against his wishes.

Quatre walked in silently and set a plate of food beside the laptop. He paused for a moment, as though he wanted to speak, but must have thought better of it, turning back to the door and exiting without another word.

Heero glanced at the sandwich, back at the numbers, and decided on the food. He wouldn't be doing his most efficient work without a short break anyway.

* * *

Heero sat in silence. It had been three hours since Quatre had left in Sandrock, and at least an hour since he had been able to concentrate on his laptop. Heero could usually lose himself in the numbers, but today it seemed his mind would not stay focused. Every few moments he would find himself thinking of Quatre, wondering if his mission was successful and when he would return.

'What's wrong with me? This has never happened before.' Well, he conceded, maybe it *had* happened a bit. Since they had started working together, Heero had felt the slightest hint of . . . something, whenever the blond pilot left on a mission. It wasn't worry, Heero knew Sandrock's pilot was just as spectacular a fighter as the rest of them, but he was . . . concerned. The Arab somehow seemed fragile, however capable, like a beautiful piece of glass that had no business being blasted around in this war.

'I just don't want him to get hurt.' That was impossible, and he knew it. All the pilots acquired their share of injuries, battle was not a reliable arena, yet, when Heero came back wounded, the blond boy was always there to care for him. When Quatre was hurt . . . who was ever there? This thought alarmed the solemn boy more than he had expected, and a startling image danced behind his eyes.

He saw the golden boy sprawled across the dirt, Sandrock, beaten, broken, looming to the side. Blood was spattered across the pale skin, his clothing torn and burnt, and the glowing blue eyes were closed.

Heero's breath caught in his throat. 'What would I do?' He didn't know. Part of him wanted to rush to his friend's side, take the thin form in his arms, and carry the boy to safety . . . but this was exactly what his soldier's instincts warned against. This was a war, he couldn't get close to anyone. The only possible result would be the pain of losing them. He *would not* get attached.

Something deep in his heart whispered that it was too late.

The sound of a key in the lock snapped him from these thoughts. He didn't turn as Quatre entered, but every sense was trained exclusively on the boy moving behind him. Quatre paused for a moment as he caught sight of the still figure on the couch, then continued toward the hall.

The image of the sprawled form, broken and bleeding, flashed once more into Heero's mind, and he spun to face the blond. Quatre was passing by quietly, head bowed, his left hand wrapped loosely in his vest. The hand was cradled against his chest, and dark spots of blood were apparent on the purple fabric.

Heero rose and stepped into the blonde's path, careful not to jar his injured hand. Quatre stopped, unsure of the other boy's intentions, before raising tired and slightly confused aqua eyes to meet Heero's own piercing cobalt. Heero slowly reached a hand toward the ruined vest and was inexplicably pleased when Quatre didn't pull away. His hands moved with delicate skill, gently pulling the violet fabric away, finally revealing the bloodied skin beneath. Several shards of glass were imbedded in the back of the Arabian's hand, glowing a dull red with their coating of blood. Heero frowned down at the wound, knowing both how painful it was now, and how painful it would be for Quatre to remove the slivers.

'He shouldn't have to do that. He would do it for me.'

"Nani?" Quatre asked as Heero nudged him toward the couch.

"Let me help you." Quatre's face betrayed his total surprise at his fellow pilot's concern, but he obeyed, moving slowly to the couch and sitting on one corner. Heero walked down the hall and returned a moment later with the med-kit, noting his patient's apprehension as he sat beside him.

Quatre seemed reluctant as Heero took his pale hand into his own, but as Wing's pilot worked, he could feel the blond slowly relaxing beside him.

He pulled the glass out carefully, taking care not to cause more pain than necessary, and winced internally at each of the slight reflexive cringes that moved the thin fingers in his. The process must have hurt terribly, but Quatre wasn't making a sound. After the fourth piece of bloody glass slid sickeningly from the pale skin Heero glanced up to find Quatre gazing at him, an expression of utter bewilderment and confusion gracing his features. He held that steady gaze for only an instant before returning to his work, slightly ashamed that it should appear so easily.

'Is he really so surprised that someone cares for him?' Heero paused in his work.

' Maybe we're not so different after all . . .'

He quickly returned to his ministrations, but was brought from these thoughts by Quatre's soft voice.

"Heero . . . why?"

'I could ask you the same question.'

'Because no one else is here to.'

'Because no one else would.'

'To return the favor.'

A string of evasive answers ran through Heero's mind, but the glittering eyes before him required more than that. Their cerulean depths were inescapable, a lotus blossom of sincerity; he couldn't lie.

"No one has ever cared about me before." Quatre didn't speak, so after a moment of electric silence Heero continued.

"Dr. J is the only family I have ever known. He would patch me up when I was injured, but it was for no other reason than to further his experiment. Trowa was impressed by my actions, but only did his duty to our cause, saving a valuable pilot." He extracted the last shard of ruby glass and reached down to the bowl of water at his side. He took the waiting washcloth and gently rinsed the flowing crimson away. Quatre was still staring intently at his face, ignoring his pain to concentrate on the story.

"You're different." Heero gently pressed the cloth to the ripped skin. A small hiss of air escaped the blonde's lips, but his eyes remained on the dark-haired boy before him. "You do this because you actually care . . . about people. You want to heal people. You want to make their lives better, even if it means sacrificing your own life . . . or Gundam." He paused to pick up a clean bandage. "I've been on my own my whole life . . . you're the first person who has ever made me feel that I'm not alone."

Heero gently tied the bandage and let the small hand slide slowly from his own. He looked up at Quatre to find that the blonde's eyes were closed, and a sad smile graced his delicate lips.

As Wing's pilot watched, a glittering tear rolled down his pale cheek and Heero reached up to brush it away. He was surprised by how smooth the skin felt beneath his fingers, and even more startled when Quatre placed his good hand over Heero's own.

"You should never have been alone, Heero. You are a beautiful person, inside and out, and should always be loved." Quatre's eyes remained closed, but a deep sorrow and pain were revealed in his delicate features. Heero slowly leaned forward, entranced by the lovely boy before him. His own breath seemed drawn to the tender lips, and with one final movement he captured the rosy mouth with his own.

Quatre's eyes flew open at the contact. Though at some point his own eyes had drifted shut, Heero could feel the lithe body tense beneath him. He would have pulled away at Quatre's obvious discomfort, but the lips locked with his own seemed to be begging otherwise, and besides, Heero had never tasted anything so good. The blond tasted of cinnamon and honey, an exotic spice that seemed to invade all his senses, filling him completely, as nothing ever had before.

He pulled back, searching Quatre's features for his reaction. The clear blue eyes were wide with shock as Heero had expected. He knew he had never shown the slightest hint of affection toward the boy before, certainly nothing to have prepared him for this, but as the silence lengthened and the shock remained on the angelic face, Heero began to doubt his bold action.

'Did I read him wrong? I know he's kind to everyone, but I thought this was different . . . I thought he felt . . . I must be wrong, but he said . . . No. I know he cares for me. I felt it. He wanted it as much as I did . . . So what's wrong? Why does he seem so afraid?'

"Quatre?"

At his name, the blond shrank away from Heero, his slender form seeming to curl in on itself until all Heero could see was a small hurt child.

"Quatre, what's wrong?" He placed his hand on the boy's shoulder to find it trembling. Quatre shrank from the touch, but Heero refused to be put off.

"Please," Quatre mumbled through his folded arms. "Please stop, Heero. You don't know what you're doing to me." Heero frowned, not being able to decipher what that meant. Quatre was trembling all over, even his voice quivered. Heero had never seen him like this before, and it went violently against all he knew of Sandrock's pilot. 'What could hurt him this much?' The same desire that had moved him to care for Quatre's injured hand now urged him to help his friend, and heal this new suffering.

"What am I doing to you?" Quatre shook even harder at those simple words, but looked up, betrayal shining bright in his eyes.

"You *know* how I feel about you. How can you just sit there and twist my heart like this? Can't you see it will break?" His head sank back into his arms. "*You* may be that strong, Heero, but I'm not. I'm sorry if I'm too weak, but there's only so much I can take before . . ." his broken voice finally crumbled, leaving a heavy silence, only broken by tiny muffled sobs.

Heero's frown darkened. 'I still don't . . . does he think I'm playing with him? Why can't he see that I'm sincere?' That thought stopped Heero cold in his tracks. '*Am* I sincere? What *did* I kiss him for?'

Heero looked at the trembling form before him, letting his eyes slowly take in Quatre Raberba Winner. Baby soft golden hair, so light it seemed to glow white, feathered out over pale folded arms. Those arms, though thin, were well muscled, and unlike most others, Heero had no difficulty believing that they controlled the mighty Gundam. Though his face was hidden, Heero could see it perfectly, kind sky-blue eyes, always filled with compassion and determination. Long, light eyelashes framed the sapphire pools, adding both depth and softness. Light cheeks, a short sweetly pointed nose, and delicate rose lips completed the picture in Heero's mind, and the tiniest smile pulled at the corner of his own mouth. Quatre had to be the most beautiful person he had ever seen, an angel fallen to Earth from some distant star(1), but this was not why Heero loved him. Heero was drawn to the strength, compassion, and bravery of this little angel.

Not only did he surrender his life and future when he became a pilot, but he gave of himself every day. If any one of the others was injured or in any need of help, Quatre was there. Any tiny measure he would take for his friends, simply offering the warmer blanket or the larger share of rations. His compassion was limitless.

'He gives everything, yet never asks for anything. He just admitted that he has feelings for me . . . does he not think I return them? I . . . I do.' The tiny smile grew and softened Heero's notoriously hard features. 'I do.'

"Quatre," he said the name softly, but with command, and purpose. The blond head rose just enough for Heero to glimpse the liquid blue eyes and the tears sparkling on the lashes. "Quatre, look at me."

The boy reluctantly obeyed, lifting his light eyes to meet Heero's dark ones. He still looked as if he would tumble down at the slightest touch, and Heero's resolve firmed.

Thinking back to the past weeks, Heero cringed at nearly every conversation that he and Quatre had shared. Actually, their brief talks should not even be called conversations. Quatre would speak, and Heero would either grunt one word in response to a question, or ignore the boy completely. He truly listened to every word his friend spoke, but that was a secret no one was ever meant to know. His cold responses - or lack thereof - to the blonde's gentle concern sometimes bordered on cruelty, but the smaller boy never got the hint, reappearing whenever the dark-haired pilot was in need of anything.

Though, Heero slowly realized, the Arab's eternal cheerfulness and sunny smile had appeared less and less over their time together. Quatre was still as devoted as ever, but he had long since given up on trying to draw his partner into conversation, and the glittering light behind the aqua eyes had dimmed. Heero's heart fell as he admitted responsibility for this change.

'He's been suffering all this time because I'm too blind and selfish to share my emotions. Forgive me, tenshi.'

"Quatre, I once told someone that the only way to live a good life is to follow your emotions. I don't know why I said it, I've never considered emotions worth the pain they often cause." Quatre started to object, but Heero placed a hand on his arm, requesting silence. "I think it's time I took my own advice. Ai shiteru, Quatre. I have since I met you, but I don't have much experience with these things. I always put my head before my heart. War is no place for love." He shook his head, dark bangs swinging before dark eyes.

"I don't know what I'm doing, and it would probably cause you less pain if I walked away right now, but I want to try to love you . . . if you will let me . . ."

Once again the pilot of Wing Gundam slowly lifted his eyes to find a look of surprise on his friend's angelic features, but this time the shock melted into joy, and a single glistening tear rolled down the pale cheek. Heero reached up to brush it away and allowed his callused hand to rest along the smooth curve of flesh.

"You really mean it." Quatre's light voice was tinged with wonder, still not quite able to believe this was more than a vivid and wonderful dream. Heero nodded, smiling, and the smaller pilot's face broke into a matching grin. He tenderly kissed the heel of Heero's hand and the other boy responded by reaching around his neck and pulling him closer. Their lips met in a second kiss, this one much more powerful than the first.

Heero felt Quatre's lips move against his own, and though he couldn't hear for the beating of his pulse in his ears, he could make out the meaning. '*Arigatou, Heero. Ai shiteru.*'

His grin widened against the blonde's lips and he moved closer, wrapping his arms firmly around the slender waist, gently covering the thin boy with his own wiry body. Quatre was all too willing to oblige, and soon they were twined together across the couch, their lips never parting.

Quatre moved further into the embrace, pulling Heero fully against his own body, but the heated kiss was broken when he gave a small yelp of pain. Heero pulled back immediately, concerned that he'd done something wrong, but smiled again as Quatre glanced sheepishly at his injured hand.

Heero took the bandaged hand gently in his own and guided it smoothly to the back of his head, leaving the rest for Quatre to do as he wished. The blond responded happily by twining his pale fingers through the strands of dark silk, subtly nudging the pilot's head closer to his own. Heero once more claimed the delicate mouth, savoring the tingling feeling thrilling along his veins.

'Is this what it feels like? What I've been missing for so long?'

He poured all his passion, pent up for much to long, into the kiss, as Quatre matched him, finally free to release the love he had felt since their first meeting.

The pale lips moved once more against his own, and Heero's heart began to pound so rapidly he felt as if he could fly.

'*Ai shiteru, Heero, zutto.*'

Heero knew his voice would fail him if he tried to speak, his heart much too firmly lodged in his throat, so he settled for breathing his response against his beloved's lips.

'*Me too, tenshi, itsu made mo.*'

As Quatre's embrace grew firmer, he knew he'd been heard.

* * * Owari * * * The End.

1) Quatre-sama's little prince ^_^ 2) tenshi means 'angel' 3) itsu made mo and zutto are both 'forever', or 'for eternity'