The young man glanced up through some tendrils of pale blonde hair at the glowing screen.
"Morning. Do the Preventers know you're using their communications satellite, Relena?" he asked, half-serious, half-teasing.
The girl grinned. "Sally doesn't mind. Besides, what's the use of being Vice Foreign Minister if I can't pull a few strings to say hello to my brother?"
Zechs smiled. "What indeed. Did Noin arrive safely?" he asked, trying not to sound as concerned as he was.
"You know her shuttle doesn't arrive until this afternoon," Relena replied with a little laugh.
"Hm. I daresay it slipped my mind." Of course he knew. But all the same, she might've…
"She did call an hour or so ago to let us know they were on schedule, though," Relena continued, as if anticipating his thoughts.
He let out a breath he'd been unconsciously holding.
Relena, who'd been all smiles before, looked suddenly serious. "You… you don't look well, Milliardo…"
Zechs flinched at the name. It was different, coming from his little sister – his little Relena – but still, it conjured up images he didn't want to imagine. A white-haired man with a shrewd, appraising glance, a pretty blonde girl with frightening eyes, a Gundam the color of dried blood…
"I'm fine Relena. Don't worry about me, please."
"Silly. Of course I worry about you. Please tell me what's the matter…" she beseeched, eyes pleading as much as her tone.
"I…I just haven't been sleeping well, that's all…" Truth be told, he just hadn't been sleeping. Naturally he looked a bit ill, but it was worth it, to avoid the dreams…
"Have you seen anyone about it?" she inquired, concerned.
"What do you mean?"
"A doctor… I'm sure they could give you a prescription."
Falling into a dreamless, drug-induced stupor was starting to sound appealing. If he could manage to pass this off as mere insomnia, he might be able to avoid…
Every psychologist in the colonies was probably dying to analyze Zechs Merquise.
"What do you think is causing it?" Relena interupted his musings, delicate eyebrows drawing together.
He wished he could lie to her… but something in her beautiful blue eyes seemed to extract it from his soul, and send it to his lips before his conscious self could intercede. "Nightmares. I've been having the most disturbing dreams. It's nothing to worry about," he added quickly, as her expression of concern deepened. "I'm sure it'll pass in no time…"
"No, I think this is something more serious," she told him earnestly.
"Relena, I didn't want to trouble you. I didn't even intend to tell you –"
"It's a good thing you did," she stated briskly, crossing her arms. "Get some rest. I'll have Noin call when she arrives."
"Don't worry," she said, expression softening. "I won't tell Noin about all this if you don't want me to."
Zechs smiled. "Thank you, Relena." Although, if he knew Noin, she probably al-
"Although, if I know Noin, she probably already has some idea," Relena voiced his thought before he could finish thinking it.
Relena always made him smile.
"I'll be in touch. Please try to get some rest. Out…" Relena's face disappeared, and Zechs switched off the screen, marvelling at what a strong person she had grown up to be.
Blinking at the first harsh rays of sunlight after her long ride in the shuttle, Noin straightened the jacket of her pants suit and picked up her carry-on bag as she departed from the shuttle to the many-windowed spaceport terminal.
"Miss Noin!" She hadn't been sure if anyone would be there to meet her until she saw and heard the enthusiastically waving blonde youth, dressed in formally casual attire – a white dress-shirt, grey vest, and khakis. If nothing else in the Universe was constant, Quatre's wardrobe was.
"Hi Quatre," Noin greeted him when she was at a distance that didn't require shouting. It shouldn't have surprised her that he'd grown – but it did. The last time she'd seen him, he'd been below shoulder level, and now he was as tall, or taller, than she was. Quatre smiled, and Noin, smiling as well, couldn't help noticing how nearly impossible it was to be unhappy while that young man was smiling. There was something downright communicable about Quatre's emotions – he was contagious the minute you looked in those grey-indigo eyes. Pleasant as this was while Quatre was happy, Noin had seen her share of sad Quatre.
"Was your trip all right?" he asked, politely taking her bag.
"It was long," she replied, cracking her back as they walked. "Twenty-two hours on a shuttle… I feel tired and grimy, and I could use a little real food. It's nice to see a familiar face. Are you speaking at Relena's conference as well?" she wanted to know, brushing a few strands of dark hair out of her eyes.
"Probably. She wanted all of us Gundam pilots to attend, at least. In fact, there's the rest of your luggage. Over here! Duo!"
A tall young man – still dressed in black, still with a thick braid of chestnut hair to his knees – had her duffel bag slung over his shoulder, and was followed by a pretty girl with dark hair who was wheeling her suitcase.
"Hey Noin," Duo greeted.
"Hello. This must be Hildie?" Noin smiled at the dark-haired girl.
Hildie grinned at the woman everyone told her she looked so much like. "Nice to meet you, Miss Noin."
"It's a pleasure," Noin replied, shaking her hand. She'd actually seen Hildie before, over a year and a half ago, aboard the Peacemillion, but Hildie had hardly been in any condition for introductions then.
"What's this whole shin-dig about, anyway?" Duo inquired as they continued out of the spaceport. "Heero isn't exactly too full of details."
Noin snorted at that statement of the obvious then shrugged. "Relena asked me to prepare a presentation of the applications of mobile suit technology in peacetime. There are a lot of people with extensive training and no way to put it to use. That's all I know about the convention."
"That's all I've heard as well," Quatre affirmed.
Duo cocked his head. "I'm guessing Relena asked Zechs to come," he stated shrewdly.
Noin winced. Trust Duo to pentrate right to the heart of the matter. "I think she did, yes."
"And being that he's not with you, I'm guessing that he didn't," Duo continued, glancing sideways at Noin.
"No, he didn't. The terra-forming project is going really smoothly, and he's reluctant to –"
"You were never this full of it before, Noin," Duo interupted, stopping abruptly with his hands on his hips.
"Duo!" Hildie said softly, sounding chiding.
"No, you're right," Noin replied, crossing her arms.
Duo shrugged theatrically. "Well, who can blame the guy for not wanting to come lecture all the people he tried to blow to smithereens – Ow! Hildie!"
Hildie looked away innocently as Duo rubbed his ribs where she'd elbowed him.
Duo was right. They all knew, of course, but it took Duo to just come right out and say it.
Quatre walked quietly behind the others, who were equally quiet. Was it too much to ask of Duo to just be tactful and sensitive for once?
Apparently so. Quatre couldn't resist smiling again. He'd missed his friends. Duo helped Hildie hoist Noin's luggage over the curb, and Quatre grinned a little more. He'd been teasing Duo about having found a little Noin of his very own for a while now. They weren't that similar as far as personality, but they certainly did look alike. Heaven knew – he wouldn't mind doing the same thing himself…
All the same, he really wished Relena would quit trying to play matchmaker for him. It wasn't so much that he minded his friend trying to fix him up with some nice girl. It just bothered him when that "nice girl" happened to be Dorothy Catalonia.
"You'd be so good for her Quatre," Relena had pleaded. "She just such a confused, unhappy person."
"I…I forgive Dorothy, Relena, but I…" Quatre unconsciously put his hand at his side. It still hurt sometimes.
Relena hadn't pressed the issue at that time, but Quatre didn't think she'd drop it completely.
"You look so serious Quatre," Noin was saying, after she'd fallen back a step.
"I'm sorry," Quatre replied, looking up and trying to smile.
"Uhh… Quatre?" Duo started, looking over his shoulder, "Where'd we park?"
Noin choked. "Oh God, do you mean you boys are old enough to drive?!"
Quatre laughed, but Duo looked wounded.
"Hey! I could handle Deathscythe – some puny little automobile isn't gonna pose any sort of challenge," he told her indignantly.
"Garage C, third level, on the left, about halfway down the row of cars – and Quatre has the keys," Hildie told Duo wearily as he started to search his pockets.