When nothing is as it seems and
everything--or everyone--you thought you knew is something else.
Warning: Relena might seem out of character at first. But that will be explained in time, so just read on.
AC 198, January 3rd.
Heero scowled innerly as he clicked open his suitcase. There was no real reason for him being here--besides the personal summons from Lady Une. That had been surprising; despite Lady Une being one of the few who were allowed to know his location at nearly all times, he had never expected her to call on him. He was not a part of the Preventers, unlike Wufei. Yet Une had contacted him with only a simple command-- actually more like a request. She had been excited over something, and emotion not usually associated with her.
The room was adequate, he supposed. At least it wasn't overly-fancy. Perfectly folded clothes were placed in one of the drawers in the dresser. He had a gun tucked safely in a hidden compartment of the case; that, he kept where it was. There would probably be no need for it, here of all places, but Heero didn't want to take any chances. As it was, the amount he unpacked was small. He didn't plan to stay here for very long.
Why did Une contact me? He wondered. What would she need me for? But what was more, why had he complied with her wishes? It felt strange to be here, there were too many . . . memories . . . that involved this place.
For he now resided in the Palace of the Sank Kingdom.
He had been out, performing a few missions when his skills were needed, and otherwise living his life--living it in a way the war had not accepted, back then. Perhaps he was no longer even a true soldier . . . so why had he come when called? Then again, it wasn't as if he'd been busy. Actually, he had been getting almost bored with the way his life had been going. That is to say, he did like the peace and quiet, appreciated it in a way only a former soldier could understand, but sometimes . . . sometimes, he almost missed the battles. Almost. The excitement and needed quick thinking, the danger . . . it was like a high that few could achieve. Still, though.
He grunted as he saw only one thing was left to unpack: His laptop computer. He was never without it. He dragged it out of the bag, plopped it unceremoniously on the bedding, and then clicked shut the suitcase. Done. The suitcase went sliding under the bed.
It was only then he sat down, the first time since the hours-long flight from the colony he had been staying at. He had walked from the airport to here, and surprisingly was only greeted by a man--a butler? He couldn't have told-- who had escorted Heero to his rooms. He had half-expected her to be there when he arrived. Hadn't she had been notified that he was coming?
But then again, Relena was much busier as an 18-year-old leader of an entire nation. She amazed him, sometimes, the way she accomplished things. He supposed that she no longer had time for greetings, even to a former Gundam pilot. The thought made him almost . . . regretful? --for a moment, before the feeling was pushed down and diminished. He supposed it had been caused by pity that such a load should have been placed on her shoulders.
Besides, he told himself firmly, I don't need her watching my every step.
So he sat and contemplated on his next course of action--Une had said very little, excepting when and where he was supposed to come, and that she needed his 'help' with a 'project' and that he would be given more information when he arrived--but suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
Heero was alert at once, standing and going to the door, figuring that it was someone who would tell him what to do next. He hated to dive into things without knowing a full report, which brought him right back to why he had come in the first place . . . but the door swung open, and the person outside made him blink in surprise. Honey-blonde-hair framing a matured face, and blue eyes that sparkled like . . . well, something. Heero didn't care what her eyes sparkled like, he wanted to know what she was doing there.
"Relena?" He asked, the other, unspoken question clear in his deep tone.
Her hand had been half raised to knock again, but now she dropped the hand and smiled at him. Yet again, Heero blinked. There was something different about her smile, yet he couldn't put a finger on it.
"Heero." Her greeting was calm and deliberate, the voice of one who was used to leading. She nodded toward the inside of the assigned room. "May I come in?"
He hesitated, something he was not used to doing. His senses were nagging him about something, but what, he didn't know. So much for the theory that she was too busy to greet guests. But then, why had she waited until now?
He moved backward and opened the door wide enough for her to enter. The hesitation had been brief enough to not be noticed, he hoped. And something still nagged at his mind.
She stepped in, pivoting on one foot after she was far enough in to study him. Her eyes were the same blue that he remembered, but her body was much different, modeled by the years. She had grown, he could see that. It was different seeing her close up, for the first time in a long time, rather then looking at a screen and having half her body covered by a podium. She, too, seemed to look over him, look at the changes he was sure had taken place in himself. Her eyes seemed to drink him in, memorizing every detail.
"How have you been?" Abruptly, she sat down on the bed and tilted her head, still eyeing him. Her voice sounded . . . different, and he couldn't quite place that, either. The sound of it was the same as ever--a little deeper, perhaps, but that was obviously from growing up--but there was something else, like she was speaking through tones he had never heard her use before. And his instincts still buzzed at him.
Heero sighed; he figured that the distrust of everything around him, not just her, was purely from his own uneasiness at being back in this place. Still, he ignored her unspoken invitation--her hand placed just-so on the comforter, beside herself, and the flickering of her eyes--And remained standing.
"Fine. You?" He still had no idea why she had come. It couldn't have been a simple greeting; somehow, Heero knew that Relena would not do something like that, now. She had grown, after all.
A sigh from her delicate throat. "I am as I am, I guess. Heero, there's no need to be so tense." A slight smile lighted those lips again, and she caught him, gaze for gaze. "It's only me, after all." She seemed to find something amusing.
Heero decided to stop beating around the bush. "What is it?" His tone was not harsh, but not gentle, either. It simply asked a question. Inside, he felt unsure, being around her. It had been years since they'd seen each other last, and here she was, acting as if the time had been only days. She was perfectly at ease.
"You think I need a reason to see you?" Apparently giving up on getting him to sit down, she herself stood. She moved toward him, that particular light in her eyes. "Just a greeting from old friends."
Heero had to consciously work on not stepping back. He let his gaze warn her, but she kept moving forward until they were chest-to-chest, less then an inch away from touching.
Heero's eyes widened at the action. What the Hell was she up to? She still seemed amused at something, and he hadn't the faintest clue as to what!
"Stop it." The words came unbidden. This was wrong, he could feel it.
She did stop moving, but instead looked up, at his face. "Stop what, Heero?" A hand came up, lightly brushing his neck. He turned his head slightly, away, still staring at her. Had she gone mad?
"Stop it." He repeated. He could easily overcome her, but wanted to resist hurting the princess, if he could. "You're not . . ." He trailed off, the thought line disappearing. What had he been about to say?
"Not what?" Her tone teased him. "Not . . . myself?" A grin flashed across her features again. She leaned in--for a moment, he thought that she would kiss him; one more inch, and he would have pushed her away. One more inch, when suddenly . . . her gaze caught something just over his shoulder, and she gasped, stepping quickly back.
"No! Not . . . I must go!" And with that, she dashed by his shoulder and disappeared out the door, which had still been open. Puzzled, he turned, trying to she what had caught her gaze and stopped her. The wall behind him was blank, except for a clock. A clock? Why had she . . .?
Now that she was gone, perhaps he could think more clearly. The most pressing question, of course, was: What the heck had that been about? She had certainly not acted as though she were the person he had remembered. All reserve had flown out the window.
"Mr. Heero Yuy?"
Heero's head spun to look at the doorframe, half expecting Relena to have returned. His mind registered the formal address first, though, and then his eyes settled on a man around his own age. Heero nodded curtly in response, only then seeing the man's Preventer uniform. Perhaps now he would find out why he had been called to this kingdom?
"Mr. Yuy, I've been asked to take you to the study. If you would come with me . . .?"
Once again, Heero only nodded in response, following the young
Preventer out the door. As he walked, he concentrated on his own
thoughts, and feelings. What he could salvage of them.
"Where are they?" Relena asked her the couch arm, but not really expecting an answer. Her nerves were screwed to a fever-pitch, in a mix of worry over work not finished, the upcoming events, whether Une's plan would even work, and simple anxiety about everything. Her fingers idly picked as the fabric of the silent couch arm, too.
"Relena, please be still. They will arrive shortly."
Her lips pursed, but she stilled her hand. Her head rose, her gaze slowly climbing to meet that of Lady Une's, who stood before her.
Besides herself and Lady Une, the room was empty. It was not the biggest room in the house by any means, yet still large and comfortable in it's own way. A fire crackled in the stone fireplace, despite the fact that it was not yet fully winter. The lavish study was made and decorated to be warm and comforting; overall, it was Relena's favorite room. She liked the deep red and light grey setting, the huge velvet curtains, the dark mahogany bookshelves stacked with books; the room was calming, in it's own way. She always preferred to rest and eat here when she took a break from work, never mind the more convenient dining room. The servants only seemed amused at her choice and made no fuss, even the time when she accidently split soup on the lush red carpet. This was her room, and she loved it's atmosphere.
As it was, Relena was still in her business uniform, hair still pulled up. Lady Une had grabbed Relena so quickly away from her duties that she had not had a chance to change.
This was the day that they would test Une's 'project' to a new level. This was one step away from a 'field test,' she claimed.
Relena yawned daintily, one hand going to her mouth. It was late, and she hadn't really rested all day. She had been working hard at smoothing out all the details. She couldn't wait to see them all again, and so she was anxious about when they would finally walk through the door. She hadn't seen most in a long time.
Once she could speak again, she asked quietly, "What if they don't believe?"
Lady Une shrugged. It was well hidden, but Relena could tell that she, too, was uneasy. "Then we'll find out what went wrong, go back to square one, and fix the details."
"You're that determined?" Relena persisted, just as softly. She herself still had doubts . . . was this really necessary? But Lady Une . . .
Une's eyes hardened momentarily. "You must be safe." She studied Relena a second longer, and her eyes softened. "But this will work. I know it will. Have faith."
Relena sighed, not replying and absently letting her hand go back to plucking at the fabric. What would they think when they found out? Would they be angry at all? And Heero . . . what would Heero think? She couldn't fathom his reaction.
A knock at the door. Relena started to stand, but at a sharp gesture from Lady Une, she dropped back down, sighing. Une went to greet the newcomers.
"Lady Une." Two voices said, respectfully, together, one a deep resonance of a male, one lighter and more female.
Relena twisted to see better, to see who they were--and a smile came to lips when she did see.
"Wufei, Sally. Please come in." Lady Une backed up to allow them entry. They did so, Sally's grin lighting up her face when she saw Relena, and Wufei's countenance impassive, studying their surroundings.
"So what's this all about?" Wufei's voice was somewhat challenging and addressed to Lady Une. Sally eyed him sharply but Wufei avoided the look, staring instead at former colonel.
Lady Une raised her hands. "I'll explain once everyone else is here."
Wufei seemed surprised. "Who else is here?"
Sally sighed and sat down next to Relena, lounging in her own way. She still gave a Look at Wufei, though. Relena felt a flash of surprise herself. How much had they been told? If Wufei didn't even know who else was here . . .
Lady Une gave him a look of her own. "You'll know when everyone gets here."
Wufei scowled, and plopped down in an armchair, muttering under his breath. Relena caught the word 'women' used in an exasperated tone many times.
Sally shook her head at his antics, but smiled, and Relena got the feeling that Sally was used to worse. Before conversation could spring up again, though, there was another knock at the door.
Lady Une moved to open it again, and this time a the person behind didn't wait to be invited in. He moved in unaccompanied, dark blue eyes searching the room, as if looking for a hidden enemy. Heero froze as he saw Relena, though. His gaze locked with hers, and she was sure that those dark eyes widened. She blinked back, confused--was Heero really surprised at seeing her, in her own palace?--but the confusion hid other, deeper feelings, for which she was glad. His eyes, searching her own dug up emotions she hadn't felt as strongly since . . . since . . . well, the wars. Yet he still seemed surprised, and downright confused, at something.
Lady Une shut the door, walking back into the room. Wufei opened his mouth as though to say something to the other pilot, but Heero opened his mouth first, and spoke directly to Relena.
"Are you . . ." He trailed off, took a breath, then went on, "Is something up with you?"
She felt sincerely confused. It never even occurred to her that he might be referring to . . . "Heero, what are you talking about?"
A third and final knock cut off his reply. Lady Une didn't even get to open the door this time; it swung open before she reached it, and violet eyes and a chestnut braid peeked in.
" 'Lo? Anyone home in here?"
"Duo!" Came an exasperated voice from behind the third pilot. Duo strode in, unconcerned, and grinned at the glaring, short-haired girl who followed shortly after. Lady Une only sighed, and Hilde apologized to her.
"Sorry. I haven't quite succeeded at teaching him manners, yet . . ."
Sally snickered, and even Lady Une's mouth gave into an amused smile. Duo seemed unperturbed.
"Hey, ya know what they say: 'can't teach an old dog new tricks.' " Hilde shook her head in reply, but Duo's gaze was already elsewhere. "Whoa! Wufei? Sally? Heero? And Ms. Relena Dorlain-Peacecraft, of course."
She couldn't help but to grin back at him. Duo's appearance always seemed to lighten the mood, no matter how serious.
Lady Une gave Heero and Duo both a look. "If you will please sit down?" And that had the sound of, "you will sit down." Duo shrugged, grinned sheepishly, and sat in a two-person sofa across from where Relena and Sally sat. Hilde joined him, which left Heero to find a stool and drag it over, sitting on that.
"Are there any more?" Sally asked Une, obviously talking about the people.
Lady Une shook her head. "This was everyone that could come. Well enough, I suppose, and you all will do fine. Now, as to why you are all here." Everyone's ears pricked up immediately, excluding Relena's. She had heard all of this already.
"We needed subjects to test something on. I'll go into detail with that in a moment. I wanted to use Preventers as subjects, and at that, only people who had come in contact with Relena before now." She nodded to Wufei and Sally, meaning them. "A few times before, you've come here on an assignment I've sent you on. Sally, I was aware that you and Relena had become somewhat of friends." Sally nodded, and flashed a grin at the princess, which she returned weakly. "Wufei, your contact has mostly been on business terms, yet still you two have been in contact the most." Then she turned to Duo, and Heero. "But, we didn't want just two people--the two of you were called also, ones who probably know her the best out of the few that I can trust. Duo asked to bring Hilde, and I finally gave my assent because she, too, knew Relena."
Lady Une wasn't finished, but Duo broke in anyway. "That's all great, and everything, but what is it exactly that you needed us for? Is there another assassination attempt, or something?" He seemed angered by the prospect of such a thing. Heero was beginning to get a suspicious look on his face.
Lady Une shook her head. "Not exactly. You see--"
"The thing is," And everyone's head whipped around at the new voice, female, in time to catch a figure move out of the shadows of the curtains. She was the same age as any of the Gundam pilots, just about, and she didn't seem threatening. The thing that made everyone's eyes pop as she stepping into the light was on fact: she could have been an exact carbon copy of Relena. Same hair, same eyes, same stance. The figure pointed at the princess on the couch. "She's not Relena Peacecraft. I am."
Which immediately set off a commotion. Nearly everyone stood up, regarding both Relenas warily, wondering which was which. Heero kept swinging his head back and forth between the two, eyes wide. Duo and Wufei were both badgering Une for answers, loudly-- "Did you make a robot or something?!" "What do you mean by all of this?!"-- while Hilde still sat on the couch with her hand covering her mouth in a silent gasp. Sally's eyes were narrowed; she stood as well, though seemed lost for what to do. The Relena from the couch stood up, and sighed, waving her hands in a peaceful gesture, hoping that everyone would be quiet. "Calm down, everyone. This is what Lady Une called you all here for." The other Relena dropped her arm and brought her hands behind her back, watching them all innocently. "This is Lady Une's project."
Lady Une had been the only one to seem unaffected, standing there with a quizzical look in her eyes as she gauged all of their reactions. Finally, "Please sit back down, everyone. I'll explain." Slowly, everyone complied, still glancing distrustfully at the two 'twins.' Then, "Relena? Please go stand by Relena."
They both moved at once, meeting each other in the middle of the room, in the center of everyone. One wore a business outfit, the other a more casual blouse and skirt. One hair was held up, the other's, down. Besides that, there seemed to be no difference.
"Now. This is our 'project'-- No, Duo, neither is a robot. Or clones, for that matter. Both are real human beings, one we found a few months ago with remarkable resemblance to the real Relena Peacecraft. Since then, we have been modeling this volunteer to look, act, and talk like Relena. We plan to use her as a decoy, in case she is ever needed." Lady Une smiled softly at the both of them. "I admire her bravery for this."
The two twins both smiled back.
"But . . ." Sally burst out. "Who's who?"
"Well." Lady Une seemed pleased. "If you can't tell, then this operation is most definitely a success. Gundam pilots were trained to notice and remember the smallest detail, were they not? Another reason I asked you three to come."
Silence, then, as they all studied the two standing in the middle of the study. More silence. Finally, the Relena from the couch spoke up.
"Actually, I'm the real one. She," and she nodded to her twin, "only said that to confuse you."
"Or, maybe she's just saying _that_ to confuse you." Continued the other, grinning.
More stunned silence. Finally, Duo said, "Ya know . . . it's uncanny. I can't make out who the real one is. I give up . . . what's the clue?"
They all nodded, the other two women just as perplexed, Wufei with reluctance and Heero's a simple, stiff jerk of his head. He seemed almost angry. Relena blinked at that.
Lady Une stood before the both of them. "This," and she reached out a hand, "Is the true Relena Peacecraft." Her hand landed on the Relena's shoulder-- the one who had stood up from the couch.
A general murmuring sprang up at that, and the real Relena turned and sat back down.
"I thought it was her," Wufei mumbled, not very convincingly. Everyone ignored him.
"Introduce yourself." Lady Une asked the other girl quietly.
The other girl did so. "My real name is Lienna Dasake. I originally ran into Relena because I had to deliver mail." Another amused grin. "The secretary nearly fainted at the sight of me; she thought I was really Relena, even though Relena was still in her office. A while after that, I was contacted by Lady Une, and asked to help them out. I said yes . . . I wanted to help protect Relena in anyway I could. And all of this began." She fell silent.
"We've been worried about the many attempts at assassination, lately." A slight frown as Une voiced those words. "So we decided that, since nothing else had worked, a decoy might. We have a plan to draw the enemies out in the open that way, hopefully bringing no harm to Relena or Lienna. And I think I've already told you why you were bought here . . . soldiers, I had thought, were the most aware of their surroundings, and you three are Gundam Pilots at that. If we could fool you . . ."
"Then practically anyone could be fooled into believing." It was Heero's first words since he had talked to Relena. He seemed angry still, and Relena couldn't figure out why. Perhaps anger at himself for not figuring it out?
"Exactly." Lady Une nodded. "Since then we've been teaching Lienna to take on Relena's mannerisms perfectly. Apparently, our attempts have been successful." Lady Une seemed smug, at that.
Sally shook her head. "But why do you need a decoy, Lady Une? If I may ask . . . what are you planning?"
The smugness faded into a serious expression. "Lately . . . lately there have been certain . . . mishaps. Small things. Except a little while ago, just before we met Lienna, we became aware of an untouched faction. A group of people. We have had no direct contact with them as of yet . . . but there have been small things. Threats. Just enough to make us wary . . . and then there was a direct attack on Ms. Relena's life. So we had to take steps to ensure the Vice Foreign Minister's safety . . . which eventually led to Lienna."
"Who is this 'faction'?" Duo asked after the silence has fallen once more, his easy-going manner suddenly transformed into a solemn countenance.
Lady Une shook her head. "We aren't sure. For all we know, it could even not be a group at all, perhaps random terrorist attacks. However . . . events have lead to too much of a coincidence for us to truly believe that. A chosen few who have learned about the faction have taken to calling them--"
"The Shadow." Sally put in, her voice deep and grave. Her eyes were intent.
Lady Une seemed taken aback. "Well, yes, that's exactly . . . how did you know?"
"I've heard rumors . . ." Sally said, hesitantly, which was unlike her. "But up until now I had thought of them as just that--rumors."
Lady Une's eyes fell closed with annoyance. "There's a leak somewhere. I'll have to talk to--"
"Wait." Wufei's calm and sure tone this time. "So you're basically saying that there is a formed terrorist group with the intent to assassinate Relena Peacecraft on the loose. But you know next-to-nothing about them, other then that. And because of this recent discovery, you've employed Lienna as a . . . decoy?"
"That's about it." Lady Une confirmed. "There's
more to it then that, of course, but that's about it. Lienna is a
temporary solution. I also intend to add to Relena's guard with
hand-picked men-- er, soldiers." She flashed an apologetic
look at Sally, who grinned back in response. "We've got the
beginnings of a plan to draw these terrorists out into the open
and rid ourselves of them, with Lienna's help. Anyway. We were
hoping that this part of the plan was foolproof--" And here
a note of being pleased came in, "--apparently, it is."
She glanced at everyone this time.
Lady Une continued for a while more, occasionally interrupted with comments or questions. This 'shadow' faction apparently acted just like it's nickname. There was never any trace of evidence to be found, only the memory of a dangerous occurrence. They were there, then they disappeared as if having never been-- almost uncanny, as Lady Une put it.
Heero barely listened. His mind recorded the information, catalogued it, then put it away for future use . . . but his thoughts wandered. Had it been Lienna, earlier that day? If so, why? He'd never met her before in his life. What was with the strange behavior? Perhaps she came from some foreign country, where it was perfectly normal to act that way. Perhaps she was simply blunt, that was her personality, and she hadn't known quite what she was doing. Perhaps it had been on orders from Lady Une, for some reason or another . . . Perhaps, perhaps. A dozen logical reasons flew threw his mind, yet none seemed to quite fit. Maybe he would inform Lady Une of the occurrence. Maybe not. It didn't seem all that important, now, finding out all that he was . . .
Une finished with her lecture, and then they were free to go. Not to leave the palace, of course, not just yet; but free to leave the room. As he stood up to leave, the last thing that he heard before the door shut was a command from Une:
"Relena, I still need to speak with you. Lienna, you may go--"
And the door cut off the rest.
"So, Heero," Duo pipped up brightly from just beside him. Heero sighed internally. "I can't believe you've come back here!"
Wufei's eyes cast away, irritable, but surprisingly he spoke before turning and leaving with Sally. "It is a little unusual. I'd have never expected you to come." But he was gone before Heero could comment.
Duo, unfortunately, did not go away so easily. "Have you talked to Relena? I'm sure she'll want to talk to you, ya know, Heero. Catch up on old times and all that . . ."
"Duo . . ." Hilde murmured warningly.
" . . . I'm going," was all Heero said, promptly moving forwards and hoping that he correctly remembered the way back to his room.
"Well, fine then," Duo muttered, a bit sullenly. "You haven't changed a bit."
You haven't either, Heero thought, but there was no bitterness to the thought. In a way . . . a very remote and distant way . . . he had missed Duo, and his attitude that everything had a humorous side. He had grown a bit taller, losing most of his adolescence. Heero was sure that there was some sort of involvement between him and Hilde, as well. Still, Duo was still easygoing, willing to joke at anything and of anyone-- no matter the subject-- so long as it amused someone, especially Duo himself.
You haven't either.
AN: So . . . I'm sure this has a few bugs in it, but I figured that I'd throw this out there and see what happened. If I get replies of people that seem interested, I'll keep going with it. I have a plot and story line and everything, but I don't want to spend time on a story that no one will read. ^_^;; So . . . yeah. Tell me what you think, pretty please with a Gundam on top?