The great grandfather clock in the corner ticked the seconds away after everyone had left. Only Relena and Une still remained, though both were silent for a moment.
Soon, Relena looked up, frowning slightly. "So, now what happens? Is that all you wanted them for?"
"No, Miss Relena. There's still more to this test." Lady Une stood in the center of the study, her hands clasped in front of her and a thoughtful look on her features. Relena watched her intently, standing as well. "Also, I want to see if I can get Quatre to come down here . . . you two were close due to similar businesses ventures, and I'm hoping that he won't be able to tell the difference, either."
Relena pursed her lips, glancing at the dark red curtains. Quatre was a dear friend whenever they could find time to have a cup of tea together. He understood her and her ideals better than most ever could. Sadly, his duties as head of Winner Enterprises and hers as Foreign Minister kept them too busy for more than the occasional luncheon.
She was happy to have an excuse to have him come to visit, but... "I don't know, Lady Une. I feel . . . I don't know . . . guilty about tricking so many people. First my co-workers, then my school friends, and now the Gundam Pilots . . . aren't you satisfied with what you have?"
Lady Une's eyes hardened. "I won't be satisfied until these damn terrorists are dealt with and you are completely safe, Relena."
Relena turned her head away completely, not knowing quite what to say. Une was still very much the warrior, the determined general in battle. Relena doubted anything she said could cull Une's concerns about her safety.
Even if she didn't quite agree with the way Une dealt with things.
There was a pause, then a sigh from the older woman. "I am sorry. But you have to understand that we are very close to putting away these Shadow attacks for good. If this works out the way we hope, then--"
"I know," Relena said softly, forcing a smile as she turned back. "I just . . . hate to be such a bother, I guess."
"Not at all, Relena. It's I who does not want to be a bother to you."
"Thank you. I understand." She wondered if Une would catch the slight insincerity in her words. Then again, she had been getting very good at making insincere things sound heartfelt. Politicians were masters of tongues, after all. She tucked her feet under her again, absently playing with the edge of a book on the table near her.
Relena started to say something more, but at that moment the door opened and a maid poked her head in.
"Miss Relena? Lady Une? Dinner will be served shortly in the main dining room."
"The main dining room?" Relena asked, frowning. "But . . ."
"You have guests, Miss Relena," Une reminded her gently.
Relena felt the blush rise in her cheeks. That room was only used for formal occasions; she much rather preferred dinner served in her own, less gaudy bedroom or just in her study. "Oh. Oh, yes. Alright then. We'll be down right away."
Wonderful . . . but what could she do? She doubted that any of them would appreciate being stuffed in a small room like this one. Yes, the Main Dining Hall was the answer . . . a great, gaudy, drafty answer, but the only answer.
"Yes, Miss," Was the maid's only comment before she turned and left.
"They . . . they're joining us for dinner?" Relena asked, ducked her head so that Lady Une would not she her nervous expression. She concentrated fully on the slightly bent corner on the cover of her book. Being in the same room with him for less then a few minutes was one thing. Staring at him over a table for almost an hour, though . . . !
"Of course." Lady Une frowned, and her tone was slightly confused. She added, "If you'd like to be excused, however, I can--"
"No!" Relena jumped in, jerking her head up. "Of course not. I'll be fine." Her mind worked frantically. What to do? She didn't have time to change, damn it! Maybe she could patch herself up in the powder room on the way... if only she had dressed in something else today...!
Une was obviously surprised by her sudden show of unease, though she made no comment on it. "Alright." A slight pause, and then, "Shall we go?"
She nodded, and followed the Lady out. How could she explain that by being excused-- taking the easy way out— she would feel like a coward? There was nothing stopping her and no one to blame her, except for the brief memory of two deep, blue-shaded eyes . . .
Besides. She wanted to visit with Sally, and though she didn't know Duo too well, he seemed . . . interesting. And Hilde seemed nice as well.
Suddenly she sighed aloud, and Lady Une glanced at her briefly before returning her gaze to the hallway.
"Are you sure you do not wish to simply stay in your rooms?"
"Of course, Lady Une." The sigh had been exasperation at herself; she was purposely avoiding thinking of a certain topic, and she knew it.
As they came to the doors, she steadied herself internally and outwardly.
Here goes . . . something.
The room was lit fairly well, and the figure that sat in the long arm chair was at ease.
There were two screens in front of the person; the smaller being a compact phone that resided on his desk, the larger being a huge screen that covered the far wall entirely. The large one was blank; the small, turned on. Outside the window, bluebirds sang in a nearby tree.
"Is everything ready?" The figure asked quietly of the man on the screen.
"Nearly. The predator is in position, and our spies can't get any closer then that. We have a definite date."
"Which is . . .?"
"March 9th, the date of the Foreign Minister's Colony Delegates Conference. Plenty of witnesses."
The blue birds continued in their song, and one of them flew over to the window.
"Good, good. And everyone will be ready?"
"Nearly everyone already is."
The blue bird chirped, adding it's voice to the beautiful melody of nature.
"I want no mishaps.
"There will be none."
"This is a delicate time."
"The Foreign Minister will be killed on March 9th, then?"
The Bluebird's voice rose and it was joined by others, a choir of chirps and song.
"Then get on with your work." The figure leaned back as the screen sizzled into static. The person's gaze moved absently to the window, where the small blue bird continued to serenade the clouds.
Duo stumbled back. All right, perhaps he i had /i been walking a bit too quickly. But they were serving dinner!
"Duo!" Hilde groaned at his side. "I told you not to move so fast!"
"Oh, no, it was my fault." murmured the person--the one Duo had run into--as she began to stand up. "I wasn't watching where I was going." Duo blinked— Blonde hair, blue eyes. Was this Relena? No, Relena had stayed with Colonel Une. So this must be--What was her name?-- Lienna.
"Don't encourage him." Hilde warned, shaking her head slightly, then breaking into a light grin and lightly patting Duo's arm. Duo rolled his eyes. Of course Hilde would blame him no matter what.
"No, I'm sorry." There; he could be polite too! And just to prove his point, he reached down to help the girl stand up. Hilde just shook her head again, only this time she seemed amused.
"Thank you." The girl smiled. "By the way, I'm Lienna, if you couldn't tell."
Hah. He had guessed right. i Not bad for a former Gundam pilot, eh/i "I thought it was you. You sure you okay?"
Lienna ducked her head, brushed off her skirt lightly, then looked up and replied with a smile, "I'm fine, really."
"I know he can seem like a locomotive sometimes," Hilde put in, "but he's really nice— once you get to know him."
Lienna blinked, then giggled. Duo crossed his arms over his chest, deciding to do the mature thing and ignore them. Oh, pick on the guy with a braid. Sure.
"Were you going to the dining hall?" Lienna spoke up politely.
"Yep!" Duo answered, the mention of food completely erasing any memory of offense. "They called us just after we'd gone back to our rooms."
"Well, so was I." Lienna smiled tentatively.
"Well, come with us. We're going the same way anyway." Hilde grabbed her hand lightly as if they'd been friends all their lives, and Lienna laughed lightly as they walked off.
Duo shook his head, following. Women were weird. Glancing at Hilde, he reaffirmed that statement. Well, most of them.
"And then the guy says, 'Well, what about the elephant?' "
Laughter from all around the table. Even Wufei and stony-faced Heero cracked a smile. Slightly. Duo grinned and nodded deeply, as though bowing.
There was little to no tension during the meal. Despite it being a very formal and big dining room, and despite the fact that not everyone knew each other, they talked freely and seemed at ease together. Even Lienna, who acted almost shy at such a gathering, was soon coaxed out of her shell.
It had been a little unsettling, facing two Relenas near the head of the table. One was a polite hostess as always, the other shy and blushing, but as time moved on and the people grew more used to each other, Lienna became more outspoken and Relena became more quiet. They wore their hair differently, and sat at different spots, but had they both gotten up and switched places when everyone was looking the other way, no one would have noticed.
Duo lived up every moment of fame, though, and spent most of the time telling jokes. Hilde was still snickering from the last one, and he was watching her in return, noting how pretty she looked when she smiled.
Une was pleased. This could not have gone along better. If only Quatre had been able to come; out of all of them, he probably knew Relena best, mostly because they always contacted each other whenever she traveled near his colony. But he had been busy with work, so he claimed. So that would have to wait.
However, this was working out nicely. Une doubted that, even knowing the secret and seeing the both of them for who they were, the former soldiers would be able to tell the two apart at all. At the moment it was obvious who was who, because Lienna had come in with Duo and Hilde and Relena had come in with her— But next morning, perhaps, when the two came down to breakfast alone? That would be worth seeing.
"So, how has it felt being an imposter so far?" Sally asked Lienna, her tone teasing.
Lienna ducked her head, apparently trying to hide a blush. She was very shy, Une noted, and yet she also played the part of being Relena quite well when she needed to. However, when Lienna could be herself, she tended to be much more quiet.
"I wouldn't say that I'm an imposter . . . I mean, the person I pretend to be sometimes wants me to play the part." Her fingers fiddled with the edge of a napkin, distractedly. "And besides, I'm all too happy to help. Relena and I have become friends." She looked up, catching Relena's gaze, and the two shared a smile.
"Lady Une, I must ask . . ." Wufei's deep voice began, slowly, on her right side, "Is all of this really necessary? If your plan really is to use her as a decoy, one that will be seen from a distance and at that, only for a short time, then why are you worrying about making the decoy a perfection of the original?"
"Because, Wufei," Une began calmly, "We have reason to believe that some of these terrorists know Relena personally. Spies, of course, yet still. If the disguise is not perfect, and one of the spies were to find out, or even guess . . ." Une let her voice trail off. After a moment, she added, "I'm sure I don't need to tell you that this entire operation is of the utmost secrecy. Most of the workers here at the palace don't even know."
"I see," was all Wufei said in answer.
"Yeah, well." Duo leaned back in his chair, placing his hand behind his head. The chair tilted away from the table as Duo's gaze went to the high, marble ceiling. Duo had long since finished eating. (This was actually quite a feat, seeing as he's gone through second, third, and forth helpings, while the others were still on their seconds.) "We're not going to let anything happen to either of them. After all, you've got the best soldiers in the world to guard this place." He flashed a grin. Everyone knew that even three Gundam Pilots would be of little help if, say, the terrorists decided to bomb the entire building, but his tone helped ease the tension that had come over the table ever so briefly. The tension was broken and forgotten completely, in fact, when Duo lost his balance and the chair went toppling over backwards, hitting the floor and quickly accompanied by a yelp.
Hilde got up to help Duo, murmuring and shaking her head about men, even as the rest of the table began to laugh, or giggle, or stifle chuckles, or simply smile in amusement. ("What was that about the best soldiers in the world?" Sally murmured absently.)
Une smiled. Her plan was going to work. She could feel it.
Heero was distracted. Horribly distracted, and that simply would not do. Distraction could cost a soldier not only his life, but his mission as well.
Wasn't one Relena well enough? He wondered, glancing back and forth from the two twins every now and then, throughout the dinner. And half of him knew that what he thought wasn't completely honest, the annoyed feeling not completely real. The world did need Relena. And hadn't he once told her that she was so much stronger then he? That he was nothing compared to her, compared to what she'd done?
Then again, he was nothing compared to anyone.
What was it about her in particular, then? ... She unnerved him. He had to admit that. She was as stubborn as he was, and, though she might have been spoiled in the past, she had grown, matured. She put others before herself all the time. She would gladly die for even the smallest, most unimportant babe. She would persist in her ideals until those she lectured listened to her or she stepped over them.
All this he knew, and --admitted— he admired. But he certainly knew he would never do those things himself, so he was perfectly happy to leave the leading to her. He, truthfully, had never wanted to be a hero— never thought of himself as one. He was an assassin, nothing more, whose job had gotten increasingly more complicated over the duration of the war until he had nearly gone mad, wondering at what he was really expected to do.
All that was in the past. The past should be reviewed critically, mistakes acknowledged and learnt from, and then thrown away to make space for more thought.
It made absolutely no sense for Relena --the real Relena— to have been in his room earlier that day. But also, it made no sense for the imposter Relena to have gone there either. His carefully calculating mind had gone around in countless circles, trying to figure out who, what, and why? Most importantly, why?
Finally he had come to a simple conclusion. The answer was not important. He would put the event quite out of his mind, not mention it to anyone, and accept that the probability of it happening again was quite low. (Less then a 4 chance, his mind calculated.)
He would help Lady Une in her plan to stop this new Organization. He would assist, guard and protect if his services were needed, then leave. Simple. Uncomplicated.
And damn it, he'd keep his own plan simple if it was the last thing he did!
So he listened to the idle chatter during the dinner, rarely joining in himself unless he was directly addressed. Important information was kept to a minimum, and had it not been for Wufei's question, the subject may have been avoided entirely. Still, he intended to meet privately with Une as soon as possible to receive a better debriefing.
Duo was a master at conversation. Heero both resented and admired the man for his actions; had the braided pilot not intervened, tensions and talks might've continued, and Heero might've been able to glean more details from what Une was willing to disclose. But Duo's lighthearted reassurance had lifted hearts, and his deliberate fall from his chair had successfully changed the topic. Duo was, after all, a soldier and an excellent pilot. He was only clumsy when he meant to be.
Soon, Heero was shaken from his thoughts as he was alerted to the fact that the people were rising, standing and stretching, preparing to leave. He glanced at Une, but she was distracted, talking quietly to Wufei.
Fine. He wasn't needed, and he was quite fine with that. He stood, took a quick glance around the table, and then walked to the door to leave.
He shut it behind him, not walking down the hallway yet. He knew the way back to his room, just . . . he needed to think. He desperately needed to think. Yet despite his former resolutions on the matter, he realized it would calm his thoughts somewhat if he just knew who it had been . . .
He frowned, removing his hand from the door handle. It twisted as he did, showing someone coming out. This was ridiculous. Why was he so worried over it? No, not worried. Disturbed was the better word.
Relena walked out, nearly bumping into him. She quickly blinked, dodged, then looked up at him.
Then again, why not just ask and get it off his chest? There was really no reason not to. But how to phrase it?
"Relena . . ." The briefest flash of a question in his eyes.
She sighed. She actually looked annoyed for a moment. "I'm the real Relena. Was there something . . .?" At his brief silence, she sighed again, starting to walk away. Before she passed him, though, his hand shot out, grabbing her arm.
She paused, turning to blink at him again, rather confused.
"I have to ask you something." His words were simple, monotone. She waited. For a moment more he said nothing, studying her.
It was always like this between them. A few words, then silence. An understanding of intent if not means. They had always had a... a connection, and as he met her eyes now he knew it had not weakened in the slightest. She didn't demand to know what he was about or why he was staying to silent, as almost anyone else might have done. She merely waited, unafraid of meeting his eyes; curious.
There had to be a way to tell the two apart, the logical side of his mind argued. Even real identical twins have markings, something that defines them each, separately. Yet he could find nothing. His eyes were like a hawk's, piercing, noting every detail. Their eyes were the same. Hair was the same texture, same length. The shape of the face . . . identical. Heero noted dryly that he was willing to bet that their skin even felt the same.
The door opened, two voices showing that two people were emerging.
Heero let go of her arm abruptly, turning away. He didn't give a damn who it had been. He shouldn't, and he didn't. He walked away, not bothering to apologize or even turn back to see who had interrupted his study.
"Heero?" She asked, startled, but he didn't turn around. He heard her make a frustrated noise, but again, his stride did not slow.
He would help, then leave. Maybe he should've never come in the first place.
She sighed, sinking gratefully onto her mattress, twisting her neck this way and that. Why was it that even when she didn't go to any meetings, her neck still seemed to stiffen up? Perhaps it was just preparing for long hours of it being tilted back in effort to see the speaker behind the podium.
What a day. Une seemed happy, at least. A little too happy. Relena understood her joy in an apparently successful mission, but the work hadn't been completed yet. Not to mention the fact that Relena wasn't sure she could let a dear friend stand in her place in the way of enemy fire. The United Delegates Conference this month was extremely important: if all went well, the Foreign-Trade bill would be passed, erasing tariffs between the colonies and earth-- and extremely huge step to uniting the earth and space once and for all. Without taxes on trade goods, trading was expected to increase by over 44 in the first year alone. Relena flipped back onto her mattress, hair flung out behind her, arms stretched out to her sides. The corners of her mouth tipped up in a tired smile. Once trade was increased, travel, of course, would increase too. More colonists would come to earth; more earthlings would vacation to space, maybe even live there . . . relations would begin to solidify. It would be so wonderful . . . and maybe, just maybe, if she worked as hard as possible and got this bill passed . . . maybe she could finally rest for awhile.
The colonies and earth were populated by the same species; it was time everyone finally realized that.
And what then? When the Colonies and the Earth became one nation? Could it happen in a few years. . . ? Relena blinked up at her canopy, wrinkling her nose. Abruptly, she giggled. There wouldn't be anymore need for a Foreign Minister . . . not an official one, anyway, through of course there would always be messengers going to and fro from the earth to the colonies . . . but still, no more need for her. Biting her lip, Relena held back another giggle. Retired at age twenty-five. How perfect.
Abruptly, she sat up, eyes wide. But . . . what if they wanted her to run for president? She would, of course, if asked . . . if the people still needed her that much; she couldn't very well just say no, but . . .
With a defeated sigh, she fell back a final time, bouncing slightly. It just wouldn't do to get her hopes up; the people would cling to her by the tips of their fingernails as long as they could. They were almost like chicks that refused to leave the nest. She'd better just face it: she was going to grow old and die in politics. She'd gotten herself into it, after all. Maybe after she was dead, she could retire.
A timid knock on her door made her groan, rubbing her palms against her eyes. She sat up again, glancing at her clock. The read-out flashed 11:30. Most normal people were asleep by now . . .
She wasn't normal, though. Stifling a yawn, she stood and moved to her dresser, grabbing her brush from the vanity. She perched on the edge of her stool, one ankle crossed over the other, attempting to brush though her long golden strands. "Come on in."
A minute later, Lienna poked her head around the door, then slowly shuffled in, shutting it behind her. She was already in her pajamas, hair loose around her shoulders. She winced apologetically. "Late, huh?"
"You have no idea." Relena barely managed to catch her next yawn, pausing briefly in her nightly-ritual. "I wish I could get ready for bed as fast as you."
Lienna smiled somewhat sheepishly. "Who, me? I just hop into pajamas and fall asleep. Why? How long do you usually take?"
Relena shrugged, answering absently. "About . . . oh, and hour or so, sometimes longer. Usually I make sure everything's in order for work tomorrow . . . clean off my make-up . . . take a shower, lay out my clothes for the next day, get dressed for bed, do my hair, read a little if I have time . . ." Finishing with her de-tangling, Relena set her brush back down on the nightstand. Lienna was listening with surprising interest, nodding occasionally. Relena giggled, though, adding after a moment: "And, of course, sometimes I'm just like you: I forgo everything else and just plop into bed and turn the lights off." She stood, making way for her closet. "Don't worry about me, though: I'm sure you don't have to go so far as to copy my sleeping habits."
After a moment, Lienna joined in with her laughter. "Of course not."
"Listen . . . " Relena said a moment later, coming back out, "Not that this isn't fun or anything . . . but do you think Une would mind if we continued this tomorrow morning?"
Lienna's face fogged over in confusion. "Une?"
"Yes . . . you know, these late night chats she asked you to have with me. I realize they're helpful, but I'm just really tired tonight, so . . ."
"Oh!" Lienna jumped up, eyes wide. "I'm so sorry! Sure, I completely understand . . ."
A flash of guilt passed over Relena's face. "I mean, I do enjoy your company. It's just . . . "
But Lienna was waving her hands, pushing Relena's worry aside. "It's no big deal, really! I understand." She moved for the door, though turned back as her hand found the handle. With a soft, comforting smile, she murmured, "Sleep well, Relena."
Relena's smile was a near-perfect mirror of Lienna's. "Thank you," She murmured in reply. "You, too."
Lienna nodded, and a moment later, the door was shutting behind her.
Relena stretched once more, looking longingly at her bed. It was strange; she felt like she'd had a full day of work already. Sleep was definitely going to be appreciated, whenever she actually got around to it...