Relena looked up from her computer as a knock sounded at her door, and rubbed the fatigue from her eyes. "Come in!"
Noin gave her a small smile as she walked in and closed the door tightly before collapsing into one of the chairs opposite the ornate desk. Relena gave her a thoughtful look. "Rough day for you, too?"
Noin nodded. "Most of my contacts have gone silent, Relena, and I don't know why. I spent hours trying to track one of them down, but Shoot, he's been gone so long I don't even know if he's still alive."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Relena said softly. "Luca "
"But Tim will be here tomorrow!" the dark-haired woman said, her face lighting up again. "I haven't seen him in a few months, but we've talked so much it's like a day hasn't gone by since we last saw each other, you know?"
The other girl laughed out loud. "Not a day, eh? Must be an extraordinary young man, this Tim Wilde "
Noin shot her a dirty look, but couldn't help the light blush on her face. "Speaking of extraordinary young men where's the soldier boy? I actually need to talk to him "
"Oh, I think he and Dorothy are off in the gymnasium, finishing off that duel they declared yesterday."
Both Noin and Relena had been surprised by the bizarre friendship that had struck up between Dorothy and Heero over the past week. But even stranger than the friendship was the way it disappeared whenever a contest of any sort was proposed. In this particular case, it had started with an innocent comment from Pargan about fencing foils
Noin looked aghast. "After yesterday, are you actually willing to let either of them near a pointy-ended implement of death without a chaperone of some sort?!"
Relena cocked her head and gave a small smile. "You know as well as I do that neither will do the other any permanent damage, Luca. Besides, they needed a break, and I didn't want " She sighed. "I didn't want anyone to think I was getting clingy again. Heaven only knows what would happen this time!" She grimaced.
"Relena?" Noin asked, worried.
The girl looked up immediately, attempting to smile. "Oh, it's not Hang it all! Luca, it's so unfair!"
Relena rested her chin on one fist while gesticulating in the air with her other hand. "He really is remarkable But he seems so happy whenever he talks about Duo or the others It made me think- you know I'd never actually talked to him just a normal conversation, I mean before today? I've tried to work up the nerve before, but after Dorothy's display I wasn't sure how he'd Anyway, we actually talked. He even offered to help with some of my homework, and I couldn't believe just how much he knows. But he still kept saying that 'Quatre knows this stuff better than I do,' or 'Wufei could probably give a better explanation.' He was treating me like a real person. And I really liked that."
Noin smiled fondly at the younger girl. "A real friend, you mean."
"Yes, that's right." Relena smiled back.
Noin arched an eyebrow. "A real friend that you then allowed to be dragged away so Dorothy could practice on him?"
Relena actually laughed. "Why not? She's getting so fidgety for news that she was driving me crazy, and it's not as if she could really get a mark on him "
Noin laughed as well. "What do you say we go hunt them down? I need to speak with both of them, actually."
"Let's go!" Relena agreed, and the two left in comfortable silence.
"Hey, Trowa! It's almost lunchtime!" Sally yelled up through cupped hands towards the teenager perched next to the communications gear, far up the main mast of the 'Northern Light.'
He waved at her, and Sally couldn't help a short giggle. Only that morning, the ship's captain, Walt, had challenged Trowa to an arm wrestling match to try and keep the reckless teenager from scaring any more crew members with his "explorations" of the freighter. Needless to say, everyone had been shocked when Trowa won the small match.
And promptly celebrated by climbing the communications array and perching at its top like a seabird. Sally actually thought it was kind of funny.
To his credit, Trowa didn't simply leap down; he repelled down using the ropes extending the length of the mast, and gave her a gentle smile as he landed. "Did someone say lunch?"
The doctor smiled at him. "You know, I never would have pegged *you* as such a troublemaker, Barton. Duo, definitely, but not you."
The tall teen gallantly held the bulkhead door open for her as they went in out of a steady, chilly North Atlantic wind. "I'm not causing trouble, I'm just curious. I've never really been at sea before."
She turned to look at him. "Didn't you say you'd been on Earth before this whole " she waved her hands in the air as she sought the right word, "thing started?"
He nodded. "Oh, I've travelled, but never on the water. I never knew it was so big. So blue."
Sally snickered. "And so you decided to try your hand at terrorising a crew of Sweepers?"
Trowa gave her a rakish grin. "Can you think of anything better to do, Doctor? It's perfectly safe I know what I'm doing."
"Safe for you, maybe, but not for those of us watching who don't know what you are capable of."
Trowa sighed deeply as he stopped by a table in the galley and removed his jacket, neatly placing it over the back of his chair. "I'm sorry. I'm just bored. All my suit upgrades are up to date, I'm worried about the others if I had either a shooting range or a sparring partner, I promise you I'd find alternate ways of working this out."
Sally gave him a sympathetic look, and groaned as he looked her straight in the eye with that damned 'I-miss-Quatre-and-I'm-unhappy' pout he seemed to have perfected. She grabbed him in a gruff one-armed hug. "I tell you what. We'll compromise I'll convince Walt to clear out the radio room and give you some time in there to call whoever you want, but in return, you have to promise to stay off the communications gear until tomorrow."
Trowa snorted. "By tomorrow, we'll make landfall and I won't be able to go up there, anyway."
He grunted and stepped away as she gave him a look of her own. "Fine, it's a deal. You know, I feel bad for Jason, all of the sudden."
"Why?" Sally had to ask.
"Because if I swung that way, that little look of yours would be most convincing." He grinned and took off for the buffet at the other side of the room before she could react.
"Barton!" Blushing bright red, Sally followed.
Quatre leaned back in Sandrock's cockpit and let his mind wander as he waited for the okay to power up the suit.
They'd had word earlier in the week from Howard's people in Lisbon that both Sally and Trowa were safely aboard a Sweeper freighter bound for Montreal. Treize had contacted them to let them know they were aboard the mining satellite and beginning to set up operations. Heero and Une were still in Sanc, their departure time still unknown.
He chuckled mentally as he thought back to Heero's last call. Most people would have thought Duo would be the one to call the Japanese teen daily, but the opposite was the case. Heero called at least once a day... had actually called three times the previous day. The last time, Duo had left the comm shack shaking his head and mumbling curses and threats in frustration, the mildest being the threat to 'blow up the damned comm system if that over-protective, mother-henning, gorgeous imbecile called one more time...'
"Okay, Blondie! Power that baby up!" Howard's voice broke into his thoughts and the blond teen flipped the switch.
Sandrock's systems hummed and green lights flashed across the control panel.
"We're green, Howard!" Quatre shouted.
"Good!" the Sweeper boss replied. "Now, hit the stealth systems!"
Quatre complied and heard cheers from the floor.
"Perfect! Okay, kid, power down and haul your butt down here!" Howard shouted again. "Since your baby is now finished, we can use your help on Deathscythe. Make it fast, kid!"
The blond shut the suit down, rode the guide wire to the floor and jogged to Howard's side in front of Duo's suit.
"What do you need me for?"
"I need you to get my brat outta that cockpit for lunch," Howard grumbled. "He's been working since dawn and won't come out."
Quatre laughed. "Hiding from Heero?"
"Ya think? I'm telling you kid, if Yuy calls today, I may rip out the comm systems myself!"
"Hey Howie!" one of the mechanics yelled, holding up a phone, "You got a call here!"
Quatre nearly choked on a laugh as the Sweeper boss growled and shook a fist. "Take a message, dammit! Can't you see we're busy, here? Tell Yuy that this is ridiculous! He knows the Kid is fine! Why does he -"
"Ah, boss, it's not Heero... It's a scrambled line from our freighter Northern Light..."
"Oh, right," Howard mumbled sheepishly. "I'd say that call is for you, Blond -"
Howard's voice cut off as he noticed that Quatre was no longer beside him, but running across the large hangar towards the phone.
"I'm not sure which is worse," Treize murmured, leaning into Zechs with a sigh, "being apart from Wufei and being unable to contact him, or being separated and able to contact him..."
"Well, at least we can talk to him," Zechs pointed out. "We know they're all right."
"True," the ginger-haired man replied, squeezing his hand. "But it also seems to make the separation even more painful. Marie looked well and happy, didn't she?" he added, switching topics abruptly.
"You expected something else, with everyone there making a point to make this situation as easy as possible for her?"
Treize chuckled slightly. "No, I guess not. But a small part of me was hoping she'd miss me as much as I miss her."
Zechs kissed his lover and smiled.
"She does miss you, Treize," he said, "but they're keeping her so busy she hasn't consciously noticed it. You should be grateful - "
"I am, I am," Treize cut in, almost apologetically. "I'm sorry, Zechs. I'm just out of sorts. We're stuck out here on this isolated satellite and nearly out of the loop. I feel useless. I'm getting frustrated..."
"I know how you feel. In fact, I'd say everyone here feels the same. Remember, this is just temporary. Once everyone else is in place, we'll start moving again. Maybe we should take the chance to relax a bit while we can, since things will be getting hectic again soon."
"You do have a point, my dear Lightning Count," Treize grinned. "What do you think of a little R and R?"
The blond pilot laughed out loud, kissing his lover quickly before pulling away and rising.
"I think that would be an excellent idea. However, aren't we expecting a call from Sanc?"
"Yes, we are. However, we have..." Treize glanced at his watch, then grinned. "We have two hours before that..."
Zechs smirked, and led the other man out of the control room.
"Sabres or foils?"
Heero and Une stood back and watched impassively as Noin practically danced in place, watching the last of three mobile suit carriers set down and taxi into the hidden hangar. She turned to them with a large grin on her face as the ships finally stopped and began to shut down their engines. "He's here! Finally I've been looking forward to seeing him again!"
"And he brought some friends even better," Une said, arching an eyebrow and brushing an imagined piece of lint from her spotless uniform. It was Noin's idea that the two OZ officers meet their new recruits in full uniform. Heero was trying hard not to twitch at the thought.
The cockpit door of the first plane opened, and Heero watched, curious, as a tall young man with dark hair and eyes jumped out and began issuing orders almost immediately. The officer had his troops in order in an admirably short amount of time, mustered in front of the three planes that, one had to assume, held their suits.
They could hear him as the last few pilots slipped into formation and stood at attention. "Very good! Lieutenant Noin will be here very soon, and she'll be very pleased " Heero cocked an eyebrow at the man's accent was that Welsh? Or Scottish? Trowa would have known.
"Wilde! You're finally here!" Noin yelled.
The man pivoted and smiled as he returned Noin's wave, but his jaw fell open comically as he truly looked behind her. Not only was Colonel Une, herself, standing there, but just behind them
Wing Gundam gleamed in the low lights of the hangar.
Wilde pointed up at Wing confusedly. "When did you get an upgrade, Noin, and where can I get one, too?"
She laughed and darted forward, returning his salute before she hugged the flabbergasted man. "Oh, it's not mine, though the pilot has been kind enough to let me into the cockpit. I think you'll like him."
"A Gundam pilot "
"Captain Wilde, very nice to see you again," Une said, stepping forward.
He saluted her automatically. "Ma'am! I didn't know you would be here personally "
"It wasn't planned, Wilde, though it has proved to be amusing, to say the least. Welcome to Sanc," Une replied with a salute of her own.
"His Excellency "
Noin interjected, "General Kushrenada is just fine. Wasn't his broadcast something else?"
"Almost enough to make me like the tea-spilling Yank who wrote the Declaration, to begin with," Wilde replied with a smooth smile of his own. His eyes darted to where Heero leaned nonchalantly against the leg of his Gundam. "Good afternoon, sir. You must be the pilot of that baby."
"Hn," Heero replied, not too sure what he thought about hearing his Gundam called a 'baby.' "I'm Heero Yuy, nice to meet you."
The two shook hands, and Wilde's eyes went slightly wider at the strength of Heero's grip. "Captain Timothy James Wilde at your service. I always hoped I'd meet one of you."
Une snickered slightly. "If you're truly unlucky, you just might meet all of them."
"All of " Wilde gawked openly at the three people before him. "Okay, I hope showing up with this many suits and men means that I get to hear the story, because I have a feeling it's a good one."
"A very good one, and yes," Noin responded warmly, though she caught the look of alarm in Heero's eyes as she said it. She gave him a small nod of her head. I won't say too much, but they deserve to know something.
He nodded back and stepped forward. "Let's get those Leos unloaded and safely hidden away "
"How'd you know we're carrying Leos?!"
Heero smirked. "Air speed and trajectory, plus the number of men, you do the math." He walked towards the assembled pilots.
Wilde stared at Heero's retreating back. "That guy whoa."
"You don't know the half of it, I assure you," Une commented, watching as Heero neatly took charge. "Move out, soldier!"
"Yes, ma'am!" He turned and hurried after Heero, boot heels clicking on the pavement.
Noin and Lady Une exchanged looks as Dorothy's semi-weekly call to her grandfather was routed through yet another satellite signal. The darker-haired woman frowned. That many cut outs means he must be off-planet by now. Zechs, I really hope you're being careful up there!
Dorothy shot the two a look of caution as the call finally went through, silently warning them to be silent.
On-screen, Duke Dermail smiled benignly at Dorothy. "My darling girl! Are you enjoying your stay in Sanc?"
Dorothy rolled her eyes theatrically. "Do you have any idea what I'm going through for you? They made me sit through a class on the proper etiquette of a reception ceremony for a peace summit! Do you have any idea how bored I was?!"
Noin smirked, but managed not to laugh. The idea of Relena trying to teach proper etiquette to anyone was Well, it was ridiculous!
Dermail shook his head sadly. "Think of it as being the same etiquette you'd use for our New Romefeller, when all is ready, dear girl. It can't be that bad "
"She has a bright pink limousine, grandfather. And she made me ride in it with her," Dorothy moaned. "It is the single, most hideous piece of machinery ever to be built."
It was all true in fact, Relena had offered Heero a ride, too. It was hard to say whose reaction had been the more memorable, Dorothy's or his!
The blond girl shot a serious look at the vidscreen. "Miss Relena is completely clueless. I almost feel bad for these people she calls her 'subjects.' When we do actually come in here and take it over, she's going to fold to us like a house of cards."
"She has no defences, then?" Dermail asked, interestedly.
Dorothy shook her head. "A set of personal bodyguards, to be certain, but Relena is too dedicated a pacifist to even begin to form up any kind of armed defence force. Her personal guard would fight for her to the death, though."
"Indeed." Dermail's eyes twinkled. "Well, that is good news. Though I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave you there for a bit longer. We have ah, switched objectives, for the moment."
"What?"! Dorothy exclaimed, eyes wide. "Grandfather! That's cruel, and you know it!"
He laughed. "You were always such the little dramatist, my dear! Do calm yourself. I said a little longer, but not much. If you must know, I am in space right now, trying to deal with the remnants of your thrice-damned cousin Treize's influence. These pathetic fools don't realise they're cut off from anyone who could help them. They've taken the space fortress Barge, and I'm afraid we can't just let them have it."
"But grandfather "
He smiled again. "There can only be one power in the Colonies, dear girl, and when the construction is done there won't be a spaceship out here that could resist us. A shame Treize turned out to be against us I hate wasting resources like this. Regrettable, but it must be done."
Dorothy shook her head. "Grandfather, you can't possibly mean you're going to attack Barge?! Its cannons will take out any force you send in before they can get within their strike radius."
He shook his head. "You forget the mobile dolls, my dear. Faster and more precise than human pilots, and utterly expendable. If Barge stands against us, it must be destroyed."
"I had forgotten about the dolls, yes," Dorothy said, looking thoughtful. "Should I be expecting to hear about the attack soon, then?"
"Soon enough, my dear, but it's best not to say," Dermail replied. "I do not trust that your cousin would not try and listen in on our communications, if he could find you."
Dorothy's eyes glinted. "He will get nothing from me, I swear it!"
"I know, my girl, I know. That's why you're my favourite granddaughter, after all." Dermail's eyes darted offscreen for a short moment. "I'm afraid I need to cut this off, though. Be careful, my dear, and do stay close to the Princess, should something happen. I don't want to hear that you've come to any harm."
"I'm always careful, grandfather," Dorothy replied, nodding her head. "I hope to see you soon."
"Of course you do. Tata!" The screen blanked out.
No sooner had the screen gone blank than Dorothy was out of her seat and pulling the two older women from the room. "We need to warn Barge they won't stand a chance against a fleet of dolls unless they're prepared "
Une shook her head. "No we need to do better than that. We need to back them up." Her eyes took on a steely glint. "Heero and I will be leaving shortly. Having a Gundam in the mix will undoubtedly help. I'm not a half-bad pilot myself, either."
Noin shook her head. "We can't get you launched safely right now someone will be watching us, I guarantee you."
Une smiled darkly. "You won't need to worry about that, Noin. All we need you to do is to pilot us to within striking distance of a nearby base with a catapult launch. You can keep the 'Buddy' here. If Heero can get us onto that base, we can launch ourselves fairly easily, with no connection to you."
"We need to warn Treize, too," Dorothy commented, clasping her hands together. "There might be something he can do."
"Let's hope so," Une said darkly.