A Boarding School Facade - by Jooles*
Chapter 5.4 [the last part to a Christmas Interlude]
Heero had been surprised at how up front Relena had been about the evening. He’d been pondering just exactly how he would approach Relena with his questioning and had instead been greeted by her admission of actually wanting to talk to him.
Of course he was eager to listen. Relena was making his task a hell of a lot easier to complete by actually being up front and motioning to talk to him.
Heero moved away from the shaded in gray wall that he’d been leaning against. Relena stood by a window near the fire exit Zechs Merquise and Une had retreated from not too long ago. The dim lighting captured the fragility and the significance of the moments careening down upon them. Relena may have been a slight wisp of a thing, but her strength and will of character suggested a personality mountains more substantial. She wanted to tell him her life story; her life according to that of a mere palm reading. She wished she could and it was the wishing the compelled her to almost do so. Yet something held her back. And that was her reluctance to give up the life she’d grown accustomed to.
Relena liked being anonymous. Sure she didn’t like how she couldn’t always achieve at her full potential for fear of being singled out and eventually figured out. But she liked how she could get up in the morning without worrying about making a speech in front of thirty thousand people. She reveled in days and nights that passed over one into the other, completely and utterly seamless. Relena felts as though her formative years had been made all worth the while with the friendships she had to rely on and the companionship, loyalty and unrelenting love of her foster family.
These were the sort of things she’d grown accustomed to. And although she’d wanted to protect and see to the needs of the kingdom she was expected to inherit she couldn’t bring herself to anticipate or even slightly entertain the thought of being a ‘princess’ once again.
“What about?” Heero’s inquiring interrupted Relena’s own night-lingering meandering.
“Excuse me?” Relena shook her head not quite aware of what Heero was asking of her.
“What do we need to talk about?” Heero asked her, wanting her to explain to him as clearly and dead-pan like as possible just exactly what was going on. Although he already had a fair idea of the underlying turbulence shielded beneath the festive happenings that evening.
Relena gazed out the windowsill looking as though she were still looking at her brother and Une’s retreating forms. Instead she was studying the condensation-sheered window pane, avoiding meeting Heero’s probable glare. She assumed that he was glaring at her. He did spend more than half of the time doing so. And the way he glared in an ironically relaxed way made Heero Yuy’s famous death glare all the more hypocritical. After all he’d attained a minor achievement in that he’d managed to make a cold, calculated morbid glare a completely natural facial expression. And that was the kind of achievement that just happened to impress country girls . . . well even Relena was impressed and she wasn’t the original country hick girl. She had been born and raised (for the first seven years of her life) in Cinq’s capital city.
“The night has made me forget...” Relena told Heero cryptically while trailing a mindless pattern on the pane of the window.
Heero gazed at the girl before him. She really were a young woman but the moonlight and stars outside and above them gave Relena a Wendy affect. It seemed as though she’d been reduced to being ten years younger while at the same time still being able to achieve that responsible need-to-do-whatever-was right that was a pinnacle aspect of her personality. And an aspect Heero thoroughly admired.
Relena looked up at Heero seeming to have remembered something. “I do want to talk to you Heero... and explain what this,” she gestured towards the fire exit Une and Zechs had exited from, “this is all about.” She smiled skeptically at him, a half smile that seemed to be an effort to put on. “But I need to cover for Une and.... I doubt if you’re ready to know the truth yet.”
It was all Heero could do to stop himself from leaning over and physically stopping Relena from leaving him in the dark. He wanted to stop her, shake her, tell her that ‘he knew’, that he’d known for awhile, and that he didn’t care.
Then he wanted to lean over, kiss her thoroughly, and then hopefully drag the truth out of her.
He was on a mission.
Relena smiled at Heero before working her way away from their remarkably close-position beside the window pane. Heero watched her exit from the window baring no emotion.
Before she’d exited completely, Relena turned around and lifted her hand as though she were going to wave at him. But seeing the expression on Heero’s face stopped her gesture. Instead she smiled that smile he would never get sick of seeing, the one she seemed to use for him only. “Night Heero...and Merry Christmas.” She said before leaving him in the dark and empty room by himself. Alone to ponder when exactly things got so difficult. The job wasn’t meant to be so complicated. Just a simple spy on girl, identify girl, eventually kill the identified girl type of job. Relena Dorlian had changed that. It was as though he was reassessing his outlook on life and had utterly no control over it.
And for some strange, undeterminable reason he wanted to let go....and lose control.
The night had succumbed a thing or two for Relena. She’d found that her instincts regarding Une had been spot on. She’d reunited briefly with her brother. Quatre and Hilde had given her a much loved first edition Salinger novel. And Heero and she had almost had a moment.
Life was as good as it could be... although it could have been better.
She’d left Heero beside the window where she’d watch Milliardo and Une retreat to do the unknown. She had almost told Heero the truth and she had resolved to eventually do so. But she’d remembered just as she’d resolved to let Heero in on the truth that up until thirty minutes ago Une had been kept the Winner Christmas Party running smoothly. Now with Une gone Relena had to cover for her.
And Heero had had that funny glint in his eye that made Relena rethink telling him right at that particular moment. She wanted to cement their ‘friendship’ a smidgen more before endangering him with her secret. And she wanted him to be able to trust him enough so as to actually tell her his own secret. Whatever it was.
So Relena headed back to the party anticipating a mountain of dishes and not being able to hit the hay until some ungodly hour. And she’d thought she might be exempt this Christmas.
Not a chance.
Well at least she’d get a sleep-in in the morning. It was Christmas and if you couldn’t sleep in on Christmas morning, when could you sleep in?
Relena had waved at Duo and Hilde as she passed them on her way to the kitchen. Hilde looked to be having a genuinely good time. Actually they all did. Even Wufei, who as she’d noted before generally always looked pissed. But the pulling tug of Christmas enthusiasm and the benefit of attending a ‘big bash’ were contagious. Her usually austere-like friends had been softened out for the evening... Strangely enough they all looked a little relaxed. Relena was anything but relaxed. And after the evening she’d had she was almost glad that there was no chance of heading home early. She had much to think about, analyze and plan for.
Seeing Milliardo had been quite weird. They didn’t look alike anymore. He was tall, blonde, masculine and hardened looking. He hadn’t told her anything of what his childhood had ended up being like. Only that it had been relatively painless, but he hadn’t been raised in the family environment she had. So although he had grown up to seem just fine and dandy, Relena had been able to tell that he had had a childhood without the love of a substitute parent or sibling to help heal old wounds. He hadn’t had a Frankie. Nor had he had an Elana. The Dorlian’s didn’t have much money, and they had to work for every cent that they earned, but they were happy. Happiness was a possibility for anyone when there was a family to support and love you, and a home (no matter how small and downtrodden it was) to retreat to in times of need. So even though Relena’s childhood had been one where money was a constant worry she had had the unrelenting love of Frankie and Elana. They supported her, loved her and cared for her as though she were their very own blood daughter. They were the best type of foster parents in that she had always felt as though she really were apart of the family, as though she belonged. And it was that belonging that was so very important to a person. Relena had gotten the feeling that Milliardo hadn’t found a place to belong to in his travels since leaving the Cinq Kingdom. Judging from the determination that etched his very features Relena gathered that the Cinq was the only place he felt he could and did belong. Maybe that was why he was so determined, so set on returning to the Cinq Kingdom and taking over a kingdom he had been preordained to inherit.
Relena didn’t feel the same way about the Cinq Kingdom. She did want to return there. Especially with the rioting getting worse and the political triangle and between-the-lines feuding going on with the many hostile factions warring for a major position as ruler of the Cinq Kingdom. Romefellar still had a large percentage of control over the kingdom, but that control was waning as Cinq’s citizens grew restless. After years of having their rights virtually ignored by Romefellar the Cinq people were beginning to resist. Romefellar’s governing of the Cinq Kingdom would have been a lot smoother if they had been user-friendly. Relena did want to return to the Cinq Kingdom, the nation of her birth and the nation with her family history and where she supposed she should have felt most akin to. The only thing was that Relena enjoyed anonymity. Growing up in the Dorlian household had allowed Relena to dream and make plans for a relatively normal life. Her inhibitions had been to plan to do well in school, get into university and become a lawyer, diplomat.... someone who could make a difference without being too public. Talking, arguing, soothing differences, mediating.... those were the sort of things Relena excelled at. And while doing stacks of dishes in the back sink of the Dorlian Diner’s kitchen Relena had dreamed soap-sudded dreams of an adult hood filled with the challenges of a career, a boyfriend to boot and money as an accessory. She’d planned for things to be sweet. Not that they weren’t at present. It was just that she liked being anonymous and having the freedom to make plans for a future she knew she couldn’t have.
Dreams were only dreams though. And Milliardo’s appearance that evening had pulled Relena out of that reverie. The reality was that the day was upon the siblings when they would make a bid for the Cinq Kingdom, their homeland and kingdom by right. If things went well (which Relena doubted they would), Milliardo would take his place as King of the Cinq Kingdom, while Relena would dabble along supporting her brother as Princess of the nation. She’d have no freedom. She’d become merely a pawn in her brother’s bid for politics. He was so determined to retake the Cinq Kingdom that he hadn’t seemed to work out what sort of role Relena would have in the retaking of the kingdom. Relena assumed that she’d be stuck going to a great many galas, dinners, lunches, brunches, meetings, charities, dances, balls, and other events that would show her support of her brother. Milliardo had said something cryptic that Relena had translated as his assuming that she’d act as his supporter. He’d retake the kingdom, fix what was wrong with it, and from there take further steps to improve the kingdom. Relena would act as his supporter, and since she seemed to be the more diplomatic of the two siblings, she would make a point of getting her brother’s policies across. Whatever those policies were deemed to be. Relena wasn’t sure if she wanted to spend the rest of her teenage years working to put her brother in power. She wasn’t too sure if he was even suited to being in such a powerful rule. He did have a strong personality, Relena credited him with that. But was it the right type of ‘strong’ that was suited to ruling a nation? She wondered what Pagan’s view on the siblings and what sort of rule they should exert on their former home country was. He’d always had an affinity with both the siblings and had supported them in an equally paternal way. Had Milliardo included Pagan in his planning?
Relena sighed. Things were so damn complicated. And if the siblings were going to carry on down the path of what could only be deemed a coup d'état then they had to learn to get on with each other without being able to practically breathe the tension so evidently there in their reunion earlier on that evening.
For now Relena could only ponder the future... until it happened there was nothing she could possibly do except wait and sit tight.
Funny then that Relena’s version of ‘sitting tight’ involved a mountain load of dishes to do and a party to clean up. Now that was real life. And it was that kind of ‘real life’ that Relena enjoyed, despite the plainness, hardships, and ordinariness of it. The ordinariness of her life was a facade. Everything was a facade... and Relena enjoyed the facade. It was safe.
The party didn’t go on as late as Relena had estimated it would. The last guests had left the place in an overly drunken stupor around two o’clock that Christmas morning. Sleepy greetings of Merry Christmas had been affirmed amongst the remaining staff working on the catering that evening. Relena was of course amongst that group. She hadn’t seen any sign of her friends, Elana or Heero after leaving Heero near the fire exit earlier on in the evening. She’d crawled into her bed in her tiny bedroom above the Dorlian Diner around three o’clock Christmas morning and had slept heavily on through the ceremonial present opening downstairs. Elana had dragged Relena out of what had been a pleasant sleep with dreams filled with cobalt blue eyes, dark brown hair and soft pale lips pressing against her skin. Now that dream had been a ‘Merry Christmas’!
Elana had eventually persuaded Relena to get up and had obscurely implied that instead of heading down to the kitchen in her cheap flannel checkered pajamas, that getting changed would be a very good idea indeed. And there was the small matter of stinking of a mixture of tobacco and sweat from last night’s minor feat of managing the Christmas party after Une had left. A shower was definitely called for.
Groaning, Relena rolled out of bed and squinted when she found a plainly wrapped in rich red box. Now the present was definitely a surprise. Elana and Frankie always gave Relena her present whenever it was that she finally decided to show herself. They had a thing about presenting a present to the receiver in person and when they were actually awake and held the receiver’s full attention. Which was in Relena’s case, her half-awakened state of half-attentiveness.
Relena shrugged. She’d be an air head to have something against being given a present, especially one delivered right to the edge of her bed. Pulling the box into her arms Relena climbed back into the warmth of her bed. It was still snowing out and heat could only be found either under the covers of her thickly woolen blankets or downstairs in the Diner’s kitchen where the oven and stove were sure to be roaring. “What do we have here?” Relena said quietly to herself, filling the empty silence in what was a tiny bedroom. She ripped the wrapping off of the present, not bothering to savour the surprise and anticipation that should have come with opening an unexpected gift. “Oh my...”
It was a bear. A teddy bear. The kind of present a ten year old expected to receive. But for a young woman to receive... well it was certainly different. The kind of gift that a teenage boy would give his crush on Valentine’s Day. But for Christmas.... now that was special. It was a fluffy brown bear, caramel in colour and with a velvety deep red bow tied classically around its neck. Two shiny black beaded eyes reflected the look of surprise marring Relena’s no-longer sleepy face. She lifted the bear to her face smelling a mixture of the mustiness that came with owning an antiquity-made teddy bear and also a faint trace of a men’s brand of after shave. Relena couldn’t put her finger on what exactly it smelt like, maybe Sandalwood... or was it more like ginger. Sighing Relena gave up using her nose as a means of figuring out who the gift had come from. Instead she did what she should have done in the first place and looked for a card.
And a card she found. Although she could just as easily have missed it. The gift-giver had done a good thing of concealing the tiny piece of cardboard. Turning it over in her hands, Relena contemplated the opening of it before actually opening it. Maybe it was Heero. Maybe her dreams of cobalt blue eyes and dark brown hair and the soft press of a certain anti-social young man’s lips hadn’t been what she thought they had been, just dreams. Maybe he had been in her bedroom after all. Relena quit tormenting herself and actually opened the card.
She wasn’t to be disappointed.... Relena sighed a sigh of blissful relief. He had been there, in her room, beside her bed, near her sleeping form. Had she really dreamed that he’d kissed her? All had he just happened to drop a honey warm kiss onto her sleep-dazed but slightly aware brow. Touching where she’d dreamed him pressing his lips against her skin, Relena gently pushed her fingers against the top of her brow. Maybe it hadn’t been a dream after all...
And if it hadn’t, she had to thank Heero for not only the present, but also for the kiss that she hadn’t been in any state to agree to. Not that she had any problems with agreeing to kiss Heero Yuy. She would have liked to have been awake while doing so though.
Flopping back into the comforting cushions of her bed Relena found getting up that morning even more difficult.
Oh how she wish she’d been awake.... how she hoped the kiss had been real.....
She did eventually get up. Frankie had to bang on Relena’s bedroom door for several minutes before she sluggishly dragged herself out of the warmth and comfort of her bed and into the uncontrollable temperature that was the Dorlian family shower.
Plodding sluggishly down the stairs a long while after Frankie’s wake up call Relena was surprised to find her friends sitting around the Diner’s countertop while Elana and Frankie had all but disappeared.
“They’re cooking breakfast... although I think it’s more like brunch now!” Hilde explained from the stool she was sitting on beside the Diner’s counter. Duo was beside her. Relena eyed her two friends carefully. They looked thoroughly too cheerful.
“Merry Christmas to you too!” Relena said grumpily as she reached the last step of the stair case separating the diner from the Dorlian’s living area. “What are you all doing here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Duo raised his hands in mock-offense. “Hey no offense taken Lena. Your folks told us that you ended up working later then you had expected to. Something about the manager taking off.... or something like that?” He glanced at Quatre who Relena assumed had been told the full gist of the story. Well the half gist of the story which was that one of Une’s relatives was sick and dying in Canada. That was believable enough. And if it wasn’t, it was Relena’s best attempt with coming up with a covering lie while being under pressure to clean up the Winner festivities the evening before.
“It’s okay Duo. And I am tired....” Relena affirmed resisting a yawn.
“There there Relena... it’s only Christmas.” Hilde bantered, cheering her sleepy friend on.
“Oh yeah. Merry Christmas guys.” Relena said, pushing stray wisps of hair out of her eyes. Spotting Heero, Relena sported him a smile. He deserved a medal for the Christmas present and a trophy for the sweetly-dreamed but just perhaps real-life kiss. Unfortunately all that she had on her was a smile. She hoped that would do him.
Heero studied Relena from the end of the counter. She’d obviously gotten his Christmas present. And from the pretty blush staining her cheeks she’d liked it. Very much indeed. Hopefully the gift had broken the necessary ice and just maybe she now trusted him enough to tell him what she had almost told him last night.
“When’s brunch anyway?” Relena asked.
“Um... your folks went out back to cook it awhile ago. They said it wouldn’t be ready for awhile yet.” Duo said. “We’ve been sitting here for awhile now Lena. I’m kind of bored...”
“Want to take a walk then?” Hilde asked Duo. Relena raised an eyebrow. Was her friend propositioning her other friend in front of everybody. Hilde met Relena’s horrified gaze. “Not like that Relena! I meant everybody. Does everyone want to take a walk?”
Nobody was terribly eager to go for a walk. But then again, taking a walk seemed a lot more exciting then sitting around waiting for what seemed to be an imaginary brunch. So the group filed out of the diner in their own time. Relena couldn’t be bothered to let Elana and Frankie know that they’d left the premises. They’d figure it out eventually anyway.
“Hey Heero,” Relena called out to the boy who she’d come to the conclusion had only been in her room but a few hours ago. “Wait up for a minute will you?”
Heero paused at the Dorlian’s entrance. Funny how their roles in only a matter of moments had been reversed. Up until only moments ago he’d been the one who’d stop her in mid-stride. Now it was her, doing the same thing to him. And he’d accepted. Something nearly unheard of for him.
The others filed out the door, while Relena pulled on her pea coat. Heero stood beside the door waiting for her admission or was it omission?
“Thanks for the Christmas present Heero.” She said, pausing with the buttoning of the coat. “It meant a lot to me.”
Heero eyed her warily. She’d liked the bear He hadn’t been sure about it. But it had been what he felt symbolized his relationship with Relena... and as he was slowly coming to figure out, just what he wanted his relationship with Relena to be like.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Relena said, “But I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated the gift. Merry Christmas.” She leaned up to him, pressing her soft coral lips against his own soft skin. It wasn’t a sloppy peck on the cheek, but a lingering one with much feeling underlying the mere press of lips to cheek. And Heero’s cheek tingled. She’d left an invisible mark on his soul.
“Thank you again Heero.” Relena said quietly as she led the way out the door of the Diner to join their friends who’d long since left them behind.
Chapter ends... but is tbc!
Till next time,