Relena was a polite, well-bred lady, and did not look at people's crotches. Even when they wore skintight spandex shorts that seemed painted on and just a step away from full frontal nudity.
The stranger on the beach was so wiry, shoulders well-defined, tendons at the neck clearly visible. Rough hands. Short, unkempt hair. Big, ugly shoes.
So striking, though, and those intense eyes so full of mysteries she wanted to discover, so full of a strange purpose and a life she couldn't envision, and she was suffocating inside her own.
Later at school she recognized those wild beast eyes straight away, cruising amongst tamed herds that couldn't see past the camouflage to understand how alien, how out of place they were.
The girl had combed her hair some, added -- Relena presumed -- extensions to give the illusion of girlish locks tumbling to narrow shoulders. No makeup, no nailpolish, and the hair still looked like it would be rough to the touch, anything but sleek and fine.
The way she strode through the crowd of Relena's admirers wasn't feminine either, didn't roll her narrow hips. And Relena could have wondered if perhaps she wasn't a boy in disguise, after all, but for the small, budding breasts tenting that white blouse.
When Heero leaned in to wipe her tears and her vest gaped Relena saw the shadow of dark nipples through the linen.
The girl strode away, flat heels strangely silent on the tiles, skirt flowing after her, leaving behind a torn invitation and a promise of death and so many questions, so many mysteries, another world entirely.
Relena still wanted to discover her.
Duo was neither polite nor well-bred, so he knew pretty much straight away.
The palm of his Gundam was painted with blood. He picked up that too-light body, a jumble of tendons and bones that felt hollow, gathered it against his chest. Still breathing. The bandages under the tanktop seemed to have prevented some burns, though if they'd been there to protect an older injury he feared what he might discover.
Couldn't be that bad, if 01 had been fighting anyway. He walked out of the old underground parking he was hiding Heavyarms in, made his way to the circus, Catherine's trailer at the edge farthest from the public. She was there, waiting up with a cup of tea long gone cold, and when he came in she looked relieved first, and then pale and shocked.
"It's fine," he said. "I'll take care of it." And he went to his bedroom. Catherine hovered at his shoulder, hesitant.
"Are you sure? I could--"
"I just need hot water to clean the wounds and bandages." The rest -- heavy-duty antiseptics, tweezers for the shrapnel, and needles and thread to sew wounds closed -- he already had.
Catherine regained her nerve fast; circus training came with its share of accidents, Trowa was sure she'd seen worse. He deposed his armful on white sheets, and fished his hunting knife from his boot to start cutting blood-soaked cloth away.
Not a previous injury, then. He finished cutting tacky bandages away, wet them with the hot water Catherine had just brought back to loosen the crust keeping them stuck to wounds underneath.
"... Um," said Catherine over his shoulder. Trowa kept washing, hot water and then antiseptics, methodically counting broken bones and the likely cracks under dark, messy hair.
He picked up the thread and needle. "We're fellow pilots," he said quietly as he pierced the skin. "I'll do it."
He looked up, gave a wry quirk of his eyebrow. "... I'll be grateful if you can take over bedpan duties later."
Catherine looked her way up Heero's broken body, clad in blood and bruises, and up at him. And then she laughed at him, short and guilty for finding amusement from any of it, but real anyway, her shoulders relaxing noticeably. Trowa gave her a faint, 'It'll be alright' smile, and she sighed and nodded her acceptance. "Very well, but I'm afraid that means you'll have to go camping under the trailer. It'd be much too improper."
"Or you could trade your room for mine."
"Or you could sleep under the trailer." She gave him a mock-glare, voice too gentle for her words. "That's what you get for bringing home all those floozies."
Oh her way out she smoothed down Heero's hair softly, and flipped a corner of the sheets over her body, for modesty's sake. Trowa waited until she was gone and pushed it off. It was more for her modesty than either of the pilots'; he was pretty sure Heero wouldn't care he had seen her naked.
Miss Relena welcomed them in her office with the poise of an experienced school principal, or perhaps a princess. "On behalf of this Institution, I welcome you both on your admission," she said, and then smiled. Quatre smiled back; her expression, polite and controlled, reminded him of home and his passel of refined sisters, but there was sincerity underneath and so it wasn't hard to mean his own as well.
He wasn't surprised that she only had eyes for Heero, though. Dark, broody and mysterious, and they had apparently known each other for a little bit already. Perhaps she would soften his heart; Quatre's fellow pilot needed it, but also deserved it, more than anyone he knew.
"Haven't you received your school uniform yet?"
"I don't plan to stay long. Once I'm done here I'm leaving."
Quatre protested, of course, though it fell on deaf ears, of course. And then Relena proceeded to genteelly, soft-voicedly harpoon them with potential news of Trowa's whereabouts.
Harpoon Quatre, at least, because there was no way he was leaving now, but Heero...
Biting his lip, he listened -- Heero had proven resistant to Quatre's pleading but it seemed Relena had just the kind of patient stubbornness needed to go against his mule-headedness. In the end she won, and Quatre was amazed and yet not surprised at all.
He was a bit more surprised when, upon Heero's agreement, Relena proceeded to direct them to separate changing rooms, and then follow Heero into his.
Huh. Apparently they were farther in their acquaintance and didn't need as much intervention as he had thought. It made him smile, for a bit, before he started wondering about Trowa again. He came back out tying his cravat into a very proper knot, the gesture familiar, dredging up uncomfortable memories of galas and balls he'd never wanted to go to, and which now he regretted. If he could have spent more time with his father, even time spent politicking --
"--Heero, why are you in a skirt?"
Heero glowered at the white, frilly button-up shirt he was adjusting, bushy brows scrunched together. "... It's the uniform."
The skirt was off-white, long and full, pleated -- modest and feminine. Underneath Heero was wearing mary-janes and very proper little socks. Quatre stared some more in utter confusion. In the doorway behind Heero Relena was smiling indulgently. "It's cuter that way, isn't it?"
Fifteen years of deportment lessons were barely enough to come to the rescue in time to school his face when Heero looked up.
"I, ah, didn't know you preferred this one," he said, somehow managing politely interested instead of nonplussed.
"I don't," Heero grumbled back with his low, veiled voice, "but if we're staying here and attracting danger on her head we might as well guard her, and someone has to be able to follow her in the women's bathroom."
The disgruntlement in his voice hinted to Quatre that he was parroting a Relena argument, and not liking it much, but that he had not found a counter. Quatre blinked, fighting not to glance at Relena, lest she read on his face that he was now wondering whether blackmailing Heero into crossdressing was one of her hobbies.
Relena stepped up and handed Heero the hot pink, mutton-sleeved vest that went with the uniform, and when Heero put it on and buttoned it up Quatre really couldn't help staring this time, years of training or not. The vest was tailored to narrow at the waist and flare at the hips.
It was like an optical illusion. Without the vest, a plank in a skirt. With the vest, suddenly there were hips. And the eye looked for symmetrical flaring over the waist, of course, and ... and found it.
Barely there. But there.
"I'm sorry, I don't have hair extensions for you, but you know, a girl doesn't need long hair to be pretty. I think we can make do with an Alice band or a couple of hair clips."
"I don't want to be pretty," Heero growled, eyes narrowing.
"But you do need to blend in," Relena replied softly, "and the other girls will tease you. Wouldn't it be easier to just avoid the situation entirely?"
Heero's eyes narrowed like that had been a challenge. It was so normal that Quatre just... reacted, feeling strangely disconnected from the situation. "Also, your hair will be out of your eyes. Isn't that more practical?"
"... Fine. Hurry up."
Giggling, Relena shepherded them back to her office. "I don't believe I could talk you into a coat of nailpolish? ... No, I didn't think so." She turned to look at hi--the other person in a skirt, and her smile went all soft and gentle and private; Quatre blushed a little to see it. "Thank you, Heero."
Heero followed without a word and sat where directed and allowed Relena's hands to lift long bangs and comb them back, face set in stone. A very... androgynous face, really. One that could pass for a girl easily.
The brows might need some plucking first, to conform to current ideals, but even so...
Oh god, his brain. His eyes. Optical illusion. Squint one way, and this was Heero Yuy, Gundam Pilot extraordinaire, raw strength and explosive reactions bundled up in the most out-of-character attire imaginable. Squint another way and it was a girl, slender and poised, untouchable.
And yet, still intrinsically Heero.
Oh Allah; now he was wondering where Heero had stashed his -- her!? -- omnipresent gun. There didn't seem to be enough space under the tailored vest -- maybe at the small of her -- his? -- back?
Somewhere in that vast and mysterious space under the skirt?
He caught himself hoping she'd need to go for a weapon at some point. Maybe if she flashed the whole room grabbing for it he'd get to know for sure.
Nataku was silent.
Metal cooled with little pings as he stood there and listened to her, the normal sounds of a machine that had performed above expectations. There were repairs to make, of course, many, after such a battle.
Or maybe he'd leave them there, as a tribute.
Beside him Heavyarms stood empty, Barton gone to assist Winner; Maxwell stretched and made foolish faces at the end of the line. Behind him Wing rested, stuck in bird mode by all the damage it had taken. He heard the cockpit release and glanced back. Yuy had...
Yuy had won it all, for all of them, when all seemed lost. It would be disloyal to allow him to fall flat on his face.
But Yuy seemed to stand on his feet fine. Helmet tucked under an arm, he was tugging at his flight suit collar, opening it.
Wufei almost looked away at this point, since Yuy's little habits weren't any of his business, only there was a little frown like pain on his face, and then, when the zipper gave, something like relief.
And then there was cleavage.
Wufei almost gave himself a crick in the neck whipping his head around. It was reflex. Was that -- he must have hit his head, and now he was hallucinating.
Only then Maxwell whistled and jumped from his perch on Deathscythe's hatch, the low gravity floating him down until he was a mere couple steps away from Yuy. He bounced closer, threw an arm around Yuy's shoulders, casually resting his weight on -- on the other pilot (what the hell), and then tugged Yuy's tanktop forward and peeked in.
"Oho. Someone had a growth spurt. Did you go up a cup?" He glanced down again, looking quizzical. "Must have been cramped to fight for that long all squeezed in. You're gonna have to get another flight suit made, huh."
"If you offer to massage my breasts I will take it as an invitation to use Deathscythe for parts again."
"Whoa there, buddy!" Maxwell reared back, laughing yet looking faintly alarmed. "I wasn't gonna anyway but now I'm really not gonna. That's one expensive grope."
Barton touched down with Winner leaning hard on his shoulder. "You speak like you would actually get to put your hands on them first," he mused as he walked past; Quatre wheezed out a little laugh.
... Wufei must have knocked his head in the cockpit, and now he was unconscious and dreaming in the middle of a battle and he was going to get killed and lose, and his subconscious was punishing him for it.
"... Problem, Chang?"
And now he'd been caught staring. Hissing briefly between his teeth, he jumped off Nataku's hatch in turn. Maxwell was waiting a couple of steps back; he glared at him until he threw his hands up. "Jeez, okay. I'll go with Quatre. Catch up when you can," he invited casually as he left, and then Wufei was alone with Heero Yuy.
Yuy's flight suit was unzipped down to the last rib, or thereabout. The green tanktop underneath was the same as always. No bandages to be seen peeking underneath, though.
Just two modest, firm curves, pressed together -- framed -- by the edges of the tight, thick material of the suit.
He scanned her, trying to be objective. She was built like a gymnast, with no body fat to speak of and shoulders muscled by constant exercise. He understood how this would be enough to read as "slender boy"...
For a meeting, or two! Only it seemed he had gone the whole war without noticing, and without any of his fellow pilots seeing fit to mention it. It was hard not to feel like this was some sort of conspiracy, and he was the one the joke was on.
It was a silly matter, and yet he was surprised to realize it bothered him.
"... You're a woman."
The warrior he respected the most out of all his allies... his peer, physically stronger, more determined, more chivalrous than he was... was a woman.
Not much of one. But still.
"Yes," Yuy replied, with an eyebrow arched just a little, as if in vague surprise that Wufei hadn't known that already.
"But you --" he couldn't find words; he had to resort to waving his hand in vaguely the right direction. "Bulge."
"... Oh, that. Duo pointed it out, first time we met." A little shrug, eyebrows furrowed like she didn't get why Wufei even wanted to know. "Handkerchiefs. People bother me less that way."
He really should have shut up while he was ahead. Actually he should have shut up before he could ask inane, redundant questions his eyes could answer on their own already.
He had needed confirmation. Even right now he still felt like he needed confirmation. But if his eyes and his ears said the same thing he wasn't sure what other sense he could...
... Maxwell was putting thoughts in his head. He'd been around him too long.
He'd been around all of them too long, it was time to go, there was no reason to stay. Whether or not Yuy had fleshy bumps on his-or-her chest did not affect the fact that his battles were all fought and, and it was over and therefore time to leave.
With no more words coming, the discussion finished, Yuy started turning away, back toward her Gundam.
"Heero!" the Darlian girl called from the door, and bounced closer... were those shopping bags she was dragging along? Where on Earth had she found on either the Peacemillion or this old mining colony a...
... Victoria's Secret?
Oh, Ancestors. It wasn't a logical departure he was planning anymore, it was a desperate escape, and yet a kind of horrible fascination kept him anchored to the floor as Relena closed in.
It kept Yuy too; he could see that from the vaguely longing look she threw Wing's open cockpit, so close and yet so far.
"Aha! None of that. You promised. Hello, Mister Chang."
"I've thrown away your bandages anyway," Relena said in a low voice to his fellow pilot. "It's not good for your blood flow to bind so tight, and you'll give yourself nerve damage." A bright smile, and she leaned away from their intimate, almost forehead to forehead position and looked at Wufei. "I do hope you're not leaving anytime soon! I know you all won't want to see any cameras; we've managed to bar journalists from this place for at least until tomorrow, so you can be well-rested. We're having a celebration. I do hope you'll be staying?"
"I wasn't planning on it," he said, trying to sound firm. Relena blinked with a little too much innocence.
"But you haven't even showered?"
"Obviously I was going to shower first," he grumbled back.
"Might as well spend the night," Yuy said; Relena gave her a dimpling smile in approval.
Yuy slanted Wufei a familiar grumpy look, but one that looked oddly... foiled, and admitting it. On most people it wouldn't have counted as 'open', as showing anything much. On Yuy though...
"... She's making me wear a dress. Tomorrow."
Wufei felt the corners of his mouth quirk up of their own volition. "Well. In that case."
He didn't know why he'd said it, he should have taken it back the second it left his mouth. The other pilots were only peers by circumstances, and those circumstances were over, and it was no use prolonging it another day.
He... might want to. Or not mind it, at least. If he was wanted back.
Winner would still be injured; Wufei doubted he'd exert himself. He would be a quiet presence. (Wufei wouldn't mind having an update on how serious those stab wounds were, either.) Maxwell would curb himself to spare him. It might be nice, an island of silence. Barton would be there with his quietly biting comments...
Yuy would be there with her breasts.
... Her dress.
He was, he had to admit, disastrously, morbidly curious. He could not possibly keep his mind properly somber while paying his respects to all his deceased ancestors if he kept wondering how horribly wrong it was going to look.
"I'll decide tomorrow morning," he lied, so he wouldn't look too easy. Yuy snorted at him.
He waved goodbye and ambled off, leaving them alone together -- and he would have assumed a tryst only yesterday, with the small part of his brain that gave a damn, only...
(Well, maybe it was still a tryst, thought the small, much squashed part of his brain that was fifteen year old and refused to die off. But anyway.)
It wasn't like he still didn't know women could be brave (Meiran had been,) could be resourceful and cool-headed under pressure (Sally was,) could grab an ideal and run with it to the finish line (Relena did.)
Through his own cultural biases meant he tended to see them as exception.
Heero Yuy wasn't an exception. She was in a category all of her own, with all those qualities and then that unnatural physical strength, that willingness to endure pain and grit her teeth and force through, to live and live and live despite everything.
The same person she'd been a hour ago. A mind that saw the world at a slight angle from the rest of them, yet went straight to the point, didn't trip itself up in doubts and well-meaning social lies. Strength and bravery and ideals, hard-won skills, things he could respect, in degrees he could admire.
And cleavage. By the way.
(He was allowed to admire that, too, wasn't he?)