She rises from her desk, and goes to the window. It is morning. The half-light illumines the shrubs and the walkways, giving them a sense of patient waiting for those who will use them. A peace that only ever comes in the pre-dawn hours. It calms her; she breathes, as if to take it in.
She is not tired. There is too much to be done, too little time to even begin being tired.
She checks her mental schedule. Her mother will be flying in just after breakfast. Maybe she will have time to meet her at lunch, before the afternoon interview. That will be good; Relena misses her.
She's at a tea party her mother is holding. She's three, and her dress is yellow, and the memory has been handled so many times that it's nearly see-through.
She's learned how to smile for her mom's guests, to say "How do you do," and repeat their names, but she remembers glancing up after she's no longer being called on to perform, and seeing her mother being watched by every face instead.
She's a little jealous— that's her mother, not theirs (but quiet, quiet, this isn't a place she can tell them that) — but mostly she's caught by how when her mother speaks, everyone listens, even the ladies who ignored Relena earlier.
It'll be a few more years before she knows what her mother actually does (ex-speech writer, politician's wife), but by the time she does she'll already know the power of a clear and confident voice, and the importance of being able to make people listen to your cause.
The morning is taken up working on her interview questions, studying new dissenting opinions, talking to the L5 ambassador. She finds the time to go back to the hotel, though, to meet her mother in the restaurant for lunch. (There's press, but her security detail has shuffled them far enough away that they can eat in peace.)
Her mother's face brightens when she sees Relena; she clasps Relena's hands in hers, and kisses her cheek. It's more dignified than any private greeting, yet it's utterly familiar.
It's a quick lunch; her interview is at 3, and the makeup detail want her there by 2, but they spend the time talking about her cousins, and her mother's philanthropic work, and for those brief 40 minutes Relena is something like comfortable.
"I want you to know," her mother says, before she has to leave, "that I think you're the most effective battering ram I've seen."
Relena laughs, not really sure what to say. On the ride to the interview, though, she leans her face against the warmth of the plexiglass and smiles. It's just like her mother to think 'I'm proud of you' isn't enough – but Relena thinks she likes her designation just as much.
"And make sure to talk to Teresa," her mother says, standing against the door organizing papers while Relena packs for a summer program at school. "Her mother says she's been having a rough time of it."
Relena folds a shirt. "Do you think--," she starts, before falling silent for a long moment. "What if she doesn't want to talk to me? I haven't really been a good friend." Too caught up in school, in the familiarity of people she's already bonded with, not noticing the girl who's quietly falling back and not telling anyone her brother's dying.
"Oh, sweetheart." She looks up and her mother's watching her, careful and fond. "None of us are always good friends. Make some time to be one now. I think, maybe, she just needs someone she can be happy with."
"All right," she says, blinking fast and tucking the shirt into the suitcase. "All right."
She's glad for the quiet of the makeup room, the ritual of 'lift your eyebrows' and 'say ah,' which should make her feel ridiculous but instead feels like a support. As she reacts instinctively to the nearly silent instructions of the makeup artist, she listens closely to the coaching of her PR advisor, Daniel Valles.
"Remember," he says, at the end, "they don't need to know how, they need to know why."
He and experience have prepared her well; the first part of the interview rolls like a hundred others before. But she can feel the coiling in her arms as they get close to the topics that haven't been worn down with repetition, the topics that still resonate strong in her chest so that she can hear the beat counterpoint to her heart.
Finally the question gets asked that she's been anticipating, and she breathes out.
"Yes," she says, smiling to the interviewer. "We've developed a revised set of goals with the government of L5, to help them recover from the damage inflicted on their home and people."
"What do you say to those who protest that L5's independence means they're responsible for their own colony? This government is not the one that went to war with them."
The interviewer's voice is calm, polite, like she's asking after Relena's day. Relena feels the pounding in her heart, and tries to wrap it into her speech. "We cannot pretend," she says, careful, "that our past does not exist. Even though our name is different, we – I am still a citizen of Earth, still someone who benefited from L5's loss. We must remember that this is no longer a competition, no longer a war – the longer L5 suffers from our lack of action, the longer we suffer as well."
After it happens, everything is a blur, and it feels – it feels like Relena's never going to have her footing again, like the bomb is going to echo through every part of her life until there's nothing but the aftermath of an explosion.
When she comes home, she finds her mother wordless, and while she's so relieved that she's still alive – so relieved that she can pull her close, and curl up together on the couch – she can't help but feel like this is almost worse. Somewhere she assumed her mother would be a safe haven, untouched in the explosion, unrocked. With the right words in her mouth and the steady calm always in her hands.
But there are no safe havens in this storm.
She can't sleep. She should be able to sleep; the interview is over. She has meetings tomorrow, but she always has meetings. There's breathing space in the L5 issues, for now. Polls are overall positive; there's been favorable feedback on her performance. That's what her media rep told her. She doesn't have the time to watch for the results herself.
It's not strange, though. She's not sure if adrenaline or stress is to blame, but she spends so many nights when she doesn't need to be awake feeling as if there are papers she should be going over, developing new ways to explain the implications of peace.
Her mother knocks from the next room over, and Relena tells her to come in, not getting up from where she's sitting on her bed. Her mother walks in with a mug of herbal tea, and sits next to Relena, pressing the mug into her hands. Relena drinks, automatically, the heat soaking through her body.
Her mother rubs her back in light circles, comforting, and Relena sighs into the mug. When the tea is almost gone, she lets herself lean against her.
When she was young, she fell off the play set. She fell, and she broke her leg. It was a clean break, and she didn't have to wear a cast long, but to her it felt like forever. It made her so angry, not being able to run, not being able to climb.
"Darling," her mother says, both serious and fond. "Sometimes you need to accept your limitations."
"But I don't want to," Relena replies, feeling this unjust. She thinks of Plato, and says, "Every obstacle is only an illusion," and feels she has made her point.
Her mother smiles the smile of someone whose child knows more theory than fact; patient, and proud, and humoring. "Think of it as an investment," she says, a word that Relena is fond of these days – she's ten, and opened her first savings account on her birthday the month before, has started to work with her father on the beginnings of a stock portfolio. "Put your energy into letting your body heal, now, and it will support you in your endeavors later."
So Relena sighs, and lays back in the grass with her head on her mother's leg, and listens drowsily to the words her mother speaks, carding her fingers through Relena's long hair. She tells her stories of enemies who learn to understand each other, and become friends. Of girls who save their nations; of boys who find and soothe the pains inside of their friends' hearts.
Her mother doesn't leave her side. Relena sleeps; she rests.
Soon, again, it will be morning.