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October 20, 2008
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Author's note: I do not own Gundam Wing or its characters. This is AU.

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                                           Of Royal Weddings

Zechs Marquise, Commander in Chief of the Sanc Kingdom Armed Forces, sipped his tea and attempted to pay attention to the meeting. Technically, he wasn’t here in his official capacity. No, he was here as his Royal Highness, Prince Milliardo Emrys Stephan Zechs Peacecraft of the Sanc Kingdom. Despite the fact that he had abdicated his right to the throne when years ago and was quite happy with his position as military commander for the kingdom, the Royal Council continued to try and involve him in politics.

“While Crown Princess Relena’s betrothal has alleviated many of the public’s concerns, neither her wedding nor coronation can take place until after her eighteenth birthday next year. However, even though you are no longer heir to the throne, your marriage to a young lady of quality would be a great boost to the population’s morale.”

He bit back a sigh. His younger sister was currently engaged to her primary bodyguard, Heero Yuy. The council hadn’t been happy about the fact that Yuy had no noble blood what so ever, but between the couple’s own stubbornness and Zechs’ own vocal support of the match, there wasn’t much they could do. Zechs wasn’t entirely pleased about his baby sister getting married, but at least with Heero she was safe and happy. The only problem was that now Relena was off the market the council had set its sight on getting him to the alter.

“We’ve put together a list of three women who would be highly acceptable: Duchess Catalonia, Lady Noventa, and Dame Barton.” Duke Durmail smiled at him. “Any of those three would make a most suitable wife. There are a number of events in the next two months that should give you a chance to pick and court one of them.”

“No.” Well, that got their attention. Zechs kept a calm façade in place despite all the interesting faces the council was now making. “First of all, none of those three would make suitable wives for me. Dame Barton clearly would not be happy as the wife of a general while Duchess Catalonia would end up trying to take over my position with the military. Lady Noventa holds a grudge against my future brother-in-law because he never returned her interest.”

Durmail blinked. “And secondly?”

Zechs smiled. “Like my sister, I am set on having a marriage built on mutual affection as well as a strong partnership. If you’ll excuse me, I have another meeting I need to attend.”

He rose from his seat and swept out the door. Once he had gotten far enough from the council chamber that he couldn’t be called back, Zechs slumped against the wall, running a hand through his hair. He had enough on his plate without having the council trying to marry him off. The reason why the populace was edgy about having to wait until Relena’s eighteenth birthday for her coronation was due to the fact that until two years ago the Sanc Kingdom had been an occupied nation without a government of its own.

That had changed two years ago when he had led a mercenary army to take back his homeland. Of course, doing so had gone against every single ideal his father, the late King Peacecraft, had believed. That was why it would be his sister who sat on the throne. Relena might not agree with all of their father’s ideals, but she was the perfect person to transition the country from the ideals of total pacifism to those that were a little more practical to live by. And she has this politics and diplomacy thing well in hand.

“Long meeting or just a headache inducing one?”

Zechs smiled at the dark haired woman leaning against the opposite wall. “Just headache inducing. I walked out before it could get long.”

“Good for you,” Lucrezia Noin laughed. “Are we still on for lunch?”

“Of course. You think I would miss the one spot of sanity in my day?”

She smiled. “Great. So what are you in the mood for? Italian? Japanese? Thai?”

“Japanese sounds good. Did we ever check out the little place that opened up across from Relena’s coffee shop?”

“No, that’s still on the to visit list.”

“Wonderful.”

Noin easily fell in step beside him. While she was currently the Captain of the Royal Guard and not under his command, the young woman had served as his lieutenant throughout his time as a mercenary. Noin was quite easily his best friend and closest confidant. Despite the fact that she no longer under his direct command, Zechs found himself seeking out her company and advice on a regular basis.

“So what new scheme are they trying to sell you this time?” She retrieved a pair of keys from her purse. “I’m driving this time. We’re not going to have a repeat of your Steve McQueen episode.”

“Why not?” He asked innocently before sighing and turning serious. “They want me to get married.”

“Ah.” There was a world of understanding in that syllable.

It didn’t take them long to drive into town or to get a table at the little restaurant. The pair ordered, and Noin renewed their earlier conversation.

“So is it that you don’t want to get married, you don’t want to marry someone they picked, or a combination of the two?” She grinned. “We’ll disregard the fact that if they want a full royal wedding for you, Relena will be eighteen by the time it happens.”

Zechs sighed. “Some of both. I want what Relena and Heero have: a real partnership based on affection and friendship. And I don’t want to marry someone just because I need to get married.”

“I see.” Her lips quirked in a little half smile. “If you had to pick anyone in the world to marry right now, who would it be?”

“That’s not fair.” He paused. “I’ll answer if you do.”

“Fine. You go first.”

“Oh, no. It’s your idea.” He pouted at her. “Therefore, you should go first.”

Noin stuck her tongue out at him. “Either you or the barista at the Last Grind.”

“Why?”

“That wasn’t part of the original question.”

“Noin.”

“Have you tasted that guy’s hot chocolate? It’s better than anything other than gourmet chocolate, and that’s saying something.” She smiled. “You, you because you’re one of the few men that I know who accepts all of my facets. You’re completely comfortable with me being me without needing me to be less than I am to make you secure in your manliness. Besides, I would be happy spending the rest of my life with you. Your turn.”

He smiled. “You. You are the only person who I could see myself with forty years from now. You’ve never entertained delusions about me being some perfect prince charming, and you don’t let me get away with anything either. I prefer your company to just about anyone else, and you have a sense of humor.”

Their food arrived, and both of them applied themselves to their food. The topic of conversation turned to less serious matters. Noin stole some of his tempura.

“So how are Relena’s wedding plans going?”

“You’re asking me?” He retaliated by taking her sunomono. “I’m staying as far away from that as possible. She’s my baby sister, and I’ll do what she asks for it, but there’s no way I’m risking my neck by getting involved. How are your new recruits doing?”

“Good.” She swirled her noodles around with her chopsticks. “I’ve only had to get rid of a quarter of them this time around. The rest are making fairly good progress.”

With lunch finished, Zechs leaned back with a sigh. “I don’t suppose I could convince you to go back and tell everyone that I’ve had to make a trip to the colonies and won’t be back for a few months? Maybe by then the council will have given up on this marriage idea.”

“Not on your life.” Noin laughed. “If you run off, I’m coming with you. There is no way that I’m going to face the council’s wrath when they find out that their precious prince has run off without choosing a bride.”

He sighed. “Then I get to spend the rest of the day ducking council members. Joy.”

“Better you than me. I’ve got quarterly reports to finish.”

They headed back to the palace, going their separate ways upon arrival. Zechs decided to hide out in his office for a few hours and hopefully get some work done. With any luck, no one would think to look for him there. It was a known fact that he was not fond of paperwork, and that would deter people from looking for him in the place where all his paperwork resided.

However, the conversations from lunch haunted him as he slogged his way through the backlog of paperwork. He found that he kept finding more reasons why Noin would be his choice as a wife. Zechs had not really considered a romantic relationship with her before. Until two years ago, he had been completely focused on getting his home back. That didn’t mean that he wasn’t aware of his best friend as a woman, he admit to even fantasizing about her once or twice, but it had been one of those things that he’d pushed to the back of his mind.

Now, though, Zechs kept finding himself considering what a romance with Noin might be like. Maybe he should ask her out for dinner sometime. Her answer to her own question had given him a grain of hope that maybe he wasn’t the only one having thoughts on the subject. At least, she seemed to have given it about as much thought as he had. Maybe it was time that he started working on that personal life his sister kept telling him he needed.

He had actually made a dent in the stacks of paperwork when Relena popped her head into his office.

“So this is where you have been hiding, brother mine.” She grinned at him. “I heard about the council’s plan.”

Zechs sighed. “I’m not interested.”

She cleared off the second chair in the office and took a seat. “Do you see me advocating the silly thing? I have more sense than that. I’m just waiting for you and Noin to finally announce something official about the state of things.”

He blinked. “What are you talking about?”

Relena looked startled. “I always thought you two were involved. I mean, you’ve trusted her with everything that’s important, and you two act like you’ve been together for years.”

“We’ve been best friends for years,” he stammered, “but it’s never been more than that.”

His sister raised an eyebrow. “You’re telling me that you feel nothing more than friendship for Noin? Maybe Heero’s not the only one who has a blind spot when it comes to his feelings.”

“I didn’t say that.” Zechs had the distinct feeling that he was blushing. “It’s just never gone any further than friendship between us. There really hasn’t been time to investigate that avenue.”

“You have plenty of time now.” Relena gave him a pointed look. “I think you’re out of excuses.”

“Was there another reason you were looking for me, or did you just want to pry about my love life?”

She laughed. “I’m escaping the latest ridiculous wedding idea that would be just perfect. I already have most of the wedding planned out. It’s just vetoing the bright ideas people keep come up with without offending anyone that’s driving me crazy.”

“You could just tell them to butt out of it. It is your wedding after all.”

“But I am a public figure. I have to make some concessions to the public. Besides, if worst comes to worst, I can always sic Heero on them.”

“Where is Heero lurking? He’s usually hiding in your shadow.”

“I think he took off when we got to the reception plans. For some reason, color coordinating scared him off.” She grinned. “I actually came down here to see if you were coming to dinner or if you wanted something sent to your room. I figured you wouldn’t want to put up with council members trying to convince that you really do need to marry one of their candidates.”

He smiled. “Thanks, Relena. Actually, could you send dinner for two to Noin’s office? She’s stuck with quarterly reports, and I’m sure she’ll need a break by dinner time.”

“Done.” Relena grinned. “Well then, I’m off to find my fiancée.”

Once she had left, Zechs stretched and considered the pile of paperwork that was left. He could finish it tomorrow. Instead, he headed back to his rooms. A quick shower and changing in more casual clothes would do him good, and then he would go invade Noin’s office and keep her company until their dinner arrived. Feeling much more refreshed after his shower, Zechs made his way down to Noin’s office. He had never been able to figure out why the commander in chief of the military’s office and the captain of the Royal Guard’s office were so far apart. He supposed it could be due to some odd fear of them foment a coup, but it seemed rather ridiculous these days.

A brief knock at the door gained him entrance to Noin’s inner sanctum. At least her office had a free chair, but it wasn’t in much better shape than his own. Noin looked up from her paperwork.

“I thought you were hiding from the Royal Council.”

He shrugged. “I got bored. Besides, how likely are they to check here?”

Noin laughed. “Given the fact that I’m probably your closest ally here, what do you think?”

Zechs settled into the chair. “How often do they come and visit you here?”

“In the time I’ve been captain, maybe twice.”

He smiled. “See? No one will look for me here.”

She sighed. “Fine. If you’re going to hide out in here, you might as well help me. You can file that stack over there.”

It was Zechs’ turn to sigh, but he didn’t complain. Noin had more paperwork than he did, and she didn’t have clerks to manage hers. It didn’t take him long to coax her into telling stories about her guards. Once she had started on that, her mood seemed to lighten. He smiled. Noin really did work too hard. He would have to do something about that. They could both probably do with more rest and relaxation than either of them got.

“What do you think about spending the weekend up by that lake near the old summer palace? We haven’t really had a day off since, well, ever.”

Noin blinked. “I’m sorry. I could have sworn you just suggested that we take a vacation. Who are you and what have you done with my best friend?”

He laughed. “Blame Relena. She keeps suggesting that I need to take time for a life outside of work, and with the council’s latest farce, it seemed like a good idea.”

“Hmm.” Noin leaned back in her chair, tipping her head back to look at the ceiling. “It does sound appealing. Would it just be us or do we have some other companions coming along?”

“Just us. As much as I love my sister, I don’t need her prying into my personal life. Besides, going any place with Relena is hardly relaxing.”

“Sounds like a plan then. I have a meeting Friday morning, but after that I’m good to go.”

“It’s a plan then. We’ll leave, say, one-ish on Friday.”

A knock at the door interrupted them. One of the servants popped their head. “I have your dinner, Captain, General.”

Noin raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment. Dinner was a pleasant affair. Zechs even managed to get Noin to leave the paperwork alone for the duration of the meal. With a sigh, she laid aside her fork and reached for her pen.

“Go to bed, Zechs. I need to get this done, and you are beginning to distract me.”

“You don’t want company?” he teased.

“I’d love company, but my paperwork won’t get done with you distracting me.”

Zechs bid her goodnight. He was mildly astonished at his own actions. They were impulsive and unlike him, but he couldn’t argue with the results. He didn’t think that he had spent a weekend not working in over a year. He could definitely do with a break. And he wanted to explore where this thing with Noin was going without a peanut gallery. Part of him was having a panic attack. Yes, he was attracted to Noin, and she was an amazing woman. But she was also his best friend, and was he willing to screw that up by attempting to start a romantic relationship with her? He didn’t even know if she shared his attraction. Maybe she just thought of him as a brother.

Sighing, Zechs headed towards his quarters. What was done was done. He’d just have to take a chance on this. Besides, nothing said that their weekend had to turn into some great romantic encounter. They could have a nice relaxing weekend, and maybe he’d broach the subject with Noin. Dithering over the issue was not going to help.

The next morning brought his usual duties as well as arranging things for the weekend. Thankfully, there was nothing major on his plate today, just a few staff meetings and observing some of the training sessions with the new recruits. The arrangements for his weekend plans proved more complicated. Still, by the end of the day Zechs had managed to get reservations at a local bed and breakfast as well as purchase train tickets and arrange for a rental car. He was thankful for the fact that he wouldn’t need to arrange security for this trip. It was never easy to relax when he had several armed bodyguards lurking about/.

There was also the unexpected complication of the Royal Council. Apparently, they weren’t going to let the subject of his marriage drop. Zechs wasn’t about to give in on the matter either, and he wasn’t at all in the mood for a battle of wills right now. So he spent the day peering around corners and ducking into random rooms to avoid a confrontation. It was rather ridiculous, but ridiculous was better than painful, and that was what the confrontation would be. It probably wasn’t helping his reputation any, but he honestly didn’t care at this point.

A pair of hands settled on his shoulders, and Zechs nearly jumped out of his skin.

“A little jumpy are we?” Noin’s hands began to knead his shoulder muscles. “I thought I would check in on you. The vultures have been circling, I take it.”

“Mmm. Yes. I’ve been doing my best to avoid them.” He sighed. “I’m not in the mood for a fight over getting married right now.”

“Which is why you are skulking around your own palace.”

“Technically, it’s Relena’s, not mine.”

“Uh huh.” She slipped around him. “Want to give me a hand with the new recruits? We’re working on hand to hand combat, and I could use some help.”

“You mean you could use someone to throw around in your demonstrations.”

Noin shrugged. “Call it what you will.”

“Why not? It’s sound like more fun than hiding from the Royal Council all day.”

After an afternoon of being a human punching bag, Zechs was sore but in a much better mood. There was nothing like having to dodge blows and demonstrate how not to get hit to keep your mind off your troubles. A hot bath would take care of his aching muscles, and tomorrow he would be safely out of the line of fire. Hopefully, the idea of marrying him off would lose its appeal after a while. There had to be something more engaging for them to do than try and run his life for him.

Their escape from the palace was a near thing. Zechs had almost got pulled into a meeting, but some last minute intervention from Relena had saved the day. So now he and Noin were safely on the train, and their subordinates were under orders to only contact them in case of an emergency. Noin had actually nodded off using his shoulder as a pillow, but he didn’t mind that. It was comforting in its sense of familiarity. He’d been her pillow many nights when she’d fallen asleep over battle plans and strategic arrangements. The rhythm of the training was rather hypnotic, and Zechs found himself following his best friend into sleep.

The sun setting woke him. Out the window the countryside was bathed in the dying light. He gently nudged Noin.

“Wake up, sweetheart.” The endearment slipped out without him realizing. Zechs held his breath.

Noin’s eyelashes fluttered and she let out a little sigh. “Mmm. Zechs?”

“Hey. You should see this sunset. It’s pretty amazing.”

She shifted so she could see out the window. “Oh.”

Noin said nothing else, but he could read the delight in her eyes. They watched the rest of the sunset in silence, Noin’s head still pillowed on his shoulder. The last rays of light were still fading when they pulled into the station. Noin stifled a yawn as they pulled their carry ons off of the overhead shelf and headed for the door. The pair collected their bags from the porter and ventured out of the station to find the rental car. Noin managed to stay awake until the reached the bed and breakfast. They checked in, and Noin headed off to her room. She paused in the doorway.

“Thank you, Zechs. This was a good idea. Good night.”

Noin slipped into her room, and Zechs decided he’d better seek his bed as well. He was asleep as his head touched the pillow. The prince woke the next morning to find the sun already high in the sky. He made his way down to the dining room where he found Noin sipping a cup of tea. She offered him a bright smile.

“Good morning, Zechs.”

“Morning.”

“There’s coffee.”

“Thank god.”

He was not a morning person. Noin simply smiled and pushed the cream and sugar towards him. Once Zechs had an adequate amount of caffeine in his system, he offered her a genuine smiled.

“So what would you like to do today?”

Noin nibbled on a muffin. “I’d like to take a look around. The last time we were here I didn’t have a chance to do anything except work.”

“That’s fine with me. We have all weekend to enjoy.”

After several more muffins, the two of them ventured out into the town. Zechs and Noin meandered the streets, ducking into whatever shops seemed interesting. They browsed through souvenir shops, picking out various trinkets to exam and tried local food specialties. By the time, he and Noin had finished exploring downtown, his stomach was growling. They ate at a little lakeside café and discussed plans.

“What do you think about taking a picnic out to the island tomorrow?” Noin grinned. “We could go hiking and swimming as well.”

“You just want to get into the water.”

Noin shrugged. “I like to swim.”

“I swear you’re half fish. What about visiting that museum we passed after lunch?”

“Sounds good to me.”

So the rest of their afternoon was spent in the local museum. They were halfway through the exhibits when Zechs realized that he was holding Noin’s hand. She didn’t comment on though, and neither did he. Zechs simply enjoyed the way her hand fit perfectly within his. It was really was an interesting little museum, and a number of the exhibits were fascinating. However, when they left though, he was having trouble remembering just what exactly they been looking at.

The pair agreed on an Italian for dinner and found a little family run place to eat. Mama Lucia, the owner, fussed over the both of them, especially when she learned Noin was Italian by birth. Pleasantly full, Zechs and Noin slowly meandered back towards the bed and breakfast. They sat on the front porch swing, star watching. Noin curled up at his side, her head resting on his shoulder, and pointed out the various constellations.

“So, Zechs, what is this weekend really about?” Noin’s voice was soft and gentle. “I know you well enough to realize that there is something more to this than a simple vacation.”

He sighed. “It’s just that recent events have had me thinking. Especially about the future and you and me.”

“And?”

Zechs sighed again. The problem with Noin was she knew just how to draw him out. “I know I want you in my life permanently. I just don’t know what role you’d play or would want to play. I sort of would like to give the whole dating thinking a try, but not at the cost of our friendship. And I’m beginning to feel like a nervous teenager, so I’m going to shut up now.”

Noin simply looked amused and snuggled a little closer to him. Zechs slid an arm around her shoulders.

“So, basically, you’re asking me out? I could do that. I’d like to do that.” She smiled up at him. “This feels a little silly, doesn’t it? We’re both responsible adults, and here we are acting like a pair of teenagers on their first date.”

“We did sort of skip over the normal teenage activities.”

And that was it. It was remarkably simple once he actually talked to Noin. Zechs really shouldn’t have been so surprise. They had always been rather in sync about most things. Still, Zechs would admit the idea of dating Noin felt incredibly silly. Dating was supposed to be about getting to know one another, and he and Noin already knew each other better than any one else alive. They had been willing to die for one another. Though it might be nice to spend an evening or two focusing on each other rather than work. They had never had much of a chance to just have fun together. Until recently, their lives had been full of responsibilities and battles, not exactly the type of thing that led to romance. This was rather a change.

That was why Zechs was surprised at how easily they adapted. Both of them rose early the next morning. Breakfast was shared in a comfortable silence, and the owner of the bed and breakfast was happy to make them up a picnic basket to take along on their sojourn for the day. With backpacks and their picnic lunch, Zechs and Noin set off to the lakeside. There was the small matter of renting a boat for the day, but Noin easily managed to convince the vendor she was completely capable of managing a small craft.

Setting sail on the clear blue lake, Noin smiled. “I miss this. My father didn’t take me sailing much, but Livorno is on the sea, and I always loved being out on the water.”

Zechs laughed. “The one time I remember boating as a child my father tripped the boat over in pond in the formal gardens. It was rather wet.”

Noin shook her head. “I love sailing almost as much as I love flying. It’s freedom personified.”

“I’ll have to learn from the master then.” He grinned at her. “You clearly have a better handle on this than my father did. At least, you haven’t dumped us in the lake yet.”

She tossed a handful of water at him. It didn’t take long to cross over to the island. Noin showed him how to moor the boat at the dock, and once assured that their boat wasn’t going to drift away, the pair headed off for their hike before lunch. The trail was well marked, and it wasn’t really a challenge for them. They’d hiked through rougher terrain for work. But it was nice to be able to take their time and enjoy the scenery. The trail led them to the top of the hill that crowned the island. Zechs spread out a blanket while Noin began unloading the picnic basket. Their host had been more than generous with the meal.

Fruit, cheese, and summer sausage made up most of the meal, but there was a full loaf of bread as well and some raspberry filled pastries for dessert. Water was their only drink; both he and Noin agreed that was all they really needed. When the meal had been demolished, they packed up the picnic basket and headed back to the beach.

Upon reaching the beach, Noin immediately dropped her things and started pulling off her clothes to reveal a swimsuit before diving into the water. She surfaced moments later, hair slicked back by the water.

“Zechs, get in here. The water is great.” She sent a wave towards the shore.

He laughed. “What? So you can drown me, siren? We both know you can swim circles around me, and I haven’t forgotten that time Tuscany.”

Noin pouted at her. Zechs sighed but stripped down to his swimsuit. He was going to regret this. Still, the sun warmed water felt lovely, and Noin refrained from attempting to dunk him more than two or three times. Water was as much Noin’s element as the air. In fact, she was probably a better swimmer than she was a pilot. But then, Noin had been able to swim before she could walk if the stories he had been told were true.

They played in the water for a few hours before Zechs finally dragged himself back onto the beach. He spread out their towels and flopped down on his, laying back and closing his eyes. Not too much longer after that, Noin joined him on the towels, curling up at his side. The sun was nice and warm, and there was plenty of time to take a nap before they would have to leave. Besides, he liked the feeling of Noin’s body cuddled next to his own.

He woke when a breeze off the lake started making him shiver. The sun was beginning to dip on the horizon, and the breeze was turning into a strong wind. Noin mumbled sleepily and snuggled closer to him. Zechs sat up; they probably should be heading back soon. He turned to the dozing woman burrowed into his side. He almost hated to wake her. Noin looked quite comfortable snuggled up against. Her eyelashes were dark against her pale skin, and she wore the most adorable pout when he gently prodded her.

“I know you want to sleep, sweetheart, but I can’t get us back across the lake, and you can.”

Noin mumbled something and tried to get even close to him. Zechs ran a hand through her hair.

“I know you’re awake. Sleeping people don’t hold their breath.”

Noin sighed and opened her eyes. “Spoilsport.”

He grinned at her. “I just don’t want to be the one to crash that lovely boat and strand us here.”

She made a face at him. “You wouldn’t crash the boat. You can pilot a plane just fine. A boat wouldn’t be that different.”

Zechs rose to his feet pulling Noin along with him. The pair collected their clothing as well as their other things and began to meander back to the dock. With their things stowed on board, Noin cast off the lines and set them adrift. It wasn’t long before she had the boat gliding across the lake, heading for the town and dinner.

The rest of their long weekend was spent in similar enjoyment. Zechs was reluctant to leave the bed and breakfast when the time came to head back home. He and Noin had done quite well at trying out this couple thing in the peace and quiet of their vacation, but Zechs wasn’t sure how it would translate when they got back to the palace. There were a number of things that would change when they got back, the main thing being that they wouldn’t have as much privacy. Oh, he was sure that they could find plenty of time to themselves, but given his position, Zechs knew that their relationship would be a part of the gossip chain before too long, and there were people who would not approve. Noin shouldn’t have to deal with that.

He shoved aside his worries though and just tried to enjoy the train ride home. They could only play it by ear. Zechs was determined not to let anything except their own feelings dictate where this relationship was going to go, and he wasn’t going to let the small mindedness of others ruin what could be the most important relationship of his life. Noin seemed to pick up on his pensive mood and took his hand in her own. She squeezed it and smiled at him.

“Stop brooding, Zechs. We’ll be just fine. We’ve survived several wars. A bunch of officious idiots can hardly be a threat.”

She had a point. He squeezed her hand back. Noin settled her head on his shoulder, and there was silence for the rest of the trip. Zechs enjoyed the weight of Noin’s head on his shoulder and her warmth pressed up against his side. It was with a sigh that he left his seat when they arrived at the station. He and Noin collected their luggage and headed for the parking lot. To both their surprise, Duo Maxwell was leaning up against their ride.

“Finally. I was beginning to think you two weren’t coming back. Not that I would blame you for running off, but you forgot the rest of us.”

“If we were running away, why would we bring the rest of you? What are you doing here, Maxwell?” Zechs was less than pleased to have his vacation ended slightly earlier than expected.

“Relena sent me. She wanted to make sure you were warned before you got back to the palace.”

That did not sound good. “Warn us about what?”

“Just you actually. Apparently, the Royal Council invited some women to stay for a few months. I don’t have the details.” He shrugged. “Relena said you needed to know.”

Zechs groaned. He did not need this. Of course the council had invited all three of their candidates for his wife to stay at the palace. They just couldn’t respect his wishes and let him live his own life. Noin slid her hand back into his and squeezed. Zechs just sighed.

“Thanks for the heads up, Duo.” Noin smiled at him. “You can tell Relena that we’ll be along shortly.”

“Will do.”

Zechs slumped against the side of the car. “Why me?”

Noin wrapped him in a hug. “You were born good looking and royalty. You’ll survive. How is this worse than facing people who want to kill you?”

“I don’t get in trouble if I shot them.”

Noin grinned up at him. “You do have a point.”

He rest his chin on the top of her head. This was not how he wanted to start their romantic relationship. Fending off the attentions of other women really was not a great beginning to a hopefully long term relationship. Noin shifted against him, pressing a kiss to his throat.

“We should get going.”

“Do we have to?” Zechs knew he was whining, but he really couldn’t help it.

“The situation is not going to get any better the longer we wait. We might as well get this over with.” Noin was practical as ever.

He sighed, but she was right. Putting this off wouldn’t make things any easier for either of them. They loaded up the car and headed back to the palace. They chose to use one of the side doors rather than make a commotion and come through the main entrance. The plan almost worked. Zechs almost made it to his quarters without being seen by anyone other than the staff. He had walked Noin to her suite before heading for his own, and he was only about ten feet from his door when Dorothy Catalonia spotted him.

“Your royal highness.” She smiled slyly at him.

Zechs bit back a groan. He did not really need this. No one should have to deal with Dorothy without an escape plan. However, for politeness’ sake, he had to at least acknowledge her presence.

“What can I do for you, your grace?”

“There’s no need to be so formal.” Her smile widened. “We’re not strangers after all, and we may be closer soon.”

Not if he had anything to say about it. Of all the bridal candidates, Dorothy would have been the one he was least likely to choose. And that was even if he wasn’t in love with Noin.

“I’m sorry, your grace. I’ve only just arrived home and am exhausted. Perhaps we could speak at a later date?”

He didn’t wait for an affirmation and quickly slipped into his rooms, locking the door behind him. Zechs slumped onto his bed. He was doomed.

The next morning did not bring him much hope. Zechs had gone down to join his sister for breakfast only to find all three of the council’s candidates there as well. His appetite suddenly decreased. Relena shot him an apologetic smile. Zechs sighed and played with his food, doing his best to avoid small talk. He was not a morning person, and this really wasn’t making him any less grumpy.

An avenue of escape came when one of Noin’s lieutenants slipped into the room and whispered in Heero’s ear. A minute later, Heero quietly slipped away from the table. Zechs smiled at his sister.

“I’d better go join them. If you’ll excuse me?”

Zechs left the table before anyone could protest. He found Heero and the other man just out in the hallway. Heero raised an eyebrow at his appearance but didn’t comment. As it turned out, it was a normal threat assessment. Noin hadn’t thought it would amount to much but had wanted to keep Heero apprised of the situation. When Heero headed back to breakfast, though, Zechs slipped away. He would finish his breakfast in the kitchens before starting his duties for the day. Maybe he’d manage to slip away for lunch with Noin as well.

His plan succeeded halfway. Zechs managed about half of his morning routine before both Dorothy and Sylvia Noventa decided to drop in on him. His productivity dropped after that. Instead, Zechs found himself giving the two of them a tour of the barracks and training grounds while listening to the two women flirt with him and verbally spar with one another. He was never so thankful as when Noin appeared in her dress uniform.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, your royal highness, but there are a few matters which need your immediate attention.” Noin smiled at him. “It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two.”

Zechs schooled his face into an expression that wasn’t unadulterated relief. It was only a small respite, but he could definitely use that right now. Disentangling himself from Sylvia and Dorothy, he gave them an apologetic look.

“If you’ll excuse me, ladies, duty calls.”

He kept a straight face until they were safely around the corner and out of sight. Then he drew Noin into a tight hug.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will love you forever.”

She laughed. “If I have known it was that easy to earn your affection, I would have saved you from your admirers years ago.”

“So, lunch?”

“Lunch.” Noin smiled up at him. “I’m in the mood for something spicy.”

“Thai then? Or Indian?”

“Thai, I think.”

Hands entwined, the two made their way off to find lunch. Zechs soon found his life falling into a familiar pattern. His mornings were spent fending off advances by the bridal candidates before Noin whisked him off for a ‘working lunch’. After lunch, he typically was able to get some work done before someone dragged him off to the evening’s entertainment. The council had started arranging parties, balls, hunts, and other events as entertainment for their guests and as opportunities to try and ingratiate themselves to him. It wasn’t working.

Noin provided a willing ear for his complaints for the most part.

“The problem is,” she pointed out one afternoon, “nothing is going to change unless you take action. I know you don’t like it, but they’re not going to put an end to this unless you force them to.”

Zechs sighed. “I don’t think that they’re going to accept anything short of a final decision from me. Just telling them that I won’t marry one of those three hasn’t worked so far. Besides, even if I did convince them at that, they would probably just round up another set of candidates.”

“Don’t give them that option then.”

Her comment stuck with him. However, the only way he could think of to deny the Royal Council that option was to get married. He wasn’t about to marry Dorothy, Sylvia, or Leia, but there was someone he was interested in. Zechs knew that he wanted a long term relationship with Noin, but it seemed like jumping straight into marriage right after they’d started a romantic relationship would be unwise. Truthfully, Zechs had wanted to take his time in courting his best friend. Perhaps it was old fashioned of him, but it was still true.

Still after another two weeks of fending off and avoiding the three women, Zechs had come to the decision that the only way to end this was to get married. And he was only marrying one woman. With that in mind, it seemed reasonable to sound the idea out with her. However, when he found Noin, all thoughts of a serious discussion flew out of his head. She looked like someone had dragged her through a mud pit before taking her on a hike through a swamp. It was probably safe to assume that she had not had a good day.

Bedraggled and dirty, Noin raised her head as he approached. “Whatever it is, Zechs, it will have to wait. I can’t do anything more today.”

“I was thinking a shower for you and then dinner and perhaps a hot bath.”

Noin sighed, slumping against the wall. “That sounds divine. Except for the fact that I’m supposed to have a meeting with somebody about the budget for my guards in an hour.”

“Reschedule.” There was no arguing with his tone. “You make enough accommodations for your job as it is. It is perfectly legitimate to ask them to reschedule this. Go take your shower, and I’ll take care of the meeting and dinner.”

She beamed at him and kissed his cheek. It left a smudge, but Zechs didn’t care.

“Love you, Zechs. I’ll see you in forty-five minutes.”

It only took a matter of minutes to find the official Noin was supposed to meet with and rescheduled the meeting for another day. Dinner took a little longer to procure, he figured Noin wouldn’t want to go out tonight, but he still had plenty of time to set up. The sitting room in his suite was easily transformed into a candlelit table with soft music playing in the background. Dinner was already on the table, and he had raid the wine cellar for a good rose to go with the meal. He made it to Noin’s door to find her freshly out of the shower. Once again, Noin’s intuition had served her well, and she was dressed in a simple dress of a deep plum fabric.

“I didn’t know what exactly you had in mind,” she smiled, “but I figured this would serve.”

“You look lovely. Come on.”

They had a close call in the halls, having to duck into an alcove to avoid Dorothy, but in the end they made it to his suite. Noin paused in the doorway, eyes wide.

“You didn’t have to do this.”

He wrapped his arms around her waist. “I wanted to. You looked like you could use a nice treat after your day. Come on, I bet you’re hungry.”

Dinner went very well, and Zechs managed to coax Noin into dancing with him afterwards. When she finally complained about sore feet, they curled up on his couch. With Noin snuggled up against his side, he finally got back to the topic that had prompted tonight.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier. About not giving the council the option of marrying me off. I think I figured out how to do that, but I’d need your help.”

“Oh?”

“There’s really only one way to get them off my back about this, and that’s to get married. The problem with that is there really is only one person I’m interested in, and I don’t know if she’d be willing to jump into marriage so soon. We’ve only been dating for a little while, you see.” He was rambling, but he couldn’t seem to stop. “I mean, I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with her, but it’s rather soon to be talking about marriage, and I don’t really want to scare her off. And I don’t want her to think that I’m just proposing because I need to get married because I do love her, but--”

His lips were suddenly involved with a rather heated kiss. Noin finally drew away with a smile.

“If you are asking, I am saying yes.” She nuzzled his cheek. “As long as you don’t expect me to wear a puffy, white gown that’s all ruffles and bows for the ceremony. I have taste after all.”

“You could wear a uniform for all I care. As long as you marry me.”

“That’s a given. I love you, Zechs.”

It all seemed very dreamlike, but when he woke the next morning, Noin was snuggled beside him in the bed. Zechs immediately decided that the first order of business was to get her a ring, and then they would work out the rest of the details. Noin snuggled closer to him, making sleepy little noises. He ran a gentle hand down her back, and those noises got a little louder. He sighed; given the amount of sunlight in the room, they both should have been up before now.

“Noin, love, wake up. We’re supposed to be at work.”

“No work, too early.” She tried to bury her head in his shoulder.

“It’s at least ten o’clock.”

“Still too early. Sleep.” Noin pulled the covers up over her head.

Zechs laughed and peeled the blankets away from her. “If we don’t put in an appearance sooner or later, people are going to come looking for us. I’ll let you use the shower first.”

Noin peered up at him, pouting. Unable to help himself, Zechs closed the distance between them to kiss her. Noin’s fingers slid into his hair as she responded. Several moments later he pulled away feeling breathless.

“Shower. I don’t want them to send out search parties.”

It took more coaxing, but he finally managed to get Noin out of bed. They ended up showering together which took longer than he had planned. It was nearing noon when they went their separate ways. Zechs got to his own office only to find himself distracted from his work by plans for a wedding. He needed to get a ring for Noin, and truthfully, he didn’t want to put the ceremony off for too long. The sooner they were married, the sooner he could get Dorothy and the others off his back. Zechs frowned at that thought. It made him sound so opportunistic. He wanted to marry Noin because she was Noin, not just because he needed to get married.

With a sigh, he muddled through the paperwork. They would need to get a marriage license and find a venue. Zechs frowned. Was there a wait period or blood tests in the Sanc Kingdom? Then there was an officiant. He didn’t know if Noin would want to get married in a church or if a justice of the peace would be all right. They would also need witnesses. How many he wasn’t sure. Relena would be willing to do so, and because of that, they could also get Heero to help. If they needed more than two witnesses, he could probably convince his friend Treize to stand up for them.

Somehow, with his total preoccupation with his upcoming wedding, Zechs managed to get through several stacks of paperwork. His sister’s timely interruption ended his sudden burst of productivity.

“You’re actually doing paperwork?” Relena’s eyes grew wide. “Okay, now I know that all this is getting to you. How about we take a late lunch, and get away from the insanity for a while?”

He wasn’t about to refuse that offer. They settled on an out of the way café. Relena kept up a steady account of the latest arrangements for her wedding which Zechs for the most part ignored. He really didn’t care about whether she’d had to change the bridesmaids’ flowers so that they would match the groomsmen’s cummerbunds.

“Relena,” he interrupted her, “do you remember what was required for your marriage license?”

“Sure. Photo id and proof of age for the both of us and four witnesses. We also need the signature of the officiant as well, but that won’t happen until after the wedding ceremony.” She narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

“What about a waiting period? Noin and I are getting married.” He held up a hand. “With a minimum of fuss.”

“There’s no waiting period. The only reason it’s taken so long for me is because I have to have a royal wedding.” Relena beamed. “It’s about time you and Noin did something about your relationship. You two have been denying you’re anything other than good friends for far too long.”

“So I take it that you would be interested in being one of my witnesses then.”

“My big brother is not getting married without me present,” she confirmed. “Tell me when and where, and I’ll be there.”

“Good. If you and Heero are there, then we’ll just need two more witnesses. I need to find out if Noin wants a church ceremony, but after that, we’ll set a date. There’s one more thing I need your help with.”

“Yes?”

Zechs bit his lip. “I need to get Noin an engagement ring.”

When his sister was done laughing at him, she agreed. Thankfully, Relena knew quite a bit more about jewelry shopping than he did. It only took them an hour and two shops to find the perfect ring. It was fairly simple, an amethyst set on a white gold band and flanked by four small diamonds on the sides, but it matched Noin’s eyes and her understated elegance. Zechs also found himself purchasing a set of wedding bands as well. He and his sister parted ways at the palace. Relena was off to another meeting while he went in search of his fiancée.

Noin was found tossing several of her cadets to each other. Zechs leaned against a wall and watched as she explained the finer points of fighting against larger groups. He waited for her to dismiss the group to the showers before approaching her.

“Have fun?”

“Mmm. They never believe that I can take more than two of them on my own.” She smiled up at him. “What can I do for you, your highness?”

He drew her into his arms. “I brought you something.”

“Oh?”

Taking her left hand in his, Zechs slipped the ring on her finger. Noin leaned up to kiss him.

“You didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to. Besides, I would be a pretty poor fiancée if I didn’t get you a ring.”

The two of them headed back towards her office.

“I was wondering what you wanted to do for a wedding? Relena said she and Heero would serve as witnesses for us. I thought we could ask Treize and Lady as well unless there was someone else you wanted to ask.”

Noin smiled. “Do you remember that little chapel by the harbor? I kind of would like to have the ceremony there. Other than that, I just want a nice dress for the ceremony.”

“Would next week give you enough time to find a dress?”

She considered this. “Probably. If I take your sister along, it should be no problem. Relena always seems to know just where to look.”

“I’ll make the arrangements for the chapel then.”

“Next week them.” Noin beamed at him before kissing his cheek. “I’m off to the showers. I’ll see you at dinner.”

It took surprisingly little time to make the necessary arrangements. It actually took Noin longer to find a dress than it did for any of the other tasks to be accomplished. Noin wouldn’t let him see the dress though. She insisted that some traditions were best left intact. Truthfully, Zechs didn’t mind too much. What really mattered was that they were here now. The little seaside chapel was not full of people, but there were witnesses enough.

She looked beautiful. Noin’s dress was simple, white organza that cascaded down from the strapless bodice. Zechs wasn’t really sure what the priest was saying. He spoke when prompted to, but really, all his attention was on the radiant figure in front of him. Noin met his eyes and smiled back. All that really mattered was the two of them. He slid the ring onto her finger with trembling hands. Noin’s were steadier when she repeated the action. The next thing that really caught his attention was the priest saying, “You may kiss the bride.”

Noin’s hands slid into his hair as he leaned in to kiss her. The rest of the world melted away. It was just the two of them. Zechs finally drew away and rest his forehead against hers.

“I love you.”

She smiled and kissed him again. “I know.”

Treize cleared his throat behind them. “If you’re done? I believe we’re taking you two out to a late lunch, and then there’s a sailing yacht moored in the harbor waiting for you. Your sister thought you two might enjoy a Mediterranean cruise for your honeymoon.”

They turned to face their audience, Zechs keeping an arm around his wife’s waist.

“That sounds lovely.” Noin leaned into him.

“It does,” he agreed.

As they left the chapel, he heard Relena comment to Heero.

“I guess Noin will have to be my Matron of Honor instead of Maid of Honor. Not that I mind, but you know when the Royal Council finds out they missed one Royal wedding, ours is going to turn into even more of a circus.”

Zechs hid a grin. He had sympathy for his sister, but really, this had been everything he had needed for his wedding. Anything more would have been wrong for Noin and him. He had his love, and that was enough for him. As if reading his thoughts, Noin leaned in and stole a kiss.

“Do you think they’d if we skipped lunch? I think we should put the honeymoon first and celebrate with our friends later. After all,” she smiled up at him, “we’ve got another royal wedding just eight months down the road.”

Zechs stole a kiss back. “Somehow, I think they’ll forgive us.”
AU. With the wedding of Crown Princess Relena to her bodyguard in the works, the Royal Council of the Sanc Kingdom sets its sights on getting the other Peacecraft child married to a woman of suitable breeding. Too bad he's in love with his best friend.
:iconkorsithkoris:
KorsithKoris Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2008  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
*happy sigh* Ahh...wonderful. Hearts and baubles enough to satisfy me for the rest of my life. :) Excellent job, the characters are strong and no one plays it stupid. :)
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