Chapter 19: "Cold Showers"
"I can't go with you."
Wufei looked up from the scattered bits of porcelain sharply, frowning at his friend's quiet words. "What?"
Heero was very deliberately not looking at him as he rooted through the colored shards spread on the floor between the two of them. "When she comes here," he explained, "I can't go meet her with you." He held up a jagged piece and glanced around for a piece that matched the painted pattern on it.
"Why not?" Wufei demanded incredulously. "We already met once and you got to go with me then. What's the big deal now??"
Heero chose another piece and held the two together, peering at them carefully. "I had to meet her, too," he explained calmly. "I'm gonna be your bodyguard one day. I guess I gotta guard her, too. We met. Now I guess they want you to get to know her. Alone."
Wufei scowled darkly. "I don't wanna 'get to know her'," he snapped. "Besides, she prob'ly hates me because of..." he hesitated, "..the accident," he finished awkwardly.
Heero finally looked up at him. "That wasn't your fault," he said firmly. "Master said so. He said no one could've done anything."
"I could've," Wufei retorted fiercely, glaring at the remains of his grandmother's prized vase. "It was my stupid idea to go in the first place without telling anyone else. She came after me." His fist tightened slowly in frustrated anger. "Idiot," he whispered harsly.
"Stop it," Heero said sharply, reaching out and grabbing Wufei's wrist. He pried his friend's fingers open so that the vase shard he'd been unconsciously clutching fell to the ground. "Now who's the idiot?" Heero demanded with a touch of anger in his tone.
Wufei looked down at the fresh cut on his hand. He shrugged. "Doesn't hurt."
"Yet," Heero warned. He looked around at the mess of porcelain. "You should get that bandaged. What do we do with this? I don't know if we can fix it before dinner."
Wufei scowled at the ruined vase bad-temperedly. The cut was starting to throb, but he ignored it stubbornly. "No," he admitted. "I know-- we can bury it under the porch. She'll probably never even notice it's gone."
"If you say so," Heero said reluctantly.
Wufei nodded, lifting his hand to inspect the cut as Heero began to carefully scoop the shards together.
It wasn't that deep, he mused. Though there was an awful lot of blood.
It wasn't even his.
He forced himself to lift his gaze, mouth full of the taste of coins. It isn't copper, his mind was screaming at him. It's blood blood blood in your mouth!
A support beam came crashing down, and the fire flared brighter and larger than ever. Wufei jumped at the sound, heart leaping into his throat. He scrambled back a bit to avoid the heat, but the wall was right behind him. He glanced through the smoke, towards the door, but ignored his own survival instincts, wrenching his gaze away, and back towards the horror before him.
Burning burning burning
She was burning alive.
His eyes travelled upwards, to the figure standing over him, nearly hidden in the billowing smoke. Wufei's eyes were running with it, his skin hurting from the heat. He watched as blood slid down the long blade in the man's hand to pool on the floor.
The same blood that was in his mouth, on his hands, on the front of his shirt. Wufei scooted back instinctively, but the wall was still there. Something between a growl and a whimper tried to force itself out of his throat.
He was going to die.
There was nowhere to go. The fire was everywhere, and still the explosions were going on and on, making everything shake, making the fire bigger, hungrier.
The man with the sword turned suddenly and disappeared into the smoke. Belatedly Wufei realized... she was still screaming.
Burning alive burning alive burning--
A hard hand on his arm made him shriek.
"Wufei!!" Heero's face, normally so hard to read, was full of fear, his eyes wild. "Wufei no baka!" he shouted.
Master will scold him for speaking that tongue in this house, Wufei thought calmly, staring blankly up at his friend.
"Wufei, get up!!" Heero was heaving on him with all of his strength, but Wufei refused to help.
"Wufei!" Heero shouted, right in his face. "Get up and RUN! I can't carry you!"
"He killed her," Wufei interrupted, very quietly.
Heero refused to avert his gaze. His expression was suddenly fierce. "GET UP!"
Heero had never shouted at him before. Wufei found himself scrambling to his feet, then Heero was dragging him through the door, through the smoke.
Behind him, the screams suddenly cut off.
Wufei didn't notice.
That voice would ring in his head for years to come, and haunt him as he slept.
"Wait--" Wufei gasped, twisting away from Heero and turning sharply.
The dojo was filled with strange shadows coming from the lanterns on the porch, but Wufei knew the building like the back of his hand, and wasn't afraid.
He glanced around for the quiet voice that had called him.
She stepped out of a shadow by the far wall, her steps nervous but her face resolute.
"What do you want?" Wufei demanded sourly. "Master won't like it if he finds out we're here."
"You wouldn't talk to me earlier," she said stubbornly, coming closer and glaring up at him. "All you did was stick your nose in that silly book for two whole hours!"
Wufei made a face at her. "I was only there because they made me sit with you," he snapped. "I don't want to hang out with a girl."
She drew herself up indignantly. "But you and Hua--"
"That's different," Wufei interrupted hastily, unwilling to go down that track. "She's supposed to be around me all the time."
"So am I," she pointed out.
Wufei scowled at her, feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable at how bluntly she was adressing the whole stupid thing. "No you're not," he retorted. "I don't have to be stuck with you until I'm grown up. And when I'm grown up, I'll change this stupid rule so I don't have to see you again anyway."
He half expected her to cry. He usually had that effect on little girls. But she only stamped her little foot. "You're such a jerk!" she shouted. "You're just a stupid boy!"
Wufei couldn't resist the urge to stick his tongue out at her. "Crybaby."
"I'm not!" she shouted. And hit him right in the nose.
He hadn't been expecting that. He stumbled back, eyes wide in shock, hand flying to his smarting face. "You hit me!" he exclaimed.
"So hit me back!" she challenged, falling into a defensive stance. "If I beat you up, then maybe you'll be nicer to me."
Wufei sneered at her. He wanted to hit her very very badly for just a minute. "I can't hit a girl," he growled sulkily. "Don't be an idiot."
"I won't tell if you won't," she taunted.
Wufei felt a small smile tug at his mouth. She was definitely a lot gutsier than most other girls. But she really was a stupid little girl. Didn't she know he could beat her easy? No-- he shook his head sharply. He would get in a lot of trouble if he hit her.
"Don't be a coward," she snapped at his hesitance.
"I'm not a coward," he shouted back. "Why don't you act more like a girl, anyway?"
"Why don't you act more like a boy?" she shot back. "All you do is goof around with Heero and read!"
"Shut up!" Wufei glared at her. "I could still beat you any day."
Wufei was sorely tempted. It took all his willpower to turn his back on her and stomp off. "Just go to bed," he snapped over his shoulder. "You're just a big pain."
"Wufei's a coward!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.
Wufei whirled around. "Shut up!!"
He swung at her. He didn't mean to. It just happened.
She dodged, hit back...
She was good.
He was better.
But she fought like a boy. Maybe... maybe she wasn't so bad.
Wufei's eyes snapped open.
It took him a long moment to remember where he was as he stared blankly up at the white ceiling above.
Then he turned his head, and looked out at the stars.
"Space," he murmured to himself, feeling his knotted muscles slowly start to relax. He looked to his left. Heero was gone. He looked around quickly, but the only other person in the cabin was Relena, curled up in her chair, sound asleep.
Wufei started to get up, then sank back into the comfortable cushions again. He shut his eyes and swallowed hard.
The kaliedescope of dreams was hard to pick through, but he remembered the important things.
Fire. A murder. Someone screaming-- someone important.
Heero pulling him from the burning building.
And that little girl. The one who hit him like a boy.
Wufei formed the name with his mouth in a bare whisper, feeling the strange familiarity of it. "Meilan."
Wufei opened his eyes at the sharp question, blinking up at Duo, who was standing by his seat and looking down at him with slightly narrowed eyes.
"Nothing," Wufei muttered, getting to his feet.
Duo stared hard at him, but didn't press it. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "You woke up just in time, man. Quatre's breaking out the chow. I'll wake up sleeping beauty here."
Wufei was vaguely disappointed to find that he didn't end up floating down the corridor. The artificial gravity must be on. He'd always wondered what zero gravity would be like.
Everyone else but Heero was in the back at the small table. Quatre was handing out wrapped sandwiches and juice boxes, and smiled at Wufei as he approached. "Hungry? We have ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly."
Wufei selected one of the ham sandwiches for himself, arching a brow at Trowa as he unwrapped it. "I thought you were supposed to be flying the shuttle."
"Heero's giving him a breather," Quatre explained, handing over another sandwich and two juice boxes. "Could you run this to him in the cockpit?"
Wufei took the food and made his way back down the aisle until he reached the cockpit door. He gave it a kick to announce his arrival, then transferred the food to one arm so he could tug the door open with the other.
Heero barely glanced up from where he sat at one of the two pilot seats, one hand on the controls, the other hovering over a touch-screen monitor that displayed the status of the shuttle. Wufei got a glimpse of bearing and range-- though he couldn't tell what it was off of --and a list of system checks before he dropped into the chair beside Heero and tossed a juice and sandwich into his lap. "Eat up," he said, unwrapping his own sandwich. "Compliments of the chef, AKA Quatre."
Heero grunted, eyes still on the monitor as he opened the sandwich and took a large bite.
Wufei glanced around at the equipment and the console displays and pulled a frown. "You said Trowa was a pilot; you never said anything about you being able to fly this pile of junk."
"All of us are pilots to some degree," Heero replied, eyes scanning the information on the monitor. "Duo flies like he drives. He takes a lot of risks, but he knows what he's doing. But Trowa can pilot almost anything. This," he flexed his hand on the controls, "is mostly on autopilot now, so it doesn't require much knowledge or training."
"Ah." Wufei lowered his half-eaten sandwich and stared at it blankly, mind drifting. The memory of fire, blood, and terror was still lurking in the back of his head, a half-forgotten memory, blurry faces, the smell of flesh when it's on fire.
Wufei flicked the other boy a sideways look, debating. Should he tell Heero what he had remembered in his dreams? He suppressed a shudder. No. Not yet. He wasn't ready to talk about it. And he wasn't sure he was ready to hear the story behind the images. Heero might not even be willing to answer him. And... Meilan... he frowned slightly. She was someone important. He could sense that much. And so far none of his companions had been willing to explain anything even remotely important. But Heero had told him about Zhao. Perhaps he would be willing to elaborate on another name.
"Who's Hua?" he demanded.
Heero blinked, looking at him in surprise for a moment. "Another dream?" he guessed, face quickly falling back into its stern unreadable lines.
Wufei nodded, taking a sip of juice to avoid Heero's eyes. "Who is she?"
Heero hesitated, eyes drifting back to the screen before him. "She died," he admitted finally, voice inflectionless. "A long time ago. I'm surprised you remember her at all. I doubt the others do."
"I just remembered the name," Wufei admitted. "Someone... mentioned it. The name's Chinese. Was she..." he hesitated.
"No," Heero said a bit more quietly. He was still looking at the screen, but his eyes weren't following the text. "She wasn't family. She was from another Clan that lived on L5."
"Childhood friend, then?" Wufei guessed. "How did she die?"
Heero frowned, staring straight ahead. Wufei could practically hear the cogs in his mind working as he decided how much he could safely say. Abruptly Heero shrugged, as if he could see no harm in explaining. "She used to be one of your Guardians," he said simply. "Or at least, she was supposed to be one."
"Duo," Wufei interrupted sharply in dawning realization. When Heero looked at him, startled, Wufei offered the other boy a superior look as if to say 'I'm not as in the dark as you think'. "Duo told me that he was a 'replacement'. That he became a Guardian when one of them died. So he took this Hua's spot?"
"...Yes." Heero was eyeing him a little suspiciously. "What else did Duo tell you?"
Wufei shrugged, biting into his sandwich, satisfied that for once Heero was the one left asking pointed questions while Wufei had the luxury of witholding the desired answers.
Heero scowled, but he'd gotten used to Wufei's stubborness. He switched tactics. "What else did you dream about?"
Wufei stared down at his sandwich, appetite suddenly gone. "Fire," he said shortly.
Heero's face closed off. He looked away abruptly, eyes seeming to see right through the screen. "L5," he guessed.
Wufei looked at him sidways. "I don't know where it was, or what was going on," he admitted. "But I've had nightmares of fire for as long as I can remember. This was the first time I remembered anything else about the dream, though."
Heero shifted slightly, avoiding Wufei's gaze. "Did you..." he stopped, then started again. "Did someone die?" he asked gruffly. "In the dream."
Wufei set his jaw grimly. "I think so," he admitted quietly.
Heero flicked him a quick look. Wufei scowled, his mood darkening. "Yeah, yeah, I know," he growled. "You can't tell me anything, right?"
Heero looked away again. "No," he admitted softly.
They sat in tense silence for a long moment. Wufei was about to get up and return to his seat when Heero shifted again and said at last, "Watch your back."
Wufei peered at him suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
Heero turned to face him fully, face grim. "Not everyone from your past is a friend," he said. "When we get to where we're going... I don't want you out of our sight. Don't go anywhere alone until after.... well, you'll know when it's safe. Just make sure one of us is with you until then."
Wufei arched a brow. "I can look after myself."
"I know you can," Heero said so bluntly it took Wufei off guard. "But there could be foul play. Anyone can fall to a knife in the back."
Wufei frowned, then glanced over his shoulder. "What about the girls? Are we really going to drop them off on the way?"
Heero gave a careless shrug, returning his attention to his monitor. "If at all possible. Although--"
The cockpit door hissed open, and Quatre stuck his head in, wearing a look of long suffering. "Duo was the last to use the shower," he announced. "Meaning there's just barely enough warm water left for one person. And I do mean that literally. There's something wrong with the water heater. This will be the last hot shower until it's fixed." He withdrew from the cabin.
Wufei started to his feet hastily, muttering curses, but Heero was already getting up. They hesitated, looking at each other a little warily.
Wufei lifted his chin in challenge. "Brains before brawn, Yuy. Looks like you'll be enjoying cold showers for a few days. Or for the remainder of the flight, if Duo ever gets to the showers again."
Heero had looked like he was about to take his seat again, but froze at Wufei's words. "Are you suggesting this could be the last hot shower we have?" he demanded dryly.
Wufei smirked, squeezing past the chairs and sliding the door open. "Enjoy."
He'd honestly expected Heero to remain in his seat, despite the teasing. But something in Heero's eyes sparked defiantly, and he made a fast move for the door.
Wufei managed to bolt out of the cockpit ahead of the other boy, and raced for the shower room, shouting over his shoulder indignantly, "Go fly the damned shuttle, Yuy!"
Quatre turned and saw the two of them barrelling towards him and barely managed to flatten himself against the wall in time, yelping in surprise. "Hey, watch it, you two!" he called after them as they dashed down the corridor. He watched them turn a corner, wide-eyed, then glanced up at Trowa when the other boy popped his head out of the kitchenette to see what all the noise was about. "Trowa," he said weakly, "when did Heero develop a personality?"
Trowa shrugged. "Blame Wufei," he deadpanned, and ducked back into the room.
They reached the shower room at the same time.
Wufei attempted to squirm underneath the arm that suddenly shot out to bar the way, but Heero blocked him with a knee. Wufei wrapped the other boy in a bear hug, hauling him away from the door.
Heero seized the doorframe with a snarl. "Hey!"
"Don't be such a baby, Yuy," Wufei grunted, struggling to heave the other boy back. "You're the tough soldier type. You can handle a little cold water."
"You could use a little toughening up," Heero pointed out, straining against the hold. "You take the cold showers."
"Toughening up??" Wufei repeated incredulously. "Don't be a woman!" He released Heero abruptly, ducking under his arm and darting into the room.
Heero snagged him by the back of his shirt and dragged him back, catching him in a headlock. "Who's a woman??"
They both froze at the new voice, craning their heads to see Duo standing a few feet away, watching the antics of the two normally stone-faced boys with wide eyes. "Well," he said finally, grinning, "looks like you two can either beat each other up for the stupid shower, or take the intelligent route and just share it. I mean, you're both guys. What's the big damn deal?"
Wufei stared at the other boy incredulously. Of course. Right. They were both guys. Duo's idea was a plausible one.
So why was his face suddenly burning up?
"...Right," Heero said gruffly, releasing Wufei, all signs of... what? Playfulness? From Yuy? Whatever it had been, it was gone.
Wufei turned to stare at him, but Heero's face was impassive as he nodded towards the shower room. "It will have to be quick with two of us, but at least we'll each get a warm shower."
Wufei almost considered giving up the shower as lost, but that would make it seem even more obvious that the idea bothered him. And Heero would have won. "Fine," he managed to say.
He entered ahead of Heero, turned his back on the door, and forced himself to strip, tugging the band from his hair. Heero closed the door behind them and turned on the hose, testing the heat with his hand. He put it aside and began tugging off his shirt. Looking straight ahead, Wufei walked stiffly past the other boy and stepped into the stall. He snatched up the hose and wet himself down quickly. Perhaps if he was fast enough, they wouldn't have to--
The soft whumph of clothes hitting the floor was followed immediately after by the sound of bare feet on the tile directly behind him.
Wufei managed not to drop the hose, but only just barely.
He held the hose over his shoulder and let Heero take it from him, unwilling to turn around. He didn't want to look at Heero, and he definitely didn't want Heero to see how red his face undoubtedly was. He grabbed the bottle of soap and began rubbing it into his scalp.
It was dead silent in the small shower stall, though Wufei thought it was a wonder that the sound of his heart pounding in his chest wasn't echoing in the enclosed space. He put a little more soap in his hands for the rest of his body and held the bottle over his shoulder. It popped out of his soapy hand and landed with a thunk on the floor.
Wufei turned without thinking, glancing down to see where it had landed. "Sor--"
Heero had already started to lean forward to retrieve it, and cracked his head hard against Wufei's.
"Ouch!" Wufei yelped, grabbing his head and clenching his teeth. "Jesus," he hissed.
"Sorry," Heero grunted, wincing and reaching up to touch his own head before stooping down to get the soap.
Wufei made a face at him as he straightened. "Clumsy, much?" he grumbled.
Heero arched a brow at him, squirting some of the soap into his palm. "Says the one who tripped over his own feet on the race track," he pointed out in a monotone as he lathered up his own dark hair.
Wufei glared. "I didn't-- OW!!" The soapy lather had been dripping down into his face, and some of it had gotten into his eyes. Wufei clenched them shut, reaching up instinctively to rub away the burn. He let loose a stream of Mandarin curses.
He heard it again-- that strange sound he'd heard that night in the hotel. Heero was laughing at him. "Don't rub it," he said, a thread of amusement in his voice. "You'll make it worse. Put your hands down."
Wufei lowered his hands and a moment later felt the hose over his head. He flinched. "You're making it worse," he protested irritably. "You're getting more soap in--"
"Who's the baby now?" Heero cut him off mercilessly. "Hold still." A strong hand gripped his skull suddenly and began rubbing vigorously.
"H-hey!" Wufei sputtered.
"I'm washing out the soap," Heero explained calmly. "Stop squirming."
Wufei kept his eyes shut, but scowled anyway. "Who asked you to be my mother?" he grumbled.
Heero snorted and didn't respond. After a few moments the hand disappeared, and the water hit him full in the face.
"HEY-!" Wufei jerked back, sputtering. "Why you--"
"I was getting the soap off your face," Heero said calmly, but when Wufei forced his eyes open, he caught the smirk on the other boy's face.
"Bullshit," Wufei snapped, trying to snatch the hose back. "Give me that, brat. Your showering priveledges are revoked."
"Feh." Heero pulled the hose out of the way and over his head, wetting his own hair. "You had your turn."
"And nearly got blinded, thanks to you," Wufei growled, grabbing the lower part of the hose and trying to yank it away.
Heero moved his arm suddenly, holding the hose a littler higher. He took a step forward so that a little of the water was hitting both of them. "Happy?" he demanded.
Wufei barely noticed the water hitting the top of his head. He stared blankly at Heero-- who was suddenly way way too close --and couldn't think of an intelligent reply.
The taunting look to Heero's eyes disappeared, and his expression became suddenly impossible to read.
The water was starting to turn cold, but Heero didn't seem to have noticed, because he didn't move the hose, and he didn't step away, either. A little voice in the back of Wufei's mind was asking him rather frantically why he wasn't moving, either, but it was a little hard to hear.
He wasn't sure, but it seemed as if Heero had stepped a little closer-- or leaned forward or--
He realized his back was nearly to the wall, and Heero's forehead was so close to his own that the other's bangs were tickling the bridge of his nose. It was too hard to focus on Heero's eyes without crossing his own eyes, so he found himself staring blankly at Heero's mouth-- a very dangerous place to focus on, that little voice informed him in a panic.
There was a slight, hesitant tug on his hair, and a quick sideways glance showed Heero holding a lock of it between thumb and forefinger, even though he could feel Heero's eyes boring into him.
"...It's longer than it used to be," Heero noted quietly.
Wufei wanted to swallow, but his throat felt very very dry. "Yeah," was all he could think of to mutter.
There was a hesitation, then Wufei thought for just a fleeting instant that there was a wash of hot breath very close to his mouth.
Someone banged on the door so suddenly that they both jumped, jerking apart like startled cats.
"Hey!" Duo shouted through the door. "You guys done in there?"
Wufei couldn't make himself look at Heero. He directed his scowl towards the door instead, pretending his face didn't feel like it was on fire and that his heart wasn't slamming in his chest so hard it felt like it was shaking his body.
Heero stepped out of the stall and took a towel from the rack, face expressionless once more, though he too was careful not to look at Wufei. "Yes," he answered. Wufei was still searching for his own voice.
What the hell just happened here? he thought a little numbly. What the hell is wrong with me?
"Better get your asses out here, then," Duo called. "You've got someone on the line for you."
Wufei winced. If Hilde had found him, who else had managed to track him down? "There's no one I want to talk to," he snapped.
"I think you'd better take this call," Duo advised. "It's Kushrenada. In all his gentlemanly glory, no less."
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