Chapter 30: "Mariemaia"
"She's lucky Wufei found her."
Trowa grunted an answer, concentrating more on the twisted metal in his hands than on his blond friend.
Quatre was sweeping the floor of the empty workroom, alone with his friend. Howard's men had all gone to bed, as had the rest of the Guardians as soon as Mariemaia had nodded off once more. "I still think it's horrible that one so young is a soldier in this war."
Trowa lifted a brow at the comment. "Says one who's been trained since he could walk how to shoot a gun and pilot a mobile suit," he pointed out in a deadpan voice.
Quatre frowned. "We were an exception," he protested. "It's tradition that Wufei and those before him be guarded."
"We're a special exception," Trowa corrected, eyeing the busted laser rifle. "Usually normal bodyguards would suffice, aside from the Primary who would of course be trained from childhood. Wufei requires four Guardians."
Quatre sighed, leaning over to retrieve the dustpan. "Yes, but like I said, that's us. Wufei's family has their reasons. Why would General Kushrenada allow a child like that to fight in his army? Especially out here, in the thick of it all. She can't be more than twelve or thirteen. She should be talking about boys with her friends, not taking lives in the cockpit of a mobile suit."
Trowa tossed the ruined gun onto the table in resignation. It was beyond repair, or at least not worth the effort. "Kushrenada may be labeled as the 'hero of earth', but I'm sure Wufei would be the first to point out his lack of morals in certain areas. Go to bed. I'll finish that."
"I'm almost done," Quatre said with a smile, sweeping the bits of metal and trash into the dustbin. "But speaking of sleep..." his eyes slid towards the door, brow crinkling a bit in concern. "It's probably nothing, but... I wanted to see if anyone else had noticed something that seems to be wrong with Wufei."
Trowa turned and leaned back against the table, crossing his arms over his chest. "Psychologically? Who can blame him?"
"No. Well.. maybe." Quatre straightened, pausing before dumping the trash in the garbage as he faced his friend. "It's just.. he went to bed shortly after Mariemaia woke up, didn't he? I know this trip can take a bit out of you, but it seems to me that he gets exhausted easily. Especially after there's been some excitement."
Trowa's expression gave no indication of whether he was following or not, so Quatre continued as he headed for the wastebin. "I mean, yes, I expected him to be out of it after having the Suits and Kushrenada mess with his Mark. But it wasn't just then. He slept constantly during the roadtrip, from what Duo says. He's almost always the first to go to bed. When nothing's going on, he naps. I'm sure he had nothing to do in that cell on Milliardo's battleship but pace and sleep. Yet he went straight to bed hours before anyone else tonight. Anytime there's a lull, I get waves of exhaustion coming off of him."
Trowa nodded when Quatre cast him a worried look. "Yes, I've noticed it," he admitted calmly. "I didn't want to say anything. I don't think he even realizes how often he sleeps, or how quickly he gets tired."
"What is it, then?" Quatre asked fretfully, dusting off his hands and coming to stand beside his partner. "Outside interference? Heero wouldn't do that, would he?? Just to keep him in sight?"
Trowa shook his head slowly. "No, nothing like that. I think it's all internal. It has to be his Mark."
Quatre blinked. That had not been the answer he'd been expecting. "From what Kushrenada did? But I thought Heero fixed that."
"Kushrenada might have triggered it," Trowa allowed with a one-shouldered shrug. "Personally, I just think it's because he's maturing. We know the Mark will no longer be so vulnerable once he's of-age. He turns seventeen shortly. Perhaps his body is just going through a change. Children tire easily if they are involved in too much excitement or activity. Their bodies are still growing, and they're not used to staying up for extended periods of time." He reached out and took the broom from Quatre, setting it in its corner. "In a way, perhaps his Mark affects him similarly."
"I hadn't thought of that," Quatre admitted, dumping the contents of the dustpan into the garbage can. "whatever it is, I hope it wears off soon. If his exhaustion is a sign that his Mark is that vulnerable, we're going to have to make absolutely certain that no one with ill intentions so much as touches him."
"That's our job," Trowa agreed mildly.
"In the meantime," Quatre sighed, "I think we'd better keep a close eye on him to see exactly how often these exhaustion spells happen and how long they occur. It could be disasterous if he was struck by one in the middle of a battle."
"Inform Duo," Trowa grunted. "He needs to know what to look out for."
"And Heero, of course." Quatre faltered at Trowa's stern frown. "But..."
"Heero spends entirely too much with Wufei as it is, considering the 'situation' those two are in. We agreed to keep contact between them minimal, or at least supervised."
"Heero's probably the most professional of us," Quatre said a bit sharply. "And after you talked to him, I'm sure he's aware of the problem, and is trying his best to keep things as professional as possible."
Trowa looked at him steadily. "Is that what you're hoping is true, or what you feel from him?"
Quatre's hand went up reflexively to touch his chest, and he averted his gaze. "I... don't know," he admitted meekly. "I've tried not to pick up on anything like that lately. Heero has this uncanny knack of knowing when I'm Reading him. I didn't want to pry. It's hard enough on the both of them as it is."
"This isn't the time to be squeamish, Quatre."
Quatre swayed back a bit at the hard tone. "But--"
Trowa's face was solemn. "Read them. Both of them. And report back to me. I hope you're right. But if you're not, we need to know before we get home."
Quatre frowned, setting the dustpan down a bit harder than he'd meant to. "Yes, sir," he said shortly, and spun on his heel.
Trowa caught his arm in a loose but insistant grip and gently turned him around again. The sternness was gone from his face and voice. "Quatre. I'm not snapping orders at you. I'm trying to--"
"Protect them. I know." Quatre took a deep breath. "It's just... I hate this. It isn't fair."
"Life isn't fair," Trowa pointed out dryly.
Quatre peeked up at him, blue eyes studying Trowa's face carefully. "No," he admitted, voice almost inaudible. "It isn't." He carefully pulled his arm free and left quietly.
Whatever paranoia Wufei had been feeling around Heero seemed to have almost completely disappeared; it was replaced with the expected nervousness. Instead of avoiding Heero, he found his mind wandering more and more often to that brief kiss Duo had so rudely interrupted. And allowing his mind to dwell on that for more than a moment only made him think of the strange scene in the bathroom on earth, and again in Relena's shuttle. And of course that night where he'd allowed Heero to hold his hand.
He caught himself seeking Heero out with his eyes more and more often as the day progressed. Even after he realized what he was doing, it seemed his body wasn't interested in his pride, and unconsciously his gaze would find Heero and linger. Right now Heero was perched on a workbench, deft fingers twisting wires and cords while he ignored the boistrous laughter and conversation of the mechanics around him. Wufei felt a frown tugging at his mouth. Had that been a fluke? A one-time thing? Had Heero come to his senses, and had decided not to repeat the incident? Because as embarrassing as it was to admit to himself, Wufei was curious now. He'd never kissed anyone before-- or been kissed, for that matter. And those scant seconds weren't much to go off of.
"Wufei. Are you listening to a word I'm saying?"
Wufei jerked his eyes away from Heero and focused on Hilde's irritated face. "What?"
Hilde blew out a sigh of frustration. "Honestly, Wufei! Where has your mind been all day? I asked if you'd been to see Mariemaia."
Wufei frowned. "Not since she woke up," he admitted. "Why should I? You're the one who was nagging everyone to let her get some rest."
"That was hours ago," Hilde huffed. "And she's asked for you a few times since then."
"Why?" Wufei grumbled, looking down at the flight manual Trowa had wordlessly lent him an hour ago. "I talked to her when she woke up."
"Barely," Hilde snorted. "You two introduced each other, then you disappeared. You're the guy who saved her ass, Wufei. Of course she wants to talk to you."
"Feh." Wufei sent her a narrowed look. "You saw how she reacted to my name. And she works for Kushrenada. She just wants to weasel some information out of me."
"Are you implying she's a spy?" Hilde demanded incredulously. "You saved her life!"
Wufei shrugged, returning his attention to the manual. "If there's one thing this whole insane trip has taught me, it's that nothing is ever what it seems."
Hilde shook her head. "It's also made you more paranoid than ever," she pointed out a little sadly. "You've never been good at trusting people-- letting others in. I'm glad that you seem to be making friends-- in your own strange way --with Duo and the others. But unless they're in your immediate circle, you instantly assume everyone is out to get you."
"Because they usually are," Wufei snapped.
"I still don't see what the big deal is with you," Hilde said, lowering her voice. "I mean, everything's so weird. This trip, this whole 'Guardian' deal, and Kushrenada's obsession with you."
"It's not an 'obsession'," Wufei growled. "His only interest is in taking over my home colony. It's completely political with him."
Hilde arched a brow. "It seems kind of personal to me."
Wufei shuddered at the memory of the older man's unwanted touch. "Shut up," he growled. "I don't want to talk about that arrogant bastard."
He felt eyes on him and glanced Heero's way. The other boy was watching them with narrowed eyes. Hilde noticed, also. "Note to self," she muttered, carefully avoiding eye contact with him. "Don't use the 'K' word around Yuy." She jeered at Wufei. "He doesn't like him, either. Probably because he was messing with someone that didn't belong to him..."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Wufei sputtered, staring at her in horror.
Hilde gave him a tolerant look. "Do I look stupid to you?"
Wufei opened his mouth, then shut it again. Whatever retort he'd meant to make fled as Hilde offered him a slow, knowing smirk. His face suddenly felt hot. "Hilde!" he snarled.
"Wufei." Quatre popped his head into the work room, interrupting the argument. "Our young guest is awake again and asking for you."
"I'm busy," Wufei muttered, burying his nose in the manual once more.
Hilde deftly snatched it from his hands. "Quit being a baby, Wufei. She's just a kid. Go talk to her, will ya? It'll make her feel better."
Wufei glared from her to Quatre. "Just how long is she going to be here, anyway? Shouldn't we be sending her on her way?"
"She's injured, Wufei," Quatre pointed out, frowning in disapproval. "And as Hilde said, only a child. What do you want us to do, jettison her out into space and hope she gets picked up by Kushrenada's men?"
Heero spoke up at last. "We can't keep her around here," he said firmly without looking up from his task. "Child or not, she admitted to being a part of Kushrenada's forces."
"Just talk to her, Wufei," Hilde sighed. "It's five minutes out of your life."
Grumbling, Wufei marked his place in the book with a spare bit of wire. He followed Quatre out of the room and down the hall towards the infirmary.
Wufei glanced sideways at his companion as they walked, debating with himself. He'd been meaning to get to know each of them; Heero had even mentioned their desire to get to know him better. These boys were willing to put their lives on the line for him, yet he knew almost nothing about them. Wracking his brain, he latched onto something Duo had said the day he'd met them all together back on Earth.
Quatre felt his pensive gaze and offered a tired smile. "Something wrong?"
Wufei shook his head. "Duo told me once that you had another.. 'asset' to this group besides your financial background and strategic capabilities."
Quatre seemed confused for a moment, then his face cleared. "Oh- yes." He placed a hand to his chest. "Actually, I should have told you earlier. I'm something of an empath."
Wufei blinked, nonplussed. "What?"
"An empath." Quatre smiled cheerfully. "I pick up on the emotions of the people around me. Particularly strong ones. Sometimes I even pick up on.. 'intentions', I guess you could call them."
Wufei stared back, struggling with a mix of disbelief and horror. If it was true, then that meant Quatre had been picking up on the... weirdness.. between himself and Heero since the beginning.
Luckily Quatre wasn't looking at him and missed the expression. "The one big drawback is that with a lot of people present-- like on this ship --the emotions can be a bit much."
"The headaches," Wufei guessed suddenly, thinking of the previous day, when he'd found the blonde in Sally Po's office.
Quatre nodded. "That, and sometimes it's hard to tell that an emotion I'm feeling isn't my own. Especially if that emotion is a strong one-- like rage."
"So..." Wufei frowned. "If someone lost their temper around you, you'd get angry?"
"I would think I was angry," Quatre corrected. "I'd feel his rage so strongly, I'd think it was my anger."
Wufei frowned. "Then isn't this a hazardous position for you? What if you're surrounded by terrified civilians? How are you supposed to keep your head and be able to fight?"
"It takes a great deal of self control," Quatre admitted. "It's difficult, but I've taught myself to concentrate on my own thoughts and feelings. I can never block others' out, but I can usually keep myself pretty well grounded."
Wufei fell silent, eyeing the shorter boy out of the corner of his eye. He couldn't make up his mind whether or not he believed any of it, so he decided it would be prudent to keep his mouth shut for the time being.
"It's about time," Sally Po huffed the minute he and Quatre stepped into the infirmary. She gestured towards the curtain and the bed hidden behind it. "She asks for you every time she wakes up. Glad you could be bothered to pay the poor girl a visit." As she walked by, she patted him on the shoulder, grinning knowingly. She lowered her voice so her patient wouldn't hear. "I think she has some kind of little crush on you, lover-boy. You are her hero, after all."
Wufei offered her a dark scowl, but she only winked and sauntered out.
Wufei transferred his glare to his companion, but Quatre had his smile carefully erased by then. He lifted his hands defensively. "Don't look at me. And don't act so offended or surprised. She is just a child, Wufei. Maybe she thinks your her... I don't know... knight in shining armor or something."
"Glad you find this all so amusing," Wufei muttered acidly, striding over to the curtain and yanking it back.
Mariemaia didn't even jump at the sudden move. She was propped up against the bedframe, gazing up calmly at her visitor. "Mr. Chang," she greeted.
Wufei frowned. "Wufei is fine," he said a bit impatiently. "And aren't you a little overly polite for someone your age?"
"Wufei," Quatre protested.
The girl only offered a vague smile. "So I've heard," she said a little dryly. "I suppose it was the way I was raised." She looked over Wufei's shoulder at Quatre. "I'm sure your friend Mr. Winner here acted similarly when he was young."
"Is that how you got into Kushrenada's little army?" Wufei demanded. "Your family has political ties?"
Her smile remained polite. "Something like that."
Quatre's brows furrowed just slightly, and he studied her face for a moment in confusion. "Wufei, I promised Relena I would show her how to make curry," he said abruptly. "Try to be on your best behavior, please." He smiled at Mariemaia and left.
Wufei crossed his arms over his chest, staring down at the child he had-- for reasons unknown even to himself --snatched from the jaws of death.
It was a little disturbing, admittedly. She'd professed to being nearly twelve, yet despite her youth and small size, she reminded him eerily of someone twice her age. A child should not have mastered dry sarcasm, polite, distant smiles, and a poker face.
Of course, she shouldn't be flying around in a mobile suit in the middle of a war, either, but that wasn't really his business.
"What did you want?" he asked bluntly.
She blinked. "Excuse me?"
"You keep asking for me, don't you?" Wufei grunted. "I hope you weren't expecting me to come in here and hold your hand. You're a little old for that."
She laughed a little. "No, of course not. I just wished to speak with you, if that's all right." She hesitated, eyes flicking towards the chair beside her bed. "Would you mind sitting, though? It's a bit of a strain on my neck, looking up at you."
Wufei forced himself to sit. "Talk about what?"
"You certainly don't beat around the bush. All right, then, neither will I." She settled back a little more comfortably against her pillow and looked him straight in the eye. "I want to go with you."
Wufei arched a brow. "What?"
"I want to stay with you. I don't know exactly where you're going, but if it's not too much trouble, I'd like to come along."
"It is, actually."
Wufei twisted in his chair in surprise to stare at the boy standing in the doorway. "Heero, what--"
Heero was staring at Mariemaia with his best unreadable expression on as he stepped into the room. "We're dropping you off at the first port we come to," he said firmly. "We're not in the practice of taking POW's."
"It's all right," she said quickly. "I'll go willingly. I think perhaps the war is a bit much for me. I thought I was ready, but I am, after all, still just a kid." She gazed up at him soulfully. "Please, Mr. Yuy. I won't be any trouble. Besides, I feel I owe Wufei a debt now. He saved my life."
"No children allowed," Heero said in a monotone.
Wufei got up and pushed Heero back, pulling the curtain closed behind him to give them some privacy. "Heero," he hissed. "What the hell is your problem? Of course we can't keep her with us. Does your homicidal temper extend even to kids?"
Heero frowned back. "She's hiding something," he said quietly. "Quatre can feel it."
Wufei blinked in surprise. "Hiding something? What?"
Heero shook his head to show his ignorance. "She's hiding it well. Quatre couldn't figure out what she's hiding, he only knows she's very carefully acting a part. Maybe your rescue wasn't a mistake. It could have all been staged."
"Have you completely lost it?" Wufei demanded in disgust. "How could that have been staged?"
"It was just an idea," Heero growled. "Regardless, she is hiding something. And she's unusually interested in you. It's a combination I don't like-- especially with things as they are. She leaves. Period."
"Fine, whatever," Wufei snapped in frustration. "Just keep it down, will you? We'll drop her at the next place Howard does business."
"..." Heero peered at Wufei suspiciously. "What's all this about her having some kind of 'crush' on you?"
Wufei stepped back and firmly yanked the curtain closed between them.
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