Chapter 29: "Warming Up"
Once the rush of adrenaline had subsided, Wufei slowly became aware of just how cold space really was. The suit he was wearing was meant to protect him from the cold to some extent, but being cupped in the hand of a Gundam was different from being safely nestled in a cockpit. By the time they met up with Howard, he was numb with cold, and his hands and feet felt clumsy.
They landed in the hangar, and Wufei kept a firm grip on Wing's hand when Heero carefully lowered him to the ground. He stood as straight as possible, but the sound of his teeth chattering sounded loud in his helmet.
As soon as the hangar doors hissed closed, Duo and Hilde came running, with Relena directly behind them. Wufei tugged off his helmet, frowning at Duo in bemusement. "Wait, if you're here, then who...?" He glanced over his shoulder as the ivory Gundam's hatch slid open. The slender pilot rose to his feet and reached up to remove his helmet. Wufei's eyebrows shot up as Quatre beamed down at him from the top of the formidable mecha.
"Thank goodness we found you in time," Quatre called down. "Although I suppose we should have known you wouldn't allow yourself to remain a captive for long." He pat his Gundam affectionately. "Guess you didn't need Sandrock's help, after all."
Wufei opened his mouth to reply, but ended up giving a grunt of expelled air as Hilde threw herself at him in a flying tackle. "Wufei!" she shouted in his ear. "You scared me to death!"
"I'm fine," he growled, a little embarrassed by the fierce embrace. He pat her shoulder awkwardly, looking over her head at Duo. "It was Milliardo."
"Yeah, we figured," Duo said with a nod. "They didn't do anything to ya, did they?"
Wufei shook his head. "No. He seems like something of an honorable man. In fact, the only reason he seemed to have anything against me was because he doesn't appear to be very fond of either you or Heero."
Duo coughed, looking away innocently. "Weird."
Relena interrupted, stepping forward anxiously as Heero landed light as a cat behind Wufei. "Is everyone all right?"
"Mission successful," Heero grunted as soon as he'd removed his helmet. He barely spared her a glance, following Wufei's pensive gaze towards the small pilot Quatre had laid out on the floor. "Who is he?" he asked bluntly. "And why did you save him?"
Wufei shrugged, and Hilde reluctantly released him. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "His suit was destroyed, but one of the fighters tried to take him out anyway."
"And he looks so young," Hilde put in sympathetically, hurrying over to the still form. "Look at him! He's smaller than I am! He's got to be younger than any of us."
Relena hesitated, looking from Heero to the pilot, torn. Before she could make up her mind on who to go to, Hilde had already started unclasping the helmet. "I can't see his face," Hilde mused. "The eyeshield is almost opaque. How long has he been unconscious? We should take him to Sally... oh."
The last syllable was so quiet and startled that it instantly got everyone's attention.
"What is it?" Quatre asked, hurrying over.
"He's dead," Heero guessed impassively.
Wufei whacked him on the arm absently, frowning at Hilde's hunched back. "What?" he demanded impatiently. "Is he injured?"
"Um..." Hilde turned her head to offer him a strange look. "'He' is a she, Wufei."
"What??" Wufei strode over quickly and bent to inspect the limp pilot.
"That explains why 'he' was so small," Quatre noted under his breath.
Wufei ignored him, staring dumbly at the pilot he'd instinctively rescued. It was a woman-- no. A girl. A child, even. She didn't even look old enough to be in high school, yet. Short red hair framed a pale, heart-shaped face, lips drawn tightly in pain even in unconsciousness. There was a bloodied gash on her temple.
"She must have hit her head before pulling on her helmet and evacuating," Wufei found himself saying. Inside, his stomach churned with anger. Kushrenada was more of a dog than he'd thought, sending children out to do his dirty work.
Duo had come up to take a peek from behind Wufei. "A kid?" he blurted. He looked over at Heero in astonishment. "Heero, she's gotta be like... twelve or something! What kinda pilots does Milliardo got flying for him nowadays?"
"Actually, we think she's one of Kushrenada's," Heero put in, finally coming over to scowl down at the body.
Relena hurried over, looking in surprise from the child to Heero. "Treize Kushrenada? You ran into him? Why in heaven's name did he have a little girl piloting a mobile suit??"
"Good question," Duo said grimly. "Would like to ask him myself."
"Never mind," Hilde interrupted sharply. "Can someone carry her to the infirmary? I'll run ahead and make sure Sally Po's there. We need to get her out of this suit and see what's wrong with her." She got to her feet and caught Wufei's gaze. "It's a good thing you picked her up," she said quietly. "You saved a child's life today."
"Why did you save her?" Duo asked, cocking his head.
"I already said I don't know," Wufei growled, feeling a little uncomfortable. "What was I supposed to do, leave her there?"
"That's Wufei logic for you," Hilde said with a fleeting smile. "Duo, can you--"
"I got 'er." Duo crouched down and gathered the small body into his strong arms. Hilde hurried off, and Duo turned to follow. He paused, glancing back at the rest of them. "Heero, Howard's in the cockpit. Think he wants to talk to either you or Quatre. Wufei, man, you should come with me and Hilde. You don't look too good yourself."
"I'm fine," Wufei retorted, ignoring the ache in his elbow and knee from where he'd been thrown against the instrument panel.
"You're shaking," Heero observed, looking him over carefully.
"He's got to be freezing," Quatre said, looking instantly contrite. "We should have thought of that. Wufei, Duo's right. Get to the infirmary. Sally can check you over and give you something to get rid of that chill. You can tell us about what happened after you've been patched up and fed."
"Let Po take care of the girl," Wufei snapped. "I only have a bruise or two. I'll be fine."
Duo opened his mouth to protest, but Heero gave him a sharp look. Duo shrugged, giving in. "Fine, fine, be stubborn macho man or whatever. I better get this kid to see the doc."
"I'll get the doors for you," Relena offered once she realized Heero was steadfastly ignoring her. She hurried after Duo.
Quatre watched them go, reaching up to run a gloved hand through blond hair as he let out a sigh. "We're lucky we ran into you when we did," he said quietly. "Heero, I know you have more skill and experience than I do, but it would have been next to impossible to get to Milliardo's battleship during that fight." He offered Wufei a pleased smile. "I think Wufei's proved once and for all he can take care of himself," he added approvingly.
Wufei nodded, scowling meaningfully at Heero. Heero frowned right back. "You're still lucky we came after you," he stated stubbornly. "You wouldn't have been able to get past those dolls."
Wufei blinked. "You know about the mobile dolls?"
"Of course." Heero's frown deepened. "We have to know our enemy."
"Good job on your first piloting experience, by the way," Quatre put in, beaming. "As one of your trainers, Trowa would be proud. You must have a knack for it."
Wufei shrugged one shoulder. "I was lucky," he admitted bluntly.
"Yes, well, still..." Quatre hesitated, looking from Heero to Wufei, who was still shivering unconsciously. "Heero, I'll talk to Howard," he offered. "Why don't you make sure Wufei gets patched up? He's too stubborn to do it himself."
"Look, Winner," Wufei started irritably, but the blond was already walking off calmly. Wufei turned his annoyed frown on Heero. "I'm fine, Yuy," he snapped.
"Of course you are," Heero said in such a dead-pan voice that Wufei was instantly suspicious. "But Winner does have a point about one thing. You're cold. You can't ignore that. Space is a lot colder than people think. You need to warm up." He crooked a finger. "Come on. Sally Po has enough on her hands with that little girl. I have a first aid kit you can use for..." he glanced down, and Wufei straightened, wondering if he'd been favoring his bad knee unconsciously, "whatever slight injuries you may have."
Arguing was useless, and Wufei had to admit he was damn cold. So he gathered his dignity and followed Heero out of the hangar.
Heero led him to the room they'd been sharing with the other mechanics. It was empty now; they were all working. From under his bed at the back of the long room Heero drew out a first aid kit and made a gesture for Wufei to sit. "Get out of that and get into some warm clothes, and let me see what's wrong with your knee."
Wufei, lips clamped tight to muffle his chattering teeth, complied, stripping himself of the space suit and changing into his last clean pair of jeans and a sweater while Heero dug through the first aid kit. He seated himself at the edge of the bed and crossed his arms over his chest in an attempt to stop his shivering as Heero knelt at his feet and carefully rolled up his pants leg.
Wufei winced despite himself at the sight of the bruise on his knee. Heero inspected it critically, touching it gently with his fingertips. Wufei had to keep himself from jerking the leg away. "There doesn't seem to be a cut," Heero observed. "It's just banged up." He glanced up at Wufei from under dark lashes. "Fall down in your hurry to escape, Wufei?"
Wufei made a face at the innocent tone. "Knocked it on the panel in the Taurus, smartass," he snapped. Or tried to snap. Opening his mouth only made the teeth-chattering worse and tripped his words up.
Heero frowned, rolling the pants leg down again. "Just be careful with it. Is that the warmest sweater you have?"
"Yes." It came out 'Y-y-yes', but Wufei kept his expression stern.
Wufei rolled up his sleeve and checked his elbow. "This, too. It's just a scratch."
Heero took Wufei's arm and looked at the slightly swollen joint and the small gash. "Could have been worse," he observed, reaching for the antiseptic. "Lucky you had your harness on."
Wufei didn't say out loud what they were both thinking. It could have been worse, all right. The dolls could have destroyed his Taurus and him along with it. "Lucky me," Wufei managed to mutter, watching as Heero dabbed at the small wound and put on a band-aid.
Heero rolled the sleeve down when he was finished, but didn't move from the floor right away. He frowned up at Wufei, who was visibly trying to control his shuddering, then abruptly got up and seated himself at the head of the bed, throwing his legs over either side. He beckoned commandingly. "Come here."
Wufei looked at him blankly.
Heero frowned, wagging his fingers a bit more impatiently. "You need to warm up. This isn't the time to be stubborn, Chang. Come here."
Wufei opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again. He could argue, refuse, walk away, but he had a feeling that the end result would be the same. Heero would resort to manhandling. And that was not in the least bit dignified.
Ignoring the strange little quail in his stomach, he kept an impassive face on as he drew his legs onto the bed and scooted closer.
Not close enough, evidently. With a mutter of impatience, Heero grabbed his shoulders and tugged him closer, pushing and pulling until he had Wufei the way he wanted him. Wufei found himself seated with his back against Heero's chest, a warm breath by his ear, and strong arms reaching around to wrap around where his own arms were still crossed tightly over his chest. Wufei immediately went rigid.
Heero froze, the arms around him not quite gripping him yet. "...I'm just going to warm you up," Heero said after a moment, his voice at its most unreadable.
Chancing a quick sideways glance over his shoulder, Wufei caught a glimpse of Heero's carefully constructed stone face. He forced himself to relax. "I know that," he muttered defiantly, glaring at the far wall and making himself put his arms by his sides.
Heero waited another moment to make sure Wufei wasn't going to pull away, then carefully wrapped his arms around Wufei from behind. Wufei took a deep breath, but when he let it out it came out shaky. He was still trembling from the cold.
Heero's arms tightened slightly, drawing him more snugly up against a warm solid chest, and Wufei sank back into the inviting body heat, unclenching his fists from the blankets. He drew his knees up closer to his body and on impulse pushed his fingers underneath Heero's arms.
Heero jumped at the cool touch, but didn't let go. "Pull the blanket up, it will help."
Wufei complied, leaning forward slightly to snag the blanket before propping himself back against Heero's unmoving chest once more and drawing the blanket up so it covered him from neck to toes. He was still shaking with the combination of cold and Heero's close proximity, but if Heero realized how nervous he was, he was prudent enough not to mention it. He blew a small sigh and let his chin rest against Wufei's shoulder.
"...Didn't your mother ever tell you not to speak to strangers?" he muttered.
Wufei turned his head slightly to mock-glare at the other boy. "If you're referring to the men who accosted me in the museum, can it, Yuy. There wasn't much 'speaking' involved."
Wufei turned his eyes frontward again, allowing himself to relax a little more against the hard muscles against his back. "Anyhow, you're one to talk about stupid actions. Did you think you and Winner could really take on both armies by yourselves when you came to find me?"
"Rescue you, and yes, we would have at least made a dent," Heero corrected. "Enough of one to get you out, anyway."
"I'm not a damsel in distress, Yuy," Wufei growled, pinching one tanned arm. "Leave the rescuing for twits like Relena. I told you before, I can take care of myself."
Heero shifted against the wall to find a slightly more comfortable position. "Yes, you can," he admitted grudgingly. "But we weren't exactly expecting you to pull a stunt like that. Since when can you pilot a suit?"
"Since now, it seems," Wufei retorted mildly. For someone who acted so cold on the outside, Heero generated a surprising amount of bodyheat. Wufei's shivers were few and far between, and he could feel his body relaxing as the warmth seeped in. He blinked slowly, feeling suddenly drowsy. The adrenaline, the fight, and the long hours in the cell were doing him in at last. The voice rumbling in his ear and through the chest at his back, along with the bodyheat, weren't helping matters any.
"I didn't need rescuing," he muttered, just to make sure his point was clear. His eyes were beginning to droop. "Still.. thought that counts, I guess..."
Heero snorted quietly against his neck. Wufei shivered slightly.
Heero was silent for a long moment. "...Do I make you uncomfortable?" he asked so quietly Wufei almost wasn't sure he'd spoken at all.
Wufei frowned, opening his eyes to stare at the wall. "No," he made himself say, his own voice a reluctant murmur. "Why do you think that?"
"Everytime I get within a foot of you or touch you, you jump," Heero pointed out clinically. "Or pull away or get defensive."
Wufei closed his eyes, letting out a frustrated sigh. "Give me a break, Yuy," he muttered, half-heartedly struggling with his exhaustion. "It's not like I have any experience in this sort of thing."
There was no response at first. Wufei was just drifting towards sleep when Heero spoke again, almost hesitantly. "Experience? In... what?"
Wufei's eyes opened again, and he winced internally. He should have known better than to flap his mouth when he was tired. He floundered, trying to think of a way to cover up the blunder.
Warm lips brushing against his neck and a slow tightening of the arms around his waist made his breath catch in his throat. "In... this?" Heero murmured.
Wufei forced himself to swallow.
Slowly, carefully, as if he was handling a live snake and not a teenage boy, Heero lowered his hand a bit and slid his fingers under the hem of Wufei's sweater, gingerly laying his palm against a flat stomach. Wufei took in a quick breath of surprise, feeling his muscles clench slightly and his heart kick up a notch, but he didn't jump, and he didn't allow himself to pull away.
Encouraged by the lack of a violent rebuttal, Heero slipped his hand a bit higher and allowed his hand to lie a little more firmly against Wufei's stomach. A hot mouth found the side of Wufei's neck and lingered in a soft touch.
Wufei's heart was thudding his his eardrums, his breathing a bit quicker, but he could feel another heart banging against his shoulderblades. Heero was nervous, too-- and expecting to get an elbow to the nose.
Wufei shifted slightly, turning his head to see the other boy. Heero lifted his head, blue eyes flicking back and forth, carefully gauging Wufei's expression for any hint of rejection or anger, his own expression carefully neutral.
Wufei only stared back silently. After what felt like hours, Heero finally moved, leaning in very slowly, eyes still locked with Wufei's as if expecting an explosion at any given moment.
Then Heero's face got hard to focus on, and there was soft pressure against his mouth. Wufei took in a shuddering breath and allowed his lips to part instinctively. The soft touch against his mouth grew a bit firmer, and Wufei felt a trickle of warmth start to curl up his spine.
The door crashed open with a bang that made them both leap apart like startled wild cats and go for their weapons.
Heero, who evidently kept his own gun on him twenty-four seven, already had his aimed for the door before Wufei had finished pulling his sword from underneath the bed.
"Guys, what the hell are you doing? Takin' a nap?" Duo came bounding in, looking flushed from his obvious rush to fetch them. Heero lowered his gun with a scowl, and Wufei shoved his sword back under the bed with a heartfelt oath. Duo didn't seem to notice their annoyance, and motioned insistantly towards the door. "Come on, you can sleep later! Sally Po patched up that kid, and tried some smelling salts on her. The kid's awake. And get this-- she's asking for Wufei."
"What?" Heero said sharply, getting to his feet quickly.
"No, not by name." Duo flapped a hand impatiently. "She just wants to see the guy who saved her ass. C'mon, man, you comin' or what?"
Wufei followed Duo towards the infirmary, Heero right on his heels. It took a little more effort that he liked to admit to draw his mind away from what had just occurred and focus on the current problem. It didn't help that he could still feel the ghost of Heero's lips on his.
Everyone was already crowded around the sickbed in Sally's office. Trowa stepped aside when Duo led the other two in, eyes flicking towards Wufei in an unreadable glance. Perhaps he didn't agree with keeping the girl here. Wufei ignored the look and moved closer to the bed, gazing down at the slender child propped up against the headboard, wound bandaged up.
"You're the man who saved me?" she asked with no preamble. Her eyes were sharp and intelligent, her tone cultured. She lowered her head in a short, polite bow. "I thank you. It seems we don't fight for the same side, and yet you went out of your way to spare my life."
Wufei frowned. "You were with Kushrenada, then?" he demanded. "What business does a child have fighting a war?"
She gazed up at him steadily. "Yes, I am a part of his army. And pardon my saying so, but you hardly seem to be a man of middle years yourself."
"Can't the interrogation wait until later, Wufei?" Hilde asked a little pointedly. "She's been through a lot." She smiled down at the girl. "Don't mind him. He can be a little pushy and impatient, but he's not so bad."
Wufei scowled at her.
"Wufei?" the girl repeated a bit sharply. She cocked her head, gaze a little more intense. "Chang Wufei, is it? So you're the one I've heard so much about. Ah-- excuse me, I forgot to introduce myself." She drew one small hand out from under the covers and placed it on her chest, smiling sweetly up at them. "My name is Mariemaia. It's a pleasure to meet all of you."
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