Chapter 31: "The Serpant"

"Like what you see?"

Wufei looked quickly over his shoulder from where he was standing by one of the portholes, gazing out at the stars. Mariemaia was standing in the doorframe, the billowing nightgown Sally Po had lent her making her look even smaller and more fragile than she really was. "What are you doing up?"

"I'm feeling much better now." Mariemaia smiled and padded over to join him. Her eyes flicked towards the view outside. "You love space, Wufei?"

Wufei shrugged, returning his eyes to the inky depths. "I've been trying to get to it my whole life," he admitted grudgingly. "Sometimes it doesn't feel like it's sunk in yet-- that I'm actually here."

The girl smiled up at him. "Me, too," she admitted. "I'm Terran, as well. I've always longed to go to space. To see the stars, to visit other colonies... and to see earth with my own eyes from way up here." She heaved a little sigh. "War is turning out to be more than I'd bargained for, but joining the military did get me out here."

Wufei frowned at her. "I still don't understand how a thirteen-year-old girl was allowed to join, much less go into battle. Kushrenada's a lowlife, but I didn't think even he would stoop so low as to enlist children."

She stiffened a little, flashing him a hard look. "You shouldn't speak so disrespectfully," she snapped. "You don't even know him. Besides, it was my choice."

Wufei snorted. "I may not know him all too well," he grunted. "But the one meeting I had with him was enough to tell me all I needed to know."

"Oh, really?" She leaned against the wall and dimpled at him. "You met him? What about? And what could he have said or done to cause such animosity?"

"That's not a story for little girls," Wufei said shortly, turning away and walking towards the door. "Get back to bed before Po figures out you've escaped."

Mariemaia looked at first startled, then affronted. "I wasn't done talking to you," she burst out in a ringing tone.

Wufei paused, turning to arch a brow at her. "I was."

She composed herself quickly and hurried to catch up. "That's very rude," she scolded, sounding petulant rather than angry. "Walking away from someone who's talking to you." She smiled. "But I'll forgive you. You did rescue me, after all."

Wufei rolled his eyes and strode out into the hall. She followed doggedly. "Chang Wufei-- an odd name, isn't it? I mean, it doesn't even make sense."

He sent her a sharp look. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, I mean... 'Wufei'?" She wrinkled her nose. "My Chinese may be rustic, but I know a bit at least about your culture. Names are supposed to mean something, aren't they? But your name doesn't have any real meaning. Well... it can be translated, I suppose, but it's such a ridiculous name--"

"Look," Wufei snapped, "it's the only name I've got. If you don't like it, too bad. You won't be around here long enough for it to matter." Her observation surprised him, though. She was right, of course. The name "Wufei" was... an odd one. But the fact that she knew as much only proved she was a lot more educated than he'd previously assumed.

She looked angry again, but smoothed her expression quickly. "Are you always this tempermental?" she asked sweetly.

"Hn. If you think I'm bad, catch Yuy in a sour mood."

She sighed, clasping her hands behind her back as she walked beside him. "He doesn't seem to like me much," she observed. "Or is he like that with everyone?"

"Just about everyone," Wufei admitted with a sour smile. "Yuy's sense of humor is buried under layers of duty and training."

She must have caught the edge to his voice, because she offered him a curious look. "Yet you two seem somewhat close," she said. "Childhood friends, maybe?"

"...Something like that."

"Grew up together, went to the same schools and all that?"

"No." He frowned down at her. "You ask a lot of questions for a little girl."

She scowled back. "I'm curious. By the way, I would appreciate it if you would quit referring to me as a 'little girl'. And quit treating me with indulgence as you would a child."

"You are a child," Wufei countered dryly.

She puffed up indignantly, red spots of anger dancing on her cheeks. "I am not a little girl!" she practically shouted. "How dare you talk down to me. You aren't even out of high school yet! I'd bet money on it."

"And you aren't even in it, yet," Wufei snapped. "Get back to the infirmary and quit bothering me."

"Making friends again, 'Fei?" Duo came striding down the hall towards them, grinning. He waggled his eyebrows at Mariemaia as he got closer. "Don't mind him. He's always this insufferable."

"Bite me, Maxwell," Wufei snapped, walking right past him. "And quit calling me that."

Mariemaia was already regaining her cool temper. "If he's always like this, then I'll try not to take it personally," she said charmingly.

Duo laughed, waving over his shoulder as he continued down the hall. "Good idea."

Mariemaia returned her unwanted attention to Wufei. "I meant what I said earlier," she said quietly. "I really do want to come with you."

"Tell me how it feels to want."

"I mean it!" Wufei got the impression she would have stamped her little foot if she hadn't been hurrying to keep up. "What's the big deal, anyway? I'll just get off where you do and go home from there. I'm not ready to go back to earth, yet."

"You heard Yuy. No brats allowed. Besides, you can't go where we're going. Invitation only."

"Where are you going, anyway?" she asked keenly. "I've asked several people, but I can't get a straight answer. The mechanics here don't seem to have a clue, and your friends just avoid the question. You do have a destination, don't you?"

"Look," Wufei snarled, whirling around to face her. She jumped back, startled. "I'm getting a little tired of the inane questions."

She gaped. "How could you talk to me like th--"

"You want me to quit treating you like a child, but you are one," Wufei snapped. "You try to act like an adult, then get upset when I talk to you like one. You're not coming with us. Period. And I'm the wrong man to be badgering anyhow. This is Heero's decision. Not mine. Now go get some rest. You'll be dumped off at the next station. Then you can get a ticket back to earth away from all this 'horrible war' shit."

She stared at him, aghast. Wufei threw his arms up in the air in annoyed dismissal and stormed off.

Mariemaia clenched her teeth together tightly to keep back the scream of outrage. "Heero's decision, is it?" she growled under her breath. "We'll see about that."


"Mr. Yuy?"

Stepping out of the back hangar, Heero looked up quickly at the child-like voice.

Mariemaia was approaching him, smiling cheerily as she craned her head to try to get a glimpse behind him. "You seem to spend a lot of time in there. What's back there, anyway?"

"Nothing," Heero grunted, slapping the panel and making the doors slide shut. "You should be resting."

"So I've heard," she sighed. "May I speak with you a moment?"

Heero walked past. "If this is about you staying, I've already told you the answer. You can't come with us."

"But why not?" she huffed, hurrying to keep up. "And stop that! I'm getting sick of people walking away when I'm talking to them."

"Get used to it," Heero advised coolly. "We don't have time to babysit."

"I only want to stay a little while," she protested. "What's the big deal? Is your destination some sort of secret? Besides, I know at least part of your secret. Miss Relena. You're the ones who kidnapped her. Let me go, and I'll talk."

"Her father is perfectly aware of the fact that we have her," Heero cut her off. "He insists she accompany us."

"What if I got my father to do the same?" she asked quickly.

"It wasn't just her father's decision," Heero said. "You're a completely different case. My answer is still no. This conversation is over."

Mariemaia came to an abrupt halt, face twisting in anger. "I'm coming with you, Yuy, like it or not," she insisted. "Change your mind now while the choice is still yours."

Heero slowed and finally stopped. He turned to offer her a suspicious glare. "What is that supposed to mean?" he demanded sharply.

"Maybe nothing," she said sweetly. "Changed your mind, yet?"

"No," he growled.

Her expression melted into a solemn one. "Too bad, Yuy," she murmured. "Remember, I gave you the choice." She whirled and hurried back towards the infirmary.

Heero made as if to follow her, but just then Quatre appeared, looking harried. "Heero, there you are, thank god. Please come help me. I was trying to show Relena and Hilde how to make curry, and I think they're about to burn down the kitchen."

Heero hesitated.

"Heero," Quatre insisted.

Pushing thoughts of the strange child from his mind, Heero turned and followed the smaller boy.

He would question Mariemaia later. It could wait. She was only a child throwing a tantrum. She was no real threat, and they would be rid of her soon enough.


Wufei had never sleepwalked before in his life.

When he groggily opened his eyes to the insistant calling of his name, it took him several moments to figure out where the hell he was.

He looked around in confusion, blinking blearily as he attempted to rouse himself completely awake. He was in the hangar, standing at Wing's feet. Trowa was standing beside him, gripping his upper arm and staring at him.


Wufei reached up to rub the rest of the sleep from his eyes and turned to frown in confusion at the taller boy. "Wha?" he mumbled, voice rough. "What the hell am I doing in here? Is this some kind of evac drill?"

Trowa hesitated, then shook his head slightly. There was a faint hint of concern in his eyes, though his expression was as calm and competent as always. "You were sleepwalking," he explained. "I was coming out of the bathroom and saw you walk by."

"Sleepwa..." Wufei frowned. "Is this some kind of joke?"

"Afraid not." Trowa glanced up at Wing's gleaming form. "Any idea why you would come in here? How did you get past the security doors, for that matter?"

Wufei ran a hand through his hair, gazing up in confusion at the enormous mech before him. "No," he admitted. "I don't remember dreaming or anything. As for the doors..." He shrugged. "I've always been able to get past them. And don't ask me why, because I don't know. Yuy and Winner seem to have their own insane ideas about it." He peered up at Trowa. "This has never happened to me before," he said firmly. "What was I doing?"

Trowa shook his head slightly. "Nothing. You just came in here and stood in front of Wing. You sounded like you were mumbling under your breath, but I couldn't catch any of it. I thought I heard 'help her', but that isn't much to go off of." He stepped back and motioned to the door. "You should get back to sleep. It's late."

Wufei nodded distractedly, glancing back over his shoulder once more at Wing. It stood silent and unmoving, a simple hunk of machinery and electronics.

But for just an instant, when he'd first opened his eyes, he'd thought... He would have sworn that Wing's eyes had been glowing, as if the Suit was powered up.

He shook it off and allowed Trowa to lead him out of the hangar. 'Her'? Had he had another dream of Meilan? But he couldn't remember any dreams.

"I'm surprised you didn't wake Yuy," Trowa admitted in a monotone. "Don't you both sleep in the same room?"

Good point. Wufei frowned. Heero slept lighter than a cat. Why hadn't he heard Wufei get up and walk out? "Maybe he assumed I was going to the bathroom," he grunted.

Trowa stopped abruptly. "Where are you going?"

Wufei hesitated, glancing back at the boy. "What?"

Trowa pointed. "Your room is this way. Why are you heading for the infirmary? Sleeping pills won't necessarily help a sleepwalker."

"I wasn't--" Wufei stopped, staring down the hallway his feet had set down unconsciously. "I'm still tired," he muttered, turning away. "I guess I forgot the way."

"..." Trowa frowned, eyes flicking from Wufei to the dark hallway. "'Help her', hm?" he murmured.


Trowa strode past him. "Let's check on Mariemaia before we go to bed," he suggested mildly. "Make sure she doesn't need anything."

"Why?" Wufei lingered behind, unwilling to follow. "She's not a baby, Barton," he snapped impatiently. "And what are you-- Hey!" Muttering to himself, he hurried after the other boy.

Trowa led the way at a quick long-legged stride that had Wufei almost jogging to keep up. Without knocking, he hit the control panel to activate the infirmary door.

Stepping in, Wufei reached automatically for the lightswitch, but Trowa held up a hand to stop him. He walked silently over to the beds where the girls slept, first glancing across the room at where Sally was snoring gently before bending over slightly to check each girl. Wufei watched in bemusement until Trowa reached Relena's bed. "Wufei," he said sharply, reaching up to switch on the small bed light.

Wufei hurried over, gazing down at the slender blonde.

She was breathing harshly in her sleep, fingers curled like claws on the sheets, her face twisted in pain. Trowa took her by the shoulders and shook her-- first carefully, then a little harder.

"A nightmare?" Wufei guessed, but his voice was subdued. Relena wasn't waking up. He looked over quickly at the sound of an echoing wheeze. "Barton--"

Trowa glanced towards Mariemaia's bed. "Something's wrong with them. Get the lights," he said shortly. "Wake Sally up."

Wufei hastened to obey, snapping on the bright overhead lights. "Po," he barked. "Get up." He practically ran to Hilde's bed. She was already sitting up, squinting in the sudden light.

"Wufei..?" she mumbled sleepily. "Wha's goin' on..?"

"Are you all right?" he asked tightly.

She blinked up at him, looking tired and a bit annoyed. "Why wouldn't I be? Wufei, what the hell is going on?"

"That's what I'd like to know," came Sally Po's grumpy voice. She was also sitting up, glaring blearily at the two boys. "This had better be an emergency. I was having a really nice dream."

"There's something wrong." Trowa jerked his chin towards Mariemaia, seated on the edge of Relena's bed as he supported her against his chest.

Sally Po took one look at them and scrambled out of bed. She yanked on a robe as she padded over, looking alert and tense. "What happened?"

"We don't know. We came in and they were like this." Trowa gave Relena another small shake. "Whatever it is, they're not coming out of it."

Sally Po reached out and checked Relena's pulse for a moment, then Mariemaia's. "Their pulses are fast-- erratic," she said almost under her breath. "Hilde--"

"I'm fine," Hilde said quickly, staring wide-eyed. "What's wrong with them??"

"Get up, come help me," Sally Po said urgently. "Trowa, stop shaking her, it isn't helping. Lift her arms over her head a bit-- it will make it easier for her to breathe. Wufei..."

Wufei nodded, moving over to Mariemaia's bed. He mimicked Trowa, sitting on the bed and dragging the child into a sitting position. He propped her back against his chest and lifted her thin arms over her head. Her breaths became less strained, but still a little raspy.

The door slid open, startling them all, and Heero stepped in, quickly glancing around. "What's going on here?"

"Heero-- we thought you were asleep." Trowa nodded at the girls. "Something's happened to them."

"I thought Wufei was going to the bathroom, but he was taking too long," Heero said distractedly, staring at Relena. "I heard voices. What's wrong with them?"

"I don't know yet," Sally Po said, sounding a little strained as she dug through the contents of her medicine cabinet. "That's what I'm trying to figure out."

Hilde put her hand to Relena's brow. "She's burning up!"

"Fever, maybe?" Sally Po muttered to herself, then looked sharply towards Heero. "Heero, don't just stand there. Get some cloths and soak them in cold water, then put them across their foreheads."

Heero nodded, striding into the bathroom.

He snatched two washcloths from the shelf and soaked them before hurrying back out.

"Good grief, Heero," Wufei said, stopping him when he tried to drop one of them on Mariemaia's face. "Give me that-- are you trying to drown them?" He took the cloth and squeezed out most of the water into a basin by the bed, then laid it carefully over the girl's forehead.

Heero followed his example, squeezing out the washcloth and putting it gingerly over Relena's brow. He stepped back, feeling helpless and frustrated. He had no idea how to deal with sick people. He'd always been a healthy child. The one time he could remember Wufei being sick in their youth, he hadn't been allowed to see the other boy until the family doctor had proclaimed him well again. He'd gone mad with worry until then, sure that his friend was dying.

Relena strained a bit against Trowa's hold, her face pale and her eyes screwed shut tight with discomfort. "Gghh..." she breathed pitifully.

Heero was by her side in an instant. "She's awake," Trowa said sharply.

Relena's hand was groping up above her head as she twisted weakly in an attempt to get her arm free. ""

"For god's sake, Heero," Hilde gasped, looking scared and heartbroken.

Trowa released her arm abruptly, and Heero caught it on reflex. He jumped when she squeezed his hand with her own in a tight, desperate grip. "Heero," she gasped.

"Shit," Wufei growled, "what the hell is wrong with them?"

"Fever, I think," Sally Po answered distractedly, coming over with her supplies. "A bad one. We just need to break it. They need to sweat it out. Wufei, get her under the blankets. Pile them on. Trowa, you do the same."

Hilde gently took Relena's free arm to help, so Heero carefully drew his hand free and went to help Wufei.

"I feel like an ass now," Wufei muttered to Heero as they manuevered the small child onto her back and began drawing the covers up around her. "I was acting like a jerk towards her earlier."

Heero glanced up at him, tucking one small arm under the covers. "She'll be fine," he found himself saying.

Mariemaia began struggling, trying to kick the covers off. "Hot," she rasped. "Hot.."

"It's ok, honey, Sally Po soothed, mixing something in a cup. "You'll feel much better tomorrow, I promise."

Mariemaia's eyes snapped open suddenly, wild and frightened. She dragged her arms out from under the covers and reached imploringly for Heero. "Bathroom," she squeaked miserably. "Please-- 'm gonna.. throw up..."

"Uh, oh," Sally Po breathed. "Sounds like it comes with a stomach virus, too. Get her to the toilet, Heero-- quick."

Heero yanked the covers back and lifted her small form easily into his arms. He carried her in quick strides towards the bathroom. He deposited her gently in front of the toilet, lifting the seat.

"Door.." she coughed. "It's... embarrassing..."

Heero started to retreat, but Sally Po shot him a narrow look. "What are you doing?" she snapped. "Stay with her!"

Heero frowned, but stepped reluctantly back into the bathroom and shut the door behind himself.

Mariemaia was struggling to her feet, fishing in the pocket of her nightgown. "Oi-" Heero reached out to restrain her. "What do you think you're--"

"Water," she rasped.

Heero hesitated, then grabbed a cup and filled it with cold water from the sink. As he turned to hand it to her, he saw her draw something from her pocket. She pulled the water out of his hand and gulped it. Then her other hand slipped to her mouth and she took another quick sip.

"Hey-!" Heero snatched the cup away from her. "What did you just take??"

She collapsed weakly to her knees, breathing harshly. "Quiet, will you?" she whispered. "Help me..."

Heero crouched to steady her. "I thought you said you had to throw up," he snapped. "What did you swallow?"

Her fingers latched onto his arm like little claws, and she stared right into his face, her expression pained and furious all at once. "The antidote," she rasped.

Heero went very still. "...What?"

"I tried to warn you-- to give you the chance to change your mind," she breathed. "You didn't want to listen. This is what you get."

Heero's eyes narrowed. "Relena--" He started to get to his feet, but her fingers dug in painfully, and she refused to budge, holding him in place with her dead weight.

"You say anything, and both she and Wufei are dead," she hissed.

Heero froze.

"Listen to me, Heero Yuy," Mariemaia murmured, eyes burning. "Listen to me very carefully. You're going to tell everyone that you've decided I'm coming with you. And make it convincing. Their lives depend on it."

Heero stared at her in disbelief. "What are you--"

"Relena got a bigger dose than Wufei," Mariemaia said quietly. "Wufei's poison is more subtle; it works slowly. Unless I give him the antidote tomorrow, he'll be just as bad as Miss Peacecraft."

Heero's heart was thudding in his ears so hard he could barely hear her. Rage began to bubble in him, and his grip on her arms flexed violently.

She winced, but refused to release him. "Don't even think about warning anyone," she snapped weakly. "Or they'll never get the antidote."

"Give me the antidote," Heero said in an icy voice. "Now."

She smirked. "Oh, no, Heero, it isn't that easy. You think you can force me to give up the antidote, tell everyone what I've done, then boot me off this ship? Sorry, Yuy, I'm several steps ahead of you." Her eyes flicked towards the door. "Wufei doesn't know his real mother, right? His foster mother-- he loves her very much."

Heero took in a sharp breath.

Mariemaia glared up at him. "There are men awaiting my word back on earth. They have orders to kill her if things don't go my way. Kill Wufei's mother, Heero. What do you think that would do to him?"

Heero could barely speak in his fury. "You--"

"These are the terms, Yuy," Mariemaia interrupted. "If you warn anyone, if you try to take the antidote from me, if you try to get rid of me or lock me up, she dies. Those men expect a call from me everyday. If I don't call, they do the job. You will convince the others that it's imperative that I accompany you. You continue to act normally around me. And don't think I won't know if you warn someone. There are men on this ship who have made it clear to me that they are willing to betray any of you for the right amount of money. These mechanics are simple men, Yuy. They can be bought quite easily. And they're everywhere on this ship. They don't have to be excellent spies-- but some of them are. Howard's men come from every side of the galaxy. Several of them used to be soldiers. Or convicts. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

Heero was shaking slightly with the urge to hurt her. His grip on her arms was numbing, and she winced, glaring at him again. "Let go, you're hurting me," she hissed.

Heero bared his teeth, unable to stop the slow tightening of his fingers.

She took in a quick breath of pain. "Let GO, Yuy," she growled. "Don't push me. I care nothing for Wufei's stupid foster mother. If I think you're going to be disobedient, it will be very easy to have her killed-- and to 'forget' to administer the andidote to Relena and Wufei every day."

Heero forced his hands by his sides.

She smiled up at him sweetly. "See? That wasn't so hard." She reached into her pocket and held out a tiny green pill. "A reward for your obedience. Give this to Relena-- discreetly."

He snatched it from her, breathing harshly and unable to speak. Rage and hate were crashing inside of him like a storm, and he had to fight with every ounce of willpower he had to keep from wrapping his strong hands around her slender throat.

She beamed at him. "I can see we're going to get along just fine," she said lightly. "You really shouldn't underestimate people, Heero Yuy. Even if they are only 'children'."

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