Chapter 32: "Rage and Confusion"
When Hilde awoke, it was many hours later, and Sally Po was moving quietly around the room, tidying up. She blinked, reaching up to rub her eyes and wincing at the sharp pain in her neck. She looked around. "Sally..." she mumbled. "Where are the boys?"
"I kicked them out hours ago," Sally replied quietly, coming over to offer a mug of coffee. "As soon as you fell asleep. You looked exhausted, and there wasn't much more they could do anyway."
Hilde accepted the coffee, gazing anxiously down at her friend. "Relena looks a little better," she said hesitantly. "And Mariemaia?"
Sally Po smiled. "They'll be fine. Mariemaia seems to be recovering nicely, and Relena's fever broke an hour ago."
Hilde stared up at the older woman in surprise. "You've been up all this time??"
Sally shrugged, rubbing at her brow. "Of course. I'm the doctor here. I had to make sure they got through it." She sighed. "I probably have bags under my eyes, don't I?"
Hilde smiled. "You look like a raccoon," she admitted. "Why don't you get some sleep? I'll look after them."
"I will in a moment." Sally covered a yawn. "But do me a favor... If you see Heero, tell him to keep his angry ass out of my ward."
"You remember when he was helping Mariemaia throw up last night, right? And how he looked so mad when he brought her back to bed. His temper remained that way. I was more than happy to kick him out when you fell asleep."
"I didn't really notice," Hilde admitted, frowning. "I was busy with Relena. Why was he in such a bad mood?"
Sally shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe he didn't like being woken up. Maybe the poor kid puked on him a little. Whatever. I don't want him being a grouch around my patients. They still need their sleep, though I'm hoping they'll be much better by tonight or tomorrow."
Hilde reached out to clasp Relena's limp hand, studying the girl's slumbering face. "She's not flushed anymore, at least," she noted in relief. "And poor Mariemaia. She sounded so frightened and miserable."
"Kids hate being sick," Sally chuckled. "She'll probably be clamoring to be let out of bed by this afternoon."
Hilde smiled back. "I'll keep her company when she gets restless. If I know Wufei, he managed to get his hands on a book somewhere between Earth and here. Maybe I can read to her."
"That's a good idea." Sally paused to yawn again. "Anyhow... you go ahead and get breakfast. I'll check on them once more and then get some sleep when you get back, if that's all right. You'll have to be the stand-in nurse, at least for a few hours."
"No problem." Hilde rose from the chair she'd slept in all night, grimacing as she attempted to get the kinks out of her back. "Want any breakfast?"
Sally waved a hand. "Howard sent me some food about an hour ago. I'm fine. Go eat. Oh-- get something light for the girls, though. If they wake up, they might be hungry, but I don't want them eating anything heavier than soup and crackers. Especially Mariemaia in case her stomach flu is still active."
"Whaaaat?" Duo lowered his donut to gape at his friend. "She's coming with us now?!"
"Why the sudden change of heart, Heero?" Quatre asked, frowning a little in bemusement. "I mean, certainly we have to take care of her while she's under the weather, but I thought it was obvious that she needs to be left at the next station."
Heero couldn't quite bring himself to meet his friends' eyes. He stood at the end of the table, fists clenched on the metal surface as he glared furiously at his knuckles in silence.
He'd brought them to the small office-- the "war room", Howard called it --down the hall from the main deck, fighting with himself the whole time. He'd spent all night scheming and fuming, desperately trying to find a way to foil Mariemaia.
It should be possible to tell them alone like this, but... his eyes flicked towards the security camera in the wall corner.
"Heero, you were the one that was so blunt about it," Wufei growled, leaning back in his chair as he cradled a mug of hot tea in his hands. He frowned at the other boy. "You told her to her face the fact that she wasn't coming."
It was impossible for Heero to even look Wufei's way. He was afraid the other boy would trap him with that stubborn glare of his and force him to let in.
He'd spent all night thinking... but for now, he could see no way around Mariemaia's plot.
If he told them now, it would be recorded. No doubt she was going to make it a habit to check the security tapes.
The mechanics were all over the ship, and she'd already hinted that she'd paid some of them off. There was no telling who was a friend or an enemy any longer.
He had considered dragging one of them into somewhere private, like the latrine, but a quick sweep in the morning had revealed bugs in the walls and a nearly-invisible camera by the mirror. Even if he managed to whisper a hint or hand over a note, Mariemaia would undoubtedly become suspicious when she saw two of them in a one-person latrine on the video tape.
In the end, the risk was just too great. If he was caught, it meant death. Death for the only "mother" Wufei knew. And he knew they were close. Wufei had already lost so much. If Heero were to be the cause of her death, he would never forgive himself.
But perhaps the worst of it all was that he had to act completely normal around her while lying to his friends' faces.
"Earth to Heero," Duo drawled. "Come in, Heero."
Heero straightened, crossing his arms tightly over his chest and adopting his best soldier mask. "Make it convincing," she'd insisted. And he could think of only one way to convince them. "New orders," he grunted. "She has to come with us." At least, until I figure out a way to stop this damned plot and choke the life out of her, he added silently.
"Orders?" Trowa's brow furrowed slightly from where he was leaning casually against the wall by the door. "When did those come in?"
"Last night," Heero snapped, forcing himself to meet Trowa's curious gaze. "While the rest of you were asleep."
"Good god," Duo groaned, burying his face in his hands. "What is that old man's deal? How many hitchhikers do we gotta pick up? And why??"
"I didn't question it," Heero said shortly. "But we have our orders. Until further notice, she comes with us."
"Perhaps we should contact him," Trowa said slowly, still looking at Heero.
Heero was trying to think of a reply to that when Duo saved him.
"What's the point?" Duo huffed. "He'll only repeat himself, then scold us for calling him again. I don't know why we gotta have Relena with us, either, but he seemed pretty firm about that issue. So fine, the brat stays with us. For now."
"For now," Heero repeated in a growl. He turned away.
"Hey, wait a minute--" Wufei hurried after him and caught him by the arm out in the hallway. He frowned up at Heero, trying to catch his eye. "What's wrong with you?" he demanded. "You've been in a horrible mood since last night. Is it because she has to stay? Look, I don't like it any better than you do, but--"
"Wufei," Heero interrupted, "do you feel all right?"
Wufei blinked, releasing his arm. "What? That's my line."
"I mean..." Heero forced himself to look at Wufei, keeping his soldier mask firmly in place. "You could have caught the girls' fever."
"Oh." Wufei shrugged. "I felt a little dizzy earlier, and wasn't very hungry, but I feel better now."
Bile rose in Heero's throat. So she hadn't been lying. She'd already gotten the poison into Wufei's system. Had she already slipped him the antidote somehow, or was it just a weak version of what had nearly crippled Relena last night?
Wufei peered at him suspiciously. "What's with the face of doom? It's not like having that little brat along is the end of the world. I mean, you said it was an order. So she can't be as bad as we think."
"Why, Wufei, how sweet of you to say so."
Heero whirled at the tired voice, heart jumping up several notches. The blood rushed to his head in instant rage at the sight of the small girl standing down the hall, rubbing her eyes like a sleepy child.
She padded up, smiling sweetly up at Wufei. Heero unconsciously took a step closer to the other boy, but stopped himself just in time from getting between the two of them. Her quick, narrowed glance showed she hadn't missed the reaction.
"You're supposed to be in bed," Wufei reprimanded the girl. "You looked like you were on death's door last night."
"I'm feeling much better after everyone's kind ministrations," Mariemaia insisted cheerfully. "I never got to thank you, by the way. You both helped me when I wasn't feeling too well. I hope I didn't throw up on anyone." She managed a sheepish little smile.
Wufei shrugged. "Puke on Yuy all you want, I don't think he'd care enough to verbally complain."
Heero barely heard him. He was struggling with his own facial expression, fighting internally to keep the hatred hidden. He didn't dare speak. He wasn't sure he had control of his voice just yet.
Mariemaia reached out suddenly and clasped Wufei's larger hand in her two smaller ones. She offered him a tired grin. "Though I am beginning to feel a bit tired from all this moving about," she admitted. "Can you help me back to the infirmary, please?"
Wufei shrugged, not quite callous enough to leave a sick child to her own devices.
There was a crash that made them all jump.
Trowa, coming out of the meeting room with Quatre, was stepping away from his friend with hands upraised in the "no-harm" gesture. Quatre was breathing harshly, leaning his forehead against the doorframe with teeth clenched. He was clutching the frame so hard his knuckles were white. Heero's eyes flicked from each boy to the trash can that had evidently been booted out into the hallway, trash littering the floor.
Trowa was studying his friend a little warily. "Quatre?"
"What's gotten into him?" Wufei asked blankly.
Quatre took several deep breaths and slid heated eyes their way.
Heero could see the hatred in that one glance from seven feet away. A second later Wufei's face sharpened in suspicion, and he looked quickly around at each of them.
Quatre had told him, Heero realized abruptly, his stomach knotting up. Wufei knew about Quatre's gift. Which meant he was already jumping to the assumption that Quatre's abrupt explosion of rage must have been triggered from an outside source. It wouldn't take long for Quatre himself to figure out just where those emotions were coming from.
Quatre was quickly bringing himself under control, though it was a visible struggle. Heero backed off, then turned sharply and stalked off. "Tell Winner to get ahold of himself," he snapped over his shoulder, keeping his voice as collected as possible. "And clean up that mess."
Mariemaia was looking curiously at Quatre, grip on Wufei's hand tightening. "What's wrong with him?" she asked a little sharply.
Wufei steered her in the direction of the infirmary. "Asthma," he lied gibly. "Bedtime, runt."
She dragged her suspicious eyes away from Quatre and smiled up at Wufei. "Hilde said you might have a book. Did you bring any with you? Will you read to me? Please?"
"Quatre." Trowa stayed where he was, still eyeing his friend cautiously. He switched to quiet French. "Are you all right?"
Quatre was slowly getting his breathing under control as he clung to the doorway, watching Wufei lead the little girl away. He swallowed hard and forced himself to release his grip. "I'm fine," he said in a tremulous voice. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The emotions that had washed over him so fiercely mere moments ago were already ebbing away. Whoever had been experiencing such anger had left.
"What was that all about?" Trowa asked with a frown.
"I'm not sure," Quatre admitted meekly. He passed a trembling hand over his brow. It been a long time since he'd lost control of his own emotions like that. He hadn't been expecting the sudden attack, and had had no time to shield himself from it. "I'm not even sure where it came from. It could have been any of those three."
Trowa came closer at last, studying his face solemnly. "Wufei? For having that child come with us? It could have been Heero, frustrated about the mission in general."
Quatre shook his head, lips pressed tightly together. "It was a little too strong for that," he edged. "I mean... this felt more like hatred than just rage."
Trowa bent over and began collecting the scattered trash, tossing it into the dented wastebin. "Why would anyone be that angry--"
Duo appeared in the doorway so abruptly and silently that Quatre jumped. The braided boy's face was grim. "Wow, Quat, haven't seen that happen to you since we were kids," he said. "You don't think it could've been Mariemaia's feelings, do ya?"
"Mariemaia?" Quatre repeated weakly, leaning over to help Trowa. "Don't be silly, Duo. She's just a child. Why would she be so angry?"
"She wouldn't have been able to hide it that well if she was, either," Trowa added. "Not at her age. I also find it hard to believe that a child could feel that sort of intense anger-- let alone project it that strongly."
Duo frowned. "Children are very capable of rage," he said quietly. "It's the reason behind that kind of anger that worries me. A kid that young should never have need to experience that violent of an emotion."
"I think we can safely narrow it down to either Wufei or Heero," Trowa grunted, picking up the wastebin and setting it back inside the office.
"Should we ask them about it?" Duo asked.
Quatre shook his head slowly. "No," he said at last. "Whatever it is, it's probably pretty personal. We'll let him come to us."
"Yes, cuz Heero and Wufei are just the type of people to open up," Duo drawled.
Trowa frowned. "As long as it doesn't affect the mission..."
"Good god, you sound like Heero," Duo groaned. "Knock it off already."
Trowa blinked, but didn't respond.
Heero spent the rest of the day avoiding them all, locking himself in the hangar to work furiously on Wing. He was in there for hours before a pointed cough from below startled him out of his deep thoughts.
He leaned out of the cockpit and found Wufei on the ground looking up at him with arched brow. "Ever plan on coming out of here?" he called up. "You missed lunch and dinner. I can hear your stomach rumbling from down here."
"I'm not hungry," Heero grunted, ducking back inside.
There was a long moment of silence, then the familiar sound of the zip cord. Wufei appeared at the edge of the cockpit, scowling in at him. "All right, Yuy, spill. What crawled up your ass and died?"
"Nothing," Heero snapped, glaring at the wires in his hands. "Quit sneaking in here."
"...You haven't looked me in the face since last night," Wufei muttered.
Heero flinched. "Yes I have."
"Once, maybe," Wufei growled. "Is that Heero Yuy's way of telling someone to get lost? Because a simple 'stay the fuck away from me' would have--"
Heero reached out and snagged his arm, yanking at it suddenly. Wufei yelped, tumbling into the cockpit. He started to sputter in outrage, but stopped abruptly when wirey arms wrapped around him fiercely, his face practically buried in Heero's shoulder.
He hesitated, then carefully lifted his head to get a bit more breathing room, fingers latched onto Heero's shoulders in an aborted attempt to push the other boy away. "...Heero?"
Heero didn't relax his fierce embrace, voice muffled against Wufei's hair. "You're going to have to trust me," he said quietly.
"What?" Wufei shifted, trying to pull away a bit to see Heero's face, but the boy's arms were like a vice. "What's all this about?" he demanded, subdued but also a little worried by the sudden change in his friend.
"...Watch your back," Heero mumbled at last. "And keep an eye on that brat."
"Hello? Anyone in here?"
Wufei could feel the pilot go rigid against him, and blinked in surprise. That was Tony's voice-- one of the mechanics that worked on the tank and other older version MS's in the hangar.
Heero released Wufei abruptly, still refusing to look him in the eye. His customary soldier mask was in place. "Go eat," he said shortly. "I don't need anything."
Wufei was completely lost now. He had no idea what Heero was talking about, what had brought on the sudden protective moment, or why he had tensed up just at the voice of one of Howard's men. But he had a feeling he wouldn't be prying any answers out of Heero just yet. "By brat, you mean Mariemaia, I take it?" he asked quietly, peering at Heero suspiciously. "What does that runt have to do with anything?"
"Just trust me, all right?" Heero growled, though he gave a barely visible flinch. "Or at least attempt to; I know you think the four of us are a pack of kidnappers and terrorists, but--"
Wufei fumbled, but couldn't think of anything to say to shut Heero up or voice a denial that would satisfy the other boy. With a growl of frustration, he seized Heero's face in his palms, dragged the boy forward the last few inches between them, and crushed his mouth to Heero's.
Heero froze in shock, his mouth unresponsive to the rough kiss. By the time he snapped out of it enough in the next second and relaxed his mouth, Wufei was already pulling away. Wufei scowled at him, trying to pretend his face didn't feel like it was on fire. "You had better explain all of this to me," he grumbled, "when this stupid trip is over with." Then his nerve broke, because something in Heero's face had shifted, and his grip on Wufei's arms had relaxed. He pulled away, scrambled out of the cockpit, and left without looking back.
Heero sat immobile long after Wufei had left, staring blankly off into space. He reached up slowly and pressed his fingers to his mouth, and for an instant there was the faintest suggestion of red on his cheeks.
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