One didn't normally expect to see the captain of a military warship hanging about the ship's maintenance hangar after hours, crossed arms propped against the railing of the catwalk overlooking one of the mobile suits housed there. But then, the Archangel had never quite managed to be a conventional ship. Since their defection, with no greater military authority to hand down orders or reprimands, the crew had mostly given up being surprised at their captain's idiosyncrasies.
Or else they simply had more important things to worry about lately.
To Murrue Ramius, from her vantage overlooking the hangar, it seemed that the whole ship lay under the weight of a growing tension. She could almost feel the war building to some sort of violent crescendo, and if she could feel it - she, who was not by any means the most experienced member of the Archangel's crew even if she was its captain - she was sure that everyone felt it. Even maintenance - perhaps especially maintenance, who went about their work with the Strike and the Buster looming over them, the safety of the ship and everyone on it resting on their armored mechanical shoulders.
They made an impressive sight, even standing immobile in the hangar, stoically awaiting the next battle, but Murrue's concerns were more for the infinitely more vulnerable shoulders of their pilots, on which, she thought, fell the greatest pressure of all.
The Strike's cockpit stood open, and though Murrue couldn't hear anything from this distance, she had the impression that a smaller and more personal war was being waged inside. It wasn't out of character for Mwu la Fllaga to put in extra hours making sure that his mobile suit was in perfect working order... but lately, it was as though the Strike had offended him somehow. He'd been a phenomenally bad patient - she'd expected no less - but even in the few days since both he and the Strike had been declared fit for duty again, there'd been something off... fine cracks showing in the glossy surface of his outward confidence.
Watching from the catwalk, Murrue wondered if maybe she'd leaned on him a little too much over the past months, even if she couldn't quite bring herself to regret it.
She spent a few more moments contemplating the Strike, all dull greys without its phase shift armor activated like a statue of itself, but really she'd already made up her mind about her course of action. Presently she straightened, and ducking under the railing she stepped off into open air, letting inertia carry her through the zero-gravity to the Gundam's cockpit. Catching the edge of the hatch with one hand to stop herself, she tapped her knuckles against the Strike's armor plating in a polite one-two-three, and then slid herself into the open space without waiting for an invitation.
Mwu had pulled open the casing that housed the Strike's computer system, halfway up to his elbows in what passed for the mobile suit's brainstem. When her shadow fell across the cockpit's interior his head jerked up, turning towards her with a look of surprised inquiry and a faint lingering irritation that Murrue didn't really think was meant for her.
"It's late to still be working," she said. "Is there a problem with the Strike?"
"It hasn't been right since the last round of repairs." He ducked his head, hands fussing about in the guts of the console. "The responses were off during the last test."
The last test had been nearly flawless. Murrue had seen that for herself, standing by Miriallia's console to watch the readings as Mwu launched the Gundam and put it through its paces, with careless disregard for the doctor's recommendation that he take it easy for a little longer.
If it's not broken, went the platitude, don't fix it, but the platitude didn't offer any suggestions on what to do about the damage you couldn't fix.
"Shall I take a look?" Murrue offered, and couldn't help but smile at the blank look that earned her. "How many hours have you been staring at that? My eyes are fresh. Besides, before you pushed me into the captain's seat, I was a fairly competent technician."
Mwu's brows lifted, a dubious look that should have been a little insulting but which Murrue found endearing instead for no reason she could think of, except that it was Mwu. "Which one of us was assigned to the G-weapon project," she pressed, before he could do more than open his mouth, "you or me?"
He closed his mouth again and sat still for a long, quiet interval, before finally settling back into his seat with an audible exhalation of breath. "Go ahead," he told her, voice heavy and disgruntled. "I don't really know what I'm looking for in there anyhow."
No, thought Murrue, with an unexpected little pang, I don't imagine that you do.
"I'll need a little more room," she told him, pulling herself farther into the cockpit. He blinked at her as though it hadn't occurred to him, and then pushed himself out of the pilot's seat and wedged himself into the space behind it instead - an uncomfortable fit, Murrue had reason to know, but she hadn't really expected anything else. This was trust enough, that he'd let her tamper with the delicate inner workings of the machine on which his life depended.
"If you're going to be hovering over my shoulder," she said mildly, "would you mind holding a light for me?"
Maybe he'd irked her just a little with that dubious look after all.
She really didn't expect to find anything out of place when she bent down to investigate the inside of the console. Kojiro Murdoch and Erica Simmons knew their business, and Mwu had made it his personal mission, after he'd taken over the rebuilt Strike in Orb, to learn the mobile suit inside and out. But of course that wasn't the point.
In any case, there was something pleasant about the simple routine of checking each cable and connection and circuit, feeling her way along a cord to its end to undo and check and reseat it, conscious of Mwu watching over her shoulder every time he adjusted the portable light to better illuminate the spot she was working on. She'd joined the military as a technician, but since Heliopolis her responsibility had been to the human components of her ship. Machines were less complicated, each part with its own function; assemble the parts in the correct order and the machine would work. People were delicate and unpredictable.
Although... there was something to be said for that human element, too. No matter how advanced the machine, once a part was broken or missing, the other parts would never grow into place to take up the load. A computer could not innovate solutions outside of its programming. Murrue pushed a fleeting thought of Natarle out of mind and focused on the task at hand, mentally mapping the insides of the console as she checked each connection, searching with scrupulous thoroughness for crossed wires, kinked cables, scorched circuitry and dust, the process repetitive and soothingly monotonous. Somewhere along the way she started humming under her breath, one of the ridiculous little songs that had made the rounds in officer training.
Don't start an interstellar war; it has no helpful uses... If people ask you what's it for, you'll only make excuses... If thirty trillion folks get hurt, you'll go to bed with no dessert... Morbid, she supposed... but whistling in the dark was better than screaming into it, wasn't it?
Don't start an interstellar war.
When the light shifted again and Mwu's forearm propped against her shoulders, she smiled to herself and kept humming. And mind your manners, as circumstances may require...
Only when she'd gone over every last component within the console did she finally replace the casing, securing it back into place and giving it a pat before straightening up and wiping imaginary dust from her hands.
She craned her head around to look back toward Mwu and found him watching her curiously, some of the underlying tightness eased from his expression. "What's the diagnosis, Captain Doctor?" he wondered.
"Well..." She tucked her legs up beneath her, turning about in the seat to face him. "We can call Erica over from the Kusanagi to give it a full vetting-out if you want... or have Kira check the OS..."
Mwu made a disgruntled noise low in his throat, mouth twisting.
"...but in my professional opinion? This machine is fine." Murrue paused a beat, watching him watch her face. "Its pilot, on the other hand," she added lightly, "needs rest... because he is still recovering from his injuries, and is under a lot of pressure."
He said nothing. A little frown tugged at the corners of his mouth, as though perhaps he couldn't quite decide whether or not to object.
"Mwu." She said it quietly, reaching to lay her hand on his shoulder. "You have nothing to prove."
Another long interval passed in silence.
The breath went out of him in an audible rush, and his shoulders loosened a little. Hand closing on her upper arm, he leaned in over the back of the pilot's seat to lay the side of his face against hers.
"Thanks," he murmured.
She curled her arm around his shoulders, angled her head towards him for a glancing kiss. "Any time."