Flightlessness

PG

by EvilBunny

Disclaimer: Gundam Wing in no way belongs to me. It instead belongs to other people that have actual companies and make money doing this type of thing.

With a graceful leap, he easily cleared the old stone wall. It would have been just as easy to climb up the crumbling structure, but that would have left him silhouetted against the stone. This way he was simply a fleeting shadow in the dark. He landed softly in the wet grass on the other side. Heero had spent the past day masquerading as one of the many servants who kept this old castle functioning and the troops it hid fed, all the while ignorant of the activities that went on the ancient building's rotten depths. The rain fell in heavy drops around him, soaking his clothes and his long brown bangs until they fell in dripping waves across his face, concealing two piercing blue eyes. Heero stayed crouched in the darkness, as small rivulets of the cold rainwater ran off him and fell in thin pillars to the ground. The light grey uniform of the servant had been left behind; now he wore a simple dark outfit of a light top and pants. If he was caught here, being dressed as a servant would only raise suspicion as only the most senior of officers were admitted.

Still, he was amazed at the simplicity with which he had gained access to this inner sanctum. Around him, branches heavy with water reached almost to the ground, and in some places the ivy, which choked everything in sight, trailed down among the overgrown brush below it. This walled garden seemed to be the only part of the rambling structure that wasn't heavily guarded at all times. True, the walls still held the customary barbed-wire, and a glowing electronic eye whose faint red glare showed that the area was not devoid of security, but compared to the rest of the complex this was light indeed. Not to mention childishly easy to avoid.

The servants shunned this entire area, calling the garden cursed. All Heero's listening on the subject had only uncovered some rumours of soft crying late at night. Someone wanted to keep the household out of this small wilderness. The grass he knelt in came up above his ankles, and he could see that the rest of the area was just as overgrown. He couldn't even tell the size of it, as wherever he looked, dark trees blocked even his dark-adjusted eyes. The garden might have once contained flowers, but, for whatever reason, they had long since been abandoned and the weeds and ivy taken over.

Heero silently straightened, convinced that there truly weren't any other guards than the one young man who patrolled some thirty feet above him on the catwalk. That man carried a lantern, ruining any night vision he might have had, and only occasionally gave a glance to either side. The stupidity of some people used to astonish him, but Heero had long ago numbed himself to such useless emotions. Heero calmly began a survey of the perimeter, confidently stepping out along the wall. The garden, if it even still deserved that name, was truly a mess. Briars twisted amidst the ivy that covered the ancient oaks, still dark and filled with fall leaves that refused to turn. Pine trees hid an even blacker interior, but Heero was sure that what he looked for would be along the walls. Even then, the rose bushes that seemed to grow everywhere without a single bloom made it nearly impossible to make any progress. At every turn, thorns reached out to grasp at him, and Heero had to actually make an effort to escape their clutching masses with only a few scratches.

Heero's calm survey slowly led him around the garden. The simple square design was lent an eerie quality by the overgrown greenery, and though the canopy of leaves now protected him from most of the rain, he could hear the constant drumming of drops hitting the stone of walls around him. Small alcoves would appear, with statues just barely visible under the shadow, then fade back into oblivion two steps further on. Three quatres around the area, he came finally came to a door. A great slash of white against the darker stone, this door was made of reflective steel and glistened in the small amount of light from the single bulb that shone above the catwalk in a wire cage. Obviously newer than the rest of the building, the door stood in stark contrast to the rest of the garden. However, there did not appear to be any security measures on this door. No blinking panel stood to one side to accept an access card, no locks barred the way. Why they would bother installing such a sophisticated door and then not bother protecting it made no sense, but Heero had long ago discovered that nothing was past the insanity of the man who held control of this castle. In just one day as a servant, he had heard the stories. Under the noisy chatter of the kitchen ran the darker waters of rumour. Servants that vanished without a trace, faces that would suddenly disappear from the soldier's tables. Where the soldiers came from was obvious. They, every one of them, had the bearing of Academy students, and though their age and gender varied, that remained constant. Why they had been chosen was still unclear, none of them seemed to have any characteristic in common, or any particular talent. The role of servant had made his job much easier. No one spared the grey-clad servants a second glance, and no one noticed an extra helping hand, nor when that extra hand took a break to look around. But as a servant, the doors into the laboratory were hidden from him. This garden would provide the easiest way in, Heero was sure of it.

He slowly slid to the side of the door, conscious that if the guard should return, he stood too far out in the light to easily hide. As he reached to turn the handle, he caught a flash of movement from the corner of his eye. A pale glowing white, as if the faint light that filtered through the raindrops had reflected off skin that seldom saw sunlight. Heero turned swiftly in a defensive crouch, knees bent and eyes fierce. The movement was not repeated, nor the alarm raised. He measured the time in his own heartbeats, but the only sound aside from those steady beats was the steady fall of rain on the leaves and the slow drip as the water wound its way to the ground. Heero straightened and reached again for the handle. Just before completing the turn, he paused, to watching his surroundings from the corners of his eyes. Perhaps a security measure existed that he had not seen. But the garden remained still. He pushed the door open on smooth hinges, and slipped into the area beyond. Not once had his shadow stood silhouetted against the lighter door, but as the steel closed gently behind him, one stood there now, in sharp relief. A gust of wind swept down from the outer wall, shaking the upper branches, and when the flying leaves settled, the garden appeared to be deserted once more.

Heero slowly entered a room as dark and decrepit as the garden he had just left. Dust fell from the rafters in rain as steady as the water outside, and the wind that accompanied Heero's entry whipped that dust in circles. The scuffed floor, both dirty and ancient, resisted any attempt to discouver footprints. The walls here muffled the sound of the storm without, and Heero could see no windows in the blank stone, though some faint light filtered down from high above. Shadows wrapped everything around the edges of his vision, and the ceiling seemed to continue up forever. Dead across from him stood another modern door, smuggling gleaming in its dilapidated surroundings. This door had a simple lock mechanism, that took little more time to open than the outside one had. Instead of ancient stone as he half expected, the stairwell the door revealed contained cement steps spiralling downwards. Naked bulbs dangled from the ceiling, but the only light in the stairwell came from somewhere below. Even his soft footsteps echoed along the walls. Three flights down, another steel door broke the monotony. Here was the light, for a single lit bulb hung above a blinking security panel. A carefully crafted admission card took care of this lock, and this door too opened in a manner of moments.

The hallway now revealed was as sterile and new as the door. Naked bulbs hung here, their yellowish glare showing cement floors and walls. The basement air was chill, and had a stale taste to it. Heero walked silently into the light, alert to any movement that would mean discovery. Doors stood in spaced intervals along the wall, again the large steel contraptions with small blinking panels beside each one. Out of place in the old stone facade of the outer wall, here in the basement Heero recognized them for what they were, silent witnesses to prisons of pain.

Heero could guess from his mission brief what hid behind the faceless doors, each carefully locked and numbered. Small panels marked the only differences between these and the garden door. Someone had slid each of these panels back, revealing an empty interior. The walls of several of these bore long scars, of captives desperate attempts to claw out. But none of them were occupied.

As Heero carefully padded deeper along the hall, occasional panels would be closed, and a faint noise could sometimes be heard emanating from behind those doors. These cells Heero left alone. Whatever was behind them, he didn't need to deal with to complete the mission and had no wish to inform them of his presence.

Finally an intersection crossed his original path. Down to the right he could see a plain wooden door, clearly different from the cells he had passed. This held promise, and Heero turned his attention to yet another blinking panel. As soon as his back was turned to the grey blankness of the hallway, he heard the crisp noise of a military step patrolling the hall he had just left. He could also hear snarls coming from the obviously occupied cells; the inmates clearly did not approve of their jailer. Heero threw himself upwards, deftly grabbing one of the exposed beams and swinging into the unfinished ceiling. One of the older officers strode 'round the corner, and marched down the hall, coming to a halt directly below the crouching intruder. The dull blue of his uniform was unadorned except for a thin black band around each cuff marking his rank.

A sharp rapping rang out along the hall, accompanied by deep throated growls from one of the locked rooms. The officer didn't blink at this interruption, instead calling out in a clear voice;

"Dr. Peters. Lieutenant Marks here, open up."

The door slowly opened from inside, and a powerful voice demanded to know the reason for this interruption.

"It's cell nine sir, we think we're going to lose her."

"Shit. We need her, we have a shipment to make at the end of the week, and it's too late to start another from scratch. I'll be there right away. Oh, and we need to be sure and leave something hot to Releena tomorrow morning. If she's been out in the garden tonight, and she probably was, she'll be soaked through. I don't want to have to be the one nursing her back to health."

Marks saluted and the walked back the way he had come. Heero waited until he could no longer hear the echos of his footsteps or the sound of the snarls. So there HAD been someone with him in the garden. She must have seen him break in. He couldn't allow anyone to discover him, it was only twelve hours until the troops arrived, and during that time, the castle could have no suspicion that their operations had been discovered. No one was allowed to see him and live. But somebody did. He would just have to go back and make sure she didn't report him.

Finally the wooden door opened again beneath him. A large man in a lab coat, who's hair had only begun to go gray backed out and closed the door carefully behind him. He set off briskly down the hall in the same direction as the Lieutenant, pausing only to sigh deeply outside the door where most of the growls had been emanating and make a notation on a pad of paper.

When his echos had also faded away, Heero dropped back down, and inspected the door. This one gave him no more difficulty than the one by the stairs, and soon he was in, shutting the door quietly behind him. Inside the room, rows of monitors stood lightly glowing. The entire building could be seen by security cameras, but the hallways and doors weren't what was shown on these screens. On each one a horror stood revealed under soft lighting. Of the seven screens, each one seemed to hold a separate and unique monstrosity. To the left a man stood flexing his hands, from which four inch claws extended. The long marks on the door made it clear he wasn't pleased with captivity. The situation was just as they'd suspected. This group of 'doctors' were mixing human and animal DNA, trying to create a version of the perfect soldier. Someone with the instincts and natural weapons of the wild, and the cunning intellect of a human. These creations were then sold by order, and had begun appearing on the battlefield roughly two months ago. A man who seemed to be a cat mix was caught acting as a sniper. He'd been killed before they could get any information out of him. Heero had immediately taken the mission to find out the source. Volunteer soldiers weren't the only subjects, many of the early tests seemed to have been conducted on orphans from various colonies. But it would all end. Heero would see to that. On another screen, a girl who appeared to be growing fins writhed on the ground before rolling into the small pond provided in her cell.

He turned to the computer, still on from the doctor's use. Heero took a bare fifteen minutes to find the information he needed, and add to it what he had already gathered. He sent off the confirmation, and slowly slipped out of the control room. Now it was just a matter of time. As he padded down the halls, his thoughts focused on the garden ahead, where the only person aware of his presence in the castle hid. This girl had to be eliminated.

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Heero stepped out into the garden, letting the door fall closed behind him. The rain had let up while he was indoors, ,and now a watery moonlight filtered down into the darkened garden. Water dripped slowly from the surrounding thorns and wet grass brushed up against his ankles. He stood in the shadows, silent, as he waited for this girl, this Releena, to give herself away. Calmly he took out a small handgun, holding it ready at his side. He focused on the cold smoothness of the metal weapon: he was a soldier on a mission. He would do everything that would ensure the success of that mission. Everything.

There! A flash of white, clearer now that the moon was shedding light on the scene. Someone stood in the deepest tangles, leading to the center. From behind a large moss covered oak came a slight movement. Two hazel eyes, partially obscured by golden hair, were peering out at him from behind the gnarled truck of the tree. Heero quickly trained his gun on the face, this would be easier than he thought. In a low, gravely voice, he spoke;

"Omao o koruso."

The girl calmly stepped out further into the moonlight. She stood barefoot, damp hair clinging to her face and tree branches dripping water around her like a curtain. She seemed so slim and light, as if she floated in the grotto, her feet never touching the muddy ground. She took another step, bringing her fully out of the shadows, and as the light hit her skin, she glowed. The moonlight bounced off her skin, whiter than the dirty snow Heero remember from his childhood, and seemed to reflect off every drop of water around her. A shimmering radiance seemed to surround her, bouncing off the droplets caught in the feathers of the two wings that framed her head. Rising from behind her shoulders, they brushed gently against low hanging vines, and were an even purer white than her skin. For a moment, though his hand never wavered, Heero stood amazed. In the soft, silvery light, an angel stood, trapped only for an instant before she would take flight and escape. But he stayed hypnotized only for a moment. Heero's analytical brain quickly made the connection between her and the monstrous experiments inside. He took a breath, realizing only then that he had been holding it, and his eyes hardened. He should have been expecting this. What one of the creatures was doing out in this garden at three in the morning was irrelevant. She was the only one who knew he was here, and she had to be eliminated. Especially now. But he still didn't pull the trigger. Something about the way she stood there, with those eyes. Looking at him, her eyes locked on his as if she could see into him, and find things he didn't even know he hid.

Releena slowly took another step forward. Her breathing seemed shallow, her step hesitant, but her eyes never left his face, not even to glance downwards at the gun he had aimed at her heart. A blast of wind whipped down over the wall, blowing stray strands of her hair across her face. The feathers of her wings rustled with the breeze. It also played along Heero's skin, chilling him from the rain earlier, but the boy took no notice. Nor did Releena, though she gave an involuntary shiver and raised her hand to tuck her hair back behind her ear. She stood so near to him now, the dark foliage seemed to surround them, and nothing mattered but that her hazel eyes were fixed on his blue ones, and he was entranced.

"I will destroy you." he repeated, the words forced out from his dry mouth. At this distance there was no chance he could miss. A sound abruptly broke through the unnatural stillness of the garden, and Releena started like a deer suddenly aware of a hunter, and looked upwards to the guard's catwalk. The moment she broke eye contact, Heero's mind began to scream at him. Baka. He stood right in the clearing near the door, in easy view of any of the guards with sense enough to look while on patrol, and the girl was in plain sight. Releena seemed to realize this too, and the eyes she returned to his face were now filled with fear. She swiftly shot out her hand, but instead of reaching for the gun, which Heero prepared himself for, she grasped his other hand. Turning quickly, her slim fingers wrapped around his wrist, she led him deeper into the forest maze. Heero had avoided this mess of a jungle in the center, his discovery of the door had made any further search pointless. The path Releena led him onto was just as wild and untamed as he had supposed, but she seemed to be navigating it without any trouble, as behind them the sounds of the guards grew louder. Heero followed the grip on his wrist without hesitation, blinded by the feathers that trailed across his face every time she turned, and narrowly avoiding the branches and roots that littered their path. The light grip on his wrist seemed to burn, though her skin seemed even colder than his own. Each time he felt the whisper of her wings across his face, he felt that same sense of awe as when she first appeared. Suddenly they stopped, and he found himself being tugged down to a kneeling position on a soft moss ground, miraculously dry. Releena knelt beside him, anxiously peering out from behind a fallen branch at the man who stood marching along the exterior wall. As Heero concentrated his hearing on the guard, he turned his eyes to drink in the sight of her. This close, he could see how her eyelashes brushed against her cheek each time she blinked. His eyes drifted backwards towards her wings, which even now swayed softly in whatever breeze could sneak past the trees. They were beautiful, swan-like in their graceful shape and colour. But there, where her wings met her back, the vision changed. Angry red lines marred the perfect skin, old scar tissue from what must have been the original operations were covered by new lines from more recent cuts. Black and blue bruises crawled along her shoulder blades and ran deeper along her back. The light fabric of her dress, cut to leave her back open and her wings free made the damage clearly visible. The operations had obviously not been gentle.

"I was the only one who survived it." A soft voice whispered from beside him. Heero snapped his sight up to find himself once again the subject of two of the clearest eyes he had ever seen. Determined not to be trapped again, he quickly looked away, and began studying the catwalk for any sign of more guards.

"The only one." she repeated. " He tried it with six of us, three boys and three girls, all from orphanages. All of the boys died during the initial implantation, and slowly the girls died too. From complications and infection, and one from suicide. I am the only 'success." She gave a bitter laugh. The sound seemed wrong to be coming from such a serene appearing creature, but still Heero refused to look at her, concentrating instead on the retreating footsteps of the guard. He couldn't kill her while someone was in earshot. But she went on.

"Of course, I can't fly. He couldn't grow wings large enough for that and he didn't want to mess with my body mass once the wings started to take. I'm merely for decoration, a remnant from when his obsession was beauty instead of war and money. An obsession no less horrible for its intentions." She suddenly turned to him, her wings whipping around in their own wind in her violent hurry to face him. Leaning earnestly towards him, she whispered fiercely, her eyes brilliant with unshed tears; "But you're here to finally stop him, aren't you? You'll put an end to it all."

She sat there, looking up at him so trustingly, as if she had complete faith in him. He had to get away from her. The mission was the important thing. Heero began to stand, but before he completed the movement, he once again found a cool hand snaked around his wrist, and eyes looking upwards at him pleadingly. Why hadn't he evaded her grasp? Years of training and this girl, in five minutes, seemed to have broken through every defense without effort. She was speaking again, her warm voice as full of trust as her eyes.

"You can't go back now. Once you've disappeared, you can't return. No one takes any notice if someone vanishes in the middle of the night, but you can't be seen coming back..."

Heero looked at her, kneeling there on the moss, the vines hanging down from ancient branches all around her. The shadows behind her seemed all the darker when compared to the light she carried around with her. She looked so eager and determined, so vulnerable. Slowly, without really understanding why, he sat down again. What she said made sense, he would raise suspicions if he was found now. Surely that was the only reason.

He stayed early into the morning. Just sitting quietly in the hollow, listening to Releena talk. She told him everything he could ever need to know about the compound; numbers, locations, all of it delivered in a low, level voice. Gently the sky began to lighten; pink streaking down along the edges of the leaves, changing her skin from alabaster to a peach colouration. Still light, her skin lost some of the ethereal paleness, becoming a rose that perfectly complimented the still unreal whiteness of her wings. In the breaking dawn, Heero realized why she had not been sold off like all the others. The doctor had created an angel. Who could bear to part with such a treasure?

Releena took a pause to breath, and shifted slightly. A wing caught a little on the bark above her head, and a faint grimace passed over her features, like a cloud over the moon. Soldier's eyes, trained to catch and hint of weakness couldn't fail to notice that the wings hurt her every time she moved. Heero's eyes hardened; the scars along her back were fresh in his mind, and the operation's pain was obviously long lasting. He wanted to reach out and hold her, to tell her that he would kill anyone that every hurt her again. Instead he stood up.

"My team needs to know this." his crisp tone seemed out of place here, where the only sound for the past hours had been her dulcet words. "Wait here."

He knew he shouldn't leave her alive like that, but he had to get away. Heero found his way out of the brambles with little difficulty, though he formed a begrudging admiration that so small a girl could navigate the thorns while towing wings along behind her. A quick glance around showed the surrounding to be deserted. He wasn't running from her. Now was the perfect time to retrieve his equipment, excuses would be easy to fabricate. Soon he was back at the tree where he had hidden his equipment. He paused for a moment while retrieving his stuff. He could just leave now, escape the castle and fill the team in from the nearby forest before arranging a rendez-vous. But there was Releena. Heero nodded to himself and quietly heading back to the garden. After all, she might still have more information, and he had to make sure she wouldn't interfere with the mission, didn't he.

He found the hollow again quickly, and for a moment his breath caught in his throat. He'd lost her. He quickly pushed that thought aside, and instead focused on what this would mean to the mission. He had to find her. Even now, she could be betraying him to the guards. He turned to search her out and saw her. She lay by one of the larger trees, her head on her knees, arms wrapped around her legs. A single shaft of light fell through the branches and danced along the strands of her hair which mingled with the tall grass. She'd fallen asleep.

Wrenching away his gaze. Heero forgot his momentary panic and sad down cross-legged a safe distance away from her. He began to type in the information she had given him. The satellite link up would allow him to communicate with the rest of the team, but he only wanted to use it once. No need to risk being intercepted. He stole a glance at her. Once, twice. How could she sleep so peacefully after all the horrors she had witnessed. When he caught himself simply staring at her for the third time, idly wondering what it would be like to have her sleeping just like that against his chest, he sternly re-centered himself on his computer screen. "The mission is all that counts." he repeated. From then on he refused to even look at her, even though he could feel her presence along every nerve. The shadows had nearly disappeared before he allowed himself a quick glance in her direction. She still sat there, but warm eyes now looked back at him from under a set of heavy lids. She blinked slowly, brushing her lashes against her cheeks, and asked in a voice still thick with sleep, but no less beautiful than before;

"How long have I been asleep?"

"About three hours." Heero replied. Two hours, and forty-eight minutes. But he was a soldier. Keeping track of time was part of the training. He tried to keep working, but he could feel her watching him. Now that she was awake, he could feel her presence even more, she was EVERYWHERE! Knowing those eyes were on him was almost more than he could bear, but he never missed a keystroke.

He heard a movement and look up to catch Releena, arms stretched above her, on the middle of a yawn. Heero noticed her wings didn't stretch the same way. Whatever muscles they used weren't connected to her arms. She looked back at him sheepishly.

"Is there anything else you need to know?"

Heero looked away and keyed in the last command that would send the information skyward before closing the laptop and answering her question.

"No.: A short pause ensued, in which he refused to raise his eyes.

"Will you tell me your name?" The quiet question was unexpected. Rule number one was never let anyone see you. Rule number two was don't ever reveal your identity. Don't tell her your name. Don't tell...

"Heero Yui." what compelled him to answer? Why, when she spoke, did he want to forget everything and lose himself in the rhythm of her words. She smile a sad, wistful smile, hauntingly beautiful.

"My name is Releena Peacecraft. Thank you for fighting to free us." A simple speech, but it gained an elegance when spoken in her voice. After this, conversation was again at an end. Releena was obviously a creature of the night, for as the sun rose higher, she found a darker shadow underneath the vines, and, arranging her wings around her as best she could, went back to sleep.

Heero kept his back to her, and reopened his laptop. But he could feel her like a warm breath against his skin. It was madness. That's what she was, pure madness. Finally he gave up. He couldn't work, not knowing if her eyes were open or closed. Not knowing if she watched him or slept, if she smiled or frowned. He moved to rest his back against the oak where she had sat when he returned. He reminded himself that the mission remained incomplete until that evening when the troops arrived, and he should rest until then. He relaxed each muscle, but Heero kept his eyes on the girl sleeping a bare six feet away from him. She filled his thoughts, and when he finally allowed himself to sleep, she filled his dreams as well.

He woke up entirely at four o'clock. He'd been aware of the changes of the guard, and he could hear the beginnings of distant shoutings. Heero stood up, carefully stretching, and stepped forward to stand by Releena. She had fallen asleep curled up on her side, trying to keep her wings from pushing into the ground. He'd half expected that she would tuck her head beneath one wing as the swan she resembled, but her back muscles were obviously too destroyed to manage that type of flexibility. As he stood there, he could see her begin the stir. Suddenly she sat bolt upright with a gasp and an almost frantic look on her face. When she finally seemed to be aware of him, Heero gestured at her to be quiet. Releena's look of confusion slowly changed to understanding, but as she began to hear the sounds of distant shouting and the low rumble of airships, she looked at him with curiosity bordering on fear, but still filled with that trust from before. Heero nodded and look away. Careful sabotage had been activated, and he was eager to start the fight.

Heero walked calmly to the wall. The battle had begun; time to get out. Soon there would be an end to this diabolical experiment. Once on top of the catwalk, a small noise made him turn to see Releena scrambling up over the wall, eyes wide as she looked at the two guards he had dispatched that lay crumpled at his feet.

Heero could hear Duo's helicopter closing in on them. The helicopter slowly circled around and soon hovered above them. As the ladder swung past, he carelessly grabbed it. He stayed facing Releena. The wind from the helicopter whipped her wings around her, and her hair blew violently across her face. She looked like she was waiting for him to do something. Impulsively, he stretched out his hand towards her.

Releena hesitantly put her hand in his. He pulled her roughly to him, and gave Duo the signal, then wrapped his free hand protectively around Releena's waist. As they began to rise, a sharp gasp escape the girl he held tight in his arms. She grabbed onto him and buried her face in his chest. Her wings streamed out around them, loose feathers raining down on the castle below. Heero looked down at the golden head so close to him, and at the bright eyes now squeezed shut. He almost felt the urge to smile. An angel who was afraid of heights. Duo would appreciate the joke. For once, Heero wasn't thinking of the battle ahead of him, but of the precious girl he carried in his arms.



AN: there, I've finished it and now I actually get to submit it. Huzzah! But what did you think? Like it? Hate it? Too out there, not out there enough. Please write to me and tell me . E-mail is a wonderful thing and mine is evilbunniesrock@hotmail.com. Also, do you think I should try and continue this story? What I'm thinking of doing is writing a companion piece to this, the same series of events but from Releena's point of view. Write to me and help me decide what to do!