Chapter 17- Choice
Relena struck out with a blind ferocity that her weakened body could not translate into reality. She knew even as she fought that it was hopeless. She was close, so very close, to escape, and if she could have picked up the shards of her shattered freedom, she would have sliced her assailant to ribbons. Was this forever to be her fate? Was she always to taste freedom, yet never allowed to drink fully of it?
The cycle would start again, cruel eyes, cruel pain, and always she stood at the centre, helpless against the storm. There would be no happy ending for her, she could only hope for finality.
But the arms that held her so firmly were gentle, and around the edges and corners of the drugs and fear and rage she could hear his voice. Heero. Heero was calling her, he was here, he had found her. The panic that fluttered in her breast gave a gentle sigh, before it began to grow once more.
For no, no, it was all wrong. He'd found her yes, but in the middle of a lobby in the hospital of their enemies. Even now she could hear the voices of others, their hurrying footsteps as they zeroed on in their location. This was no brisk salvation, there was no muted helicopter to ferry them to the edge of the world, no obvious plan. They were exposed and vulnerable, and even now they should be running, running faster than her slow mind could grasp.
The fear in her, so nearly extinguished by his presence, bloomed anew. They would now have them both. They would take him and do what they'd done to her, or worse. For Heero would have no garden sanctuary, no lucky defect. They'd see the power that shone so brightly in him and they would twist it. They would twist him and then they would take him from her, and she couldn't bear it.
He was talking, saying, asking something, but he didn't understand. They had to leave, and they had to leave now while there was still some slim chance. She was frantic; she could feel the nightmares closing in around them, running their claws along her scars and curling their hooked talons into him. He had to get away. He had to. It was the only important thing left.
"You have to go Heero, you have to leave" frantically she scrabbled at him. He had to let her go and run. Surely he could understand that she couldn't let them have him. Why were they still standing in this blind, white hall, his hands strong around her wrists and his voice a river in her ear? "Heero" she pleaded, her eyes seeking his before flitting back to the encircling figures. What was the plan? Why were they still waiting?
She pulled now, trying to drag him with her if he would not flee himself, the door still right there, so very close. She couldn't let them have him, he was hers, the only good.
But he just stood there, as if they had all the time in the world, as if he was waiting for something, as if they had time for calm and reasonable explanations when every crystalline moment sung out for flight.
They should be running already, fading into the mists, breath heavy in their lungs and the earth bearing the brand of their feet. Yet still he stood firm. And around then she felt the encircling crowd come closer.
"Miss Relena, please, be calm", the cool, professional voice pried violently into Relena's thoughts. With a shriek she spun, arms flying out as if to block a bullet. They had found them.
"No! You can't have him." The dry chuckle that met her declaration derailed the impassioned pleas she'd hoped at them, a last, though hopeless, defense. For they weren't looking at Heero. Only the lightest tightening of his hand on her arm indicated that he was still there. It was as if, to this group before her, he was only furniture or a tapestry, unworthy of notice. No, their attentions was all on her, and behind every pair of eyes she could see calculators, but no scalpels. Some of the faces were even familiar, and from the haze of desperation Relena felt the uncurling of uncertainty. Where was she?
"Please, Miss Relena, we mean neither you, nor Mr. Yui, any harm," the voice was calm, and almost seemed amused at the situation. As if Relena had not just awoken alone, surrounded by glaring machines and muted horrors, when moments before she had been safe in a forest and glade, and in his arms.
With a shiver she remembered his falsely sleeping form; the curve of his cheek under her breath, his rough hand skimming along her arms and against the curve of her elbow. He'd been warm in a way she still couldn't recognize. The brand of his hands on her back, wide against her spine, and the taste of him was a gift she couldn't quite seem to remember. What had happened? There had suddenly been so much pain, and she didn't know the why, or even the how.
Like every one of her dreams, and days, her wings had taken something beautiful and hers and had destroyed it effortlessly. They'd stolen it in ribbons of fire that had wrapped her in darkness, and deposited her here.
At the woman's voice the arms that surrounded her tensed for a fraction of a moment, then began to slide away. Relena's fingers were still wound in the fabric of his shirt, for surely even now he had a plan to rescue the both of them. Wherever here was, he was with her.
But he was stepping away, putting a distance between them that she didn't understand, and which seemed much further than a pace or two. It didn't make any sense. None of this did. Hadn't he come for her? Where was the safety that she only seemed to find with him?
His eyes weren't on her, they were on the men and women that stood so calmly before them. His hand slid along her skin, but she could see that she was no longer the focus of his attention.
His shirt slid through finger that suddenly seemed nerveless as he slowly took a step back, leaving her to sway on unsteady feet, her fingers barely skimming his arm. There was something going on here that she didn't understand; some decision or struggle that she couldn't see; yhat she did not know how to look for.
A suspicion struck like a knife, and only the immediate rejection and surety that sung up from her bones kept her from stumbling. Heero hadn't betrayed her; this was not the tortured past revisited. Something was wrong, that she could plainly see, but her raw nerves could not sense where to run. All she knew was that Heero was unhappy and that she was exhausted. But if they weren't about to strap her down and visit horrors down on her, perhaps she would have time to figure this out.
"Please, Miss Relena, let us find you somewhere comfortable to sit." The voice was calm, crisp, and courteous. But it wasn't Heero's. Relena's eyes hadn't left his, but he was a blank. The only connection she had was the thin layer of skin under her fingertips, and then even that was gone as he took that final step back, his attention on the woman in front of her.
Reluctantly, Relena turned to the them in a muted flurry of feathers, tiredness dragging at every limb. They were gesturing her towards a rolling chair, and as they quietly fussed about her, Relena gingerly sat down. No straps appeared, no needles and laughter. Just a gentle rolling and a constant stream of conversation which seemed to coil about her without ever connecting.
Directly to her left she could feel him walking, his eyes on every corner of the hall, attuned to her every shiver and cringe. She saw his glare fend off doctors with their white coats and terrifying clipboards, felt him tense at any jostle.
But although he stood so near to her that on sharp corners the flutter of her wings seemed to mingle with the brown of his hair, she felt farther from him than she had since finding him in her garden, a gun pointed at her heart. Although he watched over her, he would not meet her eyes.
She wanted, oh how she wanted, to reach out to him amidst this current of conversation and ask him where they were, and let him tell her they were safe as she listened to his heartbeat, low and steady.
However she didn't dare even begin the gesture. He strode alone through the hallway, and the walls he'd built kept him apart just as they kept her hands in her lap. Every step he took was as measured as a panther, and as he watched the hall for danger, Relena watched him.
Had the kiss even happened? Now she wasn't sure. Had she truly been the focus of that attention, that hunger? Here she could barely believe it, as he walked in a cloud of cold calculation. It seemed yet another dream, complete with pain and silence. Perhaps, perhaps it had not happened at all, for surely now there would be some sign, some clue from him that he had not always stood three feet behind and slightly to the left.
The hall seemed long and never-ending, as if they walked in an off-white hive that curved into infinity. Relena could feel her mind softening along the edges, exhaustion and god-knew what else taking its toll. As the mirrored doors of the elevator closed before her she watched them with a detached fascination.
In the mirror it was not Heero's dark features that drew her gaze, but her own pale form, and the wings that towered and spilled out around her like poisonous smoke. No wonder Heero was distant, removing himself from her. Back among the unblemished and the whole, what could he possibly see in her own twisted shape? She knew the scars that poured up her back, the amount of drugs that flowed in her tainted blood. She was a symbol of the power of the enemy. Without the mystery of her garden and their solitude, she stood in the harsh light of normality.
Around her the voices had finally fallen silent, only the gentle climb of the elevator breaking the silence. Wrong for flight, wrong for love, Relena didn't know how she could fit back into the world that had been stolen from her.
Consciousness slowly seeped out of her eyes, running in a single silver trail down her cheek. The last thing she saw as sleep reclaimed her were her wings towering above the group, crushing everything beneath them.
Relena awoke gently, warmth and drowsiness in every limb, a relaxation she could not muster the will to fight. The hospital, the pain, it still hid behind every glance and nerve, but it was secondary to Heero's presence. There was a different quality to the air, a knowledge that he stood nearby that rose in her even before her eyelids fluttered. True, he still stood far from her, leaning against the wall at deceptive ease, but his very presence soothed her ragged heartbeat.
Relena basked in the safety his form carried. So complete was her content that it took her a moment to realize that it was not his presence that had awoken her. No, it was the murmured word of the tidy and short-haired woman who sat beside her bed.
"Miss Relena, if you are feeling better, there are those of us who have something we'd very much like to ask you". The words were calm, a river well used to carrying the current, but almost immediately Relena lost the flow and sense of the conversation. Heero shown like a flame, one which could she not resist. The shadows that curled and lurked around the edges of this place ran hiding from him, and though he promised destruction and obliteration, Relena heard nothing but the siren call of hearth and home in his words and stance. The room might separate them, and though she could still see distance written in his every muscle, it was his warmth that soothed and fascinated her.
"Please Miss Relena, we're asking you to help us end this war. Help us end the war that soldiers like Heero are having to fight".
Finally Relena focused on the words of the woman who had awoken her. And suddenly it was as if Heero was the light by which she read the promises and hopes that were being woven before her eyes. He was the flame by which she read the proffered text. This was the war he fought, the war that had twisted the doctors into creating her and those other monstrosities she had been forced to bear witness to.
The words of war were not some distant sphere scarce grasped. When Noin spoke of battle, Relena saw Heero, cold and firm, forced to kill his enemies. He stood against them, emotionless, with nothing but blankness on his face. This was the cost of his strength; the heart he had traded away for the ability to face those who opposed them.
When Noin spoke of sacrifice, Relena saw it: the decision to save comrade and friend, achieve success regardless the cost. She saw Heero and knew how quietly , how calmly he would make that choice. How easily he would see the path and step out into that danger.
What's more, she already knew how little he valued his own safety. Nobody would infiltrate the castle that had been her prison on a solo mission if he had any instinct of self-preservation. No, Heero would willingly self-destruct, throw his life away for his cause at the slightest provocation. She couldn't bear it, to think of him floating in the detritus when she was being offered, here and now, a chance to prevent it.
And when Noin spoke of civilian casualties; the price the innocent were paying in this bloody warfare, Relena finally raised a hand and stopped her. For this she knew. She had seen the children whose parents would never return. She knew the price paid by the innocent in this foolish quarrel. Her voice was still hoarse from the screams of blameless, her skin marred and cut by the blades that would seek any advantage, regardless the cost. She knew the damage this conflict could exact on one who had no understanding of it.
The wings that even now cast shadows across the room to lap at Heero's feet were proof enough of how far the world would go in the quest for victory. They hung flightless, a shining testimony that even in their success, her captors had failed to create in her a military force. It was one of the few shreds of gratitude that Relena had cherished before he had come to save her. She had never been sent out to war, sent out to fight and die for them. But it could have been so different.
As Heero stood to attention, every emotion tightly masked or banished, Relena knew he was as much a victim of this war as she was, and her duty finally lay clear. She would do all in her power to protect him, and so with renewed purpose she turned her attention to the proposition of the military woman beside her.