The door hissed like a living, breathing, slithering, scaly thing.
Years of impulse control and instinct suppression sculpted her into a weightless statue. She sat wedged in a corner of the padded room as still and as silent as the grave. It was the only real weapon in her arsenal at his juncture.
The light poured into the room and one of the two figures, more a shadow than anything else even with her enhanced eyesight, entered. In time, even her golden eyes, slitted through the lids like knives, adjusted to the new light, leaving her alone with the shadow-man. She didn't even have to guess as to who it was.
"Marie?" His voice floated through the room, light and delicate. It was like listening to a butterfly. She hated it. "Marie, I've brought you a meal."
The silence threatened to drag out into infinity.
"Please, don't be like this," his best friend could have died with that tone. "I know it's not my place to tell you what is or isn't best for you but…it will help you get your strength back. You'll need it if you're going to remember."
Nothing but the quiet and the dark and the promises no one had ever made.
He moved toward her. She tensed ever-so-slightly, enough that no one would be able to tell.
It was with every drop of control that she had that she didn't flinch away from his touch. His fingers were gentle, the material of his gloves surprisingly smooth. He traced a finger along he jaw like a pilgrim gliding his finger along the contours of the holiest of objects. She might have even heard a half-muttered prayer.
She had once heard that affection was the emotion furthest from self-preservation. In that moment, she would have to agree. It was his own fault, really. If he had been more careful, he could have avoided such a vulnerable moment.
As it was, he left himself wide open. When his hand came close enough, she bit his finger off.
She should have seen this coming. Really, she should have.
There was a reason Celestial Being didn't take prisoners. That man, Crossroads, was trouble enough. Bringing an enemy combatant aboard the ship (crippled mobile suit or not) was a recipe for disaster.
Oh, yes, there had been points argued. Mileina said it was oh-so-romantic, a man bringing back his lady love. Ian begrudgingly admitted that the chance to dissect an Ahead—the quantum brain wave-type, no less—was a golden opportunity that could allow Celestial Being to more effectively fight the A-Laws. Even Tieria had only been mildly critical, much to her surprise. And then there was Allelujah himself, all puppy dog eyes and upstanding with his talk of 'I'll take responsibility.'
She should have given him a dressing down in front of the entire crew. But the lecture died on her lips when she saw the Meister lying in a bed in the medical wing, features slack and eyes vacant. The splotches on his cheeks and the stinging red splintering off from his mismatched pupils said more than she ever could. And somehow, in her own small way, she knew them to be more than tears of physical pain.
"Miss Sumeragi," his voice reached her, haunted and empty as it was.
"Allelujah Haptism," she returned at length. It would be so easy to stroke his hair and tell him that everything was going to be alright. But Celestial Being wasn't simple or clean or neat or pretty. "Your access to the prisoner has been indefinitely revoked."
He wailed like she had run razor sharp, piping hot talons down his flesh, words running together in a coagulating, polluted stream of curses and begging.
Allelujah had come back changed. Sumeragi had seen that the moment she laid eyes on him. It was in the tension that never left his shoulders anymore, always alert and ready to defend himself lest he be dragged into the bowels of another hard, iron monster with chains for teeth and shackles for saliva. It was in the dull glint in his right eye, which no longer shone with a chilly fervor.
But none could compare to this, the wretched, shrieking thing that was one part zealot, cursing her in the name of his personal Messiah, one part groveling victim that had been stripped of his last glimmer of hope. She couldn't decide if she should pity or hate him.
Setsuna's eyes stretched on like an iron sea, vast and unflinching.
"You aren't allowed to enter this cell." He stated it as plainly and flatly as any one else might say the sky is blue.
"I know," Allelujah fidgeted uncomfortably. He looked like he was about to rip his hair out by the root with how insistently he tugged at his bangs. He licked dry lips. "What harm could it be?"
The sea did not shift. The waves did not break. Setsuna did not submit.
The air grew heavy. Could Allelujah Haptism, super soldier, overpower Setsuna F. Seie, battle-forged prodigy? He was not certain and he did not wish to know. But Marie…she was close, so close. He had to be near her.
Setsuna pushed past him and slid the tray through a delivery slot in the door. He left as casually and as slowly as he came, not paying the smoldering Allelujah any mind.
"Allelujah Haptism," Tieria Erde's icy tones sent a shiver through his body in spite of himself.
Who was Tieria to speak down to him like that? Tieria—another of the blind, stupid little ingrates who hadn't seen Marie's grace. He was ugly, inferior. Allelujah breathed deeply.
That wasn't fair. It wasn't his fault. Of course someone would be bitter and small without Marie in their life. But that would change very soon and then they would all have the chance to meet her and marvel at her infinite grace.
"Yes, Tieria?" He put on his best poker face.
"Your performance in the last sortie was deplorable at best. It would be wise not to allow your attention to drift in future engagements."
"I'm not fit to be a Gundam Meister?"
The red rings of the other pilot's eyes all but shown behind the disks of his glasses as he stopped dead in his tracks, wheeling suddenly. "What did you say?"
Allelujah was already gone.
Lyle liked Haro. Really, he did. The little guy had an infectious sort of charm that was impossible to deny. He didn't complain whenever his new partner lit up. He even leant a hell of a hand when things got dicey out there in the suit.
But the feeling of Haro bulging under his armpit didn't fill him with the same sense of security as the steady, deadly weight of a handgun stuffed into his waistband. God, he wished he was armed.
"Don't you pretend this doesn't concern you!" The ranting Meister turned on the Irishman suddenly, stabbing a finger toward his face in brutal accusation. "You're just like the rest of them! You don't believe! It's one thing to doubt me, but Marie? Marie!? You should feel lucky that you're aboard the same ship as Marie! That is the greatest grace any of you will ever know!"
"You'd better get that finger out of my face," he drawled casually. Fuck, he shouldn't have said that. He could already see the other man's features twisting themselves further into a morass of rage. But the guy was being a prick and he couldn't smoke on the ship and he had forgotten his gun and God damn it if he didn't pull that finger out of his face right now he was going to lose it again…
"Allelujah Haptism," it was Setsuna, cool, unflappable Setsuna, who derailed that particularly bloody train of thought. The other Meister turned at the mention of his name even as Setsuna shot the fourth member of their fraternity a conspiratorial look. They traded nods. "Tieria Erde and I conducted an investigation into the nature of 'Marie Parfacy.' She was a subject of the Human Reform League's Super Soldier program, just as you said, but our findings brought us to the conclusion that she expired in the year 2301."
The world came to a stop.
"Sumeragi Lee Noriega," Tieria's flat tones shook her from her melancholy. He held a tray in his hands. She pursed her lips. It seemed odd that he would be assigned this duty, but with most of the additional personnel busy performing maintenance on the ship and the Gundams, she supposed he was the only one on hand.
She moved away, leaning on the far wall while Setsuna delivered Allelujah's meal, which was bound to go untouched like those of the past two days. He only ever sat now, the image of the woman who had taken his mind, his heart, and his finger. It was a dark irony.
"Why do you believe Allelujah Haptism was so certain of the former prisoner's identity?"
She rocked her heels, suddenly dizzy. Had Tieria really asked? He was hardly the man he was four years ago, but to show what could pass for concern for a 'defective' Meister? It almost made her head spin. And yet, she felt she owed it—who?—someone to say it, whether it was the man who asked, herself, or the man who lays motionless in the room beyond, wrapped in a womb of blankets and shattered dreams.
"He needed her the way you or I need air," she sighed. "He always needed someone to lean on. When he couldn't find it in himself, he began to project it onto someone else. First Hallelujah, then this 'Marie.' He's very lonely. He can't survive on his own."
Tieria had the decency to look away when she shed a few tears for him. She had beat back those ideas for so long. Yet, in turning up those old bones for Tieria and the world to see, she saw an old corpse bettered off buried. She saw the beast of myth, the creature of fancy, someone people always sought but never caught. It was a 'what if?'
What if it had been her? What if she had reached out to him he needed it most, when she saw the pain in him but turned a blind eye toward it so she could pine for Emilio while he burned for Marie—both gone from them in all but memory? What if she became his crutch, something tangible and real that wouldn't melt away like so much ice in the searing sun that was the harsh truth of life? What if she had saved him?
There were no answers.