Disclaimer: Gundam Wing and all its characters © Sotsu Agency, Sunrise, and TV Asahi. All fics are not for profit.
A/N: NO I haven't abandoned ficcing--sorry for the super-late post! I should've updated this last Sunday when my beta sent me the edited fic, but I'm waaay to busy with my practicum at the moment. :D Thanks Kei-chan (aka The Orange Girl) for making this chap at least readable!
This contains slight OOC, you've been warned! Will make it up to you next time LOL.
by Schizoid Sprite
Chapter 8: Past and Future
"In memory's telephoto lens, far objects are magnified." -John Updike
Mariemaia's forehead furrowed. She looked up again to watch the drop of the blossoms, those little fairytale cradles falling one, two, three, four, five centimeters per second, according to the slouched Japanese next to her. The bits of facile sunlight broke through the leaves like small spotlights, embellishing the simple spectacle. Too dreamlike, Mariemaia thought. She glanced down at her chocolate ice cream and found a petal settled on top of it.
"I didn't know it's not loaded," Heero said after a while.
Mariemaia cocked an eyebrow at him. "What?"
"The gun." Heero finally licked at the thawing mound on his own cone. "I was really planning to kill you then, at the Bunker in Brussels."
She blew at the petal, but it didn't move. "I don't really care. I mean, I was already shot before you appeared. I had thought I was ready to die."
"I'm sorry for the attempt to kill you," Heero said in earnest. "Or for my failure to accomplish it, whichever you think is more appropriate."
She chuckled. "Apology accepted for the first reason. If you had succeeded in eliminating me, then I wouldn't be having this date with you today."
"This is not a date, kid." The last word was weighted.
"I want it to be. I'm sure Miss Relena won't mind."
Mariemaia giggled at the sharp glare he gave her. They fell silent for a moment, fingers on cool grass and backs on the cherry tree trunk. Robins sang, and Mariemaia wondered if colonists make artificial animals too, instead of what her five-year-old self imagined—little birds in miniature space suits being delivered from Earth.
She smothered another giggle and ran a hand through her hair. In an environment with sounds and sights emitting a sense of cool tranquility, her mop of red hair signified rebellion and fire. Or love, she added to herself, a thing she was slowly loving to do while growing up.
She looked at Heero, quite astonished to see that he looked as though he was a natural part of this place. Yes, his hair and clothes were disheveled, but the peaceful expression of his face was perfect for the whole picture. Mariemaia thought of someone else, like Heero, that might not appear to be a part of a peaceful world at first glance, but is more deserving of it than anyone else.
"Do you know Dorothy Catalonia?"
Heero threw her a what-a-stupid-question look. "Is the sky blue? Is the sea deep? Do you know Dorothy Catalonia?"
"What I mean is, do you know her personally?"
He tilted his head to the side, eyes on the melting treat. "Aside from the fact that she used to stalk me when I was studying at the Sanq Kingdom…"
"Dream on, Heero Yuy," she laughed, loving his playful tone. "She wouldn't do such a thing."
"She did. Even took photographs."
"If you're trying to say something in jest, try harder," Mariemaia deadpanned, flicking the petal away from her ice cream. "You're not her type. Mr. Winner maybe, but not you."
She shrugged. "Just a feeling. They're both present at Miss Relena's ball last Friday. When she saw him, our Miss Iron butterfly had her wings clipped. No, really. I'll need blood transfusion to equal the blush under her mask." She licked the melted blob that raced down her fingers. "Actually, I thought those two were having some sort of love quarrel. Don't look at me like that; I know they're not even an item. Mr. Winner asked me to dance—three songs all in all—and never said a word to me. Mr. Social Skills, huh? His gaze kept drifting back to where my cousin was sitting. Do they have a history or something? I heard Mr. Winner also went to Miss Relena's Institute."
"I didn't pay so much attention to her during that time, but I know she's more interested in me than in Quatre."
Mariemaia rolled her eyes.
"I mean it." His eyes said the same thing. "Dorothy didn't seem to care so much about Quatre at that time. Quatre, on the other hand, was a bit drawn to her. I caught him twice muttering her name absently while we lounged around and waited for Noin's updates. And it's become a habit of him to stare moonily at her during fencing class. I wasn't certain about what he felt for her and I never asked, but I was relieved he found himself a distraction."
"Yes. One of the things I was thankful for when we decided to stay in Sank was that Dorothy was able to temporarily stop Quatre's barely tolerable self-loathing. It wasn't effective every minute, but it's better than letting Quatre bludgeon his conscience every chance he gets." When Mariemaia raised inquiring eyes, Heero added, with a millisecond-long note of hesitation: "He had thought he killed Trowa."
"Uncle?" Obviously there was something else he wasn't telling her, but she wasn't going to pry. Not now, at least.
"No. I'm talking about Trowa the circus performer."
"We're talking about the same person. We've met, and I call him uncle because it gets to his nerves. Speaking of him, does he like Miss Dorothy too? While I and Mr. Winner danced, he and my cousin were discussing something. It's not everyday I see him chatting animatedly with someone. In a social function like that especially, knowing how he disliked being around hoity-toity people."
"I wasn't aware they knew each other personally." Heero said curtly.
"Well, it's not impossible for uncle to be fond of her. Despite whatever the world says, I think my cousin's very likable."
She had expected him to readily disagree, but he didn't. "I guess, if Trowa really likes her. He's not one to grow fond of people that easily. As for Quatre, unlike the usual high society beefcakes and personalities in Dorothy's 'suitors' queue', I don't think he's drawn to her due to her being a business tycoon and a walking sex icon—that's what everyone with masculine eyes would say, why the shocked look? Relena considers Dorothy her best friend. Or sometimes, best 'frienemy', as they still squabble about a lot of things. You like her too?"
"Yes." She closed her eyes and tried to recapture the warmth of Dorothy's arms. "Not before she hugged me, though. Funny, but I think I'm feeling some kind of maternal affection for her."
Neither of them said anything for a long moment. Mariemaia let her unfinished ice cream fall from her hands, then enveloped herself with her arms.
She stood up after a while. "I need to go back now," she announced, patting her skirt. "Thank you very much, Heero Yuy. I'm going to mark this day. My first date."
Heero opened his mouth to remind her that this still wasn't her first, but she beat him to it by placing a quick peck on his nose. She chuckled, threw him a yellow flower she had picked up from where shehad been seated, and then bolted, her flaming hair and pallid hand waving.
Heero picked up the yellow flower and thought of a little girl and her dog.
This time, he was happy.
"Haven't I humored you enough? Why on earth should there be a report?"
The man on the other line lifted a brow, amused. "Because I say so. Why is it too hard for you to tell me how you enjoyed it? Don't think of it as a report, you're making it harder that way. Think of it as just a conversation between friends. Sharing, you know?"
"You're the last person I want to gossip with about boys, Mr. Barton."
Trowa flashed a one-sided smile. "I hope you don't forget that I'm holding the key to one of your girly closets, Miss Catalonia. You wouldn't want Quatre to see the skeletons you keep there."
"You're getting awfully cliché," Dorothy said with a yawn. "I thought you're better than that."
Whether Trowa's surprised expression was genuine or not, Dorothy was uncertain.
"That chummy?" he asked slowly, green eyes wide with some sort of mirth. "On the first date?"
Dorothy rolled her eyes, leaning tiredly against her chair. "That doesn't have anything to do with the clout of your blackmail on me weakening."
"That doesn't exactly answer my questions."
She heaved an exhausted sigh, letting go of a handful of her silvery strands she was playing with since the start of this conversation. It occurred to her that Trowa delights in letting her waspish personality surface over her feigned calmness, and in almost all their "chats" he had accomplished this. Not tonight though. Not when her night had gone very well.
And she wouldn't let him know how good it had been.
"Mr. Barton, I hope you're aware that it's past three in the morning here and I have to make up for the work I missed."
"It's just eight thirty in the evening here and I'm bored."
"So? I'm not one to keep clowns entertained. "
"You're amusing me right now."
"Says the Johnny-come-lately to the world of my kind of conversations." She threw him a sleepy but condescending smile. "It's the other way around my dear. The way you sound so gauche entertains me to no end. And you look a bit….weird tonight. Bonus."
Her last statements were truer. There was something about Trowa tonight, despite the chipper mood he was making her see, that made her somewhat…worried. He looked as though he had swallowed something bitter by mistake but was trying hard not to show it. When she pointed it out, he couldn't even look straight into the monitor. It made her feel a tad awkward.
Trowa shrugged, attempting to fake nonchalance in vain. "If your kind of conversation is always like this, a string of too obvious red herrings, I don't want be involved in one again. That is, after—"
"Fine then," Dorothy interrupted with a chuckle. "Ta-ta, dear boy."
Trowa's glare was her prize for that and she leaned back to her chair, teasingly letting her fingers flutter on the 'end' conversation button.
"I don't want to engage in a conversation with you again after this one," Trowa continued, suddenly serious. "Let's get this over and done with."
"I don't believe you, somehow," she yawned. "Fine, let's get to the main point already. Do you really want us to discuss my date? Your face's saying something else."
Trowa shifted rather uncomfortably in his seat. She thought she could make out a raw blush under the curtain of his bangs, but she couldn't be sure.
"About Quatre," he began. "How does it feel?"
A one-shouldered shrug. "How does it feel when you've realized you have something for Quatre?"
He looked annoyed. "I refuse to go back to square one again. How does it feel?"
"I don't know what you're saying. How about the date report?"
"The date report's just some sort of springboard—it's you who jumped into the water too soon, so here we are. Answer me straight so you can finally go to sleep."
Dorothy crossed and re-crossed her legs. She now regretted not humoring him from the beginning. She liked it when Trowa's in a good mood because it usually meant has someone who has an awful lot of patience to rub up the wrong way. She had to admit, too, that it felt good to have another person who knew her feelings for Quatre. He made no bones about her putting up of facades, even if he did tease her about her 'girlish' plight when he got perfect chance. Perfect chance in Trowa's vocabulary meant there's only him and Dorothy present.
Trowa raised an inquiring brow. "So?"
"I don't know," Dorothy sighed, suspicious. "Why don't you just tell me your problem?"
"I promise to tell after you answer me. How does it feel?"
Dorothy raised a brow. Trowa looked awfully troubled now, his face a nasty flushed pallor of nervousness. She could make out glitters of sweat on his temples.
"There's only one word that can describe my feelings for him, Trowa Barton."
"And that is?"
Trowa slumped tiredly on his seat. "For once, you're succeeding in peeving me just by a single word."
"I'm not peeving you. It's true."
"You're not helping, Dorothy."
She opened her mouth for a quick response, but the sound bite reached her ears and sank in, making her clamp her lips together again: did he just call her by her first name?
"I won't be of any real help if you won't tell me the problem, Trowa."
"I have to confirm if it's really a problem first, and your feelings for Quatre will be my basis for comparison."
Dorothy rubbed her temples, which began to throb quite painfully. Confirmation? Comparison? Nothing was making sense, and she threw Trowa a you're-making-me-want-to-strangle-you-for-confusing-me-you-numskull look. "I really need to sleep, Mr. Barton."
"Help me." Trowa's voice had quivered a little, and it shocked her. His face was contorted into a mass of pleading expression, and the way it appeared on the monitor made Dorothy want to make herself believe she was just dreaming.
"Help me," he repeated. "Just this afternoon…she's come. From the past. I just want to know if what I'm feeling is…real. Like yours."
"Explain to me everything."
"..well, there's this boy who said he has no name, and he met this girl who used a false name. No-name saved Fake-name's life, but for some reason Fake-name despised No-name. They parted, and when they met again, No-name has already taken somebody else's name and Fake-name was using her real name. Fake-name recognized No-name, but she wasn't sure he recognized her. They parted again, Fake-name thought it was for good, but soon they bumped into each other again—oh, yes, small world, small world—and No-name called her by her first fake name, and—"
"Brookie," Duo interrupted, raising his hand, "Brookie. Calm down, you're nearly hyperventilating. What's this balderdash all about?"
"No-name called her by her first fake name," Brooke continued as though she didn't hear him, absently thumbing the LCD of her camera. "Trowa Barton…Trowa Barton called me Midii Une, Duo."
"Midii Une?" Duo flashed an inquiring look. "Une?"
"At first, I didn't…" Brooke's mouth was dry. She shook her head and looked down at the LCD, where a shot of a half-astonished, half-confused face of Trowa was flashed. Her eyes fluttered close. "No-name recognized me."
Quatre swigged the last drops of water from his canteen and wiped the sweat that trickled down the bridge of his nose. He stared past the yellow rim of his helmet to the metallic pad of sky above, where his Play-Doh were flitting aimlessly, like misguided ghosts so lost they gave up all hopes of being guided back to the right path. He smiled and tried to 'mold' one cloud into a shape of a baby dinosaur. He failed, and then he laughed.
He let his eyes travel downward until they met the lovely bone structure of one of the civilian establishments they were rebuilding. Reconstruction at L3-X18999 was far from over; it would take longer than what Quatre (had) expected. Two of the Winner Corporation's rival resource mining companies—the Mallory Transcolonial and the Jenkins Steel—offered some help to speed up the operations, though it's blatantly just an act for the broadsheets and their own yellow press-style newspapers. It's a shame, really, for companies like them to even own such things. It was as well possible that they were trying to catch an angle for a story that would project a bad image for the Winner Corporation. That's how they work; they've done it in the past, though quite unsuccessfully. "If there's no news, make one," was the motto of the tabloids.
As if they could attach those sensationalist strings to make a marionette of public opinion! The people were smarter than that. Aren't they?
Oh well, motives don't alter facts, Quatre thought with a wince. Those companies may have done something to speed up the work. He looked up again at his clouds to bring his good mood back.
"Master Quatre," a voice called from somewhere behind the sacks of cement nearby. It was Abdul. "How are we?"
"Peachy keen," Quatre responded with a grin that transformed into a contrite grimace when he remembered what he did the night before. "I'm sorry for leaving without telling you. The best thing I could do to make up to Dorothy after that little egg incident was to grant her request."
"It's alright," Abdul assured him, pushing his sunglasses up his nose. "I know it's no fun having a date with a couple of fez-capped old codgers lingering at your sides."
That statement made Quatre notice that there was something awkward with Abdul's demeanor today. He couldn't tell what exactly, but it's there. He squinted as if that something was visible. "You know, Dorothy actually looked ready to back out when she learned it's going to be a chaperoned date."
"She looked at us as if we had bull's-eyes on our shirts," Abdul laughed. "The fork looked frighteningly sharper in her hand. Ahmed said he's quite sure she'd fling it at us."
…still there. Quatre chuckled, with some effort, "If she got bored or irritated enough, maybe she would have."
Abdul didn't respond. He looked past Quatre, and the blond followed his gaze. They watched the busy figures dotting the straight arms of the building's cement skeleton, shouting orders, wiping perspiration off their brows.
For a short moment, Quatre forgot about Abdul's mysterious uneasiness. There was an ecstatic jerk that rocked his chest as he looked at the building. Even in its incomplete state, he could say it was far more beautiful than the grandest hotel or skyscraper he knew. It was a symbolism of their blood, sweat, and tears... They were all working on this, physically reconstructing their world and spiritually rebuilding the peace that they were slowly embracing now…
"She worked for it, too," he muttered to himself. "In her own way."
"Nothing," said Quatre, giving a little shake of his head, thinking that Abdul was querying about what he just whispered.
"I have something to ask you."
The blond cocked a brow, curiously examining the Maguanac's now expressionless face. "Shoot."
"You still a virgin?"
The moment's equation: a seconds-long silence and Abdul's utterly staid face, plus the sudden widening of Quatre's eyes, the slight hanging of his jaw, and the small folds between his eyebrows equals the boy's sheer disbelief at the question.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Are you a virgin, Master Quatre? Before you met Lady Dorothy?"
The previous equation raised to the second power.
Quatre swallowed hard before saying, "If you guys think I and Dorothy went to some love inn or something when we left last night, you're terribly mistaken."
"Master, it's not…that. You haven't answered my question."
"Of course I'm still a virgin! What made you ask that?" Wasn't it just, like, yesterday when they had told him he was the most innocent boy they've met?
Abdul looked a tad apologetic, meeting Quatre's eyes only once as he fished out something from his pocket. He handed the folded newspaper section to Quatre.
"This," Quatre announced after reading the story thrice, his voice incredulous, "is what you call pure sensationalism, Abdul."
"You mean the boy in the photo's not you? I knew it. I and Ahmed couldn't believe it when we saw this. Clever editing then—"
"It's me," he admitted with a small hint of embarrassment, "and it's Dorothy. But I'm certainly not the man in that news article!"
An uneasy pause. "We thought so, too, Master Quatre. Seriously…we don't think you'd sleep with half a dozen call girls in a night—bill them to your one of your sisters' Mastercard—and then join a Chastity Group the next day and deliver a speech about virginity—"
Quatre sighed and bit his lip, hard. "If there's no news, make one. That's always been it, their mantra. It's ridiculous."
Abdul nodded. "About the photograph…"
Quatre sighed yet again but didn't say another word, crumpling the paper and letting it fall to the ground. He never wanted to deal with this kind of people, and he never would—he swore that to himself, after seeing those pathetic attempts—cloaked in journalism—at destroying an adversary. Only now, the scandal involved someone else he cared for…and it would positively cause a domino reaction.
"I'm sure your PR department will be able to do something about it, Master Quatre… the Captain wasn't aware of this yet, only I and Ahmed, but he'll know sooner or later."
This will pass, Quatre thought. It's something people wouldn't take seriously…
He raised his eyes. The clouds were gone.