Part Fifteen: Condition Grounded
A soul in tension that's learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try
Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
--- David Gilmour
Heero woke up to hear someone calling his name. A girl's soft, light voice.
"Hito, Hito... "
Groggy, he raised his head. He'd fallen asleep with his arms crossed, his head down. Heero rubbed the back of his aching neck and tried to focus. Hilde was sitting on the opposite seat, her hair still wet and standing out in all directions, but she was grinning widely.
"Oh, look, sleeping beauty awakens."
Heero blinked again, glancing over the controls with a practiced eye. Their route was still active, stealth mode long since off, the autopilot managing just as well without his intervention. "What happened?"
"I woke up when the alarm went off," she said, in a tone that indicated the answer was obvious. "Four hours. Your turn to sleep... in a bed," she told him, leaning over to poke him the shoulder.
He scowled, but it got mangled and came out more like a crooked half-smile. "I told you I'd come wake you up."
"You can see how well that would've worked. Now it's my turn to tell you to get."
"I should check on Day... " Heero stood up, stretching his shoulders. His muscles, still sore from being thrown around the ship, were now screaming thanks to four hours unmoving in the pilot's seat. "Damn."
"What were you doing while we were taking off?" Hilde was staring at Heero's forehead, and he instinctively put a hand up to feel for a bruise. The dark-haired man winced as his fingers touched a tender spot.
"Doing my best imitation of an ice cube in a martini shaker," he retorted.
"Good thing you have a hard head," she said, leaning back as she propped her feet up on the control panel. "And don't check on Day. I've cleaned up enough blood for one week, thanks."
"What?" Heero was immediately on alert. "Did the bandage--"
"No, no," the girl replied, waving his words away as she cut him off. "He's fine. But he doesn't know your voice well enough. You're likely to find a knife through your gullet faster than you can holler hello."
"So that's why," Heero said, softly. He didn't finish the sentence; she understood he was referring to the fact that she'd not shaken him awake.
She nodded, then brightened. "He's okay anyway, bandage is still clean. I can't believe you left his jeans on him, though. They're filthy."
Heero flushed, then scowled as he felt his face redden. "There wasn't any reason to cut them off. My priority was getting him to stop bleeding."
"Unh-hunh," she said, and her tone was skeptical. Heero furrowed his brow, peering closely at her, but she merely gave him another Cheshire flash of a wide grin. "You check on Trey? How's his head doing?"
"I woke him up once every hour. Last time was... " Heero glanced at the ship's clock. "Thirty-five minutes ago."
"So you haven't been asleep that long?"
"I wasn't asleep."
Heero pretended to bristle. "I was resting my eyes."
"Rest your eyes in your bunk, then. I'll wake you in six." Hilde turned her back on him, punching in a command to the ship's computer. A colorful window opened on the screen, and Heero frowned.
"Four," Hilde cut him off with a chuckle. "I'll let you out of your cage and you can cook for us. Deal?"
Heero grinned wryly, aware she could see him in the monitor's reflection. Rubbing his eyes again, he left the cockpit. Back in his room he checked Trowa quickly as he kicked off his boots. Then he pulled off his shirt and climbed into his bunk.
He rolled over on his stomach and was instantly asleep.
Heero was stir-frying the vegetables while Hilde leaned against the doorway. He'd quickly figured out that he would have to defend the stash of vegetables against her amateur thievery.
She's not as quick as Duo, he thought, irked as he noticed another carrot piece disappearing from the countertop. But quick enough, he amended, glancing over at her. Hilde gave him a wide-eyed and innocent look. A second later she grinned, displaying the carrot between her even white teeth. He brandished the wooden spoon as though about to smack her.
She pretended to duck, chuckling.
"If everyone else goes hungry, I'm blaming you," he told her.
"You could never make enough to feed Day completely," she said. She paused for a second, and he could hear the carrot crunching as she chewed. "Not bad."
"It was raw." He glanced at the petite brunette leaning against the doorjamb.
"Decently uncooked." She was smiling, pleased with herself. Her arms were crossed, and she looked for all the world like a miniature Duo as she taunted him. Hilde tossed her head to get her bangs out of her eyes. "By the way... have I mentioned lately that you're an idiot?"
"Hunh?" Heero flipped off the heat and spooned the vegetables into a waiting dish. He decided to assume she was joking. "I didn't do anything."
"That's the problem."
Suddenly she didn't sound like she was joking, and Heero paused, uncertain. He ducked his head and made a show of checking the rice carefully before spooning it into four waiting bowls.
"About time," she said, as she took two of the bowls from him, opening her fingers to allow him to slide the chopsticks between the bowls and her palms. "Woman cannot live on raw carrots alone."
He stared at the two other bowls as she left for her bunk. It was a second later before he shook himself, picking up the bowl for Trowa. The metal was warm against his fingers from the rice, and he let it soak into his palm as he collected a set of chopsticks for the Heavyarms pilot.
Just when I think I have her figured out, he griped silently, she goes and confuses me all over again. He filed the thought away as one more thing to consider once he had some privacy.
Heero woke up six hours later to the sound of a raised voice in the hallway. Climbing down from the bunk, he noticed Trowa was gone. He pulled a clean shirt over his head and stepped into the hallway.
The tall man was leaning against the ship's wall, his weight on his good leg, and his head was down. Hilde was between him and the cockpit, and despite being almost a foot shorter she was in the pilot's face, clearly aggravated.
"--stubborn I could throttle you," she was saying. "Now turn around and get back to bed. You have a concussion!"
"I'm fine," came the soft reply.
"You look like you got hit with an ugly stick," the girl retorted. "Can you even see out of that eye?" She waved her hand in front of his face.
Heero was surprised to see Trowa didn't smack her hand away like the dark-haired man was expecting. Silently he came up behind the two, his eyebrows raised.
"There is no way you're piloting," Hilde announced. "You try it, you won't like what happens."
Heero could see Trowa's amusement clearly as he came alongside the two. Hilde didn't seem to notice, her expression indignant. Her eyes were wide in fury.
"Yeah!" She paused, thought for a second, and then exploded again with another poke to Trowa's chest, pushing him back a half step. "You'll be eating my cooking on the next three jobs."
"Trey, I'm awake now. I can take over," Heero interjected. "Hel, you were supposed to wake me so you could sleep some more."
"I slept enough," she barked, her anger overflowing into her answer to Heero.
"Then go play video games. Let Trey kick your ass just like he always kicks Day's."
There was a long pause, and Trowa nodded, limping forward and slipping into the meeting room without a word. Hilde turned to watch him, then grinned widely at Heero, and winked.
Thanks, she mouthed.
He gave her a half-smile and a shrug, and went to take the pilot's seat.
Heero was at the controls when they came in sight of L2. Day appeared behind him, limping a little, and looking pale, but stubbornly insisted on taking over. When Hilde appeared beside him, apparently agreeable to Day's piloting, Heero did his best to gracefully retire.
Waiting on his bunk, re-reading his two magazines for the fifth time, he listened to the sounds of the airlock vents, and smiled grimly as the bay tugs locked onto the ship's belly. Two missions down, one more to go before the jinx was broken.
He wondered if that even mattered anymore. The crew seemed to have accepted him -- to some limited degree, at least -- but he was no closer to understanding what the three of them were doing working for the syndicate. And he wasn't entirely certain he knew why he was still there, other than a strange sense of loyalty. He just wished he knew what he was helping with.
Heero sighed as he heard Hilde enter the bunkroom. "Are you ever going to knock?" He asked without turning to look.
"Not planning on it," she said, and hauled herself up to rest her chin on his mattress, only a few inches from his face. "Got something I need you to do. If you can't, I need to know now so I can... make arrangements."
Heero sat up, leaned over, and took Hilde under her arms. In a single move he'd lifted her up to sit on the bunk next to him. She giggled as he set her down, and shook her head.
"I could've gotten up myself," she said.
"Faster this way. So what's going on?"
"Our job report," the girl said, her green eyes suddenly sliding away from his. Heero noticed a light flush coloring her cheeks as she explained. "I've encoded a romchip with our logs, and now it has to be delivered. At the same time, you'd be picking up another one."
"Ah." Heero nodded, focusing on the ripped knees in his black jeans. Got to buy more clothes while I'm on L2, he thought. Right now I've only got overlong hand-me-downs, office clothes, and a pair of beaten-up black jeans. Startled at his mind's wandering, he shook himself and turned to Hilde, who had been watching him carefully. "You mean... trade with Jeet."
The Wing Zero pilot contemplated the task. He'd done it once, and so far Trowa hadn't said a thing, or even let on that he was aware it had been another pilot he'd kissed. But kissing Jeet? Heero rolled the image around in his head, didn't find it particularly unappetizing, and finally shrugged. "Sure."
"Sure... as in, you'll do it?" Hilde's eyes were wide. "If it bothers you... " she added, letting the question trail off.
"No," he said, surprised to discover it was the truth.
"That's a relief," she said, but her relief seemed to be on a far greater magnitude than the situation required, and he shot her a suspicious look.
What's she thinking, he asked himself. She looks like Duo does when he's plotting something. He pulled himself back to focus on her as she chatted lightly, hopping off the top bunk gracefully.
"You can take Trey's bike. It's in the storage unit 718 at the docking station. Keys are in the kitchen, top drawer on the left as you walk in. Trey can't ride, obviously, and even if Day says he can ride I'm not going to believe him. Besides, he needs to fix the plumbing. Bathroom's leaking again, and we're losing recycling capabilities... " The door slid shut behind her.
Heero grinned and shook his head, hopping off the bunk to get his socks and shoes. Kissing Jeet. No big deal, he told himself. Just pretend like you're kissing someone you want to kiss.
The thought made him stop cold in the middle of pulling on a sock.
Who would I rather be kissing?
Five minutes later he was in the passageway, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the lower lighting Hilde preferred when the ship was docked. The girl was trotting towards him, one of her hands in a fist as she chewed her lower lip pensively. Heero raised an eyebrow at her.
"Hito," she started, and then stopped, giving him a dubious look. "Are you sure? Because if you're not... the kind of person who... " The girl blushed furiously, her eyes not meeting his.
Heero grinned, suddenly. He couldn't help himself. "It's okay. Now give me the romchip and let me get on with it." He jangled the keys in his right hand.
"Alright," she said, relief showing on her face, and she dropped the chip in his outstretched left hand. "Don't lose that!"
He rolled his eyes as she headed back to the cockpit, waving a hand over her shoulder. She turned at the cockpit doorway to holler down the corridor. "We'll ship out in a week, I think. Give those two morons a chance to recuperate. See you then."
"Not if I see you first," he replied good-naturedly, jumping slightly as the other bunkroom door slid open. Duo was standing there, and Heero felt his mission mask drop into place at the thief's narrowed gaze. When Duo didn't say anything, Heero frowned. "What?"
"Hel told me." Duo's voice was strangely flat.
"Told you... " Heero realized, and shrugged. "Yeah, well, part of the job, I guess."
Heero scowled. "Why does everyone keep asking me that?"
"Just figured you wouldn't know what you're doing." Duo's gaze never left Heero's eyes, and Heero could feel the hair standing up on the back of his neck.
"I know how it works," Heero replied, annoyed enough to blurt out the rest of his words without thinking. "Or are you giving lessons?"
Duo froze, and one eyebrow slowly went up.
As if on autopilot, Heero tucked the bike keys away, and pluck the romchip from his left hand, his eyes never leaving Duo's. With exaggerated leisure Heero raised the romchip to his face. The dark-haired man could feel his jaw go slack, and opened his mouth just far enough for the very tip of his tongue to peek out. Setting the romchip on his tongue, he raised his eyebrows, his mouth still open.
In the low lights, Duo's eyes seemed to blaze.
Heero's breathing sounded loud in his ears in the tense silence as he held his mouth open. The air was cool against his tongue. Saliva was gathering in his mouth and he fought the urge to swallow and risk swallowing the chip as well. The Wing Zero pilot couldn't move. He was pinned by Duo's gaze, which traveled from his eyes, slowly, down to his lips. Prickles went up Heero's arms, and he nearly shivered.
The dark-haired man watched, fascinated, as Duo's own tongue darted out, as if tasting the air before disappearing again.
The shout came from the cockpit. Heero jumped to face the sound, barely catching himself from biting down and swallowing the romchip. There was a whoosh from beside him as Hilde strode towards him.
"Are you moving or did you need an escort?" She stopped by the kitchen door, her head cocked at him in annoyance.
"I'm--" Heero stopped, spit out the romchip, and tried again. "I'm leaving now."
"Good," she said as she stepped into the kitchen. Heero frowned, taking a deep breath to get his heart to stop thrumming, before he looked back. Duo was gone, and the door to his bunkroom was closed.
Heero rubbed the bridge of his nose and exhaled slowly before heading out. His heart wouldn't stop pounding, and it felt like the world was about to swallow him up if he didn't get some fresh air. Stepping into the pre-dawn station bay, he cursed his stupidity. He'd finally made progress with regaining Duo's friendship, and he had to go and taunt the man. What had possessed him, anyway?
Back to square one, he thought, miserable.