A Wrench to the Heart 5/?
Disclaimer: I don’t own Gundam Wing
Charlotte’s room was nice. That had surprised her. She’d honestly expected to arrive on Camelot.L2 and find some barely habitable hamster wheel. The thing was she desperately wanted to go to medical school on L4 and it was ungodly hard to get into, but if one could pass pre-med on Camelot.L2 AND work for Duo Maxwell for a year, then, her advisor promised her, the Quatre Rabera Winner would write a personal recommendation letter and you were a shoe in. With a medical degree out of Main.L4, she could write her ticket anywhere in the solar system, go to any new colony, a deep space ship, even a post on Earth - if she wanted. She did want, but a month into her contract with the Maxwell household there hadn’t been a day when she wasn’t sure if she was going to make a year here.
It was like Jane Eyre, except there were a lot more kids, the locked up person could float down the hall like a ghost, and the head of household was both gay as shit and crazy as shit. It was just... there wasn’t another way to both get into medical school and be able to afford medical school.
She lay in her bed staring at the ceiling comparing how she thought it was going to be to how it was. So it was supposed to be a 45 year old war Heero who lost the love of his life and has since devoted his life to helping difficult children in a world where difficult is not well tolerated. So cook some meals, change some diapers, study a lot, maybe listen to the old man talk about his lost love. She thought there would be a lot of nodding. She thought this year was going to be mostly boring and repetitive.
Instead her boss looked like a teenager and acted younger, on occasion. Once he’d looked at her and his eyes had been dark as wine, his smile psychotic. This was so far from The Sound of Music that she was pretty sure she’d fallen into Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter was well and truly mad and some of the mice at his table were scary as fuck.
She closed her eyes and mouthed, “Medical school, medical school, medical school.”
Then the scent of something burning flooded her mind with adrenaline and she was up out of bed, hair in a lion’s mane around her head, white nightgown fluttering around her bare legs as she ran down stairs. She burst through the swinging double doors, eyes wide, smoke around her like a halo.
The kids were all at the huge table, plates and cups in front of them. They all stared at her like she had lost her mind. Duo was at the stove, a chef hat on, apron slightly asque, and a huge grin on his face. The griddle was humming along with another six pancakes, half of them flipped and a lovely golden brown. He pointed the spatula at her. “Good morning, Miss Charlie! You’re up a little early. Super hungry today? I’ve been real hungry the last week.”
Her face was long, her expression dumbstruck, then one eyebrow slowly arched. “Did you burn some pancakes?”
“Oh, no. I was just teaching how to put out a fire.” He pointed the spatula at a metal trash container that clearly was never going to be used again. “Good experience!”
She blinked. She blinked again. Her jaw hurt from all the things she was not staying to this man who was, despite all reason, apparently, a very important man in the scheme of Earthsphere politics. “You - intentionally - set an actual fire in a metal can on a space colony? Intentionally?”
“Yeah,” Duo said, flipping the pancakes off onto a plate for Clara to take and give out to the kids. “On purpose and everything. Fires’er very dangerous. Got to know how to take care’em.”
“They’re children! They don’t put out fires! We have fire specialists to put out fires!”
Duo picked up a pancake, took a bite of it, as he stared at her, perhaps waiting for her to come to her senses. “Wul. Here...we all put out fires. Can’t never tell when you’ll be on a ship somewhere and it’s you and the fire. Fire’s bad. It wants the O2 more than we do sometimes.” He dipped his pancake in syrup, sprayed whipped cream on it, took a huge bite, and watched her think about what he said.
“You can’t expect children to put out fires!” She protested, feet apart, hands on her hips.
“I expect them to live,” Duo said firmly, eyes narrowing, darkening a little. “I expect them to crawl their burning asses to a life pod and survive, because that’s what we do, don’t we?” He looked at the table. The kids all nodded. Julia’s avatar caught fire and ran screaming into the backyard, but not real flames and she was clearly playing, arms over her head, running around the swing set screaming. Duo watched her out the window for a bit, lips kind of pursed, until he was satisfied that she wasn’t actually upset. “Okay! Who wants ice cream?”
Her bare foot tapped against the floor. This wasn’t Alice in Wonderland! It was Peter Pan and somehow, she, the girl who ran away to be a personal assistant for a crazy man and his dozen kids was cast as Wendy, the responsible one. The world was inside out. “Have you lost your bleeding mind? Don’t give kids ice cream for breakfast!”
Duo rolled his eyes. “Ice cream and cake. I learned that on Earth. It’s a great Earth delicacy!”
“Ice cream! Ice cream! Ice cream!” The table denizens chanted.
Duo pointed to a spot. “Sit down Charlie. You need to eat too. We’ll all need the calories. We’re going camping. You’ll burn up all these calories, no problem!”
She gave up and sat where he said and he set a plate of four huge pancakes, with syrup, eggs, peanut butter, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream in front of her. “Gotta eat when you can!”
“Duo,” she said, voice low. “May I speak with you privately?”
While she was speaking, Julia came back in, her hair fried and matted, her cheeks blistered. She grabbed onto Duo’s leg, holding him tight. “Yeah, yeah, Charlie, gimme a minute.” He went to one knee. “Hey Sweetie.”
“Is okay?” Julia said, tears slipping down her burned face.
“It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m very proud of you. It’s very hard, I know. Want some ice cream?”
“Yes, please,” she said and he picked her up, depositing her on the bench next to Charlotte.
“Okay, Miss Charlie, please come into mah office,” Duo said, playing up an accent he didn’t really have.
Big eyes looked at each other around the table. As soon as the door closed to the walkin. Jacob signed and his translator spoke in hushed tones, “Are they going to fight?”
Saphron, a girl with dark skin, one eye dreadlocks shook her head. She’d been at Duo’s house for five years. In two more, she’d be and adult. “No. This happens almost every year, if the assistant is going to stay. They flip out. He reminds them of their terms and conditions and they settle down. Charlie’s been her too long for her to quit now.”
“She only been here a month,” Mark pointed out.
“One year, we went through ten assistants before we got one that stuck it out. There was one I didn’t like. She was damn hard to get rid of,” Saphron boasted.
“So what is this camping thing?” Mark asked, picking at his food. He was a skinny kid who barely looked his 13 years. He’d come from L3. No one knew quite why he was there and he wasn’t talking about it.
“We do it every year. It’s the anniversary of Heero Yuy’s funeral.” Saphron said, spearing another pancake from the main plate. “We’re gonna walk till we die.”
“I don’t wanna die,” Alexander said stubbornly, a bit of whipped cream on his nose. “Dead people stink.”
There was a general agreement on that, nodding and wrinkled noses.
Saphron poured a bit more orange juice. “We’re not really gonna die. We’re gonna walk like twenty miles. The really little kids all get to go in a wagon. The Forest is like... done like real Earth stuff. I saw a real bear in there one year. It’s some real shit.”
Once they were behind the closed metal door, she smacked the back of her hand against her palm, looking up at him as if he were a small child and she was going to put him right, one way or the other. “I will have you know that I studied for two years in anticipation of taking this position! I studied early childhood education and diplomacy! I accepted room and board in exchange for my efforts around the clock for a full year. I understood before I got here that you were... eccentric! You are beyond the bounds on all acceptable parenting technique! You sir are no Duo Maxwell and you should try to follow the rules a little more!”
Duo had his normal speech all planned out. It had worked a dozen times, with slight modifications. His mouth just hung a little open now though because no one had ever accused him of being not Duo Maxwell. Folk had accused him of many things, most fairly well credible, but never of not being quite good enough to be Duo Maxwell. “Ya wanna leave?”
“No!” She said, arms across her chest, “I just... there has to be more structure. I need no more surprises. You can’t keep secrets like one of the kids might turn into a vengeful ghost at any moment and where do you think you’re taking a group of kids like this into some park somewhere?”
“What’cha mean a group’o kids like these ones?” Duo asked, eyes narrowing, as he considered that maybe he’d ask her to leave.
“But,” she paused, sensing she was getting into dangerous territory. “It’s just... most ... in most places... children shouldn’t be allowed to decline medical care.”
“So you think people should be forced into something and lose all that they are,” Duo asked, his own arms across his chest.
“Well, when the are that disconnected from their body.... Sometimes trauma is best... released.”
“You’re not going to be a good fit here. You want to go to university on Main.L4. I’ll arrange transport.”
“No way,” she said, chin lifted, “I’m not leaving before my year is over. It won’t hurt you to hear some outside opinions! I won’t challenge you or undermine you! I want to support you. Even in the month I’ve been here I’ve seen that you do wonderful work with the kids. I just ... I don’t like feeling so out of control. Julia scared me to death last night! Give me a little space!”
“You’re the one that wanted to talk privately,” Duo pointed out. “I just made you breakfast, that’s all.”
‘You didn’t make a breakfast! You made a dietary apocalypse! Their blood sugars are going to go insane! I can’t eat that kind of food. It’ll kill you!”
“Nonsense,” Duo said, wiggling his nose. “We’ll walk it off. I always do this on this day.”
She closed her eyes for a moment. “On International Heero Yuy day, you take your kids and go walking?”
“Yup. No electronics, no cell signal for 48 hours,” Duo grinned. “It’s gonna be amazing!” Duo touched the sides of his fingers to his forehead and then pointed at her.
“It’s gonna be a nightmare,” she whispered.
“So? You going to The Forest or are you going to Main.L4?”
And then the doorbell rang...