6-16-2000

Just a couple warnings...I'm going to be dropping out of sight for a bit now, I'm moving an my internet connection is going to be pretty iffy for a while. So...I probably won't be posting this one on my page for a while, but here it is for what it's worth...

Pyractomena Borealis Part 8
By Katsu (no Miko)
--Standard Disclaimers Apply
--This part courtesy of my first, second, and third line bosses, and their
decision to have a three hour long pitch and bitch session today. :)

 

The Sanrio display behind us exploded in a flash of bright light and blue flames, the sound momentarily deafening me. Instinctively, I threw myself to the floor, just as a blue plastic Pochaco lunchbox, which just happened to be covered with hungry yellow fire, went whizzing by above me, right about at head height. Damn, that would have hurt.

Before the lunchbox had even flown completely by, I was already making like a cockroach and scuttling for the dubious safety of a pants display. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Heero scurrying my way, gun in hand.

Well, I felt better. Even the perfect soldier couldn't perform a successful scatter for cover without looking like a bug. Glad I wasn't the only one. Without a moment of hesitation, I dove underneath the rack of pants and peered out through the forest of legs to keep track of what was happening while I decided what to do.

A plush Hello Kitty winged its way by, its utterly cute little face a mask of fire. I could see it flying towards the witch, who hadn't even flinched when the display exploded. She didn't make a move to dodge or anything. About a foot away from her chest, the stuffed animal halted midair, staying there for a moment before it flared up into a fireball and was consumed completely.

Ok, as much as I hated to admit it, this lady had guts. I know I wouldn't have been able to stand my ground if confronted by the Hello Kitty doll from hell. Then again, I can barely stand my ground against the normal, non-spicy variety--I have a pretty low tolerance for sweetness, and those things make me go into sugar shock.

I glanced over to the side. Heero had been closer to the rack than me, and he was already there, laying on the floor like I was to utilize the small amount of protection the pants had to offer. He was staring straight ahead, and his eyes were wide, the pupils so dilated that they almost completely swallowed the blue of his irises. "Heero!" I hissed. No response. Not a good sign.

I glanced forward again to see what he was seeing. The witch was looking right at us, now, the tattoos on her face almost glowing in the now flickering light; half of the overhead lights had gone out in the explosion, probably lost to a Keropi pencil set lodged in the circuitry.

Heero wasn't looking at her, though. He was watching the fire. The plastic display was still flaming merrily away, deceptively cool looking blue flames crackling along the shelves. The air was getting hard to breathe, full of the stench of burning plastic and insulation, presumably coming from somewhere in the ceiling. All of the white acoustic tiles over the display were gone, and I could see flickers of orange light dancing along the concrete of the real ceiling. Pieces of paper and cardboard, pink stationary and playing cards fluttered to the ground, their fall much to slow to be real.

That's how it always is; I don't know if it's an effect of the explosion or the semi-close brush with death. Whatever it is, there's always a moment of perfect stillness after the destruction, where the entire world moves like just a few seconds are stretched out into several hours, and there's no sound or even feeling, really. Fights are almost the same way; the world holds its breath and waits for you to move. As crazy as it sounds, it's one of the most beautiful, perfect things I experience. For that instant, you're not afraid, or worried, or angry; you just are. Now, it had only been maybe eight seconds since the explosion, but it felt infinitely longer.

There was a flash overhead; something in the ceiling sparking. It was like some kind of signal--all at once, time returned to its previously scheduled programming (already in progress.) The fire alarm went off, and so did the sprinkler system, showering freezing cold water down on us. I, manly man that I am, let out a protesting yelp. I don't like being cold, ok? I also don't like being surprised by the cold.

Heero still hadn't moved, and we were out of time. I could almost feel the floor rumbling, and over the sound of the fire alarm and the steady hiss of the sprinklers, I could hear muffled screaming. The people on the floors above us and below us were panicking, since the fire alarm was most likely going off in every part of the building--not to mention that anyone in the immediate area would have heard the explosion. It was probably already a stampede; time to make tracks before the panic spread out into the street and turned into a full-blown riot.

The best way to stay out of trouble, other than to not cause any to begin with--like that would happen in my lifetime--was to be somewhere else by the time the authorities had arrived. I learned that one a long time ago, before I even knew my own name. I didn't really want to spend a night in the police station for an act of pyromania I didn't commit, and I also knew that simple inquiries had a tendency to dig up the most interesting dirt, which would be a bad thing.

I snapped my fingers in front of Heero's face and got rewarded by him grabbing my hand in a bone-crushing grip. Oh yeah, and he stuck his gun in my face as well, but I was used to that by now. Really. I love it when he does that. It's so cute. Right.

"Heero, it's just me, chill!" I hissed at him, prying my one hand out of his grasp and shoving the gun to one side with the other. "I know you like watching the pretty flames, but we have to go. NOW." I grabbed him by the wrist and managed to drag him out into the open before he managed to object in any way. The moment I left the protection of the rack, my bangs got plastered to my forehead with the water still raining merrily down courtesy of the sprinkler system.

Heero finally snapped out of whatever had him distracted, disengaged my hand and grabbed my wrist in turn. I didn't mind if he took the lead now. With my bangs making me look like the Shaggy DA I couldn't see much of anything anyway. Sometimes I wonder why I put up with long hair.

"Maxwell..." the sound hissed above the fire alarm.

Oh yeah. The witch. I always forget the little details.

I turned toward the source of the voice, scraping my bangs away from my eyes with my free hand. The witch was looking--if looking was the right word--right at me. Water was cascading around her in an egg shaped shell, flowing down to the floor. It was hard to see her clearly, but I had the feeling that she was still perfectly dry in there. One of the benefits of being a witch, I guessed. "Nice trick." I commented.

She ignored me. It was probably just as well. "We will talk later, Maxwell."

With a lot more bravado than I felt, I flipped a salute at her. "Take a number, lady. I'm one popular, happening guy." Sister Helen always said that I never could stand to let someone have the last word.

Before the witch had a chance to say anything else, Heero and I took off running. Or, to be more accurate, we took off running as well as we could considering that the floor was an absolute mess of wet ash and paper--not exactly the best material for stable footing. Still, we were doing ok in the speed department, heading for the far end of the floor where the emergency stairs/fire escape was located, when suddenly, IT struck

"HEERO!"

I'd thought that I'd heard her just before the display went up. I guessed I was hoping that I'd imagined it. If only.

Relena threw herself out from behind a display of now soaking wet sweaters and ran for Heero. Heero, to his credit, didn't jump like I did, but he did turn really quickly and began to bring his gun to bear on Relena.

As much as I really wouldn't mind Relena permanently disappearing, I figured that letting Heero cap her because she'd startled him and he was feeling hair triggered wouldn't do a lot of good for anyone. So as he was turning, I reached out and plucked the gun from his hand, immediately tucking it into the back of my pants, under my shirt. I was so fast that Heero didn't even notice. What can I say...an interesting childhood leads to useful skills.

While Heero was busy staring at his suddenly empty hand with a wonderfully dumbfounded look on his face, Relena ran right into him, wrapped her arms around his waist, and immediately burst into tears. Heero let his hand drop and looked down at the girl that currently had her face buried against his chest. Then he looked up at me, his face a mask of complete and utter confusion.

I was torn between grinding my teeth and wanting to slap Relena away from my partner, and just wanting to laugh because Heero had never looked so completely and totally lost before as long as I'd known him. I settled for the middle ground as far as diplomacy went. "We can't leave her here." I almost shouted in an effort to be heard over the alarm, sprinklers, and the rising sounds of panic coming from beneath us. "Let's go!" I pointed at the emergency stairs door for a second before a set out at a scrabbling trot, trying not to slip and fall.

Heero followed me, half-pulling and half-carrying Relena along. A couple seconds later, I kicked the door to the emergency stairs. There wasn't any real reason to kick it open, since it wasn't jammed or anything...I'd just always wanted to do that. I held the door open so Heero could bring Relena through, then let it slam shut. The sounds that had been nearly deafening us for the past five minutes abruptly retreated to a soft, almost imperceptible murmur as the door shut. For a long moment, the only sounds in the stairwell were Relena's quiet sobs and snifflings, and the sound of water dripping off of all of our clothes and hair and onto the floor.

Heero looked down at Relena, as if making sure she was still firmly attached and there was no easy way for him to escape her. Then he looked up at me.

I looked at Heero. Heero looked at me. After a pause, I shrugged in answer to his silent question. Heero's eyes narrowed dangerously--whoops, maybe I'd thought he was asking a different question. Nah. With a soft sigh, I stepped forward and put my hands on Relena's shoulders, gently prying her off of Heero. It was harder than it sounded...the girl was clinging to him worse than sticky latex to a car door--do NOT ask me how I know--and I had to put a lot of effort into getting her let go. "Ne, Relena-san...let go of Heero. He needs to breathe. Come on..."

Her grip loosened a little and I pulled her back to stand on her own, much to Heero's very obvious relief. I could feel her shoulders shaking under my hands, and she had her head bowed. Water was dripping from her bangs in thin streams. "Alright...now, are you ok?" I peered down at Relena, trying to see her face. She muttered something incoherent, and I tried again. "Come on, girl, are you ok?"

This time, I could hear her answer, kind of. Her voice was really soft and very choked. "I don't know."

I sighed quietly to myself and looked at Heero. No help there. With another sigh, I pulled Relena into my arms. She resisted weakly for a moment. "It's ok." I said quietly, and she started crying all over again, clinging to the front of my shirt. It didn't really bother me like it usually would, if for nothing else than the fact that my shirt was already completely soaked. Some tears, snot, and wrinkles wouldn't hurt it. I looked down at Relena and couldn't help notice that the ends of her hair were singed. She must have been really close to the display when it exploded, which would also explain why she was so upset. As much as she followed Heero around, she'd never really gotten close enough to the action to be in danger after the first time Heero saved her--and I'd had it on good authority that she'd gone off an had a round of hysterics after that was done. Even with the hot dog cart thing, she and Heero had been pretty far down the path when it had gone up. She hadn't been close enough to feel the heat of the fire.

Curiously enough, I found myself having a lot of sympathy for her. Relena might have been the same age as Heero and I, but she was still a kid, and we were soldiers. What we considered to be ordinary and every day would make most civilians wet their pants and then some. I looked up at Heero. He was looking at me really oddly. I understood that. I didn't make any secret of the fact that I wouldn't feel bad if Relena dropped off the face of the earth, and here I was, letting her cry on me. I shrugged at him. I used to wonder why I felt the need to be nice to Relena, considering she rarely even acknowledged my presence. It was probably because I thought, deep down inside, Relena had a good heart. It didn't mean that I liked her any more, or that she was any less of an insufferable, self-righteous little snot, but it meant that I was willing to cut her slack that Heero wasn't. I knew how hard it was to find genuinely kind people in the world, but I also knew they existed. I don't think Heero did.

I gave her a couple minutes to cry. I didn't want to wait around any more than that, so once the time was up, I gently pushed her away. She scrubbed at her eyes with her hands. "Feeling a little better now?" I asked quietly.

I guess who she'd been crying at finally dawned on Relena. She glanced up really quickly, then looked away. "I'm fine." She said, rather coldly. I wasn't really expecting any thanks, but still, it was annoying.

It was pretty obvious the little moment of acting like an actual human being was over, dead, and buried. Not that I really cared. "Good. We need to get out of here now. I'm assuming you left your monkey boy in the parking garage?"

Relena shot me a glare that could have curdled milk. "Pargen is waiting for me in the garage, yes."

"Great." I put on one of my best, most charming grins, then abruptly turned her around and gave her a little push toward the top of the stairs. "Let's go. Time's a-wasting." I ignored the malicious but lovely thought of what a bigger push would have done. The short-lived, temporary truce was over on both sides, after all.

"Heero..." Relena started to turn.

"Not right now." I said before Heero had a chance to open his mouth. "We need to go. Either get moving or get out of the way."

Relena, the contrary little beast, planted herself firmly in the middle of the stairway and glared at me. "I'm not talking to you. I need to talk to Heero."

We didn't have time to argue with her--we'd already wasted MORE than enough on her. I looked at Heero. Heero looked at me. I jerked my head toward Relena and grinned. After a moment of consideration, he nodded, the corner of his mouth twitching like he was trying really hard not to smile. "Let's GO!" I yelled. At the same moment, Heero and I charged at Relena. We each grabbed an arm, lifted her up so that her feet were several inches above the floor, and barreled down the steps with her between us.

The look on Relena's face was priceless. It almost made everything else, explosion and all, worth it.

***

Through an unspoken agreement, Heero and I didn't talk about what had happened at all until we'd been back in the dorms for a while and both of us had had a chance to get dried off and change our clothes. I took some extra time to take a shower. Ash or something had gotten into my hair, and the sun shining down on us on our way back to the dorms after we'd ditched Relena with her butler had baked it in.

I secured my towel firmly around my waist and grabbed my hairbrush before I opened the bathroom door. Heero was sitting at his desk, firmly attached to his laptop as always. "Well, that was fun." I said as my opening sally. Heero stayed silent. "The witches are after us now."

Heero stopped what he was doing and looked back at me. "I noticed."

That was helpful. "Do you think we can avoid them long enough to get this other thing cleared up? I've got a one cluster fuck limit."

"It depends on how much the witch is going to press the issue." Heero shrugged. "If she's waited this long to find us, I doubt that she is in a hurry."

"Yeah, but she knows who we are now." I pointed out. An odd thought occurred to me. "Do you think she's the one that blew up the Sanrio display?"

Heero turned around in his chair to look at me. "Unknown." He said. "There are no indications that she did..."

"...but no indications that she didn't." I finished. "She didn't seem very surprised by it." I sat down on my bed and started brushing my hair out, pausing for a moment to flip the radio on, first. I could listen with half an ear and see if they said anything interesting about the fire when they got to a newsbreak.

"That doesn't necessarily mean anything. She may have been surprised, but could have hidden it very well."

"Or she could have set it off, though I don't know why she would. That woman sounded like an absolute fanatic about keeping things out of sight, and setting fire to the place you work, more notable right by where you work, isn't a good way to keep a low profile. I don't like this. Two explosions like that, happening without probable cause. It's too much to be a coincidence."

"We established that it was possible that the hot dog cart had a bad gas line." Heero pointed out.

"Yeah, and then we also established that neither of us trust that theory. And I'm sorry, there isn't probable cause on this one. Kitty-chan, while cute and fluffy, is not known for her talent at spontaneous combustion."

Heero snorted.

"What is it...first time's a coincidence, second time's a happenstance, third time's a conspiracy." I shook my head. "We're already on time two. I've got a bad feeling that there's going to be a time three. All this...the witch showing up, another explosion...It's too convenient. I don't like it."

"You think someone is trying to eliminate us." We'd both thought that from the start, but now, on the second try, it was pretty much confirmed.

I hit the bedpost with my hairbrush. "Jesus, Heero, when is someone NOT trying to eliminate us?"

He shrugged. "Relena was present and both explosions. It's possible that she's connected to them."

"What, as in setting them?" I thought. "It doesn't make sense. She's annoying, but I don't think she's crazy enough to be homicidal. And how would she be setting the fires? She wasn't even near the hot dog cart."

"After the last half year, you believe that a person must use purely physical means to achieve a goal?" Heero asked, raising his eyebrow.

THAT stopped me dead in my tracks. "What, you think she's using magic? Like some kind of pyrokinesis?" I shuddered. "I hope you're joking."

Heero shook his head.

"God, now that's a scary thought." I put my head in my hands. "Someone as unstable as Relena wandering around with the ability to blow shit up with magic." I shuddered. "I think I'm going to have nightmares now, thanks."

"It's a possibility." Heero said, before turning back toward his laptop.

"--caused the evacuation of the new Takada department store in the Tokyo shopping district." A woman's voice was saying over my radio. I turned the volume up a little and went back to brushing my hair, my train of thought derailed. "Hey, they're talking about us, Heero." I looked out the window, listening to the radio with half an ear.

"Hn."

"No one was injured by the fire, though severe damage was incurred on the second floor and several people received minor injuries during the evacuation of the building. There are rumors that the fire was caused by an explosion of some sort--"

"You'd better believe it, lady." I muttered at the radio.

"--not been confirmed or denied. The fire at Takada is the fourth major fire that has occurred in Tokyo today."

My eyes got wide. "Oh shit...Heero, are you listening to this?"

"The other three fires, one on the other side of the Tokyo shopping district and two in the residential area located to the west of the military base, are, like this one, still under investigation."

There was a scraping noise as Heero pushed his chair back. I felt rather than heard him come up to stand behind me.

"--state that there is no probable natural cause for the fires and arson is under investigation." The announcer paused. "In other news--"

I reached out and turned the radio off. Shit. "This isn't good." I finally said. "Four fires. No probable natural cause. Arson investigations. This is starting to get a little too interesting." I looked up at Heero, who was being as impassive as ever.

"We have other concerns now." He said. "I just received a transmission. We have a mission tomorrow--all of us."