Gerard waited a few minutes and entered the room, proceeding with the same caution he used to sneak into a highly guarded vault or enter a minefield from the Great War. The two nurses followed him, hiding their shaking bodies behind his grand stature. And behind them walked Miss Barton, her face expressing a lack of emotion. If they were lucky, her sister wouldn’t throw something at them. Rory rested on her bed. In her hands, she held a book. Her eyes skimmed through pages, and Rory turned a page.
“Hey sis,” Gerard said.
Rory turned around. “Brother?” She held her book in front of her face, obscuring her mouth. “What do you want?”
Gerard held up a plastic bag. “I brought pudding.” He turned towards the nurses, put on a smile, and caressed their hands. “Can you please leave us alone for a bit? You are already busy. So please, it would be a shame if you had to waste your undervalued and precious time on her.”
Both nurses blushed, and Miss Barton shook her head as she observed her younger coworkers.
“W …we can’t,” they said. But the moment the nurses saw Rory’s eyes, how they seemed to penetrate their hearts and wish upon all curses in the world, they redacted their hands and ended the body contact.
“Let’s go,” said Miss Barton. “There are other patients who appreciate our attention more.”
“Yes.” The nurses left the room.
“How often did I tell you two that you shouldn’t discuss work in this hospital. It makes us a liability.” Miss Barton brushed the strands of her hair away from her face.
“Now you’re lying,” said Gerard.
“It’s like crack for you, Miss Barton.” Rory added.
“Don’t cover your mouth when you speak to your elders.” Rory put the book to her side and Miss Barton smiled. “There is actually something you two can do for us. Once you’re finished with your talk, both of you go to room 506.” She looked at Rory. “And please behave.”
The two nodded, and Miss Barton left the room.
“Why does she always say this to me?” Rory pouted. “I can be nice, y’know?”
This was one of those moments where keeping his mouth was the best option. Lying would anger Rory, but so would telling the truth.
“You believe me right.” Rory’s pout intensified, and her eyes glittered like a puppy’s. “You believe your cute little sister, right?”
Gerard’s face hardened.
He could not waver. Too often had she used this face on their parents to get her way. He had lost count how many times she had gotten the game console thanks to that puppy-eyes-look. The two siblings stared at each other. Neither changed their expression for a second.
“Why are you here?” asked Rory eventually, and her face returned to normal.
“As I said, pudding.” Again, Gerard held up the plastic bag and grinned.
“I hate Pudding. It makes me fat.”
As far as he could remember, Rory could devour copious amounts of food without gaining a sliver of fat. Back at school, many girls and especially boys were jealous of her.
Before Gerard could do anything, Rory had snatched the food out of his hands. “Even though you’re a hopeless dumdum who can’t get the food right, your cute little sister will still eat it. So, be grateful.”
Rory opened the wrapping, and with the included plastic spoon, she devoured the pudding as if there was no tomorrow. Her face started to glow, and she smiled. Rory radiated nothing but joy that increased with every spoon full of pudding she put in her mouth. Gerard smiled as well, his face matching that of his little sisters.
Rory looked like on the day she got to ride her first pony.
“The pudding’s gone,” she said. Rory crumpled up the plastic to a ball and threw it towards the trash can at the other side of the room. It circled the bin’s edge and fell inside. She looked at Gerard, still smiling, and with her tongue she played around with her spoon like a toothpick. “Why are you here?”
“They told me to help you with your mission,” said Gerard.
“Don’t lie.” Rory’s smiled disappeared, and her teeth crushed the spoon in half. “You’re here to keep an eye on me.”
Gerard took a step back. “That’s-”
“You think I don’t know? No one ever trusts me. You all think I betrayed Midgard."
“That’s not true.” Gerard sat on the edge of Rory’s bed, and Rory narrowed her eyes.
“Don’t lie to me.” Her voices had become a growl. “You know why they made me hunt Ragna Griffin?”
Gerard didn’t answer. He had never thought about it, and now that Rory had mentioned it, it was strange.
“They want me to slip up.” Rory chuckled. “Reveal my true colors while the IBM observes me.”
“Are you this stupid?” Rory shouted at him, her fist hammering against Gerard’s chest. “I’m a suspect. Why else would they put me in charge of the hunt? They all believe I’m the traitor.”
"That's a lie."
“I believe you.” Gerard bumped her shoulder and grinned. “Don’t listen to what others say.”
A lie. That Rory never listened to others was the reason why she was in her current situation. She had never cared for her reputation, and the traitor knew that, turning her into the perfect scapegoat. The other Valkyries were already wary of her and now felt validated in their mistrust. Some were even glad. There was more evidence against the Griffin family, yet their reputation made most people second-guess their guilt.
But Rory? They all believed she was involved with the traitors. Just because she did her job and tried to protect Aura. Yes, part of this was Rory's fault. She handicapped herself. But part of the problem was Midgard. If Rory had the personality of Aura, nothing would change. For Midgard, Rory was a foreigner. She had lived 25 years of her life in Midgard. No matter, what she did, she would always be the outcast. The stranger. The alien. The titan. The freak. Why? Because she was born in Vaix? Because she didn’t want to be a man or a woman? Because she had two eye colors? Because she could shapeshift? How many excuses could people come up with? What would she have to do until her kingdom accepted her? She risked her life every day for Midgard, had defeated many enemies and saved lives. It was never enough, and if he hadn’t been a Captain, Rory would still be a Soldier.
How could he solve either issue? All he was good for was punching people and destroying things. He couldn't change society for the better. And he wasn't like Marcus, Aura or Rory, or the other captains. Or the scholars and politicians. The citizens of Midgard compared him to the Trutner siblings, but they couldn't be more wrong. He wasn't smart. They all had at least the ability to change the world. He was a brute. Muscles and power, he had in abundance. But outside of battles, both were useless.
“Really?” Rory raised her eyes and extended her pinkie finger. “Pinkie promise?”
“Pinkie promise.” Gerard took out his pinkie finger and locked it with Rory’s. “We will catch Ragna and Drake Griffin.”
Now he had to support Rory more than ever. They had to get Ragna Griffin. Once they caught her, they could concentrate on her father. If Rory proved her innocence, would that solve the issues? Would Midgard stop to distrust her? If Rory prevented a second Great War from happening, would then Midgard finally accept her? Could Rory then live a happy life?
The chance might be slim, but it was all they had. He had to grab even the tiniest hope. Right now, he had to concentrate on the things he could affect. If he was only good on the battlefield, then he had to save Rory there. Hopefully, he wasn’t too stupid for that.
Gerard’s eyes looked around, catching the attention of the book that lied next to Rory. “What cha’ readin’?”
Now that he started reading books, maybe they could bond over that? Rory might help him understand the big words even. Gerard grabbed the book and looked at the title. “Forbidden-“
Before he could finish reading, Rory had snatched the book out of his hands. “Ask before you take someone’s stuff. It’s a book about Kelly McWilliams.”
“Who?” Gerard asked.
“She was the Miss Aes of 961. A young girl from a backwater fisher village called Auster who was hailed as the most beautiful woman of her time. Even the Allfather fell head over heels for her and asked for her hand. But sadly, on their wedding day, Blackbeard kidnapped her.”
Rory nodded. “Despite best efforts, she had never been ever since. Anyway, shouldn’t we do what Miss Barton had told us?”
Right, Rory was really into fashion and history. Though would such a book have “forbidden” in the title?
Gerard stood up, and Rory hid the book under her pillow.