The same night that Wufei was reluctantly allowing his cousin to drag
him to one of his haunts, Trowa was calmly packing his small bag of
belongings and listening to Catherine's frantic protests.
She was quickly coming to the realization that he was paying her
little heed, however, and stopped trying to talk him out of it. She
switched tactics. "You're coming back, though, aren't you?" she pleaded.
"You're just checking up on your friends, right? You'll be back
Trowa zipped the duffel bag closed and finally looked up at her.
"I'll come back," he promised quietly. "But," he added firmly at her
blossoming smile, "I don't know for how long."
"Triton, you can't do this to me!" she cried, deliberately using his
true name. "We've finally found each other again! We're family!"
He looked at her for a moment before dropping the bag on the bed and
walking over to take her shoulders in a light grip. "Catherine," he
murmured, "whether or not I leave doesn't mean we're not still family.
I'll still visit. We'll keep in contact. But this is something I have
She looked like she was having a hard time holding back tears, but
something in the way he said those last words made it through the sharp
pain and desperation. She blinked some of the water from her eyes and
really looked at her brother for the first time in awhile.
She'd thought for some time that Trowa's mask was impenetrable, even
to his own sister. She'd accepted the fact that it would take years
before he would ever open up enough to her to show what he was feeling and
But he was showing her, she thought with a quick jolt of shock.
Had it been there all along, and she just hadn't known how to look for
it? It had taken the hint of urgency to his tone just now to get her
to see. He hid his emotions in his eyes, in his body language. The way
he was holding her shoulders now, and how he leaned towards her
unconsciously to show how important it was that she understand. And his
eyes-- was that a shadow of desperation there?
This was important to him, she thought a little dazedly. More
important than almost anything. Trowa had found friends of his own,
and he was about to lose them if he didn't do something. Friends that
cared about him, she thought, remembering the adamant look on Heero Yuy's
face as he had faced off Prince the lion in order to fetch Trowa
She was being selfish, begging him to stay here with her when he was
grasping at one last chance at happiness. What was his real
relationship with these other boys? She found suddenly that she didn't care. It
didn't matter. All that did matter was that she was holding her own
brother, whom she loved, back from living his life to the fullest.
She couldn't stop the tears from slipping free, but she found it
easier than she'd thought to offer him a warm smile. She reached up and
clasped his narrow face in her hands. He gave a little jerk of surprise,
eyes widening slightly.
"I understand," she said a little hoarsely. "Go on and find your
friends. And don't let anyone tell you what kind of decision to make about
your life. Live the way you think is best, the way that will
make you happy. Follow your heart."
At those words, Trowa finally really understood what Heero had been
trying to tell him all along. "Follow your emotions," he'd told him
firmly. He'd meant exactly what Catherine had just said.
Catherine drew in her breath sharply in surprise as Trowa's lips
curved up in a rare, genuine smile. He leaned down and laid the barest
whisper of a brotherly kiss on her forehead.
Wufei couldn't hold back the sneer of unease and disgust as he glanced
around the seedy atmosphere of the club Bai Ling had brought him
Bodies gyrated in abandon on the small dance floor, and the music
pumping from the speakers was loud and vulgar enough to make his hair stand
"Now, cousin, don't look so uptight," Bai Ling teased, hugging him
uncomfortably close with an arm around his shoulder. "You need to blend
in with the crowd to truly appreciate it. Come, I'll introduce you to
some of my friends."
Wufei tried to pull free, but Bai Ling was adamant. He pulled his
younger cousin through the throng of people to an occupied table. Some of
the young men seated there spotted their arrival and called out
greetings, lifting beers high in the air.
"Who's your friend?" one of the girls asked, playing with a lock of
long, curly auburn hair and eyeing Wufei appreciatively.
"Hey, I know you," the girl beside her said in a sing-song voice,
smiling up at him. Her red hair was cropped in a short, chic fashion. She
pointed one long, silvery nail at him, shoulders hunched fetchingly as
she leaned forward on the tabletop. "You're... Chang Wufei, right?
You're in my Composition class."
Wufei was a little surprised she remembered his name, even if her
pronunciation was a tad off. He nodded curtly.
Bai Ling clapped his shoulder, smiling at them. "Bingo, Lilian. This
is my cousin. He just came colony-side last month."
"He's cute~" the long-haired girl said with a teasing grin.
Wufei flicked his cousin a Look out of the corner of his eye. If
these two were an example of the girls Bai Ling hoped to get him to know,
he was going to walk the hell out in about five minutes. Besides that,
they had to be older than him by at least three years.
But his cousin's hand was firm as he changed the pat to a firm push,
urging him to take a seat. Wufei sat a little rigidly in the stained
wooden chair, not meeting the eyes of any of the five people seated at
the table around him. He recognized one of the young men from his
History class, but the others were either strangers or vaguely familiar--
random faces in the crowd in the halls at school.
They picked up on the conversation that had been interrupted. It was
something to do with politics on and off colony; they discussed both
Relena's proposals as well as the recent doings of the mayor on the
colony they now occupied. Wufei paid a little attention at first, but their
conversation mostly consisted of heated opinions, made more immature
and ignorant by the consumed alcohol. He tuned their loud arguments out
and glanced around the room, instinctively seeking out exits and
bouncers. Aside from where they'd come in, there was only one other fire
exit he could find, and two bouncers positioned by the front door, muscled
arms crossed over massive chests. There'd been another one
Bai Ling prodded his arm after a few minutes and asked him what he'd
like to drink. He only laughed when Wufei said "water", and disappeared
to fetch the drinks.
"So~ Chang Wufei," Lilian purred, leaning towards him. She didn't
seem to notice when Wufei leaned away a few inches. "I haven't seen
you around the clubs. What's the matter, all work and no play?"
"You could say that," Wufei said tightly because he wasn't sure what
else to say to get her off his case. He could deal with the third
degree from OZ interrogators. But flirting, nineteen year old girls were
way out of his league.
Bai Ling returned just then with the drinks, and Wufei was so grateful
for the interruption he almost didn't check the drink before he raised
it to his mouth. He gave it a suspicious sniff and flicked his cousin
a quick glare. "This isn't water," he pointed out unnecessarily.
"Just try it," Bai Ling urged in Chinese, taking a seat beside him
with a smile and clinking his own glass to Wufei's. "It's not too strong.
Relax, will you? We're not in the middle of a war anymore.
Wufei's first choice of a response was to refuse the drink and get
himself a decent glass of water. But he'd been struggling with forgetting
two pilots for the last month, and in the end, his cousin was right.
The war was over. With an air of defiance, he took a quick gulp of the
It made his eyes water, but it didn't taste too bad. Bai Ling grinned
encouragingly and joined the conversation.
By the time he'd reached the bottom of the glass, he was feeling a
little less tense. When Bai Ling plunked another drink in front of him,
he picked it up without protest. It tasted a little stronger than the
other one, but he didn't plan on drinking any more after this one.
Soon that, too, was gone, and he was feeling much more relaxed.
The music sounded a little warped in his ears, but that could have been
how it was supposed to sound. Lilian and her friend-- Alicia, wasn't
it? --continued to flirt with him, but he hardly noticed anymore.
What he needed, he realized quite abruptly, was a trip to the
He rose to his feet, and it was as if the alcohol hit him all at once,
now that he was no longer stationary. He swayed a little and seized
the table's edge to make sure he wasn't falling. Or was it an
earthquake? Had a bomb gone off nearby and shuddered the club with the
aftershock? He felt an instant of alarm, and reached for a sword he wasn't
The others looked puzzled and amused, laughing at his "virgin liver",
they were calling it. Bai Ling got up and took Wufei's elbow. "Calm
down, Wufei. Where are you going?"
Wufei looked up at him and blinked. Did he need glasses? His
cousin's features looked a tad blurry. "Bathroom," he managed to say.
"Uh oh," one of the boys-- Richard --said. "Gotta pray to the
porcelain god, eh?"
Wufei had no idea what that meant, but he nodded firmly anyway.
"Come on," Bai Ling urged, pulling at him. Wufei managed to
stubbornly walk after his cousin without tripping over his own feet, and in a
few moments found himself in the cramped, smelly bathroom. He pulled
free of his cousin's grip and quickly relieved himself in the closest
"Oh, good," Bai Ling said, sounding amused. "I was afraid you were
going to throw up."
Wufei shook his head as he put himself away and turned to face the
taller man. He was drunk, he thought with disgust. He offered his cousin
a watered-down glare. "I want water," he said firmly. That was
supposed to help to sober one, wasn't it? He tried to remember anything
useful he'd heard the frat boys at the university going on about after a
big night on the town.
Bai Ling chuckled, patting his cheek affectionately. "Fine, fine. I
take it you've never been drunk, cousin? What a strange way to spend
one's teenage years. No sex, no alcohol.." he must have moved closer,
because his face got really blurry. Wufei rocked back in an attempt to
regain some personal space, but his lower back met the sink rim,
leaving him nowhere to go. "Have you even been kissed, little
Warning bells that would have gone off had he been sober were dulled
by the alcohol. So when Bai Ling's thin lips claimed his in a hard,
deep kiss, he was completely taken off guard.
The shock was enough to break down a surprising amount of barriers the
drink had thrown up around common sense and reflexes. He had shoved
Bai Ling across the room and pinned him there with an arm across his
throat in the next instant.
"Whoa!" Bai Ling's arms shot up defensively. "Calm down, Wufei! It's
your cousin you're trying to strangle here."
"It's my cousin," Wufei snarled furiously in his face, "that
just--" he couldn't say it. He pushed away and scrubbed at his
"Distant cousin," Bai Ling reminded him with a grin. "Very distant.
Don't be so upset. Are you not into men?"
"I'm not into incest," Wufei shot back venomously. But it
wasn't just that. Bai Ling was right, their relation was pretty vague.
But he didn't want to be kissed by Bai Ling. Bai Ling wasn't who he
wanted. It was... He shouldered the older man aside and made for the door.
"Get away from me."
Bai Ling slammed a hand against the door by Wufei's shoulder to hold
it closed. "Slow down, Wufei. Where are you going?"
"Home," Wufei said flatly. He didn't turn to look at his cousin, his
entire body tense as a wire. "Move."
"Look, I'm sorry. I moved too fast," Bai Ling sighed, ignoring the
order. "But you haven't been picking up the subtle hints I've been
giving you since a week after you got here. I thought the direct approach
might be a bit more obvious."
Wufei finally turned his head just enough to glare up at him. "What
language do I have to say this in before it sinks in?" he demanded in a
low, intense voice. He began repeating the same phrase in English,
Japanese, Basic, and Chinese. Bai Ling's face grew harder at each
translation. "I'm not interested. I'm not interested. I'm not interested.
I'm not interested. MOVE!" Wufei batted the obstructing hand
away and pulled at the door. Bai Ling slammed it shut again.
"Now look, Wufei," he started, half soothing, half irritated.
But it was never a good idea to corner a soldier and make him feel
threatened. It was an even worse idea to do the same to an ex-terrorist
and Gundam pilot.
Wufei drove his elbow back into his cousin's solar plexus, and Bai
Ling stumbled back with a grunt. He managed to block the blow aimed for
his face, and another meant for his abdomen. They had, after all, been
spar partners in their childhood.
But Bai Ling had grown soft in his years on the colony as a university
student and then professor. Wufei had been using his skills nonstop
since he'd first learned them, whether in actual battle or on the nearest
available flat surface for practice. He was not so drunk that years of
training and reflexes didn't have enough room to jump up. In a flurry
of movement, he'd jerked his arm up to knock Bai Ling's chin back,
swept his feet out from under him, and landed him painfully on his back.
Bai Ling coughed and glared from his position, finding it difficult to
breathe or talk with the heavy foot pressing down on his throat.
Fists balled, Wufei took in quick, sharp breaths in an attempt to
regain his temper as he glared back stonily. The rush of adrenaline had
cleared his head; he felt nowhere close to drunk. Once he was back home
and calmer, it would all come right back up in a sickening rush, and he
really would "pray to the porcelain god", but for now he was completely
Wufei spoke in their native tongue, driving the message home hard.
"Do not touch me," he said in a tone of voice that would have given one
of Heero Yuy's "omae o korosu" lines a run for its money.
Bai Ling knew better than to move or respond. Wufei removed his foot,
yanked the door open, and stormed out. Eventually Bai Ling returned to
the table, dragging his wounded pride and bad temper with him, and
drank himself stupid. By the time he returned to the apartment around five
in the morning, Wufei was gone. A quick, drunken search of the house
showed that all of Wufei's belongs were gone, as well. Bai Ling sank
into the nearest couch with a groan, throwing an arm over his face.
"Well," he muttered sullenly to the ceiling, "that didn't go exactly
as I'd planned."
Heero turned a suspicious stare on the young man who had just
approached them, smiling charmingly and speaking with honeyed words. He didn't
trust people who were so friendly right off the bat. It was one of the
reasons he'd found it hard to trust Quatre for awhile. Duo, at least,
had shot him on sight, which in Heero's mindset made him easier to get
along with. And eventually he'd come to accept that Quatre's outgoing
personality was just that-- his personality. He wanted nothing but
friendship in return for his generosity and kind words. This young man
wanted something else, he noted, jaw tightening as he observed the way
the man's eyes darted over his charge for the night in a quick
up-and-down sweep he'd caught himself submitting Wufei and Trowa to on more than
He swatted away the thought of the other two pilots and took a
meaningful step closer to the young woman beside him.
She didn't seem to notice, or perhaps ignored it, dismissing it as
what she called his "paranoia". She smiled back at the young man before
her, accepted his compliments on her dress graciously, but was not
foolish enough to let the man kiss her bare hand. There were poisons that
could be transferred that way, as Heero had drilled into her when he'd
finally-- to her delight --accepted her offer and taken up the role as
her personal guard and head of security almost a month ago.
The man left shortly after, and Heero shifted his weight back to a
more normal stance. The girl beside him flicked him a somewhat amused
glance. "He was just being polite, Heero."
"Hn," he grunted, eyes sweeping the laughing crowd of dignitaries and
friends that had decided to stick around after the official speeches of
peace and forward movement to enjoy the conversation and good food.
"Why don't you take a break?" she asked quietly. "You look a little
Heero cursed himself internally. If it was obvious even to her, then
he would need to control himself better. Not that he would tell her in
million years that it was the previous night's string of nightmares--
most of them involving either Trowa or Wufei getting killed right in
front of him --that had him so on edge. He'd been fairly successful at
keeping the two boys from his thoughts for the most part, throwing
himself into work as he had done during the war when Trowa had been presumed
KIA. Besides, she might try to send him to another shrink, and he'd
already scared the shit out of that poor man and gotten a stack of
paperwork labeling him as psychotic, possibly bi-polar, neurotic, and a
stream of other such diagnostics that had taken quite a bit of
scrambling on Noin's part to bury.
"My job is to watch you, Relena," he said shortly, eyeing a young man
across the room who looked like he'd had a bit too much champagne to
drink. "I don't require a break. I'm fine," he added, knowing that was
the response she really wanted.
She frowned a little, but didn't press it. She knew how stubborn he
could be; the more she tried to persuade him to do something he didn't
want to do, the more he resisted. It was useless. So she gave a quiet
sigh and returned her attention to her guests, pasting on a calm
Heero heard the sigh and wondered at it. She'd been doing that a lot
lately. Especially around him. It was beginning to worry him, but
whenever he questioned after her health or mental well-being (that last
one had not gotten a good response the first time he'd asked), she forced
a bright smile and told him that nothing was wrong, and assured him--
more and more frequently these days --that she was happy that he was
with her, and he made her feel safe. That suited him, because it meant he
was doing his job correctly. So far Relena was safe and sound, and he
was confident that no one-- with the possible exception of Duo Maxwell
himself --could break through the security system he had set up at her
The night wore on, but finally the guests began to disperse. Relena
waited until about half the guests had gone before she would allow Heero
to lead her to the car waiting for her out front. Saying farewell to
the remaining guests took another hour that gnawed at Heero's patience,
but then they were over with, and he was seated across from his young
charge in her gaudy pink limousine, on their way home.
It was only when they were alone together that Relena felt she could
truly relax, and she did so now, sinking back against the seat and
sighing loudly, closing her eyes. "I'm exhausted," she admitted quietly.
"I feel like my feet are about to fall off." She cracked open an eye to
look at him in mild amusement. "And I don't mean that literally, so
don't call a medic or something."
Heero didn't waste his breath informing her that Duo and Wufei's
sarcastic remarks had already done their work on him a long time ago, and he
no longer took everything so literally. He preferred not to speak of
the past or the other pilots, and it had taken her a surprisingly short
amount of time to catch onto this fact and leave those subjects
"Put them in cold water when you get home," he said automatically,
looking with unseeing eyes out at the passing scenery. Outside, he knew,
crickets would be chirping, and the night birds would be giving their
first calls of the evening. He still was a bit in awe at the
differences in this, his ancestors' home planet, and the colonies he had spent
his young life in. The hustle and bustle of colony life had seemed like
so much after the silence of space, but that was nothing to compare to
the jewel that was Earth: the planet he had risked his life to save in
those last few precious moments of the war. He'd never had any time to
really appreciate it during the war, aside from that one short break
with Quatre when he had played with dogs on the beach.
"What are you thinking, Heero?" Relena murmured drowsily, eyes
half-shut. "You've got that little line between your eyes that means you're
thinking hard about something."
"Nothing specific," he told her shortly, which of course made his mind
latch onto the next fleeting thought. It was why he hated it when she
asked him that. It was like an unconscious order to concentrate and
think of one thing in detail. Unfortunately, his mind had been shying
momentarily towards the war, which for some reason only brought up the
faces of his partners. Duo and Quatre, of course, but as soon as he saw
the images of Wufei and Trowa in his mind's eye, he was unable to keep
them shoved back in the corners of his mind as he'd been making himself
do for a month straight.
Now that he concentrated on them, he realized that despite his
efforts, he thought of them at least once a day. Too many little things
reminded him of them. Something someone said, or just something he saw that
triggered a memory. He hadn't really noticed it too much, but now that
he really thought about it, he could recall almost every instance in
which something had reminded him of the pilots. All of them, of course.
But it was the memories of the two odd-numbered pilots he wished he
could banish. It made him feel somehow twisted and hard inside, and he
didn't like it. Better to focus on the other two, maybe. Just the other
day he'd caught a glimpse of golden hair and thought for one wild
moment it was Quatre-- but no, just one of Relena's friends, her flaxen hair
cut in a stylish bob. And Ryans, one of the guards under him, had the
kind of infectious, mischievous grin that was a little too close to
Duo's for comfort. He watched the man closely after that mental
connection. That smile could mean trouble. It meant "this man has
Unless Relena was right, and he really was paranoid.
She was, after all, learning at an alarming rate how to read his
moods, his body language, and his tone of voice. Either she was an
extremely astute young woman, or he'd grown a little soft during that month on
0167 with Wufei and--
He tried to push the memories back hastily, but his efforts only
produced a clear flashback of a month earlier. Bad enough that Trowa had
left... he'd felt confused and helpless, and hadn't known what else to do
but revert to soldier mode as his partner had packed his things and
left them behind. But something about his expression must have triggered
something in Wufei, because the other boy had exploded on him, then
abruptly disappeared for almost five hours. Heero had been stretched on
his mattress, feigning sleep, when Wufei had finally appeared like a
shadow on the windowsill later that evening. How he'd managed to scale
the wall was beyond Heero, but he didn't ask. He lay still as death,
eyes cracked open, and waited to see if his companion had cooled off.
Perhaps talking about Trowa's abrupt departure would calm the other boy.
But Wufei had glanced at him and-- thinking him still asleep --moved
over to his own mattress. Not to sleep. To pack.
Looking back, Heero wondered if he should have sat up and talked him
out of it. Would it have helped? But stubborn pride got in the way,
and he'd merely watched as Wufei tossed his things into a bag, dropped
something on his mattress, and left on silent feet. As soon as he'd
gone, Heero moved to the "bed" to see what had been left. Perhaps Wufei
was going after Trowa, after all. If so, Heero could have his things
ready in two minutes and be out the door after him...
But no. Wufei wasn't going to chase after Trowa. He was escaping it
all, getting some breathing space, or at least that was what Heero
deduced from the short note left on the flat pillow. Wufei might display
more emotions than Heero, but at times he was just as clueless as the
other pilot on how to deal with them.
After a week or two, Heero became positive both boys had left for
good. And he'd be damned if he'd sit there and wait for someone to never
return. Best to do something productive with his life. Trowa had found
himself a family, and Wufei was off doing... whatever. Relena had been
asking him repeatedly to come back to Earth and work for her. Maybe
that was what he should do.
Heero glanced at the girl in a half-doze across from him and frowned
slightly. Had it been the right choice? He rarely bothered to second
guess himself and look back over his shoulder, wondering at "what if"s.
But this time the questions leapt about in his head, refusing to be
crushed. What if he'd said something to Trowa to get him to stay? What
if he'd talked to Wufei? What if Catherine had never sent that
telegram? What if what if what if... It made his head hurt.
From his memory banks he drew out one of Odin's earliest lectures on
the handling and upkeep of an antique M-16 rifle and began to go through
the steps one by one. By the time he'd gone through five different
weapons, including a rocket launcher and a stun gun, he'd successfully
managed to push Wufei and Trowa back to the shadowy corners of his mind,
and helped a sleepy Relena from the car and up the steps with a clearer
He was sure she was sleeping on her feet until they reached her room
and she gripped his wrist, blinking up at him in an attempt to focus
tired eyes. "Heero," she said, "come to dinner with me tomorrow
He blinked. It wasn't an order or a firm suggestion; she sounded
almost hesitant. But then, she was tired, he amended. He wracked his
brain. Was there a dinner party he'd forgotten? No. And no one had
invited her anywhere during the reception; he would have definitely filed
that away. Then what?
She seemed to see his confusion and bit her lip, glancing away.
Another strange sign. But then, she'd been acting skittish around him at
random times lately. Especially when they were alone like this. He
suddenly felt compelled to remove his hand from her grip, and put it up on
the doorframe instead.
She looked up at him again at the uneasy retreat. "Just you and me.
No guards." Heero's eyes narrowed slightly at that. No guards? Was
she insane? He would have to be extra alert, then. "I just want to
spend some time alone with you, Heero. I want to.. to tell you
"Tell me now," he suggested in a monotone.
She managed a tired smile. And was that a blush? No, must be from
exhaustion. "Please, Heero."
"Very well," he relented, still a little puzzled.
"Thank you," she murmured, turning and shuffling towards her bed.
"Aa," he said absently, shutting the door behind her. No guards...
stubborn woman. He set off for his own room, already building plans in
his head for his one-man protection assignment for the next evening's
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