Chapter 46: "Here Comes the Bride"

Hilde didn't exactly say "screw you", but she made it adamently clear that she was tired of second-guessing her own instincts.

"Duo would never hurt you," she said firmly. "Or me, for that matter. He's no altar boy, but you have to at least believe he's your friend. You don't even know what's behind the visions or whatever that dragon was showing you. You said it yourself-- No one wanted Duo to become a Guardian."

Wufei had to grudgingly admit she had a point, though secretly he promised himself to keep a sharper eye on the braided twit. Just in case.

After she'd left, Wufei sat up for another hour before forcing himself to go to bed. The bed was big enough for four people to lie down side by side, the blankets were soft and warm, and the pillows were perfect. But he tossed and turned for another half hour, unable to get comfortable. After spending a month of sleeping in the back of a jeep, hard hotel mattresses, and military-like bunks on ships, a normal bed was almost more unsettling than comforting.

That, and something was niggling at his subconscious. Some hyper-alert anxiety that was impossible to pin down. Finally he sat up and stared into the darkness of his room, trying to relax enough to locate the source of his restlessness. His Mark wasn't burning, but instinctively he suspected it had something to do with it.

After a moment, following an urge he didn't quite understand, he kicked off his blankets and strode across to the wall between his room and the Guardians'. Propping his shoulder against the wall, he placed his palm against the plaster and waited.

He cleared his mind, forcing his own turbulent thoughts to the backburner, attempting to keep his mood calm and relaxed. And slowly the strange anxiety began to fade.
"Worrywart," Wufei murmured to the wall. Satisfied that Heero would finally be able to quit pacing and get some sleep, Wufei returned to his bed.


Familiar calloused fingertips slid down between his shoulder blades and followed the slight arch of his back, pausing just above his Mark.

Feeling strangely drowsy but aware at the same time, Wufei rolled over and studied the face beside his own on the pillow. "I don't think you're supposed to be in here," he pointed out quietly.

Heero gazed back solemnly. His hand had followed Wufei's movement, sliding around to rest on the other boy's bare hip. "Probably not," he admitted. "But I think it's your fault I'm here in the first place."

Wufei snorted in amusement. "You're the one that was having a private little panic attack." He tucked one arm under his head and glanced briefly over Heero's shoulder at the room. Everything was muted and hazy and white. "I'm not sure this is real, anyway."
"...No," Heero agreed after a moment. "Probably not." He ran his hand lazily down Wufei's hip and settled it on the back of his thigh.

Wufei shuddered, reaching out to tangle his fingers in mussed chocolate hair. "I don't think I have the luxury of even dreaming about this anymore," he admitted. "Apparently I'm engaged. Again."

"We all know how that turned out last time," Heero noted.

Wufei winced, but the mix of guilt and pain was watered down in this place. "I don't want to get married," he said. "But it'd be nice if this woman, whoever she is, lived to see her next birthday."

"Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, Wufei."

"...Yeah." Wufei loosened his grip on Heero's hair and let his fingers play idly with the contours of the other boy's face, something he would never have allowed himself to do when he was awake. "I get the feeling those words are especially relevant now."

They were keeping their tones low; it suited the soft, quiet setting. Heero's thumb pressed briefly against Wufei's thigh.

"Too many things are the same," he insisted quietly, expression serious. "Have you noticed?"

Wufei watched his fingers make their way across his lover's broad chest. "I hadn't until now." His touch ghosted over a dark nipple, and Heero's breath hitched ever so slightly. "A new bride-to-be I've yet to meet, a war, dissent in some of the Clans... All we need now is a rogue group of militia."

"Treize is still after us," Heero reminded him. "Milliardo isn't far behind him. Too many circumstances are falling into old patterns. If you don't change it, the past is going to come back to haunt you."

"Complete with surround sound and closed captioning," Wufei muttered sourly.

"...I think Maxwell's starting to rub off on you."

Wufei looked him in the eye, mouth tugging in a frown. "She told me not to trust him."


Wufei didn't realize who he was talking about until he said it. "The dragon."

"I didn't know it was a 'she'," Heero murmured with vague interest.

"Neither did I," Wufei admitted, blinking slowly. "Or maybe I did. I don't know anymore."

"She told you not to trust who?"

"Duo. She said..." He shook his head briefly. "I don't know. She wasn't specific. I'm not even sure she said it, either. It was... an impression she gave me. I have to keep an eye on Duo."

"Did she say he was dangerous?" Heero inquired. "Or that he might betray you? Was that the impression you got?"

"No," Wufei blurted, then hesitated. "And yes. He's dangerous."

"He is," Heero agreed calmly. "And he isn't someone you want to be angry with you. You need to keep him controlled, Wufei. And that means keeping him away from anything that might make him stronger. But..." he shook his head once, "that doesn't mean you can't trust him."

"He's dangerous, but I should trust him?" Wufei asked dryly. "Hard advice to swallow. He's already freaked out Hilde before, and shown a darker side to all of us. There's no guarantee that he won't turn on any of us."

"No, there isn't."

"Then what reason do I have to trust him?" Wufei demanded.

"Reason?" Heero shrugged one shoulder, running his hand absently up and down the back of Wufei's thigh and making it a bit hard to concentrate. "I can't give you any reasons, Wufei. You decide whether or not you trust someone. No one else can make that decision for you. It's up to you. If you think you can trust him-- even if you don't understand why -- then trust him. If not... Well, he is dangerous."

"Yeah..." Wufei ran his fingertips over a nipple again, and felt the skin shiver at his touch. "Look, I'm probably going to wake up in a few minutes," he pointed out, mouth quirking in a small smile. "So can we talk about something a little less grim? It's not like this is real anyway."

"This is important," Heero insisted, but his mouth was less serious, and his hand squeezed Wufei's thigh briefly.

"So is this," Wufei retorted, leaning his head forward and pressing his mouth to Heero's.

The lips against his own were just starting to respond when everything grew hazy and dark and the dream faded as a deeper sleep pulled Wufei under at last.


Three hard bangs on his door jerked Wufei awake. He rolled over, but didn't land on the floor as he'd intended. "Damn mile-long wide bed," he growled to himself, lying flat on his stomach and wrapping his hand around the hilt of his dirk, which he'd stuffed halfway under the mattress. He raised his voice irritably. "What is--"

The door swung open and a guard poked his head in. He checked briefly to make sure Wufei was decent, then retreated. A moment later Mingzhu came in, stride quick and long. "Get up, Fei," she commanded sharply, face pinched with anxiety. "Your grandfather requires your immediate presence."

Wufei sat up quickly, rubbing roughly at his face to dispell the last of his sleepiness. "What?" He glanced towards the window, squinting at the false sunlight that shone through the decorative slats. He grasped at straws. "What time is it? Did I sleep in?" His internal clock was completely out of whack. That would be just freaking perfect-- oversleeping on the day he was supposed to meet his own people. What a great first impression.

"It's not even six in the morning," Mingzhu answered impatiently. "This has nothing to do with the day's previous plans. Those plans are on hold. This is more important. Now get dressed, and I do mean quickly. I'll explain once you're ready." She swept out of the room with a wave of her hand.

Wufei followed the gesture with his eyes and spotted the outfit spread at the foot of his bed. He blinked, a bit disturbed. Had that been there before he'd gone to bed? Or had one of the servants done it before dawn? He hated to think that someone had entered without his notice. He must have been more tired than he'd thought.

He didn't remember the strange dream until he was almost fully dressed, and it gave him a moment's pause, his hands hesitating on the pearl buttons of his silk coat.

A dream-- it could be nothing else. But it had felt almost real. And that conversation...

He quickly finished buttoning up and slipped his feet into the matching pair of slippers laid out for him. No time to think about that now. Something about his aunt's urgent undertone made his heart quicken in dreadful anticipation.

He ran an ivory comb through his hair once or twice to get rid of the snarls, and headed for the door still pulling it back in a quick tail, hair tie held in his teeth.
He took two steps out into the hall and came to a dead halt, eyes darting left and right, hair still only halfway pulled up.

Instead of the pair of aloof guards from yesterday, Heero, Quatre, Duo, and Trowa were waiting for him with Mingzhu, their expressions grim.

Wufei hastily tugged the tie from his teeth and finished his hair. "What's going on?" he demanded.

"We have guests," Mingzhu said tightly, motioning abruptly for him to follow as she turned on her heel and marched off. Her back was stiff with tension as they all trooped down the hall at a brisk walk. "Kushrenada arrived an hour ago, tailing Senator Peacecraft. And we've just received word that Milliardo is not half a day's flight behind him."

"Treize??" Wufei almost stumbled over his own feet in surprise and horror. "what is that rat bastard doing here?"

"We aren't sure," Mingzhu admitted in clipped tones. "Your grandfather is also curious."

"What about Relena's father?" Quatre spoke up. He and the others were boxed in around Wufei.

"He was invited," Mingzhu snapped. "Kushrenada was not. And Milliardo is in no way welcome here. If he does not change his course, you will need to deploy the Gundams. He cannot be allowed to get close enough to threaten this colony."

"Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, Wufei."

Wufei frowned, lengthening his stride so he was alongside his aunt. "Milliardo had nothing to do with the attack on L5," he said sharply. "The men responsible were acting on their own. No one regrets what happened more than he does."

"And I suppose he told you that?" Mingzhu sneered. "He can't be trusted." She sent him a sharp sidelong look. "And when did you have an opportunity to speak with Milliardo, anyway?"

"Long story. But--"

"They were protecting their leader," Mingzhu snapped. "And a leader is responsible for his men's actions. He has no right to come anywhere near this colony. The fact that he seems to know where it is does not bode well."

"He must have followed Treize, or us," Trowa murmured thoughtfully. "If he didn't know who you were then, he must have figured it out by now."

"This could not have happened at a worse time," Mingzhu growled under her breath. She shot her nephew a quick, warning glare. "Make sure you're respectful to General Kushrenada. He has shown no ill intentions and insists he is here under the flag of peace. While it is displeasing that he is here, it is better to hear him out than turn him away and risk him bringing the armies of earth to our doorstep. We must nip this in the bud, so you are to treat him with the utmost civility."

Wufei stared at her angrily. "You expect me to be polite to that stuffed peacock??" he demanded furiously. "I don't even want to be in the same building as that insufferable--"

"That's enough," Mingzhu cut him off in a ringing tone. "He is a guest, Fei, and one of some stature. Offending him would not be wise. Whatever your personal feelings, you must put them aside for the sake of diplomacy."

"Wufei's sense of diplomacy is a bit rusty," Duo pointed out with a fleeting grin.

Mingzhu didn't even spare him a glance. "Miss Peacecraft will attend as well," she stated. "Despite her youth, she is quite mature and level-headed for her age, and is accustomed to such delicate matters as this. Her father has been training her in the sensitive art of politics since childhood. If you are unsure of what to say-- or if you are sure you will say something extremely stupid --keep your mouth shut and let her and your grandfather do the talking. Keep your opinions to yourself until it's time to meet with the Council. You are expected to observe and learn, not to interfere."

Wufei gritted his teeth until his jaw hurt, but kept his retort to himself. The thought of being forced to confront Treize and put on a polite facade was infuriating after his last encounter with the man, but like it or not, Mingzhu was right. He could not risk the safety of the colony by allowing his personal feelings to turn the mood of the meeting into something ugly and threatening.

Wufei was already lost in the long halls, but Heero looked around with a slight frown. "Where are we going?"

"Lord Chang greeted the General in the throne room, but they have retired to a side wing, where guests are taken to speak in a more private, relaxed setting." Mingzhu glanced back at the Guardians. "Kushrenada, in a show of goodwill, did not bring the men who accompanied him into the room. Therefore, the three of you must wait outside. Only the Primary Guardian may accompany Fei." Her narrowed eyes flicked from Trowa to Heero.

"Yuy is still the Primary," Wufei answered the unspoken question firmly, looking straight ahead. "I've already had this discussion with my grandfather."

Mingzhu pulled a face, but said nothing.

They turned a corner, and abruptly she stopped. She extended an arm, indicating a door down the hall with armored guards outside. "Fei, that is where you must go. The rest of you may wait in this room." She nodded to an open door. Inside, two servants were just finishing laying out breakfast on a low table.

"Give a holler if ya need us," Duo murmured in Wufei's ear before following the other two into the room.

Wufei nodded once and drew himself up straight, marching down to the other door, Heero shadowing his steps. The guards stepped aside at his approach and pulled open the wide sliding door with nods of greeting.

I will not kill Kushrenada with his own blasted weapon, Wufei told himself fiercely. I will not glare at him, I will not threaten him, I will keep my composure.

Chin high and face set in a frozen mask, he stepped inside, eyes flicking around quickly to take in the situation.

As in the Guardian's room, a small breakfast buffet had been put together on a low table. Wufei's grandfather sat straight-backed and serene at one end, with Relena seated to his left. She looked relieved at Wufei's entrance. Wufei realized he would have to translate anything his grandfather said, and felt a bit better. At least that would keep his mind busy.

Despite his resolve, he felt his whole body stiffen as the man at the other end of the table rose to his feet.

"Chang Wufei. It's a pleasure to see you again. Ah, my apologies-- it's 'Fei', is it not?"

Treize Kushrenada was in full battle regalia, from his blindingly shiny boots to his rack of ribbons and medals. His hair was slicked back, not a strand out of place, and a faint smile hovered on his thin lips.

It took everything Wufei had not to fly across the room and drive a fist into that smirking face.

Heero's unseen grasp on the back of his jacket helped.

His grandfather was gazing up at him expectantly, so Wufei cleared his throat and hoped to god his expression was neutral. "General Kushrenada." His eyes flicked suspiciously to the cowled figure seated just behind Treize's cushion, face hidden by the shadow of the hood.

"Please." Jianguo swept his hand over the table. "Sit. Eat."

Wufei went around to sit across from Relena, on his grandfather's right. Kushrenada politely waited until he'd found his place before taking his own seat. Despite Wufei's warning glance, Heero placed himself stubbornly between him and the General. Wufei was forced to follow protocal, but Heero seemed to see nothing wrong with being overprotective; it was his job, after all. He turned his head fully towards Treize so that Jianguo couldn't see, and glared openly at the older man. Treize didn't even look up, but he did smile into his cup as if he found the whole thing rather funny.

Wufei hoped ferverntly that he would choke on his drink.

"Where is Senator Peacecraft?" Treize inquired in surprisingly fluid Mandarin. "I could not have been far behind him." Before Wufei could open his mouth, Heero began quietly translating for Relena.

"The Senator is not well," Jianguo answered, reaching for his own tiny cup. "He is resting while our healers attend him. He should regain his strength in a day or so." He sipped delicately at the hot jasmine tea. "Now... Your visit caught us by surprise, General. I am sure you can understand why my people would be wary of outsiders; especially those so intimately involved with the war. What is the purpose of your visit?"

"Restrain your ward, Guardian," Treize murmured in Basic, turning to gesture to the mysterious hooded person with him.

Despite the warning, Heero barely managed to act in time as slender hands reached up and pushed back a floppy hood to reveal a familiar face. Heero pressed his hand against Wufei's thigh under the low table, out of sight, and held him down with all his considerable strength when Wufei jerked as if he was about to get up.

"Wufei," Relena said in a calm, singsong voice, keeping to Basic. Her eyes were glued to the smiling girl at the other end of the table. "Does the term 'diplomatic incident' mean anything to you?"

Wufei ground his teeth until his head throbbed, fingernails digging into the back of Heero's hand under the table. Heero didn't so much as flinch, and kept his hand where it was.

Treize nodded towards the the girl. "This is--"

"We've met," Wufei growled.

Jianguo cleared his throat delicately, and Wufei subsided.

"...My daughter," Treize continued smoothly. "Mariemaia."

Mariemaia smiled charmingly and bobbed her head in greeting. "Pleased to meet you," she chirpped in badly stilted Mandarin.

"Charmed, I'm sure," Relena said silkily, though her smile was forced and her eyes hard.

"I come with a proposition," Treize declared. "The tragedy that befell L5 in the past because of distrust and bad relations between earth and space can not be allowed to occur again. As a leader and political man, I'm sure you've realized that the one sure-fire way to avoid future disharmony is to create a permanent union between us."

"The thought had crossed my mind," Jianguo murmured into his cup.

"Marriage between a high-profile member of earth and one of your own would be the best way," Treize continued, his eyes turning towards Wufei. "I would like to offer my own daughter for this union of peace."

Wufei almost spit his tea across the table, and ended up in a coughing fit while Heero patted his back helpfully. Mariemaia was all smiles. Wufei finally got himself under control and stared wildly from the child to his grandfather. This couldn't have been the brat they'd planned on tying him to! This was just too much. He opened his mouth for a loud argument, but Jianguo was shaking his head slowly.

"Your offer is gracious, General, but I'm afraid I must decline."

Mariemaia's eyes narrowed in sudden anger. Treize's face remained composed, but Wufei thought he detected the slightest arch of one spidery eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yes." The venerated elder set his cup down gently and held out a wrinkled hand in indication of the young woman on his left. "Senator Peacecraft has already promised a bride for our bloodline. It was a decided two years after the destruction of L5 and the unfortunate loss of the previous bride-to-be."

Relena was staring at him like a deer in the headlights, mouth hanging open helplessly. Wufei's face was similarly ridiculous as he gaped first at his grandfather and then at Relena with growing shock and dismay.

"What??" they both blurted at once.

Heero pinched Wufei under the table.

"Er-- Sorry, Grandfather," Wufei stammered hastily, struggling to use manners as an efficient shield against his stupor. "I-- just--"

But Jianguo looked amused by their reaction. "As you can see," he informed Treize with a twinkle in his eye, "neither was aware of this. But it is a fact that they have, indeed, been betrothed since childhood. It is a suitable arrangement, don't you think? The daughter of a high-profile pascifist Senator and the next heir to the Chang throne."

Treize took a moment to collect his thoughts. "Yes," he admitted slowly while Mariemaia seethed behind him, glaring venomously in Relena's direction. "I suppose it seems suitable. However--"

"The daughter of a noble General is of course quite a tempting offer," Jianguo assured him. "However, the fact remains that a promise was made years ago between the houses of Peacecraft and Chang. And of course..." his sharp old eyes drifted towards Mariemaia, "there is her recent behavior to consider."

Treize's eyes flickered very briefly towards his daughter, who was suddenly striving to look as innocent as possible.

"The accounts related to me by my grandson and his Guardians are troubling," Jianguo sighed, nibbling on a peach slice. "And besides that, Miss Peacecraft is of a much more suitable age, don't you think?"

Wufei sent his grandfather a desperate look that went completely ignored.

This couldn't be happening. Sure, he'd known he'd have to marry someone someday, but... why Relena?? To be sure, she was the lesser of two evils, but he barely got along with the little twit. Until very recently, they'd held nothing but near-contempt for each other, and even now he wanted very little to do with her. How could he be expected to marry someone he'd been attempting to ignore since freshman year?

And why the hell wasn't she trying to argue her case, anyway? If she was as infatuated with Heero as he'd suspected, shouldn't the prospect of marrying Wufei turn her stomach?

Wufei glanced towards Relena, but she was staring intently down into her bowl, her face an interesting shade of scarlet.

"You are welcome to stay the night," Jianguo was saying. "And if it isn't too much trouble, I would like to discuss matters of grave importance with you later."

Treize had laid a hand on his daughter's arm, a silent warning to keep her temper under control. "Yes, by all means. Am I to assume it concerns my old friend Milliardo? I believe he has been following either myself or your grandson."

Relena's eyes jerked up at that.

Jianguo nodded, then glanced towards Wufei.

Wufei was still a bit shell-shocked, but Heero caught the silent dismissal. "Come on," he urged under his breath.

Wufei managed to get to his feet, bow, and retreat from the room without saying anything abysmally stupid or stumbling over his own feet, but once they were in the hall with the door shut behind him, he stood staring at Heero in a fierce demand for a denial of what had just occurred.

Heero was staring at the opposite wall, his face a mask of hard stone. When he glanced back at Wufei, his eyes were dark and turbulent with dissatisfaction.

Relena cleared her throat hesitantly, stepping up to stand before them. She was gazing down at her shoes, her face red again. "...Well.." she squeaked. "Um..."

"There's got to be a way out of this," Wufei insisted, not sure which one of them he was trying to reassure.

She looked up quickly, eyes wide in surprise. Then abruptly her face crumpled into a mix of outrage and humiliation. "JERK!" Spinning on her heel, she dashed down the hall, hands covering her face.

Wufei watched her go in complete bewilderment. "What the hell was that all about?"

Heero calmly smacked him upside his head. "Idiot. Come on. We need to talk to the others."

"What? What'd I do?" Wufei demanded angrily, rubbing the back of his head. "Don't hit me, you twit. And why is any of this anyone else's business?"

"They at least need to know Mariemaia is here," Heero said, already striding down the hall towards the room where the Guardians were waiting.

"Oh, that." Wufei frowned, reaching up to make sure Heero hadn't messed up his hair. "I think they know already."

Heero stopped, frowning back at him. "What? How could they know?"

"Beats me," Wufei grumbled, walking past him. "I just... know they do."

"The Mark," Heero guessed, catching up quickly.

"Probably." Wufei folded his arms across his chest and scowled at the ground as they walked. "I can't believe this is happening," he muttered.

"It could be worse," Heero reminded him.

"I'll admit, it's better that it's Relena than that psycho offspring of Kushrenada's," Wufei growled. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it."

"No," Heero said quietly. "You just have to accept it."

"We'll see." Wufei's fingers drummed against his biceps, his mind whirling as he used every bit of smarts he'd crammed into it over the years. I'm first in the goddamn class, he told himself savagely. If anyone can find a way out of this, I can.

"You still want to talk to them?" Heero asked when Wufei paused outside the correct door. "I thought you said--"

"I have something else to talk about," Wufei said firmly, pulling the sliding door open. "I need all of you to do a little research for me."


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