Chapter 49: "The Lightning Count"


Milliardo barely favored his Lieutenant with a glance, his attention focused on the display table. He gripped the edges of the table, watching his weapons master's pen as it pointed out the pulsing lights that were approaching from the west.

"They'll be here in an hour-- two, at the most," the gruff WM said gravely, frown nearly hidden by his thick mustache. "If we're going to make our move it needs to be now."

"Sir?" Noin spoke up again stubbornly.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" Milliardo demanded shortly without looking up. The men gathered around the table looked up, waiting. Noin was not known for interrupting her Baron without good reason.

Noin stepped forward and saluted swiftly. "Sir. There's a ship approaching. It looks like it took off from the rebel colony."

That got his attention. He looked up swiftly, eyes narrowed. "A fighter?" he demanded tersely. Had the fools decided to attack?

"No, sir. A transport shuttle; a small one. They're squawking neutral codes. They've been contacted, and so far they're cooperating. Four souls aboard, under the flag of peace. They're specifically asking to speak with you."

Milliardo frowned pensively, but the WM spoke up hastily. "Sir, I'd advise against that. These people can't be trusted, and their personal feelings towards us are clear. It could be a trick." The others nodded in agreement.

"Just shoot the blasted thing down," grumbled a younger Captain.

Noin, who had been standing at attention with her eyes straight forward, shifted her gaze at last to look at her commander. "The one we communicated with said to tell you your sister is on board," she said more quietly. "She's the one who is requesting an audience."

"Relena??" Milliardo turned his back on the table, looking quickly over Noin's shoulder towards the porthole window as if hoping for a glimpse of the shuttle. "That's impossible."

"You did say the boy-- Chang --had taken her captive," Noin reminded him. "He was headed in this direction, and if he still has her, that could mean she's on-colony."

"Don't be ridiculous," the man beside the WM snapped. "You know who these people are. They don't allow strangers on their blasted colony; even those running from a similar enemy. They offer no sanctuary. Not to anyone."
"Unless," Noin interrupted delicately, "this colony was Chang's destination all along."

The Captain snorted in disbelief.

Milliardo looked at Noin sharply, then suddenly his eyes widened. "That boy... he said something about his home. He said I'd destroyed it..."

The WM cursed under his breath. "You don't think he was referring to--"

"L5," Milliardo finished tensely, already striding for the door. "I'm going to the control room; call ahead. Make sure no one so much as unholsters a blaster out there. Let the shuttle approach."

"But sir--" the WM called quickly, gesturing the table. But Milliardo was already gone, Noin on his heels. "Damn it all." He turned to glare at the nearest man. "Call the control room. If some bastard with an itchy trigger finger destroys that shuttle and Miss Peacecraft is aboard, heads are going to roll."

Milliardo dropped all decorum and went down the narrow halls at a dead run, Noin just a step or two behind. His heart was thundering in his ears, his mind working quickly. The men under him were loyal to him, but they trusted almost no one who was not stoutly on their side. Worse, most of them were only recently trained, and still jumpy from battles against the Terran forces. If any young recruit got the wild idea that the shuttle had ill intentions...

And Chang. He shouldn't have dismissed the boy's words so quickly before. If he'd just questioned him more thoroughly, the truth might have come to light. It made sense; his hostility, his arrogant mannerisms... if the colony and the rebels on it had indeed been his destination, and he'd dragged Relena there...

He slapped the pad by the control room doors and stepped quickly inside, raising his voice to reach the men at the radios. "Hail that shuttle," he barked, startling the technicians. "Give them leave to approach and dock. The rest of you, tell the men to stand down. I want that craft untouched."

They hesitated, startled by his mannerisms, but Noin stepped up beside him and shouted sharply, "Your commanding officer just gave you an order! Do it!"

Quickly the technicians turned back to their scopes, snatching up their headsets and making the calls.

Milliardo allowed himself a silent sigh of relief as he strode over to stand behind the nearest technician, gripping the back of his chair as he stared at the radar scope, and the single piece of symbology tracking steadily through the sea of friendlies. He regained his composure and issued firm orders to Noin, who stood faithfully close by. "When they've docked, strip them of their weapons and send my sister to my office. Leave the others who came with her in the bay and make sure they're watched closely."

"Yes, sir." Noin saluted smartly and headed for the landing bay in long strides.

Quatre turned to offer Relena a reassuring smile from where she was hovering anxiously over his shoulder. "You see? Everything's fine. They're letting us dock."

Relena nodded mutely. No one said aloud what they were all thinking. There was still the risk of some skittish man in a Suit opening fire and setting off a chain reaction.

The next few minutes felt like the longest in Relena's life. She almost sagged with relief when they were at last docked safely with her brother's warship. Straightening her dress-- Yingtai had been kind enough to make sure her original clothes had been cleaned so she would not be meeting her brother in a foreign outfit --she followed Quatre towards the door, the two house guards close on her heels, hands resting on the butts of the guns in their belts. It was the first time Relena had seen a citizen of Yeong with a modern weapon, and the guns looked out of place with their ceremonial outfits.

The door hissed open and Relena's heart leapt into her mouth.

Close to twenty men stood waiting just outside, and all of them were aiming their firearms at the doorway, faces grim.

"Put your hands where we can see them!" the man in front shouted.

Quatre raised his hands, speaking quietly in Mandarin. Reluctantly Relena's guards also lifted their hands. Taking a deep breath, Relena squared her shoulders, smoothed her face into a mask of regal composure, and stepped around Quatre to confront the gunmen.

"I'm here to see my brother," she said clearly, making sure she was loud enough to be heard by all.

There was a pause as some of the men exchanged uncertain glances.

Relena looked around without moving her head, refusing to let her nervousness show. She didn't recognize any of them. They were all young and twitchy, and none of them knew who she was.

Then a commanding voice rang out in reprimand. "Get those weapons out of Miss Peacecraft's face at once!"

Relena felt a surge of gratitude and hope as a familiar figure strode forward. "Lieutenant Noin," she greeted with heartfelt warmth. "It's good to see you again."

"Relena." Noin offered a fleeting, distracted smile as she stopped in front of the younger woman. "You've had your brother practically tearing his hair out with worry. I'm glad to see you're well."

"I'm sorry to be so abrupt," Relena apologized, "but it's imperative that I speak to my brother as soon as possible."

"He's waiting for you in his office." Noin's eyes flickered over Relena's shoulder towards the other three. "Your... 'escort' must surrender their weapons and wait here."

"No disrespect, Lieutenant," Quatre murmured, moving to stand beside Relena. "But I'll be accompanying Relena for the duration of her stay on-board. The other two will stay here."

Noin stared at him in challenge, but Relena nodded in agreement. "Lt Noin, this is Quatre R. Winner. I want him with me. Besides, I don't think you'll get him to stay behind unless you lock him up."

"That could be arranged," one of the men muttered, still aiming his gun vaguely in Quatre's direction.

Noin ignored him. "Your brother was very clear," she told Relena firmly. "He only wants to see you."

Relena lifted her chin, staring the other woman down. She hated to put the woman in a bind; she had much respect for Noin, and was grateful of her friendship and loyalty to her brother. But she had to make herself perfectly clear or this was never going to work. "Quatre comes as well, or I'll return to Yeong," she said flatly. "He's here under the diplomatic flag of peace, same as I."

Noin's eyebrows lifted nearly to her hairline, but she didn't argue further. "Very well. If you insist." She held out a hand. "Your weapon, Mr. Winner?"

Quatre smiled disarmingly. "I'm here to discuss things peacefully; I didn't bring one."

"Sorry, but I don't have the luxury of taking you at your word," Noin said, motioning to the two nearest soldiers. Quatre cooperated, allowing them to pat him down quickly. Noin nodded in satisfaction when they found nothing. "All right. Come with me." She nodded towards the two Yeong guards, addressing one of the soldiers. "You-- Barnes, right? Relieve them of their weapons and guard them. Don't allow them to leave, but treat them with respect. If I find out they've been treated badly, I'll hold you personally responsible."

Barnes saluted hastily. "Yes, ma'am."

Quatre and Relena exchanged a quick look, then fell in step behind Noin as she led the way to the Lightning Count's office.


"Good grief, it's a madhouse in there," Duo exclaimed as he joined his friend in the garden, throwing a disgusted look back towards the main house. "Paper lanterns, doo-dads and cloth everywhere. They're really going all out."

"It's Wufei's birthday," Trowa said simply, staring listlessly at his reflection in one of the rock pools. "His seventeenth. Of course it's a big deal."

"Yeah, well, if it's all the same to you, I think I'll just lay low until tonight. I don't want Mingzhu getting me to help decorate. I'm just here for the party." He grinned, but Trowa didn't even look up. He studied the other boy curiously. "What's up with you? You're even spacier than usual."


Duo arched a brow, leaning over slightly and trying to see Trowa's face. "Bullshit. You're sulking. What'd I miss? Still moping about that Primary Guardian fiasco?" He sighed loudly, holding his hands behind his head and squinting up into the false sunlight. "Don't worry about it, man. You made a stupid decision, but you made it right in the end. No hard feelings." He waited, but Trowa didn't answer. He took another stab at it. "Miss prissy pants and Quat already left, huh?" His sharp eyes noticed the sudden tightening of the other boy's mouth, and he grinned to himself. "Ah. I should've guessed. Hey, man, don't worry so much! They'll be fine. That's Milliardo's sister up there; he'll make sure they're treated all right."

"He shouldn't have sent Quatre," Trowa snapped, glaring at his reflection.

"Wufei?" Duo wrinkled his nose. "Come on, it was the right choice and you know it. If anyone can back up Relena's diplomatic BS, it's Quatre. He can take care of himself."

"I know that," Trowa said, an edge to his voice.

"But he doesn't know you know that, does he?" Duo guessed cleverly.

Trowa glanced away.

Duo's mouth twitched into a more sympathetic grin. "It's your fault, you know," he pointed out quietly. "Instead of just telling him you're worried about him and just looking out for him, you step in and help whether he needs your help or not. Or wants it or not. It makes it look like you don't have any faith in the guy."

Trowa refused to look at him.

"Jeez, Tro," Duo exclaimed. "You're worse than Heero. Just tell the poor guy how ya feel about him already!"

Trowa flinched violently, eyes jerking towards Duo at last.

"Hey, hey, calm down," Duo said quickly, holding up his hands. "No one else knows-- least of all Quat. But in case you hadn't noticed, I'm a little better at picking up on things like this." He lowered his arms, frowning at Trowa curiously. "By the way, there's definite possibilities there, so why haven't you said anything to him?"

Trowa seemed to consider denial for a moment, then abruptly his shoulders sagged slightly in defeat. His dull gaze returned to his reflection, but there was a cutting undertone of self-disgust in his voice. "That would make me a hypocrite, wouldn't it? After speaking out against Heero and Wufei."

"Sort of. But that was different," Duo said firmly. "There were reasons. Wufei's got his future all planned out for him. He's supposed to get a wife and have kids. You're just a Guardian."

"Whose ultimate concern is Wufei's safety," Trowa added shortly. "No one else's well -being is supposed to get in the way of that."

"You can keep one eye on Quatre and still be a kick-ass bodyguard for Wufei," Duo argued. "I do it all right, don't I? You haven't seen anyone throw a hissy-fit about me and Hil, even if it's obvious some people don't really approve. But you know what? I don't give a good god damn what anyone else thinks. I like Hilde. A lot. Too much, maybe." A smile crept across his mouth unconsciously as his thoughts wandered momentarily towards the girl. "She's smart, she's tough as nails, and she won't take shit from no one. Not even me. It's not every day you find a girl like her; I'm not giving her up just because some stuck-up traditionalists sneer down their noses at us."

Trowa shook his head slightly. "At least she's a she," he pointed out quietly.

"Hey, I'm not saying you have to shout it from the rooftops," Duo snorted. "You can still be with Quatre and not make it some big public thing. Heero and Wufei manage to pull it off just fine."

"And look what it's doing to them." Trowa met Duo's gaze. "They have to keep it a secret, and even I can tell how much that bothers Wufei. And how hard it is for Heero to act aloof around him when there are other people nearby."

"Yeah, but half of what's tearing them up is the fact that they're absolutely forbidden to be together, and that soon Wufei's gonna be with someone else," Duo countered. "You don't have that problem. No one's expecting you to get hitched anytime soon."

"I think this is the point where I remind you that this is none of your business."

Duo grinned impishly. "Yeah, so what?" He turned on his heel, waving over his shoulder. "Just think about it, Tro. Do you really wanna keep all that inside the rest of your life? You'll only push him away. I'll see ya later. I'm gonna show Hilde the rest of the colony. Let me know when Relena and Quatre get back." Then he was gone, leaving Trowa alone with his desperate thoughts.

What did someone famous for his impenetrable mask have to offer a boy who wore his heart on his sleeve?


"Relena." Milliardo got to his feet the instant Noin led the two teenagers into his office. He came around his desk and was across the room in a few long strides. They embraced quickly but tightly, and the relief was evident in the older man's voice. "Do you have any idea how worried I was when I found out you'd been kidnapped?"

"I'm sorry," Relena said, smiling up at him. Her heart swelled happily. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed her brother since he'd left home years ago to join the war effort. "I should have tried to get a message to you."

"Are you all right? Did they treat you decently?" He shot a quick, suspicious look over her head at Quatre.

"Yes, of course." Relena stepped back, holding her hand towards Quatre. He inclined his head respectfully towards the Baron as he was introduced. "This is Quatre Winner. He's..."

"One of your kidnappers," Milliardo said in sudden realization, eyes narrowing.

"No, Milliardo, he's a friend," Relena insisted, afraid he would call for the guards. "It's not what you think. He... well, he sort of works for Wufei and his family."

"What is he doing here?"

"Technically I'm her temporary bodyguard," Quatre said tactfully. "But I'm also here to help her try and convince you to pull your men back."

"Bodyguard?" Milliardo's eyes were snapping. "You helped kidnap my sister and dragged her halfway across the known galaxy, and you think you're her bodyguard? On my ship??"

"Please, Milliardo!" Relena grasped his hand, staring up at him earnestly. "Just listen. Father is down there. He wants me to be here. But Wufei's people have some kind of grudge against you. You have to pull the fleet back before they think you're a serious threat and come out to fight you."

"I have no interest in this colony," Milliardo assured her. "I only came out here to get you. What is Father doing down there, and why didn't he come aboard with you?"

"He's sick. They're caring for him. And..." Relena hesitated. "I can't go with you."

Milliardo turned a stern glare on her. "What are you talking about?"

Noin sensed that this was family business and prudently excused herself from the room.

"I have to stay here," Relena insisted. "It's... complicated. But I promise you I'm perfectly safe."

"The hell you are," Milliardo said shortly. "I'm getting you and Father out of here. Treize's armada is coming this way. They'll be here in an hour. We don't have time for this, Relena. If we're still here when earth's army gets here, there's going to be a battle, and I won't put you in the middle of it."

"Treize Kushrenada arrived at Yeong this morning," Quatre spoke up. "Uninvited, might I add. It's no surprise his army is following him."

"What!" Milliardo took a step back in surprise. "What is that idiot doing here??"

"His welcome is just about up," Quatre assured him. "We were hoping to get rid of him before his men showed up. But if it's true they're nearly here, then we have less time than we thought." He sent Relena a meaningful look.

Relena realized she had only minutes to talk some sense into her brother, and the part of little sister wasn't working. She released her brother's hand and straightened, firming her voice. "We're here on behalf of Chang Fei and his people. In the interest of peace, please pull your men out. Your presence is only making them nervous, and it's only a matter of time before they send out their own forces. If you face them, many men are going to die. They're a small colony, but they're very proud and brave. They'll all die if it means keeping you away from Yeong and Wufei."

Milliardo stared down at her, nonplussed. The child he'd left behind when he'd gone to space to fight was gone. The regal young woman before him was the Relena he'd always hoped she'd become one day, but it was startling to actually see her in the flesh. Unconsciously he fell back into his official role as the commander of the colonist forces. "We have no wish to attack this colony, especially now that we know you're safe. We have no quarrel with them. But if they refuse to hand you over, they're going to have to deal with the consequences."

"There will be no 'handing over', because this is my choice," Relena said quietly but firmly. "A wise man once told me 'there's always a choice'. Life is about choices, good or bad, easy or hard. I've made mine. I'm staying with Wufei. He needs me right now. And if by staying I can help him and these people, then that's what I'll do. You can't attack them and say it's for my sake, because I'm not being held against my will, and I have no intention of going anywhere right now. Now it's your time to make a choice. You can take me away from here against my will and consequently stir Yeong into a fight, or you can pull your men back and get as far away as possible before General Kushrenada's men get here and start a bloodbath. And as you said, you don't have much time before they arrive. So I need your decision, and I need it now."

Milliardo stared first at her, then at Quatre. Finally he looked back to his sister, mouth pulled in a frown of frustration and disbelief. "You can't expect me to just leave you here," he said at last.

"I expect you to be the honorable man I know you are," Relena said quietly. "And to make the right choice. Otherwise a lot of good people are going to die today."

There was a long moment of strained silence, interrupted by a sharp rap on the door. It slid open at Milliardo's impatient call, and Noin poked her head in. "I'm sorry to interrupt, sir, but the weapon master says we have only a short while before Kushrenada's armada is close enough for visual confirmation. He wants to know if we should muster the men or retreat."

Milliardo turned and walked quickly over to his desk, shoulders stiff and hands clasped behind his back as he stared blankly at the wall.

Noin hesitated. "..Sir...?"

Milliardo addressed his sister, tone subdued. "This Wufei you spoke of... I spoke with him recently. He said some things..." He paused. "He's from L5, isn't he? So are these people."

"Yes," Quatre answered quietly. "They are all that's left of that colony."

"I see." Milliardo's head lowered. "Please pass along to him that no one is more sorry for that tragedy than I am. The men who were responsible did so without my approval or knowledge, and I personally saw to it that they were imprisoned when I learned of their actions. It's little solace now, I'm sure, but I want him to know they were punished for their crimes."

"Thank you," Quatre murmured, eyes sad and lost in the past. "I'll make sure he knows."

"Good." Milliardo was silent for a moment, then he turned, the Lightning Count once more as he nodded at Noin. "Pull the men in. We're retreating for now. Make sure Relena and her shuttle make it safely back to the colony."

Relena and Quatre glanced at each other in surprise and relief. "Thank you, Milliardo," Relena breathed. "You're making the right choice. I have to go, but..." she stared across the room at her brother sadly. "Please be careful. I hope to see you again soon." She turned to go, but Milliardo spoke up suddenly.

"Don't get too comfortable there, Relena. When it's safe, I'm coming back for you. And you'd better be ready to explain all of this."

"...All right," Relena relented. "But please try to understand that these are good people. They just want to be left alone to enjoy their freedom and their customs."

Milliardo nodded, but was still frowning.

Quatre and Relena inclined their heads in farewell and followed Noin back towards the hangar.

Quatre reached out at one point and squeezed Relena's hand briefly, offering an encouraging smile. "Excellent job, Miss Peacecraft," he whispered. "Your father will be proud of you. Yeong owes you a debt of gratitude for this."

Relena smiled back, sad and elated all at once. "I told you my brother was a good man."

"Yes. He is."

They didn't speak again until the small shuttle was on its return flight to Yeong.


Relena's news of Milliardo's retreat was greeted with relief and joy, but it was short-lived.

"The General's army?" Hui, the Council leader, sent a sharp look towards Jianguo. The Council had gathered to hear Relena's report, and the mood had immediately darkened once more at the revelation of the armada's approach. "They've followed him here. We've gotten rid of one threat only to face a greater one. We have no hope of standing against that many men."

"And Kushrenada has the Mobile Dolls," Wufei pointed out ominously, tapping a finger irritably against the tabletop. He glanced at Heero, seated beside him as always. "You know more about them. What are we up against? They're automated; could that be used to our advantage?"

Heero shook his head. "They react quicker than a Suit piloted by a man," he admitted solemnly. "They're extremely quick and accurate. I've faced them once before, but only a few at a time. He has countless numbers of them in his army. Too many for us to face, even with the Gundams. And because they're unmanned, they're disposable. Kushrenada puts the lives of his men high on his list of priorities; if we killed enough of them, he might draw back..."

"But robots without pilots are dispensable," Shen finished, looking troubled.

Junbao had been silent at the last gathering, but he spoke up gravely. "The General has overstayed his welcome. He must leave, and take his army with him. Let him chase after the Lightning Count."

Wufei was glad Heero chose not to translate that for Relena.

Jianguo turned his eyes on his grandson. "It's decided, then. You and Councilor Shen speak to General Kushrenada. Be as polite as possible, but make sure you are firm. He must contact his men and tell them to stay away from Yeong. Then he must make preparations to leave."

Wufei nodded, and rose with the others to bow as their Lord got stiffly to his feet and left.

"This will be a fun conversation," Wufei growled in Basic as he waited for Shen to finish a hushed conversation with Junbao.

Heero looked just as displeased with the thought of being anywhere near Treize, but kept his comments to himself as Shen finally headed over.

"Come," Shen said with a secret smile. "I think your grandfather wishes you to do this to give you experience, but also to keep you away from all the activity. Much work is being done to make your birthday a memorable one."

Wufei forced a tight little smile in response, and the three of them set off for the guest room where Treize and his daughter were staying. Wufei wondered idly if he should bother reminding Heero not to strangle Mariemaia or just let him at it, and glanced at his Primary out of the corner of his eye.

The man beside him met his gaze solemnly with his one good eye, the other milky white, the skin around the lid scarred terribly. He was tall and solid with muscle, his clothes simple but ancient. The hilt of the sword at his hip was worn and nicked from years of use. He was rugged but handsome, and after a moment his lips lifted in a faint smile.

Wufei jerked away, eyes wild. "Who--"

Heero stared back at him, frowning in bemusement. "What is it?"

Wufei blinked rabidly, and realized belatedly that he'd come to a complete stop. Shen had stopped to look back at them in question. "Nothing," he said hastily, trying to make his expression as calm as possible. "Never mind." He shook his head roughly and hurried after Shen. Still frowning, Heero followed after a moment's hesitation.

First the girl and the dying elder, and now this. What was happening to him? These weren't his memories. He'd never seen those people before.

A chill crept up his spine. Or had he?

For a split second, when that man had smiled at him, he'd felt something warm inside of him twist. That smile-- it had been a secret smile. Something just for him.

They'd reached the room, so he forced the strange incident to the back of his mind and took a deep breath to regain his composure. Shen knocked, then held the door open for him. Wufei entered slowly, Heero a solid presence at his side. Wufei took three steps into the room and stopped short.

"Ah, Fei." Treize was seated at the low table in the center of the room, enjoying the tea that had been provided. Mariemaia turned from where she was seated across from him to eye them a bit warily. "What can I do for you?"

Wufei barely heard him. He was staring at the man standing by the window, suit pressed and hair slicked back. He'd turned at the sound of the door opening, and was smiling coolly at Wufei.

"You." Wufei's hand flew to his side for a weapon he wasn't wearing. Heero sensed the sudden tension, and shifted so he was slightly in front of Wufei. Wufei stepped away from him impatiently, glaring at the gray-eyed man. "I remember you."

"Oh, you've met?" Treize looked over his shoulder at the man.

"He was one of the men who accosted me back on earth," Wufei snarled. "The one who.." he reached back unconsciously to press his fingers to his back, just above his Mark.

Heero's eyes narrowed dangerously as he realized what incident Wufei was referring to.

Wufei grasped for a name. "Phillips. You were there that night."

Phillips' smile only widened. "I think you're mistaken."

Fuck diplomacy. Wufei switched to Basic to prevent Shen from hearing the rude words he spat at Treize. "Your armada's on the way, and your uninvited little visit is over. Pack your shit and pull your men out of here."

Heero flicked Wufei a quick look, but didn't dare contradict him openly.

Treize looked amused rather than offended.

Shen didn't understand the words, but Wufei's tone was enough to make him step forward hastily. "Translate for me, Yuy." He sent Wufei a disapproving glare before bowing slightly to Treize. "I apologize. He is young and rash. We thank you for your visit, but respectfully ask that you take your leave. Your army is approaching swiftly, and we are uncomfortable with them so close. Please lead your men elsewhere."

"Now," Wufei suggested helpfully.

"Fei," Shen said quietly but firmly, shoulders stiff with disappointment in him, "please wait outside. Yuy, stay and continue to translate."

Wufei opened his mouth to protest angrily, but Heero's head moved in a barely visible shake. Swallowing his words, Wufei turned on his heel and strode out furiously. Heero was right. Best to let Shen handle this before he insulted Treize too badly. He winced, shame replacing his anger as the door shut behind him. Some leader he was turning out to be. If he angered Treize, he risked the entire colony. An army of Mobile Dolls and fiercely loyal troops was on their doorstep, and here he was practically threatening their general.

"Smooth, Chang," he muttered to himself, pacing the hall as he waited anxiously for them to finish. Hopefully Shen would be able to handle it better and convince Treize to depart.

Ten minutes later Shen returned. Heero followed more slowly, expression dark.

Not a good sign.

Before he could ask any questions, Shen turned a displeased frown on him. "I am disappointed in you, Fei," he said gravely. "That was no way for the future Lord of Yeong to act. Do you realize you could have sparked a war between your people and his?"

Wufei winced. "I know. I'm sorry. I didn't think. It's just that man, Phillips- -"

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to," Shen cut him off sternly, motioning towards the door.

Wufei gritted his teeth, but obeyed, opening the door and entering slowly.

Trieze looked up expectantly, and Wufei wrestled his pride and hate down and forced himself to bow stiffly and quickly. Everything in him writhed at the polite gesture given to someone he held no respect for. "I apologize," he said, words clipped and grudging. "I was out of line."

"No hard feelings, Fei," Treize assured him, smiling in vague amusement. "By the way, I was unaware that it was your big day. Happy birthday and many happy returns. I'm afraid the short notice means I won't be able to offer you a proper gift, but I'll come up with something before tonight."

Wufei had been staring at a point on the wall somewhere to the left of Treize's head, but his gaze jerked and held with the older man's in disbelief. "Tonight?" he repeated sharply.

"Of course." Treize got to his feet, still smiling faintly. "I am on my way to call and tell my men to fall back. Councilor Shen has agreed to speak with your grandfather and let me stay for the celebration. It would be rude of me to leave before the party."

Wufei stared at him, stunned, unable to speak. Every phrase that popped into his word was rude or outright challenging. Before he could fumble for something a little more tactful, Treize was already slipping on his coat. "Now if you'll excuse me, I must go make that call. I'll see you tonight."

Wufei opened and shut his mouth, then turned and hurried back into the hall. He stared at Shen accusingly the moment the door was safely shut behind him. "You invited him to this blasted party??" he hissed.

Shen looked confused at his displeasure. "He has agreed to call off his men, and he has forgiven you your rudeness. I see nothing wrong with allowing him to stay an additional night. Especially after your stunt back there. We must make sure he knows we don't view him as an enemy."

"He's my enemy," Wufei snapped. "He's a dishonorable dog, and the sooner he gets off this colony, the better!"

"You have a lot to learn, Fei," Shen said sternly. "You should learn to be more like your bride-to-be. She is able to put the interests of her people above her own personal feelings. If you ever hope to rule wisely, you must learn to do the same."

The door opened, but suddenly Wufei didn't trust himself to look at Treize and keep the resentment out of his expression. He stalked off, Heero following on his heels, his own eyes narrowed with frustration.

But a part of Wufei knew that Shen was right. He may not like Treize, but in the interest of his people, he had to be civil, even towards a slimy jackass like Kushrenada.

It was only for one night, after all.

Author's Notes: The thing about Shenlong was skipped on purpose; it'll be brought up later.

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