Chapter 51: "Marked by Destiny"
The evening was ruined.
The guests were politely but hastily asked to return home, and they reluctantly left, whispering in curiosity to each other. Some of them caught brief glimpses of the young Master, and the sight of him only sparked more excited rumors. He stood listlessly in the shadows, eyes vacant, face pale and drawn, clothes rumpled. And was that smudge on his collar blood? Relena Peacecraft stood several feet away, refusing to look at him and absently massaging a bandaged hand. She looked as if she was trying hard not to cry.
And Lord Chang had just been rushed to the infirmary.
Clearly something was wrong.
Fei's Primary stood at his side, bristling whenever someone passed too close. He hovered over the his charge like an anxious bloodhound, and the guests gave them a wide berth. After a few minutes the other Guardians made their way quickly through the crowd and surrounded their leige in a protective circle that he barely seemed to notice, blocking him from view. They let no one but the girl Hilde approach, and she slipped through them and began speaking quietly to the blank-faced heir, clasping his hand in support.
Whatever was going on, they would not find out tonight. Buzzing with curiosity but unable to get answers, the puzzled guests trickled out of the main house and through the gardens. The gates shut behind them and-- for the first time in years --were solidly locked and barred.
"Wufei?" Hilde kept her voice low and comforting, ducking her head a bit as she tried to catch her friend's eye. "Wufei, what happened?" She glanced towards Relena, but the girl was very deliberately not looking their way, and the air between her and Wufei was frosty. She stood a healthy distance away from them all. "Wufei..." Hilde squeezed her friend's hand hard, worried for him. He was beginning to scare her. "Are you all right? Please tell me what happened." After a moment she gave up and looked expectantly up at Heero. "Heero, what's going on?"
But Heero only shook his head once to show his ignorance. "I'm not allowed in the dragon's room," he admitted, looking angry at himself for not having been able to protect Wufei from whatever had occurred behind those heavy doors. "They were only inside a few minutes, then I heard Wufei shouting for help. When I ran in..." his eyes flickered down the hallway, towards the infirmary. "His grandfather had passed out. I think Relena burned her hand on the lantern--"
"No." They all looked quickly at Wufei at his quiet denial. He was still staring vacantly into space, but his mouth was tight in self-anger. "I did that to her. Me. It was an accident... She tried to touch the Mark, and I..."
Heero and Duo exchanged a quick glance over his head.
"No, Wufei," Quatre soothed, "it's not your fault. You can't control how the Mark reacts to certain people. You were uptight, and maybe it just... it thought you were in trouble, or..."
"'It'?" Wufei repeated sharply. "It's an ink tattoo, Quatre. Stop talking about it like it has a mind of its own. I don't know why it happened, or how, but it's my fault."
Quatre looked helplessly at Trowa.
"I don't suppose the name Nezha means anything to any of you," Wufei said dully, still refusing to look at any of them.
Heero frowned, cocking his head. After a moment, he said with a faint note of uncertainty, "Nataku?"
Wufei focused on him at last, eyes narrowing. "What?"
"I think it means the same thing. Not the word-- it's a name from a legend; in Japanese it's Nataku. The same character, with a different name."
"Character?" Wufei repeated blankly. But something was tickling at the back of his brain. No, Heero was right. Somehow, the name was familiar to him. Something he'd read as a child...
Hilde was studying his face in confusion. "What happened in there, Wufei?"
Mingzhu came hurrying up, looking flustered and tense. "Fei," she called sharply. She beckoned impatiently. "Come. Your grandfather is asking for you."
Wufei followed silently in long strides, his Guardians still clustered around him protectively. Hilde started to follow, but stopped when she noticed Relena hanging back.
"Relena? Are you all right?"
Relena looked down at her bandaged hand, mouth pulled down in a bitter frown. "I could feel it, Hilde," she muttered. "That thing on his back... it was as if it was... angry at me. Like I had no right to..." She laughed shortly. "It sounds so foolish. It's just a tattoo..." She stared at Hilde. "Wufei's grandfather kept saying something about... 'rejection'. I don't understand. What did I do wrong?"
She looked ready to cry, so Hilde decided to leave Wufei and his grandfather to some privacy and look after someone who would let her help. She put her arm around the girl's shoulders in comfort and led her slowly back towards her room. "Don't worry about it, he didn't know what he was saying. He's very sick. Come on, we'll get you some hot tea and you can get some sleep. You'll feel better in the morning. This is all just a big misunderstanding, you'll see."
They turned a corner and Hilde squeaked with surprise when she almost collided with someone coming from the other direction. A hand on her shoulder steadied her, and she gazed up at Zhao in surprise. "Zhao--" She stepped back, and he released his loose grip. "What are you doing here?"
"That old hag--" he gestured in the direction Mingzhu had gone with Wufei and the others-- "told me to make sure the two of you were escorted to your quarters." He looked on the verge of rolling his eyes. "Apparently you're both in need of a babysitter."
Hilde glared at him and led Relena around him. "We can make it just fine on our own, thank you very much," she snapped. "If you've got more important things to do, then by all means, don't let me hold you back."
"Don't act like a child." Zhao stepped back in her path, and noticed Relena's hand for the first time. He reached for it without thinking. "What the hell happ--"
Relena jerked her hand out of reach reflexively, then winced in apology. "Please don't touch it," she said quietly. "It hurts."
"Just let me see it." Before she could pull away, he snatched her wrist and lifted her hand up for inspection. Hilde opened her mouth to protest, but Zhao was surprisingly gentle, and took care to barely touch the wrapped wound. "A cut?"
"A burn," Relena corrected. "They put some kind of salve on it, but it still hurts."
"Here." Zhao reached in his pocket with one hand and held up a tiny jar. "Try this instead. It will also keep it from getting infected. The ointment they probably gave you is a mild one, mostly for sunburns."
"Thank you," Relena murmured, accepting the gift.
Hilde eyed Zhao a bit warily, confused by his attitude. "Aren't we full of surprises," she noted. "Usually you just act like a jerk."
The solemn professionalism was gone the minute he released Relena and turned his gaze on Hilde, lip lifting in a sneer. "And you act like an ill-bred little girl. Don't take it personally; I've studied medicine. I'm just doing my job."
"Well, thanks, but you don't need to escort us. We're just fine. And we're in Wufei's house; it's not like we have anything to be careful about." Hilde hoped she looked more confident than she felt. She'd seen how close an eye Duo and the others kept on Wufei, and it made her nervous. But she didn't want Zhao's company if she could help it.
"Fine, be that way," Zhao said dismissively, waving his hand for them to go. "I have better things to do anyway."
He barely waited for them to get around him, then he was striding off on his own business. Hilde watched him go over her shoulder. "That guy really gives me the creeps," she admitted under her breath.
As the daughter of a high-ranking official and the future bride of Wufei, Relena had earned herself a pair of guards outside her door.
There was one man standing outside her door, but it wasn't a guard. Hilde came to a stop when she spotted him, but before she could decide whether or not to proceed, he turned towards them and inclined his head in greeting. Hilde recognized him as the gray-eyed man who'd been with Mariemaia earlier. Duo had later told her grimly to stay away from him if she could help it.
"What do you want?" Hilde demanded quietly.
"Oh, it's not me," Phillips assured her, smiling slickly. He gestured towards the door. "Miss Mariemaia wishes to speak with you, if you have a moment."
Relena stiffened, seeming to pay attention to the conversation at last. She looked up suddenly. "I have no wish to speak with Miss Kushrenada," she said sharply. "Where are the men who are supposed to be outside my door?"
Phillips ignored that. He opened the door and waited.
Hilde and Relena exchanged a quick, alarmed look.
"We can't trust that little monster," Hilde hissed.
Relena took a deep breath. "In the end, she's just a child," she murmured, barely moving her lips. "We can overpower her if we have to. We'll listen to what she has to say, then ask her to leave. Just keep your distance and--"
"Don't eat or drink anything in the room," Hilde finished grimly. She tilted her head towards Phillips, keeping her voice low. "What about him? I don't like the thought of him being on the other side of that door by himself. Duo said he's dangerous."
"You go get the guards; I'll keep Mariemaia occupied."
"No way," Hilde cut her off firmly. "I'm not leaving you alone with them."
"Then we don't have much of a choice, do we?" And before Hilde could protest further, Relena lifted her chin and swept regally into the room. Watching Phillips distrustfully out of the corner of her eye, Hilde followed more slowly.
Mariemaia was seated at the low table, sipping calmly at a tiny china cup. Someone had brought tea in. "Miss Peacecraft." She set the cup down carefully and rose to her feet. Like the other two girls, she was still dressed up from the party, though her outfit was Terran. She dipped a quick little curtsy. "If you have a moment..." she gestured to the table.
Relena stood gazing down at her regally, refusing to sit, hands clasped before her. "You aren't welcome here, Mariemaia," she said quietly but firmly. "Or did you think we'd all have forgiven you already for your treachery on Howard's ship?"
"Treachery?" Mariemaia took a seat and reached for her cup. "That's a bit harsh. I already tried to explain myself to you--"
"There is no explanation for poisoning myself and Fei," Relena cut her off coolly. "Or for your attempt on his mother's life."
"Foster mother," Mariemaia corrected.
Hilde took two quick steps closer to the table and glared down at the child. "She's his mother in all ways that matter. At least he has a parent that cares about him."
Surprisingly, Mariemaia kept a grip on her unpredictable temper. "Are you suggesting mine does not?" She glanced up at Hilde through her lashes. "And as long as we're going to take low blows at each other's families, might I point out that at least I still have my real parents?"
Hilde bristled. "Don't bring my stepfather into this," she spat. "He's as much a father to me as Wufei's foster mother is family to him! What is your problem? And how did you know about that, anyway??"
"I checked everyone's backgrounds," Mariemaia said primly. "As much as I could find, anyhow. I like to know everything I can about those I share time with."
Relena spoke up loudly to stop the argument. "What do you want, Mariemaia?"
"Allow me to point out the obvious," Mariemaia said, pouring herself more tea. "You aren't fit to rule here. You're a pascifist who knows nothing of war, and has no appreciation for ugly necessities. You'd never even heard of L5 or Chang's people until the past few days. You're a mouse, Relena. Granted, a mouse with a flair for diplomacy, but a mouse nonetheless. What these people need is a tiger, and they got one-- Wufei. But to pair that tiger with a mouse..." she shook her head sorrowfully. "It's foolish. Wufei deserves more-- his people deserve more."
Relena had swayed back slightly, face closing off at the mention of her betrothal. The humiliation from the incident with the Mark was still there. She unconsciously pulled her bandaged hand to her chest.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Hilde demanded acidly. "Relena's not meant to rule, you twit. That's Wufei's job. Relena won't have any real power here."
"Correct, she won't technically 'rule'," Mariemaia murmured. "Besides, the Council is full of misogynist men. But everyone knows behind every good man--"
"Is a bodyguard with a sword," Hilde finished in a low voice.
There was a tense moment of silence. Mariemaia stared up at Hilde, visibly fighting to keep her expression serene. "I'm sorry," she said with forced civility, "are you insinuating something?"
"Insinuating? No." Hilde placed her hands on her hips and glared down at the younger girl. "Wufei and Relena have to be civil towards you, but being an 'uninvited guest', I don't feel the crushing need to follow their example, so let me be blunt."
Mariemaia set her cup down firmly and gazed up at her with hard eyes. "Please do."
"All right, then." Hilde circled the table slowly so she was standing only a foot or two from Mariemaia. "I don't trust you or your headcase of a father. I think you're a spoiled, deceitful, twisted little brat, and if it was up to me, I'd have had you either kicked off the colony or thrown in a dark room with no windows the minute you set foot in this house. And let me make something perfectly clear: the Guardians don't trust you, either. And if I were you, I wouldn't want four angry men with swords watching me for an excuse to run me through. Because all they need is one reason." She leaned over suddenly and held her finger up in Mariemaia's face. "One. It doesn't even have to have any solid proof behind it. If they so much as think you're planning to hurt Wufei, they have every right to take you out. So..." her eyes narrowed, "I would be very very careful about who I pissed off if I were you."
"Bitch!" Mariemaia leapt to her feet and threw her tea into Hilde's face, catching her completely off guard. Hilde gasped, stumbling back and wiping frantically at her face in an attempt to get rid of the scalding liquid.
Mariemaia looked as if she was about to start screeching-- or worse --but suddenly Relena straightened and shouted, "GET OUT!"
The sheer volume was enough to cause both young women to freeze and gape at her. Even Relena covered her mouth sheepishly.
The doors opened and Phillips stepped inside, looking around quickly. "Everything all right, Lady?"
Mariemaia glanced at him, face still red with anger, and didn't speak.
An instant later Phillips was bowled aside, and two armored guards appeared in the doorway with grim faces, summoned by Relena's parade-ground voice. "Miss Peacecraft, is there a problem here?" the bigger guard grunted, glaring suspiciously around the room.
Relena took a deep breath to compose herself and jerked her chin towards Mariemaia. "Miss Kushrenada has overstayed her welcome. She--"
"Was just leaving," Phillips cut in hastily, shooting Mariemaia a warning glare. Scowling, she reluctantly crossed the room to join him.
"Where were you?" Relena demanded, staring up at the guards. "Only this man was here."
They exchanged a quick, puzzled look. "You sent for us," the shorter one insisted. "We went to find you, but you weren't where we were told you would be."
Relena turned a frosty look on Mariemaia. "Imagine that."
Mariemaia sneered at her and stalked out, Phillips close on her heels. Once Relena had assured the guards she was safe and they had returned to their stations just outside the room, she hurried to the small basin of water by her bed. "Oh my god, Hilde, are you all right??" She dabbled a cloth in the water and hurried back over to her friend. "Here, put down your hands, let me try to cool it off."
Hilde lowered her hands reluctantly, wincing as Relena carefully pat at her face with the wet cloth. "Ouch... that little brat." She managed a tight smile. "I'm fine. Though I have to say you almost scared me half to death when you shouted like that. Good grief, Relena! I didn't know you had that much volume in you. I've never heard you get like that."
Relena gave an embarrassed little laugh, cheeks pink. "You forget, I grew up with a brother who was attending a military academy. I would trail after the drill sergeants when I was a little girl, repeating their orders in a squeaky voice. One of them thought it was pretty funny, and he taught me about diaphram control..." She shrugged. "I've only ever practiced it a few times before. It's pretty, um... unladylike."
Hilde laughed affectionately at her friend. "I think it's awesome."
Relena couldn't help but smile back.
Wufei felt numb and detached as he stood over his grandfather's bed in the infirmary, clasping the limp wrinkled hand in a tight grip. He barely heard the distressed babbling around him. Mingzhu, the nurses, and a few of the Council members were crowded in the infirmary, frantically trying to understand what had brought down their Lord.
Heero hovered by Wufei's shoulder, while Duo stood close by, watching the crowd with an unreadable expression. Quatre and Trowa stuck close to the door.
"This is all my fault," Wufei murmured, staring dully down at his grandfather's face, strained and contorted with pain even in slumber.
"This has nothing to do with you," Heero said sharply, taking care to keep his voice low. "Your grandfather's old, and he's had too much excitement in the past few days. He just pushed himself too hard."
"No." Wufei shook his head slowly. "It's because of what happened in the Dragon Room," he insisted. "I had some weird vision again, and the Mark, it..."
Mingzhu turned quickly, hearing just enough to catch her keen interest. "The Mark?" she interrupted. "What about it?"
Everyone had turned to stare at him, but Wufei barely noticed. "It hurt her," he mumbled, wondering if he was squeezing his grandfather's hand too tightly. "She touched it, and it hurt her..."
"That's ridiculous," sputtered one of the Council members. "Now that it's nearly mature, it should only lash out at those Master Chang views as a threat! Miss Peacecraft is his betrothed! It should be accepting her, not--"
There was a sudden hush at Wufei's words.
Hui, leader of the Council, studied Wufei with narrowed, contemplative eyes. "Why do you choose that word?"
"It's what my grandfather said before he passed out," Wufei said, still unable to drag his gaze away from the frail form on the bed. "Something about... 'rejection'."
The oldest members of the Council exchanged quick looks, though they looked mostly uncertain. But Mingzhu's face was pale, and she was staring at Heero as if she'd never seen him before. Heero instinctively took a step back so that he wasn't quite so close to Wufei, but she was already looking away, mouth closed so tightly her lips were white as marble. She said nothing, but Wufei watched her and felt a stirring of despair in his stomach.
She knew. Somehow, she knew.
He waited, breath held, for her to start shouting accusations, but she said nothing, and she wouldn't look at either him or his Primary. For some reason her silence made Wufei feel even more guilty.
But how had she...?
Glancing at Heero, Wufei had a sudden suspicion that made bile rise into his throat in sudden near-panic.
Heero had touched his Mark more times than anyone. And he'd been the last to interact with it before Relena in the Room. If that had anything to do with the 'rejection'...
Heero was staring back, eyes just a little bit wider than normal. His thoughts ran parallel with Wufei's own.
"There has to be a way to fix this," Wufei hissed under his breath in Basic.
"It was just a fluke," Heero muttered back, half out of hope, half out of denial.
"They could have warned me," Wufei muttered. "I would have made sure no one touched the damned thing!" At least, he found himself thinking with shaky relief, it had been Heero that had the most contact with the Mark, and not Duo or Mariemaia or somebody else.
"We'll deal with that later," Shen said finally. "Right now our Lord is unwell, and we have no way of knowing how long it will be until he is well again. We still have another month until New Year's." He spread his arms wide, voicing the one worry no one had been bold enough to mention yet. "We are without a leader."
Worried eyes swung Hui's way. The old man folded his hands into his sleeves and squinted at the ceiling as if searching his mind for the laws he had been taught since his youth. "In those situations when the current Lord is unable to carry out his role, temporary leadership falls to whichever next of kin is of-age." He glanced at Wufei sideways. "Which as of today, is Master Chang."
Wufei's voice came out higher than normal. "What??"
Some of the Council members began muttering in surprise and disapproval.
"Yes," grumbled one of the younger members, glowering openly. "How convenient."
Duo bristled and stepped forward before anyone else could respond. "What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded, glaring at the man. "Watch your mouth before I watch it for you."
"Duo," Wufei said sharply before the angry Councilmen could start shouting.
"How dare you!" sputtered the man who had spoken, glaring at Duo in a mix of anger and nervousness.
"Don't go accusing Fei with your bullshit paranoid theories, and we won't have a problem," Duo practically purred, drumming his fingers meaningfully on the hilt of the sword at his belt.
"Control your Guardian!" the man shot at Wufei. "He speaks out of turn."
The tension in the room stirred Wufei's own temper. "I'm getting sick of being told how and how not to treat my Guardians," he snapped. "You people are the ones that appointed them, and taught them to be overprotective trigger-happy bodyguards. If I think they're out of line, I'll call them on it. Meanwhile, all of you can stop acting like they shouldn't be allowed to speak out loud in the first place." He turned his attention away from the gaping man and threw a warning look Duo's way. "Maxwell-- shut the hell up. Councilman Hui--" he glanced towards the calm old man, "are you sure that's what the law says?"
Hui nodded solemnly.
The man who'd spoken up before looked ready to speak again, but Junbao quelled him with a hard stare.
Mingzhu spoke up at last. "That's impossible," she insisted. "He hasn't even begun his formal training! Fei hasn't studied since he was a child!"
Shen cleared his throat. "If I might make a suggestion..?" Wufei tilted his chin towards the older man, and everyone reluctantly gave him their attention. Shen gestured respectfully towards Mingzhu. "Why not continue his studies? You may personally oversee them. As far as ruling..." he glanced at Wufei, "perhaps it would be best if the Council took a more prominent-- but temporary --role. He may learn by watching, and assist as he comes to know our laws better."
Wufei shot a quick look towards Mingzhu, but her expression was unreadable. Everyone waited tensely, staring at him. Grateful for Shen's level head, he inclined his head towards Hui, calling on all the manners his foster mother had ever taught him. "I think that would be best for Yeong overall," he admitted. "My aunt is right; I'm not ready to take my grandfather's place yet, and everyone in this room knows it."
Everyone visibly relaxed, satisfied with the arrangement. Only Mingzhu was still frowning, though she kept her thoughts to herself.
"With that out of the way..." Shen turned an anxious expression Wufei's way. "What of your young bride-to-be? She seemed quite shaken, and her hand--"
Mingzhu drew herself up regally, tone severe. "What goes on in that room is the business of the Chang family," she said firmly. "Miss Peacecraft is, as you say, shaken by what she may have seen or heard there, whatever that may be, but she is in good health. Now I think it is time we leave Master Chang a moment's peace with his grandfather."
Murmuring in agreement, the Council shuffled out. Wufei chanced a grateful look towards Mingzhu, but she refused to look his way, back still straight, shoulders stiff. Soon only she, Wufei, and the Guardians remained in the room.
"Fei," she said in a quiet voice of steel, "I want you to tell me the truth. The Mark caused the burn on her hand, didn't it?"
Wufei could see no point in lying. "Yes," he said shortly.
"Was it deliberate on your part?"
"No. I've never been able to control its... reactions.. to another's touch."
Mingzhu took a deep breath, lips pressed tight together. Still she refused to look at her nephew. The Guardians exchanged quick glances. Heero was tense as a wire, but he didn't speak.
"You were confused and uncertain when you went to the dragon, no doubt," Mingzhu finally said slowly. "Perhaps the importance of the ceremony should have been explained to you in more detail. I will talk of it to you later, and you will try again once Miss Peacecraft is feeling better. Winner will be the one to escort you. Until then, I expect to see you in the library every day at seven A.M. sharp, where we will carry out your studies."
Wufei nodded mutely. Without another word, she swept out of the room.
"...Dude," Duo muttered after she'd left, "I think you'd better tell us exactly what the hell happened in that room."
Wufei turned to stare at him in silence for a long moment. "No," he said abruptly. "I'll tell you when you tell me why you call yourself 'Maxwell'."
Duo stiffened, eyes flashing with sudden wariness and unease, but he didn't respond. Trowa and Quatre looked at him, puzzled. Wufei waited a moment, then turned his eyes on his grandfather. "He was fine until just a couple of hours ago," he muttered. "This came out of nowhere. If you're so antsy, Duo, I have a job for you."
Duo smirked coldly. "Way ahead of ya, buddy. I'll go have a little look-see in our beloved little Mariemaia's bedchambers."
"I'll keep her busy in the meantime," Quatre said quietly.
Wufei wrapped his hand around his grandfather's wrinkled one. "God help her if you find poison in her bags."
Hilde ran into Duo in the hall several minutes later, where they had a hushed but intense conversation.
Duo's face grew grim as she told him what had happened with Mariemaia in Relena's room. "She was tired, and those guards don't look like they're going anywhere anytime soon, so I left her alone to get some sleep," Hilde finished up. She wrung her hands together in a mix of anxiety and anger. "I don't trust that little brat. Not after what she did to us all on Howard's ship. I heard about how sick Wufei's grandfather is-- do you think she had anything to do with it?"
"That's what I'm going to find out," Duo admitted grimly. "Quatre's gone ahead to try and distract her and keep her away from her room while I search her stuff. And if I find poison..."
"I'm going with you," Hilde insisted. "I can at least play lookout at the door. And I need to know, too. Otherwise I'll go insane wondering if she's any threat or not."
Duo hesitated, but the promise of a lookout was tempting. "...All right," he conceded. "If Quatre can't keep her away for long, it'd be good to have someone watching the door. But stay quiet and mostly out of sight; try to be as inconspicuous as you can. I'll be quick."
Hilde nodded, and latched onto his hand as he led her quickly towards the guest rooms. At the sound of voices they ducked hastily behind a dusty display of ancient Chinese battle armor, holding their breaths. A moment later Quatre walked by, with Mariemaia listening intently to what he was saying, Phillips trailing behind them slowly with a frown of displeasure on his face.
"Brownie points for Q," Duo breathed as they passed. "Dunno what he's talking about to get her interest, but hopefully it'll keep her busy for a few minutes. C'mon."
They hurried to her room-- it was locked. Duo didn't so much as bat an eye. He shifted his sheathed sword on his belt a bit better and twisted the top of the hilt. It moved, and he unscrewed it quickly, revealing a small hollow inside the hilt.
Hilde arched a brow as he fished out two picks before screwing the lid back on. "Interesting. Do all of you have that?"
"Yeah, it's a Guardian thing. They're useful. They're also a secret, so don't tell anyone. We found out by accident when we were little. No one else knew about 'em. I guess the Guardians before us used to hide smoke bombs or poison in 'em in case they were cornered."
"What do the others keep in their hilts?" Hilde asked curiously, glancing around as he worked at the lock expertly.
"I dunno," Duo muttered distractedly, concentrating on the task at hand. "Well, I know Quatre usually keeps some kind of medication in there. Really powerful painkillers his family used to make; he gave Wufei something similar back on earth once. Trowa's old fashioned; he used to keep cyanide in his, though I don't know if he still does."
Hilde stared at him, aghast. "Does he really think that's necessary?"
"Hey, if he's trapped or captured and all he has to look forward to is questions about Wufei and hours of torture..." Duo trailed off meaningfully.
"Would something like that happen??"
"Dunno, but better safe than sorry. There--" the lock clicked, and he grinned smugly, tucking the picks in his braid for easy access. "All right, I'll try to be quick. You wait here. If you hear someone coming, knock once. If the shit's about to hit the fan, knock twice and then get the hell out of here."
"And just leave you here??" Hilde protested. "No way!"
"I can take care of myself," Duo insisted, opening the door slowly and peeping inside. "Just do it. Don't worry, I should be done before she gets back."
"And if you're not?"
"Then go get Trowa." Duo slipped inside the room and closed the door softly behind him.
Trowa, with a rare show of sensitivity, stepped outside the infirmary to watch the halls and give his friends a few moments alone. Wufei, who still felt a little numb after the day's events, barely noticed. Heero hovered by his shoulder, silent and supportive as they watched Jianguo struggle to breathe properly, face contorted from either pain or dreams.
"What happened to Quatre's empathy?"
Heero glanced at his lover sideways, a little thrown by the random question. "...What?"
Wufei continued to stare down at his grandfather, voice calm. "Is it broken or something? The twit notices something's up two minutes after we've kissed, but there's a big blank spot as far as Trowa's concerned."
Heero watched him in silence for a moment, not missing Wufei's obvious attempt to focus on something a little less harrowing than the day's events. "Duo asked him once," he admitted finally. "Why it was that Quatre seemed as clueless as the rest of us when it came to Trowa's feelings about anything. He thinks Trowa learned to shield himself from Quatre's gift somehow. They practically grew up together; he had plenty of time to learn."
Wufei nodded slowly, studying the age spots on his grandfather's hand. "And maybe Quatre is too afraid of what he'll find out if he does try to feel Trowa out," he murmured in a flash of insight.
Heero reached out and tugged Wufei's ponytail carefully. "Wufei." He pulled a bit harder when Wufei refused to look at him at first. "Nothing that happened today is your fault," he said firmly.
"Maybe not this," Wufei admitted, nodding to the prone figure in the bed. "But the thing with Relena in that room..."
"Did your grandfather explain the Mark to you?"
Wufei hesitated. "Not really," he said slowly. "But the first time I... 'met' the dragon when we landed, she showed me something strange. I didn't really believe it, so I tried not to think about it much." His hand wandered unconsciously towards his Mark. "This family has always been important because there's some legend about a--" he broke off and glanced at Heero out of the corner of his eye. "I found a book in my room when we first arrived. A children's book. I assumed it was something I'd had as a child, so I flipped through it, and..."
Heero frowned, and Wufei hesitated before opening his shirt a bit and pulling out a thin, battered book with a sketchy picture of a dragon on the cover. He opened it and flipped through the dog-eared pages. "Basically it tells the story of a little boy who met a dragon, and asked her to watch after his family if he would do her a favor."
Heero leaned in to study the brightly-colored pictures, puzzled. "I think I remember seeing you with a book like this when we were young," he admitted. "I never read it, though. What kind of 'favor' is it talking about?"
"He promised to capture one of the dragon's enemies. How much do you know about Chinese legends?"
Heero shrugged slightly. "A bit."
"You've at least heard of Sun Wukong? Or... what do you call him in Japanese?"
Heero's face went strangely blank. "...Yes. 'Son Goku'."
"Right. Well the monkey king was a thorn in the dragon's side, so it says she agreed." Wufei flipped to another page and pointed at the picture of a boy standing triumphantly over a fallen monkey twice his size. "The boy tricked Sun Wukong; he captured him and banished him. And in return..." his finger slid to the picture on the next page, "the dragon blessed him and promised to watch after the boy's family. She.. 'Marked' him so that his people would recognize his greatness, and said that so long as there were warriors with pure, strong hearts born to his family, she would recognize them and they would be Marked by their families. Every generation the first-born son would be presented to her, and those that she recogized would be able to achieve some of her powers through this Mark in order to protect his people." He shut the book, staring at Heero.
"It's just a story, Wufei," Heero pointed out.
"Yeah. Just a story." He turned the book around and pointed at the embossed symbol on the back-- an exact replica of the tattoo on his back. "But either these people take their legends extremely literally, or this explains some things in a way I really wish they didn't."
"How my people got ahold of ruyi, for one."
"Don't play dumb with me, Yuy," Wufei snapped, poking the other boy in the chest with the book's corner. "In the legends Sun Wukong stole a staff from the dragon that was able to grow to infinite lengths. They got it back, and have been handing it down to the Primary Guardians over the years to protect those the dragon 'Marks'. You were never allowed to explain it to me, even when we were kids. But I'm not wrong, am I?"
Heero scowled weakly. "They're just stories," he protested. "Whatever they told me during the ceremony when they made me Primary, I knew it was just for show."
"What if it isn't?" Wufei demanded. "Grandfather said something about 'rejection'. That ceremony-- it was as if I had to present my 'bride' to the dragon and get her approval or something. What if the dragon rejected her through the Mark?"
Heero looked uncomfortable. "Even if that were possible," he hedged, "why would it-- she --do that?"
"I don't know," Wufei admitted, frustrated. "Because she knew I didn't want Relena? Maybe just because you were the one to touch the Mark, and now that it's 'matured', it confused things? I don't know." He paused. Something was nibbling frantically at the back of his mind. Something important. Something he'd just said...
Then it was there, clear and simple and impossible. His eyes widened, but before he could blurt out his suspicions, there was a muffled thud from outside the infirmary.
In a flash Heero had drawn the sword at his hip, the steel blade hissing as it slid free of its sheath. He was between Wufei and the door, sword held stiffly across his chest in a defensive position, before Wufei could figure out what the hell had just happened.
The door opened slowly, and Trowa poked his head in. He arched a brow on seeing Heero armed. "It's just Duo. He dropped out of the rafters; he almost had a run-in with Mariemaia on the way back here."
Wufei watched as Heero straightened and sheathed his sword once more in a single fluid motion. It was slim and long, and completely different from the swords the other Guardians carried. It took him a moment to put a name with the blade. Katana. How fitting. Of course Heero would be more adept at a weapon traditionally used by his ancestors, unlike the Chinese dao the others wore.
"Well?" Heero demanded.
But Trowa shook his head once. "No poison in her room. None that he could find, anyway. For the time being, it looks like Mariemaia's innocent. Perhaps Wufei's grandfather is simply sick."
Heero nodded brusquely, and Trowa retreated, closing the door softly behind him once more.
Wufei considered confirming his earlier suspicions, but checked himself at the last minute. No. He was jumping to conclusions. Either way, he doubted he'd get a straight answer, and it might be best to mull over it for awhile in private. For once he'd be the one to keep his cards close to his chest.
Heero turned back to him, and he quickly smoothed his face into a stern mask. "Whether or not she was responsible for my grandfather's current state, I still don't trust the little brat," he said firmly. "I have a bad feeling Kushrenada will use it as an excuse to stay here, and I don't think the Council has the balls to force him off-colony with his armada waiting so close by. Which means we're stuck with him and his harpy of a daughter until my grandfather's well again." He flicked a hard look towards the door. "All of you keep an eye on them. Both of them. And that Phillips bastard as well. The thought of them roaming the colony freely makes my skin crawl."
Heero nodded grimly, hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Gazing at him, Wufei was reminded-- just for an instant --of his vision from earlier, of the scarred man in the hall.
...Why did that make him think of the strange conversation with that woman from his vision in the dragon room?
"Heero," he muttered, staring blankly at the other boy's chest. "I'm tired of feeling like I have no control over my own destiny."
Heero didn't answer right away. He reached out and placed his fingertips to Wufei's cheek, voice a bit softer than normal. "If you really had no control, Relena would be the one in your bed," he pointed out with a slight teasing note.
Wufei snorted, reaching up unconsciously to touch the back of the hand at his cheek. "You're the one who keeps telling me what a bad idea it is."
"It is," Heero admitted reluctantly. "For politics, mostly." He hesitated, then added more quietly, "But you're the one who forced me to think more like a person instead of a 'walking bodybag'."
Wufei flushed a bit at the words, meeting Heero's gaze at last. "What if we ruin everything?" he muttered. "What if everyone is disappointed, and the Peacecraft family is offended, and the Council tries to convince my grandfather to send me back to earth? Doesn't that bother you?"
"...It did," Heero said slowly. "Now... not so much."
"Why not?" Wufei demanded.
"...Because...." Heero's pause was longer this time, as if he couldn't quite find the strength to drag the words out into the open. When he spoke at last, his words were foreign and barely audible. "...Kimi o ai shiteru."
He captured Wufei's mouth with his own, perhaps to avoid having to explain the quiet words.
But Wufei reached up silently and tangled his fingers in thick brown hair, leaning into the kiss.
For once, he didn't need a translation.
Author's Notes: Before anyone familiar with the name jumps on me... 'Nataku' or 'Nezha' was not the name of a dragon, obviously, and doesn't make sense if you know who Nezha is, but it fits this story because Wufei used "Nataku" in the GW series, and... well, I'll be able to explain it better once more things are explained ^^;
Also, I'd mentioned a time-skip, but I forgot about the things that had to happen this chapter, so no time-skip just yet. Not til the next chapter.
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