Chapter 57: "Release"
Wufei was wavering on the brink of unconsciousness when the guard suddenly came to a halt and deposited him uncerimoniously on the hard ground. Wufei drew in a sharp breath at the pain, struggling to focus.
He could hear muffled voices calling his name, and blinked rapidly as the world around him slowly came into red-tinged focus. He was in the great hall, the walls lined with almost a score of Treize's men. Bound and forced to kneel nearby were his Guardians, the girls, Mingzhu, and the frightened members of the council. Farther away were a few other people of his court, including Zhao, which surprised Wufei a bit. They were being guarded closely.
Trowa was lying on his back, breathing harshly, a rough bloody bandage on his knee. Quatre was kneeling beside him, watching him anxiously.
Wufei struggled to get to his knees, and a hard shoulder either side of him helped keep him steady-- Duo and Heero. Wufei barely noticed; all of his attention was on the man seated triumphantly in his grandfather's simple but solid chair on the dias. Treize smiled down at him, dressed in full battle regalia. Mariemaia stood at his side in a soft pink dress, smirking in satisfaction.
"You..." Wufei growled. "I should have known..."
"Now, Fei, don't glare so," Treize tutted quietly, still smiling. "And don't let your blood pressure rise too much; I don't want you passing out on me."
Wufei spat a Mandarin curse.
"It was Shen," Duo murmured, lips barely moving as he glanced around the room tensely. "He got to Wufei's Mark."
Wufei felt Heero stiffen in anger on his left.
At the mention of the older man, Wufei turned his head slightly. Shen was seated off to the side, holding an icepack to his head with a wince. He caught Wufei glaring at him and looked away. Against the wall with the other prisoners, Junbao was also glaring at his old friend in disgust.
"Did they search you?" Heero muttered.
Wufei could hear the grim smile in the braided boy's voice. "Not very well. Give me a second."
Treize was spreading his arms wide to indicate the court, raising his voice for all to hear, though his eyes stayed on Wufei. "Yeong is mine, Chang Fei. The Gundams are under my control, the guards on the ground have been subdued, and I hold you and the Council prisoner. This could go very badly-- or it could end peacefully. It's up to you."
Wufei took a few deep breaths, forcing his tone to stay cold and even. "I'll never surrender my people or my position to you, if that's what you're implying."
"Be rational, Fei." Treize rose to his feet, placing a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Think of your people. I could order my men to start killing members of the Council, but I really would rather not. Though your Guardians are admittedly too much of a risk. However, I'm willing to be lenient and merely imprison them rather than have them executed. Will you hear my proposal?" He seemed to take Wufei's silent glare as assent. "You will remain Lord of Yeong in name only. You will wed my daughter, and transfer your political power to her. She will run Yeong with my help and guidance, and we will make a formidable force. You and your people will live, and my daughter will be a just and worthy ruler. No one has to die."
"'Just'?" Wufei hissed. "That brat's a psycopathic weasel! But then, the apple never falls far from the tree." He shook his head briefly, the motion making him dizzy. "Having you two take control would be almost as bad as having the colony destroyed again."
"Keep him talking," Duo breathed, and Wufei could feel his arm moving from where his shoulder was still propping Wufei up. "I'm almost free."
Wufei swallowed hard, flicking a glance around at the uniformed men. "How did you get them on the colony?" he demanded.
Treize inclined his head towards Shen in thanks. "My friend here helped me, of course. When my daughter and I went on a routine run to the ships docked outside for supplies-- clothes and such." His lips spread in a pleased smile. "We simply brought some men along with us. They've been in your midst for nearly two weeks now. It seems he's quite adept at assisting in invasions."
Wufei stared at the Chinese man in horror. "It was you." He swallowed hard. "You were the one who was responsible for helping Milliardo's men in the take-over of L5." He heard Mingzhu draw in a sharp breath of surprise from behind him. "You were the one who..." A man, raising a sword to strike her down, nearly obscured by the smoke and the flames..."Run, Wufei!!" Wufei drew in a shuddering breath. "Why?" he demanded harshly.
Shen sneered at him openly. "Your father was a fool," he growled. "He missed the opportunity of a lifetime when he refused to make alliances with either space or earth. Now you and your grandfather are making the same mistakes!" He pointed towards Treize. "You don't know how to rule; you will lead your people down the same path of failure. I'm fixing the mistakes your family made. I'm saving our people from you."
"You traitorous snake!" Zhao shouted suddenly, startling Wufei. Two guards moved to hold him back.
Treize stepped down from the dias and came towards Wufei. Phillips followed close behind, hand resting on the butt of his gun. Treize stopped right in front of Wufei and placed a fingertip under the younger boy's chin, forcing him to lift his head and meet his gaze. "Listen to Shen, boy. He's right; he's trying to protect his people. He's trying to make them prosperous. Don't be the fool your father was; do the right thing."
Wufei bared his teeth. "The only 'right thing' to do," he snarled, "is make sure you don't leave this colony alive."
Treize smiled briefly. "You're speaking out of anger," he said almost soothingly. "Always so rash. You really should learn to put your peoples' needs before your own wants." His eyes travelled down to the hickey on Wufei's neck, there for all to see with the absence of his overcoat. "You made your own path rocky before I ever did. Choosing a Guardian over a beautiful girl like Miss Peacecraft?" He made tsking noises. "A bad political move, though I admit it is a bit endearing that you seem so adament at keeping such an impossible relationship alive."
Wufei managed not to flinch-- barely. Murmurs started around the room, growing louder when Wufei didn't bother to deny the implications. Wufei didn't quite dare look Heero's way. He heard Relena's muffled gasp and bit back a pang of guilt.
"That isn't an issue anymore," Heero was saying coolly, but Quatre interrupted hotly from behind them.
"Don't try to make it sound like what he's done is worse than you and Shen staging a coup," he snapped. "Wufei never wanted to hurt anybody--"
"Oh, but he has," Treize murmured, gazing at Relena, obviously relishing the look on her face. Wufei wouldn't allow himself to be so much of a coward that he couldn't meet her eyes, and glanced back at her.
She was staring at him with eyes as big as dinner plates, many unspoken emotions flickering across her face. Shock, disbelief, pain, confusion. Wufei wanted to apologize, but couldn't figure out how without it sounding forced.
Phillips reached out suddenly, hooking a finger around the cord about Heero's neck. He gave a firm yank, snapping it, and turned to offer ruyi to his General. Duo went rigid against Wufei's side.
"Thank you, Phillips." Treize took the short staff and tapped it against his shoulder almost negligently, gazing down at Wufei. "I'm offering you a way to redeem yourself, Fei. And a way to help your people become great. You'd be a fool to deny me." He turned away abruptly, striding back towards the dias. "I'll give you time to think it over, but I need your answer by tonight, or I'm afraid I'll have to start killing off your Council members." He nodded to a group of guards. "Take them away, but make sure they're kept separated."
The guards moved forward. One of them reached for Wufei, but Heero gave a snarl and leapt forward, headbutting the man in the stomach. They fell to the ground, and the other guards pounced, trying to wrench them apart.
Wufei almost jumped at the feel of calloused fingertips slipping up under his shirt. "Here goes nothing," Duo muttered tensely.
Then his fingers found the Mark, and Wufei went rigid as a jolt of energy shot from the contact and seemed to strike every nerve ending at once.
It felt like it lasted forever, but it was only seconds-- and something was wrong.
Too much, Wufei thought dazedly. It's too much-- When Heero had transferred energy, it had been intense, but not like this. He felt as if he was going to explode; and still more energy rushed into him. And the room was darkening, the lights flickering and fading and putting things in shadow as people looked around in sudden fear and confusion.
The Duo began to laugh, his voice echoing around the room and making the hairs on the back of Wufei's neck stand up.
The air-- rippled --as if a bomb had gone off. Wufei and the others around him were thrown to the ground with startled cries.
The pain was gone. Wufei had never felt so full of energy and strength. He pushed himself into a crouching position and froze in the act of getting to his feet, staring in disbelief at the scene before him.
Duo was standing, fists in the air as he laughed in almost hysterical triumph. His hair was loosed, whipping around him as the air at his feet seemed to spin and hiss like a miniature cyclone. When he looked down, Wufei felt a chill crawl up his spine. Duo's eyes were hard and cold, and he gave a wide smile of fierce delight. He looked subtly different in ways that felt wrong but were impossible to pinpoint.
"My thanks, little Lord," Duo laughed, his voice seeming to echo slightly, hurting Wufei's ears. He gave a mocking bow. "I was starting to think I'd be trapped like that forever."
Wufei stared back at him, heart in his throat, deaf to the shouts of the guards. "Sun Wukong."
"Oh~ so you figured it out, did you?" Duo snickered, hands on his hips. "Clever boy."
"D-Duo..." Hilde had forced herself into a sitting position and was staring at him in a mixture of wonder and horror.
Duo barely glanced her way. "And now, if you don't mind..." he turned towards
Treize, holding out his hand commandingly. "Give me back what's mine."
Phillips put himself hastily in front of his General, who was staring at Duo with barely-concealed surprise. Mariemaia had taken cover behind the dias and was screaming in high-pitched little bursts.
Heero stumbled to his feet, hands still bound behind his back, and stared solemnly at his friend. "I'm forbidden to let you touch it."
Duo sneered, snapping his fingers impatiently. "That was when these fools were afraid that holding it would undo the seal that this one," he sent Wufei a brief glare, "put on me in another life. Obviously, it's too late for that now. Now hand over ruyi, 'General', or I will take your arm with it."
Phillips jerked his gun out of its holster and fired.
Duo jerked, but didn't fall. He looked down, face unimpressed, at the blood leaking out of the wound in his chest. The smile he offered Phillips was full of pure malice. "You'll have to try a lot harder than that."
The other guards seemed to get control of their wits and suddenly opened fire. Duo leapt into the air nimbly, impossibly high, and the bullets sprayed wide, slamming into the walls and grazing some of the prisoners. There was instant chaos as everyone, restrained or not, tried to make for the exit.
Heero dropped to the floor and twisted, tucking his knees up by his chest and slipping his arms over his legs until his hands were in front of him. He elbowed one guard in the gut, then slammed his knee up into the man's face. He relieved the man of the knife in his boot and quickly cut his bonds.
Wufei cursed, ducking instinctively as a shot went wild over his head. He snatched up Duo's small knife from where it had been dropped and hurried over to the others. "Get everyone out of here," he shouted above the noise, slicing through the ropes around Quatre's wrists.
"We have to get YOU out of here!"
Wufei shoved the knife into the blonde's hand. "Trowa's hurt," he snapped. "And I don't want Relena or Hilde getting caught in the crossfire. Get them out of here, Winner!"
"Behind you--" Trowa said quickly from where he was still lying on the floor, pale with pain.
Wufei threw himself flat, twisting at the same time and lashing out viciously with his foot. The soldier coming up behind him caught the blow just below his knee and stumbled with a curse.
Wufei planted his hands against the floor and threw his body up as he'd trained it to move. His leg swept up into the air and crashed against the side of the man's head, throwing him to the ground, unconscious.
"Wufei, WAIT--" Quatre protested, reaching for him.
But he was already on his feet, casting about desperately for a weapon.
Wufei turned in time to catch the sword Zhao flung his way. A moment later he was sweeping the blade in a vicious arch, slicing just under the ribs of another enemy. He gritted his teeth, trying to tune out the scream as blood spattered his face.
Zhao was at his back in the next instant, face grim, knuckles white as he gripped his own sword. "We need to take them out before they shoot everyone in sight."
Wufei flicked him a quick glance over his shoulder. "Wouldn't you rather see me caught in the cross-fire?"
Zhao bared his teeth, blade flickering out and opening up the jugular of a soldier who got too close. "I'll never forgive you for what you did to Hua." He sent the younger boy a quick glare. "...But you didn't give your people up. And you're to be our Lord, like it or not. You're fighting for us-- it would be cowardly for me not to return the favor."
Wufei offered a fleeting, grim smile in return, then there was no time for talk. Back to back, they edged their way through the crowd, swords flashing and sending up ribbons of blood whenever a soldier got within reach.
"STOP THEM, STOP THEM!" Phillips shouted, finally realizing that Duo wasn't their only problem.
Wufei brought his sword down in a vicious chop, slicing off the hand of one screaming soldier and effectively disarming him. He risked a quick look towards Duo, who was plowing his way towards Treize, throwing friend and foe alike to the side as if they weighed no more than children.
"I never trusted that street-rat," Zhao said in a strained voice. "Is he really...?"
"Yes," Wufei grunted, slamming the hilt of his sword against the temple of an opponent. "We can't let him get ahold of ruyi. He has a grudge against my family-- against this whole colony, for all I know. I don't think he's exactly on our side."
"How are we supposed to stop him??" Zhao demanded with a thread of desperation to his voice. "He's not even human anymore!"
Wufei looked around quickly, trying to pick out his friends in the battle. Quatre was leading Mingzhu, Relena, and Hilde towards the exit, half-dragging Trowa. They seemed to have retrieved their swords, though thankfully most of the guards were focusing their attacks on Duo. The Council members were scuttling to escape as well. "I need to get to the dragon. She can help." Finally he spotted Heero.
The Guardian had managed to arm himself with a gun confiscated from a fallen guard. He fired when he had a chance, or grappled when fights got up-close and personal. He was shorter than all the men that faced off against him, but Wufei knew Heero's strength first-hand. He didn't seem to be having any trouble holding his own, so Wufei swept his gaze back towards the dias. Treize and Mariemaia were nowhere to be seen, having slipped out another way while his soldiers struggled to bring down Duo.
"Kushrenada has ruyi with him!" Wufei shouted above the death-scream of a soldier caught in the path of his blade.
Zhao nodded briefly. "Get to the dragon," he finally snapped. "Your Primary and I will try to hold Duo back and retrieve ruyi."
Wufei hesitated, loathe to leave the two men to the fight. "But--"
"We aren't alone," Zhao pointed out, jerking his chin towards another scuffle.
Junbao and a few of the released palace guards had taken up arms and were battling fiercely as well, though they were careful to give Duo a wide berth. They were steadily fighting their way towards Wufei, determined to protect him.
"GO, Chang," Zhao snapped.
Then Heero was there, taking Wufei off guard and almost getting a sword in the gut for his trouble.
"Can Nezha stop him?" he demanded, firing point-blank into the face of a soldier coming up on Wufei's other side.
Wufei shook his head once. "She said she wouldn't stop him if he got loose," he admitted. "But she might know how to release this 'power' Shen was talking about-- provided he wasn't lying about that as well. Even if she can't, there's something I need to get to. My... 'inheritance'."
Heero's brows lifted in comprehension. "It shouldn't come to that," he protested, looking as if he regretted ever letting Wufei in on the family secret. (1)
"In case you'd forgotten, Kushrenada has an entire armada parked just outside the colony," Wufei snapped, slamming his elbow into the face of a soldier to throw him off balance before driving his sword home in the unfortunate man's chest. "And you're going to need all the help you can get; especially with Duo and Trowa unable or unwilling to lend a hand." He checked Duo's progress quickly. "You get Junbao-- he certainly looks like he knows what he's doing with that sword --and try to stall Duo. Zhao, you need to try to cut off Kushrenada before he manages to escape. Get ruyi away if you can, but don't kill him. I don't want to start a war between earth and space."
Zhao gave a grunt of acknowledgement and began hacking his way through the crowd. Heero seized Wufei by the arm when he turned as if to make for the exit. "I'm going with you."
"NO, you're NOT," Wufei snapped, jerking his arm away. "Your job is to stop Duo before he does something stu--"
Anger flashed briefly across the other boy's face. "My JOB is to protect YOU, Wufei. I'm still your Guardian, and it would be foolish to run off by yourself without someone to watch your back."
"I can take of myself," Wufei growled, throwing his anger and hurt in Heero's face. This isn't the time for this, his common sense pointed out, but he ignored it. "I don't need you-- and you obviously don't need me. Just--"
Heero wrenched him to the side, out of the path of a charging soldier. He cut the man down ruthlessly before turning on Wufei with a fierce glare. "I was doing what you couldn't," he said angrily.
"If you aren't interested anymore, than just say so," Wufei retorted furiously. "But stop trying to protect me from my own decisions! You think I'm stupid? You think I didn't think about this? I told you back on Mingzhu's ship, Yuy-- I don't care. I don't care about 'destiny' or what other people think or--" his breath caught in his throat in surprise when Heero jerked him up against him.
Heero's eyes were still narrowed, but he looked more frustrated than angry. "What do you think is going to happen now that everyone knows-- or at least suspects?" he demanded, voice nearly lost in the noise all around them. "Do you really think they'll allow this to continue?"
"What are they going to do?" Wufei demanded. "It's not like they can throw me out. I'm the only heir they've got left."
"I'm through with walking on eggshells around my own people," Wufei cut him off brutally. "They can either learn to fucking DEAL with the fact that I'm in--" he barely managed to strangle the rest of that sentence, part horrified at what he'd almost let slip out of his mouth.
A moment later a mouth was on his-- quick and rough and angry. Before he could even decide whether to pull away or respond, Heero was pulling back. "Why are you so goddamn stubborn?" he demanded, but he didn't sound angry anymore.
Wufei snorted. "Are you going to stop Duo or what?"
"I'm with you," Heero said firmly.
Wufei hesitated, unsure whether to take that simple statement at face value or not. He swallowed hard. "Have it your way." They turned towards the exit, and there was Junbao.
He had to have seen what had happened, but he didn't mention it, and Wufei was desperately grateful that he didn't blush as he met the older man's stare.
"I have to get to the dragon," Wufei insisted. "Zhao's gone after Kushrenada. Do you think you and your men can stall Maxwell?"
Junbao sent a brief glance Duo's way. "We'll try. How much time do you need?"
"As much as you can give me."
Junbao nodded. "Done." He hesitated, then reached out and gripped Wufei's arm firmly, gazing at him steadily. "Don't get killed, Chang Fei," he said solemnly. "Your people need you more than you know."
Wufei managed a nod. Junbao turned and began leading his small ragged team towards Duo, and Wufei took off for the exit at a run, Heero at his side.
Quatre hauled Trowa into the nearest room and helped him settle against the wall, panting with exertion. Mingzhu hurried in after him, Hilde and Relena right behind her.
Hilde was sobbing quietly, and as soon as Mingzhu had the door shut, Relena gathered the other girl in a comforting hug.
"We can't stay here long," Trowa pointed out, face ashen. He winced, trying to arrange his leg in a less painful position.
Quatre crouched before him, catching his breath. "I know," he agreed, handing Trowa his sword and buckling on his own. "But you're too badly hurt, and it's too risky to take the girls anywhere." He glanced around, making sure there were no other doors. "Bar the door, and just lay low until things calm down a bit."
Trowa's gaze sharpened, and he reached out quickly, snagging Quatre's wrist when the smaller boy made as if to rise. "Wait. What are you doing?"
"I'm a Guardian, Trowa," Quatre pointed out. "And Wufei is my friend. I'm not leaving him back there. And I have to try and help him control Duo."
"Don't be foolish," Trowa cut him off. "We have to protect Hilde and Relena--"
"You're perfectly capable of doing that," Quatre retorted. He pulled away and hurried over to Hilde. "Hilde?" He offered a gun he had pilfered from a fallen guard. "Hilde, I know you're confused and hurt right now, but I need you to pay attention."
"Can't you just give her a few moments?" Relena protested.
Hilde took a few shakey breaths and looked up. "Wh-what do you need me to do?" she asked, wiping the tears from her face hastily.
"I know you can use one of these," Quatre said quietly, handing her the gun. "You said as much back on earth. I need you and Trowa to keep that door shut and shoot any of Treize's soldiers if they manage to break in. Try to stay here as long as possible until help comes or this whole thing is over. If you see a chance to escape safely, then do so."
"Quatre." Trowa's voice was sharp with disbelief. "You hate fighting. You haven't even used a sword in years. Don't--"
Quatre hurried back over to his friend, dropping into a crouch and taking the startled boy's face in his hands. "I have to," he said quietly. "You know I do."
"Don't," Trowa repeated, almost pleading.
Quatre leaned forward impulsively, pressing his mouth against Trowa's. When he pulled away, the taller boy was staring at him wide-eyed. Quatre tried to force a small smile, even as the sound of his sword coming free of its sheath hissed in the empty room. "It's time for me to protect you, Trowa Barton," he murmured.
Trowa grabbed at him, but Quatre was already on his feet and running for the door.
Then he was gone, and Mingzhu was barring the door after him.
(1) In ch. 48, Heero takes Wufei away to see what he refers to as another part of his 'inheritance', but it is deliberately not explained, and if the situation was ever referred to again, it was done so obliquely. Yes, this was deliberate, since you're not supposed to know what he saw until it's revealed. Though it's been so long, I don't blame anyone for forgetting it >>;;
Author's Notes: *dance* I hit a writing streak~! There's only a few chapters left o_o; Snow Patrol's songs are still a huge help for any desperate and/or romantic scenes, especially for these last few chapters.
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