Chapter 19
"Separate Lives"

    The same night that Wufei was reluctantly allowing his cousin to drag him to one of his haunts, Trowa was calmly packing his small bag of belongings and listening to Catherine's frantic protests.
    She was quickly coming to the realization that he was paying her little heed, however, and stopped trying to talk him out of it. She switched tactics. "You're coming back, though, aren't you?" she pleaded. "You're just checking up on your friends, right? You'll be back soon."
    Trowa zipped the duffel bag closed and finally looked up at her. "I'll come back," he promised quietly. "But," he added firmly at her blossoming smile, "I don't know for how long."
    "Triton, you can't do this to me!" she cried, deliberately using his true name. "We've finally found each other again! We're family!"
    He looked at her for a moment before dropping the bag on the bed and walking over to take her shoulders in a light grip. "Catherine," he murmured, "whether or not I leave doesn't mean we're not still family. I'll still visit. We'll keep in contact. But this is something I have to do."
    She looked like she was having a hard time holding back tears, but something in the way he said those last words made it through the sharp pain and desperation. She blinked some of the water from her eyes and really looked at her brother for the first time in awhile.
    She'd thought for some time that Trowa's mask was impenetrable, even to his own sister. She'd accepted the fact that it would take years before he would ever open up enough to her to show what he was feeling and thinking.
    But he was showing her, she thought with a quick jolt of shock. Had it been there all along, and she just hadn't known how to look for it? It had taken the hint of urgency to his tone just now to get her to see. He hid his emotions in his eyes, in his body language. The way he was holding her shoulders now, and how he leaned towards her unconsciously to show how important it was that she understand. And his eyes-- was that a shadow of desperation there?
    This was important to him, she thought a little dazedly. More important than almost anything. Trowa had found friends of his own, and he was about to lose them if he didn't do something. Friends that cared about him, she thought, remembering the adamant look on Heero Yuy's face as he had faced off Prince the lion in order to fetch Trowa back.
    She was being selfish, begging him to stay here with her when he was grasping at one last chance at happiness. What was his real relationship with these other boys? She found suddenly that she didn't care. It didn't matter. All that did matter was that she was holding her own brother, whom she loved, back from living his life to the fullest.
    She couldn't stop the tears from slipping free, but she found it easier than she'd thought to offer him a warm smile. She reached up and clasped his narrow face in her hands. He gave a little jerk of surprise, eyes widening slightly.
    "I understand," she said a little hoarsely. "Go on and find your friends. And don't let anyone tell you what kind of decision to make about your life. Live the way you think is best, the way that will make you happy. Follow your heart."
    At those words, Trowa finally really understood what Heero had been trying to tell him all along. "Follow your emotions," he'd told him firmly. He'd meant exactly what Catherine had just said.
    Catherine drew in her breath sharply in surprise as Trowa's lips curved up in a rare, genuine smile. He leaned down and laid the barest whisper of a brotherly kiss on her forehead.


    Wufei couldn't hold back the sneer of unease and disgust as he glanced around the seedy atmosphere of the club Bai Ling had brought him to.
    Bodies gyrated in abandon on the small dance floor, and the music pumping from the speakers was loud and vulgar enough to make his hair stand on end.
    "Now, cousin, don't look so uptight," Bai Ling teased, hugging him uncomfortably close with an arm around his shoulder. "You need to blend in with the crowd to truly appreciate it. Come, I'll introduce you to some of my friends."
    Wufei tried to pull free, but Bai Ling was adamant. He pulled his younger cousin through the throng of people to an occupied table. Some of the young men seated there spotted their arrival and called out greetings, lifting beers high in the air.
    "Heyyy, Ling!"
    "About time!"
    "Who's your friend?" one of the girls asked, playing with a lock of long, curly auburn hair and eyeing Wufei appreciatively.
    "Hey, I know you," the girl beside her said in a sing-song voice, smiling up at him. Her red hair was cropped in a short, chic fashion. She pointed one long, silvery nail at him, shoulders hunched fetchingly as she leaned forward on the tabletop. "You're... Chang Wufei, right? You're in my Composition class."
    Wufei was a little surprised she remembered his name, even if her pronunciation was a tad off. He nodded curtly.
    Bai Ling clapped his shoulder, smiling at them. "Bingo, Lilian. This is my cousin. He just came colony-side last month."
    "He's cute~" the long-haired girl said with a teasing grin.
    Wufei flicked his cousin a Look out of the corner of his eye. If these two were an example of the girls Bai Ling hoped to get him to know, he was going to walk the hell out in about five minutes. Besides that, they had to be older than him by at least three years.
    But his cousin's hand was firm as he changed the pat to a firm push, urging him to take a seat. Wufei sat a little rigidly in the stained wooden chair, not meeting the eyes of any of the five people seated at the table around him. He recognized one of the young men from his History class, but the others were either strangers or vaguely familiar-- random faces in the crowd in the halls at school.
    They picked up on the conversation that had been interrupted. It was something to do with politics on and off colony; they discussed both Relena's proposals as well as the recent doings of the mayor on the colony they now occupied. Wufei paid a little attention at first, but their conversation mostly consisted of heated opinions, made more immature and ignorant by the consumed alcohol. He tuned their loud arguments out and glanced around the room, instinctively seeking out exits and bouncers. Aside from where they'd come in, there was only one other fire exit he could find, and two bouncers positioned by the front door, muscled arms crossed over massive chests. There'd been another one outside.
    Bai Ling prodded his arm after a few minutes and asked him what he'd like to drink. He only laughed when Wufei said "water", and disappeared to fetch the drinks.
    "So~ Chang Wufei," Lilian purred, leaning towards him. She didn't seem to notice when Wufei leaned away a few inches. "I haven't seen you around the clubs. What's the matter, all work and no play?"
    "You could say that," Wufei said tightly because he wasn't sure what else to say to get her off his case. He could deal with the third degree from OZ interrogators. But flirting, nineteen year old girls were way out of his league.
    Bai Ling returned just then with the drinks, and Wufei was so grateful for the interruption he almost didn't check the drink before he raised it to his mouth. He gave it a suspicious sniff and flicked his cousin a quick glare. "This isn't water," he pointed out unnecessarily.
    "Just try it," Bai Ling urged in Chinese, taking a seat beside him with a smile and clinking his own glass to Wufei's. "It's not too strong. Relax, will you? We're not in the middle of a war anymore. Relax."
    Wufei's first choice of a response was to refuse the drink and get himself a decent glass of water. But he'd been struggling with forgetting two pilots for the last month, and in the end, his cousin was right. The war was over. With an air of defiance, he took a quick gulp of the fiery liquid.
    It made his eyes water, but it didn't taste too bad. Bai Ling grinned encouragingly and joined the conversation.
    By the time he'd reached the bottom of the glass, he was feeling a little less tense. When Bai Ling plunked another drink in front of him, he picked it up without protest. It tasted a little stronger than the other one, but he didn't plan on drinking any more after this one.
    Soon that, too, was gone, and he was feeling much more relaxed. The music sounded a little warped in his ears, but that could have been how it was supposed to sound. Lilian and her friend-- Alicia, wasn't it? --continued to flirt with him, but he hardly noticed anymore.
    What he needed, he realized quite abruptly, was a trip to the bathroom. Now.
    He rose to his feet, and it was as if the alcohol hit him all at once, now that he was no longer stationary. He swayed a little and seized the table's edge to make sure he wasn't falling. Or was it an earthquake? Had a bomb gone off nearby and shuddered the club with the aftershock? He felt an instant of alarm, and reached for a sword he wasn't wearing.
    The others looked puzzled and amused, laughing at his "virgin liver", they were calling it. Bai Ling got up and took Wufei's elbow. "Calm down, Wufei. Where are you going?"
    Wufei looked up at him and blinked. Did he need glasses? His cousin's features looked a tad blurry. "Bathroom," he managed to say.
    "Uh oh," one of the boys-- Richard --said. "Gotta pray to the porcelain god, eh?"
    Wufei had no idea what that meant, but he nodded firmly anyway.
    "Come on," Bai Ling urged, pulling at him. Wufei managed to stubbornly walk after his cousin without tripping over his own feet, and in a few moments found himself in the cramped, smelly bathroom. He pulled free of his cousin's grip and quickly relieved himself in the closest urinal.
    "Oh, good," Bai Ling said, sounding amused. "I was afraid you were going to throw up."
    Wufei shook his head as he put himself away and turned to face the taller man. He was drunk, he thought with disgust. He offered his cousin a watered-down glare. "I want water," he said firmly. That was supposed to help to sober one, wasn't it? He tried to remember anything useful he'd heard the frat boys at the university going on about after a big night on the town.
    Bai Ling chuckled, patting his cheek affectionately. "Fine, fine. I take it you've never been drunk, cousin? What a strange way to spend one's teenage years. No sex, no alcohol.." he must have moved closer, because his face got really blurry. Wufei rocked back in an attempt to regain some personal space, but his lower back met the sink rim, leaving him nowhere to go. "Have you even been kissed, little cousin...?"
    Warning bells that would have gone off had he been sober were dulled by the alcohol. So when Bai Ling's thin lips claimed his in a hard, deep kiss, he was completely taken off guard.
    The shock was enough to break down a surprising amount of barriers the drink had thrown up around common sense and reflexes. He had shoved Bai Ling across the room and pinned him there with an arm across his throat in the next instant.
    "Whoa!" Bai Ling's arms shot up defensively. "Calm down, Wufei! It's your cousin you're trying to strangle here."
    "It's my cousin," Wufei snarled furiously in his face, "that just--" he couldn't say it. He pushed away and scrubbed at his mouth.
    "Distant cousin," Bai Ling reminded him with a grin. "Very distant. Don't be so upset. Are you not into men?"
    "I'm not into incest," Wufei shot back venomously. But it wasn't just that. Bai Ling was right, their relation was pretty vague. But he didn't want to be kissed by Bai Ling. Bai Ling wasn't who he wanted. It was... He shouldered the older man aside and made for the door. "Get away from me."
    Bai Ling slammed a hand against the door by Wufei's shoulder to hold it closed. "Slow down, Wufei. Where are you going?"
    "Home," Wufei said flatly. He didn't turn to look at his cousin, his entire body tense as a wire. "Move."
    "Look, I'm sorry. I moved too fast," Bai Ling sighed, ignoring the order. "But you haven't been picking up the subtle hints I've been giving you since a week after you got here. I thought the direct approach might be a bit more obvious."
    Wufei finally turned his head just enough to glare up at him. "What language do I have to say this in before it sinks in?" he demanded in a low, intense voice. He began repeating the same phrase in English, Japanese, Basic, and Chinese. Bai Ling's face grew harder at each translation. "I'm not interested. I'm not interested. I'm not interested. I'm not interested. MOVE!" Wufei batted the obstructing hand away and pulled at the door. Bai Ling slammed it shut again.
    "Now look, Wufei," he started, half soothing, half irritated.
    But it was never a good idea to corner a soldier and make him feel threatened. It was an even worse idea to do the same to an ex-terrorist and Gundam pilot.
    Wufei drove his elbow back into his cousin's solar plexus, and Bai Ling stumbled back with a grunt. He managed to block the blow aimed for his face, and another meant for his abdomen. They had, after all, been spar partners in their childhood.
    But Bai Ling had grown soft in his years on the colony as a university student and then professor. Wufei had been using his skills nonstop since he'd first learned them, whether in actual battle or on the nearest available flat surface for practice. He was not so drunk that years of training and reflexes didn't have enough room to jump up. In a flurry of movement, he'd jerked his arm up to knock Bai Ling's chin back, swept his feet out from under him, and landed him painfully on his back. Bai Ling coughed and glared from his position, finding it difficult to breathe or talk with the heavy foot pressing down on his throat.
    Fists balled, Wufei took in quick, sharp breaths in an attempt to regain his temper as he glared back stonily. The rush of adrenaline had cleared his head; he felt nowhere close to drunk. Once he was back home and calmer, it would all come right back up in a sickening rush, and he really would "pray to the porcelain god", but for now he was completely in control.
    Wufei spoke in their native tongue, driving the message home hard. "Do not touch me," he said in a tone of voice that would have given one of Heero Yuy's "omae o korosu" lines a run for its money.
    Bai Ling knew better than to move or respond. Wufei removed his foot, yanked the door open, and stormed out. Eventually Bai Ling returned to the table, dragging his wounded pride and bad temper with him, and drank himself stupid. By the time he returned to the apartment around five in the morning, Wufei was gone. A quick, drunken search of the house showed that all of Wufei's belongs were gone, as well. Bai Ling sank into the nearest couch with a groan, throwing an arm over his face.
    "Well," he muttered sullenly to the ceiling, "that didn't go exactly as I'd planned."


    Heero turned a suspicious stare on the young man who had just approached them, smiling charmingly and speaking with honeyed words. He didn't trust people who were so friendly right off the bat. It was one of the reasons he'd found it hard to trust Quatre for awhile. Duo, at least, had shot him on sight, which in Heero's mindset made him easier to get along with. And eventually he'd come to accept that Quatre's outgoing personality was just that-- his personality. He wanted nothing but friendship in return for his generosity and kind words. This young man wanted something else, he noted, jaw tightening as he observed the way the man's eyes darted over his charge for the night in a quick up-and-down sweep he'd caught himself submitting Wufei and Trowa to on more than one occasion.
    He swatted away the thought of the other two pilots and took a meaningful step closer to the young woman beside him.
    She didn't seem to notice, or perhaps ignored it, dismissing it as what she called his "paranoia". She smiled back at the young man before her, accepted his compliments on her dress graciously, but was not foolish enough to let the man kiss her bare hand. There were poisons that could be transferred that way, as Heero had drilled into her when he'd finally-- to her delight --accepted her offer and taken up the role as her personal guard and head of security almost a month ago.
    The man left shortly after, and Heero shifted his weight back to a more normal stance. The girl beside him flicked him a somewhat amused glance. "He was just being polite, Heero."
    "Hn," he grunted, eyes sweeping the laughing crowd of dignitaries and friends that had decided to stick around after the official speeches of peace and forward movement to enjoy the conversation and good food.
    "Why don't you take a break?" she asked quietly. "You look a little uptight."
    Heero cursed himself internally. If it was obvious even to her, then he would need to control himself better. Not that he would tell her in million years that it was the previous night's string of nightmares-- most of them involving either Trowa or Wufei getting killed right in front of him --that had him so on edge. He'd been fairly successful at keeping the two boys from his thoughts for the most part, throwing himself into work as he had done during the war when Trowa had been presumed KIA. Besides, she might try to send him to another shrink, and he'd already scared the shit out of that poor man and gotten a stack of paperwork labeling him as psychotic, possibly bi-polar, neurotic, and a stream of other such diagnostics that had taken quite a bit of scrambling on Noin's part to bury.
    "My job is to watch you, Relena," he said shortly, eyeing a young man across the room who looked like he'd had a bit too much champagne to drink. "I don't require a break. I'm fine," he added, knowing that was the response she really wanted.
    She frowned a little, but didn't press it. She knew how stubborn he could be; the more she tried to persuade him to do something he didn't want to do, the more he resisted. It was useless. So she gave a quiet sigh and returned her attention to her guests, pasting on a calm smile.
    Heero heard the sigh and wondered at it. She'd been doing that a lot lately. Especially around him. It was beginning to worry him, but whenever he questioned after her health or mental well-being (that last one had not gotten a good response the first time he'd asked), she forced a bright smile and told him that nothing was wrong, and assured him-- more and more frequently these days --that she was happy that he was with her, and he made her feel safe. That suited him, because it meant he was doing his job correctly. So far Relena was safe and sound, and he was confident that no one-- with the possible exception of Duo Maxwell himself --could break through the security system he had set up at her home.
    The night wore on, but finally the guests began to disperse. Relena waited until about half the guests had gone before she would allow Heero to lead her to the car waiting for her out front. Saying farewell to the remaining guests took another hour that gnawed at Heero's patience, but then they were over with, and he was seated across from his young charge in her gaudy pink limousine, on their way home.
    It was only when they were alone together that Relena felt she could truly relax, and she did so now, sinking back against the seat and sighing loudly, closing her eyes. "I'm exhausted," she admitted quietly. "I feel like my feet are about to fall off." She cracked open an eye to look at him in mild amusement. "And I don't mean that literally, so don't call a medic or something."
    Heero didn't waste his breath informing her that Duo and Wufei's sarcastic remarks had already done their work on him a long time ago, and he no longer took everything so literally. He preferred not to speak of the past or the other pilots, and it had taken her a surprisingly short amount of time to catch onto this fact and leave those subjects tactfully alone.
    "Put them in cold water when you get home," he said automatically, looking with unseeing eyes out at the passing scenery. Outside, he knew, crickets would be chirping, and the night birds would be giving their first calls of the evening. He still was a bit in awe at the differences in this, his ancestors' home planet, and the colonies he had spent his young life in. The hustle and bustle of colony life had seemed like so much after the silence of space, but that was nothing to compare to the jewel that was Earth: the planet he had risked his life to save in those last few precious moments of the war. He'd never had any time to really appreciate it during the war, aside from that one short break with Quatre when he had played with dogs on the beach.
    "What are you thinking, Heero?" Relena murmured drowsily, eyes half-shut. "You've got that little line between your eyes that means you're thinking hard about something."
    "Nothing specific," he told her shortly, which of course made his mind latch onto the next fleeting thought. It was why he hated it when she asked him that. It was like an unconscious order to concentrate and think of one thing in detail. Unfortunately, his mind had been shying momentarily towards the war, which for some reason only brought up the faces of his partners. Duo and Quatre, of course, but as soon as he saw the images of Wufei and Trowa in his mind's eye, he was unable to keep them shoved back in the corners of his mind as he'd been making himself do for a month straight.
    Now that he concentrated on them, he realized that despite his efforts, he thought of them at least once a day. Too many little things reminded him of them. Something someone said, or just something he saw that triggered a memory. He hadn't really noticed it too much, but now that he really thought about it, he could recall almost every instance in which something had reminded him of the pilots. All of them, of course. But it was the memories of the two odd-numbered pilots he wished he could banish. It made him feel somehow twisted and hard inside, and he didn't like it. Better to focus on the other two, maybe. Just the other day he'd caught a glimpse of golden hair and thought for one wild moment it was Quatre-- but no, just one of Relena's friends, her flaxen hair cut in a stylish bob. And Ryans, one of the guards under him, had the kind of infectious, mischievous grin that was a little too close to Duo's for comfort. He watched the man closely after that mental connection. That smile could mean trouble. It meant "this man has secrets".
    Unless Relena was right, and he really was paranoid.
    She was, after all, learning at an alarming rate how to read his moods, his body language, and his tone of voice. Either she was an extremely astute young woman, or he'd grown a little soft during that month on 0167 with Wufei and--
    Damn it.
    He tried to push the memories back hastily, but his efforts only produced a clear flashback of a month earlier. Bad enough that Trowa had left... he'd felt confused and helpless, and hadn't known what else to do but revert to soldier mode as his partner had packed his things and left them behind. But something about his expression must have triggered something in Wufei, because the other boy had exploded on him, then abruptly disappeared for almost five hours. Heero had been stretched on his mattress, feigning sleep, when Wufei had finally appeared like a shadow on the windowsill later that evening. How he'd managed to scale the wall was beyond Heero, but he didn't ask. He lay still as death, eyes cracked open, and waited to see if his companion had cooled off. Perhaps talking about Trowa's abrupt departure would calm the other boy. But Wufei had glanced at him and-- thinking him still asleep --moved over to his own mattress. Not to sleep. To pack.
    Looking back, Heero wondered if he should have sat up and talked him out of it. Would it have helped? But stubborn pride got in the way, and he'd merely watched as Wufei tossed his things into a bag, dropped something on his mattress, and left on silent feet. As soon as he'd gone, Heero moved to the "bed" to see what had been left. Perhaps Wufei was going after Trowa, after all. If so, Heero could have his things ready in two minutes and be out the door after him...
    But no. Wufei wasn't going to chase after Trowa. He was escaping it all, getting some breathing space, or at least that was what Heero deduced from the short note left on the flat pillow. Wufei might display more emotions than Heero, but at times he was just as clueless as the other pilot on how to deal with them.
    After a week or two, Heero became positive both boys had left for good. And he'd be damned if he'd sit there and wait for someone to never return. Best to do something productive with his life. Trowa had found himself a family, and Wufei was off doing... whatever. Relena had been asking him repeatedly to come back to Earth and work for her. Maybe that was what he should do.
    Heero glanced at the girl in a half-doze across from him and frowned slightly. Had it been the right choice? He rarely bothered to second guess himself and look back over his shoulder, wondering at "what if"s. But this time the questions leapt about in his head, refusing to be crushed. What if he'd said something to Trowa to get him to stay? What if he'd talked to Wufei? What if Catherine had never sent that telegram? What if what if what if... It made his head hurt.
    From his memory banks he drew out one of Odin's earliest lectures on the handling and upkeep of an antique M-16 rifle and began to go through the steps one by one. By the time he'd gone through five different weapons, including a rocket launcher and a stun gun, he'd successfully managed to push Wufei and Trowa back to the shadowy corners of his mind, and helped a sleepy Relena from the car and up the steps with a clearer head.
    He was sure she was sleeping on her feet until they reached her room and she gripped his wrist, blinking up at him in an attempt to focus tired eyes. "Heero," she said, "come to dinner with me tomorrow night?"
    He blinked. It wasn't an order or a firm suggestion; she sounded almost hesitant. But then, she was tired, he amended. He wracked his brain. Was there a dinner party he'd forgotten? No. And no one had invited her anywhere during the reception; he would have definitely filed that away. Then what?
    She seemed to see his confusion and bit her lip, glancing away. Another strange sign. But then, she'd been acting skittish around him at random times lately. Especially when they were alone like this. He suddenly felt compelled to remove his hand from her grip, and put it up on the doorframe instead.
    She looked up at him again at the uneasy retreat. "Just you and me. No guards." Heero's eyes narrowed slightly at that. No guards? Was she insane? He would have to be extra alert, then. "I just want to spend some time alone with you, Heero. I want to.. to tell you something."
    "Tell me now," he suggested in a monotone.
    She managed a tired smile. And was that a blush? No, must be from exhaustion. "Please, Heero."
    "Very well," he relented, still a little puzzled.
    "Thank you," she murmured, turning and shuffling towards her bed. "Goodnight, Heero."
    "Aa," he said absently, shutting the door behind her. No guards... stubborn woman. He set off for his own room, already building plans in his head for his one-man protection assignment for the next evening's outing.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 20
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