Chapter 39: "The Worth of One's Friends"

Wufei managed to keep his expression calm and composed as he waited on the flight deck with his friends as goodbye's were said. Time was limited; there was always the very real risk that either Treize or Milliardo could catch up to them. For the ruse to work, Wufei's new ship could not be seen. Let the two generals follow Howard around the galaxy on a merry little chase if they wished. By the time they caught up and had searched the maintenance craft from front to back, Wufei and his troup would be long gone. Still, he was impatient to meet his Clan, to get to the colony, and finally have all of his questions answered.

They had already docked with the other ship, and as they waited for some of the representatives to be brought on-board, quick farewells were made. Duo, who knew most of the mechanics, had quite a few goodbye's to say. Wufei spoke to the handful whom he had actually spoken to during the trip, then stood quietly off to the side with Heero. While Duo seemed to have the most friends (if the boisterous well-wishing, scuffling, and jokes were anything to go off of) Relena and Hilde seemed to be pretty much the focus of the attention. The men were mostly bachelors, ranging from early twenties to their fifties, and it had been a great delight to have the two pretty young women on board. Their roles as nurses and cooks had left something of a impression on them. Andre and Relena were at that moment in a lengthy but happy conversation about the culinary arts; it seemed he had definitely sparked her interest in the kitchen. Hilde was popular not only because she was cute, but because her tomboy personality made it easy for her to get along with the mechanics. Relena was more of the fantasy girl for the rest of them. So it was difficult for either girl to extricate themselves from the sometimes teary farewells of the lonely mechanics.

"Feh," Wufei snorted in mild disgust. "I think this is the most popular Hilde's ever been in her life. She's just milking this for all it's worth, isn't she?"

Sally Po had come up behind them unnoticed. She smacked Wufei calmly upside the head with a clipboard, watching the girls with a small smile. "Don't act so jealous, Chang. Besides, she deserves the attention. She's turning out to be quite a woman. You should be proud of her. And I'm sure after spending so many years as 'one of the guys', it's a good boost to her self-esteem."

Wufei rubbed his smarting head, scowling up at her. "As long as it doesn't go to her head," he grumbled. "Relena seems to be enjoying it even more. It's pathetic."

Sally Po raised the clipboard threateningly. "Oh put a lid on it, fussbudget. Let them be girls for once." She grinned maliciously. "Next thing you know, they'll be dragging you around clothes stores and asking 'does this dress make my butt look big'?"

Wufei balked in horror at the idea.

Heero snorted quietly in amusement, but offered a blank look of innocence when Wufei peered suspiciously his way.

"They certainly are a friendly bunch," Quatre said a bit breathlessly as he worked his way towards them. "A bit overzealous, but... they remind me of my friends the Maganacs." Despite his slightly weary tone, his face was alight, his cheeks flushed and his expression happy. The good feelings milling around the deck, Wufei noted, were probably a relief after all the pain, suspicion, and anger that had been rank in the air for the past couple of days. For just a moment he was almost jealous of his friend's gift. It must be something else to actually feel all that friendly goodwill and affection flowing into you from the people around you. Wufei, who had always been an antisocial child, had known only the warm affection of Hilde and his foster mother his entire life on earth. He hadn't realized how lonely it had made him feel until he'd grown accustomed to the presence of his Guardians. Deep down inside, he knew the ultimate reasoning behind his desperate search for his people was an instinctive need to banish that lonliness.

Without noticing it, he had allowed them to become an almost surrogate family.
"Where's Trowa?" Heero inquired. "The delegates will be here soon."

"Oh, he got cornered by some of the men," Quatre said with a smile. "His skills really impressed some of the mechanics here. They're giving advice, and asking for some as well. He's not as talented as Duo, but then, Duo's the only guy his age they knew that was able to fix things so well. Now there's Trowa. I think some of the ex-pilots are talking to him, too."

"Howard should be back any minute," Sally Po put in. "I hope you've all said your goodbyes. Speaking of which..." she turned a judicious eye on Wufei. "I don't really know what's going on here; none of us do. Your friends are pretty good about keeping their mouths shut. But I'm not stupid; whatever it is, you seem to be the main focus of it. I get the feeling your life's about to change, and you're about to be faced with a lot more responsibility, so I guess I'll give you some advice before you go."

"I'm hanging on every word," Wufei said drolly.

Sally bopped him on the head again with her clipboard. "Smartass. Listen up, you snot-nosed brat," she said, not unkindly. "You've obviously been through some rough situations lately, and had your trust sorely tested if your prickly attitude is anything to go off of. You got a lot of pride for a runt, which is good, but can be a bad thing sometimes. Drop the holier-than-thou act, Chang. Humility is a great thing. Listen to what people have to say sometimes, and don't dismiss other people's feelings and opinions so readily. You might learn something. And you might find out not all people are as fucked-up as the ones you've come in contact with-- and that some of those you think are 'bad' might just be a little mislead."

Wufei scowled weakly up at her, touching the sore spot on his head. He was a bit embarrassed and indignant at her words, but knew a snide comment would only earn him another bump on the cranium.

"And try to loosen up a little, kiddo," Sally added more quietly. "Whatever happens next, remember you're still young. Try to take chances every now and then. Seems to me you're being offered another shot at life. Try to enjoy it a little more." She poked at the corner of his mouth teasingly. "And by the way, smiling won't make your face crack. I promise. I'm the doctor, aren't I?" Wufei twitcheded his head away, avoiding her gaze. "Same goes for you, stoneface," Sally shot at Heero, who only stared back with an unreadable expression.

Wufei wouldn't realize until later that Sally's words were probably the best advice he'd ever receive.

"Here they come," Quatre said suddenly, looking over Sally Po's shoulder. "I'll get the others." He hurried to drag the girls and Trowa away from their admirers. Duo had finally wrapped up his cheerful farewells and was already strolling towards them, hands behind his head.

"Gonna miss this pack of losers," he admitted with a grin.

"I'd noticed," Wufei grunted, barely looking at him as he watched the small group advance down the hall.

Heero glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "Nervous?" he murmured quietly enough so that only Wufei heard.

Wufei started to shake his head, then hesitated and nodded once. "I don't remember them, and I don't know what they expect from me," he muttered back.

Duo must have seen how edgy he was, because he leaned over to whisper encouragingly, "Just be yourself, 'Fei. Relax; they'll love ya."

"Stop calling me that," Wufei retorted automatically.

Duo blinked, then looked quickly at Heero. "Dude," he hissed, "you haven't warned him about that yet? Are you retarded??"

Heero's eyes widened just slightly.

Duo knew his friend well enough to recognize that look. "You forgot??" he squeaked. "What the hell's wrong with you??"

Wufei looked at him sharply, but it was too late to ask what the hell they were talking about. Howard was stepping onto the main deck, followed by a woman and two men in tight-fitting red space suits. They were easily recognizable as full-blooded Chinese.
Instantly a hush settled, and the mechanics began trickling out. Quatre hurried over with the girls and Trowa in tow. Wufei stood straight and tall, trying to ignore how uptight he was. He felt a little comforted with the presence of his friends; Heero and Duo stood on either side of him, with Quatre and Trowa just behind. Relena and Hilde stood slightly off to the side.

"Ahem." Howard gestured, looking a bit out of his element beside his three elegant- looking guests.. "Er, I guess I'm sort of the host, so... I guess some introductions are in order..."

"There is no need," the woman cut him off in clipped English. All three of them were gazing at Wufei intently. "I have been informed that your memories of your childhood on L5 are muddled at best," she said in Mandarin. "I am Mingzhu, your father's sister." She tilted her hand towards the men at her side. "These men are Junbao and Shen. They were some of your father's personal and most trusted aides, and they will be assisting you now."

Wufei inclined his head in greeting, glancing at each of them in turn. They were all approximately in their mid to late forties, wisps of gray showing close to the temples. Both men had pulled their hair up into high tail, similar to the one Wufei wore, though their hair was long enough to trail close to their shoulder blades, even when up as it was. His aunt had a stern, pinched face that seemed to fit the personality he vaguely remembered. She looked as if she never smiled, had little patience for children, and was one of those people more concerned with tradition and formalities than was bearable. The other two looked a little more promising, at least.

Junbao, tall for his race, must have been quite a warrior in his youth. He was broad-shouldered, firm with packed muscles, and there were faded scars visible across his face and throat. His face was stern and hawklike, but he seemed formal rather than cold. Shen seemed to be almost his complete opposite; he was barely half a head taller than Mingzhu, and there were deep creases around his eyes and mouth. This was a man who smiled and laughed often. He was slender and wirey, but the way he unconsciously held himself spoke of years of training and battle. He, too, would be able to hold his own in a fight.

Shen looked like he wanted to speak, but thought better of it. Obviously, Mingzhu was the one in charge of the mission.

His aunt was looking Wufei up and down as if she was inspecting a new throroughbred she had just purchased. Her lips were slightly pursed, her eyes sharp and calculating. Wufei unconsciously straightened his spine a bit, and refused to look away. He could feel Relena watching him, and wondered if she was intimidated by all of this.

Duo abruptly broke the tense silence in typical Maxwell fashion. "Uh, everyone is aware that we don't really have that much time, yeah? Shit's gonna really hit the fan if Milliardo or Treize catches up to Howard's flying tin can before we're gone."

Mingzhu's eyes flicked his way with obvious contempt. "Control your Guardian, Master Chang," she snapped. "He speaks out of turn."

Wufei opened his mouth to respond, but Duo beat him to it, switching to Mandarin so suddenly that Wufei turned to stare at him in surprise. So did Hilde, despite herself.
"Still as loving and patient as always, I see," Duo said with mock cheer. "Missed you, too." Mingzhu's lip curled ever so slighty in disgust.

Duo's accent was heavy, but he obviously was familiar with the language. Heero, sensing disaster on the wind, stepped in smoothly. His Chinese was practically flawless, which while Wufei knew to expect, still captured his attention immediately. He'd heard Heero saw a word or two in Mandarin, but this was the first time he'd actually heard the other boy actually use the language in a conversation.

"Duo's right," Heero informed Mingzhu. "This is not the time for formalities. We had a spy aboard, and her father's looking for us. It's safer to get some distance between ourselves and Howard's ship before focusing on introductions and explanations."

Mingzhu stared at him in frosty silence for a long moment, then looked sternly from Wufei to Trowa. "You cannot even control your own Guardians. I see we have a lot of work to do." She glared at Heero, voice like a whip. "Hold your tongue. Only the Primary has the right to countermand our orders in view of Master Chang's safety. You and this..." her eyes raked Duo from head to foot in obvious distaste, "boy will be silent until spoken to."

Wufei gaped at her. Heero blinked once, the only outward sign of his own confusion. Duo's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Hey," he said sharply, "Yuy is the Primary Guardian, lady. Has been since the beginning. He has every right--"

"He was," Mingzhu corrected in a cool tone. "However, recent events have come to light that have convinced Master Chang's grandfather that Yuy is no longer fit for the role. The reasons have not been explained to me, and nor do I care." Her eyes drifted to Trowa. "He has been replaced."

The four of them turned to stare at Trowa in surprise.

Trowa had gone slightly pale, and the flinch of guilt in his eyes gave him away before he could attempt an explanation.

"Trowa!" Quatre gasped in horror.

"What the hell did you do?" Duo snarled. "Whose ass did you kiss to get the job? Are you out of your MIND? How dare you--"

"Shut up, that's enough," Wufei interrupted harshly. They fell silent. He glared at Trowa for a long moment before forcing his attention back on his aunt. "We'll talk about this later," he growled in quiet Mandarin. "I don't know what you're talking about, but Heero's right. We don't have time to stand around talking. Unless you want someone tailing us all the way back to my grandfather's, we need to leave now."

His swift control of the situation seemed to mollify her somewhat. Her gaze lingered on the girls, staying longest on Hilde. A frown pulled at her mouth, but Wufei shook his head once. "They're coming with us," he said in a voice that brooked no argument.

Nodding slightly, his aunt turned and strode away. Shen and Junbao lingered, waiting expectantly for the others to follow. Wufei looked up at them. "How long will the trip take?" he asked in Basic.

Both men exchanged a brief look that spoke more than words.

Wufei shook his head, starting off down the hallway. "Suān le." He glanced at Heero out of the corner of his eye as they walked. "They don't understand Basic. Now do you mind telling me what the hell is going on with this Primary bullshit? I thought you'd always been my Primary."

"...It's my fault," Trowa spoke up abruptly, meeting no one's eyes. His voice was deadpan, but there was still that flinch to his gaze. "I was only doing my job. Reporting the state of things, and possible... complications. I didn't think this would be the result."

Duo's eyes lit up in comprehension. "You--" he lunged for him with a growl. "You damn sonofabitch! You goddamn cocksucking ass-kissing--"

Heero and Wufei managed to grab him and drag him back despite his struggling. Trowa had stopped and was watching in silence, making no move to avoid Duo's swinging fists. Quatre quickly stepped in between the two of them. "Duo, stop it!" he cried. "Trowa was only doing his job. And isn't it obvious enough that he regrets it?"

"BULLSHIT!" Duo shouted. "Homophobic asskissing robot! It wasn't enough that you had to tattle, you had to get Heero's job, too, didn't you?" Wufei flushed at the implication. Relena seemed baffled, but Hilde was staring at him mournfully.

"I never expected them to do this," Trowa finally snapped. "I had warned Yuy multiple times. It's my job to report to his grandfather anything that could complicate things. I expected him to get reprimanded, not to have his title taken away. And what makes you think I want to be Primary? I don't have any desire to be leader."

It was the most anger Wufei had ever seen the other boy display. He was wondering if he'd be able to stop the two of them if they managed to get ahold of each other, but Junbao and Shen stepped in just then.

"Stop this," Junbao grunted in a gravelly voice, putting one big calloused hand firmly to Duo's chest and another to Trowa's shoulder to hold them apart.

"Master Chang, as you said yourself, we don't have time for this," Shen pointed out with a quick glance down the hallway towards Mingzhu, who had turned to see what all the shouting was about. "I don't know what the problem is, but if you don't show better control of your Guardians, it will send a bad impression."

"Control? They're not dogs," Wufei started to say angrily, but the man's words seemed to affect his friends quickly. Duo immediately calmed down, and Trowa's face shifted into the more familiar passive mask.

"We'll settle this later," Duo promised under his breath, but he kept his face neutral.

"Nevermind," Heero muttered to Wufei, giving him a slight push forward. "We'll talk about this later. We need to go."

Hilde hurried forward from where she and Relena had been trailing in the rear and latched onto Wufei's arm like a safety net. "Wufei," she whispered, "I can't understand a thing those people are saying. What's going on? And is it true? Trowa found out about you and Heero and blabbed it?"

"Later," Wufei said sharply, but allowed the close proximity. She must be nervous about this whole thing; he had half a mind to suggest she stay behind with Howard and find her way safely back to earth, but he already knew what her answer would be. Somewhere along the lines of "shut the fuck up, we've been over this already", no doubt.


The ship Wufei and his friends were to take to the new colony was a small one, built primarily for speed. It was slightly smaller than the Senator's personal shuttle, but just as comfortable, with plush seats and even a private room for Wufei that held a small oak desk and a bed that, while small, was comfortable and covered with real silk sheets.

"The women may sleep in the room that Mistress Mingzhu has at the back," Shen offered as he and his silent partner gave a quick tour while Wufei's aunt went to the cockpit to give the order to move out. "It will take less than two days to get to our destination; your Guardians may take shifts during this time. The chairs are more than comfortable, and half may sleep while the others are posted outside your room..." he trailed off at Wufei's incredulous look.

"Why would I want bodyguards outside my room when I'm on a ship of my own people?" Wufei demanded.

Shen opened and shut his mouth, obviously a bit lost. "Master Chang, it is imperative that you are kept safe at all times," he finally said. "And the Guardians are required to be close to you for life. While it's true you are surrounded by friends now, it will still be a breach of protocal and tradition." He winced. "Plus, I think your aunt would burst a blood vessel if she found out you were unsupervi-- er, unprotected for even a moment."

Wufei scowled, but Heero shook his head slightly to caution silence. None of the Guardians looked surprised at Shen's declaration.

"Um... Wufei?" Relena was looking both embarrassed and uncomfortable. "Don't they speak even a little Basic? I feel kind of in the dark here."

"I doubt it," Wufei admitted, glancing at his friends for confirmation.

"It was never widely used-- or accepted --on L5," Quatre mumured. "The only ones required to learn it were those that interacted with traders, and Wufei's immediate family. I think some of the aides know at least a small amount of Basic, but not all of them do. It's possible that these two might have known a bit years ago, but after the destruction of L5 and their need to hide afterwards, there was no reason or opportunity to learn more or exercise the language."

"Oh," Relena said in a small voice. Hilde shifted nervously.

Wufei couldn't help but feel sorry for the both of them. They must feel very out of place, unable to keep up with the conversation. "I'll translate for you," he assured them. "Mingzhu, at least, seems to know Basic." He hesitated. "Keeping that in mind," he added, lowering his voice, "all of you watch what you say when she's in hearing range."

The shuttle gave a small lurch as it broke away from Howard's ship.

"Mistress Mingzhu will no doubt wish to speak with you, now," Shen pointed out after waiting politely for them to finish speaking. "Your Primary may come along; the rest of you will find plenty of snacks in the overhead compartments, or may have a short nap if you wish."

Wufei nodded, starting to follow them and glancing Heero's way. Heero took one step and froze. Junbao was gazing at him in fierce disapproval. All eyes swung towards Trowa, who was staring at Heero with a blank expression. He hesitated, then reluctantly stepped forward, following Wufei in silence and avoiding looking at any of them.

Wufei looked quickly back at Heero, but the boy's face was unreadable. Fighting back an angry scowl and refusing to so much as acknowledge Trowa's presence, he stalked after the aides.

Mingzhu was waiting for them in Wufei's room. Wufei hesitated in the doorway until Shen helpfully flicked his eyes towards the desk. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, Wufei went behind the desk and took a seat while Mingzhu and the aides settled into the chairs set up before him. Trowa hovered just behind Wufei, staring straight ahead without saying anything. He was tense with discomfort, but Wufei ignored him completely, focusing on his aunt.

"I am sure my father-- your grandfather --will want to speak with you personally once we arrive," she said, sitting with perfect straight-backed posture. "But I have been given permission to give you at least some information in order to prevent some confusion and shock when we arrive." She wrinkled her nose just barely. "As well as to prevent any mistakes on your behalf that could be an embarrassment for us all."

Wufei nodded slightly.

Mingzhu, satisfied at his obvious willingness to learn, clasped her hands in her lap and cleared her throat slightly. "First off-- the lax control you have over your Guardians is glaringly obvious." She held up a hand when Wufei looked ready to protest. "It is forgiveable. You have not, after all, even been aware of them most of your life. You are not used to their constant presence; nor are you used to giving orders, no doubt. Let me make this clear right now: the Guardians are not your 'friends'."

Something in Wufei knotted up, and without meaning to he shot a quick look over his shoulder at Trowa.

"In order to ease you into things, and get you to trust them, it was decided that it would be easiest if you met them on even ground at first," Mingzhu continued. "But they are not friends or companions. They are bodyguards. It doesn't get any simpler than that. They are there to watch your back at all times, keep the area secure, and thwart any attacks on your person. On earth, I'm sure your history mentioned a 'secret service' that worked for the President of what was once the United States. If it makes it more clear, think of them as that. Your Guardians are, to put it crudely, walking shields or 'bullet-catchers'. Your safety is their primary concern."

Wufei's fingers curled over the edges of his armrests in a numbing grip. He could only stare back at her mutely. In order to get you to trust them.....met on even ground at first... He was beginning to feel a little sick to his stomach.

They had acted like his friends to get him to come with them. That was all. They had been trained and raised to have no personal feelings about it either way. They were bodyguards in the most extreme sense of the word. Now that their mission of getting him to his people was complete, they would have no need to keep up the act.

They were just bodyguards.

It had all been an act.

Mingzhu was speaking again, but Wufei couldn't make out her words over the blood rushing in his ears. He couldn't make himself look back at Trowa again. He didn't want to see that expressionless face. He didn't want to imagine that same face on Quatre or Duo. Duo. His had been the best act of all.

Did this mean that Heero....?

The door opened abruptly, cutting off Mingzhu mid-sentence and stirring Wufei from his dark thoughts. All eyes were on the young man that came strolling in confidently, mouth twisting in a small smirk as he gazed across the small room at Wufei with hard eyes.

He was tall and lean, with a sharp nose and a thin mouth. He looked to be a few years older than Wufei.

"Zhao," Shen said sharply. "We are in the middle of something."

Wufei's eyes widened slightly at the name as he stared numbly back at the man still sneering at him in blatant disrespect. Zhao-- the boy from his memories. His 'rival'.

He remembered Heero's veiled warning. "Not everyone will welcome you with open arms."

"Zhao is still there. He still remembers you."

"Well well," Zhao drawled. "Look who's coming home at long last."

Author's Notes: I apologize for the delay in getting this chapter out... was working on other fics, as well as getting in such a drawing frenzy that I am in sore need of a new sketch book. @_@;; (y!gallery is my new crack) Also... I sooooooo did not intend for this fic to be this long. o_o But it's almost over... I promise lol ........*hides*

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