Chapter 4: "Off-Balance"

    Wufei's mood had not improved by the time he got home.
    Storming up the garden path, muttering to himself darkly, he nearly collided with Trowa as the young gardener came around the corner with a bag of soil over each shoulder.
    Trowa sidestepped him just in time, blinking at Wufei's obvious bad temper. "Bad day?" he hazarded in a monotone.
    "Feh." Wufei dodged him and stomped inside. Trowa watched him go, eyes lidded pensively, before continuing on his way.

    Wufei got as far as emptying his school books onto his desk and actually sitting down, ready to study. Ten minutes later he realized he'd been staring blankly at the cover of his history book, pencil spinning idly in his fingers. He pushed the book away from himself in disgust and rose to his feet, dropping the pencil in a drawer. He was too frustrated to concentrate. He needed to vent.
    He shut himself in the garage and beat the snot out of a training dummy until his mother had to send Trowa to fetch him for dinner. He pushed his food mulishly around on his plate-- like a petulant child, a voice in the back of his head murmured disapprovingly --until his mother gave up in frustration and allowed him to go back to his room and study.
    Studying was a routine; it was something he was used to, something to throw himself into. He knew all he had to do was immerse himself in his history book or his math calculations, and soon the day's events would be banished from his mind, if only for a few hours. But when he found his place in his calculus book and flipped through his notebook for a fresh sheet of paper, Murphy decided to have another go at him. (1)
    He pawed through the notebook twice in growing frustration before it became obvious that he'd used up his last sheet of paper taking notes in history class. Grumbling to himself, he dug a handful of coins out of the mason jar on his desk, snatched up a sweater, and stomped downstairs.
    His mother looked up from where she was watching TV in the den. "I knew you'd get hungry."
    "I'm going to the store," Wufei grunted, pulling on his sweater and stepping into his shoes. His foster mother, Chinese on her father's side, insisted on certain little customs such as keeping one's shoes by the door when entering. "I ran out of paper."
    "Ah." She returned her attention to the television, riveted by the soap drama being played out. "Don't be long. It's already getting pretty dark. Oh, pick up some milk while you're out."
    Wufei grunted in response and took his leave.

    There was a small convenience store two blocks away that was open until nearly midnight. Wufei was a frequent customer; he bought small school supplies-- like paper and pencils --and some groceries there. It was also where he bought the town newspaper, since his mother had never bothered to get a subscription, as there were perhaps only two sections of the paper she was interested in. She shared Wufei's aversion to war, only she wanted nothing to do with it whatsoever, and that included reading about it.
    The evening was cool and quiet, and the walk helped Wufei's temper. He hesitated before entering the small store, looking through the glass door to see who was working that night. Lately one of the night workers, a girl whose name he hadn't bothered to learn, had been flirting outrageously with him whenever he came in and she was on shift, and it was an annoyance he didn't feel up to tolerating tonight.
    But it wasn't her, so he pulled open the door, the little bell over it announcing his arrival, and made a beeline for the small stationary section set up beside the magazine and book racks. The only other customers were a young woman and a middle-aged man. The woman was purchasing a soda and a roadmap, and the man was hovering by the book rack, nose buried in the pages of a dirty magazine. Wufei ignored him and chose a thick notebook that would last him longer than the last one, and headed for the counter.
    The woman had finished and left, so he didn't have to wait. He set the magazine down and dug his change from his pocket, barely sparing the man at the register a passing glance.
    "Will that be all?" the cashier asked brightly.
    "Yes." Wufei counted out the correct amount and dropped it into a waiting palm.
    "No milk tonight?"
    Damn, he'd forgotten-- He looked up sharply, sudden paranoia cutting off his train of thought.
    The boy behind the counter looked his age; probably some student working part time for extra cash. And new; Wufei had never seen him before. He was smiling at Wufei-- which was even more odd, since Wufei had never known a night clerk at any small-time store to act remotely polite. His short hair was golden blond, his eyes a pale blue. His voice had the faintest lilt to it; though he spoke fluidly and with no obvious accent, Wufei got the impression Terran was not his native language.
    "What's that supposed to mean?" Wufei demanded, voice flat.
    The boy didn't seem disturbed by his bad mood. He continued to smile as he nodded towards the small dairy section. "Oh, they got the order wrong. We're overstocked. We need to get some of it off our hands."
    Wufei stared at him hard before giving himself a mental shake. Don't be paranoid, he growled to himself as he went and fetched a gallon of milk. Yuy and that Maxwell brat are really starting to get to you. He brought the milk over and handed over the rest of his change.
    His eyes flicked towards the boy's nametag as his purchases were put into a bag. Surely it was a joke. 'Quatre'? He frowned at the cheerful cashier. He certainly didn't look French; and even if he was, what insane parents would name their child after a number?
    ...Like 'Duo' Maxwell, the little voice in his head murmured, and that shut up the rest of his mind that was trying to tell him he was paranoid. A chill went up his spine, and he practically snatched the bag away when it was offered.
    The boy blinked, but didn't seem offended. "Have a good night," he quipped.
    Wufei stared at him for another instant before turning on his heel and marching out.

    Despite his fresh new notebook and his earlier determination, he spent the rest of the evening fighting with inner suspicions and questions and got very little studying done that night. By the time it was time to go to bed, he gave up his books with mingled disgust and relief. He lay on his back staring at the ceiling and willing sleep to come. He closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind and let the sandman do his work.

    Go away, he wanted to say. Can't you see I'm trying to sleep?
    The small voice was more insistant. "Wufei. Wake up. Master's going to be angry if he catches you sleeping in the dojo."
    Wufei finally cracked open an eye to scowl at the face hovering over his.
    The little boy only stared down at him solemnly, wide blue eyes too serious to be set in such a young face.
    The cicadas were making a racket outside, and the light pooling on the floor from the window was blood red as the sun sank slowly behind the horizon.
    Wait, sun? There was no sun out here...
    He slid his gaze towards the window in momentary confusion.
    The little boy seemed to sense his confusion. "We're on earth, Wufei," he said patiently. "Remember?"
    Oh yeah. Visiting family. Family he'd never met, so all that mattered to him was that it meant he got to play outside in real grass under a real sun whenever he got a spare chance away from his studies. He felt a grin tug at his face at the thought, and sat up.
    His friend took a step back as he rose to his feet, waiting patiently.
    Wufei pushed his hair impatiently out of his face. It was getting long. He couldn't wait until he was the right age to be allowed to pull it back like all the other warriors did. "What time is it?"
    "Almost eight," the other little boy said promptly.
    "We still have time before bedtime," Wufei stated imperiously.
    His friend blinked. "Time to what?"
    "Race you to the creek." Wufei smirked at his friend in challenge. "If I win, you gotta clean my room for a week."
    The boy frowned, the closest he would ever get to rolling his eyes. "They'll wonder where we are."
    "We'll be fast," Wufei interrupted, already padding over to the dojo entrance. "Unless you're scared."
    The boy scowled and followed hastily. "What if I win?" he demanded.
    "You won't. You never do."
    "What if I do?"
    Wufei sighed in exasperation, cupping his hands behind his head. "Fiiine. If you win... umm..." He wrinkled his nose in concentration. "I'll-"
    "If I win," the boy interrupted gravely, "you have to go with them tomorrow to meet her."
    "What?!" Wufei glared at his friend. "I don't care about meeting some stupid girl! What's the big deal about her, anyway?"
    "You know what," the boy said quietly but firmly, gazing at him steadily. "Don't be stupid."
    Wufei made a face, but he couldn't deny it. He'd heard them talking. He knew why they were trying to get him to meet this girl. She was important. They wanted her for...
    Somehow, he wasn't in the dojo anymore. He was standing on a hill, relishing the feel of the cool grass under his bare feet. He was breathing hard, sweating. He must have been exercising. Or maybe he'd been racing. He couldn't tell.
    He was staring at a little girl, his age, who was standing under a tree, gazing back at him. He couldn't make out her face with the shadows, but he knew who she was. He'd never met her, but somehow, he knew who she was. And why she was here.
    She was....
    "Wufei, get up!"

    Wufei's eyes shot open. Staring up at his ceiling, the morning sun peeking through the window curtains, he felt lost for a moment. Where was he? Where was...?
    He turned his head, half expecting to find him standing beside the bed, waiting on him.
    Him who?
    The vague memory of his dream danced just out of reach, then dissipated completely when his mother's impatient voice rang up the stairs once more.
    "Wufei, I'm not calling you again! You forgot to set your alarm, didn't you? Get ready, you've only got twenty minutes!"
    Wufei sat up and pushed stray locks of hair from his face, blinking as he tried to banish the foggy sleepiness of his brain. He sat staring at his lap for several minutes, feeling strangely down. But no matter how much he wracked his brain, he couldn't remember any specifics about his dream. Someone had been there. They'd been talking about something important, hadn't they? No. Someone important.
    He shook his head sharply. No matter. A dream.
    It was nothing but a dream.


    Wufei half expected his homeroom teacher to cheerfully announce the arrival of yet another transfer student-- one with blond hair and a bright smile.
    But the boy from the convenience store made no such appearance, and with the beginning of another day, all of the previous night's suspicions and half-formed conspiracy theories suddenly seemed a bit silly.
    Hilde snagged him on his way to French. "I heard about yesterday," she said with a gleam in her eye. "About how you and that Heero guy ganged up on Bruce Thompson. It's about time that pervert got someone to teach him a lesson."
    Wufei scowled at her. "First of all, we didn't 'team up'," he snapped. "Yuy interfered. Secondly, how did you find out?"
    "You kidding?" she scoffed. "It's all over the school. Bruce didn't get to threaten the rest of the guys that were in the locker room into silence. They told their girlfriends, who told their friends, and so on and so on." She grinned at him. "Welcome to the living drama that is high school, my friend." She gave a little wave. "See you at lunch. And I want all the details!"
    She hurried away before Wufei could think of a scathing retort. Muttering, he entered his French class and dropped into his seat. He hadn't bothered to look around before sitting, but he could tell Yuy was already there. He could feel the boy's eyes burning into the back of his head.
    His first impulse was to ignore him, as he'd been doing. He dug out his reading glasses and opened his book to the correct page as he waited for the bell to ring. But Hilde's mention of the encounter in the locker room yesterday made him annoyed and bold. He twisted in his seat and glared right at Heero, two seats behind him.
    Heero's eyes dropped immediately to his own book, but it was painfully obvious he'd been caught, so after a moment he looked back up and met Wufei's stare with an emotionless face.
    "What are you staring at, Yuy?" Wufei demanded coolly, taking care to keep his voice low enough to avoid catching the attention of the other students, all of whom were milling about or standing in little groups while they awaited the arrival of the teacher. "Stay away from me, and quit looking at me, or--"
    "Or what?" Heero interrupted, obviously unimpressed. "I thought you didn't like to fight."
    Wufei clenched his teeth until his head hurt, glaring in furious silence.
    Bruce Thompson, Wufei was to remind himself later with some self-annoyance, was not without friends, being one of the school's star athletes.
    His books tumbling noisily to the floor made him turn back around. Two boys-- both students who he'd seen hanging around with Bruce before --were standing by his desk, smirking.
    "Oops," one of them drawled, face lacking any resemblence of sincerity. "How clumsy of me."
    Wufei barely glanced at them, leaning over to scoop his books off the floor. The two of them moved on down the aisle, taking care to knock their knees against his head and shoulder as they went. Wufei managed to grab the edge of the desk and keep himself from falling out of it, but his glasses slipped and clattered onto the ground. Rude laughter from his two tormentors made his blood boil.
    He set his books back on his desk and leaned over once more to snatch up his glasses. A calloused hand plucked them off the floor before he could do so, and pressed them into his palm. His gaze darted up and met Heero's uncaring blue eyes. Something in his mind jerked, like a forgotten memory jumping to the fore. He thought fleetingly of the strange feeling he'd had on waking that morning. Then it was gone, and he was left staring at Heero dumbly.
    He felt his lips peel back from his teeth in irritation, and jerked his hand away. "Are you deaf, Yuy?" he demanded. "I told you-- stay away from me!"
    Heero's expression flickered towards irritation for a heartbeat before it was smoothed away once more by a mask of cold indifference. He returned to his desk without a word.
    Wufei's heart had inexplicitely kicked up a notch, and he blamed it on adrenaline.


    "You're sad, man," Duo sighed dramatically, following his friend down the hall later that morning. "Since when is the covert Heero Yuy so goddamn obvious?"
    Heero frowned darkly, but didn't bother to respond.
    Duo glanced at him sideways in silence for a moment before giving a little huff of amusement. "Guess you're more human than I thought," he admitted. "Just can't let it go, can you? Look, I told you, he doesn't remember. He was too young. You need to quit acting like you expect him to suddenly turn around and go 'I'm sorry, old buddy, let's be friends again'. In case you hadn't noticed, Mr. Chang is not the most friendly of creatures."
    "Don't call him that," Heero said shortly.
    "Hey, it's just an express--"
    Heero shot him a quelling look, and after a moment Duo shrugged it off. "I'm just sayin', that's all."
    "He's going to find out sooner or later," Heero pointed out in a monotone. "It would be foolish for us to remain complete strangers, or he isn't going to trust us when he needs to."
    "Yeeeah," Duo admitted slowly. "But remember, we're supposed to be, what's the word, 'normal'. Innocent. Just a couple of ordinary students, just like everyone else. I know you wanna keep an eye on him, but the bad reaction you're getting from him is pretty damn obvious to anyone who isn't blind. You might just be making things easier for them."
    Heero frowned again, but he had no argument for that.
    "I know," Duo said quietly, "why you're acting this way. Sorta. I mean, everyone knows you can't get close to Stonewall Yuy without running into a barrier a mile high. But you've got to accept that he isn't part of the exclusive 'Friend of Heero Yuy' club anymore. To him, you're just a really weird, annoying new kid. Accept it and move on. You're not here to be his friend, you're here to--"
    "I know why we're here," Heero interrupted sharply.
    Duo held up his hands in defense. "Right, right, sorry. I know you do. Don't get all prickly on me. I was just--"
    Duo shut his mouth so quickly his teeth clicked. He spun around, bright smile already in place. "Why, if it isn't Relena Peacecraft," he said in feigned pleasure. "To what do we owe the honor?"
    Relena offered him a polite smile before turning her attention to Heero. "Would you mind if I talked with you, Heero?"
    Heero stared at her for a long moment, obviously not willing to deter from his schedule. Duo smirked and gave his friend an unobtrusive push from behind. "Catch ya later." He smirked at Heero's fleeting glare, and hurried down the hall to catch up with a pair of girls.
    "Relena," Heero said in lieu of greeting.
    "Can we walk a little?" she asked softly, gesturing down the hall and indicating he follow. After a slight hesitation, Heero fell in step with her.
    She walked with her hands clasped behind her back, eyes tilted downwards as she spoke seriously but quietly to prevent their conversation from being heard by the other students in the hall. "I heard about what happened in the boy's locker room yesterday with Bruce Thompson."
    Heero's mouth tightened at that. He had never imagined that information would travel so quickly in a school. Perhaps this was partly why Duo had said those things. He made a mental note to keep things he said and did more private in the future.
    Relena was still talking in a reasoning tone of voice, with an undertone of disapproval. "As you know, this school frowns on such acts of violence and bullying. I'm not saying that Bruce probably didn't deserve to be reprimanded, but don't you think pinning him under a bench was taking it a bit far? You should have mentioned his bullying to a teacher instead of turning to violence. He was lucky he walked away with just a few bruises and a tattered dignity."
    Heero remembered Wufei's uppercut that had been interrupted just in time and thought Bruce was luckier that he wasn't nursing a broken jaw.
    "I'm bringing this up with you," Relena continued, "because no doubt you will be pulled aside later by the princible or the guidance counselor. I thought you should hear something from me first. As Student Body President, it's my duty to keep an eye on the well-being of the students here." She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and looked up at him earnestly. "I think you're a good person, Heero. You just have trouble letting people in. I want you to have a chance here, but in order for that to happen, you're going to have to follow the rules."
    Heero was only half listening to her. He checked his watch and realized he was going to be late for class if he didn't end this meaningless conversation quickly.
    Relena faltered at the rude gesture, and he took the opportunity to interrupt. "If someone is going to call me out for my actions, they know where to find me," he said bluntly. "Although I won't apologize for doing something I saw as necessary."
    Relena opened and shut her mouth, eyes a little wide. "N-Neccessary--??"
    "I'm going to be late. Goodbye, Relena." Heero offered a curt nod of farewell and turned to leave.
    "Wait-- Heero!" Relena sounded frustrated as she hurried after him. "That isn't the kind of attitude to have about it at all! I'm just trying to help you--"
    "Your help is neither asked for nor required," Heero cut her off, ending the conversation with finality. "I have to go."
    Relena, however, was more persistant than most. She hurried around him and blocked his way, her pretty face flushed with indignation and embarrassment at his brush-off. "You don't have to ask for my help, Heero," she exclaimed. "I just don't want you getting in trouble when you just got here."
    Heero stood staring at her sternly, trying to decide how best to remove this tiresome obstacle. He could pick her up and set her to the side, but he didn't think she would take too kindly to such rough handling. He'd tried being short with her, but that obviously wasn't going to work, either. "Relena-" he started.
    Relena couldn't quite figure out what had happened. One minute Heero was staring at her with a stone face, voice firm. The next, his eyes had widened slightly, gaze unfocused. Before she could ask what was wrong, his face had shifted into something more dangerous and distant, and he'd shouldered her aside. He took off running down the hall, pushing past other students. Relena watched him go for an instant, mouth open in confusion. Then she chased after him.
    Something was wrong.


    Wufei looked up impatiently from his work. Beside him, Hilde's animated one-sided conversation broke off awkwardly.
    The boys standing in front of his desk looked old enough to be seniors, and were dressed in the school uniform, but Wufei didn't recognize any of them. That didn't concern him; he didn't pay attention to the majority of the school body. What bothered him was the aggressiveness coming off of them in waves. And they weren't sneering or goading him like other school bullies. They looked serious and creepy, and Wufei's instincts warned them that there was about to be trouble. He lowered his pencil and tilted his chin up imperiously.
    "What do you want?" he demanded coolly. Hilde shifted beside him, obviously nervous.
    "Come with us," the one in front said shortly, eyes hidden behind flashy sunglasses. "We need"
    "Get lost," Hilde said, voice wavering just a bit. "The teacher will be here any minute."
    The five of them barely even spared her a glance. "Come quietly, unless you want to make a scene," the tallest of them grunted.
    Wufei's eyes narrowed, and he glanced quickly at each of them. Something about this felt Wrong. This wasn't just any bullying. These boys had a purpose. And why didn't he recognize any of them, not even a little bit? Hilde seemed lost, too. Slowly he rose to his feet and stood right in the leader's personal space, glaring up at him. The shortest of them was taller than him by half a head-- the curse of being Asian.
    "We have nothing to talk about," he said tersely. "Get out of here."
    Two of them moved in a little, obviously ready for a fight.
    Hilde's hand was clutching at the hem of his shirt nervously, her voice a bare whisper. "Wufei..."
    Damn it. Wufei shifted his weight, putting himself slightly in front of her. He had to be careful, or Hilde was going to get caught up in this. If he pissed them off or didn't come with them, they might get rough. Hilde, being the bull-headed twit she was, would try to help him, and they didn't look like the type of boy who would hold back against a girl. Wufei felt his lips thin as he fought with his temper. "What do you want?" he muttered darkly. Some other students were looking their way with wide eyes, but no one wanted to interfere.
    "Come with us," the leader repeated, staring down at him as he gestured towards the door. "We'll talk outside."
    This wasn't right. Talking wasn't what they had in mind, that much was obvious. But Wufei wasn't about to let them start a fight right in front of Hilde. He nodded shortly, shook loose of Hilde's grip, and followed the five of them in silence. Perhaps they were friends of Bruce, and were going to beat some manners into him.
    Well, let them try, he thought to himself, the corner of his mouth lifting in a tiny smirk.
    Five against one.
    What a pity for them.
    They went went outside by the bike rack, and Wufei came to a halt, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling at them. "Did Thompson send you?" he demanded bluntly.
    The leader motioned to one of his partners, and the guy went to the corner of the building to play look-out. Wufei's eye followed him, then he carefully studied the rest of them, mentally planning an escape and where to hit each of them on his way out to make it hurt the most.
    He'd already suspected they were a gang, so he was half-expecting someone to pull a pocketknife.
    But things shifted from normal to crazy when Wufei found himself staring down the muzzle of a laser gun an instant later.
    "What?" the leader demanded, lips lifting in a cruel smile as he held the gun inches from Wufei's face. "Did you really think you could hide forever?"

(1) By this, I mean, of course, Murphy's Law. You know, "anything that can happen will happen". I might do this occassionally; refer to laws or whatever in this way. Like if someone does something very stupid, I might mention "Darwin". ^^; If I make references to things you don't get, feel free to ask. You're not privy to what goes on in my demented little head, so don't feel retarded if something doesn't make sense.
On that track, for anyone that is beginning to grow quite frustrated with me.... No, you're not supposed to know what the hell is going on, yet XD;

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