Chapter 48: "November Twelfth"
Shen found Wufei in the halls as he and Heero were heading for the sickrooms.
"You did well in there," he complimented with a fleeting smile. "Perhaps you should work on your tact, but overall it wasn't bad for your first time. I'm sure your grandfather is proud of you."
A bit surprised, Wufei took a moment to reply. Manners kicked in automatically. "Thanks. And thank you for speaking up in there. I don't think anyone would have listened to me if you hadn't."
Shen's eyes crinkled in silent laughter. "You would have made them listen eventually, I have no doubt of that. Oh, and..." he clapped Wufei on the shoulder briefly. "There has been so much excitement today, that I've forgotten. Let me wish you well now in case I do not see you again until tonight."
Wufei stared at him blankly. "..Thanks?"
Shen nodded, smiling, and turned away. "Happy birthday."
Wufei stopped dead. Heero would have run into him, but he'd stumbled slightly at the parting call.
They looked at each other quickly, and after a moment Heero's eyes flinched away guiltily.
"I'd forgotten, too," Wufei assured him. "I haven't exactly been keeping track of the days." He thought for a moment. "Is today really the twelfth?"
Heero nodded slightly. "Happy birthday," he added belatedly in a monotone.
Wufei smirked. "Now I'm older than you."
Heero frowned slightly. "You're my age now," he corrected.
Wufei stared. "What?? When was your birthday?" he demanded suspiciously.
Heero shrugged, unconcerned. "A day or two before we met at the school on Earth."
Wufei scowled. "I thought you were my age," he grumbled as they continued down the hall.
"We're both seventeen, now," Heero pointed out.
"That means by 'tonight', he meant the party..." Heero's brows furrowed. "The timing couldn't be worse. With Milliardo and Kushrenada here."
"Of course. You're of-age now. Old enough to rule, old enough to marry... though those things will have to wait until the New Year. Also, your Mark should be more mature, and it won't be vulnerable to everyone anymore, like it was with the Suits and Kushrenada. But until the New Year, you can still be hurt by it by anyone that actually knows what they're doing." He glanced at Wufei and cut himself off. "Anyway, the entire colony will celebrate tonight."
Wufei groaned. "I'm not in the mood to attend a celebration of any sort, much less with hundreds of people I don't even know." He had always spent his birthdays at home with his mother, quietly. After he'd met Hilde, the two of them would always go out to the movies after cake and presents. He sent his friend a jealous sideways glance. "I'm sure you got to have a nice quiet celebration in that shithole safehouse with the others." He could imagine quite easily Quatre baking a cake, regardless of Heero's indifference. Heero didn't strike him as the type to care one way or the other how old he was getting, but Quatre would be sure to keep track of such events.
Heero was shaking his head, confirming Wufei's thoughts. "I don't care about birthdays. On earth they're useless until you're eighteen. Up here, my age has never mattered. As long as I'm strong enough to do my job."
"You might not care, but I'm sure Duo and Quatre reminded you," Wufei drawled, amused at the thought.
"...No.." Heero glanced at him sideways, as if wondering why they were discussing something so pointless. "Duo and I had just arrived, and he was looking for a safehouse while I checked out the school. Quatre was still en route."
"Checked out the school?" Wufei looked at him sharply. He was thinking of an afternoon after school, the sun practically blinding him through the window as it set.
And a boy with blue eyes in the school yard, gazing up at him solemnly.
They'd reached the infirmary, so he let the subject of birthdays drop.
The guards recognized them and let them enter without a second glance. Wufei glanced around at the empty beds and headed for the single occupied one on the other side of the room. A nurse glanced up briefly from where she was tidying up her cabinets, offering a quick bow. Wufei acknowledged her with an absent nod and went to stand beside Relena, gazing down at the man asleep in the bed. Heero hung back silently.
Relena looked up at Wufei, offering a small, tentative smile. "You've never met my father, have you?"
Wufei shook his head wordlessly, still studying the slumbering Senator. He was ruggedly handsome with a clean-cut beard and a deep creases around his eyes and mouth. This was a man who smiled a lot.
A kind man, if the rumors were anything to go off of.
"How is he?" Wufei found himself asking. This man, he reminded himself a little nervously, would be his father-in-law one day.
"Better," Relena murmured, her hands dwarfed by her father's larger one as she clasped it tightly. "It's nothing serious. He was already under the weather and then he pushed himself to reach Yeong. Your aunt translated for me; all he needs is some good solid rest and a bit of medicine. As long as I get him to drink plenty of water whenever he's awake, he should be good as new in a couple of days."
"Good." He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, trying to decide how best to tell her what the Council had decided.
A slender Chinese girl, decked in the traditional gowns of his people, looked back up at him, her face strictly composed but her eyes filled with pity.
Jerking back, Wufei looked unconsciously towards the bed. An old man lay there, dying, struggling for breath and reaching for him blindly with one gnarled hand.
Wufei jumped like a cat when Relena reached out and touched his arm hesitantly. He stared down at her a bit wildly while she gazed back in surprised confusion. Heero stepped forward immediately, eyes narrowed, body tense. "What is it?"
"...I don't know..." Wufei shook his head quickly, peering first at Relena, then at her father. "I thought I saw...." He shook his head again, more deliberately this time. "Nothing," he muttered. "Backlash from... her, probably." He wondered why he didn't feel more ridiculous referring to a statue in such a way. "Something she showed me."
Heero glanced at Relena and didn't mention the dragon. "Something from the past?"
Wufei started to nod, then stopped, frowning uneasily. The dragon had brought back all his childhood memories, including the faces of his family and people. But the woman and the man just now had not been familiar to him. And the way the girl had been dressed... the style of clothing had been ancient. The people of Yeong were traditionalists, but he hadn't seen anyone wearing such ceremonial garb here. And the bed the old man had been on...
He forced himself to push the incident to the back of his mind. He was here for a reason. "Relena, I came here to talk to you about your brother," he said quietly.
"Milliardo?" Relena's face grew taunt with worry. "Is he all right? Has he done something? What's wrong?"
"Nothing.... Yet." Wufei scowled slightly, hating himself for asking, but knowing he was out of options. "Someone needs to talk to him before he gets any closer to Yeong. He isn't exactly popular here, and the Council has no qualms against launching a full-out attack on him, suicidal as it might be. I managed to convince them to send someone to speak with him, but if that doesn't work--"
Relena seemed to quickly grasp where the conversation was leading. "I'll go," she interrupted without hesitation.
Wufei frowned at her. "It's dangerous," he stated flatly. "There will be fleets of Mobile Suits and--"
"I'll go," Relena repeated stubbornly. "Who else is there?"
"...No one," Wufei was forced to admit. "You're the most logical choice, like it or not. Your brother will keep you safe, and he might actually listen to you. I'd go myself, but--"
"I can't see them letting you do something so risky," Relena admitted, mouth twitching in the beginnings of a dry smile. "Not after all the trouble they took to get you back."
"Yes," Wufei growled, disgusted with the whole thing. "That doesn't mean they should send an unarmed girl out onto a battlefield."
Relena looked only vaguely offended, but after a moment she ducked her head, cheeks coloring. "Are you... worried about me?" she asked tentatively.
Wufei stared at her, wondering at the stupidity of the question. "There's no guarantee you'll get to your brother safely," he snapped. "It's ridiculous to send you out there. This isn't your fight; you shouldn't die for it."
Relena's fingers twisted her sash shyly. "It is my fight, Wufei," she said quietly, finally forcing her eyes up to meet his. "I mean... These people are my concern now too, aren't they?"
Heero was staring at Relena, mouth a tight line, but he kept silent.
Wufei hesitated, uncomfortable at the girl's words-- or rather, the truth behind them. "They don't have to be," he assured her firmly. "I'm still trying to find a way to--"
Heero may not like the situation, but he was at least human enough to save the poor girl from further humiliation. He stamped hard on Wufei's foot, cutting him off. "Quatre will go with you," he said calmly, ignoring Wufei's hissed curses as the other boy jerked his injured foot away. "He's the most diplomatic of the Guardians, but he will be a sufficient bodyguard as well."
Relena nodded hesitantly, peering at him and Wufei a bit strangely. She opened her mouth as if to ask what Wufei had been about to say, then seemed to change her mind. She took a deep breath and drew herself up regally. "When do I leave?"
Wufei shot Heero a dirty look before answering. "As soon as possible."
The infirmary door slid open and one of the guards leaned in, inclining his head to Wufei respectfully. "Sir? Mao Zhao wishes to speak with you."
Wufei frowned, displeased. He had no wish to suffer another of the older boy's verbal attacks. "Is it important?"
"He says it concerns the Senator's daughter."
Wufei rubbed his forehead wearily. "This had better be good," he muttered to himself, before waving a hand in compliance. The guard retreated, and Zhao strode in a moment later.
Wufei regretted letting him in almost instantly; the first words out of his mouth were, "Why are you having the Senator guarded from your own people? Don't you trust us?"
Wufei didn't look at him until he was sure his expression was neutral. "I have my reasons; one of them has to do with a certain dog of a General being on-colony."
Zhao snorted in disbelief. "And the other 'reasons'?"
"Are none of your business," Wufei finished coolly. "What do you want, Zhao? Somehow I doubt you're here about the Senator's health."
Zhao ignored him, turning his attention on Relena and offering a fleeting, somewhat arrogant smile. "Nice to see you again, Miss Peacecraft," he greeted in Basic, bowing slightly and reaching for her hand.
Wufei stepped deftly in between them. Personal feelings of the girl aside, there were still things one didn't do. Not according to his set of morals, anyhow. "Could you quit trying to kiss my-" he managed to get the word out without choking on it -"fiancee every chance you get? What do you want?"
Relena didn't understand the clipped Mandarin, but she was flushed anyway, peeking over Wufei's shoulder. Heero's eyes were flinty.
Zhao smiled down at Wufei frostily. "She isn't yours yet," he murmured. "And you're not our Lord until New Year's. So don't try ordering me around, you scrawny little boy."
Wufei clasped his hands behind his back to keep them from wrapping around the older boy's throat. "Do you ever plan on telling me why the hell you have it out for me, Mao? Don't you know when to grow up?"
Zhao's finger jabbing against his chest hurt, but Wufei refused to lose ground. "You don't deserve any of this, Chang," he hissed, putting his face close to Wufei's own. "You were a spoiled, arrogant little brat last time I saw you, and it looks like the only thing that's changed about you is your age. You will never be the real Lord of our people. You grew up on earth. You don't know anything about us. You don't even remember us!"
"I remember," Wufei interrupted, glaring back. "I remember everything. Including you. If anyone's arrogant and childish, it's you. I didn't ask for any of this, Mao. But like it or not, it's who I am. I don't have time for your stupid little tantrums. Now did you have actual business with Relena, or are you going to get the hell out of this infirmary?"
"Make me," Zhao taunted, a smirk tugging at his lips.
Heero stepped forward.
Zhao leaned back from Wufei to eye the other boy up and down, mouth curled in disdain. Heero was a full head shorter than him, and his face was expressionless, but his gaze was hard and unwavering. After a moment Zhao seemed to remember what the Guardian's calloused hands were capable of, and took a reluctant step back, giving Wufei his personal space.
"I will be accompanying Miss Peacecraft," Zhao said loftily, steering the conversation back into Basic and looking down his nose at Wufei. "I merely wished to know when she wishes to depart."
"The hell you are," Wufei snapped before he could think of a more diplomatic retort. He scowled at the other man. "Quatre will be with her. I don't remember requesting your presence."
"You're sending a Guardian-- that's smart. Sending the Winner boy-- that's idiotic," Zhao murmured, eyes hooded. "Everyone knows he's too much like his father at heart. A pacifist. He's useless in battle."
Surprisingly, it was Relena who jumped to the blonde's defense. "Have you even ever seen Quatre fight?" she demanded quietly, gazing up at Zhao steadily. "I see nothing wrong with his belief in mercy, but he is W- Fei's Guardian for a reason."
Zhao barely even favored her with a mocking glance before returning his attention to Wufei as if she hadn't spoken at all. Her face grew red in indignation at the cool dismissal. "You can't possibly expect to send her out there with just one boy to protect her," he snorted. "Did you expect to just send him out in his Gundam? That meeting will be quite short-lived, I can assure you."
"Do you think I'm a complete idiot?" Wufei demanded sharply, temper nearing the breaking point. "Sending a Gundam out there would have Milliardo's entire fleet attacking him in seconds. Relena would never get anywhere that way. They'll go in the shuttle I used to get here. And they will have a handful of guards with them just in case."
"I will be one of them," Zhao said firmly.
Wufei wrestled with his bubbling anger and turned it into something cold and hard. He stepped forward slowly, right into Zhao's personal space. The older man looked at him quickly, eyes narrowing. Wufei stared back up at him, lips pulled tightly over his teeth as he struggled to keep himself tightly controlled. "The fact that you came here and told both me and Relena instead of simply getting on that shuttle tells me that you aren't going anywhere," he said quietly in Mandarin. "Because you can't, can you? As much as you hate it, you can't do anything so dangerous without my permission. Can you?"
Zhao's eyes were snapping with fury, his face pale with his own inner struggle to keep his cool. At his sides, his fingers curled unconsciously into tight fists.
Heero noticed. He stepped forward to stand beside Wufei and stared the older boy down. His hand was hovering by his holster.
"You'll have to excuse my Guardian," Wufei said in a mocking apology, never taking his eyes off of Zhao. "He's been trained to 'deal with' anything he perceives as a threat, no questions asked. I suggest you leave on your own before you're publically humiliated."
Zhao sucked in a slow breath, then abruptly spun on his heel and stalked towards the door.
"And Zhao," Wufei called, giving the older man slight pause, "I don't know what your problem with me is, but you'd better find a way to get over it. If you ever get in my face and disrespect me like that again, I'm not going to behave like my grandfather's heir. I'm going to act like the boy I was raised to be on earth, and make sure you're set up in this infirmary on a more permanent basis."
Zhao's shoulders stiffened, but he managed to keep his retort to himself. He kept his eyes forward and left the room in angry strides.
"Be careful with him," Heero murmured in Mandarin to keep from alarming Relena. "You don't want him angry at you when he already dislikes you. He's on good terms with some of the younger Council members."
"Feh." Wufei crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. "I'd like to know what his damned problem is." He turned towards Relena, falling back to Basic. "The nurse will take care of your father. Will you be ready to leave in about half an hour?"
Relena nodded resolutely, lips pressed tight together. She seemed fully aware of the risk she was about to take, and had shifted into Senator's daughter mode. Wufei hesitated, eyeing her, reluctantly proud of the girl who had gone through so many changes in the past month.
"I know he's your brother," he said quietly but firmly, making sure he had her attention, "but you have to get through an entire army to reach him, and not everyone will realize who you are. You'll be going in under a truce flag, but there's no absolute guarantee some trigger-happy pilot won't panic and shoot you down. Or that you'll be treated with respect by the men if you get to Milliardo's ship. There will be a couple guards with you on the ship itself, but I doubt those soldiers will let armed men on-board, so you'll most likely end up with Quatre as your only protection. So--"
"Wufei," Relena interrupted, a small smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. "Relax. I'm fully aware of the risks involved. But I need to do this to prevent the situation from getting any worse."
Wufei nodded reluctantly, and stepped aside. "Go find a woman named Yingtai. She'll help you get ready. Quatre will meet you at the launch pad."
Relena gave a brief, unconscious curtsy that made Wufei uncomfortable, and left without another word.
Wufei met Heero's gaze, frowning. "Quatre can't take Sandrock out there without sending Milliardo's men into a frenzy," he murmured. "But..."
Heero nodded as if he'd read the other boy's mind. "Trowa and Duo will be standing ready with their Gundams. If Quatre calls, they'll pull her out of there." He paused, studying Wufei thoughtfully. "Has your grandfather told you about Shenlong?" he asked abruptly.
Wufei stared blankly. "Who?"
Heero nodded decisively, beckoning with a finger as he headed for the door. "Come on. There's something you should see. Another part of your... 'inheritance'."
Bemused, Wufei trailed after him.
Quatre was hurrying through the gardens on the way to the launch pad when Trowa stepped out from behind a tree and seized him by the arm. Quatre squeaked in surprise as he was hauled out of sight behind the broad trunk.
"Trowa--" he stared up at the taller boy in surprise. "What's wrong?"
Trowa's expression was completely closed off, but his eyes were dark and discontent. "I heard," he said shortly. "It's a bad idea, Quatre."
"No," Quatre argued, "it's something Relena has to do. She's the only one who can talk some sense into Milliardo right now."
"Why do you have to go with her?" Trowa demanded tersely.
Quatre stared, baffled. "You can't expect her to just go by herself--!"
"Duo can go with her," Trowa cut him off, chopping the air with his hand in a finalizing gesture. His entire body was tense, his words clipped and angry. "He'd jump at the chance, and if it comes to a fight, he'll have no problem whatsoever doing what he has to in order to get Relena out safely."
"Duo is the back-up plan with you," Quatre said, offended. "Are you suggesting I can't handle this?"
Trowa realized belatedly how his words could be interpreted as an insult, and shook his head briefly. "You know that's not what I meant. You're capable--"
"Am I?" Quatre wrenched his arm free and stared up at his old friend hard. It hurt a lot more than it should have, to think that Trowa considered him so useless. "You don't think I'm a decent Guardian, is that it? You're always watching my back, even when I can handle a situation myself. You always take the bulk of the enemies when we're in battle, and you talk Heero out of sending me on dangerous missions whenever you get a chance! Am I really that much of a burden to this team??"
Trowa rocked back a bit, startled by the flare in his friend's temper. "Wha-- No. I don't think you're--"
The words were out before Quatre could think better of it. "Then leave me alone and let me do my job, Barton!" he shouted.
There was a long, tense silence. Trowa stared at Quatre, eyes a bit wider than normal, while Quatre glared back, furious and ashamed. After a long moment, once he was sure he'd made a dent in Trowa's impossibly thick skull, he stepped around the taller boy and stomped back down the path.
He'd gone two steps when through his anger came a sudden flash of pain that almost brought him to his knees.
He gasped and stumbled to a halt, fingers clutching like claws at his shirt, right over his heart. He turned his head in confused disbelief, but Trowa was already striding back towards the main house, shoulders stiff. An instant later the pain was gone as quickly as it had appeared, as if it had been roughly collared and buried once more.
But the echoes of it throbbed in Quatre's chest for a long time afterwards.
Forty-five minutes later, Relena found herself seated tensely at the desk in Wufei's room on the shuttle that had brought them to Yeong. Despite her brave front, she felt her heart begin to pound nervously in her chest as the engines roared to life and lifted the small craft towards the bay doors in the colony's ceiling.
There was a brief knock, then the "office" door slid open and Quatre stepped inside, blue eyes worried. "Relena?" he asked softly, coming over to stand in front of the desk. "Are you absolutely sure about this?"
Relena took in a shuddering breath and forced herself to smile at the small blonde. "I'm sure," she said with more confidence than she felt. "He's my brother. I'll find a way to make him listen, if I have to. This is important, right?"
Quatre nodded once.
"Then this is something I have to do, regardless of the danger," Relena said firmly, staring at the desk's surface.
"...It is," Quatre agreed after a moment. "But that doesn't mean you have to try so hard to be brave. Not in front of Wufei-- or me. It's all right to be nervous." He smiled soothingly. "This is a noble thing you're doing."
Relena managed a watery smile. "Thanks." She took a deep breath. "I want to help Wufei and his people," she admitted quietly. "This is what I was raised to do, as a Senator's daughter. Right now Wufei needs my knack for diplomacy-- and yours --to keep this situation under control. He's depending on us."
Quatre smiled at her. "Vive la Yeong."
That, at least, got a small laugh out of her.
Quatre studied her speculatively for a moment, then slowly took a seat in the chair Mingzhu had used just the day before. Relena sat up straighter, alerted by the serious look on his face. "Relena... how much has Wufei told you about me?" he asked delicately. "About...." his hand fluttered vaguely over his chest.
Confused at the gesture, Relena shook her head. "I'm not sure I follow you. Do you.." she grasped at straws, concerned. "Do you have a heart condition?"
Quatre couldn't quite hold back a smile. "I wouldn't have been allowed to be a Guardian if I did."
Embarrassed, Relena shook her head. "No, Wufei didn't tell me much about any of you."
"This could come in handy, if you know about it," Quatre admitted, politely pretending not to notice her discomfiture. "And since it seems you're, well... soon to be a part of the family, it's your right to know."
"I'm an empath."
"..." Relena stared blankly. "Pardon?"
The corner of Quatre's mouth twitched in a wry little smile, as if he was used to this reaction. He settled his hand over his heart unconsciously. "An empath. I can sense the moods and emotions of the people around me. If they're strong enough, sometimes they effect my own, though I've trained myself enough to keep that a rare occurrence. My point is, if I tell you I've got a bad feeling about anything that goes on up there, I mean it quite literally, and you must trust me enough to let me get you out of there."
Relena struggled with her wavering disbelief for a moment, then gave up. She had seen and heard far too many strange things lately, and always hovering just out of earshot were the whispers of even stranger things to come. Better to just take this in stride for now and have a quiet nervous breakdown in private once things were calm again. "All right," she said slowly, studying the way her slender fingers looked against the dark polished desk's surface. "I suppose I have no other choice but to believe that at this time. However, it's going to take a lot to get me off that ship once I've attained an audience with my brother. I can be just as stubborn as he is... as I'm sure you've noticed by now."
Quatre smiled but declined to comment.
"I'll argue with him all week if I have to," Relena sighed, watching as her fingers curled into fists of determination. "I have to make him see sense. I can do it. Please trust me in that." She looked up earnestly at the blonde. "My brother would never wish to put so many innocent civilian lives in jeopardy. He's a soldier, not a murderer."
Quatre nodded, satisfied, and got to his feet. "All right. I'll give you as much time as possible, but if things get too dangerous, I'm getting you out of there. And if I know Heero, he'll be have a back-up plan to pull us out if he needs to." He hesitated on the way to the door, glancing back at her. "Oh, by the way... it would be best if you didn't mention either Heero or Duo to Milliardo if you can help it. They have a... history. I don't want his bad opinion of them clouding his mind and influencing any decision he might make."
The intercom crackled to life, the co-pilot's voice tense with nerves. "Sir, we're coming up on Milliardo's armada now. They'll be trying to establish contact any second."
Relena looked around hastily and flipped the switch by the small speaker set in the corner of the desk. "I'm on my way," Quatre called, opening the door. He sent Relena one last backwards glance. "I hope you know your brother as well as you say you do, Relena," he said quietly but fervently. "I hope he's the man you remember and not the monster Wufei's people see him as." He was out the door before Relena could think of a response.
Author's Notes: Sorry this took so long, but I was on a much-needed vacation, going to my sister's graduation, and I usually don't write when I'm vacation. I've also been spending a lot of time on my online comics, and my writing is suffering because of it. BTW, if anyone knows where some 1x5x1 fanart is, point me in the right direction. It's so hard to find, but it's always good inspiration.
Back to GW fanfics