Chapter 50: "A Celebration"

Quatre smiled wanly as Duo's head popped around the doorway of the Guardians' bed chambers, complete with shit-eating grin.

"The triumphant returns." Duo strolled in, hands crammed down his back pockets. Quatre noted the unconscious pose with an inner smile. So far only Heero had been required to be Wufei's shadow and dress appropriately, but Duo was going to have to say farewell to his beloved jeans before tonight. They would be more visible from now on, and would be expected to wear their traditional uniforms.

"So everything went well, I take it?" Duo flopped down onto the nearest bunk, propping his head on his hand and grinning at his friend. "You and Relena show old stuffy- pants a thing or two?"

"He was really quite cooperative," Quatre assured him, returning his attention to the object laid in his lap. He smoothed his hand idly across the worn leather. "He doesn't like leaving his sister here, but she talked sense into him. He even gave his regrets for L5. Wufei was right. Milliardo had nothing to do with it."

Duo rolled his eyes. "So he says."

"I believed him, Duo," Quatre said quietly. "And so did Wufei, when I passed on the message. Don't go looking for enemies; we already have enough potential ones as it is."

Duo shrugged one shoulder, changing the subject. "Hey, speaking of Wufei, I just saw him a minute ago. He looked mad enough to kill. Didn't get a chance to speak with him, though; his grandfather wants him to stay in his room until the party. Doesn't wanna spoil all the surprises or whatever."

Quatre hesitated, still staring at the weapon in his loose grasp. Duo's own gazy fell to the sword, then flicked unconsciously across the room towards the locked wardrobe on the other side of the room. "Already got yours out, huh?"

"We have to wear them with our outfits tonight," Quatre murmured distractedly. He hesitated, then wrapped his hand around the worn hilt and drew the blade with a quick, practiced movement. The hiss of the steel against the scabbard was as familiar to him as the sound of a door being opened. He lifted the simple sword and ran his eyes along its length. It was scratched, nicked, and older than he cared to think about. It had belonged to Guardians before him, and it had been given to him as soon as he was strong enough to lift it as a boy.

"I haven't even taken mine out yet," Duo said, pointedly avoiding looking at the wardrobe where the Guardians' weapons were stored.

"I didn't want to," Quatre admitted quietly. "A part of me hoped I would never have to hold it again after we put them aside."

"It's been a long time." Duo rolled into a sitting position, frowning at the ancient sword. "But you knew you'd have to wear it again someday."

"If we hadn't found Wufei, I never would have had to," Quatre whispered, eyes flinching, ashamed. "A year or two ago, I would have gladly given up the hope of finding him just to avoid all of this. Does that make me a bad person?"

Duo hesitated, then shrugged slightly. "I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not. You barely remembered him anyway. And like it or not, you're your father's son."

"I never asked for this, Duo," Quatre murmured.

"None of us did, Quat," Duo said quietly but firmly. "But if you did have a choice now, would you give it up? Would you decide not to be a Guardian?"

Quatre's gaze finally shifted towards the other boy. "...No," he finally said. "Wufei is my friend. I won't leave him with one less person to watch his back." He sheathed the sword abruptly. "Besides, he's struggling to deal with his own destiny. I accepted mine a long time ago."

"Doesn't mean any of us have to like it," Duo said with a small grin.

"No. But I won't turn my back on him. If it had ever been my choice to make, I think I would have ended up right where I am right now anyway."

Duo laughed shortly. "Wufei has that effect on people," he admitted wryly. "He's a prickly little bastard, but ya can't help but love the guy."

Quatre smiled and rose to his feet, carrying the sword back towards the wardrobe. "Oh, as for his current bad mood... I'm assuming Heero didn't speak to you yet?"

"Nah, Mingzhu put his butt in a chair in Wufei's room and told him to stay there." Duo snorted. "She's a crotchety old bat, but I'd rather her be just as paranoid as we are than as oblivious as Shen can be sometimes. She doesn't want Kushrenada here any more than we do."

"I ran into them in the hall earlier and Heero spun me up. Evidently the bodyguard that's been following the General and his daughter around is named Phillips. He's one of the Suits who was there that night you and Heero got attacked at the hotel. Supposedly he's the one who put his hands on Wufei and activated his Mark in the first place."

"Really," Duo said, face blank. "That's interesting." He glanced at his watch after a moment. "Well, I've got shit to do, Q-man. You'd better go find Tro. I'll be back in a bit."

"Trowa?" Quatre hesitated in the act of locking the wardrobe. "Why?"

Duo rolled his eyes, grinning as he headed for the door. "You two have a lot to talk about." He was gone before Quatre could demand a clearer answer.


Duo was in luck. He caught the tall bodyguard as he was stepping out of Kushrenada's guest quarters.

"Yo." Duo approached him with hand upheld in greeting, a sharp smile on his face. "You got a sec?"

Phillips paused, hand still on the door handle as he sized the boy up with cool gray eyes. "You're one of the Guardians. Miss Mariemaia is resting. She doesn't want to be disturbed."

"I didn't say anything about talking to that little monster," Duo cut him off cheerfully. "I need to talk to you. So you got a sec or what?"

"I'm busy," Phillips said shortly. "I don't have time for your nonsense."

Duo slapped a hand against the wall, barring the other man's way. He looked up at the Suit, smile full of teeth. "We can talk right here. It's about Wufei."

Phillips' lip curled. "You mean Chang Fei. I have no intentions of discussing that boy. It's the General you're looking for."

Duo didn't budge. "Funny, he doesn't look like you, and I'm looking for a guy in a suit with gray eyes. Bears a striking resemblance to some jackass that tried to kidnap my friend." He tilted his head. "Seen anyone like that?"

Phillips glared down at him in naked contempt. "I'm not interested in speaking with colony gutter-trash like you. Now I suggest you remove yourself from my path before I'm forced to move you myself. I have things to do."

"Mm-hm," Duo nodded agreeably, staring thoughtfully down at his feet. "I see." He reached out suddenly and seized Phillips by the front of his shirt, slamming him against the wall. "Fei's tact needs some working on," he admitted, smiling tightly into the older man's face. "He's still learning how to be all diplomatic and shit. He has to be polite and careful around people like you and the scumbag you work for." Phillips was fumbling for a weapon he wasn't wearing, so Duo pulled him away from the wall and slammed him against it again-- hard. "Luckily, being a Guardian, I'm not expected to tiptoe around little fucks like you. My job is to threaten, kill, and disable anyone I see as a threat to the one I'm supposed to be protecting. And guess what? You don't look so non-threatening to me."

Phillips opened his mouth to speak, but Duo's eyes narrowed warningly. "Are you absolutely sure you want to speak right now?"

Phillips stared back at him, then sulkily kept his silence.

"Good boy." Duo released him and stepped back, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He stared the Suit down with lidded eyes, all traces of civility banished. "I see you so much as look at him in a way that seems a little suspicious, and I'm going to have to 'disable' you. Catch my drift?"

Phillips straightened his suit huffily, expression livid. "You'll pay for this," he swore.

"Hey, just doin' my job," Duo drawled, already walking away.


"This is ridiculous," Wufei muttered irritably, glaring out of the window at the artificial sunset. "I know there's a party. It's not like it's a big surprise. So why do I have to stay hidden in here for the next few hours?"

Heero, typically obedient to a fault, was seated in the exact chair Mingzhu had practically pushed him into, placed against the wall between the door and Wufei's bed. He was one of the only people on the colony allowed to carry a modern sidearm, and was cleaning it meticulously. "I think part of it is they don't want you underfoot. Also, they want the decorations to be a surprise."

"Underfoot?" Wufei repeated, offended. "I'm not a child!"

Heero wisely decided to say nothing and avoid the risk of having his words taken the wrong way.

Wufei placed his hands on his hips and looked around in disgust. "How do they expect me to keep myself busy until this foolish get-together? The only books here are either ones I've read before, or ones I'll never be bored enough to slough through. There's a desk, but no paper or pens yet, and Hilde's probably too busy fooling around with Maxwell in some dark corner..." he shuddered at the thought.

"Take a nap," Heero suggested, most of his concentration on the gun.

"I'm not tired."

"Call for the servants to bring tea."

"I'm not thirsty, and if they brought snacks, I wouldn't be able to eat them anyway. I'll be eating enough in just a couple of hours."

Heero grunted distractedly, clearly out of ideas.

Wufei seated himself on the bed huffily and dragged his battered bag onto his lap. He began going through its contents, placing the things he would need-- such as his clothes and toothbrush --on the small elegant table by the bed. He examined what was left, lifting the frayed blanket to the light and gazing at the faded image of the dragon. After a moment he carefully rolled it up and set it with his clothes. Maybe later he would pin it on the wall like he had back on earth. His cellphone was still in there, but it was useless now. Next came the dirk, but Mingzhu had already provided him with a-- slightly over-decorative --sword. It was more for show than anything else, but it also meant he wouldn't have a place to wear the dirk. He placed it back in the bag with a silent promise to ask Duo for a knife to hide on his person somewhere. Having four Guardians made the point mostly moot, but Wufei didn't relish the thought of having no way of protecting himself if things got hairy. The sword was servicable, but he wouldn't be wearing it at all times.

Digging in the bottom of the bag, his fingertips encountered an unfamiliar shape. Frowning, he pulled it out for inspection, and blinked when he realized what he'd found. Ah.. he'd almost forgotten...

He glanced over his shoulder at where Heero was sitting stubbornly, carefully putting his gun back together again after its thorough cleaning. After only a moment's hesitation, Wufei stuffed the bag under the bed and strode across the room.

Heero didn't look up at first, but after a moment realized Wufei was standing in front of him without speaking. He glanced up through his bangs, eyebrows arching in question.

"There's always another way to pass the time," Wufei pointed out mildly.

Heero continued to stare at him blankly for a moment, then looked back down at his gun. "...You want me to show you how to clean a gun?"

Wufei rolled his eyes, amused despite himself. "No, Heero." He held a small squeeze -tube in front of the other boy's face.

Heero stared at it for a second, uncomprehending. Then he did a double-take, and recognition settled in. He looked up quickly, eyebrows drawing together in surprise. "Wait- you want to--"

"We have a couple hours to kill," Wufei reminded him, idly tossing and catching the tube one-handed as he stared steadily down at the seated Guardian. "God only knows when we'll get another chance, if ever." His eyes flickered towards the gun, and a smirk tugged at his lips. "Or are you otherwise occupied?"

Heero hastily put the gun on the floor, but shook his head in regret. "Wufei, you know we can't. We even said before that it was the only time--"

"Then please explain that little encounter before the Council meeting to me," Wufei retorted. "If I remember correctly, it was your brilliant idea to get down on your knees." His cheeks flushed at the words, but luckily Heero was avoiding looking directly at him. "Think of it as a birthday gift."

Heero snorted, amused, and when he finally looked up, Wufei knew he'd won. He was being soldier-boy, but his eyes were slightly darker than normal with the beginnings of restrained want. In the end, however, duty seemed to kick in, and he shook his head again. "I'm not supposed to get out of this chair."

Wufei thought about that for a few seconds, then seated himself quite abruptly in the startled boy's lap, straddling him without so much as a moment's hesitation. He rested his hands on the chair back either side of Heero's head and looked him right in the eye. "Then don't."

Heero's hands grasped Wufei's hips instinctively, but he was still shaking his head. "Wufei-- be rational. You're engaged. To Relena. This is--"

"Stupid, dangerous, and forbidden, yeah, I've heard." Wufei settled himself a bit more comfortably, taking care to shift his hips just enough in the motion to draw a sharp breath out of his lover. "But you know what occurred to me? There might be more opportunities like this, there might not. So in the end we don't know when we'll have another chance to do this 'one last time'. So are you really going to pass this up and tell me you don't want to, or are you going to do something and keep me from embarrassing myself any furth--"

The hands on his hips jerked him forward suddenly so that he was pressed chest-to- chest with Heero, and then a rough mouth was on his.

"Hnnf-!" Wufei struggled to get more control over the hungry kiss, then decided cheating was in order. He tightened his grip on the chair's back and used the leverage to move against Heero in a quick, hard, rocking motion that ground his hardness against Heero's own. With his legs spread from his straddling position, the sensation was much more pronounced, and he echoed the other boy's sudden gasp.

Wufei had changed into a loose robe so that he could avoid wrinkling his outfit for the evening later, and Heero's calloused hands were already slipping through the half-open front and running down Wufei's chest.

"Not fair," Wufei protested breathlessly against Heero's mouth, struggling to undo the pearl buttons on the front of his Primary's shirt.

He felt Heero's lips smirk beneath his. "You started it," he muttered back. Then he seemed to decide that risking Mingzhu's wrath was a price he was willing to pay. His hands returned to Wufei's hips in a hard grip, and in one movement he was on his feet, lifting the other boy with a startling show of strength. Wufei had time for one squawk of indignation-- "Put me down, you muscleheaded--"

And then they were across the room and Wufei's back was hitting the covers on his generously-sized bed. Wufei rewarded the action with a clout across the head when Heero was foolish enough to lean in close enough to be in range.

"I'm not a woman, or a ragdoll for that matter, Yuy," he snarled, cheeks flaming in affront and embarrassment. "Pick me up like that again and I'll--"

"You can beat me up later," Heero promised, hands making dents in the sheets either side of Wufei's head.

Wufei twisted suddenly, catching him off guard. A moment later Heero lay on his back, blinking in surprise up at the smug boy pinning him down. "Now here's an interesting turn," Wufei murmured.

Heero arched a brow and aborted his initial struggle. "Is this your way of saying it's your turn?"

"Turn?" Wufei stared, uncomprehending for a moment. "Wait-- what? You mean--? Wait a minute." He released Heero's wrists hastily and sat up, straddling the other boy once more.

Heero propped himself up on his elbows, studying his lover's face carefully. "It's only fair," he pointed out.

Wufei rolled his eyes to hide his embarrassment. Then he forced himself to think clearly, eyes unconsciously sliding down the length of the clothed body beneath him.

Well... inexperience aside... it did have its merits...

And Heero hadn't known quite what he was doing last time, either.

"Though I'm not sure I'm quite as... flexible as you are," Heero admitted slowly.

Wufei laughed shortly, still embarrassed, but amused and suddenly curious as well. "All right, then..." he scooted back off of the other boy and gestured at his pants imperiously. Slowly but obediently Heero peeled off the pants and tossed them aside. He began unbuttoning his shirt, but a little too slowly. Wufei leaned in and claimed Heero's mouth in a messy but demanding kiss, his own fingers taking over and making short work of the buttons while a hard hand clasped the back of his skull.

"Now what?" Heero muttered, struggling to catch his breath once Wufei finally released his mouth to shove the shirt down broad shoulders.

Wufei waited for a moment before responding, watching his hand as it slid slowly down the well-toned chest laid out for him. He considered the question for a moment, and his thoughts flickered again to the comics he had found by accident in Hilde's room. He smirked, hoping he looked a bit more confident than he was, and pushed at Heero's shoulder firmly.

It took him a moment to understand, but when he did, Heero only hesitated a moment before rolling onto his stomach slowly.

Relieved that Heero wouldn't be able to see the nervousness on his face, Wufei fumbled for the small tube of lube Duo had so thoughtfully provided. It was already half-empty from last time. Where the hell was he going to find some more, if they ever got a chance to do this again? He squeezed some of the oily substance onto his fingers and hesitated, gazing down at the prone body he knelt over. He recognized the slight tension in his friend's shoulders, and felt a bit better. That night on the shuttle had been a first for both of them, but then, so was this. He stretched out beside Heero and impulsively placed his mouth to the exposed throat as he blindly slid his fingers downwards and found the opening he was looking for.

Heero shuddered slightly at the touch on his neck, and interested, Wufei moved his mouth a bit higher, to just below Heero's ear. He heard the other boy's breath hitch, and used the moment's distraction to carefully force one finger inside, wincing internally.

Heero tensed a bit, but didn't reject the invasion, and Wufei forced himself to relax a little as he managed to get the finger further in. He tried to mimic what he recalled Heero doing, forcing another finger in with its brother and beginning to massage the muscles inside to prepare them to stretch. It was a strange sensation, but not as uncomfortable as it was for Heero, whose back was knotted in tension. Wufei probed deeper, hoping to find that spot that had startled him so much, but with no success. He hesitated after a few moments, nervous all over again. Was he doing this right? What if he messed up, and hurt Heero on accident? What if Heero didn't enjoy it?

"Maybe we shouldn't do it this way," Wufei muttered, staring at the hairs cropped short at the back of Heero's neck.

"No." Heero turned his head on the pillow, forcing Wufei to meet his steady gaze. "This is fine."

Wufei studied his face for a moment, then sighed quietly, gathering his courage, and shifted into a sitting position. The movement changed the angle of his arm, and accidently pushing his fingers in further with more force than he'd intended--

Heero jerked, back arching up slightly as he barely managed to strangle a surprised gasp in time.

Startled, Wufei started to withdraw his hand, then stopped in realization. He grinned in smug relief, watching as Heero's eyes fought to focus again. "There it is."

"Stop gloating," Heero muttered, glaring at him in mock anger, "and just--"

"You're a bossy bottom," Wufei noted, reaching for the lube again.

"You have no room to talk," Heero retorted, but Wufei was secretly pleased at the flush on his friend's face.

He untied the front of his robe as he settled over Heero's back, letting it fall open either side, almost like a modest tent. Nervousness fought with eagerness, and his heart pounded in his ears as he used more of the lube on himself. He paused, trying to catch a glimpse of his partner's face. "Ready?"

Heero shot him a quick, impatient glare over his shoulder, and Wufei nodded, taking a deep breath.

It was more difficult than he'd thought it'd be to get himself inside, and he almost withdrew before he remembered that it had taken Heero a few moments himself when he'd been in Wufei's position. Heero's muscles were corded with tension at the slow, painful invasion, but he didn't make so much as a murmur of protest, so Wufei gritted his teeth and forced himself to be as careful as humanly possible.

Just when he was beginning to think it was impossible, he slipped past some initial resistance and gasped at the sensation of being surrounded by tight heat. It took all his self control to keep still and let Heero adjust rather than let his hips do nature's business, and his arms shook from where they were propping him up. "Heero..?"

"I'm fine," he grunted after a moment, and Wufei could see him forcing himself to relax.

Wufei nodded, even though Heero couldn't see the motion, and began to move as slowly and carefully as possible. It was awkward at first, and he still felt a bit lost, but he was damned if he was going to hurt Heero on accident by going any faster.

Heero's breaths were short and strained, his palms pressed against the mattress so hard they left deep imprints, but he didn't make so much as a hiss of pain, even though Wufei recalled with a wince how painful it had been for the first minute or two. It was difficult to concentrate on Heero's own well-being and ignore the pleasure curling in his own gut, though because-- this was...

Wufei took in a deep breath, and it rattled strangely in his throat. Slowly, slowly...

And suddenly Heero seemed to decide the time for caution was over. He shifted slightly, and-- clenched--

"Shit!" Wufei hissed, and thrust in harder than he'd meant to. Heero jumped a bit at the sharp pain, fingers twitching, and Wufei cursed himself mentally. "Sorry--"

"Nevermind," Heero managed to growl. "Just--"

"I know," Wufei panted, steeling himself. And he carefully picked up his speed just a bit, going just a bit deeper, and...

Just when he was beginning to privately panic and wondering if Heero was going to enjoy this at all, he shifted his weight on his arms, changing the angle slightly, and Heero grunted with surprise, hips arching instinctively off the bed.


A grin of relief flashed across Wufei's face, and he tried to stay in the exact same position as he tried to hit that spot again.

The foreign word tripped out in a strained gasp. "Kuso--" Heero's fingers dug into the sheets for a moment, face pressed to the pillow as his hips lifted helplessly.

It got hard to concentrate on anything tangible after that. Wufei's world narrowed into the steady rhythm of in-- out-- and Heero's responses slowly mounted to something more carnal as his hands tightened into fists in the blanket, his breathing labored and his hips arching back to meet each thrust, his eyes squeezed shut and his face flushed.

And faster yet, though-- he should be more careful, but-- Wufei hissed a Mandarin curse as he struggled for control and failed miserably, the rythm suddenly much faster and stronger than he'd meant it to be, but--

Heero gave a sudden shout, his arms straining against the bed, shoving him back against Wufei, hips slamming into Wufei's own. Wufei lost what tenuous grasp on control he'd had left, and laid out flat against Heero's back, hands gripping Heero's hips hard enough to bruise. His mouth fell on Heero's throat again, and his hips moved by themselves, but Heero wasn't complaining, he was rocking back as much as he could from his restrained position, and his breaths were turning into gasps interspersed with a curse or a groan.

At the last minute Wufei remembered, and slipped his hand underneath Heero, searching for and finding the other boy's erection. He pulled at it hard, three times, and suddenly Heero was arching off the bed, lifting Wufei with him as he came with a hoarse shout, head bowed, fingers clutching frantically at the sheets for purchase.

Muscles that had been loosened suddenly clamped down like a vice, and Wufei cried out at the sensation. Two more frantic thrusts and his own world exploded in pleasure.

He rode the wave until it was over, then all the strength in his arms vanished and he collapsed on top of Heero, who grunted at the sudden weight. Slowly he rolled off, still fighting for breath, and turned his head on the pillow to look his lover over with belated anxiety.

Heero's face was still pressed against the pillow, body shuddering in the aftermath, back heaving as he panted, but after a moment he turned his head a bit to meet Wufei's gaze.

Wufei felt his mouth twitching into a grin, and reached out lethargically to flip a lock of hair out of Heero's face to see him better. Heero rolled onto his own side slowly so they were facing each other, and reached out to snag Wufei's hip, dragging him across the sheets so they were pressed up against each other again.

"Not bad, I take it?" Wufei murmured against his cheek.

Heero snorted quietly and silenced Wufei's impudence with a kiss. His hand, sliding down Wufei's back in an unconsciuos carress, slipped across his Mark.

There was no jolt of pleasure, not even a rush of energy like the first time he'd encountered the Mark. But it grew impossibly hot, and Wufei winced, reaching back and placing his fingertips over it in an instinctive attempt to cool it. Heero had removed his hand and was staring blankly at it.

"What?" Wufei blew out a sigh of relief as the burning sensation slowly faded. "What was that? Did it burn you?"

"...No." Heero was frowning at his fingertips, rubbing them together slowly. "It... just tingled. Does it hurt?"

Wufei shook his head slightly, dismissing it. His Mark always acted strangely at another's touch, especially Heero's. Already sleepiness was making it hard to keep his eyes open. "You should get dressed before Mingzhu comes back," he murmured, tucking one arm under his head and playing idly with Heero's hair with his free hand. "Before the stupid party..."

"Yeah..." Heero blinked drowsily, resting his hand comfortably on Wufei's hip. "In a minute..."

Moments later they were both asleep.


Quatre was struggling into his outfit for the evening when Trowa entered the room on silent feet. He watched Quatre fumble with the tiny buttons for a moment, then wordlessly went over to help.

Quatre jumped at the touch on his shoulder, turning in surprise to look up at his friend. "Trowa--" He stopped, remembering that he was mad at the other boy. He turned away again, watching his fingers fight with the pearl buttons. "You'd better hurry and get dressed," he said shortly. "The party's going to start soon."

"I'm glad everything went well," Trowa said quietly.

Quatre's shoulders stiffened, but still he refused to face his friend. "Of course it did. I told you I could take care of myself."

"I know you can-- Quatre, will you look at me?"

Quatre ignored that. "Where are Heero and Wufei? I just got back from checking the security at the gates. I hope they're dressed by now."

"Quatre," Trowa said in an undertone. "I wasn't trying to insult you before. I know you're capable--"

Quatre turned on his heel to glare up at the other boy. "Then why are you always trying to keep me from doing anything too dangerous?" he demanded. "You don't think I'm a good enough soldier. You don't trust me to do anything risky. Look, Trowa, I know what everyone thinks of me. They all think I'm just like my father. That I can't fight, or won't. Well--"

"Quatre!" Trowa grabbed him by the shoulders, and Quatre shut up, startled. Trowa hesitated, lips pressed tightly as he fought an internal debate. Abruptly he released his smaller friend, stepping back in defeat. "You've got it wrong."

Quatre shook his head slowly, staring at him. "I can take care of myself, Trowa," he whispered. "I'm not a kid anymore. I need you to trust me to do my job. By myself."

Trowa turned away without responding and began to change. Quatre watched him for a moment, then returned his own attention to his outfit. His eyes were stinging, but he ignored it.

Blasted buttons!

And where the hell was Heero?


"You had better thank God and little green apples that I'm the one who was sent to fetch you two idiots."

Wufei jolted awake at the sharp voice, confused for only half a second before horror slammed down and banished the rest of his drowsiness. Beside him, Heero had sat bolt upright and was reaching for a gun he'd foolishly left on the other side of the room.

But it was Duo who stood at the foot of their bed, decked out in black traditional Chinese clothing, hands on his hips and a dark scowl of disapproval on his face.

"Jesus H. Christ," Duo snapped. "Are you insane?? If you morons are gonna do the horizontal tango, you could at least be a little more sneaky about it. Falling asleep like that-- what if someone else had come to check on you??"

"Fuuuck." Wufei sat up, rubbing roughly at his face to hide his mingled shame and staggering relief. A moment later modest embarrassment caught up, and he snatched the sheet up so it was covering him from the waist down. He glared up at Duo, hating the flicker of amusement in the other boy's eyes. "All right, all right, I get the point. Now get the fuck out."

Heero didn't seem bothered in the least by his naked state, and got out of bed, striding across the room to fetch his clothes. "How long did we sleep?" Wufei's eyes followed him despite himself, enjoying the view.

Duo shoved up a tightly-clasped sleeve to check his watch. "I have no clue, but I'll tell you what time it is now. Party time. You'd both better clean up, get dressed, and get your asses in gear. Everyone's waiting for you. I'll be right outside." He turned and strode out, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Cursing floridly in Mandarin, Wufei threw off the covers and sprang out of bed, snatching up his outfit for the evening. "Damn it, I didn't mean to fall asleep-- especially not for that long."

"This is what I meant," Heero pointed out, dipping a washcloth in a basin of water and cleaning himself up quickly and efficiently before tossing the rag to Wufei. "This is too risky. Sooner or later you're going to have to realize that--"

"I don't want to talk about this right now," Wufei cut him off sharply. Don't want to talk about it ever. He kept that part to himself. "Let's just go to this stupid party and get this over with."

Heero watched him for a moment, then decided to drop it for now. "Kushrenada will no doubt come up to you to offer his congratulations. Try to be more polite than you were before."

Wufei finished with the rag and started dressing hastily. "I know, I fucked up earlier. I'm not going to make the same mistake again-- especially not in front of everyone." He hesitated, glancing at the rumpled, messy sheets with a wince. The servants probably wouldn't ask questions; it was their job to clean, not ask about their next Lord's private life. If he was lucky, they'd assume he'd been with a woman. Most likely Relena. The thought made him sick to his stomach.

It took them only a few minutes to get ready, and the rest of the Guardians-- all of them politely not grinning at them --were waiting outside. Fighting back a blush, Wufei lifted his chin and marched down the hall with his Guardians around him. They stopped to pick up Relena and Hilde, and then made their way to the throne room where the party was being held.


Everyone of importance was at the party, and it was an elaborate affair to say the least. Decorations covered the walls and hung from the ceilings; the cooks had outdone themselves; everyone was in their best apparel. And every few minutes one or two people would come up to offer Wufei their best wishes and place a gift in the steadily growing pile.

Wufei was bored out of his mind by the end of the second hour.

After the toasts and the food, there wasn't much more required of him except to sit beside his grandfather and accept greetings and gifts from the seemingly endless crowd of attendants. The music was slow, cheerful, and traditional, and some people danced.

Duo hauled a blushing, laughing Hilde onto the floor, and Wufei watched them keenly for a moment before realizing that Mingzhu was staring at him hard from three seats away. She moved her eyes towards Jianguo's other side, and Wufei followed her gaze to where Relena was seated, picking at the remains of her food and watching the dancers with a slightly wistful expression.

Oh, hell.

Wufei considered pretending not to understand, but he'd told himself he'd be on his best damned behavior if it killed him. He glanced at Heero, but the other boy either didn't notice, or was deliberately ignoring him to force him to do what he had to do. Gritting his teeth, Wufei rose to his feet and walked around his grandfather to where Relena was seated. Wufei could be the picture of a gentleman when he chose to be; his foster mother had made sure of that. It was a side of himself he rarely showed, and usually only in brief intervals, but tonight was in some ways more important to his people than it was to him, and he was going to act like the leader they were all hoping for, and not the short-tempered teenager from earth. He bowed to the startled girl and offered a hand silently.

Blushing furiously but unable to hide a happy smile, Relena accepted his hand and rose to her feet, graceful despite the strange clothing she'd been fitted for, and followed Wufei demurely onto the floor to a smattering of applause.

It didn't occur to Wufei until he was actually on the floor that he had never danced a day in his life. He had a brief moment of panic, but Relena saved him. She'd been taught to dance since she'd been able to walk, and she helped him through the motions, murmuring advice every now and then through her pleased little smile. Feeling clumsy and exposed, Wufei followed her guiding hands and was careful not to look in Heero's direction. It wasn't too difficult to pick up; it was sort of like learning a new kata. Within a minute or two they were dancing much more gracefully while the onlookers smiled approvingly.

He could feel Heero's eyes burning into him from across the room.

After that thankfully brief dance, it was back to sitting and accepting gifts and well-wishes, and nothing more exciting happened until Kushrenada approached the table, Mariemaia at his side.

Wufei refused to let himself tense up or change expression. It was easier to do with Heero at his side and the other Guardians close by, all of them watching the Kushrenadas with untrusting eyes and blades at their hips.

Kushrenada's uniform was freshly pressed, his boots shined to mirrors. His medals bobbed as he stopped before the table and offered a gracious bow. "Chang Fei." He nodded to his daughter, and Mariemaia, looking like a cute child in a pink dress and not the monster Wufei knew her to be, stepped forward and smiled charmingly. She bobbed a curtsy and offered a simply-wrapped box.

"Happy birthday, Fei," she said. "Please accept this small token of appreciation for all the hospitality you and your people have shown us during our stay. May Yeong thrive and prosper in the years to come under its new rule." She dimpled and set the box with the others. Wufei nodded back, face carefully blank. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up, but he couldn't decide if it was merely their close proximity or something they'd said. But they had been very civilized and said nothing out of sorts, so he forced himself to ignore his anxiety. Heero's hand was resting casually on the hilt of the sword on his belt, his eyes hard as he watched the two of them like a hawk.

Sometimes Wufei was thankful for his friend's paranoia.

Then they returned to their own seats, and Wufei allowed himself to relax. A few minutes later Duo dragged a laughing Hilde back out to dance, and Wufei watched them for a moment. Reluctantly he admitted that he had no say in who Hilde chose to date. Hell, she had never said a bad word about him being with another man. Besides.... She laughed at something Duo said, her face glowing as she pressed up close to him. He seemed to make her happy. And in the midst of all this insanity, Hilde's happiness was important to him. Even if it was a foul-mouthed smartass of a man who put that smile on her face.

Glancing around he realized in surprise he wasn't the only one observing them. His grandfather was watching them with sharp eyes, brows pulled sharply together. Mingzhu and Shen were also staring at Hilde intently, with mixed expressions of disbelief and horror on their faces. Worry twisted in Wufei's gut, and he looked quickly back at his grandfather.
Jianguo's expression was impossible to discern, but a moment later he caught Wufei looking at him and smiled at his grandson quickly.

Wufei returned his attention to the dancing couple, frowning to himself. Hilde was an unexpected guest, and it was obvious that most of Wufei's family held no respect for Duo whatsoever, but what business was it of theirs if the two of them wanted to have fun together? He made a mental note to talk to Shen about it later.

Two hours later Wufei was struggling to stay awake and keep the boredom off his face. But ten minutes before midnight his grandfather rose to his feet, and a hush fell. Sensing that something important was happening at last, Wufei straightened and gazed up at his grandfather curiously.

"My grandson is of the proper age to take my place as the Lord of Yeong," Jianguo said, his strong voice carrying well in the large room. "His training will intensify, and he will learn all there is to know about ruling with wisdom and fairness. And in just a month's time, he will fully be a man."

Wufei did a quick mental calculation and realized with a start his grandfather was referring to the New Year.

Jianguo started to speak again, then paused, covering his mouth to cough. He cleared his throat, eyes bloodshot, and Wufei wondered if such an old man should be up so late. He motioned, and both Wufei and Relena got to their feet. Jianguo's face was full of pride as he placed a hand on each of their shoulders. "He will wed the lovely Relena Peacecraft of earth and open the doors for peace and unity between our two worlds. And now the most important event of the evening." He looked first at Relena, then at Wufei, his voice solemn. "You must take your young bride-to-be to our Eternal Protector and get her blessing."

Wufei knew without having to be told that he was referring to the jade dragon. He swallowed hard, gaze flickering unconsciously to Heero. Heero was staring straight ahead, refusing to meet his gaze.

"Go now, Fei, and present your bride," Jianguo said, and Wufei had no choice but to offer his elbow and lead her out of the room with his grandfather at his back. After a moment Heero followed more slowly, hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Applause followed them out of the room, but Wufei was numb and barely noticed. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Hilde's sympathetic look.

The walk to the dragon's room seemed to last forever, and he watched dully as the guards there opened the heavy doors, ignoring their smiles of congratulations.

This... couldn't be happening.

His grandfather, coughing, took the lantern waiting for them and led the way into the room. Heero was not allowed to enter, and stood waiting outside. Wufei glanced at him once more over his shoulder, then the door was thundering shut.

Once inside, far from the prying eyes of the court, Jianguo stopped and began to cough without restraint. Wufei looked at him quickly as the violent coughs rocked his grandfather's frame. "Grandfather-?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," Jianguo insisted, voice a bit strained. He cleared his throat a few times, blinking hard. "A bit too much wine, that's all." He handed the lantern over solemnly, nodding to the shadows on the far end of the room. "Go now."

Wufei took the lantern reluctantly, nodding. Relena looked nervous, and her fingers dug into Wufei's arm as he led the way across the room with lead feet.

Then the lantern light lit upon the jade dragon's fierce features, startling her, and she gasped, coming to a halt. Wufei stopped as well, staring up at the statue in dread.

He didn't realize he'd said the words out loud until Relena turned her head to look at him sharply. "I can't do this."

She tugged on his arm gently, trying to get his attention. "Wufei?"

Wufei closed his eyes and tried to swallow past the knot of panic in his throat. If he did this... it meant no turning back. It meant wedding this girl in a month. Someone he hadn't even been able to stand until recently. Someone he barely knew.

Someone he could never love.
A sibilant hiss, barely audible and laced with amusement, carressed his ear.

~Inevitability is like a noose about your throat, is it not?~

Startled, Wufei's eyes flew open.

It was like the vision in the infirmary and the hallway. Before him stood a young Chinese woman he didn't recognize, startling beautiful and dressed in a gorgeous but ancient traditional gown. Her long ebony hair spilled loose over her shoulders, her full lips curled in a small, secret smile. As if she was laughing at his expense. When she spoke, her voice seemed to come from every corner of the room, a strange eerie whisper that made Wufei's hair stand on end.

~It is a strange favor to ask. Do you really think the debt owed is great enough to require this of me?~

Confused, Wufei opened his mouth a few times. Words tumbled out of his throat unbidden. "Who are you?" Something about his voice was off. There was a faint echo, and he'd had no intention of speaking at all. He tried to back away, but his body felt frozen in place.

The woman looked even more amused. ~You know who I am.~

"Nezha," Wufei said, the name forcing itself out without his consent.

She laughed, a mix of happiness and something dark and old. ~Is that what you call me? Very well. I will humor you. It is Nezha, if you wish.~ She gazed at Wufei intently, all signs of humor gone. ~You ask this of me, but I see no reason to grant your request. I have fulfilled my debt by watching your people. If you truly wish more of me, you will return what was stolen from me.~

"Those artifacts are long lost." Wufei was trembling with the desperate struggle to keep the words inside. "Most likely destroyed."

~No. Not all.~ She eyed him shrewdly. ~There is one that can be recovered. Retrieve this, and bring it before me, and I will grant you your wish.~

"I may not find it in my lifetime," Wufei-- or the voice inside of him --protested. "Give me this one favor, and I swear my ancestors will find the item for you."

~No.~ Her voice rang out, hurting Wufei's ears. ~You. You alone will retrieve this for me and place it at my feet. If not in this lifetime, then in another. Swear this to me with your blood, and I will give you what you want.~ A smile twisted at her lips, as if she was laughing at him again. ~But I should warn you, it is useless if you never meet again. Forever you will be without a part of yourself. Are you willing to risk this?~

"Yes." The voice that was Wufei's yet not was firm. "I want another chance. I must have another chance, or..." he hesitated.

~Poor little mortal,~ the beautiful woman purred. ~Already you feel as if a part of yourself is gone. The hearts of man are so weak and pathetic.~ She held out a hand abruptly. ~Very well, then, young 'Lord', it is a deal. Make your oath.~

Wufei finally won the struggle and gained control of his voice. "Who are you??" he burst out furiously, panting with the exertion. "What is this?!"

The woman's eyes shifted just slightly, and it was as if she was truly looking at him for the first time. ~This is you, little Lord,~ she whispered, smiling secretly. ~And you know who I am.~

Wufei threw all of his strength into his legs, and finally managed to take one wavering step away from her.

It was as if someone had pulled a shade over his eyes. Everything plunged into darkness, and he blinked rapidly for a moment before realizing he had control over his body again. He looked around wildly, his eyes adjusting to the dark, but the strange woman was gone. The lantern was spinning wildly in his hand, throwing shadows against the wall and the jade statue before him. Relena was staring at him in surprise.

"Wufei? Are you all right?"

Wufei panted for breath, limbs trembling. "What the hell just happened?" he demanded hoarsely.

Relena hesitated, glancing from him to the statue. "I.. I don't know. You suddenly went very still and stared at it for a long time. It was like you were in a trance. Are you all right?"

Wufei stared at her incredulously. "Didn't I say anything? Didn't you see that woman?"

"What? No. What woman?" She gripped his arm anxiously. "Are you feeling all right? You're white as a sheet!"

"Fei." Jianguo hobbled towards them out of the shadows, coughing and frowning in displeasure. "What is going on? You have very little time." He motioned to Relena. "Place one hand on the dragon, and the other on his Mark."

"His what?"

Wufei blinked rapidly, looking first at his grandfather and then at her. "This," he muttered, reaching back to lift his shirt enough to expose the tattoo. He was moving as if in a dream, mind still reeling from his encounter with the strange woman.

What had that been about? Who had that woman been? Who had she been speaking to? Another warped memory the dragon had given him like that vision of the girl in the infirmary and the man in the hall?

Relena had already placed one hand hesitantly on the foot of the statue, and was shyly reaching out her other hand towards Wufei. Wufei almost jerked away on reflex, but his grandfather was watching expectantly. He had a wild moment of indecision, but before he could pull away, Relena's fingertips were brushing his Mark.

Something shot down his spine like white-hot liquid and exploded out of his Mark in a fury.

Relena shrieked and fell to the floor, cradling her hand to her chest. Wufei stumbled back, hand flying to his lower back for the pain he expected to strike at any moment.

"What!" Jianguo moved quickly for someone of his age. He knelt beside Relena and gently took her hand, turning it to stare in disbelief at the angry burn mark there. "Fei! What happen..." he turned on his heel to glare up at Wufei and fell silent.

Wufei was lowering his hand from his back in surprise. There was no pain, only a steady throbbing heat. He stared back at his grandfather, stunned and uncomprehending.
Jianguo's expression turned to one of disbelief. He rose slowly to his feet, staring at his grandson. "What is the meaning of this?" he whispered harshly. He turned his head quickly to stare up at the statue. "Why would she... what..." he broke off into wracking coughs once more.

The coughs grew suddenly worse, and Wufei's concern shouldered aside his own confusion. He hurried to his grandfather's side, holding his arm to support the suddenly frail man. "Grandfather," he said sharply. "What's wrong? You should lie down--"

Jianguo waved a hand, struggling to speak through his coughs. "Rejected--" he gasped. "The dragon has-- rejected--" He coughed harder, and Wufei stared in horror at the spatter of blood on the wrinkled hand. "All is lost," Jianguo whispered, eyes full of despair.

Wufei barely managed to catch him before he collapsed. He knelt on the floor, clutching the thin body to his chest, and shouted for help at the top of his lungs.

Author's Notes: No, you're not really supposed to understand wtf is going on in that last part ^.^;;;

...Erm...Remember how I said once that this wouldn't be some 60-chapter monstrosity? *wince* OK, here's the deal... I made a quick list of things that still have to happen and/or be resolved, and if I struggle to make absolutely sure it never reaches 60 chapters, it will mean rushed explanations and cutting out some things altogether. So I can either let myself wreck the ending of the story by limiting it to a set number of chapters, or let the story resolve itself at its own pace. I'm going with the latter, but this means it will more than likely be over 60 chapters. The next chapter starts Part 3, which is very short compared to the previous two parts. There will also be a slight time-skip; you'll see what I mean in the next chapter. Anyway, it might turn out that I'll finish the story and realize it's only 59 chapters, or 61 or something like that. Then again, it might be 66 o__O;
My point is, I can't tell you exactly how much longer this will be; only that it's winding towards the end. ^^;; But if you enjoy the story, that might not bother you anyway.
*seizes muses by the hair and drags them away*

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