Chapter 8: "Four Protectors"

    That night was one of the worst in Wufei's life.
    Trowa refused to answer any of his questions, and he soon gave up in disgust. They climbed on Wufei's moped, with Trowa driving, and drove down the dark empty streets for what felt like hours. Wufei clutched his bag in one arm, his other around Trowa's waist for balance on the narrow seat. The wind cut into him even through his clothes and stung his face, but he barely felt it. He stared numbly at houses they passed; he'd long ago lost track of where they were. He wasn't even sure if they were in his hometown anymore. He was tired, confused, and despite himself, the tiniest grain of fear was beginning to plant itself in his mind.
    The only thing that kept him from leaping from the bike was the stubborn need to finally know just what had been happening these past few days. Besides, his mother had spoken of trust; she must have been talking about Trowa. Trust, however, was the furthest thing from Wufei's mind. He'd known Trowa for two years, and now somehow it seemed the older boy was a part of all of this. He didn't know who to trust anymore, or what to believe. It all still felt like some bad dream that he was waiting to wake up from.
    Finally they slowed down, and then stopped in front of an unfamiliar house. Wufei climbed off the bike, stiff from the long ride, and stared blankly at the ugly building. It was a squat, one-story house with peeling paint, an unkempt roof, and a yard overgrown with weeds. Glancing around, he saw that the rest of the neighborhood didn't look much better, though this house in particular looked like it had been abandoned for years.
    Shouldering his bag, he slowly followed Trowa up the path to the door and waited while the other boy fished a key out of his pocket in silence and unlocked it. He stepped aside, and after a moment's hesitation, Wufei stepped inside and stood in the front hallway, eyes searching automatically for a lightswitch.
    The door slammed shut behind him, and he almost jumped, his nerves already frayed. Trowa moved around him and began rummaging for something nearby. Something clicked, there was a small flare of light, then slowly the hallway lit up with a dim glow. Trowa turned to face him, holding up an ancient kerosene lamp, his face hauntingly illuminated by the shadows it cast. "I'll show you where you can sleep," he said, and headed down the hall.
    Wufei made himself walk, and followed the other boy to the bedroom at the other end of the house. There was a mattress on the floor, with one blanket rolled up for a pillow on the end and another folded neatly in the middle for cover. Trowa set the lamp on the floor close to the makeshift bed and moved to the window. He cracked open the yellowed blinds with a finger, glancing outside for a moment, then turned to Wufei, who was hovering in the doorway. "Get some sleep," he advised calmly. "Tomorrow will be a long day. I'll try to answer some of your questions in the morning."
    Wufei could only stare at him. Trowa waited for a response for a moment, then gave a slight shrug and exited the room, pulling the door closed behind him to give Wufei some privacy.
    Wufei let the bag fall from his shoulder with a thump and stood in the middle of the room, staring dazedly at the old mattress. He stood there for countless minutes until finally he forced himself to move. The blanket didn't look terribly warm, so he kept his clothes on, only pausing to toe off his shoes before settling down on the mattress. He pulled his bag closer so that he could see its contents in the yellow light of the lamp, and dumped it onto the floor by the head of the "bed".
    He ignored the clothes and seized the familiar bundle of cloth the moment he spotted it. He laid it out flat on the floor, carefully, and gazed at the faded dragon on its surface. His blanket. Had his mother packed it out of sentimentality, or did it have some significance in all of this? Heero had mentioned his family-- his real family. He forced himself to consider the possibility that his family might have had enemies, and that the past had somehow caught up with him. Why else would Heero say that, and why would his mother send him fleeing out into the night with the only solid clue to his family stuffed in a bag?
    He rolled up the blanket and stuffed it in the bottom of the bag, then picked up the wrapped bundle his mother had kept hidden-- even from him --above the stove for god knew how long. He loosened the twine that kept it bound and unwrapped the paper layers, its crackling sounding loud in the silent house.
    It was a stick.
    Wufei stared in confused disbelief at the strange object before picking it up and holding it closer to the light, studying it more carefully.
    No, not just a stick. More like a short rod, roughly a foot long and just a few inches in diameter. There were two red knobs on each end, that looked like some sort of stone. The entire length of the rod was taken up in strange scribbles and carvings, some of which vaguely resembled Chinese characters, others that were completely uncomprehensible. It looked like a pretty toy, but a useless one. He tested its weight in his palm, wondering if it was some sort of bizarre, ornate weapon. He supposed it could be used to strike someone with, and would definitely raise a goodly-sized bump, but he could inflict more damage with his hands and feet. But if it wasn't a weapon, he had no idea what to call it. He'd never seen anything like it.
    Even as he thought this, he ran his fingers down the strange symbols, and for just an instant... just a fleeting moment, he felt as if he had done just this thing countless times before. As if his fingertips had moved over these carvings more times than he could count. He drew in a sharp breath. Even if his mind did not remember it, his body did. There was no doubt about it; the feel of those symbols under the pads of his fingers was achingly familiar, but at the same time strangely alien. It didn't make sense. After all, he told himself, he'd never seen this stick before, nor the bizarre etchings on it.
    Disturbed, he wrapped up the rod again and after a moment's hesitation, shoved it to the bottom of the bag along with his blanket before stuffing his clothes in on top of it. Faint voices from the hall caught his attention, and he got quickly to his feet. He padded on silent bare feet to the door and pressed his ear to the old wood, straining to catch the words. It was Trowa, and he was speaking with someone.
    He bared his teeth in a noiseless snarl as he quickly recognized the second voice.
    "Is he all right?" the voice was asking with a hushed note of concern.
    "He's taking it better than I expected," came Trowa's mild response. "I think. He hasn't said anything since we left the house, though he looks more like a sleepwalker than anything else."
    "Well how can you blame him? Dumping this on him all at once... I knew we should have told him years ago."
    "No." Trowa's voice was quiet but firm. "He was safer not knowing."
    "He still doesn't know, and he hasn't been very safe the last couple of days," Quatre pointed out.
    "Wait." They fell silent for a long moment. Finally Quatre said calmly, "He's still awake. He can hear us."
    Wufei jerked his head away from the door reflexively. He decided he didn't want to think too hard about what had made Quatre say that. He focused instead on his anger, burning hot and bright inside of him. So he'd been right about the seemingly innocent clerk; he was also in on this whole mess. A sudden thought occured to him.
    If these were the men his mother wanted him to trust...
    Did that make Heero and Duo the enemy?
    His mind in a turmoil, Wufei didn't think he'd be able to get a wink of sleep. But exhaustion finally won out in the end, and he fell into a deep sleep just after dawn.

    He woke up screaming.
    The door slammed open, and Quatre came rushing in, shouting for Trowa.
    Wufei didn't notice him at first. It took him a few moments to realize where he was. He had sat bolt upright upon awakening, and was staring wildly at the far wall. He'd kicked off the blanket at some point, and though he should have been shivering with the morning chill, he was soaked in sweat. His heart was banging like a drum in his ears, his breathing harsh and fast, and there was a wild terror in him.
    But in the next second he remembered where he was, and just as reality sank in, the dream was snatched away from him. He turned wild eyes on the anxious-faced boy crouching on the floor beside his mattress, recognition dawning.
    "Wufei," Quatre asked quietly, "are you all right?"
    Wufei could only stare at the small blond for a moment before he felt his eyes narrowing with anger. "I knew you were in on this," he said with quiet heat.
    Quatre blinked, rocking back on his heels a little. His face grew a little sad, but he didn't answer the accusation. "You had a bad dream," he said gently. "Do you remember it?"
    Fire. That was all he could remember. Something to do with fire. Everything else was a nameless, faceless terror that even now was fading in the daylight. But it wasn't any of Quatre's business. He was still a stranger, and Wufei didn't trust him as far as he could throw him. He ignored the question and got to his feet. Trowa appeared in the doorway, expression as impossible to read as always.
    Quatre got hastily to his feet and looked at Wufei intently, a faint hope in his gaze. When Wufei only glared back, he looked away. "He really doesn't," he said to Trowa, sounding disappointed.
    "Doesn't what?" Wufei demanded.
    "..Remember," Quatre murmured. He moved past Wufei and shuffled from the room.
    "I never remember my dreams," Wufei snarled, transfering his glare to Trowa now that his previous target was gone. "Not that it's any of your damn business."
    "He didn't mean your nightmare," Trowa corrected placidly. He gestured over his shoulder. "Eat something. It's almost eleven in the morning."
    Wufei was about to protest, but his stomach gave an encouraging grumble. Scowling, he reluctantly followed the taller boy down the hall. "I want to know everything," he said firmly. "I want to know who you really are, and why those freaks in suits have been tailing me."
    "I think it'd be best if he explained it to you," Trowa said tactfully.
    "Who?" Wufei snapped as they stepped into the kitchen. Then his gaze lit on the table and the three people already seated there around a box of donuts and a collection of coffee mugs. He stared into cobalt eyes with a mixture of confusion and wry inevitability.
    "I believe you've already met Heero and Duo," Trowa said unnecessarily.
    "Yo." Duo offered a wide grin and a peace sign from where he was seated backwards in his chair, arms propped on the backrest, hat tilted back out of his eyes.
    Heero was seated rigidly in the chair beside him, arms crossed over his chest as he gazed silently at Wufei. Quatre was in the third seat, fiddling nervously with a donut, plucking the sprinkles from it and flicking uneasy glances at each of the other four boys.
    Wufei could only stare at them for a long moment. Finally he looked at Quatre and said accusingly, "You lied."
    "Yes." Quatre looked uncomfortable. "I know Heero. Sorry I had to be untruthful with you, but..." He sent Trowa a helpless glance.
    Wufei's stomach chose that moment to growl at him again, and he scowled down at his body in reproach.
    Duo snickered. Heero snagged a donut from the box and tossed it across the room. Wufei caught it deftly, but didn't eat it right away. He fixed the stern-eyed boy with a determined glare. "You'd better tell me what the hell's going on right now," he warned, "or I'm out of here."
    "Where will you go?" Duo asked curiously. "Your mother's already left home. It isn't any safer for her to be there than it is for you."
    Wufei stared at the braided boy incredulously.
    Heero had been on the other end of Wufei's temper enough in the past few days to forsee the explosion that was imminent. He spoke up before Wufei could start shouting. "We can't tell you everything," he declared shortly. "It's not our place. Some of these things you have to remember for yourself, other things are going to be explained to you by our employer."
    "Your employer," Wufei repeated in a sneer. "Are you kidnapping me, then?"
    "Don't be stupid," Heero said with a dark frown.
    "We're your... escorts," Quatre said lamely. "We're supposed to take you to our employer."
    "And make sure you get there in one piece," Duo added, nibbling at the edges of his donut.
    Wufei looked quickly from one boy to the other. "You're my bodyguards?" he guessed in disbelief.
    "Of sorts," Trowa agreed quietly.
    Wufei dropped the donut on the table and crossed his arms over his chest stubbornly. "Still sounds like kidnapping to me. So what can you tell me?"
    "Look, we can't technically force you to come," Duo pointed out. "So 'kidnapping' isn't really the word for it. I mean, you can stay here if you want. And get killed."
    "Duo," Quatre protested.
    "Our orders are to bring you to our employer," Heero corrected firmly. "So you're not staying here." Wufei bristled, but Heero continued, "Your foster mother knew this was going to happen one day. She was just supposed to watch you until we came for you."
    "She'll be fine," Quatre said reassuringly. "It's not her they want."
    "Who's 'they'?" Wufei asked impatiently. "And why does everyone keep saying I need to 'remember'? Remember what?"
    "He doesn't remember anything before he was adopted," Trowa put in solemnly.
    "So we'd gathered," Duo drawled.
    "He doesn't remember us," Heero affirmed. "Or her, for that matter."
    "Her?" Wufei stopped and looked sharply at Heero. "Wait. What is that supposed to mean? Am I supposed to know you lunatics??"
    Quatre smiled up at him. "Well.. you were very young," he admitted. "And you didn't know all of us that well. In fact, I think you only met me and Trowa once. But..." he hesitated, shooting Heero a quick look.
    "We thought you might remember Yuy the wonderboy," Duo admitted, poking his friend teasingly in the ribs and ignoring the flat look it earned him. "You guys were pretty tight when you were little. He was your primary, anyway."
    "Primary what?" Wufei asked, though he was beginning to suspect he already knew what they were going to say.
    "Protector, of course," Duo snorted.
    Quatre leaned forward, hands clasped on the table as he gazed up at Wufei intently. "This is one of those things you might not believe until you regain your memory," he said hesitantly. "But it would be best if we at least told you this much. We need you to trust us." He gestured to the other three. "Trowa, Heero, Duo, and I... we were all your protectors. Or were supposed to be, anyway. It was our duty; we were promised to your family before we were even born, and trained from the day we could walk."
    Wufei could only stare at the blonde blankly. The mention of his real family-- even if it could very well be just some elaborate hoax or lie --made his heart give a little jump.
    "Once we all reached a certain age, we would be in the service of your family. Or you, more specifically," Quatre went on. "But Heero was given to you early. He was going to be your primary guard, after all, and they also figured you would need some sort of playmate. You two grew up together." A faint smile played on his lips. "You did everything together." His expression saddened. "But you don't remember him." It was partly a question.
    Wufei shook his head firmly. "I don't remember any of this," he said harshly. "I don't see why I should believe it, either." Something occured to him. "Anyway, if any of this horseshit was true, and you're supposed to be 'promised' to me, wouldn't you have to follow my orders?" he asked slyly.
    Duo snickered. "He catches on quick." He shook his head once. "Sorry, buddy. We aren't officially yours until..." he seemed to catch himself just in time, and Quatre cut in hastily.
    "Well, there are factors," he said carefully. "Including age."
    "Age," Wufei repeated, gazing at him steadily.
    "You have to be seventeen, for one."
    "Which should be... what, in a month or so?" Duo asked, glancing from Heero to Wufei.
    Wufei hesitated. He, of course, had no idea what his real birthday was. He and his mother had always celebrated his birthday as the day she'd found him on her porch.
    "November 12," Heero reported. (1)
    "How would you know?" Wufei demanded.
    "Um, hello," Duo interrupted, raising a finger. "Childhood buddy, remember?"
    Wufei decided now was not the time to argue over that. "What other factors?"
    "Chinese New Year," Duo answered automatically, then winced when Quatre shot him a significant Look.
    Wufei arched a brow, wracking his brain for a moment. "The one coming up is the year of the dragon," he said slowly.
    "Er, yeah." Duo coughed, suddenly seeming to find the donut in his hand fascinating.
    Wufei thought fleetingly of the blue dragon winding its way around the cryptic words on his blanket, but shook the thought from his mind. He wasn't about to let these imbeciles try to put false ideas and hopes in his head and have him start piecing things together that had nothing to do with each other.
    "Geez, he still doesn't believe us," Duo huffed.
    "You can't really blame him," Quatre said placatingly.
    "Look, you got the Mark, right?" Duo demanded a trifle impatiently.
    Wufei blinked, startled out of his musings. "...Mark?"
    "Yeah. The--" He stopped and then started again. Wufei got the distinct impression that he'd almost said too much. "You have some kinda tattoo on you somewhere, right? One you've always had."
    Wufei's hand moved unconsciously towards his lower back, but he forced the limb back by his side. "What of it?" he growled. "And how do you know about that?"
    "You got it before you could even walk properly," Trowa murmured. "It's the mark of your House."
    Wufei stared at him. As unwilling as he was to believe anything they were telling him, there were crumbs of possibility in what they said.
    "If it makes you feel any better," Quatre ventured, "you should know that Duo's never told a lie in his life."
    Wufei snorted in disbelief.
    "Hey, you have your codes, I have mine," Duo told him loftily.
    Wufei shook his head and didn't respond. A man that didn't lie... Right. They must think him really naive.
    "All you need to know," Heero said with finality, "is that it isn't safe for you here, and we'll be bringing you to where you will be safe. We don't have time to talk anymore. We've wasted enough time." His eyes skipped towards his watch. "Eat something and get your bag. We leave in half an hour."
    "Leave?" Wufei repeated suspiciously. "Where are you taking me?"
    "Ortan, of course," Duo said as if it should be obvious, popping the rest of his donut in his mouth.
    "What's in Ortan?"
    "It's the closest space port," Trowa replied, coming to the table to claim one of the mugs of coffee.
    Wufei drew in a sharp breath. Any previous plans he'd had to ditch the four boys immediately fell to the wayside. "We're going to space?"
    "Duh," Duo mumbed around his donut.
    Space. Wufei's ultimate goal. It was there that he'd been planning to search for clues to his family once he'd graduated high school. And if these lunatics were willing to get him there sooner, then all the better. He could always give them the slip once they'd reached a colony.
    He looked at each of them dubiously. "Do you really expect shuttle security to let five high school boys take a field trip to space in the middle of a war?" he demanded cynically.
    "Don't worry, we got a plan," Duo assured him confidently. "Besides, we're not just kids. We've been trained, remember. We each got our own skills." He offered a wolfish grin and snagged another donut.
    Quatre said something about getting ready and retreated from the room. Trowa sipped calmly at his coffee, and Heero remained in his chair, frowning at his watch. Duo took enormous bites of his pastry, humming under his breath.
    "Skills?" Wufei shot at Heero, eyebrows lifted sardonically.
    "...Such as?" Wufei pressed when it was obvious he wasn't going to get a more thorough explanation.
    Duo swallowed a big mouthful of donut and chased it down with coffee, obviously in a hurry to brag before Heero could offer a mundane response. "That's right, 'Fei. Trowa here's the pilot." He jerked a thumb at the silent man standing by his chair. "He can fly just about anything with wings and an engine. Helicopter, fighter jet.."
    "Space shuttle," Wufei guessed dryly. "And don't call me 'Fei'."
    Duo winked, ignoring that last part. "Bingo. Heero.." he clapped his friend affectionately on the shoulder, "can use any weapon you give 'im. Show him the basics of any firearm once, and it sticks. He can use swords and shit, too, but usually he just sticks to guns. He had some fancy shmancy military training." Well that explained how he'd so easily disarmed and detained that boy in the schoolyard, not to mention sneaking up on Wufei in in the park. "As for moi.." Duo laid a hand boastfully upon his chest, his expression completely unrepentant. "Explosives and general espionage."
    "In a word, chaos," Trowa mumbled into his mug.
    "I'll take that as a compliment," Duo said primly without batting an eye.
    "General espionage?" Wufei repeated with a slight frown. "Spying?"
    "Yeah, I'm the best people person in the group, after all," Duo boasted. "And I can pick a lock like nobody's business."
    "And Quatre?" Wufei asked, trying to figure out how a polite boy who used umbrellas for makeshift weapons could possibly have anything to offer.
    "Umm..." Duo scratched the back of his head, avoiding Wufei's gaze. "Well he thinks it's kinda personal. You'd have to ask him yourself, I guess. But I can tell you the other part." He held up a finger and grinned. "Finances."
    "His family had mucho moolah, and his old man left it all to him. If we need cash, Quatre's the man."
    "Ah." Wufei let it all sink in a moment, then reached for a donut. "And what if I tell you I think you're all full of shit?" he asked calmly.
    Duo spread his arms wide. "Hey, man, that's your deal. Nothing we can do about that. We'll let you make up your own mind as things go along, how 'bout that?"
    It wasn't much, Wufei decided, but for now it would have to do. First he would let these clowns get him to space. By then he should have a general idea of what was really going on, and he could begin his own quest for his past.
    Duo pushed one of the coffee mugs his way. "Drink up, buddy," he advised. "It's a long drive to Ortan."

(1) OK, so I don't know what Wufei's bloody birthday is >.<; If it was ever mentioned anywhere, my bad. But seeing as this is an AU fic, I figure I can take liberties... XD;
But if someone does know his "official" b-day, lemmie know; it might come up in another fic ^^ ---------

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