Author: Cassima
Disclaimer: You mean I don't own them? Pooh.
Pairing: 2x5, past 5xM, 1xR.
Rating: R. Language. Some romantic gooey crap.
Summary: Wherein secrets are revealed and plans are changed.

THANK YOU: To Bronze, my wonderful, lovely, talented beta who lets me pay her in e-mochas, and to X, my brother-at-heart.

If I Should Die... + Chapter Five
That Old Gang of Mine

"When are you two gonna start wearing cute little matching outfits? 'Cause I'm planning to vomit."
--Buffy the Vampire Slayer

* Come dance with me now--
* We'll dance without a care.
* I'm as free as a fire
* And change is in the air.
* There are some things in my life
* I'll never understand,
* But they become the force
* That makes me who I am...

--"The Different", Melissa Ethelridge

+

Duo dubiously lifted another forkful of spaghetti to his lips, fairly certain it would be about as good as the previous four bites, and nodded at Wufei to continue.

Wufei didn't notice the nod, but continued just the same. "So we go into the test today, and what's on it?"

"I'm guessing not Freud," Duo said around his noodles, grimacing at the acidity of the sauce and pushing his plate away.

"I think Dr. Emar believes he was Jung in a past life. I hate that class." Wufei pushed his salad around on his plate. "There's too much dressing. There's only so much Ranch a man can take."

Duo grinned. "Well, Chez Tienen lives to serve. Cafeteria food is supposed to be bad. It inspires us to learn how to cook."

"I know how to cook," Wufei said. "I hate my psych class!"

"Poor baby," Duo intoned, batting his eyes while considering the half- eaten roll on Wufei's plate.

"So much for my supportive boyfriend," Wufei muttered, but grinned a bit.

Duo reached over and grabbed the roll. "Can you really cook?" he asked before taking a bite.

"I wasn't done with that," Wufei objected half heartedly. "I learned a little about cooking during the war."

Duo chewed, letting it excuse his lack of response. Wufei never talked about the war; all Duo knew is that Wufei hadn't fought, he tried to hide the scars on his back and chest, and his family was dead. He went for casual. "Where was that?"

"One of the fringe colonies," Wufei said. "X-82. I worked in the kitchens." He grinned. "I make a mean pie."

"Pie, huh?" Duo tried to imagine Wufei the frilly apron Quatre had worn occasionally during the war. The image would not form in his mind. "Bake one for me?"

Wufei smirked. "You have to earn pie. Have you been a good boy, Duo?"

The edge of Duo's mouth turned up in a half-smile. "Define 'good'."

"'Not bad,'" Wufei said, a mischievous look in his eyes.

It was a challenge, and Duo was always up to Wufei's challenges. "I suppose you might like a demonstrat--"

"Do you mind if I sit here?" Sarah held her tray out, smiling at the two of them.

Duo and Wufei glanced at each other. "Go ahead," Duo said, and Sarah set her tray down next to Duo's, shrugging off her backpack.

"I'm so glad they fixed the circulation system," Sarah said cheerfully, picking up her sandwich and taking a bite. "I was having difficulty feeling my feet between classes."

"They had to call in a specialist," Wufei said. "Turned out the whole coil was shot."

"Wufei had to wear three pairs of socks," Duo told her in a confidential tone.

"Only two!" Wufei protested.

"Maybe, if your definition of 'two' is 'three.'" Duo smirked.

"My definition of 'two' is very similar to 'two.'" Wufei raised a challenging eyebrow, leaning forward a little over the table.

"Two extra."

"Two extra socks."

"Two extra pairs of socks."

"Boys!" Sarah said with a laugh. "Do I have to separate you two?"

Duo stuck his tongue out, startling Wufei into laughter.

"I don't think that will be necessarily," Wufei said with a grin. "As soon as Duo admits that he's wrong."

Duo looked at him skeptically, and a bit smugly.

"I think I remember putting on my socks. I did manage to dress myself. I wore my blue socks and a pair of white ones."

"Plus the ones you borrowed from me," Duo said.

"Plus... oh." Wufei frowned, thinking. "I forgot about those."

Duo smirked again. "So... the blue socks, the white socks, and a pair of my socks... shall we add?" He counted them off on his fingers. "One... two... and, is this a third?"

Wufei had a choice finger of his own for Duo. "Shut up."

Duo laughed at the face Wufei made and stole a crouton from his salad.

"I was going to eat that," Wufei protested feebly.

"I found it floating in the River of Ranch," Duo returned. "It was fair game."

"The Ranch River Crouton is an endangered species." Wufei indicated the remaining specimen with his fork. "There are only a few left in the wild."

"Huh," Duo replied, and stole the other. Under the table, he felt Wufei's foot caress his leg.

"Are you going to the Winter Ball, Duo?" Sarah asked at a lull in the conversation.

"I don't know." Duo leaned back in his chair and found Wufei's other foot. He smirked and put his arms behind his head. "Nobody's asked me yet."

"Really. No one?" Sarah looked up at him through the corner of her eye. "Want to go?"

Duo could've kicked himself, if he hadn't been playing footsie with Wufei. He exchanged a quick glance with Wufei, whose expression told him that, yeah, he should've seen that coming. "With you?"

And then he didn't have to kick himself, because Wufei had done it for him. Wufei's look was enough to make him bring his arms back down and straighten up in his seat, still wincing at the blow.

"Well, I wasn't asking for my roommate," Sarah replied lightly as she studied her own dinner, picking through her salad with her fork and stopping at a tomato.

Duo tried to figure out what to tell her. Wufei's calm stare told him nothing, and he sighed. He'd always tried to tell the truth. "It's kind of you to ask, but I'm sort of waiting for Wufei." He paused, and clarified. "To ask." And then he felt he better clarify again. "To ask me."

"Oh." Sarah paused, and glanced between them. She nodded, obviously trying to act casual. "Why don't you just ask him?"

"Because," Duo said, shooting a daggered look at Wufei, who was running his foot over the place he'd kicked earlier, "he's the romantic one, not me."

"So I can see," Sarah replied, tucking a brown curl behind her ear. Her lips curved up slightly in obvious amusement.

Wufei smiled sweetly at both of them. "I didn't know the dance meant so much to you, Duo. Should I expect to buy you flowers that match your gown?"

Duo laughed nervously and shifted in his seat. "My boyfriend scares me," he confided to Sarah.

"That's okay," she said in a conspiratorial tone. "Mine used to, too."

Duo felt a rush of relief as the conversation continued without any further hitches. If he looked carefully, though, he could tell that Sarah's casual attitude was all just a pose. He wasn't sure how he felt about that.

+

The couch in the common room was as good a place as any to study-- especially when Jordan had left the "don't come in if you don't want to see naked girl booty" sign on the door and Wufei's roommate was loud enough that he hadn't needed to leave a "go away, we're fucking" notice (and hadn't, either, so it was probably somehow all for the best)--so they'd laid their books out on the coffee table and leaned against each other for support. Wufei was fully absorbed in his Political Science of the 21st Century book (which he'd threatened to lend to Duo when he was done), and Duo was nearly done with his chemistry reading. He finished before Wufei, and used the time to prepare himself for the talk they were about to have.

When Wufei finally yawned, stretched, and put his book down, Duo broke the easy silence. "Hey, Wu, want to take a break for a moment?"

"Yes, very much." Wufei stretched again, and Duo heard the vertebrae in his back pop and crackle. "Is something on your mind?"

Duo nodded and let Wufei wrap a strong arm around him. "I got a call from Relena the other day. You know she's getting married in January?"

"'Relena?' You mean Relena Peacecraft? You got a call from Relena Peacecraft?" Wufei pulled back and gaped at him.

"What?" Duo looked at him, bewildered. "Well, yeah. It's her wedding."

"You know Relena Peacecraft?" Wufei's voice rose a little, and Duo was glad that they were the only ones in the room. "Personally?"

"I'll tell you stories some time," Duo told him dryly. "She's not that great."

"Relena Peacecraft, only the most active and prolific political figure in the solar system?" Even though Wufei leaned closer, the volume and pitch of his voice did not lower, much to Duo's dismay. "Relena Peacecraft-Dorlian, who became Queen of the World during the war and single-handedly almost stopped all the fighting? You know that Relena Peacecraft--and you didn't tell me?!"

"I'm trying to!" Duo cried, both flustered and amused.

"You know famous people," Wufei murmured, and turned around, leaning back into his boyfriend.

"Yes, about that," Duo said, his nervousness rushing back. "They want me to go to the wedding."

"Are you going?" Wufei asked after a moment. His voice was very quiet.

"Everyone will be there," Duo replied. "All the gundam pilots and the people I knew during the war..." He laughed bitterly. "And you know how well I deal with anything even remotely related to the war. I can't do it alone. Can you--" he swallowed, "--can you come with me? I'm sorry, I know we were going to do the zoo for break, but... I don't think I can go alone."

Wufei's back grew tense against him.

"So, if you want..." Duo trailed off, watching as Wufei stood and walked to the window. "You don't want to go. We won't go."

"Not... exactly." Wufei turned a little as Duo shifted on the couch. "Don't get up. I... I need to say something."

He'd never heard Wufei's voice sound so hesitant. He sat back and bit the inside of his cheek.

"I was the sixth Gundam pilot."

Duo heard the words and took a moment to understand them. Zechs was the sixth--with Tallgeese and then Epyon--but that wasn't what Wufei meant, was it? Something hard washed through him, and he felt the blood drain out of his face and the world shift around him. He recalled the bright pink scars on Wufei's back, disappearing under his shirt. "Fuck," he whispered.

Wufei bowed his head, back still to Duo.

Wufei, whose name was Chang. Who was from the colonies. Who was Chinese, and the right age, and terribly scholarly, and--

"Fuck," he said again, loudly. "Fuck." He stood, walked around the couch, and paused when he met with the wall. "Fuck."

"Duo, I--"

Duo whirled around and crossed back in front of the couch. "You're married!"

Wufei flinched.

"My god, she doesn't even know you're still alive." He sat heavily. The couch cushions sank around him more than he expected. "Fuck."

Wufei was shaking, head still down, back still to Duo. He didn't make a noise.

Duo rubbed his face with his hand. "My boyfriend is married." He stared at Wufei, watching as the strong man trembled. "Fuck, Wu. I... you didn't t ell me?! Why didn't you tell me?"

Wufei just stood in front of the window with his head bowed, arms folded in front of him, trembling. His shirt had ridden up a little in the back--enough for Duo to make out the edge of a long pink scar running along the edge of his spine, close enough to make some of Duo's own war wounds tingle in sympathy. Wufei, who by all rights should've been dead long ago, was dead according to Meiran, and Duo felt a rush of relief and anxiety and strange tenderness as he watched Wufei almost fold into himself in shame.

He didn't know if Wufei could hear him anymore, so he pushed himself off the couch and came up behind Wufei, sliding his arms around the other man's waist. Angry as he was, he couldn't stand to see Wufei so vulnerable and alone. "Hey, Wufei, it's okay."

Wufei turned in his arms and held Duo tightly, resting his head on Duo's shoulder. His body was stiff in the embrace, but Duo rubbed his back, trying to stop the waves of tension rolling off Wufei. Wufei made a choked noise that sounded something like an apology, and Duo just held him.

Finally, when Wufei had relaxed a bit, Duo spoke. "I wish you'd told me sooner," Duo said quietly. And then, "I can't believe you're married. Or alive. How are you alive?"

"I never died," Wufei murmured after a moment, pulling away a little, still sounding upset. "She left me there to die, but I never died."

Duo walked them back to the couch and pulled Wufei down next to him. "She thought you were already dead."

Wufei rubbed at his eyes with his sleeve, catching the tears before they could fall. Duo felt a deep ache in his chest as Wufei struggled to be calm and strong; they were so alike, despite it all.

"O picked me up and took me to one of the border colonies with good hospital facilities. It was a while before I recovered enough to train."

"They kept you for spare parts," Duo whispered in horror, and wished he hadn't when Wufei smiled depreciatingly.

"If any of you died or needed to be replaced, I was there." Wufei swallowed. "But I didn't even get the chance to repair my honor, so..."

Duo kissed him--in part because he wanted to, but mostly because he couldn't stand the self-loathing on Wufei's face anymore. The kiss was sweet and slow--not passionate, just comforting. "You have more honor in your pinky finger than most people have in their entire family," he said after he broke the kiss.

Wufei didn't look like he agreed, but didn't argue.

Duo hugged him tightly. "I think you should meet the people you almost fought with," Duo said finally, and wondered about the odds of it all. "But if you don't want to, we won't go." He swallowed. "And I think you should see Meiran again. Tell her you're still alive."

"It was an arranged marriage," Wufei said into Duo's neck. "We both hated it."

"Regardless--" Duo began.

"I'll go." Wufei breathed deeply, carding his fingers through Duo's ponytail. "You need to."

"I don't--"

"Yes, you do." Wufei sighed. "We both do."

Duo thought, I could fall in love with this man.

+

"Sorry about the dust," Duo said as he finally found the box he was looking for and brought it up from under his bed, wiping the thin layer of dust from the top with his hand before handing it to Wufei.

Wufei didn't bother to hide his nervous smile. "I've seen worse."

Duo wiped his dusty hand on the seat of his pants and settled next to Wufei on the bed, a little nervous himself. "I don't have much from the war--security issues--but I did keep a few things." He scratched his head and nodded to Wufei. "Go ahead and open it."

Wufei did so, settling the shoebox in his lap and setting the lid aside before pulling out the top picture. "Who is this?"

"That's Trowa. Heavyarms. Pilot 03." Duo smiled a little at the shot of Trowa in his clown costume. "He lived with a circus."

Wufei traced the outline of Trowa's hair. "Is that why--?"

"Nah, that was a fashion choice. He always wore it like that. None of us are quite sure why."

The next picture showed Relena rolling her eyes at a not-quite-stoic (most likely due to the fact that he was covered with flour) Heero. "This is them?" Wufei asked, even though he must've recognized them from the publicity the wedding was getting.

"Yeah, that's Heero and Relena. Heero was pilot 01--Wing Zero. It was his turn to cook. Relena insisted on helping." Duo smirked a little at the memory. "We ended up ordering pizza that night."

"Relena Peacecraft travelled with you?" Wufei examined the picture closely with a jealous twist to his mouth.

"I wouldn't quite put it like that," Duo said with a laugh. "She kinda showed up every once in a while, whether we wanted her to or not."

The look on Wufei's face stated that he wouldn't mind being followed around by Relena Peacecraft, but he set the picture aside for the next on the stack. "You had long hair," he said in surprise, looking back and forth between Duo and the picture in his hand.

"Uh, yeah." Duo's hand went to his short ponytail as he flushed a little. "Um, Duo Maxwell. Pilot 02. Deathscythe. I, uh... cut my hair shortly after that picture was taken."

Wufei kissed him. "Are you trying to grow it out again?"

Duo shrugged and looped an arm around Wufei's waist. "Dunno. Haven't really thought about it. Should I?"

Wufei pursed his lips in thought, bringing his own hand up to Duo's ponytail and combing his fingers through the short tuft. "This style suites you, too."

Duo glanced at the picture again, looking at his past self. "I probably won't. It was just a way to hold onto the past."

Wufei nodded and flipped to the next picture. "Is this Quatre Winner?"

"Yep." Duo felt Wufei smile as he scooted a little behind Wufei, resting his chin on his boyfriend's shoulder. "Pilot 04. Sandrock."

"Quatre Winner? Head-of-Winner-Enterprises-Incorporated Quatre Winner?" Wufei stared at the picture of Quatre and Trowa drinking coffee. "Exactly how many famous people were Gundam pilots?"

"Only one," Duo said with a laugh. "Well, two if you count Heero, but he's only famous by association. ...Well, three if you count Zechs."

Wufei frowned, obviously racking his head for the name "Zechs," and flipped the picture. "Who is Zechs?"

Duo indicated the next photo. "Milliardo Peacecraft, also known as Zechs Merquise. Pilot 06, Tallgeese. And Epyon."

"Oh," Wufei said in a small voice. "Tallgeese and Epyon?"

"He worked for Oz for a while. Trashed Tallgeese, stole Epyon." Duo hugged Wufei more tightly. "He was kicked out, so he led White Fang for a while. That didn't really pan out, and he joined us in the end. He was pretty good at being on the winning team."

Wufei laughed, but his voice seemed to stick in his throat a little. "Is his hair still...?"

Duo rolled his eyes. "Good Lord, yes. That man is so vain, he'll never cut his hair."

Wufei chuckled and moved onto the next picture... and stopped smiling. Meiran looked up at them, smirking at the camera and saluting it with her mug of coffee from her spot at a rickety kitchen table.

Duo gave Wufei a squeeze, feeling the sudden tenseness. "Chang Meiran," he said quietly. "Pilot 05. Shenlong."

Wufei said nothing.

"She and a few others helped form the Preventors right after the war," Duo continued, filling the air. "They have government funding and everything, now. I've heard they're going to officially be government employees when the next bill is passed."

"Does she hate me?" Wufei asked quietly.

Duo laid his head on Wufei's shoulder and kissed his neck just below his ear. "I don't think she ever hated you."

"There was a time," Wufei said slowly, still staring at the picture, "when I was sure she did. I was not always this nice, Duo."

"Me, neither." Duo looked down at the picture. "And Meiran was downright nasty a lot of the time. She was angry, but I can't believe she hated you."

Wufei swallowed and picked up the next picture on the stack. "Perhaps you're right."

Duo held him tighter and wondered if he was going to lose Wufei to Meiran.

+

Finals passed in a blur; Duo felt obscenely vindicated when he passed out of Cavell's Biology 101 with a 3.7--the second highest in the whole class. Wufei beat him with a 3.8, and had the good grace to stammer when Duo asked him for his secret study hints. "You know," Wufei told him with an uncharacteristic blush. Duo just grinned.

With the passing of finals, however, came the inevitable flight back to Earth. As the date approached, something deep in the pit of his stomach began to gnaw at his nerves, and even his fairly even- tempered roommate was itching to get rid of him.

"Don't you have somewhere to go?" Jordan asked pointedly after Duo'd bounced a tennis ball off the wall forty-three times. "Maybe with Wufei?"

"I don't spend all my time with Wufei," Duo protested, throwing the ball at the wall again."

"Right," Jordan said, and went back to his psychology notes.

"I sleep here, don't I? I'm here now, aren't I?"

"Lucky me," Jordan grumbled.

"Will you cut that out?!" the person next door yelled as Duo threw the ball at the wall again.

"Keep it down, we're trying to study in here!" Duo called back, throwing the ball again and watching Jordan smother a smile.

A muttered curse was the guy's only response, and Duo threw the ball again, feeling strangely vindicated for every night of porn music that'd come through the wall.

Jordan put on his headphones.

+

Duo held up two pairs of socks and stared at them for a moment before collapsing into his desk chair. "It's hopeless! I'm never going to know what to pack!" With a moan of despair that was only half- melodrama, he tossed them at his suitcase. One pair landed half on his bed; the other hit Wufei square in the face.

Wufei coughed, and Duo could tell he was hiding laughter. "It might help if you started putting your clothes in your suitcase... instead of tossing them about the room." He raised an eyebrow at Duo, not trying to hide his amusement. "Just a thought."

Duo wrapped his arms around Wufei's waist and buried his face in his boyfriend's side. "I don't know what to pack. Everything I own is completely wrong for this. I mean, I don't even own anything I could wear to a wedding!"

"Duo, you're going to be in the wedding. You can rent a tux, I'm sure." Wufei stroked Duo's hair soothingly, running his fingers over the ponytail.

"It's not too late to go to the zoo, is it?" Duo moaned into Wufei's shirt.

Wufei leaned down and kissed the top of his head, chuckling a little. "Wouldn't your friends be surprised if we sent them a postcard from the hyena cage?" He reached around and released Duo's hands from his waist, pulling Duo to his feet and nudging him towards the suitcase. "If you'd done your packing earlier, we could be having fun tonight."

"Yeah, well, we can't all be anal retentive," Duo grumbled in reply, earning himself a smack on the butt. He fought the grin Wufei's touch brought, struggling to keep ahold of his bad mood, and stared mournfully into his suitcase. A pair of pants, two shirts, two pairs of underwear, and half a dozen mis-matched socks.

"Just put the contents of your dresser in your suitcase and get it over with," Wufei said, his eye-roll almost audible. "You don't own enough clothes to be having this much trouble."

"Hey, this is a delicate process you're interrupting," Duo grumbled, opening the top drawer of the dresser and stuffing the contents into his suitcase.

"Yes, very delicate." Wufei pulled smiley-face boxers from the suitcase and held them up, raising an eyebrow. "Delicate."

"They were a gift." Duo pulled them out of Wufei's grasp and put them back in the drawer.

"A gift," Wufei echoed, and began to root around in the suitcase, discovering a tropical-print shirt in the wad of clothes and shaking the wrinkles free. "This was a gift, too, right?"

"No, I stole that from a crotchety old man." Duo put that back in his drawer, too. "It was Howard's. The bastard owed me that much."

"The shirt off his back?" Wufei grinned.

Duo abandoned packing for the moment in order to teach Wufei a valuable lesson about grinning.

+

Their jet took off at eight-o-seven in the morning; Duo thought Wufei was much too chipper for so ungodly an hour--especially after they'd been up so late the night before. As they waited to board, Duo once again glanced nervously at Wufei. The other man smiled back, squeezing his hand in reassurance.

"It's going to be alright, Duo," Wufei said. His expression was gentle. "Just relax."

"Wufei..." Duo glanced over at Noin, who was sipping her coffee with the devotion of one who needed an entire pot before she could be called human. "Wufei, I gotta warn you. Things might... I might... change."

Wufei raised an eyebrow.

"When I'm around the other pilots. I kinda got into the habit of... playing the fool, I guess. During the war? And." Duo played with the skin on Wufei's knuckles. "It's kind of a defense mechanism of mine."

"I see," Wufei said neutrally.

Duo swallowed and forced himself to look up. "I'm just saying that I might act a little crazy or something. But it won't change the way I feel, not really."

"So I should be prepared for you to revert to war behavior?" Wufei tucked a strand of loose hair behind Duo's ear. "Isn't that a little extreme?"

"Well, you know me, Wufei. I'm an extreme kind of guy. They're boarding. We should get in line." He stood, pulling Wufei up behind him, and tapped Noin. "Jet's leavin' without ya, Lu."

Lucrezia Noin grunted and stood, chugging the rest of her coffee to join them in line.

"You won't get... flamboyant, will you?" Wufei doubtfully raised an eyebrow at Duo. "Because I'm not sure I could stand you lisping and swishy." He made a demonstrative motion that made Duo laugh in relief.

"Nah, I leave that for Zechs," Duo replied with a wink in Noin's direction.

Noin coughed. "I don't think anyone has to leave that for Zechs," she grumbled good-naturedly. "I think he just takes it."

+

By the time they'd touched down at the airport, Duo was nearly sick with worries and what-ifs. He'd had half a mind to tell the pilot to turn the jet around, but Wufei made him take the window seat and wouldn't let him get up. Only the sight of Wufei's own nervous habits--the slight twitch in his left eyebrow and the tightening of his upper lip--made Duo remember that he wasn't the only one facing his dark past. He smiled very slightly in what he hoped looked like reassurance as they collected their bags and followed the herd of people off the jet.

Noin, who'd managed to bully almost three pots of coffee out of the stewardess during the sixteen-hour flight, was almost bouncing in excitement. "Come on, you guys!" she kept saying, reaching back to tug them along after her. "Hurry up! Come on!"

Duo and Wufei shared a glance of anxious amusement and allowed themselves to be pulled into the airport.

Zechs was waiting for them, easily distinguishable with his long, pale hair and tall stature; Duo and Wufei hung back a little to give Noin a moment for greetings and hugs and kisses with her boyfriend. Duo clutched Wufei's hand with all his strength.

Finally, Zechs pulled back from the embrace and tossed his head, as if just noticing Duo. "Maxwell," he said jovially. "It's been a while!"

"Yeah, a few years, anyway." He could feel the joker mask hovering on the edge of his features and strove to repress it; it was too early in the trip to force Wufei to deal with an entirely new Duo. "You look good."

"I am good." Zechs winked. "I'm always good."

Noin rolled her eyes.

Duo took a step forward, pulling Wufei after him. "This is Chang Wufei. Wufei, meet Zechs Merquise, also known as Milliardo Peacecraft."

Zechs gave Wufei a considering glance, finally cocking his eyebrow at Duo in an obvious signal of approval. Duo felt strangely like clutching Wufei close and snarling at Merquise, but settled for tightening his hand on Wufei's and sending the blond warning signals with his eyes.

Wufei, thankfully, was too astounded to be anything other than oblivious to the exchange. "It's an honor, Sir! Your highness! Sir." He looked as if he didn't know whether to bow or kneel or shake his hand.

Zechs grimaced and shook his hand. "Please," he begged, "my sister is the one with all the titles. Just call me Zechs. I'm not royalty."

"Is this a display of modesty I see?" Noin recoiled in mock dismay. "Who are you? What have you done with Zechs?"

"I can be modest," Zechs protested. "I'm very modest. I'm the most modest person I know."

Duo snorted, relaxing a little. "Welcome to Earth, Wu."

A shorter blond man pushed his way through the crowd to stand next to Zechs. Duo's nervousness returned full-force.

"Hello, Maxwell," Quatre said, glancing toward Wufei's and Duo's joined hands. Although he smiled, it was a politician's smile, and his blue eyes were cold. "It's nice to see you again."

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