Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, Drama, Humour (some)
Pairings: 1x5x1, others tba
Rated: NC17
Warnings: Violence, language, sex, adult situations
Spoilers: Yes, quite a lot for end of series (no EW though)
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer:Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.

Thanks to Dawna for beta-ing and allowing me to bounce the ending off her.This part suffered even more than usual from my traditional last-minute rewrites, so any of the numerous mistakes still left (including the absence of the villainous coma, my own particular nemesis) is my own fault.

Thanks also to the people who reviewed on GWAddiction using the new review forms! I really enjoyed hearing from you all, and that you're liking this fic. And thanks to Tyr, for setting up the forms!

The Arrangement + Chapter 33
Breaking Storm, Part III

"If wind comes from an empty cave, it's not without a reason"
Chinese saying.

---

"Wufei?"

He started and blinked. "Where did he go?!"

Susan stared at him. "...Anton Mondberg? He left over three minutes ago."

Shit! Wufei cursed himself in three different languages. He'd zoned off during the interview with a key witness.

"Were you asleep?" Susan gave a small half-smile, different than her usual cool one. "I thought you might be, though your eyes were open."

Wufei groaned and rubbed his face. His eyes were dry and gritty. "Why didn't you say anything?!"

"Well...ah, I'm afraid I'm too good a prosecutor to not use a good weapon at my disposal." Susan's grin was smooth and she didn't even bother to look embarrassed.

Wufei stared at her, his hand dropping heavily to the armrest of his chair. "What?"

"It was pretty obvious to me, because I know you, that you weren't entirely there, but as it were, your pretty, black, and very blank eyes were pointed roughly in Mondberg's direction. He was a tough guy, we'd have been here all afternoon with him trying to get him to talk, but after five minutes of you staring at him like that, he got so nervous that he gave me all I wanted to know and nearly ran out of the room."

Wufei sank his head into his hands again and groaned. "Glad I could help," he muttered.

"Wufei..." Susan leaned back against the table, carelessly pushing recording equipment out of the way. "We've only known each other a few weeks, but I consider you to be a friend. I guess...I guess this must be hard for you."

Wufei looked at her wearily. She'd never said anything before, though she knew of his connection to colony A0206. Susan wasn't going to worry about the pain of others, as long as it didn't interfere with her task. He wondered why she was mentioning it now.

"You know, it helps to talk. Or so I hear." Susan gave him a lopsided grin. He doubted she talked to many people, and he was ready to bet she had a few nightmares of her own. "If you ever want to get something off your chest... You know I'm not easily shocked! It might make you feel better." She shrugged casually, but she was watching him closely.

"Thanks, Susan." Susan was a good woman, and she knew his past, as a pilot and the scion of his clan. He could tell her a lot but...

But she's not the one you want to hear asking you that question.

The perfidious, traitorous part of his mind slipped that statement into his thoughts just as he was about to agree. And he was too tired to protest, for once.

Yeah, he wanted Heero to look at him in that sympathetic way. Open up and talk to Wufei and drag the pain out despite his resistance and help him deal with it. He didn't want the compassion of someone who couldn't fully comprehend; he wanted the understanding of an equal.

Well, not only was that never going to happen, but Wufei would kill himself rather than have Heero know the aching need within him, the weakness and torment in his own mind. He didn't want Heero to pity him.

In his mind, the two conflicting desires ran side by side, wrestling like dogs, without breaking through his exhaustion.

He looked at Susan's serene face. He could talk to her, it would help a bit, but...

Heero would be back from his mission. He'd be at home.

Wufei hadn't seen his partner in three days, the first time they'd been apart for any length of time since his accident. Heero had said he'd take missions for Sam; he didn't owe Wufei anything, the latter reminded himself. Though in fact that turned out to be the only mission away Heero had ended up taking and that was only because he was crucial to Sam's plans. Wufei wanted to believe that Heero might have been refusing other missions in order to train him, help him get better. He wasn't sure he dared to believe it though. And every time he thought of his partner, he remembered that dream of that gruesome feast, two days ago-...three? Couldn't remember. Didn't want to think about that. He just wanted to see Heero.

He was probably being very stupid, but he'd rather spend an evening of silence with his dour partner than with an intelligent woman whom he could actually talk to. That was just the way of things.

Wufei nodded firmly as he walked the last few feet to the workshop's door. His mind had stayed in a rut, virtually at a standstill, fixated on that simple fact, all the way home. He didn't actually remember what he'd said to Susan; he'd thanked her and explained he had to go home, he thought. She'd made a joke about his girlfriend again, hadn't she...? His girlfriend, yeah, right. Wufei sighed, and made a few motions to loosen up his shoulders. The long bus drive out to the industrial zone had stiffened his muscles, and the short walk from the stop to the door hadn't relaxed him. He was always tense these days. He could have called Heero to come pick him up, but his partner had just returned from a trip, Wufei didn't want to inconvenience him.

He opened the door and walked in, back straight, face set and proud. Then he stumbled and ground to a halt.

Quatre was at the kitchen counter. He was frozen in the process of handing over some photos to Heero sitting opposite him. Blue eyes widened and the photos tumbled unheeded to the counter top.

"Winner?" Wufei said, trying to keep casual. He couldn't help glancing at Heero, who was looking from Quatre to Wufei and back again, scowling a bit; to Wufei's tired eyes, Heero looked apprehensive.

Quatre let a hiss of breath out between his teeth, and then spun on Heero as the latter hesitantly reached to pick up the fallen photographs. Wufei saw Quatre mouth the word 'tired?!', his eyebrows in his hairline. Heero gave him a warning look. Quatre bit off anything further he seemed to want to say, stumbled off his stool, and approached Wufei as if afraid the Asian man would bolt for the door.

"Wufei...you look...terrible."

Wufei licked his lips. He couldn't stop his eyes from darting towards Heero, couldn't stop- his partner was watching him from the corner of his eyes, apparently waiting to see how he'd react.

"Winner, what are you doing here?"

"Is that all you have to say?" Quatre stared at him. "You've lost weight- I only saw you a month and a half ago! You look like you haven't slept since we took down that Syndicate boss!"

"It's great to see you too," Wufei snapped, taking refuge in sarcasm and annoyance. Heero had looked away. Bored with the whole worry-warting? Or...

"What on earth is the matter?" Quatre whispered. He was in front of Wufei, and the latter realized, to his shame and confusion, that he'd taken a step back as if retreating from a physical danger.

"I-I'm still recuperating from my injuries, that's all!" He hated himself for that stutter. He might as well have said, 'hold on a minute while I think of a convincing lie'. "And I'm working on a difficult case these days."

"Case? You just said you're recuperating from your-"

"Deskwork," Wufei snapped. He also hated himself for the word 'difficult'; Heero had looked around sharply at that. "Nothing that concerns you."

"You concern me," Quatre corrected him softly. "I knew you didn't sound right over the phone, I felt-..."

Quatre interrupted himself, and he half-glanced over his shoulder. "Let's talk later. Une wanted to see me, regarding some financing of a new division, so I invited myself to stay at your place for a few days." Quatre smiled apologetically at the imposition. Wufei was too tired to bother calling Quatre on what he was pretty sure was a lie. Winner was too clever for him anyway; Wufei was pretty sure the businessman would have all the corroborative evidence needed, and a couple of Maganacs parked in a car outside the door, ready to back him up.

Wufei found himself - not too certain how he'd gotten there - sitting at the kitchen counter looking at photographs being shoved under his nose. Duo, looking at a horse with deep suspicion (apparently Quatre had persuaded him to give horse-back riding another try). To Wufei's tired eyes, the horse didn't look too keen either.

The next picture showed Trowa, a smudge of dirt on his nose, doing something in a luxurious garden. The photo was recent, and Wufei felt a sudden intense relief as he realized Trowa had made it out of the underworld in one piece. The young man looked wan and tired, and Wufei thought he could spot something haunted in his eyes, but Trowa was smiling at the camera in the next shot, trying, ineffectually, to clean the spot on his nose. Goddamn it, why hadn't someone told him that Trowa was okay!?

He glanced at Quatre and Heero, talking quietly together about the reconstruction of some colonies. Before he could snap angrily, the words froze in his throat. What if- what if he had been told that Trowa had come home safely? What if it had been during one of his black-outs the past two weeks...Wufei licked his lips and pretended to look at the photos again, afraid of saying anything that might lead to questions about his present mental condition. He stared, a bit blindly, at colonies being rebuilt, war damage erased, Rashid and a rather pretty woman smiling together, a few other Maguanacs posing outrageously for the camera, some shots of Quatre's L4 estate, Duo and Trowa at a targeting range, probably competing the hell out of each other, from the Shinigami grin on Maxwell's face...



---



Wufei started. "What?"

He gaped at the half-eaten sandwich in his hand, feeling his stomach roil, and then he stared around him in confusion. Quatre was sitting on the bench beside him, looking at him strangely, also holding a sandwich.

"Are you okay, Wufei? You look a bit..." Quatre didn't say what Wufei looked like, but he started to frown.

"Fine," Wufei muttered automatically and glanced around discreetly. They were in the little park in front of the Preventer HQ. No one else occupied the four stone benches, deserted under a weak spring sun, the sky dotted with cold, wet clouds. How-how had they gotten here?! Was this a dream? Images clashed and fought in Wufei's mind: Quatre's arrival last night, strange semi-hallucinations, waking up at his desk, Heero helping him with his training, a morning with Susan, a vicious nightmare last night, everything blended together, equally as unreal. What was he doing here? Was this another dream? They often started off banal like this. And he didn't remember going out to the park!

Quatre was talking. "You know...I had nightmares, about the war- actually, I still do. In fact, the only strange thing is that you're suddenly having really vivid ones every night."

Wufei gave a non-committal grunt. Memories swirled, disjointed snatches...Quatre had...come to take him out to lunch? He'd called Wufei over the phone, and they'd met here? He remembered a voice speaking, it sounded like his own, telling Quatre a very watered down version of the past four weeks.

"I can see why you're not sleeping too well." Quatre was apparently unaware of Wufei's confusion, picking at his own sandwich. "I had a particularly bad episode after I visited the reconstruction sites of those colonies, you know, the ones I...My doctor prescribe strong sedatives, anti-depressants - I had a, ah, a friend over at the time, Trowa, so I wasn't worried about taking something to sleep to get over the worst of it." Quatre lived in a mansion in the middle of a high security compound on an exclusive L4 colony surrounded by Maguanacs, and it went without saying that he would still want another ex-Pilot present before he took anything that could affect his judgment or make him disoriented and woozy.

Wufei listened absently as Quatre described some of his dreams and drew parallels between their two situations. Apparently Wufei had told Quatre about the investigation, his colony, his nightmares...yes, he could talk to Quatre. The man was the most intelligent of the five, and because he'd also been a pilot, he knew all about guilt, murder and blood.

And all along Wufei had wished that the eyes watching him with so much understanding were a different shade of blue...The realization, and returning memory of their lunch, made Wufei's guts cramp, and he fought to hold down the half of sandwich Quatre had browbeaten him into eating.

He didn't want this from Heero! Quatre was a good man, and Wufei wanted his respect, but it wasn't the same! He could tell Quatre some of the crap that he'd gone though, and Quatre wouldn't-...wouldn't mind seeing this flaw in his armour. But Heero...Heero was his partner, his rival, his other half on the edge of danger they thrived on. If Wufei lost Heero's respect, then he'd lose everything, and Heero's respect was so very, very hard to earn.

"- even Heero is worried now, and I think-"

"He told you this?" Wufei really, really wanted that unsaid. Not the words, but the little desperate torn tone of voice he'd used. Gods, he was really losing it...His mind was almost completely numb, it was as if there was nothing between his mouth and his soul, all his usual barriers worn through by nightmare after nightmare.

Quatre had taken a bite out of his sandwich and chewed it a couple of times, staring straight ahead. It looked like he was grinding his teeth, actually.

"Yes, I called him after you hung up, and I couldn't reach you," he finally said, after swallowing and taking a drink from a bottle on the stone bench at his side. Wufei realized he was suddenly terribly thirsty; his mouth was dry as a bone. He glanced around and was relieved to find a similar bottle at his own side.

"He didn't say much, but he told me that he was concerned. He said you were tired. Well, we both know that Heero Yuy can give a detailed battle plan in about ten words but he can't express a complex emotion if his life depended on it. Or if your life depended on it," Quatre added in a mutter around the water bottle's neck. "He's better at saying what you should do, or acting it out himself."

Quatre suddenly smiled, a small private expression as his eyes stared at something Wufei couldn't see. "My doctor gave me a long lecture about guilt, living with it, accepting it, and still finding room to live life and even enjoy it by embracing the present and occasionally giving myself permission to be myself, just for awhile. Heero did the same thing in that monotone of his by ordering me to play with the dogs, instead of wallowing in guilt over something I couldn't change. Sometimes...sometimes he underestimates his ability to express himself, just because he can't describe or fully grasp his own private feelings."

Then Wufei, whose bewildered mind was trying to fit the word 'dogs' into something like a reasonable context, found himself speared by a sharp glance.

"Look, Wufei. I won't comment on what you two have. I know quite well that these things don't make sense from the outside. Not for people like us. But...do you two clash and backbite when you're fighting a common enemy?"

"Of course not!" Wufei was momentarily puzzled, and then realized that Quatre must be referring to the partners' verbal duels and savage sparring. "It's our way. We don't let each other get soft, in mind or body, even when we're not on a mission. A warrior must always strive for battle, even in moments of peace. But when we start fighting- well, you've seen us."

"Yes, I've seen you. It's almost scary." Quatre grinned, it wasn't scared, it was slightly chilling and lined with faint admiration. Then it crumbled into a worried frown. "Can't you...couldn't you two consider this tough spot you're in as something like a battle-"

"A battle against what?!" Wufei snarled.

"The last battle of the war, Wufei," Quatre murmured sadly, staring at a piece of lettuce drooping over the bread. "Try to think of it like that. I think you need Heero's backing on this-" Wufei looked away sharply, and Quatre hesitated and pursued in a lower voice, "I'm sure he'd be more than willing to help you if you gave him a chance." Yeah, right, Wufei thought, trying to squash the part in himself that wanted to believe that. "But...you know that Heero doesn't know what losing his temper means. He gets plenty angry, but it's always cold, well-thought out, almost analytical. He doesn't know how to handle it when you start shouting, twisting his own words against him, like you did last night-"

"Last night?" Wufei blinked. What had happened last night? He'd come home, Quatre was there, they'd looked at photographs, Heero had- Heero had helped him with his exercises and-

"You don't remember?!" Quatre's eyes were huge. Wufei bit his lips. It sounded like a joke, making him believe he'd forgotten something that had never happened, but...but he did have a suspicious blank in last night's chain of events, after the training was done-

"I remember, I just-"

"You don't remember!" Quatre accused, his voice echoing through the small park.

"Winner-"

"That's IT!" Quatre shouted, throwing down his sandwiches on the bench and leaping to his feet. "I don't care if you and Heero are nice and comfortable living in Denial Land! There's something very wrong here, and I'm taking you to a hospital right now!"

Quatre grabbed Wufei's arm and found himself jerked nearly to the ground as a result. He stared at Wufei, shocked. Wufei looked stonily back into the big blue eyes. Quatre's effort to pull him off the bench hadn't even made him budge an inch.

"You forget yourself, Winner." Wufei's voice was soft but as sharply edged as his sword, honed by pride, arrogance and anger. Even Heero backed away from him when he was like this, knowing that when he hit that wall, even his more-than-human strength could never batter through it. Quatre slowly dropped Wufei's arm and straightened up, still glaring but now he was actually listening. Wufei took a bite of his sandwich and swallowed carefully - ignoring the roiling in his gut - to underline just how unmoved he was by Quatre's little outburst. Then he looked up, and Quatre's eyes narrowed as he bore the full brunt of Wufei's annoyance.

"You are worrying over nothing. Yes, I'm tired, and it's causing me to forget unimportant things, things that aren't related to the case I'm working on." Quatre's mouth opened in shock, and the tiny part of Wufei that was being shielded by the iron front was rather glad Heero wasn't here to hear himself be described like that. "I'm not sleeping very well, my injuries-"

"Your injuries have nothing to do with it! I watched you exercising, you're moving fine," Quatre hissed, cowed but still fighting. "Even Heero can't believe that lame-ass excuse anymore, as much as he wants to!"

That cracked the shell, as Wufei's heart missed a beat. "What do you mean? Heero's been training me, helping me recover my mobility. He even drives me to work to spare my knee from -"

Quatre, a true tactician, must have felt Wufei falter, and exploited the breach immediately. "He trains you, so you don't think he noticed your leg and shoulder are one hundred percent fine now?! He drives you to work or the bus stop because he's afraid you'll pass out at the wheel! And god! He thinks you noticed and that you're accepting his help! You two have got a real communication problem -"

"Stay out of it." Quatre's teeth clicked as he closed his mouth sharply at Wufei's dangerous tone, reminding him of his unspoken promise not to judge the partners' relationship.

Wufei watched, annoyance sizzling and defenses high, as Quatre visibly reined in his temper and resorted to cold, hard facts: "Wufei, you're a warrior. You don't zone out in parks while people are talking to you - like you did just now, I'm pretty sure. I know -"

Suddenly Quatre's voice dropped and became slightly husky. "Wufei, I know very, very well, that when your own mind traps you, it's very hard to take a look at yourself and realize how badly you're damaged. I went through the same thing. I couldn't see how badly screwed up I'd become until a friend took a big risk to point it out to me." His lips twisted in pain. Wufei knew it was a ploy - Quatre was more controlled than that, and he used words more surely than any weapon - but Wufei also knew that just because this was a stratagem, it wasn't necessarily a lie.

"For your own sake - and Heero's - " Wufei's eyes widened, at the blow and how accurately and clinically it had been delivered "- you have to admit that you have a serious problem. You're falling apart. This case is driving you-"

"This case is almost over," Wufei interrupted coldly. "I'm meeting Susan this afternoon for a summary of our work. Then tomorrow I see Sally for my physical-" it was tomorrow wasn't it? Yes, yes it was. And tonight, he'd sleep. The case was over, or at least his part in it was, he'd done his best, he'd held out to the end, he'd not dishonored his dead. Tonight, he would sleep, and tomorrow he'd be alright, and he'd apologize to Heero, and let Sally give him some tranqs for a few days' rest and then everything would be okay again. It would all...be okay...

Quatre was staring at him, visibly wanting to argue with that. But he probably knew just how unmovable Wufei could be.

"Okay," he finally agreed, his voice a bit dull. "Very well. This afternoon, I'm in the building, talking to Une. I have a rental car." He was speaking slowly and clearly, in a manner Wufei would have found immensely offensive if he wasn't so goddamned tired. "When you're finished with Susan, you call me. Okay? I'll drive you home. Then tomorrow I'm taking you to see Sally. Assuming Heero doesn't beat me up so he can do it himself." Wufei's eyes narrowed dangerously and Quatre hastily moved on. "Just promise me you won't take the bus home, all right? I- I would feel better if, ah..."

Wufei waited for him to conclude, but Quatre obviously realized he'd said enough and didn't want to give his one-time colleague the ammunition to take him down. Quatre was a lot smarter than Heero that way. He knew just how dangerous words could be; he was an expert himself.

"You're a bunch of old women," Wufei snapped, wrapping up the remains of his sandwich.

"If you say, so, Wufei, if you say so." Quatre's voice was soft with relief at Wufei's unspoken capitulation. "But thanks for indulging us."

Quatre's tremulous smile was warm, and Wufei glanced away from it, ashamed. His friend was worried, and he was only trying to help. And Heero-...

Heero was concerned.

Heero had figured out that Wufei's injuries were not the problem, if he'd ever believed it in the first place. Wufei was so tired he didn't even know what to think about that. He didn't want to think about that. It hurt too much. It was too big, too complex, too caught up in the arrangement they'd carefully constructed in the two years they'd known each other. It was like a rope at the bottom of a pile of delicately balanced vases. If he tugged at it too hard, the whole thing would come tumbling down. And if they no longer had that...if Wufei wasn't up to Heero's standards any more...or was too unreliable to be his partner any longer...would Heero still have a reason to stay with him?

"So, I'll pick you up when you're done, okay? Just call me on your cell." Quatre was looking at him sharply, until Wufei nodded, then he headed down the corridor with one last worried glance over his shoulder. Wufei realized, with a start he tried to hide, that he was in front of Susan's office door.

Wufei shook himself, squared his shoulders, focused. It was a bit of a struggle, but his tired mind could still do it. His personal problems were so little compared to his duty.

"Ah, Wufei, come in! I was just printing things out. Wow, I never realized how much work we did together! I'm really going to miss your help! Ah..." Susan gave him the polished Prosecutor look, weighing her chances of persuading him to help her some more, he'd wager.

"I'm glad I was able to help you," Wufei was entirely sincere. He'd paid with his body and his mind, but he was used to that. Susan had been working this case for months, and she would be working it for months to come once she found a new aide, and obtained a new sabbatical from her law firm. She was the truly brave one here. Wufei felt a bit of guilt, but he also knew where his duty now lay.

"I'm sorry to leave you before it's done, but I'm back in shape," Wufei continued firmly. In his chest something ached; Heero knew his wounds were healed...he knew...he'd said nothing...that single fact cut both ways, and down to the bone. "Tomorrow, I will have my physical evaluation, and then I must return to my regular duties. My partner has been very patient, but we need to get back into the field."

"And I bet your girlfriend will be glad you stopped working such long hours!" Susan teased.

"Susan, I've told you before, I don't have a girlfriend, and I work these kinds of hours while on a mission anyway."

"You mean a handsome boy like you lives alone? Sorry, I just can't believe that!"

Wufei merely sipped the tea she'd slipped into his hand. It was the expensive Yulien Mountain again; Susan was thanking him for his participation, in an unspoken way. Actions and not words...Heero used actions and not words...driving Wufei to work...offering to help in the case...

He had been trying to help. Like a partner.

But that's not enough, a part of Wufei whispered.

Yes, it is.

No, it's not.

It is if I'm strong enough to bear it.

"Wufei?"

"Let's get on to the case." Wufei grabbed the stack of papers on the desk. He'd not told Susan he was living with his partner. It wasn't hard to hide; she hardly ever asked him personal questions, apart from teasing him about the girlfriend thing. Susan was just too focused on her mission to really care about Wufei's private life. But she was also very smart, and correcting her misapprehension that he was living alone while he was this tired might lead to an embarrassing slip-up.

"Okay..." Susan looked at him searchingly. "You know...it's not good to live alone when you're having a hard time. Your problems eat you up if you can't talk about them."

Wufei almost swallowed the exquisite tea the wrong way. Very, very true, and he was getting a bit tired of hearing it.

"My offer still stands. If you want to talk about something...anything...I'm here for the next week. Just drop by. You know my address. Drop by anytime, you know what my working hours are like. Chances are you won't be dragging me out of bed!"

Wufei nodded in what he hoped looked like gratitude and rattled the papers.

He had someone at home he should talk to...and he couldn't. Until he resolved that conundrum, at least in his own mind and soul, talking to Susan, or even to Quatre, was not nearly as helpful as it should be.



---



"Heero, pick up the goddamned phone!"

It was Quatre's voice. He sounded panicked and he was actually swearing.

Wufei glanced around at the walls of the colony, flames licking around them, and decided he couldn't really blame Quatre for losing his grip. He felt like swearing himself. But Heero wasn't here. Heero had left, because Wufei wasn't good enough to be his partner anymore. Because Wufei's weak spirit had led him back here, again. Wufei was about to die here, in the destruction of A0206, and Heero hadn't wanted to die with him. Why should he? When had they ever said they would never leave each other? When had they ever turned from their duty to put the other first? Isabel Hunter, that crazy, psycho bitch, was screaming at him from her jail cell as flames licked at it, something about having told him so, but she was a stupid woman; Wufei had not needed anyone to tell him what he'd always known.

The workshop's ceiling caught fire as he looked at it. Why...why was he lying on his back? He wanted to die on his feet. He struggled to sit up. The colony's stabilizers must have been damaged already; he kept swaying. He managed to get his feet under him and stand.

"No, Wufei, sit down!" Quatre gestured wildly at him through the smoke, but stayed at a prudent distance. "I- Heero?!"

Sit down? Why, what was the point...Meiran's gravestone was already blackened, and their field of flowers was an inferno. His colony was burning, his family was dying, he should be on his feet. He swayed.

Thank god Heero wasn't here. The words were honest and echoed from the deepest part of his soul. Wufei didn't want Heero to burn with the rest. He rather wished Quatre wasn't here either. Maybe he could find an escape pod for-

"Heero, come home now! Wufei's collapsed, he's having some kind of full-blown psychotic episode -"

The flames screamed like animals as they devoured the temple. Wufei smiled. His colony had been dying for awhile now, falling apart like an old man. At least it was getting a demise fitting of the Dragon clan. Master Li wasn't dead yet; he was standing in the temple as it was being consumed, nodding sagely. He was holding the jade Shenlong and thanking Wufei for having brought it back. Ah, yes, that's why Wufei had returned. Master Li's followers were sparring in the burning gardens, celebrating life as it left with their pure, violent movements, fighting to the last. They had red paper fans and stars tied to their foreheads. And...Susan was near the workshop door, dressed in a rich, traditional robe that was beginning to smoke from the heat. She was holding a burning chalice; snakes were writhing inside. He had to thank her for her efforts at avenging his colony. She was looking straight at him through the flames, but she wasn't seeing him, he knew that somehow; the smoke of destruction was obscuring her vision.

"I can't call an ambulance! He's walking around and talking like he's gone crazy! He can't even hear me! If someone tries to grab him right now he could- okay, okay."

First, he had to thank Susan. Then he had to find an escape pod for Quatre. Then he had to go to see Meiran's grave one last time-

As if summoned by his thoughts, she was there, before him, a hand held out to stop his advance.

"I'll call the ambulance as soon as I hang up. Just make it here before they do, Heero, because-....No, no, that's not a good idea. He's armed. Let's not get anyone else involved, just me and you."

It was the older Meiran, the one who protected his sleep from nightmares, when she could.

"Wake up, Wufei," she barked.

"Me?! Disarm- Are you insane?!" Quatre gasped into the phone. How come the phone was still working? The workshop was going up in smoke.

"That's because you're dreaming, moron!" Meiran snapped, but her eyes were wide with concern. It felt...good. To have someone concerned about him, about his pain. What? Dreaming?

"I'm not dreaming; the place is burning down," Wufei pointed out, a bit bemused. Meiran had to have noticed.

"Er, yeah, he says the place is burning - no, of course there's no fire!" Quatre groaned into the phone. Wufei stared at him. What was with these people?

"You're dreaming! Listen to what he's saying, will you?" Meiran rolled her eyes, gesturing towards Quatre who was standing near the kitchen counter; it was cherry red and melting in the blaze. "And you know why, don't you?"

"I do?" The heat was a living thing gnawing at his skin, smoke and the smell of charnel fires were making his eyes and nose water, his hair was dry and crackling as if it was ablaze already, how could they say this was-

"Yes! Oh, you're so smart, but you can be so blind when it's right in front of your nose! Huh, no wonder you need glasses to read." Meiran actually stomped her foot. Wufei thought that was a very improbable gesture for her to make, and a sudden nudge of doubt made him tense.

"I won't tell you to listen to your feelings because you're so frightened of them and where they might lead you, you're completely locked away!" Meiran was shouting now to cover the howling noise that was shaking the very air; the colony had breached.

"I'm no coward, woman!" Wufei's voice thundered even over the noise. A few feet away, Quatre fumbled and dropped the phone.

"Yes you are but that's besides the point and you should be using that brain of yours you're so proud of instead!" Meiran shouted back in one single breath. "Where did all this start? It started here! Can't you see? Think! When did it start?!"

Start...?

Wufei's mouth opened, but nothing came out.

"Yes, finally you see." Meiran blew out her cheeks. The noise was small but perfectly audible in the thunderous silence. Wufei glanced around in surprise. The flames licking his home - the workshop and his colony, they were both his home, even when he didn't want to admit it - were frozen as they reached out towards the breach leading into the eternal cold of space.

"Four weeks. The nightmares. Symptoms...Justice. There's no justice. Guilt," Wufei mumbled, trying to shove his tired mind through its conclusions. So many threads, and all of them caught into a horrible knot at the centre, where his feelings were coiled. That was the problem. That's why he'd been blind to the coincidence of-

"Yes, you're almost there." Meiran snorted. "Took you long enough."

"Don't rub it in, woman," Wufei growled. Quatre, who was standing in front of Wufei, blinked several times at that. He hadn't noticed Meiran standing next to him. "I was distracted."

"Yeah, your own feelings - the ones you won't admit to - got caught in the mix. That was accidental, but it almost undid you. You'll have to do something about that one day, Wufei. But in the meantime, don't try to think about it, it'll be faster if you take a page out of Heero's book, and act instead. Don't try to find the answers on your own. You know where to look for them."

"You're right. Thank you, wife."

"Er, you're welcome." Quatre's grin was forced and rather lopsided. He was tugging gently at Wufei's arm and speaking slowly. "Look, why don't you lie down again, okay? You're swaying, I'm afraid you might fall and hurt yourself. And, Wufei? Heero would like you to give me your gun. Just temporarily."

"My gun?" Wufei's hand automatically checked his Luger in its shoulder holster. Quatre's hands flew away and he fell back a few steps into a defensive crouch, eyes wary.

Meiran snorted. "He's nice, and I'm sure he's very sensible, but he doesn't know what we know. Keep the gun, Wufei. I don't think you'll need it but you never know."

"You're right," Wufei agreed.

Quatre, looking immensely relieved, straightened up and walked towards Wufei with his hand outstretched. Wufei waited until he was in reach and then shoved him back with all his strength. While Quatre landed with an 'Oomph!' on the dojo floor several feet away - the springboards should absorb the impact, he'd be okay - Wufei dashed to the garage door. He hauled it open with one huge thrust.

A weight hit his back, and Quatre made a creditable effort to bring him to his knees and twist his arm into a lock. The businessman was a good fighter, for someone who'd had self-defence classes for a few years. Put a gun in his hand, and he was quite deadly. But when Quatre had told Heero that it would be insane for him to try to disarm Wufei, that had been a fair and honest assessment of their comparative abilities. Heero had a chance of disarming Wufei and stopping him, but Heero wasn't here. He'd left.

Hadn't he?

No, of course not! Heero was at work, it was only early evening!

Wufei almost let Quatre get him into that arm lock as he swayed with trembling relief. Heero hadn't left him, and he was on his way home. Heero was coming! But Wufei couldn't wait for his partner, not now that the colony was breached. He batted away his friend's attempts and shoved again. This time Quatre landed on the concrete of the tool shop, and he grunted with pain.

"Stay down," Wufei ordered sharply as he grabbed his bike, then remembered to wrench the keys out of Heero's first. "I don't want to hurt you. But I have to go finish with the investigation before the colony is destroyed."

"Wufei, don't!"

"I'll be back in a couple of hours. Tell Heero not to worry, okay?"

Whatever Quatre said to that was lost in the growl of the motor as Wufei shot out of the garage.

[chap. 32] [chap. 34] [back to Maldoror's fic]