Author: Maldoror
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.

AN: This chapter was written some time ago, and was waiting for beta (thanks Arith!!). Which is good 'cause I'm unable to write right now. Life just loves its little surprises; it also likes to kick you when you're already down. I'll bounce back in a week or so but next chapter (of this and my other series) may be delayed. Or be unremittingly grim. Or, hey, both!

Thanks, Sol, for fixing the shuttle scene - all hail your editing scissors. And also for lending a sympathetic ear when it was needed. Thanks to the rest of the War Room for continued humour and support, that's always needed.

see chapter 8 for warnings

The Arrangement + Chapter 9
The Path of the Sword

'In the face of evil, one would rather be a broken jade than a brick intact.'
Chinese proverb.

---

The wreckage of suits and stars orbited around them.

Throw down your weapons. When the weak are armed they lose control. The weak should not fight.

Nataku was the unmoving center of a small galaxy of debris, and the stars moved around them both.

I'll keep on taking my own path. I take no orders.

The only thing that was no longer moving was time. It had ceased to function along with his Gundam, leaving Wufei hanging in space like a fly in amber, as minutes or centuries fled by outside.

Wufei, strength is in the mind, and the mind is a battle against oneself.

It would be easier to fight a battle against oneself if a whole fleet of mobile dolls and warmongering fools from every faction is space didn't continuously insist on interfering, Wufei thought with slight sarcasm; it coloured his meditation like bubbles of air caught in the same amber.

At least...

Justice is believing in yourself, not lying to yourself, and never betraying yourself.

At least he'd followed his path to its logical conclusion. He hoped Master Li would approve. The old man had also followed his righteous path, to pretty much the same conclusion as Wufei. All roads led to the same grave at the end, but the manner of going honoured or dishonoured the life that was-

Beep-beep

The noise fractured the amber and the eternal dance of debris around him. Wufei opened his eyes a fraction, glanced at the long-distance radar. Analysed the approaching signature. Recognized the FOF signal.

Huh. Well, Nataku, looks like our road may go on a little further.

He closed his eyes again and waited patiently for the transport shuttle to approach and pick him up.

---

The door opened to reveal the shuttle's cabin and the occupants. Wufei glanced without surprise at Heero off to one side. He was sitting in his usual pose, arms crossed, face set. A brief glance up was acknowledgment and greeting, and Wufei met the gaze for a second in return. He then turned to the shuttle's pilot, who was not someone he'd expected. The last he'd seen of Sally she'd been with her resistance cell in China, but that had been a long ago, in terms of political upheaval and rearrangement of allegiances. If he'd thought of her at all, he would have been quite unable to say if she still had any opponents to fight against in China, or if he would have to consider her a friend or foe at this juncture. Her presence here with Heero and two - now three - Gundams in her shuttle's hold probably meant she was not an enemy.

It didnít mean she was on his side, of course. No one was. It was simpler that way.

"It's been awhile." Sally said with her quiet smile. Her eyes flicked curiously between Heero and Wufei but if she was expecting a greeting between them she was going to be disappointed. Or to be more precise, she'd missed it. She missed the import of the next few words between Heero and Wufei as well, or she might not have continued to sit there so calmly.

Wufei almost smiled at Heero's curt statement. It had been too long...he'd only left a month ago, but it was long enough in terms of battle and destruction and a solitary path. And getting distracted by people whining at him to join this or that side, trying their 'irrefutable' arguments on him and expecting him to fall in line. It was nice to be once more with someone who understood exactly how he thought.

So...Heavyarms wasn't space worthy. And Nataku was too damaged for a long space flight. He very much doubted Heero would let him 'borrow' the other suit, not without one hell of a fight. But he had to get to Libra, follow his path to its inevitable and bloody conclusion.

Wufei considered the implications of Sally's flight plan to Peacemillion even as he found himself sarcastically suggesting he'd commandeer the shuttle and head for Libra instead.

His baiting was rewarded with the slightest snort from the seat on the other side of the cabin. But Sally apparently took him seriously.

"Good point, I never thought of that. But on Peacemillion, there are supplies and engineers who can repair your Gundam. You can go and attack Libra afterwards." She added kindly.

Wufei glanced at Heero, trying to read him. "Is that why you want me to come?" Just to repair Nataku, no strings attached, no promises made or demanded?

Heero said nothing. Wufei noted his silence. As he noted that Heero was on his way to Peacemillion as well.

Sally was looking at them curiously. She'd obviously been surprised at their lack of greeting when he'd come in, and she seemed slightly embarrassed by Heero's silence now. She gave Wufei an apologetic smile, uncomfortable at the lack of friendliness which she thought she was perceiving. She was missing a lot of history, Wufei reminded himself, as well as the ability to follow the silent argument that had been running practically since he'd entered the cabin.

Wufei considered Sally's offer of the help aboard Peacemillion, and sat down with a scowl. He felt Heero note both his slight concession and his overall rejection; a flexing of strong shoulders, bared by the tank top without any regards to the chill of the air conditioning, told him what Heero thought of his stubbornness.

Then the alarms sounded.

---

Wufei's steps slowed as he passed Nataku. The machine, still noble in its ruin, seemed to beckon. Heero was right of course, it would be suicide to use his Gundam to fight one virgo, let alone forty. But...it would be his path! If he was going to die he wanted it to be in Nataku's arms...okay that sounded a bit defeatist. No, the attraction of that plan was that it was simple and he understood it thoroughly. He depended on no-one, he was alone as he should be, with Nataku, and he would fight until he died, end of story.

Whereas this! He picked up his pace and used the low gravity to float to the far end of the hold. This...he didnít understand at all.

Take zero?

What was Heero thinking?

Though his mind was racing, most of Wufei was already in combat mode, slipping quickly into a command seat of familiar design, booting up systems, waiting for Sally to open the cargo bay doors.

Heero understood him better than anyone. Why on earth was he giving Wufei the means to get out?! Out of the trap of the White Fang forces surrounding him. And out of the snare of Sally's kind offer that would leave him beholden to others. Out of all the complications that were trying to drag him into one side or the other of the fight for peace, trying to integrate him to one or the other set of values.

His fingers flew over the thruster settings, the radar panels. They were fortunately similar to Nataku's set up. Right, this was Gundam zero, the original. He could use it. In fact he could take it. Oh, he would never be dishonourable enough to leave Sally and a now defenceless Heero - why why why had Heero let him - concentrate. He wouldnít leave them to face forty virgos in a shuttle, he'd get rid of the enemy first but after that, how could Heero know he would bring zero back?

The radar picked up the enemy and Wufei's pulse started to accelerate with anticipation as he manoeuvred out of the bay. The jets and the thrusters obeyed his delicate touches to perfection. He could feel the power in this machine. He frowned slightly at the targeting system. He didn't like the heads-up display, he didnít need it, and he preferred to see his enemy face to face and without electronic interpretations creating a false impression of remove between them. This was life and death. He was about to get more intimate with these machines than he'd ever been with anyone, save the man who'd given him this further chance to strike back.

A crosshair danced on the viewer before him.

What had Heero meant? Why had he warned Wufei about the cockpit system?

The hum turned into a roar as he cleared the shuttle and rocketed away towards his foe.

While you pilot zero, it will tell you who your enemies are. What had Heero meant by that?

Wufei knew who his enemies were. That's why he'd left earth, to make that very clear. His enemies were those foolish enough to bring an arsenal into the fragile clockwork balance of space. His enemies were the ones who had brought injustice to the colonies, the rule of the weak bearing weapons. His enemies were the ones who thought their strength was greater than his, and were trying to impose their values on him.

His enemies were the ones he'd destroy to prove to them just how wrong they were.

"Well, zero, show me. Let's see what you can do!"

His enemy closed around him. It was time to see who was right and who was strongest.

He dodged the first three shots. Stupid dolls. Moronic pre-programmed pieces of hardware, they always opened with the same volley, he could avoid it in his sleep. The first two went down easily, it was the usual opening gambit, almost boring in its predictability. He caught the next shot on his shield - and felt a moment of elation at the similarity between zero and his beloved Nataku.

Two more units went down. He was in the middle of their formation now, that and their numbers made the next few moves of his enemy unpredictable and now the real fight was-

He dodged and hurled himself forward with his beam sword swinging. Two more down.

Okay scratch that. The dolls were sluggish responding today, he could still see their programming jerking them around like cheap puppets, putting them exactly where he wanted them to be to - slash, hack - cut them down. Two more exploded in silent blossoms of fire and metal behind him.

He swung up the beam canon instinctively, knowing exactly where that clump of dolls would dodge to regroup and -

The beam scythed through the air and the thought cut through his mind with the same luminous intensity.

The cockpit system!

It was -...

Targets and crosshairs danced before his eyes on the screen, and in his mind like little bulls-eyes.

It was somehow-...

Three dolls tried to dodge and regroup and were met by the beam of destructive light right at the supposedly safe spot they had gathered.

Interesting...

Two more machines were down, the sword scything them in a single, graceful arc, sending their exploding carcasses rocketing into a third on the predicted trajectory.

At that point, Wufei realized he'd been fighting with his eyes closed for the last minute, at least.

The attack vectors and crosshairs in his mind grew frantic. The doll's program was trying to adapt to its target's greater speed and manoeuvrability. It was starting to compensate.

Wufei smiled savagely, alone against his enemies and relishing it. Now it would get fun!

He slashed and spun and dodged and the virgos fell, and one got through his defences, and shot him straight in the powerpack on his Gundam's back.

Zero exploded into a ball of fire and molten metal, its cabin bathed in heat so great the human body within didn't burn but vaporized.

Wufei shouted and slammed back into the seat.

What was that?!

He was thrown forward as two beams hit him, and he sent zero spinning and diving away on instinct. His eyes were wide but unseeing, mind screaming - as zero showed him the path each virgo would take, and how they would try to outmanoeuvre him, and how they would, eventually - maybe not these but the next wave or the next - how they would eventually kill him.

"No!"

Wufei died again and again. Each twist he took to avoid his fate placed him in the path of the next deadly trap.

Zero was showing him his future. What there was of it. The mathematical equations of his solitary fight were running at top speed within the new Wing's computer system and coming up with only one outcome.

"I can fight on my own! And I'll die that way!" Wufei shouted. He didnít feel the shots slamming into him. His eyes were blind to the spiral of vectors tightening around him like a noose.

Treize...

Zero peeled his reasons and his excuses away layer by layer until it hit rock.

Wufei snarled and swung his beam at the image in his mind. Treize! Destroy him, destroy the enemy! The image melted and a virgo exploded just as it was about to shoot him point-blank, but Wufei barely noticed. He was feeling the press of a cold blade against his throat as Treize defeated him again and again.

Treize is as strong as you are...and he has an army behind him. How will you defeat him by yourself? Wing zero was as coldly challenging as its owner, pushing Wufei to move past the images of himself he wanted to keep, to burn down to what was essential.

And then there was the other one. Zero flicked a few more preconceptions from his mind, getting down to the meat of the matter. The other one. Milliardo Peacecraft since that was the name he'd decided on this week. Didn't matter. The man who had armed space. The man who had tainted the one thing that was still pure and untouched by the madness on earth, and dragged it into the final conflict.

Zechs, in an illusion of Wing zero, was there, right in front of him, trying to tempt Wufei to his side. Fight for the colonies...join me...Wufei smiled and drove his sword without hesitation into that maddening, self-righteous bastard.

Outside, in the real world, another virgo exploded, unnoticed. The dolls were having trouble regrouping fast enough, zero destroying each time the central unit of their formations, leaving them to scurry in tatters. Not that the pilot was fully aware of any of this.

In the cockpit and in Wufei's head, Treize and Zechs were always just out of reach. They were the ones he had to attack! They were his enemy! Their armies were just symptoms, tools for them. They were the ones who had caused so much pain and death already, and were planning on unleashing more on a scale never seen before. It was his duty to stop them!

So why?! Why was zero showing him dying again and again, and his enemy out of reach?

Was this his future? He knew he was going to die soon but...would he fail as well?

Wufei tasted blood from where he'd savagely bit down on his own flesh in a rage and horror he'd never felt before.

He didn't mind dying. But he wouldnít - couldnít - not make those men pay first. His whole life, every single battle he'd fought, had been for that. He couldnít just -...

Finally it came down to the crux.

Zero had shown him his enemies all right. Heero had been completely correct as usual.

Now it was showing him his future with beautiful, cruel clarity.

He could stay solitary and uncompromised, and die trying to bring his enemies to justice. It would certainly look glorious on his tombstone but he knew it would be a failure. He didn't want anything written on his tombstone if those of his opponents weren't right next to his.

His other option...

A flash - his memory or zero's interference, it no longer mattered. Duo, Trowa, Quatre...Heero, glaring at him in a familiar pose of acceptance and challenge.

They were following a different path but it led to the same destination, to the deaths of the two warmongers who were planning on putting the solar system to the torch.

Zero seemed to smirk at him. Wufei registered, at the very edge of his perception, that his body had stopped fighting, because all his enemies were destroyed. For now. He was floating in a sea of stars and ruin again. This time it was his mind that was adrift.

His enemies...his enemies were Treize and Zechs. And he would defeat them. That was the only path he could choose if he wanted to stay true to himself and the people who had died for him. And he now had the means to achieve this. All he had to do was accept the bitter realization that he couldn't do it alone.

Of course, that didn't mean he wasn't going to die, zero informed him almost as an afterthought before switching off the strange targeting system and powering down. Chances were still good that the closest he would get to his goal would be dying while helping the others achieve it. But...they would achieve it, if they went for it with the same determination that they always showed. They were the only pure warriors on earth and in space. He knew that, somehow, the five of them would prevail, even if they were not all alive to see it happen.

Wufei put his numbed hands back on the controls, jetted towards Sally's shuttle some distance off. He decided, as he left the broken pieces of metal in empty orbits behind him, that that was, in finality, justice enough for him.

Now to give Sally the good news. Heero already knew it of course, had known it since Wufei had accepted to use Wing zero to defeat his enemy rather than die uselessly in Nataku. Wufei found himself smiling coldly. Never underestimate Heero Yuy. He'd grown even more impressive in the last few months. This new goal of his, this...peace...it made him so strong. And wiser than before. Huh, come to think of it, he'd been fighting with zero as well. That must have been quite the life-changing experience.

He'd be working with Heero again. He'd be feeling that admiration/rivalry, following in Heero's footsteps, fighting back to back, challenging each other and becoming both the better for it. He'd missed that. A lot. He thought...he thought that Heero had to. Heero must have seen the same future he had in zero, realized that they would need to all be together on this, if they wanted to have a chance of winning against both the massive armies gathering to bring about Armageddon.

A last flicker of anger burned in Wufei's mind as he felt the way Heero had manipulated him into joining the others. But it passed and Wufei felt something heavy fall from his shoulders. He wasn't giving in to Heero; he was winning the fight against himself. He was finally moving beyond the clouds of doubt and self-loathing that had shrouded his mind. He had decided alone how he was going to live his life and he'd chosen his death. And in both, he'd be accompanied by strong, honourable warriors.

Really, Nataku, he thought as zero manoeuvred back into the shuttle and he caught sight of his Gundam, really, what more could we possibly ask for?

---

[cont]