by: Shoori

The Beginning's End + Part 16

"Quatre! Quatre, wake up!" I shake him hard, my palm connecting with his cheek.

His eyelids flutter, and open. I see the bright azure of his eyes, and the relief I feel is as intense as the panic of the last hours.

After he and Maxwell went down into the colony, there was nothing - no communication, no sign of life - nothing - for well over an hour. Heero and I finished the battle, mopped up the last of the resistance, took what prisoners we could.

We were perfect little soldiers, seeing to details, giving orders, getting things done.

I think we were both closer to going insane in those minutes of not knowing what was going on then we ever have been before.

Then, Quatre came barreling out of the colony with his orders to get out of the way, then seconds later that explosion…

And no sign of Duo.

Quatre’s communications cut off, and I had to go retrieve him - no mean feat in a Taurus - only to find him unconscious.

Better than dead.

But he wouldn’t wake up.

We’ve tried for an hour and he wouldn’t…but now he’s…

I scowl as I realize that my thoughts are babbling. I need to focus.

Quatre is all right. He’s ok. He’s alive.

I force that knowledge through my body - send it pumping through my veins with every beat of my heart, forcing myself to acknowledge it.

Quatre is all right.

But Duo…

"Quatre, what happened?" My voice is harsher than I meant it to be. I can’t help it. I need to know.

Heero needs to know.

Heero’s not on the ship with us - he landed long enough to refuel, then went back out into space, went to look for Duo.

Quatre blinks confusedly at me, obviously trying to reconcile his present location with his last memories…

"Wufei…" he whispers.

"You’re on the transport ship," I tell him. "You passed out when the colony exploded. We went out and retrieved…"

He cries out, interrupting me, a wordless cry of fear and grief. "The colony! Wufei, the colony…it exploded?"

I nod.

"Did….is Duo…"

"That’s what I need to ask you."

Quatre winces. Obviously, he catches the note of condemnation in my voice. He’s too sensitive to nuance not to have picked it up. I silently curse myself - why am I treating him like this? I want to hug him, kiss him, show him all the terror I felt when I thought I had lost him…So why am I instead being so cold?

He pushes himself painfully to a sitting position.

"He didn’t get out?"

His eyes plead with me as he asks the question.

I refuse to give him an answer. "What happened down there, Quatre? Where were you for all that time?"

"We found Barton," he tells me evasively.

"It took you over an hour to find him?" I ask him. I hear the disbelief in my own voice.

Quatre rises slowly to his feet. He turns his back on me, his shoulders stiff, his back unyielding. My eyes narrow as I stare at his back. What doesn’t he want to tell me?

"Wufei…" His voice breaks. "Where’s Duo?"

"That’s what you need to tell me," I reply again, relentlessly. "You know what went on down there. I don’t."

"He didn’t get out."

His voice is flat, dull. This time, it is not a question.

I don’t reply.

"Did he get out?"

Still, I don’t answer.

He whirls, and his pain-filled eyes flash angrily at me. "Just tell me, Wufei!" he screams. "Did he get out?"

"No," I say coldly. "He didn’t. The colony exploded, Quatre. There was - and is - no sign of Duo."

He stares at me for a moment. Then, with a soft, choking sound, he drops his head into his hands. His shoulders, so strong and defiant a moment ago, begin to shake with sobs. Sobs for Duo.

I should go to him. Put my arms around him. Comfort him. I want to do that. But I can’t.

"What happened, Quatre?" I ask him again.

He lifts his head, stares into my eyes. His pale cheeks are stained with tears, tears that I’m ignoring.

"Barton…rigged the colony. He didn’t plan to go back, so he rigged it to explode."

"How do you know that?"

His eyes flick away from mine. "He…he told us," he manages after a moment.

"He told you."

Quatre jerks his head down in a brief nod.

"Nice of him," I comment coldly.

Quatre’s eyes meet mine again, and again I see anger flash through the pain. "Is there something that you want to ask me?" he demands, and his tone is the coldest he has ever used with me.

"I want to know what happened," I tell him. I can’t offer comfort, can’t go to Quatre the way my entire body is screaming at me to go…not until I know. "I want to know what went on down there for over an hour. I want to know why Duo is dead."

My own voice cracks on the last word, and I know. I know why I am acting this way, know why I feel so frozen, so detached.

Duo is dead.

When we thought that Trowa was dead, it was as if some part of me had died too. I mourned him, I grieved for him…in the darkness of night I even wept for him.

But his ‘death’ had occurred…far away. I never saw it. I never saw him dead. Somehow, it was…unreal. I was separated and detached from that loss. I knew Trowa was dead, my mind knew - but my heart never accepted it fully.

But Duo…I saw the colony explode, saw the flames and the wreckage and the debris…and knew that part of that burning detritus was Duo.

It was like during the war…watching my home colony explode, knowing that the flames had taken my parents, my cousins, my clan, my home…the bridge I had trained on that very morning, the shrines to my ancestors, the grave of Meiran.

Today, like then, I stared at the colony, and knew what its explosion was taking from me. I strained my eyes, watching for the speck of metal that was Duo’s Gundam, willing him to make a dramatic, last-instant appearance, expecting him to miraculously cheat death yet again.

And he didn’t.

He blew up.

He died.

And now, I’m blaming Quatre, because he knows what happened.

It isn’t his fault.

I need to tell him that.

But I can’t…I need to know.

For once, Quatre misunderstands my silence, doesn’t realize the struggle going on. He takes it for complete and unrelenting condemnation.

"Fine!" he half-shouts at me. "You want to know?"

He turns his back on me again, stares at the opposite wall.

"We landed on the colony," he begins in a cold voice. "It only took about five minutes to find and apprehend Barton. He tried to shoot us. Duo disarmed him." He stops, and laughs bitterly. "Disarmed him…," he muses. "Literally. He shot his hand off."

I blink, surprised by the blase tone in which Quatre reveals this information.

"We didn’t want to just kill him," he continues. "We wanted him to suffer."

"You tortured him," I say flatly.

He goes on as if he didn’t hear me. "Duo had the idea to take him to the place where he’d held Trowa. He didn’t want to take us there…but we convinced him."

I almost shiver at the detached, cold malice in my gentle lover’s voice.

"He took us there…It was a…cell. About twenty feet by twenty feet. There were…" His voice trails off for a moment. "Trowa was in that room for over a month, Wufei. We saw…the things he used…to torture him. To bind him to. To abuse him. Some of them still had Trowa’s blood on them."

I’m silent. I try to imagine being faced with that.

"I had planned from the first to hurt Barton before I killed him," he admits with that same chilling indifference. "But when I saw that…I wanted to more than hurt him. I wanted to break him, destroy him - make him scream and beg and plead and then hurt him more. I didn’t want him to die, because then he would be beyond my reach."

Quatre’s voice builds in intensity throughout this speech. He’s shaking with the force of repressed rage.

"So, we hurt him. I hurt him. It was more my idea than Duo’s." He whirls suddenly to face me. "Do you want to know, Wufei? Do you want to know what we did to make him talk, make him admit what he’d done? Do you want to know?" He demands furiously at my continued silence.

"Quatre…" I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to know.

"Then, the colony began to shake. Barton told us that an explosion was imminent. Duo sent me up to warn all of you, said he was going to kill Barton and follow me."

"So you went?" I’m just trying to sort out all this information I’ve been given, but yet again it sounds like blame.

Quatre’s eyes flash again, and I know that again I’ve hurt him. "Duo said it was his right to finish it - and it was."

I can’t argue with that. It was.

"Go ahead," Quatre demands harshly. "Tell me how disgusted you are, how dishonorably I have behaved. You’re absolutely right. But Wufei -," he pauses, staring at me defiantly, "I don’t care."

I stare into his eyes - eyes that are so familiar, but at this moment so alien. I have seen this side of Quatre only once, and long ago. I believed then that it was the influence of the Zero system. But it wasn’t, entirely. I flew that system too, and knew - have always known - that it can’t bring out in a pilot anything that isn’t there already.

Quatre had it in him then to destroy entire colonies of civilians in the name of his revenge and his cause.

He has it in him now to inflict physical torture in the name of justice.

And he believes that I will reject him for this.

"Quatre…" I begin hesitantly.

Suddenly, his eyes fill with tears, and he turns away from me again. "It’s my fault, Wufei," he chokes out. "Duo wouldn’t have stretched it out so long. But I did, I wanted to, and now Duo’s dead. He’s dead because of my revenge, because of me."

And these words free me. I can’t imagine the burden that it is to be Quatre Winner - to have so many different beliefs and values and needs and facets of personality all pushing him to act in so many different ways, all accepting responsibility and blame for everything that goes wrong.

"Quatre," I say again, but this time step forward and lightly touch his shoulder. "It…it is not your fault."

He shakes his head vehemently in the negative, not turning around. "I just told you," he insists, "Duo wouldn’t have…"

"Duo was out for Barton’s blood," I remind him calmly. "He may not have taken as long as you did, but he wasn’t just going to calmly shoot him and rejoin the battle. He wanted the same thing you did."

He’s silent, and I can tell he isn’t accepting my words.

"Duo holds the responsibility for his own death," I say quietly. "He knew he was taking a risk, and he went anyway. You could easily have died too."

Quatre’s shoulders shake again. "I wish I had, instead of…"

I grab his shoulders roughly and turn him to face me. "Don’t ever say that," I growl angrily. He stares at me in silent surprise. "Do not ever wish that, Quatre. Never. You can not wish yourself away from me."

His eyes soften slightly, and he reaches up to touch my face, but drops his hand before his fingers touch my skin. "I can’t…I’m not worthy of you, Wufei," he whispers brokenly.

I shift him in my arms and lower my face, abruptly pressing my lips to his. He struggles to pull away, but I don’t let him. I let my worry and fear and loss and grief and relief and love pour through my body into his. All the things I can’t say aloud, I try to express through that fierce caress.

After a moment he relaxes against me, and I slowly break our contact. His head falls against my chest, and we are silent.

After a long time, I begin to feel a hot wetness soaking through my shirt, and I know that Quatre is crying…crying for Duo.

"Wufei…he’s dead," he whispers.

I bow my head, feeling the softness of Quatre’s hair under my chin, feeling sorrow again sweep through me.

"He…Barton…won after all," Quatre says helplessly.

"No," I whisper harshly. Noone must ever be allowed to believe that. "Maxwell did. He wanted to ensure that Barton was dead…that he could never again hurt Trowa. And he succeeded. His mission is accomplished."

"But at that price…"

"Maxwell would think it worth it," I say. I feel a sudden strange lightening in my chest. He would. Duo would have cheerfully sacrificed his life to keep Trowa safe from his greatest tormentor. At least his death was for a noble cause.

But that’s small comfort to those of us left behind. And it will be an especially bitter, rending knowledge for…

"Trowa," Quatre whispers, inadvertently finishing my though. "Allah, Wufei, how are we going to tell Trowa?"

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[cont]