by: Shoori

Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 23
Aftermath

Wufei sighed, closing his eyes as he leaned heavily against the wall. One corner of his mind absently berated himself for the weakness, but it wasn’t that hard to ignore it. Nobody was paying much attention to him at the moment, and he was...

Tired.

He was tired.

He had held himself together for almost, he feared, as long as he was able to do so, and if he didn’t pause for a moment to gather himself, he might just not be able to go on.

And that would be... very bad.

He sighed again, pushing away the faint twinge of resentment that rose inside him. He had to be strong... he was strong. But for just a moment, after the night that he had just endured, it would be nice if there were someone... someone who would look after him.

“Wufei? Are you all right?”

He jumped, startled, at the soft voice that broke the silence with the very concern he’d just been subconsciously ­ and rather weakly ­ longing for. He opened his eyes and met the concerned blue gaze of the Queen of Sanc.

Relena. Of course Relena would be here. She had been involved in planning the operation, and now that it was over...

Over.

Gods, he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that the horror that had ruled his life ­ that had ruled all of their lives ­ for months was over.

They were done, free to pick up the pieces...

If they could. If everything hadn’t shattered beyond any hope of repair.

He shook himself as Relena hesitantly repeated his name, realizing with irritation that he’d been staring foolishly at her as she waited for his reply.

“I’m fine,” he said briskly. “I imagine that you want a report, and... ”

“Damn it, Wufei,” she interrupted angrily, red spots appearing on her cheeks. “I’m not Une. I can get a god-damned report whenever I want one. I want to know if you’re all right.”

He blinked in surprise, as much at her choice of words as at her angry tone. Relena was usually more diplomatic than that.

“I’m fine,” he repeated, frowning perplexedly at her.

“Liar,” she accused, frowning right back at him.

“I am not a liar,” he bristled instinctively. “I am not injured, and... ”

“I can see you’re not injured, but you’re certainly not fine, either,” she countered firmly. “What can I do, Wufei? I want to help you,” she told him, her tone gentling.

He stared at her for a moment, feeling alarmingly lost and suddenly completely out of control. She reached out and slowly, gently, rested her hand on his shoulder, and he shuddered at the light contact. He closed his eyes, tightly, but didn’t resist as she guided him to a chair and pushed him down into it.

“Talk to me, Wufei,” she urged in low-voiced concern. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“What’s wrong?” he repeated incredulously, opening his eyes to glare helplessly up at her. “That’s what’s wrong!” he half-shouted, gesturing at the four hospital beds lined up on the other side of the large room.

They’d put them all together. That had been one of Wufei’s victories that night ­ when they got everyone to the hospital, and were whisked down to the high-security ward in the lowest level of the basement, the doctors had begun to separate their patients, heading for different areas of the infirmary.

Heero had gotten in their way, roaring incoherently. There was no way he could be in that many places at once, and he refused to be separated from any of them. Of course, he couldn’t articulate that, so he had badly startled ­ even frightened ­ the well-meaning doctors and nurses and surgeons who had been trying to take care of their friends.

Wufei had intervened, and ensured that they would all be placed together, in the largest room in the ward.

After Trowa’s surgery, that is.

Wufei closed his eyes again, as all the memories of the night suddenly assaulted him at once. He tried to push away the picture of Trowa lying on the floor of the over-furnished little room that reeked of debauchery, his torso soaked with blood. He’d lain so still that Wufei had been sure he was dead.

By the time he’d reached the auburn-haired man’s side, leaving Amphiarus’ crumpled body where it had fallen, Heero was already there, his hands moving quickly over Trowa’s bloody chest, finding and pressing down on the bullet wound as he did his best to slow the bleeding.

Duo had been there too, kneeling beside Trowa, rocking back and forth in misery as tears ran down his cheeks. His arms were covered to the elbows in Trowa’s blood, and Wufei surmised that he too had been trying to stop the other man’s bleeding.

“Heero... don’t,” he’d managed, almost choking on the words. “It’s not... he’s... ”

“He’s alive, Wufei,” Heero had shot back tersely. “But... he’s not going to be for long if we don’t get him the fuck out of here,” he warned. Duo moaned softly in mingled relief and fear, folding his bloody arms around himself as he struggled to remain silent, holding in his grief.

It had been left to Wufei to push away his own grief and fear, and send the urgent command back for medical assistance. It had been he who had had to pry Heero away from Trowa’s ominously still body when help came, and he who had given the terse commands to process them all to the hospital that maintained the underground facilities to treat patients who were wounded in the course of governmental or Preventer operations and thus needed to stay out of the public eye.

And he had been the one who’d sent the frightened and frustrated Heero out with Trowa, and knelt himself before the still-rocking Duo.

“Duo,” he’d whispered, reaching out to gently grasp the other man’s shoulders. Heero had called to the braided man too, had been practically begging the other man to speak to him, but he hadn’t seemed to dare to touch him.

And Wufei thought immediately that he’d made a mistake by doing so. Duo gasped, his whole body tensing tightly, his body language screaming silently for Wufei to end the contact.

He almost did. But Wufei couldn’t bear the thought of letting anything else go this night. He may have lost too much already.

He didn’t tighten his fingers, gently holding Duo’s arms with a gentle but steady pressure.

“Duo,” he’d whispered. “Duo, it’s Wufei,” he called gently. “I’m here, Duo. It’s all right. It’s over.” He’d continued speaking softly, trying to say something to calm the other man, to relax him. Slowly, the tears running down Duo’s face had slowed, and the tremors that wracked his painfully thin body had stopped. But Duo still hadn’t looked at him.

“Duo, can you get up?” Wufei had asked gently. “We need to get out of here.”

Mechanically, still without looking at him, Duo had slowly pulled himself to his feet. He stood with his head bowed, staring lifelessly at the floor.

Wufei picked up a bundle one of the emergency personnel had dropped beside him, and carefully approached the other man. He unfolded the package, and shook out the dark, enveloping garment. “Put your arms out, Duo,” he said slowly. “Put this on, and we can get out of here.”

Duo looked up slowly, staring at the fabric.

“Put it on,” Wufei urged.

The American continued to stare at the garment, not moving, as though he didn’t know what it was, or what to do with it.

Stifling a sigh, Wufei stepped closer, and briskly wrapped the fabric around Duo, guiding his arms through the sleeves, tying the belt around the too-thin waist, ignoring the way Duo flinched away from him every time he touched him. He had been adjusting the material around Duo’s body, carefully folding the collar up to keep as much of the shorter man warm and covered as possible, when his fingers brushed against the cold metal that circled Duo’s neck.

His collar.

And the rage that Wufei had been holding at bay for so long flared violently.

Trembling with the effort it was taking to contain his sudden fury, he ran his fingers around the metal until he found the clasp. The collar was obviously more ornamental than functional, and closed with a simple hook. Wufei wrenched the pieces of the loathsome thing apart, and pulled it sharply away from Duo’s neck.

He held it for a moment, staring at it. It had collapsed in his hand when he had pulled it off, and just lay there in his grasp, the delicate gold links winking up at him. He stared at it for a long moment, before turning aside and throwing it violently across the room.

Now, we can go,” he said with deceptive mildness, turning back to Duo.

The braided man was staring up at him for the first time, his eyes wide with surprise. He looked away quickly, his cheeks flushing nervously, and again Wufei barely suppressed a sigh.

“Duo, will you be all right getting on the stretcher?” he asked, as gently as he could, gesturing toward the stretcher that some of the medics had set up. He wondered if this was how Trowa had felt all these months ­ like he wanted to hurt, rend, destroy, but had to be calm, rational, productive. It was incredibly frustrating. No wonder Trowa had been so difficult to get along with.

Duo didn’t answer, but he turned and gingerly lay down on the gurney. Wufei saw him blanch as the medics loomed over him, and a choked cry came from the American’s throat as they started fastening the straps around him.

“It’s all right, Duo,” Wufei assured the American, moving to the side of the stretcher. “These are Preventers ­ they don’t want you to get hurt on the way to the ambulance.”

“Wu... Wufei,” Duo managed, speaking for the first time. Wufei had almost had to close his eyes against the warm surge of relief and utterly inappropriate happiness he had felt at hearing his name called in that voice. “Wufei... are you... are you coming? I’m... I’m sorry, but I... ” Duo had squeezed his eyes closed, unable to continue.

“I’ll be right behind you,” Wufei promised, his voice as soothing as he could make it. “Heero and Trowa are already on their way to the hospital, and your ambulance will wait until I get there to leave. I promise,” he finished firmly as Duo’s fist clenched tightly.

The braided man had nodded jerkily, and Wufei signaled to the medics, who had picked up the stretcher and disappeared out the doorway of the room.

Wufei turned back, his eyes scanning the room for the other person he had to see, someone whom he hadn’t seen for eight years. His eyes landed on a small huddle in one corner, and he recognized Zechs’ gleaming blond head.

They were there.

He hurried over, painfully aware of how awkward he felt, trying to compose in his head what he would say to the man he’d been so intimate with, the man he’d thought he’d killed, the man who had been languishing as a prisoner and a slave for eight years...

He reached the corner where Zechs was kneeling, his back to the room, and slowed, looking over the other man’s shoulder.

Treize was there, all right. But he wasn’t looking at or talking to Zechs, and the blonde’s attention wasn’t on his newly rediscovered lover, which was amazing in itself. Both of them were focused on the man Treize held tightly in his arms.

Quatre.

“Wufei.” Zechs’ voice, heavy with relief. “Thank God. Something’s wrong with Quatre, he... ”

But the Chinese man could see something was wrong with Quatre. The blonde’s face was contorted with agony, and tearstains streaked his cheeks. His eyes were clenched tightly closed, his hands balled into fists, his body trembling fiercely.

“Quatre, look at me,” he ordered, kneeling beside Zechs, aware of a sharp pang of déjŕ vu. “It’s all right, Quatre,” he promised. “It’s over. Quatre, look at me,” he ordered, his voice sharpening as the other man failed to respond. “Look at me!” he repeated loudly.

Quatre’s eyes snapped open, and Wufei felt himself flinch backward. Quatre was staring at him, but there was no recognition in the aqua eyes. They were glassy, unfocused, but swimming with pain and horror and a light of something that was far from sane.

“I’m not like you!” Quatre bellowed at him, suddenly struggling in Treize’s grasp. “I’m not! I’m not!” he screamed.

Quatre!” Wufei shouted, reaching out and grabbing the other man’s shoulders. “Quatre! Stop it! It’s Wufei, and Polynices is dead, and... ”

“Wufei!” Suddenly Quatre’s eyes were focused on him, and the gleam of insanity burned hotter as the Arabian reached up and grabbed Wufei’s arm with both hands. “They have Duo, Wufei! We have to get Duo out! We have to save him before they hurt him more!”

“Good God,” Wufei heard Zechs mutter beside him. The Chinese man felt the horror that he had heard in the other man’s voice twist in his own stomach, but he did his best to push it down as he answered Quatre carefully.

“Duo is safe now, Quatre,” he said gently. “You saved him. He’s in the ambulance, and we need to go with him and... ”

“No!” Quatre shrieked, beginning to strike out again. “We have to get him Wufei, and... ”

“All right,” the Chinese man agreed abruptly, abandoning reason. This was bad, very bad, worse that he’d feared it would be. But he couldn’t fix it here, and he had to get out, they all had to get out of this room with its stomach-churning mixture of odors ­ the smells of food and drink and sex and blood and death fought for supremacy and Wufei suddenly couldn’t stand another moment of it. “Get on the stretcher, Quatre, and they’ll bring you to where Duo is, and we’ll save him.”

The blond glared suspiciously at him, and at the two stretchers another of the omnipresent groups of medics had set up behind him. “They don’t look like they’re going to the Order,” he accused slowly.

“It... it’s part of the mission,” Wufei said, rather wildly, aware he was making no sense at all. “Stretchers. They’ll never suspect.”

Quatre nodded wisely, pushed himself away from Treize, and lay obediently down on the stretcher. Wufei watched him, feeling sick to the depths of the soul, as the blond docilely let the medics strap him in. “Are you coming?” Quatre demanded querulously as he was lifted up.

“Of course,” Wufei assured him, rising to his feet and hurrying after as the other man was borne away.

He’d only gone a few steps, though, when he suddenly stopped, swaying with the force of his arrested momentum, and whirled around at the two men he’d left behind him. He heard Quatre scream his name angrily, but he couldn’t just go without saying anything, he had to...

Zechs and Treize were still kneeling on the ground, staring at each other. Wufei stood there in painful indecision for a moment, not wanting to interrupt them, torn between the need to speak ­ however briefly ­ to Treize, and the need to follow Quatre, whom he could still hear bellowing for him as he was carried out of the room. And Duo was waiting, and...

Treize turned his head suddenly, and looked up at him, his gaze as blue and steady as Wufei had remembered it.

“It’s all right,” he’d said, his voice understanding. “Go. We’ll... speak later.”

Wufei’s chest tightened again with pain. They would ‘speak.’ Eight years, all that pain and guilt and confusion... and they would speak.

He nodded stiffly, feeling his chin jut out defensively. Treize frowned slightly at him, but Wufei barely registered the expression as he turned sharply on his heel and strode out of the room.

They would speak. Later.

He’d had to decide which ambulance to ride in. He’d judged Duo the most likely to remember which choice he’d made, and sat beside the silent, trembling American on the short ride to the hospital. He’d jumped out with Duo, and followed the emergency personnel who ran with the braided man’s stretcher down to the security ward. Quatre had been right behind him, as had Zechs with Treize. They’d all gotten down just in time to hear Heero screaming at the doctors who were trying to take Trowa away. Heero’s shouts had startled Quatre, who had begun bellowing about the mission and Polynices and the need to save Duo. Duo himself had held up fairly well until the doctors began trying to examine him, when he too started to scream and shout and fight them with an unexpected ferocity.

Wufei had tried to calm everyone, but the din got louder and louder, as Duo struggled and Quatre screamed and Heero bellowed and Zechs shouted for everyone to calm down while Trowa continued to slowly die, his blood staining the white bandage the medics had fastened over his chest.

He’d finally solved the problem by walking over to Heero and punching him as hard as he could across the jaw. That had silenced the Japanese man for just a moment, but it was long enough for Wufei to hit him again, knocking him to floor. He planted his foot firmly on Heero’s chest as he ordered the doctors to take Trowa to surgery. He’d wearily granted his permission for them to sedate Quatre and Duo long enough to treat them. He’d forced himself to listen to them scream until the drugs took effect, made himself watch as they were restrained, their arms tied to the cold metal of the hospital beds, various needles stuck into their veins.

And Wufei knew that he had failed them. Failed all of them. He hadn’t stopped Duo from leaving or Quatre from destroying himself or Trowa from being hurt. He hadn’t protected Treize or Zechs from anything they’d suffered over the last eight years, and he hadn’t helped Heero bear any of the things they’d had to endure tonight.

He pushed on, trying to ignore the bitter taste his failure had left in his mouth. He’d instructed that everyone be brought to the large ward, had ordered that Treize’s bed be placed at the end of the ward, so he and Zechs could have a little privacy to talk. He spoke to doctor after doctor, outlining what had happened to Duo and Quatre so the men could determine how best to treat them. He had signed medical releases and treatment waivers and payment information. He’d authorized IVs and prescriptions. He’d ordered an icepack for Heero’s swollen jaw and blackened eye. He’d let Une in, and given a detailed report about everything that had transpired, giving his opinion on what parts of the story should be released to the media.

And all the time, he’d been terribly, horribly aware of the empty space between Treize’s bed and Duo’s.

He’d stood between Duo and Quatre, staring down at the pale sleeping faces, lightly stroking the backs of their hands, careful not to jar the needles through which dripped pain medication and sedatives and nutrients. He’d held Heero up, and found a chair for the other man, insisting he sit and rest while they waited for news of Trowa.

Hours had gone by. Zechs had crossed to them, telling them in a low voice that Treize had fallen asleep, and asking after the others.

He’d had nothing to tell. Quatre and Duo still slept under the effects of the drugs, and Trowa still was gone.

Finally the doctors had come, their faces gray and weary, eyes serious and sad.

Trowa was alive, sleeping.

But they didn’t know if he would wake up. The odds, apparently, were against it.

Wufei had listened to their explanations and provisos and the carefully couched phrases by which they told him that his... friend? Lover? Companion?...that Trowa was probably going to die.

They were bringing him out, they told them. So he could be with them. It might help, they allowed.

They didn’t say that not much could hurt, at this point. But it was clearly understood.

He was wheeled out, his bed pushed into the empty spot, monitors and medicine stands and machines of all kinds hooked up to his helpless body. His face was stark white, and his hair looked redder than usual as it stood out in sharp contrast to the white of the sheets and the abnormal pallor of his face.

Heero had stared down at Trowa’s still body for a long time, not speaking. Zechs had crossed and tried to pull him away, but the Japanese man refused to leave. He stared fiercely down at the former acrobat, glaring at him, seeming to try to force him to live, trying to will him to recover.

Zechs had stood there with him for a long time, then turned and crossed back to Treize. The last Wufei had looked over there, the blond had been sitting in a chair pulled up to the side of the bed, his face resting on Treize’s mattress.

By then, nothing had seemed real to Wufei. It had been too much, too long. Too much suffering, too much pain... too much loss and failure.

He’d crossed the room, trying to give himself a little distance, knowing that he had to stay together for all of them...

And now he wasn’t sure he could. He focused on the warmth of Relena’s hand clasped over his, as he tried to absorb what she was saying to him.

“... know that this is all awful. But you aren’t alone in it, Wufei.”

He blinked.

“Are you listening?” she asked gently. He forced himself to look up at her, shaking his head to clear it.

“I said, you’re not alone,” she repeated, smiling at him. “I’m here to help.”

“There’s nothing you can do, Relena,” he said flatly. “There’s nothing to do now, just wait, and... ”

“And fix everything?” she finished softly as his voice trailed off. She sighed, shaking her head. “It’s not your fault,” she told him bluntly, her voice suddenly very direct.

He looked up, startled.

“It’s not,” she insisted, nodding firmly.

“I know,” he said automatically. “It’s... ”

“No, you don’t,” she interrupted, a small smile softening the abruptness of the words. “You all always blame yourselves when anything goes wrong, or anyone makes a mistake. You and Heero are the worst of the lot,” she added. “So I know you’re both sure that everything that happened is your fault... ”

“Why don’t you go talk to him then?” he suggested curtly. “I’m sure he’ll... ”

“I’m sure he’ll want me to go the hell away too,” she agreed calmly, tacitly acknowledging the unspoken command for her to leave him alone. Acknowledging and ignoring it, Wufei noted wryly. “But I’m hoping you’ll listen to reason more quickly, so he can wait.”

Wufei sighed. “This mission was a fiasco,” he told her plainly. “It was poorly thought out, rushed, badly executed... and this last operation... sucked,” he finished, striving but unable to find a more polished way to explain what happened.

“It was the best you could all do,” Relena corrected gently.

“If that’s the best we could do, I don’t think anyone should be relying on us for anything from now on,” he snapped.

“Probably, we shouldn’t,” she agreed, surprisingly. “Not because you failed, but because you shouldn’t have to do anything like this ever again,” she continued before he could even register the shock he’d felt at her seeming agreement.

Wufei groaned harshly. “It doesn’t matter, Relena,” he said wearily. “All that matters is we messed it up, and... ”

“How did you mess it up?” she demanded reasonably. “The Order is defeated, its leaders are all dead or captured, its slaves are in protective custody and will be released, raids are going on at hundreds of their properties all over the world and in the colonies as we speak, and... ”

“How did I mess up?” he repeated incredulously. “There were seven of us, counting Treize, and four of us are there!” he growled, gesturing again at the row of beds.

“Seven,” Relena mused. “Just like there were seven of them... ”

Wufei rolled his eyes. “They were the Seven Against Thebes. What are we?” he demanded sarcastically. “The Seven Wonders of the World ? The Seven Dwarves? The Seven Sacred Virgins... ”

“Hardly,” Relena snorted. “I’ve been around the lot of you ­ I know what you do with your time. I just think it’s interesting that... ”

“The Seven Heavens?” he ranted on. “The Seven Ages of Man? The Seven... ”

“I was thinking more about the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues,” Relena interrupted mildly.

It was Wufei’s turn to snort. “You sound like that guy we just got rid of,” he accused, scowling. “Reading too much into everything. Try to make things more... ”

“I wonder which ones you are,” Relena speculated, ignoring the insults.

“If you say I’m gluttony, so help me, Relena, I don’t care if you’re a queen, I’ll... ”

You aren’t the Sins,” she snapped, frowning at him. “They were. You’re the Virtues.”

Wufei rolled his eyes again.

“You’re justice, of course,” she said easily. “Quatre’s probably charity, Duo’s faith... ”

Duo’s faith?”

“Heero’s fortitude, and Trowa... ”

“I don’t think you have any takers for temperance or prudence, though,” Wufei pointed out to her wryly.

“My brother didn’t get laid for eight years ­ he’d probably fit for temperance,” Relena reminded him earnestly. He stared at her, and she burst out laughing. “You should see your face,” she chuckled. “You think I didn’t know? I know everything that goes on in Sanc, Wufei, especially when it concerns people I care about.”

“Don’t tell me,” he interrupted hastily. “I don’t want to know. I’m happier in my ignorance, I’m sure, and... ”

“You’re not happy now,” she conceded, her mood suddenly dimming. “But you will be, Wufei.”

He stared at her, knocked off balance by the sudden shift of mood. “I... I don’t know, Relena. I don’t think... I don’t think it’ll ever be right again,” he admitted unhappily, looking away as he forced himself to acknowledge the thought that had been torturing him for months.

“It will,” she assured him positively.

“Trowa... Trowa might not... ” Wufei swallowed hard, the lump in his throat threatening to choke him. “Trowa might not even wake up, Relena, he’s... ”

“He’s strong,” Relena interrupted gently. “He’s strong, Wufei, and he has a lot to live for.”

Wufei shook his head. “And Quatre... I don’t know, Relena. Quatre... just... broke, and... ”

“And we’ll help him get better,” she interrupted firmly, nodding her head.

“And Duo... ”

“It won’t be easy,” she conceded. “But we can help them. And they can help you, Wufei. And you can let them do that,” she told him gently, squeezing his hand meaningfully. “You need to let them do that,” she continued. “You don’t have to bear the burden alone.”

“They aren’t a burden,” he flared. “They’re... ”

“People you love. I know,” she nodded. “But... ” She stopped, frowning at him. “What?” she demanded, cocking her head to the side in confusion under his sudden stare. “What’s wrong? What... ”

“They’re not a burden,” he said, hearing how strained his voice sounded. “But they’re... they aren’t... I mean, we aren’t... ”

She frowned, trying to follow him as he stuttered. Her brow cleared, and she huffed in exasperation as she finally realized what he was trying to say. “For Pete’s sake,” she scolded. “You all still havn’t gotten that far? You need to... ”

“That’s not... what we have,” Wufei insisted tightly. “We... ”

“Oh, really,” Relena interrupted disbelievingly.

Wufei scowled. “Really,” he maintained adamantly. “We don’t have that sort of relationship. We... ”

“You live together. Sleep together. Spend time together. Feel each other’s pain, share each other’s joys. You worry about each other, and try to help each other, and blame yourselves if the other is hurt, and fight for each other and are willing to die for each other and... ”

“Yes!” Wufei interrupted loudly, glaring furiously at her. “But that doesn’t mean that we... ”

“I hate to disappoint you,” Relena interjected, even more loudly, “but it does mean that. It means you love each other,” she contended, hanging tightly to his hand as he tried to pull it away. “It does.”

Wufei stared at her. She was wrong. She had to be wrong. Love wasn’t something he was looking for, wasn’t even something he wanted. He’d had it, and had lost it, and never, never wanted to set himself up for that heartache again...

He looked away from her, across the room, to the four beds lined in a row...

And remembered the agony that had seared him when he thought he’d killed Treize, and the elation and guilt he’d experienced when he’d discovered he still lived.

He stared at Zechs’ bent head and recalled the confusion that had surrounded his interactions with the blond for so many years, and the sense of pleasure and relief he’d felt when they’d worked out their secrets.

He thought about the wrenching sense of loss and pain he’d felt when he saw Trowa lying on the ground, covered in blood, and the fear that still pulsed through him with every stutter of the monitor hanging over the unconscious man’s bed.

He remembered the anger and hurt he’d felt when he realized Duo had left them, and the guilt and panic that accompanied their discovery that Duo had been taken in by the Order.

He shivered with the worry he felt for Quatre, and the pain he felt for the other man’s suffering.

He watched Heero as he bent and leaned his head against Trowa’s forehead, and felt his heart ache with the empathy and caring he felt for this strong man who offered them all so much, and wanted nothing in return but assurance that they cared for him too.

He looked back at Relena, and she was smiling at him.

“Damn it,” he whispered. “Damn you,” he told her heatedly. “Why did you have to make this harder, Relena?” he demanded as she stared at him, surprised. “I can’t... I can’t... do that. I can’t be with them if... ”

“You’re going to leave them because you realized you love them?” she demanded in amazement.

He felt himself flush. “I don’t... I don’t,” he insisted tightly.

The Queen of Sanc sighed theatrically. “You do so,” she repeated loudly. “And they love you.”

“They do not... ”

“Stop arguing with me,” she snapped. “It’s obvious. It’s been obvious, to anyone and everyone who knows you, for years and years. And stop glaring at me,” she added, frowning reprovingly at him. “It’s not my fault if you’re all emotionally retarded and can’t tell each other how you feel... ”

“Why are you doing this?” he interrupted. “If you’re trying to make me feel better, I have to tell you, Relena, that you’re failing miserably... ”

“I’m trying,” she said archly, “to show you what you all have. What Trowa has to live for, and Quatre, and what will bring Duo back. You wouldn’t get through this if you didn’t have that,” she allowed. “But you do, Wufei. You’re so... lucky. All of you,” she said, her eyes wistful. “Even though everything is so awful now, you’re all so lucky. You have love, in such abundance. That’s what makes you all so strong. And that’s what will get you through this.”

He looked away, unable to hold that steady blue gaze. “Relena... ”

“And I love all of you too,” she told him, reaching out and grasping his chin, pulling his gaze back to hers. “And I will help too. You aren’t all fifteen and alone, anymore. You’ll never be alone again. And it’s about time you all realized that.” She stood up, bent down and kissed him on the cheek, then turned and crossed the room to Heero’s side.

Wufei watched her go, bemused.

Love?

She couldn’t be right. He’d sworn that he wouldn’t love again, that he couldn’t...

But...

He thought of Meiran, and thought of the others.

What he had felt for her was different than what he felt toward them.

But had it been stronger? Weaker? Or was it just different?

Wufei leaned back, resting his head against the wall behind the chair, and closed his eyes. It had all been too much. He couldn’t process anything more without a moment’s stillness, some silence, some time to rest and think...

He felt himself drifting away, felt a merciful numbness surround him...

But before he fell into unconscious, Relena’s voice drifted through his mind.

You’ll never be alone again. And it’s about time you all realized that

It wasn’t true ­ it couldn’t be true. But it was such a... nice thought. It was comforting, and seductive, and Wufei held onto it as he drifted off to sleep.

+

[part 22] [part 24] [back to Shoori's fic]