Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 12 (cont)
Old Business

Wufei sighed, staring down at the surface of the table. It was a glossy black, so polished he could see his face in it. Not at all like their usual bar, where Duo dragged half the force every Friday night. The tables there were made of wood, scarred and dented from hard use and years of devoted graffiti artists. There, you spilled beer on the tables with abandon, used the surface as auxiliary plate for food waste and surreptitiously used the bottom of the table as an extra napkin. Wufei couldn't imagine wiping barbecue sauce anywhere on this table.

"He says he does," he told the other man, his voice tired. "And, if anyone would be aware of what he was doing in this sort of instance, it would be Quatre."

"It's an intelligent plan," Zechs conceded thoughtfully. "It's in the interest of the Preventers. I... just don't think it's in the interest of any individual Preventer. Particularly any of you."

Wufei sighed. "The individual doesn't seem to matter much any more with the Preventers," he told the other man bluntly, hearing the bitterness in his own voice. "The bottom line is all that's focused on."

Zechs looked away. "They seek to protect the world... " he began.

"I know," Wufei agreed. "But... any population is made up of individuals."

Zechs sighed, looking suddenly tired. "It's the same problem we've been struggling with my entire life. You need to do what is best for the majority, but is it moral to sacrifice the minority for the majority? Are the needs of any one person less valuable than the needs of five others? Should the suffering of one people be ignored to preserve the peace - or the model of peace - for another people?" He sighed again, looking much older than his twenty-seven years. "There are never any answers. And any model we create to find the solution to the problem is only brought into it."

"We?" Wufei asked softly.

"Sanc. The Peacecrafts." Zechs was staring at the smooth table surface now, and he slowly ran his hand over a small puddle of water that had condensed from his glass. Wufei watched as the long fingers trailed through the dampness, tracking it across the table, and the dim lights overhead reflected in the beads of liquid. "My father."

Wufei was silent, not sure what to say. He stared at the faint pattern of wetness, and waited for the blond to continue.

"Absolute Pacifism is, really, a philosophy dependent on the individual. No one person can force another to be a pacifist; everyone must make that choice himself. You must lead by example, and encourage, not require," Zechs continued. Wufei had heard that same principle articulated before, but never with such... quiet conviction. This wasn't a piece of propaganda to Zechs. It was something that just... was, to him. A belief so basic it wasn't even a belief - it was just a statement of fact. Something that incontrovertibly was. "Any organization like the Preventers that exists to preserve pacifism is, in a way, incompatible with the very idea it exists to defend." He sighed. "Yet without it, all peace may collapse."

He was silent again, and Wufei frowned.

"My father... refused to admit that there even was such a struggle," Zechs revealed softly. "He said that a man could only do what he thought was right. He couldn't make anyone else do anything, and everyone was responsible for their own behavior only." He was silent for a moment. "So, when the Federation came, my father did what he thought was right." Again, there was silence, and when he spoke, there was bitterness and disillusionment in his voice. "And he died, and my mother died, and thousands of our people died, and Relena and I were sent into hiding so that we weren't killed too, and everything that my father had spent his life building was destroyed."

"So it appeared," Wufei agreed softly. Whatever he had expected from this night, it certainly hadn't been this. "Yet today, Absolute Pacifism is more prevalent than ever. You and Relena are both back in Sanc, both working for the ideal your father promoted. The world is moving in the direction he envisioned. All that he worked for has been achieved."

"But he's dead," Zechs objected. "He can't see it - can't be a part of it... So much suffering was endured by so many for so long... "

Wufei shrugged slightly. "Perhaps that's how it had to be," he suggested. "Perhaps, without his death, and the suffering of all those people, it would never have been. Without him, as an individual, doing what he believed right... "

Zechs laughed bitterly, brushing his hand across the table, sweeping the drops of water off its surface onto the floor. "I have a difficult time accepting that twenty years of pain for thousands is justified by a happy ending and a return of the prince and princess," he said harshly. "Just as I have a hard time believing that it is justified to send Quatre Winner into a situation that can only create a horrific personal moral crisis for him just to justify a police operation."

Another silence, even less comfortable, fell over the pair. "He refuses to consider any other option," Wufei said after a moment. "And... knowing Quatre, it is best to just work with him. He'll be... safer if this is carefully planned and monitored."

"He could well be a sacrifice in more ways than one," Zechs pointed out, almost sharply. "I'm sure you've considered that, but has he? If they suspect that he is not what he seems... "

"I'm more concerned about ensuring he's not there when the operation commences," Wufei interrupted. "Quatre... for all that he seems so open, he can be very convincing when it's necessary."

Zechs nodded. "Who's monitoring him?" he asked.

"Trowa, Heero and I," Wufei replied simply.

Zechs raised an eyebrow. "No others?" he asked, surprised.

"You, if you wish," Wufei surprised himself by offering.

The blond stared at him in amazement. "You are asking me to be part of this?" he said slowly.

Wufei stared back at him, wondering where on earth the offer had come from. He and his lovers had insisted that they be the only ones who had access to the surveillance they had on Quatre. And now he was inviting Zechs to be part of that?

It would be better with four. And it would be politic to have Zechs as part of this.

But politics meant nothing to him when it came to the safety of his lovers. But he would like Zechs to be part of the operation, because he... he would feel safer knowing he would be there too, whenever the inevitable push came.

Since when did he trust Zechs?

"You don't need to make me political offers," Zechs said stiffly, interpreting his hesitation as a sign of reluctance to have him involved.

"I'm not," Wufei told him slowly. "I'm... just trying to figure out why I want you to be part of this," he admitted frankly.

Zechs looked away. "So am I," he said, rather stiffly.

Wufei sighed. "Zechs... we've never been... friends," he began slowly. "But... we aren't enemies any more. We never... really were enemies, not in the way it seemed. So perhaps we should... discuss that."

"I... there's nothing I can say to you," Zechs told him distantly, but Wufei heard a trace of pained hoarseness in the smooth, carefully modulated tones. "I'm... .certainly grateful that you seem to have never revealed some of the things about me that you could have, but... "

"But the secrets are there between us," Wufei finished for him. "And... I would like to... remove them." He sighed. "I've seen lately that secrets can be... very damaging."

Zechs looked up at him, his pale face slightly tinged with color. That was as close to uncomfortable as Zechs ever looked. "Is there anything I can do to help you all find Duo?" he asked directly.

Wufei sighed and shook his head. "He... that's something we all have to handle ourselves," he said. "I think that that's one reason that Quatre is so insistent on carrying through with this plan. He wants to get it done with as quickly as possible, so that we can go find Duo."

Zechs nodded slowly, letting that sink in. "Do you have any idea where he is?" he asked.

Wufei shook his head. "Heero created a program to try to trace him through the travel lines he may have taken. We've finally got it refined enough that it's narrowed to fourteen possible destinations... "

"Fourteen?" Zechs repeated, raising sculpted eyebrows. "That's a lot of different possibilities... "

"It's down from thirty-six thousand," Wufei told him dryly. "It seems very manageable."

"I don't want to pry," Zechs established, "I... just would like all of you to know that I will help if you need it."

Wufei nodded, accepting the offer for what it was - a gesture of help. Not pity, or inquisitiveness. More like... cautious friendship.

"I appreciate that," he said truthfully. "Maybe after this mission is over, you could lend us a few of your people... "

That would be a misappropriation of government employees, and Wufei watched for the other man's reaction. Zechs just nodded immediately. "Of course," he replied simply.

Wufei smiled faintly. The Prince of Sanc was full of crap, with all of his conflict and doubts about how much should be sacrificed for individuals. When it came right down to it, he didn't seem to have much of a problem sacrificing for the individual at all. He was probably far more his father's son than he gave himself credit for.

"Thank you, Zechs," he nodded.

"Of course," the other man replied.

"I appreciate your help," Wufei continued.

Zechs interrupted him. "I... well, I owe you," he managed, an obviously fake smile briefly crossing his lips.

Wufei sighed. He had been right before - this problem needed addressing, and really couldn't be made to wait any longer, however much the other man tried to change the topic.

"Why are you here?" he asked bluntly.

Zechs looked up frowning in confusion, his head turning to survey the bar.

"Not at the bar," Wufei corrected. "In Sanc. Why are you here?"

The blond man frowned. "My sister... "

"Wanted you to come," Wufei agreed. "But Relena's wishes never mattered much to you until about four years ago. Why did you suddenly agree to come back here?"

Zechs shrugged, not looking directly at him. "She was very persistent... "

"You swore once that you would never return to Sanc," Wufei reminded him. "You said that you could never return, and that you wouldn't sully the kingdom with your presence. Why... "

"Wufei... God, Wufei, enough," Zechs interrupted, his voice louder than it had been at any point in the conversation. He closed his eyes briefly. "Please... don't remind me of that vow. I... should probably never have broken it, should probably never have... "

"Well, that's ridiculous," Wufei noted calmly. He nodded calmly, confirming his words when the blond looked up to glare at him. "Your legacy is here. You've done a lot of good here... "

"I had a lot to atone for," Zechs murmured.

Wufei frowned. "What, exactly, did you have to atone for?" he demanded. "Most of what you did, you did because you believed it was right at the time. Wasn't that what you were taught, here in Sanc? Do as you believe right? Why then do you need to atone... "

"Most of what I did," Zechs emphasized. "Not everything I did was right, Wufei. And I knew it."

Wufei looked down, unsure of how to continue. He could drop it here, let the conversation end, go home.

Home, to an angry Trowa, an over-worked Quatre, a gloomy Heero...

Somehow, a painful confrontation with Zechs no longer seemed so bad.

"I hold no grudges against you from the war," he said directly to the other man. Zechs looked up sharply, his blue eyes fixed on Wufei's own, searching them for confirmation of what he was saying. Wufei stared calmly at him as he continued speaking, allowing the truth of what he was saying to show in his eyes.

"You did nothing to me that I didn't want," Wufei informed him plainly. "I don't hold you responsible for any... "

"How can you lie like that?" Zechs interrupted angrily.

Wufei frowned. "Are you accusing me of lying to your face?" he asked dangerously.

"I think you lie to yourself," Zechs corrected, the diplomat coming through even in the tension of the moment. "I remember those days, Wufei - you cursed me, and yourself, and... "

"I was ashamed of myself. I thought myself weak for going to your bed while you were my enemy," Wufei told him bluntly, rather enjoying seeing the collected, dignified Milliardo Peacecraft squirm uncomfortably in his seat. "But it was my weakness, not yours. And now... " He shrugged. "I'm older now than I was then. I don't see things the same way."

Zechs looked away. "You didn't want us," he said distantly. "We knew it, and still we... "

"I didn't want to want you," Wufei corrected. "But I did want you. Very much."

"You were hardly old enough to make the decision," Zechs objected. "You were a child. We were adults, and... "

"You can hardly take that responsibility," Wufei told him. "You were only a few years older than I was... "

"I was still an adult... "

"And I wasn't really a child," Wufei insisted firmly.

Zechs sighed. "It wasn't right," he maintained unhappily.

Wufei sighed. "Perhaps," he conceded. "But it was as it was. And... well, I don't regret it at all." Zechs looked doubtfully up at him, and Wufei nodded firmly. "You helped me, Zechs. You helped me to face truths about myself that I had denied, that I didn't want to face. That I was raised to believe were shameful and dishonorable." He sighed. "I knew that my feelings were different than they were supposed to be, and until I was with you and Treize, I fought them. Perhaps... if that had never been, I would have fought them always. I would not... have what I have now... And that would be... a very sad thing," he finished slowly. He shook his head. "You enabled me to have what I have now. And... I am grateful," he finished firmly, rather surprised to find that it was true.

Zechs stared at him for a moment, then looked away. "I am glad that... it has all worked out for you," he said awkwardly. "I'm glad that you can be happy."

Wufei nodded. "I am happy," he said firmly. "Well... I will be once some things have been established," he amended, his lips twisting wryly as he thought of the mess his personal life had become. "However," he continued meaningfully, returning his attention to Zechs, "you are not happy."

Zechs shrugged slightly. "You're not happy," Wufei repeated, "and you're not doing anything to change that."

The blond man sighed. "What exactly do you suggest I do, Wufei?" he asked, his voice tired. The Chinese man noted, pleased, that Zechs hadn't bothered to argue the point that he was unhappy. He must be wearing down some of his defenses.

That, or he was just irritating him, and Zechs wanted the conversation to end.

Either way. It didn't really matter. Each achieved the same goal.

"Make some changes," the Chinese man suggested briskly. "If you don't like working with Relena... "

"I can't leave her to do this alone. It was my duty, and I tried to push it onto her. She... she is amazing, but she can't handle it alone," Zechs said firmly.

"All right," Wufei accepted. He could understand that Zechs couldn't shirk his duty. "You're right. You are needed here. You've become... very popular."

Zechs sighed, an annoyed expression crossing his face. "People are fickle," he said dismissively.

That too was hard to argue with. "Perhaps... you would be happier if you didn't spend so much time alone," he suggested.

Zechs sighed. "I'm very busy with my work... "

Wufei snorted. "You could find time to spend with people if you wanted to," he insisted.

"There isn't really anyone who... "

"You haven't exactly looked," Wufei pointed out.

Zechs glared at him. "I had no idea you were keeping such close tabs on my social life," he observed acidly.

Wufei smiled at him. "I read the Sanc Scoop," he said mildly, his smile widening when Zechs snarled. The Sanc Scoop was a gossip magazine devoted to the doings of the various officials and personalities of the Sanc Kingdom, and, aside from all their usual weekly coverage of him, they ran quarterly special editions on Zechs, whom they'd proclaimed the World's Most Eligible Bachelor. They'd offered to pay for the wedding of anyone who managed to snag the Playboy Prince, as they also called him, despite the fact that they had never been able to romantically link Zechs with anyone.

"If you'd like, I can get you a position answering my letters," Zechs offered icily.

"I'd probably make some dates for you," Wufei told him. "It would be good for you."

Zechs sighed. "Wufei, I never thought I'd be having this conversation with you... but as I tell my sister, and those idiot reporters, and the damned elevator man, I am not interested in being in a relationship with anyone."

"Why not?" Wufei asked calmly.

"I'm just not," the blond growled. "So please just... "

"But why?" Wufei pressed. "You were in a relationship before. Surely it wasn't so bad that... "

"Stop it." Zechs spoke so softly that Wufei almost couldn't hear him, but there was something in the tone of his voice that made the Chinese man stop speaking immediately. "Please, Wufei. Please don't mention... "

"Treize?" Wufei asked softly when Zechs' voice trailed off. The blond flinched. Wufei sighed. "Zechs, Treize is dead. He's been dead for eight years. You can't... "

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