Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 28
In the Lion's Den

Their current assignments as Milliardo Peacecraft's personal bodyguards were officially listed as honor details, but Wufei wondered whom he and Sally had pissed off to get stuck with it.

They'd left for Earth the next day and Peacecraft was quietly settled in a large country house a few miles outside the Sanque capital. It stood on a high, green cliff overlooking the sea, surrounded by elaborate gardens and high walls. There was a swimming pool, and a riding stable, shooting ranges, even a small movie theater. A very elegant and well-appointed prison, it seemed to Wufei, noting the number of discreetly casual security personnel inside and outside the gates. Or perhaps a well disguised insane asylum?

Relena had been there to welcome her brother home, but Peacecraft seemed uncomfortable in her presence. He was quiet, and what little he said was either a clipped command or some vague, sardonic observation that did not always make sense to anyone else. She left the following day.

As Wufei escorted her to her shuttle, she clasped his arm, eyes filling with unshead tears. "Please look after my brother and be patient with him. He's not himself yet.

Wufei suspected it was more a matter of the ex-warrior and former White Fang traitor not being who she wanted him to be. He doubted Peacecraft ever would be, but Relena Peacecraft Darlian was a kind woman, and one with a demonstrated ability to convince herself of anyone's higher nature, no matter how slight the evidence.

Physically, Peacecraft had made a remarkable recovery from his injuries, though it was clear he was not the man he once was. His throat had been damaged in the explosion on Libra, and he could not speak much above a husky whisper. If one looked closely, you could tell where large expanses of skin had been regenerated, and that the left ear did not exactly match the right one. And the pale, once-famous hair, which barely brushed his collar now, was a bit finer on that side of his head. But he moved almost normally, and despite refusing a prosthetic replacement for the missing left arm, he worked out daily. Not strong enough to pilot a mobile suit anymore, perhaps, but then there were no suits left for him to fly. As a condition of his parole after the Libra incident, Relena had agreed in his name that Milliardo Peacecraft, a.k.a the Lightning Count, would never fight again.

Knowing what the man had been, Wufei wondered how often Milliardo Peacecraft thought of suicide.

Despite his initial greeting that day on L-4, Peacecraft gave no sign of knowing whom Wufei or Sally were, beyond their functions as his bodyguards. Sally remained uncertain as to whether he was entirely sane. He went through the motions well enough, rising early to swim and lift weights, dining at regular hours, reading in the library or going out riding. The house stables were stocked with the finest horses Wufei had ever seen, tall thoroughbreds and graceful Arabians. This part of the job, at least, was bearable. Sally was allergic to horses, so Wufei took those hours, leaving her to sit through the long, silent meals.

They also alternated evenings, giving each other some much needed down time. Wufei was on duty one evening, reading quietly in the library, when Peacecraft addressed him directly for the first time in nearly a day. "Do you play chess?"

"Yes."

Peacecraft rose and laid his book aside, obviously expecting Wufei to join him at the chessboard by the fire. Wufei had little choice but to comply. He drew the white pawn and made his opening move, glad to have something to do.

They played the first game in silence, and Peacecraft won. Sane or not, he played brilliantly, as daring and aggressive here as he had been on the battlefield. Wufei had seen him fight Yuy in that last battle, and heard stories from Barton about their earlier duels. This was the man who'd mastered the Tall Geese, he reminded himself, and Epyon, too.

They played another, and Wufei put up a better fight before losing again. He was setting the pieces up for a third match when he realized that Peacecraft was looking at him, really looking at him, for the first time since they'd met.

"Treize Kushreneda was my friend, you know."

Wufei froze, hand poised above the white king. Had this assignment all been some clever ploy for Peacecraft to exact revenge? They were alone here, and though he knew the other man was unarmed, and probably no match for him in hand-to-hand combat in his current state, he was much taller, and an honored nobleman. If he attacked, the best Wufei could hope for was to keep him from hurting either one of them too badly.

But no attack came. Wufei sat back slowly and met the man's gaze levelly. "Yes, I know."

Those blue eyes were clear and lucid now, or seemed to be. Peacecraft sat back in his tufted armchair, regarding him with that same slightly amused air. He wore a long silk dressing gown over his trousers, the front open to show an expanse of pale, too-smooth skin. He looked regal, like the king he should have been.

"You think I'm angry at you, Chang Wufei?" He smiled, but those eyes were cold. "I am a little, but not for the reason you probably assume."

"Perhaps you should not assume anything of me," Wufei shot back.

"Ah yes. That's right. You pride yourself on that forthright manner, don't you? Then I will be equally straightforward with you. For most of my life I worshipped Treize. He was my greatest friend, and my most demanding teacher. To me, he represented everything that a warrior should be. Even at the end of his life, I believe I understood his motivation."

Shocked as he was at such a confession from a stranger, Wufei was even more shocked to hear himself blurt out, "I felt the same."

"Did you, little Chang?" This seemed to amuse Peacecraft.

Wufei scowled, trying to reclaim his dignity. "I fought many battles, against many pilots. Only two were better than I. He was one of them, until the end."

"The end, yes. I'm told you were heard weeping after you killed him."

Wufei blanched. It was true, but how did this man know that? "As I said, I admired him greatly. He bested me once in a duel with swords, and spared me when he should have taken my life. I had looked to him to give me a warrior's death."

"And instead, you did him that honor."

"No! It wasn't supposed to happen that way. He must have been wounded--"

"He asked that of me first, you know, to fight with him to the death. He wanted to settle the war with a duel. A romantic to the end, Treize was. I suppose I should be thanking you, for giving him what I could not."

"Why didn't you?" Wufei asked softly.

Peacecraft closed his eyes, and for an instant Wufei saw real pain in that pale, handsome face. "I don't know. It wasn't cowardice, but something worse perhaps. I was angry with him at the end, for not being the man I wanted him to be." He stood abruptly and straightened his robe. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to discomfort you, only to make it clear that I have neither the desire nor the right to seek revenge against you for my friend's death. I am, in my own flawed way, still striving to be a man of honor. Good night, Chang Wufei, Gundam Pilot 05."

He walked to the door leading to his bedchamber, then paused and turned back. "You said there were two pilots whom you acknowledged as being better than you. Since you and I never completed a conclusive duel, I assume the other was the boy who calls himself Heero Yuy?"

Wufei nodded.

The cool sardonic expression fell back into place. "He and I fought several times. It always ended in a draw or an interruption. That's one of my few regrets, that we never settled who was the better warrior. Then again, I suppose that means I was still better than you, and by default, better than Treize at the end. Why do I take no satisfaction in that, eh? Pleasant dreams, Chang."

Wufei sat in stunned silence for moment after the door of Peacecraft's room closed, and then strode angrily to his room.

He didn't need this shit assignment.

As he changed for bed, he noticed an email prompt flashing on the screen of his laptop, open on his desk. He opened his mail folder, expecting some thing from Preventer headquarters, but instead recognized Quatre Winner's address from the secure mail server Heero had set up for the five of them two years ago. It was almost never used, except for emergencies involving Maxwell, or cheery newsletters from Winner, who insisted on keeping in contact every few months. He was in no mood for either sort, but checked anyway. The last thing he'd gotten from any of them had been the news of Heero's return.

He sighed and opened the email.

To: Shenlong@privatesky.net
From: Sandrock@privatesky.net
12 September 198
010:05 pm ST

Dear Wufei:

Just wanted to remind you about the New Orleans show starting Oct. 30th. I know you're probably still getting settled there in Sanque but do you think you might be able to get the time off? I can guarantee you the best seat in the house, and Tro's renting a house in the French Quarter for a month. You're welcome to stay with us as long as you like. We'd really like to see you again, and for something fun, instead of the usual emergency. Duo and Heero will be with us, too, but I promise you a quiet room this time! Sorry about all that before. Totally our fault.

Things were relatively calm in Madrid after you left. Heero and Duo are doing well together and are off for some time alone, location on a need to know basis. You can reach them via the usual email addresses. Heero's is the same as it was. I know you're uncomfortable about certain things, but I hope you can come to accept it. I know it would mean a lot to both of them, especially Heero. You know how much he respects you, right?

Anyway, it was great seeing you and everyone really appreciates all you did. I was glad to learn that Meir decided not to press charges.

Please say you'll come to New Orleans? The shows are going to be really amazing.

RSVP

Best regards,

Quatre


Wufei sighed and started to delete the message, then changed his mind. He could at least do Winner the courtesy of a reply, perhaps even make an attempt at a bit of news. He owed him that much, he supposed.

But right now he was too tired and too rattled by Peacecraft's snide parting shot to make nice about turning down the invitation, or about-- that other business. The very mention of Yuy and Maxwell brought up certain mental images he had no wish to revisit, now or ever.

He saved the message for later, then reached under his bed for the locked strongbox and the instant respite it held.

[chap. 27] [chap. 29] [back to pyrzm's fic]