see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Warriors + Chapter 31
Early the following morning
Wufei sought Sally out. She was breakfasting alone on the terrace, reading
files as she ate. Wufei paused just inside the French doors, observing
her through the sheer curtains that covered the tall glass panes. He had
fought beside this woman, worked with her, touched her bare breasts, felt
her body's hot, secret grip around his member. He had shared what most
people considered the highest level of intimacy with her, yet as she'd
said, it had not so much as occurred to him that there might be love between
them. He thought hard, trying to recall if he'd even felt affection.
All he remembered was need and a certain level of comfort in her presence,
but no passion beyond the physical act. He looked at her more closely,
as if seeing her for the first time. Her uniform was impeccably pressed,
as always, and her auburn hair lay over her shoulders in the same thick
spiral braids. She looked tired, perhaps even stressed. That made her
look older than she was, and highlighted the fact that she was four years
his elder. She was fit, compact, and tall for their racial type. That,
and her unusual coloring spoke of a mixed heritage. He tried to decide
if she was pretty, but the word seemed meaningless in relation to her.
He knew her too well to see her as anything other than familiar. That
made him sad. So did the fact that this was the first time since they'd
met that he'd even thought to ask himself such questions, to try and see
her as an individual, and as a woman. He attempted, with this new, still-emerging
clarity growing in him, to apply the term ex-lover, but it did not fit.
He had not loved her. That could not be refuted or changed, even if he'd
succumbed to pointless sentimentality and wished it otherwise. Ex-bedmate?
Yes, that was factually true.
He was capable of love, or at least he had been before the war. He'd loved
his parents, his relatives and friends, many of his teachers. He'd come
to love his young wife, Meirin, even though that had been an arranged
political marriage and they had been too young to share a bed before she
was lost. But he had loved her spirit, and the way she'd pushed and challenged
him. At fifteen had he had any stirrings of the flesh toward her? He wasn't
sure. Stirrings, certainly; there had been many guilty nights masturbating
under the sheets with the lights out, biting his left thumb to keep silent.
But he didn't recall associating that with Meirin. It would have been
He shook himself, surprised at this odd train of thought. Meirin was gone.
What had been between Sally and him was gone. There was only the now,
he reminded himself, the ever-changing path of the Way before him.
She looked up in surprise as Wufei joined her and poured himself a cup
of tea. "Good morning. You're looking better."
He nodded, sipping his tea.
"Look, about the other day--"
"'Sincere words are not beautiful. Beautiful words are not sincere,'"
he quoted, and managed a small smile.
She raised an eyebrow. "Lao Tzu?"
"A first step in taking your excellent advice. I apologize for my poor
attention to my duties of late. I will do better."
Sally nodded. "Do you want to be reassigned? I could speak to Relena for
"No. I'll stay here for now, if you'll have me. It's not as if I have
any other pressing business, is it?" He glanced down at the files she'd
been reading. They were medical reports on Peacecraft. "How is he doing?"
"Physically, not bad. His muscle tone is inproving and the workouts are
"His balance and alignment are not good, though."
"The loss of a limb often does that, especially without a prosthetic replacement.
I wish he'd consider, but so far he's adamant. Polite, but adamant."
"And his mental state?"
"As I said, he's miserable."
"He has lost his center. He had no goal, no aspiration." Wufei waved a
hand around at the lavish estate. "No doubt his sister means well, but
I suspect he would have made a better recovery in a real prison, not this
soft, poorly disguised confinement. In prison, he would have had adversity
to hone him."
"I think he would agree with you, but the politicians deemed otherwise.
And he's not under house arrest, remember, but protective custody."
Wufei allowed himself a dark chuckle at this. "Offering to drop a major
chunk of hardware on the Earth and precipitate massive death and destruction
tends not to endear one to the public."
"Yes. Most people were able to forgive the soldiers, and even terrorists
like us. But that was on a much grander scale."
"Was he insane at the time?"
"I prefer to think so. His records indicate a state of extreme stress
and probably a personality disorder brought on by the roles he'd had to
play. Imagine, the heir to the greatest pacifist power in modern history,
forced to turn warrior, and finding himself in love with the leader of
the militaristic autocracy . . ."
Wufei choked on his tea. "In love? With whom?"
"Kushreneda. Didn't you know?"
"Not according to those who knew him at the Academy. It was platonic,
apparently. Kushreneda was straight as a die and had quite an appetite
for women, including Une."
"But I thought Merquise-Peacecraft, I mean-I thought he was involved with
that other officer. What was her name?"
"Lucreztia Noin? That was platonic, too, by all reports. I spoke to her
after the war. She loved him, but it wasn't returned the way she wanted
it to be."
"Peacecraft loved Kushreneda?" Wufei was still trying to get his head
around that one. "Do you think that played a role in his going against
"Perhaps. It probably helped pull him apart psychically. That whole mask
thing he did during the war? Talk about your physical manifestations of
the inner landscape. When he lost the mask, he also lost his grip. Whether
he chose to stand with Kushreneda or his heritage, he was going against
his own conscience."
"And if Kushreneda had been able to--reciprocate?"
Sally let out a wry little laugh as she closed the folders. "Who knows?
Maybe we'd all be living peacefully under the reign of a benevolent Kushreneda
dictatorship, with Sanque's blessing? I don't know. It didn't' happen
that way and here we are."
Wufei rubbed at the knot of tension building between his eyes. "It seems
that every time I turn around, someone else turns out to be gay! How did
so many of them end up as warriors?"
Sally laughed outright at this. "You were a scholar, but perhaps history
was not your strongest subject?"
"No, philosophy and poetry."
"Some of the greatest warriors have had male lovers. Julius Caesar. Alexander
the Great. The famous samurai poet-lovers of the feudal period? And have
you never heard of the Theban Band? A cadre of paired lovers who would
fight to the death rather than be dishonored by cowardice in front of
their lover? They were unbeatable, until Alexander slaughtered them all
together. And look at the warrior Peacecraft was. Evidently such leanings
can make a warrior stronger under the right conditions, not weaker."
Wufei snorted angrily. "Such feelings should not be a factor at all! This
band you speak of may have worked that way for a time, but in the end
they were still defeated."
"I didn't know you were such a homophobe, Wufei."
"I'm nothing of the sort! I simply don't approve of letting emotion get
in the way."
"Ah yes. That's why you felt women made poor warriors, as I recall."
"In my experience, they did," he growled. "Even you let mercy blind you.
You could have killed Yuy in the first days of the war if you hadn't taken
pity on him long enough for Maxwell to steal him away."
"As I understand it, so could your man Peacecraft, when Heero blew himself
up. But he let Barton take him not knowing if he was dead or not."
"We all thought he was dead."
"Not Barton, apparently. Does that make him weak, or Peacecraft for not
finishing the job and making certain?"
"Such speculation after the fact is pointless!"
"Ah, that's no answer, my scholarly friend. Score a point for me. And
you are uncomfortable with the relationships between the other pilots."
Wufei definitely did not like where this conversation had strayed. "I
have no opinion on the matter. It is of no consequence what they do, or
with whom. If I have any negative feelings in the matter, it is simply
because of the irresponsible speculation about me that it has generated.
It happened when Winner and Barton were running amok, and it's cropped
up again, thanks to Maxwell and Yuy's little stunt in Madrid."
"Little stunt?" Sally sounded genuinely annoyed now. Pulling a glossy
gossip magazine from under the pile of files, she flipped it open and
slapped it down in front of him. "They're in love, Wufei! Can't you at
least be a little happy for them, after all they've been through?"
There was a whole page of pictures of 01 and 02, dressed up like male
prostitutes and hanging all over each other in what appeared to be some
sort of gay club. New Provincetown, according to the bit of text that
accompanied the disgusting spread. So they were in America now.
Yuy's face was hard to read, unless you really looked at his eyes when
they were aimed in Maxwell's direction. And Maxwell? As always, he wore
his emotions like tattoos on his skin, for anyone to see. And in these
pictures he looked deliriously, ridiculously happy. Wufei felt a certain
degree of relief at that, having seen Duo at his worst more than once
these past few years. But that mortifying moment in the Madrid hostel
came back to him, unbidden; the sight of the two of them naked on that
narrow bed, Maxwell's head between Yuy's legs, and Yuy--! Wufei suppressed
a shocked quiver of emotion even now. Yuy had had an expression of such
wanton abandon that Wufei had almost been able to convince himself, just
for an instant, that it wasn't Yuy at all. Heero Yuy, the only living
warrior he counted his superior, sprawled there, naked and flushed, mouth
open in what appeared to be the throes of rapture-
No! He crushed the memory and all the feelings it dredged up. It was no
business of his what they did, so long as he did not have to have it rubbed
in his face.
"Wufei?" Sally waved a hand in front of his face. "Are you all right?"
He slapped the magazine shut and pushed it back to her. "Such unseemly
displays are of no consequence to me. But I resent the speculation that
we were all gay, that we were somehow chosen because of that common
trait. Perhaps they subscribe to your Theban Band theory, no? The fact
that I have not thrown myself into some hedonistic flesh hunt, and made
myself available to the paparazzi with half naked women hanging on both
arms seems to them to be proof of their salacious conclusions, rather
than evidence that at least one of the five of us is mature enough to
keep his fly zipped and his personal life private! Or perhaps I should
have had sex with you in public when I had the chance--!"
He broke off, horrified at his words and the loss of temper that had allowed
them to come tumbling out so harshly. "Sally. I'm so sorry! I didn't mean
"At least you were gentleman enough not to say 'fucked', though that's
all we ever really amounted to." There was no mistaking the bitterness
and sorrow behind her own terse tone.
Wufei rose and bowed deeply to her. "I swear to you, on my honor and that
of my ancestors, that I never once thought of it in those terms. I did
not love you, it is true, but I never thought of you as a convenient--
as a convenience of any sort. I always held you in the highest esteem
as a professional and teammate, but looking back these past few days,
I realize that my behavior toward you as a woman was heartless and unworthy.
I ask your forgiveness, though I know I don't merit it."
"Oh, sit down, will you? And let's change subject. This one is giving
me a headache."
"And me." He rubbed at his forehead again, wondering if acceptance of
his apology had been tacit in her reply. He didn't think so.
They drank their tea in silence for a while, gazing out over the lush
gardens below and not at each other. "So, what the hell is it Relena thinks
I can do for her brother? He can't be a warrior again."
"He can't fight again, but can't all that energy and talent be redirected?
He's an incredibly intelligent and talented man, but he can't see that
right now. He's too broken, and still too caught up in guilt to imagine
any sort of future. But Relena thinks he can be saved, and I agree."
"Perhaps-" Wufei paused, caught up in the sudden empathy he felt for the
man. "Perhaps being left alone in a room with a pistol would have been
a kinder fate for him."
Sally's expression hardened instantly. "I wish I could take that as a
bad joke, or you just thinking hypothetically. But I know you're not.
If you really do want to stay on this detail, I need your sacred word,
on your honor, that you will not to encourage or allow him any such option,
or turn a blind eye if you think he means to take such a step. Is that
Wufei felt himself bristle again but fought down the instinctive retort
that rose to his lips. Old habits were not to be shed by a day's mediation
or good intentions; there was much work ahead.
"I give you my oath," he replied as calmly as he could. "Such actions
on my part as a Preventer would be totally lacking in integrity. I accept
that I was chosen for this assignment in order to help him in some way.
Do you have any suggestions as to how I might begin?"
Sally sat back and glanced at the files. "Challenge him. I must admit,
I've admired your restraint so far, but it's not doing him any good. You
can't harm him physically, of course, but you don't have to take his abuse
or countenance his self-pity. Oh, and by the way. He can't fire you. You
are here under Relena's aegis and only she can demand your removal. This
does allow you a certain extra degree of latitude."
"I see. Challenge him. Hn."
Sally chuckled. Perhaps she had forgiven him after all. "I should think
you'd enjoy it. After all, it's what he's been doing to you since you
Wufei set his empty cup aside and rose, bowing to her again. "I hope I
can find a more productive method than the one he has employed. Thank
you again, Sally, for your wisdom, and your insight in this matter. And-"
She looked up expectantly.
"And I will try to be more worthy of your regard in the future. I uh-I
left a parcel in your room on my way here. I think you will know best
what to do with it."
Sally smiled, those blue eyes warm again with an approval that did not
shame him. "Thank you, Wufei. I don't think we need to speak any further
about that." As he turned to go, she added, "What I revealed to you about
Milliardo's orientation? I know I don't have to say this, but I will anyway,
since I've effectively already betrayed a confidence. Keep it under your
hat. I don't think he cares, but it's something of a sore point with his
Wufei arrived late at the gym and found Peacecraft already at his workout.
He was reclining in the tilted seat of the thigh press, working his legs;
the front of his gray tank top and the waistband of his expensive sweatpants
were already soaked through with perspiration. Pale wisps of hair lay
damp against his flushed forehead. He made no effort to conceal the stump
at his left shoulder. The arm had been burnt or sheared off just above
the elbow. According to Sally, there was enough muscle and nerve tissue
left intact above that to operate the most complex and fully articulated
prosthetic arm and hand. He could even have the limited the use of mechanical
fingers, if he'd only try.
Those intense blue eyes stayed focused on some distant point as he continued,
but he was clearly aware of Wufei's arrival. "Oversleep, did we, Chang?"
"No, I was considering how to augment your physical regime. The program
you are currently using is sadly lacking."
That got the man's attention. "Really? I wasn't aware you had any background
in physical therapy." Finishing his set with a few last powerful thrusts
of those long, well-muscled legs, he climbed out of the machine and threw
a towel over his neck. He took in Wufei's outfit with a dismissive glance.
He'd changed from his uniform into his practice clothing, the loose pants
and tank top, and thrown on his yukata for modesty when passing through
the halls. Wufei let the acid comment pass. Peacecraft was in a foul mood,
but he chose to rise above personal concerns and concentrate on the belief
that Peacecraft was acting out of weakness in his attacks, rather than
any true superiority.
"I do not have such training, but I am a Wu-Yi master and have the eyes
to see that you are carrying your left shoulder at least two inches higher
than your right, due to the loss of the arm's natural balancing weight.
It is already affecting the muscles of your right side. I see it in the
way you're standing now, with your right hip slightly tucked, and the
way you sit your horse when you ride. The muscles on the right are shortening
and pulling your body off center. Ignore that, as you and your therapists
clearly have been, and you will end up a hunchback, and in constant pain.
You will find yourself falling off your horses and wondering why. You
have built up muscle fiber, but without flexibility, you simply become
thick and clumsy."
Peacecraft's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Indeed? And what does your Wu-Yi
training suggest I do about this?" Even with a damaged voice, he had no
trouble injecting a full measure of disdain into that husky whisper of
Wufei kicked off his soft cloth shoes and dropped the equipment bag he'd
brought on the ground. From it he pulled out two short staffs. He tossed
one to Peacecraft, and then planted his bare feet in a wide stance, holding
his own by one end, like a sword. If this gambit worked, they would need
proper practice weapons, but for now these would do.
"We will fence, Peacecraft. Any defects in balance will be made clear
by flaws in your performance, so we may work to correct them. Your personal
physician has already approved this course of action."
Peacecraft threw the staff down and rasped out, "Thank you, little Chang,
but I am satisfied with my current exercise program."
Wufei relaxed his stance, but kept a good grip on his staff. "Ah, I see.
You have lost your confidence. I suppose that is understandable. I'll
go set up the chess board in a sunny part of the garden, so you don't
take a chill."
Somewhere in the back of Wufei's mind, an image of a younger Duo Maxwell
popped up, flapping his arms at a retreating enemy unit and squawking
like a chicken. A uniquely Duo gesture, and one he did not plan to emulate,
but he could tell by the darkening flush in Peacecraft's cheeks that he'd
understood the implied insult exactly as Wufei had intended.
"I have no wish to harm you, little Chang," Peacecraft rasped.
"You needn't concern yourself in that regard, I assure you," Wufei shot
back, letting the other man see his amusement at such an idea.
"Perhaps another time," Peacecraft growled. Turning his back on Wufei,
he went to the lat machine and began his reps.
Wufei leaned at ease on his staff. "You should speak to your dietician,
as well. Those pants are looking a bit tight in the back."
Peacecraft pretended to ignore him, but Wufei saw him stiffen, and the
way he made a conscious effort to square his shoulders.
Yes, the gauntlet had been thrown down, and Peacecraft knew it. The balance
of power had shifted. Peacecraft had known about Relena having final say
in who was in charge of him. Now he knew that his "little Chang" knew
Suddenly this assignment seemed rather more interesting.
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