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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 38
Movement

Relena arrived the following afternoon to dine with her brother. It was not by his invitation. Wufei could tell by his level of distraction at sword practice that morning that he was not looking forward to his sister's arrival. As soon as they had completed their exercises Zech disappeared, still silent and abstracted.

Relena arrived at eleven, wearing a silk tea dress and gloves and looking more girlish and relaxed than she did on the news. She was a striking and driven young woman, and appeared to be thriving in her dual roles as titular head of the Sanque government and the ESUN diplomat. Hardly a day went by that she was not in the news, speaking at world conferences or delivering new policy statements.

"Wufei, Sally! How are you?" she exclaimed, striding into the reception hall and shaking hands with them as if they were friends of the family, rather than hired watchdogs. She looked around, clearly puzzled by her brother's absence. "But where is our host? Am I early?"

"He must still be getting dressed," Sally told her, trying to smooth out the breach of etiquette. In fact, Zechs was nowhere to be found, and several valets had been dispatched to find the wayward "host." He turned up on his own fifteen minutes late and joined them as they sat in the garden, making strained small talk over their tea.

Wufei and Sally had both put on dress uniform for the occasion. Zechs strolled out in jeans and a blue button down shirt with the left sleeve pinned up, as if to draw attention to the missing arm. It was the most casually dressed Wufei had seen the man, who usually favored tailored slacks and designer sweaters.

"Well, here you are, you tardy fellow!" Relena said brightly, apparently expecting some explanation.

"Where else would I be?" Zechs muttered. But he did offer her his arm and escort her into the dining room, where the first course was being laid for them. Unlike their usual simple meals here, the number of different wine glasses and various forks laid out at each place promised a long and complex meal. Relena had no doubt sent orders ahead; Zechs' tastes were far simpler and had suited Wufei better than the heavy cuisine that followed now.

Relena chattered brightly through the first two courses and Sally did her best to fill in the awkward pauses when Zechs failed to join in. Wufei watched the two siblings with interest. They had not grown up together, of course, and apart from the pale shining hair and vivid blue eyes, they could have been two strangers thrown together at some function. Relena was her usual forthright self, doing her best to draw her brother out despite his obvious lack of interest in anything she had to say. Zechs was withdrawn to the point of rudeness, picking at his food and answering tersely only when he had no other choice.

"Oh, did you see this? Quatre Winner sent it to me. Apparently he's backing a circus company." She drew a colorful oversized holocard from her purse and showed it to them. Wufei recognized the advertisement for Trowa's circus. Quatre had sent him one, too, though Wufei had still not responded to the email invitation.

The upper half of the glossy card featured the name and touring dates for the main show, against a bright orange and yellow sunburst background and bordered with colorful red and blue designs. The lower half of the sheet was printed in black, blue and silver, bordered in silver crescent moons and stars, and announced the debut of something called Circus della Notte, with the single line: "Wonders, mysteries, and secrets purveyed for discerning minds. No one under 18 admitted." The illustrations were elegantly done by hand, and Wufei had noted a tiny artist's signature hidden in the lower right hand corner, a faint silvery hologram: "QW-B."

Evidently Relena did not know of the Winner heir's level of involvement with the traveling show. Wufei saw no reason to enlighten her. He noticed that Relena neglected to acknowledge his married name.

Zechs's lips twitched into a brief smile. "His husband Barton--" he stressed the word husband and Wufei saw that sharp-edged smile again as a hint of color rose in his sister's cheeks. "I believe he is one of the headline acts."

But of course; Zechs had known Trowa during the war, spent time with him on the journey to Antarctica with Yuy for that first duel. And it seemed he had followed what had happened with the other two pilots after the war. Wufei wondered if Zechs kept track of all of them, and if he knew as much about the rest of them as he did about him. Perhaps he was even pleased with the sexual preferences that had emerged among them. He certainly seemed to enjoy throwing it in his sister's face. "They were married, you know, on L-2. Lucky fellows."

"Yes, I understand they are very happy," Sally put in, shooting Wufei a covert glance. Was she siding with Zechs against Relena?

The arrival of dessert broke the tension for a while. Relena recovered her composure over the sorbet and quickly changed the subject. "Milliardo, I understand you have taken up fencing again." She was smiling, but there was a distinct hint of disapproval in her tone.

"You are well-informed, as always," he rasped. "So I suppose you know that it was at Captain Chang's insistence?"

Relena turned that intense gaze on Wufei. "Do you really think that is wise, Wufei? In this new era, wouldn't my brother's time be better spent in more creative pursuits?"

"It is a physical artform--" Wufei began, but Zechs cut him off.

"What sort of creative pursuits would you suggest, Relena?" he asked, voice dripping sarcasm. "Perhaps I could take up china painting, or landscape design? Would that be a more productive use of my valuable time? Do you think I might be able to fit piano lessons or maybe opera singing into my very busy schedule?"

"There's no need--"

"Tell me, Relena, just how long is my sentence?" Zechs ate a spoonful of sorbet with more relish than he'd shown through the meal and regarded her with a hint of dark amusement.

"Your sentence? Whatever do you mean?"

Those hard blue eyes narrowed. "You've set up a very pretty doll house, sister, with every amenity a gentleman of leisure could desire, stored up and ready for me whenever I should think to ask for it. A pacifist gentleman, at any rate, or perhaps an elderly lady. Do you know how I filled my days before?"

"Of course I do," she replied with a pained look. "But those times are past now. There is no need for battle and the arts of war."

"I wasn't referring to that. Do you know what I did when I wasn't fighting?" When this seemed to stymie her he went on, clearly savoring her confusion. "Of course you don't. You were busy being the rich and pampered Darlian heir, weren't you? I wasn't so lucky, not at first. I was spirited away by a less kindly benefactor, one with political aspirations. I changed my name and hid my face to escape him, and to work my way into the very organizations responsible for the death of our family. But it wasn't all work and war training. I traveled, Relena. I dined out and went dancing and took lovers. I rode motorcycles. I hiked for days in the wilderness and hunted. I did not sit around on my ass in a gilded cage, day after day."

Relena set her claret glass down slowly, lips pursed in a determined line. Wufei suspected she'd been anticipating this conversation. "You are here for your own safety, Milliardo. You know that."

"Safety!" he spat. "Is my continued existence so terribly valuable that I must hunker down in useless boredom and solitude? You've banned my few remaining friends from visiting. You've given orders to the gatemen to keep me from bringing in any-- entertainment, and hand-picked the servants and guards for their sexual frigidity."

"Milliardo!" Relena shot a warning look in Wufei and Sally's direction, but Zechs simply took that as challenge to include them in this family argument.

"My sister hopes to reclaim me, you see. I'm to bide my time quietly here, like a good boy, so that perhaps in time people will forget my sins. Perhaps I'm to step forward at some undetermined point in history, sanitized and duly contrite, and take my place in--- In what, Relena? Am I to be king of Sanque after all? Do you think the good people of this gentle land will ever forgive me for the blood on my hands? For the sins I incurred in order to reclaim this silly little country's place in the world? Will they understand why I had to hunt down and kill the man who murdered our parents, our brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins in cold blood, Relena? Will they ever understand that Sanque would have ceased to exist, been ground under the heel of the Alliance, if I had not chosen to fight them on their own terms?"

"That's enough!" Relena snapped.

"Apparently it wasn't," Zechs snarled. "No, now I must be punished and apologized for and hidden away like an embarrassing, deformed child in the attic, so as not to cause any discomfort to the good people I sacrificed myself to protect." He pointed at Wufei and Sally. "They know what it is to take on the filth of battle, so that others may live in their dream of peace. They know the cost. How many people did your darling Heero Yuy slaughter to protect you, Relena? How many times over would you have died if he hadn't been willing to do your killing for you?"

"Stop it!" Relena pressed her hands over her ears for a moment, then recovered and smoothed her hair. "What is it you want, Milliardo? A parade? Medals and accolades? You talk of sacrifice and noble battle, but you nearly destroyed the world. Are they to thank you for that? What do you want?"

"You're right, of course. I did lose my way in the end," Zechs growled. "It would have been much kinder, and far more politically astute of you to have simply let me die when you had the chance. It's so much easier to retrofit a dead man into the role of tragic hero. I'm certain you could have crafted a memory worthy of the Peacecraft name. Keeping me here like this, I remain an embarrassment and burden."

"You could be rotting in prison right now!"

"I am!"

Sally rose and bowed. "If you will excuse me, I have duties to attend to. Wufei, I need a word with you about perimeter security."

Thankful for the white lie, Wufei took his leave.

"My god, that was worse than last time!" Sally groaned as soon as they were out of earshot.

"He's right, you know," Wufei said. "She's taken a tiger by the tail, protecting him. No one will thank her for it, least of all him."

"You seem to have found a way to deal with him, at least."

"I simply took your advice and challenged him. If nothing else, it gives him something to think about besides being trapped. In his place I'd go mad."

+

The rest of the family visit must not have gone much better, for Relena left at mid-afternoon and Zechs disappeared again. A little later Wufei caught sight of him in the distance across the gardens, riding hard astride one of the estate thoroughbreds. He looked like a man trying to outrun demons.

He didn't appear for dinner and Wufei didn't expect to see him again that day, but to his surprise Zechs wandered into the library at the usual time that evening as Wufei sat reading, still dressed in his mud-spattered jeans.

"Your fencing lessons are already bearing fruit," he said, dropping into an armchair by the chessboard. "I'm riding well, with better balance. I even managed a few jumps."

"It would be better still if you replaced the arm."

To his surprise, Zechs nodded as he began setting up the chess pieces for a game. "I'm considering it. Come, let's see if you can put up a better fight tonight."

It was the first time in days they'd played. Wufei endeavored to out think him, but Zechs mind was clearly not on the game. Wufei won the first one and Zechs saluted him, and then set the pieces up again.

"Am I prisoner here?" he asked as Wufei made his opening move. "Can I leave the grounds if I choose to, or do you have orders to stop me?"

"I have no such orders. I am to protect you."

"From what? The gardeners? From getting a splinter from the billiard cues?" Zechs scoffed. "You must be a bored as I am."

"I keep my mind occupied."

"Ah, so you're satisfied with this pampered life, are you? Or are you hiding?" Oddly, the words did not come out as a challenge or an insult, as they might have a week earlier. Zechs merely sounded weary. They played a few turns in silence, and then Zechs said, "I have a poem for you, in honor of my dear sister's visit. You're familiar with Byron?"

"Eighteenth century romantic poet, and a noted libertine."

"Yes, but libertines live rather fully, don't they?"

"'So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.'


"Is that you, Chang? It sure as hell isn't me. Has your sword so outworn its sheath that you are content to rot and rust here like this? Has it been out of the sheath at all?"

"I'm not certain I fully understand what the poet is referring to," Wufei replied, not comfortable with the way Zechs was smiling at him.

"Have you ever been in love, Chang?"

"Yes."

"Then your affair with our lovely Sally, that was not simply physical relief?"

"I was not speaking of Sally, nor will I, out of respect for her."

"Then who?"

"I was married before the war. Did your intelligence not include that fact?"

"An arranged marriage, I believe, to a child bride. You were too young--"

"For some things, certainly, but not to know love. I did come to love her, without the need for base congress."

Zechs chuckled. "'Base congress,' eh? So you've had love without sex and sex without love. Poor Chang!"

"Are you back to baiting me again?"

"No, I'm interested. You currently have the distinction of being the only person in this entire miniature kingdom of mine who does interest me." He reached into a pocket and pulled out the folded advertisement for the circus. "Your friends have found love, it seems, and managed not to lose it. According to rumor, Barton and Winner were something of an item even back during the war. And now they are joined as one. Very romantic, don't you think?"

"It's of no consequence to me," Wufei answered tersely, wondering where this was leading. "And I believe I have you in check."

Zechs blithely blocked with his queen. "And I suppose you must know about Yuy and Maxwell?"

Wufei kept his expression carefully neutral as he countered with his black knight.

"That was a bit of surprise, I must admit," Zechs went on. "Not just that Yuy is gay, mind you, but that he is capable of any emotion at all. What a strange, dark little fellow he was, but what a warrior! I admired him tremendously. Barton made less of an impression, as I recall. Practically mute. He seemed more a follower, or maybe he was just panting after Yuy, eh? Did they keep each other warm, back then?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"Did anyone keep you warm, Chang?"

Something in Zechs's tone made him look up, only to find himself pinned by the intent regard of those eyes. Zechs expression was neither cruel nor baiting; that he could have ignored. No this was intense, somewhat amused interest and he found himself blushing as he looked hastily back down at the chess board. "I had no need of such--distractions. I was focused on my training, and on my mission."

"Distractions?" Zechs chuckled. "Interesting choice of words. I thought of it more as a diversion, something to rest the mind and clear the palate between battles."

"I thought Kushreneda had no interest in men?" Two could play at this game.

He'd rather thought Zechs might take offense or get angry, but he only shook his head. "Your intelligence is correct, Chang. That was the great unrequited love of my life, but the friendship we shared more than made up for it. No, I was speaking of love in Byron's fleshly sense; the little death that lets you know you're still alive. My sister sees to it that I'm cut off from such diversions here, 'though the heart be still as loving, and the moon be still as bright.' Do you know any good bawdy poems, Chang? Did the ancient Chinese write of such things?"

"If they did they would not have been included in my course of study. But love and passion? Of course."

"Let's have one, then. I could do with some lighter thoughts tonight."

"Very well." Love poetry had never interested him, but there were some that were considered classic and worthy of memory. "'My bed is so empty that I keep waking up. As the cold increases, the night-wind begins to blow. It rustles the curtains, making a noise like the sea: Oh that those were waves that could carry me back to you.'"

"Brrr! Come now, surely you can do better than that! Back to Bryon, then.
"'He walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in his aspect and his eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.'


"I am familiar with that one. You have changed the gender of the poem's subject."

Zechs shrugged. "Did I? Well, Byron swung both ways, they say, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind. It has more juice than yours did, anyway."

"Juice? Is that a literary term I am not familiar with? Well, here's another.
"'I heard at night your long sighs
And knew that you were thinking of me.'
As she spoke, the doors of Heaven opened
And our souls conversed and I saw her face,
She set me a pillow to rest on
And she brought me meat and drink.

I stood beside her where she lay,
But suddenly woke and she was not there;
And none knew how my soul was torn,
How the tears fell surging over my breast.
"

Zechs raised an eyebrow. "Your own work, for your dead wife?"

"No, it was written by Tsang Chih, sixth century, but you are correct in the subject."

Zechs shook his head. "Then you won't be insulted when I tell you that you need to get out more, Chang. Or at least broaden your studies. You're how old? Eighteen? Nineteen? And that's all you can come up with? Andrew Marvel for you, seventeenth century."

He sat back and pinned Wufei with those eyes again and his rough, hoarse voice took on a richer timbre.
"'The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Through the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.'
"

The delivery was flawless. The language was somewhat archaic, but Zechs's insinuating, sensual nuance and the look in his eye left no doubt in Wufei's mind what the poet was proposing. "That one sounds well practiced, Zechs. Did you use it as a pick up line?"

Zechs was still looking at him with that slightly predatory expression. "Only on scholars."

Startled, Wufei knocked over his king as he reached to move his bishop.

"Conceding already, are we, Chang?"

Wufei righted the king. "Never."

Zechs chuckled and turned his attention to the game. He won again, and rather easily. Wufei could not seem to marshal his thoughts.

Zechs glanced at the clock on the mantle. "Ten thirty. I remember when I started my evening now, instead of toddling off like an old man to my bed." He let out a growling sigh. "I don't suppose you have any casual clothing?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because we are going out, you and I, and your uniform will be rather conspicuous."

"Out?"

"You heard my sister. I'm not under house arrest. This isn't a prison, or so she would have me believe. Protective custody, eh? So come along and protect me, Chang. I'll meet you with the car out front. Slip into something more comfortable and be there in ten minutes, or I'll go without you." With that he strode off to his own room, leaving Wufei staring stupidly after him. The tables had suddenly been turned, and he wasn't even sure how it had happened. They were going out? Nothing in his orders gave him the right to stop the man, but it would be a clear dereliction of duty to let him go alone.

"Damn the man!" he growled, hurrying to change. And what in the name of the seven circles of hell constituted 'casual dress' under such circumstances? He found himself picturing Maxwell, but he'd never owned a pair of jeans in his life. And wasn't it a fine state of affairs when his touchstone was suddenly "what would Maxwell do?" Pawing through his meager wardrobe, he found a pair of black twill slacks and a white Mandarin collar shirt. He threw them on hastily; hopping one legged into the trousers as he dialed Sally on his cell phone.

"We're going out somewhere," he told her, wresting his zipper up.

"Out?" She sounded surprised, but not shocked. "Where? What's going on?"

"He's restless and testing the boundaries. I don't think I can stop him so I'm going with him."

"Copy that, Wufei. Keep me apprised. I'll shadow."

"Good idea." And one he should have thought of himself. Damn that man! He found himself left with the choice of his dress shoes, sandals, or riding boots for footwear. He opted for the shoes and dashed for the front drive.

Zechs was waiting for him, hunched like a getaway driver behind the wheel of a black Porsche ZX29 roadster. It was a stick shift, Wufei noted with dismay. Fortunately the driver's seat was on the left, American style. Zechs had changed into black jeans and boots, and had on a red tank top under a black leather jacket. A dark baseball style cap pulled low over his face, and a pair of tinted glasses made him look like--well, very much like Zechs Merquise in a half-assed disguise.

Zechs regarded him with equal disapproval as he slid into the passenger seat. "Good god, Chang, you look like a Chinese waiter! Is that the best you can do?"

"I wasn't planning on much of a night life when I packed for this assignment," Wufei snapped, then grabbed for the armrest as Zechs threw the car into gear and roared for the gate.

"What do you have on under that appalling shirt?"

"An undershirt, of course."

"What color. One of those colonial things with the strap shoulders?"

"Yes. It's black, why?"

"So unbutton your shirt."

"No!"

"Just do it, Chang. I don't need you being any more conspicuous than you already are."

Wufei reluctantly unbuttoned the high-necked shirt and let the tails hang. At least the undershirt was a new one, not faded and stretched out like most of his others. "Where exactly are we going, that I must look like--like this!" He could only imagine what Maxwell would say if he saw him now.

"You'll see. Take your hair down."

"I will do no such thing!"

"Chang! That is your most distinguishing feature. Haven't you ever worked undercover?"

Stung, Wufei grudgingly tugged the tie from the end of his braid and combed his hair out with his fingers. He'd gotten careless about cutting it. It hung well past his shoulders, and became an instant irritant as it blew about in the wind from the open windows.

Zechs must have noticed, because he rolled up the windows at once and grinned out from under the brim of his hat as Wufei tried to straighten it out with his fingers again. "Much better! Your scalp must get sore, tight as you pull your hair back. You'll go bald early, doing that." He tugged at his own ragged shoulder length hair and grinned again. "I had a bit of preview of that myself, after the accident. I don't recommend it."

Wufei slouched down deeper in the soft leather seat, clinging to the armrest again as Zechs reached the winding coastal highway and gunned the roadster along the cliffs at an alarming speed. He seemed to have no problem shifting and steering at the same time. He was fast.

He was a mobile suit pilot, Wufei reminded himself; the man who'd mastered Tallgeese and Epyon. He clung to that thought as Zechs sped up along a straightaway, trying not to think of the sheer cliff drop to their left. As he grew more comfortable with the situation, it occurred to him to wonder just how long Zechs had been paying attention to his hairstyle.

Zechs turned off on the steep and twisty road that led down to the coastal resort town of Le Fleur. They ended up at a loud, smoky dance bar, one in which women seemed in very short supply. In short, a gay club. Zechs waded happily into the crowd and Wufei was surprised to see several young men greet him warmly and in a most familiar fashion.

"Get us a table!" Zechs shouted over the deafening music. "Bacardi and cola for me. Order whatever you want and I'll pay." Grabbing one of the boys who'd greeted him, he disappeared into the crowd.

Furious, Wufei maneuvered himself to a place at the bar where he could see him, and shouted Zechs's drink order to the green-eyed blond behind the bar, adding an ice tea for himself. The man was young and rather pretty in a weak, baby-faced sort of way, with hair almost as long as Zechs's used to be. Aside from that, though, he reminded Wufei more of Winner, but he'd never had Winner look at him like this before.

"Hey gorgeous! Haven't seen you in here before. You with Blondie tonight?"

"No! That is, yes, I'm his--" Yes, Chang, let's blow that cover right away, shall we? a husky, amused voice whispered at the back of his mind. "I'm a friend, from out of town."

"Way out, I'm betting. Colonial, right?" The man actually licked his lips, as if Wufei was something on the dessert cart. "I can always tell a spacer. You got great skin!"

Wufei answered with a level glare, but the bartender just winked and proceeded to show off as he made the drinks, tossing the bottles into the air and flipping lime sections behind his back. Wufei ignored the show, concentrating on keeping Zechs in sight.

"So, just friends, huh?" the bartender persisted, sliding two tall glasses across the bar to him. "He's always come in alone before."

"Before?" That got Wufei's attention. This kid didn't look old enough to have been working here two or three years ago. Hell, Zechs wouldn't have been in Sanque then. "When was he in last?" he asked, grudgingly pretending interest in the young man.

"Uh oh, did I give a way a secret?" He was grinning in an inane manner that made Wufei's hands itch for a short staff or pool cue. "Let's see. Night before last, and twice last week. He made quite an impression. Oh, I did let the cat out of the bag, didn't I? Hey, don't sweat it, pretty eyes. You already got half the room waiting to dance with you, and I get off at two."

Wufei let the man think what he wanted. Zechs had been here *three times* in the past two weeks? Three times he'd left the estate and gotten back in, with no one the wiser? Unless he was bribing the watchmen who were supposed to be reporting to him and Sally. Whatever the case, he'd apparently chosen tonight to rub Wufei's face in it. Angrier than ever, he grabbed his glass and took a deep gulp, then choked as what felt like pure alcohol burned his throat. The bartender laughed and passed him a napkin as he sputtered. "I ordered iced tea!" he snarled, pushing the glass away.

"Long Island ice tea is the only kind we serve here. Specialty of the house. But you gotta go slow. A little cutie like you is gonna feel it faster than that tall drink of champagne you're with."

Wufei didn't wait to hear more. Leaving both drinks on the bar, he stalked into the crowd to extract Merquise for a debriefing. But before he could get to him he saw the man and his dance partner disappearing in the direction of a darkened corridor at the back of the dance hall. Cursing under his breath, Wufei elbowed his way though the press, getting groped and propositioned nearly every step of the way. It slowed him down considerably, and by the time he reached the archway Zechs had been heading for, the pair was nowhere to be seen. Wufei hurried on down a poorly lit corridor lined with small, doorless cubicles. Men in pairs and threesomes leaned against the walls, making out shamelessly. The open doorways of the cubicles revealed activity of a more advanced nature going on inside and Wufei felt a large knot of tension gathering in the pit of his stomach. Gritting his teeth, he glanced through slitted eyes into each of the little rooms until he found exactly what he'd expected.

Zechs was in the last room on the left, jeans around his knees, pounding shamelessly and with great abandon into the ass of the dark-haired young man he had pinned against the wall. There was a full-length mirror on that wall and he saw Zechs register his presence and smile.

Horrified, Wufei sprang back, away from that open doorway, only to stumble into a couple making out against the far wall.

"Hey baby, c'mon in!" a tall man with Alliance tattoos up both muscular arms laughed, pulling him into a shared embrace with another military-type. Wufei fought down panic as hands slipped under the hem of his undershirt and down over the seat of his pants. One of them tried to get a hand down the front of his pants and Wufei went into attack mode, elbowing the man in back of him in the gut and aiming a punch at the tattooed guy's throat. Before he could land the punch--and possibly an attempted murder rap--a strong hand clamped over his wrist and yanked him away from the other men.

Spinning in that grip, ready to take on whoever it was, he found himself face to face with a grinning Zechs Merquise.

"But you--?" He cast a wild confused glance back at the cubicle where he'd just seen him. Zechs was fully dressed now, and not a hair out of place. "But you were just--"

Zechs leaned close, breath tickling Wufei's ear as he whispered, "Why do you think they called me the Lightning Count?"

Wufei pulled free and stumbled back a step. "Fine. If you got what you came for, can we go now?"

"That?" Even behind the tinted lenses, Wufei could see the dangerous amusement in those eyes. "That was just to take the edge off. Come, let's have that drink and dance for a while. The night's young!"

"Absolutely not!"

Zechs pulled the car keys from his pocket and dangled them eloquently out of Wufei's reach. "Fine. You can catch a cab out front. I'll see you back at the house tomorrow."

Unacceptable! Wufei's inner mission voice screamed, but he had little choice but to follow the man back to the bar. To his even greater dismay, he quickly discovered that he was safer at Zechs's side. No one groped him when he appeared to be "Blondie's" date.

Green Eyes had kept their drinks for them. Zechs settled on a stool with his back to the bar and patted the seat next to him. Wufei took it, resigned but glowering. His shame only increased as the meddlesome bartender leaned over and whispered, "Get over it, honey. He's worth it!"

Zechs stayed put just long enough to down his drink, then stood and extended a hand to Wufei, giving him a look that said clearly, 'Entertain me or I'm heading for the back room again.'

Still fuming, Wufei took a cautious gulp of the so-called ice tea, then another. He was going to need it.

He let Zechs pull him by the hand into the thick of the crowd, and then stood there stubbornly as Zechs began to move to the beat. After a moment Zechs moved in closer, gyrating in a manner that bordered on obscene, his body mere inches from Wufei's, but not quite touching. It was disturbing, how well the man moved in this context. There was nothing unbalanced or stiff about it.

"You can't just stand there," Zechs warned, already moving away, casting around for a new, more willing partner.

And so it was, for the first and, gods and ancestors willing, hopefully the last time in his life, Chang Wufei attempted to dance. He'd never felt such a fool in his life! But no matter how foolish he must have looked, it kept Zechs from leaving. The man even gave him an encouraging nod and moved in closer again, this time having the audacity to step behind him and clasp his right hip! That brief glimpse he'd had of Zechs fucking someone like this flashed though his mind; he whirled around and pushed the man away.

Zechs pulled the hand away, but didn't back off. "You have to move your body more. You're as stiff as a poker. Loosen up. Feel the music. I've seen you move. You can do this!"

Trapped by circumstance, hemmed in by the crowd, Wufei gritted his teeth and attempted to do as he was told.

Horrid as the music was, it did have an unmistakable beat. He could feel the bass pulsing in his chest. He moved his feet a little, trying to copy what he saw going on around him. This sort of dancing depended on fluid hip movement and waving one's arms around in some fashion. Most of the men around him were managing to do this without looking like seizure victims. Wufei strove to emulate them, but it was not easy to relax with Merquise watching him.

But Wufei knew how to harness anger. He used its energy to focus on loosening his limbs and pushing away shame. He found the beat and let it guide him.

Zechs leaned in close again and stroked a stray strand of hair back from Wufei's face with one finger. The unexpected touch, and the warm, rum-scented breath against his cheek sent a startling shock down through Wufei's body, a sensation that zeroed in alarmingly below the belt. He almost missed what Zechs was saying.

"'Human beings are soft and supple when alive, stiff and straight when dead.' See? You are alive after all."

He stepped back, clearly enjoying Wufei's look of shocked recognition. The man was quoting Lao Tzu at him! Here, in this place!

Then again, it was apt. To truly follow the Tao, one had to live it in every situation, not just within the safety of the meditation room. The same could be said for Wu-Yi.

'In motion, move like a thundering wave,' he thought, letting the driving bass beat resonate though him. 'Rising like a monkey, land like a bird.'

He did not do this literally, of course, but he let the imagery carry him, loosening his joints and stilling his mind. 'A pine tree in a breeze. Flex like a bow.'

He'd allowed his eyes to close, but opened them quickly as he felt that steady hand come to rest lightly on his hip again as the music slowed and became more intimate.

"That's very good, Wufei. I knew you'd be a natural," Zechs said, his voice a raspy purr.

Wufei gritted his teeth and suffered the familiarity until the song ended, then clasped Merquise's elbow, all but hauling him toward the door.

But the man pulled away easily. "Go have another drink, little Chang. I'll be gone a bit longer this time." And with that he melted back easily into the crowd. A few moments later Wufei spotted him heading back to the cubicles again with a tall, red-haired man.

The only seat left was a stool at the bar. Green Eyes was waiting, trying to gloat and look sympathetic at the same time. "Tough break, pretty eyes, but I warned you. You can't pull an attitude with a guy like that."

"Fuck off!" Wufei muttered, watching the passageway and trying to recall if there had been a back way out. Something cold nudged his elbow and he glanced back to find Green Eyes leaning across the bar, smiling as he offered him a fresh drink.

"It's on the house. And like I said, I get off at two, but I have a break coming up in half an hour if you want a quickie back there."

Wufei took the drink and ignored the offer. Gagging down a mouthful, he clutched the glass to his chest, thinking, "This is hell. I am in hell."

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