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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 30
Friendly Fire

Peacecraft's moods remained in flux over the first few weeks at the estate. One day he would be silent, hardly acknowledging Wufei's presence. On others, he purposely sought him out, for games of chess or riding, to spot him in the gym, sometimes simply a meandering walk in the gardens. He did not speak of Treize again, but sometimes he spoke of battle. On the worst days, he seemed to go out of his way to be hurtful, revealing a shocking knowledge of the missions Wufei had carried out, and the outcomes. He reminded him of the trap all five had been lured into at New Edwards, and of his failure in his duel with Kushreneda. Evidently the man had told his friend of this in detail. He spoke of officers he'd trained personally, who'd died fighting against the Gundams, of facilities and bases he'd seen in the wake of those attacks, and the collateral damage he'd witnessed.

In short, he kept Wufei on edge. It was not guilt that kept the young Preventer awake after those bad days; war was war. He'd done what was needed. And as for collateral damage, he'd watched his home colony blown to bits before his eyes. The scale was heavily tipped in his favor on that account.

No, it was the way Peacecraft seemed intent on undermining his abilities, if only in retrospect. His fellow pilots had respected him; even Yuy had made that clear, though Wufei had not felt worthy of that regard. No, Peacecraft was accomplishing with apparent spite what Treize Kushreneda had accomplished with mercy, making him feel unworthy. Only Peacecraft's rank and Wufei's role as his protector kept him from striking back. He'd have killed anyone else.

One afternoon after Peacecraft had made a point of doing it in front of Sally over a rare shared luncheon in the park, his resolve nearly deserted him. Wufei had to walk away, biting his lip to keep from screaming out his despair and frustration as he stalked the garden maze. Violence had built up inside him like a static charge. If he didn't find some outlet, he was going to harm Peacecraft.

Sally found him in the gazebo by the koi pond, pushing himself through the most difficult katas he knew. He'd stripped off his jacket and shirt. Sweat rolled down his chest and flattened his tightly bound hair against his scalp.

"What are you doing here? It's your shift," he snapped, not pleased to be seen like this.

"He's resting in his room with three of my handpicked men outside his door. You and I need to talk. Please, Wufei, stop and pay attention."

Wufei grudgingly stood and folded his arms, not liking the look in her eyes. Sally didn't pry often, but when she did, she was unstoppable. The last thing he needed right now was her sympathy or concern. That was like salt on his lacerated spirit.

"You don't see what he's doing, do you?"

"His insults are of no consequence."

"Bullshit." Sally sat down on the wrought iron bench by the gazebo railing and crossed her legs. Clearly, she intended this to be a long confrontation.

Wufei clamped his mouth shut and leaned his elbows on the gazebo rail, staring down at the orange and white koi swimming lazily below. Perhaps she'd just go away if he ignored her.

"You two are so much alike I want to slap both of you!" she said at last.

That brought him around. "Alike? How exactly?"

"Stubborn. Stiff-necked. Selfish. Blind to anyone's misery but your own."

He let out a harsh laugh. "If you've come to make me feel better, you're doing a very poor job!"

"Who said anything about making you feel better? When's the last time you tried to do that for anyone else?" The words cut deep, but she said them with a certain weary compassion.

They were both silent for a long time, then she sighed. "Why do you think we stopped sleeping together, Wufei? The sex was good, right? But you were never there. Not really. Some part of you is still back there in the war, second guessing yourself and trying to measure up to a dead man."

"That's none of your-"

"Yes, it is, because it's affecting your performance. No, don't interrupt me. This has been a long time coming. So shut up and listen because you need to hear this and I'm the only one who'll ever tell you.

"It has nothing to do with Kushreneda or Peacecraft or anyone else. I saw it in you when we met that first time in China, long before you met either of them."

"Saw what?"

"An arrogant, angry little boy who happened to be really good at one thing, one who when out of his way to be unpleasant to everyone, to keep them away so they wouldn't see that he was scared to death of everything else."

"That's a lie!" Wufei hissed.

"No, it isn't. Your precious honor, all that ranting about justice and truth? I'm older than you, remember, and unlike you, I'm trained to observe people in order to heal them, not kill them. Without that stubborn, driving, all consuming arrogance of yours, and enemies to fight, you didn't know who the hell you were. You still don't. And if you don't know that, then you can't connect with anyone else. I wanted to help you, because I also saw a good, strong, decent person under all the fear. Or at least I thought so. But when we tried to have a relationship--no, scratch that--when I tried to have a relationship with you, it wasn't even a one way street."

"You enjoyed it!"

"The sex? Yes, you were highly competent. But not on my account. Sure, you knew all the right parts and how to work them. You made me come every time. Mission accomplished. But that's all I saw in your eyes afterwards every time; mission accomplished. Not only did you not have any sense of my feelings, you didn't know your own heart enough to know love when it was in bed with you."

"You never loved me."

"Of course I did!"

He clutched the railing for a moment, feeling like she'd knocked the breath out of his lungs. "I didn't ask for love."

"You didn't have to. It was free, but you have to accept it willingly and you can't because you don't recognize it, any more than a colorblind man sees blue. It's right there in front of you, and you don't have a clue. You don't even see all the people who still care about you."

"The people who cared about me died in front of me. Their bodies are scattered among the wreckage of L-5."

"And your soul, too," Sally said sadly. "What about Trowa and Quatre? And Maxwell?"

"You are suggesting they love me?" That made him laugh again, with all the humor of a gunshot.

"They still call you, don't they? You give them absolutely nothing, and still they call you."

"When they need something. Yes, they call me, because I'm still useful. I have connections--"

"Don't flatter yourself. I have more connections than you do, and they all know it. And let's not forget Relena Peacecraft. Think maybe she'd be a little more 'useful' than you? But no, they call you, mostly. Not her. Not me. Not any of a dozen other ESUN officials in their debt. You."

"You wouldn't understand. You and the others, you weren't Gundam pilots."

"Ah yes! Your sacred Gundam brotherhood. And one, from all accounts, that you fought tooth and nail to stay out of, yes? You think I didn't talk to the others, back when I was still trying to figure you out? That Quatre is really something. He kept at you, and the rest of them didn't shoot you back then. And yet you don't even have sense enought to notice how they stay in touch with you now, when there's no battle to fight."

"And that's love, is it?"

"Yes. Not like what Trowa and Quatre have, if that's what you're thinking," she shot back. "Not like I felt for you, either. The five of you, different as you are in just about every way, you spent a year living a life no one else in the universe can claim. Yes, you were Gundam pilots, child terrorists, caught in a war that changed you forever in ways no one else will ever understand. You're brothers, and brothers don't always get along or agree or even like each other, but there's still a bond and that's love. You've worked damn hard to break it, but they haven't let you go yet, have they?"

"I suppose a woman would see it like that, the need for some deep connection. Love!" he sneered, but suddenly remembered the invitation from Winner, still unanswered. "Next thing you'll be telling me I love Milliardo Peacecraft, since he was a mobile suit pilot, too. Is he my brother?"

"I don't know, Wufei, but he's more like you than anyone else I've ever met. More than any of the others."

"Ah yes, back where we started. And how exactly do you figure that? Aside from the fact that we're both selfish bastards? That's the only thing you've been right about so far, by the way."

Sally shook her head sadly. "You're both suffering, Wufei. You're both lost. And you're both maimed. The only difference is that his scars show. He's not crazy, you know. He's in pain. So are you."

"No, I'm not."

"Really? Then what's with the dope smoking?" Sally allowed herself a sneer of her own at his startled hiss. "Think you could hide that from me? Get a clue, Wufei. Did you bring any with you? Maybe you could share some with him. I'm sure Treize Kushreneda would be very proud of that solution, don't you think?"

Wufei had been slowly simmering under this unexpected attack. Now it flared into full-blown anger. "I do my job!" he snarled, leaning over her. "I follow orders. If you have any complaints on my performance as your partner or as a Preventer, feel free to file a complaint. What I do on my own time is no one's business so long as it does not interfere with that!"

He'd expected her to back down or get angry, hopefully even to leave. But she just sat there. "Why that, Wufei? Why does a man like you, so driven to perfection in every other way, choose drugs to fill his empty hours?"

"It doesn't matter," he growled, hating her for the pity in her eyes.

"Funny, that's what Peacecraft told me when I asked why he refused a prosthetic arm."

"Ah, and this is the point at which I am supposed to have some stunning personal revelation, is it? Two broken warriors, thrown together by fate so that they can find redemption? Is that what this little intervention is all about?"

"Redemption? No. Perhaps just some common ground. At least that's what Relena hoped you could do for him when she requested you personally for this shit detail."

"Requested me?"

Sally smirked. "That's the polite way of putting it. And it was both of us, actually. Me for my medical background and knowledge of the pilot mentality. You because she believes, as I do, that you are like her brother. She thought so back when you and Heero worked for her, before anyone was sure Peacecraft would survive. Then again, what does she know? She's just a silly woman, right?" Sally stood up at last. "Well, I think that's about all I had to say. If you're going to go anesthetize yourself, you'd better hurry. You've got the night shift in four hours. Oh, and one last observation, for whatever it's worth. He's never insulted me the way he does you. When he speaks to me at all, he's a perfect gentleman. Quite charming, actually, when he wants to be."

"You weren't a mobile suit pilot! You weren't a warrior!"

He thought he saw her smile as she turned and walked away. "Neither are you, my friend. Not anymore."

Wufei forced himself to stay at the gazebo and meditate, not wanting to admit that she'd been right about his plans for the afternoon. Not that it would have affected his performance. He knew to the most exact standard how to use the drugs. In small amounts it even aided concentration and after nearly an hour of futile effort, only his wounded pride kept him from resorting to them. No matter how much he focused, damnable half-realized emotions kept surfacing just below the surface of his fragile inner calm, like the fish in the murky water of the pond. A warrior had no use for emotion, not ones that distracted like this! He quelled them mercilessly, driving them back down into the darkness of his mind.

He tried again, using the fish and the water as a focusing image, but try as he might, he found himself distracted by Sally's unexpected outburst, and the fact that Relena chosen to waste him here in this boring, pointless, maddening assignment without even having the decency to tell him why.

Damnable women, meddling without the least idea of what they were doing!


He was nothing like Peacecraft. Nothing at all.

+

Stubborn. Stiff-necked. Selfish.

Over the next two days Sally could have added "silent" and "sulking" to that succinctly alliterative list. Wufei tended his wounded pride in private, drugging more just to spite her, polite but barely when he had to interact with her on a day-to-day basis.

But he was not stupid, and, contrary to what most who knew him thought, he was not without feeling, either. Even drugs could not deaden the stirrings that woke him too early and anxious each morning.

He tried at first to forget her words about Peacecraft and himself, as well, but instead they took root and he found himself looking at the man with new eyes, seeing for the first time the lack of balance in the man's stance, the dark circles under his eyes, the slight tremor in his remaining hand as he lifted a spoon or moved a chess piece. At first Wufei took pleasure in these signs of weakness. And it did cast a different light on the needling he still aimed at Wufei during their morning rides. Wufei could sneer inwardly, seeing them for what they really were; the thrashing of a wounded animal, aware of its own vulnerability.

The third morning after her little chat, Wufei rose just before dawn, put on his loose white trousers and a black tee-shirt, and took his sword and long staff to a sheltered, grassy lawn near one of the estate's many fountains. He tried meditate, but his stubborn mind wandered. Impatient, he instead began an opening series of katas, softly reciting the Twelve Descriptions of Wu-Yi practice as he moved.

"In motion, move like a thundering wave."

Feint, turn, kick.

"When still, be like a mountain.

He paused balanced on one bent leg, motionless as a stone.

"Rising up, be like a monkey."

He sprang into the air, and realized with dismay that it was a dismal launch.

"Land swiftly and lightly like a bird."

Doubt distracted him and his ankle wobbled.

"Be steady like a rooster on one leg."

Concentrate, damn it!

"One's stance is as firm as a pine tree, yet expresses motion."

A pine tree in a breeze, he grumbled silently.

"Spin swiftly and circularly like a wheel."

Yes, he could do that.

"Bend and flex like a bow."

A creaky bow, in need of flexing.

"Waft gracefully like a leaf in the wind."

O fuck!

"Sink like a heavy piece of metal."

He bowed low, Nataku falling to Earth.

His heart lurched. Find a different image!

"Prey like a watchful, gliding eagle."

"I am!" he muttered through gritted teeth, but felt the lie.

"Accelerate like a gusty wind."

Snatching up the long staff, he threw himself into a long series of whirling, spinning attacks and feints, trying to outdistance his own doubt. He drove himself on, whirling, flying, summoning the fire in the belly he'd always relied on. But only a grudging spark flared and at last he stumbled and felt to his knees, gripping the staff in white knuckled hands as sweat ran in clammy little runnels down his neck, back and chest. He did not feel swift or firm, flexible or steady, and he sure as hell wasn't wafting.

"I'm going soft, just like he has," he admitted softly, turning his face up to the brightening sky. Sally was perhaps at least partly right. He'd been wallowing in self-pity. He did feel lost without a war to fight. He believed at this moment that who he had been before the war-- before Nataku and all the rest of it--that the earnest young scholar he'd been before circumstance ripped his chosen future from him, had died with L-5 and his friends and clan and all his kind, patient old teachers.

"I have lost the Way," he murmured, bowing his head in shame. The question was, could he ever find his way back? Did he even want to? What was the point, after all?

Returning to his spare, tidy room, he showered and dressed for the day, ate his customary breakfast of tea, fruit, and congee, made the bed and put every spare object away in its place. That still left him with nearly five empty hours until he must face Peacecraft at lunch.

Five hours.

Enough time to take edge off.

Stripping off his uniform, he put on his old indigo cotton yukata, and pulled out the small, double-locked strongbox that held his stash and other personal items from under the bed.

Sally was wrong on one point, at least. He wasn't smoking in his room here. He still had enough will or pride not to be that stupid. No, he did not attempt to smuggle opium balls or a bag of L-2 Gold through Sanque customs or Peacecraft's own security here, though he was more than capable of doing so. No, it was far easier to transport these small, innocuous looking brown vials of pure THC-38, a wonderful, ingenious distillation of all that was best in weed, with none of the risks. No smoke. No guessing of potency or effect. No telltale odors on his clothes. Nothing but pure peace of mind in an eyedropper. One drop now, perhaps even two, and he would not have to worry about anything but a little redness in his eyes, and that was easily explained away or hidden on a sunny Earth-side summer day like this. Perhaps he should develop a convenient allergy.

He was lying on his bed, dropper poised at his lips, ready, willing and able, but instead he thought of how his ankle had betrayed him earlier, how wooden his motions had felt.

A drop and it was all gone, at least long enough to fool himself.

Just one drop, under the tongue. Just squeeze that little rubber bulb and swallow peace.

He couldn't do it.

Sitting up, he replaced the dropper in the bottle and carefully locked it away. It was there if he needed it, right? He could reach for it any time he wanted.

But right now it wasn't what he wanted.

Instead, he seated himself cross-legged on the floor, back resting against the side of the bed and tried to meditate again. It was no use going for clear mind; that wasn't going to happen. Instead he let his thoughts wander where they would, imagining them as clouds drifting across the clear blue of his true consciousness. It was hard work at first, but somehow he managed it and sank gratefully into the inner stillness he'd sought. Random thoughts darted like birds across that clear inner blue for some time-a hurtful comment from Peacecraft. Sally's face as she told him she'd loved him. The shock of acknowledging that he'd been so blind to it. Meirin, the last time he'd seen her, scowling impatiently at him. The feeling of Nataku's controls in his hands. The smell of roses drifting in at his open window. A bit of poetry, diligently memorized and long neglected.

Weak and exposed in appearance;
But powerful when unleashed.
One's reactions may start afterwards,
But the response arrives there first.


Eyes still closed, he felt a chagrinned smile tug at his lips. The words of a woman, Yuh Niuy. A woman warrior who several thousand years ago, a few thousand miles from where he sat nursing his pride like a wounded wolf, had emerged victorious over three thousand of the Zhou king's best swordsmen and founded the very practice and philosophies he supposedly espoused.

A woman. He wondered if Sally had ever studied Wu-Yi. If so, she would surely know this fact.

Stubborn. Stiff-necked. Selfish. Add sexist and short of memory to that inventory.

He let it go and sank further into the relaxed state, letting more of Yuh Niuy's wisdom surface. Without even realizing, he recited the words aloud. "'The Way is so small and simple, but the meaning is timeless and profound. The Way has an entrance; it also has a Yin and a Yang. The entrance constantly opens and closes, Yin and Yang weaken and flourish.'"

Ebb and flow. Nothing lost, nothing stable, nothing fixed. He frowned slightly, fishing for the next line.

"'When the Way is battle, be full-spirited within, but outwardly show calm and be relaxed; appear to be as gentle as a fair lady, but react like a vicious tiger.'"

The lady and the tiger. Yin and Yang. Light and dark. Being and nonbeing. Halves of one whole.

"'Though hidden within, the spirit of the body moves; though obscured like a setting sun, the spirit moves like an unleashed rabbit, catching the body and outrunning shadow like a mirage.'"

Running rabbit. Skimming shadows. Rising like a monkey. Wafting like a leaf . . .

"'Back and forth in one breath. The spirit cannot be retained in form. And, though ever moving, it cannot be heard.'"

Wufei let himself drift in the calm, dark waters of his inner mind. Done with thought for the moment he simply let himself exist, until the gentle rhythm of his own breath and the tickle of something against his cheek brought him back to this room and this time and this patch of sunlight that had somehow tracked across the colorful carpet to find him. Raising his hand, he was surprised to feel tears on his face.

He hadn't even realized. Except for that strange moment of weakness the other night, he hadn't wept since that day with Maxwell in the L-2 hospital. He felt his cheeks go warm at the memory, all four of them on the bed, arms around each other and weeping, convinced that Heero was dead. That the brotherhood of five, as Sally called it, was broken.

He had not let them see, of course, burying his face in Maxwell's hair, swallowing all sound. But he had wept with them, and he realized now that he did not regret it, or feel any shame. It was probably the last time he'd shared anything like an honest human emotion with anyone.

And before that? Not when Sally left his bed. Not when Heero left him behind without a word in Sanque. Not when Nataku disappeared from his life for good. No, before that, it was only when he'd killed Kushreneda; another warrior lost to the larger brotherhood.

And before that? Not when death approached, when he and Maxwell lay gasping for air at that base. No, his own death had never frightened or humbled him.

And before that? When L-5 turned briefly into a bright, shrapnel laced nova. Yes, he'd wept then.

But had he wept for those others, or for his own loss of them? Was this the proof of his so-called selfishness, or the proof against it?

He dried his face on the sleeve of his yukata and stood up, feeling sad and drained and light all at the same time. Sally had been right, about everything.

Everything? She'd also said she thought he had the potential to be strong, and decent. He'd once thought the same, before death and blood and war made those qualities seem like a mocking illusion. Could he ever believe in those again?

'The Way has an entrance; it also has a Yin and a Yang. The entrance constantly opens and closes, Yin and Yang weaken and flourish.'

The Way.

He pulled the strongbox out again. Setting aside the carved box containing the brown vials, pushing aside a pair of stained Chinese slippers that didn't fit anymore, a worn, too small black tank, a faded, leather dry leaf plucked in a Chinese forest to remember a moment of calm, he found the slim, silk wrapped shape he sought and drew it out. Untying the silk wrappings, he lifted out the book, letting himself admire the feel and smell of the fine leather binding, its spine sadly unmarked by use.

He didn't recall ever mentioning his admiration for Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching to Winner, or his lingering sorrow at having lost the copy Meirin had given him. They had shared no heartfelt chats during the war. Yet somehow, perhaps with that strange, knowing heart of his, Winner had thought to send this to Wufei soon after he was settled in Sanque that first time, trying to find his bearings.

He opened the cover slowly, the scholar in him relishing the crackle of leather and new bindings. Winner had inscribed the book; Wufei traced a finger wistfully over the curly schoolboy handwriting: 'For the future. Your friend, Quatre Raberba Winner.'

He had snorted at the sentiment the first time he'd read it, and put the book aside. Yet somehow it had found its way into this locked box anyway, carefully wrapped. It had been a thoughtful gift, from someone he did actually admire. But he'd never thought he would need these words again.

It was a modern edition, stripped of the old Confucian dogma and reordered to reflect the earliest known versions. He read the opening verse and suddenly felt very naked.

'The person of superior integrity
Does not insist on his integrity;
For this reason, he has integrity.
A person of inferior integrity
Never loses sight of his integrity;
For this reason, he lacks integrity.


Wufei had no illusions about where he stood at the moment.

++

Notes:

Wu-Yi: an ancient word for Wushu, the Chinese philosophy that encompasses all forms of Chinese martial arts. I am not an expert in any of this. Please be kind and I'll be careful.

Yuh Niuy: According to ancient Chinese history, during the "Spring and Autumn" and the "Warring States" periods (770 B.C. - 221 A.D.), the king of the Zhou kingdom ordered a sword contest. A young woman by the name of Yuh Niuy emerged from three thousand swordsmen as the ultimate victor in a seven-day contest. Her sword methods and philosophies were passed down for a thousand years. Some of her writings expound timeless Wushu philosophies. Take that, Wufei "Women have no place in battle" Chang! Ha!

The Twelve Descriptions characterize the composite elements of strength, speed, endurance, agility, coordination, and technical skill, which are all considered part of one's kung fu, or ability, in Wushu philosophy.

Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu (Old Master) is given credit for authoring the Tao Te Ching, one of the greatest books of wisdom in human history, but there seems to be not one shred of reliable evidence about him, or if a single author actually existed. A collection of oral wisdom appears to have come together sometime in the fourth century BC, and was written down in the next century.

The Tao: I recommend Victor H. Mair's excellent translation to anyone interested in a highly accessible version of this wonderful book, published by Bantam. If Wufei was indeed a scholar and student of philosophy in his earlier life, the Tao would quite probably have been a foundation cornerstone of his education. It should be a cornerstone of anyone's education, IMHO. :-)

And yes, I know that Yukata is a Japanese garment, but lots of people wear them as dressing gowns.

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