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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 48
Prayers to Broken Stone

Wufei did his best not to feel anything, those first few days back on L-4. He spent hours at his katas, ordered food in, and spent much of the colony night cycle running miles through the dusty, stale-smelling streets. He avoided people and parks, just kept his eyes on the pavement ahead, passing from one pool of cold halogen streetlamp glow to another in a numbing blur. He didn't let himself look up and see that there were panels and girders overhead, rather than stars. He tried very hard not to compare the flat, dry processed atmosphere to a salt laden breeze. He forced himself not to flinch when a Porsche roadster rumbled past him one night, engine throbbing. He didn't think about cars like that on twisting roads, or the way the gearshift would tremble under the driver's hand.

Don't think. Don't feel. Don't compare.

He bound his hair back and wore his own clothes, avoiding his mirror. Sleep eluded him, and he soon was grateful; when he did doze off, too often his dreams betrayed him with images of Zechs, his voice, his touch, the backroom in Le Fleur, the beach under the moonlight, the taste of another's lips. He woke aching and stood under cold spray, fighting back tears of frustration and despair.

To avoid that, he watched meaningless vid for hours, sprawled on the couch, scarcely registering what he saw. His books of philosophy and poetry stood unopened on the shelves, like accusations.

Duty. Discipline. Honor.

It was a measure of his fall from grace that even meditation failed him. He could not relax or clear his mind. Whenever he tried to create that inner emptiness, the truth of his situation rushed in to fill the vacuum.

Dereliction of duty.

How deluded he'd been, all these years, and how arrogant. He'd thought himself a true warrior, untouched by base instincts. He thought it was force of will that kept his lower desires in check. Instead, it has simply been lack of opportunity. He'd been tested, and failed, and in that failure he'd endangered Zechs, embroiled Sally, placed Une and the entire reputation of Preventers on the line, made himself a fool.

And he'd kissed Zechs Merquise, and had the audacity to believe, for a few short hours, that he could get away with such a thing.

/Lips that would kiss . . ./

No, not kiss!

/. . . form prayers to broken stone./

+

As the hours and days passed, shame permeated his every thought. He had lost everything, and had no one but himself to blame. When he thought of those lapses-- touching himself, letting himself be touched-- shame and guilt overwhelmed him like physical pain, bowing him over and stealing his breath. More than once he'd had to force himself out in the middle of the night to run it off, but he never could quite outrun the truth.

Desolation set in. He had no one to turn to. Who could he face? He could not even bear a greeting from his neighbors, who knew nothing of what he'd done. How could he face anyone else?

Early the fourth morning he pulled himself together, put on his uniform and presented himself at Une's office. The secretary looked at him oddly, no doubt trying not to show his disdain. Everyone here must know. He'd seen people in the corridors turning to look at him as he'd passed. Thankfully, he was shown in quickly.

Une rose to greet him, and then paused in the act of extending her hand. "My god, Wufei! What's happened to you?"

He blinked. She knew everything. Why was she asking him that? Anxious to accomplish his mission and be gone, he stood to attention in front of her desk and held out the sealed envelope he'd brought her. "I am here to tender my resignation from Preventers."

Une looked from the envelop to his face, then sat back and folded her arms. "Sit down, Wufei. Let's discuss this."

Wufei placed the envelop on the desk and remained standing. "There is nothing to discuss, Commander. You outlined the situation perfectly in Sanque. I offer no defense of my actions. I appreciate your efforts on my unworthy behalf. I wish to resign my commission."

"I can't let you do this, Wufei. Not like this."

"What? Why?" He'd assumed she would be glad of it, just take the damn letter, and dismiss him.

"Sit down, Chang. That's an order."

Wufei sat stiffly on the edge of the chair in front of the desk. "I don't understand."

"I'm sure you don't, Wufei." Why did she sound so kind? Why was she giving him that pitying look? It was like salt rubbed in an open wound, that look. "That's why I'm not going to allow you to make this decision right now. You're on leave-"

"Suspension."

"Very well; suspension. But it's only temporary, and at my discretion. I just want to let the dust settle a bit. I've been talking with Sally, getting more of her side of the story. I realize now that you found yourself in a situation that you were not prepared to handle."

"It was a simple security assignment, Commander, one with no real or present danger associated with it. I allowed myself to become complaisant, lazy, distracted-"

"Perhaps, but I was not referring to the job itself. Falling in love with Zechs--"

"I did not fall in love with him!" Wufei barked, then realized he was on his feet again, leaning over the desk. He forced himself back into the chair and clutched his shaking hands together in his lap. "I am not in love with-with the man! That is as absurd as it is unseemly, even to contemplate-"

Une was still giving him that pitying look. "Calm yourself, Wufei. I'm not accusing you of anything. From what Sally's told me, I think it's even possible that he intentionally seduced you. Or perhaps it was simply the situation that triggered your-"

"It triggered nothing!" Wufei hissed, and now he could feel his nails biting into the palms of his hands. "Nothing was-was-" He felt his chest constricting dangerously and stopped, willing himself to shut up and calm down before he made a complete fool of himself. "I grew lax and committed an unpardonable breech of protocol, and a very stupid one. It was a newbie mistake and I am not a newbie. I think-That is, I've given this a great deal of thought and while it in no way excuses my error, I suspect I am also suffering from some post traumatic stress symptoms, as well. It's possible it has been coming on for some time, though I have been unwilling to accept it until now. Whatever the case, I am unfit for duty and respectfully request you accept my decision in this matter." Gods it was hard to breath in this stuffy little room! He was forcing the words out by the time he'd finished.

Une said nothing for a moment, just leaned her elbows on the desk and studied her folded hands. "I'm sure you're right about the PTS. I looked in your file the other day. You're the only Gundam pilot who's had no form of formal therapy. Barton, Winner, Maxwell, even Yuy, they all sought help. Did you know that? It was suggested to you, when you first joined Preventers, but you did not pursue it. Why?"

"I did not feel it was necessary. I was perfectly functional. Whatever Relena Peacecraft says about me now, she had no complaints about my performance on her security detail. I'm aware of no complaints from Sally against me, or anyone else I've worked with."

"No, your jacket was spotless until this, your work exemplary, and. Almost too exemplary, really. I started reading between the lines, Wufei. You've had virtually no social life since the war. You haven't attended any social functions unless ordered, except for a few while you were--with Sally. And by her account, you went under protest. You have no real friends here, except for her. Perhaps the other pilots? I know you still see them occasionally, but it always seems to be in conjunction with some personal crisis among them, mostly with Maxwell. I also know first hand that Yuy's supposed death hit you awfully hard--"

"I coped! I worked for months on that investigation."

"Yes, you did. You wore out half a dozen other agents, drove them into the ground, and you didn't even notice, did you? But you had no emotional support."

Wufei snorted. "What was I supposed to do? Break down? Fall apart? Run to some therapist and discuss my feelings?"

"Yes."

Wufei blinked at her, speechless.

"That's what normal people do, Wufei. Strong people take action, like you did, but they fall apart now and then, too. That's what all the others did, in one form or another, and they had each other to lean on. I'm not suggesting that you didn't take a very logical line of action. You did an outstanding job."

"No. I didn't find him."

"No one could have, Wufei, not without a really lucky break and you didn't catch one. It happens. And don't forget, it was Heero Yuy you were trying to find. That cut your odds to nearly zero to begin with. And, according to Sally, Relena withheld information that might have helped you."

"At Yuy's request."'

"Yuy was mentally ill by the time he asked that of her. Perhaps she did not realize how ill, but frankly, I think she made a very poor decision there, letting her personal feelings get in the way of her judgment."

"As I have, with all this," Wufei reminded her.

Une let out an exasperated sigh. "You just don't let up, do you?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"And that's the damn problem with you, Wufei!" she snapped, losing patience. "This code of yours, whatever it is. It's good in its way. You're a damn fine agent, the best we've seen. But you're so rigid! I have some background in the codes of honor practiced among your caste on L-5. They were admirable, and meant to help establish a strong new population, founded on worthy virtues. But they weren't perfect, and you were only a child at the time, Wufei. Like any child, even a gifted one like yourself, you saw everything in black and white, good and bad, with no middle ground to allow for basic human nature. In time you'd have learned the way the world really works, the sorts of compromises and the compassion it takes to survive. But you weren't given that option, and then you had all the trauma of the role you were forced to play too young, as a soldier-"

"I was not forced!" he ground out through gritted teeth. "It was an honor, one I competed for and won! I believed in the cause, and still do! If it wasn't for the Gundams and what we did, what we represented, flawed as the method might have been, do you think your precious Alliance would have been overthrown, or White Fang defeated? After everything you went through, do you still think we'd be better off in a world in which the Romefeller Foundation could appoint whatever benevolent dictator they deemed best? How many generations until mankind found itself enslaved to a despot and back in the same fucking mess we were headed for before?"

He was on his feet again. He had raised his voice. Une's secretary was standing in the open doorway behind him, one hand on his sidearm. Wufei sat down hastily. "I'm sorry. Please, forgive my outburst."

Une motioned the man back to his desk. "This is what I'm talking about, Wufei. This is a symptom. You should see yourself right now. You're white as a sheet, shaking, you look like you haven't eaten or slept in days. What's the last meal you had?"

Wufei shook his head. "I eat." But she was right; he'd had no appetite. His stomach felt like a clenched fist. "Why won't you let me resign? I'll go away. I won't make trouble. You have my word."

Une sighed, and then came around the desk to sit on the edge of it, looking down at him. He pushed his chair back a little, uncomfortable with the proximity. "The Chang Wufei I know does not tuck his tail and run away."

He stared up at her. "You are the one who delivered the charges! You said yourself I screwed up!"

"You did, but I also told you how hard I'd worked to control the damage in your favor. Why do you think I did that?"

"I--I don't know."

"Look, my hands are still tied to some extent, but I will say this much. This situation has seemed blown out of proportion from the start. Do you really think you're the first agent to get emotionally involved on a detail?"

"I wasn't--"

"Yes, Wufei, you were, and are. I wasn't there, but Sally was, and I trust not only her insight regarding you personally, but also her professionalism and training. She says that you definitely had strong feelings for the man, and that he responded to you better than anyone else. I don't know what to call that, but at the very least, I think you were a good friend to him. And the two of you share experiences that few others can begin to understand, just like the other Gundam pilots, or the Elites. There was a level of sympathy between you that no one else was able to achieve with him, not even his sister. And she thinks, and I agree, that just maybe it also awakened something in you--"

"No!"

"There's nothing shameful about two men--"

"No!"

Une shrugged. "Have it your way, but here's how things stand. Go near him again and Relena will bring formal charges against you faster than you can say 'executive privilege.' With her clout, at least some of them will stick, but you still have the Preventers legal protection and representation. We protect our own, too, Wufei, although that's probably difficult for you to comprehend right now. There's a great big khaki shield around you as we speak--and I'm not talking about surveillance. You're still one of our own, and respected. Step out from behind that shield with this?" She tapped his resignation. "We can't help you then and you'll go to jail. Face it, Wufei, no matter how bad things seem right now, you're young and have your whole life ahead of you. You aren't going to do yourself or him or anyone else any good behind bars, with that stain on your good name. If you resign, and if you make the slightest slip, Relena will nail your ass to the wall, and Sally's, too."

She leaned forward and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Sit tight, and don't make any decisions for at least the next few weeks. Plenty of people have weathered worse. Right now I'm deeply concerned for you. Sally says she's been trying to get in touch with you ever since you both got back, but you don't answer your phone or email, and won't come to the door."

"I must have been out." Wufei shook his head, trying to take this all in.

Une stood and slipped a hand under his arm.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm taking you downstairs to the commissary for a hot meal, soldier. Then I'm writing out a formal order for you to see one of our staff councilors, and sending you home in a cab. You are going to rest, eat, sleep and try not to worry. That's an order."

Wufei allowed himself to be led downstairs, and forced down enough food to satisfy her, all the while aware of the curious stares they were attracting around the dining room. He ate faster, anxious to escape. No doubt Une meant well, but she might just as well have hung him naked from the ceiling beams.

Slumped in the cab on the way home afterwards, he felt more trapped than ever. He shouldn't have gone there, exposed himself like that. And that 'khaki shield' she spoke of? That only made it worse, knowing that someone somewhere was keeping tabs on him, no doubt reporting his descent into disgrace.

/When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state--/


Wufei squeezed his eyes closed, but resisted the irrational urge to cover his ears. That husky voice-the one he'd been fighting to not think about for days now--was inside his head. Inside him.

/Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee--/


"What's that?" The cabbie was looking at him in the rearview. "You OK, kid?"

"Yes. Just-- not feeling well." Wufei forced his head up, hugged himself to stop the shaking.

/--a level of sympathy between the two of you that no one else was able to achieve--/

Shut up, Commander. Quite meddling, Sally! You're wrong!

/He walks in beauty--/

No. Don't think about that, not ever. Don't feel--

Don't feel.

+
Back in his apartment again, he looked around at the disorder: blankets thrown over the couch where he'd stared a the TV all night, evading sleep, dirty dishes scattered around, proof that he was not starving himself. Who cared if it was a mess? The blinds were drawn and there was no one else to see. What did it matter?

He went into the bedroom and found a wrinkled undershirt and some sweats among the disordered bedclothes. He stripped of his uniform and changed into them, not caring that they were in need of washing.

The uniform and ugly shoes went into the bottom of the closet. He wouldn't need them again, no matter what Une said. He was done with that part of his life. He knew that much now, if nothing else. He'd given it everything he had and come up wanting. He caught a glimpse of himself in the long mirror on the wall. He faced his reflection and curled his lip. "You really are a mess, aren't you, Chang?"

So the fuck what? He flipped himself off, then pulled the tie from his braid, shaking his hair loose.

That was a mistake. He watched himself reach for the carved white jade still hanging at his throat. He pulled his hand away like it had burned him. What had he been thinking, taking that? He glared at himself, seeing the moral degenerate who'd jerked off three, four times a day and cried like a gutless coward over it. He grabbed the pendant, meaning to yank it from his neck, but even in that, he failed. He let his hand fall again, useless.

A few more days and Zechs would come home and see that he hadn't been able to keep his promise. Une's men would be thorough. They'd have found the books and destroyed his ridiculous attempt at subterfuge.

/But what if they didn't?/

He ran his hand back through his hair, then clenched both fists in it and bent over, smothering the sudden scream of frustration that welled up out of nowhere.

Crouched there in that darkened room, eyes averted from his reflection, he couldn't stop that maddening little voice as it piped up again.

/What if they didn't find the note? What if *he* finds it and understands? Does that make it any better? No, he'll only feel more trapped. Like I do! An animal with its leg in a trap and too scared to chew it off and escape./

He fled to the living room and threw himself down on the couch. He turned on the set and flipped through the channels, desperate to numb the rising panic churning the cheap cafeteria meal in his belly.

Typical mindless daytime fare: loud game shows, reruns, disgusting soap operas, news . . .

His thumb paused on the remote as he caught sight of a familiar face. It was GNN, and there, framed over the shoulder of a perky blond entertainment correspondent were Yuy and Maxwell, looking like hookers again. A red headline was splashed across the bottom of the photo; "G-Boy Sighting!"

"In a related report, those Gundam Bad Boys are together again and hotter than ever!" the reporter announced in the inanely chirpy manner of her kind. The still shot gave way to a clip showing the four friends dancing together in a group at some dark club, grinning and writhing against each other in tight black clothes and too much jewelry.

"Looks like the Terrible Trio is now a Fearsome Foursome!" she went on. "Heero Yuy, who recently stunned the world twice by coming back from the dead, and then announcing his relationship with fellow former pilot and notorious bad boy, Duo Maxwell, with a very public kiss, was spotted last night out on the town in New Orleans."

"Looks like they're all still very close, if you know what I mean," a male talking head cut in, grinning in a manner that made Wufei wish Une hadn't taken away his gun. "Check out those moves!"

"You only have yourselves to blame!" Wufei growled as the other four ground their hips together to some unheard beat. At the moment it looked like everyone was trying to hump Barton, who was looking positively demonic. He raised both long arms over his head as Wufei watched, and scattered glittering silver cards into the surrounding crowd. This, in turn, caused havoc as underdressed, overly made up young men scrambled for them.

"In a related story, Trowa Barton-Winner has been busy promoting his new project, Circus della Notte, which opens in Louis Armstrong Park tomorrow night. It's being touted as a new form of circus, not the sort you take the kids to. No one under eighteen will be allowed in. Trowa, his partner Quatre, and their buddies have been hitting choice Crescent City nightspots all week, giving away those silver free passes you just saw and talking up the show. Or not talking."

She coyly let that hang as the scene cut to a close up of Barton. He was dressed in tight black leather and looking down with what looked like a predatory mix of lust and contempt at the much shorter man holding a mic in his face. The reporter was grinning nervously under that gaze and Wufei didn't blame him.

"So, you can verify that you are among the performers in this circus of yours, Mr. Barton?

"That's Barton-Winner," Barton corrected, pulling Winner into the shot and kissing him shamelessly. Winner laughed and ducked out of camera range again. "Yes, it's my show, my creation, my humble attempt to add a new dimension to an ancient art form. I will be performing."

"And what about the rumors that the rest of the Gundam Boys are involved, as well?" The camera panned briefly to the other three standing nearby. Heero looked like his usual stoic self, except for the leather pants and low cut black muscle shirt and black leather choker. Winner and Maxwell were-well, they were being Winner and Maxwell, underdressed and overly made up. Winner waggled his fingers at the camera, smiling like a fallen angel. Maxwell draped an arm over Yuy's shoulders, stuck out his tongue, and crossed his heavily kohl-lined eyes, twirling his long braid with his free hand.

"I can neither confirm nor deny such rumors," Barton purred, his voice deeper than Wufei had ever heard it, with a darker timbre that accentuated the slight accent he'd always had. "You'll have to come and see for yourself. Shows start at ten, and leave the kiddies home."

Wufei turned the set off. Disgusting display.

/Wufei, it was you. You were the third point that confirmed the trend. . ./

Suddenly, the remote smashed into the wall above the television, hard enough to shatter the plastic casing. He looked down at his empty hand in amazement.

/and all that is best of dark and light,
meet in his aspect, and his eyes . . ./


"No," he said softly, wearily. He rolled off the couch and unlocked the carved chest next to it. He lifted out the long, silk-covered box hidden inside, and opened it to run his fingers over the carved jade bowl and long enameled stem of the pipe. He reached for the other box, a plain wooden one which held the little dull gray pearls of oblivion. He rolled the opium around, feeling a certain degree of relief steal over him already. There were plenty left.

/Waking alone at the hour when we are trembling with tenderness . . ./


All right, then. All right. Just a little. Just for now.

Kneeling in the wreckage of his living room and his life, he lit a candle and prepared the pipe, transforming the gray pearls to black resin to sweet smoke. He swallowed the smoke like a pro, having learned from old texts and writings how to best savor this bit of his heritage. It hit almost instantly, that sweet bright euphoria, lifting him to a higher realm, away from the ruins, the broken stone.

/Lips that would kiss . . ./

How did that line go? He couldn't remember the rest, but it didn't matter now. Nothing did, except how very good he felt.

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