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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 55
Passage

Relena fled soon after the press conference ended, but not before turning over the name of her private investigator, and calling Une, in Zechs's presence, to drop the charges against Wufei. To her credit, Une had looked relieved and allowed Zechs, Yuy, and Maxwell to watch by vidphone as she destroyed the files and couriered the damning photos to him. a

"I hope you're satisfied," Relena had snapped when it was all over. "You could have had everything: a name, a reputation, power to do good in the world. Now you've thrown it all away, and for what? Do you honestly think Chang will want to see you again?"

"You just can't understand, can you?" Zechs said, walking her to the door. "Take care, little sister. If you stick to doing good in the world and not mucking around with people's private lives, I'm sure you'll do very well."

He waved her off, and didn't expect to see her again any time soon.

He went to the library with Yuy and Maxwell and watched while the pair did an impressive mop-up operation of their own. It was hard to credit all the reports about their troubles and breakdowns, seeing them like this now. The two worked with well-honed efficiency, speaking in rapid, muttering shorthand as they worked on their laptops. There was no sign of the mentally unbalanced Maxwell, or the confused Yuy he'd seen on CNN, or even the lovers people were still so abuzz about. No, what he was recognized here were two highly trained and very skilled agents at work.

"You do know you're committing a felony?" Zechs asked as Yuy scrolled through the Preventer database, looking for backups of the case against Po and Chang. It wasn't a criticism, but an observation. He didn't trust Une, either.

"So's contributing to the delinquency of a minor," Maxwell muttered, glancing up from his screen, where he was doing a background check on the servants Relena had hired here at the estate, cross matching them against known intelligence agents and government spies.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Duo," Yuy warned, glancing over at his partner.

"Hey, he might as well know, if he doesn't already. You heard what he said to Relena. He seduced Wufei. Right, Merquise?" There was no mistaking the dislike in Maxwell's eyes. He'd put on a very convincing act for the reporters, but away from the cameras, it was obvious he'd just as happily shoot Zechs as look at him. "Wufei may be a genius, and one hell of a fighter, but he's still only seventeen."

Zechs stared at him. "No! I've seen his file."

"Bogus birthday. We all had them. Only Wufei's handlers shifted his a little more creatively than the rest of ours. Good thing for you Une's handing over all those juicy pictures, huh? Buying Wufei drinks. Taking him to sex clubs. Kissing him. Pretty smooth, Zechsy."

Yuy called up a new screen on his computer and turned it so Zechs could read the top few lines of Wufei's medical records.

It was true. "He'll be eighteen in a month."

"But he's still only seventeen now," Maxwell insisted.

"Which would not prevent him from killing you slowly and very painfully if he knew you were having this conversation, Duo," Yuy interjected.

Maxwell leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his neck. "Probably. But we're having it anyway, aren't we, Zechs? You messed him up good. He's falling apart at the seams. I didn't think anything could to that to him. It's your fault and I want to know what you're going to do to fix it."

"If he'll allow it, I hope to love him well enough to make up for my own selfish mistakes."

Maxwell's eyes narrowed. "Oh, so now you do love him?"

"I think it quite possible."

"Duo, this is between Zechs and Wufei. Don't interfere."

Zechs fought back an amused grin. "Are you asking me to declare my intentions toward your friend, Maxwell?"

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Fair enough. Yes, I was just playing with him, at first, out of spite against Relena, out of boredom, out of pure meanness. I meant everything I said about myself today. I'm not an especially good man. But I never imagined I'd get Chang Wufei into my bed; it was simply interesting to see how he reacted.

"He's a remarkable young man, though. He showed me a strength and intelligence I never imagined he possessed and soon I found I enjoyed his company. He challenges me in ways I find both daunting and very enlivening. In short, despite my best efforts to remain an embittered bastard, I've ended up caring a great deal for him. He initiated the kiss you saw in those photos, by the way, so I believe he reciprocates my attraction to some extent. I have no idea what deeper feelings he might have for me. That is for Wufei and me to discuss. In private."

"I agree." Yuy shot his partner another warning look.

Zechs gave him a nod of thanks, but the look in those dark blue eyes froze him where he sat.

"Wufei needs to see you," Yuy said quietly. "None of us has the right to interfere. But whether he likes it or not, we will take an interest in how you treat him. Do you understand?"

"Yes. Perhaps you could suggest some way for me to approach him?"

"How about not like some piece of tail for a quick screw," Maxwell growled.

Zechs accepted the slam. They'd seen the pictures. "It seems I have three of you to prove myself to, rather than just Wufei."

"Five," Yuy told him. "There are five of us."

A vidphone call came in from Sally just then. He took it privately in his room. She was wearing a soft looking green sweater, rather than her uniform and looked both tired and relieved.

"It's over, isn't it? I just got a call from Une. She wouldn't give me much in the way of details, but I saw your press conference today and assume I have you to thank?"

Zechs gave her wink. "I did what I could."

She grinned, knowing she had her answer. According to Tomas, she'd understood very quickly what the situation was when he'd shown up at her door. She'd given him all the details, to relay back to Zechs. After that, it had been relatively easy to leverage Une into breaking confidence. Une understood how the world worked far better than Relena, and knew a potentially career ending scandal when it was staring her in the face. Crippled or not, disgraced or not, the Lightning Count was still not one to cross.

"Have you spoken with Wufei?" Sally asked.

"Not yet. I hope he saw the press conference. His friends in New Orleans were going to tell him about it."

Sally smiled. "That was very sneaky, and very romantic of you, spouting poetry and doubletalk like that. I'm guessing he'll know what you meant?"

"I hope so." Zechs hadn't let himself think too much about that, once it was done. His primary objective had been to break Relena's hold on the boy and Sally, and free them of any taint having to do with him. The possibility that Wufei hadn't understood, or worse yet, wanted nothing more to do with him was too hard to face. He realized now he'd been putting off making contact. "Yuy and Maxwell are helping me make certain all the fires have been put out. I wanted to be sure you're both totally safe from any further prosecution or scandal."

"He called me."

"Ah." Zechs waited.

"He wants very much to see you." She paused and stared him straight in the eye with a look not unlike the one Maxwell had been giving him. "Should he see you again, Zechs? Do you actually care for him?"

"Very much, Po. More than I would have believed myself still capable of. I've just been trying to convince Maxwell of that."

Sally snickered. "Take it as his blessing if he doesn't shoot you."

"Yes, that's my impression."

"Here's the phone number." Sally typed it onto the screen and he saved it. "Don't make him wait, please. Whether anything works out between the two of you or not, the uncertainty is killing him."

Zechs gave her his assurance and signed off, then amended the total of Wufei's self-appointed guardians from four to five.

He paused, gathering his courage, then dialed the number she'd given him. A handsome woman with a soft southern accent answered. "Barton-Winner residence. May I--" Her dark eyes widened as she took in to whom she was speaking.

"I'd like to speak to Chang Wufei, please."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Peacecraft, but he and the other young gentlemen have gone out for the evening. I don't expect him back before one or two, our time."

"I see. May I record a private message for him?"

"Certainly, sir. Just wait for the prompt."

The screen went blue, leaving him looking at his own reflection as he tried to find the right words.

+

There had been no polite way for Wufei to fend off Quatre and Trowa's efforts to "keep his mind off things." Dressed in some surprisingly modest clothes lent to him by Quatre, he'd been dragged off to a local eatery for crawfish and some live music called zydeco. It was too loud and frenetic for his mood, but at least it spared him from having to make small talk. To their credit, Quatre and Trowa did not do anything embarrassing with each other, but he couldn't help noticing how often they casually touched each other or exchanged a look that seemed to speak without words.

Hardly tasting the food in front of him, he thought how Zechs had looked into the camera as he recited that poem. Had that look, those words, really been meant for him? If so, why hadn't Wufei heard from him yet, even after Une called to say that the charges had been dropped and his file cleared?

It had been difficult facing her, even by vid screen. No matter what anyone said, he felt he'd been guilty on all charges. He listened to her statement, and her apology, staring down at his hands on the table in front of the screen. When she was done, all he could think of to say was, "You have my resignation."

"Are you sure about this, Wufei?"

He met her gaze now. "Yes, I am very sure. Consider it effective immediately. Send me the paperwork."

And that was that. He was officially unemployed. He probably should feel some emotion about that, but all he could think of was the look in Zechs's eyes as he'd spoken those words over the heads of those uncomprehending reporters.

Why hadn't Zechs called?

Should Wufei have called him?

By the time it sank in that he was not longer barred from contacting Zechs, it was too late. He was in the middle of a backstage tour of Trowa's show and he didn't know the number at the estate, even if there had been a phone in sight. And just about then, the reporters spotted them.

Wufei managed a few terse, empty answers, doing his best to sound like he actually wanted to be here, but had no idea afterwards what he'd actually said.

"Sorry you have to sit alone tonight," Quatre was saying, when it was time for him and Trowa to go prepare for the show. "You could hang out back here with us, but I'd rather you saw it the right way, from out there."

"I don't mind," Wufei assured him. It was a relief to be left alone. They meant well, he knew, but all he could think of right now was Zechs. By the time they were finished here, it would be morning in Sanque. Zechs was an early riser. He could call when he got back. But what would he say?

The tent filled quickly as soon as the gates were officially open. He gazed around, seeing happy faces, filled with anticipation. There were no children, just couples or groups of people, many of them obviously lovers. Like Maxwell and the rest, they had no compunction about holding hands or putting their arms around one another in public.

Could he ever do that? Wufei wasn't so sure. Yet he'd seen how easy Zechs was with complete strangers; he was a sensual man, with no inhibitions at all, it seemed.

/Why would someone like that want an emotional cripple like me?/

But Zechs had said he did, hadn't he, with the poem? He'd told the world he was gay, abdicated his title, as much as admitted that he couldn't believe in Sanque's version of pacifism; in short, he'd essentially told his sister and his country go to hell, albeit with tremendous elegance and charm. Why would a man like that want someone who cringed at the thought of even holding his hand in public?

/And what about the rest of it?/ that nasty little inner voice nagged, flashing up a memory of Zechs fucking a stranger in that backroom. /'Why do you think they called me the Lightning Count?'/

No, Chang Wufei could not be like those other young men.

/I would never treat someone as fine as you that way./

How he wanted to believe those words! Wufei hugged himself miserably, caught between hope and a rising fear. What did it mean, that Chang Wufei, 05, ex-terrorist, went to pieces, just thinking of a man whispering those words to him? The person he'd thought he was should have been ready to do murder over such implications. Yet he could no longer muster any anger. Instead, he sat here in this sea of strangers, hoping desperately that those sitting closest to him would not recognize him, or notice how the famous Gundam pilot blushed and fretted.

At last, mercifully, the lights went down and the show began. He'd paid so little attention to it on the news that he was not prepared for the dark onslaught of the opening act. There was Trowa, a person he'd thought he known, in that sinister costume, singing and contorting himself like some horrifying sexual demon. Wufei was shocked at the sexuality, the nudity, and even more so when he recognized Quatre, masked and painted, as the nearly naked creature stroking Trowa's cock through his pants. How could they do that, with the whole world knowing who they were and what they'd been?

He sat there, stunned, as the frightening music crashed to a close and the rest of the audience surged to their feet, applauding and cheering wildly.

The acts that followed were almost a relief. He didn't recognize the other two among the painted performers. And he had to admit, now that the shock was passing, that the acts were innovative and brilliant, if often lewd. The dark, sexual tone overlaid everything, from the acts to the stage itself. Trowa and Quatre had created this. It brought home to him again how little he actually knew of them. That made him sad.

He allowed himself to be drawn in, and it was a new shock when he recognized Trowa again at the start of the act called "Passage." Duo had said something about this one, that he should be prepared for old memories to resurface. He saw now what he'd meant. It was like watching the five of them up there together, reliving what it had been to fight those battles, fly those machines. Trowa's thin body became at once a Gundam, and a manifestation of the pilot's soul. It was a dark vision, and Wufei found himself badly unsettled by the sight of Trowa hanging broken by one leg at the end. It surprised him, this intensity of emotion. They hadn't been close during the war. They weren't now, in reality, yet the sight of that limp body dangling there was almost too much to bear. Then it occurred to him that he'd been seeing Treize up there, too.

Wufei closed his eyes, fighting back tears as the old pain returned full force. Just when he thought he could not bear it however, the music changed, and the light. The black banners fell away, leaving white and gold in their wake. The broken figure was gently lowered and buried in the blood red silk, only to be revealed again, lying nearly naked under the care of a small, golden figure. It was Quatre, he knew, but even that did not explain the wave of empathy that overwhelmed him now.

Compassion radiated from 04, even with his face covered by that strange mask. Wufei's throat tightened as the flute and violin duet caught that emotion and magnified it. A single touch from Quatre brought Trowa alive again and into the shelter of his arms. What followed was an act of love as much as skilled acrobatics. He heard people, grown men even, weeping at the sight of those two masked forms expressing love and unity and healing in every graceful, impossible move. Wufei marveled again at how they could to this in front of a crowd so easily, this mingling of limbs that was at once erotic and so innocent, so heartfelt. Wufei wanted to cover his face but he could not look away. It didn't matter. Everyone else was crying, too. By the time the lights faded on that final tableau of the embrace, Wufei felt utterly drained.

The lights went out, and then came back up again as the cast massed on stage. Trowa reappeared as the sinister ringmaster and made a final speech.

"Ladies and gentlemen, gentlemen and ladies, we thank you for sharing this piece of the night with us, here in New Orleans, this city of death and sex. I hope we touched you. I hope you felt what we felt: love and lust, life and death, nirvana and hell, but most of all, my little company and I hope you go away with the knowledge that life is fleeting, and often ugly, but for at least a little while longer, we are all still alive! So go wrap yourself around someone for what remains of this night. Drink with them. Fuck them. Laugh and share that life with them. After all, it's all we really have to give each other. And now-- I release you!"

Caught in the wisdom of those closing words, Wufei scarcely noticed as Trowa cracked his whip and sent the nightmare creatures streaming down the aisle. He was still sitting there, lost in thought, when the others came to take him back to the house.

+

Marie, the woman who cooked for them, had left a light on in the kitchen, and there was note on the table. Quatre glanced at it, then smiled and handed it to Wufei.

'There is a vid message for Captain Chang. Access code 031.'

"My computer's in the parlor with the television," Trowa said, smiling slightly under his bangs.

"Thank you." Wufei paused on his way to the stairs. Going back, he extended his hand to each of them. "Thank you both, for all you've done. You are good friends. And great artists, too. I-- I simply don't have words to say how your show made me feel. But your words at the end, Trowa? I will remember them."

Quatre hugged him then, and Wufei was able to hug him back a little.

"You should go take that message," Trowa said, putting an arm around Quatre. "When you're done, you can come sleep with us, if you'd like."

Wufei blinked, unsure he'd heard him correctly.

"Not like that!" Quatre said, elbowing Trowa even as he laughed. "When Heero and Duo are here, they sleep with us. It's just sleeping, nothing else. It's nice not to be alone. You're welcome to join us."

Wufei felt himself blushing furiously. "No! Uh, that is, thank you for the kind offer, but---no. I should--that is. In the parlor, you say? Yes, well--thank you both, and good night."

He retreated hastily upstairs, hoping he hadn't hurt their feelings. "Come sleep with us!" Just like that. It boggled the mind. And yet, deep down, how he envied them such freedom.

He found the computer and keyed in the message code, heart pounding painfully in his chest.

The message file opened to a still shot of Zechs, above the "play message" button. He was still wearing that handsome gray suit, his hair loose now and framing that incredible face. Wufei's hand trembled over the cursor. If Zechs were here with him right now, could he have heeded Trowa's parting admonition in that speech?

Taking a deep breath, he moved the cursor over the "play" button and activated the message. The still shot came to life. Zechs was looking sidelong at the camera on his end.

"Wufei, I hope you caught my press conference today. There was a message there for you. I think you'll figure it out. My message now is this: please come back to me. I need you." His expression was composed, as if he were uncomfortable being in front of the camera, but that husky voice resonated with emotion; the appeal in those proud, beautiful eyes was clear. "Don't respond to this message. I hate these machines, the distance it puts between people. Come back to me, little Chang, if that's what you want. If it isn't, let your absence speak for you."

Wufei took a deep breath, feeling as if he were about to jump off a high cliff with no parachute and no net. He was a fool. This was insane. It would all end in disaster. He closed the message and dialed up a search engine, looking for the New Orleans shuttle port.

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