Authors: TB and Marsh
see Part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
+ Part 6
The cell they brought him to
was the lone open door in a long white hallway of doors. It had a cot
and a wash station and nothing more. No window. No timepiece. He would
have nothing to alleviate his own thoughts.
Which were dark, that first night. He knew already that they would not
release him. How long would he serve this time? Five years, ten? Another
fifteen years? And brought down, this time as before, by his own naïveté.
He'd done nothing to offend the Sphere except imagine he was unimportant
enough to do as he pleased.
He wondered where Duo was, now. Before, when he'd gone to prison, he'd
at least had the comfort of damning only himself by his rebellion. But
he'd so quickly come to feel responsible for Duo, who was so lonely he
would approach even a man like Wufei for companionship, who was so self-assured
one moment and so lost the next. Had Trowa felt like that, in those days
so long ago when he had taken Wufei under his wing? He barely remembered
it happening. Before he'd even been released from the hospital ward Trowa
had been there, stopping the men who would sneak in to pinch off a vital
IV, to poison his food. They were Gundam Pilots.
Gundam Pilots. It all came down to that. A sliver of his life, a single
year out of dozens. But it would define him forever.
He slept, but only from exhaustion. They didn't turn off the overhead
light. It wasn't bright, but it still burned his eyes when he stared long
They brought him to the same room, the same hard chair and table, the
same wrist cuffs to bind him, as if he could possibly run anywhere. They
fed him, bland oatmeal and toast and fruit in syrup too sugary for Wufei's
ascetic tastes. Devi Chadhur came at what he said was eight o'clock, though
Wufei had seen nothing to prove that right or wrong. He came with thick
files, and he wasted no time before starting his questions.
This time, Wufei did not answer. He sat silently, all morning, until Chadhur
tired of his resistance.
After lunch, they put him back in his cell.
They left him there for days, alone
The longer they left him alone, the more determined Wufei was that they
would have nothing from him that he didn't choose to give them. He stopped
thinking in English, turning instead to the Mandarin of his youth. It
forced him to reorganise, forced him to refocus. English was direct and
loud, serious, self-centred. Mandarin was warm, inclusive; it reminded
him of the proper carriage, the stillness he needed from his centre. In
Mandarin, a man was never just one single man. It made his meditation
easier, until he could meditate for hours at a time, clearing his mind
of all thought until he felt peace from within, not settling like a sheet
of his own will from without. But the thing he could not conquer was his
body. He exercised as he could, performing every taolu of wushu that he
remembered, but his body was no longer cooperative. Weakness from lack
of movement made him clumsier than he'd been even as a beginner. He was
sure they watched him, and so he was afraid to push himself to the point
where his failings would be obvious. His resolve wavered at night, when
he could not rest because of how little activity he had during the day.
Then, with no design that he could understand, his guards opened his cell
and took him back to the room.
Chadhur was already there, lounging in his chair with a cup. Tea. Wufei
could smell it, and the cream from the small tray on the table. Wufei
took his seat, his face as blank as he could make it.
The agent said, "At some point they'll authorise me to take away showers
and fresh clothes."
Wufei inhaled deeply, slowly, and rested his hands between his thighs.
"I'm aware of how it works," he replied. "After that, my diet will be
changed as well. You're wasting your time. There's not a thing for me
to give you."
"You may not believe you have anything to give us, but that doesn't make
"Then maybe you should tell me what it is you want to hear, and I'll confirm
or deny it."
Chadhur smiled. It was a nice smile, the kind of smile Lotharios used
to pick up blushing women, all charm and white teeth. Entirely inappropriate
to the adversarial relationship they truly had. He said, "The prison psychologist
at Éclatant Attentes described you as... what's her word." He opened
one of his files. They were all dog-eared now, marked with brightly coloured
tabs that bristled like a comb's teeth from the sides. "'Crusty.'"
"I prefer 'stubborn'," Wufei said.
"I don't think 'stubborn' quite captures your character, though."
"Opinions are like assholes; everyone's got one." It was something Trowa
would say. Had said. He matched Trowa's tone from memory, dead-pan, unamused.
But Chadhur, who doubtlessly slept just fine, laughed aloud as if Wufei
had made a great joke. "Here. Eat. You never know when I'll take it away
from you." He uncovered a plate from the edge of the table and pushed
it near Wufei's side. Dumplings. Freshly steamed, heat still rising from
them in little wisps, carrying the scent of lotus.
They were treats, dianxin, to be eaten with tea among friends. He hadn't
had one in-- because he didn't indulge in treats, and he had no friends.
He suspected Chadhur knew very well the insult he implied.
Which meant Chadhur expected him to refuse. What did he gain from that?
What did it mean, why pretend ignorance of Wufei's culture but make such
a loaded offer? Unless it truly was ignorance. Sou could be bought frozen
at any market in the Chinese quarter. But he still hesitated. Was it worth
depriving himself, even if it was mockery? Or perhaps it was only a test
of his courage. How far would he dare? Chadhur surely expected him to
He took one. The dough was fluffy and light. The lotus seed paste oozed
over his tongue, warm and sweet.
Chadhur took one, too. His bite was too large to be seemly. He leaned
back with his notes.
Wufei took his time consuming the bun, chewing slowly and thoroughly.
It was better than he remembered. "What else did she say?"
"We weren't talking about my hairdresser."
"Major depressive disorder. Sleep disorder. Assorted physical symptoms
that could manifest as psychological."
"Physical symptoms?" he repeated harshly. "Are those her words for incapacitating--"
Too late he heard himself. He closed his lips over the incriminating word
and stared down at the plate of buns.
Chadhur went on softly, casually. "She noted severe headaches, short-term
memory loss, occasional cognitive dysfunction, abnormal EEGs, chronic
fatigue. Sensitivity to light."
"Interrogation techniques don't change much."
"Generally we find the classics are the best."
"Then I imagine your psychologist here will report the same symptoms.
Is today's session going to focus on my supposed, various manias?"
"I'm not interested in monitoring your long-term development," Chadhur
said. "This is not a correction facility."
"What would you call it?"
"We're here to determine whether you're a risk to the health of the Earth
Sphere, not to yourself."
He was dry-mouthed. Chadhur wouldn't stoop to drugging the buns, the agent
wasn't so crass, but his stomach was unhappy. "If I'm that damned dangerous,
transfer me to the prison of your choice and the world will be safe again."
"Call me an optimist." Chadhur put another bun between his teeth and flipped
to a new file. "I believe the truth will always out. You've been here
almost a month. Long enough for the reality to sink in, for the memories
to start keeping you up at night. You're outraged, right now, you're clinging
to the anger-- you are stubborn-- to keep you going because you believe
you don't deserve this. But anger has a pretty short half-life. In another
month, or maybe even the month after that, you'll be done fighting this
war with me. When that happens, you'll answer my questions, and I will
send you home." He licked his fingers. "I'm not here to be cruel to you,"
he went on. "I take no enjoyment out of it, sir. But as much as you believe
you don't deserve to be here, I believe the world deserves to know for
That was too much. Wufei felt the surge of temper start, but the explosion
was numbingly, blindingly immediate. The plate clattered to the floor,
scattering the buns to the corners. He was on his feet without remembering
standing, he was leaning over Chadhur with his hands clenched to fists.
"You haven't asked me anything," he snarled, and undid all his careful
plans not to react to their provocations.
Chadhur did not shrink back. He said, "Are you in collusion with Mariemaia
Barton to raise a military force?"
His breath trembled in his chest. "No."
Chadhur closed his folders and stood. "You'll have a shower tonight. Possibly
the next night. Sleep well, sir."
"That's all? One question? No follow-up? No..." He stopped himself with
an effort that left him shaking. Shameful, humiliating-- to be so weak.
Chadhur shut the door behind him.
Every day he waited for them to summon him again.
They'd succeeded in rousing a reaction from him. He'd engaged their puppet,
he'd responded. He'd dialogued. Any experienced negotiator would have
him at that table again, would be pressing the advantage, not giving him
time to recoup.
Or maybe it was brilliant, after all. He'd known his mistake as he was
making it. He'd been furious, enraged at himself, at Chadhur, not ready,
not fooled. And Chadhur believed that he was lying, so he would have taken
Wufei's honest answer as one more falsehood, one more sign that he wasn't
ready to cooperate.
He was nearing desperation.
What would happen when he did break, and there were no secrets to spill?
The day came when he couldn't bring himself to leave his cot.
They'd never taken anything from him, not even something as simple as
clean linens. The threat remained, hour after hour. It wore on him, even
though he knew exactly what they were doing.
He stayed in his bed for four meal cycles. He would have been there longer,
but something changed.
Chadhur came to him.
The peremptory knock at his door was the same, except that he'd only recently
been disturbed to be given a fresh jumpsuit of grey cotton. He stirred
on his pillow to look.
"You're early," he said.
"It's my day off." Chadhur wore plainclothes, not the impeccable olive
uniform. His shirt-tails were loose and wrinkled, even. He tapped Wufei's
feet under the thin blanket. "Budge up?"
Maybe he was hallucinating.
Chadhur sat on the edge of the cot. "It's a Saturday," he said. He looked
about Wufei's cell incuriously, his hands flat, then cupping his knees.
"I know they don't tell you the dates. I thought you might like to know."
"Thank you." He had water in a glass on the floor. He sipped it, and stayed
curled away from the agent. He regretted his laziness, but only dimly.
Saturday. It was hardly a gift. It didn't even mean anything.
Chadhur fidgeted with something metallic. Car keys, he saw in a glance.
Twirling them between fingers.
"Duo Maxwell was sighted in the colonies," the agent said.
"And next week he'll be somewhere else."
"For his sake, I hope so. He assaulted another agent. There's a warrant
been issued for his arrest."
It made his chest seize tight. He doubled the thin pillow under his cheek
to hide the shaking in his hands. "When are the Preventers going to stop
stalking us? None of us is plotting to destroy the peace we sacrificed
so much to achieve. None of us ever will."
"I find that interesting." Chadhur was watching him. The keys flipped,
twice, again. "Coming from you."
"Interesting or ironic?"
He heard a chuckle. "Both, I suppose. Oh, I don't dispute that you sacrificed.
But for peace?"
Another sip of the tepid water. "Why else would I?"
"Dekim Barton was not interested in peace. Nor, I can assure you, is his
Mariemaia again. Mariemaia always. He didn't even know what she looked
like, now. "Have you arrested her yet?"
"Do you show all your cards at once?"
"I don't play games."
"No? Then what were you doing with Duo Maxwell?"
He couldn't conduct this-- conversation lying down. He sat up, though
his body ached; sharp pains at his shoulders and back from lying horizontal
too long, and the stiffness of his burns resisting being pulled. Chadhur
offered him a hand, but he ignored it. He said, "Duo Maxwell is my friend."
"You told me you hadn't seen him since the Barton Rebellion. He became
your friend in five days?"
"We were friends during the war. We didn't stop being friends just because
time and distance separated us." I wanted to kiss you that night, Duo
had said. They'd been alone in that cell, too, two boys, hearing alarms
all through the Lunar Base but unable to determine why; Heero had been
gone so long, so much longer than normal. And then the air, the quiet
flow of air through the vents had stopped-- and it had all been silence.
He had planned to die in communion with the honoured dead of his clan.
But he had still felt Duo's fingers, frantic and then grasping, clinging
to his shirt, his wrist.
He would give anything to be back there now, even facing death, if only
to have a second chance to die with Duo. A better death than the slow
madness he faced here.
Duo would die in a place like this. Duo would want to die.
"Are you a liar, Chadhur?"
Chadhur smiled at his scrutiny. "I like to think not. For this job, yes.
I am often called upon to twist the truth." He slipped his keys away,
and his hands lay flat then. "Are you asking if I've lied to you?"
"Haven't you?" He interrupted before the young man could answer. "You're
not off the clock now. This isn't a friendly visit. It's not even your
day off." He felt bitter laughter stir in his throat. "Is it even Saturday?"
"Will you believe me now if I contradict you?" Chadhur stood. He took
a stance on the wall opposite Wufei, only a few steps away, his arms crossed
loosely. "Were you romantically involved with Duo Maxwell during the war?"
"No." He scraped his hair from his face. He hadn't even brushed it after
his shower the night before, and it was flat and tangled.
"Agents observed you kissing in a restaurant. Your neighbours saw you
holding hands in several venues."
"You asked if we were romantically involved during the war."
"You're romantically involved now. Even though you haven't seen him since
the war. Even though he only made contact with you five days before we
picked you up."
It was almost long enough to braid, in back. This time, the laughter that
threatened him was nearly hysterical.
"We were," he said. "Now I am here and he is running from the Preventers
"Here's what I think happened." Chadhur slid into a crouch, his eyes intent
on Wufei, who intently denied his gaze. "Mariemaia Barton," Chadhur said,
"contacted you via her letters once you were released from prison. You
agreed to meet with her, knowing she was using this 'book' idea as a cover
for gathering her old crowd of supporters around her. Maxwell, now, Maxwell
was the part I couldn't figure out. I'm not a big fan of random coincidences.
But I think that's exactly what Maxwell was. A random coincidence. But
a propitious one. He approached you, and he's full of, yes, entirely justified
anger and hatred for the Preventers, who are the very people who broke
apart the Barton Rebellion. I think you drew him into your conspiracy
with Mariemaia Barton. I think he's out there right now contacting others.
And I think that he's going to do my work for me, drawing them out, drawing
them into the open. And when we know who they are, we will arrest them,
and him, and they will all go to jail for a very long time." He waited
for a response. Wufei refused to grant him one.
"Did you know he murdered a woman?" Chadhur added. "If we bring him in,
it will be for a far harsher sentence than simple conspiracy."
He spoke through a dry throat. "That's quite the story you've fabricated.
And I can see how you and others like you would like to believe it. I
might have myself if I were a Preventer. Paranoia is in your job description.
But it's fiction. Complete fiction."
"I exchanged a few letters with Ms Barton. None of them had anything to
do with another attempt at world domination."
Chadhur sighed heavily. His hands made fists in the edges of Wufei's sight.
He knocked the door with his elbow. "I'm done," he called to the guard.
Wufei stirred as it opened. He said, "Only one of us is a liar, Chadhur."
The agent turned back. It was quiet between them, quiet even outside when
the guard didn't dare to interrupt. The unflickering fluorescent above
was steady, never bright enough, never the darkness he craved.
"For the record," the agent said, "it is a Saturday. It's even really
my day off. And I'm not lying about this, either-- we will bring Maxwell
in. And I think you'd rather we don't. So if you won't help yourself,
maybe you'll consider helping him."
He did consider it. He thought of it obsessively, from every angle, doubled
over his own supposition until he couldn't untangle whether it was immoral
or just stupid.
And when his nails were bitten to the quick and he couldn't stomach even
the porridge they brought him for breakfast, he considered suicide, too.
He knew how to slow his own heartbeat, knew how to stop his own breathing.
He would slip away in sleep, sleep he could barely remember now, and they
would lose all the leverage they thought they had with him, they would
lose their precious game.
Except that in doing so he might well condemn Duo. Duo would not survive
months of interrogation like this, this purposefully gentle approach that
was far more effective than torture. He would go mad-- madder-- at the
lack of sun, he would attack one of them, he would be punished for it--
he thought of suicide and he thought of Duo thinking of suicide, and though
he had never asked to be responsible for another life, Duo had asked him
to be, by asking him to be a friend; and he couldn't choose just his own
And Chadhur refused to call him back. It was torture, it was deliberate
and it was cruel. He dreamed even though he didn't sleep, reliving a dozen
memories like nightmares. Heero Yuy's suit plunging away to the ocean
as Wufei's console fractured from the force of their battle and erupted
in flame. The flame, all too brief, from the explosion of his colony,
his clan, his entire world, his absolute conviction that it was meaningless.
You couldn't change anything once you were dead; that was the gift of
life, the burden of life, change--
Duo still smiled. Duo still smiled. He knew next to nothing about Duo,
had never even asked why he'd used to wear that priest collar, why he'd
stopped. What he did know fit in one of Wufei's tiny teacups, but it filled
his mind-- the dimple in the left cheek when he laughed, that little scar
by his eye, the bitter taste of his coffee on his tongue, the warm velvet
softness of the skin of his stomach.
He couldn't remember what Trowa felt like, and he'd thought he'd loved
Trowa. But he'd never attempted to contact Trowa once he was released;
it had never even occurred to him to try. He'd picked Australia for the
Sydney Opera House, not even for a good reason like it was far away from
the others, just from some slip of memory hearing about it once, Sydney
Opera House where they still performed Er Huang operas like The Legend
of Red Lantern, and even in China they didn't keep the traditions--
They turned off his light, then, and never turned it back on.
When the door opened on his darkness, the brightness behind the frame
blinded him. "Come out," the guard said. "Come on, then."
There was Chadhur in their little room, calm-faced at Wufei's entrance.
And a woman. It had been so long since Wufei had seen a new face that
he almost flinched from the sheer unexpectedness of it. She was older
than him, perhaps fifty, and there was something cold in her eyes that
Let them bring it, Wufei thought wearily. What else could he suffer before
they were done with him?
Tea. Again. This time Chadhur poured for Wufei first, as he ought to have
done with the dianxin. "Oolong," Chadhur said. "Very fine, Mr Chang."
"No," he declined quietly.
"I don't think you need to worry about it keeping you up at night."
"No thank you," he said again. His voice was rusty, so long unused.
Chadhur's eyes dipped, and stayed down for a long time. He inhaled just
before he began to speak again. "I wondered if you've thought at all about
what we spoke of, last time."
"You know that I have." He had no energy even to worry at the stiffness
in his bad hand. He pressed his fist to his stomach. "You meant me to."
"Have you made any decisions, Mr Chang?"
"Yes." The woman leaned forward, predatory. Chadhur at least was still.
Wufei stared back. He said, "I'm not going to make any false confession
or accusations to give you another victim."
Chadhur's mouth pulled tight. Then, suddenly, he laughed.
"Sir, I admire your integrity."
"Is that what it is?" Wufei retorted bitterly. He discovered he was shaking.
He couldn't quell it, or the nausea that wrenched his gut in tight knots.
"It was the nicer of the words that occurred to me."
"What was the other?"
"Damn stubborn mule."
"I will not lie," Wufei said. "Not to save myself. Not even to save Duo.
And there is nothing to tell the truth about."
There were folders on the table before Chadhur. He always had the folders
when they spoke in this room. He opened the top one now, and put photographs
before Wufei, tossed them down with negligent flicks of his wrist so that
they fell atop each other and lay scattered.
"They wanted me to show you these. They're fakes, though."
The woman by the wall stirred, and frowned.
They were pictures of Duo. Being arrested, being questioned, sitting bound
and hooded in a room just like Wufei's cell. He wanted to be numb to them,
and the photoshopping was plain when he looked for it, because all the
pictures of Duo were too young. They still hurt, though.
He swallowed painfully. "I would have known without your confession."
"Call it a gesture of faith." Chadhur crumpled one and let it drop. The
shadows from the neat folds of his turban hid his eyes, until he moved
his head again.
"The only gesture of faith that will mean anything is my release from
this facility." Wufei raised his own head. "Eventually you'll give up,
and admit you've made a mistake."
And then, it happened. He had entirely stopped waiting for it, but it
happened, all the same.
"For once," Chadhur said, "I'm ahead of you." A new folder, a new paper.
His pen moved for the first time, a quick precise scratch at the bottom.
He put the sheet before Wufei, facing him, placed it precisely and gently.
"This is my sworn statement that I've concluded you are, in fact, innocent
of conspiracy." He rose. "You won't be allowed to keep it, but I wanted
you to see it in writing, at least. I won't say it was a pleasure, Mr
Chang, but it was an honour." He extended his hand.
It had the quality of one of his dreams, feverish in intensity, thick
like water all around him, forcing him to swim for something solid. He
couldn't read the paper at first. He couldn't read it at all. Just the
signature, blue ink on the white page. He unclenched his fingers under
the table. When his open palm rose, he stared at it. He let Chadhur take
it and squeeze.
Not real. Not real.
Chadhur squeezed his hand. "Director Tindale will be overseeing your case
now, sir. I apologise, deeply. I wish this was the end of the road."
"I didn't really expect it was." He had his hand back, released almost
tenderly. He was shaking, trembling like a leaf in a headwind. He hadn't
bent. He hadn't bent--
His forehead touched the cool metal table. The tears spilling from his
eyes were hot and they stung, but the table was cool on his cheek. He
was too exhausted to cry long, but he had no strength left to stop it
from happening, either.
He didn't even hear Chadhur and the woman leave.
Eight more meal cycles, uninterrupted by questions, by falsified photographs,
by thought. He slept, finally, but it was more like unconsciousness than
rest. He was heavy-limbed and light-headed when he woke.
Eight more meal cycles, and then they didn't bring his breakfast.
He waited, but Chadhur never showed, and the guard outside his cell was
unresponsive even to questions about the time. The morning wore on, grindingly
slow, and there was only silence from the Preventers.
It was nearly noon, by all he could figure, when they finally came for
him, and when they did, he was shocked. It was the agent who had arrested
him and the woman from his last interrogation. They were carrying the
cardboard box of his things, and when they opened his door, they left
"When you've dressed, please follow Sandoval," the woman instructed him
gruffly. "You're free to go."
"I'm free to go," he repeated, disbelieving it. "Just like that."
"Yes, sir." She met his eyes without revealing anything--which revealed
something in itself, he thought. "Please follow Sandoval. There will be
paperwork to sign." She inclined her head, and left without looking back.
Sandoval set his box on the cot, and politely stepped outside the cell--with
that open door--to give him privacy.
No. No. He was free? They wouldn't do this if he weren't. He felt shaken
by it, by the surreality of it, the lack of all reason and logic. All
this time, and just like that?
Everything was in the box exactly as it had been when they'd bagged it
on his arrival. He tore open the seals on his wallet, his little teacups,
his spare shirt and trousers, his sandals. His backpack smelled musty,
and his watch had tarnished. The clothes he'd been wearing when they'd
brought him in had wrinkled, and he disdained that condition, but suddenly
he was so eager to shed his jumpsuit that such things barely mattered.
He stripped immediately. Every item was like--recovering a bit of himself,
his identity. It felt foreign going on, but when he stood fully dressed,
he held his shoulders straight with new strength, his spine a ramrod.
He left the jumpsuit in a heap on the floor. He would never touch it again,
not even to shove it aside with a toe.
Sandoval led him to the lift at the end of his hallway, but this time
they did not go down to the basement, but up, past the lobby to the second
floor. The doors slid wide on pleasant offices, on pale olive carpet and
house plants, bleached wooden walls, high windows facing Lake Burley Griffin.
It was like stepping into a new universe. He had to stop himself from
clenching his hands to fists on his backpack.
"Through here, sir," Sandoval said, and pointed through an aisle of glass
to a closed conference room. "I'll bring the forms."
Wufei did not thank him, though the instinct was there, revived by the
civilised surroundings. He contained it tightly, proudly, and walked with
his head high and his steps measured down that hall to the room. He resisted
the urge to bolt it open, and quietly closed it behind him.
Quatre Winner was sitting at the table.
He couldn't even be surprised. It made a horrific sense, at last. They'd
let him out because Quatre had paid them to. Not because they'd finally
been convinced of his innocence. Of course.
And then almost as swiftly he was chastened at his own instantaneous ingratitude.
He might rather see anyone else sitting there but Quatre, but Quatre had
made plans, had fought battles, obviously, to help him. To be there for
He set his backpack beside a plush leather chair opposite the other man,
and sank into it carefully. "Hello," he said softly.
Quatre inclined his head exactly as the captain had, with no greater warmth.
He was entirely bald, now, his head skull-like. The hand that lay on the
table was all bone, pale skin stretched in fragile webs over the fingers.
"You relapsed," Wufei guessed guiltily.
Quatre lowered his eyes. His hand left the table to pick at the hem of
his coat. "The doctors think the chemo will be enough this time." He exhaled,
and then his lips pressed tightly together. "Tea? There's a pot there."
He waved at a pretty oak stand by the wall.
"I hope not to be here that long." Duo would have mocked his awkwardness.
He wished it were Duo sitting there, because it would have been easier.
They might even have laughed.
Duo. "He called you," he said, sure of it suddenly.
Quatre nodded. "The day you were arrested."
"Where is he?" He sat forward. "Is he here? Outside?"
"No. I'm sorry. I don't know where he is. He called me on L4. I never
even saw him."
He told himself that he had expected that. It didn't entirely ease the
hurt, but he understood. He had known when Duo ran that day that it was
Sandoval interrupted his thoughts, entering with a courteous knock. He
set four clipboards before Wufei, and offered him a pen.
"I've read them all," Quatre said. "Most of it is legal reassurance that
your interview transcripts weren't falsified, that you weren't mistreated.
Don't sign any of it."
It irritated him, that unsolicited advice. He tried to read the top document,
a thick packet of paper with coloured tabs lining the sides, but the language
was thick with jargon, a maze of archaic English it would have taken ages
to decipher. He read no more than a page before surrendering. "As he said,"
he muttered, and pushed them away.
Sandoval's pursed lips were unhappy. "Sir, you have to sign."
"He does not," Quatre interrupted. "And suggesting otherwise is unwise
in front of a witness. You have a lawyer in the building. I suggest you
ask for clarification before you make trouble for yourself."
It was aggressively rude, all said flatly in a clipped tone Wufei had
never heard from Quatre. He added nothing to it. Sandoval gathered the
clipboards, and exited in a chastened hurry.
They were silent in his wake. Quatre sat breathing with slight difficulty,
his hands clasped in his lap. Wufei wished he had poured tea, if only
to have something to gracefully occupy him.
"You can leave," Quatre said finally. "I have a car outside. We can take
you home. Anywhere you want."
"My flat will have been let out by now," he realised. He had never even
thought of such details, all this time.
"No. I paid your rent." He didn't miss Wufei's narrowed eyes. "It's a
figure of speech. It all came out of your pension. I've done nothing to
oblige you to me."
The most awkward yet. He had wounded Quatre in his thoughtlessness. "Forgive
me," he said, and found he even meant it. "I don't hide my feelings well.
Especially the ungenerous ones."
Quatre glanced away from him. "It's fine."
"I am not entitled. Quatre, please forgive me."
The pale hands twitched. "Fine. Yes." He stared at the oil paintings framed
on the wall, but unblinking, and Wufei knew he wasn't seeing them. "I
don't know what to do with you," Quatre added abruptly. "Except help where
I'm able and stay away, the rest of the time."
"I'm here for Duo." He overrode Wufei with that flat voice. "Just as much
He was not one for empathy. He had never been desirous of understanding
others, struggled to find sympathy within himself. But he thought he did
understand, now. The way Quatre sat, as if his back ached, the strain
of sitting upright against his own fragility. And assault. He could only
imagine what wrestling Quatre must have done, how much attention Wufei's
troubles had required at a time when he clearly had little to spare from
his own ordeal. The last time they'd seen each other, Quatre had come
to greet him in his first moments of freedom after finishing his sentence
in prison. He had just had the diagnosis, then, but Wufei had been in
such a hurry to be away from all reminders of his past that he had barely
spoken. He'd been so intent on his own isolation. Quatre wasn't Duo, to
insist on friendship until it was willingly given.
"I'm sorry." He said it simply, though it was not simple. He swallowed
dryly. "I was afraid of you. Of your pity."
Quatre was not looking at him at all any more. "I'm sorry you feel that
"And you were afraid to push me." The sunlight was beautiful, on the glass
buildings, on the rippled water of the lake. On a human face, on a friend's
face. "What if we stopped?" Wufei asked.
"Stopped seeing each other?" Quatre shifted, then made to rise. "As you
"Stopped being afraid." Quatre's cancer levelled the field, and he realised
that with a sudden guilty ferocity. He might live forever with his burns,
but as Duo had said, they were only things he had, not things he was.
Quatre had not learned that yet. Without his own Duo, would he ever?
Quatre stood stiffly. "I don't want to talk about my fear with you, Wufei."
"Then don't." He managed a smile. "Thank you for coming to help. I won't
ask for more."
"I came because Duo called."
"Thank you." He floundered, and settled for saying, "Duo would thank you
if he were here."
"He was almost incoherent." Quatre's eyes flitted about the room, but
he stayed, at least, to say it. "It's been a long time since I've heard
him like that. I'm sorry for you both, that this happened."
"It's over now. We-- I-- can start over."
"I'll let you know if he calls me again. I'm not sure where he's disappeared
to, but he always turns up."
He stood as well. "If you talk to him tell him-- tell him to come home."
Wufei took the piercing gaze he got as suspicion, until Quatre spoke,
and he realised it was only the Quatre he had used to know, at last, appearing
to defend an absent companion. "I don't know what precisely has gone on
with you both," Quatre said. "I know it's not my place to ask. But I say
this as his friend. He's not well. Please be careful of him. Don't hold
out some kind of life together if you don't mean to give it to him."
He spread his hands at his sides, opening himself for the most mistrustful
of examinations. He answered only, "I love him."
In the glare of the sunlight, he didn't quite know how to read what happened
with Quatre's eyes. But the lines around them went, perhaps, a bit softer,
a bit sadder.
"He--" Wufei licked his lips. "He gave me permission to need things. Him."
It was a near thing. But Quatre came back the step he'd swayed away, to
the edge of the table between them. "He told you about Hilde?"
"It was hell." Unadorned, like that, he believed it. "Not just what happened
to her, to their home, their life. He sued the Preventers. It took two
years. He won, finally, but two years, and he couldn't make them go away
entirely. Couldn't bring her back to life with the money. There was no
closure on it. I think he expected there would be."
"There never is. It just fades into the background. Like white noise."
There was a flicker of scepticism in Quatre's face, and Wufei closed his
hands, planted them fist down on the table. "Do you think I'm not capable
of feeling things? For him. For all of you?"
Quatre blinked. "I don't think that."
They stared at each other. "For me," Quatre said. "I think you feel nothing
"That's not so."
Quatre did not believe him. He blinked again, and looked away again, and
for a moment Wufei thought he was going to walk out and leave it like
that. Desperately, he said, "The problem is, neither of us expects to
be cared for, so it's almost an affront to learn that we are. Isn't it?"
How like him Quatre had become. As if they had changed places, after all
these years, Quatre taking his anger, his loneliness, his hurt pride.
He wished he could rip all of it away from Quatre. It was only a shield,
but it did more damage than plasma fires or lymphoma.
"I'm sorry," he repeated, one more time. He caught Quatre's eyes. He might
have cracked that armour, finally. Some of the Quatre he remembered peeked
out at him, vulnerable but alive. Wufei dragged in a slow, deep breath,
and held it, to resist saying anything more. Instead, he extended his
hand, the scarred hand, and held it out between them.
Quatre's shoulders lost their rigidity immediately. He took Wufei's hand
quickly, covering it in both his own. Wufei was unable to return the pressure,
his hand unused to such exercise after months of trying to hide the extent
of his disability, but he closed his fingers about Quatre's as much as
the tight skin allowed.
"I didn't pity your pain," Quatre murmured. "I pitied how you held yourself.
Alone. I wondered what life you could have, an island in the middle of
It struck him as odd, that. He'd done it so long, since he was a child.
He hadn't known it was abnormal, until Duo had showed him. He raised his
other hand to touch Quatre's, and said, "Be careful that you don't start
to do it, too, then."
"I didn't always. And I hate it now I do." Quatre smiled, finally, a small
and brittle lifting of his lips. His eyes were red-rimmed. "Be safe, whatever
you do. Be happy."
"Thank you. For all of it."
"Do you have any needs?"
He shook his head in the negative. "I have everything I need."
Quatre's mouth opened, then shut. He hesitated, then said only, "I wish
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