by TJ Dragonblade
see chapter 1 for warnings, dislcaimer

Lost & Found + Chapter 2

//I'm tired of screwin' up, tired of goin' down Tired of myself, tired of this town//

Chang Wufei sighed heavily as he stared at his drink, untouched in front of him. The ice was slowly melting, forming a thin film of water that floated atop the alcohol, separate and distinct; yet one little stir of the straw and it was gone, swallowed up by the greater mass below it.

That was how he felt, sometimes--precariously balanced over the cesspool that his life had become, dangerously close to drowning in it at any given moment.

Gods, this was not how he'd wanted things to turn out.

He'd joined the Preventers ages ago with such high hopes and noble intentions. And somehow he'd screwed it up, the same way he screwed up everything else in his life.

Things had gone alright in the beginning, when there were still frequent though minor threats to the peace. But those threats had become fewer and fewer; and then the Preventers' general policy had changed. Public image had become top priority now that peace seemed secure. Wufei disagreed with the change but did his best to comply, with no luck. Reprimand followed reprimand, accompanied by transfer after transfer and even a demotion until he'd finally ended up here--the Preventers branch office in Phoenix, where he guessed they figured he couldn't do much damage. He supposed the only reason they hadn't terminated him completely was because they perceived him as some sort of war hero in the first place.

Or perhaps Sally Po simply wouldn't let them, still doing her best to 'heal his heart', as she'd once put it.

He was such a failure, exiled like this to a low-key office halfway around the world from HQ.

Really, though, the history of his failures and mistakes had started long before now.

He had mocked his wife, belittled her and ridiculed her for beliefs which he had then fought to uphold. He had scoffed at her ideals, let her die for them when he should have been the one fighting.

He had let guilt fueled by grief convince him that he must take up her fight.

He had fought openly and arrogantly once he arrived on Earth, not caring that the enemy gained all manner of tactical knowledge from his carelessness.

He had arrived at New Edwards too late to stop Yuy from killing the Alliance pacifists.

He had failed to defeat Treize when given the golden opportunity; then run and hidden like a coward in former China, letting the war continue around him. He'd let too many of Sally's guerrilla rebels die while he was busy wallowing in self-pity and imagined weaknesses.

He had let little Quatre Winner self detonate at the base in Singapore; as a result, the Arabian had gone into space injured and unconscious, had been taken home, had seen his father die horribly, and had subsequently gone crazy. He had then built Wing Zero and gone on a psychotic binge, destroying colonies and very nearly killing Barton as well. Wufei knew it was a bit of a stretch to place the blame for those events entirely on his own shoulders; but he couldn't shake the certainty that none of it would have happened that way if he'd been the one to stay behind in Singapore.

Then after his incarceration on the moon, instead of staying with Maxwell and his girlfriend to finish upgrading his Nataku, he'd gone back to his clan. If he'd only remained at that little junkyard shop, then OZ wouldn't have tracked him back home and the colony wouldn't have destroyed themselves.

He'd gone on a vengeful rampage, indiscriminately killing anyone he found doing battle in space and inadvertently lending credibility to his enemies' anti-colony sentiments. He'd refused to join Zechs when offered the chance; if he had, perhaps he could have prevented the Lightning Count from going over to White Fang.

He'd declined to cooperate with Noin in her quest to gather all the Gundam pilots, still certain that he was better off alone; when Sally finally dragged him into it weeks later--after finding him on the verge of death, no less, defeated once more, Nataku heavily damaged--Zero had shown him that it was where he should have been this entire time.

He'd been disgusted with himself and his uselessness when he set out to duel once more with Treize, intent on dying honorably this time. But he couldn't even commit a proper suicide, inadvertently killing Treize as he'd intended and failed to do the first time around, that irony compounded by learning that the General was far more than the ruthless warlord Wufei had always thought him to be.

Confused and overwhelmed, Wufei had rebuffed overtures of friendship from the other pilots, finally defeating even Maxwell's cheerful and relentlessly persistent efforts. He'd kept his own company, ignoring the vision shown him by Zero, bitterly watching a world given peace blithely take it for granted and forget or ignore those who had sacrificed and fought to make it possible. Nothing had changed, he saw; no one seemed to have learned anything. And there wasn't a thing he could do about it.

Fed up at last with own inadequacy, he had joined the forming ranks of Mariemaia's army under Dekim Barton and quickly worked his way to the top. He took it upon himself to test the world and determine all on his own if they truly deserved peace, even when the position he'd taken had pitted him against his former comrades.

That in itself should have made him realize how foolishly he was acting.

But no, he was Chang Wufei, last of the Dragon clan, too proud and stubborn yet to acknowledge the error of his judgments. He had fought on, prolonging the conflict, until at last Yuy's words had gotten through to him as they battled in the atmosphere and he was able to find a better way to ensure that the people of the Earth Sphere appreciated their peace.

He had made a valiant effort to start over at that point, determined to do things right this time. He would become a Preventer; defend the peace that he now genuinely believed in. He would accept the friendship offered by his comrades. He would become a human being, not the emotionally confused and unbalanced pawn of war he'd been before.

He'd even succeeded in those endeavors for a time, working alongside Sally on the force, staying in touch with the other pilots, relieved and pleased that even after all he'd done, they--especially Maxwell--still courted his friendship.

And then somehow he'd begun messing up again, shortly after calling on his friends to help retake the Sank Kingdom palace. He had offended Duo, to whom he was admittedly closest of the four, and subsequently fallen out of contact with the other former Gundam Pilots. Depression had begun to creep in on him and he'd begun slipping in his diligence on missions.

Then came the change in Preventers policy--"We don't the public to see us as another oppressive militant force; we're their servants, protectors, equals, friends." And with that change, Wufei had become a major PR problem for them. He found it difficult to adapt and even more difficult to care. He hadn't joined up to ride in parades and kiss babies and spread flowers and joy--that was the Vice Foreign Minister's job. He'd joined up to defend and protect the hard-won peace.

But it hardly seemed worth it anymore.

So why was he still doing this even though he'd been shuffled from city to city, office to office until he ended up here, out of sight and out of mind, restricted from doing much of anything even though very little ever happened?

Where else was he going to go; what else was there for him to do?

Wufei sighed and shook his head, scowling at his drink as he catalogued all the screw-ups and blunders that had led him to this point. He hated places like this, hated bars, hated drinking; but lately he'd found that it was the only way he could relax anymore, could forget for just a few hours and find inner peace.

But tonight he just couldn't bring himself to drown his sorrows, pushing the drink away as he reflected on what was probably the biggest mistake of his life.

He had fallen in love once upon a time and failed to do anything about it.

He had let Duo Maxwell slide through his fingers, no more able to grasp and hold onto that beautiful boy than the waters of the ocean.

His feelings for Duo were the reason behind many of his other mistakes, as well. He'd returned home, not because his people were better suited to rebuilding his Gundam as he'd excused himself at the time; but because during their lunar incarceration, he had begun to fall for the lovable, obnoxious baka. Discovering that Maxwell was already spoken for had dashed his fragile, blossoming hopes; jealousy had followed in the wake of disappointment and he soon left the cheery optimistic couple to themselves.

And consequently led OZ home with him and got his colony destroyed.

Half of the reason he had later resisted joining forces with the others was because he did not want to see Duo again. But when the reunion had finally come about, he couldn't help hoping anew. Hilde was not around, after all; and Duo was so overtly friendly to him--making all manner of obvious effort to draw him into the group.

But just when he'd been cautiously beginning to open up, there came the Schbeiker girl again, heroically risking her life to bring them valuable tactical information.

And Maxwell had fallen all over himself to see that she was properly taken care of; Wufei had seen the look in those violet eyes as Duo watched her med-shuttle fly away and had shut down again. The subsequent depression that had descended upon him had only fueled his decision to throw his life on the hands of Treize's mobile suit.

And when that had failed, and the war had ended, and Duo continued trying to court his friendship, it only compounded his confusion and loneliness and depression and he ended up turning away from it all.

After the second war, when he had finally shaken off his uncertainties and his misery and vowed to become a better man, he had been terribly pleased to find that Duo was very forgiving and still as persistently friendly as ever. Most of their communication was written and electronic, as Wufei was on Earth and Duo in space; and Wufei had begun to feel comfortable in their friendship, resigned to the fact that they would never be anything more.

Until, that is, he saw Duo again at the Sank Kingdom incident. The American had still been heartbreakingly beautiful, so vibrant, so alive, so...perfect; Wufei had fallen in love with him all over again.

He had personally shuttled Duo back out to his L2 colony, determined to risk it all and tell the boy how he felt. But before he could gather up his courage and take the plunge, Duo had dropped some casual remark about going home to Hilde and shattered his hopes. He had managed to forget the German girl in her absence, his subconscious convincing him that they had split up and Duo could possibly be his for the courting. Clearly, he had been wrong.

Jealousy had exploded within him, surging up to drown his breaking heart, making him cold, making him hurtful, saying wickedly cruel things to the companion who had only ever been kind to him.

He hated himself, seeing the hurt that flashed across Duo's face before the boy could hide it; hated this ugly facet of his human weakness that told him he was better off this way.

He had neither seen nor spoken to Duo since.

He knew he had probably destroyed whatever slim chance may have existed between himself and Duo. It didn't really matter; he also knew he'd probably never see Duo again.

But still he loved the boy, knowing on some level that he probably always would.

In the scant few relationships he'd had in the intervening years, he'd been unable to keep from comparing his lovers to Duo, even if only to himself. And since no one could ever measure up to that standard, those relationships had all failed. He had even dated women once or twice, hoping to discourage such comparison; all his efforts had been to no avail and he had finally sworn off of the entire dating & mating ritual.

Sick of it all, he had vowed to himself that Duo would know his feelings if ever their paths should cross again. He no longer harbored hope of reciprocation, but the American deserved an explanation for his parting rudeness at the very least.

Wufei sighed, looking up at last from the bar in front of him and his half-melted drink. His gaze wandered aimlessly around the dim, smoky room. Gods, these people were pathetic. Always the same faces, every day, every week... What made their lives so miserable that they should spend all their time here?

~You are just as pathetic as they,~ he reminded himself sourly as he stared at the entrance. Another patron was coming in. ~Are you not here every night, among them? And the fact that you are miserable does not mean-- ~

His thought died mid-sentence, shocked into silence by what he'd just seen.

The young man who had come in the door--Wufei would have sworn there was a long brown braid swinging behind him. He shook his head, blinking, and looked again; but the newcomer had disappeared into the crowd at the far end of the bar.

~You are losing it, Chang,~ he told himself firmly. ~You did not just see Maxwell. He cannot be the only person in the world with such a hairstyle. You are seeing things, thinking too much, not sleeping enough...~ He shook his head again, reaching for his glass. Maybe he'd drink it after all, let it be just one more thing he did wrong. He shouldn't even be here in uniform like this, after all--maybe they'd finally fire him for it.

He really didn't care.

Someone slid into the empty seat next to him.

Wufei glanced over in irritation--he liked having his space, dammit--

--And froze, mouth falling slightly open in shock.

Duo.

It was Duo Maxwell, appearing as though summoned by his thoughts, unmistakably Duo though somewhat taller and slightly more seasoned by time. His hair was still the same, that rich lovely chestnut brown, red and gold highlights hidden in this dim light, sunglasses perched haphazardly among the thick silky chunks of his bangs, braid hanging behind him and just a bit longer than Wufei remembered. He still had that baby face, only marginally leaner and currently twisted into an introspective frown. Same little upturned nose, same tempting cupid's bow of a mouth, same expressive lilac eyes...

He looked like some brooding demigod dropped from the heavens to dazzle the poor mortals below with his simple elegance.

Wufei could only stare as Duo sensed his scrutiny, grew quickly irritated with it, and turned those not-quite-friendly eyes to him.

"What?"

And that was his voice, not heard in so long, still capable of making Wufei feel a little too warm even with such a confrontational tone as that. He still couldn't speak as Duo's eyes widened, the annoyance in his face melting into shock and disbelief.

"'Fei?" Duo blinked and shook his head as if to clear his vision. His hand lifted, reaching slightly in Wufei's direction as though to touch him but dropping uselessly back to the counter instead. "My god, Wufei, it really is you." His brow crinkled slightly in genuine bewilderment. "What the hell are you doing in a bar?"

Wufei felt a smile bloom on his face, something that hadn't happened in a very long time. He couldn't help but laugh out loud, albeit quietly. Duo hadn't changed one bit. Although there was a time when this sort of reunion would have garnered him a merciless glomping from the other youth; but Wufei knew he had only himself to blame for pushing the American away.

"Four years, Maxwell; it has been four years, and that's all you have to say to me?" He shook his head, his smile still lingering. "Gods, it's good to see you."

+

Duo: Damn, TJ, you made him *awfully* down on himself...
TJ: I thought it fit, given everything...

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