A camel amongst the sheep.
It all came to a head, not to anyone's surprise.
Ju Mei had done her best to defuse the coming explosion, consciously or not. A peace fair had been organized that day. The evening's music and entertainment were excellent; the university arts club had put a great deal of effort into the silk fan dance. The fluttering butterfly movements were a symbol of childlike happiness and peace. The food and non-alcoholic refreshments had drawn out most of the students who, true to university life forms anywhere, were never adverse to a free meal. Ju Mei's success could be measured by the fact she'd even managed to drag Wufei away from the library to join them.
Wufei realized something was wrong but he didn't know what. He'd been deep in his studies and had not really been interested in the events around him. He knew what would happen sooner or later. The wolves would fall upon each other, the sheep would panic, the cycle would start again.
It took him a few moments to realize it was starting again here and now. Most students were not aware of it, but Wufei noticed that there were people missing, men and women whom he automatically kept an eye on when they were in a crowd. Well, maybe they were studying; so much posturing probably hurt their grades, he thought sardonically. But his warrior's senses were tallying the nervous laughter here and there, the growing tension of the crowd. He should probably go home.
Wufei filled his coffee cup at the refreshment table again. He had to study late tonight, an Environmental Politics paper was due on Monday and he wanted to go to the museum tomorrow. He ignored Ko, hoping the older man would get the hint.
"Chang, you've got to help me!" Ko grabbed his shoulder. Wufei took the other's wrist in a threatening grip and removed it. Ko grimaced.
"They're gonna do it! Stupid fools...come on, we've got to stop this!"
Wufei stared at him in amazement. "We?"
"Yes! I think I can talk Meng down, but we might need to keep them apart by force until I do!" Meng was one of the non-leaders of the military faction.
"They've finally decided to have it out, have they?" Wufei was suddenly tired. Cynicism was only fun as long as the world didn't catch up with you. Then it just became sad. "Are they having duels, or just a grand old melee? Or did they decide to go all out and have a proper battle instead?"
Ko gaped at him, cheeks flushed with anxiety and rising anger. Wufei frowned. "They don't actually have weapons, do they?"
"I- I don't know!"
"Are they on campus?"
"Yes! They're just next to the social science building, in the parking lot!"
"Well then the metal detectors would have picked something up if they were armed." Wufei looked for some sugar.
"You're perfectly aware people can get killed with bare hands alone!" Ko snarled. "They're not all amateurs."
Wufei was silent. He knew it, he didn't want to acknowledge it.
"Don't walk away, Chang, you've got to help me." Ko's voice was low and intense.
"Why?" Wufei stirred his coffee.
"Because you fought for peace. You can't just let this happen."
The motion of the plastic spoon might have slowed a tad but Wufei knew his features betrayed nothing. "I never fought for peace, Ko. Sort it out yourself."
A hand slammed into the wall, cornering him against the table as he tried to walk away. Wufei had seen it coming and didn't react, merely leaned against the wall and stared up at the taller man who was trying to get his temper under control.
"Look Chang...I know you can fight, and I know you don't give a damn about either side. That's already good enough for me. I happen to think there's a whole lot more to you. I'm not fucking stupid. When I see a warrior from the colonies practicing high level katas and reach for his gun at the slightest upset with reflexes a commando would envy, and he's not even sixteen-"
"I am sixteen." Wufei sipped his coffee.
"-then I'm smart enough to put it together, pilot. But I don't care. I just want some muscle and a cool head to watch my back while I talk Meng and the others out of this, before it gets FUBAR. Now you're gonna follow me out there?"
"Or-?" Wufei said softly.
Ko stared at him, then licked his lips. "...Can we just say I made a very frightening and realistic threat right now? One that will get you to come with me? 'Cause by the time I actually think of one they'll need body bags out there. I'll spend the rest of the night thinking about it and I'll have a really good threat ready for you in the morning."
Wufei couldn't help the snort. "You know," he said, putting his coffee down on the table, "you remind me of someone; a guy who kept making these annoying wise-cracks at the most inappropriate time. I'm not promising anything, but let's go see what we can do."
They had nearly reached the gymnasium's door when they realized it wasn't going to be that easy. Two of Lun's friends were there. They were exactly the kind who'd stay away from the real fight to threaten the timid civilians into keeping out of it. Wufei felt the old anger rise in his gut, the recoil away from a weakness that was so pitiful it thought it was strength. Beside him Ko sighed, a short, angry sound.
Ju Mei appeared behind them just as one of the cowards stepped forward with a smirk.
"Wufei, stay here!" Ju Mei whimpered.
"Listen to the girl, Chang, stay out of this. Ko, you're more than welcome to go out and play." His name was Vin Kaito, Wufei remembered, having memorized the ID and pasts of everyone on the campus with a history.
Some students had gathered. Most were indifferent, and Wufei felt his fists tense, the tendons creak, when he remembered Treize throwing himself on Nataku's glaive for them. A few looked worried. Some ducked away, preferring to keep their head in the sand and pretend nothing was happening until it was over, after which they'd feel very sorry about the victims. But half a dozen others looked like they wanted to intervene and Wufei didn't want this to get out of hand.
He knew how this was going to end. He'd done this dance before. Two sides met, they fought, no one could stop it, no one really wanted to stop it. You could only attack them both, finish it as quickly as possible, to try to reduce the number of civilian casualties.
"You." He turned towards one of the indifferent ones. Black eyes widened as they were singled out. "You have a cell phone." Wufei's chin jerked towards the bulge in the man's breast pocket. "Call the police."
The guy hesitated. Vin stepped up to Wufei and poked him in the shoulder.
"Stay out of this if you know what's good for you, Chang. We're in our right to clean out the house. We didn't fight Bundt and his OZ lackeys so that they could send their kids to university! When we finish outside we'll take care of those collaborators hiding in here and -"
"Get out the phone." Wufei told the man tightly without looking at Vin. "And call the police. And an ambulance."
"They're just taking the trash out of the campus, Chang, they won't need an ambulance." Vin grabbed him by the front of his tunic, and made a noise like a punctured balloon when Wufei's fist slammed into his gut.
"You're right, and it wasn't for them." Wufei muttered. He thrust the man away and turned in the same movement. Ko barely had the time to gasp. His head snapped back and he fell like he was pole-axed. Wufei quickly checked the man's breathing - he hadn't meant to hit him that hard, he was too used to sparring against Heero - then nodded at Ju Mei who stared at him with eyes like saucers. "Take care of him and make sure he doesn't interfere. Get the medics to check both of them when they get here."
"Tell the police to go to the social science building, the parking lot to the north of it. Tell them to bring riot gear, though I'm hoping they won't need it."
"You." Jiening stared at the finger levelled at her. "Keep anyone from leaving the building until the police tell them otherwise." The woman had a very capable, calming presence and her wits about her, she should be able to keep the few do-gooders from interfering.
Wufei didn't wait for an answer, he opened the door - the other coward had run away before Vin had hit the ground - and walked swiftly towards the social science building, bending his arms and stretching his shoulders to warm up.
They were still at the threats and shouting part of the evening's program when Wufei arrived.
The ex-military faction, two dozen or so men and women, from new students to post-docs, were standing practically in formation, in stiff poses, glaring. The rebel faction were a loose-knit group of fifty people, though some seemed to have a 'just a bystander' attitude. Half a dozen of them were at the forefront, shouting at their enemy.
Wufei approached and almost laughed as he realized he had a problem. The amount of violence in the air was rapidly approaching critical levels. Now in the past, Wufei's very presence had disrupted open warfare between hundreds of mobile suits. But the arrival of a slender sixteen year old did not have quite the same impact as the appearance of a Gundam.
"The police are on their way." He said loudly, just to get the ball rolling.
That brought some of the attention to bear on him. Lun stepped forward with a scowl. People from the military faction were glaring at him too. These were the hot-heads, the ones who resented the fact that this peace, enforced by the surrender of their superiors, had turned them into losers. They didn't want anyone to stop this. They'd had their full of provocations and snide remarks, and were just waiting for the opportunity to retaliate.
Wufei walked slowly into the twenty feet of no-man's-land between the two factions. There was a murmur of questions from either side as the students who were not first-year asked their colleagues who the hell was this teenager and what was he doing away from his babysitter.
"You guys aren't going to break it up on your own, are you..." Wufei found he was smiling. He should be sad, furious. Part of him was. He would stop this here and now but something similar would flare up again tomorrow, on any other part of the planet or in space.
"Just to get one thing clear from the start." Wufei raised his voice slightly. "Do any of you fools have any weapons?"
A few more eyes fixed on his lean form. "Don't need any." Someone from the military side snickered.
"Well that's a pity."
Slowly, more eyes were fixing on him in surprise.
"A weapon clarifies much. If you were armed, those of you who are cowards would have already run away and the rest of you would have skipped all this annoying posturing and gone straight to business."
His words sounded louder in the slowly growing silence.
"It would make things easier for me." Wufei added in a voice like steel. "I have no qualms in defending myself. Anyone serious enough to attack me with a weapon could expect broken bones or a broken neck, depending on my mood. That's a quick and efficient way to get someone to stop fighting, you'll agree. The more I can take out this way, the faster this farce will be over with; I might even have enough time to go work on my paper afterwards. Now I ask again, since I finally have everyone's attention. Is - anyone - armed?"
He kept his head slightly lowered as if he couldn't even be bothered looking at either party. His ears and senses picked up the slight shuffle. He hadn't bothered to concentrate on the ex-military side, they would be confident enough in their martial skills to show up bare-handed. On the resistance side, he heard just one person shift in the way he was waiting for. His eyes darted, caught the tail end of that movement. Wide eyes, fixed pupils, movement to grip something heavy in a bomber jacket. Wufei's memory flashed him up a history and some stats to match the boy's face. Shi Nu Sha. Nineteen, Shanxi province, hometown bombed out by Bundt's forces in an attempt to control the region, joined the resistance a year before Wufei killed Bundt and his cronies, not entirely by design. Had been caught and imprisoned by Romefeller's OZ a month before peace had been declared. He'd been one of the first on Wufei's list to have the means to turn this argument into something more deadly. The other suspects hadn't reacted the same way, chances were Shi was the only one who actually had a weapon. That was an almost miraculous bit of luck.
"Right, let's get down to business." Wufei slowly cracked his knuckles, eyes still on the ground, senses carefully on alert. "I don't have much hope this is going to end without violence, but just to give you the incentive to contemplate this possibility, I promise to smash the kneecaps of the first person who throws a punch. You older students can ask your juniors, if you don't know who I am. I may look young but I'm not someone to mess with." No one seemed to doubt that, actually. "Now, if you people still want to do this, maybe we could arrange it so that you attack me directly instead of each other. You'll still end up hurt but since I actually know what I'm doing the number of casualties will be fairly low." Wufei took a few steps forward, positioning himself between the two hottest heads on either side, and getting a bit closer to Shi. The man's hands were loose at his side, he didn't look like he was going to do anything yet. He was a mad dog, that one, his reactions would not be predictable. Wufei found himself smiling tightly. If he had to be perfectly honest with himself, he'd admit he liked this better than writing that paper.
Two people from the resistance side stepped forward, turned to glare the others out of their shock. The silence was breaking under the assault of angry murmurs. Wufei tensed, weight poised. He'd go for the leaders first. The military would hopefully stay put if they weren't attacked directly, so if he concentrated on-
"Stop this now!"
Wufei felt his heart turn to lead. He turned slowly, trying to keep his cool, keep the all-important control of the situation before it blew up in all their faces.
"Go away, Ju Mei." He snapped and then stopped.
It wasn't only Ju Mei...
A trembling, ashen-faced Li Pai and two older boys were at the forefront by her side, but there was a trickle of people heading all the way back to the gymnasium. They were moving forward slowly, deliberately, but not as a herd. Wufei couldn't quite fathom their intent. He'd never seen people move like this, as distinct individuals towards a common goal.
He glared at Jiening who was a few feet behind Ju Mei. She glared back over her glasses and hoisted a groggy Ko more firmly onto her shoulders. She had a mulish air about her. Damn he'd been wrong to put her in charge. Ko was awake, a hand clutching his jaw and he was scowling at Wufei too, though admittedly with a better reason.
Ju Mei took a step forward and tried to shake Li Pai loose but her friend clutched at her jacket and took the steps with her. A quick argument flashed between their eyes, then Ju Mei took the trembling girl by the shoulders and helped her forward. One of the boys - a third year student, Wufei thought - walked with them, looking strangely calm. The fourth one hung back, waiting for others to catch up.
"You are not - we will not let you do this." Ju Mei's voice was pitched higher than usual but it was firm.
"Ju Mei." Wufei licked his lips but he could see from the jut of her jaw that he would not be able to talk her away quickly enough. Great, that was all he needed. He would not be able to pull his punches if he had civilians to protect. This was going to get very ugly.
Others were moving between the two sides. The second third-year student had walked over to some people his age in the resistance faction and was arguing in a low, intense voice. Ko had poked Jiening who, with the theatrical air of someone being unreasonably put upon, helped him walk unsteadily over to Meng and the others.
"Just what do you civvies think you are doing?" Lun put his hands in his pockets and tried to look relaxed but surprise and unease were adding a line of tension in his shoulders.
"We could ask you the same thing." The third-year boy answered softly. People's angry murmurs abated as they strained to listen to him. "Don't you think there's been enough of this?"
Lun sneered. "We need to-"
"You want to!" Ju Mei shot back, eyes blazing. "You want to fight, you want to keep your hate alive. You want your revenge, you want to get even, you want to win, you want another war. Well fine. But we're in the way. We'll always be in the way sooner or later, caught between two warring factions. You want to fight, Lun, you'll have to go through us, because you will eventually anyway."
"Maybe we should try to round up a few kids." A post-doc said quietly. His face was white and rigid, eyes hard behind rimless glasses. "My younger sister lost her arm and one eye in the bombing of Nanking last year. Did you want any young victims here? Or are the first-years young enough to count?"
The murmurs of angry agreement were coming from the crowd gathering around the factions. More people were slipping into the gap. Wufei had to take several steps back to give himself room.
"So what, you'll fight both sides, is that it?" One of Lun's older buddies shot this like a challenge to the post-doc, who was probably morally easier to threaten than a trembling Ju Mei and Li Pai. But it was Ju Mei who answered.
"No. We're not going to fight anybody. Total Pacifism means not fighting for peace any more than for anything else. But whatever it is you're fighting for...we'll not let you have it."
"We want to kick these murderers out of our schools-"
"Then you'll have to go through us. And even if you do and you succeed...then we'll leave as well." Ju Mei's voice was slowly coming down from hysteria. "The handful of you who won can take your classes by yourselves, assuming that's what you actually are fighting for, and I'm not convinced."
"And if you can find teachers to teach you." Someone added. Wufei recognized her as one of the lab assistants, part of the staff who had volunteered to watch over the evening's festivities.
"We'll not stand by and let you take us down this road again." Someone else Wufei didn't know said slowly. "Where would it end? I hear some ex-resistance factions are talking about liberating China from the world nation, become our own country again, and kick the invaders from our soil. Well, I'll think you'll have to plough your way through a lot of people to do that too."
"And good luck finding someone to grow your food or take out the trash when you've won!" A fourth year student spat angrily.
"We can't fight you." The post-doc said calmly. "But you can't make us give up the peace. We died for it too."
Wufei shook his head. This all sounded nice but there was one flaw in the argument.
He found himself moving to address it. It surprised him. There was a small part of him that wanted to keep a hold on his cynicism, that wanted Treize to be wrong. It was telling him to fully test the metal of these people, whom he had dismissed as 'civilians' and who were now doing his job. Nothing like a little blood to see where someone's true values lay.
Wufei glanced back at Ju Mei, Li Pai and the others.
Some of them would die. But others would take their place. He could see it now. He had not wanted to believe it, but he should have. It had been in front of his face for months. All those small, localized riots all over the world, that had led to nothing bigger...the way so many people had quietly put their past and hate behind them and moved on...the war he'd been expecting that had failed to materialize...
Damn me, he thought, Relena was right. Treize was right. They are ready...
Now he just had to make sure no-one got killed for it.
He made as little noise as possible as he disabled Shi before the man could fully draw the gun from his jacket. The wild eyes had been fixed on the pacifists between the two factions and he'd not noticed Wufei's approach. Shi sagged slightly as Wufei threw a quick, brutal punch to his solar plexus, then he hauled the body to him and walked it away. The man was taller and heavier than he was, it wasn't easy. The resistance fighters were staring at the pacifists like wolves who've realized the sheep have formed their own alliance and have numbers on their side - no, more. They were weak yet they had a kind of moral strength that you could build the future on. It reminded him of Sally... None of the aggressors had noticed Shi and Wufei yet, but if the man slipped and fell, things could still get messy.
Some of Shi's weight shifted off Wufei's shoulders. Wufei glanced across the slumped body. Ko had grabbed Shi by the waist and was looking back at him expectantly. Wufei tilted his head towards the social studies building. Ko nodded and helped him carry Shi towards it. Behind them the argument was getting louder, but Wufei didn't think it would degenerate now. If it did...the people would take care of it. The peace was in their hands now.
Ko groaned and dropped Shi carelessly to lean against the building after they turned the corner and were out of sight; he rubbed his swollen jaw and closed his eyes, then slid down the wall to sit on the concrete. Wufei retrieved the gun he'd stuck in his belt and checked it.
"What the fuck is that?" Ko stared at it too, eyes widening.
"Nice." Wufei's fingers danced over the charger, flicking it in and out, checking the barrel, disassembling and reassembling it with a few deft moves and absently cocking and aiming it at a stop sign a few meters away. "It's an alloy. Aluminium maybe, and some kind of non-metal ceramic. Tough as steel but won't trigger most metal detectors, as long as they're not calibrated to the bullets. Very new, obviously. I read about them online. Somebody's been producing them for criminal purposes, now that metal detectors have appeared in a lot of places. But I hear terrorists like them a lot as well."
"Where'd a two-bit psycho like Shi get a hold of that?"
"I'm sure the police would love to know." Wufei checked the man who had started to groan and stir and wished he had handcuffs. "Did any of you suicidal idiots think to call them by the way?"
"Erm, not that I know of."
"I think the staff will have. Chang...I can watch this piece of shit and give them the gun if you want. You don't have to stay here."
Wufei glanced up curiously.
Ko shrugged. "Not that I don't owe you a heap of trouble for breaking my jaw-"
"You're talking just as much as usual, Ko."
"-almost breaking my jaw, but the police will be looking into everyone involved in this tonight. You might want to avoid that."
Wufei hesitated, then handed Ko the gun after ejecting the charger. "You sure-"
"They know who I am anyway, but you...well, there's still quite a few people with a grudge against someone like you, Chang, and if word of your presence here gets out... Go on, get out of here."
"Whatever." Ko grinned and winced at the pull to his bruised jaw.
He turned back. Ko was fiddling with the charger, not quite looking at him. "Just for my own curiosity, I mean, I-...never mind. It's the past."
"Nataku. Shenlong, rather. The one you knew as 05. That what you wanted to know?"
"...thanks. I thought so. I...was an MP on C0130, while my unit was deploying back to earth. Those idiots from White Fang and the MS corp decided to have it out right outside our fucking window. Me and my CO, we'd started evacuating the colony, we were sure one side or the other would end up blowing us all to hell. Someone stopped them though. Kicked both sides to the mat. And took out the colony's defence grid too but I suppose that was fair enough. You always fought for peace, Chang Wufei."
Wufei turned without a word. Fighting for peace...that paradox was at the heart of his new problem...
Wai was waiting for him patiently. Wufei's politeness towards his elders was pricking him, but he finished his train of thought in the silence of his meditation. He needed to know where he stood before he talked to his guardian.
Finally he opened his eyes. Wai was sitting on the couch, and nodded a greeting.
"I heard about the fuss." The elderly man said in his usual abrupt tone. "My friend in the university board called to warn me. He almost missed me, I was about to return to L5."
"Sorry to have interrupted your trip, honoured uncle." Wufei stood and went to make the tea.
"Hell, hardly your fault." Wai sounded a bit puzzled at the 'honoured uncle' term. After their first meeting he'd ordered Wufei to call him Wai, or 'uncle' if he felt the need to be coddled, and forget about 'all that elder nonsense'. "In fact, that's why I'm here. First I wanted to make sure you were okay, since no-one's seen you in the past two days. Your friend - Ko, I think his name was - he was trying to wring your address out of the board, he was worried."
"That fussy old woman knew I'd not been hurt." Wufei muttered as he set the water to boil. His uncle cocked his head as he leaned in the doorway.
"Well it never hurts to check. Anyway, I'm here on behalf of my friend. The board want to keep this somewhat discreet, they've expelled the trouble-makers but most of the students are-"
"Are they expelling me?"
"What?!" Wai shot away from the door jamb. "Why on earth would they want to expel you? You helped stop it!"
"No...I didn't. They didn't need my help to stop the fight."
"Well you certainly stopped that lunatic with a weapon, and that's what the board wanted me to thank you for. They can't do it officially since they'd rather that part of the incident was not known. The Preventers requested it too."
"Preventers? Oh yes, I suppose they'd be called in to trace the gun." Wufei prepared the things for the tea automatically, mind distant.
"So anyway...that's why I'm here. Why did you think they'd want to expel you?" Wai was looking at him intensely.
Wufei said nothing. He poured the water into the tea pot and carried the tray into the living room, putting it on the coffee table. Wai had made way for him at the door and was following him, almost radiating puzzlement.
Wufei started to pour the tea then put the pot down with a clunk instead, stood and bowed at the waist.
"I'm sorry. I have failed you." He said, in a voice he meant to be contrite. It merely sounded tired and angry.
"Yes, I'm getting that." Wai sounded still puzzled. "How exactly do you estimate that you've failed-"
"Before the others interfered, I was about to use force as well, to stop them."
Wai's eyebrows shot up. "Force? Against who?"
"Everybody." Wufei crossed his arms and waited for the old man's displeasure.
"Figures..." Wai rubbed the back of his head. The cropped grey hair made a scrunching noise. "Well...you only reacted as you would have during the-"
"The war is over!" Wufei snapped. "I am no longer a soldier. I am the leader of our clan, and its arbitrator, the man who is supposed to find peaceful solutions to problems such as this!"
"Okay when you put it like that it does sound a lot worse." Wai shrugged with a grimace. "Chang, you've been a civilian for only a handful of months. It's normal that you-"
"I failed." The words were heavy, condemning. "I expect better of myself when I set myself a goal."
"Hmm yes." Wai's eyes dropped to stare blankly at the teapot. "I've not known you long but I got that much. You know, boy, you're only human, you could be a bit easier on yourself."
"Tell me, uncle, when you build a building, do you accept that it will have weak foundations?"
Wai winced. "I'm not going to win this argument, am I. What am I supposed to do, Wufei. Make you run laps around the campus? Send you to bed without supper? Whip you? Seems like you're doing a good enough job of that yourself." The old man didn't seem approving.
Wufei shook his head. "I will deal with my faults as is appropriate, uncle, though if you think further punishment is necessary, I will obey you. You are the only elder in the family now, and my guardian, you have the final say on that."
"I do, don't I..." Wai was rubbing his head, staring blankly at Wufei's crossed arms.
"I thought you should know. It would be dishonourable for me to keep it from you, especially if you thought I had done well. But be assured. I will try harder."
Wai was silent for awhile, eyes distant. "You know, Wufei...there are others in your generation who could help you out with the leadership thing. I mean, Meiran's second cousin, he's a planet-sized prick but he's got a head for business like you wouldn't believe. Maybe...maybe you could drop economics and, and pick up that elective in Asian literature again."
Wufei spilt the tea he'd started to serve. He'd been expecting to hear his uncle say he wasn't up to it and had been formulating arguments to convince the old man to let him try. He hadn't been expecting that.
"I...don't take this wrong, Wufei, but it's obvious to me you're not happy with the role we've assigned to you."
Wufei slowly set the pot down again.
"We all have to do things we don't like, at times." Wai continued slowly. "I certainly don't enjoy being hauled from pillar to post with this elder business. But that's just extra work for me. This is your whole life we're talking about, Wufei. After all you and the other four boys did for us, don't you think you deserve to do at least something with your life you want? You can still be our leader but-"
"Apologies, uncle, but you do not understand." Wufei's voice was tight. He sat down and crossed his arms, eyes on the tea stain on the tray. "I have accepted the future our clan has chosen for me. I am needed." Wai shifted but Wufei continued without letting him interrupt. "As such, I will accept no distractions, I will be the best I can be. Happiness is not a requirement. I doubt I have much capacity for it anyway."
"That's your thing, isn't it." Wai muttered. "Whatever you're doing, whatever the field, as long as you can beat yourself up and challenge yourself and push yourself to be perfect-"
Wufei snorted; the sound was raw and wounded. He rubbed his face with his hand. "I'm not perfect, uncle. But I strive to be." He said softly.
"Hmmm." Wai glared at the tea stain as well. There was a long moment of silence.
His uncle muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'screw this', then stood. The look on his face was so serious and severe that Wufei instinctively got to his feet and braced himself.
"Chang Wufei. I have decided your punishment. As the only elder of our clan, it is my decision who gets to lead it. It is not you. In fact, you are no longer a member of our clan. We reject you."
Wufei stared at him for a full minute, then swayed and sat down heavily.
"You..." His voice trailed off into silence.
"Right..." In his narrowing field of vision he saw Wai's hands serve some tea. "Now that that's done...I'm no longer your elder, boy. But I'm still family. Indulge an old man's curiosity. Tell me what you're going to do now."
Wufei was silent. His eyes seemed chained to Wai's cup as the man took a sip then looked at him encouragingly, as if he hadn't just severed his nephew from the last meaning to his existence.
"Do...?" Wufei finally croaked. "I...nothing. What can I do?"
"Be the best." His uncle said promptly. "But not as a clan leader. Chang, it was obvious the moment I saw you that you'd be a rotten politician. Well, not rotten in the sense that would actually be useful to our clan. The prick - I mean, Meiran's cousin, he'll make a fairly good leader for us, but I'm confident no one will listen to him too seriously. Most of our clan is gone, and the ones who remain are young, and deserve an unfettered future. They can build their own, choose their own at their discretion, find a path between new opportunity and tradition. But you're too bull-headed for that. It's all the way or 'no way' with you. So now...you're free. What is it you want to do, Chang Wufei. What is it you want?"
Wufei's mind was a whirlwind of jagged thoughts and memories. Justice, serve his clan, Meiran dead, Nataku, oh Nataku my strength, what, what was he supposed to do now...What scared him the most was that though he was shocked to the core and shaking inside and out, he was not as devastated as he should be. The wind blowing through him was the hard, cold wind of sudden freedom, the dizzying possibilities. He was ashamed of the way his soul grasped at it like a lifeline.
His uncle sipped his tea, loudly, and seemed as patient as turtles.
"If this was a misguided attempt to make me happy, uncle...it's not going to work." Wufei finally said, leaning his swimming head back against the couch cushions to stare at the panelled ceiling. Wai merely slurped his tea again.
"I...there is nothing...I..." Wufei tried to gather his thoughts. Happiness, contentment, he didn't even know what they were...
No, that wasn't true.
There had been a time when he'd had them. Not happiness but...for once in his life, things had been clear. He remembered a long time ago telling Master O that no one could make a difference, could truly change things but he'd been wrong. He had been the blade cutting down, the sureness of death and fate, and all his doubts had left him, because he was doing what was right, to the best of his considerable abilities, constantly challenging himself to do better and to do more; he was bearing his full weight to where it mattered most, where it could change things, he'd made a difference and yes, in a strange way, that no one else would have recognized, he'd been happy. He'd been about to die, but he had been happy.
He was free to reach for that again.
"I will join the preventers." The sentence started out tentative but ended in an affirmation.
Wai choked on his tea. "Wh-what? Didn't you want to study art?" That was obviously not what the old man had had in mind.
"Literature was a challenge to me. Understanding all the old philosophies and letting them confront and hone my own." Wufei said slowly. "But I've followed a different path since then. I need more." The pen might be mightier than the sword but he knew which one he wanted to be.
"Haven't you earned some of the peace you fought for, Wufei?" His uncle looked at him with some pain in his old eyes.
"No." Wufei said tightly. "I'd like to make this clear once and for all, and I'm starting to think I'll have it tattooed on my forehead. I never fought for peace. I was fighting for revenge, justice and against the warmongers who were endangering civilians and arming the weak. Not for peace, because I thought it was a lie. But I think...I think I can believe in it now, and it's something worth defending. And, because reality is always a lot more messy than the Peacecraft woman would like us to believe, I think peace will need defending. A lot."
"Yes, but how is this going to make you, well…will you toss something heavy at your old uncle if I said the word 'happy'?"
"By reaching for perfection."
"I think, boy, that you have a rather misguided idea of what a policeman does for a living. From what I understand of it, there's lot of boring paperwork, then you get shot at, and then there's more boring paperwork."
Wufei hesitated, but he didn't want his uncle to worry. "I can handle some mundane tasks. And I believe in what they do, now, the work itself would be satisfying. But there's more. I...one of my wartime allies joined the preventers. Before I came here he asked me to become his partner." Wai's eyebrows lifted in sudden comprehension. "I don't know if he's still interested. It's been a few months. He may have found someone - he's probably found someone else to work with by now, but I guess I can see if I can join their unit, or whatever they call it." He didn't feel too hopeful, so much time had passed, but it was worth a shot. He didn't have much else to aim for.
"This man is a friend of yours, you say?"
"Better. He's a rival." Wufei answered, reducing the complexities of their relation to the aspect his uncle might understand. "He's someone I can measure myself against, who will challenge me. We work well together too, we do what we need to, without distractions or-" he was about to add 'futile emotions' but his uncle, who did not know the force of nature named Heero Yuy, would probably get the wrong idea and go a bit weird on him. "It's what I want to do." He simply concluded.
"You won't be bored, is that it?"
Wai looked at him for a long time, then put his cup down with a decisive clink. "Good. Well, I'll definitely have to make your removal from the clan official because there are a few who would have fits if they knew their supposed-to-be-Lord was going to be a cop. But that's just paper and politics, boy." Wai's eyes held his seriously. "The clans, and all these insulating ideas, they need a make-over. We should not be a cage for our children. We should be the nest from which they will leave to make us proud. That's all I ask of you, boy. Be your best, make us proud, and you will always be a part of us, whatever the old crusts like me say. Got that?"
"Yes sir." Wufei stood and bowed and Wai made an impatient gesture.
"Cut the kowtowing and get out of here. I'll deal with ZJU and the rest. Get to wherever you're meant to be. And if that guy you want to work with makes any trouble because you were mature and kind enough to try to sacrifice your future for the good of your clan, and made him wait a few months...if he cuts up rough, tell him there's a civil construction engineer, who's practiced martial arts since he was a boy and who's still limber enough to kick his ass, who will want a word with him!"
Wufei's smile twitched but he managed to say: "I'll be sure to tell him, uncle."
He went to pick up his jacket and duffel - he'd never actually unpacked it. He didn't spare a thought for the clothes in the wardrobe or the few things he'd bought. He hefted his laptop bag on one shoulder and felt the reassuring hard nudge of the Luger hit his hip on the other side. He grabbed his sword from its stand and turned to bow to his uncle. The warning look in the old eyes turned his bow into a nod instead. Wai gave a firm smile in return. "Write to me when you get there, boy."
Wufei closed the door to the safe-house behind him and walked out into the night, mind on plans for the future, the most immediate of which was dropping by the university to smack Ko out of his worrywarting, then getting to the Preventer HQ without surrendering his weapons or going through too much hassle to find his one-time partner. Once he'd achieved that, he'd see if Heero still wanted Wufei to fight by his side...
On to part thirteen-a. Back to part eleven.