A mountain of knives and a sea of fire.
The sky was burning, but the flames were still caught in that frozen moment of realization. He should have time to reach his destination before the breach sucked the oxygen out of the air. There was a lot of oxygen to suck out after all. The bike was alive beneath him, growling, and Wufei smiled in simple exhilaration. This felt good. He hoped he and Heero could go to the track again, once he'd fixed that breach and put out the fire. Well, no, this fire could not be put out. But he shouldn't be here. What was done was done. He just had to make sure that Heero, Quatre, Susan and himself were not here when the colony finally surrendered to its fate. None of them should die with A0206.
Terrible monsters, born of fire and chaos, tried to block his way, but the bike dodged them, and left them behind, honking terrible threats at his back. Wufei laughed. But then he sobered up. This was serious. He had to pull himself together. This wasn't a game, this was life and death, and he had to find the knot between the two and cut it.
He couldn't feel his feet as he ran up the stairs, and his panting was distant, as if someone else was running, gasping and breathless, a few feet behind him.
"Wufei?!" Susan stared at him as she opened her door. She was pretty in a traditional red dress, linen with silk sleeves and front. Wufei smiled - he thought he smiled, but his face was still numb from the searing heat of the fire, sweat cold on his brow.
"Hi, Susan. I...can we talk? I really...really need to..."
He didn't know if he managed to finish that sentence or not. He was sitting on a Chinese couch made of delicate dark wood, covered in thin red cushions embroidered with dragons. Susan had brought her own furniture from her home in Strasbourg, to make the small temporary apartment comfortable. As Wufei watched, the embroidered dragons writhed and blew flames at him, but they couldn't burn him; he hadn't been on the colony when it had died.
"Wufei?" Susan was before him, holding out a cup. His cup. The pretty eggshell-grey cup. "What did you want to talk about? You can tell me anything."
"Your cups are very pretty. Are they authentic?"
Susan stared at him as if he'd gone mad. Yes, he was getting a lot of that. Behind Susan, Meiran was looking at him a bit oddly too. He was glad she'd hopped on to the bike as he was leaving. She would be gone soon, he knew. He was glad she was with him as long as she could be.
"Well...yes." Susan sounded a bit annoyed, though she was hiding it well. "Hand made in China."
"Hand made. Knew it. They're not quite identical. You can't get the paintwork quite the same when you make them by hand. Yours has these little speckles down one side. The side you try to never turn towards me."
Susan said nothing. Behind her, Meiran's eyes widened. "Huh! You're right! Makes sense, like that she could tell the cups apart, and always give you the right one! Hah, you really are a clever brat, husband." She was grinning.
"What did you use?" Wufei ignored her and concentrated on Susan.
"What do you mean, Wu-" Susan gasped and her delicate cup hit the carpeted red floor, spilling tea in a circle. The liquid was a deep crimson splash like spilled blood. Why did she look so frightened? Oh, right, he'd pulled the gun from its holster.
"What did you use, Susan?"
"I- I don't- Wufei, you're not in your normal state of mind." Susan's voice was forcing itself to be calm as she took a step back.
"No. No, I'm not. You'd certainly know all about that, wouldn't you? What have you been giving me, Susan?" He picked up his cup with his free hand and sniffed. "The Yulien Green Mountain tea again. Strong flavour. Is that how you mask it when you give me a stronger dose? What's this one supposed to do? Kill me? Or just drive me completely insane?"
Susan stared at him. No, not quite at him, he thought. What she was seeing, only she knew.
"Sit down, Susan. You wanted me to talk. Desperately," he added, lifting the cup towards her as proof before carefully putting it back down on the table. "What was it you wanted me to talk about? What's driven you to this extreme? I'm fairly sure you're an otherwise rational woman."
Susan sat down like a puppet, staring. "You don't know?" she whispered. She sounded...amazed, and offended, and hurt.
"I can make an educated guess but I'd rather you tell me instead." Wufei was tired. He wanted to cut the crap and go to sleep, possibly forever. "Why have you been systematically giving me some hallucinogen ever since we started this case together?"
She licked her lips, eyes flickering to his then at the cup, then towards the door, as if judging her chances of talking her way out of this. Wufei sighed and continued to talk, voice calm and precise, making sure she realized she couldn't get him to doubt his own conclusions. He wanted the truth from her, now.
"You've been building up the dosage like a professional. Small to start with, and mainly before I left in the evening, so the worst effects were while I was asleep, in the form of nightmares. Then you increased the dosage." Susan seemed to sink lower in the chair at every carefully measured sentence, eyes widening. "It's when the Wen family tried to bury the investigation that you started really hitting me with the high doses. That's when I actually started hallucinating. Why? That wasn't my fault, Susan-"
"Justice." The word was bitten off. "And it was for nothing, wasn't it. You still feel no guilt. You don't even know why!"
Wufei stared at her owlishly. "Guilt? I have a lot of guilt. And regrets, and problems, and feelings twisted up inside. I've been meeting a lot of them up close and personal these past four weeks, since we started our investigation. Which guilt in particular did you-"
"My name is Wu Shu Shen."
"So that is your real name? I was wondering-"
"My father was Wu Bo Rong "
"You said you came from another cluster in L5." Wufei suddenly felt a bit stupid; her father was Master Li's right hand man and Wufei had met him frequently from the moment of his marriage to Meiran until the end of his colony. Had he met Susan before?! He'd never paid much attention to the women surrounding the men of his clan. And he'd pretty much kept to himself, like the stuck-up unsocial brat he was.
"The place I told you I came from, is where I finished my studies in law. But I grew up with your wife, Chang Wu Fei," Susan's voice was the lawyer's again. She was making her case against him. Wufei vaguely wondered if she'd forgotten about his gun. He was having a hard time remembering it himself. "When my mother died, and my father was busy with Master Li's work, Meiran's grandmother raised me. Meiran and I were friends."
Wufei glanced at Meiran, but her eyes were closed, as if listening attentively, and she showed no signs of being affected.
"When she died...because of you...I-...my father decided to send me away. I was..." Susan's mouth worked helplessly, as the charges of accusation against him suddenly became personal. "I was grieving. He was afraid I would dishonour him by attacking you. I had several years ahead on my studies; he sent me to finish my barrister studies on another colony. So I wasn't there. I wasn't there when you destroyed him and our home."
Wufei sighed. "Susan- Shu Shen. You already know what happened. I-"
"You should have surrendered!" Susan was still perfectly controlled, her voice the majestic ringing voice of a prosecutor reducing an alibi to shreds. Her eyes were blind. "Master Li hit the button and died, those men made him do it, the ones I spent months hunting, and they are all dead, but you! You are alive, Chang Wu Fei, when you were the one they were looking for. You're alive, and well, and working for Treize's aide, Une, and you show no guilt. No guilt at all. I was there when you gave your testimony. You were sad. Regretful. But you were not guilty!"
"...so you decided to ask Une for my help in your investigation. And give my demons a little helping hand." Wufei shook his head, and that made him dizzy. The dragons he was sitting on were gnawing at his flesh. The cup on the table had a small snake swimming in the tea, and things were scurrying just out of sight, and running over his hands when he wasn't looking, making his fingers twitch. He had to finish this quickly. "What did you give me, Susan?"
"Something I paid a lot of money for, almost a year ago." Susan waved a hand dismissively. "Some tool the OZ interrogators formulated. You can find small amounts on the black market. I knew I'd need something like this sooner or later. I knew that someone, somewhere, would not feel the full horror of what they'd done, and I wanted them to. I...very much...wanted them to..." Susan's eyes suddenly focused on him, maybe for the first time. He thought she looked lost, briefly. This was supposed to be the culmination of a year of working for her ideal of justice. A calm, exhausted seventeen-year-old probably did not measure up to the huge, faceless Evil she'd been hunting down for months now. Reality never measured up to people's obsessions. It was much more complex, too. And sometimes it pointed guns at you.
"... Woman... you wanted my conscience to torture me for our home's destruction, but I have so many... I made so many mistakes, I have killed so many people, done so many things that I can never hope to compensate for even if I died ten times over... "
He stopped talking. What was the point? For him, the end of A0206 had been one blow among others from fate and his enemies. One more failure, one more guilt, one more thing he desperately wished he could change. His mind had been ripped apart this past month by his weaknesses, his hidden feelings, his guilt, and that had only been one ghost among others. For Susan, though, it had been the murder of her father and the destruction of her home and family, the single most traumatic event that had derailed her life and sent her on this quest for a culprit. He wondered if it had fastened on him only because all the other possible targets were dead.
Words were useless between them. They were not now, or ever, talking about the same thing.
He couldn't even be angry at her. In fact, he'd rather liked her, admired her. And she was even more lost than he was. No, the demons he'd faced these past four weeks had been of his own making, she had merely been instrumental in their apparition.
"Just tell me what you gave me, Susan." Wufei asked heavily. "I need to-"
A pounding on the door made them both jump. Wufei's finger tightened instinctively on the trigger - had the fire started again? The breach continued to open? No, he needed more time!
"Miss Wu! Miss Wu!"
More pounding. "Miss Wu, are you in? It's Agent Yuy! Chang's bike is out front, have you seen him?!"
"Help!" Susan screamed and leapt back to duck behind the kitchen counter. Wufei could have shot her twice before she got to cover, but there was really not much point. She wasn't dangerous.
A huge crash from the front door, and then Heero burst into the small living room, gun drawn.
Gun! Wufei was crouching by the couch, pointing his own weapon towards the threat before his mind could react.
Blue eyes wide, gun trained on Wufei instinctively -
Was this Heero? Or one more nightmare to torture him!
One more dream - Heero - four weeks - nightmares - violence, passion-
"Chang. Put down that gun." Heero's eyes were wide with alarm but his voice was perfectly neutral.
- companion, rival-
"You don't understand...it's her fault-"
- partner, torturer -
"She's been -"
- a source of help, warmth, scorn, contempt, pain and pleasure, in nightmare after nightmare-
"Chang, you're not rational. Put the gun down, now!"
Heero was aiming at his shoulder, Wufei realized. Just like Heero, not to take the easy way out, even at the risk of his own life. A normal person, faced with a raving and very dangerous armed lunatic, would have nailed Wufei in the chest or head already.
Icy realization trickled down his spine, knotted in his gut. This...this was the real Heero? Wufei was aiming at- but the Luger wouldn't move. Couldn't move. Wufei's overstressed body and mind were not letting him-
"Heero...get out of the way..." Wufei whispered, desperately.
No, no, no...but his finger tightened on the trigger. Whatever was left of his rational mind was screaming at him to put down his weapon; was begging Heero to fire, chest shot, and save himself - but the dragons had crawled under Wufei's skin, and were pulling his muscles like the strings of a puppet. Too many nightmares, he couldn't tell what was real, what was a dream, he just, he just wanted it to stop-
His world had narrowed down to Heero and the barrel of his weapon- the flames had winked out, he was no longer standing in his colony under a breach, there was just him and Heero - Real? Dream? -...but he was still aware enough to sense Susan dart from behind the counter and run towards the door.
Wufei's finger tensed even more, the trigger creaked - I can't let her go - I can't shoot Heero - I can't-
"Just a minute, Miss Wu." That voice- familiar-
There was a squeak and Susan stumbled back into his line of sight, nearly bumping into Heero.
"Heero, put away your weapon." Quatre. That was Quatre. He sounded calm, almost detached.
Heero's eyes narrowed, raking Wufei's face, his stance, judging how likely Wufei was to shoot if he removed the means of retaliation. Wufei, snared by too many conflicting thoughts and emotions, just stared back, unable to move, to do anything except wait for his partner to act first.
"Heero. Now." Definitely Quatre. It was the gentle order of someone who didn't expect people to obey him because he dominated the situation, or wanted to, but only because he was right, and he didn't always like it. Even Heero obeyed the quiet certainty of that voice. He slowly lowered the barrel of his gun - despite everything it had still only been pointing at Wufei's shoulder - and took a step back, ready to dodge if Wufei fired anyway.
"Here, Heero, hold her." Quatre propelled Susan, who'd been trying to move around him again, at Heero, who caught her wrist instinctively, and placed himself between her and Wufei's weapon. No, no Heero, she's not worth it, not worth risking your life, neither of us are...
"Wufei?" Quatre's voice was gentle; he was moving towards Wufei slowly but without any hesitation. Heero hissed in alarm but Wufei only blinked. Quatre...Quatre hadn't appeared in too many of his dreams. Was this real?
"Wufei, please give me the gun. Heero, put yours down on the counter. Oh, thanks." Wufei had reversed his grip on the Luger to hand it to Quatre by the barrel. Winner was, on the balance of probability, most likely not a dream, and as such, it would be a good deal safer to give him the gun than wave it around. Especially if Heero was real too. Dream Heero's reactions were completely up to whatever Wufei's sick mind decided, but the real Heero had been trained to react a certain way to irrational people waving weapons around. It'd be a pity to get shot now; he'd only just recovered from his car accident.
Heero was staring at the Luger in Quatre's hands, then at Wufei, then back at the Luger again. There was an expression on his face that Wufei had never seen before. It looked like he'd been shot, and for a terrified instant Wufei thought he saw blood on Heero's chest and an overwhelming horror made him shake. He looked quickly at Quatre again. No, his friend didn't look upset, and Quatre would certainly be a bit more perturbed if Wufei had killed Heero. Wufei snuck another glance at his partner who still looked dazed, but the blood was gone. Heero's Glock was pointing down at the floor, dangling forgotten from his hand.
Susan was twisting in Heero's grip. "Let me go! He's gone insane! He came here, threatened me! Said a lot of crazy things-"
"She's been putting something in my tea," Wufei interrupted dully. "She wouldn't tell me what, though. She said it was some drug OZ had developed for interrogations. Yes, I think there's some in there," Wufei added as he noticed Quatre glance down at the cup on the table. "She's been hitting me with high doses lately, particularly this afternoon. I was about to stop working with her. She would no longer have an opportunity to-"
"He's insane! You're not going to believe him?!" Susan was doing a great imitation of a hysterical, frightened and very innocent woman who'd been assaulted by an armed maniac. Wufei, who knew her, thought it was a very unlikely thing for her to pretend to be, but Quatre and Heero didn't know her that well.
On the other hand, they did know Wufei, and neither of them was stupid. They were both staring thoughtfully at the cup on the table. Susan's scream of unfeigned agony brought everyone's attention back to her. Heero was squeezing her wrist so hard her hand had gone white, red welts beneath his fingers.
"Heero." Quatre's voice was reproving, though he looked a bit dazed. Heero glanced down at his own hand as if startled by what it was doing, and eased up, though he kept a firm grip on her.
"We need to-" Heero started to say something, but he also gestured with his other hand in Wufei's direction - the hand holding the gun. Wufei fell back like a hound at bay, fear strangling him again, a dozen Heeros in a dozen dreams threatening him, hurting him, lashing him with words, or shooting him out of hand. Heero froze, and then carefully put the gun on the counter, sliding it out of Susan's reach. The woman was whimpering, her face white, trying to pull her wrist from his grasp; his fingers had tightened again.
"Heero." Quatre was a core of reason in the insanity and noise, most of which was thundering in between Wufei's ears. "I'll take care of Wufei. You watch the suspect and call in a team. A forensics team," Quatre added, looking pointedly at the cup on the table. "Don't worry, I'm not taking him to a hospital. I doubt they can cope. I'll go to Ops, Sally should still be there. Is that okay, Wufei?"
It sounded reasonable. Wufei glanced around. Meiran was sitting at the kitchen counter, watching Susan and Heero. She glanced up briefly and nodded. It'd be okay. Wufei really needed to go see Sally, and Meiran would watch over Heero and make sure Susan didn't try to trick him. Wufei was starting to come down from whatever drug high he was on; he was aware that a lot of what he'd seen this evening was a hallucination. The flames had all gone, and nothing looked burnt. But Meiran was real. She was dead, he knew that. But in his culture, the ghosts of loved ones had the power to protect their family, and his heart told him this was the truth. He gave her a smile of pure gratitude and Meiran grinned back and made shooing gestures. Wufei let Quatre lead him from the small, temporary apartment where Susan's hate had stewed.
The air outside felt good, though something weighed on his shoulders. It was the look Heero gave him as Wufei let Quatre lead him away. Confused. Maybe even slightly...hurt? Of course, Heero wouldn't know that Wufei had left Meiran to watch over him; he hadn't deserted his partner wilfully. But Wufei really needed to go see Sally and get his head straight again...shit, he'd made quite a mess of things.
"No one blames you," Quatre whispered - he was driving quickly, casually burning red lights with a few muttered curses in Arabic towards the reckless drivers getting in his way. Wufei blinked, and realized with some relief that he had a seatbelt on and that he was clinging to the car door's armrest. He didn't remember climbing into the car. "I blame myself. I should- we should have realized. We knew you weren't in your right state of mind but we never thought-"
"Well, neither did I, and I was the one there. I should have recognized the symptoms. And the questions she kept asking...even some of the questions towards the suspects were probably aimed at me. Stupid," Wufei sighed, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry, I've been very stupid."
"Yes," Sally muttered, looking both scared and furious.
Wufei blinked. He was sitting bare-chested in the Ops clinic, and Sally was writing things down on a clipboard as if she wanted to stab it.
"So you were saying...dry mouth? Nausea? Dizziness? Increased respiration and heart rate?" Sally looked at him closely then grimaced. "A tendency to lose time?"
"I thought they were dreams," he muttered.
"They probably would seem like it to start with, when she was giving you the occasional light dose, but any fool knows that violent nightmares, insomnia and night-time sweats for over a week should prompt an immediate trip to a doctor," Sally ground out. She was also grinding the pen against the clipboard. Quatre moved forward to gently touch her hand and she turned and stomped away.
"I think she's mad at me," Wufei whispered. "I was going to see her tomorrow. Or when I got back from-...I forget."
"Don't worry about it, she'll get over it." Quatre smiled. He looked worried too, but he hid it better than Sally.
"Do you know what Susan used yet?"
"No, but I guess we'll find out," Sally grumbled, approaching with a syringe. She swabbed Wufei's arm a bit more roughly than necessary, but she was gentle as she slipped the needle in and collected some blood into several little tubes. Quatre was right at Wufei's side. Probably in case he became violent, Wufei realized, trying to feel offended. He had better control than that-
"Quatre? Did I- did I really point a gun at Heero, or was that also in my head?" Wufei's voice was shaking.
"Well..." Quatre glanced at Sally, who shrugged, eyes sad.
"I did, didn't I? Fuck. He's going to be furious."
"I think worried is more accurate," Quatre sighed. "He knows you were not in your right mind, Wufei."
"Hee- I mean, Yuy, he's not really affected by drugs, he won't understand-" Wufei's breath was starting to hiss through his lungs, he was sweating and shaking. Sally looked at him sharply.
"Yes, well, you never saw him under the Zero system the first time he used it," Quatre snorted. "I was at the other end of his big-ass gun that time, and let me tell you he's a lot scarier than even you are."
"Yes, but he beat it on his own..." Wufei's throat was so dry, it hurt.
"I kind of helped him," Quatre drawled, crossing his arms over his chest. Wufei thought absently that the words and the gesture seemed to belong more to Duo than to a normally poised Quatre. It triggered a memory of some very strange dreams he'd had, about Quatre, and Trowa, and Duo. Wufei frowned, and shook his head. And nearly fell off the examination table. Quatre steadied him.
"I should have realized...my own subconscious did. It was trying to tell me about Susan for awhile now, I think. Too bad it didn't speak up a bit more clearly," Wufei muttered.
"There, I sent those off." Sally came back, wiping her hands on a paper towel.
"Can you tell what Susan used from my blood samples?"
"No. We'll wait for forensics to search her apartment. I'm guessing I know. A distant relative of ketamine, developed for interrogations, normally at the doses she gave you at the end. The suspect does his own interrogation."
"Hallucinations, the suspect's hidden guilt and feelings dragged to the fore. Confusion, heightened aggression, and a release of the suspect's inhibitions, making it more likely he'll just come right out with what he's thinking instead of hiding it. It's a very effective tool. If the suspect doesn't give the interrogators what they need during his waking nightmares, his resistance is broken fairly quickly anyway, from stress and sleep deprivation, and then he's docile to questioning once the drug is stopped."
"Why did you take my blood?" Wufei stared at her, feeling the shape of something she was leaving unsaid.
Sally licked her lips, and then explained softly: "Used for any length of time...that kind of drug causes organ damage. I sent your blood off for chemical analysis. We'll look for the kind of breakdown proteins that signals injury to certain parts of the body."
"This drug was developed late in the war, and I don't know its effects all that-"
"Which parts, Sally?"
"I don't know," she whispered. "But liver and/or kidneys would be my first guess. Maybe your stomach, I'll check you for ulcers in a couple of days, you might have lesions. Heart, lungs, from stress..."
"Brain? How is this likely to affect me long-term?"
"Neurologically, there should be no long-term damage or dependency. As for the psyche...Normally...it can be pretty bad. It is torture, after all." Sally looked him right in the eye. "But you're a strong man, Chang Wufei. You didn't break, and I think your mind is fundamentally okay. I think you can beat the after effects too. Which are likely to include more nightmares as your sleep patterns reassert themselves, as well as the consequences of any trauma: depression, stress, black-outs, paranoia, sleep disorders, delocalized pain, the works. I am going to have to prescribe complete rest for a month, no stress - don't say it, Chang!" Sally shouted as Wufei started to protest. "After your lapse in judgement in not coming to me at the first full-blown hallucination, I could pull your badge!" Wufei subsided quickly.
"Right," Sally humphed. "Make that three weeks, and then we'll do an evaluation. We'll also see what the blood samples say, too. And you need sleep. I'll give you something to knock you out for the next twelve hours, no dreams guaranteed. Your body needs to recuperate, as well as your mind. Then we'll see. Quatre, can you and Heero stay with him? He needs to be watched. You pilots have odd reactions to drugs. If he starts to show signs of having hallucinations, or sleepwalking or anything, you have to wake him up, okay?"
"No problem," Quatre's hand was warm on Wufei's bare shoulder, pushing him gently off the table. Wufei allowed Sally to help him on with his shirt and jacket, and then he staggered to the door.
A night without nightmares. Sounded like an impossible dream, really.
He wasn't worried about organ damage. He knew his body well. It was stressed, but he didn't think it had been injured beyond repair. His mind was solid. He'd been trained to resist this sort of thing, and Susan's efforts had been mild compared to a full-blown session courtesy of OZ. He'd work on Sally to get out on the field as soon as possible. He wanted to put all this out of his mind. He wanted to be fighting side by side with Heero again.
Back to normal. Heero would probably be angry at him - stupid not to have recognized the symptoms of the drug, he had had plenty of clues. And he'd ended up pointing a gun at Heero, after spending a month biting his head off when Heero was only - only trying to help.
At least Wufei had not said anything in his delirium; he could tell that much from Heero's reactions to date. Wufei hadn't said anything that might make Heero reconsider their arrangement. Not mentioned the dreams where Heero had been his companion and friend, instead of his partner and rival, and how those had hurt worse than the nightmares because of the moment he woke up...
"Forensics should confirm what Susan used," Quatre muttered, sliding Wufei's jacket off. They were back already? Oh yes, he remembered Quatre walking behind him as he climbed the stairs, ready to steady him if he needed it. "They'll make sure we have all the evidence we need."
"Evidence for what? I'm not prosecuting her," Wufei told him dully.
The holster Quatre had removed from Wufei's shoulder tumbled numbly from his hands. "What?!"
"...it's not...entirely her fault. She...it's so hard, Quatre. What we did this past month. Looking for justice but not being able to apply-"
"Wufei, you had nothing to do with your colony's destruction!" Quatre stared at him. Wufei looked away, troubled, and fumbled his shirt off.
"...That's not entirely true. If I'd surrendered-"
Two hands caught him by the shoulders, straightening him from the slump he'd not even noticed. "Wufei, do not blame yourself!"
"...what if she was right. She was fighting for Justice after all. Maybe I'm the one who's wrong. Maybe I should feel much guiltier for-"
"Wufei," Quatre took a deep breath, and released it slowly. "Wufei, if she wanted to prosecute someone for destroying a colony she had a much better person to attack than you." Quatre's eyes were direct, not hiding the pain there. "She failed, Wufei. I know that we ask these people - the War Crimes Committee investigators - we ask them the impossible. We ask them to look into the depths of horror and remain detached, impartial. Fair. We ask them to uphold an impossibly high standard and they accept. They are greater heroes than the five of us ever were. We fought to end a war. They fight - put their sanities on the line - so that it never happens again. And they get little, if no, recognition for it.
"But Susan failed." Quatre's voice was intense, though he spoke softly. "I am the last person on Earth or in space who can blame her; I made pretty much the same mistake. But that means nothing. That we asked her to do something so hard, that she suffered so much...we each have to stand by our own actions in the end. She was supposed to stand for Justice, and she fell into personal revenge."
"...I think I may have pushed her," Wufei whispered. Was Susan right? Did he deserve to have a life, especially this one he'd chosen and enjoyed, when so many of his clan had died? When Meiran had died? And how about his own quest for justice...hadn't that been only revenge...?
"No. You didn't. I think she fell long before she met you. And if it hadn't been you, it would have been someone else. That's why it was revenge, Wufei: she just wanted blood. Anyone's." Quatre was whispering. His hands were warm on Wufei's bare shoulders, pressing the skin, bringing him back to reality. Quatre leaned forward until he was murmuring directly into Wufei's ears; his words for Wufei alone. "You know, in your heart, that she was wrong. I'm just as torn up inside as you, Wufei. I feel just as unworthy to judge her as you feel. But there is a line between justice and revenge and she crossed it.
"Let her go, Wufei. Come back to us, and let her go."
Come back to...us?
Wufei teetered on the brink of something. An abyss in his mind, like the one into which Susan had tumbled.
He held back. But the lifeline holding him fast felt so tenuous. Come back to us...who was 'us'?
Wufei barely felt Quatre take off the rest of his clothes and guide him towards his bed.
"Here you go." Quatre smoothed the covers over him.
Wufei turned onto his stomach and sunk his cheek in the pillow.
"You can go now, Winner," he muttered.
"I won't let you crash without someone to watch your back, even if it wasn't Sally's orders." Quatre smiled down at him. "I'll stick around a few minutes. Heero should be following us, he can take over."
"No. He'll be at the crime scene, taking charge. Or following through with the arrest," Wufei corrected him absently, his eyes drifting shut.
"Oh, I'm sure he'll be along. I don't think you quite appreciate how bad you look, Wufei. You gave us quite the scare. I think he'll want to be sure you're okay."
Wufei laughed, a little wisp of a chuckle, opening his eyes again. "He won't be home for hours, Winner." He smiled at Quatre's sudden frown. "Trust me...I know."
I know...back to normal...back to silence...but it hurts...
Quatre undid the thong holding his hair bound, and he eased if from the crunch it had set in with his fingers, in a gesture Heero would never stoop to.
"So tired..." Wufei whispered, the words slipping from his lips of their own volition.
"Rest. The medication Sally gave you should knock you out. No dreams." Quatre's voice was soft, but his eyes were wary as if realizing the words might not have had an obvious interpretation. "You okay?"
Quatre frowned. His fingers dropped from Wufei's hair to rub his temple, soothe his brow. Wufei blinked but his vision kept blurring and gods he couldn't stop talking.
"It's so hard...I don't want to fail him but I'm so weak sometimes."
Quatre's fingers froze on his skin. Wufei hated himself for the way he ached for that gentle touch.
"You're not weak, Wufei. Come on, you're the toughest man I know." Quatre's mouth twisted into what might have been an attempt at an encouraging grin. "You resisted weeks of torture, you arrested your interrogator yourself...And I don't know anybody else who can keep up with-" blue eyes widened.
He knew. He understood. Well...it was Quatre. Wufei felt too tired to be afraid, or ashamed. And this was Quatre...this was the person who had taught a hard-headed L5 warrior the crucial difference between pity and compassion. It was okay to talk to Quatre.
"I try to keep up with him. To become more like him but- I...I'm sorry." His vision blurred even more but his eyes were dry, of course. All the drugs in the world couldn't rip that much control from him; he had the best master on Earth and in space in that regard. "It's so hard sometimes. I don't want to let him down, to burden him with my needs, but I...these past weeks I wanted...I needed...he'd be disgusted with me if he knew I was so weak, that I wanted more from him than he already gives me but I really wanted a- a f-friend to talk to-"
Quatre's eyes were narrowed, and bright as he crouched beside the bed. His face was firm. "No, you didn't."
Wufei tried to focus. "Huh?"
"I was here. I was your friend. So was Susan, or at least you thought so. You reached out to us, a bit. You didn't want him to be your friend, you wanted him to be your lover."
Wufei shied away from the touch on his cheek and the word. That word was forbidden. "N-no. We-we don't have that. That's not- I knew you wouldn't understand."
"You may be right about that." Quatre nodded. His voice was neutral but his eyes were sad.
"We just share- we- we just relieve tension. It's not-...we're partners. We're not-"
"I'm so tired..." He was drifting, eyes nearly closed. "I'm too tired to fight anymore...to...I...it can't be like that. It's not...it's not what we have. He chose me because I understood that. Because we could be partners and - and screw each other and not get any feelings involved. I-"
"Wufei..." Quatre looked like he was fighting himself. He licked his lips and then said, tentatively: "Maybe you should consider-"
"No!" Wufei jerked his head from the pillow and glared, though Quatre's image was blurred and his sentence far from finished. "No, he's - he makes me the best warrior I could ever be. I- I was only half-alive before- before coming to Brussels. I will not throw that away-"
"This is killing you." Quatre's voice was carefully dispassionate, neither condemning nor pitying, and for that Wufei was thankful, though the words burned.
"Wrong, Winner, it's my failings that are killing me." His head sank back into the pillow.
"Wufei, you're not making sense," Quatre whispered, then added in a mutter: "I think you stopped making sense a while back."
"...will become stronger. I'll get over this. Don't need it. Won't break us apart. I can live-"
"Without tenderness? Affection? Understanding? Someone on your side instead of being some kind of perpetual...rival or something? Can you really live like that, for long? Can you even call that living?" Quatre struck like a true swordsman, a blade of unwanted words slicing into every aspect of Wufei's pain.
"I...he understands me...when we're in battle. We understand each other. We have an arrangement."
"I just need to be stronger. He does it. He doesn't need anything. Well, anything like that. But he does need me to work with him, watch his back. To be his partner. I'm the only one he trusts with that." Wufei smiled with tired pride. He had that. And it was everything that mattered. It was up to him to keep it. "I just need to be more like him, focus on -"
Quatre suddenly started - his fingers tightened on Wufei's neck briefly - and he glanced quickly over his shoulder. Without a word he got up and left.
Wufei stared blindly at the suddenly empty space. He heard the door to his room close firmly, but he couldn't even turn his head to look. It didn't make sense, to think that Quatre had left. Actually, the thought of Quatre marching out in disgust at Wufei's stupid outpouring was just too alien to his comprehension.
Then Quatre was at his bedside again, kneeling. He was flushed, and his eyes were bright with something that looked like anger, but when he caught Wufei's glance the expression disappeared to be replaced by one of quiet compassion. He leaned his chin on his folded hands on the edge of the bed, face a few inches from Wufei's.
"Look... " He was whispering. It felt strangely comforting. "... you need to sleep. We'll talk about this tomorrow."
Wufei smiled sadly. "No, we won't," he whispered back.
Quatre's eyes dulled with pain. "Wufei... I... I'll always be here for you if you-"
Wufei held his gaze, the smile, then slowly turned his head on the pillow and dropped off into unconsciousness. He felt, just as he let go, Quatre's hand slip into his. His presence, his touch, more than Sally's pill, would keep the monsters at bay. He wouldn't have asked Quatre to do that, but he didn't have to.
He wanted that from Heero like a piece was missing from his chest.
And here, finally, worn down to the bone...he was no longer so sure he could live without it anymore.
On to part thirty-five. Back to part thirty-three.