Tears cannot put out a fire.
--- Chinese proverb
It was amazing how life's greatest upsets could often be summarized in a few words, distilling the essence of the pain.
My wife died in my arms.
I was too weak to avenge her.
Wufei focused on the wire he was tugging, made sure the laptop was still sending the counter-order to the tamper device. 99822.
*You only fight for your ego, Treize! How many have died because of you?!*
*As of yesterday, 99822. Lady, how many dead today?... ah... please give me their names later...*
Why had Treize done that to him. Was this some kind of sick revenge? To make Wufei understand just what kind of man - what kind of great man - great in a way... It would be nice if it had been for revenge, because that would, in a measure, tarnish his image.
But Wufei didn't think that he rated high enough in Treize's schemes to merit revenge. He was beginning to realize just how little he had mattered at all.
99822 and one broken dragon.
...*My eternal friend*...
Was that some kind of recognition to a fellow warrior? Thanks to Treize's executioner? Or just one last head-game that would amuse the Machiavellian bastard beyond the grave?
Did it matter?
99822 dead, not counting the soldiers who had fallen in the final hours of the Last War. That's how people were calling it now; overly optimistically in Wufei's view. The scholar had studied the history of many other 'Wars to end all wars', which had claimed a great many more dead than that one. And ten, twenty or a hundred years later, 99822 or more men and women died to fulfill the ambitions of a man who wanted to shape history to his liking.
Unlike most of those dictators, Treize had known - and visibly cared - about this number. That had hurt Wufei in a way he couldn't even fully quantify.
But the fact remained that, however much Treize felt those deaths, he had caused them. 99822 was just a number; you had to multiply it by one man's hopes, fears, dreams, ambitions, petty sins and desires, his family, his friends, his pets, his favourite food, his hobbies, his place in the world, to grasp the full extent of that tragedy. And Treize had, willingly, caused these thousands of finalities for his own ends. Knowing the full extent of his sin. As if knowing could somehow justify it.
Wufei's eyes were two black, blind pits as his fingers moved quickly on auto-pilot.
How many people have I killed?
Does not knowing this make me better or worse than him?
*What the hell am I doing?!*
Wufei froze just as he was about to plunge the wires into the detonation device and realized he no longer knew which ones were from the laptop and which were from the cascade trigger.
...oh good job, Chang. What a brilliant move. Daydreaming while you're wiring enough explosives to spread a Gundam over three city blocks.
...might save the world a lot of trouble...
...but I'm not sure it deserves such consideration.
He shook his head, carefully followed the leads back to their ports - he had been about to plug in the right ones, after all - then concentrated until the last device was calibrated and reset on the fuel tank.
Then he rested his forehead against the cold Gundanium and let his hands tremble, for a little while.
Why was he doing this? This was the second time he'd checked and rewired and improved Nataku's self-destruct device - remembering how Duo's had failed when it mattered. But he shouldn't need it, should he? The war was over. No one was asking him to blow himself up anymore. So why-... ?
Because he felt as weak and uncertain as he had during those weeks of defeat after his first encounter with Treize, and he wasn't even sure he could defend Nataku any longer. He needed to insure that if something happened, the mecha would not fall into the wrong hands.
Now he just had to figure out who the wrong hands were.
And what should he do with himself in the meantime? He'd had some... interesting offers. Some more interesting than others. He couldn't seem to care about any of them. It was as if he had been the one who died; a ghost had no future, only a past.
Damn, I wasn't expecting to win... Why am I still alive?
*"I can't kill one who understands me."*
Why hesitate to kill one more?
Wufei suddenly punched the metal just to feel the pain slam through his fist. Enough. He had to go over the security details of the hangar now. And make sure no innocent bystander could accidentally wander in here to-
His ears pricked. The echoes in the hangar were treacherous, he had heard nothing but the occasional creak of metal. It was his warrior's senses that told him he had missed the noise of someone creeping up on him.
Oh good! Wufei smiled fiercely at the metal before him as he idly picked up a wrench. He could take these clowns down with his bare hands, but he had warned them last time. This time he'd hear some bones crunch. This would steady his mood for a little while at least. He stood up casually, pretending to put away a few instruments. When his senses told him the intruders were near the control room and he was temporarily out of their sight, he darted sideways, threw himself from the repair platform, leapt as silently as he could from its cabin to the pile of empty fuel drums to the ground and ran the thirty meters separating Nataku from the steel walls of the small control bunker, stranded like an abandoned lunchbox in the huge hangar.
He steadied his breathing, put the wrench behind his back and stepped out to meet his guests. He'd let them attack first, if that was their plan. Maybe he'd even listen to them some more, though he'd made his conditions clear last time. He didn't want to deal with goons and he didn't want to go anywhere. If this mysterious leader wanted to talk to him then it was up to him to come here -
It wasn't several muscle men walking stealthily. It was only one, naturally-quiet young man who was taking no particular precautions at all.
Wufei was speechless. This he hadn't been expecting.
"Your security is lax." Heero said with his usual charm and manners.
Wufei put down the wrench - somewhat reluctantly - and shrugged coldly. "It's only a preliminary system. I haven't been here long." And how the hell did you find me?
Heero looked around. He didn't seem impressed. Wufei had done his best. There weren't that many places you could hide a Gundam on a colony; you couldn't stick it in your backyard, cover it with a tarp and tell the neighbours it was an ornamental gazebo under construction. He'd moved twice in the last week before finding this hole. It was perfect, he'd thought. An old MS development base, deserted now, nobody around for a mile. The hangar had been the engine testing area. The wind tunnel had been dismantled but the hangar was heavily reinforced and shielded, which hid his Gundam from scanners and casual searches. And it would protect the colony from damage if he was careless with his explosives.
"It's not a very secure location." Heero commented, with a glance upward as if the ceiling had been removed and he could see the curve of the colony above their heads, with its buildings and factories and inhabitants all looking down upon the Gundam in their midst.
"Where's Wing?" Wufei asked tightly, already annoyed.
"I hid it on an abandoned satellite. With full protective measures." Heero added.
"Well I want Nataku close by." Wufei countered sharply. "What are you doing here, Yuy?"
"What are *you* doing here?" Heero leaned against the steel wall of the reinforced bunker which used to house the wind-tunnel's controls.
"How the hell is that your business?"
Heero seemed to weigh his response to the words, and the aggression behind them.
Wufei knew where his anger was coming from. There had been a moment... Right after Treize had thrown himself on Wufei's weapon - *that was beautiful, Wufei* - there had been a moment when he could have ended it all. There were still plenty of opportunities, in the battleground that was Libra, to follow his enemy into the peace of oblivion. Hell, you couldn't fly three feet in a straight line without bumping into a mobile doll or an Earth Alliance suit and they were all shooting at each other. The crossfire alone was deadly. He had been standing there, watching the last pieces of the tallgeese shoot away, no gravity or atmosphere to dampen the inertia from the explosion that had sent them rocketing towards the four corners of the solar system. If he'd stayed put a few moments longer he would probably have been targeted by, well, one side or the other, it really didn't matter at that point...
And then he found his eyes focusing on a piece of metal that was not part of tallgeese's rapid exodus from the battlefield, one that he knew well.
Wing's buster rifle.
The clench in his heart had reminded him it was still beating. Heero?! Had Wing been destroyed?!
Dragged back to life, the desperate words on the comm. channels finally filtered through. And he'd reacted as a warrior, putting his confusion and grief aside to do his duty, one last time.
He still wasn't sure it had been the right thing to do.
Heero, of course, had probably never had any doubts.
Wufei resented him terribly for that.
And for not getting in touch after the so-called Last War, when Wufei had been staying on L5 with a few survivors of his clan...
And also for popping up now, when Wufei was hiding and trying to figure things out by himself...
Wufei turned away abruptly in dismissal. He knew his body language would probably give away the confusion and anger he was feeling. He didn't need his face to get in on the act and confirm it. He had nothing to say to Yuy now.
"Wait." Heero said firmly. Wufei's steps slowed but he didn't turn around. "Do you have any plans? For the future?"
Wufei put his hands on his hips. His eyes fixed on Nataku on the concrete apron of the test bay. He'd ran a check on most of the circuits but the vernier rockets still needed going over if he wanted to get back into space. That was as far as his plans went and that was quite enough.
"The mobile dolls and MS that belonged to the Earth Alliance were destroyed when they returned to MO2." Heero's voice was brisk and neutral, as usual. "But most of the factions on earth did not join their suits to the war effort. There are still quite a few weapons around the colonies as well. There's still enough out there to cause trouble."
Including five Gundams, Wufei found himself thinking. That fact was of great interest to certain parties. Had the other pilots been approached as well? Well, not Heero, of course, unless these people were really stupid...
"Une is setting up an organisation to watch for any groups that might try to collect these weapons. To make sure none -"
Wufei's laughter echoed through the hangar's empty space. It was a cold, jagged sound.
"Une?!" He turned to face Heero, who looked blank. "That's just rich. Treize's number one lackey, his most faithful devotee... even she can't trust this so-called Peace he inflicted on us? She thinks she has to clamp down on it to maintain it?"
Heero glared, face suddenly rigid. "It's not an army, Chang, she's not going to force people to- it's just an agency to watch for potential trouble spots."
"Trouble spots? You always had such a way with words, Yuy. I thought we were all supposed to get along now. Why do we need this... agency?"
" ...it appears there are still some die-hard elements who might not accept Total Pacifism... " Heero said softly looking straight into Wufei's eyes. The Chinese pilot had to swallow another fit of laughter.
"How uncooperative of them. And how inconvenient for you. But there's no need for an agency. Just sick Relena onto them." Why, why am I baiting him? "After a few hours of listening to her drivel, they'll either convert or blow their brains out." Why am I so angry with him?
Blue eyes were cold now, but Heero was still - of course! - perfectly in control of himself.
"When I heard you'd left your clan's new colony, I thought you might be at loose ends. I thought you might want to join us." Heero's voice was tight but he was apparently going to ignore the direction the conversation was heading and try to wrench it back to its original purpose which was... what? Join them?
"Want to make sure I play nice, Yuy?"
Heero stared at him, then crossed his arms abruptly, in a move that was almost defensive. He turned his head slightly, his body language conceding. Barely. "I need a partner."
The way his heart trembled was the same as when he'd seen that buster rifle floating through space, and realized he still had something pulling him forward.
For an instant he hung on the thread of that decision. But... not this time.
He turned abruptly and walked away. "Get the hell out of here." He snarled over his shoulder.
"Why are you still so-?!" Heero's voice was cold with anger. The rapid footsteps behind him were punching into Wufei's nerves like fists. "We won! The war is over!" A hand landed on his shoulder. "You defeated Treize-"
The hand spun him around and Wufei accompanied the movement, using momentum and every ounce of his balance and chi to land the blow. Heero's eyes were wide with shock but his body had read the danger in time and he'd twisted instinctively to let the blow land on his shoulder. He staggered back, clutching his numbed arm.
"*I didn't defeat Treize! I just killed him!*" Wufei's angry shout seemed to shove Heero back another step, into a defensive stance.
Wufei's fists were clenched and he stared at them, aching to punch his way out of this situation. "You're a fool, Yuy! We didn't win! He did! This is his peace, his idea, his plan!"
"It's peace!" Heero snapped. The shock had faded from his eyes and the cold fury of the soldier had replaced it. "It's the peace Relena advocated-"
"And you know what?! I still don't believe in it!" Wufei let his anger and his fists lead him into the attack.
Heero fell back another step and his arm rose to parry as his other hand shot out, to grab and immobilize. Wufei almost laughed again as he dodged into a crouch, spun on his axis and swept Heero's legs out from under him. Wing's pilot cursed and rolled back, giving himself more room, but Wufei wasn't having any of that. He followed through, pressing the advantage.
Heero growled, and retaliated with the ease and violence his opponent remembered all too well. Wufei dodged a sharp uppercut and kicked in the same motion. Blue eyes widened but Heero's body knew what to do. Wufei staggered as one of Heero's forearms blocked the kick and the other hammered into his leg, thrusting it sideways. I taught him that, Wufei thought with fierce pride as he used the momentum Heero had given him to spin again and connect a vicious backhand to his opponent's already wounded shoulder. Heero didn't even flinch. The bastard was tougher than his Gundam. Wufei smiled fiercely and stepped forward to meet the hail of blows as Heero used his power and stamina to take back the advantage.
Muscles coiling slowly Wufei took a step back. He rubbed his forearm, wondering if the bone was cracked, not caring if it was. The pain was lost in the rush. Heero mirrored his move, his stance aggressive.
Beautiful, Wufei thought. Heero's eyes were slits and the blue had darkened to the colour of the deep sea; he was silent, face set, giving away nothing, but Wufei could read that powerful body and it was singing with the harmony of violence. The soldier was never more alive than in these moments and Wufei's heart beat the fierce tattoo of war drums knowing he was one of the rare people in Earth and Space to be able to fully bring this out in Heero Yuy.
"What's wrong, Yuy?" He whispered. "Aren't you supposed to stand down, tell me about peace, convince me not to fight?"
Heero's posture shifted, ready for the next attack, assuming this was a distraction.
"You won't. Because this is who we are. We are meant to fight. It's the only time we are complete." Wufei dropped his own stance a bit so that Heero would actually listen to what he had to say. He saw the blue eyes widen as his words penetrated.
"We are soldiers." Heero acknowledged coldly. "But soldiers are now redundant. We can still be useful to-"
"Beat the swords into ploughshares?" Wufei sneered. "People are even less malleable than Gundanium. You, Relena, Une, you're all blind fools. This will be the Last War for all of a year, if that. Then-"
"No." Heero's voice was tight, eyes blazed. "The people have accepted peace. They-"
Wufei's laughter interrupted him again. "Oh yes, the people. So traumatized, weren't they, when Une beamed your fight with Zechs across the Earth sphere. Such an ugly display. Yes, it didn't make for pretty television, did it.
"It's not going to change anything, Yuy. They'll get over the shock soon enough. You can hunt down the suits and artillery to your heart's content! They'll use guns, Molotov cocktails, kitchen knifes, their fists if they have to, but sooner or later we'll be at war again! Treize was wrong! Just showing them what war is like won't change them! There's only one way they'll understand! It's if they have to go through the same hell we did! That's the only way they'll *earn* it!" There, he'd said it; the idea that had been gnawing at him and tempting him and tormenting him, in one guise or another, since Treize's death. He could barely acknowledge it until now...
"And how many people will have to die this time?" Heero asked softly.
"As many as it takes!" Wufei shouted and threw himself forward, fist swinging down like a hammer.
"You could be right-" Heero whispered.
Wufei's punch connected - hard. He staggered in surprise. Watched Heero's body hit the ground limply five feet away.
He'd-! Heero had dropped his guard! He'd not even tried to parry-
He'd just let Wufei's fist smash into him. Wufei found himself taking a hesitant step towards the fallen man, hand outstretched. Then Heero stirred and Wufei fell back.
Heero shook his head, looking dazed. He was clutching his chest where the blow had landed, and he winced as he moved. Wufei could almost hear the grind of cracked or broken ribs.
"You could be right... in which case, I can tell you." Heero's voice was weak and his breath was uneven.
"T-tell me-... " Wufei stared, completely confused.
"How many it will take. If you are right, it will be all of them. They'll all have to die. Even her."
Her? Wufei felt an icy thread of pain and horror run down into his gut.
"Over and over again. Even the innocent." Heero's eyes were unfocused. "Even young girls can grow up and wield a weapon if they want to. She'll have to die. Again and again."
How- how could Heero know?! Wufei felt himself tremble. How had he found out about Meiran? Her name echoed through his mind. He hadn't thought much about her these days...
Heero's voice was a whisper lost in the screaming, howling thing his soul had become. The soldier's words barely made sense.
"How many times, Chang? How many times will I have to kill her? How many dead bodies? I know I'm a soldier. A killer. That's why I had to join Une, have to believe in peace, otherwise I will have killed all those people for nothing. And they'll have deserved it. If that's true I might as well terminate myself because nothing I can do will ever matter."
Wufei found himself looking back at Nataku. She stood, gleaming in the dim light from the hangar's dirty windows.
His wife had not deserved to die. She had fought, true. But she had warred for Justice and he knew that once that had been achieved, she would have put down her weapons and gladly returned to him in that field of flowers. She would still have been strong. She would still be Nataku. She didn't have to fight to prove it.
How many times would she have to die, if war broke out again?
Would his Gundam deliver the killing blow this time?
I don't think they deserve peace, Nataku, Wufei thought. He heard Heero stir behind him, stand up slowly, but he was lost, his thoughts spiralling into a vortex. They are weak. This peace was given to them, bought by the blood of the strong. I don't think they've earned it. They've not learned their lesson. But... but I will not become a new Treize in an attempt to teach them. They'll learn it on their own, or not. It's their choice. It has to be, or it's all meaningless.
- Forgive me, Nataku. I am weak, and your strength tempts me. I won't go down that path. I'll find my own strength.-
His fingers fumbled at the device, removing the securities numbly.
- There probably will be another war but mine is over. -
He heard Heero gasp as he raised the detonator and hit the button. An instant before the air solidified into pressure and light, something hard rammed into him and hurled him behind the far wall of the reinforced bunker.
His ears were ringing so badly it was as if the explosion was going on and on. His lungs and head ached at the sudden compression of the air around him. Around them. He realized Heero was lying next to him, with his hands over his head.
Wufei glanced around prudently. The bunker walls had protected them from the backlash of the explosion and pieces of Gundanium hurled at twenty thousand feet per second. The hangar doors had been ripped off and were resting twenty feet away but the rest of the building looked fairly steady still. Or so he thought until he reluctantly crawled forward and poked his head around the edge of the bunker and realized the entire end of the hangar had been blown clear off. The ceiling would be weakened as a result. It was already a proof of the designer's ingenuity that the building was still standing at all.
He felt movement behind him and he turned, too quickly. His head swam and he stumbled. He sat and leaned against the bunker's walls. Heero had risen to his knees, hand pressed to his chest. He was shaking his head slightly as if to clear out the tinnitus.
Wufei's eyes flinched from a huge chunk of plate-armour, red enamel still clinging, embedded in a side of the hangar. From the angle, it might very well have scythed through the space he'd been standing if Heero hadn't dragged him behind cover. Then again maybe not, it was hard to tell. He tried not to think this was a piece of Nataku while his heart ached.
"I should tell you." Heero said stiffly, his voice louder than usual. "If you were trying to self-destruct, that wasn't the most efficient way of going about it."
Self-... ? Right. It was nice of Heero to believe Wufei was actually thinking that far ahead when he hit that button.
"I know you speak from personal experience." Wufei grumbled, as Heero slowly got to his feet. "Don't worry, I'd do it efficiently."
"No you won't."
"What?" Wufei tore himself from his thoughts. Heero was scrutinizing him carefully.
"You won't self-destruct. You're stronger than he was."
Wufei stared at him for a long time, then he turned his head and shrugged.
Movement in front of him made him look back. Heero's hand was extended towards him. It reminded him of that time in the shed, their first time, after the sparring and the sex. He'd refused it without a second though then. He didn't hesitate long now, using the wall instead to haul himself to his feet. Heero let the hand fall back, more slowly this time, but his eyes were steady and he didn't seem surprised.
Wufei, still leaning against the wall, turned the corner and took the full measure of the destruction. He could feel Heero move to his side, and sigh ever so slightly. Even the cold, efficient soldier must feel a pinch in the chest area at the destruction of one of their partners.
"I know this is probably not a good time-" Heero started with uncharacteristic diplomacy.
"There is a man."
"I don't know his name, he's been quite coy about approaching me. But I dug up some information about one of his middlemen. Here." Wufei dug out the card from his pocket. His laptop was now blown to hell, along with his research, but he'd jotted some of it down. "This is the phone number they gave me to contact them. This - " He pointed to the name and address he'd scribbled down, as Heero took the card with a puzzled frown. "He's the man who hires people for them. He works here, it's a big company in the L3 cluster. I get the impression his boss is a big man there too."
Heero read the information carefully, probably memorising it while he was at it. Then he glanced up, an eyebrow arched quizzically.
"They approached me with an offer to join them. With... Nataku. They didn't give me many details, but I have a feeling they're trying to form some kind of force."
Heero's eyes were on the card again, and they were as cold as the vacuum of space. Then he looked up slowly.
Wufei knew what he was going to ask, and for an instant he was tempted. But, unlike Heero, he'd always been told to follow duty rather than feelings. In the void that his life had become it gave him something to guide him; now that revenge and the need to watch over Nataku were resolved, there was another obligation to focus on.
"Will you-... "
"The information I gave you should be sufficient to determine who they are." Wufei said softly. "I... have duties to attend to."
"Yes. Several minor branches survived and they have regrouped. They want me to pursue my education. They have accepted that warriors are no longer needed." That's when he'd left. "They wish me to become an arbitrator, a politician, and direct our clan to fight for peace another way. They... may have the right path. It's my duty to follow it if I can." And maybe he could, now.
"Hn." Heero slipped the card into his jacket's pocket and glanced back at the mecha's remains. "I can take care of this for you, if you want."
Wufei cast a glance over the Gundanium scraps, the remains of sensitive circuitry, and the damaged but still salvageable weapons. "That might be a good idea. Thank you, Yuy."
Heero made a dismissive gesture and they turned towards the hole where the door had been.
Heero looked up from the number he was dialling on his cell.
"I... you honoured me with your proposal." Wufei said carefully. "I'm not entirely convinced about this peace, but I wish you luck in maintaining it."
Heero shrugged - luck was not something they counted on, Wufei remembered with a small flicker of amused recognition. His body spoke of resolve. There was no resentment towards Wufei in his stance. No regret either. Wufei felt he'd dropped below Heero's radar again. The man thought in straight lines, and Wufei was no longer his concern.
The steel soldier's mask unbent a fraction. "Find your peace, Chang. You'd better leave before the locals get here" Heero added as the faint sound of a siren trembled in the distance. "I'll deal with them."
Wufei nodded and moved towards his bike. He didn't look back as he gunned the motor and drove away from the remains of his life.
End Part 10
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