Title: It's the Pilot Part 12/18

Author: Truth

Archive: The usual places


AU - Wherein the Gundam pilots have known each other for a little while, but the war is still stalled back before the pilots return to space. Meanwhile, the five mad scientists have had second thoughts about some of the pilots. Probably OC as well, but I did my best.


First person stream of consciousness/POV.


Rated PG-13 at least.


Warning: Strong language. Implied Shounen Ai


Wufei: Only in your demented imagination!


Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to somebody else, sadly.


Feedback, comments and criticisms cheerfully accepted at macros@skypoint.com


 

****************


Maxwell never came back to our chemistry class. I spent the remaining hour staring off into space, worrying. I didn't manage to take a single note. He had been gone for too long.


When the lecture was over, I hurried back to our room.


Maxwell wasn't there. Neither were the books he had taken away from class with him. This was bad. 


I made my way hastily to the headmaster's office, just in time to see Zechs Merquise coming out, one arm wrapped firmly around Maxwell's shoulders. The man was wearing both a sword and a sidearm and they were accompanied by several OZ soldiers and the Headmaster.


This was beyond bad.


Keeping my expression neutral, I continued down the hall, stepping aside as the rest of the group came out of the office. "We'll start with the dining hall, shall we?" the Headmaster was saying.


I showed the proper degree of polite interest as the group strolled past. Maxwell nodded curtly, no sense trying to pretend he didn't recognize his own roommate. Zechs turned to look at me. And then looked again.


And I was originally pleased upon learning that there was no set school uniform for non-cadets.... If there is one thing Lian's outfits do, it is attract the eye. I have no idea why our family insists on being so eye-catching when away from home. The stark black and warm crimsons combined with the style of the clothing and the intricate designs practically scream 'here I am, look at me'.


Zechs would remember me. The outfit guaranteed that.


I continued down the hallway to the Communications room. They keep all the computers that are used for mail and messages here. Any information that needs to leave this room to be taken further into

the school must be printed out and transported as hard copy. No disks, no file transfers, no nothing. Apparently, it is not just hackers that they fear, but tailor-made viruses.


Sensible. A tad paranoid, perhaps, but the reasoning is sound. I'd like to find a way to do it, simply to prove that I could. 


I'm spending far too much time with Maxwell.


I sent a message to Lian's parents. The wording chosen carefully so that Quarte would realize that we were in trouble when he intercepted the message.


Hopefully, Heero or Quatre was monitoring the account closely. Chen needed to get out of here before something happened that would reveal my identity. As my little 'brother' he would be assumed to know everything that I was up to. And rightly so. Chen did know most of what I was up to. It would not have been right to involve any member of my family without informing them of the risks.


I passed the latest class rankings list on my way to my next objective. Maxwell and I were now even, ranked together in the top five percent of our class. He does it on purpose, I swear.


Now for the difficult part.


It wasn't a lot of fun, but I managed to get the tapes of Maxwell's encounter with Zechs from the security office. All I had to do was drug the coffee and wait. The entire security staff drinks the evil stuff, so that wasn't as difficult as it might have been. Figuring out how the antiquated surveillance systems work took a little longer, particularly because the system in the Headmaster's office wasn't hooked to a monitor (to preserve confidentiality, I suppose) and I had to take four or five tapes to be sure I had the right one.


Time was running out.


An official tour of every inch of the station took eight hours. The VIP visitors guided tour usually took four. Maxwell would do his best to delay the group, so I had probably another three hours to work with.


I made my way to Chen's room and found him already packing. A family 'emergency' had arisen which apparently demanded our presence at home. Heero must really have been keeping an eye out for my message. I told Chen that I'd meet him in the shuttle bay and headed back to my own room. I had approximately 15 minutes to find and delete all the records on Cadet Lt. Duo Maxwell. Zechs might already have a hard copy, but if I could reduce the amount of information floating around, so much the better.


I may not be a computer hacker of the level that Heero is, but I cleared the files in less than ten minutes. I spent the remaining five throwing some clothes and a few books in my bag. I then turned to Maxwell's side of the room and began searching for anything that he wouldn't want left behind.


I should have known better. It's not like Professor G would let him bring anything personal with him. It wasn't until I checked under his pillow that I found what I was subconsciously looking for; a coiled three foot length of chestnut brown braid.


This was all like a very bad dream. 


I left my laptop, I'd been very careful not to keep anything important or revealing on it. However, I scooped up Maxwell's in its place. He could have almost anything on that computer, and I didn't have time to mess around looking for it.


I shoved the braid into my bag and started for the shuttle bay. I caught up with Chen along the way and the two of us hurried down the corridor. 


"What are you going to do?" Chen whispered. "Security in the shuttle bay is a nightmare!" 


I didn't say anything, merely twisted my right hand to show him the small remote detonator that I had in my sleeve.


"You're going to cause an explosion in the shuttle bay!" Chen was shocked. Like all colony born, he has an almost instinctive awareness of that which will bring danger to those small, fragile orbiting worlds that we live in.


"I haven't the time for a more complicated plan," I hissed. "I know what I'm doing, Chen. Nobody will die, and the school will not lose atmosphere." Well, not a lot, anyway. After all, it was the shuttle bay. It was _designed_ to lose atmosphere.


"Why?" Chen asked, finally voicing the question he had been dying to ask ever since I arrived at my family's home. It was a question that I had refused to answer for the elders, and he knew it.


"To rescue someone," I told him, going faster now. Time was still ticking away, and I was becoming more and more worried - and distracted. This was not good. I had to concentrate on one thing at a time. Getting Chen away was priority one. But I kept thinking of Maxwell, and the look in his eyes when he had seen me in the corridor.


Fear had been replaced suddenly by hope.


"What? Who?" Chen was hard pressed to keep up with me. He had more baggage. I suppose I've become used to only packing that which I need to survive. I can always buy or steal more.


"A friend," I told him, pressing on.


There was a thump from behind me and I stopped to see Chen, his luggage on the floor at his feet, staring at me as if I'd just grown another head. "A, a friend?" he stammered.


I glared at him. "I _do_ have them," I pointed out coldly. In some ways, Chen was as dangerous as I. In others, he was the sheltered child that I had been in what feels like a thousand years ago.


"But, but here? You haven't so much as _spoken_ to anyone, really." Chen began gathering his bags. I helped him. The need to keep moving was beginning to gnaw at me.


"We don't have _time_ for this, Chen!" I told him. "I came to rescue someone who was sent here against their will. You don't need to know who it is. In fact, you're better off _not_ knowing."


"It's Him," Chen breathed.


I flinched. Had my acting job been that bad? I then realized that Chen was staring over my shoulder, transfixed. 


I turned, already knowing what I would see.


Zechs still had one arm slung carelessly over Maxwell's shoulder. They and a small escort of bellhops - Maxwell's speech patterns appear to be catching - were heading toward our room. We had cut it far, far too close. One of the OZ soldiers was carrying Maxwell's books for him - an interesting sight.


Maxwell shook off his 'Uncle' and gave us a very cold look. "Where the hell are _you_ going, Chang?" he asked me.


"Home," the answer was short and bitter. A choral effort, as Chen's voice blended with mine.


"Chickening out?" he taunted. I could see the hope still flickering faintly in the back of his eyes. I gave him my most forbidding frown, and he almost smiled.


Chen dropped his luggage again and drew himself back into a fighting posture. I flung out one hand, blocking his path to the older boy. "Now is not the time, Chen. We have a shuttle to catch."


Zechs had watched the whole thing without revealing anything other than a slight smirk. As I spoke, he reached out and put one hand on Maxwell's shoulder. It was a well-hidden reaction, but I saw Maxwell flinch. I felt my fists clenching. Helpless anger shot through my system.


Zechs noticed. Don't ask me how. I could practically see the information being filed away. He's amazingly expressive for someone who runs around with half his face concealed.


Maxwell shrugged and calmly proceeded down the corridor, Zechs and escort in tow. We waited until they were out of sight. My fingernails had left cuts in the palms of my hands. Chen stared at me as I took one of those clenched hands and slammed it into the corridor wall.


Zechs was not going to take Maxwell back to Earth and turn him over to OZ. It was _not_ going to happen. OZ would use him for everything they could, and then dispose of him. A rather more permanent disposal than that attempted by the Professor.


"I will _not_ wear white for Duo Maxwell," I snarled, forgetting my audience. 


Chen's shocked gasp drew me back to myself. I must have given him the impression that I was deranged. I am not the emotional type. I do not give myself over to rage. Not where anyone will witness it, at any rate. And that last comment could have been taken in any number of ways.


"Come _on_," I snarled. "They'll be back in just a few minutes and we have to get out of here."


Chen shut up and soldiered.


**


Maxwell has a great many files on this lap top and I'm very glad that I brought it along. However, it does not make for comfortable reading. I shouldn't really be reading it at all, but I'm trying very hard not to think about the revelations which followed that little outburst in the hallway. Unfortunately, the subject matter of Maxwell's ramblings is not helping me at all.


The small explosion in the shuttle bay bought enough confusion that Chen was able to convince the crew to take off right away. They never noticed that there were supposed to be two of us.


The OZ guards on Zechs' shuttle never even saw me sneak aboard. They were too busy waving fire extinguishers with the rest of them. I even had time to visit my cache of illegal 'supplies', thankfully.


Oz shuttles are all basically the same, although this one was much nicer than any of the others I had been in. It was the work of moments to find the proper maintenance panel and slide inside, luggage and all. It would have been a tight fit for a grown man. I have lived in worse.


This particular access hatch would only be opened if there were a problem. As I had access to all the wiring for the inboard lights and communications systems, I would make sure that there were no problems. A secure hiding place, and one I've used before. I had a small supply of rations, and could hide here quite easily for several weeks. It helped that there was a head across the hall.


Sometimes I believe that the OZ system designers make it easier for people like me on purpose. You'd think that they'd design their equipment to be a bit less accessible. I can't even count the number of different ways that I know to hijack an assault shuttle or a Mobile Suit. Of course, there are only four other people that I know of with such skills, so perhaps it's not so surprising that it's not high on their list of priorities.


Maxwell and Zechs arrived shortly after I had settled in. There was a several hour delay while everyone calmed down, and then they were allowed to board.


Maxwell is locked up in a _suite_. I've never seen such an opulent, luxurious, totally sinful, paid-for-with-the-blood-of- others....


I'm calm. Really.


We have about a three day trip before our next stop and another week before we reach Earth. I don't dare go see Maxwell. Zechs is keeping a _very_ close eye on him. Maxwell himself is being _very_ cold and nasty. Not a clever quip or cheerful grin to be seen.


Yes, I am perfectly capable of hooking up a portable monitor to the cables of a state of the art, military inner-shuttle security system. Now all I can do is sit and wait and read everything that Maxwell has written in his little electronic diary for the past few months.


It's not polite, or a thing that an honorable person would do, but I am slowly going out of my mind. If I don't find something else to think about, fast, I am going to begin to do some rambling of my own.


**


I'm feeling very bad for Maxwell. I had realized that he had been put through the emotional wringer, but I never realized just what this had done to him. Professor G couldn't have done anything more calculated to crush his spirit if he'd thought about it for years.


I have _plans_ for G. He had better hope that Heero catches up to him first. This whole exercise is completely unforgivable.


**


It's been two days, and I've read everything in Maxwell's files. Twice. I caught myself correcting his grammar and decided that I had to find something else to do.


Reading back over this particular file, I suppose that I ought to explain something that happened the day after I moved in with Maxwell. I feel that I owe it to him to explain. After all, it's one of the very few things that he did not record in his electronic diary - and I appreciate that.


I had already been unpacked when Maxwell came back to the room on that first night. Neither of us were exactly in the mood to socialize after our somewhat stormy reunion, and we went straight to sleep. We had no time to talk the following morning before class, either.


When I arrived back at our room that evening, Maxwell was going through my closet.


"What are you...?" I began, offended.


"Sorry, Wu-man," He turned to me, a sad look in his eyes. His new appearance still gave me a shock, and I forced myself to swallow my demand that he leave my things alone.


"What do you need?" I asked instead. 


"I was hoping you'd have something I could wear," he told me. "Just around the room. I hate this fucking uniform, hate it with a red hot passion. I don't want to wear it a second longer than I have to."


They hadn't even let him bring any normal clothing? I looked him up and down. We were the same size, more or less. What harm could it do? "Go ahead," I told him.


While his uniform must have been grating on Maxwell's nerves, Lian's wardrobe did not offer much in the way of variety either. Of course, Maxwell has a thing for black, so it's possible that he didn't care.


He finally found an outfit (black with red dragons, yes) that he liked, and departed for a bath. I retreated to the study and began work on a paper for my class on ancient legends and mythology.


More dragons. This particular class had several texts on ancient Chinese legends which made me slightly nostalgic and more than a little homesick, which surprised me. I've never been homesick.


Maxwell showed up after his bath and also turned to studying. I had thought he had looked different before.... He looked very natural in Lian's clothing, though another step removed from the Maxwell that I thought I knew. It was disturbing.


It wasn't until I finished my studies for the night and closed my books that he spoke, and I realized that he had been waiting for me to complete my work.


"Wufei," he began slowly, "there wasn't any white in your closet."


I froze. I had never considered that the other pilots might know the significance of my white clothing. Very few people adhere to the older traditions, and I did not think that anyone outside of my own colony or a few very isolated places on the Earth itself still practiced that particular custom. 


How did he know? When had he noticed? Why was he bringing it up now? There was a long silence. I finally looked over at him, only to discover that he was simply waiting for a response. If I wasn't going to answer, he wasn't going to press the issue.


I sometimes forget that we _all_ have our secrets. I don't know what possessed Maxwell to choose this moment to ask about mine, but he obviously knew what it would cost me to answer.


I couldn't tell him. I'm not even sure why. But I felt that I had to say something. "There is no reason for Chang Lian to wear such clothing," I whispered.


Maxwell frowned. Damn. He _did_ know why I wore white, then. Generally, if not specifically. I resolved to find out how and why later.


"I... do not wear white anymore," I added softly, and left the room.


He didn't ask again.


I was glad. I didn't want to talk about it, didn't know how to talk about it.


But here, alone and hidden in an enemy shuttle, it seems to be all that I _can_ think about. Writing it down might help. After all, this bad habit of writing things down was started for just such an occasion. 


I wear white to signify that I am in mourning. I had a wife, once. She died. The story is longer and more complicated than that, but you don't really need to know the rest.


When I returned to my family and prepared to assume my disguise I did a great deal of thinking. Some of the people I met were surprised that I still wore the white. Some thought it was only proper. A few wondered that I'd ever put it on to begin with.


I spent one entire day trying to decide what to do. I had worn other colors, other disguises, but I had always worn the white when I could. But this time was different. 


This school was an exclusive academy, catering to all five colonies and the Earth. The instructors were carefully tutored in the cultural differences of the various students in order to avoid conflict. After all, when you have hundreds of nervous, hormonal teenagers all trapped in the same enclosed system for months at a time, personal problems are inevitable.


Someone from my colony, my family, would not be able to wear white without arousing comment in a closed community like the school. In order for me to wear white as Chang Lian, there would have to be something in his personal history to account for it. Lian had been accepted at the school before I ever arrived with my 'brilliant' plan. Thus, they had all his of his records and there was no such reason listed in them anywhere. 


I spent a very long time agonizing over this. A large part of it was guilt. There was a small voice deep inside telling me that if I finally shed the outward signs of mourning then the guilt and the inward pain would be more easily ignored.


That felt too much like betrayal. The white was the only remaining sign in my transient life that she ever existed.... (I do not count the Gundam. That is a purely personal matter, and one which I do not care to go into.)


In the end, I put the clothing away. I folded it up carefully and placed it in a box, pushing it far under the bed that I had last used many years ago. I said the traditional prayers, but my heart wasn't in it. I was done with the white. I was not yet finished with the grief or the guilt, but I would no longer wear it like a banner. 


What happened to her, to us, defined the person that I am now. But that person is not the person that I used to be, nor is he the person that I will grow to be. But he will always be with me. By formally casting off the white, I had taken the first step toward the person that I _would_ be.


If I live.


I am still willing to die for my people, for my friends, for my family and for those that I love.


But I will no longer embrace my death as that which _should_ happen. That would be as bad as taking Heero's gun and shooting myself. It would accomplish nothing.


Again, there was more to it than that, but you don't really need to know. When I discarded my formal mourning a great many things changed for me. This is why so much importance is placed on symbols and rituals. They are merely an outward sign of an inward change. A change that I thought would never come. A change that I had been denying myself by burying my feelings deep beneath the surface, trying to atone for something not truly my fault in a desperate act of penance.


When had I learned to feel again? Chen was right, although it is a bitter thing to admit. I never really had friends, just people that I knew. Now I had friends. I had a home. I had family - a family that understood me. Understood me far better than I had realized.


And I had Maxwell. He understood me and he had ever let on. He had been genuinely pleased to see me, and not just because I was hoping to rescue him. He had taken the trouble to ask about what was a life-altering change for me, even if I hadn't wanted to discuss it.


And he was trusting me with his life.


I will not wear white for Duo Maxwell. It will not come to that. 


I swear it.


***************


Wufei: You are _not_ supposed to be reading that, much less putting it out for other people to see!

Heero: I liked it.

Truth and Wufei: WHAT?!

Heero: *shrugs*

Quatre: I liked it too!

Wufei: Why didn't you just tell the whole world, woman!

Truth: I tried, actually.

Trowa: You shouldn't have written it down, Wufei.

Duo: I liked it too!

Wufei: *flees*