Title: Two Roads Diverged

  Part 9/?

  Author: Truth

  Archive: A whole bunch of neat places but my complete Gundam Wing fic

  collection can be found at  GW Addiction

  www.geocities.com/fenris_wolf0/

   

  AU - The sequel to It's the Pilot - Wherein we see the Gundam Wing

  Universe as it might have been had Duo been sidetracked just before

  Noventa's death. First person stream of consciousness/POV.

   

  Shading into an R rating.  Shounen ai.

   

  Warning:  Take almost everything you thought you knew about GW and stuff

  it out the nearest airlock.  Hang onto your laser rifles kiddies.   From

  here on out, it's foreign territory.

   

  Multiple perspective switches once again. As usual, if any of them are

  unclear, please mail me at dhaunea@yahoo.com and I'll tell you who they

  are.

   

  I do not own Gundam Wing or any of it's characters.  Chang Chen, Lian

  Saiming and Lingwei all do belong to me, however.               

 

  My deep gratitude goes to my beta/editor Bronze Tigress for her hard

  work and dedication as shown by her repeatedly slogging through this

  piece on my behalf. 

 

 

    **

   

    Two Roads Diverged

    Part 9

   

    **

   

  Wufei retreated to his room, leaving me alone with Chen and his luggage.

  From the set look on our new roommate's face, I figured that the Wu-guy

  had spilled his guts.  Which royally sucked.  I made a mental reminder

  to bitch at him later.  Just because he wasn't speaking to _me_ doesn't

  mean that I can't shout at _him_.

   

  Chen dropped his bags, helped himself to a chair and stared at me. "What

  the hell has been going on?"

   

  "Beyond our little song and dance with the OZ elite?"  I remained

  standing, wanting to have the extra range of movement if he decided to

  kick my ass.  I had no idea what Wu had told him, and I didn't want to

  give myself away if I didn't have to.

   

  "Don't play games with me, Maxwell."  He gave me a nasty look, strongly

  reminiscent of Wu at his worst.  "Wufei told me all about Treize

  Kushrenada.  I want to know why he allowed himself to be defeated so

  easily.  I want you to tell me what has gone wrong between the two of

  you."

   

  Oh, this was bad.  I didn't want to be the one to break the news to Chen

  that his cousin was borderline suicidal.  I definitely didn't want to

  tell him that I had taken advantage of Wu while he was still shaking

  like a leaf.  I knew enough about the Chang family and their various

  scions to know that if Chen decided to get really pissed at me, I would

  be in a _world_ of hurt.

 

  I'd terrorized him when I'd been Cadet Lt. Maxwell, but he knew who and

  what I was now.  He knew that I wouldn't hurt him unless he tried to

  kill me.  And that gave him a _huge_ advantage.  One that he wasn't

  afraid to use, obviously.  "Um, it's sort of a complicated story,

  actually."

 

  If they'd tried to replace me with Chen, they might actually have gotten

  away with it.  Well, assuming they'd managed to get him to cooperate in

  the first place, that is....

 

  "You're stalling."  His eyes narrowed accusingly.  "What have you done,

  Maxwell?"

   

  I shrugged unhappily.  I'd give him the truth, as far as it went.  I had

  no real choice.  If he was going to risk his life to help our mission

  there was no way that I _couldn't_ tell him what was had happened.  Of

  course, that didn't mean that I was going to answer that last question,

  not if there was any possible way to avoid it, that is.   

 

  "He asked Kushrenada to kill him.  He still thinks that he's responsible

  for the Noventa fuck-up, and it's eating away at him from the inside.  I

  overreacted when I found out what really happened, and he hasn't spoken

  to me since."

   

  "He did what?"  Chen's voice was even, but his hands had clenched

  tightly on the arms of the chair.

   

  "He went into the fight angry.  I think that everything finally became

  too much for him, and he didn't _want_ to win.  When he was defeated, he

  asked Kushrenada to kill him."  I didn't want to tell him this, and I

  guess it showed.

     

  "And you're letting him fly missions like this?"

 

  I laughed, bitterly.  "I don't have any choice.   It's just the two of

  us right now, and we need to make it look like there are at least four

  of us.  We can't have them start to wonder what we're up to if we're not

  running about blowing things to hell."

    

  "He's going to get himself killed!"  Chen was furious.

    

  "No."

   

  That shut him up.  Shinigami is a nasty person, much nastier than I've

  ever been around Chen, and that's saying a lot.  I put as much force

  into that word as I could.  He stared at me for a long moment.

    

  "He's not going to do anything that would risk others.  He knows that

  lives depend on him.   He won't chance either losing the Gundam or doing

  something that could possibly lead OZ to the rest of us."  I forced

  myself to drop the death glare

   

    (Patent No. 234784574893-45, Copyright, Heero Yuy.)

    

  and relaxed a little.  "As far as I can tell, he's not actively

  suicidal.  I think he just saw an opportunity and took it."

   

  "And how are you going to keep him from _making_ another opportunity?"

  Chen demanded. 

   

  He was furious.  I reaffirmed my decision not to tell him about that

  _other_ kiss.  The last thing Wu needed was to have to try to explain my

  corpse to the others.  "That's what you're here for." I told him.

   

  Chen narrowed his eyes.  "I see.  My coming here was your idea, then?"

   

  "Your clan elders sent you to Earth, but you'd never have found us

  without our permission," I told him.  "Wufei needs someone he can talk

  to, and that person doesn't seem to be me."

   

  "What did you _do_ to him, Maxwell?"

   

  Well, shit.  Chen is fast on the uptake.  Not as fast as Wufei, but fast

  enough.  My first mistake had been in avoiding the question when he had

  asked it before.  That had alerted him to the fact that I _had_ done

  something.  Wu must've told him that I don't lie.  My second mistake was

  hesitating over  my answer when he asked again.  Chen was right up in my

  face before I'd come up with a decent response, ie one that wouldn't get

  me killed.

   

    Note to self: Don't ever go up against Chang Chen without a gun.

                       

  "Speak to me, Maxwell.  Don't make me go in there and ask Wufei."

   

  That tore it.  He got his answer all in one frustrated breath.  "He as

  much as asked me to kiss him, and I did.  Don't look at me like that and

  don't _say_ anything.  There's nothing you can say that can make me feel

  any worse about it than I already do!"

   

  "Wufei asked you to what?"  Chen's eyes were wide with surprise.  I

  don't know what he'd expected me to say, but I'd obviously shocked him.

  Great.

    

  I _so_ did not want to talk about this.  "Kiss him.  You know, the act

  of brushing one's lips together, occasionally utilizing the tongue?

  Kiss?  Smooch?  Make out?  Tonsil Hockey?  Are you with me on any of

  this?"

   

  Chen favored me with a death glare of his own.  It wasn't as impressive

  as mine but he's only 14 and has not, to my knowledge, ever killed

  anybody.   That didn't mean that he wasn't dangerous, mind you. I knew

  damn well that he could probably kick my ass in unarmed combat. 

 

  But it took the edge off the glare.

 

  "Wufei is not the type."

   

  That floored me.  "What type?"

   

  "The type to _ask_ for a kiss."

   

  Okay, color me totally lost.  "What?"

   

  Chen put one hand to his forehead as if fighting off a headache.  "Sit

  down and tell me _exactly_ what happened.  From the  beginning.  And

  Maxwell?"

 

  "Yeah?"

 

  "No creative omissions."

 

   

    **

   

  I am the most fortunate girl on the face of the planet.

   

  Relena _Peacecraft_ has resurfaced, and is making no secret of the fact.

  She is staying with a nobly born distant relation until her formal debut

  into political circles, a debut which I will certainly make a point of

  attending.

    

  I have the software for the new Gundam operating system sitting on my

  desk.

   

  And I have Duo Maxwell exactly where I want him.  Or I will have

  shortly.

 

  Using just these three elements, I am going to change the face of the

  world.

   

  Some girls get excited about new shoes, others give little screams of

  delight over good-looking boys or fancy parties.  These things do not

  excite me.  I am an addict, and my drug of choice is called power.

 

  No one will ever remember my name in conjunction with the things that I

  have done.  No one knows that I was behind the unfortunate events at the

  Noventa estate, although it was a programming error that caused the

  rampant slaughter there.  No one will ever be able to connect my name to

  the temporary and involuntary adoption of Duo Maxwell by Zechs Merquise.

   

  I know these things, and that is enough.

 

  There is a plan in the works even now to develop a set of Mobile Dolls,

  machines that need no direct operator to sit at the controls as the

  machine goes into battle.  All that is needed to make them the most

  frightening tool of war ever seen is a slight technological upgrade or

  two.

   

  And when the elusive Deathscythe Hell with its oh-so-unique operating

  system falls into my hands, the world will be mine to play with as I

  like. 

 

  If only I could get into Kushrenada's head, I would have nothing at all

  left to worry about.  Grandfather thinks that Kushrenada is a convenient

  weapon, to be turned in any direction that he chooses.

 

  Hah. 

 

  Blind obedience is not one of the man's strong points.  He is far too

  clever and his little cabal is up to something.  What that something is,

  I have yet to discover.

 

  But I will.

   

    **

 

  Commander Treize has been very quiet of late.  He still works long

  hours, but he doesn't smile as much as he used to.  He travels as little

  as possible and the files on the Gundams and their pilots have taken up

  a semi-permanent residence on his desk.  He seems to think that they

  hold some sort of answer to his problems, some secret that he can

  unravel by will alone.

   

  Until that time, however, he has given me other orders.

 

  It was not his first choice in plans and certainly not one of OZ's most

  memorable moments.  However, we had nothing better to go on. We needed

  information from our captive Gundam pilot and Commander Treize had made

  it quite clear that he would not allow torture under any circumstances.

   

  Lewis Jones is being kept under constant surveillance.  His room is

  monitored on a 24 hour basis.  The visual records from the security

  cameras in the public areas that he is allowed to frequent are saved in

  a separate file and he has a constant shadow in the form of his personal

  guard.

 

  The Commander thought that it would a good idea to have one of our best

  and brightest to monitor and attempt to win the confidence of this boy.

  It was sheer luck that one of our most promising young officers is only

  17, his position gained both through private military experience and

  battlefield promotion.  Hopefully he will be able to convince

  the Gundam Pilot to confide in him.

 

  In the meantime, however, he has been assigned to keep careful track of

  everything that Jones says and does.  The log of his various interests

  and activities during the course of the day is placed on my desk every

  evening.  Lt. Barton has sole possession of the various keys, codes and

  passwords that are needed to do so much as requisition a meal in this

  place.  Jones cannot lift a finger without the Lieutenant's aid and

  observance.

   

  Commander Treize is stalling as much as he can, but our time is running

  out.  The Romafeller Foundation is pushing ahead with their plans for

  subjugation and the matter will come to a head in a matter of months.

  Things would be much easier if we could convince Jones to simply hand us

  the information that we seek.  The questions are innocent enough.  We

  are not as interested in the Gundams at this point as we have been.  No,

  the answers we are looking for concern those five pilots.

 

  Noin has been co-opted by the Commander and assigned to Zechs

  permanently.  They are up to some secondary plan which I am not privy

  to.  When I inquired as to their mission, the Commander merely made some

  comment about not keeping all of his eggs in one basket.

   

  Yesterday I discovered something very disturbing which effectively

  caused me to lose any interest in the activities of Noin and Zechs.

 

  My private files have been hacked.  Not once, but twice.  This knowledge

  led to a flurry of inquiries and I discovered that there are at least

  four double agents within the OZ intelligence division.  One or more of

  these agents is apparently stationed here at headquarters.

   

  It is my responsibility to keep Commander Treize safe.  I will find

  these traitors, and I will determine who sent them.

   

  No matter the means.

   

    **

   

  "I told you so."

   

  I looked up from my paperwork to see Zechs standing in the doorway of my

  office, one elbow resting on the jamb. 

 

  "Told me what?"

   

  "That the damn thing would be black."

   

  I blinked.  Playing at non-sequiturs before brunch is not one of my

  hobbies.  "What are you doing here, Millard?  I thought you were

  supposed to be in bed after playing so hard with your new toy."

   

  "It's not a toy.  In fact, that's how I got here today."  He let himself

  into my office, closing the door behind him and immediately removing his

  mask.  He tossed the thing onto a nearby chaise longue and crossed the

  office toward my desk.  "But you're not paying attention."

   

  "What am I supposed to be paying attention to?"  I smiled.  It was

  rarely difficult to smile around Zechs.  He brought out the best in me

  simply by expecting it.

  

  "That damnable Gundam.  I _told_ you that it would be black."

   

  Ah.  His obsession with Gundam 02.  "You've seen Maxwell's Gundam?"

   

  He grinned, a flash of teeth curving into a blinding smile. "Better."

    

  Raising both eyebrows I leaned back in my chair and steepled my fingers.

  "Do tell?"

   

  He came around the desk and slipped a disk into my computer.  "Some kind

  soul left me a little present.  One of Une's spies dropped this off at

  my duty post yesterday, and I was the ranking officer present at the

  time."

   

  I sat bolt upright in my chair as information flowed across the console.

  The screen froze and I found myself staring at a positively demonic

  black Gundam wielding a glowing scythe.  Above it arced a pair of black,

  bat-like wings, which only added to its somewhat melodramatic

  appearance.

   

  "Shinigami.  I begin to see why Maxwell told you to call him that...."

   

  He laughed, leaning over my shoulder to retreive his disk.  "It's worse

  than that.  They've named it Deathscythe Hell, after the quirks of its

  pilot, presumably....  Although in light of their subsequent disposal of

  the young man in question and his abandonment to my somewhat

  questionable keeping, it seems a bit odd."

 

  Zechs knows exactly how to make me laugh.

    

  "Are these the complete technical specifications?" I asked, bringing his

  attention back to the matter at hand.  This information could be of

  incredible use to us, not simply because it would make it easier to

  fight the Gundams but because we finally had a Gundam of our own to

  experiment with.

 

  Zechs caught my hopeful expression and lost his smile.  "This

  information is not of much use as far as Tallgeese goes, Treize. Don't

  get your hopes up."

   

  "How so?"  I wanted this to be easy.  I prayed that it would be easy.

   

  My prayers are often for naught.

    

  "The technical specifications are there, but in almost every case there

  are indications that they have been tinkered with.  The power signatures

  are provided, but there is no information as to _how_ they managed to

  produce them.  And those readings are nothing less than awe-inspiring.

  Maxwell does the impossible on a  daily basis, it seems.   Probably some

  sort of bizarre hobby."  Zechs sighed.

 

  "We'll probably discover next that the others do stand-up comedy or live

  the lives of international playboys."

 

  "Do you think that they're all so young?" He asked me.

        

  "Wouldn't that be terribly humiliating, Millard?  Brought to our knees

  by a group of children," I sighed and poked moodily at the files

  covering my desk.

 

  "Not just any children."  Zechs turned back to the computer.  "Maxwell

  personally tampered with the scythe, the stealth system and apparently

  forced the operating system itself through some very interesting changes

  that even its creator could not begin to figure out."

   

  "Is there nothing we can use?" 

   

  I must have sounded as despairing as I felt, for he brightened again

  instantly.  "There are a great many things.  However...."

   

  I waited.

 

  "What we really want is that stealth system."

   

  He looked like a child outside a toy store, his nose pressed to the

  window.  I smothered a smile at the inadvertent mental image.  What

  Zechs desperately wanted, above anything in the world, was to challenge

  Duo Maxwell to a fair fight.  It was a pipe dream, but it was a great

  deal less self-destructive than his previous obsessions. 

 

  If he could find a way to acheive this strange duel, I would not stand

  in his way.

   

  I somehow do not think that Maxwell would kill him.

   

  I have no doubts that the same young man would take sadistic delight in

  peeling off my skin one strip at a time, however.  I can't blame him,

  either.  I hadn't meant to do what I did to the boy.

   

  Chang Wufei is a thing of beauty, but the events set into motion by

  those in power have broken him.  I am the tool of those forces, to my

  shame.  I wanted to give him some gesture of apology, of comfort. 

 

  But I inadvertently pressed too close. I could see the pain in his eyes

  and I acted without thought, something that I do only rarely.

   

  However, for all his maturity, Chang Wufei is only 15 years old and

  there are some lines that I do not cross.  But if he hadn't been so

  badly torn inside, I think that he might have been someone who could

  understand me.

   

  Someone I could trust.

   

    **

   

  I listened to Maxwell as the entire story came pouring out.   To his

  credit, I don't think that he left anything out this time.  It was too

  surreal to be anything but the truth.  I was in shock, although having

  seen some of their previous adventures I shouldn't have been surprised.

 

  When he finally came to the end, I said nothing.   Maxwell was observant

  enough, but he still did not know enough about our clan and my cousin to

  fix this mess.  He was missing too many pieces of the puzzle. 

 

  On second thought, I don't think that he _can_ fix this, but at least he

  wants to try.  I would help him as best I could.  This was my

  opportunity to repay my cousin for what he had done for us back on L5. 

 

  I found myself wishing for a moment that I was my elder brother.  Lian

  had been born under very boring stars.  He was allowed to do as he

  willed because the elders thought him of no importance.  I would trade

  my life for his in a heartbeat.  I wondered how much of a headache I

  would have when all this was over.  How much should I tell Maxwell about

  our clan?

 

  Maxwell was fidgeting by the time I had made up my mind, and I took a

  great deal of sadistic pleasure in asking him for something to eat, as I

  had been traveling for quite some time.   It was an interesting

  sensation, this transfer of power.  He was hanging on my every word. 

 

  Once I had my dinner, some bizarre sort of sausage, I decided to simply

  follow his example and tell him everything.

 

  "Chang Wufei is the heir of our clan," I began.

 

  Maxwell's eyes widened.  "Does that mean what I think it does?"

 

  "Our clan is a bit stranger than most and a lot of things changed when

  we left the Earth, so probably not.  Just listen, all right?"

 

  He nodded, pushing his own untouched dinner to one side and granting me

  his undivided attention.  It was a bit unnerving, actually.

 

  "Our clan has a number of very old customs, among them the position of

  clan head.  As you probably noticed, we have a council of elders,

  usually between six and seven of our oldest members.  They keep the

  family records, track the various bloodlines and make sure that our clan

  traditions are carried on.  For the most part, the head is in charge of

  the more mundane business of the clan.  He does not interfere with the,

  well, cultural end of things."  I sighed. 

 

  This was difficult to explain, particularly in a fashion that Maxwell

  would understand.  It had taken several years of schooling before I had

  followed some of the more complicated aspects of it all, and I was

  Wufei's designated successor.

 

  "So the old guys run your life and the clan head is supposed to pay the

  bills?"

 

  I constantly underestimate him.  I nodded.  "Very broadly, yes.  Wufei

  is supposed to assume his position as clan head upon his eighteenth

  birthday."

 

  **

 

  Well.  That explained one hell of a lot.  "But he's clan heir _now_.  So

  when we commandeered that shuttle, the pilot gave it to us because Wufei

  _owned_ it?"

 

  "Generally speaking, yes."  Chen drummed his fingers lightly on the

  table.  "At least, as far as he knew.  By that time, Wufei wasn't the

  heir anymore.  Of course, no one knew that but Wufei and the elders."

 

  He was staring at me.  I realized that I had been waving one hand

  absent-mindedly toward the back of my neck, searching for my braid.

  Damn it all.  I put both hands flat on the table.   "Was that what his

  little speech was all about?"

 

  "I'll get to that.  Pay attention.  Wufei was born under a certain set

  of signs.  The elders took this and interpreted it to mean that he would

  do great things, bringing a great deal of both honor and glory to our

  family.  They said that his destiny was to bring fame to our clan

  through wisdom and knowledge.  All of this was decided before he was

  more than a few days old." 

 

  "So the Wu guy was destined for greatness. Then what happened?"

 

  Chen frowned at me. I don't know if it was because I'd interrupted him

  or if he was just pissed at the clan elders.  "His parents died.  The

  position of clan head went temporarily to my father, until Wufei was

  judged old enough to assume his proper place.  Wufei became the

  responsibility of the entire clan. He lived alone in his parent's house

  with his tutors and his servants.  Our family kept him company on formal

  occasions, but aside from frequent visits by the elders, he was mostly

  alone.  We were not allowed to disturb his studies, and any energy he

  might have had for rebellion or play was turned toward meditation and

  pursuit of various martial arts."

 

  "Are you trying to tell me that he's _always_ been this way?" I felt

  sick to my stomach. "Hasn't he ever had any friends?"

 

  "No.  They kept him isolated on purpose, Maxwell."  Chen rubbed his

  forehead. "Wufei is the last of a direct line.  The elders have been

  struggling to keep that line alive and as pure as possible for

  centuries.  They did not want him forming any 'unfortunate'

  attachments." 

 

  Oh, this was bad.  This was really, really bad. Chen's face had gotten

  all stiff there near the end, just the way Wu's did when he was _really_

  upset but didn't want anyone to know.  "Let me guess.  There's someone

  you're interested in and you can't have her for more or less the same

  reasons.  Am I right?"

 

  Chen sighed and looked down at his hands.  "Yes.  We are all in the same

  boat, but the families of Wufei, Saiming and myself are most directly

  affected.  We are not allowed to marry without the permission of the

  elders because we are so close to the original bloodlines and they want

  to keep control of that."

 

  "That sucks."  I was slowly beginning to get angry.  I had always known

  that there was more to Wufei than met the eye.  I had been surprised,

  but not shocked, to find out that he had been married.  I knew that he

  had all the social skills of a rock when dealing with us pilots, but I

  never knew why.  God, even _I_ had been given more control over my life

  than that.

 

  "I do not approve of what they tried to do to my cousin.  By the time he

  was 12 he was not only an accomplished scholar but had been thoroughly

  indoctrinated with all the beliefs and prejudices that the elders had

  chosen for him.  They wanted him to be absolutely perfect."  Chen looked

  like he'd bitten a lemon.  This was nothing less than brain-washing and

  he knew it.

 

  I leaned forward again, resting my weight on my elbows.  This explained

  a whole hell of a lot, but I knew that I was still missing vital

  information.  "And then what happened?"

 

  "They made a terrible, terrible mistake," he whispered.

 

  **

 

  His face darkened a little.  Saiming had told him all about Meiran.

  Perhaps she had seen the signs that I had missed, signs that our perfect

  cousin was starting to crack under the strain.  Maxwell knew the entire

  ugly, tragic story of my cousin and his wife.  Saiming had probably

  thought that Wufei's closest friend ought to know.  But we really only

  knew half of the story. 

 

  Meiran had been very close to Saiming and Lingwei, but Wufei had not

  spoken of their marriage to anyone. 

 

  "So basically, his first chance at friendship and any sort of

  relationship outside the pages of a book was a total disaster."  Maxwell

  sank his chin down on his folded arms and stared at me.  "And then he

  went almost directly to Earth and found us."

 

  "I didn't think that he had the capacity for personal relationships," I

  admitted.  "When he told me that we went to the school to rescue a

  friend, I was shocked."

 

  Maxwell smiled a little.  "We weren't exactly friends before all this

  started."

 

  "I can't imagine why not," I drawled.  "At any rate, I got back to L5

  quite a bit before you did, and alerted the elders.  We got you back,

  and that's when the trap sprang closed."

 

  "They were waiting for him."  Maxwell had one hand fluttering at the

  back of his neck again.  It looked like a habitual gesture; something he

  did while he was thinking.

 

  "They were waiting for him," I agreed.  "They wanted him back

  desperately.  This wasn't how his life had been planned out and the

  elders _hate_ to be flouted.  They had been trying to get him to return

  since the moment that he left.  I can't decide if they were afraid that

  he would develop a mind of his own or were actually worried about him

  for himself."

 

  "They don't give a shit about him," Maxwell told me grimly, opening his

  eyes again.  "If they cared about him they would have known better than

  to so totally piss him off.  What happened that morning, Chen?"

 

  "They were getting ready to marry him off."  I could feel my expression

  freezing up, but couldn't manage to relax.  "Poor Lingwei had nothing to

  say about it.  They were going to tear her away from her sister and her

  family to marry her off to the clan heir, and she was supposed to be

  properly dutiful and obediently happy about the whole thing."

 

  "She didn't want to marry Wu," Maxwell agreed. "Even I could see that

  much."

 

  "It's more than that," I told him.  "She's madly in love with someone

  else."

 

  He winced.  "Okay, that's beyond cruel."

 

  I could feel my mouth twisting into a bitter smile.  "We are all the

  puppets of the elders, Maxwell.  I was angry when Wufei took Shen-long

  and went to Earth.  He had escaped and left the rest of us behind.  I

  was furious and bitterly afraid.  After what happened with Meiran, we

  knew that he had strength of will.  He had enough anger and courage to

  stand up to the elders.  We, Saiming, Lingwei and our other cousins,

  were praying that he would take his position as clan heir and eventual

  clan head as an opportunity."

 

  "You wanted to be free."

 

  I nodded, my expression bitter.  "Even if I succeed Wufei, if I attempt

  to stand up to the elders it will be thought that I am doing so merely

  for personal reasons, not for the good of the clan.  They will not

  accept my efforts to change things."

 

  "I'm sorry."  The sentiment was sincere.  I could tell.

 

  "I am used to it," I told him.  "At any rate, they had a meeting all

  arranged for him.  We managed to arrive before he did because he went

  home to dress properly for the occasion, as instructed."

 

  Maxwell blinked, surprised. "I should have realized that Wu would have a

  house."

 

  "It's the one you thought was a museum," I told him dryly.

 

  He actually flinched. 

 

  "Wufei is clan heir, Maxwell.  He embodies everything that we are and

  everything that we stand for.  He never realized just how thoroughly the

  elders imprisoned him, body and soul.  He has seen the world now,

  realized that the power he wields is for the entire clan, not just for

  the elders.  His sense of responsibility will always bring him back to

  us."  I sighed and stared down at my empty plate.  "It will be a return

  to a prison, although a larger prison than before.  And he hates us for

  it."

 

  There was a brief silence before I could recapture my train of thought.

 

  "But he was brought up to be obedient, and he agreed to the meeting.

  The clothes he was wearing when he arrived were not the ones they had

  laid out for him.  He was supposed to be dressed entirely in red.  Do

  you know the significance of color in my culture?" I asked him.

 

  "White is for mourning, I know that much," he told me.

 

  "More than most, then.  My family is very fond of the color red, as I am

  sure you have noticed.  That color means a large number of things, but

  it is most widely recognized as bridal." 

 

  Maxwell stood up so suddenly that he knocked his chair over. "You mean

  they were trying to marry him off right there!?"

 

  I nodded.  "You have no idea what we felt when he came through that door

  wearing the wrong clothing and the wrong color."

 

  "And he told them...?"  Maxwell gestured impatiently.

 

  This was the part that I knew he would not like.  In retrospect, I

  should have realized that Wufei's little speech had been merely a

  symptom of a much larger problem. I thought for a moment.  I have always

  admired my cousin's ability to speak, and this particular speech had

  been nothing short of masterful.  It would be impossible to translate

  and reproduce it properly, so a summary would have to do. 

 

  "He began by thanking them for their aid in rescuing one of his comrades

  in the fight for freedom and justice. He spent a moment or two on the

  subject of freedom and how those with honor would never deny it to

  another.  He then accused them of being hypocritical power-hungry

  bastards who were enslaving their own people in the chains of custom and

  convention.  He glanced off the fact that the battle being fought by the

  Gundams is so that all people everywhere will have the freedom to choose

  their own lives, and ended by stating that their attempt to force

  Lingwei into a marriage with him was nothing short of tyranny."

 

  "Ouch."  Maxwell rocked back onto his heels.  "I knew that he was

  royally pissed off, but that's bridge-burning with a vengence."

 

  "It gets worse.  When one of the elders told him not to act like a

  spoiled child, he rejected them.  He renounced his place as clan heir.

  He told them that he was dead to them, and to the rest of our family as

  well.  He said that he would always fight for us, but that the good he

  was fighting for was larger than the petty bickering of some elderly

  dictators who were putting their desire for control over the needs of

  their own clan."  I closed my eyes, remembering the control in my

  cousin's voice. 

 

  Wufei and I had never been close, although we knew each other in a

  stilted, formal fashion.  When we went to the school together, I could

  sense a change in him, but I had not known what it was. I opened my eyes

  again to see Maxwell righting his chair and frowning at it.

 

  It had been Maxwell.  When we met up again on L5, Wufei and Quatre had

  both impressed on me the need to handle Maxwell carefully because of the

  extreme difference between the Duo that they knew and the Cadet Lt.

  Maxwell of my nightmares.  Wufei had risked his own life, mine and those

  of a large number of our clan in order to save this boy.  I had not been

  able to fathom _why_ until just now.

 

  Wufei had saved Maxwell.  Perhaps Maxwell could return the favor now.

 

  "The elders had a huge argument.  Lingwei, Saiming and I crept back

  later to hear the end of it.  They decided that they needed Wufei back,

  for the good of the clan.  He had impressed several of them both with

  his insight and his sense of honor."  I was suddenly, unbearably tired.

  "He is still clan heir.  He is still their golden child.  They want him

  to do what he feels he must, then return to them.  He will be clan head,

  and he will take control of our colony.  It is his 'destiny'."

 

  "It doesn't sound as though either of you are very happy with this,"

  Maxwell observed.

 

  "We're not.  Wufei will force himself to do it, however.  And he will do

  a very good job.  You still don't understand him, Maxwell."  I rubbed a

  hand across my eyes.  "He can't just walk away from us.  Somewhere deep

  inside, he doesn't really want to.  We're his family, no matter what has

  gone on between he and the elders.  We're his responsibility."

 

  Maxwell looked about as happy as I felt.  "And he will never walk away

  from a responsibility.  He's trapped."

 

  "And he's searching desperately for a way out," I whispered.  "All this

  weight has been on his shoulders ever since he was old enough to

  understand it.  Lingwei will never be free to marry as long as Wufei is

  also single, and he respects her too much to force her into a loveless

  marriage with himself."  I bowed my head. 

 

  There was a very long silence.  When I finally looked up, Maxwell's

  expression caused me to inhale sharply.

 

  "Is defeatism a Chang family trait?" he asked with deceptive mildness.

 

  "No."

 

  He nodded, once, and strode from the room.  I rose tiredly and followed

  him.  This was Shinigami, again someone I had been warned about, and I

  wanted to see what he would do next.

 

  He halted in front of a closed door and knocked.  "Chang Wufei, open

  this door.  Now."

 

  There was no answer.  Unsurprising.  Maxwell had told me how Wufei had

  been acting.

 

  With a plastic, cheerful smile, Maxwell kicked the door in. 

 

  It was at this point that I withdrew.  Gathering my luggage, I made my

  way to the last bedroom down the hallway and began to unpack.

 

  There was nothing more that I could do, at the moment.

 

  I pray that Maxwell knows what he is doing.

 

  **

 

  End part 9

 

  Quatre: What about _me_?!

  Truth: We're getting there.  Since when were you so whiny?

  Quatre: Since you gave all the screen time to CHEN!

  Truth: Jealous?

  Quatre: Yes!  I'm off on a terribly hazardous secret mission and you're

  not giving me a chance to say _anything_!

  Duo: I'll trade you my relationship problems for that mission.

  Quatre: On second thought, I'm quite happy with the way things are

  going.  In fact, I think I left an aardvark in the oven....

  *disappears*

  Truth: I thought so.

  Duo:  I hate you, you know?

  Truth: Calm down.  Things are progressing nicely.

  Duo: Says you.

  Truth: *sighs*