The second after he let himself slide into his dreams, Quatre opened his
eyes on a forest.
"Again… It's beginning to get slightly boring," he protested.
He stepped forward, thinking very hard of the ice-covered lake , but nothing happened… he was still in the woods.
He had believed that he had gained enough trust from the Wolf guarding Yuy's dreamforest to be authorized to arrive directly to the lake, the center of his dream-domain, but…
Sandrock's pilot mumbled unhappy comments and squat on the ground to think more comfortably, his long tail swaying back and forth behind him, helping him to keep his equilibrium on his strange paws-feet, his talons, sunk into the soil, tracing little designs without importance.
And then, he realized something very strange.
The forest was much more sparse, less dense. In fact, he didn't see brambles anywhere, which was fucking strange when you were used to the usual coppice of Heero's dreamforest. The trees, most of them birches or willows, were thin and quite far from each other, only a few bushes, a few low branches. The intense-green grass was tall and fresh, buds of closed flowers poked up here and there. And there was light filtrating from the top of the trees, a soft, golden light that drew magic-looking rays in the air. He could feel a presence in this wood, but, to his immense confusion, it didn't seem to realize that he was there. It didn't express any animosity against him… In fact, it didn't express much of anything. As if the woods were sleeping, waiting. As if… he didn't know. As if they were, not dead, but not really alive… In stasis, waiting. A little breeze was making the willows' branches dance; it was… relaxing. As if a redoubtable winter had just ended, and the plants and animals didn't realize yet that now, it was Spring.
Well, one thing he was sure of. He wasn't at Heero's. But then, whose?
Then, the forest became strangely blurred and disappeared, and he found himself in blackness. It surprised him, but didn't awaken him entirely. The other probably had sunk in a deeper sleep or had woken up, and his inner landscape had become inaccessible.
His clawed hand idly playing with his furred ear, he wondered what his own inner landscape looked like.
And then it was as if he was stepping back, as if he had been looking through binoculars and now he was … he didn't know, taking the focus back nearer to him
And all at once, he was behind the green-blue water mirror he had been bent upon /but I was sitting in the forest/ and contemplated for a few seconds the impossible images / gold and red flame dancing and white-blue mountain and frozen crater in a dark forest and so many others, so many/ in the moving waters under his own reflection /is it me? I don't recognize myself / before straightening up, glancing at his environment.
He wasn't surprised to recognize an oasis, palm trees shielding him from the sun and keeping the freshness around the hidden water pond, emerald and aquamarine jewel at the center of the golden dunes, a sandy landscape covering everything around him, till, far away at the horizon line, the sand melted itself with the absolute and intense blue of the cloudless sky.
It was more of a re-acquaintance than a discovery.
One way or another, he had always known what the land of his dreams looked like.
* * * * * *
The morning after, when he woke up, Quatre had a mild headache and was feeling nearly hungover. /but I didn't drink anything…/ It was strange, it felt like one of those fatigue migraines, like the ones he had when he spent all night reading and thinking about a mission, or just thought too hard and too long about something.
He dragged himself to the kitchen, his feet heavy, feeling tired out already. He was so tired… but calmer too, more in peace with himself. He was under the impression that he should have remembered something, but he didn't quite grasp what. If only he could remember his dreams! But he always forgot nearly as soon as he opened his eyes. Too bad, because he knew that what happened in them often set his mood for the rest of the day …
Trowa gave him a cup of coffee in silence and he gave him a grateful glance. As he was sipping the scalding hot beverage and reading the newspaper, he wondered briefly, deep down, why he had seen willows swaying with the wind in the green eyes of his friend. Then he happened to glance at a political communiqué, and forgot.
* * * * * * * * *
A week and a half after the pilots' secession
The mission they were preparing themselves for was probably one of their most difficult ones.
Because the old bastard J hadn't seen fit to share with them his information, they had learned nearly too late of the new discovery by OZ scientists, one day only before the official presentation of the final product. Treize Kushrenada himself was going to go and see the demonstration, and then, it would be mass-produced… a beam cannon supposedly able to blow holes in Gundanium plates a meter thick, and light enough to be transported by specially reinforced Leo units. If it worked, and the scientists wouldn't have broken the news to Kushrenada if they hadn't been sure that indeed it worked, they would be in trouble. And now, they were presented with the mission of going to the base and destroy prototype, blueprints and everything else, scientists included, before the presentation. It was 5 AM, the said presentation would take place at 10 AM, and the base was crawling already with soldiers and new security installation, because of the visit of the General. They would probably be expected too. The only things they were sure of was that the cannon really existed, that it wasn't a total trap. But they would more than probably be awaited.
Damn that old bastard J.
The plans were made fast, and they would need boldness and speed more than anything else. They didn't have the time to research enough to be on the safer side.
Quatre and Wufei would be sent inside of the laboratories to find the plans and notes, and wipe out the computers. Duo, who was the best at slipping around in the dark unnoticed, was to assassinate the scientists and assistants, and to find any personal notes they could have been carrying. Trowa would stay behind in Heavyarms, ready to cover his comrades' escape if need arose and to serve as a decoy. Heero took the inside of the hangars to plant explosives on the cannon and every MS and helicopter who could give them chase, and making sure to disorganize the soldiers.
It was the best plan they could come up with on such a short notice.
They all knew that it probably wouldn't be enough. This mission had a very low success rate. But sadly, it was too important to abandon it.
Especially accounting for the fact that Quatre was still slightly fevered and wobbly on his legs, but he could walk, he could think… Finally they let him come for the sole reason that they really, really needed someone to go with Wufei in the laboratories, because the work on the computers was too absorbing and the pilot doing it would probably end up being caught by surprise by a patrol. And they couldn't expect the plan to function if the attack was not simultaneous. Of course they could just have come with the Gundams and leveled it to the ground, but there were too many MS, they would be detained long enough for the plans to be sent to another base.
And Quatre was too practiced at talking you into giving into his wishes. It was far easier to let him do what he wanted.
* * * * * *
Arrived in the hall going to the room they were searching for, the Arab and the Chinese realized that there were six guards blocking the way in. After a period of observation, they saw that the men were changed regularly each fifteen minutes; in other words they had to get rid of the new ones as soon as the other patrol left if they wanted to get the maximum amount of time… Without alerting this same patrol.
They jumped in the group in silence, Wufei's sword and Quatre's knifes plunging with a deathly precision toward their targets; they couldn't permit guns to attracting attention too soon.
Wufei killed two of them in a second before they even saw him, one with a flowing move across his throat and the other with a thrust of the tip in his heart. He didn't have the time to disengage his weapon before another soldier slashed the air near his face; he succeeded in avoiding having his eye gouged out by stepping back, and cut off the man's head, before turning toward the other men and Quatre. The small blond had gotten rid of two of his opponents before they could even cry out with a symmetric hit to the heart, but had a problem with the last man, who was protecting himself with his gun's handle. Quatre didn't have enough reach to touch him and the soldier wouldn't wait long before calling out.
Wufei plunged his sword through his body from behind, putting a lid on his notions on honor and fair combat. It was a war and he had already done worse. He was ready to do anything to make his cause triumph and if he had to betray his own personal moral codes for that, he would just have to do it.
If he repeated it to himself long enough, maybe it would stop hurting.
* * *
They slid inside, and after having dragged the corpses after them to avoid being discovered too fast, they got working.
While he was observing the computers, Quatre was idly cleaning his blades on a torn vest before holstering them in the sheaths hidden on his wrists. Wufei took guard duty, looking right and left, indifferently trying to stop the blood drop lazily flowing from a cut he had gained, just between the eyes, and that he hadn't even felt. He let his eyes wander on the blond for a few seconds. Quatre knew what to do with computers, and for the moment he was downloading a mean virus Yuy had concocted especially for them.
The Chinese boy started when he saw him briefly press his hand on his belly before returning to concentrate on work. The flightsuit was black, he hadn't seen anything. But the palm had been damp with a red smear where it had been pressed against the torn material.
"A scratch, nothing too deep" answered Winner without looking away from the screen, his face serious and concentrated, and his cold eyes making him look far older than his fifteen years.
Sometimes, when the young man, oh so polite and so cheerful, smiled, Wufei caught himself forgetting that his gifted, tactician brain reduced any adult one to nothing. But one glimpse of the cold, calculating gleam in his eyes, usually so warm, was enough to never truly forget the brain hiding behind the child.
His specialization wasn't computers, like Yuy, but he was gifted enough to do a better job than Wufei would have been able to.
He envied him a little. He envied them all. His only talent was knowledge of fighting, as he often thought. Trowa was a master at infiltration, Quatre a tactician and a diplomat of genius level, Yuy a god as for computers…Duo a genius in theft and diverse forbidden acts, as much as in public relations. Him… What did he have, apart from his piloting and his hand-to-hand combat skills? He could grow to feeling inferior…
Ha! How Duo would laugh if he knew that despite his behavior, he felt inferior to them all. That he was under the impression that he didn't deserve them, didn't do them honor.
A scratch maybe but it didn't cost him anything to make sure that his comrade didn't bleed all over the place… he went to tear off one of the dead men's shirt and made it a bandage for his comrade. Quatre glanced at him, surprised, when he began to patch him up with precise and efficient movements, but let him do it with a grateful smile before turning back to his computer.
"I'll thank Sally… She taught you well," gently teased the Arab teen, aware of course of the annoyance the other teen felt at her affection and big-sisterly ways with him. "Thanks Wufei…"
Wufei grumbled, bothered, and pushed back a black strand of hair that fell on his nose. He tried to push it back behind his ear, but it didn't want to stay there. He realized that his band had probably broken during the fight and that the man's knife had cut short a few bangs, shortening them to eye level… at the same time that he had given him that cut between his eyes, in a diagonal. He hadn't felt it at first, but now it was beginning to sting. He put a hand dirty with Quatre's blood on his wound to try to block the blood flow running down his nose and chin, and went to search for a handkerchief into one of the soldier's pockets. It wasn't deep as far as cuts go, but head injuries always bled more than others, he knew that. Once he had found one, he pressed it on his would and bent over Quatre's shoulder to look on his progress.
The boy was pretty good, and finished fast. He nodded at his comrade and they both walked out of the door… a group of guards was waiting for them in the corridor, alerted by their comrade's blood on the floor.
Not even letting them the time to see him, Quatre darted toward the aeration conduit from where they had come, while Wufei shot the guards to force them to take cover. But he knew that no one would be there to cover him when he would need it, so he decided to run away using the other road instead of giving them his back to shoot on. They would certainly not have the honor not to use it… he would have refused to have it in their place.
He dashed off to the nearest exit using the emergency path, blessing Yuy and his manic need to have at least two dozens alternative plans. He had been separated from Quatre, but it would only give the boy more chances to get away; they hadn't seen him and probably believed that Wufei was the one running away with stolen information, it was more important to chase him instead of losing time searching for an eventual accomplice.
They were all after the Chinese now and had probably told all of the base to get ready, but it wasn't important because in five… four corridors, there would be an exit, and then, he would just be covered by Yuy and Winner until he got into the car too.
A bullet hissed past his shoulder and he stifled a malediction , accelerating his run yet again. He took a narrow turn in the next corridor, grabbing at the wall so as not to fall… then heard a gunshot, just as his leg suddenly refused to bear his weight and he found himself falling head first toward the wall.
He just had the time to damn OZ in his head before his field of vision exploded in red, then in black.
* * *
Quatre had just joined with Heero at the rendezvous point outside of the hangars and they were waiting for Wufei, already late, to make the Jeep dash out of there when the small blond cried out without reason and caught his leg with both hands, before clinging to Heero's arm with all of his forces. The Japanese suddenly remembered that the small and so fragile looking boy also had excellent qualifications to be a Gundam pilot, even against his so nice behavior and every appearance suggesting the contrary. His hold was steel-strong and would probably leave a pretty big bruise, even with Heero's unusual healing speed.
Wing's pilot turned toward him, alerted, and only had the time to catch him before his head hit the headboard. Quatre had just lost consciousness under the shock. Heero put his hand flat on the boy's sternum, keeping him sitting straight, and slowly pushed him back against the back of the seat. He couldn't free his arm at first with such a tight hold, even in Quatre's unconscious state.
"Quatre…?" he asked in a low voice, worried by the reaction, so violent and apparently without any causes.
But the young man didn't answer. His breath was fast and dry, rough, his pulse frantic and erratic, and his pupils had dilated so far that his comrade only saw, under the eyelid he had turned over, a slim blue circle around a wide black disk.
* * *
Awful pain in my chest, but not truly real, not really mine
but it is here
not in me, but… somewhere, in my little inner world
I hurt in a place that does not exist
my heart beats too fast, too hard, violent, as if it wanted to escape, fly away from my chest
in the oasis, reflections are dancing deep under the hidden water; reflection of a silent forest, reflection of a lively flame, dancing, so alive, reflection of an iced over lake where lava glows deep down
others, many others
and the proud mountain's image blurs
and then… erases itself and disappear
only the bottom of my heart, the bottom of the oasis
where the other lived…
pain again, like something torn out, like an amputation
like the fangs of a predator devouring me alive, there, deep down, where the others are
* * *
When Quatre regained consciousness a few minutes later, slowly, painfully, as if he had to drag himself awake, it was to stare, frightened, into the confused blue-gray eyes of his friend. At first he had trouble recognizing the person.
"Heero…?" he muttered in a trembling voice. "Heero, I can't feel him anymore…"
"Nani?!" Wing's pilot exclaimed. "Iie…" he refused to accept what the other boy was telling him, refused to understand, shaking his head, his hair flying messily in his eyes.
Heero had reverted back to his first language without even realizing it, refusing to understand what the Wolf already knew.
Quatre lowered his eyes, and his lower lip trembled. To confirm this information was the hardest thing he had ever done.
"I don't feel Wufei anymore…"
* * * * * *
The man in the blue uniform approaching with a determinate stalk was guided with deference toward the place they were keeping the catch of the day. The little troupe of soldiers guarding the enemy pilot slowly stepped back, clearing a path for OZ's absolute master, Treize Kushrenada.
The pilot, 05, Chang Wufei, from the black hair falling on his shoulders and his face, was still laying unconscious at the foot of the wall, curled up on himself, a leg pierced through by a bullet. Apparently it hadn't hit the artery because the blood wasn't spurting, even if it flowed quite fast. The boy's skull was bathing in a puddle of blood coming from his temple, and another half-dry trace trickled from between his eyes. A scarlet trail drew his head's trajectory against the wall as he had fallen on the floor.
Treize let loose a little surprised laugh. Poor Wufei, he nearly pitied him… To be caught like that… Pure bad luck… He estimated the young man who had had the courage to challenge him, and knew that his pride would take a blow. He had already ill taken his defeat at the time… Even if Treize didn't fell any shame in admitting that he had only won because he was taller and heavier and that contrary to his adversary, he had a good idea of his style of combat and how to beat it.
He motioned for a soldier to push the pilot with the end of his gun. Chang didn't react. A second time didn't provoke any more changes in his posture.
"Step away and keep him in your sight," commanded Treize, leaning over the pilot. "We cannot know for sure."
There was a murmur of protestation against the unnecessary risk the General was taking, but Treize knew that it wasn't Chang Wufei's habit to take hostages to save himself… And anyway, with the speed with which he had probably hit the wall, he was probably not fit to gain the upper hand on him.
He was still breathing, his breath making the fine hairs falling on his nose dance; Treize hadn't been sure at first. The general took off one glove and carefully put a hand on his cheek to push back the spilled hair hiding his face. No, visibly, he wasn't playing dead, his face expressed too much suffering for that. The man put two fingers on his carotid… His pulse was feeble, sluggish. Probably because he had lost so much blood.
An eyelid moved lightly, then Wufei slowly bent the end of his fingers, moaning in a nearly inaudible way. Surprised by the speed of his remission, Kushrenada stood and stepped back, prudent. It was better not to be in reaching distance when he regained consciousness fully…
The boy opened an eye and closed it at once, visibly hurt by the bright light. His nearly black eyes made it difficult to judge of the state his pupils were in, but the nasty bump had probably reduced them to pin-sized points. He gave a pained cry when he tried to move his leg, and lifted his head, trembling under the strain of maintaining it straight. He shook his head as if to put his thoughts back in place, his dark eyes sweeping without seeming to really realize that there were soldiers ready to shoot him all around.
"Well, well, Chang Wufei, it seems like it's the end of the game for you…"
After several tries, the Asian boy succeeded in keeping his eyes on the tall chestnut-haired man who had talked.
"… Chang… Wufei…? Game? Which…" mumbled softly the Asian teen.
Treize frowned. There was something abnormal in the pilot 05's behavior, apart from a possible concussion. He couldn't quite pinpoint it yet, but…
"It… Huuurts…" moaned Wufei, lifting a hand to his head.
He removed it stained with blood and stared at it for a few seconds, incredulous.
"…All that… red…"
"Wufei?" called Treize experimentally.
The boy didn't even turn his head toward him. He was still observing one after the other his blood-covered fingers, then the floor where a puddle was growing slowly, then his thigh, with an expression that was strangely fascinated and detached at the same time.
Treize suddenly understood what it was that bothered him in the boy's body language. For once, his face indicated his age. It was not the visage of a fiery fighter, but that of any normal fifteen-year old boy. Totally normal… Except from the pain of course. But even that pain was indicative… The pilot he knew would have preferred to die rather than clearly show in front of an enemy any sign of weakness or inferiority.
"Wufei, I am talking to you…" repeated the general dryly, crouching at his side.
Even if he had been looking at him, the prisoner needed a few seconds before he understood that the tall broad-shouldered man was really talking to him.
"Wu… Fei…" mumbled the boy, trying to straighten up. "Wh…"
Then, with a scream torn from his throat by the wound he had stretched by not paying attention, he lost consciousness.
* * * * * * * * *
They had waited for Wufei's return for four entire days, a total breach of normal security procedures, and he had not come back. Not any news, not any clue allowing them if only by supposition to know where he was and in which state. Their snitches didn't know a thing, the OZ communication channels they could access didn’t either, the TV was no help… They didn't know if he was dead or alive, or hurt, free or a prisoner…
Duo gave a strangled scream of frustration, confronted with the uselessness of their searches, and finished packing his comrade's few personal things. They had to leave this hideout; it was becoming too dangerous to stay at the same place. They couldn't leave anything between them either, so one of the four of them had had to take care of Wu-man's things… Wu-man, how he hated that nickname. Oh, how he wished he was ok…
But after the pain, exploding in Quatre's leg, and the confusion he had felt briefly after the shock, the boy hadn't felt a twinge. As if Chang Wufei had ceased to exist. Not even as if he had died, no… In that case, Quatre insisted that he would have felt it; but there… Wufei had simply been, as the psychic said, "disconnected" from his Uchuu no Kokoro. Out of perception.
Quatre had been so traumatized by feeling the boy vanish from his mind, he who was already so shaken by the recent happenings and barely recovered from his last bout of lycanthropic fever, that they hadn't even thought about asking him to pack Wufei's things. It would only shake him further. So Duo had volunteered.
And he regretted it. Having to dig into Wufei's possessions was already serious; he knew that if he had been here, the Chinese teen would have screamed bloody murder at this violation of what he still had of his private life. And the silence, following each of his actions in the room instead of the outraged bellows he was waiting for, hurt surprisingly bad. But that wasn't the worst. The worst was precisely that private life spilling in front of his eyes, that taught him little things he would probably have never known, painfully reminding him with each discovery, like a slap in the face, his friend disappeared the gods only knew where.
His eternal white garb. Contrary to what you could think about an ex-gutter rat, Duo had some notions about his friends' cultures; after having met them all, he had found information, and knew fairly well that in China, white was the color of mourning.
Wufei had been in mourning for as long as Duo remembered. Even before his colony changed itself into little space trash bits.
Books everywhere. Philosophy mostly. Some written in mandarin. Exercises books full of an elegant and artistic calligraphy.
His glasses. He only wore them to read, and couldn't stand being caught with them on his nose. It bothered him, to look like a scholar. As if he forbid himself to be one.
Everything in him screamed that he had been one, when, too rarely, he relaxed.
Incense sticks and an orange in a sort of little closet decorated with dragons, which was, from what he remembered, a little portable temple to give offering for the dead.
In one of the books, a picture. Wufei, thirteen year old, and a young girl his age, walking in front of a big group of Chinese-typed people. The girl doesn't look toward him, angry. But he glances at her, from under his lashes, a little look exasperated and worried at the same time. They're clothed in a traditional costume. Behind, only a few ideograms, translated into romaji under it, and those names: Shirin Meiran and Chang Wufei.
In a little box, a golden chain, with two simple rings, like two alliances, European style. To the chain a white ribbon was intricately wound around, stained with the dark brown of old, dry blood.
The girl on the picture had white ribbons around her buns.
Trembling with powerless anger, Duo assembled what he thought important, the temple, the picture and the rings, then closed the door to the empty room with a bang and stalked toward his own room, teary-eyed.
He furiously wiped his eyes. He refused to cry for Wufei yet.
He took his own backpack and went to rejoin the other pilots outside. Heero was leaning against the van on the driver's side, and through the back door he could catch glimpses of Quatre sitting on the bench running around the vehicle's trunk, and Trowa's long legs, showing that he was sitting in front of him, against the backdoor to be able to keep guard. Quatre didn't wear any expression. His eyes were empty, a bottomless sadness, his eyes red, and he had his teeth clenched hard.
Duo stopped for a few seconds, worried for his empathic friend. Wufei's disappearance had hit him harder than the others because he believed that he could have stayed to help, and in a way, he had been there, had lived through it. Duo wondered if he should keep him company. After all, it was his role… right?
But he didn't feel the courage.
He glimpsed a blue-clad shoulder and a fine-boned hand landed on the blond boy's knee, attracting his attention. He looked up at Trowa, and Duo saw his expression change slightly. Finally he sighed and shook his head. But he didn't seem quite as empty anymore.
Trowa would take care of Quatre… His eyes left the back of the van and landed on Heero who was still waiting, and who was looking back at him. He realized with a start that he had stopped to observe them in the middle of a movement and had stayed standing stupidly in the path… and that the Japanese boy hadn't ceased to observe him once since he had walked out of the house.
The dark blue eyes on him bothered him. Yuy had to find him so silly; or maybe he was irritated by that distracted, vacant air he had taken on. He forced his face to go back into the mask, walking to the vehicle, but saw the eyes under the dark bangs narrow suddenly. Hadn't worked… He hadn't thought it would.
Heero shook his head. Duo was trying once again to hide his true feelings; but there wasn't a need. He knew what was behind the mask. And even if he hadn't known the American enough to realize it, he could have smelled it, or felt it with his body language. Duo's steps had something tired, flat, lifeless. Even his braid seemed submitted to this invisible weight on his shoulders, miserably dropping, without oscillating behind him in wide arcs like always.
Wing's pilot stared at the American, concerned, and faintly frowned, pensive. Duo's eyes widened when he saw the sadness etched on his visage, like a reflection of his own, and with a sigh abandoned the mask. Heero knew that he wasn't being truthful, so what for?… Furthermore, he knew that the boy, who had perfect control of his non-expressions, had only let it appear to show him that he wouldn't think less of him if Duo let go of the act.
The two pilots looked at each other for a few more seconds, unmoving, then Heero blinked and the moment was broken. He turned around and took his place behind the wheel, revving the engine. A few seconds later the American had joined him in the cabin. They left the area in silence, without looking at each other, without looking back.
The bomb used to wipe out every trace of their presence would only explode in a few hours, when they would be far enough away.
* * * * * *
"Ninmu shippai" means "Mission failed" or "mission failure", or, well, you get the idea