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Wufei glanced at the clock as he picked up his cell and growled at Duo (or at least someone who was using Duo's cell), "It's three in the morning."

Technically it was 3:04, and Wufei was normally very precise but he felt the situation itself was cause for a bit of generalization.

Duo said, "Get to HQ, Q's been kidnapped."

Wufei was already out of bed on the "H," since the only time Duo could be counted on to be pithy was in an emergency. The only things that rated as emergencies with Duo anymore had to do with the five of them, so Wufei had known even without knowing that it was going to be something bad.

Wufei reached for his pants, talking as he dressed. "Tell me everything."

"Q and Rashid left Winner Industries central at nine last evening L4 time. They were being flown on one of Q's private ships to a business meeting on L1. Landing was scheduled to be at, well, about now." It was a little after midnight on L4. "We haven't determined whether the pilot was substituted in or if the plane was intercepted but either way, they never even made it into neutral airspace so far as we can tell." Neutral airspace was an area between all the colonies, shared for purposes of regular air travel.

"Do we have any idea who did this?" Wufei kept the phone to his ear even as he pulled his shirt over his head.

"'Lin received a ransom video about fifteen minutes ago. They're basically social idealists. Want L4 to be run free of capitalistic restraint. They're soaking up the irony of having the Winner family bankroll their venture."

"How much are they asking?"

"Ten million."

"Can his family do it?"

Ailin was one of Quatre's sisters. Until the end of the war she had been the black sheep of the family, striking out on her own to create a rival corporation to Winner out of bitterness at the way the women of the family, despite being many, were often pushed aside in favor of the male heir. Quatre, who had grown up never really knowing Ailin, had made it one of his foremost goals to bridge the gap with her as soon as he was in control of Winner Industries. Ailin, like just about everyone else Wufei knew, had been powerless to resist Quatre's overtures of friendship and had been co-CEO of WI for nearly five years at this point. More recently, she had become Ailin Maxwell, having married Duo less than six months previous.

Duo said, "'Lin says it wouldn't even phase them, but."

"But?" Wufei didn't like it when Duo left things unsaid. It was never a good sign.

"The vid, 'Fei. They…he was pretty roughed up. 'Lin doesn't necessarily trust them to come through even if we hand over the money. They're idealists and Q runs Winner Industries, y'know?"

Wufei tried to think clearly. This involved pushing the image of Quatre hurt in any way as far from his mind as possible. "Duo. Rashid?"

"We don’t know, he wasn't in the vid and they wouldn't answer any questions."

"Shit."

Duo laughed without any amusement whatsoever.

"I'm skipping HQ, I'll be on colony in two hours."

"We need HQ's resources, 'Fei, and where the fuck are you gonna find a ship that fast?"

"Heero's going to take me." Heero, being Relena's Head Tactician (an odd term for someone who was constantly working to maintain peace, but it was what he did) and Head of Security, had access to the fastest fleet in the known universe. "As for the resources, I'll put in a call to Une and Sally. They'll be our point people."

"I guess I'll be seeing you and Heero in a couple of hours." Duo sounded relieved.

"Keep 'Lin calm." Not that Ailin was known for freaking out, but having a brother, business partner and best friend missing could wear on a person. "Call Trowa. An extra pair of hands couldn't hurt." Plus, Trowa would kill them if he found out from some newspaper or another random source. "And don't do anything stupid."

Duo didn't even bother to be insulted. "Get here quickly."

Wufei damn well planned on it.

*

Wufei bypassed all the security in the Palace with a combination of high-level access codes and stealth. He knocked on the door of the room he knew to be Heero's. Heero yanked the door open irritably, obviously expecting someone under his command. The moment he saw Wufei he said, "Not a good sign."

Wufei confirmed this with a curt shake of his head. "Quatre's been kidnapped, social faction on L4, need a ship."

"One moment." Heero disappeared back into the bedroom. Wufei could hear him whispering something to Relena before kissing his wife and returning to the door. He stepped out and shut the door behind him. "C'mon, we'll take the prototype."

Normally anything new would worry Wufei, but if Heero felt confident taking it then he'd tested it enough to know it wouldn't flake out on them at a crucial moment. Wufei looked over at Heero. "You're going like that?"

"I keep clothes in the cockpit."

Wufei couldn't summon even a whisper of surprise.

"Tell me more."

"I don’t know much. Duo called. 'Lin received a video, to all evidences they haven't been kind to Quatre and we're not sure Rashid is still in the picture. They're requesting ten million. 'Lin can do it but she doesn’t trust them. Neither do I."

"Do you think they're still on the colony?"

"Duo sent me a video chip. Thought I would watch it on the way over and see if I can figure that type of thing out. My gut feeling is yes. A social group leaving its base seems odd. Plus, I'm not sure where they would get the money to finance a satellite base, unless Quatre's not the first multi-millionaire they've kidnapped."

"Billionaire," Heero quibbled. He could be a stickler for details when stressed.

They reached the ship quickly enough. Any other day Wufei would have wanted some time to pour over the design. Even at first sight, she was a beauty. At the moment, however, Wufei had other things on his mind. They boarded and Heero motioned Wufei to a video console even as he got to powering up the ship.

Wufei slipped the chip into the receiver. The video was pretty standard as ransom videos went. The kidnappers were kept out of sight, their voices altered. Wufei forced himself to breathe evenly and slowly as he watched Quatre, completely naked but covered in more than enough bruises to make up for it, struggle against the metal cuffs. It obviously wasn't doing much more than tearing at the skin of his neck, wrists and ankles. Wufei doubted he was actually bothering once off camera. No, this was for show. A sort of "fuck you" to his captors and a "don't-worry-about-me-I've-got-it-under-control" to his sister and the other pilots. Wufei knew the look in Quatre's eyes. It said, "You're not worth my fear."

If he'd had time, Wufei would have taken some to feel afraid for Quatre. The demand was obviously serious, as was the time limit (three days). There was nothing on the tape to suggest where it had been taped, other than the fact that Quatre was shivering. Even that was hard to decode, however. Quatre was naked and they were obviously inside. If Wufei knew whether that inside was climate controlled or not, it could possibly help, but he didn't.

"We're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way," Wufei said. "And we've got two days and twenty hours to do it. We're going to need Sally."

The old-fashioned way involved sweeping the surface of suspected areas and then reading life signals to see if they could find what they were looking for. It was slow and tedious, but given enough time it would get the job done. Of course, in this situation that was the big if.

"Did you put in a call to HQ?"

"Before I left."

"She should be in by the time we arrive, then."

"Earlier, I'll put in a call in a few minutes, tell her what I need."

"Comm console's to your left."

Wufei swiveled in his chair and started punching numbers.

*

Trowa arrived at Winner Industries' Headquarters around the same time that Wufei and Heero landed. L3 was closer than Earth, but Heero's prototype was a positive marvel of engineering.

Duo met all of them in the cargo bay. "Sally called me after she got off with you. 'Lin's helping her to get our systems interfacing. She says she'll start doing a sweep as soon as everything's set."

Wufei nodded. "Do you have access to CL files from here?" CL stood for Colonial Law, the police force that kept order on all five colonies.

Duo shook his head but Heero said, "Doesn't matter, it's not a hard hack job. Just get me to a console."

Wufei followed the two men. Trowa, at his side, asked, "Do we know how long they've had him?"

It was nearing four in the morning local time. "We're approximating six or seven hours."

"Leaving us with approximately sixty-five."

Surprised at his own need to quell the fear underlying Trowa's calculations, Wufei said, "We've worked with less."

Trowa acknowledged this with an incline of his head. "I'm to his ship bay, I want us to be ready to go and well-armed when the time comes." He split off from the group still heading toward the main computer terminals.

A few more paces and Duo slipped into a room with enough technology to most likely run the colony. Heero asked, "I can use any of this?"

Duo nodded. "Sit and go to." He made his way over to his wife, who was receiving instructions from Sally and following them to the letter. Wufei felt helpless without anything to do in that moment but forced himself to stay still long enough to allow Heero to work his way through all the safeties and firewalls.

Wufei willed himself to not actually think about who was missing now that his mind was given enough breathing room to wander. Quatre was the one who would normally make sure that all of them were doing things like breathing, drinking enough water, not missing details in their rush to get to the bottom of things. Quatre was the one who would get things done on his own without it seeming like he had put in any effort toward the end goal and without taking responsibility for it either. Quatre was the one who would roll his eyes at their panic and say, "Is that really getting you anywhere?"

Wufei didn't think about it, shut his memories of how Quatre could take care of things before the person in trouble even realized it away, and when Heero said, "I'm in," strode over to the console that was now connected to a novel of crime and punishment and began cross-referencing as thoroughly as he could, trying to pick out a group of usual suspects.

He didn't want to miss anything.

*

Another video came at noon that next day. Quatre wasn't shaking in this one, he was sweating. Wherever he was then was not climate controlled. What's more, it was hot in the day and cool in the evening. L4 was looking better all the time.

Quatre, however, wasn't. It wasn't immediately clear whether his captors had beaten him more since the first video or if that was just the effect of time on his body, the bruises becoming more vibrant and the stiffness setting in. His eyes weren't as sharp looking, however, which could either indicate internal bleeding or dehydration. If the lesser of the two evils had to be picked, Wufei was holding out strongly for the latter.

Wufei took the voice sample from the video and worked it through all types of de-synthesizing mechanisms but wasn't having any luck as far as cross-referencing it with any of the people he found likely to have committed the kidnapping.

On the other hand, Sally's scans were paying off. She hadn't been able to narrow it down to one location, as there were several body scans that were coming off too similar to be disassociated from one another, but once they'd ruled out several of them as being Quatre's sisters, they were down to three on-colony locations.

Once having reported all of this, Sally immediately began scanning off-colony, just in case they were mistaken in that assumption.

Wufei, Trowa, Duo and Heero put on their Good Time Gear and set off for the first of the locations. It was the equivalent of a project and after a thorough search they all concluded that whatever Sally had read was probably the result of too many people into too small an area. They moved onto the second location.

It was hard to find at first until Duo, who'd spent more time on L4 than the rest of them put together, found odd gradations in the sand. Which lead them to the entry of the underground bunker. The entry housed four guards, not one of them a day older than any of the pilots. Wufei concussed the one he'd been assigned to deal with and forced himself to keep from doing anything more drastic. They were only stupid, idealistic children, this Wufei knew, but they were stupid, idealistic children with Quatre at their mercy, and that depleted Wufei's store of said quality immensely.

Once in the bunker, none of them were messing around. Anyone who saw them was taken care of, quickly and quietly. They split up as soon as the option to arrived, Duo and Heero going one way, Trowa and Wufei the other.

Wufei found the two of them making their way down a long hallway, doors on both sides. Locked doors, with no outward clue of what was on the inside. "Fuck," Wufei muttered, before taking the lock-pick he'd tucked in his hair (an idea stolen from Duo) and starting in on the locks. "Cover me."

Trowa gave him a Look, as if to say, "Because what the hell else would I be doing?"

It was a good point, but Wufei was really too busy worrying about the doors to respond.

The locks were complicated, but not unduly so, and it was taking Wufei about three minutes per door. Trowa took down two guards in the time it took them to work their way four doors down. The guards had very obviously been talking about going to get the prisoner, so they knew they were on the right track. Wufei sighed in pent-up frustration and kept on picking. "How long do you think you took them out for?"

Trowa looked up from where he was tying the two up. "Twenty minutes, maybe."

"There'll be more before then."

Trowa didn't say anything. Wufei said, "Next time, info before unconsciousness."

"Gonna be loud."

Wufei pressed a button at his hip. A similar button would buzz against Heero and Duo's skin without making any noise, telling them they were needed. "There'll be two of you, Duo'll join me. That work?"

Trowa looked like he almost hoped Wufei wouldn't stumble upon the room in time to save someone some pain.

*

Trowa got his wish. Heero and him extracted information with a maximum amount of pain and minimum amount of permanent damage. Duo and Wufei were off running the minute the location of the actual room was revealed. Wufei let Duo pick the lock once they were there; Duo was faster.

Duo worked patiently at the lock. His first lesson to Wufei concerning the art of breaking and entering had been, "It doesn't matter how badly you need to get in somewhere, the lock doesn't know that. Nor would it care if it did. Take your fucking time, it'll go quicker."

The lock clicked and Duo swung open the door. Wufei had to take several deep breaths through his mouth to keep his gag reflex from reacting. The room stank of human fluids, vomit not the least among them. In the corner, Quatre was curled up in a ball, obviously trying to escape the sun that was soaking the room. His skin was a sickening red regardless, with blisters peppering its surface. Duo ran to him, kneeling down, but once he got there he seemed unsure of how to proceed. "Q?"

Standing above Duo, Wufei said with far more authority, "Quatre, we need you to wake up."

Quatre managed to move his head enough so that when he opened his eyes, squinting he could see Duo in front of him, if not Wufei. He frowned, evidently confused. Wufei thought he was probably severely sun-sick as well as dehydrated. He most likely thought they were a hallucination. Wufei cut right to what they needed to know. "Quatre, do they have Rashid?"

Quatre looked worried, swiveling his eyes a bit to check from where the second voice was coming. He tried shaking his head a bit, but burnt skin caught on the abrasive metal of his neck collar and he winced. "Dead." His voice was little more than a rasp.

"Duo, see if you can pick the locks on the chains." Wufei knew that would be a walk in the park for Duo, but Duo's hands were shaking and Wufei needed for him to focus that energy, whether it be coming from rage or fear or whatever. Duo immediately set to ridding Quatre of the collar. It came easily enough, despite the mass of raw skin beneath it. Once he got to the ones on Quatre's wrists and ankles, though, it was a bit harder. One of Quatre's wrists was very clearly dislocated, as though he'd tried to tear his hand out of the manacle without much success. The shoulder on that arm was also out of joint and every time Duo did anything Quatre made low sounds in his throat. Duo was also having to struggle to get him to uncurl, something that made Wufei's stomach want to revolt. It didn’t help that as far as Wufei could tell, Quatre didn't know who they were and had no reason at this point to trust them.

As soon as Duo had managed his task, Wufei said, "Take him, Heero and Trowa are probably about ready to kill us."

Carefully, Duo lifted Quatre up. Quatre swore. It was slurred but Wufei got the idea. "C'mon. You're going to have to run. We can give him something when we get to the ship."

Wufei ran ahead of Duo. When he came to where Trowa and Heero were guarding the entrance to the hallway he said, "We have him. We're going to need to cover Duo."

Trowa looked over his shoulder at where Duo was making his way down the hall, swiftly and yet carefully. He exchanged glances with Heero who said, "I think we can handle that," in the same tone that someone else would have said, "My pleasure."

*

Trowa had the most practical experience in healing (followed only shortly by Duo) so when they got Quatre settled on the ship, Trowa took out the hyper-stocked First Aid kit that Heero kept on all his emergency transport vehicles and began patching Quatre up as much as possible.

He worked on cleaning any lacerations, spreading cooling salve on the burns, and checking for infections first. Duo was up with Heero, helping fly the ship and most likely releasing his anger on any non-sentient thing unlucky enough to come within the ship's weapon range. Wufei was watching Trowa work, thoroughly and methodically. He told himself he should do something else but there wasn't much else to do, and Wufei didn't think he could leave. Quatre was in his sight again. He wasn't sure he was immediately able to give that up.

Trowa swabbed at a cut with hydrogen peroxide and then threw the cotton swab out. He turned to Wufei and asked, "Mind lending a hand?"

Wufei came closer. "What do you need?"

"He has a concussion, I can't give him anything to put him to sleep, and a painkiller would most likely do that. All the same, I need to wrap his ribs and set the broken bones. I don’t want him healing lopsided or without his original range of movement."

"Tell me what to do."

"You just have to hold him."

Quatre looked three-fourths asleep without the meds but Wufei knew better. When wounded, it was best to save up energy in case it was needed. Quatre was keeping himself just awake enough. Wufei asked, "What are you going to do first?"

Trowa thought for a second. "The ribs. Can you get him sitting?"

Wufei was set to haul Quatre gently up by his shoulders and with a hand supporting his back. At the last minute he remembered how much he hated when people in hospitals did things without telling him what they were doing. Half of survival as a pilot had been knowing what was happening. "Quatre?"

Quatre made a soft noise of acknowledgment. Wufei asked, "You can hear us?"

Another noise. Wufei said, "I'm going to lift you now. Don’t worry about helping, I can handle it. Let me know if it hurts too badly." Wufei doubted Quatre would say anything if he were in agony, it wasn't in any of the pilots' blood to do so, but it sounded like something that should get said right before helping a third party to hurt Quatre probably as much as the original wound had hurt. Wufei was no stranger to taping up ribs.

Trowa, like Wufei, talked Quatre through the procedure with a steady stream of encouragement, murmured low and evenly. Trowa's best always came out under pressure.

When the ribs were properly bound, Wufei shifted himself and Quatre ever so slightly. "We have to work on your shoulder and your wrist now."

Trowa did the wrist first, as it was already wrapped on account of the complete ring of skin missing after rubbing against the cuffs for so long. Trowa counted to the three and then set the bone as quickly as possible. Quatre moaned, a moan that Wufei knew would have been a scream had Quatre had the voice for it. Trowa said, "Keep him awake, 'Fei," which let Wufei know how scared Trowa was. He never took liberties unless frightened out of his mind.

Wufei kept Quatre moving, made him answer questions, bit back four apologies. As Wufei was keeping Quatre preoccupied, Trowa reached up and pushed the shoulder joint back where it was supposed to be. Quatre did scream at that, a weak, used-up scream, but a scream.

Wufei said, "Breathe," his tone brooking no argument. Quatre inhaled rapidly then exhaled a bit more slowly.

Trowa inserted two IV drips into Quatre's arm. He asked Wufei, "I want to go tell the others; you'll keep him conscious?"

Wufei waved Trowa away, never leaving off his stream of chatter. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spoken this much. He had no earthly idea of what he was saying.

*

They flew directly to the hospital to which Ailin had given them coordinates. A team met them upon arrival. Ailin had called ahead. Trowa took a quick minute to explain to one of the doctors what he had done before Wufei turned Quatre over into their hands.

The four pilots made their way to the waiting room. Ailin was already there. She pulled Duo to her the minute he made it in the room and buried herself in his chest. Wufei was always impressed by the way Ailin could make even the most vulnerable of gestures look merely human rather than weak. This was no exception. Duo stroked her hair and said, "We got him, baby." Wufei had a feeling the embrace was needed every bit as much by him as it was by her. It made Wufei uncomfortable to question whether Ailin knew Duo so well as to help him save face by sacrificing her own dignity, so he didn't.

Instead he turned to Heero, "Call your wife. She'll probably have me fired if I let you sit around without telling her you're okay."

Heero cracked a tight smile. "Don't give me ideas." He went to walk outside where he could make the call. Trowa followed him with a, "I should get hold of Cath."

Wufei didn't have anyone waiting for his call, so he sat down in a decently comfortable chair for a hospital waiting room -- it was a schwank hospital, Wufei'd peripherally noticed several plaques thanking the Winner family throughout -- and asked Duo, now sitting side by side with his wife, "Did anyone check that the clean up crew made it in?"

As soon as they'd hopped on the ship, Heero had radioed for CL and at least one Preventer to come in and make sure that the kidnappers were taken to prison to await trial.

"CL radioed us that they were in about ten minutes after. They counted twelve. I counted fourteen, so I think some of 'em must have slithered back out. They're sweeping the area though, and honestly, that place in the daytime? There's not much of anywhere for them to go. I don't know if anyone was sent in from your branch of the law."

Wufei nodded. "Excuse me."

He stood and made his way out of the hospital. Heero was still on the phone with Relena, although he looked relaxed, which meant that she was probably attempting to chat him out of the funk he could get into when one of them had been threatened. Trowa was off the phone, watching Heero with ill-disguised amusement. Well, ill-disguised for someone who knew Trowa. To the casual passerby he probably looked completely apathetic.

Wufei took out his phone and speed-dialed HQ. The person who picked up started with, "I take it you're at the hospital."

"What are you doing on receptionist duty?" Wufei asked, somewhat startled to get Sally right away.

"I saw the number and just picked up. Focus. Are you at the hospital?"

"We're here. Quatre's in surgery, there was internal bleeding."

"Une's pissed. I don't think I've ever seen her this mad. She sent in the head of the L4 branch to deal with getting those shits to prison personally and she's petitioning the L4 court to let one of ours handle legal defense."

Wufei wasn't terribly surprised, Quatre was very possibly the only person in their circle, and probably a much wider one, who had never once thrown Une's history in her face. Still, siccing a private sector (which was what the Preventers were for all intents and purposes) lawyer on the overworked, underpaid one that the colony would no doubt appoint the offenders was harsh. Wufei said, "Good," and then, as an afterthought, "your work on those sweeps was impressive."

Sally laughed, "You're such an asshole," because it was more than impressive, and they both knew it. It was precision work under some of the very worst of conditions.

"I'll call when we know more about Quatre."

"Forget and I'll put your gonads where I generally put the star on my Christmas tree."

Since privately Wufei could admit that he had no way of predicting a winner if Sally and him ever got into it he ended the conversation with, "Later."

Heero was off the phone at this point. "So?"

"Une's determined to murder them with her bare hands."

Trowa nodded. It was one of the more accepted facts between the pilots that what Une wanted, Une generally got. The few notable exceptions weren't really worth mentioning in this instance.

Heero said, "I should go keep 'Lin and Duo from propagating the species on the waiting room sofa."

Trowa said, "Good plan, maybe we can find something out about Quatre while you’re at it."

Wufei smirked and followed them inside.

*

Quatre was taken out of surgery at around nine at night, nearly four hours after he'd been rolled in the hospital. All five pilots and Ailin moved into the private room where Quatre was placed. One of the nurses made some noise about a visitors limit and immediate family members and some other stuff to which Wufei hadn't paid one whit of attention.

Heero shut her up with a mild glare. When she left, Duo said, "What, that wasn't even worth a token threat?"

"If I'd had to use words I would know I was losing my touch," Heero said, sliding down the wall to fold up on the floor.

Duo and Ailin sat next to each other on the windowsill. Trowa took the chair. Wufei stood by Quatre. He was trained, had been trained as a child, to stand for hours without tiring. There were very few times when he felt adequately grateful for the skill but he didn't want to leave this position, and right at the moment he wanted to shake the hand of every sensei he'd ever studied under.

Duo talked, of course he did, Duo had never been good at handling silence. He talked about WI's new ad campaign and the children's home that Ailin was helping to finance on L2. He was on the board of directors which consisted of him telling the bureaucrats how completely screwy all of their ideas were day in and day out. His voice practically strummed with frustration but Wufei could hear when Duo was enjoying something despite the drawbacks. This was one of those times.

Ailin, who knew exactly how and when to cut into Duo's speech patterns so as to add what she wanted into any conversation pointed out that since they were married, her money was Duo's money and technically, it was Duo financing the project.

Their biggest fights were always over finances. Duo was too used to being the street kid who was willing to forfeit his morals and the domain of his body to forego charity. Ailin knew hard times, she'd had them when she'd first begun refusing her father's financial assistance. Her hard times, however, were a far cry from what Duo had gone through and while Ailin came close to being as proud as Duo, there were small sparks of difference. Ailin knew when to ask for help. Like her brother, she assessed each situation carefully and figured out the possible outcomes for herself and everyone else involved. If outside assistance was needed to overcome a problem, she asked.

It was a new thing, fledgling for Duo to even ask the pilots for help, let alone his wife. He trusted all of them, that Wufei knew, but trust didn't equal the ability to put his hand out. Wufei was sickeningly grateful that Duo'd called at all when he'd found Quatre missing. He could only imagine that was Ailin's hand. Duo, for all his independence, had a hard time refusing her much of anything.

Every once in a while Heero, who was as good at navigating Duo's chatter as Ailin, would interrupt as well. Wufei just listened. He listened to the talk, to the beep of Quatre's heart monitor, to the tapping of Ailin's fingers against the window pane. He listened to Trowa's occasional laughter at something Duo or Heero would say and the answering, "Up yours, Barton," or possibly something even more vulgar from Duo. Heero never acknowledged when someone was laughing at him. Or with him, for that matter.

Wufei listened to everything, thinking how familiar it all was, thinking how something was missing. Beside him, Quatre slept.

*

Quatre woke up early on the third day. He opened his eyes, let them wander around the entirety of the room and said, "Hello."

Wufei's heart stopped beating like it was trying to keep time with a stampede of wildebeests.

Duo climbed into bed next to Quatre. "You're gonna have to hire me on if you expect me to keep saving your ass like this."

Quatre smiled weakly and closed his eyes. "Mm."

Duo ran a hand through Quatre's hair. "Go back to sleep."

It was odd, watching Duo do that. Wufei wondered if Duo had learned it from Quatre, or vice versa, or if it was something they had both learned separate from each other. Wufei supposed it was even possible that both men had an innate instinct to care for others, but the concept was so foreign that Wufei decided not to trouble himself over it.

Quatre had only said it to him once but that was the only time Wufei had really needed it said. Quatre'd said it after the war, when Wufei didn't yet have a home to go to and Quatre hadn't even blinked before saying, "I thought you were coming back to my place."

Quatre'd thought no such thing, Wufei knew. None of them had thought past that moment when Earth was still standing and they were still (hopefully) alive. Wufei certainly hadn't even thought far enough to imagine what it meant to have won, let alone about the logistics of victory.

Wufei had followed Quatre home because it was the only logical option at that point. Quatre had ordered dinner made but hadn't pressured Wufei to eat. He had made Wufei drink several glasses of water. Wufei hadn't felt much like resisting at that point.

Quatre'd bedded Wufei down in a room so near to his that when Wufei's screams (common in the last few months of the war, consistent for the first few months after it) started, Quatre was already there. Wufei didn't ask if he'd heard in another way.

Quatre handed him a glass of water, watched while he drank and said, "You did what you had to do."

It wasn't enough and they both knew it. There were still people dead because of Wufei but Quatre knew all about that. Every time Wufei saw Quatre during the war there were new layers to his eyes. That time was no exception. Wufei knew what those layers were about.

Quatre asked, "You need something else?"

Wufei said, "No, thank you."

Quatre pulled Wufei down to the mattress, firmly but not without respect to Wufei's space. He unwrapped the ribbon that Wufei often forgot he had even put in his hair. Then he combed his fingers through Wufei's hair smoothly and rhythmically. He said, "I can stop."

Wufei said, "No."

Quatre didn't. He just said, "Go back to sleep," so Wufei did. When he woke up, Quatre had breakfast made and told him he could stay but Wufei could still feel fingers brushing through his hair and even if heirs to rich international corporations slept with orphaned ex-terrorists, there was the memory of Meiran to consider. He had left before afternoon, gotten himself to Earth and figured out where to go from there.

As soon as Quatre was sleeping again, Duo rolled carefully off the bed. He said, "I'm taking 'Lin home for a couple of hours."

Ailin asked, "You are?"

Duo just kissed her. Whatever it meant between the two of them, she got up and followed him out of the room.

Heero followed, saying, "I think I'll use some of your hot water."

Trowa looked up from the crossword puzzle he'd been working on for two days straight with the possible exception of mealtimes. He caught Wufei's glance, smiled tightly, and went back to his game.

Wufei stole the windowsill seat.

*

The second time Quatre woke up he was a bit more lucid. His eyes swept down over his body. "Making sure it's still there," he told Wufei, who had woken up to Quatre's shifting. Trowa was sleeping on the floor.

Wufei said, "You know how Duo can be about meds." Duo was terribly suspicious of putting any non-food substance in his body and terribly generous about dosing it on other people; particularly when they were in pain.

"'Lin must've calmed him down some. Else I'd still be out."

Wufei nodded. "He's much more manageable, with her."

"Were they here? I thought I remembered-" Quatre shook his head slightly, obviously trying to clear his memories.

"We were all here. Duo took 'Lin home for a bit and Heero said he went to go call Relena, but I'm willing to bet he went back to the house to gang up on Duo and get some rest."

"You and Trowa should've gone too. I'm on the Board of Directors here, I read over the background checks of every single staff member myself. I'm in good hands."

Wufei could well believe all of that. Quatre was rather detail-oriented. They all were in their own ways. "They're not your friends' hands."

Quatre yawned. "True. I appreciate the rescue."

"Yes, well, we thought about just leaving you but you give the best presents at holiday time so Duo was quite insistent that we rouse ourselves to crack you out."

Quatre laughed. "I'm so glad I can't feel my ribs right now."

Wufei was pretty relieved as well. He hadn't thought about that before making a joke. Jokes were something of considerable rarity and a good dose of spontaneity with him. "Go back to sleep. They want you in for another day but then we can take you home."

"Observation?"

Wufei thought about lying. He decided that the truth would out, and probably sooner rather than later. "You were pretty torn up. Four or so hours of surgery." Wufei knew the exact amount of time down to the second but he didn't plan on revealing that to Quatre. "They're trying to be sure everything sets and that they haven’t missed something."

"You want to know what they did?"

Wufei forced himself to retain eye-contact with Quatre. "You want to talk about it?"

Quatre yawned again. "Not right this instant."

Because Wufei knew how to repay favors, even long overdue ones, he said, "When you want to, just start."

"'Kay." Quatre closed his eyes and was back asleep before his next breath.

*

When Wufei woke up (he didn't remember falling asleep, but he must have, seeing as how it was a necessary component of waking up) Heero, Duo and Ailin had all returned. Duo held out a thermos. "Coffee. Kenyan roast, you'll like it."

Wufei unscrewed the lid. He took a breath of the steam rising off the top. "Thanks."

Quatre was up, and as far as Wufei could tell, having Ailin brief him on whatever business matters he'd missed. Ailin looked less than pleased but Quatre could be implacable. Duo was steering wide of the two.

Heero came over and stole some of Wufei's coffee. Wufei wasn't surprised when Heero gave it back almost immediately. Heero liked his coffee with more sugar than roast. Heero said, "Une called while you were asleep."

"You should've woken me." Working for Une was his job, after all.

"She sent some stuff she wants you to handle over on your laptop, which was still in the prototype. I brought it here for you. She says it's all remote and that she can keep you on satellite work for quite a while, so not to worry about rushing back."

"Amazing how last time I checked we were understaffed."

"Some of the people milling around were in PA uniforms, I think she might have temps on staff."

Zechs had splintered off from the Preventers after the affair with Relena's kidnapping to form a training school referred to as Peacecraft Academy. While the school's motto and apparent aims were broad, most of the graduates ended up going to the Preventers, CL or Relena's security force. At any given time he had several hundred students available to be loaned out.

Heero said, "I have to head out. Relena's already delayed two diplomatic functions waiting for me to get back."

It wasn't that Relena couldn't go anywhere without Heero, it was just that she preferred not to. Heero felt pretty much the same way about her going anywhere, so it worked out. It was a documented fact that Relena was less likely to be kidnapped or harmed with Heero at her back, so Wufei couldn't say as he exactly blamed either one of them. "Tell Her Majesty hello."

"I'll say it in just those words. It'll be fun watching her take out a contract on you."

Wufei accepted the hand that Heero held out and allowed himself to be pulled into the one-armed hug that Heero formed it into. "Thanks for everything."

Heero shook his head but didn't say anything. He made his goodbyes to the others, letting Duo actually kiss him and squeezing Quatre's hand for a second longer than anyone outside the room would have expected to see and then getting on his way.

Duo loudly said, "Good riddance," when he knew Heero was almost but not quite out of hearing distance. A second later, the phone in the room rang. Duo answered. Whatever Heero said, it made Duo laugh. From the bed, Quatre smiled, his eyes drooping. Wufei watched him be lulled back into sleep.

*

Trowa stayed until they had moved Quatre into his house. He hung around long enough for dinner that night, long enough to lean over Quatre and whisper things that made Quatre laugh lightly, not hard enough to really hurt. He got up then and made his way to the door, where Wufei was waiting for his own goodbye. Duo and Ailin had said theirs before heading to the house one block over that the door proclaimed to be "Home of the Maxwells." Duo was a big fan of suburban normality. He called it making up for lost time.

There was an intercom system that would alert anyone else in the house if Quatre needed something, so Wufei and Trowa made their way to the den.

Trowa said, "You're staying for a bit, then?"

Wufei said, "He needs someone here. In case something comes up." They weren't talking physically. The hospital staff was on call 24/7 for that.

"Mm." Trowa folded his arms over his chest.

"Either say it or don't." Wufei still wasn't hard to annoy but he had gotten better at controlling his temper.

"Duo's here, Wufei. And it's not like there's any lack of closeness on either of their parts."

"You're saying I should go, then?"

"I'm saying that I wish you would consider your motives for staying more carefully."

Wufei ran a hand over his eyes. "There are things I owe Quatre that must be repaid."

"You and your fucking honor," Trowa snarled. "Has it ever occurred to you that what you consider kindness might be the purest form of harm to others?"

Wufei was lost. "No."

Trowa physically pulled back as though suddenly aware of how much he'd said. "This has to be about more than what whom is owed, or you can't stay."

"Trowa-"

"You come here, and you be the man that he thinks he needs, and then you disappear. Always. And Duo's left to handle things and Heero and I are left to sit back and feel like helpless children, which is a feeling I swore to myself I would never allow again after the mercs and the war."

Wufei lost his patience. "Trowa, I don’t fucking know what you're talking about."

"Do you honestly think he did what he did for you after the war just because you were another pilot? Quatre's soft in the heart, maybe a little too soft, but he's not that soft. It killed him to do it in the wake of your mourning for another man but it was what you needed and Quatre would kill himself to give you that, you asshole."

Wufei was starting to understand. "I needed him, Trowa, I did. I wouldn't have let it happen otherwise."

"And do you still need him?" Trowa's voice was soft, the way it was when he was thinking through battle tactics.

Wufei tried to breathe normally. "I don't- I can't answer that the way you want it answered. I don’t know well enough and I won't lie to you. Not even for this."

Trowa slumped slightly. It was such a small motion that Wufei only caught it because he knew Trowa so well. Trowa said, "Figure it out. And when you do, either stay or leave, but make it one of the two. He doesn’t deserve this."

Wufei shook his head. "No, that you're right about."

Trowa seemed relieved at the acknowledgment of agreement. He reached out to touch Wufei's shoulder. "I'll see you?"

Wufei, glad to have been forgiven even partially, said, "Soon."

*

Wufei slept hard for an hour before waking to Trowa's words chiseling at his mind. He got out of bed and walked down to the kitchen. He heated a teapot full of water and then steeped an herbal blend. He let it sit for nearly thirty minutes. He liked tea dark enough it could be mistaken for a weak coffee.

When it was ready, he poured himself a cup and took to wandering the house.

He hadn't gotten a chance to re-familiarize himself with the layout, which was something Wufei did in every place he stayed, even hotels and safe houses. Wufei didn't like not knowing where his resources (and possible escapes) lay.

It took about an hour to make it through the house, firmly map everything out in his head and saunter back into the kitchen. Once there, he reheated the tea and poured himself another cup.

Knowing it was silly but aware that it would probably make him feel better regardless, Wufei sat down outside Quatre's bedroom door. He was still sitting there, sipping at his cooling tea and doing simple mental exercises to take his mind off the world when the sounds from inside Quatre's room became restless.

Wufei got to his feet and went inside the room. He woke Quatre up with the sound of his voice, aware that it wasn't really the best idea to wake any of the pilots with touch even at the best of times. This was patently not what Wufei would categorize as the best of anything.

Quatre awoke with a gasp and had the gun that he kept tucked between the headboard and the mattress trained on Wufei before his eyes were even completely open. Wufei stood still. He could most likely disarm Quatre before he got a shot off but Quatre tended to think before he acted, so Wufei figured that if he just waited the threat would pass.

It did. Quatre tucked the gun back from whence it came and smiled weakly. "Sorry."

Wufei shook his head. "Want some tea?"

"Water?"

Wufei nodded and went to go fill a glass. He came back with it less than completely full so that if Quatre was shaking, it wouldn't spill all over him. Wufei handed the glass over, then sat on the edge of the bed. Quatre took several slow sips before putting the glass on the bedside table. When he'd regained his breath he said, "I miss Rashid."

There was nothing to say to that. Wufei could come up with a million platitudes but none of them would change the fact that Quatre had just lost a friend he'd had since childhood. Sometimes Wufei had thought that Rashid was more a father to Quatre than the Winner patriarch had ever been.

Wufei knew what it felt like to loose everything important. In place of the words that weren't available to offer, Wufei asked, "You want me to stay with you?"

"You don’t mind?"

Wufei would rather not sleep next to Quatre than not sleep all by himself. "No."

"Stay then."

Wufei slid under the covers behind Quatre, wrapping his friend up in his arms. It didn't even occur to Wufei, who never thought of touching anything or anyone casually, that he could stay in this man's sleeping space without staying folded up in or around him as well. Quatre relaxed immediately in his hold.

Wufei fell asleep within minutes of Quatre's surrender.

*

Wufei woke to the smell of food. He carefully extricated himself from a still sleeping Quatre and crept out of the room. Once out in the hall he resumed his normal walk, the one that someone who was trained to listen would hear. Wufei knew better than to sneak up on anyone that might be in this house making breakfast.

He came into the kitchen to find Duo scrambling eggs and assembling orange breakfast shakes in the blender. "'Morning."

Duo shook his head. "Getting closer to afternoon but this was the earliest I could make it. 'Lin and I've been dealing with the backlog. She's still dealing with it."

"Quatre isn't up yet."

"I think we should wake him in a bit, get him to eat something. He can go back to sleep if he wants after that."

Duo's logic was sound, so Wufei just asked, "Need any help?"

Duo compressed the button on the blender and spoke over the noise. "Pop the English muffins in the toaster?"

Wufei scanned the counters until he found the item to which Duo was referring. Wufei split apart the muffins and popped four halves into the toaster. If Duo was eating they would probably need more but it was best to wait until after they'd finished the first round anyway to heat them.

Duo stopped blending and poured a bit of shake into three cups. One had slightly less than the others. Wufei assumed that was for Quatre. The hospital staff had warned them that his appetite probably wouldn't return to normal for at least a couple of weeks. They were used to that, though. It wasn't like Quatre was the first of them to be recovering from serious external and internal injuries.

Duo asked, "You stay with him last night?"

"He had a nightmare. Rashid."

Duo nodded. "Just one?"

"If there was another I missed it." Wufei figured the likelihood at pretty small, given that he'd been sleeping practically underneath the other man for the rest of the night. His instincts were too good to have missed something like that, tired or no.

"We should probably get him to see someone," Duo said. "I was pretty fucked up after my little stay with OZ, and that was something that was fairly easy to predict."

Duo rarely ever talked about his capture and so when he did, Wufei was never entirely sure how to handle it. "You didn't see someone, though."

"After the war I did. Quatre paid for it."

Wufei was slightly miffed at himself for having missed something as significant as one of the other pilots seeking psychotherapy. It made him wonder what else had gone right by without his notice. "It helped, then?"

"Let's put it this way, there's no way I could be the second half of a permanent relationship with anyone who wasn't one of us without having done it."

"Quatre doesn't-"

"'Fei, even if you're actually planning on finally getting your ass in gear and pursuing Q, can you honestly say that you don’t want him at his healthiest and happiest? Because if you can then you're not getting anywhere near my best friend. I'll take care of him for the rest of his convalescence, thank you very much."

"Do all of you talk about me behind my back?"

"Constantly, you don't talk about the rest of us behind our backs? We were just doing it with Q."

Duo had a point. Wufei ran a hand through his hair, still down from having slept on it. "Do you want to talk to him about the counseling? He might take it better, coming from someone who's done it."

"Yeah, of course. But I'm expecting your back up if he gets slippery."

Wufei didn’t think he would, Quatre was pretty lax about doing things that made Duo feel better. Still, "All right."

Duo said, "You're gonna make such a cute couple."

Wufei didn't say anything. No matter what he said, it would only encourage Duo.

*

Heero called to check in while Duo was still around and Wufei handed the phone off to him. Duo took the conversation out of the room. Quatre said, "He has to tell him I've agreed to see a crazy doctor."

Heero carried serious reservations about doctors in general, let alone ones that worked on a person's head. He wasn't going to be thrilled at the news. Wufei would have to thank Duo for taking the responsibility of telling him. Heero listened to Duo more than he listened to anyone, even Trowa, although it was a close call between the two.

Wufei asked, "You get enough to eat?"

Quatre said, "Yes," and "Stop hovering."

Wufei moved back and forced himself to sit down. "Sorry."

Quatre didn't acknowledge the apology. "D'you stay last night?"

"Fell asleep before I could leave."

"I was pretty sure I could feel you but I was under so deep I'm not sure I could have told up from down once I was back asleep last night. Thanks for that."

Wufei gave him a reproachful look. Quatre shrugged. "It wasn't necessary that you pay me back, or whatever it is you think you're doing. And if that's what this about, I'd really prefer you got on out of here."

Wufei wasn't sure what this was about but he was pretty sure that wasn't it anymore. "I'm staying for a bit."

Quatre laughed a bit, more an augmented smile than anything. "Sure."

"You used to be good at asking for the things you wanted," Wufei accused.

"I still am," Quatre said. "I just know better than to ask for certain things."

"Perhaps if you asked, though-"

"Not a chance." Quatre looked more frustrated than angry. "There are some things that just have to be waited out, Wufei. And those are always the things that I can't chance doing wrong."

The thought voiced everything that was holding Wufei back. If he could have had a guarantee of not losing this -- losing them -- then Wufei wouldn't have hesitated to try at this point. Meiran was now an adequately sized memory, a function of lost youth, more significant perhaps than even the Gundams but less significant than the loss of his colony. Quatre was established in his own right and had the ability to choose his life for himself rather than designing it for the pleasure of others. Everything that had once been in the way of Wufei's staying another day, another week, another forever was no longer a factor.

The risk of failure still was and would always be.

Wufei had already given up one home, one life, to chance and circumstance. He wasn't about to hand over another world without reservation. Even for Quatre he didn't have nerves that strong. "I think we're waiting, right now."

Quatre slipped back down on the bed. "Wake me when that part's over, yeah?"

*

"They were amateurs. That was the worst of it. Rashid and I must've taken down a good fifteen just between the two of us before one of them got lucky." The word lucky was bitter and harsh on Quatre's tongue. "I don't even think they meant to kill him. I think the shot was meant to scare us, there hadn't been guns before that. They didn't want me dead, after all."

Quatre's hands were shaking. "It was a stomach shot, Wufei."

Wufei resisted the urge to turn away from Quatre. Quatre said, "I just stopped. Just gave up. I begged them to send him to a hospital. I didn't- I knew it wasn't salvageable, I just wanted him given enough of the heavy stuff that he wasn't feeling it until, well. Until.

"They wouldn't, though. So I begged them to shoot him."

Wufei could only hope they did. Quatre said, "They just took me. Carted him up on the ship. I could hear him moaning. I tried to break free, figured if I could bargain that I would behave they might accede to my demands at least on that. They'd already gotten the chains on me though. Moments of hesitation, y'know."

Wufei sat on the edge of the bed. He took Quatre's hands in his and rubbed at the points where energy was likely to get blocked, freeing up Quatre's blood-flow and helping to speed the mental-healing process. Wufei's mother had taught him to recognize chakra and energy points as a young child. Until now, he'd never used it for anything other than blocking energy flows, maiming and killing. Assuming his mother hadn't long given up on him, he could only imagine this would make her happy. Quatre gasped a bit at the intense pressure being applied but didn't complain.

Wufei said, "He had protected you since you were a child. He wouldn't have known any other way to die. Not even in bed, old and infirm."

"I would've liked for him to had the chance."

"We can't choose other people's paths."

"Wasn't that exactly what we were doing as pilots? Using force to ensure an outcome that we desired personally to a conflict much more wide-ranging than the five of us?"

It wasn't the first time Wufei had wondered what had caused Quatre to climb inside of Sandrock and join the Good Fight. It was the first time he had asked, "Why'd you do it then, if you feel that way?"

"I was fifteen, Wufei. Younger when I started training. All I knew was that Earth was constantly putting restraints on my father's entrepreneurial enterprises. If their domain was placing my family, inarguably one of the most well-off families colony-side, in jeopardy, then I could only imagine what it was doing to those who lived in the mid-size houses two quadrants off, or worse yet, the shanties on the top-side. I don’t even think I conceptualized all of the Earth dwellers who had nothing to do with that. Not until I got there, and they were everywhere, and I could feel them."

"You stayed with us, though."

"In the end there were still those shanties. Still the neighborhood that Duo grew up in, the gangs forced to work as roving mercs that caught Trowa up. And then, I mean-"

"L5."

Quatre inclined his head. "L5." Then, "What about you? Just honor and ideals?"

"In the beginning. Like you, I was fifteen. Honor and ideals will feed a boy at that age."

"And after that?"

Wufei leaned in and kissed Quatre. "I believed in the people who were fighting alongside me."

*

They didn't acknowledge the kiss, either of them. They didn't acknowledge the way Wufei's hand, still holding Quatre's, pressed up against Quatre's chest ever so carefully. They didn't acknowledge the fact that they were so close, Quatre's hand pressed into Wufei's chest as well.

Instead, Wufei pulled back and asked, "Are you hungry?"

Quatre said, "Very," with a complete lack of double entendre.

Wufei said, "I'll see what I can find."

Once he was in the pantry he recognized that he'd set himself a slightly more formidable task than he'd been expecting. Quatre had a house staff that did things like shopping for him. His pantry was the roughly the size of Wufei's living room and filled with every type of dried food known to mankind. Wufei considered ravaging the refrigerator and freezer but Quatre had two of each of those, one for every day use and one for storage. Looking there wouldn't cut down on the options any.

Quatre still wasn't up to handling anything beyond bland foods, so Wufei narrowed his search to everything easily digestible. This helped a little and he ended up grabbing a packet of sticky rice then searching out the freezer to find some fish. Wufei steamed both with some carrots in a vegetable broth, meditating on the steam curls and not much else as he waited for the food to finish.

Wufei parceled food out onto two plates, taking a much larger portion for himself. He carried the plates in to Quatre's bedroom. Quatre had managed to settle the bed-tray over himself and smiled when Wufei came back. "Smells excellent."

Wufei set the plates down on the tray. "Water?"

"Water." Quatre handed him the glass he was already using. Wufei took it back to the kitchen and poured both of them some ice water. He brought the glasses to the room, where Quatre took one from him. Wufei sat opposite of Quatre and they ate together, silent except for the sounds of polite chewing.

When Quatre had finished, had lined his fork up carefully on his empty plate, he said, "You never acted like it."

Wufei forced himself to keep chewing, to swallow. "Acted like what?"

Quatre gave him a patient look, as if to warn Wufei that he would only play along so far. "Like you believed in us."

Wufei was almost forced to laugh. The reaction caught him slightly off-guard. "Are you telling me that at fifteen none of your desire to fight came from a yearning for independence?"

Quatre tilted his head. "No, I mean, of course some of it was. That's what fifteen year olds do."

"I was far more bound by family and tradition than any of you had ever been, ever thought possible. So my acting out was on an entirely different scale. You couldn't…" Wufei never knew exactly how to refer to what Quatre did, his odd sixth sense.

Quatre took care of the problem by saying, "Mostly all I ever got from you was a huge mass of raging hormonic confusion, and really, that wasn't so different from anyone else."

Wufei was trying to understand. "Then what made you-"

"Despite all your attempts to escape it, you were bound by family and tradition." Quatre shrugged. "I guess you could say that's my kink."

Having finished eating, Wufei gathered the plates and stood. "Mine's people who are everything they aren't supposed to be." He left to clean the dishes and allow Quatre time to figure out who he was and why that made him something he wasn't supposed to be.

*

Wufei had given into the urge to do a little compulsive straightening despite the fact that the maid had been around earlier that day, and Quatre wasn't very messy to begin with and well, there just wasn't that much to straighten. He'd been working on the files Une had sent him for four hours straight, though, and nothing about them was making sense anymore.

It was frustrating. Normally he was able to work for at least a good six hours if not more before giving into his mind's desire to gnaw over tangents and minutiae. Then again, Quatre wasn't so much either a tangent or a piece of minutiae, so Wufei imagined this experience called for an exception.

He was dusting the cabinet that held Quatre's violins when the intercom sounded and Quatre said, "I was thinking we could skip the whole pretending I can sleep just fine by myself thing tonight if that's all right with you."

While Wufei generally valued bluntness, he was rather unsure that his climbing into bed with Quatre at this date was what one could term a "good" idea. On the other hand, in a long list of things he was willing to deny people, even the other pilots (a considerably shorter list) he didn't think this was one of them. Not when Quatre's ribs were still wrapped and his voice was shaking as he made the request, obviously knowing that Wufei was going to think about it more than he would at any other time. Wufei found the nearest intercom and depressed a button. "I could use the sleep."

There was a few seconds delay before Quatre said, "Maybe eight o' clock? I can try to make it past that but I'm not promising much."

Wufei was pretty sure that Quatre had been sleeping the entire time he'd been working, which meant that his body was still working overtime to heal. Wufei wasn't planning on standing in the way of that. Even if it wasn't necessary for him to go back to work at some point, which it was, every single one of the pilots hated being confined to a bed and watching Quatre struggle through it, regardless of the fact that he was far more patient with the situation than the rest of them would be, was extremely low on the list of things Wufei wanted to be doing. "Seven. I was thinking we would do dinner in half an hour? That sound okay?"

"I'm still not very hungry. You made a big lunch."

Wufei's smile flickered at the mock petulance in Quatre's voice. When Quatre was feeling well, the only pilot he couldn't eat under the table was Duo. Heero could give them both a run for their money but only would if he was feeling competitive. "I'll come up with something light."

"I want pudding. Vanilla tapioca."

It wasn't the healthiest thing that Wufei could've endorsed but if Quatre was going to eat he wouldn't mind making that a dessert after a seriously tiny main meal. Trowa was the one with the serious sweet tooth among them, having picked it up from one of the mercs who was always stealing pastries. He'd passed it on to Quatre while staying with him during the early stages of the war and then to Heero while Trowa had been nursing him. Duo had a sweet tooth all of his own before meeting Trowa, one defined by his rules for food: he was willing to eat anything so long as it stayed still long enough. It had made him sick more than once throughout the war years. Though Trowa had admitted hating to do it, he had actually worked to calm Duo's sweet tooth somewhat, so that it wouldn't make him sick. Then he'd fought to find anything that Wufei would indulge in so that when they all got together, Wufei wasn't the only one not partaking of the final course. Which was how they'd all discovered that Wufei had a serious love of fruit tarts. "You know if you have any?"

"Right upper hand of the panty when you first enter. There's directions on the box."

"Think you could manage some toast and a soft-boiled egg first?"

"Will it make you happy?"

"Deliriously." Wufei put as little emotion into the pronouncement as possible.

Quatre laughed. "I'll sure try then."

That was enough for Wufei.

*

Wufei awoke to Quatre's whimpers, which at a soft touch and a, "C'mon, wake up," from Wufei, became heaving sobs. Wufei had pretty much expected this to come sooner or later so he folded Quatre against him, sat him up to prevent choking on his own tears and didn't say a word.

Quatre eventually calmed, his breath coming in short gasps. "I'm okay."

Wufei moved his hand in circles over Quatre's lower back. "Feel any better?"

"Could I have some water?"

Wufei got up and made his way to the kitchen. Once there he heated some valerian-infused tea, poured Quatre his water and looked in the household goods section of the pantry to find a box of Kleenex. He took all of this into Quatre on a tray, holding out the box of Kleenex first. Quatre laughed a sodden little chirp of laughter and grabbed the box.

When he had cleaned up, Wufei gave him the water. Quatre asked, "What kind of tea?"

"Valerian."

"I don't need it."

"Maybe not but I could use a bit and I thought I'd be courteous and offer it to you."

Quatre sipped at the water. "You okay?"

Wufei looked at the man to whom he was currently playing nurse. "Fine, just a bit stressed."

"Me, or other things?"

"Both," Wufei said honestly. He poured each of them a small cup of the tea. "Honey?"

"Please."

Wufei poured a dollop in each cup and stirred with the teaspoon he had brought for just that purpose. He exchanged Quatre's nearly empty water glass for the tea and set the glass down on the tray. He picked his tea up and took a tentative sip. "Where are you getting your tea? It's much better than anything I'm able to find near HQ."

"You'd have to ask Yosh, my cook. He does all the ordering."

"I've seen several of your housecleaning staff about but no cook."

"He's on a month's vacation. He takes it every year around this time, since that's when his wife manages to get some time off. They go places or hang around their house or whatever they want. It's very cute." Quatre's tone was blithely wistful, something Wufei wasn't terribly used to with him. Quatre tended to get what he wanted, even if it took a considerable amount of time and effort on his part.

"How much longer is he gone?"

"What's the date?"

"The twenty-fourth."

"Another week and a half."

Wufei did some quick calculations in his head, thought out the conversation that was invariably going to happen between him and Une and said, "Want me to stay 'till then?"

"Yes, and then I'll watch Une eviscerate you." Quatre drained the last of his tea. "You have a job, remember?"

"I've been doing it from here. Let me handle Une, just answer the question."

Quatre's eyes drooped closed. "Of course I want you to stay. Stupid question, Wufei."

Wufei was feeling a bit on the woozy side himself, so he set the tray on the floor, far enough away that he wouldn't trip over it in the morning, and settled himself back in the bed. Quatre burrowed into him without hesitating or asking. Wufei just waited until he was comfortable and then arranged himself as he saw fit. Before he had lost the ability to say one word, let alone two, Wufei said, "I'll stay then."

*

Two more days of consistent feeding and slow, accompanied walks around the room saw Quatre up and moving on his own. Wufei woke up on the third morning to an empty second half of the bed. He rolled over and out of the bed and went to go see what was happening.

He located Quatre in his office, pouring over emails and phone calls that he'd missed in the course of his kidnapping and convalescence. Wufei knocked at the door frame. "Breakfast?"

"There's a box mix for crepes, if that wouldn't be too much trouble. And some cranberry juice, please."

Wufei found the box. The instructions were easy enough to follow, and by the time they were done Quatre had made his way into the kitchen, enticed by the smell. He washed his hands and sat down. Wufei brought the skillet over to the table where he'd thrown two plates, two cups, some strawberry preserves and a bottle of juice. He sat across from Quatre.

Quatre took two crepes and slathered them with the preserves. "There've been two offers to merge since three days ago. Poor 'Lin must be going insane."

"She's run a company before."

"Nothing with the scope of WI. Don't get me wrong, she's obviously held things together very well. I just can't imagine it's been fun for her."

"Every job has its drawbacks," Wufei said, thinking of the mounds of paperwork involved with each action a Preventer team took.

Quatre inclined his head. "You feel tired."

Wufei appreciated the warning the he was broadcasting. "Didn't sleep well last night."

"If you want to have your space back, there's more than enough beds for that." Quatre kept the offer light, as though it were of no consequence to him one way or another.

Wufei was tempted to take the same tone, to never speak of things that were easier left unsaid. "Do you want that?"

"This is not my thing. You already know what I want. I'm not letting you make this my thing."

"Then tell me that my staying in your bed is to some purpose."

Quatre blinked. "That was what had you tossing and turning? Bleeding fuck, Wufei, walking is still a challenge for me."

Wufei frowned. "I didn't mean in the immediate future."

"Of course it's to some purpose. You just have to be patient."

Wufei thought brave was a more adequate word. He said, "I'll…your bed is just fine."

Patience he had.

*

The Maguanacs had handled all the arrangements for Rashid's funeral, delaying it as much as possible so that Quatre would be able to attend. The morning the funeral was scheduled to take place, Wufei woke Quatre up, brought him a breakfast of mint tea, a bran muffin and some grapes.

Quatre ate dutifully, got out of bed, showered, and slowly dressed in one of his nicest black suits. Wufei dressed in L5's traditional ceremonial funeral robes. There was a car waiting to take them when they were ready.

On the way there, Quatre said, "I preferred the war in some ways. When there was no time to do these things. It was easier."

Wufei remembered the acute pain of standing through Meiran's funeral, of listening to words said about her when he knew that she had been so much more than those words would allow. "They are supposed to help. Provide closure."

Quatre looked out the one-way windows. "Almost there."

The service was held graveside. Maguanacs were buried together in a private graveyard owned collectively. Rashid's funeral was by invitation only, so the attendees were the Maguanacs, a smattering of Winners and the pilots, Heero and Trowa having flown back for the occasion. Heero, in addition had brought Relena.

The eulogy was short and given by Rashid's younger brother. The attendees were given a chance to speak. Duo and Ailin both recounted one of their favorite memories of Rashid.

Quatre said, "He was my brother. He had protected me since before I knew what the word 'protection' meant or what went into that concept. I have never known another like him, nor, I fear, will I ever be so blessed to know his kind again." He stopped abruptly, and Wufei took his hand. Quatre squeezed. "Let him go in peace."

When the grave was being covered, the Maguanacs all sharing shovels, working in fluid cooperation, Quatre stepped away from the grave, walked and walked and walked until he was past the boundaries of the other tombstones. Wufei followed, silently standing behind him.

Quatre said, "Fuck," and then more loudly, "fuck!" before he was crying again. Wufei wrapped himself firmly around Quatre, as though they were in bed, not caring that they weren't. Wufei knew that the other pilots were behind them, watching on in concern. That wasn't important right then.

Quatre's tears eventually calmed to sniffles. "Let's get out of here, yeah?"

Wufei unwound himself and they walked back toward the group of people waiting for them, the pilots surrounding them on the way to the car. When they reached the cars, Heero asked, "Do you mind?"

Quatre shook his head and Wufei was letting him call the shots, so all five pilots and two wives climbed into the car. It was a large car and even with all those people there was still room. It made Wufei slightly more comfortable than the ride there had, with only him and Quatre and miles of empty moving space.

Trowa took Quatre's other side, putting his hand gently on Quatre's knees. From across the car, Relena said, "Hi, Quatre."

It made Quatre smile slightly, "Hey, 'Lena. Thanks for coming in."

"I can’t stay long," it was her form of apology, as she would be taking Heero when she went.

Quatre of all people, though, knew that, "Well, there is a world to run."

Wufei wrapped a hand around the back of Quatre's neck. Trowa caught Wufei's eyes but his own expression was carefully blank. Relena grimaced a bit, "Yeah, there is, isn't there?"

*

When Trowa left, last after Duo and Ailin, and only after making sure that Quatre had eaten, Quatre said, "I'm done waiting."

It took Wufei a second before he understood. "Let me do the work."

He took Quatre to bed, laid him out carefully and proceeded to play out every fantasy Wufei had harbored since the end of the war. Before, even. When he was done, and Quatre was slumped over him, breathing measured, shaky breaths, Wufei said, "Did that help?"

Quatre rolled off of Wufei. "I'm sticky."

Wufei wasn't going to be the only one invested here, though, so he planted a hand on Quatre's upper chest, far away from healing wounds. "I'll get a washcloth in a second."

"I want you here, Wufei. It doesn't get any more or less complicated than that. One thing doesn't help anymore than any other."

Wufei got to his feet and went to get them a washcloth. He cleaned them both off and threw Quatre a robe from the peg on the bathroom door. "Midnight snack?"

Quatre tossed the robe aside. "Afraid someone's going to walk in on us?"

Wufei shrugged, acknowledging the point, and threw the robe he had donned next to Quatre's. Wufei knew how to play fair. Quatre said, "You want me to serve? You've been serving all week."

"Why ever would that be, I wonder?" Wufei asked dryly.

"If you shut up I'll find the kiwi that I know came in yesterday's food shipment."

"How, I thought Yosh did the ordering?"

"He does, but when he's not here he pre-orders, so I see the bills before the stuff comes."

Quatre produced the kiwi, as promised, along with a couple of mangos and some tangerines. "I'm making myself a milkshake, you want?"

Wufei shook his head. "I'm fine."

The blender overtook the possibility of any conversation for a few minutes before Quatre sat down at the table with Wufei, sliced a couple of mango pieces into the vanilla shake and said, "It worked out to your specifications?"

"I don't know that I had any."

Quatre took a sip. "You had some. I had some, and I make a habit of pulling out expectations by their roots."

That was a pretty common trait among the pilots. "I just wanted it to work."

"And did it?" The question wasn't light or casual. It was everything that Wufei wanted from Quatre, his odd ability to be honest without being weak. His way of navigating life without flinching every time he turned a corner, or merely going back the way he came.

"It did. It does."

"It probably would've been easier if it hadn't."

"In some ways." Wufei would take the hardship.

"I can hire people to constantly cause Preventer worthy problems on L4. Maybe they'll send you as a way to get the populace under control."

"You could put WI on the market and I could buy fifty percent so that you'd constantly need to come pander for my approval."

"Mm, pander." Quatre tipped his glass back, intent on a piece of mango that had sunk to the bottom.

"There's a monthly inspection of all off-site crews. Someone is always sent out to the colonies. I think I can probably beg L4 off as a regular duty. Nobody else is really jumping for it."

"I have to be on Earth at least twice a month for conferences or remote plant surveillance."

"If we coordinated, that's three times a month that we'd see each other."

"Until we could figure out something better."

"Until then." Wufei sliced a kiwi down the middle and scooped one half the insides out with a pointed teaspoon. He took it all into his mouth.

Quatre said, "What, not gonna offer me any?"

Wufei pulled Quatre around the table, and kissed him. "That enough?"

"No," Quatre said, leaning in again, "more please."

*

Yosh prepared a lobster soufflé for his first meal back on the job. Wufei took a bit and said, "I have to go. Before I get fat."

Quatre said, "This is excellent, Yosh, glad to have you back," and, "the calories will burn."

Two hours later, Quatre gave him a practical demonstration of how that worked. Wufei arched back against the man covering him, trying to force Quatre deeper. Quatre sped up his thrusts and murmured words that weren't really words, more sibilant sounds than anything. Quatre came slightly before Wufei let go, collapsing to the bed when he was finished. Quatre rolled off him carefully. "Ow."

"You okay?"

"Bit intense."

Four nights and four days running and it hadn't stopped being that way. Wufei placed a hand over Quatre's ribs, assuring himself that they still fell into the correct formation. Quatre brought the hand up to his mouth, bit one of the fingers and said, "It's fine. Just sore."

Wufei closed his eyes. "I have to get back."

"I've never been so unhappy to see Yosh in my life. Poor guy. I could send him out on an extended vacation. I doubt he'd complain."

"There would still be a world to keep orderly."

"Une and Sally are quite capable, I'm sure."

"I could say the same of 'Lin and WI."

"You could but then I'd have to do something to drive all practicality from you."

"'Lin is quite-"

Quatre kissed him. "It's okay, I get it."

"You don't want me as a house pet."

"It's tempting, but no. I know."

"I already talked with Une about charge of the inspections being handed over to me. The next one is in less than two weeks, and I'll be up here again. They take two to three days generally, so at least one overnight."

"I have a meeting with an Earth client in a month. Also probably a two or three day deal. He's the type who has to be wined and dined. I'm staying on though, probably for a week. There are a couple of contractors I want to meet with, and 'Lin asked me to see if I could find a consultant for a transport issue we're having."

Wufei nodded. "I'll stay for breakfast."

"You love Yosh more than you love me."

"We're having a hot affair even as I languish here in your bed."

"I'd do something to try and prove my superior prowess but I'm too tired."

"I'll wake you up before breakfast."

"'Kay." Quatre settled comfortably against Wufei. "Good."

Wufei turned his head so that his nose brushed the upper arch of Quatre's. "'Night."

Quatre murmured, "Love you," and even Wufei, king of misunderstanding simple verbal communication, heard the difference in how it sounded at that moment and how it used to sound. Quatre told all the pilots that, repeatedly. He didn't say it like that.

Wufei said, "Mm," pulled the covers up the inch to cover Quatre's shoulders, and fell asleep.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile