Title/Part Number: Drachenblut: Part Three
Category/Warnings: Action, Technobabble.
Pairings: None thus far
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The few centimeters of snow beneath his black shoes snapped and squalled as a small blond teenager, eyes dry and stinging, strolled slowly through the cathedral's graveyard. The winter afternoon was bright and windless, but still a deep chill permeated every object: the brown twigs of the naked trees, the granite slabs encrusted with moss and time, the monotonous gray crosses rising above everything. The sun was invisible, and the expansive, tree-walled yard was vacant save a few absorbed, lingering mourners.
/No feelings. Don't feel./
The blond boy was clad in funeral attire: a nondescript black suit, black tie, and a moderately handsome knee-length coat. His pale, lowered face expressed grief, dutiful mourning, and a slight impression of barely realized terror. It was a well chosen mask, of course, created for the benefit of spectators and passers-by and honed by hours of use. An unknowing mourner -- one who, perhaps, saw the boy slinking toward the grave after the funeral services were long complete, as he usually did -- wouldn't regard it as anything special. The more questioning ones might glimpse something deeper and look him over for a moment before leaving him in his misery.
Quatre planted his feet squarely in front of a gravestone, took a deep breath, and looked up. KLAUS WEIBER, AC 176 - AC 196.
He had killed him, of course. Quickly and painlessly. It had been an archetypal assault mission: attack and disable an airbase, steal a cargo plane, and make for better climes. After Quatre's usual "Drop your weapons and surrender or be destroyed!" warning, Weiber's Leo had been the first to start firing. The MM-110 rifles that Leos carried were not a substantial threat to Quatre -- and he had known it. But Weiber's suit had been in his way. Sandrock' s shorters had sliced the body of his mobile suit into two neat pieces, the edges and interior parts heat-polished and steaming.
Quatre's gaze rolled over the gravestone, the small plot of white before it, the bunches of red roses perched upon it, and the small OZ flag planted in the cold snow next to them.
/...Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.../
/No. No feelings. Stop that. Stop that./
Electricity and cold rolled down his spine, and his shoulders shook as though bearing some intolerable burden or weight. No.
In a vain effort to stop himself, he tried to shut his eyes tight enough that the tears couldn't escape. Impossible: his dull, foggy eyes filled with salt water. After a few more swimming, waterlogged glances to see if anyone was around, Quatre's legs collapsed. The snow's hard surface crunched lightly beneath his black, fisted gloves and the soft wool fringes of his coat. The boy hatefully clawed at his face, the soft leather slashing the clinging moisture from his lashes. Unmasked shame and sorrow were now visible blooming on his pale face. His body twisted once in a sort of single scared convulsion, his face moving up and his arms moving in to wrap his hollow chest.
Intrigued by the sensation, he shook again, exhaling frost and trying not to let the air escaping his lungs become a sob. Once more he treated his body to the aborted half-whimper, then simply knelt and stared at the fine crystals of the snow and the headstone beyond.
"Stop crying, fool," muttered a uniquely nasal voice from directly behind him.
Without turning, Quatre took a deep noisy breath and muttered, "I wasn't crying."
No pause punctuated the interval to the voice's next words. "Fine. Then stop doing that. ...Whatever you wish to call it."
The blond boy's expression went blank and pitiful. "What am I doing?"
"You are supposed to be paying respect to that dead man. But you aren't."
Quatre watched the motionless grave. "No one is watching except you. You told me earlier that you didn't care... don't care about how anyone feels."
The voice snorted. "I don't care how you feel. Your personal feelings are your own business. I believe in respect to the dead, though."
Quatre's hands idly crunched and ground at the surface of the snow. "Do you think he's watching me?"
"That does not matter. He does not have to be watching your insult to make it real."
Quatre frowned and stood and turned around, his eyes clear by now. The wearily arrogant face of Chang Wufei stared at him. The Chinese boy was wearing a remarkably unostentatious black suit and his hair was out of its usual ponytail.
"That is true."
"You do this often."
Quatre's mouth was even. "It's no secret."
They turned to walk down the snowy pathway, meandering in a nameless direction into the main section of the graveyard.
As if apologizing, Wufei lowered his voice. "It's no secret that you go off alone sometimes. But you never told us what you did. It was necessary for me to find out where you go."
"I always tell Trowa."
"That is good, but that alone is not acceptable. It was you that decided to make us three into a unit. If you wish us to continue to function as a unit..." Wufei frowned to choose a word. "We cannot.... have secrets from each other."
Wufei nodded out of weary, obligatory gratitude. "Your friend is too rude to correct me."
Quatre remained silent.
Wufei's face did not change in expression as he glared and softly said,"...Though, frankly, he is not as rude as your display back there was."
The blond pilot bowed his head. "I always try to do the right thing. This was a test for me. I failed."
"So." Wufei's slim and callused fingers massaged the bridge of his nose. "...You should not feel sorry for yourself. You should feel sorry for him. Weiber."
But Quatre only looked into the distance and muttered, "I wonder if that's true."
"I know it is. I have done this before. There are few experiences as..." Wufei stopped for a moment and considered his words. "...as necessary as this one."
The blond boy looked at the landscape before them: fields and fields of snow, dotted with orderly ranks of stones and filled occasionally with dense patches of trees. The wind began to sing against his ears and he pulled the collar of his coat higher. "It seems unlike you to do this."
Wufei's statement was quiet. "On the contrary. It would be weak /not/ to be able to face the grave of an opponent."
Quatre bowed his head and turned away, regarding the cold muddy bark of an unremarkable tree. "...I guess I'm much weaker than you."
Wufei, embarassed slightly, did not respond to that statement. "I, too, used to think that I was the only one that did this. It is not rational to be confused, but at least it is normal."
"What about the others?"
The Chinese pilot looked at everything and saw nothing. "Of course your friend does it when he is alone. Of the other two, I know that Maxwell does it very often. I do not know about Yuy, but I strongly suspect--"
"Trowa does this, too?"
This interested Wufei, though he tried not to show it. Beneath his lashes, Quatre could see the masked voyeurism of the other boy's interest as he made an effort to be nonchalant. "...Hadn't he told you?"
"Did you tell Trowa the same thing you just told me... that we couldn't have secrets?"
Wufei looked at the Arab pilot mildly. "Of course."
Quatre frowned and looked into the bushy green trees. "I wonder why he didn't tell me he did this..."
A stray branch, blown in from somewhere in a storm, snapped under Wufei's feet. "I did not tell you because I thought you already knew. Perhaps he thought so also."
"How would I have known?"
Wufei's eyes rolled away from Quatre, and he tried to adjust his voice to exclude all shades of unintended meaning. "...You seem to know a lot about him. Even without him telling you."
Quatre chuckled half-heartedly. For a moment Wufei thought he was being mocked, then realized that the laughter contained no mirth. "I can't even imagine Trowa torturing himself like this."
This intrigued the Chinese boy. "Do you think of this as a punishment, Winner?"
"I do it because I feel I have to. I don't know if that's a punishment or not."
The paved and shoveled path took them into a district of six tall trees. No snow was on the ground under them; it had all been sheltered by pine needles. The hard snow did not drift either: the huge cones of needles and pitch sheltered wide, shallow nests of orange leaves and dirt.
After a pause, the Chinese boy intoned, "You feel obligated to do it. That, at least, is virtuous."
There was another pause.
Quatre kicked a branch aimlessly. "I realize that I was disrespectful to that man's... I don't know... immortal soul. If you want to call it that."
Stern as ever, Wufei murmured, "If you were aware of it, then you should go back and apologize."
The blond boy looked at the pavement and how the cubes of salt melted the ice in inconstant patches. "You don't understand, Wufei. I don't come here to pay respect to the dead. At least, I shouldn't."
The chill wind, slicing between the branches of the evergreens, silently battered their bodies as they continued their procession through the winter morning. Stray cakes of snow shifted and fell from the branches, shattering softly on the hard coating of the ground. Wufei kept his eyes on his shoes and the ice-lines on the pavement path. "What is your purpose coming here, if not that?"
Quatre's eyes went blank. "I don't know. I keep telling myself that I shouldn't need to apologize to him, that I was only doing my duty. But I'm having trouble actually believing that..."
The pair entered a long, meandering side alleyway, an alcove lane of bushes with periodic gapping doorways leading to individual, private clearings. The pavement changed from black asphalt to worn brick held together with sandy beige cement. Here, in this more secluded sector, the wind's noise was almost imperceptible. The alley was several hundred meters long, and appeared to be totally deserted.
Wufei frowned deeply, sifting over the implications of the blond's chilly, willful statement. "You are mistaken. The apology and the sorrow are both necessary. You NEED to be sorry. You NEED to apologize. Otherwise you are not a warrior... you are just a killer."
Quatre watched his warm breath form into clouds of almost opaque fog. He was dimly aware of his voice calmly saying, as detached as a policy debate, "You said you didn't care about what I or anyone else felt."
Wufei rolled his eyes at the technicality. "I don't... I don't care how you feel, I care THAT you CAN feel. I have to care about that because it is my business as well as yours. We are all dangerous people, and compassion is the one thing we cannot afford to lose. Because...compassion is really all we have."
Quatre's eyes moved slowly under soft wet veils as he played devil's advocate. "Why does that matter?"
The Chinese pilot paused angrily for a moment and his teeth showed when he began to talk. "That which you aim to achieve is the ZERO system. Only someone in perfect control can realize that, and you... as you just demonstrated... are very far from that. That is what caused you..." his voice trailed off, reluctant to anunciate the words.
Quatre's eyes flickered. "I /know/ what I did in space."
Wufei glared. "If you make that mistake again, you will betray everything you fight for. You will cease to be a warrior."
Quatre looked away. "I need to be able to accomplish my mission without regret. And without ZERO. I must be in complete control. That is more important than my honor or anything else..." His eyes shone with heat for a few moments. "Because my job is killing. Repeatedly. Without regret or mercy."
Wufei fumed silently, forming his counterattack, his returning argument.
The empty graveyard alleyway rang with the boy's alto voice, corners echoing. He spoke the words hatefully, like bitter poison. "I need to be able to do my job perfectly."
Wufei's dark eyes shone with anger and his voice exploded, not caring about any bystanders or eavesdroppers. "You are a fool! You were able to perform your job well enough before, and there is no reason you cannot now. This phase is nothing but romantic posturing and vanity. Perhaps you're insecure simply because you saw something... disturbing. Or heard someone say something that shook you. You have lost your balance. You've lost a bit of your control. But nothing has changed, Winner. Absolutely nothing."
Quatre's eyes became invisible and his voice modulated between tones of high and low. "How do you do it? You can kill so easily..."
Wufei's intense eyes became slits and there was a long pause. Then, slowly and gutterally, the boy spit out the words inside his mouth. "You are wrong, Winner. You are very wrong."
His mouth twisted into a stubborn and painful scowl. "I hate this war much more than you can know."
The Arabian pilot sniffled once, looking forlorn and very cold. He was out of his element in all respects: in a cold place, a graveyard, surrounded by darkness and death. Slowly, his moist eyelids closed together and gripped themselves against each other.
"...I'm sorry. All I can ever think of at times like these is how bad I feel, and..."
Wufei's mouth stretched out and he looked away and leveled his eyes knowingly.
"Have you ever thought about killing yourself?"
Quatre tried to form an ironic expression, but it didn't happen. In a soft and disturbingly emotionless voice, he murmured, "You seem to know how my mind works. You know what I did in space. You know exactly what happened..."
Wufei didn't actually know the specifics, but the implication was there and the peripheral details were pathetically easy to imagine. He could picture Quatre, after the massacre he had caused in space, lying alone on the OZ carrier or perhaps on the re-entry shuttle to earth... gradually confronting his actions... gradually realizing the consequences of what he had done... the thought sent echoes of electricity down Wufei's spine.
/Perhaps I underestimated his strength. He remains alive today... whatever happened, he somehow convinced himself that it was worth it to go on... at least, for a little while.../
Quatre looked at the random cracks in the bricks below him and the elegant wedges of his shoes. "I decided that killing myself would be just as futile as going on without trying to atone for my deeds. So I kept on fighting. I decided to try as hard as I could to survive and make up for what I had done."
/Alcoholics and drug addicts, in rehabilitation, are taught a concept to help them deal with the concept of an eternity without their vice./
/"When the idea of a lifetime ahead without heroin, whiskey, cocaine, whatever... is too frightening, simply make it your goal to live without it for another week, another day, another hour, even another minute. And when you have completed that period, simply try and live until the next period. Repeat this until it is no longer necessary."/
/"One day at a time."/
/The metaphor was mixed and the connotations were wrong, but nevertheless, I decided that it was a good system./
Quatre's eyes brightened slightly. "I decided to try and live..."
Wufei's face pulled into a shape that characterized cautious relief. "Good. You are faced with the same question you were faced with then... except now it is emotional suicide, rather than physical."
Quatre turned his head stubbornly away.
"I pray you make the same decision you did then, Winner."
/Say something, anything./ "...I am obliged to you for your advice," Quatre managed to say before the lump in his throat prevented all further speech.
/But this is completely different.../
/It hurts so much.../
/My heart... my soul.../
Wufei frowned as his cellular phone softly rang. "Strange, no one is supposed to know this numb-- oh. Of course."
Quatre raised his head questioningly, hoping that Wufei would ignore the tears on his cheeks. His question was answered when his own phone rang in his pocket. He lugged out the slim piece of plastic and metal and read the message on the screen.
Code 1212. Highest possible priority.
/Not when I'm in this state. Not when I've just done this.../
Wufei glanced at the LCD screen and shrugged and placed it carefully into his pocket again, his expression not changing.
Quatre thought he would have to say something about there being a joint mission -- a relatively rare event -- and wasn't really sure he could do it. Fortunately, Wufei was already sprinting down the brick pathway toward the edge of the graveyard's alley and the fence of trees beyond.
At a jogger's pace, fearing a reprimand, the blond boy half-heartedly followed the quick footsteps to the edge of the forest and his Gundam.
/I can't make it.../
/I can't do it.../
And then it hit him.
It was as though his lungs had suddenly drained or his heart had started beating twice as fast. Without knowing the reason why, the boy's pace quickened and quickened until he was going nearly the speed of Wufei.
As the rapid wind whipped his hair and his coat flowed behind him, Quatre Raberba Winner coughed and, despite himself, smiled. His tears were already dry and gone.
/"One day at a time."/