Part 39: All that Remains
The trip back had been strange, at least, it would have looked that way to an outsider. The group had split apart the moment the plane took off, Wufei
piloting with Yusuke watching on, Trowa and Quatre sitting together in the back, across the aisle from Jin and Touya, while Kurama had disappeared with
Hiei into one of the back bedrooms across from where they'd placed Zechs, and Heero had passed out and been moved to a bedroom as well, by Duo and
Hilde. But it wasn't the separation that stood out as odd, it was the absolute silence.
Yusuke hadn't said a word, and Wufei had found himself resenting the fact that his friends were comfortably paired off while he was once again placed in
the role of pilot. It might not have bothered him if Yusuke hadn't looked unusually morose when he boarded the plane. He'd felt uncomfortable striking up
a conversation, so the trip seemed to take longer than it had on the way to the base.
Whether the seeming length was his imagination or not, it did take hours. And no sooner had they landed, than the groupings went off in their own
directions. Yusuke stuck around long enough to help him bring Zechs inside then he, too, had disappeared.
Wufei simply wasn't enjoying the alone-time.
Ironically enough, the moment he found himself with someone who wanted to talk, he was wishing he could be alone instead. Relena had swarmed him the
moment she heard something had happened to Zechs, and giving her a recap of what took place at the base was uncomfortable at best.
The upside was that Wufei now knew why Zechs had taken to sleeping in the cafeteria. Relena had placed her brother in his old room, and if the decor
said anything, he'd had quite the dreary childhood. As far as Wufei could tell, everything in the place was the same dark shade of brown, even the old
fashioned lamp shades. It was quite larger than the rooms students were given, so he supposed that counted for something.
Relena was seated in a cushioned chair next to Zechs' bed, Wufei leaning against the wall at her back as he gave an edited version of what had
happened. He didn't want to be the one to explain to a possibly queasy pacifist female about the slaughter they'd instigated. But he did have to tell her
what had caused Zechs to be in a sleep deep enough that he hadn't woken during the transfer from the plane to his room.
"Trowa checked their pulses and pronounced them dead," Wufei was saying, "but it's possible he was mistaken and Zechs healed himself and Hiei. We do
know for sure that Hiei would have died if he hadn't done what he did. I don't think any of us believe he actually meant to kill Zechs, just to incite his power."
Relena had been horrified when Wufei told her Hiei had stabbed her brother for no reason. Naturally, knowing Yukina the way she did, she hadn't believed
it. Now she just shook her head in a vague daze, her voice soft. "But they're both all right?"
"Only sleeping," said Wufei. "Trowa said it was normal sleep, though he thought Zechs could be out for a day or more since he used up most of his
Reaching to catch one of Zechs' pale hands, Relena leveled a hurt scowl on her brother's face. Her voice was soft, but she didn't really care if Wufei
overheard her. Zechs probably couldn't hear her either, but that wasn't going to stop her from saying it. "I know you're going to leave again, Milliardo. You
kept avoiding me, not meeting my eyes, and I knew in my heart you'd leave me again. But I never thought you'd die on me..."
Wufei shifted against the wall, his dark eyes flicking over to look at the door. He knew this was his cue to leave, but she could have simply said as much
before she started talking like that. He wasn't the type to listen in to personal words, and he really didn't want to see her if she started crying before he
could get out of the room. He'd never been one who could deal well with tears.
He sidled quietly toward the door, but Relena gasped, catching his attention.
"Something's wrong," Relena said softly, her eyes wide. "Look."
She drew Wufei to the bed and showed him the pale hand she was holding, turning it so he could see the palm. Wufei did his best to keep an open mind,
but he couldn't help the eyebrow he raised at her.
"There was a scar here," she explained. "I think he was ten at the time. We were playing in the attic and he almost fell out of the window. I remember he
bled all over the table before he let me get father - he was so angry he just wrapped it up and sent us to our rooms. But it's not there..."
Relena stood, looking a little frightened as she stared hard at Zechs' face. Then she turned wide eyes on Wufei, her expression enough to make the boy
take a quick step back. "Does he look younger to you? He looked so old when he came back, as if those years had added decades to his eyes. But
Wufei shook his head. He didn't know what she wanted him to say. "People tend to look younger in their sleep."
Even as he said it, he didn't believe it. The reddish orange flames and that energy, the shape of that talent - a bird made of red fire that left ashes
everywhere it went and somehow revived both Zechs and Hiei? That was a legend even he had heard of. Born from ashes, risen fresh, it certainly fit what
they'd seen on that yard. A phoenix made of pure energy.
He knew it wasn't an attack of any kind. No human or mutant had been harmed by that energy, while all of the dead material - buildings, weapons, things
not in immediate contact with the people - had been reduced to pure ash. And the two seemingly dead mutants were healed. Whether Zechs and Hiei had
actually died and been revived, he couldn't say. But something enormous had happened out there. He wouldn't even try explaining it without speaking with
the two people who were responsible for the events.
"I suppose we'll find out when he wakes up," Wufei offered.
"Yes," Relena sighed. "Thank you for your time. I'll stay with him."
Wufei gave a sharp nod and left her to it. He was relieved to be out of the room, but part of him was reluctant and irritated that she'd displaced him. It
reminded him of how much he'd instantly disliked Relena when he first met her - or rather, when he'd first met the imposter with her face and voice.
Now he had to admit it wasn't her so much as her interference. He'd disliked that Une, pretending to be Relena, had interrupted his time with Zechs. It
made him wonder, if things had gone differently, if he would have gotten up the nerve to proposition the man himself instead of waiting the way he had.
He hadn't forgotten his conversation with Kurama, and he wasn't considering settling just because he'd found himself alone. It was the urge he had to be
the first person to talk to Zechs when the man woke up, something he thought bordered on jealousy of Relena's place in that room. If he was jealous of
Zechs' sister, he wasn't settling. He was just admitting his interest.
Having found that he couldn't put Hiei down, Kurama had taken him downstairs so he could hold the boy in privacy. He hadn't gotten much sleep on the
plane trip back to the school, and he thought it might be easier if they were in their own room. Every time he'd dozed on the plane, he'd loosened his hold
on Hiei, making his friend let out a little sound of protest that had woken him to sharp guilt.
Now he was comfortably ensconced in their room, a single lamp filtering through his favorite dangling ivy - the kind Hiei liked because it was poisonous to
most everyone but them. He was looking at the stone Zechs had pressed into his palm on the battleground, his other arm wrapped tightly around Hiei.
It was a small black pearl, with just a hint of swirling gray shadows in the light, a counter to the way Yukina's gems glittered in the light. A small, compressed
bit of energy, it was roughly the size of a tiny grape. But it was profound in a wonderful and horrifying sort of way, at least to Kurama.
He knew enough about Yukina to understand that her teargems weren't really tears that froze into crystals. When she cried she let out liquid energy,
something so concentrated it hardened in the air, trapped and crystalized to the point where she couldn't absorb it back into herself. That was what made
her tears so dangerous, and the gems so precious. And it was the reason Hiei hadn't cried in the six years that Kurama had known him.
So that small black stone, with shadows like liquid gray onyx, was Hiei's tear. Or rather, his energy given form.
'A bloodstone. The last drop of blood from a dragon that embodies the lifeforce of the deceased. Only it's not some mythical story, it's Hiei, proof that he
died. So why am I holding it and feeling this? I don't want proof, I don't even want to think how I felt staring down at him. So why...? Why does it feel like a
gift I never dreamed I could have? If having him die is the only way to get it, how can I want it so much? Why does holding it feel as perfect as having Hiei
breathing, sleeping against me? Yukina's gems never felt like this...'
He poured a bit of his own energy into his palm, a tight vine wrapping around the gem so it was nestled in a four-strand basket. There was no possibility of
him digging a hole into that gem, the way Relena had when she and Yukina had fashioned their necklaces from Yukina's teargems. Kurama would sooner
bore a hole in his wrist, than mar that gem. And the tiny vines would hold it so long as he was alive.
He lifted his hair out of the way and coaxed the vine up onto his neck until it formed a loose necklace, which he quickly tucked away in his shirt. He'd have
to tell Hiei about it when he woke up, but he didn't want to give the stone to him.
'He won't want it. He'll be sickened to know he shed it, even if he were dying when it fell. He won't understand why I want it so much. He'll get that look of
confusion, but he won't argue even though he'll want to destroy it and tell himself it never fell, that he never cried. And as long as I wear it, it'll be a
reminder to him, to me. How can I want it when I know that?'
But he knew why, the same reason he refused to wear the necklace Yukina had given him.
'It's Hiei. I can feel him in it. I couldn't wear her gem because I don't have the right. I care about her, love her even, the way I loved my mother. But it was
wrong for me to touch her gem. Hiei can't even touch them, and they're blood. It's too private for me to touch something so personal to her, dirty
somehow. This is Hiei and that makes it right. No one else should touch this, not even Zechs. And I think he knew that...'
Hiei shifted on his arm, drawing Kurama's gaze down and reminding him that his young friend was in serious need of a bath. His wounds were gone, along
with most of the blood that had covered his face - sucked back into the wounds during the resurrection? - but some of it was still matted in his dark hair,
dried into a brownish paint on his pale skin. Kurama picked at the bit caught in the hair over Hiei's left temple, breaking it apart with a serious frown. He
froze when Hiei shifted again, a vague hand waving as if to move him away from that matted spot.
"Are you awake?" Kurama asked quietly, pulling his hand away and lifting Hiei's shoulders so he was in a more seated position.
Hiei sniffed and opened his dark eyes for a second before closing them again so he could give a wide yawn. For a moment Kurama thought he was going
to doze off again. Then Hiei looked up at him with a tired frown.
Kurama hadn't thought to wash off the cut on his cheek, so he winced when Hiei reached up to brush his fingertips over the spot. It wasn't that the light
touch hurt, just that he didn't want Hiei to worry about something so simple. He opened his mouth just as Hiei curled out of his arm, that frown easing closer
to his face.
Hiei turned his face aside, pressing his lips over that cut. Kurama sat wide-eyed at the feel of a warm tongue brushing his cheek. One of Hiei's arms slid
over his shoulder, burying itself in his thick hair. And soft feather-light kisses trailed down his cheek.
With one last kiss for the soft pulse at the base of Kurama's jaw, Hiei ducked his face to nuzzle it against that warm neck. His arms tightened around
Kurama and he sighed against the redhead's skin, just holding him.
Kurama's arms automatically curved around that slender form, but his expression remained stunned more than anything. "Hiei...?"
"I'll kill anyone who touches you," Hiei growled quietly. "I can't share. I know you're afraid, but I'll never hurt you, no matter what. You're mine alone."
That definitely wasn't what Kurama had expected to hear. He frowned in confusion, even as part of him surged up in a headily possessive wave that
wanted to return the sentiment with interest. "What do you mean?"
"The crow," said Hiei, "he wanted you."
His eyes were shadowed when he pulled back, his expression sober and dangerous. "I won't let anyone touch you like that."
Kurama turned deathly pale, his eyes wide and haunted. His voice was a harsh whisper of pain. "It happened again..."
The voice struck Hiei as badly as the look did. Hiei turned his face away and leaned back to put a breath more space between them. He didn't want to lose
contact with Kurama, but he knew better than to touch him now, when he had that look.
Kurama had been stricken when Hiei had found him, traumatized by the attack he hadn't been in time to prevent. He'd killed the men responsible, but the
damage had already been done. Hiei had been careful to avoid the subject since then. Even telling of his own experience hadn't helped the redhead. If
anything, it had hurt Kurama even more. So Hiei didn't speak of it at all, not because it hurt him, but because he didn't want to upset Kurama by reminding
him of what he'd gone through, the source of his fear.
Hiei sniffed quietly, his eyes still locked on a distant spot off to the side. "It wasn't the same. I was much younger back then. This didn't hurt as much as
my jagan did, so it didn't matter. It was what he said that..."
He glared suddenly, his hands curling at his sides. "I'll never let him touch you. I'll kill him before he can lay one claw on you, I swear it."
Dangerous red eyes snapped to him, and Kurama did his best not to wince from them. It was Hiei. The rogue had tortured him and abused him and all Hiei
cared about were the threats he'd made against Kurama. "Hiei..."
Kurama's eyes burned as he forced himself to return Hiei's stare. Hiei had told him coldly what had happened to him as a child, and Kurama had verified it
all in the hospital records. But never once had Hiei treated it as anything more than a physical attack. The idea of it being psychological torment was
foreign to him. Kurama knew that in Hiei's mind, the attack had been equal to beating him. It was a mark of how cut off Hiei had been as a child, unaware
of even the basics of society, the guilt felt by victims.
Kurama didn't want to be the person to teach him that guilt. Hiei had none because he hadn't been taught to have any. The only guilt and self-loathing
he'd had was because Yukina had been witness to it. He blamed himself for making her lose her memory, forcing her to kill for his sake, because he'd
been too weak to protect her on his own. And that was all it had meant to him. So he couldn't possibly understand why the idea of rape was so painful for
Kurama. That made it the only forbidden subject between them - Kurama couldn't breach it without pain showing in his eyes, and Hiei would never say
something that could possibly make him cry.
The bright sheen on those wide green eyes faded out, and Hiei gave a quiet sound of relief. He wanted to duck back into Kurama's arms, but he didn't
dare. Kurama didn't like to be touched when he thought about that...
"How is Yukina?" Hiei asked, his eyes flitting away.
Kurama winced at a quick bit of guilt. "I don't know. I came down here as soon as we got back. But I'm sure Relena would have come down if anything
Hiei gave a dull nod without looking back. Kurama reached out, only to hesitate, his hand hovering over Hiei's shoulder.
Hiei blinked in surprise, sending a wide-eyed look at Kurama, confusion and a hint of vulnerability flashing over his startled face. "What's wrong?"
"Can I touch you...?"
The confusion sharpened for a second, before Hiei wiped it away with a quick frown. "Don't be stupid. Of course you can, if you want to. You're the only
one I like touching me."
'I'm the only one with the right to touch you,' Kurama thought. 'Do you feel that, too?'
That hand eased down, brushing lightly over his shoulder. Hiei sniffed at it, his eyes glinting in a flash of amusement. Then he ducked forward to press
close to Kurama's chest.
"Stupid fox," Hiei muttered, lifting his face so he could brush Kurama's neck. "Nothing's changed."
"But it has," whispered Kurama. "You've changed."
"No. I'm the same."
The voice, him...it, had promised him that. Hiei frowned against Kurama's neck, pulling the redhead closer to him until warm arms wrapped around him.
"It promised me I would be the same," explained Hiei, "that I wouldn't have to leave, have everything taken away from me - I'd wake up and still be me.
That's why I didn't resist when it wanted to take over. It was a respite, so I let go. And it's true, I'm the same. I still...I do..."
"Forbidden words," Kurama whispered, pressing a light kiss on Hiei's hair. "I love you, too, Hiei. Always. I could feel it, you know, your light fading away
"I don't know what happened," said Hiei. "When he hit my jagan something went wrong inside. It healed, but something was still...wrong. Then there was a
band around it, almost suffocating me so I couldn't touch my energy at all. I knew I had to get it off. I could feel Yukina's pain, but I couldn't find you at all
and I knew I didn't have time. So when it said I wouldn't die, I gave over to it."
"Did you know what it was planning to do? That it would kill Zechs?"
Hiei jerked away, stark disbelief and almost anger flashing to his eyes. "What are you saying? The last thing I remember is the doors falling away and
seeing you. I thought you caught me and...he healed me..."
His eyes widened at the shielded look Kurama was giving him, that 'how do I tell him this' look. "You're saying..."
"Are you saying I killed him?" Hiei blurted. "That it killed him? Why? He didn't deserve that - there was no cause for it to...lie to me and-"
"He's not dead now," Kurama said quickly. "He died, you both did, but somehow Zechs brought you back. Your subconscious must have known he had the
power to revive you both. It warned him that it would kill him the next time they met. And it did, it went straight to him. I actually..."
'I knew you were dead the moment you stepped into the sun, Hiei...I just knew...'
Disbelief and that continued anger tightened Hiei's scowl. Zechs having a power like that? And his own mind, it knew and hadn't told him what it planned to
do - it had killed with his body. Even if it knew Zechs had a dormant talent he hadn't seen, it should have told him. No, not told. How could it do that
without his permission? Killing a person, killing a friend...
Kurama pulled Hiei back into his arms, his thoughts awash with painful reminders that whatever had happened, Hiei was fine, alive and fine, he'd seen him
die and yet they were together again. He'd just have to make sure he stayed that way while he tracked down the man who'd dared to touch him, who'd
almost killed him, who had killed him. He didn't really notice how tensely Hiei was curled against him.
'Just you wait,' Hiei thought furiously, knowing that subconscious voice heard every word. 'You might get control of my mind when I'm unconscious, but this
body is mine. I'm letting you stay in it - I control your existence. If you know something about my friends, you will tell me about it or I'll make you wish you
had. You think I can't? Do you really think so? I know what you hate the most because I hate it myself. But you hate it more. I'll hug Yukina until you
crack. I'll do it daily if I have to. And...she'd like that, so you know I could make myself do it if that's what it takes.'
It didn't take long for Wufei to realize he was wandering around the school aimlessly. He didn't have anywhere to go where he wouldn't be an extra 'wheel'
to his associates. He didn't know where Yusuke had taken off to, and he hadn't seen a hair of Kuwabara or anyone else he knew.
He was tempted to head for the forest and just walk the day away in hopes that his friends would be stirring by the time he got back. But after the attack he
didn't think it was a wise idea. The closest he could get was the tree on the lawn, so that was where he headed.
There was a group of teens seated a few feet from the tree, circled on a wide blanket and chatting with eager voices. Wufei hesitated, almost queasy at
the idea of sitting within hearing distance of them. They were all girls, and he really didn't want to know what a group of hormonal girls chose to gossip so
He was turning away when another girl passed him, waving a newsprint in the air and nearly hitting him upside the head.
"It's a cover-up, it has to be!"
The girl ground to a halt when she caught sight of Wufei, her violet eyes doing a quick and somewhat disturbing sweep over him. One of her friends
straightened. Then they were all looking at him.
Wufei's eyes darted over the group as he had a sudden urge to turn tail and run.
"I've seen you," the tallest girl said, her voice confident and just a bit boyish. "You're one of the new ones. You went with Relena-san to that meeting,
right? Have you seen the paper?"
Wufei blinked, his face paling abruptly. "I..."
"I'm Makoto," the girl said. "And you are?"
About to leave if things worked out right, Wufei's mind blurted. "I really can't stay and-"
"Sit down," the violet-eyed girl smiled. "Talk awhile. We won't bite, really. My name's Rei."
The girl was giving him a vaguely coy smile, her head tilted to the side so her long black hair glinted purple in the sunlight. And Wufei was offguard enough
that he didn't pull his hand back in time to keep her from shaking it firmly. He blamed his unease when he also didn't stop her from drawing him over to the
group of girls and pressing him to sit on the blanket with them.
"So you've met Makoto," said Rei, waving a hand at the tall girl who'd spoken earlier. That one waved a hand at him, grinning cheerfully. She had bright
green eyes and long dark brown hair that was held in a high ponytail.
"And these are Minako," waving to the long-haired, blue-eyed blonde, who promptly winked, "Ami," to the girl with short dark blue hair and matching eyes,
"and our resident scatterbrain, Usagi," to the other blue-eyed blonde with her incredibly long hair hanging from what appeared to be two balls on the top of
her head, who scowled and stuck her tongue out at Rei.
"And now you know all of our names," Rei finished, smiling cheekily, "I think it's safe to tell us yours before we interrogate you."
Wufei raised an eyebrow at 'interrogate' and reluctantly gave his name.
"So," said Makoto, "have you seen the paper? There was an incident at an OZ base yesterday, a few hours after that meeting you and Relena went to.
Some are saying there's a connection between what happened here during that meeting, and what happened at the base. Heard anything about that,
A somewhat wry smirk came to Wufei's face, and he leaned back. "No."
The girl didn't seem to believe him at all, if her raised eyebrow said anything. She gave him an almost threatening look, leaning a bit closer to him.
"Really. Then I guess you don't know they're saying an electrical shortage caused the explosions here. I've never heard such a stupid story in my entire
Minako nodded firmly, though she tossed another flirting look at Wufei. "It has to be a cover up."
"But it's not a very good one," Ami said softly, "Not when they're saying electrical failure is what caused the blaze at that base as well. After all, if you're
going to claim two incidents are unrelated, you don't give them the same cause."
The strange-haired blonde gave a confused frown and spoke up in a voice much louder than necessary. "It has to be true! It's in the paper."
Sighs sounded from her friends, a few rolling their eyes. Rei snorted aloud, making Wufei glance at her.
"That's Usagi," Rei scoffed. "That's what happens when you don't read anything but tabloids."
Usagi bristled, her expression the sort that proceeds a very messy catfight. "I do so read other stuff! I read manga all the time."
Rei smirked, giving Wufei an 'see what I mean' look.
"Besides the pathetic excuse," Makoto broke in, staring hard at Wufei, "there's nothing in the report about the window on the second floor. Half a dozen
students saw someone dark jump through that window right after the first explosion. Why isn't that in here?"
She waved her newsprint in Wufei's face, making him jerk his head back to keep from being hit. "It has to be a cover up."
"Only, why would they?" asked Minako. "Why would they want to cover it up? Since when does OZ care about making mutants look bad?"
"True enough," said Makoto. "Any other time and the headlines would be plastered with horror stories about the evil killer mutant. But this time, this time
they're claiming it's electrical failure? That's just stupid."
Wufei noticed the blue-haired girl was watching him with a somewhat worrisome interest. She raised her head when he glanced over at her.
"I have a theory," Ami said slowly, her eyes glued to Wufei's wary gaze. "Right before the attack, someone called from that meeting Relena-san went to,
someone very worried. Then there was the attack, and a few hours later - about the time it would take to go from the Sanq Kingdom to that base - there
was another attack.
"I'd say whoever attacked the school was after something. Mutants don't attack each other. But if he were sent by someone, that person would have a
very good reason to hide it. And that base, the amount of ash found on the scene is incongruous with a fire, no matter how the fire supposedly started. No
normal blaze would be hot enough to turn metal into ash like that.
"Normally OZ is the first to complain about attacks on their bases. If they hid an attack, then it's because they don't want the public to know what led to that
attack. Such as an attack of their own."
Wufei stared at the girl, his expression absolutely blank. Ami frowned lightly at him, a thoughtful look crossing her face.
"Isn't it interesting," Ami murmured, "that four people went with Relena-san to that meeting, but those four weren't seen again after she got back? And
when those four did return, they came in a group of twelve, including three strangers to the school. It's quite interesting. Unusual numbers tend to gain
attention, and numbers like that are highly unusual."
Wufei was disgruntled, to say the least, but he managed a light frown at the girls who were watching him avidly. Usagi was looking at her friends with a
clueless expression, so he passed over her. He shrugged and looked back to Ami.
"I don't know what you're getting at," said Wufei. "One of my friends got sick at the meeting and we had to delay our return. As for the new students, this
school picks up new students every day. Since when are new mutants not welcome here?"
Ami smiled, though that knowing look remained on her face. "Every mutant is welcome here. I hope your friends - that is, your friend - gets better soon."
Makoto frowned at Ami, not sure why she was playing along. But she didn't press the subject. Wufei gave an off-handed remark that he was sorry he
couldn't help them with their little mystery. Then he beat the hasty retreat he'd wanted to make earlier.
He couldn't help but feel angry and worried about the gossip that was obviously spreading through the school. It had only been a day or so. The students
had far too much time on their hands. And it seemed some of them weren't as oblivious as Yusuke had claimed.
Une was in her room, formerly Duo's room, when Quatre and Trowa remembered her existence.
She'd woken not long after the group had left the school. Since she wasn't being controlled, her first thoughts had been to escape. But Yukina and
Kuwabara had met her when she left the room Quatre had sent her to. Whatever she was, mutant, OZ spy, she'd been compelled to take care of her new
and only friend.
She'd comforted Yukina until Kuwabara escorted the girl to her own room to rest. And since she didn't want to abandon Yukina if she wanted someone to
talk to aside from that loud teenage boy, Une had returned to the only safe place she knew of. She'd gone back to her bedroom to wait.
So she was there, seated on her bed, waiting, when Quatre entered the room. She sent both boys a reproachful, if uneasy, glare.
"Is something wrong?" Quatre ventured, not really expecting a response.
He didn't get one, either. Une glared darker at him, and turned her face to the side, arms folded over her chest.
Trowa moved to sit on the desk, and Quatre settled himself in the chair for a bit of probing. He'd been surprised to find that Une was not only in the school,
but back in the room they'd kept her in. There really wasn't an excuse for the way he'd taken off without so much as waking her up. But her behavior -
staying, and staying out of trouble - made him curious to learn why.
A little bit of mindreading answered his questions, filling him with surprise.
She'd been furious at them, the two of them and their friends, when she found Yukina broken and alone - the loud boy, Kuwabara, hadn't counted in Une's
mind. She'd blamed them for involving an innocent girl like Yukina in their rebellious actions. But Yukina had explained about the strange mutant who'd
come and taken her brother, who hadn't done anything but his best to protect her and watch over her. The sight of Yukina's torn, tearful visage had left
Une staggered. She'd been feeling morose and somewhat guilty since then, though she still wanted to blame them.
Quatre understood most of that, but he was quickly caught on Une's reaction to the rogue. She'd recognized the description Yukina gave. He focused on
gaining as much information as Une knew about the man.
He was a strange one, in Une's estimation, a crow feeding on refuge, so fitting with his name, Karasu. Treize had used him only for killings and retrievals of
very dangerous mutants, or other equally important assignments. He'd been so twisted that Une was openly disgusted by him, having seen the sort of
things he did to the mutants he caught. They might have been enemies of OZ, but that was no excuse. Killing them to protect the innocents, there was a
reason for that. Torturing them because he got off on their screams...sickening.
It was the only point where she'd openly opposed Treize, and Quatre was surprised to find that Treize had never pushed her. Quatre suspected he had
tried, and that Une simply didn't remember the brainwashing attempt. Whatever Treize had done with his mind twisting, he hadn't been able to change her
Une was sickened by those who abused their powers, and since she'd been witness to Karasu's torture of multiple mutants, she knew he was abusing it to
the utmost. She despised him. And now, knowing the one member of OZ she hated most had come into the school and hurt an innocent like Yukina - on
Treize's orders... It put her in a very difficult position. She couldn't reconcile that. She now had a festering dislike of Treize that warred with her absolute
obedience and worship of him.
Quatre focused sharply on that. Any opposition to Treize in Une's mind was something they could use, something to encourage. And it wasn't just Karasu.
Another image swam to focus when he pushed for any hard feelings toward Trieze.
It was Zechs, the scene slanted because Une had been in Relena's form at the time, looking up at him. Quatre could almost feel the smile she'd forced on
her face, and the way her stomach had clenched at having to hold up that mask. Treize had used her to get to Zechs. And she'd opposed him on that as
well...to no avail.
Quatre wasn't reading detailed memories so much as snippets - about the same he'd gotten during his scans in the forest a few days back. He'd promised
Trowa he wouldn't push himself any more than that. It was enough to catch sight of the harsh, angry feelings and remembrances that had floated up to
cloud Une's unhappy thoughts.
In the picture Zechs was staring down at her with a pale, dead expression in a dark room. The thought connected to the scene was a harsh whisper
against Treize. He's no different from his pet when it comes to that.
A different scene shifted into focus, doubled like two snapshots lain one over the other. The top was Une, watching helplessly as Yukina sobbed with
tearless eyes against Kuwabara. And it slid aside to the second, Une glaring down at a dark screen, a dim cell lit by the open doorway where Treize leaned
casually with a knowing smile, his eyes staring straight up at the camera as if he knew she were watching. The words scribbled on the back of the scenes
in hectic, jagged letters, was devastation.
Another pair of images replaced those, these tainted as if they'd been crumpled in a desperate attempt to destroy them.
The first was a very familiar form, Karasu, the rogue, masked and seated at a table with two other men in OZ uniforms, one laughing and the other wearing
a wide smile, all seen through wide, stunned eyes from where Une stood across the room from them. And the second, Zechs as seen from behind, seated
in a chair with his hands curled white-knuckled on the arms, and Treize leaning over him and the computer, pointing to a part of the screen where a tiny
burned body was half curled near an overturned church pew. Or rather, he was pointing to the door behind the body, as if the body was no more visible
than the others that spotted the charred image. And the picture trembled, blurring at times, from where Une watched yards from them, her eyes only half
focused. The title given to the images was a whispery, disbelief, with a barely visible etch of how can he.
Heero had passed out the moment the plane took off, leaving a worried Duo watching him sleep while Hilde kept him silent company. It wasn't until they'd
laid Heero out on the bed that Duo really noticed how different the boy looked.
He'd only been gone for a few days, but he looked thin and pale and...weak somehow. There were rashes on his cheeks, high on the cheekbones and
temples. Duo remembered that he hadn't been able to make a lasting 'brand' on Heero's quick-healing skin, so he knew they weren't burn marks, as they
appeared to be. And when he touched Heero, the boy's skin felt hot, as if he had a fever.
By the time they reached the Sanq Kingdom, Heero was grimacing lightly with each labored breath. It made Duo wonder if Heero weren't suffering from the
same sort of burnout that he'd had.
Quatre warned him that Yukina had overextended her own powers, so there wasn't anything they could do to help Heero with whatever was bothering him.
They'd have to wait until Zechs woke up and hope he'd be able to learn something about the boy's condition.
That left Duo rather helpless to do anything but wait, and he wasn't the least bit happy about it. He and Hilde moved Heero up to his room and
brainstormed as Duo did his best to pick the locking mechanism on Hilde's shackles.
"It looks a lot like a fever," Hilde was saying. "His temperature is definitely too high. We could try cooling him with damp cloths."
"Might as well try it," Duo muttered, "I'm not getting anywhere with these things. I'm not even sure this hole is a lock..."
A quick check found more of those patches, red and heated like a rash. They were spread out all over the place, but mostly on Heero's joints. His hands
and face were the worst, radiating the most heat. But his ribs were almost entirely red and inflamed.
"That's why it hurts him to breathe," Duo whispered.
"It could be something in his blood," said Hilde, "since there's less muscle and tissue separating the veins from the skin in his hands and along his temples."
"That does make sense. It might explain why his ribs are so red, being around his heart and all."
If he hadn't been so reluctant to leave Hilde alone, Duo would have taken Heero into the bathroom and simply soaked the boy in cool water. The cloths
they were using heated so quickly he didn't think they were doing any good.
"I just don't understand," said Duo. "How could he have been like this earlier? He broke in and took out those soldiers like it was nothing. And he was so
calm and strong up until we reached the plane. I didn't notice a thing.
"He railed at me, you know, for using my talents and being stubborn. Now look at him. He should have taken his own advice. He even had the nerve to
support me on the way to the plane - me, when he had to have been ready to drop himself!"
Duo lowered his gaze, that flash of anger fading away as quickly as it had come. He knew Hilde was watching him. He shot her a weak smile that didn't
reach his eyes. "It is a little funny, I guess. He overextended his powers after lecturing me about the exact same thing."
"What powers does he have?" asked Hilde. "What did he do to those guards? He cut them, but he doesn't have any weapons on him."
"That is strange," Duo admitted. "Heero has super speed and instant healing, but he doesn't have any offensive powers aside from his own strength."
Hilde sent one long look at the pale boy sleeping restlessly on the bed, and she raised an eyebrow at Duo. "Instant healing? If he has that, why isn't his
body fighting back against the fever."
They watched Heero for a while, changing those cool cloths though they didn't seem to be making a difference. It wasn't until Hilde suggested the tub that
Duo spoke up, startled that she'd had the same idea he had.
"I don't know if we should be cooling him or not," Duo muttered. "What if he is healing himself and we're countering that? I mean, Zechs - that white-haired
guy you saw - he has a healing talent that burns when he uses it on you. Maybe Heero's is like that, too."
"Then the fever could be a result of him instinctively healing himself," said Hilde. "When an injury heals, it burns and itches because the tissue is fixing
itself. Only, he doesn't look like he has any injuries."
Duo shook his head, his expression darkening the more he thought about it. "Maybe it's continual healing, so it just keeps burning up inside. And that's
why he passed out - he's automatically healing himself and it's sapping up all of his energy..."
"What sort of injury would require constant healing?" asked Hilde. "And how long would it last? If he's already in a coma from using his talent, he can't
keep it up for very long."
"I know," Duo said darkly. "If he can't heal whatever is hurting him, he'll instinctively keep trying until his energy burns out altogether."
He pushed off the edge of the bed and gave Hilde a quick look. "Stay with him? I'm going to see if Zechs is awake, or Yukina, or even Hiei."
Jin tugged at the collar of his shirt and shot a curious look over the cafeteria. Even with the uniform, he was still getting stares and starting whispers among
the students. But he supposed it would have been much worse if he were still dressed in his 'non-dress.'
Yusuke had given them both extra uniforms when they arrived, claiming that he and Kuwabara never wore them anyway, so it was no great loss. The
uniforms didn't exactly fit, Jin's was a little too tight on the shoulders, though the length was good, and Touya, well, he'd filled out in the last year but he was
still a little too petite to share clothing with Yusuke. So even with the proper uniforms, they stood out.
Touya took it as a given and simply stared back at the bolder students, making more than one of them flush and look away. Months had passed since he'd
been surrounded by so many people, especially mutants close to his own age. The only thing that kept him in the middle of the somewhat crowded
cafeteria was that he didn't want to be closed in.
"I've become claustrophobic," Touya muttered.
Jin rounded with wide eyes, a hopeful look spread over his face. "Does that mean I can fly us when we go back home? It would be really open, nothing but
wind and sky all around, and we could snuggle the whole way. I always wanted to try that, come to think of it..."
"No," Touya blurted, his expression as close to reproachful as he could get when it came to Jin. "I'm not that claustrophobic. Besides, you shouldn't be
flying at all for a while. You don't look well."
"Me? You're smaller than ever and your eyes are way too big for your pretty little face and you think I don't look well? I bet I could push you right over with
a fingertip, not that I'd do it, of course, but you know what I mean. Don't you worry about me, Touya, I'll have you bright and glowing in no time!"
The last bit was accompanied by a warm smile and a heavy arm over his shoulders. Touya sighed at the looks a few of the students were sending them,
and he firmly pushed his irritation aside. What did it really matter to him if they had a problem with Jin's tactile nature?
"I told you I'm fine," said Touya. "Mostly they had me experimenting with my talent, nothing I wasn't doing on my own. It has me worn, nothing more. As for
my eyes being big...it's the light."
"Light? But your eyes are supposed to get smaller in bright light! Why would-"
Touya ducked his head a bit, shooting an almost embarrassed look at the redhead. "You were the first to notice my eyes glow in the dark. I've been using
that for a long time, so it's hard to turn it off. It doesn't hurt."
With a bright, curious smile, Jin leaned down, his hand moving to shadow Touya's pale blue eyes. Sure enough, he could see the pale glow against his
palm, a shadow of blue over the pupils that wasn't really noticeable in the bright room. Jin grinned, his face awash with appreciation.
"It's like you're laughing inside," Jin breathed. "Beautiful..."
Heat flushed over Touya's face, and he leaned away before Jin could do anything that was better saved for a more private location. He knew when Jin
switched from a playful 'pretty' to beautiful, that he wasn't just admiring the scenery. And this really wasn't the place.
"You look tired," said Touya. "Have you been sleeping, or flying till you crash and then napping wherever you land?"
Jin let out a quick laugh and pulled back so they were just sitting next to each other at the table. "You do know me! It's really neat how little sleep I need. I
mean, I can almost sleep in the air now, as long as I'm using a twister - it fades on its own after a while, so it sort of lays me down when it's done. That's
much better than dozing off and falling. Can't say I like the falling much. I almost broke my horn last time! Wow, did that hurt...I think I landed on my head.
Dug a nice little groove in the ground, too. I saw it when I woke up."
"You were in that much of a hurry, and you didn't think I was alive? Why were you rushing?"
A flitter of discomfort tightened Jin's brow, but he shook it off as well as he could. He really didn't want to ruin their reunion by thinking about that.
"It was Shikamaru," Jin admitted. "I was a little, more like a lot, restless after you left. Only took me a week to heal, you know, since I'm so resilient and all.
Not like Sasuke. Iruka-sensei made him stay in bed so long he swore he was going to strangle Naruto if he had to eat one more bowl of ramen. I don't
blame him, either, that gets really old after a while. But anyway, I was up and about pretty quick. And you know me, I wanted to run off after you. Didn't
know where to go, though. So I bugged Shikamaru till he gave me a map of places he thought that rodent would have gone to. I lost the map a few weeks
ago, but I remembered it. I have a really good memory, you know, things I see or touch. Shika put pretty little stars over the bases, so it was easy to
remember and since I was looking down from above, I could watch for the landmarks and all."
"But why the rush," Touya prodded lightly. "If you thought I was dead, why were you pushing yourself?"
"It was something to do, Touya... I wanted to hurt him, and as long as I was chasing after him, I was doing something about it. You know I'm not one to
stand around, or float, since we're talking about me. I didn't like taking breaks because, well, it got really quiet, you know...?"
There was hesitance, unhappiness, and a faint discomfort in Jin's bright blue eyes. Touya reached over to brush his fingertips along the back of Jin's
hand, his palm settling warmly on the crook of the teen's arm. "You don't like the quiet, I know. I missed you, too, Jin."
That arm shot out around his shoulders again, and Touya gave a grimacing smile as his hair was rumpled playfully. He really didn't like public displays of
affection, but Jin's happiness was infectious, addicting. "Jin..."
"You're just so sweet," Jin beamed, "I love it when you get all sweet on me."
He hopped up while Touya went to work smoothing his hair down again. "Still stuffy, though! It's cute all messy like that. But I know you like it neat, so you
go ahead and I'll get to work fattening you up again. I sure hope it doesn't take weeks like last time. Never did care for the pecky eaters, you're small, but
you're not a bird."
"I'm not really hungry," Touya started, but he closed his mouth a moment later. Jin was already halfway across the room, bound to bring back his idea of a
proper meal. He almost winced at the thought.
It wasn't as if he'd wasted away during his captivity. They'd kept his energy worn from continual use, but they hadn't chained him after the first few days.
He'd had more than enough time to keep active in his cell. The fire user was the first and only...roommate, he'd had. It seemed ice users were few and far
between, and OZ hadn't been in any hurry to kill him off.
He knew better than to try and explain that to Jin, though. He'd lost a few pounds and knowing Jin, he wouldn't rest until he got them back with interest.
Touya sighed at the thought and slumped a bit over the table, his gaze shifting around the student-populated cafeteria.
It was much larger than the one they'd had at the little high school in Switzerland. And while there was obviously a uniform dress code, a good number of
the students were dressed strangely, or casually.
Touya's gaze paused on a group of the more strangely dressed teens, a green-haired boy flashing him a quick smile before turning back to the girls he
was talking to. He looked past them, his gaze drawn to a somewhat empty table where a single couple sat. The tall boy stood and moved to the get rid of
his tray, and Touya found his eyes locking with a very small girl. She looked frail and tired, very pale, but her eyes widened when she noticed his gaze.
A tray was set down in front of him. Touya flinched, blinking quickly for a second before glancing at Jin.
"Who were you looking at?" asked Jin. "Someone interesting?"
"I'm not sure," Touya murmured. "It was a girl. For some reason it felt like-"
"Stop right there! Since when do you look at girls, To-ya? You didn't go and, that is, you didn't stop liking me, did you?"
Jin let out a little worried sound, and Touya grimaced with a light flush. He could always tell when Jin was trying to get a rise out of him, by the way he said
"I was just looking at her," Touya said weakly. "I think she might be that boy's sister...something about her eyes. I could almost feel a connection. I've
never met another ice user, but it felt like I knew her. She's right-"
He'd turned to point the girl out only to find the table empty. The tall boy she'd been sitting with was gone as well. Touya sent a quick look over the room,
but she must have left while he was distracted.
"That's neat," Jin was saying, his smile back in full force. "I'd love to meet a wind user. We could have races!"
"Races," Touya echoed.
"Maybe later. Eat up now, they had lots to choose from. I even got you tea just the way you like it, hot and flavorless! It's a little brown, though..."
Touya smirked as he lifted the cup and took a breath of the steam. "It's coffee, Jin, not tea. But it's fine, thank you."
"Okay, but eat something first? This looks sweet. And it is! Try it, tastes just like, well, I don't really know, but it's good."
"I'll eat," promised Touya. "Just slowly. I've been living on concentrated rations once a day. I'll have to ease into regular meals again. Like before."
Jin sighed and wilted a little. So far he wasn't making much headway with his newly found friend. Touya didn't want to eat, or cuddle, or play, and he was
too tired to do exercises with his talent - another form of play, really. And so far he hadn't managed to get a single laugh out of him.
"I think I've lost my touch," Jin sniffled. "I'm boring you!"
Touya smirked, nibbling a bit on the pastry Jin had conned into his hand. "You couldn't be boring if you tried."
"Now you're just being nice," said Jin. "I've gone all rusty, months since the last time I teased anyone, so I'm out of practice. I wish Naruto were here, I work
much better with an audience. I'd knock you right out of that 'I'm fine, I'm calm, you're not going to get more than a little smile out of me so you might as well
give up right now' thing you're doing. How come I lose my touch and you're still as good as ever at the stoicism? You're way too steady, To-ya. You know
Touya raised an eyebrow and Jin let out a frustrated little fidget. "See?! I called you To-ya and you didn't even correct me. You must be in a real slump,
or I'm in the slump. Maybe we're both in it and we're so slumped we just don't know it. You think that's it, To-ya? Ne, To-ya? What do you think, To-ya?
To-ya...? Oi! You still with me?"
The blue-haired boy was calmly drinking his coffee, eyes closed and expression completely neutral. Jin pouted and stole the remainder of that pastry since
Touya obviously wasn't going to finish it. He inhaled the food, his mind running around to find another tactic to get a response from his friend.
A familiar face caught his eyes from across the room, and Jin grinned suddenly. He elbowed Touya's side to make the boy look at him. "Hey, Touya, you
think he's cute?"
Touya blinked wide eyes at Jin and wondered briefly if he'd missed something in that happily playful chatter. "What?"
"Yusuke," said Jin, nodding to the boy who was currently scanning the room from across the way. "Do you think he's cute?"
A faint blush crept to Touya's face, and he turned a wary look on his friend. "I don't even know him."
"I know that," Jin smiled, waving a hand in dismissal, "you didn't get a chance to really talk to him. That's not what I asked. I think he's cute. Do you?"
Touya just stared at him with that startled, wary expression. Jin grinned and stood up so he could wave the boy over. After another quick scan of the
cafeteria, Yusuke crossed to them and stopped on the other side of their table.
"Hey, guys," said Yusuke. "I didn't think I'd find you down here. You didn't happen to see a really big idiot around here, did you? Tall, orange hair, dumb
face, latched onto a really dainty girl with pale blue hair?"
With one more suspicious look at Jin's wide grin, Touya turned to look at Yusuke. "I think I saw him earlier. Does the girl have red eyes?"
"That's the one," Yusuke nodded. "I heard they were up and about, and knowing Kuwabara's stomach, this is the first place he'd go. Figures I'd miss them."
He plunked down at the table, his gaze shifting from the tray full of untouched food and Touya's odd expression, over to Jin's mischievous smile. "So...you
guys planning to run off right away? If you aren't, you can probably see Relena tomorrow to get uniforms that actually fit. Or you can make a quick trip
down the hill. There are quite a few shops within walking distance. That's about all we have here, the school, stores, and the woods."
"Woods?" Jin asked, his ears perking up. "Is it far?"
"A few minutes' walk," Yusuke shrugged. "Want directions?"
Jin stared for a moment before winking at the boy, his grin widening even more. "More like a guide. What do you say, Yusuke? You don't look very busy,
so you want to go for a walk outside? I don't really like this sitting around stuff, and poor Touya is getting awfully pasty. You'd think he was a pretty little
ghost! I have to drag him out regularly, put some color on his cheeks, you know?"
This earned him an embarrassed bristle from Touya, and a slow smirk from Yusuke. Jin gave his best puppy face, wide blue eyes, pouting lips, and
twitching ears. Touya slumped, pushing his tray back so he could thump his forehead lightly on the table. And Yusuke laughed.
"Sure," Yusuke grinned, "happy to help. Like I said, there isn't much else to do around here. I'll take you by the arcade on the way. It's pretty popular, but
there's usually a few games open."
"Great!" Jin chirped, his pout replaced by a brilliant smile. "Come on, Touya."
Touya turned his head, a warning glare snapping up to fizzle out against Jin's vibrant enthusiasm. The boy was completely invulnerable to glares, but
Touya already knew that. He didn't know exactly what Jin had in mind by asking Yusuke to show them around, and part of him really wasn't sure he wanted
to know. Jin loved surprising him, and embarrassing him, and teasing him, and...
A resigned sigh broke the silence, and Jin's smile widened to epic proportions. He flashed Yusuke a quick victory sign and set about conning Touya out of
his boneless slump.