Treize opened his eyes.
He was drifting.
How long? How long had he been dead?
Shapes and shadows hung in the periphery of his vision. There were sounds too, muted and distant, only distinguishable as a voice by its cadence.
He tried to turn his head, but his body refused to work. Perhaps he had been hasty in his estimation and had not yet regained his place amongst the living.
Regardless, Treize focused on the information fed to him by his senses, and waited.
Weeks passed. The voices remained indistinct, unintelligible, but shadows had become figures, and he had slowly learned to match the ones to the others.
There were four here with him today, the usual number. Only, one of the four was angry, speaking in loud piercing tones and pacing back and forth. Fortuitous, as it would keep the other three occupied.
Treize forced his muscles to obey, and put a hand to the glass. He ran the pads of his fingers across the surface, felt nothing but smoothness. Had it just been a trick of the light?
No, there it was. He scraped a nail across the glass and felt a slight imperfection -- a crack, thin and long, a singular weak spot that could be exploited.
Treize closed his eyes and smiled for the first time since awakening.
He had been right about the tall one being a woman; she screamed, shrill and piercing, when the glass shattered and spilled him onto the floor at her feet.
Her stockings were drenched up to the knee with fluid from the tank, and her suede pumps were certainly ruined. Treize struggled to find purchase on the slick floor. The woman spun and fled as he managed to support his weight on one wrist. He didn't bother to watch her go, instead closing his fingers around the largest shard of glass within reach.
Threads of blood began to spread through the liquid pooling across the tile, but Treize made it to his knees. Trembling, he forced himself to focus and study his surroundings, to learn it anew without the distortion and blur. Equipment, exits, all of it was catalogued and calculated.
Treize would not allow them to stick him into another tank like some sort of grotesque oddity kept in a jar. If that was required for him to live... He clutched his shard in one hand and clawed at the feeding apparatus taped to his face with the other. The tube slid out of his throat, made him gag and his stomach heave, and a wave of dizziness nearly sent him sprawling again.
He recovered his tenuous balance by the time he heard men coming. They were soldiers or private militia, and a good half dozen, he hazarded. Treize listened to them approach with scuffling steps, quick-paced and cautious. Though there were only a few scant options open to him, he would judge their intentions before deciding his course of action. With aching muscles, Treize palmed his curving piece of glass and held it at the ready: pressed high and inside on his naked thigh.
Five rifles swept the room, and three more trained unerringly on him as men dressed in grey and green poured into the room. He clenched his teeth together, waiting and wondering if his arm would have the strength to do the deed properly.
One of the soldiers slung his rifle over his shoulder and unhooked a radio from his belt. He signalled the rest to lower their weapons, and as they complied, some of them exchanged looks. So, they hadn't expected to find him. He didn't spare the hope to think rescue.
"Med unit requested on level three. And, Sir, I think you better come down here and take a look at this."
The door swung open and Wufei walked in with a bundle of clothes tucked under his arm and pair of trainers hanging from his fingers. "I brought you something to wear," he said, setting the pile at the foot of the examination table. "They're mine, but they should fit well enough for now."
"Thank you," Treize said. He shed the rough emergency blankets that had been covering his nakedness, and stood up carefully. Wufei didn't turn away as manners would dictate, and it proved to be something Treize was grateful for when his bandaged leg gave way.
"The regional director isn't sure what to do with you," Wufei said, clenching his jaw. He held Treize's elbow in a sure and steady grip until Treize was steady on his feet again. "Which means that he's decided to release you into my custody until he can find someone higher up with the authority to make a decision about the case."
With shaky fingers, Treize drew on the borrowed pair of jeans and fastened them. He wasn't starving, the physician had told him at least that much, but he was nearly as skinny as he'd been back when he was a teenager, and the jeans hung dangerously low on his hips. He sat back down as he dragged a sweatshirt over his head, and when he looked up again, he found Wufei regarding him with dark, unreadable eyes.
"I'm not sure what to do with you, either," Wufei said.
Treize pulled the length of his hair free from beneath the collar of the sweatshirt. He'd never worn his hair past his jaw, and thought for a moment of Milliardo's stubborn refusal to do anything but. "At least we are all in agreement on that point."
Wufei paused with his hand on the latch, looked over as if he was about to say "wait here" but then turned the handle and pushed the door inward.
The apartment was not what Treize had expected it would be. As they had climbed the stairs, he had been picturing lots of space and open walls, tasteful decoration with a deliberate use of Feng Shui. What there was couldn't exactly be called clutter, but the space looked well lived-in by a busy man.
As Treize removed his new shoes, Wufei spilled his keys on a counter stacked with a few days worth of mail and set down the bags containing their other purchases -- items that ranged from basic hygiene to clothing. He waved an arm towards the couch and disappeared long enough to return with a pair of glasses and a bottle of wine.
"Yuy will want to see you," he said, pouring a glass for Treize before himself.
Treize accepted the glass and settled back on the couch, its leather cushions creaking and cool. With proper food in his stomach for the first time in what had turned out to be years, he was beginning to feel like a real person again. "Heero Yuy?"
"Yes," Wufei replied, curling a leg up underneath himself as he made himself comfortable in a recliner.
"Did all of you pilots survive?" Treize asked, lips hovering near the rim of his glass. He and Wufei hadn't spoken much during dinner, and that had been one of the chief questions on his mind throughout.
"I'm pleased to know that."
Wufei indulged him well into the night, answering questions about the current political climate and the lives and welfare of those notable soldiers in his acquaintance that had survived the war. Still, Treize felt like the man had held something back, and wondered what it might be up until the moment he drifted to sleep in his makeshift bed.
Of all the things he had thought Wufei might have been avoiding telling him about, the reality was so far off the charts that it came as a complete surprise.
The picture of a young girl was clipped to the interior flap of a file folder. Treize stared at it. His child, they'd told him. Leia's child.
"Regardless of what it says in that report, she's still alive."
Treize composed himself and looked up, into dark blue eyes that never seemed to blink. "Like father, like daughter." He flipped the folder shut, and sent it sliding across the glossy wood of the table with a nudge from his fingertips.
Heero caught the case file, aligned it neatly parallel with the edge of the table. "Aren't you going to ask to see her?" he queried.
"Is she well cared for?" Treize asked.
"Director Une has taken her as a ward. She treats the girl as her own, as does her husband."
"Is that so," Treize said, sliding his eyes shut. He called up the memory of Lady Une's face, of her gentle heart kept hidden beneath a heavy cloak of severity. And of a sweetness, that though it had flourished eventually, he had failed to properly coax into bloom.
Heero cleared his throat.
"No," Treize said. He clasped his hands together, eyes opening to slits. "It was you, wasn't it, who let her be dead to the greater world?" Heero's lips thinned. "If I'm not to be charged with any crimes, I ask you to do the same for me."
Fingers propped beneath his chin, Treize studied the chessboard with hooded eyes. He and Wufei had chosen not to play under a clock, and neither of them had moved a piece in hours. In truth, his thoughts weren't really on the game, which would have been dangerous had Wufei's concentration not been equally absent. Still, he was content with the pretence, and presumably so was his host.
He hummed thoughtfully. How different the game would play if his knight were reset back to its post while the other pieces remained scattered from the natural progression of move and countermove. It was difficult to start over again; he wondered at Milliardo's strength to have done so not once but twice.
"Have you come to a decision yet?"
Treize lifted his gaze to meet Wufei's. "No," he replied honestly, "I have not."
Wufei glanced away briefly. He leaned back in his chair and propped an elbow along the back of it, the posture too sudden and deliberate to come across as genuinely casual. "I have the day off tomorrow, and a spare room that needs cleaning out," he said.
"Are you offering me a place to stay?" Treize arched an eyebrow. To have taken him in for two weeks was surely beyond what Wufei's superiors had expected, to desire to continue supporting him personally was a surprise.
"Would you rather I offer you a one-way ticket to Mars?"
Thin lips quirked into a slight smile as Wufei leaned forward to grab a bishop and slide it across the board. "Shall we continue this game tomorrow evening, then?"
"Mm," Treize said, and Wufei nodded and left him to concentrate on attempting to predict which way the game would flow.
The spare room took nearly another full week to sort through and organise. Wufei had assisted Treize the first day, giving him an idea of what was important and what was not, but left the remainder to Treize's judgement.
"I trust you," he'd said, and somehow the words carried enough weight to make Treize feel truly welcome in Wufei's home.
Aside from a few pieces of unused furniture that now belonged to the neighbours across the hall, most of the space had been taken up by boxes upon boxes of books. Those remained, now labelled and stacked efficiently, and with Wufei's permission, Treize spent his afternoons reading through the collection.
When there was nothing left to sort, Treize took to walking every morning, using the time to explore the neighbourhood and grow accustomed to life from the perspective of one not restrained by rank and privilege. Although every so often someone did a doubletake, for the most part he was just one man in the crowd. It was a feeling so liberating that he woke to face each day with no regrets.
"The last of the paperwork finally went through," Wufei said. He handed Treize a manila envelope before shrugging off his coat and scarf and hanging them on the hook near the door.
Treize ran a letter opener through the top of the envelope and shook out the contents -- an identification card, papers, even a passport stamped for intercolony travel. "Generous," he said, and replaced all the contents save the card.
"Janak Rochester," Treize read aloud. Both names were familiar -- the former being his middle and the latter being his mother's maiden name -- yet together they sounded foreign to him. "I take it that this is my real thumbprint."
"You can thank Yuy for that," Wufei said. He walked over to the corner of the room where their game of chess waited. He stood with his hands folded behind his back, the heavy, braided length of his hair falling straight along his spine, and checked to see if Treize had made a move during the day. "It took several weeks of work, but all original electronic records containing your fingerprints or DNA have been purged or replaced... likewise, for those hardcopies that we could find."
"Ah, is that the polite way of telling me that you two are now aware of even my most trivial youthful indiscretions?" Treize asked, chuckling.
Wufei looked over his shoulder and cracked a small smile. "Shall we continue our game until it's time to fix dinner? I promise to fill you in on a few of my own youthful indiscretions as we play. Fair is fair."
"How could I possibly refuse an offer such as that," Treize said, and tucked his new ID card in his shirt pocket before he went to take his chair.
"Agent Chang Wufei, please," Treize told the woman who answered the vid.
"One moment," she said, and smiled at him. He returned the smile as she transferred the call.
"Chang here," Wufei's voice came from off-screen, and Treize heard the steady scritch of pen on paper.
"My apologies for bothering you at work," he said.
Wufei slid into view. He tucked his pen behind his ear and angled the vid until he was properly in frame. "None needed," he said. "Is there a problem?"
Treize shook his head. "Do you recall how I mentioned that I'd like to acquire a source of income so as to not continue taking advantage of your hospitality?"
"I already told you," Wufei said quickly, "you aren't impo-" Treize cut him off with a wave of a hand. He suspected Wufei would let him continue with free room and board for years if he did not insist otherwise.
"It's something I wish to do," Treize said, in a tone that harboured no room for argument. Whatever the reason behind that sense of obligation Wufei clung to, now that Treize was acclimated to the realities of his new life, it was high time he began to live it. He offered a slight smile when Wufei gave a terse, reluctant nod.
"I will require a bit of assistance in the endeavour, though," Treize continued. "That's the reason that I've called. As there are precious few people who I can ask, would you see fit to grant me a loan?"
Wufei looked down for a few seconds, and his brow smoothed as he raised his eyes once more. "Look in the third book from the left on the second shelf by the stereo," he told Treize. "If you require more than that, I'll transfer additional funds onto the card."
Finding employment with no real references was a challenge, but in the end had proved far less complicated than Treize had anticipated. There was something to be said for having made General by twenty-three. He knew how to read people, and that enabled him to gauge where and with whom he had a chance, and simply walk away when there was none.
Working in the evenings had restructured his ongoing game of chess with Wufei, and when they did have time to sit and play face-to-face, Treize was surprised at the man's reluctance to inquire about the nature of his employ.
Treize slid down in his chair to withdraw his money clip from his pocket. "The last of the money I owe you," he said, and counted out the amount to hand it over to Wufei.
There was the slightest moment of hesitation before Wufei accepted the bills. Did he enjoy having Treize beholden to him? Treize considered the possibility for a while, but no, Wufei was not the sort, nor did he get the sense that Wufei still dwelled upon the regrettable but necessary default in their final battle.
"In another two month's time, I could afford living space of my own," Treize said. "I've no desire to move, but if my presence is in any way inconveniencing you or your social life..."
The muscles of Wufei's shoulders tensed slightly. Nothing unbalanced a man like questioning his personal relationships or apparent lack thereof. "The room would simply get cluttered again," Wufei said. He set his finger atop a pawn and frowned in thought. "What do you say to forty percent of the rent and half the utilities?"
"That sounds fair," Treize said. "Shall I continue to pay you in cash?"
"If that's what's most convenient for you," Wufei said, and again, Treize spotted another tell, this time in the slight drawing in of Wufei's eyebrows. Something was making him uncomfortable. It was time to press the matter.
Treize sat back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap. "Will you ever ask me what it is I've found work as?" he inquired.
"I think it's best I don't know," Wufei replied. He made his move, capturing one of Treize's pawns with his own, and the crease between his brows deepened.
It dawned on Treize at that moment, that Wufei most likely believed he was involved in something illegal. "What is it that you think I do, Wufei?"
"Does it matter? It's your turn."
Treize spotted a slight flush on Wufei's neck and he almost laughed as he put it all together. Here he was, a man with no perceivable practical experience outside the war room, who had taken to wearing fine clothes, keeping evening hours, and returning home with ready cash and his breath often smelling of wine...
"It seems a very basic thing for one to know about the person whom they share living space with," Treize remarked. He wasn't entirely certain he kept the amusement out of his expression, but it made no difference as Wufei seemed very reluctant to look up and meet his gaze.
"Janak!" A hand caught Treize's sleeve and he spun around. The feel of his queue swinging around to follow was something he wasn't sure he'd get accustomed to anytime soon. He flipped his hair back over his shoulder as Marcus handed him a small paper bag by the handles.
"Something for your friend," Marcus said. "Gerard says he had better appreciate it."
Treize chuckled and nodded. "Thank you, and thank Gerard on my behalf, please."
Marcus nodded and bid him a good night. Treize waved over his shoulder as he turned to continue towards the street. It had been sorely tempting to lead Wufei along, enjoy his obvious discomfort, but Treize saw fit to take the diplomatic route and tell Wufei without words where he was working.
Treize made it home a little later than usual, and was pleased to find Wufei still awake. He was sitting on the couch with one leg drawn up under him and a book in hand; a position Treize frequently found him in when there was nothing pressing that required his attention.
Treize leaned over the back of the couch, arms propped on the cushions, and dangled the bag next to Wufei. "I brought you something," he said.
"What is it?" Wufei set his book aside. Treize had noticed he never used a marker, somehow always remembering what page he'd last been reading.
"Chef's choice of dessert this evening," Treize said, letting his voice flow into the subtle tones he used on the floor, "Ganache chocolate tart with macadamia chocolate mousse."
"You're employed at a restaurant?" Wufei asked, although it sounded more like a statement. He accepted the bag and pulled out a small white box.
Treize produced a fork and fought the urge to grin. "Thought I was using my charm and good looks for something a little more clandestine, did you?"
"I did have my suspicions," Wufei admitted with a chuckle. He took the fork and flipped open the lid of the box before holding both in one hand to move his book from the seat cushion to the coffee table. "Sit down and share this with me?"
"Shall I get a second fork?" Treize asked. He unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt and folded them back above his wrists.
"It's fine," Wufei replied. He took a bite and held the box out to Treize. "Now that I'm reasonably certain you aren't sleeping with total strangers, I'm willing to risk sharing your germs."
They had been playing for close to a year when Treize finally toppled the white king with his remaining knight.
Wufei had played brilliantly. Beautifully, even, but Treize had expected nothing less. Wufei was a man unafraid to take risks, and had kept a bold line of attack while carefully guarding his King with a few key pieces. Never had the game turned to a one-sided assault; it had been a struggle every step of the way.
Treize watched Wufei's hands as he silently gathered up the pieces to reset the board. "Wait," he said, holding a hand out to stop Wufei before he could start the game again.
"Need time to celebrate your well-played path to victory?" Wufei asked, hand hovering above a pawn. There was challenge in his eyes, scholar-warrior still, but none of that desperate need to prove himself that Treize had once seen quivering with anger at the point of his sword.
"No," Treize replied. He curled his fingers around Wufei's wrist and gently drew his hand aside. This next game, the one played with some knowledge of the other's experience, their strengths and flaws and temperament, it would be even more beautiful, more challenging. Treize's chest felt tight with anticipation, but he drew a deep breath, looked evenly into Wufei's eyes. "I need time to celebrate how difficult you made it."
Treize could hardly remember when it was that Wufei had taken to rising early and joining him on his morning walk, but it had become as normal and routine as who took what share of the household chores.
Presently, their course took them down to the waterfront, where the din of birds nearly drowned out the steady rumbling of delivery trucks. Wufei stopped along a bend in the path, and draped his arms over the steel railing to look down into the dark water.
Treize hung back for a moment, then moved to stand beside him. Wrapping gloved hands on the rail, Treize looked not down, but out, his eyes tracing the thin layer of fog spread across the surface of the water.
He was not startled when Wufei's hand moved to settle atop his. It was, like so many other events since he was given a second chance at life, just the natural progression of things.
Slender fingertips ran down the length of the blade. "This is..."
"Yours," Wufei confirmed. He lifted it out of the cushioned case and presented it to Treize, who took it with a steady hand. "Don't ask me how I acquired it."
Treize held the sword for a long moment, the weight of it comfortable and familiar. When he set the blade back into its case and closed the windowed lid, his chest was tight with gratitude. "I don't know what to say to thank you," he said. Of all the things gone with the legacy of his family's estate, to have this back in his possession was more than he could have hoped for.
Wufei cupped a hand against his neck, leaned down and pressed a kiss against the side of his mouth. "You don't need to say anything," Wufei told him softly.
Treize pulled him into another kiss before he could draw away. "Wufei, I want to-" he paused, and their lips shivered together, breath warm between them.
"If I promise to stay by your side," Wufei said, and Treize felt a ring pressed into the centre of his palm, "will you continue to stay with me?"
Treize opened his eyes.
He was drifting.
How long? How long had he been dreaming?
Shapes and shadows hung in the periphery of his vision. There were sounds too, muted and distant, a voice that grew sharper the more he concentrated upon it.
"...and I saw Yuy today in the firing range. He asked about you. There's been progress, I told him, more brain activity. He said that Mariemaia is starting to ask questions. Do you remember Mariemaia? I've told you about her before..."
Treize forced a hand to the glass.
Wufei's voice faltered.