Title: Words Left Unsaid
Author: Sorceress Fantasia
Pairings: Past 2 and 5, 1x2, 5xOC
Warnings: Angst, death (already dead), Duo POV, OC
Disclaimer: The Easter Bunny hopped into my room one day, threw me a chocolate egg that it claimed contained the ownership papers for the GW gang. When I opened it, however, the bunny laughed and yelled 'April's Fool!' before hoping away. So no, I don't own the GW gang in any ways. I do own this fic, though. As a side note, I still ate the chocolate egg.
Note: I do not wish, in any way, to defame the Chinese. In fact, I am a Chinese myself, and like myself as such. However, I'm exploring a few issues in my tradition that Wufei would seem likely to believe in, and I base that assumption on the fact that he doesn't seem to respect women very much.
'Blah' indicates flashbacks, mostly parts and snippets of conversations between Duo and Wufei.
Thanx to Lily Kalanoa for beta-ing!
I turned around when I heard the yells of congratulations and catcalls, then to the distinctive sound of church bells ringing. There was a flutter of feathers as birds took off to the skies, probably surprised by the bells chiming. The sound was crisp and clear, signaling the start of another marriage. It was a lovely melody, really.
I waited outside the church, standing under a tree for the shade. The weather was terribly warm that day; even though I was wearing only a thin t-shirt and shorts, I was still feeling baked. And the groceries in my arms made the trek back to my apartment worse. Che, my car had definitely chosen the wrong time to break down. Then again, there was never a right time for that.
After a while, the couple finally drove out in their car, a trail of tin cans clanking unceremoniously against the tarmac. The clanking stopped when the lights turned red, however. I took the chance to peer at the now married couple. The groom was behind the wheel, and his bride was just giggling uncontrollably beside him, just like the woman she was. No man could ever pull off a giggling fit and still look masculine or respectable. Women just have it good.
Her diamond ring glittered under the sun, almost as though it was meant to be. It was beautiful. And then the lights turned green and the car sped off; the couple was probably rushing off for their honeymoon, maybe in some space colony. Strange, isn't it? People used to avoid visiting the colonies if they could, almost as though they were some mutated form of Bubonic Plague. Nowadays, however, it was the fad to go traipsing around the huge metal pieces drifting around in outer space.
Feeling myself chuckle, I shook my head. And then I felt something in my palm: something hard, something round. I didn't even have to look to know what it was. Giving my ring, hidden under my t-shirt, another tight clench, I released it and headed for home. As far as I was concerned, I was happily married to my husband, even if it wasn't recognized by the Earth Sphere.
It was a while before I finally made it home. The sun damn near fried me like I was some kinda fritter, and I wouldn't be surprised if I found some singed hair in my braid. Balancing the groceries in my arms (it's amazing what you can pick up when you're pals with a circus performer), I pushed the door to my apartment open. Setting the brown paper bags on the kitchen counter, I peered around for a certain someone. Usually, he'd be around me by now, helping me with the foodstuff.
Then, my eyes fell on a familiar yellow stick-it note on the fridge, held in place more firmly with a red magnet. I smiled. Definitely home sweet home. Even though we had been together for more than a decade, Heero still enjoyed leaving short - but still sweet, nonetheless - notes around the apartment. He left them anywhere he knew I would see at a certain time. Heh, I still have the one he left on my mirror, where I would certainly see as I brushed my teeth, just this morning. No award for guessing what we did last night. Sometimes, he left me notes to tell me where he had gone and when he'd be back. Other times, he'd leave little comments about how much he loved me. Poetry, prose... he always did know how to warm my heart.
This one, staring back at me with my lover's characteristic cursive handwriting, was a combination of both. Heero had been called away to Lena's for some help and wouldn't be back until dinnertime. I shook my head, feeling a chuckle escape my lips. I absolutely had to tell that gal that the way she told us she loved our companionship and advice was getting old. We were, technically, not Preventer agents, or for that matter, soldiers of any kind anymore, but princess just enjoyed calling us over for tea.
Oh well, it was the perfect opportunity to get my ass in gear and cook up that drool-worthy dinner I had seen on TV just the other day. And if I were lucky, maybe I'd even manage to clean up all evidence I tried if I messed up the kitchen, before Heero even came home.
Then again, maybe not.
But it was at that point that the blasted phone rang.
I didn't actually remember what transpired after the call from Quatre. Maybe I dropped the phone, because there was a huge crack on it now. Or maybe I managed to call Heero and Lena first before dropping it, but I couldn't remember hearing their flustered voices.
In fact, I couldn't remember a thing. Only that the three of us had rushed off to L4 as quickly as we could; I couldn't even recall if I packed anything up at all.
But I remembered a lot of other things instead as I sat on the chair alone with people shuffling around me, almost too numb to even feel but not numb enough to forget. Wufei had pulled the lid off a lot of unwanted memories as he stared back at me with his ebony eyes. Ironic, when he was the one who put the lid there in the first place.
It wasn't just a lid though. It wasn't a normal lid. It was the lid to a Jack-in-a-box that sprung up at me every time I opened it, scaring me even when I had somehow guessed it would be so.
The ridiculous clown face, the fear, the sneaky suspicion all faded away however, as I sat there. Maybe it was the atmosphere. Maybe it was the people around me now. But the pain was still throbbing.
Even Wufei's face, in plain black and white, couldn't stop the hurt from eating me all over again.
Somewhere in the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Shuang-er, dressed in white, kneeling beside the photo, thanking a visitor for coming. She slowly offered the man a bow, almost cautiously, as though she was going to double over as the tears shook her petite frame. Her only daughter, Wenxing, knelt beside her, mimicking her every action. She too, was dressed in sterile white.
I glared at Wufei, but felt my energy drained away when Shuang-er's sobbing got too loud to ignore again.
It was unimaginable, what had happened. Or maybe it was expected. It just came too soon.
There had been a mission for the Preventers, and the degree of difficulty of the task had been high enough for Une to dispatch the best team they had, with Senior Officer Wufei as the commander. But even the best still wasn't good enough, apparently.
And now the Preventers were going to bury the best agent they ever had.
She was crying again, even though her eyes were already puffy and swollen when I saw her earlier. As she sobbed, she fed the basin of flames continuously.
Who would have thought it'd actually happen? That one of us would leave this way? Back then, during the war, perhaps all of us had thought about dying in a blaze of glory, wrapped up in a firework of flame and smoke. And we'd be just another name on the cenotaph, just another statistic of the death toll in the entire war. But our predictions didn't come true. Instead, we survived, we became heroes, we lived.
But as another bout of sobs ruptured by the table that held Wufei's last picture, epiphany trampled on me, letting me know with nothing short of a crushing suffocation that our predictions would still come true; they were just delayed.
Wufei's widow stood up from her spot shakily, leaning against her child as though she was her only pillar of support left in the world. Perhaps she really was. After all, the destruction of L5 had obliterated all of Wufei's clan and Shuang-er's parents had broken all ties with her when she married an ex-gundam pilot. The grief of losing their only son, an OZ soldier, would probably weigh their hearts down like lead pieces for a very long time. So it wasn't surprising to find a funeral parlor full of ex-comrades and friends instead of family members as a result.
But I have no idea which category I fall under.
If I hadn't been so numbed with shock, if Heero and Lena hadn't been quick enough to arrange for the trip and everything else… perhaps I wouldn't even be here at all. I didn't know what was happening, because Shuang-er had asked specifically for a Chinese funeral; I didn't know what were taboos and what weren't; I didn't know half the people attending because they were mostly Preventer agents and such and I had never joined the organization. But most of all…
…I didn't know how to face Wufei again.
I decided that I needed to get away, even if for a little while. Carefully, I maneuvered my way around the numerous tables placed around, where the visitors sat around and talked and ate and generally enjoyed themselves. It was a Chinese thing; you weren't supposed to be too upset at a funeral or the dead would linger. I had to stop at the small fridge that contained all the packet drinks when a kid blocked my way as he reached inside. And then his friends came, and I decided to just sit down at the nearest table to wait for them to be done.
The people at that table were obviously Preventer agents, judging from the way they talked about Wufei.
"It's so unfair. Officer Chang was such an honorable man, and yet he died such a horrible death. Those murderers better pray that we never catch them or they'll have hell to pay," one of them said.
"Yeah. Officer Chang was a little held back when it came to parties, but otherwise, he was always a very nice guy. I mean, he always helped out the new recruits if they had something they weren't sure of. And he never turned any questions down, no matter how stupid some of them were," another added with something akin to wistfulness in her voice. "I remember that he always told us that it's better to be a five-minute idiot then an idiot forever."
"I remember that too, cause I was one of those five-minute idiots in his classes." A male agent chuckled, and added, "And he's one of the most open-minded officers around, I tell you. You know Jeff and Andrew?"
"The happiest couple alive in the Preventers. Who wouldn't know about them?" a woman beside him griped.
"What of them?"
"Oh, I know! Officer Chang helped get them together! They were so shy with each other, and Officer Chang pushed them together!"
"Right. And they were under Officer Locke initially, and that homophobe jerk just kept torturing them. And then Officer Chang stepped in, gave Officer Locke a dressing down so loudly that everyone in the office could hear and transferred the two of them over to his department."
"He's the coolest superior in the Preventers, isn't he?"
All of them nodded, and I could feel their emotions running high again.
Suddenly, one of them slammed his fist on the table, causing a few things on the table to fall to their sides like dominoes. "I swear I'll fry his murderers alive when I get my hands on them!"
I couldn't bear listening anymore, and I quickly got away from them. When I was aware of my surroundings again, I found myself sitting on the stairs in the emergency fire escape. I hugged my knees close to me, burying my face in them, unwilling to go back inside.
Wufei? Open-minded? It just didn't stick in my mind. The Wufei I remembered… was a coward. A coward who didn't dare defy what his traditions dictated. Wasn't that the reason why the two of us fell out in the first place?
'You are cordially invited to the wedding of Chang Wufei and Wu Shuang…(1)'
I bit my lip, feeling my fists clench. Those words were going to stay in my mind forever.
"Duo, are you alright? I saw you running out earlier…"
I blinked, and felt myself pulled back onto the ground. The box was beckoning me to fall again. I looked to my side, and found a pair of blue eyes staring at me. There was that little sheen to it that he always got when he was worried.
"Yeah, I'm alright, Heero. Just… thinking."
Heero grabbed my hands and gave them a light squeeze.
"Don't… don't think too much."
But I wasn't thinking, Heero. I was remembering. How do you stop yourself from letting memories flood your mind? I didn't know how. Guilt seemed to answer that, however. How could I even think of not coming? Wufei was Heero's friend during the war and after; they always were close to each other. Their friendship was especially evident after the war, when they would spend hours talking and Heero would call Wufei up whenever he hit a snag in whatever he wanted to do. I still had no idea what they were discussing, even after all these years. Heero would never let me in on the secret. So if I didn't come, I would probably deprive my lover the chance of paying his last respects to his friend.
Worse than that, though, how could I let myself continue to think of Wufei when I already had Heero by my side?
But even when I knew that, my mind was spiraling towards that time… the time when I loved Wufei. The time when we shared all our secrets, traded tips to improve our gundams' performance, laughed at each other's pranks and jokes, poked fun at the others' cooking behind their backs and tickled the other awake with feathers. Suddenly, it all seemed so recent, even though it had already been 16 years since the war ended.
I closed my eyes and Heero squeezed my hands again.
My memories came at me again. They flooded my mind like a cold deluge crashing into me, suffocating me. But the overwhelming coldness quickly gave way to a strange, and almost sorely missed warmth that tantalized my senses. It beckoned me.
I opened my eyes, swiping at whatever was irritating my nose. And then I saw him, holding the end of my braid and tickling me with it. No one else would dare do this. Wufei laughed gaily at my annoyance, and I slammed him with my pillow.
The scene faded away like red leaves in autumn.
Opening my eyes again, this time, I saw myself tearing up my school assignment into confetti and throwing it into a teacher's face. She gaped; no student had ever dared to stand up against her before me, I guess. But she deserved it for always picking on students she didn't like at first sight. Behind me, Wufei smirked, and turned around, no doubt walking to the computer room to delete all traces of our student records and maybe plant a virus in that woman's personal computer.
The door to the room slammed in my face.
When it melted away, I saw myself surrounded by vast whiteness. Snow fluttered around like the confetti my paper made, making little swirls here and there like they were dancing in the wind. I balled up some of the snow, hoping to make a snowman. From a distance, I heard Heero calling me to go back into the safehouse or I would catch a cold. I ignored him. A moment later, I felt someone creep up behind me and I whirled around. When I saw who it was, I stared. Wufei took the chance to wrap me up in another thick jacket.
A flurry of snow swept across, and I could see no more.
The overwhelming coldness was coming back, as quickly as the warmth had taken me. Suddenly, I gasped and opened my eyes, for real this time. Blinking quickly, I realized I was in my room, with Heero by my side. He held me close, mumbling into my hair. Carefully, I peered at the nightstand. 1:37am glowed in red.
I narrowed my eyes, knowing that I wasn't going to get anymore sleep. Slowly, I extracted myself out of Heero's grasp and covered him up with the blanket. He did not move. This was another proof of just how drained he was by this whole ordeal, apart from his wet lashes. I left the room silently.
Letting my legs take me wherever they wanted, I wasn't surprised to find myself back in the funeral parlor. Relena had booked our hotel rooms for us, and I think she had done it with the thought that we probably wanted the place to be within walking distance to the parlor.
It was empty. Again, not surprising. It was already past 2, according to my watch. But a flicker of light told me I wasn't the only one here. I followed the light.
Behind the altar that held offerings and Wufei's last photo, Shuang-er was feeding the basin of flame again. Beside her was Wufei's coffin, lying still as it should. She was quiet now, a large contrast to her constantly sobbing form just that morning. Slowly, she tossed paper after paper into the silver basin.
I stood there for a moment, just watching her. The fire's glow lit up her ebony hair that was tied back loosely in a low ponytail.
In the years since her marriage to Wufei, I've seen her only for a handful of times, and never for more than ten minutes because I would, strangely, feel unwell all of a sudden and leave, regardless what event it was and where it was held. It wasn't her, really. Even though I hadn't spent a lot of time around her, I knew she wasn't too bad a person. Why else would Wufei marry her, anyway?
'What are the qualities you would look for in a wife, Fei? I'm kinda curious about that, since you're always being pig-headed about females like you have a stick up your… Ah, you know.'
'I resent that comment.'
'So what is it? What do you look for?'
'Strong-will, spirited, intelligence - I cannot stand airheads - and most of all, she has to know her place.'
'And where might that be?'
'Here, right here by my side.'
Suddenly, I felt a pang of… something in me. Regret, maybe? We could have been good friends.
I looked up again. She still didn't notice me. I sat down beside her, and she finally looked up, blinking. Then her puffy eyes turned back to the flames again.
I sat down beside her, looking at the flame as well. The fire licked fervidly at the paper, then engulfing them like a starved man who had been offered food for the first time in days.
"You want to burn something for Wufei?"
I nodded, and she handed me a stack of paper. The papers were cut into squares, plain except for a square of gold or silver in the middle. It was a little rough to touch. Taking the first sheet, I threw it into the fire and watched as it was swallowed. And then I took another. And another. Each time, I let the flame finish before giving it the next.
"We Chinese believe that we can send things over to the dead when we burn it. That's why there's a paper house and a paper car outside. Wufei always loved to drive," she explained. Then she paused. "The ones you are burning now are gold and silver ingots. He'll need a lot of money down there."
Wufei's words resounded in my head, a long time ago.
'You know, I've always wondered if there's a serious case of inflation in the netherworld. I mean, we keep burning all these paper money, and they're like… millions of dollars at one go! And then we burn these gold and silver ingots… What're they for anyway? If everyone were that rich, who would want to work? And where would you buy your stuff if no one works?' He laughed.
Then something caught my attention.
"Down there? Don't you mean 'up there'?"
Shuang-er didn't stop burning her stack of silver ingots, now that she had finished her gold ones. "There's no Heaven in Chinese mythology. There's Paradise, but not Heaven. And Paradise is for those who gain enlightenment, like Buddha. The rest of us go to the netherworld. You'll be judged there, and the kind ones would probably get a chance to be reincarnated into humans again. The bad ones… they'll be punished accordingly to the sins they'd committed, and then some of them get reincarnated into animals. The really evil ones would get their souls torn apart." Her tone was soft but firm. "Wufei taught me all these."
I remember Heero telling me about Shuang-er's background. She was from a poor family in L2 that could barely afford their son's education to get him into the army, so she didn't have the chance to go to school.
'It's an Asian thing; we tend to place more value on sons than daughters because only sons can carry on the family name. And once the daughter gets married, she's not really considered their family member anymore because technically, she'd belong to her husband's family. I just don't understand how this silly idea can carry on to our day and age.'
For a while, I felt a chill seep into my clothes, even though I was just sitting beside a basin of fire. I turned around; the coffin was still. I gave it a closer glance, since I hadn't entered this part of the funeral parlor earlier. It was made of reddish-brown wood that was polished to the point it actually glowed under the light bulbs hanging above, and golden ornaments adorned the sides. I didn't look at the insides however, since I knew that Wufei was sleeping in there. I still wasn't sure if I could face him.
The fire continued burning healthily.
"What's going to happen tomorrow?"
"We'll accompany Wufei on his last journey. Then we'll bring him to the temple where he'll be cremated." She paused for a moment, and then she added, "It's what he wanted."
'You know, living our lives as we do… maybe we'll die before the war ends. Are you scared, Fei?'
'Hmm… dying in a blaze of glory? Doesn't sound too bad, but it doesn't really sound very tempting either. I'd want to live in a peaceful world for once. If I really die in the war though, and one of you manages to find my body, would you cremate it? I don't really want to have my body rotting on the battlefield and getting all those maggots on me. It's disgusting. What about you, Duo? Burial or cremation?'
I nodded. We continued burning the ingots for a very long while silently. It wasn't what I wanted; I had so many unanswered questions that I never got the chance to ask, but somehow, I couldn't find my voice. Neither could I find my courage. We were silent for a long time.
"Are you angry with Wufei?" Her nonchalant tone nearly threw me off track, but I knew better when I noticed the way she grabbed onto the papers.
I stiffened. "Why do you think so?"
"You didn't attend our wedding."
"I wasn't feeling well."
If she suspected my words, she didn't give it away. We continued burning the paper money. But I still felt the need to change the topic of conversation.
"Where's your daughter?"
"Wenxing? I don't know. Maybe she's with Sally now. She'll be here again tomorrow."
Her tone was so casual, like she was talking about nothing more than the weather. Even though she didn't say it, I understood her underlying meaning: I don't care. I sighed inwardly. (2)
'I hope that if I ever get married one day, I won't have a daughter. Females are so emotional and illogical. It's hard enough to live with one; I'll get a permanent migraine if I have to raise one. Besides, females can't carry on the family name!'
'What's so important about family names? They're just something people know your family by.'
'That's what you think. Chinese traditionalists put so much emphasis on the importance of having sons to carry on the family name that marriages have broken down because there was no son. And I once had a distant relative who committed suicide because she couldn't give her husband a son. They had three daughters and not a single son.'
'Ooh, scary. I hope you're not like that, Fei. And if that's the case, you might as well not get married. You don't seem to like women very much anyway. And I doubt the hospitals will let you choose the gender of your child. It's not a matter of technology; it's ethics!'
'Maybe. You marry me then, Duo. There'll be no problems of sons or daughters.'
'And how do you know for sure I'm not a woman in disguise?'
I shook that memory away, and tossed in the last piece of paper I had. Shuang-er noticed it, and handed me another stack. As she did it, she added more onto her own as well. She gave me a short glance, as though assessing me, before she turned back to the task.
"Wufei told me that you're his best friend, but you've never called each other up for any reasons. I've never heard about you two coming out together either. He also told me that the two of you used to pull pranks on each other and would laugh the whole day throughout. I guess that's why he was always on his toes on Aprils' Fools. But he'd always be disappointed when night came around and there still wasn't any pranks pulled on him." She sounded strangely forlorn at the end, as though she had felt her husband's disappointment as well.
I didn't answer. I wasn't going to be caught up in this conversation, not when I had already tried to change the topic earlier. But my answer echoed inside me: Wufei and I were best friends, but he gave that up a long time ago.
'Duo, I'm sorry. I can't be with you. We're both boys…'
'Can't be with me or shouldn't? Shouldn't just because your elders told you that a boy has to be with a girl? Fei, are you going to give up on us just because of some silly perception that should have been done away with a long time ago? We love each other; you know that as well as I do. Please Fei…don't do this to us.'
"Do you… do you know of any woman Wufei was particularly close to?"
I stole a glance at her; she was biting her lips and I could see that it was taking her a lot of effort to focus on burning the offerings. It was like… she was half-expecting me to gasp, to stiffen… anything, anything that would give her an answer. But I didn't give anything away.
"Why are you asking me this?"
"You're his best friend."
Silence took over for a while before I finally decided to give her an answer. "I don't know any," I replied simply, and I didn't mention that I hadn't talked to Wufei in years.
"Is that so?" Her tone was so plain. "He was a good husband."
"He always came home on time, and if he didn't, he'd always let me know in advance. He helped me with the chores around the house when he wasn't too tired, and he always gave Wenxing whatever she wanted."
"But a part of me always wondered if he was so good to make up for something I didn't know." She chuckled bitterly, almost self-deprecatingly.
I stopped in my mechanical tossing and looked up at her. The glow of the fire reflected on her face, dancing in her eyes; she seemed a lot older than she really was all of a sudden.
"Do you know what my name Shuang means?"
I blinked, not sure where this was headed. "Isn't your name Shuang-er?"
"My name is Shuang. Er is just a suffix to make my name sound nicer. Something like a pet name."
"So do you know what my name means?"
Slowly, almost cautiously, I shook my head.
"It means frost, if you're talking about how the word is written. But if you're talking about it based on the pronunciation only, it has many meanings. One of them, the one Wufei liked, was 'double'."
I nearly stopped in my actions.
"You know what Wufei told me the first time he saw me? He said that my name reminded him of a very good friend from the war."
We continued burning the paper money, but we didn't exchange any more words.
I returned to my hotel room at nearly 4am in the morning. As I was about to open the door, it flung open to reveal a disheveled Heero who looked like he was ready to bolt. He blinked when he saw me, however, and his stance relaxed.
"Where were you, Duo?"
His words breathed across my skin gently, like the rustle of leaves with a whisper of a breeze. Gently, I led him back inside and shut the door firmly behind us.
"I woke up, and I couldn't get back to sleep. So I went for a walk to clear my head. I'm sorry I didn't leave a note. I didn't think I'd be gone for so long."
He sighed, looking more than just relieved, and he gathered me close, tucking my head in the crook of his shoulder. I leaned against him, wanting nothing but the right to stay with the one I loved. I closed my eyes. And then Heero pushed me away gently with a look of curiosity.
"Were you at the funeral parlor just now? You smell of smoke."
Words escaped me, so I just nodded. Somehow, that seemed to work more effectively than normal, and Heero's eyes softened. Getting me a wet cloth, he let me clean up my face. Then he led me to the bed and tucked me in, sliding in beside me quickly to hold me again. Stroking my hair, he said, "Go to sleep. Tomorrow…" And he trailed off.
I didn't have to ask what else he wanted to say.
Morning came sooner than I would have preferred.
Before I knew it, I was at one of the tables inside the parlor again. And the number of people around had grown considerably, since it was the last day of the funeral. Shuang-er was seated nearby as well, still dressed in plain white, and Wenxing sat beside her quietly.
There was a band of musicians there as well that day; they were supposed to send Wufei on his last journey with joyous music. I wasn't too sure of that though. They were playing loud enough to wake the dead. Maybe that was the real purpose. But I couldn't deny that they played well enough. I closed my eyes, letting the melody lure me back into the dark box. The trumpet blared sonorously, reminding me of the war. Every beat of the drum echoed in my heart, every note of the tune brought me back to the war, back to the time when Wufei and I had talked through the night in nothing but our boxers because of a game of strip poker. It shifted the core of my being, the music.
It was a very long while before they stopped, and there were a few minutes left for family members to see Wufei for one last time. Shuang-er quickly made her way to the back. Wenxing jumped down from her seat that was a little too high for her, and she looked around. Spying me, she bit her lips in a determined manner and came towards me. I looked at her warily, not too sure of what she wanted. I wasn't very well acquitted with her.
She stopped right before me. "Come with me?"
I blinked, looking at my friends around me. Trowa was too busy comforting Quatre, who seemed like he could not stop crying. Heero looked as confused as I was.
Sighing, I gave in and allowed myself to be led away by the child. Heero didn't follow.
Shuang-er was already by Wufei's side when we reached the altar. She leaned forward, speaking a few more words by her dead husband's ear. She started to sob again near the end, but she quickly collected herself. When she saw us coming, she moved away and allowed Wenxing to move closer. But even so, she could barely see the top of the coffin, much less her father. Suddenly, I had a vague idea of why she wanted me to come with her. Without a word, I carried her up.
She started to mumble softly, as though she wanted only her father to hear her. I could pick out a few things: that she would be a good little girl and obey her mother, and that she'd make him proud of her. Staring at Wufei, I could only hope he could hear her. She continued mumbling for a while, and then she went quiet. I was almost ready to put her down when she spoke again, "Daddy… when I get married, I'll make sure that my husband takes on our family name instead. Then my children would still be from the Chang family. You'd want that, wouldn't you? 3"
I heard a soft gasp from behind me; no doubt that was Shuang-er. At the same time, I heard my breath catch and felt something well up inside of me. It was sweet and bitter at the same time, but I could find no words to describe that emotion. All I did then… was to give the girl in my arms a tight hug.
Once we went back to the tables, the priests, all dressed in flamboyant priestly garb completed with a strange-looking headdress each, came over and started to chant their holy scriptures again. I just sat there, completely at a loss as to what they were saying. Everything was in Chinese, and I had not one iota of idea what they meant. But everyone else around me was tearing up, even Heero. I tried to ignore the stinging sensation in my eyes, but I couldn't deny the watery tracks they left behind. Why was I crying?
I peered to my side. Wenxing was dry-eyed as she stared in front of her, but I didn't miss the slight trembling of her lips. Her mother was trying to hold back her tears again. It wasn't a good thing to cry at the funeral, they said. It held back the spirit of the dead and he wouldn't be able to go to the next world, they said.
The chanting soon became a constant droning in my ears, and I tuned it out, staring ahead at the priests performing their rituals. One of them, dressed in a yellow cloak with dragon and phoenix-like embroidery, constantly waved what seemed like an unlit lantern to me. It was made entirely of cloth, decorated in pink, white and green. I supposed it was to help guide Wufei along. The other two priests, dressed in orange cloaks, stood beside him as they chanted along.
It was a long while before they finished and the procession started.
The procession itself was a very simple thing. Wufei's coffin was carried onto a mini-van, and the rest of us piled up behind the van, following it a distance before we boarded a bus that took us to the temple. It was a truly magnificent building, built in a very classical Chinese architecture adorned with sculptures of dragons and phoenixes on the large stone columns. A few pagodas surrounded the main building, almost like a troop of soldiers defending their fort. I suppose that's where they keep the ashes.
'The higher your ashes are stored in the pagoda, or wherever the temple deems proper to, the higher your chances of getting closer to the deities. I guess it's because you're closer to the sky, and that's where most of the deities live, according to our myths and legends.'
But I barely had time to appreciate the beauty before we were all ushered inside. It was an understatement to say that the interior contrasted greatly with the exterior's beauty. Maybe it was because of the three large incinerators and the huge shelves that contained numerous black and white photos, and the groups of tears-wrecked people surrounding them.
As visitors, we stayed behind. Shuang-er and Wenxing knelt down again, before the table that now contained Wufei's photo and offerings. Behind the table, the incinerator looked eerily quiet. The monks took over the chanting this time. They were a lot more quiet and strangely, more solemn than the priests. The steady rhythm that came from their little wooden drums seemed like they were from somewhere else… somewhere more tranquil, more peaceful. I felt my eyes closing.
When I opened my eyes again, the coffin was being loaded into the incinerator. And then the door shut with a finality that echoed inside me. When it shut, I felt like something in me had closed up as well. Maybe it was my memory jack-in-a-box. Or maybe it was the part of me that still missed Wufei. I don't know.
By this time, most of the people attending the funeral had left, but the few of us who were particularly close to Wufei had decided that we would stay a little longer. At least, we wanted to make sure that Shuang-er and Wenxing would be all right. Quatre and Relena had already decided that they were going to ask the pair to move over to their places, and Une was going to offer more money than the Preventers had already given. Zechs and Noin wanted to assure the widow that she should contact them if any problems cropped up, and Heero was by their side backing up their words.
As they bustled around Shuang-er, I stood by the side, unsure of what I could do for them. Something inside my head told me that I should just go stand by Heero and convince myself to say something. The other voice inside me told me to just stay where I was and shut up.
And then, Wenxing came up to me. She was pursing her lips, a little uncertainly lingering, but the defiance in her eyes was obvious. I peered at her mother; she was still busy with everyone's offers. Kneeling down, I asked, "Are you alright?"
Hesitantly, she nodded. Gingerly, she tugged at my shirt and gave a quiet stairway a sharp glance. I narrowed my eyes, but followed her anyway. Once we were inside, she turned back to face me, but she was still quiet. I waited.
Slowly, she reached into her blue pockets. Looking at the now slightly crumpled and folded envelope, she took a deep breath before thrusting it to me. "I found this in my father's study room… just the other day, when I was going through his things to look for the black and white photo to blow up. Mother was too upset to look for it."
I took it from her, unfolding it, only to see my name written on it in bold. It was Wufei's handwriting; he always had this peculiar way of writing my 'D'. This… can't be his last words to me. It looks too old for that. And it wasn't like he had foretold his demise.
"Please…" she whispered, looking at me straight in the eyes. "…don't ever let mother know about this letter. Don't let her lose faith. And please say something to father. Anything."
Before I could decipher her words, she was gone.
It was then I noticed: the envelope had already been opened. Just what had Wufei written to me that could have made a seven-year-old girl seem so much more mature than her age dictated? Suddenly, I wasn't too keen to know, but my fingers seemed to work on their own accord as they nimbly unfolded the letter.
The letter was long, much longer than what I knew Wufei preferred. If he had a choice, I had no doubt that he would choose to talk to the person face-to-face rather than write a letter or a note. But, as I read the words, felt what he was hiding behind his words… I guessed that he had finally understood that there were some things that could not be voiced out. And these were words I had failed to listen to, failed to understand, when Wufei had tried to tell me without speaking.
Words, I thought as I felt tears falling, weren't the only way to tell someone how you felt.
And now… I could not help but wonder, who and what was I crying for?
I stepped out of the hut, closing the door behind me. It used to be a safehouse, but I had stopped calling the hideouts as such, ever since I stopped being a soldier. I was now Duo Maxwell-Yuy, a commoner who worked nine-to-five, five days a week, and frolicked around for the rest of the time.
Feeling the wind caressing my face and the rays pouring down on me, I smiled and walked up the hill that shielded the little hut. It was the very same hill we had laid on back then, after a successful joint mission. We had hid our suits, dropped our bags in the safehouse, and raced up here.
Sitting down on the grassy hilltop, I looked up into the sky.
He was staring at me again, with those obsidian eyes.
And for once, I did not stare back.
Instead, I took out a sheet of paper and unfolded it carefully. It crackled in protest. A light breeze kissed it playfully, but I stopped its attempt to fly away with a tight grasp. The sun shone down on it, and I could see every word, every crinkle, and every tear vividly.
Closing my eyes, I fished out a lighter from my pockets and with one more deep breath, lit the edges of the paper on fire.
When I was sure that the fire would take the rest of it, I let it slip away from my fingers. It flew away quickly, carried by the wind, breaking up into gray ashes. Before I knew it, it would be completely gone and maybe… just maybe, he'd receive it. Words that were left unsaid… by him and by me.
Someone padded up to me.
I turned to him, snuggling close when he wrapped an arm around my waist. "Can we stay here for a little longer, Heero? I like this place."
"Of course. I've applied for leave for both of us; we don't need to go back until next week," he answered, taking my hand.
I smiled. "Thanks. I love you, you know that?"
He pressed his lips against my forehead, gathering me closer to his body. "I know."
Leaning into his warmth, I closed my eyes again.
The ashes continued to burn.
I don't know why I'm doing this, why I'm writing this because I know I will never be able to give this to you. But like you said, maybe I just need to get this out of my system and putting my thoughts down on paper seemed to be the easiest way to do it.
How long has it been? Ten years, going onto eleven? I haven't seen you for so long, ever since the war ended. I guess I can't blame you; I'd be fuming too if I were you. But still, it doesn't stop me from missing you. It doesn't stop me from hoping to get your forgiveness either.
I've heard from Heero about you. He told me that you're a software programmer now. Somehow, I always knew you'd dabble with computers after the war; you always seemed to be so talented in that. He also told me that you finally moved in with him just last month, after an eight-year courtship. I bet you're still feeling his excitement about this whole issue even to today, because I know he was ecstatic when you agreed to move in. He called me that night, just to blabber on how thankful he was.
I'm sure you know about the numerous phone calls between Heero and me, but I'm just as sure that you have no idea what we talked about. And Heero just isn't going to be the one to tell you, is he? You wouldn't believe me even if I told you, but I was just as shocked when he rung me up for the first time, asking about your preferences. I guess he had assumed that I would know you better, since we used to spend so much time together. From then on, I became Heero's source of information for ideas on how to court you, and in turn, he became my source of information on your well-being.
It's silly, I know, to push you away to someone else, but I don't think I have the right to go after you anymore. After all, I'm married, with a daughter, and I have obligations to fulfill towards my family.
Heero still doesn't know what went on between us during the war, and he has even lesser idea what caused the two of us to drift apart. But he's told me that you still seem to be angry with me.
I understand why, and I've regretted it all these years.
I know what you think. You think that I gave up on the possibility of 'us' because my traditions were so intolerant towards relationships between two men. But that's not true; I never had a problem with that. In fact, I think you'd be proud to know that I've been nicknamed 'the matchmaker' just because I helped this male couple get together.
They reminded me of us, Duo. Jeff was me: the quiet, solemn, never-know-when-to-relax one. And Andrew was you: the cheerful and optimistic one. They were so painfully in love but neither dared to take the initiative until I pressed them. Doesn't it just remind you of how we were, back then? The only difference between us was that there wasn't anyone to press us; there wasn't anyone to tell me that I could be with you.
I am the last of my clan. No matter what I do, I have to leave my bloodline alive. And it just wasn't possible for us to have a child. I didn't want to adopt, because then, the child would not really be mine.
But now that I look back… I gave up the love of my life for a name. You were right; it was just a name that was nothing more than what people called you by. But what was the purpose of a name, really?
You know me as Wufei: Wu for 'five', and fei for 'fly'. But it wasn't the name I was born with. My parents had named me Wufei: Wu as in an ancient form of 'I', and fei was still for 'fly'. I was too young to learn the Chinese characters to write my own name, however, and I could never get 'Wu' correct. My father changed it to the 'Wu' you see now in my name for that. They had hoped that I would one day, take flight like a proud eagle and bring the glory we once enjoyed back to the family. But I didn't manage that, did I? No matter what I did, no matter what role I had played in bringing peace to this world… my clan is still dead. I failed to protect them.
My daughter carries on more than just my family name; she carries my guilt towards you. Wenxing… Every time I see her, I cannot help but ask my heart just what path I had chosen, the path that led me away from you. Wen xing you kui 4, that's how I feel. When I ask my heart, guilt is my only answer.
I won't say 'if only', because I know there won't ever be one. I can only say I'm sorry, but even then I know it's not enough. I only hope that you can, one day, find it in your heart to forgive me. Even if we cannot be lovers, I still hope for your friendship.
I love you, Duo. I just wanted to say that one more time, before you cement your love with Heero and before I say goodbye.
P.S. I loved you too, Fei.
1: I just couldn't help it. sniggers Erm, you'll understand what I mean if you understand Chinese.
2: Just a little note on Shuang-er. I don't mean to say that she doesn't care for her daughter. She's just a woman who somehow sensed that her husband did not really love her all that much and that he probably loved another woman, and she blames that on her daughter. Unconsciously, there's a part of her that felt that if only she had given her husband a son, he'd have loved her. And when she meets Duo in the funeral parlor in the middle of the night, she tries to get the name of the woman she believed Wufei really loved. But when he says there is none, she feels a cross between relief and suspicion. Still, unconsciously, she feels that Duo is the one she was looking for, and hence, the explanation of her name.
3: Yeah, if Wenxing gets her husband to take on her family name when they get married, everything does seemed to be resolved, doesn't it? But that's where the problem lies. Very few men would do that, especially those who are very, very conservative in their thinking.
4: Erm, actually there isn't such a phrase. The real thing should be 'wen xing wu kui', which means that one has not done anything one regrets. I'm just playing around with the words here.