Quatre sighed as he looked over the mound of papers still littering his desk. He hated paperwork. 'If only a paper-less office could be invented, I'd be the happiest man in the world.' He paused at that thought. It was funny, in a way. He'd turned 21 only 4 days ago, so why did he fell like he was 81? He shuffled some of the papers around on his desk, trying to find a clear spot to work from. He'd sent his secretary home some hours ago, when normal people usually get off work. The man was very good, but some of the things that crossed his desk could only be taken care of by the head of the Winner family. 'Now why couldn't Father have named one of my sisters as head?' he wondered a bit rebelliously. He quickly started looking for some files on the current colonization project to head off those thoughts. He didn't have time to think of the vid tape he'd gotten from the lawyers on his birthday. He wasn't even sure if he believed it.|
A knock at the door interrupted his search. "If you could please leave a message, I would apprecate it," he called out, trying to regain his focus, and glad that he had taken the time to lock the door after his secretary left. After a few minutes, however, he heard an odd scratching noise. He reached under his desk for the alarm button as his visitor apparently picked the lock and the door swung open. He relaxed as he saw a pair of bright cobalt eyes and a big smile.
"Hey Quatre! I see they've taken to locking you in at night. C'mon, we're here to release ya!" Duo sauntered in, followed by a slightly ruffled Wufei.
"Duo!" Quatre came out from behind the desk to give his friend a hug, then reached out to shake Wufei's hand. "And Wufei. It's nice to see you two. But I'm curious why you're out this way?"
"Ah, Wufei's shuttle broke down near here. I was on my way here to pick up Hilde and thought I'd give him a ride in." Duo answered, leaning against the desk.
"What he means is that he gave me a discount for a tow job," Wufei corrected.
Quatre shook his head. "You'd charge a friend for job, Duo?"
Duo laughed. "Just for the parts. Even I can't get those for free! But enough shop talk. Like I said, we're busting you out. You need a night out!"
"Well, thank you anyway, Duo. But I have a lot to do."
"Ah, I knew it!" Duo exclaimed. "They've brainwashed you! Quick, Wufei, find the key so we can get him out of here!"
"Hey, this is your idea, Maxwell. If you want to kidnap him, you do it on your own." Wufei crossed his arms over his jacket and leaned against the wall.
"Yeah, you're a wuss. I always knew it!"
Wufei lifted an eyebrow casually. "That doesn't work anymore."
"I was wondering when you'd see through that." Duo grinned at him, then turned back to Quatre. "Look, you can't take on the entire business world at once. Nothing's going to happen while you relax for a few hours. Honestly, you look like hell! You need a break!"
Duo's smile was infectious and Quatre found a tired smile to return. "Well, I apprecate that, but I really..." He broke off when Duo grabbed his arm and started pulling him towards the door. "None of that, now. Here." He handed Quatre his old leather jacket and a baseball cap. "You can sneak out in that. No one will recognize you!"
Quatre gave up trying to protest and shrugged into the jacket. Duo pulled the cap down over his eyes and stepped back. "Doesn't look at all like the heir to a multi-million dollar corporation now, does he?" He missed Quatre's look at that comment as he turned to smirk at Wufei.
Wufei simply rolled his eyes and headed out the door. Duo sauntered back out, followed by Quatre. The three made it outside without comment, though Quatre could swear he saw Rashid giving Duo a wink as they headed out the back door. "So, where are we going?" he asked, zipping his jacket closed. Duo just grinned. "You'll see. Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise!"
As the three slid into Duo's rental car, Wufei found himself pondering the changes he saw in Quatre. Even though he had, at first, considered him the weakest of their group, there were times when he found himself willingly following Quatre's command. He may be the youngest of the five, but now Wufei realized that he was probably one of the strongest. So he couldn't help but be disturbed by the changes. For the first time, Quatre looked tired. Not just physically tired, but mentally and emotionally. That bothered him more than a little.
In the front seat, Maxwell was continuing his chatter, though fortunately it was directed at Quatre this time. Three days in a shuttle with a man that wouldn't shut up was very trying for someone who preferred quiet. He crossed his arms over his chest again, and watched the buildings on the street slide by. It had rained earlier and the streetlights reflecting against the wet streets gave the neighborhood a rather melancholy feel. He thought of what Sally's reaction to the shuttle's breakdown would be with a bit of amusement. He had told her it was wearing out, but she occasionally became stubborn and simply wouldn't listen. He suspected that had something to do with some the comments he had made when they first met, but if there was one thing he didn't understand after all the studying he had done in his life, it was women.
"So what are you doing out this way, Wufei?" Quatre's question interrupted his thoughts and he turned to face the blonde Arab. "I was actually coming from L4," he answered. "I dropped off some personnel here."
"What are the Preventers doing out this way?" Duo asked, glancing up in the rearview mirror.
"You know I can't tell you that, Maxwell."
Duo grinned. "Hey, you can't blame a guy for trying! After all, if ya'll need some help, I'm still around."
"I know." Wufei leaned forward against his seatbelt, putting his elbows on his knees. "But we're not going to be calling you if I can help it. That's what the Preventers are for."
"Amen to that," Duo answered rather solemnly. Before the other two could say something else, he quickly swung into a parking spot. "OK, guys, we're here! Grab your gear and hold onto your heads, we're in for a great time!"
Wufei suppressed a groan as he climbed out of the car. "Where do you come up with these sayings?" he heard Quatre ask, and added his question "And why do you insist on saying them?"
Duo winked. "Well, the answer to number one is from a good imagination. And the answer to number two is that I just love the look on people's faces when I use them."
Wufei met Quatre's look at that comment, and they both rolled their eyes. Apparently, he wasn't the only one that didn't understand Maxwell's sense of humor.
Duo watched with amusement as Quatre's face turned deep red while the waitresses at Rosie's sang 'Happy Birthday' to him. He suspected his friend didn't know whether to laugh or turn around and slug him. He turned at winked at Wufei, who seemed to be trying his best not to smile. The last three days stuck on a shuttle with the one pilot he could never really seem to get through to was hard, but he was glad for the opportunity. In between arguments and Wufei telling him off for talking to much, they had actually had some good conversations, and he seemed to have broken through the Solitary Dragon's exterior.
Then again, watching Wufei sitting back away from the commotion, maybe he had only scratched the surface.
Quatre's rueful laughter brought his attention back to the present, and grinned at his friend from across the table. "I can't believe you did this, Duo," Quatre said, his face still red from embarrassment.
"Well, I figured you hadn't really had a night out on the town with the guys before. Everyone should do that from time to time. Besides, how often does your friend turn 21?" He paused as Quatre's smile lost a bit shine, and he quickly changed the subject. "Now, I know you've been working hard, so you need to relax. Look, we even got you a cake!" Sheequa, one the regular waitresses who'd been trying to catch his eye ever since he started coming here, came forth with a big white cake. On top of the cake was a yellow happy face, the kind he used to see on old vids from years ago. Quatre just shook his head. "You really shouldn't have done this, Duo."
Duo simply placed his hand on Quatre's shoulder and looked him directly in the eye. "Now, if you really mean that, we'll take ya home. That's not a problem. But you gotta look me in the eye and tell me you really don't want to take the night off."
Quatre sighed, finally giving in. "OK, you win. I'll be good."
"That's exactly what you're not supposed to be tonight!" Duo laughed as he handed him the knife to cut the cake.
Quatre cut into the cake with gusto, feeling more like himself then he had in a long time. He watched Duo flirting with the waitress and Wufei eating his cake quietly in the corner, and felt himself unwind a little bit. 'Duo was right,' he thought to himself. 'I did need this.'
He settled back into his char just as Duo hopped up. "We need refills! What're ya drinking, Quatre?"
"Um, that's ok. I'm fine with this," he answered, tapping his glass of Coke on the rim.
Duo shrugged. "Suit yourself!" He wandered over to the bar, talking animatedly with several waitresses along the way. Quatre took a sip of his drink, and looked over at Wufei. "Did you have anything to do with this?" he asked, amusement making his baby blue eyes sparkle.
Wufei shook his head. "This was not something I had a hand in. I think he set it up a couple of months ago."
"Yes. I think he was hoping the others would be able to show up as well. He told me he had invited them, but hadn't heard from them."
Quatre nodded. A surprise party was something Duo would try and set up on his own. "So you survived three days locked in a shuttle with him?" he asked, teasing slightly. It was no secret that Wufei and Duo hadn't gotten along very well, though they respected each other's abilities to be able to work as part of the same team without a problem.
He watched in amusement as Wufei stifled a groan. "Yes, I did survive, though I think I've heard enough conversation to last me the rest of my life."
"He does enjoy talking."
"Did you know he talks to the shuttle craft?" Wufei said with exasperation. "I think he's on a permanent sugar high."
Quatre laughed at that. "Well, I think he talks simply because he's trying to be friendly."
"Yes, well, there's a highly intelligent mind lurking behind that fool's facade. I just wonder why he continues to play the fool."
"I don't know." Quatre shook his head in confusion, then looked up a bit startled as Wufei switched seats to sit next to him. "So, what's wrong?" the Chinese pilot asked him, looking as calm as he would if he had asked about the weather.
"What are you talking about?" Quatre replied, keeping his smile firmly in place.
Wufei steepled his fingers in front of him and gave Quatre a serious look. "In all the time I've known you, I've never seen you this tired. I don't think it's just work."
Quatre sighed and put down his drink. He returned Wufei's gaze with a look just a serious, trying to reorient himself. This was defiantly not something he expected out of Wufei. He had always had a lot of respect for the pilot of Shenlong, but he had never really gotten to know him. "It is just work. I don't think I was cut out to be a paper pusher."
Wufei raised an eyebrow and was about to reply when Duo slid back into his chair with two glasses in his hand. "Here," he said, pushing one in front of Quatre. "Drink up, you'll like this one. It's nice and smooth." Quatre rolled his eyes, but obediently picked up his glass and took a sip.
Then nearly dropped it from the sharp taste in his mouth. "What is this, 180 proof?" he coughed out.
Duo laughed. "Hey, just wanted to see if you were still awake!"
Quatre found himself laughing along. Duo's laugh had that effect. He was glad for the short break from reality, and decided he'd better enjoy it while he could.
The three pilots piled back into Duo's car several hours later. Wufei was a bit surprised by Maxwell's restraint in drinking. Though he knew the American normally didn't get drunk, he also know that his fridge was always stocked in beer. But, Duo had said he didn't want anyone else driving a car rented under his name, so he'd been careful not to drink to much. 'Perhaps I don't give him enough credit,' Wufei thought to himself, snapping his seat belt closed. He grabbed onto the door handle as Maxwell suddenly hit the gas to merge into traffic. 'Then again, maybe I should've rented the car myself.'
He noticed that Duo and Quatre both were rather quiet on the drive back. That Quatre was quiet wasn't a surprise, he had always been like that. Rather quiet unless he had something important to say or do, then he wouldn't give up once his mind had been made up. But the fact that Maxwell wasn't chattering endlessly was confusing. He wondered what was preoccupying the American pilot.
He got his answer a few minutes later as Maxwell pulled into a parking spot in front of Quatre's office building. Before Quatre could climb out of the door, Duo had reached across and grabbed his arm, keeping him inside. "Allright, Quatre. You wanna tell us what's bothering you?"
Quatre looked at him in surprise. "Nothing's wrong. I've just had a lot of work lately. I sometimes wish I could find a way to ban paperwork in my office," he said, with a rueful grin.
Duo shook his head. "I'm not buying that. And I don't think Wufei is either. Something's bugging you, and we're not leaving until you tell us what it is. After all, we're your friends. Whatever it is, we can help."
Wufei leaned forward and nodded. "He's right. There is something bothering you, and it's not work."
Quatre sighed. "I'm fine. Really. I'm just so tired. Sometimes I wish Father had simply named one of my sisters as heir, not me." He winced at that, then fumbled for the door handle.
Duo pushed the automatic lock button before he could get the door open. "Oh, no, you're not getting off that easy!" Duo exclaimed. "Does this have to do with your family?" he asked, trying to figure out where to start.
"My family is just fine, Duo," he replied as calmly as he could. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get up early tomorrow." He popped open the door and slip out in one move, slamming the car door behind him. Duo and Wufei exchanged glances at the snap in his voice, and they both jumped out of the car to catch up to him. Duo grabbed his shoulder, stopping him before he could climb the steps to the front door. "Listen, Quatre. We just want to help. Maybe we can, and maybe we can't. But whatever it is, you need to get it off your chest. Keeping it inside isn't helping you."
Quatre stood silently for a moment, wrestling with his thoughts. He knew there wasn't anything they could do to help, but the urge to just tell someone welled up inside him. He turned around and sat on the bottom steps, his hands resting loosely between his knees. "I don't know if I can explain it. I'm not really sure what I feel."
"Try us," Wufei urged, taking a seat next to him. Duo sat down on his other side, his eyes full of concern.
Quatre took a deep breath and concentrated on his hands. "I got a vid message in the mail on my birthday. From our lawyers. It had been left in their care by my father. Apparently, he recorded it just before he died."
"What did it say?" Duo asked quietly.
"A lot of things. I'm still not sure what to make of it." He chuckled sadly, keeping his attention away from the others. "I realized after seeing it that my whole existance is...well...based on a lie."
He missed Duo's rather startled look at that comment. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"You know how the entire Winner clan were test tube babies?" He looked over to see Duo's affirmative nod. "Well, I'm not. I always thought I was, but..." He sighed. "Apparently, my mother wanted to have a child. And she wanted to so badly she didn't listen to the doctors who told her it was dangerous."
"She died during childbirth, then," Duo said, realizing the impact of what he was saying. Quatre nodded. "Yes. Father blamed himself for that, and I think he blamed me as well. Not that I can blame him."
"You can't take the weight of the world on your shoulders, Quatre," Duo replied, as serious as the others had ever seen him. He gripped Quatre's shoulder tightly. "You'll only hurt worse because you can't fix everything. Nor can you blame yourself for everything. Yes, your mother died giving birth to you. But she must have loved your father so much to want to give him a child. That's not your fault. I doubt your father blamed you for that either. Not if you really are like your mother. This one fact is not going to change the person you are."
"But it does, don't you see?" Quatre stood up, facing away from the other two pilots. "I always believed I was created simply because Father needed an heir. Never mind that I had more sisters than I've ever met. I always thought he wanted a male heir, so that's where I came from. Now I find out that I was not made special order. Not an accident, but, not created for any specific purpose except that my mother wanted to have a child." He turned to face Duo and Wufei, gesturing with one hand. "And what about the Maguanqs? They accepted me because of what they, and I, believed me to be. Now...I just don't know."
"I think you're underestimating the Maguanqs," Wufei said. "They are your family. I've seen you interact with them. Nothing you discover about your past will change that."
"Yet I'm not the same person they thought I was."
"Yes you are, Quatre!" Duo stood up to face him, determined to get through to his friend. "Listen to me. You said you weren't created for a real purpose. You're wrong. Your mother loved your father so much that she was willing to give her life to bring his child into being. There is no greater purpose than that."
"Then why could he never tell me this? Why did I have to find out from a vid message recorded before he died?" Quatre knew he was starting to sound a bit childish, but he had no one else he could talk to like this. These questions had been haunting him for four days.
"Probably because he knew you'd react this way." Duo's matter-of-fact answer made him pause for a moment. Duo grinned at his look of confusion. "You're too kind, Quatre. I'll bet your father knew that. He knew that telling you before you were ready would probably cause lasting damage. You're too quick to take blame for something simply to save others from the pain."
"He's right." Wufei stood up and crossed his arms over his chest. "I used to think that was a weakness. But I realized something a few years ago. That ability to care, without conditions, is what makes you one of the strongest people I know."
Quatre's eyes widened at this. That was something he never thought he would hear Wufei say to him. Duo smiled to hide his surprise as well, and nudged Quatre in the side. "See? If Wufei says so, there's no higher source." Ignoring Wufei's glare, he continued on. "Remember, it doesn't matter how you came into being. It matters who are you are while you're here."
Quatre turned away for bit, trying to regain his composure. "I just wish he could have told me when he was still alive," he whispered. "I never knew, and I'll never get to tell him that." He felt a hand pat his shoulder and Duo's voice answering him. "At least you did get to know him. Remember that. All your memories aren't bad, are they?" Quatre shook his head, not trusting himself to reply. "Then cherish the good memories, because at least you do have those."
The three pilots stood quietly together after that, Quatre taking strength from the other two's presence. After a few minutes, he shook his head and managed a small smile. "I guess maybe you're right."
Duo nodded. "Yeah, sometimes I even amaze myself!"
Wufei rolled his eyes at that. "Sometimes you amaze me as well, Maxwell."
"Thanks!" Duo paused at that, then glared over at him. "Hey!"
Quatre quickly covered his mouth with his hand to hide his grin. "I think on that note, we should call it a night."
"Yeah, well, if you need anything, just give us a call, ok?" Duo patted him on the shoulder and gave him a warm smile, then headed to the car, followed by Wufei. "I'll be around for a while, and I'm sure I can talk Wufei into staying."
"Not if you paid me, Maxwell. I think four days is my limit on your ceaseless chatter," he answered, sliding into the passenger seat.
"Ah, that's only because I didn't get to cook for ya. Just wait until I hit the stores tomorrow!" Duo started the car and drove off with a wave, still trying to convince the other pilot to stay around for one more day.
Quatre just shook his head and smiled. He wondered if Wufei would let himself be talked into staying. He felt himself relax a bit more, grateful for what the two had done. Now, if only he could gather the courage to talk to Rashid.
After a few minutes drinking in the night air, Quatre fished his key card out of his wallet and let himself back into the office building. He nodded absently to the security guard, who seemed a bit surprised to see him, and started down the hallway towards the elevator. He was lost in thought when he heard Rashid's voice come seemingly out of nowhere.
"Master Quatre, you really shouldn't be here this late." The giant Maguqanc's voice was faintly amused, but still stern.
"Rashid!" Quatre cleared his throat to cover his surprise. "I didn't know you were still here. I just had some things I needed to clear up."
"So did you enjoy the party?" Rashid asked him, struggling not to laugh.
"How...? You were in on that, weren't you?" he replied, feeling a flush of anger melt into chagrin.
"Not until earlier. Your friend called this afternoon and told me what he had in mind."
Quatre shook his head. "I thought I saw you. I should have guessed. Sometimes I wonder just who is in charge of who here," he said ruefully. He took a deep breath, then looked directly into Rashid's eyes. "There is something I do have to say. Would it be to much trouble to come up to my office with me?"
Rashid looked down at his young friend, noticing the serious look in his normally cheerful face. "Does this have anything to do with what you told your friends outside?" he asked, trying for innocence.
Quatre's jaw dropped. "You heard that?" He closed his eyes. "That's not how I wanted you to find out. I'm sorry."
"But it's not how we found out, Master Quatre. We've known for a number of years."
The blond Arab just stood there, completely floored. "You...knew? And you didn't say anything?"
"But..why?" The question came out a bit harsher than he had intended, but he couldn't keep the bitterness from his voice.
Rashid sighed softly. "Your father told me just before he died. He asked that we not tell you, but he wanted us to know the truth." He placed his hand on Quatre's shoulder, who had turned around in an effort to remain composed. "It has never matter to us how you were born, Master Quatre. We have pledged to serve you, and we will. And not just because of our pledge, but because we want to. You are part of our family. You always have been."
After a moment, he heard a quiet laugh from Quatre, who was shaking his head. "Do you ever feel like your life has just suddenly been put on another path?" he asked softly. He turned around, then, and Rashid noticed a small smile on his face. "Never mind, don't answer that." Quatre shook his head again.
"If I had known about the vid, I would have told you sooner."
"No, that's all right, Rashid," Quatre answered him. "I understand why you didn't say anything." He smiled then, feeling as if a great weight had been taken off his shoulders. "What's in the past should stay there, right?"
Rashid nodded. "I believe that's the way it should be, yes."
Quatre grinned at him. "Then, we'll leave it there." He continued down the hallway, his step a bit lighter as he went. 'Duo was right,' he thought to himself, feeling a bit better knowing he still had his family.