Steam rose in fragrant wisps over the brim of the tiny Chinese-style cup. A hand-painted blue dragon wound its wavy way around the ivory china.
There were only a handful of customers in the small oriental noodle house.
A young man with slick black hair sat at a lonesome table in the far corner. With his white jacket over the back of his chair and his forearm relaxed on the tabletop, it would be easy to mistake him for some college student skipping classes. On closer inspection, however, one would find that strange glazed over statement of someone who is immersed in thought.
Wufei sipped his tea absently. He let his eyes follow the restaurant owner’s little boy run around the cramped room as his mother chided him frustratedly in their language.
‘…the Gundams will be launched toward the sun around late November this year…'
Wufei turned towards the view screen that had so rudely interrupted his meditation.
‘The Gundams, near invincible mobile suits made of gundanium alloy, were key factors in the struggle for peace between earth and the colonies…’
The screen showed a few familiar clips of warfare, several of which displayed the Shenlong and the Altron.
“Nitaku…” breathed Wufei.
‘Ambassador Relena Darlian, heir of the Sanc Kingdom’s royal family and sister of the late White Fang leader Milliardo Peacecraft, says that as much as the Gundams and their pilots helped achieve, they were still only made for war. Sylvia Noventa, granddaughter of General Noventa, had this to say…’ An attractive young woman appeared on the screen. Mics were shoved close and a camera flash would show every once in a while. ‘”Yes, the Gundams helped us achieve peace, but at what price? No one would have had to die if the Gundams had not destroyed the Alliance’s peace ambassadors—my grandfather included…”’
Wufei frowned. “Are you so weak against your own emotions that you cannot let go of the memory of an old man? Are you too blind to see who really killed your grandfather? Wasn’t it OZ?”
Wufei stood and left what he owe with his empty cup. He strode down the busy Chinatown street with his coat slung over his shoulder. He weaved his way through the marketplace where whole mobs of ancient Orientals were buying and selling and trading a jillion different kinds of vegetables and charms and decorative pottery.
“I suppose it was our fault we fell for OZ’s tricks, but surely she sees that we have worked hard to bring General Noventa’s dream into reality. I admit we were too weak to pull it off earlier, but whatever we pilots lacked our suits fulfilled. Once we were strong enough, we did what no one else could, when no one else could…”
Wufei waited for the streetlight to change at a crosswalk. He ceased his muttering long enough to notice a newspaper fluttering limply on the seat of the bus stop next to him. The bright pretty eyes of Sylvia Noventa and her grandmother stared up at Wufei, piercing him through with their black ink gaze.
Grasping the paper nonchalantly, Wufei read the short article through. It again mentioned the young lady’s statement about the Gundams. It also went on to say that the youthful premier’s birthday was coming up.
“A prominent gathering of ranking officials and a few family friends will be celebrating Miss Noventa’s birthday on September 27th,” he read aloud.
He stood there a moment, his dark eyes clouded over in thought.
Indifferent to the fact that he’d missed his light, Wufei turned and walked down the opposite direction, paper folded carefully under his arm.
“Weak people like her should not hold positions of power or all this will start over. Perhaps I too am weak, but at least I know my place. I will show Noventa hers.”
Wufei had no difficulty slipping into the Noventa Estate. He wore baggy jeans, a black tee, and a white baseball cap. Ducking his face and carrying a round white table with several employed movers, he walked right past the ever-suspicious bodyguard. (Though the times were peaceful, there were still a few terrorists left who continued to shoot at their superiors)
Wufei helped carry the table through the house and set it down outside as he and the others with him were instructed.
His quick dark eyes scanned the area as he fell behind the movers and ducked away. “Hmm… looks like the party will be held outside.”
He saw some people decorating and a few catering. As he was considering which of the two occupations would work better for him, he failed to notice someone walk up behind him.
Wufei turned indifferently towards the feminine voice. There he found a girl about his own age with thick curly brown hair that was brushed back and clipped sloppily. She was dressed simply in a silky long-sleeved shirt and a long green skirt.
She smiled and lifted her hand in a kind of wave, “Hey.”
Wufei blinked, face empty.
“You a friend of Sylvie’s?” her smile got warmer, “Or are you here with one of those psyched-up diplomats?”
Wufei weighed his chances. This girl seemed underdressed for such an event, but she thought he was a guest when he too was casually clad. “My father works for Noventa Industries. He couldn’t make it so he sent me,” Wufei watched to see the girl’s reaction.
To his hidden amazement, she grinned mischievously and winked, “I see. So you’ve never met Sylvia. That’s cool.” She put her hands on her hips and smirked. “I’m buds with her. We met at some coffee shop and started talking. I could introduce you if you’d like.”
Wufei eyed the girl suspiciously. She seemed relatively harmless despite her frighteningly cheery exterior, and she was offering him an all access pass right to Noventa. Still…
“You’d do that for a stranger?” his tone denoted a sense of disbelief.
Her crisp gray eyes sparkled. “Well why not? What? You some kind of assassin?” She laughed as though the very idea was some ridiculously foreign custom. “Come on, she’s really nice. I think you’ll like her.”
All at once the girl had Wufei by the wrist and was dragging him away into the house.
Wufei kept quiet and fell into step. “Where exactly are we going?” He felt a little pensive being pulled around by a strange cheery girl whose name still eluded him.
“We’re looking for Sylvia.”
Her matter-of-fact tone took Wufei aback. “You don’t know where she is?”
“Well, it’s not like I’ve got a homing beacon on her.”
“Do you have any idea where to look?”
“A few. Bear with me now, I have near to now sense of direction and this is a big house,” she giggled.
Wufei sighed softly so she wouldn’t hear. ‘Subject to a woman’s memory,’ he thought, ‘If there’s a worse fate, I have yet to encounter it…’
He made careful reference of all the twists and turns they took so that at least he’d be able to find his way back.
“First we’ll check her room. I know I can find that from here.”
Wufei noticed that there was no one in the large foyer to see them. One wall was almost nothing but windows, proving to Wufei that they had wandered to the side of the house.
“Get ready for some exercise, my Asian friend—there ain’t no elevators on this ride.” She turned their path towards a broad staircase and started taking it two at a time. “Race you up!”
Wufei blinked ignorantly. What was this game she was playing with him?
“Come on!” she called, “I think you’ve given me enough of a head start!”
Wufei watched her climb higher. Was she serious? In any case, he should catch up, and that would require speed, so he wouldn’t really be playing games.
He sped up the stairs, four at a time, in easy ground-eating strides.
By the time he’d caught up to her, they were halfway to the top.
He slowed down and fell into step with her. “I don’t play games,” he muttered.
She blinked. “Hmm,” she said, “I play games all the time. You must find me horribly immature.” Without waiting for a response, she grinned magnanimously and said, “So, if you don’t play games then I guess you’ll be a gentleman and let me win!” She ran on ahead at a much faster pace than she had before.
Wufei was left staring after her. He frowned to himself and ran up.
“I don’t lose to women either,” he growled once he’d reached her, black eyes flashing.
“Well then,” she panted, “We’ll see how well you do against me!” She laughed and pushed herself harder.
Wufei matched her pace, still not willing to play the game and yet compelled to touch the top step first.
When the top was in view the girl picked up yet more speed.
Wufei leapt from seven steps away and landed easily in front of her.
“Iiiieeeeee!” The girl tripped when she saw him there and landed shoulder first into his knees.
Wufei did not move at the impact and he narrowed his eyes down at her.
To his surprise, she came up laughing. “You were holding back on me. You could do track and field,” she rubbed her shoulder, “or American football.” She stood and winked as she smoothed her skirt. “Pretty good for being so small, no offense.”
Wufei could not remember the last time someone had called him ‘small’.
“Whew! Man, you’re not even out of breath. You’re like a machine!” she giggled.
“All right, this,” she stepped up to the first door on the right, “is Sylvie’s room. Normally I would waltz right on in, but you, being a guy and all, can’t do that. Therefore we shall knock.” She rapped on the door, “Heeeellooooooooo.”
A moment or two later an older woman opened the door, smiled, and answered in a thick Spanish accent, “Ahh! My dear chica, Sylvia went down to the kitchen. She told me to tell you that if you showed up.”
The woman noticed Wufei and returned his frown with a glare.
The girl seemed not to notice the look, “Gracias Senora, later!” She grabbed Wufei’s wrist and ran off down the hall.
“Don’t mind old Senora,” she said once they were out of earshot, “I got that look too when I first came around. She’s worked for the Noventas for-almost-ever and watches all their friends and guests closely since the old general died, or so I’ve been told. She took old Noventa’s death pretty hard. Says she nearly keeled over when that Gundam pilot offered the Noventas his life. Scary thing, war. I’m glad it’s over. Too much confusion and too much fear.”
She released his wrist and walked slower. “Did you loose anyone in the war?”
Wufei remained silent and stared at the floor to avoid the girl’s gaze. He’d lost someone… His entire colony self-detonated so he could escape the enemy without fear for their lives. How many times had he cursed that day?
The girl looked ahead. “Both my parents and my older brother were ‘civilian casualties’. They were driving innocently along some street when, boom! Out of the sky come some Romafeller Taurus suits. They start shooting at anything and everything. The car went up in a ball of fire. They died instantly.”
She shuddered but didn’t cry, though Wufei heard a slight quaver in her voice. Treize had said that he could only know the military casualties, well here Wufei some of those not listed.
The girl cleared her throat. “Well, I sure know how to kill some fun,” she smiled gently at Wufei, “Sorry about that. We gotta turn here.”
They walked down a wide corridor to a set of easy-open double doors.
The girl’s mood brightened as she closed her eyes to sniff the air. “Mmm, this is my favorite kitchen. Well, it’s the only one I’ve been to. Madame Noventa has three kitchens, one every fourth floor. I don’t know how in the world they can make enough money to keep even one of their floors going.”
She pushed open one of the doors carefully, explaining how her first trip here had landed several servings of tortellini all over her and some hapless kitchen hand.
Though everywhere else they’d been had been all but deserted, the kitchen fairly bristled with activity.
Wufei, whose scarce palette really only consisted of a serving or two of some really Chinese dish, grimaced at the smell of peppers and Italian noodles.
“Mmm, I love this stuff!” The girl accepted a small helping of some kind of heinous-looking multi-colored slop from an all-too-happy old chef.
“Eggplant casserole for you, my dear. Sylvia came by and requested it,” the white mustached Italian winked, sending spasms of wrinkles across his cheek. “You have very good taste I see.”
The girl slurped a spoonful of soup stars, peppers, and cheese then grinned, “Just like mom’s. Thanks Gio. You mentioned Sylvie?” She slurped again.
“Yes, yes. She came through and said to tell you she went to the entertainment room.”
The girl nodded as she packed back one last spoonful. “Thanks again, Gio. Catch ya’ later!” She put down the empty bowl and walked out the door.
Wufei followed, a little surprised he wasn’t being dragged.
“Oh, man, you should try that some of that stuff later… You might like it,” she added when she saw his face. “Oh, come on wussy. Sure it ain’t pretty, but I’ve seen some of that oriental food. You can’t tell me that’s pretty.
“It is good though, so you know I got nothing against Asians. I got some red-necked humor is all. You could be same race as me and I’d still be makin’ fun,” she explained, though Wufei hadn’t really noticed her teasing. He was still hung up on ‘wussy’.
They had left the kitchen by a different door and walked down a flight of stairs. The girl turned into a door on the left.
As the door was opened, Wufei heard music playing.
The girl stopped in the middle of the large room and smiled. “I love this song.” She danced a little and hummed along as she wandered around the lavishly furnished room as though she were looking for something.
Wufei glanced around and knew they had missed Noventa a third time. “What are you looking for?”
The girl lifted a vase of flowers. “Sylvia,” she answered as though the fact was obvious.
She danced her way across the room and bent over the back of a squishy green velvet couch. “Syyyylviaaaaa,” she called in a sing-song tone. “Syylviiii!” she was cut off as she fell headfirst over the back of the couch.
Seeing her feet in the air, knees bent to keep her skirt from slipping, Wufei felt himself start to laugh, so he coughed and looked away.
He heard her struggle and stand. “You all right?”
She laughed, “That’s what I get for bein’ weird. If I had been you, I would have laughed till my sides hurt!”
She was laughing anyhow, Wufei noticed.
She stopped abruptly and said, “sshhh!” even though Wufei had made no sound since he last spoke.
She smiled. “You should listen to this song. I swear it’s the best!” She dashed up to the radio and turned up the volume.
‘I’m sick, I’m tired, I can’t sleep ‘cause I’m so wired. I don’ know if I can take this. I don’ know how to love you.’
Wufei felt suddenly uncomfortable, but as his companion made no move to leave, he stayed silent and listened.
‘Tick, tock. Inside. Tossing, turning, I feel blind. The sun is up, the rain pours in. Another day of no end!’
Wufei felt that familiar dread he used to get whenever he woke up to a new mission. It disconcerted him that a song could address that feeling so easily.
‘Grab it, kick it, smash it! Love it, loath it, yeah yeah! Hold it, throw it, crave it! Searching for my solace!’
Wufei cleared his throat and blinked away a few threatening tears.
The girl seemed not to notice as she turned down the volume and walked towards the door. “I’m sorry, I get so caught up. We should keep looking for Sylvia.”
Wufei followed and said nothing. They walked in silence along the halls, down stairs, and through a few rooms.
The girl asked one of the attendants they passed where Sylvia was and they were informed that the other guests had started to arrive so Sylvia was greeting them out in the garden.
The girl thanked him and sighed as she and Wufei left the room. “Man, all that searching and it would’ve been faster if we’d stayed put.” She turned to him, “Sorry if I wasted your time. I dunno if it means a whole lot to you, but I had a lot of fun. To be honest, I get lonely. Sylvie’s a doll, but she’s a busy one. Takin’ over the biz after the old man passed on was a big change. It’s hard enough not having parents, and I should know.” She sighed again.
Wufei stared at her. He’d been raised by the weird professor and his colony. He’d never known his birth parents.
They stepped out onto a sweeping marble balcony that overlooked the great park of a yard.
Wufei looked down and saw Quatre and Relena talking. He must have shown his shock because his friend glanced over at him. “Anything wrong?”
“That’s Quatre Winner. He’s a Gundam pilot.”
She smiled broadly. “Yes, he’s the only one Sylvie could reach. She and I hoped we could have all five here but the other four disappeared after the White Fang fell.”
Wufei furrowed his thick brows, “But on the news—“
“Oh, the news,” she said with open disgust. “Yes, they did make it sound like Sylvie hated the pilots. They did so much editing to that clip I’m surprised they didn’t dress up some commercial actress and get her to say what they wanted to hear. It sure would’ve been cheaper. But you notice they made it sound like Darlian there hated the pilots too. I haven’t heard so much political garbage since ol’ Duke Dermail pretended to like the Sanc Kingdom.”
Wufei clenched the marble railing of the balcony. ‘I fell for it again! Just like before. I played right into the hands of the enemy…’
A touch on his shoulder made him blink his unseeing eyes to life. He glanced at the girl, and she smiled softly.
“Don’t feel bad. The point is you know the truth now. If you made mistakes they can be forgiven. Only cowardly hearts can’t forgive anything… even themselves.”
Wufei remained still for a few moments. “I know I am too cowardly and too weak to forgive.”
She smiled again, with more mirth. “You have forgiven me all day; for dragging you around, for making you race, for being insufferably silly, for upsetting you, for wasting your time. Perhaps those things seem tiny, but all big things are made of smaller ones. Besides, I’ve met a lot of people who refused to forgive me for being annoying. To be honest, besides you, only the Noventas and some of their close friends have forgiven me for that. You my friend are far from cowardly.”
Wufei stared hard at her. “How can you be so strong? You are so weak…”
She was taken aback for a moment and then she giggled. A pleasant sound, Wufei noticed for the first time. “I believe that it is when we are weakest, God is strongest.”
Wufei straightened and breathed deep as a breeze brushed past, making their hair ruffle gently. He stared out over across the way. She joined him and they were quiet for a while.
Just as Wufei decided he should disappear again, the girl patted his shoulder and walked down some marble stairs connecting the balcony to the party below.
Wufei was thankful for the soundless good bye. He walked back into the house and was gone.
Sylvia just finished greeting guests with her grandmother as her friend strode up.
Noventa smiled and hugged the unrefined young waitress she’d met at a book café back in the Sanc Kingdom. “I missed you. Where have you been?”
The girl smiled, “I’ve been scouring that city you call a house looking for you!”
They laughed and walked out into the crowd.
Sylvia saw Quatre Winner making conversation with Lady Une, Khushrenada’s former second-in-command. “Look how much has changed since my grandfather’s death. It was only a few months ago that OZ and the Gundams were battling so fiercely. Oh, I wish we could have had more of the pilots here…” she sighed.
Her friend smiled wistfully. “Hmm,” she said.