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“You’re left.”

Wufei looked up at Trowa, bewilderment in tear-filled dark eyes. “What?”

Trowa sat down slowly, trying not to disturb the physical closeness between them. He put out his hand and laid a careful finger on the beautiful sword. “You’re part of your... clan,” he hesitated a bit over the unfamiliar word, all of the Others assuming it meant family, “so the sword isn’t all that’s left. There’s you.”

“Me and a sword.” For a moment they thought Wufei was going to bawl, but then a shaky little smile spread across his lips. “I guess it’s better than being alone.”

Duo and Quatre smiled at him, but not Heero. “You’re not alone, not anymore. Even without the sword. I know we are not your family, but we are your Others. We will never leave you.”  The calm, matter-of-fact way he said it did more to melt the frozen block of uncertainty in Wufei’s heart than anything else they’d said to him thus far.

So he took his courage in both hands, and asked the question that was worrying him the most.

“You... you’re not going to ...change your minds?”

Now all of his Others sat down.

Almost like their knees had given way.

“Wufei - exactly how much were you taught about your Others?” Duo asked the question, the other three boys seemed to have been struck dumb.

“Nothing!” Wufei’s emotions were on a wild ride. Right now they switched to anger, though he wasn’t sure why. “I thought you knew that! I... Torlin... I only got an hour a week with him - if I was lucky! That’s why my Talent is so bad! I can barely do anything! And I don’t know why you’re even bothering with me!” He paused, took a very deep breath, and went more calmly back to the question. “All I know about Others is what I’ve seen or overheard.”

“I’m guessing that’s not a lot?” Duo asked softly.

Wufei shook his head. “And half of what I’ve heard contradicts the other half.”

Duo shook his own head ruefully. “I shoulda remembered what it was like, not having a clue about what was going on. I promise, Quatre and me’ll start your Basics tomorrow. New Law fixed most of the problems that you probably saw in that damn village. Right now, this is the main thing you need to know. Once Chosen, always Chosen. We’re together, forever, and only death can split us up.”

“And even then, not for long.” Quatre added.

“Yeah,” Duo agreed, “Joining lasts beyond Death - I’ve seen Joined Talents with a Specter tagging along behind them, waiting for them to join it before going on to AfterLife.”

Wufei’s eyes were wide with astonishment. “Really?!”

“Yup! Just wait, you’ll see. One of the Generals we fight under - his Water Talent died in battle, but her Specter still stays with him and their Others. They can talk, and he can still draw from her power when he needs to. Pretty amazing... but anyway, ‘Fei, believe us. You’re stuck with us.”

And Wufei’s shy, shaky little smile became his very first full-blown, gorgeous grin.

 

 


*

 

 


It was warm that night.

They settled into their blankets, Heero taking the first watch. Trowa was next to Wufei again, and lay awake for nearly an hour.

Hoping there would be a repeat of the night before.

But it was warmer tonight, and Wufei stayed where he was until Heero woke him for his own turn at guarding.

Trowa had fallen asleep a while before that happened, but instinct brought him awake when someone moved so close. He wondered why Wufei looked so happy to be told it was his turn to watch - Trowa hated getting out of a warm bed to go stand guard.

When Wufei came back, Trowa woke up again.

And waited rather hopefully, but it was warm. Wufei stayed on his own bed.

Trowa really wished it was colder.

 

 


*

 

 


“Are we going to try?”

Heero turned sharply at the quiet voice behind him. Wufei was watching him pack his bag, not looking at his face. The others had taken the horses to drink at a nearby stream and were nowhere in sight.

“Are we going to try what?” He asked, keeping his voice just as soft. He was fairly certain of what Wufei meant, and it was making his heart pound, but he wanted his Fire to say it.

“Duo said... that we could try Joining this morning? Only, I don’t really know how.”

Heero dropped his bag and moved closer. “That doesn’t matter. It’s mostly instinct. There’s no ritual to it, and trying to learn about it just makes it harder.”

“But in Haven... they always made such a big deal about it...?”

“It is a big deal; it’s special. But it’s not something you learn, and no good Trainer would try to teach it to you.”

“Is it hard?” Wufei let Heero take his hand and pull him down to sit on his blankets.

“Not really. It doesn’t always work the first time you try, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen.  Give me your hands.”

Wufei slowly held out his hands, swallowing with a little bit of trepidation. He would have liked to ask Duo for an explanation of exactly what was going to happen, but Heero was saying he shouldn’t... and he also liked the idea of not having an audience.

In case he failed.

So when he’d realized he and his First were alone, he’d quickly taken his chance.

Heero took his hands gently, then frowned down at the still-vivid bruising on his wrist.

“I’m sorry, Wufei, it’s not going to work.”

“Why?” Wufei tried to stay calm.

Heero’s fingers slid gently over his swollen arm, cradling it in his other hand. “Because of this.  We have to clasp our hands together in front of us, with our wrists bent, and that would hurt like hell.”

“I can handle it.”

“I’m not saying you couldn’t. But there can’t be any distractions when we’re trying to Join, and pain is a distraction no matter who you are. No matter how strong you are. I had some splinters in my leg the first time Trowa and I tried to Join, and they barely hurt at all. But they kept us from completing our Joining. We had to wait a week for the spots to heal completely, because there wasn’t a Healing around to help.”

“Where were you?” Wufei leaned forward, dark eyes growing eager, ignoring that fact that Heero was still stroking his arm carefully, like he wanted to make those bruises disappear.

“We were hiding out.” Heero actually cracked a grin. “Trowa’s story isn’t as funny as Duo’s, or as chaotic as Quatre’s, but it was a lot more exciting.”

“Will you tell me?”

“No. I think Trowa should tell you.”

“That’s what Duo said.” Wufei scowled and sat back.

“And he’s entirely right. We’ll be at a township before noon. There should be a Healing there.  We’ll get them to fix your arm, then we can try Joining tomorrow. All right?”

Wufei nodded, and they both went back to packing.

 

 


*

 

 


“Wufei.”

“Hmm?” Wufei looked up from contemplating his sword. He was carrying it across his thighs as he rode, not wanting to hide it away in his bag yet. He’d do that just before they got to town.  He just wanted to look at it for a while.

Duo’s voice had startled him out of some rather pleasant memories.

“What’s a clan?”

Wufei blinked. “Uh... it’s like a family group.”

“Not just your parents and you?”

“No... it’s grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins...” he trailed off, ebony eyes growing wistful.

Duo let his horse move closer. “So, what happened to them?”

Now Wufei’s eyes shuttered and darted away. “I don’t remember.”

Duo frowned. “Fire...”

“I. Don’t. Remember.” It wasn’t the first time they’d heard a trace of anger in Wufei’s voice, but it was the first time it had been directed towards one of them.

Duo very wisely shut up.

Or at least, he changed the subject, since he wasn’t one to stop talking.

“Hey, we should be about at the township, huh, Hee-chan?! What’s the name of it? Should we put on our cloaks or what?” It wasn’t always wise to enter a township with their WarCraft insignia showing. And Wufei didn’t have his yet, so not everyone would realize he was with his Others. That could be rather dangerous, especially if people thought he was just a servant.

“No cloaks. Take off your outer armor and all your insignia. Better safe than wishing we’d done it.” Heero was already beginning to unclasp his own armor. His Others followed suit, then Quatre frowned at Wufei.

Who was glaring down at his horse’s mane like he was contemplating setting it on fire.

“Wufei.” The dark eyes jerked to his, wary and still closed against any emotion.

Quatre gave him his sweetest smile, and he blinked. “You need to be wearing better clothes.”

“These are my best.” His voice was dull and flat. Quatre saw Duo wince. Not over the idea of those clothes being his best, but over the lifeless tone.

Wish I hadn’t asked that.’ Quatre heard his koi’s voice echo in his head.

We will have to know sooner or later.’ Heero spoke right after him.

Quatre didn’t answer them verbally, just let them sense his agreement. He turned on his horse and plunged an arm into his own pack, coming up with a neat pair of brown pants and a plain-cut white shirt with a tiny bit of gold embroidery on the collar and cuffs, a lovely design Wufei didn’t recognize.

“Here.” Quatre tossed them to his Fifth, who caught them neatly and stared. He’d never seen such fine clothes - they had obviously been worn before but it didn’t matter. The pants were some soft, almost velvety material and the shirt was so silky-smooth he could barely feel it with his work-roughened hands, for all it looked so plain. They had to have cost a fortune.

“I can’t take these.”

“Yes, you can.”

“No... they’re too...”

Quatre cut him off shortly. “Don’t say too good, or too expensive, or anything like that. I’m your Fourth, Wufei, and I’m allowed to share my belongings with you. Nothings too good for any of my Others. You’re my family. Heero, there’s some trees ahead. We should stop, all of us need to change.”

Wufei abandoned his protests for now. If his Fourth wanted him to wear these, he would, but he’d make sure they found their way back into Quatre’s pack later.

They pulled their horses up when they reached the trees, and each of them went off to change.  Wufei was even more determined to return the clothes when he discovered that the delicate embroidery, in a pattern of little squares and spirals, was not only done in real gold, but continued down the front panel of the shirt, alongside what looked like real ivory buttons.

He hadn’t realized Quatre was this wealthy - in the soldier’s uniforms and armor, his Others all looked the same.

 

 


*

 

 


When they all came back to the horses, he had to re-evaluate the rest of his Others. They were dressed in clothes just as nice as these.

He wondered if Quatre had provided them or if they were all rich?

Well, not Duo. He reassured himself with the thought that at least one of them had been as poor as him.

Couldn’t tell it now, though. In his fine clothes, he looked as beautiful as any princeling. So, too, did Quatre, and Heero and Trowa looked like the fine Lords they were.

The other Talents had seen each other in fine apparel often enough to ignore it now. They gazed appreciatively at their little Fifth, instead. In his new clothes, he looked more noble than any of them, making them wonder about his heritage. They would have to do some research into his ‘Clan’, once he opened up to them about it.

Or once he and Heero Joined, and Heero learned his secrets. That was a fact of Joining they hadn’t mentioned to Wufei yet, but after the reaction he’d had to Duo’s simple question, Heero knew he’d have to tell him. He wouldn’t risk making his Fire hate him for tricking him.

“Why did we have to change?” Wufei asked, wondering why their armor had been put away.

“Because WarCraft make people uncomfortable.” Quatre said, walking around him and checking to make sure the clothes were hanging correctly. They fit very nicely. Only a tailor or someone with an excellent eye for symmetry would realize the pants were a tiny bit too long, or the shirt was just a bit loose at the waist.

“When we were looking for you, we were on the offensive.” Heero’s rather nasally voice chimed in. “We wanted people to be a little awed of us, to do as we asked and tell us what we needed to know. Now we’re back to defensive, until we reach our Unit.”

“Oh.” Was Wufei’s only reply. He needed to think that over.

There were two things about Wufei that need changing, Quatre decided. The blond frowned at his shoes, well-worn and shabby little brown things, but none of them had feet small enough to lend him a pair.

Duo walked forward, grinned at his Fifth, and stole his hairband, letting the raven locks swing down around the Exotic’s startled face.

That took care of the other thing that needed changing.

“Why did you do that?” Wufei demanded, pushing back handfuls of hair.

“Because you look gorgeous like that!” Duo said cheerfully, twirling out of reach when Wufei grabbed for his stolen property.

Wufei blushed and went after him. “Give it back! I can’t wear my hair down, it gets in my way!”

Duo continued to run, laughing at him. “No chance, Fire! You need to wear it down!” He put on a burst of speed, racing toward the horses.

Laughing every step of the way.

Wufei continued to run straight after him, half-shouting and half-laughing at the other boy. He wasn’t exactly slow, either.

Their Others just stared.

Then they all shook their heads sadly.

Two of them.

 

 


*

 

 


The guards at the gate of Cordia Township came to attention when five riders on fine horses came into view, leading two very nice pack animals. Rich travelers were the township’s best source of income, and they were under orders to be polite and assist them in every way.

The Head of the Gate Guards hurried forward when they stopped. “Welcome, gentlemen! May I inquire as to your business in our fair Township?”

The boy riding to the front answered, cool blue eyes assessing the guard. “We seek shelter and food for the night.”

“Of course, sir, of course! We have several fine inns. I recommend the Dancing Dog, it is truly the best in the township!” It didn’t hurt that his brother owned it. “You’ll find it on the main street, just a few buildings in.”

“Thank you. You have a Healing in this Township?”

“Er... yes, sir.” The guard’s voice was reluctant and Heero shot him a questioning look. He straightened and wiped the slight discomfort off his face. “Yes, sir, we do. The innkeeper can direct you to them or call them for you. Do you need assistance?”

“No. May we enter?”

“With your word, sir, that you enter in peace.”

“You have it.” Heero was well-versed in the ritual of entering a Township Gate.

“Then enter in assurance of safety within our walls.” The guard replied. Two drudges opened the heavy gate door and the horses walked inside.

 

 


*

 

 


Wufei felt like an ant.

He’d never seen so many big buildings, or so many people. Most of the houses had two stories, and the inn had three - the two story inn at Haven had been the biggest building he ever remembered seeing before. And there was a grand total of fifty-seven people in Haven.

He’d seen twice that many here before his horse had traveled a length.

They were hurrying down the street, carrying bundles and bags, or sweeping off doorsteps, or hanging out windows, or calling to them from market booths, holding up their wares so they could see.

His Others were calmly ignoring them, and Wufei did his best to imitate their cool reserve.

It wasn’t easy - he had to keep up a constant mental reminder not to let his mouth hang open.

And he really wanted to get off his horse and explore this fascinating place.

Heero seemed to sense his curiosity. Well, he probably did sense it, being a Spirit Talent and all...

“There are plenty of hours left. Let’s get our rooms for the evening, and seek out the Healing.  Then we can see what this place has to offer.”

All his Others nodded their agreement.

 

 


*

 

 


The innkeeper shuffled his feet nervously, gazing at the fine Lords who had entered his establishment. He’d have to thank his brother, but first he had a problem to deal with.

“A... A Healing. Yes, sir, we have one... but... er...”

Heero quirked an eyebrow at the man but didn’t prompt him.

“Well sir, they... they’ll be asking you for payment.”

Heero blinked.  “That is against New Law.”

“Yes, sir, I know, but they don’t really call it payment. They - one of them is ill, or says he is, and they ask for help with purchasing his medicine, since it takes from his power to Heal, and... and that’s not illegal at all, and if you can’t help, they say they can’t do it, for it will make his sickness worse.”

“I see.” Heero’s voice was beyond cool. He hated to see people take advantage of others this way. He could feel the mental scowls of his Second and Third, who were standing with him, and knew they agreed with him.

Quatre had dragged their Fire off to find a cobbler and new shoes. The blond didn’t think it would take more than a few minutes, they should be back by the time rooms were secured and the directions they needed acquired.

Heero was glad they were gone. He knew his Fourth was sensitive about things like this, feeling the pain of those taken advantage of, and he didn’t want his Fifth’s first introduction to a township to be something as negative as this.

“I’ll take the directions, even so.” He said calmly, deciding to find out for himself if this were true, though he didn’t sense deceit in this man. He’d be able to tell if the member of the Healing Talents was as ill as they claimed he was. And as a WarCraft, in a country at war, they had the authority to administer punishment if the farce continued.

He easily memorized the directions the man told him, and the three of them turned to go.

Only to have Heero stop short when Quatre’s frantic voice echoed through his mind.

Heero! Wufei’s gone!’

 

 


*

 

 


Gods, there were just so many things to look at.

He’d had to keep stopping when he saw something new, although Quatre had said they needed to hurry back to the Inn and the Others.

He should have listened.

Then he wouldn’t be in this predicament.

Wufei stood in the shadow of a market booth selling bolts of cloth, the towering stacks effectively hiding him from view while he pondered on what to do. He could sense his Others in a vague sort of way, and wondered if Quatre had realized he wasn’t behind him anymore, but he’d figured out enough to know that without the Joining, he wasn’t going to be able to find them easily.

Not with so many people milling about.

The visit to the cobbler hadn’t taken as long as he’d expected. The man had some very nice boots that Quatre had zeroed in on. The cobbler had said they were made for a young lordling, had been just a tiny bit too small by the time they were done. They had fit Wufei perfectly.  Made of soft brown deerskin, almost the color of the pants Quatre had given him, they were so light on his feet after his heavy old shoes that he felt practically barefoot.

Now he was standing here, with new boots on his feet and fine clothes on his back and his old shoes dangling from his fingertips, wondering how in any given hell he was going to find his way back to his Others.

He’d asked one man where the ‘Dancing Dog’ was, and after the idiot had stopped staring at him like he’d never seen another person before, he had pointed off in some vague direction. Wufei had snorted, but followed the wavering finger.

Bad idea, because he ended up more lost than ever.

Well, the main flow of people seemed to be going west. He’d just follow along.

They had to be going somewhere.

 

 


*

 

 


“I swear, he was right behind me, then this fat lady almost ran me down and when I looked around for him he wasn’t anywhere. I’m so sorry, I should have kept him beside me.” Quatre was so worried he was babbling.

“It’ll be okay, koi.” Duo said softly, sliding an arm around the other boy’s shoulders. “We’ll find him, this township isn’t that big.”

“Why isn’t he Calling to us?” Quatre continued to fret.

“Maybe he doesn’t realize he can. Haven probably made a big deal out of that, too. He probably thinks he shouldn’t do it.” Duo’s voice was sour. They had to get started with their Fire’s Basics, beyond the few bits they’d already told him.

“Split up.” Heero said calmly. “I can Speak to keep us in contact, we’ll cover more ground that way.”

“Gotcha, Hee-chan. Which way?”

“You take north, Quatre can go west, I’ll take east, and Trowa can take south.”

“Gotcha,” Duo repeated, and they all went in their ordered directions.

Or at least, they started to. They all took a few steps, then stopped.

“Trowa?” As always, Heero could tell which of his Others was having problems.

“I just... I feel like we should go west.” Trowa didn’t look at him when he said it. Heero frowned for a moment, then blinked and stared at the boy.

“All right. West. Let’s go. Take different streets.”

Trowa was gone almost before the words were out of his mouth.

Duo and Quatre lingered. “Hee-chan?”

Heero smirked at them. “Can’t you two tell what’s going on?”

They exchanged puzzled glances.

Then beaming smiles.

“Linked?!” Quatre looked like someone had announced the war had ended.

Heero nodded. “They don’t realize it yet. Especially not Wufei.”

“Whoo hoo!” Duo cheered. “So Tro-chan’s going to get what he wants! And we’ll lay some nice gentle hints on ‘Fei! That just leaves the other idiot who doesn’t realize he’s Linked!”

It was Heero’s turned to look puzzled.

Quatre and Duo snickered.

 

 


*

 

 


Apparently, you headed west in this place when you had absolutely nowhere to go.

After following five different people, only to have them stop striding purposefully and start wandering off in another direction, Wufei was getting annoyed.

That fact that the sense of his Others was getting fainter wasn’t helping. It was beginning to frighten him, actually, although he refused to think about it. Dwelling on fear wasn’t the way to rid himself of it.

Wufei looked around for another person to follow, hoping to see someone official, perhaps a Guard who might be heading for the Gates. If he could get back there, he could find the Inn and wait for his Others to show up.

If this didn’t work, he’d head for the wall that surrounded Cordia Township, and follow it all the way back to the Gates. It would take hours, but it would be better than wandering in circles all night.

He thought he caught a glimpse of a Guard and stepped out of the shadowy doorway he’d been lurking in, hurrying so he could catch up with the rather distant figure.

He hadn’t taken two steps before he was surrounded.

“Hello, pretty.” A boy about two years older than him smirked down at him in a way that reminded him of Alvis. “You shouldn’t be wandering the streets all by your lonesome. Are you lost?”

“And will your family pay us to bring you back?” Asked another boy who’d moved behind him. 

Wufei turned sharply to see him eyeing the expensive new clothes appreciatively.

He lifted an elegant black eyebrow and glared at him. “I don’t need your help.”

“Now, now.” The first boy said, motioning to the other four with him to move in closer.  “There’s no need to be that way. Larn just misspoke, that’s all. We’ll take you back to where you need to be. Where do you want to go?”

Wufei scowled. He wasn’t going to tell these boys anything. If he was in trouble, so be it, but he wasn’t going to get his Others involved. Even as he thought that, though, that same odd feeling welled up in his chest that he’d felt when Alvis had jumped him, back at Haven’s inn. It confused him - it wasn’t Calling. He wasn’t sure what it was.

Or why it made him think of Trowa.

It didn’t matter. They were moving ever closer to him, and he didn’t like it.

 

 


*

 

 


Trowa felt the same oddly warm feeling, and increased his speed now that he had a direction to follow. The reason behind this was nagging at his subconscious, but he didn’t have the time to spare it right now. He’d sort it all out later.

Wufei needed him.

 

 


*

 

 


“Leave me alone.” He put ever bit of force he could manage into the words.

“No.” The tallest boy said, moving until he was almost next to him. “You need our help.  You’re pretty, you know that? I’ve never seen an Exotic as pretty as you.” He reached out his hand toward Wufei’s loose, shining hair and the smaller boy knocked it away.

“Shut up and leave me alone!” Anger was beginning to make his Fire heat up inside him. He wouldn’t burn these boys, but he could certainly make the air around them too hot to be clothed.  If they kept this up, they deserved to be seen running through the streets naked.

A sudden thought of Duo’s face if he saw that almost made Wufei laugh.

“We just want to help you, really.” The boy said again, but Wufei was ignoring him, now. He felt his Fire settle to its usual warm embers as the feeling of an Earth Talent welled up in his soul.

Trowa was coming.

Trowa was there, turning the corner and shoving one boy out of the way to get to Wufei. He lay a firm hand on his shoulder and his eyes raked over him. “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Wufei nodded, not knowing that his own eyes were shining at the boy. Trowa blinked, and flushed.

Then turned on the boys still surrounding them.

“Go away.” Firm and calm and leaving no room for argument.

The boys didn’t budge, but even thought it was two against five, Wufei felt absolutely safe. He didn’t question why, not right now. Later, maybe. He knew why, just not the reason behind it.

He was safe because Trowa was with him, sliding an arm protectively around his shoulders. He didn’t need protecting - but this was nice.

Without thinking, he put out a hand and wound his fingers into the scarf around Trowa’s waist.

He didn’t notice Trowa’s sudden smile.