Actions

Work Header

The Arrangement

Chapter Text

Punch, lunge.

Kata and meditation. Two sides of the same coin. The kind you placed in a corpse's mouth before the journey to the underworld.

Swing, bend, kick.

The meditation helped him take a step back from everything that his life had become. A never-ending pursuit of justice, strength, revenge. A living monument to the dead.

Dodge, swing, punch-punch.

The katas plunged him right into it. He was justice. Strength. And above all, revenge.

Straighten, kick wide.

The kata was a distillation of the battle fury that blew all traces of sadness and doubt from his soul.

Slide fist down leg, sweep, turn, punch.

And it existed only for one thing. To harness the fury, and fight.

Straighten, fists pulled back in to sides. Breathe out. Fists down.

Never enough though.

Stop.

"Got an eyeful?" Wufei snarled.

There was no perky, embarrassed answer. He turned in surprise. The presence he'd felt behind him wasn't Maxwell, creeping up behind him to ogle him during his practice (for the third time).

Wufei had retreated to the Gundam's shed, where their metal alter-egos lay like sheeted corpses in a morgue upon their flatbed trucks. The huge space was mostly shadows. There was just one light flickering in the darkness. The laptop's screen made blue eyes glisten.

Of course. There was only one other pilot who was just as likely to be here as Duo, though he wouldn't have come to look at Wufei.

Heero Yuy was sitting next to Wing's open hatch, reading something on the laptop's screen. He didn't bother to respond or even glance down at Wufei.

"Thought it was Maxwell," Wufei said in lieu of apology, not that any were needed, and turned away. He wondered how long Heero had been there. And if he was also escaping from Maxwell. Probably.

Wufei brought his fists up to his waist, breathed, then started to move, the twenty-four step Yang form as ingrained as the katas. As he slowly reached, stepped, turned, body almost floating, his mind dwelt lightly on Heero Yuy.

He'd been slightly curious about Heero when they'd first met. Not that much though. The slow moves of the Tai Chi forms were misleading to the casual observer. Except when he was meditating, Wufei was never that tranquil. He was a battlefield of emotions; anger, humiliation at his failures, the burning desire to become better, stronger, to finally accomplish his revenge, to attain justice for the fallen. That storm tossed a few other feelings around like beaten rags, and curiosity was one of them, easily forgotten. Mainly he'd wondered if the same storm blew through Heero. The way the man laughed after shooting down half a dozen mobile suits was enough to make a typhoon shiver and creep away quietly.

He'd observed the other youth for awhile, and decided they were not the same at all. Yuy could control his emotions perfectly and was an admirable soldier, but he wasn't constantly taming and challenging and pushing himself to become any better. Heero was a weapon. He didn't have a purpose. He was a purpose. Sometimes, Wufei caught himself envying the simplicity and icy calm of that state of being. But he wouldn't trade it for the storm that gave him strength as it constantly ripped him apart. This was who he was.

Wufei finished the Yang forms and started on the more vigorous Chen. Slow movements uncoiling into more rapid twists and lunges, like a snake uncoiling to strike.

He wished Heero would spar with him. He'd seen some video footage of his escape from the OZ base, as well as some other actions. Yuy was better than Barton and way above the other two, and Wufei longed to see how he measured up against him. But he was sure Yuy would not agree to a match; he wouldn't see the point. Wufei was constantly trying to find new tests to measure and improve his skills. Heero only knew missions and the most efficient way to fulfill them. He trained against the enemy. It didn't matter to him that most enemies they faced -including the hated mindless puppets Romefeller were using now- were way below him and didn't test the purity of his skills the way one-on-one bare-hand combat would.

His loss.

Wufei finished the form, then started the series of pressure point movements which always made him think of his master. The old man had sworn by the Thirty Four Points method, which, he told his pupil, would insure Wufei would never go deaf, or suffer from arthritis in his old age. The Chinese pilot still performed the moves, fingers pressing and rubbing vigorously over points of his skull and his joints, never mind the fact he was likely to be dead before his sixteenth year was finished; it wasn't something that occupied his thoughts much. He just remembered the wrinkled old man in the artificial dawn of the colony, in a simple tunic and loose pants quite removed from his usual ceremonial garments, doing the same slow moves day after day... until... enough.

Wufei fell back into first form. Straight, legs slightly apart. Breathe. Draw fists up to the side, elbows bent back. Breathe. Begin. The cleansing violence of the kata took him over once again.

A flicker of feeling tried to tell him that dark blue eyes were, in fact, watching him over the top of the computer's screen. The feeling was ripped apart by the storm. It was probably wrong anyway.

 

 

Several days passed and still no mission, just the endless running, dodging and evading of enemy troops, swarming like ants after giants. There was no opportunity for a real fight, and Wufei was beginning to feel the lack, a creeping numbness in his mind. Without real battle, the storm died, and most of his soul died with it.

Wufei sat, cross-legged, in the spare room. In the dark, bar a trickle of sunshine from the shuttered windows and the light coming in from the living room through the partially open door. All the pilots were feeling the pressure, and Maxwell was fast becoming unbearable. Some things in particular were getting...hard to ignore. Wufei snarled silently, forcing the braided fool out of his thoughts, he'd interrupted him enough! And beating him up would not provide much of a challenge. Hopefully Duo wouldn't come looking for him in a dark and apparently empty room. Wufei needed to meditate or he was going to go insane.

Emotions roiled and he separated his centre from the sticky strands, forcing himself to rise above them, confront them, dominate them and subdue them. Putting his mind through the same kind of gruelling, punishing routine he inflicted upon his body.

//Meiran in a field of flowers; flowers of fire as his colony exploded like a budding rose; rose scent wafting from Treize holding a sabre to his throat before letting him go as if casually tossing out useless broken suit parts floating in space and among them Meiran in a field of flowers of fire as his colony exploded like a budding rose scent-...//

The front door closed with a click. Wufei glanced up automatically checking for danger. It was Yuy, back from one of his endless revisions of Wing (well everyone needed a hobby).

Wufei didn't relax. Something was...off. He unfolded his legs and leaned forward to better see out the half-open door.

Heero stood at the entrance to the living room, staring straight ahead. The slight scowl was usual. The tension in his shoulders was not. Neither Trowa nor Quatre noticed though. To Wufei's practiced eye, the slight imbalance in Yuy's stance screamed trouble.

Heero's eyes flicked over Quatre who glanced up in nervous surprise at the foreign feelings brushing him. The gaze lasted all of a heartbeat, sweeping on dismissively and resting on Trowa on the couch. Trowa was motionless for a few seconds, reading a mission print-out under the blow-torch glare. Then he lifted his head, one steady green glance from behind the thick bangs, eyes calm and flat. Heero hesitated then his eyes traveled on. They caught on Duo as he walked out of the kitchen with a ration bar and the scowl that exploded onto Heero's features sent the L2 pilot ducking back into the kitchen on pure instinct. Wufei didn't blame him.

The eyes ran over the room, still searching. Wufei rose in a fluid movement and walked to the door. Cobalt blue eyes caught his movement and focused on him. He felt himself weighed and measured to the last atom. Hackles rising slightly he faced the gaze with the calm of his lingering meditation.

"Chang. A word." Heero turned without any further comment and headed out the door again. Three pairs of eyes -Duo had cautiously emerged from the kitchen- fastened on him. Wufei followed Wing's pilot calmly.

Heero was walking quickly two dozen feet ahead as if he'd had no doubt of being followed. Wufei felt a little needling urge to return to the safe-house, but ignored it. Heero would have a good reason to want to talk to him, and if he was high-handed it was because he didn't see the need to be anything otherwise. There was a war on; matters of politeness were contemptible.

A change of direction caught Wufei off guard. He'd assumed they were heading to the barn where the Gundams were still housed on their flatbed trucks. But Heero, with a glance behind them, had taken off at an angle and was walking swiftly toward the left. Wufei remembered a long low shed off to one side of the property they were hiding out in. It housed a broken tractor and a lot of dusty empty space. He followed, curious.

Heero was staring at the tractor when Wufei closed the door behind him and moved into the shed, hazy dust-speckled sunlight rippling around his movements. Then the L1 pilot turned and walked in a half circle around Wufei, keeping a few feet of space between them. Wufei could feel himself coldly assessed. Was he needed for a mission? No, this felt different.

Wufei ignored the man who was moving slowly between him and the door although of course he noted the position. He moved forward a few feet eyeing the tractor, a broken rusty relic rearing from folds of tarp like a fossilized reptile half caught in rock.

"I find myself with an issue." Yuy's voice echoed behind him in the dusty air, flat, slightly nasal. "You may be affected too. I want to suggest a mutually beneficial arrangement."

Wufei turned slowly to face the soldier.

"We are at war and cannot afford distractions." Heero's voice was abrupt, his eyes as cold as ever. "However, adrenaline, hormones and the after-effects of action take their toll on self-control. Sexual tension can interfere with proper functioning. We can help each other with that."

"You wish me to teach you how to control your urges through meditation?" Wufei asked, slightly derisively. His face was his usual mask, impassive bordering on disdainful. Behind the facade he was dealing with the shock that Heero Yuy had just admitted to having urges that broke his iron self-control.

The offer of meditation was padding against the second shock, which was what he thought Heero was actually proposing...and it wasn't anything to do with mental exercises.

"Meditation helps you with this?" Heero's voice was coldly incredulous.

"Any weakness can be overcome with sufficient focus and determination," Wufei snapped, looking down his nose.

"Is that why your temper around Maxwell has gotten steadily worse over the past few days?" Now the nasal voice was downright mocking.

Wufei's eyes glittered with anger. "Maxwell annoys me!"

"Yes, but you can ignore that. The fact that he's flirting with you is what seems to be getting to you."

Wufei's fists clenched in anger, though he couldn't actually deny it. "Well, there's your answer then, Yuy. He's been flirting with you too, maybe you should-"

"Don't insult me." A cold sneer. "I need physical release, not an emotional train-wreck. Maxwell -and Winner- do not have the detachment necessary to see this as a need to relieve, a purely physical problem. They lack, as you call it, focus."

"Try Barton."

Blue eyes weighed him again carefully. Wufei felt himself grow hostile under that gaze as it judged him and found his answer wanting. "I can, if I need to, though I'd rather not. Barton is an unknown quantity to me. I don't think he has the emotions to get in the way. But I'm not sure he has the need either."

"And I do?"

A smirk was his only answer.

Wufei turned and walked slowly towards the tractor, getting his temper back under control. He heard footsteps shadow his a few feet away.

"So is your hand injured?" Wufei asked, once more impassive as he faced Heero again.

"Hand? Oh. I find that sharing the need is more satisfying."

"Really."

"One of the rebel soldiers who worked with J partnered me previously but now I need another arrangement."

Wufei’s eyes narrowed. Arrangement. Partnered. What...quaint terms.

Yuy was ten feet away, between Wufei and the exit.

Partnered? "I guess we can discuss-" Wufei's eyes flicked to the door behind Heero in surprise and annoyance. Heero glanced behind him then turned back with a question in the blue eyes that was answered by the gun pointing straight between them. Heero glared at it.

"A simple 'no' would have sufficed." Anger and adrenaline radiated from the deadly killer.

Wufei ignored the death-threat scowl. "That's what I wanted to be sure of."

" ...If I was a rapist, Chang, I would be making my own arrangements." The voice was coldly contemptuous. "In that case you would not be my first choice of victim."

But he had been his first choice for the...arrangement. Wufei was now the one weighing, measuring. Trying to figure out if he was supposed to be slightly flattered or hugely offended. Neither felt right in the face of Heero's attitude; a straightforward and efficient approach to a calmly stated problem. That was what was keeping Wufei's temper in check. Because part of him -in fact the biggest part of him since his clan was destroyed, erasing his past, his self, in a blaze of fire - thought like that too. Efficiency. You saw a problem and you solved it and then you went on to kill the enemy in bigger and better ways. But still... there was one point on which they seemed to be different.

"Not your choice of victim? I think you enjoy challenges," Wufei finally said.

"I do. But I keep things separate." Yes, neatly compartmentalized, Wufei thought. "And I am no rapist," Heero repeated, obviously waiting for Wufei to put the gun away so he could leave. Partnered...

"Neither am I. But then again I seem to have better control over myself than you do in this matter at least." Blue eyes blazed in cold fury and Wufei's finger instinctively put pressure on the trigger. Then he loosened it again, and lifted the gun. "I have other needs though. I've seen some of your hand-to-hand fighting skills, I'm curious to measure myself against them."

Without the gun in his face Heero was actually listening to him, but he looked puzzled. The man can only think in straight lines, Wufei thought. He glanced down at the gun in his hand, saw his thumb brush on the safety as if it belonged to a stranger. He couldn't quite believe he was contemplating...as a small piece of him cringed, the answer came out from the dead part of his soul, the one that didn't care about anything but battle anymore.

"Pin me, and you have your...arrangement." He tossed the gun aside. It hit the beaten dirt ground with a thud, spinning lazily.

Heero stared at him for a whole ten seconds. Enough time for the part of Wufei's mind that could still worry about details to catch up with him.

"But no-..." Wufei stared at his own raised finger, tension ringing through him. No what? What exactly did Yuy have in mind? Wufei's knowledge about these matters was nil. He didn't even know what it was that he didn't-

Heero turned his back on Wufei, who was surprised at the strength of both his relief and disappointment. But Heero didn't leave. He slowly reached behind him and drew his own gun out of its back holster by the top of the barrel and flicked on the safety blind, before turning and tossing the weapon to join Wufei's, whose tension returned with a vengeance.

"No penetration. Agreed." Heero lifted an arm and rolled his shoulder, eyes steady and thoughtful as if he hadn't just said that.

The words were making this all too real to Wufei as he dropped into a defensive stance. The dead part of his soul shivered in anticipation of a real challenge; the small part that was still the prim, reserved scholar was swearing to do all that was possible to not get pinned down and-

Heero didn't adopt a stance or anything, he just leapt forward. No formal style, Wufei had time to think. Then he was parrying blows that were still light and probing, but probably wouldn't be so for long.

The warrior took over, and Wufei welcomed him. The battle-hardened fighter couldn't feel pain, loneliness, despair, humiliation, doubt. The emotions were blown away and he became a thing of controlled dark fury, the heart of the storm.

The emotions coursing through him now were harsh and crude. Dark joy at seeing the cold eyes widen in surprise as he spun and twisted with ease inside Heero's guard. It was like punching gundanium; he felt he'd bruised his fist more than Heero's ribs. He'd held back a bit, the blow wasn't crippling. Heero wasn't trying to injure him, and he, in turn, wouldn't do anything to remove a gundam pilot from the war effort even temporarily. It would soon be obvious to Heero he couldn't get through his guard.

Wufei blocked a blow that numbed his arm for a few seconds and retaliated instinctively, following the moves that had been imprinted into his very cells by constant practice. Fist pistoning out -Heero dodged- half a step forward to keep him off-balance, strike again- But he could feel it, the sheer potential in the body he was targeting as Heero maneuvered to get into position, analyzing Wufei's moves.

Wufei smiled in fierce elation. At last an opponent to his measure. What Yuy wanted from him almost seemed a fair deal in exchange for finally fighting someone who could challenge his best, who wasn't an abyss of weakness pulling him down. Wufei's smile widened as Heero's quick jab got through his guard, striking his side before he could entirely twist out of the way. The pain was a small flash of light in the fury of the storm, easily ignored.

He couldn't pin down Yuy's style, it was so different from sparring with a real martial artist. Wufei suddenly bent at the knees, blocked Yuy's automatic kick, shoved the leg and shot up in his opponent's slight stagger, left fist up for a punch to the jaw that would put Yuy out for the count. Heero moved faster than was almost imaginable and the fist merely knocked him in the mouth in passing. Wufei was already following through with his right fist. Heero intercepted. The hard blow impacted on a steely arm which barely moved a fraction.

Heero dropped back a few steps, running a casual thumb across his lip to flick away blood seeping from a small split. His eyes were measuring Wufei more carefully now. The perfect soldier smiled, a small cold movement of the lips that must have stung and didn't reach his eyes.

Thirty seconds later, Wufei was flat on his back. Two steel hands were wrapped around his wrists, a strong body was pinning his legs and sides, and he was staring up dazedly at two cobalt irises that showed as much emotion as the LED in a computer. Wufei tried to twist against the hold, but he could barely move. He glared up at the victor. Who was waiting. Giving him, he realized, the option to change his mind if he wanted to.

"I'm as good as my word," Wufei snapped, offended. "You can-"

Hard lips crushed his own, not so much a kiss as another kind of hold. Wufei tasted blood, he couldn't tell whose. Heero's body twisted against his own, his knee forcing Wufei's legs slightly apart, lowering and- Wufei tensed as he felt Heero bend and grind down against him, groin to groin, a hard nearly bruising movement.

Wufei lay, unmoving, mind replaying those last thirty seconds, trying to figure out how Heero had beaten his guard so quickly. Trying to distract himself. Not so much from what Heero was doing - it was the winner's prerogative, and hardly the worse he could have chosen to do with it- as from his own body's mechanical reaction to the friction. He didn't need that. This was humiliating enough.

A writhing part of Wufei he wasn't fully in touch with insisted that this was only fair. He'd lost. He'd not been strong enough. A man who lost deserved death or humiliation; not to be let go as if he was nothing.

The lips left his own. Wufei took a trembling gasp of air, his body still shaking from the brutal take-down that had pinned him to the chaff-ridden dirt floor. The rhythm of thrusts increased, Heero was panting against his shoulder. The hold on his wrists became painful, then bruising, then agonizingly crushing. Wufei snarled silently but said nothing. Winner's privilege, he thought, grinding it into his mind to ignore the grinding of flesh against his own, and his own hardness in response.

The steel body pinning his stiffened, then, well, it wasn't a relaxation, more a slight uncoiling of tension. Wufei shifted. Fine, now they could just forget the whole-

The lips crushed his again, and Wufei gave a muffled cry of surprise. What the-

Heero released Wufei's bruised left wrist -his hand, numbed by the pressure, could only twitch for a few seconds- and dropped between them, jerking Wufei's black cloth belt loose and slipping down to- Wufei gave another muffled shout, and his weakened left arm shoved against a hard shoulder, which didn't move an inch. His right hand was still pinned down with bone-cracking force and the body atop of his stopped him from twisting away. Wufei's initial fear -to have that hard hold on a much more delicate part of himself than his wrist - gave way to anger and affront as he realized that the hand was gentler than he dreaded, but was purposefully caressing him, half-hardened as he was, with sure, efficient movements.

He didn't- he didn't require this! His left fist tensed, but there wasn't much he could do with just one hand. Well, no, there was a lot he could do, but not while Heero had his own left hand where it was. This was no time to startle the perfect soldier with a sucker punch or a nerve pinch. Wufei cursed internally, anger burning through him, matching the humiliation as his body responded. He tried to control it, deny it, ignore it, not even notice exactly what Heero was doing to him, and how it felt, and all this wasn't helped by the fact that, even left-handed, Yuy...appeared to be...

...very...

...talented...

...

Wufei slowly returned to the low shed, dust falling eternally in the crude light, the smell of dirt, oil and old wheat muffling the more organic scents of sex and sweat. His body was thrumming, and he was embarrassingly wet and sticky and thoroughly confused about how he felt about any of this. Heero released his wrist and rose in a fluid, unconsciously graceful movement, neither looking at Wufei significantly nor particularly avoiding his glance. It was as if nothing special had happened. Slight gratitude for that went into the emotional mix churning in Wufei's guts. He managed to sit up, rubbing his arm across numbed and bruised lips, head spinning. He heard Heero pick up his gun then rummage near the tractor behind them.

"Here."

Wufei turned and barely caught the rag before it hit him in the face. He glared at Heero who was wiping his hands against the spandex, oblivious. The long green tank top, now hanging loose from the shorts, dropped low enough to hide any traces of their...activities. Wufei grudgingly cleaned himself up and straightened his clothes, wishing the mental repercussions could be sorted as easily. A strong hand appeared before him. He glared up, ignoring it. Hard eyes measured him again.

"Do we have an arrangement?"

Wufei stared in anger and disbelief, fighting to keep his face impassive as he tried to figure out what to say. Since he wasn't sure himself.

Heero's eyes dropped to the dirty oil-stained rag Wufei was holding. "Next time I'll bring something cleaner," he added.

"Next time I won't go down so easily, Yuy!" Wufei snarled, surging to his feet, ignoring the proffered hand. It was withdrawn without embarrassment. The other one was extended. Wufei stared for three second at his gun held out to him by the barrel, then he took it without a word and holstered it. A cold small smile brushed Heero's lips as he turned away and walked to the door. Wufei, who couldn't quite believe what he'd said and implied, followed.

They walked back side by side in silence. Heero was quiet because he was, well, Heero. And Wufei was busy sorting through the words that would explain some things to Yuy, hopefully right after they'd explained things to Wufei.

He didn't know what he felt about the...arrangement he'd just agreed to. Well, furious and embarrassed, of course. But also oddly pleased that Heero had chosen him, had realized he had the focus and dedication to not let something like this interfere with his efficiency. And it didn't; because all the emotions he felt were just flapping around uselessly in the cold wind roaring in his soul, temporarily sated with the aftertaste of a real battle. No, the deal was fair...except for...

Wufei had been a scholar once, before the storm. He was widely read, and knew quite a bit about traditions in many Asian countries. He knew what he'd agreed to; shudo, the Japanese called it. The sexual relations between samurai who, shunning the weakness of women and the ties they implied, preferred the company of men. This he understood, and as such he wasn't repulsed, or dishonored. On the contrary. The relations were normally between an older, more experienced warrior and a younger one. As such, it probably hadn't surprised Heero that Wufei had suggested a fight first, just to establish who was who in their relations, since they were the same age. But the fact that Heero had also...why creep around the facts. The fact that Heero had jerked him off afterwards indicated that the Japanese youth considered him something of an equal, or at least, a fellow warrior with the same urges he had. It was a neat, efficient solution to a problem, typical of the perfect soldier. Heero hadn't meant to insult him, either with the proposal or the... the last part.

As such, Wufei didn't know how to find the words to tell him he didn't want anything to do with that bit. In his view, his share of the... arrangement would be the chance to measure himself against someone who could beat him fair and square. He already knew how he'd respond to some of the moves Heero had shown him today. Next time, he wouldn't go down so easily.

But when he did go down - and he was good enough a fighter to realize that it would take more than one round for him to figure out Heero's informal fighting style- he didn't want Heero pawing him afterwards, he didn't need that release.

Not that it wasn't- No, he didn't need it.

He used meditation to calm those urges. No, actually, he used the memory of Meiran - a hundred thin needles rammed themselves into his heart and soul, in a customary act of self-punishment- to conquer the urges, then meditation to recover his calm and his center, to allow himself to accept, once more, that he'd failed his wife and that she was dead, just as he'd failed his clan and they were dead, and that revenge for both was still lacking due to his failure. The controlled fury washed him clean of all sexual urges.

But...

The thought crept into his mind that if he let Heero continue to uphold his end of their...arrangement, then he could concentrate on taming some other demon during his sessions of meditation. It was embarrassing -not the need for sexual relief, he felt no shame about that, he was just ashamed he couldn't control it better. But if he could spend time improving his mental stability, while at the same time testing his fighting abilities against Heero, then he would surely be only the stronger and better for it.

When they reached the house, he'd said nothing to Heero, and he knew he wouldn't now. The deal was done.

"Ah there they-sweet mother of god!" Duo gaped at the bruises evident on Wufei's arms and Heero's split lip. "Wh-what, did you guys fight?!"

"Sparring," Wufei and Heero both answered at the same time. And turned as one towards Quatre. The blonde dropped his book and recoiled in the armchair under the double-barreled gaze daring him to comment or even feel anything strange with his empathy. Quatre's lips moved silently in protest at the intensity of the stares and the underlying warning, shrinking helplessly into himself, until two long arms were placed protectively on the armrests on either side of him.

Wufei and Heero glanced up at Trowa, leaning over Quatre and the back of the armchair, and making a rampart of calm green eyes against black and blue. Heero measured him up with slight surprise and turned away. Wufei noted his small sneer of disdain, and glanced back at the two. No, he didn't think Heero had it right, he was thinking in straight lines again. Those two weren't lovers, at least not in the physical sense. It was more something like inter-dependency, maybe some friendship. Wufei didn't care. It wouldn't affect Trowa's performance. And though Wufei judged that Quatre had way too many weaknesses for a true warrior, his positive points made him a good tactical leader, who, in the midst of battle, wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice any one of them including Trowa if he had to.

Wufei turned his back on the three in the living room and walked towards the small room he shared with no-one. He heard the shower running down the hall and hoped Heero wouldn't use up all of their meager supply of hot water. He went to grab some clean clothes -dirt and wheat-chaff clung to his white pants and he was still sticky- and waited his turn, trying not to think. He was getting very good at that.

Chapter Text

"No, not for at least twenty four hours," Wufei said firmly. "I'm not putting Nataku at risk with an untried piece of equipment, and it will take me at least that long to run the necessary tests."

Heero scowled. "Can you yank it out?"

"The new circuit integrator? It's not yet installed. I can put the present configuration back if I have to. Am I needed?"

Heero glanced down at the mission specs on his laptop. "I will analyze the parameters again and see if I can work with only two Gundams. If not, yes, I will require your presence."

"Just give me an hour's warning." Wufei sighed. It had taken him that long just to get the hatch open and the wiring ready to set the new integrator in place. But opposing OZ had priority over upgrading his beloved Nataku. In an hour his machine could be back to normal, and ready to do what it did best; battle.

"Confirmed." Heero walked along the recumbent Nataku to the edge of its shoulder and sat down with his laptop, scanning through mission specs. He was leaning against the headpiece, legs dangling and crossed. Wufei shook his head ever so slightly; for an instant he'd seen a sixteen year old boy sitting there, while at the same time, the firm hands spoke of a competent killer and the soul of a machine shone in those eyes.

Wufei's own eyes and attention dropped back to the panel he was unscrewing. Nataku always ranked higher in his mind than the puzzle that was Heero Yuy.

"Well, you guys seem to be getting along today."

Wufei almost put the screwdriver through his hand as the good-humored voice chirped unexpectedly near his shoulder. He heard Yuy start from his perch a dozen feet away.

"Maxwell! Don't sneak up on me!" he snarled at the smug face of the pest (who had probably just finished putting in his own new integrator in record time and come to gloat at the struggling scholar who was better with theory than mechanics, it had to be admitted).

"Ooops, sorry, Wuffers! Didn't mean to scare you! Is your little heart going pitter-patter?"

Duo made a move to put a palm on Wufei's chest and found the screwdriver hovering in front of his right eye.

"O-kay, still not in the best of moods, are we?" He grinned. Wufei had yet to find a threat, physical or verbal, that could cow the irrepressible L2 pilot. Even Heero's death-glares didn't faze him that much, and that was saying a lot.

Duo perched himself on the edge of the hatch opposite Wufei, despite a fierce look. The L5 pilot decided to ignore him and started taking out the next relay board.

"So, how are you getting along with Heero, Wufee?" Duo whispered, leaning over with a quick glance at Yuy over his shoulder. The perfect soldier was ignoring him with the ease of long practice.

Wufei didn't answer, though his movements with the screwdriver slowed slightly.

"You both seem barely able to be polite to each other most of the time, and occasionally you both disappear and come back covered in bruises... tell you the truth, me and the guys are starting to worry."

Wufei didn't answer as he unfastened the board and set it carefully aside. He wasn't sure what Duo meant. The...arrangement between himself and Heero had been called upon twice since the first time in the shed, over a month ago. And though Wufei had lost both times - after considerably more resistance - he'd hardly been 'covered in bruises'. As for their relations outside of their 'sparring', they were, much to Wufei's relief, the same as before. Cold, precise and to the point, two warriors acting as reluctant allies in the fight against Oz. Nothing more, nothing less. It satisfied him. And the sparring, the violent unleashing of the storm in his heart, satisfied him even more. The...conclusion to the arrangement was, well, part of the deal. In a way, a very small way, he even felt glad to be able to help the perfect soldier with something that might otherwise affect his performance.

"You know, Wufee..." Duo scooted along the edge of the hatch, closer to the his fellow pilot. "If this is just a means of dealing with stress..."

"Stress?" Wufei asked a bit sharply. Duo's eyes were gleaming in the reflected work light shining off Nataku's interior.

"Yeah, stress. Hm, the reason we're not all too worried is because, well, you've not killed each other yet, and also, you've both been in a much better mood. Practically the best you've been since we started shacking up together."

"You exaggerate," Wufei growled. But it was partially true. Heero's stress levels had been growing alarmingly before the arrangement had been made, and they were now back down to merely 'homicidal terrorist' intensity. Wufei...well he had to admit that he got along a lot better with the others these days, particularly Maxwell. Well, most times.

Right now however, he really didn't feel like dealing with him.

Unlike Heero, Wufei had a sense of humor. He just rarely let it rule his tongue, because it was as cold and cruel as the storm that drove him, and anyway he didn't like trivialities. Sometimes though, it would have its way.

"If you think you need some relief from stress, Maxwell, I'm sure Heero would oblige you with a match. He'd probably like that." Wufei smiled minutely at the scowl that was directed at him over Duo's shoulder. He would pay for that barb later, especially if Maxwell actually went for it. But theirs was not an affectionate relationship, or even an amicable alliance. It was an arrangement born of necessity, and he didn't feel like pulling his punches to respect that. Heero certainly didn't.

Duo glanced over his shoulder and grimaced. "Ah, maybe I'll pass. You're the only one crazy enough to go one-on-one with the perfect soldier, buddy. Me, I bruise easily. There's something else we could consider..."

Duo leaned back, tossing his braid off his shoulder sensuously, and extended his long legs across Wufei's field of vision, one of them nudging his elbow slightly. Wufei swore wearily and silently in Mandarin. He wanted to get this done, Heero might still need him for the mission, and Maxwell was in heat again. Wonderful.

“As I said, Wuffers, if this is just a way of dealing with stress, there might be another solution, one that doesn't imply bruises?"

Wufei felt more than heard Heero get down from his perch on Nataku's shoulders and drop to the arm that was lying along the giant's side as it lay on the ground. The Japanese pilot was scowling. He didn't approve of distractions, of emotional involvement, of useless flirting, which meant he pretty much did not approve of Duo Maxwell. Wufei noticed cobalt eyes gleam as they briefly caught his, and read the intent in the set of Heero's shoulders before he dropped to Nataku's arm and moved along it until he was behind and below Duo. Wufei tossed the screwdriver to his other hand, grabbed Duo's legs and pitched the youth backwards out of the hatch and headfirst down to the ground. Duo's yell of alarm and surprise was interrupted as Heero caught him by the collar in his fall to the concrete a few feet below Nataku's arm.

Wufei lifted his head and leaned out of the hatch to watch. Heero's eyes were gleaming like Wing's thermal sword as he brought Duo's face close to his own, hands twisted in his collar.

"Leave. Now."

Duo's eyes were wide and his face a bit white, but he managed to scowl. Wufei felt reluctantly impressed.

"You guys are mean. Okay, keep your own sour company, if that's the way you like it. You can beat each other to a fucking pulp for all I care." Duo tore himself from Heero's grasp and stomped towards the exit.

Heero scowled at his back then raised his eyes towards Wufei.

"We will require Shenlong for the mission."

"Very well."

Wufei made to turn back towards the hatch to replace the circuits.

"When will you be done with that?"

Wufei glanced back down. "An hour, at least."

"There are four hours before the mission. Will you have time for...some sparring?"

Wufei's eyebrows arched. Then he shook his head. "I will want to run some tests to make sure I haven't-"

"Of course, understood." Heero nodded firmly. He didn't offer to help, to allow Wufei to finish quicker. They understood each other on that point as well; no one touched Nataku's circuits but the pilot who was the lesser part of its soul. Any kind of physical relief was inconsequential next to that.

"Will we encounter mobile dolls on the mission?" Wufei found himself asking, momentarily distracted even from Nataku as something roiled in his mind.

"We will encounter heavy resistance, which is why I require both Heavyarms and Shenlong. Mobile dolls are a very high probability."

Incipient anger ran down Wufei's skin like the crackle of static electricity before the rising storm. Dolls. And foolish weak cowardly men controlling them, trying to overwhelm them with numbers. For all his promises of a rematch, Treize remained conspicuous by his absence. The emotions brewing in his mind stained Wufei's eyes a deeper shade of black, his fist clenched on the screwdriver.

"Tomorrow," he heard himself say. "After we get back, and recuperate." Which for Wufei meant taking care of Nataku's injuries. "Tomorrow," he repeated.

"Tomorrow then." Heero nodded slowly, his eyes lingering, and not in a friendly way. He was probably thinking of the way Wufei had tried to scrape Duo off on him. There was a promise of violence and humiliation in those eyes. Wufei's heart tightened with anticipation; the fight wouldn't be nearly so fulfilling if there wasn't a risk of either at the end. It was what made it a battle and not a game. As such he would always accept the consequences of losing. As much as he searched for the means to avoid it, and return that violence -and the humiliation of defeat- to his opponent.

 

 

Punch, lunge.

The maelstrom was licking the inside of his skin, purging him entirely. So much more than the katas...

Swing, bend, kick.

Blocked again, but this time a flicker of discomfort in deep blue eyes.

Dodge, swing, punch-punch.

He was one focus, one reason, one aim... to find the key to those tight, punishing movements before they beat him again.

Straighten, kick-

There it was!

Slide fist down leg, sweep, turn, kick.

Heero fell back a step, then another under the sudden blows that seemed to pierce his guard to tatters, leaving him bruised and entirely on the defensive. Wufei felt himself ignite. His movements were hurricane winds buffeting his enemy, driving him back. He could feel life screaming through his veins as if his blows were dragging it out of Heero. Who was helpless. Wufei had the key. This time there would be no explosion of vicious, unbeatable blows that would pin Wufei to the floor and leave him helpless-...

Wait.

Wufei forced himself to fall back a step, but still his legs twitched, his body unwilling to obey like a hound being called off its prey after tasting blood. Wufei snarled. He might not have the machine-like control of Heero Yuy, but neither was he some bloodthirsty cur who was excited by weakness. He forced his body to obey him.

Straighten, fists pulled back in to sides. Breathe out. Fists down. Stop.

Blue eyes stared at him, measuring him up, placing the bar a little higher than before, yet again. Body poised for defense.

Partnered...

Wufei dropped his stance and took a step back, waiting to see if that was true in more than just the sense that Heero had previously used it.

Heero felt the change in pose, and mirrored his movement, taking a step back, rubbing his arm. He glared at Nataku's pilot, his face a blank but his body uncoiling. Ready to listen.

Heero wasn't the enemy, they were allies. Partners, maybe. Wufei looked straight into the cold eyes. "You fight like you're in your Gundam."

Blue eyes widened. As he thought, Heero hadn't realized it. He'd probably had some formal training in the past, but it had been subsumed by the incessant practice meant to weld him to Wing. It had affected his fighting style. This made for a tight, instinctive ability to control his mecha, but...

"You have a weakness towards kicks, particularly high ones." Wufei bent at the waist and stretched the back of his straightened legs, and surreptitiously rubbed his knee slightly. 'Weakness' wasn't quite the right word. He felt like he'd tried to kick a Taurus across the shed they were sparring in. But he'd had Heero at a definite disadvantage.

"Hn." Heero looked thoughtful, eyes turned inward. It wasn't much of a fault; he was needed as a Gundam pilot, not an assassin anymore. But Wufei knew instinctively that Heero Yuy would not be content with leaving it at that. No way would the perfect soldier accept a flaw. Now what would he do about it.

Blue eyes measured Wufei thoughtfully. Black eyes gazed back, waiting. Watching the internal struggle.

"You will show me," Heero said, voice hard and devoid of feeling. It sounded like an order, but it was a request.

Wufei nodded curtly and took up a stance, mind playing over new parameters, recalling his training sessions with his master. How to pick apart the weakness while leaving Heero's unique style intact? And above all, not perturb any of the instincts he needed to fight in Wing? Wufei felt a small cold smile pass over his face, this was also an interesting challenge. And once Heero was better-

(Once Heero was better, Wufei would once more not have a chance in hell of fighting him off the next time the...arrangement was requested)

- then their sparring sessions would become all the more interesting and challenging for Wufei.

Wufei saw the hard eyes follow every step of his reasoning through the slight shift in his stance, and a humorless smile acknowledged the conclusion. The arrangement momentarily put on hold, the two warriors faced off, movements slowing as the cleansing fight became a more mundane training session. Wufei hoped Heero was a quick learner. Now that he'd had a taste of real battle, the katas would be a pale substitute indeed.

Chapter Text

The door crashed open. Wufei's hand was on his gun, weapon half drawn, before the echoes could start to ripple out toward the dark corners of the huge repair bay.

"Wufei! Where are you?!"

Wufei turned back to his work. If Maxwell was stupid enough not to know where to look for him when he'd been in the exact same spot for the last five days... He tightened the gasket carefully.

"Wufers!" The Chinese pilot's jaw tightened as much as the gasket, but he was too busy to pick a fight. Maxwell's voice rang out from somewhere near Nataku's left foot, below Wufei as he crouched on the repair platform at chest height to the standing giant. "Get your ass down here!"

Wufei picked up his laptop and checked the connections to the reader's output device.

"Come on, man! We just got a message, Wing and Heavyarms are flying in from Thailand. They've both been damaged. Badly! They should be here any minute!"

Wufei glanced at the clatter of normally silent boots on decking, and caught sight of Maxwell's back as he vanished through the door like a puff of braided smoke.

Wufei ran the program on the laptop. The hydraulics unit started to hum and grind under slowly increasing pressure. If he finished this, then there would only be the damaged elements in the right leg to deal with and then-

A second crash at the door made him look down. Maxwell again.

"Wufei, what are you doing!? Come on!"

"Where?" Wufei increased the hydraulics output via the latpop and checked the data. Satisfactory.

"To the landing pad! They'll be here any minute! Wing's barely flying!"

"I should be finished here within the hour," Wufei informed him, shutting down the program. Now for that right leg.

"Wh-what?!"

Wufei glanced down again in annoyance. "I need to finish here if Wing and Heavyarms are to be maneuvered into the repair bay, Maxwell, so I suggest you stop bothering me."

"But-but Trowa 'n Heero could be hurt, man!"

"I'm a terrorist, 02, not a doctor. I suggest you send them to the medical bay if-" The crash of the door closing again indicated he had the opportunity to finish his repairs undisturbed.

Wufei maneuvered the mobile platform carefully, until he was level with the damaged right leg. He'd already stripped and cleaned out the broken parts, now he just needed to fit in the replacements and he'd be good to go. Less than an hour...

Wufei had been on Howard's ship for just over five days, with Maxwell. Nataku had been injured in a confrontation with a new type of mobile doll, and Duo had persuaded him to use the Sweepers as a repair base. You can't find Gundam parts in the local body shop so it wasn't as if Wufei had had much of a choice but to accept. He'd gritted his teeth and bowed down to the needs of Nataku. The necessity had been caused by his own weakness, his own failure faced with the new MS OZ had created. It was only right that his pride and honor be compromised by accepting Howard's charity.

At least the replacement parts and equipment were top notch, more than worth the price Howard had reluctantly agreed to let Wufei pay for them. He'd even managed to get his hands on a new set of weaponry circuits, he'd install them tomorrow after he'd finished the repairs and ran the appropriate tests. Then he'd be able to leave, with considerable relief. He didn't like the ship. Too many people, laughing, joking, kidding around... Maxwell to the nth degree.

Fortunately, these people had had previous experience with Heero, so they didn't even try to press the issue once he'd refused their help in his repairs. Howard hadn't even seemed too surprised when Wufei had turned down his offer to share a dorm with Duo and two other Sweepers. Wufei slept in Nataku, like he frequently did, it meant the only time he had to leave the repair bay was for the occasional shower and meal times. Nights were spent in silence and meditation, removed from the bursts of distant laughter from the upper deck. Nataku's cockpit was small but there was room in front of the command chair to curl up in a sleeping bag. The eighteen hour days he put in on the repairs, penance willingly accepted, allowed him to go to sleep quickly, eyes closing on the familiar view of the cabin dimly lit by the glow of monitors. From the curled up position on the floor he could see the few personal touches he allowed in his Gundam, carefully tied down and protected from impact. Above the secondary com console was the honorary stone tablet he'd engraved with the names of his ancestors, an inadequate replacement for the one that had been destroyed along with its shrine and any trace of his past, of the long road of the generations behind him. Underneath the chair was stored the small, carved wooden box with lacquered cover that contained a few memories of his parents, his master and Meiran. In the small compartment where he kept his duffel bag were stacked some books on philosophy, literature and religion that he'd taken with him when he'd left school to get married, intending to pursue his studies despite all annoying distractions. The books were the only things that ever left the Gundam, even when he was sleeping in a safe-house. The rest was always kept safe in Nataku's hold.

Wufei finished the repairs, leaving the panel unbolted. He could finish up after he moved Nataku to the upper hangar and allowed the other two pilots to take his place in the repair bay. If he pushed himself he could finish all the tests in the next few hours. Then tomorrow he could overhaul the circuits, and the day after that he could leave, the sooner the better.

 

 

Twelve exhausting hours later, tests finished, he headed towards the showers, and ran into Heero coming out of the kitchen with the usual tray of military rations, heading back to the repair bay. A cursory glance showed the L1 pilot to be no more than bruised. He had a patch of soot on his nose and traces of oil on his hands; he'd been dealing with Wing, who must have taken the brunt of it. Wufei nodded minutely in passing, and received a flicker of a glance acknowledging his existence in return.

That night, Wufei slept soundly for the first time in ages. If the ship was attacked his mecha could be easily evacuated in its present condition.

 

 

Wufei pushed the stuff awkwardly with his fork, mind running over the checklist that had run his life for the last week. All done. A few more non-essential tests that he could run while looking over the parameters of the next set of missions, and he could leave. The breaded brown shape beneath his fork slithered into a blob of congealed gravy. Wufei found himself wishing for a simple meal of rice and vegetables. The Sweepers believed it wasn't nutritious if it wasn't deep-fried.

He always timed his meals so that he arrived just as the last of the men were leaving the small mess hall. The cook probably hated his guts by now... he glanced up automatically at the man in the tiny kitchen area. He was ignoring Wufei, bored eyes glazing over a clipboard as he idly scratched his armpit.

The L5 pilot picked up his plate grimly. He was in Howard's debt, and also his guest, but damn it there were limits to just how polite and honorable he could be in these circumstances. He had a few ration bars left on Nataku, that would tide him over until he could leave tomorrow. He scraped the untouched food from his plate and dropped it in the bucket of dirty dishes and cutlery near the kitchen. He straightened fluidly, hand on his weapon as he suddenly felt someone watching him (besides the cook who was relieved his taciturn and unappreciative last guest was finally leaving him to finish cleaning up before going to bed).

Heero was leaning against the doorframe of the mess hall, watching him. Cobalt blue eyes flickered towards the cook, who was picking up the bucket of dishes with a grunt, then Heero turned and stepped back from the door. Wufei complied with the silent request and followed the L1 pilot a little ways down the corridor.

Heero turned and gave him the weighing look he was becoming familiar with and Wufei realized this wasn't going to be a request for his help with Wing (hah!) or for more of the training lessons that had been interrupted when their missions had sent them off in different directions a month ago.

"Do you wish to resume our previous arrangement?" Cold and abrupt, but there was a space around it, a nudge in the tone that gave Wufei plenty of room to refuse if he wanted to.

Wufei leaned a shoulder against the metal wall. Just as he was wondering if he did want to- the other part of him, the storm-wracked corpse, provided the answer. "Why, do you think you have a chance of taking me down this time?" A slight arrogant smirk lifted the corner of his lips.

Heero snorted and smiled coldly, answering the question with a flex of his hands balling into fists. He turned and walked away. Wufei, blood suddenly humming in his ears, felt a weight lifting from his shoulders as he followed.

 

 

A horrified Mandarin swearword exploded from Wufei's lips; he violently wrenched his fist out of its path an instant before he severely injured his sparring partner. Heero's hand was up but it was lifted in a 'stop' gesture, not a defensive block as Wufei had expected; cobalt blue eyes were distant, pupils widening as he concentrated his senses on something other than their match.

"K'so!" Yuy broke out of the defenseless pose and leapt towards the worktable where they'd put their guns. Tension slammed through Wufei, eyes searching for danger as his ears picked up the small scramble from the back of the room. He twisted and caught the tail end of a braid disappearing out the back door.

"He's gone." Wufei said through lips rigid with anger as Heero spun around, gun ready. He noted with curiosity - he still kept some scholarly instincts - the interesting Japanese vernacular that ensued. There were a few terms there he'd never even heard of, he'd have to do some research later on. One should always seek to increase one's knowledge.

Heero slammed the gun down with a clang that brushed the air around Wing and Heavyarms, a little ways off. Nataku and Maxwell's machine were on another level, Trowa was still in the infirmary, the Sweepers were carousing on the upper deck... they should have remained uninterrupted. But Maxwell had become notoriously curious about their sparring in the last safe-house they'd occupied together.

Heero glanced at Wufei, a question. The Chinese man shrugged minimally, then winced. He growled as he rolled his right shoulder in a tight arc; he'd wrenched the muscles pulling out of the blow so suddenly. His grueling repair work had left him stiff and out of practice.

"I'm going to have to concede this one," he muttered. He had to leave with Nataku the next day, he couldn't afford to stress his body too much.

Heero was silent for a second then shrugged and bowed slightly. "Thank you for the match." As Wufei looked at him in surprise, Heero picked up his gun again and started towards the door, holstering it.

"Wait." Wufei felt hot embarrassment shoot through him as Heero glanced at him. He could just let Yuy leave, but...that wouldn't be very fair. "I conceded. You won."

Heero was silent again, then said, in his cold, precise voice, "You injured yourself because I stopped-"

"Because of Maxwell," Wufei interrupted. "And I should have better control over my movements. I shouldn't injure myself because of something unexpected."

Heero shrugged and took another two steps towards the door.

"You would have won anyway," Wufei snapped, briskly overcoming his reluctance. "You've improved considerably."

Heero glanced back again, eyes carefully neutral but surprise in the line of his shoulders, the tilt of his head. But it was the truth. Wufei could hardly believe that half a dozen training sessions had been enough for Heero to integrate the few simple but effective blocks Wufei had taught him into his defense. It had been obvious from the first two blows how this was going to end. Heero really was the perfect soldier, Wufei thought, the usual mixture of reluctant admiration and slight resentment tingeing the thought.

He'd...missed this, the feeling of being challenged by someone who was probably better than he was. He didn't like this need, anymore than he liked being beholden to Howard for his help. But both seemed out of his control.

He never thought of it as a need before, more of a luxury. Then they'd gone their separate ways, almost a month ago. Since then they'd both been in dogfights, ambushes and the occasional reconnaissance mission. A lot of stress accumulating. Wufei had been in several battles with Nataku but they were soul-crushing mechanical affairs, mobile dolls swarming over him like a pack of rats, mindless and belittling. The sheer numbers had proven difficult, though, and Nataku had been let down by the abilities of its pilot once again. Now that Nataku was repaired, the bleaker feelings he'd suppressed to better deal with his mecha's maintenance had resurfaced, and started to eat at him. He'd needed the release of the black battle-storm blowing through him and before that blasted Maxwell had crept up to watch them he'd been getting it.

"Fair's fair," Wufei grumbled. Heero also had his needs. "I told you before, I'm as good as my word, Yuy."

In response, Heero merely jerked his head towards the back entrance to the repair bay, looking glum.

Wufei's eyes narrowed. "He saw you go for your gun, he wouldn't dare-"

"Dare? Maxwell?"

"..."

"Exactly."

Now that was a dilemma. He didn't really care what Maxwell thought of them but...

Even when they'd all been living in each other's pockets back in the last safe-house, both of them had been getting along a bit better with the braided L2 pilot. Wufei found he could ignore, if not tolerate, the annoying flirting once he had an outlet for his tensions. And suddenly, and much to Wufei's surprise and relief, the flirting had virtually stopped, in both his case and Heero's. Their weary forbearance to the attentions was less interesting than their stressed annoyance; Duo had apparently concluded that they were both straight after all and had stopped bugging them, transferring his attentions to Quatre and Trowa who, though not particularly interested, endured them with good humour. Or complete indifference, in Trowa's case. Heero and Wufei's mood had improved overall as well. As a result the joint mission with Maxwell, followed by his stay on the ship, had been tolerable. The whole...arrangement had had knock-on effects on the group's stability that had been considerable.

Heero was a strategist and a dedicated soldier, and he wouldn't compromise that for his own need. Wufei could only imagine what Duo would do if he found out about the arrangement. It made the hardened warrior shudder.

When he looked up again, Heero was a foot away and looking right into his eyes. Wufei started, from surprise and from the weighing look he was being subjected to. And more. Heero hadn't suggested the revival of the arrangement on a whim, he was definitely in need of sexual relief. The look in his eyes was hotter than the beam of his buster rifle.

"So we go through with the arrangement?" Heero asked softly. Wufei nodded, suddenly uncertain. Not about keeping his side of their bargain, of course, but not sure exactly what he was agreeing to.

A hard hand grabbed his and jerked him forward. Heero spun and glanced around carefully - no Maxwell to be seen but that didn't mean this blissful state of affairs would continue for more than five minutes, which was generally the time it took for one of Heero's death threats to fade from his volatile mind. The L1 pilot grunted and dragged him off towards the side of the cargo bay. Wufei stared at the hard back, puzzled.

He was even more confused when Heero stopped at the foot of Wing, grabbed the zipcord and slipped a foot in the loop. Wufei's hand was abruptly released and he watched as the cord lifted Heero to the cockpit where he input his code, opened the hatch and walked in without a backward glance. Wufei hesitated, then grabbed the next loop of cord and hit the up button, supposing he was to follow. If he arrived and found a gun in his face he would know he'd guessed wrong. Heero was as protective of Wing as Wufei was of Nataku.

Wufei entered the cockpit hesitantly, wondering what they were doing up there. The space was way too tight at the best of times for...anything, and now it was full of tools as well. Everything was covered in dust sheets. Heero was doing a lot of work changing some burned-out panels, and soot and pieces of charred wire were littering the cockpit. What-

A hard hand grabbed him by the arm -he hissed as his wrenched muscles protested- and jerked him fully into the cockpit. He ended up stumbling against the sheet-protected command chair as the hatch hissed closed behind them.

Wufei didn't have time to turn around, hard hands shoved him forward again. He landed awkwardly on his knees in the seat of the command chair. A strong body slammed into his back, pressing Wufei's chest against the backrest, two arms pinned his shoulders forwards as they grabbed the back of the seat.

"Hey wait-" He started to panic, he still didn't know all that much about how men did these things together but this position was ringing alarm bells.

"No penetration, we agreed." A cold voice growled in his ear. The body pressing him to the back of the command chair ground against his... then again. Wufei swore and squirmed his arms from the tight hold. He grabbed the top of the chair to give him some leverage and feel a bit less helpless. Heero was kneeling on the seat of the command chair just behind him, hard chest squeezing Wufei against the backrest, locking them into position with his grip on the chair's back, but with his arms free Wufei at least had the opportunity of lashing back with an elbow if- not that he would. Winner's privilege, he reminded himself grimly. Anyway, how was this any different than having Yuy slam him down on his back and hump him like a dog?

Actually there was a difference, he realized very quickly. Staring at the back of the cockpit and squashed against the chair was giving him a moment of plain honest insight. The three previous times the arrangement had come into effect, things had happened as a continuation of the fight, Wufei pinned down by superior force, held down...somehow not responsible. Not rape, of course, but not fully a participant either. Whatever physical reaction he had was due to adrenaline and friction, no more...This...was somehow forcing him to fully accept the arrangement he had entered into; it was removed from the heat of battle, much colder and deliberate.

And of course, in this position -and squashed against the command chair- his own body was not really getting into the act. Not that he missed that part of course. No, that was actually really embarrassing, so he was glad to be spared that. Right.

The smell of burnt plastic and sweat was cloying in the small space. Heero's breathing was rasping in his ear, stirring the hair that had gotten loose from his ponytail when he'd been slammed forward. He could feel more, that was distasteful; he could feel Heero's hardness thrust against his ass, just along the top of the split near the base of his spine, grinding the material of his pants into-damn it man hurry up and finish already! Heero's head dropped as the movements became more pronounced, Wufei could feel hot breath searing the flesh of his shoulder, near the thin strap of his black shirt. If Heero put his mouth on his skin at this point Wufei was going to go berserk, arrangement be damned!

Heero's strong hands ground the back of the command chair he'd been using for support. The only remotely good thing about all this was that Wufei wouldn't have bruised wrists this time. Heero gasped, going rigid against the Chinese man's back for a few thunderous heartbeats. Then he leaned back a bit in the chair, panting. Wufei, grumbling internally, scraped himself off of the back of the command chair with some relief. Damn, Dr J had certainly not spoiled Yuy with any comfort here, the thing was like a board.

A hand slid into the space he'd made between himself and the backrest, pressing him against a hard chest, dragging him a little further back, while the other hand dropped from the back of the chair to his belt.

"That's okay, I don't require anything," Wufei snapped, pushing away harder. But Heero had put one leg down on the ground and was bracing himself, it was like pushing against a wall, and the hand slid down the front of his pants.

"Yuy!" Wufei snarled, putting his own hand down to catch Heero's. "I said I don't-"

"Fair's fair." A voice, still husky from his own pleasure, growled in his ear.

"But-"

"We have an arrangement. I also keep my word."

At that point Wufei could have explained that his side of the arrangement was the battle that preceded it, but then if that was entirely true he would have said something the last two times. Damn. He had a feeling Heero knew this anyway-... He didn't want to think about that. At all. So instead he tried to find a curt, down-to-earth and manly way of saying 'I'm not in the mood' that didn't make him sound like some damn whimpering woman. He continued to push away from the command chair, and Heero continued to lean back into him, one knee blocking him in the back and body braced and both hands-

Wufei realized that there was something else different about this position. Heero didn't need his right hand to pin him down - and Wufei realized just how strange it was that Wing's pilot had continued to play along with the illusion he was somehow forcing Wufei into taking pleasure when it had to be obvious to both of them that this wasn't the case. It had never occurred to him.

Wufei was making a lot of discoveries at that point, staring blindly at the back of the cockpit. One of those was...Yuy was even better with both hands.

Wufei's mouth was free. He could have protested, shouted, or just calmly told Heero to stop, and the other youth probably would have. The only thing he managed was a half-vocalized protest that ended in a moan. He was still shoving against the back of the chair with arms that were beginning to shake, Yuy was still grinding into his back with equal and opposing force, a savage test of strength, but his hands were definitely free...Damn it! This was all because of Maxwell! If he hadn't come snooping around - oh!- then Heero would have eventually pinned him down after a proper - Wufei gasped and flinched forward - match and...Wufei savagely bit his lip to stop himself from completely tearing away whatever shred of dignity and appearance of self-control he had as his whole body shuddered and melted into the hard, certain touch.

All Maxwell's fault. His arms were trembling as they barely stopped him from sinking back against the command chair. He tried to focus, his heart hammering in his ears. He'd have to-...he'd definitely have to go and-...do something horrible to Maxwell... later...

"Use the dust sheet to clean up. And bring it with you, I'll wash it." The voice was practical and uncaring behind him, and he suddenly realized he was alone on the command chair. He heard the hatch hiss behind him, and Heero take a step out, waiting for him. Wufei glared around the interior of the cockpit. Right at this moment Wing seemed more responsive and considerate than its owner. At least a Gundam only did what was asked, and didn't try to outguess-...

"Next time we'll find a place we can spar uninterrupted," Heero added as Wufei gathered the dust sheet and rearranged his clothes.

So next time it would be back to normal, although using the word normal in the context of their usual warped relation was probably an offense to anybody who'd ever opened a dictionary.

Back to normal...Wufei, body still shaking a bit, ruthlessly crushed the small curl of disappointment that twisted down at the bottom of his mind. Just as he tried to ignore the way his body was humming, or what it was that Heero had done to him exactly... He was definitely trying to forget that. Right, back to normal.

But next time he wouldn't have bruised wrists at the end of it. He had the feeling that Heero was through catering to his professed reluctance to the entire arrangement. Wufei shook himself. It was stupid anyway. He was doing this, he might as well get the full benefit and no bruises. And, to be perfectly honest with himself... having Heero's rough hands on him wasn't quite the distasteful inconvenience he wanted it to be.

He thought he caught a look out of the corner Heero’s eye as the latter grabbed the zipcord and descended. But Wing's pilot didn't say anything. Wufei thought Yuy understood the reluctance he'd had to bow to the needs of the flesh. It was infuriating, to be distracted by the body that should obey them; Wufei knew Heero found it so as well. At least they could both get rid of the urges as efficiently and quickly as possible, with no emotional wastage.

Maybe this was, all in all, not such a bad arrangement.

By the time they reached the cargo bay door they were discussing a detail for a joint operation in two weeks' time, and completely ignored violet eyes spying on them from down the hallway.

The war against OZ continued unabated.

Chapter Text

"Hello, Matezi's...Colonel! It's been a while since we spoke...Paul. Remember? Short, shoulder-length red hair? I was with lieutenant Sanders?... Oh, I'm just babysitting the phones, Mrs Linde had a previous commitment tonight...Oh she does, but only for a certain select customer, if you see what I- oh, you know about that. Yes, rank has its privileges. Speaking of which, what can I do for you, sir?"

The plastic smile trembled on the edge of feral, violet eyes gleamed, but the voice was light and soothing.

"Tonight? Ah, that may be a problem. Xian Hu is away tonight, tomorrow night as well. So's Jiansheng, he's your other preference usually, right?...Yes, we're very busy these days, what with the troops returning from the colonies...Well, you know, if you're interested, we do have a couple of new arrivals which you might like. Thoroughly vetted by Mr Matezi of course, our usual standards."

Mocking violet eyes flickered over them. Wufei dropped his gaze, not wanting to break Duo's concentration with a glare of fury.

"Very nice, very polite...Of course...Oh sir, I wouldn't suggest them otherwise, but they're sixteen, the both of them. Fei is perfect for you, but if you care to try something a bit more exotic-" Heero's eyebrow twitched a fraction "-Ro is mixed blood, and the prettiest dark blue eyes you ever-...Yes, shoulder length, black, and very beautiful black eyes. Hm-hmm. Say colonel..." Violet eyes narrowed like a cat going in for the kill while the voice oozed with charm. The braid was given a quick, self-encouraging tug. "To tell you the truth they're both, well, new. I was wondering...I'd have to run it by Mr Matezi, but maybe we could do you something, well, a package deal, so to speak? Seeing how you're one of our most valued patrons. Yes, both. They're really quite cute together." Wufei felt the couch groan beneath his clenched fingers. "Hm-mm. Well, I guess...that shouldn't be a problem." A sharp thumbs-up. "Very well. I'll give them the usual passes, and they'll give the code to the gate sentries, that's if Mr Matezi okays this but it shouldn't be a problem...Yes sir...Very well, and a pleasure as always. Have a good evening, sir."

Duo dropped the phone back on its hook and rubbed the bridge of his nose as the smile melted from his face.

"Got you both in."

"Hn." It was an approving grunt. Wufei knew they were all relieved. The assassination should be easy enough now, but getting out afterwards was still going to be a challenge. Wufei unclenched his fingers from their death grip on the edge of the couch.

"You guys really sure about this?" Duo muttered, turning tired eyes their way. "’Cause personally I think the guards will shoot you on sight."

"We'll have the codes he gave you to identify us," Heero said sharply.

"You'll have the codes, the fake id, and no idea what you're doing. He has people to check you over, you know. I made you both out to be fresh meat so you might get lucky, but to be honest...you're both as cute as buttons, but if I were a mark I'd rather pick up a case of VD than either of you. You stink of trouble. Damn, if this asshole didn't have a thing for Asians, this would have been easier."

"In that case we would have deferred to your prior experience," Wufei muttered, anger and tension letting his words slip loose.

"Blow me, 'Fei'."

"There's not enough money on earth for that, Maxwell."

"God, he's talking trash already, what have I created?" Duo stretched. He'd barely slept since the mission parameters came in. Wufei thought he should tell Maxwell he'd been impressed at how efficiently their communications expert had bypassed all security, isolated the phone lines from all of their target's locations, set up a filter to route a call to a particular number to their hacked line, and done the necessary research into Matezi's to be able to answer the call when it came, imitating one of the regulars there. Wufei hadn't even known what an escort service was.

He probably should give Maxwell a pat on the back - since Heero wouldn't - but the words died in his mouth.

"Explain to me again why we can't just go in there and take this animal apart with our Gundams?" Wufei muttered instead.

"We need to make certain of the target," Heero said as he got up from the couch. "And I still think you should stay here."

"Sorry, Ro, this is a package deal or Fei goes in alone," Duo said quickly. "The colonel has...tastes."

Heero scowled. "You should have tried harder, Maxwell. And until the mission starts, use our proper names."

"Tried harder?" Duo glared. "I got you both in!"

"I'm the only one who should be going in, I have the appropriate training."

A manic grin. "As a hooker? Heero, you never told m-"

"As an assassin, baka!"

"Well it's Wufee or both of you, so make up your mind. Come on, let's get you guys ready to part-ay!"

Wufei and Heero shared a look of resignation as Duo bounded off with his usual energy, braid flying, towards the bedroom of the town-house.

 

 

"And there you go. Man, you look so pretty! Say, just how much would it cost me to - okay, put down the weapon, I was just kidding."

Duo ruffled his bangs as he examined his work. Wufei glared at him and tugged the t-shirt again.

"Don't pull, bud. It's supposed to hang like that. You got real hot abs you know that?"

"Drop dead, Maxwell."

"You're supposed to bat your eyelids and say, 'I'm glad you approve' or something. Still, looking that pretty I doubt they'll listen to what you have to say." Maxwell's cheerful leer ignored Wufei's scowl. "What do you think, Heero? You in love yet?"

Heero slowly raised his head and gave Duo a death glare that made the L2 pilot wince. He then glanced at Wufei and sneered. He visibly did not approve. Wufei couldn't blame him.

Duo leaned forward to clean up the light line of kohl around Wufei's eyes. "I'm glad you're going in with backup, Wufee," Duo's voice had dropped to a whisper as his eyes slid sideways, "but as far as getting in goes, I don't think you're the one who's the liability."

They both glanced at Heero who was checking the base's layout on his laptop one last time, the scowl still on his face. At least he was dressed, Wufei thought, annoyed, trying not to tug the t-shirt down again. Heero had too many scars to wear a cut-off outfit. He was dressed in tight jeans and a sheer long-sleeved blue shirt that Maxwell had picked out for him when the plan had first been conceived. It was of vaguely Asian design and matched his eyes, which Maxwell had made up a bit, highlighting the oriental slant. He looked exactly like an assassin preparing for a hit, nonetheless. Hence Wufei's outfit, which showed more skin than he thought legally possible, and which would, as Maxwell put it, 'keep their eyes glued to your ass so hard they won't even be able to look at Heero!"

The crude statement didn't make Wufei feel any better, strangely enough. He was striving hard not to get a glimpse of himself in the mirror, or even form a mental image of what he looked like, lest his ancestors rise up from the dead and denounce him on the spot. But he was willing to believe that people would probably be looking at him - like a freak - rather than at Heero.

"Well, okay.. time you got going." Maxwell's eyes were worried. "Oh Wuffers, here."

"Wufei."

"Whatever." Duo slipped a black and gold elastic around Wufei's wrist.

"I need more decoration?" Wufei glared at the thing and made to tug it off. He was already wearing a choker of square coral beads around his neck and a jade earring. He was willing to concede Maxwell probably knew what was needed to complete the mission, but more jewellery had to be going overboard.

"It's for the hair." Duo tilted a chin at Wufei's straight locks falling forward and framing his face. "For when things go south. And I know they will."

Wufei narrowed his eyes at the elastic. Now that he thought of it he'd seen it before, at the end of a long braid. " ...Very well," he muttered. It was actually quite a good idea.

"Well, you guys look gorgeous so off you go. I'll watch the colonel's phone lines and play merry havoc with their security systems as soon as you get inside." Maxwell gave an enthusiastic pat to the console Heero had set up; the base's security system was hacked and ready to go. Duo followed them to the door of the safe-house. "You have the codes and ID, hopefully that will get you into his HQ digs, and maybe even out again. Say guys?"

They glanced back at the braided teen leaning in the doorway behind them.

"You know I'll be monitoring and recording through their cameras, right? While I'm looping the feed to fool their security?"

"Yes?" Wufei frowned, their respective parts of the plan was clear.

"So if the colonel gets you two to do something kinky together before you kill him- "

The door slammed shut an instant before Heero's fist crashed into it. "Baka!"

"- just remember to smile at the camera! Hey give me a break, I could make a killing selling those shots!" The cheerful voice was muffled by the door. "Good luck!"

"Come on, we'll be behind schedule if we run him down and skin him," Wufei said resignedly as he turned towards the taxi waiting for them.

 

 

How did I get myself into this...Wufei relaxed his features, trying to look young and unsure -he knew he couldn't manage seductive if his life depended on it, and in this instance it did. Maxwell had been right, it was a good thing he'd insisted they were both 'new'. The L2 pilot had been on the money for the entire deal in fact; people were staring at Wufei -with contempt, surprise, pity or lust- and completely ignoring Heero.

In fact the extent of Maxwell's cunning was such that he was still alive even after suggesting this plan after the mission parameters came through. He'd been smart and suggested it to Heero first who'd nodded and said he'd do it. Duo had said what a wonderful idea that was but unfortunately the target had tastes... So Heero had asked Wufei to come along just in case he couldn't get in, and Wufei had been unable to protest to those cobalt blue eyes. They knew no shame, no doubt, no limits. The mission was all. Wufei knew with a feeling of resignation that he was going to have to choose between one more shred of the dignity he'd kept from a previous life - before the war, before the storm - and whatever slight respect there was for him as a fellow warrior and ally in Heero's eyes.

It irked him, this...need for Heero's esteem. But there was no denying it. This series of attacks was the first mission he and Heero were doing together. He knew Heero had some small consideration for him as a martial artist and thought he was dedicated and...essentially, Heero thought Wufei had 'his heart in the right place', but then again, so did Sally Po and her pitiful band of rebels. Wufei had his own doubts about his strength, his worth, but he was damned if he was going to let Heero lose sight of his effectiveness as a warrior. He knew how little the perfect soldier considered the fighting abilities of others. And maybe Wufei didn't have the physical and mental advantages of having been raised for assassination and terrorism, but that did not mean he could be discounted.

In the end, that and the fact that the mission was necessary tipped the scale. Duo (who Wufei was starting to think was probably less stupid than he let on) had actually helped a bit by occasionally reading out some of the juicier details of their target's long, honored career. The man was a bureaucrat, a politician, a cultivated and refined man. He'd killed more people than the five pilots put together without even lifting a weapon. Some of his exactions...Wufei felt he could put up with a lot to bring justice to that sort of vermin. The political blow and the propaganda that would result from his assassination in the colonies, who'd suffered the brunt of the man's crimes, would do a lot to help the growing resistance there as well.

The two guards who'd escorted them in from the front gate led them to the ante-room of several of the luxurious suites set aside for officers visiting the base. A man was waiting for them besides a small desk where a laptop was humming. Wufei recognized him from the pictures they'd studied. He was the colonel's attaché and right-hand man; a small dapper gentleman in a uniform that had never seen action, with thinning brown hair despite being only in his thirties, and thin long hands he stretched out for their IDs, his eyes flicking over them.

"Right." He scanned the IDs that Maxwell had stolen from Matezi's and thoroughly doctored. "These check out. Been working for Edward Matezi long?"

"No. A month," Wufei answered. The man looked him up and down once more.

"Hm, well, you'll do I guess. Up against the wall and spread them."

Wufei stiffened even as he heard Heero move behind him to comply.

The colonel's attaché looked at him again. "Never been to Alliance HQ before? It's standard procedure. We search everyone."

"Oh." Wufei noticed the colonel's head of security and bodyguard stand up from a chair at the far end of the room. He approached the attaché, eyeing Wufei carefully, hand on his side-arm. The two guards who'd escorted them over were still behind them.

Wufei let his eyes widen in feigned surprise (and hopefully innocence). "You think I'm hiding a gun?"

The attaché grinned as he dropped uninterested eyes over the tight black leather shorts which barely covered Wufei's ass, and the dark red cut-off t-shirt. "Okay I'll grant you that one."

"Wall," the bodyguard said, gesturing, hand still on his weapon.

"Is that necessary?" the attaché asked him wearily.

"Yes. There's quite a lot he could be hiding even in that outfit. Simpsons, do this one. I'll do that one." The bodyguard's eyes had fixed on Heero with a suspicious glare. The guard who'd been heading towards Heero with a metal detector nodded and grabbed Wufei by the arm, shoving him without too much force against the wall.

They weren't hiding any weapons, so Wufei didn't worry about the sweep; he worried about the bodyguard's scowl as he carefully felt Heero up from ankle to collar. He didn't think they'd be searched so thoroughly. Wufei knew quite well what that body felt like, but even a prostitute could work out, right? He ignored the guard's hands on his own sides. If the man asked Heero to strip...Wufei had an almost tactile memory of scars through a thin tank top. He tried not to tense in anticipation of violence as the guard's hands lingered on his hips.

Wufei's glanced quickly and discreetly at Heero, eyes catching on his expression. He never thought they had a chance of getting even this far, he'd agreed with Maxwell on that one, certain he should have tried this alone. But Heero had surprised him. The instant they'd left the taxi, an expression Wufei had never seen had settled on Heero’s face, something even beyond his usual blank look. Eyes slightly wide, face passive, mouth relaxed into something not quite a vacant smile. Despite the beauty of the regular features, he was suddenly someone you wouldn't glance at twice. Odin Lowe, Wufei remembered; that was the name of the assassin who had trained Heero to be a child killer. ‘Raised’ was not the appropriate word for someone who had probably encouraged Heero to cultivate that expression and the mentality that went with it.

Unfortunately the bodyguard had been trained as well. His job was to look beyond the obvious and twice at everyone. He spun Heero around and glared into the cobalt eyes, then took a step back. The other guard let Wufei turn around with a casual pat to the rear that the latter ignored from the dark focus of incipient bloodshed.

The bodyguard flipped open his cell and dialed a number, eyes on them both burning with suspicion.

"Hi, this Matezi's? Who is this? Paul who?...Okay, I'm calling from Alliance HQ, we have a couple of your guys here, is that correct? Can you describe them to me?"

Wufei listened to the small buzz of Duo's voice chattering away. The braided pilot had grumbled something about 'perfectly paranoid soldier' when Heero had forced him to bypass and filter the lines from all phones belonging to the attaché and the bodyguard as well as the colonel's secretary and aide, apartment and office. It was a lot of lines to secure, but fortunately he'd complied. Heero's thoroughness was paying off.

The bodyguard's eyes were still suspicious, but he looked mollified. "Fine, can I talk to Matezi? Or his organizer?... Oh, when will they be available?... Okay, I can wait."

He put the cell against his shoulder and glanced at the attaché. "Ask the colonel if this one-" a glance in Wufei's direction "-will do for now. I want to get the other one vetted first."

The attaché shrugged and walked to one of the thick, elegant oak doors and knocked. "Sir? The- your guests have arrived. Can-"

Heero punched the bodyguard in the gut, ripped the gun from the man's belt as he fell, shot the two guards who'd barely started to lift their rifles and spun to fire at the attaché who was fumbling with the strap holding his side-arm in its holster.

Wufei cursed and lunged for the door as a final shot behind him finished off the bodyguard writhing on the floor. The heavy door was locked.

"Out of the way," Heero snarled. He walked up to the door and slammed the reinforced wood and metal open with one savage kick. The gun shot up, fired twice.

"Let's go," Heero muttered, kneeling by the bodyguard to take two extra chargers from the man's belt. Wufei glanced through the door at a sprawled figure in casual dress, the head splattered across the back of the couch by the two shots that had scored there. Then he bent to get the attaché's sidearm.

"Chang. Strip him and put his clothes on," Heero barked at him as he went to the door and glanced out prudently.

"Why?" Not that he'd complain about getting out of this outfit.

"You stand out a mile. Lose the shorts too, they creak."

"I'm supposed to stand out a mile," Wufei grumbled as he slipped out of camera's range -he didn't need Maxwell's input on this- and stripped himself and the attaché quickly. "That was the plan. That and getting inside the room, kill the Colonel, wait an hour or so and hopefully leave without a fight," he added acidly. Now...it would be a miracle if the gunshots hadn't alerted anyone. Wufei tore off the choker, furious at the whole situation. Beads scattered about them with a noise of fleeing rodents.

Heero didn't look repentant. "Maxwell is an idiot. Neither of us looks like a prostitute." Which was probably the nicest thing he'd ever said to Wufei, but he didn't let it distract him. Mainly because Heero's body language said that, even if he didn't think Wufei looked appealing in his getup, he didn't look like much of a killer either. There was something condescending in the tilt of the head as he glanced back at Wufei.

"Is that why you didn't wait for the door to open before attacking?" Wufei asked sharply as he struggled into the attaché's fawn dress pants.

"The bodyguard was a pro, he would have taken me away from the room before he let that door be unlocked."

"Not such a pro, or he'd have searched us in another room entirely," Wufei sniffed. "They were about to let me in though. I could have done the hit and come get you."

"Not efficient," Heero grunted.

"If the door had been reinforced steel beneath the wood, we'd have been screwed," Wufei growled, angered at the implication that he'd needed Heero on this. He grabbed the bodyguard's cell. "Maxwell?"

"Hi guys. Hey Fei, why'd you change, you don't look nearly as darling like-"

"You have their security bypassed?"

"Yes, but it's not good, I'm afraid. Oops, wait...Two guards! Running towards-"

Two shots echoed out from the doorway.

"Okay scratch that." Wufei heard the click of keys on the other end of the phone. "Unfortunately they called in before investigating. The alarms are offline thanks to yours truly, but the call went through... lemme see... shit! Half a dozen coming in the front of the building! Two out back-"

"We're going out back," Wufei snapped, ripping off the earring and straightening the attaché's t-shirt. The uniform jacket and shirt had been too bloodied from the headshot. Not that they were going to be able to bluff their way out even in full dress regalia. "Come on, Yuy."

 

 

The siren shattered the darkness like a scream and a new sun rose in every corner of the base, swinging to and fro and slicing the night to shreds.

They shared a glance and broke into a run. Subtlety was a lost cause.

"K'so," Heero muttered, sliding to a crouch behind a concrete balustrade. Wufei chanced a glance. Below them was the courtyard leading to the small north exit, the one without a mobile suit patrol. At least fifteen men were milling around in the flashing lights of the watchtowers as they poured out of their barracks, waiting for an order.

Shouts behind them. They couldn't wait for the men to get organized and leave. Wufei quickly gathered his hair out of his face in a ponytail with a silent thanks to Maxwell for the fastener.

"Here."

Heero grunted, eyes on the men below, then looked around in surprise as he realized Wufei had shoved the attaché's gun into his free hand. "What- Chang!"

Wufei threw himself over the balustrade, landing in a crouch on the hood of a jeep parked beneath. Ten meters distance. He leapt off the jeep in a squeal of suspensions. Someone shouted. Eight meters. Wufei ran, swift and low. A soldier lifted his gun - five meters. A shot from behind him and the man went flying. Now they were all turning-

Five more steps and Wufei was in the middle of the tight knot of soldiers. One blow crushed the vertebra of a man who was just turning to see what the fuss was about. Wufei vaulted over the falling body, barreled into another man, pushing him into a third. Soldiers shouted and bumped into each other. Someone tried to grab him. Wufei sent a deadly elbow into his face, slipped from the loosening grasp of the dying man, leapt forward towards another taking hasty steps back and raising his rifle, swung and kicked him, hard, sending fractured ribs plunging like knives into his chest. He leaned into the kick and dodged a wild blow over his head, twisted and grabbed the man's arm and slammed it across the knee, shattering bone before punching him in the jaw.

The courtyard was a mass of confusion, some men lunging towards the quickly darting figure, others standing back to get a clear shot, shouting at their fellow soldiers to get out of the way. Concentrating on the dodging, whirling killer in their midst, no one realized that any who raised a gun on him was instantly gunned down from above.

Wufei felt something sting his ankle, flying concrete from a bullet strike. He dodged again and threw himself into the nearest knot of soldiers; proximity meant the others couldn't fire. He sent a deadly fist into someone's throat, then he grabbed and shoved the choking man into an officer raising a gun at him. He sent a leg back out in a swinging kick to knock the rifle out of a soldier's hands, twisted, ducked, came up punching someone who'd leapt at him, grabbed and spun the stunned man around with him, using him as a shield as a hail of panicked bullets clattered around them.

Behind him the officer shoved the choking soldier off of him, raised his gun at Wufei's back. A shot from above and the man's head exploded into blood and bone. Wufei ducked as he saw someone aim at him from the side, felt and heard the bullet sing above his head, then an impact that jerked his arm. He dropped his human shield and hurled himself across the space at the man firing at him, dodging to throw off his aim. The soldier cursed then went wheeling back, blood pouring from a bullet hole in his neck before Wufei could reach him.

Then Wufei was on the brink, left with only a few enemy but all at a distance, raising weapons and taking aim.

A man screamed and clutched his chest. Wufei ducked and weaved, but no one was firing at him, and a glance over his shoulder showed him why; Heero Yuy was calmly walking down the steps towards the courtyard, both guns firing, mowing down the remaining soldiers. Wufei grabbed a fallen weapon, glanced up at the watchtower above them. The lights had been still for awhile now, he realized. A dark figure hung from the side of the tower. Heero must have taken them out too. Wufei brought his attention back on the action, shot a soldier hiding in a doorway and aiming at his partner, then ducked another wild shot in his direction from another opponent before the man jerked and thrashed under the bullets Heero sent thundering into him.

Echoes of the shots died away behind them as they both started to run without a word towards the exit.

"Are you injured?" Heero asked crisply, as they both slowed to a brisk walk that was less likely to attract suspicion. They were a few blocks from the camp, back among streets and alleys, plenty of escape routes.

"No. Nothing serious," Wufei amended. His ankle was bleeding, and a bullet had grazed his forearm, a two inch-long rip in the skin. Not deep, but it would require stitches. That and a few bruises. "You?"

"Unharmed. You were lucky." Heero sounded angry still.

"One of us had to be." Wufei shrugged. They wouldn't have outgunned that many soldiers in a straight fire fight if he'd not served as a distraction.

They dodged into an alley and took stock. They were far enough away now. Time to figure out where they were, and go round the long way back to the safe-house.

"Maxwell?" Wufei lifted the phone as he glanced around the alley. Heero was at the entrance, noting the street signs. "We made it."

"Cool! I'll get stuff ready here. The base is in chaos, I don't see any kind of search party getting ready. They don't even know what hit them, someone started shouting about a Gundam and now they've all got their noses in the air. Man, what did you guys do?"

"Heero blew some stuff up in passing. They had an inadequately protected MS fuel tank which- never mind. We should be back in an hour or less. Get ready."

"Aye aye, Cap'n!"

Wufei leaned against the cold brick of a warehouse and breathed, closing the phone with a weary click. He glanced up at the footsteps approaching. "Maxwell says there's no sign of pursuit."

"Hn."

"Let's follow the back alleys for awhile though to be on the safe side."

Wufei glanced up at the lack of answer (or grunt). Heero was looking at him steadily, eyes narrowed, very different from his previous passive expression. Weighing him. He seemed to do that a lot, Wufei thought. Was he so condescending towards other people's abilities that a show of skill surprised him?

"You are an efficient killer, Chang."

Wufei met the gaze carefully. The eyes were the customary blank pieces of glass, but the body language gave the look a different meaning. It wasn't the same as usual. Wufei wasn't being weighed for his abilities, his usefulness to Heero's overall mission, his utility in some form of arrangement or other. Heero was looking at him. Chang Wufei. For probably the first time.

Wufei shrugged, not knowing what to say, not even sure if it was a compliment, a statement of fact, or merely a cold evaluation. Then he motioned Heero forward, rooting through the pocket of his borrowed pants. Heero moved towards him, frowning, interrogative. Wufei scowled, the attaché had not kept a handkerchief in his pocket. Damn. He used his thumb. Heero flinched and started ever so slightly at the touch, as Wufei wiped away the faint line of kohl that sweat had dragged along Heero's face. It had been bugging him since halfway through their escape.

"We need to clean up," he muttered, showing Heero the dark streak on his fingers. "We don't want to stand out." He realized with some annoyance that his hand was shaking, the after-effects of adrenaline. He glanced up to ask Heero if he had similar streaks on his face and was met by a gaze like a machine gun.

An inflexible grip around his neck crushed lips into his own. A hand like steel dropped from the small of his back to his butt, and a hard groin ground against his.

We don't have the time for this; the pallid thought was scattered on the remnants of the hurricane winds that had blown away fifteen men in less than five minutes. Wufei tried to remember their escape plans and the graze in his forearm and the fact that he didn't really need any sexual release from adrenaline, that was something he controlled...but all he could recall at that moment was the way Yuy had walked down the stairs, a gun in each fist dealing death, a smile colder than the dark barrels on his face. Wufei found himself shoved against the wall, his arms wrapped around strong shoulders, lips moving in a fierce kiss of his own. He growled as his back was ground against gritty brick. He could feel the scratch of Heero's jeans against the dress pants and his own hardness. The adrenaline and battle fury were ringing in his ears. Heero's sweat and the smell of his hair overpowered the dank air of the alley. Wufei, not caring anymore, lifted his legs around strong hips and used the wall scoring his back through the t-shirt to thrust back against Heero. Wing's pilot snarled, an animal sound, the hand on Wufei's hip bruising, the other one on his shoulder controlling their movements somewhat. Wufei gasped, his head thrown back as he felt a burning surge of bruising pleasure quickly rise through him. Heero, no longer able to reach his lips, buried his face in his shoulder in an open-mouth kiss that was more of a bite.

Wufei felt the wall crumble behind him, throwing him into dark, roaring pleasure that tasted of battle and blood. When he returned to the alley his hands were leaving their own bruises on Heero's back and the L1 pilot was panting into his shoulder, slight shudders running through his frame. Wufei shook his head, trying to clear it. The alley was swaying as he caught his feet beneath him.

"Let's go," Heero muttered, breaking the hold and glancing up and down the lane.

" ...Yes." Wufei staggered a bit then caught himself, one arm against the wall which was, all evidence to the contrary, still perfectly intact. He shook his head sharply. At least his hands had stopped shaking now. He grimaced a bit as his stolen pants rubbed a cooling wet spot against his groin. Hopefully they'd have time to shower and change before they had to evacuate, or they would both be regretting the time out for their mutual... relief.

- Heero's eyes on him, 'efficient killer', both guns blazing finality -

Well maybe not actually regret...

The thoughts flashed through his mind almost too quick to follow. Why had he done that he hadn't felt the need of course he had it was only natural after throwing himself into such a life-or-death situation and Yuy was okay with it so might as well get rid of it as efficiently as possible and he wasn't going to regret doing so when there was a war raging around them damn it. Then he stopped thinking and let the warrior take over, with some relief.

A smear of fire and sirens lingered on the night behind them as they started to run back in silence to the safe-house and the war.

Chapter Text

Wufei knelt on the cot, hands on his thighs, his bare feet folded beneath him. His eyes were closed and his spirit as calm as it could be in the circumstances. The meditation wrapped him in silence and light, keeping the fury and pain momentarily at bay.

The position annoyed the night guard tremendously. Almost twice a shift he'd come in with a friend or two and kick the pilot around. Wufei encouraged this by immediately adopting the same position again as soon as the guard left. The man was a sniveling coward who couldn't even strike him that hard. And one day soon he would make a mistake.

...Silence, light... The cell, the cot with a foam mattress and no bedding, the simple stainless steel toilet, the remains of his evening meal in a plastic container without utensils, his itchy, annoyingly light paper uniform - OZ had had too many run-ins with suicidal pilots to take him lightly on that account. All faded.

It had been a week since his capture, he thought. The first day was a blank. The gun-runner who'd betrayed him, who'd rigged a voltage mine on the case of missiles he was buying, had overdid it a bit in his nervousness and Wufei had been in a light coma for over twenty hours while his burns were treated by the OZ forces he'd been sold to. They still itched and hurt, but that slight sensation was a wisp of a breeze against the backdrop of the howling tempest beating at the walls of his meditation. The fact that he'd been weak and stupid enough to get captured burned worse than the wounds.

When he awoke from the coma, he was looking up the nostrils of an OZ interrogator. After two or three introductory threats, the man had said the nicest, kindest thing anyone had said to Wufei since he was a child.

"So, boy, now you'll tell us where your Gundam is!"

They hadn't found Nataku yet.

The interrogator had flicked on a vid. It was the second day since his capture, and OZ troops were carefully searching the area where he'd been taken in successively widening circles; squirming little men swarming around the landscape, Aries leaping like flies from hill to hill looking for the better half of his soul. His Nataku was well hidden though, and it would take them several days to find it if they hadn't already.

The interrogator had started his sessions immediately, trying to get Nataku's location out of him. Wufei knew how to ignore pain, rise above it in a state of nearly constant meditation. The manhandling of his burns and the professional bruises he picked up were easier to ignore than the affront. Did this man think that he would betray Nataku for a beating? Wufei's temper was more at risk of breaking his mental discipline than the torture was.

Two days of interrogation were leaving him feeling better and better. Physically they couldn't get too creative yet, because of Wufei's recent injuries and dire threats from OZ HQ indicating he was needed alive. If the man thought that yelling at him and repeating the question again and again would break Wufei down, he couldn't be more wrong. It was a morale boost each time he stuck his thick, hair-speckled chin in Wufei's face and shouted “Give me the location!”

The video feed was more alarming. They left it on day and night while he was strapped to a gurney and machines monitored his heart-rate and blood pressure. Using meditation and sheer willpower, he never allowed the readings to even quiver to indicate whether they were getting near their goal or not. But he saw how the OZ troops were more efficient than he'd given them credit for and were moving forward rapidly to the area where he'd hidden his beloved.

By the end of the third day, Wufei realized that if they hadn't found Nataku yet, then that meant that one of the other pilots had been faster on the uptake than he'd thought, and had evacuated the machine already. He distinctly saw through the monitor feed - once more, probably not meant to encourage him - a small three-man detail of Leos troop through the low ravine where Nataku had been hidden. His partner was safe.

He celebrated by concentrating and freeing his right wrist from the restraints in one savage kiai, sinking the interrogator's nose-bone into his brain at the end of the movement. The cowardly fool really did have an aggravating voice. The beating that followed almost killed him in his injured state. At that point, with Nataku safe, he was almost hoping it would. But he awoke alive and aching in a cell.

OZ must have figured out his Gundam was now out of reach as well for they were no longer in any hurry to interrogate him. He was moved twice while still nearly immobilized by the beating, and ended up at his present location, much to his surprise. Not in a prison, but the four-cell brig of some big military base. He'd been there two and a half days now. During the day, he was drugged and asked for the location of the other pilots. He suspected that his captors were now worried said pilots were going to try to silence him, hence his new fortified location. For the moment they were still going easy on him. The real fun would begin when he was well enough to be sent to OZ HQ, with sufficient secrecy so that no-one would be able to intercept him. There they would have the medical facilities to ask some serious...questions. He didn't much care what happened to him at this point, but he owed it to Nataku and his comrades and the war to get out if he could, before his transfer occurred.

Maybe tonight would be the night. Maybe the sadistic guard and his friends would be a bit more careless, not leave two people watching the monitor screens, not keep one man out of reach. He would only have one shot at it. Evening was falling outside, one more hour until the change of guards. He sank back into-

Sirens exploded throughout the base.

Wufei was moving before the first banshee ululation had waned.

The door was solid and reinforced but Wufei had noticed on the first day he'd been shoved into the brig that the underpinnings of the lock were weaker than those of a proper prison cell. A normal man would not have been able to do anything about it. Even Wufei couldn't do much with cameras monitoring his every move and four sentries guarding the entrance to the brig at all times. Now however...

He stood before the door, ignoring his burns and contusions, and concentrated his center. It took only a second, he'd been preparing for this mentally for the past two days, all his focus and intent on that one square inch of metal he'd have to strike to crack the lock keeping the door shut. He straightened, felt his whole body and soul come together in a harmony of balance and purpose, and gave the door a savage kick right on the sensitive area. It took three goes, but the lock finally ripped open with a crack, silent against the scream of sirens.

Wufei was out the door before it had even crashed into the wall and ran up the hall to the entrance of the cell block. Only two guards were there, looking out the window instead of at the monitor feed to his cell. The other two had probably run outside to see what the disturbance was. Fools. Weak, pathetic, undisciplined fools. It would be a pleasure to kill them if it didn't imply touching them.

The guards disposed of, he shrugged into one of their coats, boots and cap, grabbed a rifle and ran.

Sounds of explosions and an occasional shudder in the ground beneath his feet proved that the alarm wasn't a false one. Some kind of attack. Wufei's heart accelerated. Not many people attacked OZ bases these days.

People were running in panic or quiet controlled purpose, ignoring him. At the door leading out of the command block, the checkpoint guards had their back to him, waiting for a possible attack from outside. He killed them efficiently. One of the alarms was probably for him at this point, but no one cared. He ran past men shouting orders, platoons forming near anti-aircraft cannons, mobile infantry regiments running towards their vehicles or their suits. People cringed and glanced upwards again and again as if they expected to see angels of death descend upon them, which was foolish. The disturbance was still at the other end of the large base, echoing with explosions and the crackle and bang of return fire. Wufei didn't bother glancing back, knowing that smoke would cover most of it at that distance. It didn't matter. He ran in the opposite direction of the disturbance, until he reached a low shed near the perimeter fence. He sat behind it, panting, cracked ribs and raw burns aching and ignored, and waited.

After a few minutes the scream of mortar and the crash of shells crept nearer, and, overruling it all, the swish of a very big thermal weapon. One he knew well. He crept cautiously forward and glanced around the edge of the shed.

Wing and Sandrock were making mince out of the base. Wufei nodded approvingly as Wing's beam sword cut through a communication tower and efficiently pounded it into the ground. Sandrock was holding back a bit and providing cover, darting after any tank or mobile suit that was foolish enough to challenge them and slicing them in two with its wicked shotel.

"You- Who are you!? Stand up! Keep your hands where I can see them!"

The explosions had covered the soldier's approach. What was he doing way out here at a time like this? Wufei wondered as he turned slowly, hands raised. The guard stared at him. "What-?! Who- stay back!" Wufei had taken two slow steps closer. The guard kept his rifle pointing unsteadily at Wufei's chest as he nervously pawed at his belt for his communicator.

Wufei's dark eyes followed his movements, fastened on the comm. device. "How nice of you to bring me that," he commented politely.

A minute later, Wufei was sitting - on the unconscious soldier, since the ground was very cold through his paper prison uniform pants - and fiddling with the communicator, wishing he had Duo's skills with this sort of thing. He ran through the frequencies in sequence, setting up a pulse through the memorized channels that would decode the pilots' communication broadcast. Finally a crackle, and he could hear voices.

"01, 04, do you copy?" Wufei barked.

//- nobody is firing at us now, Heero! Stop it!// Winner, always forgetting to use code numbers. //I tell you he's still alive!//

//Unlikely.// Yuy.

"01, 04? Come in."

//I know he's still alive! Look, you watch my back and I'll go in and search for him, okay?!// Winner was practically yelling, his voice caught between anxiety and anger.

//Negative, reinforcements will be here soon.//

//If they arrive and I'm not back, you can damn well shoot me too!//

//No, we can't let them have your Gundam.// Heero's voice was as uncompromising as ever. Wufei found himself nodding in approval. Yuy's strength and focus were a credit to his training and his dedication to a life of battle.

//Heero, for god's sake!//

"01? 04? It's 05, I'm-"

//Either help me destroy the base or shut up, 04. Leaving him for interrogation is not an option. We only have a few minutes before -//

//Heero, I got something on comms.// Winner's voice was suddenly neutral and all business. //It's our frequency.//

"01!"

//Scramble.// Heero said, as predictable as a binary switch in his laptop, and Wufei snarled in silent fury as his communicator whined and lost Wing's signal.

//01? Drat. Come in, who is this?//

Wufei glared at his fingers, forbidding them the slightest tremble as he tried to fine-tune his settings.

"04, it's 05. Do you copy? I'm on the east side of the camp."

//Hee- 01! It's him, it's Wu- it's him! Damn it-// A whine of changing channels and hurried words cutting in and out.

//05?// Heero's voice came back online, coldly assessing.

Wufei froze, hands light on the communicator, barely daring to breathe on it lest he lose the painfully attained setting. "Yes, it's me. I am currently near the east of the camp, ten o'clock to your present position."

//Status? Did you escape?//

No, they took me out for a walk on a leash! "Affirmative. Which is a good thing because Sandrock is standing on what used to be my cell."

//Oh my god! Wufei I'm sorry, we didn't know where you were being kept, I-//

//Shut up, 04.// Which took the words out of Wufei's mouth. //Keep me covered, I'll pick him up.//

Sandrock stood still, ready to intercept any reinforcements as they arrived. Wing ran with clanging gait to the east of the camp. Wufei quickly shed his borrowed coat, dropped the rifle on the unconscious soldier, and carefully made his way out into the open where Heero could see him, away from any buildings that could be hiding troops. He knew the reason Heero had opted to recuperate him up rather than Quatre, despite having a buster rifle which was much more convenient for picking off reinforcements than a pair of shotel. If there were any signs this was a trap, Heero wouldn't hesitate to get out, leaving a smoking crater behind him. Quatre would draw the same conclusions and react as quickly, but would try harder to save and not silence a fellow pilot, at a possibly high cost for all.

Wing crunched to a halt a few meters away, sword at a ready. Wufei ran forward and scrambled into the hand the mecha had stretched down for him. He balanced as he was lifted, and leapt as soon as he could towards the opening cockpit, remembering Heero's mention of reinforcements on the way. He squirmed inside the hatch as it opened and landed heavily on the small bit of floor space next to the command chair where he could squeeze himself and not get in the way. Heero didn't glance at him, hands flying over the controls as he closed the hatch and turned the mecha around.

"04, I have him. We're pulling out."

//Great! Is he hurt?//

"He's mobile." Heero clicked off comms before Quatre could ask for further details.

Wing started to lumber forward and Wufei winced as a console on one side and the edge of the command chair on the other poked into his sore ribs.

The next few minutes were a blur as Wufei concentrated on staying where he was despite the shaking of Wing's cabin. Heero's concentration was absolute and he'd probably forgotten the very existence of his un-strapped passenger. Wufei hung on grimly, waiting for the Gundams to outdistance pursuit and adopt a steadier pace.

"Chang?"

Wufei blinked. After so many days on the edge of his mental endurance, not to mention the drugs they'd pumped him with, he'd instinctively slipped into a meditative trance like an animal darting for cover. He glanced up. Wing was on autopilot, moving smoothly, and Heero was sparing him a fraction of his attention, the rest of it riveted by the monitors showing no signs of pursuit.

"Chang, how badly are you injured?"

"I'm fully functional," Wufei answered automatically, then realized he wasn't being asked to fight anybody. "Mainly superficial injuries. A lot of bruises, some burns along my left side, a cracked rib or two, not broken I think."

"Internal injuries?"

Wufei glanced at his fingernails, which were still a healthy shade of sandstone-pink. "No."

"Anything else?"

Wufei shrugged. "The usual cocktail of antidepressants and disinhibitors. Quite mild as I was in a stage one coma for a day, and I'm still recuperating from electrocution and a boot-party. They were only warming me up, they wanted me healthy before sending me to the HQ interrogation facility."

"Hn."

"Do you have Nataku?" His blood stilled as he waited for the answer.

"Yes, we pulled your Gundam out of its hiding place a few hours after you were captured."

"I owe you my life." Wufei wasn't talking about the prison break and Heero knew it. "Where is it?"

"Somewhere off to the northwest, in the desert. Winner's troops are guarding it."

Wufei fell back down in his nook, limbs suddenly weak. Nataku was safe. 'A few hours' after he was captured? Strange, how did the others know his Gundam needed evacuation? They shouldn't have missed Wufei for three days at least. Never mind, the important thing...

"Where is it exactly? When can I go get it?"

Heero's attention was still on the monitors and he answered slowly. "When we get to the safe-house, in an hour. Winner will take you there. Rest until then."

Wufei nodded, but, now that the howling storm that had roared through his mind for the past few days was finally trickling to a tired, defeated breeze, he noticed something odd about Wing's pilot. Heero was speaking in his usual cold tones, maybe even more detached than usual. His eyes were hard and bright in the light reflected from the monitors, his gaze slightly fixed. His body language...Maybe he was always like this in Wing, Wufei thought. It wouldn't surprise him.

The swaying jarred him, his head and sides ached, and the self-directed anger pummelled his soul. He'd failed, he'd been captured, he'd lost Nataku, however briefly, he'd put the others at risk to come get him- It was more a savage blow of emotions than relief that allowed him to sink into unconsciousness.

"Chang."

Wufei twitched, reaching for a weapon that wasn't at his hip anymore.

"We've arrived."

A hiss of opening hatch and Heero was reaching towards the zipcord. They were in a dark space, a hangar, Wufei noted. Broken mining machinery, long abandoned, skulked in a corner where they'd probably been shoved by one of the mechas.

Wufei frowned more and more as he followed Yuy across the shadowy space. Heero's footsteps echoed where they were normally silent. His shoulders were still stiff. Whatever was affecting him, it wasn't due to piloting Wing.

Wufei did not have the time to inquire. Or the desire. Heero's problems were his own. That was the way they worked. They shared their strengths and a mutual physical relief, not their problems. Wufei wasn't about to lay his self-loathing at his capture on Heero's shoulders. And a good thing too. He'd get a sneer of annoyance in lieu of sympathy. Which he probably deserved, but he didn't need Yuy to provide it.

A blonde bullet shot past Heero and grabbed Wufei before the Chinese pilot could react.

"Winner! Get off!" Wufei snarled, before realizing that he wasn't being hugged but his wounds examined with quick, gentle hands.

"You are hurt... " Quatre's eyes widened as he took a step back, his gaze lingering on the burns from which the dressings had begun to slip.

"Just bruises," Wufei snapped, and quickly walked on, embarrassed at what he saw as needless fussing. Yuy was giving him that cold, hard smirk that passed for humor in the chilly assassin. Damn him too.

"Wufei, stay with Sandrock!" Quatre said over his shoulder as he ran to the safe-house next to the hangar. "I just need to grab a few things and we'll be off."

Wufei didn't feel like moving any more than necessary. But he found himself trailing after Heero anyway. He tried to focus his mind; something was bothering him. Probably the thought of spending the long trip to wherever they were going in Winner's company.

"Yuy, why is Winner taking me to Nataku? I mean, where are you going?"

Heero took another step then glanced back. Wufei noted the delay in reaction and started to frown. "I'm staying here. I have a mission in the south of the country tomorrow afternoon and this place is much closer than Winner's hide-out."

"A mission? Tomorrow?" Wufei was tired and his mind still slightly dazed from the day's cocktail of mild drugs, he couldn't pinpoint why this was worrying him.

"Hn." Heero's eyes and face were the usual cold mask. Nothing strange. Wufei followed him into the house.

It wasn't much, the old residence of the man in charge of watching and repairing the mining equipment for a shaft that had been out of use long before the war had started. It had no rooms. The kitchen was a small thing that sprang up around a cracked porcelain sink along one side of the wall near a grimy window at one end. A door leading to the garage and the bathroom stood at the other, wood so warped with weather and age it wouldn't close properly any more. A three-legged stool stood at the kitchen table, pale blue paint peeling and matching the cracked linoleum of floor and tabletop. The bland peeling wallpaper rose to the rafters. The roof was corrugated iron packed with torn foam for a minimum of insulation. The small scurry of rodent feet echoed from the space above them. A single large mattress with two sleeping bags, probably a recent addition, lay on the floor next to the fuel heater standing alone and ugly against one wall. Wufei was singularly glad he wouldn't be staying here. Winner's safe-house would probably be the usual mansion, and much preferable.

Heero put one hand down on the ground and sat down on the mattress. He leaned forward and plugged his laptop into the free-standing electric generator he'd recharged in Wing, and the small dish that allowed him to connect to the outside world and do all the electronic damage he wished to OZ's cyberspace defenses. He began typing without looking back at Wufei, who was staring at his back, at the line of the shoulders.

Wufei followed the rattling noises to the bathroom where Quatre was packing his things.

"Wufei? You could have waited in the hangar. Oh, you probably need to use-"

"No." Wufei turned on the tap. A cascade of beige water smelling of iron fell into the cracked plastic that was yellow with age. He splashed his face, avoiding the bandages on his left hand. He passed the tepid water over his neck.

"Auda will check you over when we get to our destination." Quatre's eyes were warm with sympathy as he tracked the visible bruises and burns on Wufei's hands and face. "Trowa's in Australia, but Auda knows enough first-aid to get by. Sorry I can't check you now, or let you rest, but I'll barely have time to get into position as it is. I have a mission tomorrow. I hope Duo won't do something rash and start attacking that shuttle port without me." Blue eyes narrowed in worry. Duo and patience weren't even close acquaintances. "I'm supposed to be there already-" He interrupted himself. Wufei didn't need to know how much his capture had inconvenienced the others. Talking of which...

"How did you find me?"

Quatre threw his toothbrush and towel in the duffel bag and went to the mattress to grab his sleeping bag. He gave Heero a cheerful wave - which was completely ignored - and headed out the door while talking over his shoulder.

"It took some effort! They kept moving you around. Trowa started the search, but he doesn't have the hacking skills. Heero and Duo were both unavailable. Duo was in outer space until yesterday, and Heero was finishing that three-day mission on the coast. Trowa did his best, but he didn't have a clue where to start looking, and he had to keep moving too, what with Shenlong in a flatbed truck and roadblocks everywhere-" so it was Barton who had found and rescued Nataku."- and did his best but... then Heero and me arrived and he left. He had to fly to Australia, to get Heavyarms and complete his mission there, you know, he's trying to infiltrate that base near Sydney-"

"I know." Wufei’s mind was running. He remembered the particulars of Heero's three-day mission, they'd been exacting, as always. "So you and Yuy got Nataku from Barton and then did Yuy get some rest?"

"Rest?" Quatre blinked. "Er, I don't know, I guess." His aquamarine eyes blinked owlishly at Wufei from the darkness of the hangar.

"You weren't with him?"

"No. I took Shenlong to the Maganacs myself, to make sure that it was stored properly. Heero stayed here, used his laptop and broke into OZ records and managed to find out where you were being kept. Unfortunately-"

"Yuy was alone here?"

"Er, yes."

"So then what?"

"Well, when it became obvious you were in a heavily fortified area we couldn't easily infiltrate, and that he'd need my help for a frontal attack, we got together- why are you worried about Heero?" Quatre's intelligent eyes and sensitive mind were focusing on Wufei, curious, as he paused at Sandrock's feet.

"Does he look all right to you?"

"Um yes? He's a bit tense - actually his mood has been foul - but he's the same as usual apart from that."

"You don't think he looks tired?"

"Tired? No, he's been full of his usual relentless energy." Quatre looked momentarily tired himself at the thought.

Wufei looked at the intelligent blue eyes carefully. How could Winner not have noticed? He wasn't a bad warrior, even though he was not of Wufei's or Yuy's calibre. And he had this space-heart nonsense to rely on. But then, that read the emotions and Wufei doubted Heero had much going on there. Wufei could only read Heero's body, and that was almost certainly more informative. Which meant Wufei was probably right...Damn fool!

None of Wufei's business. His priority was Nataku. Though of course, his beloved machine was safe already, thanks to the efforts of others. All the more reason to go where he belonged, the place where his soul dwelt. Nataku needed its partner. Who was also safe due to the efforts of others...Wufei's face remained impassive, while inside he was ripped apart. Partner...Nataku...partner...

"We're four hours away, I'm afraid. One hour to the hangar where we stashed our carriers, then three to reach Rachid and his men." Quatre's voice echoed from inside Sandrock's cockpit. "This space wasn't meant to be shared, it's not going to be very comfortable. I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow so you can-"

"Don't bother."

"Come on, you're injured. I know you're tough, but-"

"I'm not coming with you."

A moment of silence and Quatre's blond head shot out in the space far above Wufei's head.

"What?! Why not?"

"Yuy needs me here for something." Which wasn't exactly a lie.

"But you're injured-"

"I'm fine. We'll be rejoining you after Yuy's mission."

"No!" Quatre snapped. "I don't care what Heero says, you've been through enough! What does he think- he didn't even discuss that with me! I'm going to-" His foot felt for the zipcord loop in the dim light of the hangar.

"I take it you're headed for the Kuru shuttle port?" Wufei said, calmly and clearly though he felt like shouting. "You'll be there faster if you don't have to detour north. I'd rather you stop Maxwell from doing anything stupid than baby my bruises. I'll stay here while Yuy is on his mission, I'm not required to fight."

He could feel Quatre stare down at him from the hatch.

"Go. I'll be fine."

"...Okay." Quatre didn't sound too happy but he must have realized he didn't have the time to argue. Wufei heard the hatch close as he headed back out of the hangar, leaving Sandrock a clear path.

He hesitated at the hangar door, as Sandrock maneuvered out and prepared to leave. He could be wrong - Nataku forgive him. He had the feeling that if he just went in and asked...he knew how that conversation was going to go and he was too tired to argue. He walked carefully around the house and entered through the garage door, partly stuck open with rust. His bruises ached as he squirmed beneath it and his paper uniform caught and tore on a jagged edge of corroded metal, but he had to hurry and get into the house before Sandrock was far enough for Yuy to switch on whatever motion sensors he had covering the place.

The back door inched open slowly and Wufei ghosted in, wishing he had Maxwell's abilities for this. Not that he thought he needed them and that was the problem. Heero was sitting on the mattress in the same position as when Wufei had left. He was staring at the screen and occasionally his finger twitched to scroll down. He was facing the front door, which meant his back was to Wufei. The L5 pilot shook his head disdainfully and approached slowly, after slipping out of the thick oversized military boots. The floor was cracked and ragged wood beneath linoleum and his bare feet, he moved them cautiously. It creaked once or twice but the figure bent over the laptop didn't move. Wufei angled so he could approach from the side to avoid his reflection appearing in the screen. He was two meters away, breath shallow, watching the rowdy chocolate hair glow in the dying light of the sun pouring through the window.

"You're wide open, you know."

Heero was up like a snake, laptop slithering from his knees, gun out and pointing -Wufei already had his hands raised. Heero’s breath caught in a strangled gasp in his throat. Wufei stared into two wide blue eyes. Heero was speechless for a few seconds, the gun still pointing at Wufei's head.

"Chang! What the hell are you doing here?! I heard Sandrock leave!"

"Did you set the motion sensors?" Wufei asked, practical.

"Wh- of cou-" Heero's eyes suddenly unfocused, then he muttered 'Che!' and turned towards the laptop. He knelt and picked it up, checking it -with a nasty glare in Wufei's direction- then quickly opened a window and typed in a code. Wufei heard a faint beep from the door as the wireless connection activated the sensors in and around the house.

Wufei put his hands down, crossed them across his chest, winced and decided to sink to his knees on the mattress instead. Heero glared at him as he settled down again, babying the computer on his lap.

"Why are you here?"

"Why do you think? Skip it, Yuy, just tell me what you're on."

Heero's eyes narrowed. "On?"

"Amphetamines? Or something J cooked up?" Wufei corrected himself. Yuy wouldn't do street drugs.

Heero stared, then turned towards the laptop and started typing. "Neither. It is a mental program similar to self-hypnosis. It increases my awareness and capacities despite lack of sleep. It is draining, but not damaging."

Wufei snorted. "Oh yes, you're in full fettle. You normally let people creep up on you."

"I was concentrating-..." Then Heero frowned. Wufei knew that despite his cold calculations and his mental 'programs', Heero wasn't a computer; he could delude himself, at least for a little while. But when you shoved facts under his nose, he didn't try to squirm away and reinterpret them like normal people would. It was too brutal for the word honesty; more like lack of any kind of self-awareness or comforting self-image. A weapon didn't need any.

"I appear to be impaired," Heero said slowly, eyes turned inward. He wasn't self-conscious or embarrassed, but annoyance was beginning to make an appearance. Wufei remembered Quatre mentioning Heero being in a bad mood. Great, if he wasn't careful he'd be collecting more bruises before the evening was out.

"Yes. I imagine your... program is very good, but probably not meant to be used for so long, or after an intense three-day mission."

"Its operational parameters were never clearly defined," Heero admitted.

"And I suppose you couldn't do anything more than catnap here. You'll be out like a rock for hours once you let the tension drop." And with no one to watch his back, Heero wouldn't let himself do that.

"You know this program?" Heero's eyes searched his own with something like curiosity.

"Not as such, but I have read about states of conscious trance that are similar. Though no one I know could maintain it this long and continue operating." Once more Wufei felt that reluctant admiration/rivalry/resentment towards the perfect soldier.

"How could you tell? Winner never mentioned anything. I don't think my mental state is abnormally-"

"Body language."

"... "

"Since I'm here, why don't you let me do something-" Wufei waved a vague bandaged hand towards the laptop "-and keep watch and you can pass out."

"Is that why you stayed?"

"Yes."

"You're wasting your time," Heero said without sympathy. "The program I'm running will take several hours to bring my adrenaline and dopamine levels back under control. I won't be able to sleep during that time, and then I will require at least twelve hours of heavy rest to recuperate. I don't have the time before the mission."

"And staying awake until then will get you shot," Wufei snapped.

"The mission is a short one." Heero turned back to the laptop with a touch of condescension in the lines of his body. "I can operate efficiently until I finish it."

"Oh? Let's see." Wufei leaned forward and snagged the laptop before Heero could react. He only glanced at the mission parameters - they came from J, that's all he needed to know; they'd be on the far side of impossible. He didn't give the laptop back though, merely put it down on the floor, then used his own 'program' - the sudden rush of willpower and adrenaline that could force speed and strength from his weary body despite his injuries- to catch Heero's left arm as he reached for the laptop.

Lithe arms tensed abnormally strong muscles but a fraction too late. Wufei already had one hand twisting Heero's in a thumblock, his bandaged burns ignored. His right hand fastened on Heero's neck, fingers searching. He ignored the gun that was centering between his eyes again.

"Perfectly efficient, yes," Wufei said sarcastically. Heero's eyes blazed, but the gun dipped. For a second. Until Wufei's fingers found the spot he was looking for and squeezed.

"What the hell!?" Heero twisted, but couldn't get out of the thumblock without injury.

"Shut up and take it like a man, Yuy," Wufei sniffed, ignoring the gun that was pointing his way again. "You can bear a lot more pain than this."

"What I can or can't bear isn't- what are you doing?" Heero snarled. Wufei's fingers released the hold on his neck, dropped an inch and reapplied pressure again. Heero grimaced, but didn't move this time and the gun clunked against the floor near the mattress.

"I've seen you do this after your kata," Heero growled. "This is some kind of pressure point method? What are you doing? Explain."

"Insuring you don't get arthritis of the neck in your old age," Wufei said, with one of his rare streaks of outspoken humor. "But that's incidental. If you terminate your...program, this will allow you to relax your muscles and climb back down to a state where you can sleep, hopefully within the hour."

"You don't know anything about my program," Heero said coldly. "You can't be sure-"

"No, but I am sure that I managed to get you into a lock while covered in bruises and burns and with a cracked rib or two, so do you have anything to lose?"

Heero muttered something very unflattering in Japanese -who it was meant for was actually not clear- and subsided. Wufei dropped the lock and applied both hands to the task. Heero glared straight ahead as if the oxygen in the air had insulted him.

"Get your top off and lie down, I'll do your back. If you think you can stand the pain, that is," Wufei added solicitously.

Heero gave him a look that could have turned coal into diamonds and jerked off his tank top before lying down on his stomach stiffly.

Wufei worked quietly and efficiently along the vertebra, not feeling much in the way of relaxation in the muscles. He hoped Heero wouldn't be stubborn about this...no, that wasn't how the perfect soldier operated. He didn't let pride get in the way of efficiency and excellence. It was one thing that Wufei admired about him, though he didn't want to.

"Why didn't you go check on your Gundam?" Heero asked abruptly. His twisted his head, eyes narrowed, trying to catch Wufei's.

"It's been in safe hands for the last week." While I rotted in jail. "It'll forgive me for not rushing to its side until after tomorrow. It needs its partner to be at his best."

"What is taking care of me to do with being your best?" Heero grunted as a particularly hard jab of Wufei's fingers dug into his tailbone at the edge of the spandex.

Wufei tried to think. Tried to think of a way of saying this that wouldn't give Heero the wrong impression.

"I'm injured, I might as well recuperate here, and incidentally make sure you get back alive. Wing and Nataku make a good team. Keeping you functional might spare my mecha some injuries in the future."

Heero's eyes narrowed further...then flickered closed for an instant that was too long for a blink. He was beginning to come down from the high, Wufei realized, suddenly hopeful that he wasn't wasting his time here. He knew from experience that done properly, the pain/pressure stimulus could do wonders for locked muscles and blocked energy paths. Wufei started to alternate pressure points and slow hard kneading of the muscles around them, to induce some form of relaxation. As much as Heero was capable of. It felt like he was massaging concrete. His fingers crept up the spine to the scalp, applying force to the seams of the skull and the pressure points above the ears, then rubbing the skin beneath the messy locks. Heero began to blink more frequently.

"How did Barton get Nataku out?" Wufei asked suddenly. "Winner said it only took him a few hours after I was captured. Turn around."

Heero looked puzzled as he rolled over onto his back. Wufei grabbed the pilot's right hand and began to apply pressure with pin-point accuracy to the joints of fingers and wrists. The arm was about as supple and relaxed as Wing's, but he thought that would change. Already there was less of that screaming unnatural tension in Heero's shoulders.

"Barton was checking some of his own sources that day. He heard from one of them that the gun-runner you were meeting might have been compromised. He arrived at the same time as the first OZ troops. There weren't enough there at that point to form an effective roadblock or oppose him." Heero's eyes narrowed as they plunged into the Wufei’s gaze. "I was the closest. He called in and alerted me. I was about to leave on my mission, and none of the others were near enough to intervene. I told Barton to find Shenlong and get it out."

"I owe Barton a favor," Wufei said morosely.

"He had the opportunity of getting you out. He thought he could attack the convoy that was holding you captive and get you to Shenlong-"

"I'm glad you told him to forget about that brilliant plan," Wufei interrupted, voice cold and measured, though inside he felt hot at the thought that Trowa might have gotten himself caught trying to free him, and then Nataku would have fallen as well. Unacceptable!

Heero said nothing, but Wufei thought he felt him relax a bit, his eyes on him. Wufei dropped the arm he was kneading and glared, hugely offended. Heero nodded slightly, as close as he could come to an apology for suggesting Wufei would not think of the safety of his Gundam first. "Winner thought Barton should have tried to get both of you out, despite the risk. He's been complaining about that decision for the last three days," he said in lieu of explanation.

"And you're tired," Wufei grunted, picking up the left hand and applying the same treatment, up to the upper arm.

"Hm." Heero's eyes were slightly glazed and half closed.

"I guess no one saw what happened to the gun-runner?" Wufei asked quietly.

"Hm. Barton kept tabs on him and managed to intersect his path while avoiding OZ troops." Wufei stiffened in anger at the risk to Nataku, until Heero, probably sensing his tension through the touch on his arm, explained. "Wasn't too hard once he slipped through the first roadblocks, they were all concentrated on the area immediate to your capture. Barton caught up with the man after a couple of days."

"Oh. And?"

Heero raised his right hand, finger gripping an imaginary trigger.

"Too good for him," Wufei muttered, restraining the growl. He was trying to keep his voice low and monotonous, to lull Heero to sleep, but he was having problems. He was not making as much headway as he wished against the tension. Heero was definitely relaxing but it would take more than that to get him off the adrenaline high he was on so he could sleep. His shoulders were still rigid and recalcitrant, as Wufei roughly rubbed them, hunting down the dragons of nerve and sinew roiling under the golden-toned skin.

Cobalt blue eyes caught his frown and read it correctly.

"I may have compromised the mission." Heero's voice was quiet, but there was a dark undercurrent to it, his eyes focusing inward in self-directed anger. "I wasn't sure of the operational limits of the program. And the imperative to not leave a pilot in OZ hands was just as important. I kept thinking I'd found you, but they moved you several times before dropping you out of the prison system entirely." Heero's eyes followed Wufei's hands as they went over his chest, inch by inch, alternatively pressing hard against the sternum and kneading the muscles. "When I realized you were in that military base, it took me all the time before Winner's arrival to insure we had a plan to attack it and silence you as efficiently as possible. As we had no margin for error, the objective was to terminate you."

Wufei paused, his hands on the sternum, eyes wide as he stared at Heero's slightly challenging glare.

"I can't quite believe my ears." Wufei answered the question in the cobalt blue eyes, anger flickering in his own.

"You doubt I would dispose of you?" Heero's voice sounded menacing, as if this confirmed something he'd feared.

Wufei took his hands off of Heero before he did any damage and snarled. "Don't insult me more than you already have. I know you're tired, Yuy, but you're not talking to Winner or Maxwell here. And I can't believe I just heard you lie to my face."

The muscled body beneath him started to coil and gather like a snake as Heero's eyes blazed in the most anger Wufei had ever seen. "What did you say?"

"If you'd wanted to kill me, three shots from your buster rifle in the right place would have leveled that base before they even had time to gasp let alone call in reinforcements."

Their eyes clashed and Heero was the first to look away.

"Your termination was the primary objective," he said quietly, eyes on the ceiling, blank and unapologetic. "But I planned it so someone of your abilities had a chance of escaping."

Wufei's hands went back to Heero's abdomen and the soldier winced as anger fueled the jabs from his fingers. "I thought you knew me better than to suggest-" To suggest that because they had shared a few moments of intimacy, Wufei would think Heero might hesitate to sacrifice him.

Wufei didn't know how to say those words, but, from the way Heero's eyes dropped again, he apparently didn't need to.

"I do," Heero said heavily. He seemed put out by the entire conversation. He's realized he's made a mistake, Wufei thought, and it’s just one more proof to him that he's made an overall error in judgment by using this... 'program' and barely sleeping for, what, a week? "I was thinking back to a conversation with Winner. He seemed reluctant to kill you."

"Winner would have accepted the decision you made if he'd been the one to get caught. He can sacrifice his life as well as any of us." And you know it or you would not have allied yourself with him, or the rest of us either, Wufei added mentally.

"Yes, he probably would have." Heero sighed. "But believe my experience of the past few days; he's not good at making that decision on behalf of others, not without suggesting highly debatable plans."

"He is an excellent strategist," Wufei felt obliged to point out, irritated at the way Heero couldn't seem to respect anyone's capabilities - Wufei's included.

"Yes, but we both had missions after the attack and no margin for- can we not have this argument?"

"Of course, you're right," Wufei grunted, reeling in his temper with some difficulty. He began tracing up Heero's ribs and sides. "In fact, you probably shouldn't have compromised yourself by giving me a chance. Which did allow me to escape," Wufei added honestly.

"I guess..." Heero's eyes had closed and he was beginning to sound tired, which indicated that the program had stopped, but Wufei didn't think this coiled spring beneath his hands would be able to sleep any time soon, and Wufei's fingers were beginning to ache sufficiently to penetrate his concentration.

A frown settled on the brow beneath the messy chocolate bangs. "It is very difficult to weigh sometimes. Each mission is important but not paramount-" Wufei, concentrating once more on the shoulders and lending his whole weight to it, nearly slipped and fell over at that minor blasphemy against the Yuy prime directive "- since they fit into the overall mission of Operation Meteor. That has a much broader definition and is harder to judge. Because of that - " the frown darkened into the familiar scowl "- I find myself putting up with a lot of distractions that I should normally be avoiding. It is...annoying."

I'm sure it is, Wufei thought bitterly, I'm sure we are.

"Although your contribution to my overall mission is well defined," Heero continued practically to himself, eyes still closed and scowling. "We are all motivated and dedicated. But you also have intelligence and focus, and you despise distractions and mistakes. I didn't understand it to start with, your pursuit of improvement, of excellence, but I do now. I have even integrated it into my own overall mission plan."

"What...does that mean in Japanese?" Or English, or Mandarin if you know it, hell, use Esperanto or any other human language. Wufei had never gotten along too well with computers. And he found that he really wanted to understand what Heero was saying.

"I thought it would take time and a lot of effort to develop my abilities further, time I couldn't spare during the war. And I never thought training with someone else would be of any value at all. But I found that sparring with you has improved my combat skills overall even in a short time." Heero's eyes flickered open then closed again. He did not seem embarrassed at the admission. Wufei would have curled up and died if he'd had to admit someone else made him better, even though...

Even though, to be honest at least with himself, this was the entire reason he was here. Because Yuy made him better, the same way Nataku did.

"Sparring." Wufei began the slow descent of the ribs again, and applied pressure to the side of Heero's hips, at the joint. "So you would want to continue training with me even without the...arrangement afterwards?"

Heero lay unmoving for a few seconds, then his eyes opened slowly to stare at the ceiling. "You want to stop the sex after our matches." It wasn't a question.

"Yes. I think we would both get more out of our training and sparring sessions if there wasn't anything else attached to it." This was something that Wufei had wanted to point out before, but he never would have dared. He needed their battles, and he didn't think Heero would be interested without the arrangement. But apparently he was, so...

"Very well." Heero turned his head slightly, eyes fixed on the window where the last dregs of light were trickling from a dark blue sky. The laptop's screen illuminated the scene; a dark blue with a scythe cart-wheeling across it, the screen-saver Maxwell had installed as a joke and Heero had never bothered to remove. "I knew you found it somewhat distasteful, but I thought you drew similar benefits from it." Heero looked slightly broody in the light, but not otherwise angry. Maybe he was wondering about Barton, Wufei thought, surprised at the flutter of mixed emotions the notion evoked.

Wufei could let him. It would be easy to say and do nothing. But then, that wouldn't be honest. Or just. Or fair. Or even, in a strange, twisted way, honorable.

Heero was more relaxed, but still bucked and twitched towards his gun as Wufei let his hands linger -without pressure point application this time as this wasn't needed and he didn't want to get shot- on the front of the spandex.

"I don't find it entirely...easy to accept," Wufei said quietly and openly. "I was brought up in a hard school where the needs of the flesh were spurned. But since that time-" Only a year and a half ago at that "-I've had to abandon academe and get down to earth again, and I have to admit that I-...have needs on that level too. So I'd be a fool to turn my back on an arrangement that allows me to help alleviate this need without any strings attached. Also..." Wufei found the words to be almost harder to bear than what he was letting his fingers do. Heero's eyes were on him now, incandescent slits in the dark. "I think it is pretty obvious that our association has brought me some benefits beyond that. You...challenge me. In our sparring and in everything you do. I need that to bring out the best in me. You would probably say that you have become an important parameter in my own ongoing mission, and as such I need you at your best."

Heero grunted in understanding. His hands twitched at his side as Wufei let his hands trail up the hardening length beneath the shorts, then down again, slowly.

"I certainly don't need you gunned down on a mission because you weren't able to sleep beforehand...Is this going to help?" Wufei felt stupid for asking, didn't want to sound hesitant, but at this point the important thing was to get Heero to sleep, get him off the damaging high he was on, not worry about what Yuy thought of him.

"...I think it might," Heero muttered. His hands reached out to grip Wufei's shoulders hard, then dropped away as the L5 pilot involuntarily flinched at the steel grip on his bruises. Wufei concentrated on the movements of his hand; the right one, the burned left one finally giving him more pain then he could handle in his own tired state. He wished he'd been a bit less of a hypocrite and paid more attention to what Heero had done to him previously. He felt clumsy and awkward, but not embarrassed beyond that. Yuy was just too cold and dispassionate about sex; Wufei could almost believe he was fixing a machine.

The hands reached up to grip again as Heero's breath quickened. His lips curled in slight frustration. Wufei knew that the sexual release was only a part of the arrangement. Heero could manage that part on his own after all and probably better at that. But it seemed that the emotionally detached soldier who always kept a watchful perimeter guard around his very life needed the occasional human touch as much as the next social animal. Wufei had realized this before, understood it without sharing the need. He picked up Heero's hand and placed it on his shoulder, but couldn't help but wince again as the grip tightened.

Heero put a hand on Wufei's as it covered his hardened erection and, keeping it there, rolled away and over onto his side, grabbing the Wufei’s other hand over his back and drawing him near. Wufei found himself pressed against a hard spine, left arm around a shoulder and pressing a sinewy chest, the other sliding beneath the spandex -Heero twitched in his hold- to caress hard flesh, soft skin, a few veins, the slickened head, a pulse of rising heat. Heero clasped Wufei's arm to his chest on one of the unburned areas, the other hand wandered back to grasp the Chinese teen's hip as he leaned behind Wing's pilot.

We're going to need a towel, Wufei thought clinically, as he realized that Heero's lingering tension and adrenaline were making even his inexperienced efforts effective. He slid his hand out from the spandex -Heero let a slight puff of air escape from between his lips and stirred - and easily ripped off the top of his prison uniform, something he'd been longing to do for days. He dropped it in front of Heero and continued where he'd left off.

Heero leaned and rubbed his back against the bare flesh of Wufei's chest, like a cat marking its territory. Wufei, through the haze of pain, lingering medication and concentration, didn't find this arousing. Although...He glanced down at the perfect soldier arching in his arms, face relaxing slowly, eyes closed, his head rubbing back against Wufei's shoulder...he had a feeling this was going to make an appearance in some of his more involving dreams to come. Not that he was all that attracted to men outside of the necessities of war, but you'd have to be as dead as Kong Qiu to not find this at least somewhat erotic.

Heero gasped and surged back against him, as Wufei felt him tighten and give between his fingers. He slowly disengaged them, noting with some satisfaction that the line of the shoulders near his was finally relaxed, more than he'd ever seen them in fact. Heero was going to be in a coma when he finally let go. Wufei grabbed the prison shirt, and felt hands take it from him. He let Heero finish cleaning up, and used his sore hands to work on down the side of the leg beneath him until he reached the feet. He slipped off the steel-capped boots with some difficulty, his left hand throbbing alarmingly. He remembered seeing a first aid kit in the bathroom. He leaned back a bit to see if anything more was needed. Heero was on his back again. Wufei could work the shoulders and scalp one more time.

 

Heero turned on to his side and an arm snaked around Wufei's waist, pulling him down against the mattress.

"You?" Heero muttered, eyes closing.

"Too drugged. And sore," Wufei whispered. "I'm fine." Apart from the burns. And the bruises. And the ribs that Heero was pressing. And the slight feeling of emptiness at having to accept his need of someone else when it was so much simpler to be alone. Oh yes, just fine.

He tried to roll but the arm tightened. Wufei lay still for a few minutes, supposing Heero wanted that extra bit of contact...wait, not Heero. Neatly compartmentalized. Contact went with sex and outside of that there was the perimeter fence with big nasty metaphorical guard dogs around it. Definitely not the kind to spoon after-...

Shit, he's asleep.

Wufei stared at the barely distinguishable features in the gloom. The laptop had put itself in standby mode and starlight had yet to make much of an appearance. But the soft sound of breathing told him all he needed to know. Mission accomplished. Pat yourself on the back, Chang, oh wait, you can't, because you're pinned to the bed by an arm that can bend steel like bamboo.

Wufei tried to lift the limb. It tightened instinctively and came much too close to crushing his ribs for comfort.

The L5 pilot stared, bemused, at the black expanse where the darkness had stolen the corrugated iron of the ceiling. And found his own eyes closing despite himself.

No. This wasn't the way it went. They were not...They shared their strengths, not moments like this. They agreed that the sparring - and yes, the arrangement as well - made them better. But this wasn't necessary, and it was entirely unconscious on Heero's part. As for Wufei, he didn't need comfort, in fact he despised it, like he did anything that could weaken the raging determination that drove him. Which was why Heero was the only one he would be making this arrangement with, the only one who wouldn't taint something that was already complicated with feelings and attachments and offers of comfort. The only thing Heero would offer him was scorn if he went to sleep when he was supposed to stand watch. Besides, his burns needed attending.

He squirmed out carefully from beneath the arm, relaxing when it tightened until it loosened again. Then he stood up carefully. Fortunately Heero was practically comatose, it gave him some leeway to walk away without waking him and getting shot. He stared down at the figure cut out in monochrome against the mattress.

If he's the only one I could make this arrangement with, it doesn't hurt that he's so easy on the eyes.

Wufei didn't like the way his subconscious mind occasionally dropped things like that upon the rails of his normally rigid thoughts, and he couldn't help noticing that when it did, it had a distinct American accent. This was why he wanted to stay solitary. But even he -hell, even Yuy, and that had to hurt- had to admit that he was stronger with others than without.

He turned and limped off to the bathroom in search of bandages and some clothes, his body finally presenting the tab for the demands he'd heaped upon it the last few days. It was going to be hard to let Heero sleep as long as he needed to. But he would do it. He was counted upon to do it.

Wufei wasn't in the habit of letting his own flesh get in the way of the needs of war.

Chapter Text

The mantra was an important part of any meditation technique. A prayer, or a soothing sentence, or even nonsense syllables designed to calm the spirit and put the mind out of reach of the mundane world.

"I mean, he's worked as an acrobat, right? So...flexible! Oh god, I could do him all night long!"

Mustn't... Kill... Maxwell was not a traditional cantrip, but Wufei couldn't think of any other at that point.

"But he'd probably prefer to be on top...What do you think, Fei? D'you think Tro would let me be on top?"

Mustn't...Kill...Maxwell...

"Fei? You awake over there?"

The casing of the binoculars creaked under Wufei's fingers. He tried to relax before he crushed them.

"You dare to suggest I would sleep during a mission?" he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on the image of the base. His voice could cut glass.

"No no, buddy, it's just you haven't been answering any of my quest-"

"Maxwell, shut up!"

"Why? This is boring enough without being quiet."

"Nonetheless we need to concentrate on our objective," Wufei ground out.

"Yeah, well, that would be easier if I wasn't so bored."

"Sleep." Before I knock your lights out for you.

"Well that would be easier if I wasn't so horny. Man, I haven't gotten laid in ages!"

Neither have I, Wufei found himself thinking. He savagely screwed his concentration back on the base's loading facility, waiting for the consignment of mobile dolls that had miserably refused to show up for the last two days already. Damn it, he wasn't a distracted chatterbox like Maxwell who couldn't think further than his groin. Even if it had been three weeks since that time after his capture. It didn't matter. His ribs were now fine, he had been back on duty for two weeks - and so had Heero, on the other side of the planet. Not that that mattered, except that it left him stuck with Maxwell.

"We're all feeling it. I mean, we're sixteen, we're constantly on the edge...well, when I say all of us, I don't mean you of course." Soft snort.

More than three weeks actually, because it wasn't as if that last time, jerking off Heero in the mining shack, had done anything for Wufei, other than give him some interesting dreams.

"Or Mr Heero 'I Pretend I Don't Know How Hot I Look In Spandex' Yuy. I thought he was really getting hot for it there at one point, but then...ah, well, maybe he found a way of getting some..."

Then there was the week of being a captive and kicked around before that, hell, when had they last - who cared? Damn it, he needed to focus.

"Although I don't see where he would be seein' some action. Wait a minute..."

Wufei glanced over at the cot where Duo had gone rigid, eyes staring at the ceiling, voice suddenly wrought with tension.

"Wait a minute! It couldn't be-...that he's screwing-...Wu-Wufei? Y-you-" Duo shot up from the cot, staring in shock at the L5 pilot.

Oh shit. Wufei stared back, trying to keep his impassive mask over a mixture of aggression and apprehension.

"You-...you don't think he's doing Relena, do you?"

"Fool!"

"I mean, this is war and a man gets desperate!"

Mustn't...kill...Maxwell...Wufei's glare through the binoculars was about to set the hangar doors on fire.

"I hope you're right," Duo said with a sigh, settling down on the small army cot as if Wufei had given him a long counter-argument. "That'd be a sickening thought, the perfect soldier and the perfect airhead going at it like weasels. Ugh." Bored violet eyes glanced around the abandoned attic they were currently camped in.

So far the mission had lasted a week. Wufei did the backup and his half of the surveillance. When a shipment of mobile dolls came in, Duo infiltrated and found out where it was going and when it would arrive, adding a tracer to the consignment for good measure. The suits were shipped in small bunches now. Oz had had enough of their larger convoys being targeted by the Gundams. But many of those small transports of suits went through this base. So Duo broke in and found out where the dolls were being sent in secret for collection and storage, and fed the coordinates to the other three pilots. So far, Wing and Heavyarms had each destroyed an impressive number of suits, hitting the areas where they were being gathered together before being distributed to Oz special force units or sent into space. Soon, Quatre would come to relieve Wufei, and Nataku would have its long overdue chance for battle based on the information Maxwell was providing. Wasn't Heero operating in Sanq last week? Damn it, now he was thinking-...Mustn't...kill...Maxwell...

"Man it's too bad that boy is straight. Now there's one who would definitely be on top, and I so wouldn't mind! God, he can nail me to the mattress any day or night he chooses. We don't even need a mattress, he can do me on the floor if he wants." Wufei's hands twitched, making the image dance in the binoculars' sight and he cursed himself for a weak fool in two different languages. "I heard Asian men were sma- er, never mind. Um. Anyway, I saw him coming out of the shower that time in Sanq and oh boy. Damn, I'm still drooling. Seeing him naked could strike you blind! Just about perfect in fact. Perfect proportions, and a perfect fit for me. We'd go together like lego! On my back, or on my hands and kn-"

Wufei interrupted with a strangled croak. "Maxwell," he finally said. "You are indispensable to this stealth mission. Your vocal cords are not. I suggest you shut up. Now."

Duo shut up with a sniff, which had a strange quality of appreciation to it. It was almost as if he enjoyed the more spectacular threats hurled in his direction, but that made no sense...Wufei hauled his concentration back to where it belonged by the scruff of its neck.

A whole week of Maxwell's strange one-sided conversations...The need for secrecy meant that Wufei couldn't leave the small attic they occupied near the base, and he couldn't do anything physical to Maxwell either. It had started out with a few rambling reminiscences of past missions and Duo's time with Dr G and his training. That had been acceptable, especially once he gave up on having Wufei reciprocate. Then, as the L2 pilot's boredom grew worse - only occasionally relieved by the dangerous stealth missions - he began making jokes, or telling stories of his childhood on L2, or making up intricate soap operas about the lives of the soldiers patrolling the hangar they were watching. He also tried harder to get Wufei to 'open up' and talk about his own past. Wufei was about ready to give Duo a detailed account of every day of his life from early childhood up to his marriage if that could wean Duo off this latest subject of conversation.

Most Asian countries had a rich and consistent culture of sensuality and pleasure, but sex was something people did, not talked about, especially in the company of mere acquaintances. And certainly not in, well, details, which was apparently where Duo was going. Wufei didn't want to hear any details about what Duo wanted Heero to do to him. Why was the infernal fool going on and on about such things?

Unless...Wufei glanced sideways and thought he caught the slightest hint of blue eyes twitching away...Unless Maxwell was doing all this to tease him...? No, even the braided pilot could not be that-that-...Wufei knew that Maxwell joked and teased his Sweeper friends but surely he wouldn't consider the Chinese pilot to be a-...Must just be the boredom getting to him. And the frustration.

It was boring and frustrating, watching the same hangar day in and day out, noting guard patrols, new faces and arriving shipments. Wufei would have loved a challenging and cultured conversation to help pass the time. Might as well wish to find the wisdom of Lao Tzu in a bubblegum wrapper.

Not that he couldn't learn a lot from Maxwell if he was actually willing to listen and encourage him. Wufei found himself grinding the binoculars again. He hated to admit it but that was probably part of his irritation. The thought curled in the back of his mind where he couldn't reach it and rip it out; when compared to Maxwell's knowledge and relaxed sensuality, Wufei felt completely repressed and inexperienced. These were not feelings the hardened warrior was used to coping with. Sometimes he found it hard to believe that Heero would really want to continue the arrangement with him, when Maxwell was apparently willing to-...But Duo would never be able to have any kind of relationship - even a working relationship - without investing feelings into it, and that would be disastrous. Wufei clung to that. Despite all Duo said about pure sexual relief, he seemed to be always ready to give his entire heart as well as his body to the people he liked.

Concentrating on the base, Wufei's mind lingered on that puzzle. Duo's experience was troubling for one so young. If he was to be believed - and apparently he never lied - he'd already had one lover and a couple of 'flings', whatever he meant by that; Wufei had managed to interrupt him before he went into too many details. It all left Wufei feeling a bit...Wufei didn't consider himself to be a late bloomer, to be a virgin at sixteen. He'd not been expected to be Meiran's husband in anything but name until they were both eighteen, which was appropriate. More chillingly, Duo had grown up an 'L2 streetrat', as he called it, and his cheerful stories - always cheerful somehow - from his so-called childhood had featured a frightening cast of hookers, pimps, drug-runners and muggers, some of whom had been Duo's friends. Duo himself had apparently been a thief and a fence, and quite good at it, and he'd navigated that world as if it were his home rather than the sordid tapestry of human misery it was. The fact that Duo could still gladly fall in love with someone he slept with puzzled Wufei. It sounded like Duo should have seen enough evidence in his life to prove that sex and love did not necessarily go hand in hand. Wufei couldn't help wonder if this was a sign of great weakness of the mind, or of even greater strength of the heart and soul. The L2 pilot was nothing if not resilient...

Yes, like a weed, Wufei thought grimly as he realized Duo had been rambling away again in the background, despite Wufei's menacing words. Wufei had started to keep a mental score; his last threat came in at something like a nine out of ten since it got Duo to shut up for almost five minutes without any physical violence. In that category, only Yuy's glares could compete.

Finally!

"Maxwell, shipment incoming."

"About fucking time!"

Duo switched on the monitors. They had hacked into the camera feed on the hangar, but both pilots knew how easy it was to electronically lie with those images, so they preferred to rely on direct visuals as well.

"Okay, got it. Recording. Check." Duo's voice still held a hint of joviality, but was serious. "Ah there you go, you beauties..." A darker current hovered in the mocking tones as a mobile doll was briefly visible through a loose tarp; the voice of Shinigami sighting its prey.

Wufei continued watching through the binoculars, noting guards, details of the shipment, size-

"Get packed, Wufei, we're leaving."

The L5 pilot glanced up in surprise, to see Duo pulling on his flak jacket and throwing his things into his duffel bag, looking grim. "What?!"

"Get moving. They're on to us."

"How can you -"

"Quatre put me in charge of this," Duo said, voice like steel. "I'm pulling out in three minutes and switching on the tremblers in the attic. You better be gone before I hit that button."

Wufei felt like arguing, but Duo was right; this was his mission. He quickly gathered his few things and exited the attic. Duo leaned in at the door and hit the remote. Under the floorboards, the vibration-sensitive anti-personnel mines activated and promised a nasty surprise to anybody who tried to follow their trail. They left quickly and in silence.

The base they were watching had been built on the ruins of a small town near Trieste, which had been abandoned and shelled during the first wars of the Alliance, when Europe had been swept with confrontations meant to reunite the Earth sphere under one flag, and prevent all future wars. The corpses of houses around them was a silent testimony to the price people had paid for that ideal, which had turned out to be a lie anyway.

Duo was taking point, ghosting in complete and utter silence along their previously scouted escape route. There was no sign of anyone else in the ruins, but Wufei's senses were starting to tingle. He was ready to bet that Maxwell had been right. If he was, the jaws of a trap were closing around them.

They froze, the silence rippling and breaking under the clicks of safeties being disengaged and guns lifted.

"Halt!"

Four of them. No, five, an officer was coming out of a ruined doorway, Luger pointing at Duo's head. The other men, submachine guns at the ready, came out from behind the low wall that had hid them. Which was stupid. But they were holding their distance, so it wouldn't be easy to capitalize on that mistake. One of the men started talking into his communicator.

"Repeat, we have the terrorists, north quadrant, section eight. Request-"

"Turn around and put your hands on your heads!" the officer barked, gun still trained on Duo. A bead of sweat trickled down his face from the band of his beret.

Wufei hesitated, but Duo dropped his bag and turned around immediately, taking several steps to do so. It looked like he was being very slow and cautious, to avoid getting shot. But in fact he was placing himself between Wufei and the officer and one of the submachine guns. Wufei slowly lifted his hands and put them behind his head, frowning, puzzled, into violet-blue eyes.

"I said turn around!" the officer shouted at him.

Duo slowly blinked his eyes, holding them closed for a second. Wufei quickly shut his own as he saw Duo's hands tense, ready to plunge into his collar and braid. Wufei threw down his bag, turning abruptly, hoping the movement would distract the officer-

"Hey!"

There was a flash of light and a sound - more a raw wall of explosive force - that made dust and rocks leap and dance in comparative silence. Pieces of shrapnel were unheard streaks of rippling air pressure near his body. Wufei twisted and barely caught Duo falling at his feet, propelled forward by his own grenade.

"Ma de dan!" Wufei swore - the officer and one man were down, the three others staggered back, blinded by the flash bomb Duo had also tossed at their feet. One of them turned a stream of bullets haphazardly in their direction. Wufei's gun whipped out and he fired three times, letting Duo fall to the ground. The braided pilot was struggling to his feet by the time the last bullet had found its target.

"This is where I'm glad I put on my kevlar!" Duo gasped, face white with shock and pain.

"Injury?"

"Legs."

"Damn." Wufei grabbed Duo, hauled him up into a fireman's carry and ran to the ruined shopping mall where they'd hidden one of their means of escape, probably their best bet right now. If Duo could hold on to him.

"It was Moustachio." Duo's voice was a weak thread in his ears, as Wufei cautiously leaned forward on the motorbike's handle, trying to see the jaws of the trap that were undoubtedly closing around them. "He always slopes off for a smoke when he's sent to watch the west side of the hangar." A vision of the dark-skinned Oz soldier with the luxurious mustache above the inevitable glowing cigarette flashed through Wufei's mind. "And Sergeant Fatso always flirts with Big Tits the truck driver, and she always ignores him but swings her hips, and-"

The rest was drowned out as Wufei gunned the motor and wrenched them around. They were half out of the ruins, but he could hear the whine of mobile suits in the distance. Both their Gundams were miles away, on a sweeper ship off the coast. It was going to take a miracle to get them out of this.

"- and none of them was behaving like they normally do, you know? Shit, it was staring at me in the face, if only I'd been quicker on the uptake, realized someone was watching them all-"

Then they'd have caught us a few seconds sooner, probably wouldn't have changed much, Wufei thought. The motorcycle roared through the dusty streets, bouncing over broken pavement. Duo hissed and his arms convulsed around Wufei's ribs each time but he didn't complain. There'd been some blood from the wounds on the back of his legs, Wufei's white pants and skin were stained with it, but he didn't think his ally was bleeding out. Cut by shrapnel, but not fatally. At least it was to be hoped. He didn't feel like wasting his time hauling a corpse out of OZ's trap.

The bike growled and the tires tore at loose dirt as Wufei drove it up the slope of a forested area on the outskirts of the town center. Trees were streaks of vicious movement trying to pull them off the bike, trip them with roots, cudgel them with branches. Wufei felt Duo's head dig into his shoulder blades as he hung on for dear life. At least the MS would have a hard time following them through the woods. But they were still in the town, this little forested park area wouldn't last and then they'd be driving through the nearly obliterated suburbs. Damn it, how-

Wufei swerved and stopped the bike so suddenly his foot and the tires shoved up little mounds of loose loam from the forest floor and Duo nearly fell off.

"What-" The L2 pilot hastily put a foot down to keep his balance and looked around wildly.

"I can't move like I need to with you on the back, Maxwell," Wufei said with his usual snap. "Get off, hide here. If you're lucky they'll overlook you and you can sneak through their lines later."

Duo stared wide-eyed at the small storm-drain peeking out from beneath a concrete apron that had once hosted the park's café. Chances were it ran into the sewer at some point, which, if they weren't destroyed, would give Duo another escape route. If not, he could hide here for awhile.

"But- but you-"

"Off!" Wufei jerked the bike and Duo staggered, hissing as he took a few painful steps away to avoid falling, then sinking to his bloodied knees.

"Wufei, wait, we can both-"

"The way to the sewer is most likely blocked by debris," Wufei said, words short and practical, knowing what Duo was about to propose. "And if they don't spot somebody pretty soon they'll break out the heat detectors. I'm fully fit and able to get out of here by myself if I'm not dragging your useless carcass around, Max-"

"You idiot! I'm not hiding here and letting you be my decoy!"

"You can do what you like, Maxwell, if they catch you I'll tell Howard to use Deathscythe for spare parts," Wufei sneered and gunned the bike forward as Duo staggered to his feet and made to rush him. He was out of the small clearing in a second, useless L2 swearwords following him. He headed along the road through the park, knowing it would lead him quickly out of the cover of the trees. He wasn't going to be Maxwell's decoy, but at this point one or two more MS behind him weren't going to make much of a difference; might as well make sure the hounds caught a good sight of their prey. More of a challenge like that anyway.

Soldiers! Wufei didn't slow the bike, so his shots were slightly off, but the three men still fell before they had time to level their rifles or reach for their comms. The shots would be heard, but they wouldn't know which direction he'd taken. He swerved into a side-road away from the park, crossed two major avenues, and ducked instinctively down against the handlebars as he heard the ratchet of an MS machine gun behind him. He jerked the bike down a small side-alley with barely a glance at the suit -Leo, standard issue- that was aiming at him.

He left the Leo behind him, but he didn't need to hear the slight hum in the air to know that the hounds were close on his heels. Aries. Three of them, from the sound of it. Italian towns were full of little winding side-alleys and stairs and gray and sand-colored walls between tall buildings, he was hidden from sight for now, but he would soon be in the suburbs where several direct hits had reduced the charming little town to wave upon wave of unrecognizable stone, steel and rubble. No more cover. If only he had some kind of weapon, one that could at least dent an Aries!

The bike's wheels screamed as he threw himself sideways in a vicious stop and slid to a halt less than a meter from a crater that had obliterated the houses forming the winding alleys he had used for his cover. Before him, only dust, rock and ruin, baking under the Italian late-morning sun. And almost every point of the horizon was pinned down by advancing suits. Only a few three-suit units of mobile dolls - small mercy. Mostly Leos, a few Taurus with heavy-duty laser canons. Laughable overkill for one lone teenager on a bike. They'd been expecting Gundams apparently.

The warrior already had a plan. He'd already left the ground troops behind. If the three Aries behind him were the only aerial reconnaissance they had, then all he had to do was -...

The bike dodged and bounced over ruins, as he hurled himself through the chaos of decade-old destruction. Every time he crested a hill of rubble he could see the Leos gang up around him, still at a distance but hemming him in slowly. The hum of the Aries behind him was getting louder. He banked the bike down a hill, gunned it till the motor howled, made a savage turn under the cover of an old bridge's remaining arch, and hurled the bike back up the incline of the steep hill behind him.

The Aries had accelerated as they lost sight of him, and were exactly where they were supposed to be, just flying past the crest of the hill.

For an instant Wufei and the bike were suspended in warm air and sunshine as tires left the grit beneath them. The sensation was so breathtaking, it was an effort to tear himself away from the doomed bike and throw himself to the ground below, full of edged debris and the promise of pain.

He rolled, chin tucked, arms protecting his head, trying to minimize the damage - a blindfold of darkness and painful stars suddenly snatched away the Italian sun and madly tossing vision of blue sky and grey ruins. He realized he'd come to a stop and instinctively raised his hand to his head where a tender lump on his temple, just above his ear, was starting to burn. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision. But it was smoke obscuring it.

Well at least I took a few of them down with me, he thought, suddenly tired. The bike had impacted with one of the Aries. The damage was minor, but the blow had momentarily stopped it in its tracks and the one following close behind it had rammed into it and taken them both down. Fools, staying in tight formation to hunt down one unarmed teenager on a bike; how weak and pathetic. Smoke billowed. One was still whirring on the ground, barely moving, the other was burning. The third...

Wufei cursed and hauled himself up. The third had unfortunately been further back and had managed to swerve out of the way. It was some ways away from him, but the Aries had a clear shot. Why-...Wufei hesitated between fight, flight or surrender, wondering why the pilot of the MS wasn't reacting to his presence.

The slight hiss behind him was all the warning he got, but then Gundam pilots weren't known for their slow reflexes. He was on his stomach with his arms covering his bruised head before his mind had fully time to remember where he'd head that small noise before, like an indrawn breath before a scream that could shatter creation.

Damn, when did he get here? The thought was buried in an avalanche of heat and light as the buster rifle beam scythed the air fifty meters away, disintegrated the remaining Aries and picked off the three Leos who'd been approaching some distance behind it.

Wufei listened to the hiss of shots and the ping of super-heated metal rapidly cooling, and decided that a Gundam pilot without his Gundam was not meant to be lingering in the middle of a MS fight. He got to his feet and looked around for cover without much hope. It wouldn't take much of a misplaced shot to destroy an unprotected human body.

Wing's pilot had probably thought the same, as a hiss of hydraulics and the roar of a hydrogen generator made Wufei duck down again. Wing nearly flattened him with the explosive force of his leap towards the small knot of Leos that were firing at it. Most of their shots impacted with little damage on the Gundanium armor. Wing wasn't in much danger from five Leos - make that three - swish of thermal sword - no, one - okay, those weren't a problem anymore. But others were approaching rapidly and in better order now that they realized they had a real fight on their hands instead of the leisurely chase of an unarmed victim. The unarmed victim in question gritted his teeth as he watched a platoon of Leos gather and fired a coordinated attack on Wing's solid plating. Even a Gundam couldn't take that much of a beating for long.

Wing brought its shield around almost lazily and took the shots on the hardened surface. It indulged the Leos with a few more shots, then started running towards them, still in the shelter of its shield. Another platoon had drawn near and started firing at Wing from the side, intent on taking it in a pincher movement against which it couldn't protect itself. Wing hurled itself diagonally, still nearing its original target while dodging the new danger as if it the shells were crawling through the air at snail's pace and it had all the time in the world to see them coming. The Leos adjusted their aim, but Wing was already elsewhere, closer yet to the first platoon, beam sword swinging up.

Wufei sat down on a handy rock behind a low wall that would protect him from shrapnel. Not much of a refuge, but at this point there was nothing in the ruins that would shield him from a direct hit if a random shot came his way. He put his elbows on the rough surface of the wall, leaned his aching head in his hands, and watched the show.

Wing was among the first platoon, sword ripping down the first MS in line in a shower of sparks. Before it could even fall to its knees the sword whipped out and impaled a second suit, then Wing spun and brought the weapon crashing down in a diagonal cut into a third. A fourth suit exploded under the panicked shots from someone in the second platoon. Most had stopped firing since they couldn't hit the big but elusive figure without catching their comrades in the crossfire. Wing had a free hand to play as it wanted. Wufei noted a third platoon approach to their left however. Damn, if only he had Nataku!

Shots from the last remaining Leo - Wufei blinked, stunned, when had the others gone down?!- impacted on Heero's shield, then the sword swept up, severing the legs and gun arm of the metal opponent. Wing was already leaping towards the second platoon of MS before the Leo could topple to the ground. The Gundam leapt up - and up - Wufei slipped quickly behind the stone wall, knowing what was coming. The buster rifle swung out from under the shield and two massive shots ripped the air apart, hitting in the middle of each of the Leo's formations. The ground trembled beneath Wufei's feet, and a wash of hot ionized air gusted around the wall and blew his hair, loose from the earlier impact with the ground, away from his face, even at that distance. He hadn't seen how many MS had been disintegrated by the flash of heat and light. He could see the result though. The careful formations were in tatters as Leos and the occasional Taurus mobile doll scattered away from the deadly shots, bumped into each other, or turned ragged uncoordinated attacks at the figure once more crashing to earth. The buster rifle fell to the ground with a clang. Out of energy, but it had done its job. The sword hissed through the air as Wing started a final deadly dance with the disorganized troops.

Wufei sat down again, rubbing a bruised hip absently, eyes on the sight. Wing dodged a shaky swing of a short thermal sword and cut its owner in two. Two Taurus leapt forward behind Wing - Wufei felt his mouth go dry - leveling their more deadly laser canons at its back. Graceful mechanical wings unfurled swiftly from the Gundam's back a fraction before the shots impacted and all the lethal beams could intersect was the jet wash from Heero's surge upwards, and a Leo that had knelt to take aim with a missile launcher. Wing vaulted gracefully on the upsurge of its engine and landed right behind the dolls, sword swinging down in harmony with its movements. Slash, sparks, two explosions behind Wing already moving on to its next victim.

Wufei watched Heero hunt down the suits like a pack of frightened rats. It was just too...perfect. The deadly dance was almost graceful. The Leos seeming to stand still while Wing pounced and spun and ripped them apart. A strange wash of emotion tore at him. Envy was not on the roll call. It was not his nature to want something he couldn't reach just because someone else had it. He wanted to do his best, his best, so that Nataku would be proud of him. And seeing this, this brought out his best, even as it cut him down. Because it was his nature to never give up even when what he was reaching for was forever just out of reach. It just made him try harder. It was his own perfection, illogically flawed, but at least it was his own.

He felt proud too. This implacable engine of destruction was his ally - and he was happier than ever that Heero was on his side. Even if he couldn't quite match him, Wufei was very near. One step behind him, and always reaching for more. No wonder OZ feared them. The perfection they were fighting for was a greater challenge than a bunch of Leos could ever be. OZ, the gigantic murderous war-machine, might be the ultimate enemy, but its individual soldiers were mere targets, chances to practice and to perfect. Watching Heero's wings crash out and rip him through the air, back from a deadly volley and then forwards again towards his next victim, Wufei realized why he didn't feel the slight resentment he normally felt towards Heero. It had never been resentment at the other's achievement anyway; it was the way Heero never looked back to see how closely Wufei followed him. But now he realized...they weren't made to look back, were they. Only forward. He would always see Heero in front of him - challenging Wufei ever onwards - just as Heero would never see him just behind his back. That was the way it was, and it was perfect in its own way too.

Heero didn't pursue the Leos that fled the scene, as long as they dropped their weapons or didn't turn to fire. Soon the mecha was alone in a ring of destruction, smoke streaming past it, blotting out the sun. Wing paused to pick up the buster rifle and made its way back to the carcasses of the Aries that had been the first to fall, and to Wufei, who stood up and began to run towards the advancing giant.

Wing leaned forward and started to sink to one knee, but Wufei made large Stop signs with his arms then mouthed -knowing Heero would have a monitor trained on him - "I left Maxwell back in town, he needs extraction now."

Heero extended a hand towards Wufei and the L5 pilot leapt on to the palm and grabbed at a metal finger for balance.

"He's in a park near the edge of town center," he shouted, hoping Heero still had him on monitor. Apparently he had, because the mecha started moving, first at a run then in a graceful swoop of its wings over buildings, heading towards a spot of green in the gray, gold and pink colors of the ruined town. Wufei hung on grimly - the mecha's flight wasn't as smooth as it looked when you were riding in its palm - hoping they wouldn't run into the reinforcements that were certainly on their way, probably wave upon wave of mobile dolls from the big military base in Corsica. They had to get out of there soon.

He directed Heero by sign to the open area of concrete among the trees, and was relieved to see Duo crawl out of the storm drain from a distance, alive, conscious and apparently still able to recognize the hum of a Gundam's motor. He leapt down from the hand and ran over to grab the limping pilot. Duo was saying about three different things at once. Apparently he was glad and amazed to see Heero, pissed off at Wufei for being such a stupid heroic asshole, and extremely unhappy about the state of storm-drains in Italy. Wufei hauled him over his shoulder with a certain satisfaction at the yelp that interrupted the grumbling and ran towards the extending zipcord.

He slumped against the closing hatch. Not a protected position in case of further fighting but he let Duo take the slightly safer spot near the command chair, in case the L2 pilot passed out. He gave Heero a minute nod of acknowledgment and thanks. Heero returned the nod with the slightest eye contact, his minimalist equivalent of ‘you’re welcome’, then ordered Duo to stop bleeding on his floor in lieu of greeting and took off.

They were all silent until Wing had gotten clear and turned into jet mode, heading towards a designated safe-house. Wufei kept an eye on their pilot. When Heero's body language gave him permission, he straightened and asked: "How did you know?"

Heero glanced at him, relaxing slightly in the chair, though keeping most of his attention on the monitors. "They were trying to get clever. Apparently someone found your tracer in one of the containers, Maxwell."

"What?!" Duo's eyes were wide and horrified with the feeling of failure. Even Heero had to relent in the face of the self-directed anger.

"Not your error. The tracer malfunctioned and started sending out a continuous signal instead of the intermittent one. They found it, and actually repaired it, they were hoping-"

"To set a trap?" Duo's face paled. "Oh god, Quatre? Trowa?"

"Fortunately it was Winner's objective. He guessed there was something wrong before the trap could close entirely. He got out with minor damage."

"What's minor in your book?!" Duo snapped, eyes wide in pain.

"No injuries, the damage was to Sandrock," Heero grunted.

Duo slumped back against the console, a look of relief on his face, partly mollifying the guilt.

"Winner contacted Barton and me. It was probable you two might need extraction once Winner had sprung the trap. I was finishing my mission in Algeria, I was closest. I'm surprised you weren't in custody already."

"I think they were waiting for Maxwell to sneak in and get him then." Wufei sighed. "They'd cordoned off the ruins, but weren't looking for us actively. They thought we might have our Gundams in town."

"I wish we had," Duo muttered and Wufei more than agreed. To have been hunted through the ruins like a rat chased by a pack of dogs, only to get rescued by Heero at the last minute, left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Wufei, bracing against the wall to counter Wing's occasional sharp turns, kept an eye on the monitors while he let his mind calm and pool in concentration. They were heading towards the coast, but he didn't think they would go to the sweeper ship immediately, Heero would want to recharge his rifle and lay low for a day or two. He wasn't surprised when Wing set down then practically skulked through the cheerful afternoon sun, walking among olive groves and cork plantations before stooping low to kneel in a tall abandoned barn.

"Summer home of one of Winner's connections," Heero said abruptly, powering down and setting proximity alarms. Wufei stood stiffly, bruised muscles starting to present the tab of the morning's strenuous activities.

Heero picked up Duo with ease, lean muscles rippling. The L2 pilot let out howls all the way to the house, it sounded like three cats in a bag. Wufei rolled his eyes. The braided fool's resistance to pain was considerable under torture. Too bad he didn't have the same restraint with his allies as with Oz interrogators. He was dumped unceremoniously into Wufei's arms as Heero left them to set the perimeter and scout around. Wufei hauled Duo up the stairs and opened doors at random. The first room was small with a double bed, the second door was a study, the third one was the master bedroom, and it was in the back of the house where a light - and screams- would have less chance of attracting anybody who might be passing by the out-of-the-way road leading to the residence. Wufei tugged the dust-sheet off of the big bed and let Duo down on it - gently, as the pilot was starting to get very pale and, even more worryingly, silent. Heero had stuffed the medical kit into Duo's right hand before leaving them. Wufei had Maxwell out of his jacket and an IV inserted by the time Wing's pilot re-appeared, obviously satisfied with security.

Heero turned Duo over and slipped out the knife from his steel-capped boot to slit Duo's clothes open along the back. He and Wufei assessed the damage. Nothing critical, the bleeding was already slowing, but several holes didn't have exit wounds, and sutures would be needed once the shrapnel was extracted. Heero took a flashlight from the medical kit. Wufei leaned forward to take it from him, but Heero's other hand caught his chin in a tight grip. Before the L5 pilot could say anything the flashlight was glaring into his eyes, first one then the other, as Heero inspected his pupils, then pressed a hand against the swelling above his ear, feeling for the creak of bone. He absently rubbed his thumb and fingers to clear away the clotted blood that stained them as he glanced over Wufei's body.

"Are you injured anywhere else?" Heero frisked him quickly and clinically. And painfully. Wufei grimaced. The worst bruises from his capture three weeks back had only just disappeared, now he had a brand new set.

"Nothing noteworthy," he grunted, taking the flashlight from Heero and turning it on Duo's back.

Duo's eyes were wide and unfocused with the pain-killer Wufei had injected into the IV line. He barely twitched as Heero fished out the shrapnel from the wounds. Duo's vest had protected him from injury to his vital organs, but the back of his legs, arms and buttocks had taken several hits. Fortunately all the metal had missed the arteries they could have intersected, or Duo would have been dead in minutes. As it was the blood loss was still considerable, and the pain had to be as well.

"So, H'ro," Duo finally muttered, sense bubbling up from the incoherent mumblings they'd been ignoring. "M'I gonna have any scars back there?"

"Yes. But most of the cuts are shallow. You were lucky." Heero cut a stitch.

"Did I get any on my ass?"

"None too deep."

"Looks fine?"

"Yes."

"Oh...so you think my ass looks fine," Duo mumbled through a cheesy leer half-buried in the pillow and managed a suggestive wiggle under Heero's hands. Wufei almost dropped the light. Several emotions clashed in his mind and were gone just as quickly, leaving only embarrassment and confusion. There'd been some horror, and also some admiration at the L2 pilot's resilience, and deep down had been the slightest flicker of alarm at the way Heero's eyes had been caught on the display for a second longer than was normal.

"Chang? Light." Wufei cursed himself soundly as he realized his hands had tensed and the flashlight had shifted away from the last of Duo's injuries. He forced stillness upon his mind and body as the last stitches went into place and Duo started to mumble incoherently again. He seemed to be talking about ferrets.

"Done," Heero grunted. "If we can avoid infection, he'll be mobile in a day or two. Antibiotics in the IV, pain-killer -"

"No seta-steda- no shit, don’ wanna be drugged," Duo mumbled.

Heero just grunted and reached for the bandages. "I don't need you now, Chang. Go rest."

Wufei snorted. He was not tired. He was...he didn't know. He felt like breaking something. "I'll go take a shower," he muttered instead. "Do we have a change of clothes anywhere?"

Heero jerked his head towards a bag near the foot of the bed. "I only brought a few things. It was supposed to be a short mission before I returned to the safe-house." Before the call of alarm had wrenched him away from his mission in Algeria, Wufei remembered, and sent him across the Mediterranean and into four platoons of OZ suits cornering the L5 pilot.

He rooted through the bag. There was a pair of sweatpants and boxers, a spare holster and shoe-laces, as well as the laptop. And 'the kit', which they all had with them: all-purpose cleaner, small towel, toothbrush, comb, toilet paper, thread and needle, emergency blanket and candles, and some energy bars. Wufei took the sweatpants with a nod of permission from Heero and brought the kit with him to the bathroom. He stripped out of what was left of his clothes - the thread and needle would come in handy tomorrow - and stepped into the shower. The water was tepid and smelled of pipes. It was getting cooler. Hopefully Heero had turned on the heater while sweeping the house and grounds.

The cleaner was harsh against his skin, and his hair tangled and caught in his fingers. The water hammered on his shoulders, warming again. It tried to relax him without much success. He growled in silence as the water cascaded onto his face, remembering the MS closing about him, tracking him and cornering him like dogs hounding a deer at bay. At least he'd managed to take some down. Then Yuy-

His mind burned with the memory of that deadly grace. Something else burned as well. Dammit! The anger flared and turned on himself. Then died. Why was he worried about this? Even Heero admitted the power that adrenaline, danger and fighting had over their young bodies. It was just something you accepted, if you were wise; there were too many other things to fight against. You dealt with it and moved on. And that reminded him of the last time he'd 'dealt with it'.

In the alley. After the mission where they'd had to dress up and act like prostitutes. Not that they'd had any interest in each other when they were both practically naked. But afterwards - Heero walking down those stairs, gun in each hand... After the slaughter at the exit, with blood under his fingernails and his stolen clothes stained with sweat. Up against the wall. Wufei blushed -and stiffened- at the memory of that crash of dark pleasure blowing through his mind and body like the storms of war. It had been...breathtaking, more than anything they'd done before. The recollection ripped through him, burned in the dead part of his soul, buffeted him like battle winds.

Wufei also remembered that the arrangement had changed since that time after his escape. They weren't going to do it after their sparring any more. So how exactly were they going to...? What would it be like if it was mutual again? That intense again? What would it be like to-... to touch that perfection, to get even closer to it. Shudo. The ways of the samurai. Stay pure, dedicated to excellence, avoid distractions. Distractions like more experienced but more emotional people. Shudo. The more experienced warrior had the right-

Wufei shook his head vigorously, sending droplets of water splattering against the tiles and the curtain. What was he thinking? He must be concussed. But in his head, Heero burned a line of fire among enemies who could be standing still for all they could do against that force of nature...

"Chang?" Heero rapped on the door, interrupting Wufei in his thoughts as well as the first tentative motions of his hand to relieve the pressure.

"What?" he said, a bit too quickly.

"Status?" Heero meant clinically. He never took more than two minutes in a shower. Wufei grunted something and quickly made sure the cleaner was off his skin and shut off the water. They'd have to set up guard duty on the security monitors, and Heero might want to shower too. Piloting a Gundam, especially that way, was excruciatingly hard for even their tough, young bodies. Wufei dried himself with the cleanest part of his clothes, leaving the towel for Heero. He slipped on the sweatpants, rinsed his mouth with the cleaner, gathered his things and unlocked the door.

Heero glanced up from where he was leaning against the opposite wall. "Apologies," Wufei muttered in his direction as he headed towards the second bedroom. "You can have-"

An arm slammed into the wall a few inches in front of him, and he bumped into the other as he instinctively jerked back. He turned and stared into two pits lined with hard cobalt.

"Are you tired?" Heero asked, and it was purely form. His stance indicated that he knew the answer, had probably read it from Wufei's body before he'd even left to take his shower.

"No," Wufei said, caught in the stare. Heero's eyes dropped to the wet hair brushing Wufei's shoulders, the lean chest, the hips from which the loose sweatpants hung.

Wufei's eyes darted to the main bedroom's door in an unasked question.

"Unconscious. Midazolam in the IV," Heero said, in a low voice.

"He didn't want a sedative."

Heero snorted. "I know what Maxwell is like under opiates. I don't give him a choice anymore."

The real question hung between them, eyes catching every shift in stance, any sign of resistance or agreement, a whole dialog in the language of muscle and bone. Heero wanted to know if he still had to fight for it, still had to force Wufei to comply with Wufei's own wants. Wufei's mind shivered in uncertainty but his body answered for him.

Chapter Text

Wufei barely had time to nod. A hard hand had grabbed his and dragged him off towards the second bedroom. It was small and dark, closed shutters allowing only a sliver of daylight through. Heero tore the cover keeping dust off the bed and threw it over the curtain rail to further block out any light that could come from the room, although who would see it out in the countryside was anybody's guess. But caution was second nature to all of them. The cover underneath the sheet was a knitted white comforter that looked like something an Italian grandmother had made. It caught the last shreds of light in the room in a cool shade of pearl.

Wufei, approaching the bed slowly, found himself gripped by the waist and lowered onto the comforter - not quite thrown - and a hard mouth covered his. A flicker of wonder. Why did Heero bother doing that? It wasn't tender and couldn't even remotely be considered foreplay. Then the storm of pent-up adrenaline, frustration and need caught Wufei and blew most of his mind away.

He was crushing Heero's lips against his own, arms around the strong neck, rumpling the brown hair, their bodies rubbing roughly together, the bed shivering and creaking beneath them. He found himself panting as Heero tore himself away and leaned over to unlace his boots; the steel caps could leave nasty bruises as Wufei knew only too well. Heero had sparred bare-foot after their first time in the abandoned shed. Which was about as considerate a partner as he got. A slit of light shining beneath the door to the hallway cut out Heero's body in silhouette. The steel hands were clumsy with tension and lust. Wufei felt something clench in his chest. This was the only time the perfect soldier allowed his control to slip, even so minutely. Wufei had somehow never considered how much trust this implied. Well not that much, but for Heero, it was considerable. The parameters of their arrangement were more than just pure relief of a physical need; it was a chance for contact with another person. Wufei hardened at the tactile memory of Heero arching back against his chest. And it was the mutual understanding that this would not interfere with their performance, would not get enmeshed with sentimentality. This was why Heero chose him, and not the more experienced, tempting Duo. Even though, for Heero, there had to be a lot missing in comparison.

They could all be dead tomorrow, and would certainly be before the year was out. Why was he limiting their arrangement to these brief, rough touches?

Because his pride wouldn't allow him to slip from the role of the hardened assured warrior into new territory in which he would be an unsure, vulnerable sixteen year old with no idea what he was doing. The realization was bitter; that was hardly a good reason. The honesty and trust Heero invested in the arrangement deserved better. Heero deserved better.

Heero's hands were on him again, rough, trying to pitch him onto his back and get on top of him. Wufei squirmed out of the hold and slipped his hands to the bottom of the tank top to pull it up. Heero backed off an inch and rapidly tore it off, then started as Wufei's hands dropped to the spandex shorts and pulled on those as well. Heero's hands were slower as they took over there and slipped the shorts off too. Eyes widened in the gloom as Wufei tugged the sweatpants off. Wufei knelt on the bed and slipped between the hands that reached for him, more slowly as Heero tried to understand this new turn of events. Wufei turned in the grasp, moving back until he could feel Heero's body a few inches from his.

"Let's do this," he said sharply.

He could hear the bedsprings squeak as Heero, still sitting on the side of the bed, leaned forward to rub his chest against Wufei's back, arms moving around his shoulders. Experienced hands dropped down to his erection as skin made contact with skin.

Wufei shouldered the arms away and his hand reached back to tug at Heero's side, leaning his ass back against the hard abs at the same time. "Come on, Yuy."

The hands hovered an inch from his body. "What-...?"

Wufei simply tugged again, indicating that Heero should get on the bed behind him.

The hands touched his skin again, to still his movements more than a caress. Though one of them happened to land on his left nipple which was a disturbing sensation.

Heero leaned forward. His breath tousled the drying raven strands as he said: "I thought we agreed-"

"Changed my mind. Hurry up," Wufei snapped.

There was a brief pause as Wufei's hair fluttered under a silent exhalation.

"'Hurry up'?" The voice was tinged with a hint of dry amusement. Wufei grunted.

Heero's left hand dropped and curved around Wufei's ribs to linger against his left hip. Since the arrangement and their missions together, they'd needed less and less verbal communication, especially when what needed to be said was at a level that words couldn't reach. The touch was a question; are you sure?

Wufei nodded firmly, while forcing his body to relax under the touch. The hand stayed there for a few more seconds, then Heero moved off the bed. Wufei stared over his shoulder in confusion. His abrupt, bewildered move was vocalized by a creak of springs and the swish of his hair on his shoulders. Heero turned back from the door.

"Getting something in the next room. I'll be right back."

Wufei turned again to stare blankly at the wall behind the head of the bed. A flash of cream wallpaper with little bunches of almond flowers and leaves and a small painting had been briefly illuminated as the door opened and closed behind him. Get what? What could they need-...condoms? Well, it must be painfully obvious to Heero that he wasn't going to pick up any sexually transmitted diseases from Wufei, but Yuy had had a previous partner. But condoms had definitely not been part of the kit. Anyway, considering their life expectancy and their boosted resistance to most infections, that was hardly a concern. And it's not like I can get pregnant; the thought flashed through his mind, making a small part of him cringe, the part that still thought pride and honor could be linked to something as trivial as an image of masculinity. Pride and honor came only from his actions, the way he lived his life, fought, and would eventually die. The dead he was sacrificing himself for didn't care what he did with his body, as long as he spilled his blood for them. The only one who cared was Wufei. And he-

The door opened and closed behind him, the sliver of light finding him still in the same position, the almond sprigs winking in and out of existence before his blank gaze. He didn't flinch or move when Heero sat down behind him again. Apparently his body had already made the choice while his mind was still equivocating.

Heero leaned past him, hip brushing hip, and switched on the bedside lamp, to Wufei's slight embarrassment. He had no problems with his body, but considering what they were about to do-... oh to hell with it. His eyes had caught a flash of Heero, naked now as he leaned back, and a rather unexpected desire had made his softening erection twitch. He didn't feel particularly attracted to men, or anybody really, but this was the first time he'd seen Heero entirely naked and, damn, Maxwell had been right. He was perfect. Lean, hard frame, muscles playing beneath golden-toned skin, violent and beautiful. The hip of one long leg barely revealed dark curls and- Then something foreign in the picture made Wufei twist around to get a better and more straightforward look.

"What-" There'd been a small tube in Heero's hand as he leaned forward to switch on the light.

The tube flashed before his eyes as Heero waved it briefly before his turned face. It was blue and white with a screw-on cap.

"Antiseptic cream for burns. I will have to remember to refill the medical kit when we're back with the Sweepers," Heero added with his usual attention to details at the most inappropriate times.

"Burn cream?" Wufei's mind melted into one big question mark.

"For lubricant. Best we can do in the circumstances." There was a small noise as the tube was uncapped and squeezed.

Wufei almost asked 'what' again but his knowledge of mechanics and biology meshed before the question could leave his lips and he figured it out with a slight cringe.

Unfortunately Heero didn't need to hear the question out loud; he could read body language as well as Wufei.

"Are you sure?" Heero's voice was brisk and demanding. Not a considerate question; he wanted to be sure Wufei wasn't going to get weird on him later. This could affect his fighting performance.

"Yes." Wufei's voice was calm and certain. His decision had been made and he wasn't the sort to second guess himself interminably. That sort of thing got a Gundam pilot killed. He didn't stiffen as Heero climbed onto the bed to kneel behind him. Heero's left arm wrapped around him again, slipping from his chest to his abdomen in a move that made his skin tingle. Something brushed down his crack and he tried to relax as it lingered, wet and still a bit cold -the cream, probably- around his entrance.

Wufei stared at the wall, trying to ignore the way his heart was hammering irregularly. The picture above the head of the bed was a small cheap painting of some saint or other in baroque colors. The scholar who'd studied art wavered at the back of his mind; Saint John Damascus? Saint Michael?

He couldn't help a twitch as he felt himself penetrated. It was surprise, he'd expected Heero to move him a bit, he was kneeling on his feet, not very accessible. The thought of 'this doesn't feel like anything much at all' was quickly replaced by confusion as the invader twisted and pushed inside him. That...wasn't Heero's cock.

Wufei hit the embarrassment at his inexperience over the head with a shovel and buried it once and for all. Heero knew he was a virgin, might as well bite the bullet. "What are you doing?" he muttered, grinding out the words reluctantly.

There was silence behind him for a few seconds. Wufei glared at the almond sprigs on the wallpaper, daring them to comment.

"Stretching you. You don't know anything about this." The last wasn't a question.

"No. For some reason I can't conceive of, my teachers never covered this in class," Wufei snapped then bit his lip. He wasn't going to start spouting off-color jokes in his uncertainty, was he? Hell, maybe Maxwell was contagious.

The intrusion -a finger, he gathered- felt...very strange, but it didn't hurt, which was what Wufei had been wondering about somewhat. Damn it. There had been quite a lot of chuckling in the school dorms when one of the older students had smuggled in some of the erotic documents from his Asian study classes. The illustrated texts on homosexual sex had garnered quite a few nervous titters. Wufei rather wished he'd paid more attention instead of sneering and going back to his homework. Of course if someone had told him that two years later he would be participating in such an act between two terrorist missions...he'd have probably decked them.

"Is this part of it?" he growled, embarrassed, this reminded him more of a medical exam or a strip search than sex. But that was a very stupid question. If Yuy was doing it, it had a function. The closest they'd ever come to foreplay was their violent matches and the single massage.

"Yes. This avoids injury to you." Wufei's heart, which was already hammering with excitement, uncertainty and embarrassment, managed to squeeze in an extra beat to allow for sudden apprehension. "And it makes it easier for both of us."

"Oh."

"Fortunately I did some research." Heero's voice in his ear was slightly disapproving. Wufei glared at the almond sprigs and the saint's eyes, full of pathos. Well excuse me if this wasn't part of my mission planning, I hadn't exactly expected to get fucked at the end of it, he thought sourly. Wait a minute... research?

"You've never done this?" he croaked.

"No." The gentle movement stopped. "I had the same agreement about penetration with my former partner."

"Oh." He was saying that a lot. It was a stupid little noise that he normally avoided.

"Do you want to stop?"

Wufei glanced around, though he couldn't see anything, bar the uninteresting décor of the rest of the room. Heero was too far behind him. Did he want to stop? If Heero hadn't actually done this before...was he really expecting Wufei to do this? Dry humping and hand jobs should be enough, after all. This was a bit longer and more involved than he'd thought. They wouldn't often have the time or privacy to- After all, it wasn't as if he wanted to-

The memory was almost a physical blow. The feeling of Heero slamming him against that alley wall and grinding into him, and him arching and thrusting back. The way that had felt in the short time it'd lasted. The truth was, he wasn't too sure about this, but he did feel like finding out if it got better than that or not. Or even just to find out what it was like. It seemed a pity to die without knowing. Damn maybe the scholar beneath the warrior was still alive and kicking after all.

"I'm not saying I'll do this again, but let's try it," he said sharply. "After all, that's why you did the research, right?" Yes, apparently Heero had been hoping for this, maybe expecting it.

"...Actually..."

The intrusion became a bit more pronounced, the movement inside more complex. He realized after a few seconds that Heero had added another finger. Wufei had time to wonder at that word, 'actually'. It wasn't like Heero to use fillers like that, he normally said what he meant straight out. But what was happening to his body was distracting him.

"Is this necessary?" he muttered, wincing slightly. "Just get on with it."

"Are you afraid of changing your mind?" The voice was slightly mocking again. Wufei's head was turned away, but he knew his body language betrayed the angry, defensive flush.

"Just hurry up," he growled.

"This has to be done correctly." Heero's voice was precise and unemotional in his ear, moving his hair slightly as it rustled against his shoulder, dried by the harsh cleaner. Inside him, the presence of Heero's fingers was becoming more pronounced, and the muscles around them were quivering a bit with tension. Of course, muscles. Warming them up would prevent injury. Wufei put the alien feeling of the intrusion from his mind, along with the slight throbbing stretch and light pain he was beginning to feel, and rose above them, moving away in a light trance. If he relaxed, then that would probably facilitate things. His heart-rate and breathing slowed, his eyes unfocused, finally losing the almond sprigs and sad look from the Saint which were starting to grate on his synapses. He was detached to the fact that Heero was now moving in deeper as he felt less resistance. This would be easy, really, and over soon. All he needed to do-

Wufei slammed against the arm Heero had still wrapped against his abdomen as a strangled gasp escaped him and he jerked away. Heero immediately froze.

"What-"

"Did that hurt?" Heero sounded puzzled.

"Idon'tknow." The words tumbled out, apparently stupid but he couldn't describe the feeling of...shock that had run through him, jolting him out of his slight trance. It had felt a bit like touching a live wire, the same shock, clench of muscles, the same trembling afterwards, but instead of pain it had been...Wufei realized that he was hard again, and what was tingling over his nerves wasn't pain as much as an unfamiliar feeling of pleasure. "N-no, I guess not. What-what did you do? What was that?"

"...This?" Heero was moving inside him again. Wufei wasn't sure he wanted a repeat of the experience.

"No. Are you sure- oh!"

"That." Heero's voice sounded ever so slightly smug.

Wufei blinked rapidly, trying to clear the black splotches from his eyes. He realized he was leaning back against Heero's chest, gasping, and it felt like all his muscles had turned to water. A slight shudder ran through him. His heart was hammering against his chest. Heero's hand had covered it, as if keeping track of his pulse.

"That...I'll let you do the research afterwards." Heero's voice was breathless. If they were doing things 'normally' they'd already be done by now, Wufei thought, trying to get back to the cold intellectual distance he'd previously achieved. Yuy was probably getting a bit impatient. He tried to ask Heero not to do that anymore, and found that the words stuck in his throat. The sensation ran through him again as Heero's fingers probed, not quite as strong this time, more a shiver of shock/pleasure that made his nerves hum. He licked his lips. His erection, which hadn't been very enthusiastic about all of this until now, was aching, and he was panting. A bead of sweat ran down the skin of his chest leaving a trail of shivers on his skin. Heero's hand was still on his heart, and his slight movement as he shifted position caressed the nipple that had hardened under the sensations, making Wufei flinch.

Wufei felt a flash of resentment, as if Heero and his body were ganging up to outmaneuver him. He really wished he'd done the research. Forget old Asian erotica, he could have had this all figured out after ten minutes on the internet. Or five minutes talking to Maxwell, although that wouldn't happen on this side of never. The fingers were still twisting and moving inside him and he forced himself to relax and ride the occasional sparks that resulted from the movements. He found that this attenuated the sensations, leaving only a shimmer of rather disturbing pleasure flicker up and down his skin, making his breath catch in his throat.

Heero's hand left his chest, the sudden coolness prickling the skin over Wufei's heart. From the slight distance of his trance he heard the plastic sound of the tube being squeezed, then the wet crackle of the lubricant being spread. Then the fingers left him with a bit of a shock at the cessation of all feelings there. Two hands, both slightly gummy with the tube's content, pressed his shoulders forward. Wufei tensed internally but didn't hesitate, leaning forward on his hands and knees, trying not to 'see' the mental image that- But Heero continued to push, and pulled his hands away from him gently, his body leaning into his -and something hard and wet bumped into his inner thigh and shivered his calm for an instant. The pressure on his shoulders pressed him down until he was flat against the bed, his right cheek sinking into the fluffy white knitted comforter. He felt Heero's hands linger once more on his hips, feeling for hesitation or rejection from his body. Then his legs were spread gently and the overly soft mattress shifted as Heero lowered himself down.

Wufei distantly made himself relax as he felt Heero's hardness against his entrance. He barely had time to worry about the feeling of resistance, of pressure, and then Heero was moving in him. There was a quick throb that barely flashed in his mind. Then it wasn't so bad. Then it...was. Wufei forced himself to relax and breathe regularly as Heero moved in slowly and the pressure against the muscles grew. The whole set of sensations was...more than the fingers. Bigger but also more solid, and it felt very unnatural. Heero's movements ceased, and he was still for a moment. Wufei blinked away a bit of moisture in his eyes that resulted from the stinging stretch, and focused on the hand that was buried in the comforter a few inches away from his shoulder; large for someone Heero's age, strong, corded with muscle and sinew. Wufei felt a shiver run through his body, and was actually rather glad that he wasn't on his hands and knees, as the sensations and throbbing were making his heart and body twitch and tremble. An American voice in his head chuckled something about being 'nailed to the mattress' but Wufei ignored it with the ease of considerable practice.

It felt even stranger when Heero began to move, to thrust gently, in and out. The muscles protested at the changes in direction as well as the unusual stretch they were being forced to; then subsided. Wufei was still in the remove of his slight meditation, and noted his body's reactions clinically. Under the pain, the strangeness and his detachment, his erection, caught against the white comforter, had subsided again. His body felt heavy and inert. He wasn't feeling too involved in all this, and somehow that disturbed him as much as the sensations. It reminded him of the passive role he'd had at first, the denial. It was as if the acceptance he'd come to, the steps he'd taken when he'd touched Heero back in the mining shack three weeks ago, the decision he'd come to now, were turned back and made moot. It left him feeling a bit empty; emotionally drained at any rate, because physically- he jerked his mind away from that train of thought.

Heero leaned further against his back and the movements became more pronounced. The bedsprings started to squeak in time to the movement, a slightly distasteful accompaniment. The feeling of stretching discomfort rose again, peaked and then faded a bit. Wufei realized with some mental discomposure that he could feel Heero's hips against his ass during the thrusts now. He was trying not to get a mental image of them together, which was probably a bit odd, maybe even weak, but well... it wasn't as if he actually had to like this all that much. He-

He flinched as Heero did that thing again inside, the one that made his entire skin and gut shiver and crackle like a lightning strike. He tried to ignore it, but he floundered short of his previous detachment, the sensations and reality of the situation overwhelming him finally. He bit back a harried groan...

Finally he clung to something else to center himself; the thrusts ending in a sparkle of pleasure, filling him in a way that was both alien, disturbing and strangely satisfying; the feel of Heero's skin moving against his own, a hard chest rubbing up and down his spine; the sight of the hand starting to grip the comforter, white-knuckled, fingers tangling in the knitted mesh, fibers clinging together with the traces of lube; the familiar smell of the other pilot tickling his nose behind the scent of wool and dust; the sound of Heero breathing against his shoulder and his hair. A tingle ran through him. That sound...Heero's breath quickening and catching and the faint hint of a moan behind it was making him shiver, he remembered the eroticism of the man rubbing against his chest. Heero was moving more easily in him now, and that little kick inside was making him shudder and his erection twitch against the comforter.

With something between defeat and relief he let go, surrendered to the sensations that were piling up too fast for his harried, confused analysis, and he felt them overwhelm him in a warm buffet of feelings that was very different from the usual bitter stormwinds that tore at him. He thought -

- hn, that- that again-

he thought that maybe -

Heero's breath rasped and a real groan escaped the lips an inch from the skin of his shoulders making Wufei's heart leap with some indefinable satisfaction.

- maybe this-... - this wasn't so bad after all...

Heero's hands ripped themselves from the comforter's strands and scrabbled to slide beneath Wufei's chest to grip his shoulders and anchor their bodies together, and Wufei felt three or four sharp thrusts against him, shaking his entire body and making him arch his back in pleasure or pain, he couldn't even say anymore. Heero gasped loudly and his body sank into Wufei's. He could feel a heart hammering against his back. Heero drew in a shuddering breath, swallowed. His breath was harsh and ragged in Wufei's ear, his cheek resting against the dark hair, tousled and tangled with all the activity. The aching pressure, which had already subsided to a drop in the deluge of sensations, started to ebb quickly. Wufei's entire skin was shivering a bit, and the very air seemed to be tickling him as it brushed by.

Heero grunted slightly and moved away. Wufei shuddered under a barrage of unusual feelings; emptiness, an unpleasant wet sensation, sore muscles clenching slightly. He felt Heero fall besides him on the bed, springs squeaking one last time. Wufei found a shaking hand - his own, to his surprise - rise to smooth down the strands of the comforter that had been wrenched by his partner. He didn't turn the other way to look at Heero who lay besides him. On his side, from the way Wufei could feel a breath rustling his hair still.

Hands gripped his hips and turned him around, rolling him slowly onto his back. Wufei glanced up at the flushed face, haloed by the bedside light. Steady blue eyes searched his own for, he realized, traces of pain or regret, or, to put it in Yuy terms: assessing his status. Wufei held the gaze, unashamed and steady. The eyes were blank and hard, but the shoulders relaxed and the neck lost its slight tension as Heero realized that Wufei was, after all, okay with this - and a bit too late if he wasn't, anyway, Wufei thought with a limp twinge of irrational humor.

Then the lips curved ever so slightly. Wufei realized consciously something he'd already understood at an instinctive level for quite some time. Heero's eyes showed his soul and that was frighteningly mechanistic. When he smiled or scowled or used his mouth in any way, it was deliberate, controlled, a movement designed for clear-cut communication. No wonder Wufei relied instinctively on the man's body language to know what he was really thinking, because Heero's control never let something like that slip as far as his face. The other pilots thought Heero was a cold, unemotional bastard. Which wasn't entirely wrong, but they were missing the little that was there. Only a complete knowledge of martial arts and the education he'd made of the body above his allowed Wufei to read anything more than those lips wanted to express.

In this case though, his thoughts wasn't hard to follow, as Heero's eyes dropped down the smooth, hard chest under his palm to the erection lying against the soft skin of the lower abdomen. Wufei found a part of himself quivering with anticipation as Heero's hand smoothed down his skin towards the head of his erection, a thumb gently swiping the moisture from the head in a little burst of shivering sensation. Then the cold curve of lips broadened, still controlled. Wufei realized he had a good view of what he'd only seen in a flash before, Heero's body in its naked glory lying besides his own, erection now doused and wet in a nest of dark curls - for some reason that was where Wufei's scrutiny had ended up. Then the muscles rippled beneath the golden skin and Heero moved like a snake languidly coiling, down to-

Oh!

Now this... Wufei knew about this. Even his sheltered and disciplined education had not left him that ignorant. But he'd never in his wildest thoughts imagined anyone would ever be doing it to him!

He swallowed convulsively as he jerked his head back and away from the sight with reflex embarrassment. His eyes fastened on the wallpaper and picture, alien from their upside-down perspective, the curve of almond sprigs arching the wrong way and the painting a meaningless blob of muted colors. Warmth and wetness enveloped his erection and a tongue curved up and down the length, so much more agile and delicate than fingers, sending sympathetic shivers up and down the rest of him. He was quivering inside and out. He'd had just about enough of breaking new ground for one day! He wasn't sure he wanted to do this - he whimpered, a barely noticed noise at the base of his throat - although - the head of his erection touched smooth wet flesh - it would take an all-out attack by OZ forces at this point - a slight tug of suction dissolved his view of the wallpaper - to get him to stop Yuy from doing that, and he felt like he was going to die.

His body didn't last long, thoroughly swamped and excited by the tsunami of new sensations that had been crashing into him since his shower. He barely felt Heero remove himself and use his hand a few seconds before the rising feeling of tightening pressure in his groin submerged and dissolved him into a shiver of pleasure.

He blinked several times. He'd knotted his fingers in his hair, the other hand was gripping Heero's shoulder. His vision cleared, to find the same upside down view of wallpaper and picture, though why he expected to see anything different...A feeling of cooling on his abdomen dragged him back to the rest of reality, which, he realized with resignation, was going to be wet and a bit sticky.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Heero glance around, eyes searching for something, completely unembarrassed. Was this something he'd done with his previous partner? Then with a mute shrug only Wufei would have noticed, the L1 pilot rolled up onto his knees and used a corner of the comforter to wipe himself and then Wufei off. Wufei felt vaguely offended on the behalf of an unknown Italian grandmother, but the thought slipped through his fingers. He suddenly realized that he was completely and utterly spent. Physically, mentally, emotionally. If it wasn't so complete, it would be comforting. The storm of anger and adrenaline that normally drove him was only a vague smudge on the distant horizon. It would be back tomorrow, but right now...Wufei felt his eyes close by themselves. It was the soldier in him that jerked them open again.

"Who takes first watch?" His eyes flickered to the comm device laying on the tank top on the floor which, he felt pretty sure, was linked to the alarms on Heero's laptop.

"I will." Heero's fingers idly traced a bruise the size of his hand on Wufei's thigh. Wufei was feeling so relaxed that even the pain had decided to slack off for a coffee break and a cigarette. He twitched away from the touch - his skin still felt sensitive - and struggled to roll himself into the sheets beneath the white wool. Heero helped by sliding his weight off of them and standing up, reaching for his gun and his comm. device.

"Why?"

Wufei glanced up, over his shoulder as he lay curled on his side. A glance at Heero, at his stance, explained the question. He wondered at it though.

"I guess I was curious. Besides...it felt right, with the shudo."

"The what?"

"The shudo." Wufei frowned. "Have you not heard of it?"

"I think...I think Dr J. used that word." Prickles ran up Wufei's spine as his mind shied away from some of the possible meanings of that comment. "It was when he encouraged me to find a partner for my sexual urges," Heero added, to Wufei's relief. "What does it mean, Chang?"

"I'll let you do the research afterwards," Wufei answered loftily.

"What? Oh."

"I guess it's a good thing you did do some research," Wufei muttered, head sinking into a pillow that smelled faintly of dust and closed rooms. "I'm amazed you took time out of your mission preparations to do so though," he added, with a bit of a snap, Heero's original 'research' comment still nettling him. He didn't like to be caught out by the unexpected, to lose control over the situation, and that had been...he'd not been so much out of his depth since he'd last tried to understand Meiran. He felt like reacting the way he had then - anger, an old refuge - but the warrior with the dead soul spoke first. "I guess that's your usual thoroughness. It would be inefficient to risk an injury to an ally."

"...Actually..."

There was that word again. Wufei pried his eyes open to stare at Heero who was leaning over him to rescue the open tube of cream on the bed.

"Actually what?"

"I thought there was a chance we might do this one day. I just assumed it would be the other way around."

Other way around what, Wufei thought dully, then his mind exploded. He stared, flushing, at Heero who returned his gaze calmly, if somewhat quizzically.

"Wh-what? You thought- you'd let me-"

Heero shrugged. "It seemed logical. I had some previous sexual experience. Even if I never actually had penetrative sex before."

Wufei stared. It had never even occurred to him.

"Why are you surprised?" Heero's eyes narrowed, trying to understand. "Neither of us should have preconceptions as to roles."

"Well...I guess I did." Wufei found it strange to talk about this, and he was ready to bet it was a one-off thing. Heero was more than just curious about why this had happened though; he was gathering data and information to see what could be expected in the future. Things didn't just 'happen' in the soldier's world; they had to be understood and controlled. "Not that I'm-...I mean, I didn't particularly want-..." Wufei gave himself a mental slap. "I was thinking in terms of shudo. The..."

Wufei hesitated, then sat up, the sheets sliding down his bare chest, to stare directly into the blue eyes analyzing his words. This wasn't the virgin speaking. It was the warrior. The partner.

"In shudo, the more experienced warrior takes the active role." He knew his body language was telling Heero it wasn't sexual experience he was talking about. Heero's face and eyes didn't betray the slightest hint of feeling, but he put his hands on his hips, completely oblivious to his nakedness, in a gesture that made Wufei think he was both challenging and accepting that; maybe slightly surprised as well. The whole point about body language was that it wasn't words, a vocabulary, it was instinct, gut feeling, couldn't be fully explained. So Wufei answered it directly, chin lifting in challenge as his hands smoothed the sheet on his legs in admission.

"I can take you on bare-hand, Yuy, but in Wing, I have to admit you're unbeatable," he added vocally, to give his admission some more information, "You're unbeatable mentally too. You are a perfect soldier." His hand lifted slightly in apology at Heero's twitch, he knew that Yuy didn't like that term. "Your strength of mind, your dedication is-...I know you see this as mutual relief for a physical need, and it is mutual. But I also consider this a...contribution to something that I can strive for but may never quite achieve."

It was a distillation of the embarrassment and pain he'd gone through to admit this out loud, but it had to be said. Yuy would never accept a link between them if it wasn't fully understood and free of all possible hindrances. Wufei didn't add the fact that there was always the slight worry that Heero would jeopardize his drive by falling for someone- Duo for example - with all the disastrous distractions and emotional entanglement that might imply. But his eyes instinctively shifted to the wall behind which the L2 pilot - if Wufei's ancestors had any mercy on him at all - was sleeping deeply two rooms away. Heero seemed to be following his silent monologue at a gut level.

Wing's pilot nodded slowly, once. But his body was still challenging. He had no self-pride, beyond the almost physical necessity of being perfect and acing his missions. This probably didn't register on his radar.

Wufei shrugged. "Of course, now that that is established...maybe next time..."

The shoulders relaxed slightly. Heero actually shrugged. "I doubt we'll be taking it this far on a regular basis, we'll be too busy." But there was a slight wave of the hand that said clearly, maybe next time.

Wufei sank back into the sheets with a sigh. He felt drained, and also, now that he realized it, sticky and wet between his thighs and cheeks -ugh- and a bit sore as well. Not that much though, not as much as he'd feared. He'd have to remember what Yuy had done to him, however embarrassing, because he didn't want to injure the other pilot either if ever-...How on earth was he going to sleep after all that? He certainly felt tired, but his skin and nerves were still murmuring, and his head was spinning with what Heero had said and implied. And besides...

The door closed in a barely heard click.

How often was this going to happen anyway? And how about the blow job? Was Heero going to expect that from him now? And what about...

---

Heero carefully opened the door again and glanced at the bed, where only a raven dark head was visible beneath the yellowy sheets. A soft wheeze told him the status of the bed's occupant. He ghosted along in perfect silence to pick up the clothes he'd completely forgotten about; he already had the comm. and his gun. His eyes glanced over the prone figure. There was no tenderness in them, nor in the language of bone and muscle. No feelings whatsoever. There was only assessment, and behind it, a measure of acceptance. He leaned over and switched off the bedside lamp, then turned in silence and darkness to exit the room.

Chapter Text

The conference facility split like a rotten orange. A few chairs tumbled down the three story gap created by the jaws of Nataku's clamp.

That made five.

Ah, there was number six, cowering against the far wall.

The wall ceased to exist.

We got him, Nataku. Easy enough. Too easy.

There, two more. Faces, white with fear and twisted in panic, appeared on Nataku's monitors. The patterning program matched them to the faces of the targets in the database.

Two mobile suits appeared before Wufei and were dispatched with only minimal attention. The two men had hopped into an army jeep. Fools.

The dragon fang snaked out, whipped around a Leo that had put itself between the fleeing division leaders and the Gundam, and struck the jeep in an explosion of metal. A second later the gas tank caught and a fireball blossomed behind the Leo, knocking it forward into the beam glaive's scything sweep. Wufei's eyes were already scanning the rest of the base. That had been seven and eight. One more.

The base was burning, though Wufei had kept the destruction to a minimum. This was an administrative facility. Paper warriors deserved death as much as anyone else in a uniform, but not the administrative staff of civilians doing their jobs. Or the many families living on the low-security base. He could see some now; women and children being herded into an escape shuttle. The base was a floating man-made island off the coast of Japan, and the only way out was by air or by sea. Wufei automatically scanned the panicked families being evacuated, made a mental note to try to avoid that part of the base if he could, avoid too many civilian casualties -

He turned horrified eyes back to his monitor as the program found a match. His last target was at that instant shoving women and children out of the way and running on to the shuttle.

Coward!! Monstrous coward! After Wufei attacked the conference room he and his peers had been occupying, he had to know he was a target! And he was hiding among women and children!

Nataku was already lunging forward, swatting an aries out of the air instinctively, but-...

He couldn't leave Nataku standing empty in the middle of the still-hostile base to go and drag the dog out. And the only way of getting his target in the Gundam would be to take down the shuttle.

"I guess we have no choice, Nataku." Wufei turned, strafed an MS depot with his flamethrower in a fit of anger, kicked a Leo into the sea and took off. Behind him, the shuttle did so as well, heading in the opposite direction.

Wufei hit the comms, keyed in the Mission Finished sequence.

//Wufei?// Winner's voice. //Done?//

"Yes. One of them escaped," Wufei added, biting down on the words.

There was a shuffle in the background on the other end of the radio. //Status?// Yuy.

"Me or the mission?" Wufei asked acidly, knowing full well which one Yuy meant.

//Can the target still be reached?//

"No." Wufei snapped. If the bastard could still be reached, he'd be dead, or as good as! "He boarded a civilian shuttle evacuating the families on the base."

//You couldn't catch a civilian shuttle?!// Yuy barked. Wufei said nothing. In the background however, Winner and Maxwell had quite a lot to say.

//It wouldn't be politically wise to attack unarmed civilians, Heero.// Quatre's voice, the usual sad but distant tones he used when he made a decision as their tactician rather than the human being he wanted to be.

//Good god man! Did you want him to shoot down kids?!// Duo said, practically at the same time, causing the radio to whine a little. //If the guy used them as shields, what was Wufee gonna do? I mean, for once he shows a bit of heart, ya gonna-//

Wufei frowned.

//The mission-// Yuy's voice was dark.

"Signing off," Wufei said, and switched off comms before they could acknowledge.

Politics? Heart? Mission?

Wufei leaned back and crossed his arms on his chest, trying to relax and feeling more annoyed than when he'd seen the target board the shuttle.

"Things were simpler when we were alone. Right, Nataku? Sometimes-"

The radio hummed. Damn. Wufei hesitated but switched it on, maybe they had something important to say besides all the arguing.

//Come in, Gundam over Jap point. Chang Wufei? Come in.//

Wufei's hand froze. His whole body shuddered to a stop on hearing those patrician tones from the speaker.

//Ah, you are now receiving me, according to this device.//

Turn it off! Turn it off turn it off turn it off-

Wufei's hand stayed frozen over the controls.

//This is Chang Wufei, isn't it? Well if it wasn't, you'd have already switched off the comm.// Treize's educated tones took a thoughtful turn. It was the same voice he'd used during their one and only encounter to date, when Treize had bested him in their duel and then decided, face amused but eyes thoughtful, to let him go instead of killing him. //I'm fairly certain it is you. When I heard of a devastating Gundam attack that killed all division heads on I45, but spared the coward who ran onto a civilian shuttle...I don't know all you pilots, but I know one or two of the others who would not hesitate long before shooting. You and I have only met once, but I think I know you too. You are honorable, you don't make war on women and children, do you...//

Wufei felt like he was caught in a web, the words tingling along the sticky strands, making his whole body and soul vibrate with helpless fury.

//Wufei?...Won't you talk to me? Well, I suppose not. I'm sorry I defaulted on our return match. I'm sure you heard of my circumstances.// Imprisoned by Romefeller. Betrayed by those who had put him in power. Locked away in...Luxemburg? Bruxelles?

//This is only temporary however.// The cultured tone betrayed a hint of a smile, a whisper of co-conspiracy. Turn it off turn it off turn it - //I believe my fortunes will change soon. I hope we will one day have the opportunity of facing off. Oh, for that to happen though, you will have to drop to sea-level and head north. I still have my ins and outs in the military channels, and a considerable fleet of mobile dolls are heading your way at bearing-// Treize rattled off a few numbers. Wufei watched in horror as strands of the spider's web jerked his hand to the keyboard where it entered the coordinates.

//They are trying to get in below your radar but if you turn to channel 1349, you should be able to trace them via the radio waves of their controllers.// Click of keys. A series of radio waves started dancing on his screen. Wufei almost tried to ignore them out of sheer spite, but he couldn't do that to Nataku.

//...Did I mention how much I loathe those machines? It’s one of the reasons I am where I am, I suppose. I think war should be fought among human beings willing to die for their beliefs, their notion of honor, of right and wrong. That's what gives it meaning. The dolls, well, it makes a mockery of it all. It empowers the weak and makes a warrior's strength and courage meaningless. But I don't have the time to chat about that. If you've changed your bearing as I suggested, you will be out of range of this pirated channel soon.// The transmission was starting to crackle. //Until we meet again. My friend. Out.//

He was all alone in Nataku's hard embrace. The waves rushed and whistled beneath them both.

Wufei's hands convulsed on the throttle and he bowed his head forward, lips curling in an unvoiced scream of anger.

 

 

He carefully parked the flatbed truck in his spot in the underground parking lot and switched off the engine. He sat for a minute staring at the steering wheel. Then he slipped from the cab, checked the perimeter automatically and headed out. He noticed in passing that Wing's hatch was open. Heero either didn't hear him or chose to ignore him.

Good. He didn't want to deal with Heero right now, he had the feeling he might get violent with the soldier. It was strange that he could-...that he could let Heero fuck him and that nothing would change between them. They'd get up the following morning and continue doing the impossible, opposing OZ with their small forces, working on as allies and sometimes partners, sparring, planning attacks...the occasional handjob...But blow a small-time assassination mission and watch your estimate tumble in the eyes of the oh-so-perfect soldier. If Heero said anything - even grunted - Wufei would probably beat the crap out of him in his present mood.

Wufei leapt quickly up the stairs towards the cloud-muffled afternoon, glancing around instinctively before leaving the shelter of the garage's exit. They were hiding out in the outskirts of Fukuoka, on Kyuushyuu. The suburbs they'd chosen had been near an Alliance base that had been severely bombed during OZ's coup. The base and the area adjacent had been evacuated, and in the various political and military upheavals that followed, they were still mostly unoccupied, many buildings unsafe. The underground parking lot was secure though, they'd checked it thoroughly for damage. The abandoned house they were using lay a few hundred feet from it, in a neighborhood most people still avoided. Their informants had told them the family had emigrated and wouldn't return until things had definitely settled. It was a good hiding place. Wufei had been very careful in his approach to avoid leading the mechanized hounds on his trail to their doorstep.

The L5 pilot entered quietly, slipping his shoes off and ghosting towards the dojo.

"Fei?"

He walked on as if he hadn't heard the hesitant question from the kitchen. From the corner of his eyes he saw Duo put down his cup on the kitchen table, and at the same time he saw Quatre, without lifting his head from his laptop, reach across and put a hand on the L2 pilot's arm. He didn't wait to see what Duo would do or say next, if anything. He continued on to the dojo.

It wasn't very big. This being Japan, the small room, nine feet by twelve, was still a touch of luxury. It had been used as a TV room, but Heero and Wufei had arrived in the house first and had, in unspoken accord, moved the entertainment system and chairs out of the dojo and into a bedroom (which Duo had promptly claimed on arrival), so that the small room could be used for its intended purpose.

The sprung wood flooring shivered lightly beneath his bare feet. A stray ray of light crept into the single window and brushed the decorative wooden inner walls. Wufei dropped his duffel bag in a corner and took up first position. Breathed.

He'd reached the third form when he faltered. He breathed out through his nose, took up first position again, breathed, then breathed again, paying particular attention to the play of muscles across his chest and abdomen, the movement of the chi from higher to lower.

It annoyed him that-

No, concentrate.

It just annoyed him that the others would think he was upset at failing the mission!

Concentrate. Begin.

First form, second, third-

As if he actually cared about these missions.

His fist lunged and his body followed like a crane swooping into fifth form and he had to stop again because otherwise he'd have dealt the wall a vicious blow. Damn dojo was too small. But there were a few people still living in the neighborhood, he couldn't risk doing this in the garden. The parking lot? No, Yuy was down there. He returned to the middle of the room and took up first position again, breathed in and out slowly, before plunging into the violence again, aiming the lines of movement at the corners of the room.

Treize. Mission. Justice. Enough!

He felt more than heard Duo creep up to the door, though the braided teen stayed in the shadows. Wufei would not normally be able to notice their master of stealth. Either Wufei's nerves were so shredded they were now better than radar, or Duo was deliberately revealing his presence, in an offer of- what, talk? Comfort? Moral support? Wufei continued the shortened movements of his main kata, knuckles and legs occasionally brushing the wooden walls like bird wings beating against a cage. After a few minutes, the presence at the door - which had mercifully remained silent - left.

Justice. Mission. Treize.

Wufei faltered and nearly fetched up against a wall. He laid both hands against it, head swimming at the sudden interruption of the movements that were as natural to him as breathing. The thin wood, lattice work covered in decorative panels, creaked a bit as he found himself increasing the pressure as if he could shove his way out.

He snarled silently and resumed first position. Took a breath.

Justice mission Treize mission justice-

From the kitchen he thought he heard the crash of a cup hitting the table and a chair being shoved back, but the faint, distant sounds were lost in the hurricane.

Wufei could feel his lips curl back in the silent scream again. The second movement of the kata ended with his fist buried in the wooden wall, panel punched through and lattice work behind it snapped. A flash of the external wall, crude and bare, showed beyond. He ignored Quatre who'd appeared, eyes wide, in the doorway. He spun and buried his bare foot in another panel, causing the whole thin frame of lattice to crash back into the outer wall a few inches behind it. He used the leg as support and spun again, bringing his other knee up into the fallen panel, breaking it in half. The rounded crack of the panel splitting, echoed by the smaller crunching sounds of the lattice beams snapping beneath it, nearly covered-

"Fei?!"

- the sound of Duo's voice as he ran up. Wufei spun into a new form, barely noting the braided pilot being shoved away from the door by Quatre. He scythed the intangible enemy with his right leg, shifted his support, shot up and spun and brought his left fist backhand into the wall again. The panel resonated like a drum and bounced, and then crashed into the wall as his right fist followed through, punching it savagely.

"Fei! Let me-"

"Duo, get back!"

What was he doing?!

Turn, lunge, kick, straighten. Three steps, fists hammering the empty air.

What was he fighting for?!

He spun and crashed his right foot backwards into a panel, spun again and punched through the panel as it fell towards him. His fist ripped through the decorative wood. He brushed away the upper part of the panel before it hit him in the face, nerves on fire, a creature of pure reflex. He ripped his hand free of the lattice work that tried to capture him, tame him. He noted in the far corner of his mind the cuts and splinters on his fist. Unimportant. Ninth form.

He had just killed eight men from the Romefeller faction of OZ - fall back on one bent knee, dodging an invisible blow, fist lunging up to break the elusive opponent's leg - who had imprisoned Treize.

Sweep, lunge again.

Treize, whose men had attacked his colony and had caused Meiran's death.

Fist out, swing - a panel cracked and lurched towards him. He dodged it gracefully. Blood splattered on the wooden floor. He struck the panel with the edge of his left hand as it fell past him. It landed in splinters, scoring the floorboards.

Treize, who had beaten him and let him go, who hated mobile dolls with the same passion as Wufei, and for pretty much the same reasons.

Swing, balance, leg shooting out to score on the next panel in line-

Distant voice: "'Ro, come on! He's lost it!"

The panel screamed as a nail caught; a previously hidden metal joist behind it ripped through the wood like a hostile hand reaching for him. He caught himself just before punching it instinctively.

"Do something!" At the door.

"What do you suggest I do?" Heero, voice indifferent.

"Help me stop him!"

Step back, thirteenth form, lunge forward, attack the resisting panel again.

"Why?"

The panel shattered, pieces of wood skittering across the floor, catching in the grooves of the slats.

"Wh-why?! He's destroying the fucking dojo!"

"So? You don't use it."

"But-"

"The house doesn't belong to us. Who cares about the woodworks?"

"But he's bleeding!"

Wufei could almost feel analytical eyes weighing him professionally as he spun into the next form.

"He's not injured himself seriously."

Lunge back, sweep, dart across the room to a previously untouched wall.

"Call me if he opens a vein. I suggest you don't try to stop him by yourself. You're good at hand-to-hand, but not that good."

"Damn it Yuy-" voices faded.

Wufei's lips curled back into a savage smile as he entered into the final five forms.

So here he was

-crash-

fighting and killing Treize's enemies

- lash, lunge, wham -

while the man himself sat peacefully under house arrest plotting his return

- fall back, dodge, swing, smash -

and told Wufei how to evade mobile dolls

- swing, aim for an intact panel, clang! Another joist -

so that Wufei could continue on and on with his hollow partisan activities

- backhand the joist, rip of nail from plaster -

in the name of colonies that had renounced them and were arming for war

- smash the joist with a bloodied left fist, tear it out of the wall -

and left him to return to a safe-house to have sex with a man

- foot shoots out and scythes the joist as it tumbles through the air, sending it crashing across the room -

and live with a bunch of near-psychotic teenage terrorists

- spin and slam leg back into remaining section of wall panel, crack it straight down the middle -

waiting for another mission that would send him to fight his enemy's enemies, with no sense of justice or right or wrong or honor just kill, kill, kill

- fall back, spin, sweep panel onto the floor -

until they shot him down like a dog.

Nataku!

Fall back, bloodied fists pulled back at his side. Breathe. Hands down. Breathe.

He sank to his knees, dropping immediately into meditation.

 

 

The slight awareness of the outside world he kept instinctively warned him when Duo came back. At first he only stayed a minute. The small part of Wufei that had not escaped to timeless, painless nothingness kept an eye on his internal clock. It was an hour later that Duo returned, and stood, staring, for ten whole minutes, letting his presence be felt. He said nothing though. Wufei didn't even have to make a conscious decision to ignore him. His wise silence uninterrupted, Duo left again with a shrug, to get ready and leave on his own, nocturnal mission.

Quatre never showed up. He didn't need to be near Wufei to know that it was best he was not disturbed.

The afternoon started to die. A small breeze crept hesitantly into the dojo, stirred the dust in the corners, tried to nudge the wood piled hither and thither.

Wufei felt not the slightest trace of hesitation or doubt in Heero's firm step as Wing's pilot flipped on the lights, stepped over decorative kindling and circled him. In the deep quiet of his trance, he heard/felt Heero kick a few pieces of wood out of the way and kneel before him. And wait.

Wufei slowly gathered the nothingness around him, grasped it in his hands, buried it in his heart to the hilt...His shoulder relaxed slightly, giving Heero permission to be there, not that the L1 pilot had sought it.

He felt Heero reach for his hand. "It's been three hours. If we don't deal with this now, they could get infected." Heero's voice was practical.

Wufei watched with detachment the strong callused hands turn his over, angling the cuts to the dying afternoon light. Heero snapped open the medical kit he'd brought and fished out forceps, disinfectant, thread and curved needles, bandages and, after a quick glance at the sky fading to slate outside and the dim lights overhead, a flashlight. He handed the last to Wufei without a word or a glance.

Wufei held the light with his free hand, watched the bowed head as Heero cleaned his cuts, fished out splinters, applied disinfectant.

Heero's hands finally stilled; cobalt blue eyes, flat as glass, caught his.

"You're leaving." It wasn't a question.

"Yes."

Heero seemed to plunge into that breath of stillness for a few moments. Even his body didn't express what was going through his mind, what internal arguments he was trying out, what words he was attempting to formulate. If any.

Finally he turned slightly, put the plain suture thread back into the kit and took out the more expensive catgut instead. Wufei was silent as Heero bowed over his wounds once more, putting in the absorbable sutures with practiced ease. A flicker of blue caught his eye as Heero glance up briefly.

He's trying to understand...Wufei tasted the thought, trying to decide how he felt about that. Surprise was predominant. Heero probably knew Wufei wouldn't change his mind whatever he said. Which was why he wasn't trying to argue with Wufei. Thus comprehension would bring no benefits, and so should not be required. That was the way Heero thought. It was efficient like everything he did; why waste mental resources pondering a problem whose solution would not help the war?

He knew Heero understood his display in the dojo. This was the man who had gone around to each member of the Noventa family and offered to let them execute him to make up for a single mistake. But Heero had done that when it had seemed the Gundams and their pilots were deadlocked, the colonies hostage, and their lives expendable. The fact that Wufei would consider leaving the war now, leaving the missions, and just go...No, Heero would not be able to understand that. On that one point, they were too different.

Heero reached for his other hand. Wufei switched the light around, feeling the three freshly-applied stitches stretch under bandages as he clasped the plastic casing.

"Peace..." Heero looked almost stunned he'd said anything. Wufei was not so surprised; that Heero had spoken and that his new-found ideal would be the first word out of his mouth. Heero had changed a lot recently. The man-boy who had thrown Wufei to the floor and humped him that first time had only one motto. Find your enemy and kill him efficiently. Since then, he'd been plunged into the same whirlwind of war as Wufei and the 'finding your enemy' part had become difficult for all of them when the factions aligned against them changed every week. Heero had apparently found something to believe in and anchor him; the peace that Relena Peacecraft advocated. Whatever he thought of her as a person, Wufei couldn't help but remember her in her Queen regalia, affirming universal peace as if it were a concept that was merely a matter of will. Heero had apparently decided to believe in it, with that same hard uncaring core of efficiency and brutality that he'd used to kill his enemies. Wufei tried to decide whether this was a good thing.

"Yes. Peace. And war. You and Treize are like two sides of the same coin," Wufei said, almost to himself.

Heero looked up at him blankly, hand poised with the forceps.

"You live and kill and die for your big ideals."

Blue eyes searched his with utter incomprehension. Wufei wasn't going to bother to explain, what was the point?

"I don't believe in peace, Heero."

Huh. The words had slipped out. Looked like a part of him did want to explain. How strange. He ignored the widening of Heero’s eyes, the sudden grip of the previously careful fingers on his cuts. He was listening to his own words with curiosity. What would he say, what could he say, to get through to Heero...

"Peace is not possible. It is an ideal you strive for, but it is not real. I don't believe in it. I don't believe it would be a good thing even if it was achievable." Heero's eyes widened even more and in that moment of surprise he looked his age. "Men will always use weapons on each other, it is their nature."

"If we remove OZ and Romefeller, this will stop the production of mobile suits," Heero said firmly. Wufei wondered what was going through that strange head of his. How would the straight lines he lived by cope with Wufei's words? He should stop, shouldn't say anything more...

"And will you also remove tanks, Yuy? Bombs?"

"Yes. Peace implies-"

"Guns? Knives?"

"We will -"

"Broken bottles?" Wufei's lips curled. "Rat poison?"

"- fight the war so that people can -... rat poison?"

"...Didn't you know? My colony was attacked over a year ago. By OZ, the Alliance. By ordinary men and women following orders. They were going to use biological weapons against us. The kind you use to wipe vermin from an unoccupied space station. I'd like to point out at his juncture that we weren't at war with anybody. They didn't know of Nataku's presence at that time." The Gundam, or the heart-strong girl who fought them tooth and nail to stop them. But he didn't go into details. That was something for himself alone. "We were, for lack of a better term, at peace. Tell me, will your Peace stop this from happening again?"

Heero was silent for a few moments, eyes flickering as they tracked every detail of Wufei's pupils as if trying to gage the depth of the darkness there. He was too honest to lie, or to gloss over the truth.

"Real peace would," he said finally. His eyes were turned inward now. Wufei wondered what he was seeing there.

"There is no such thing."

"I fight because I believe there is." He seemed surprised at his own words, and so was Wufei. Heero? Believe? An act of faith from a weapon?

"And I believe that if such a thing existed, it would be a disaster."

Finally anger flared at the back of those eyes. "Why?" Heero snapped.

"Because it would bring the strong down to the level of the weak. It would castrate the human race, Yuy. Turn us all into sheep. But that won't happen because the wolf is more than skin-deep, and even your wonderful Relena can't drag him out."

Anger blazed in Heero's eyes, then flickered out. The L1 pilot turned his attention back to the hand in his palm and fished out a piece of wood with the forceps, a bit less gently than he could have, Wufei thought with a wince.

"So what was it that you were fighting for all this time?"

Heero knew, Wufei realized, he just wanted Wufei to say it, to lay it out where they could both look at it.

"Justice."

"And that's not an ideal?" Wufei watched Heero's brow crease as he struggled with unfamiliar concepts.

"It's definable, and it's attainable. So I don't think it qualifies," Wufei said, using the slightly stuffy scholarly tones to hide the slight waver in his soul. Justice had seemed so simple and clear-cut to start with. But the only clear cut turned out to be the one that Treize failed to make in Wufei's throat with his saber. After that everything got a bit fuzzy and messy and he started following other paths, fighting for others, for the weak, for missions, for, ultimately, a peace which he didn't believe in.

As far as Wufei was concerned, a peace without justice could go hang itself.

And that was why he had to leave. The paths the others were dragging him down were not his own. He had to find it again, that one shining path that led to Justice. He wouldn't find it here, distracted by...distracted by other people.

"I'm taking Nataku to outer space," Wufei said abruptly. The path started in the ashes of his destroyed colony. He would begin there and see where he would go after that.

Heero was silent as he sutured a gash. Then he said: "Winner has been keeping an eye on the situation in space. There's a lot going on out there. I think that is where the next battlefield will lie." There was almost a question in that comment.

"I think you will all have to go into space sooner or later," Wufei said quietly. "But I do not think our paths will cross."

Heero's head sank the breadth of a shadow, in acceptance and dismissal. Wufei felt a stab of regret. He knew that without Heero to be his beacon and rival, he would lose part of himself, but it was something he was going to have to accept.

The last bandage was fastened carefully. "The stitches will dissolve within ten days," Heero said needlessly. "But if you see any reddening or swelling you should try to get professional help." He didn't sound hopeful. Space was as hostile to them as Earth at present.

"I know." Wufei rose gracefully. Heero stayed on his knees, eyes flickering over Wufei's feet, checking for further injury.

Wufei glanced back after two steps. "What are you going to do for an arrangement?" he asked curiously. He felt a fleeting concern for Heero's performance. Wufei didn't like the thought that his leaving might compromise his partn- his former partner's efficiency. But that wouldn't stop him from leaving.

Heero shrugged, eyes on the Kamiza that Wufei had left intact. He looked distant and unconcerned with trivialities.

"I'm sure Relena wouldn't mind," Wufei said thoughtfully. His spontaneous little barb earned him a horrified glare.

Neatly compartmentalized, Wufei thought with an inner smirk. Relena was the nucleus of the new world order, the big shiny Peace, the living, breathing core of Yuy's ideal; the soldier was too down-to-earth and short-sighted to be able to live, kill and die for a nebulous idea, he had to materialize it. As such, Relena wasn't for sex! Never mind that she wasn't an incarnate ideal but a real girl, and, Wufei thought dryly, a good tumble followed by a dramatic heartbreak would get her reacquainted with reality for the good of all.

Still, it was probably for the best. Even a normal man would hesitate to put a foot in that emotional mine-field. Yuy would rather self-destruct than go there. Well, good luck with Barton, Wufei thought, somewhat cruelly; from what I've seen he doesn't have much need for an arrangement but he's a good soldier and will do as he's told.

"Chang?"

"What?" Wufei turned towards the door.

"There are a lot of factions in space. It's a complex situation. Who are you going to fight?"

"Everybody. Sayonara, Yuy."

"Ja matta."

Wufei cast one fleeting glance back at the kneeling form putting the medical kit back in order. See you later? At the gates of hell, maybe. That would be the only place their paths would cross now.

Chapter Text

'In the face of evil, one would rather be a broken jade than a brick intact.'
--- Chinese proverb.

The wreckage of suits and stars orbited around them.

Throw down your weapons. When the weak are armed they lose control. The weak should not fight.

Nataku was the unmoving center of a small galaxy of debris, and the stars moved around them both.

I'll keep on taking my own path. I take no orders.

The only thing that was no longer moving was time. It had ceased to function along with his Gundam, leaving Wufei hanging in space like a fly in amber, as minutes or centuries fled by outside.

Wufei, strength is in the mind, and the mind is a battle against oneself.

It would be easier to fight a battle against oneself if a whole fleet of mobile dolls and warmongering fools from every faction is space didn't continuously insist on interfering, Wufei thought with slight sarcasm; it coloured his meditation like bubbles of air caught in the same amber.

At least...

Justice is believing in yourself, not lying to yourself, and never betraying yourself.

At least he'd followed his path to its logical conclusion. He hoped Master Li would approve. The old man had also followed his righteous path, to pretty much the same conclusion as Wufei. All roads led to the same grave at the end, but the manner of going honored or dishonored the life that was-

Beep-beep

The noise fractured the amber and the eternal dance of debris around him. Wufei opened his eyes a fraction, glanced at the long-distance radar. Analysed the approaching signature. Recognized the FOF signal.

Huh. Well, Nataku, looks like our road may go on a little further.

He closed his eyes again and waited patiently for the transport shuttle to approach and pick him up.

 

 

The door opened to reveal the shuttle's cabin and the occupants. Wufei glanced without surprise at Heero off to one side. He was sitting in his usual pose, arms crossed, face set. A brief glance up was acknowledgment and greeting. Wufei met the gaze for a second in return. He then turned to the shuttle's pilot, who was not someone he'd expected. The last he'd seen of Sally, she'd been with her resistance cell in China, but that had been a long ago in terms of political upheaval and rearrangement of allegiances. If he'd thought of her at all, he would have been quite unable to say if she still had any opponents to fight against in China, or if he would have to consider her a friend or foe at this juncture. Her presence here with Heero and two - now three - Gundams in her shuttle's hold probably meant she was not an enemy.

It didn't mean she was on his side, of course. No one was. It was simpler that way.

"It's been a while," Sally said with her quiet smile. Her eyes flicked curiously between Heero and Wufei but if she was expecting a greeting between them she was going to be disappointed. Or to be more precise, she'd missed it.

Wufei almost smiled. It had been too long...He'd only left a month ago, but it was long enough in terms of battle and destruction and a solitary path. And getting distracted by people whining at him to join this or that side, trying their ‘irrefutable’ arguments on him and expecting him to fall in line. It was nice to be once more with someone who understood exactly how he thought.

So... Heavyarms wasn't space worthy. And Nataku was too damaged for a long space flight. He very much doubted Heero would let him ‘borrow’ the other suit, not without one hell of a fight. But he had to get to Libra, follow his path to its inevitable and bloody conclusion.

Wufei considered the implications of Sally's flight plan to Peacemillion even as he found himself sarcastically suggesting he'd commandeer the shuttle and head for Libra instead.

His baiting was rewarded with the slightest snort from the seat on the other side of the cabin. But Sally apparently took him seriously.

"Good point, I never thought of that. But on Peacemillion, there are supplies and engineers who can repair your Gundam. You can go and attack Libra afterwards," she added kindly.

Wufei glanced at Heero, trying to read him. "Is that why you want me to come?" Just to repair Nataku? No strings attached, no promises made or demanded?

Heero said nothing. Wufei noted his silence. As he noted that Heero was on his way to Peacemillion as well.

Sally was looking at them curiously. She'd obviously been surprised at their lack of greeting when he'd come in, and she seemed slightly embarrassed by Heero's silence now. She gave Wufei an apologetic smile, uncomfortable at the lack of friendliness which she thought she was perceiving. She was missing a lot of history, Wufei reminded himself, as well as the ability to follow the silent argument that had been running practically since he'd entered the cabin.

Wufei considered Sally's offer of the help aboard Peacemillion, and sat down with a scowl. He felt Heero note both his slight concession and his overall rejection. A flexing of strong shoulders, bared by the tank top without any regards to the chill of the air conditioning, told him what Heero thought of his stubbornness.

Then the alarms sounded.

 

 

Wufei's steps slowed as he passed Nataku. The machine, still noble in its ruin, seemed to beckon. Heero was right of course, it would be suicide to use his Gundam to fight one virgo, let alone forty. But...it would be his path! If he was going to die he wanted it to be in Nataku's arms.

Okay that sounded a bit defeatist. No, the attraction of that plan was that it was simple and he understood it thoroughly. He depended on no-one, he was alone as he should be, with Nataku, and he would fight until he died, end of story.

Whereas this! He picked up his pace and used the low gravity to float to the far end of the hold. This... he didn't understand at all.

Take Zero?

What was Heero thinking?

Though his mind was racing, most of Wufei was already in combat mode, slipping quickly into a command seat of familiar design, booting up systems, waiting for Sally to open the cargo bay doors.

Heero understood him better than anyone. Why on earth was he giving Wufei the means to get out?! Out of the trap of the White Fang forces surrounding him. And out of the snare of Sally's kind offer that would leave him beholden to others. Out of all the complications that were trying to drag him into one side or the other of the fight for peace, trying to integrate him to one or the other set of values.

His fingers flew over the thruster settings, the radar panels. They were fortunately similar to Nataku's set up. Right, this was Gundam zero, the original. He could use it. In fact he could take it. Oh, he would never be dishonorable enough to leave Sally and a now defenseless Heero - why why why had Heero let him - concentrate. He wouldn't leave them to face forty virgos in a shuttle, he'd get rid of the enemy first, but after that, how could Heero know he would bring Zero back?

The radar picked up the enemy and Wufei's pulse started to accelerate with anticipation as he maneuvered out of the bay. The jets and the thrusters obeyed his delicate touches to perfection. He could feel the power in this machine. He frowned slightly at the targeting system. He didn't like the heads-up display, he didn't need it, and he preferred to see his enemy face to face and without electronic interpretations creating a false impression of remove between them. This was life and death. He was about to get more intimate with these machines than he'd ever been with anyone, save the man who'd given him this further chance to strike back.

A crosshair danced on the viewer before him.

What had Heero meant? Why had he warned Wufei about the cockpit system?

The hum turned into a roar as he cleared the shuttle and rocketed away towards his foe.

While you pilot Zero, it will tell you who your enemies are. What had Heero meant by that?

Wufei knew who his enemies were. That's why he'd left earth, to make that very clear. His enemies were those foolish enough to bring an arsenal into the fragile clockwork balance of space. His enemies were the ones who had brought injustice to the colonies, the rule of the weak bearing weapons. His enemies were the ones who thought their strength was greater than his, and were trying to impose their values on him.

His enemies were the ones he'd destroy to prove to them just how wrong they were.

"Well, Zero, show me. Let's see what you can do!"

His enemy closed around him. It was time to see who was right and who was strongest.

He dodged the first three shots. Stupid dolls. Moronic pre-programmed pieces of hardware, they always opened with the same volley, he could avoid it in his sleep. The first two went down easily, it was the usual opening gambit, almost boring in its predictability. He caught the next shot on his shield - and felt a moment of elation at the similarity between Zero and his beloved Nataku.

Two more units went down. He was in the middle of their formation now, that and their numbers made the next few moves of his enemy unpredictable and now the real fight was-

He dodged and hurled himself forward with his beam sword swinging. Two more down.

Okay, scratch that. The dolls were sluggish responding today, he could still see their programming jerking them around like cheap puppets, putting them exactly where he wanted them to be to - slash, hack - cut them down. Two more exploded in silent blossoms of fire and metal behind him.

He swung up the beam canon instinctively, knowing exactly where that clump of dolls would dodge to regroup and -

The beam scythed through the air and the thought cut through his mind with the same luminous intensity.

The cockpit system!

It was -...

Targets and crosshairs danced before his eyes on the screen, and in his mind like little bulls-eyes.

It was somehow-...

Three dolls tried to dodge and regroup and were met by the beam of destructive light right at the supposedly safe spot they had gathered.

Interesting...

Two more machines were down, the sword scything them in a single, graceful arc, sending their exploding carcasses rocketing into a third on the predicted trajectory.

At that point, Wufei realized he'd been fighting with his eyes closed for the last minute, at least.

The attack vectors and crosshairs in his mind grew frantic. The doll's program was trying to adapt to its target's greater speed and maneuverability. It was starting to compensate.

Wufei smiled savagely, alone against his enemies and relishing it. Now it would get fun!

He slashed and spun and dodged and the virgos fell, and one got through his defences, and shot him straight in the powerpack on his Gundam's back.

Zero exploded into a ball of fire and molten metal, its cabin bathed in heat so great the human body within didn't burn but vaporized.

Wufei shouted and slammed back into the seat.

What was that?!

He was thrown forward as two beams hit him, and he sent Zero spinning and diving away on instinct. His eyes were wide but unseeing, mind screaming - as Zero showed him the path each virgo would take, and how they would try to outmanoeuvre him, and how they would, eventually - maybe not these but the next wave or the next - how they would eventually kill him.

"No!"

Wufei died again and again. Each twist he took to avoid his fate placed him in the path of the next deadly trap.

Zero was showing him his future. What there was of it. The mathematical equations of his solitary fight were running at top speed within the new Wing's computer system and coming up with only one outcome.

"I can fight on my own! And I'll die that way!" Wufei shouted. He didn't feel the shots slamming into him. His eyes were blind to the spiral of vectors tightening around him like a noose.

Treize...

Zero peeled his reasons and his excuses away layer by layer until it hit rock.

Wufei snarled and swung his beam at the image in his mind. Treize! Destroy him, destroy the enemy! The image melted and a virgo exploded just as it was about to shoot him point-blank, but Wufei barely noticed. He was feeling the press of a cold blade against his throat as Treize defeated him again and again.

Treize is as strong as you are...and he has an army behind him. How will you defeat him by yourself? Wing Zero was as coldly challenging as its owner, pushing Wufei to move past the images of himself he wanted to keep, to burn down to what was essential.

And then there was the other one. Zero flicked a few more preconceptions from his mind, getting down to the meat of the matter. The other one. Milliardo Peacecraft, since that was the name he'd decided on this week. Didn't matter. The man who had armed space. The man who had tainted the one thing that was still pure and untouched by the madness on earth, and dragged it into the final conflict.

Zechs, in an illusion of Wing Zero, was there, right in front of him, trying to tempt Wufei to his side. Fight for the colonies...Join me...Wufei smiled and drove his sword without hesitation into that maddening, self-righteous bastard.

Outside, in the real world, another virgo exploded, unnoticed. The dolls were having trouble regrouping fast enough, Zero destroying each time the central unit of their formations, leaving them to scurry in tatters. Not that the pilot was fully aware of any of this.

In the cockpit and in Wufei's head, Treize and Zechs were always just out of reach. They were the ones he had to attack! They were his enemy! Their armies were just symptoms, tools for them. They were the ones who had caused so much pain and death already, and were planning on unleashing more on a scale never seen before. It was his duty to stop them!

So why?! Why was Zero showing him dying again and again, and his enemy out of reach?

Was this his future? He knew he was going to die soon but...would he fail as well?

Wufei tasted blood from where he'd savagely bit down on his own flesh in a rage and horror he'd never felt before.

He didn't mind dying. But he wouldn't - couldn't - not make those men pay first. His whole life, every single battle he'd fought, had been for that. He couldn't just -...

Finally it came down to the crux.

Zero had shown him his enemies all right. Heero had been completely correct as usual.

Now it was showing him his future with beautiful, cruel clarity.

He could stay solitary and uncompromised, and die trying to bring his enemies to justice. It would certainly look glorious on his tombstone but he knew it would be a failure. He didn't want anything written on his tombstone if those of his opponents weren't right next to his.

His other option...

A flash - his memory or Zero's interference, it no longer mattered. Duo, Trowa, Quatre...Heero, glaring at him in a familiar pose of acceptance and challenge.

They were following a different path, but it led to the same destination, to the deaths of the two warmongers who were planning on putting the solar system to the torch.

Zero seemed to smirk at him. Wufei registered, at the very edge of his perception, that his body had stopped fighting, because all his enemies were destroyed. For now. He was floating in a sea of stars and ruin again. This time it was his mind that was adrift.

His enemies...his enemies were Treize and Zechs. And he would defeat them. That was the only path he could choose if he wanted to stay true to himself and the people who had died for him. And he now had the means to achieve this. All he had to do was accept the bitter realization that he couldn't do it alone.

Of course, that didn't mean he wasn't going to die, Zero informed him almost as an afterthought before switching off the strange targeting system and powering down. Chances were still good that the closest he would get to his goal would be dying while helping the others achieve it. But... they would achieve it, if they went for it with the same determination that they always showed. They were the only pure warriors on earth and in space. He knew that, somehow, the five of them would prevail, even if they were not all alive to see it happen.

Wufei put his numbed hands back on the controls, jetted towards Sally's shuttle some distance off. He decided, as he left the broken pieces of metal in empty orbits behind him, that that was, in finality, justice enough for him.

Now to give Sally the good news. Heero already knew it of course, had known it since Wufei had accepted to use Wing Zero to defeat his enemy rather than die uselessly in Nataku. Wufei found himself smiling coldly. Never underestimate Heero Yuy. He'd grown even more impressive in the last few months. This new goal of his, this...peace. It made him so strong. And wiser than before. Huh, come to think of it, he'd been fighting with Zero as well. That must have been quite the life-changing experience.

He'd be working with Heero again. He'd be feeling that admiration/rivalry, following in Heero's footsteps, fighting back to back, challenging each other and becoming both the better for it. He'd missed that. A lot. He thought...he thought that Heero had too. Heero must have seen the same future he had in Zero, realized that they would need to fight together if they wanted a chance of winning against both the massive armies gathering to bring about Armageddon.

A last flicker of anger burned in Wufei's mind as he felt the way Heero had manipulated him into joining the others. But it passed and Wufei felt something heavy fall from his shoulders. He wasn't giving in to Heero; he was winning the fight against himself. He was finally moving beyond the clouds of doubt and self-loathing that had shrouded his mind. He had decided alone how he was going to live his life and he'd chosen his death. And in both, he'd be accompanied by strong, honorable warriors.

Really, Nataku, he thought as Zero maneuvered back into the shuttle and he caught sight of his Gundam, really, what more could we possibly ask for?

 

 

Wufei's fists struck air. Again. He didn't waste his breath in a snarl, but used the low gravity to hurl himself forward and flip around.

This time it was his foot that scythed the empty spot where his target had been.

Wufei spun on his axis and his backhand nearly connected, but the flexible waist bent back and knuckles only brushed cloth.

Wufei straightened and he crossed his arms. "Barton, do you call this sparring?"

Green eyes dropped to Wufei's fists. "No, survival," Trowa said calmly. Hands still in his pockets, he took another lazy step back. He'd made his evasions look ridiculously easy, as if he were dancing in the low gravity of Peacemillion.

Wufei rolled his eyes and took up an attack stance again. "I won't hurt you. Much. Not if you parry." He ignored Duo's snort behind him. "I thought you wanted a workout."

"I'm getting it," Trowa said, shaking his head to loosen a few hairs from his brow. Wufei was gratified to see that he was sweating a little bit despite his apparently easy evasions.

Trowa had taken another step back and he was now too close to the balustrade that separated the large mezzanine from the drop to the workroom floor beyond. Wufei suppressed a smile and attacked, knowing his opponent wouldn't be able to dodge him this time, backed up against cold metal.

His fist struck air again. Wufei gasped and looked up, in time to see Trowa end his graceful back flip with a handstand on the balustrade. A shove of strong arms sent the young man rising in the low gravity to tumble against the ceiling; he pushed off sideways and landed almost casually on the arm of a repair mecha in the workshop a few feet away from the mezzanine.

Behind Wufei, Quatre choked on his protein drink and Duo whistled.

Wufei put his fists on his hips and glared up at the acrobat, trying not to show he'd been rather impressed at the evasion. "Can I ask why you're not even bothering to fight back, Barton?"

"Because he's got his memory back now," Duo crowed behind Wufei's back. "And he remembers that you could knock Heero on his back one times out of two. He might have had amnesia, but Tro was never dumb!"

Wufei shot a scowl back at the two-penny gallery. Duo had set up a card-table in mezzanine where they took their breaks when they weren't working on their Gundams. Or fighting. They'd been doing a lot of both these past two weeks, and they were all feeling the tension. Duo and Quatre's card game had never gotten off the ground, they kept losing track of whose turn it was. They'd apparently welcomed the distraction when Duo had suggested Wufei and Trowa have a match.

It was a toss-up which part of the staggered attack on Libra was the hardest on them. The constant grind of wave upon wave of dolls that Zechs had launched at them to wear them down had been beyond draining. In fact Zechs' plans might have succeeded without Quatre's brilliant tactics that had given them the upper hand at the eleventh hour. The problem was, Peacemillion had been damaged and they'd lost their prey. They were now hobbling after Libra on its course to Earth and a final conflagration.

Now their enemy was tension, the hopelessness of not being able to attack and finish Libra, and the long, draining wait between MD attacks which almost came as a relief.

Wufei was finding it almost as frustrating to pin down Trowa. "Barton, if I were a real enemy, would you spend your time dodging and dancing about like this?" he snapped.

Trowa seemed to consider the question for one second and then Wufei was looking down the barrel of the man's gun.

"No," Trowa said quietly.

Wufei nodded gently. Good answer. He ignored Quatre's sharp protest behind him and tensed his muscles as discreetly as he could, ready to launch himself in a spin that would hurl him across the empty space between the mezzanine and the mecha while dodging a pretend shot. Before he could attack though, Trowa put up his weapon, then holstered it, and rejoined him with a graceful leap and twist, landing on the floor with his hands back in his pockets.

Wufei had politely taken two steps back to allow him room to land. He now dropped into an attack stance. "You ready to give me a target this time?" he sneered.

"Yes," Trowa said, but he was walking around Wufei towards the card table. "I doubt I'd be much of a challenge for you, though, so I'll let Yuy take over."

Wufei straightened up and turned in the direction of Trowa's nod. Heero had come in, hair still damp from his shower. He was looking at the people in the mezzanine, analyzing their poses, the scene he'd interrupted. Finally his eyes caught and held Wufei's own.

Wufei felt a faint crackle of electricity run down his spine. Heero's eyes were challenging but Wing's pilot didn't have sparring in mind.

That'd work too, Wufei thought.

"Hey, where ya goin'?" Duo said as Wufei walked towards the door. Heero had already disappeared. "If you're going to beat the crap out of each other, can't I at least watch?"

"No," Heero said from the hallway. Wufei didn't even bother answering, he closed the door on Duo's complaints and Quatre's stern warning not to injure each other.

The last few weeks existed like in island in Wufei's life. He had no more doubts, no torturous failings to beat himself with. He'd left them all out in space with the shattered remnants of the virgos. He was living his life like a blade on its final downward cut. At the end of the sword's strike was death, for his enemies and for himself, but while the cold steel swung like an unstoppable force, nothing could slow him down or make him waver. He wanted some relief from the nagging tension and momentary boredo,m and his partner's suggestion was as good as another. At one time he'd have hesitated and made Heero fight him for it, to prove to himself he didn't need this release, wasn't subject to this weakness. At one time, he'd have been worried that the others would guess that sparring hardly required the participants to isolate themselves. At one time he'd have worried about a lot of things.

Amazing what the foreknowledge of your own death can do to clear your mind. He followed Heero without any hesitation or afterthought, beyond wondering what they would get up to this time. Their arrangement had been resumed quietly and without any question, as if it were merely another of the conveniences Peacemillion offered. The punishing rhythm of fighting had left them little time for anything involved. It had been savage dry humps in Wing's cabin or the munitions depot or wherever they could have a few uninterrupted minutes.

The attacks were less frequent now, but they'd been busy helping with Peacemillion's repairs, so time was still a precious commodity. Wufei cut short speculation as Heero, a few feet in front of him, turned down a corridor and opened one of the doors at random.

The likeable thing about Peacemillion was that it had a lot of small, out of the way, unused bunk rooms. With locks on the door.

Wufei looked around the small space. It contained a solid metal bed with a foam mattress covered by a brown, rough-woven cover, a chair, a small bedside tablet bolted into the wall, and a set of drawers and nothing else.

"I take it sparring wasn't what you had in mind," Wufei asked ironically, just to see what Heero would say.

"Hn." Heero locked the door behind them. Good answer, Wufei thought with a small, savage smile. I'm getting quite a few of those today.

His smile faltered when Heero neared the bed and tossed a tube on the bedside tablet before bending to untie his boots. It wasn't the burn cream this time, but Wufei didn't think it was toothpaste either.

"Oh, you want to-" Wufei lost a good part of his enthusiasm. It wasn't that he minded what they'd done in Italy; in fact he'd rather hoped for another occasion, where this time he might actually try to enjoy it. It was annoying that he'd had sex and that the thing he remembered the most about it was the look of the wallpaper, the eyes of a painted saint, the feel of the comforter under his knees and cheek, and an overwhelming confusion and resentful embarrassment. Yes, this needed to be addressed but...not today. The match with Trowa had warmed him up, he didn't want to be passive again. Having Heero screw him and then jerking him off would probably be relaxing, but he wanted more than that. Right now he'd prefer to spar.

Heero had straightened, dropping his half undone laces, and was looking at him quizzically through his bangs. Wufei shrugged, knowing he'd be expressing his reluctance. Heero seemed to understand his silent protest and took two steps across the room until he was near Wufei. He didn't grab him though, or kiss him. He just leaned over till his breath brushed the caramel-colored skin below Wufei's ear and murmured: "This is 'next time'."

Next time? Wufei was distracted by the proximity of the other body, triggering his reflexes at the same time it excited him. What next time?

Oh.

"Unless you don't want to. We can have a match instead." Heero tried to take a step towards the door but Wufei's hand was flat against his chest as he passed him, stopping his progress.

"What did you scrounge this time?" Wufei asked casually, tilting a chin to the tube on the stand. The hand holding Heero back from the door was as firm as rock, though Wing's pilot was pushing against it as if testing his resolve.

"It's actual lubricant. I found it in Peacemillion's dispensary."

"Really? It'd be a pity to let your effort go to waste then."

"Sure?" The face near his was openly taunting him.

"Certain," Wufei said, straightening his arm and hurtling Heero back towards the bed. The other pilot managed to catch his balance with his knees against the metal frame, but then Wufei's weight landed on him and they went down in a screech of metal.

The initial blaze of fury faded from Heero's eyes, and he glared up at Wufei instead of retaliating.

"So do you want to fuck me or spar, Chang? Make up your mind."

"It's quite made up." Wufei rolled them both over twice to get them both fully on the bed, and crushed Heero's lips with his.

There was no more embarrassment, hesitation, misplaced sense of propriety or reserve. Only two young bodies with the blood pounding through them. They would be dead soon. They would take their enemies with them. They would paint the heavens in the colors of fire and destruction. They would take what they wanted from life first even if they had to rip it out.

Blood howled like stormwinds in Wufei's ears, as Heero thrust his hand down into his pants and caressed him roughly. Pleasure shuddered up and down his spine, unexpected in intensity. The pounding in his ears and his body picked up the rhythm of those hard thrusts. This was as good as battle...

He grabbed Heero's hand, jerked it away and slammed it back into the bed. Blue eyes widened with surprise, burned with lust. With his other hand, Wufei gripped the edge of the tank top and pulled it up the supple body beneath his. Heero tore his hand away and squirmed out of the top.

"Take off the shorts," Wufei growled as he started ripping his own clothes off. He didn't think he could be trusted to remove the tight spandex from that awkward bulge it covered without hurting his partner. There was a tense ten seconds of rustling and thumping as clothes and shoes were tossed to the ground, then the metal bed frame screeched in surprise as two bodies collided and tangled on the old cover.

Heero bit into Wufei’s skin, just above the right nipple. A stab of unadulterated sensual pleasure made Wufei choke. Then Heero twisted and felt hurriedly at the side of the bed. Wufei found himself torn from the neck he was nipping; a pulse was hammering sensuously beneath his tongue, his hand, shameless as an animal, was curling roughly around Heero's cock. Something was thrust into his other hand and he stared at it blindly for a few seconds before recognizing the tube of lubricant.

"You have to prepare me for penetration," Heero said, voice still cool even though he was panting. "You have to-"

"I know," Wufei snarled. "I did the research." Over a month ago, before he left earth. He'd been embarrassed, scrolling through the information with a distasteful scowl on his face, glancing defensively over his shoulder. Foolish. All his hesitations, his little doubts and his virgin embarrassment were small, pathetic little rag-blown specks against the hurricane that had already engulfed his past, his self-image, his failures, his losses and his upcoming death.

He carelessly spread some of the transparent gel onto his fingers with one swipe, then, as Heero opened his mouth to add something - probably more instructions - crushed the parted lips with his own. His fingers felt blindly for Heero's entrance. Just one to start with, he remembered at the last second. Wufei's other hand grabbed Heero's and slammed it back down again, over the teen's head into the mattress. It stayed limp with surprise for a second then tensed as Wufei's finger plunged in without hesitation. The arm strained slowly, dangerously against his, his own muscles shifted to counter the movement. Conscious thought had been blown out with the rest of the petty concerns, but their bodies wanted this; the play of muscles, the striving, the confrontation, the counterpoint of violence. Heero's other hand fastened onto his shoulder with a grip that strangled Wufei's last worries; if he did anything wrong or hurt Heero, he'd find himself thrown off the bed and probably into next week as well. Wufei grinned fiercely and went back to chewing on the lifebeat in Heero's neck, feeling there the excitement that wasn't so apparent in Heero's face and eyes. He rubbed himself against the firm muscles of his partner's thighs, and listened with interest to the wild breathing next to his ear as his finger probed.

Words flashed through his mind and were quickly washed away by the flow of blood, drowned out by the hammering of his pulse. Stretch, prostate, scissoring motion, whatever. Heero was tougher than Gundanium, was highly resistant to pain, and was as impatient as he was if the way he was squirming down on Wufei's finger was any indication. Any second now they might be under attack again and didn't have too much time to lose. Wufei twisted his fingers and slipped in a second digit. Heero bucked against him a bit The pulse under Wufei's mouth rang like a hammer then evened out at a quicker pace yet. The legs he couldn't even remember shoving apart were reaching down and rubbing sensuously against his own bare thighs.

Wufei removed his fingers, rubbed them against each other to spread the lube a bit more evenly. He'd not really gelled up the third finger in his haste. Heero snarled something near his ear - in Japanese, Wufei noted with amusement in the tiny corner of his brain that could still think, although he didn't have enough free brain- cells left to translate. The words were cut off as Wufei slipped his fingers back in again. The tight ring of muscles was feeling a lot looser now, though there was still a lot of tension, making his first few thrusts hard. He should be worried about hurting Heero. He wasn't. Heero's words disappeared in a hiss and shudders ran through the body beneath Wufei's. Heero's hand left his shoulder and grabbed him by the back of the neck, pressing Wufei's mouth back down to the wild beat in the throat - concentrating on what his fingers were doing he'd leaned away, his breath hissing in and out and tickling the skin an inch from his lips. A rough thumb started rubbing the base of Wufei's neck in a slow, hard, totally unconscious movement.

Heero's head jerked back and a gasp made Wufei glance up blindly. The hand on his neck convulsed. From the corner of his eye he saw Heero's lips moved, blue eyes nailed to the ceiling in a glaze of surprise.

What-? Oh yeah, prostate, sweet spot, something like that, stimulation, pleasurable - the words he'd read on the screen were wind-blown leaves flashing before his mind's eye without letting themselves be caught. He remembered Heero hitting that spot. Damn, what had his fingers been doing? His mind had been centering on his aching erection and wondering when Heero would be ready for the next step, and how Wufei would know when he was. He twisted his fingers again. He didn't recall feeling anything special; it was all warmth, slick inner skin and pressure on his fingers, he hadn't felt- damn it he wasn't a doctor, he didn't know -

Heero choked and the hand on Wufei's neck threatened to break it but he hadn't felt anything special there either. His fingers tried to regain their prior position, but with Heero squirming and everything melting into a mess of sensations, he couldn’t focus. Heero growled in something like frustration an inch from his ear. Wufei realized he was staring blindly at a grayish foam pillow and tried to lift his head to look at his partner, but the hand on his neck didn't give him an inch. Their other arms were still wrestling against the mattress, forcing Wufei to pin Heero's body down with his own just to stay balanced. Wiry muscles writhed beneath his chest, his torso, so erotic and alive it took his breath away.

The pressure on his neck disappeared and the arm Wufei thought he was pinning down lifted him bodily with sickening ease. "Ready," Heero grunted. "I'm ready. Go on!"

Wufei grabbed the slender hips - found his voice for a few precious seconds: "Do you want to turn around or-"

"This is fine!" Strong hands fastened on his shoulders. "Lube!" Heero snapped.

Wufei dragged his attention away from his erection and Heero's ass. Lube? Heero said he was ready, what-? Oh, lube, yes. Damn it where had the tube gone?! He couldn't even remember dropping the damn thing. Mandarin curses punctuated his ragged breathing as he glanced around wildly.

Heero bent supply at the waist - his legs still tangled with Wufei's - and scrabbled at a fold in the rumpled cover. He thrust the tube at Wufei with a reprimanding scowl which Wufei ignored, fumbling with the cap, his slick fingers making it hard to open. An impatient squeeze emptied out way too much of the tube into his palm. He swore again, half-screwed on the cap in two quick movements.

"Do we need this for anything else?" he panted, holding up the tube in a hand that was shaking. He'd forgotten the rest of the research at this point.

"Wh-what?" Heero's eyes focused, lighted on the tube. His face was flushed and his hair tousled. "No!"

"Good." Wufei hurled it across the room with some satisfaction at the pointless violent gesture, and smiled coldly as it hit the door then the floor with a small plunk. He quickly spread the gel over his erection. The feel of his slick fingers, the cold of the gel, the sight of the twitching flesh all collided in his mind and sent a hot ball of need shooting straight back to his groin. He lay back down on the wiry body, felt hands grip his shoulders again. Senses narrowing he barely felt himself lean an arm into the mattress for balance, the other hand on his erection guiding it blindly into Heero. Breath exploded from him at the first push; harder than he'd thought. He was dimly aware that Heero had tensed beneath him. He was more aware of Heero's hands though, because one of them was threatening to break his collarbone. But he still pushed again, against the pressure, despite the squeezing of his flesh. It became a bit easier, and in fits and starts he managed to fit in. The hands were leaving bruises on his shoulders, a reminder he wasn't by himself in this. He tried to focus on Heero's face. It was shut with a scowl, eyes turned inward in concentration. Wufei couldn't tell if his expression was one of pain or pleasure. Wufei was still for a few seconds, trying to convince himself he would be able to move. A little piece of advice about letting the other man adjust flitted through his mind as well and held him still for a few seconds more just as he was about to go ahead and try.

He dropped the hand he wasn't using for support to Heero's hip, to pin him down, and pulled back, young muscles arching and straining. Heero's pants hitched and caught then resumed, the hands on his shoulders loosened their death grip slightly. He moved inward again-

Oh... yes...

He moved out and thrust again, desperately trying to recapture that exquisite pull and pressure that had teased every pleasure center in his body.

Oh-... hands wouldn't do much for him-... after this-...

His world narrowed and focused on that motion, that friction plunging him into waves of sensation, crashing into him, stronger and stronger, higher and higher.

Something intruded - barely - as Heero's hand dropped from his shoulder to poke him in the side, worm between their bodies. Wufei arched away from the distraction - and a rainbow of sensations hit him as Heero cried out and tightened around him, just as he was thrusting in. Wufei choked at the increase in pressure, pleasure, everything. He thrust again, but the muscles had relaxed slightly, not that it wasn't good anyway. He blinked, something stinging his eye. Sweat. His vision cleared a bit, he was arched away from the body shuddering and panting beneath his own, and Heero's hand was gripping his erection, slick and red. Wufei stared, fascinated, as his own body continued plunging into Heero's, hunting after every wisp of pleasure it could drag from the tightness and warmth. Heero was shuddering, and every shift in stance spoke of his own rush, his own need to catch every fraction of sensation he could. Wufei groaned. The sight was bypassing his mind - which had pretty much shut down anyway - and hammering directly into his more primal responses, urging him along with the sensations from his groin to move faster, harder, go further and get more more more.

Time stretched and hardened like streams of toffee. Wufei couldn't say how long he'd been driving into the warmth beneath him, probably not long at all, but every time he thought to linger in the pleasure, Heero would gasp and tighten around him again and hurl him up to a new level. He'd try to cling to that, but then his own stance shifted as his muscles clenched, and the change of position brought him even higher, and he was racing forward towards the crest of the wave, unable to resist the inevitable climb upward-

The wave slammed into him, pounding him into his component atoms, orbiting around the release he was pumping out into the shivering warmth around him.

His ragged breathing was ringing in his head like a bell, he'd sunk down against his supporting arm and was lying against the hot body beneath his, twisted a bit to one side to avoid crushing it. A hiss - it seemed to come from a long distance away. Wufei's warm pillow jerked and tensed, jolting his eyes open. The muscles surrounding his cock tightened wildly and Wufei groaned, overly sensitive flesh complaining at having even more pleasure inflicted upon it. He half-heartedly tried to pull away, but Heero's legs were locked around his upper thighs, holding him in place. A rich, organic smell prickled his nose, and he became aware of the scent of Heero's sweat, his skin, his hair, the way he panted, his chest shuddering beneath Wufei. A puddle of warm wetness where their skin met.

The beep of communicators.

They'd beeped just before, he realized, but it had been at the edge of his awareness and so far back in the queue of things that were important to him at that point, the comms might just as well have been shot out the airlock for all they mattered.

Heero grunted and made a loose gesture with his arm, then groaned and rolled over a little. Wufei made an inhuman effort and pulled away, wincing with loss and pleasure at the little ripple of sensations this caused. He ignored Heero fishing around his spandex for the comm and flopped face down into the prickly brown cover, maneuvering to free his partner's leg.

He could hear Heero pause and regulate his breathing, after several attempts. Then the communicator was flipped open. "Yuy."

//Heero?// It was Quatre's voice, barely heard from Wufei's position face down on the bed and deep in post-coital coma. //We have something up on radar. Could be the next wave of attacks.// Quatre sounded tense, but also excited. He'd been bored too, Wufei remembered.

"How long?" Heero asked, voice distracted. Wufei turned his head the other way and looked at his partner seated on the side of the bed. Heero had one hand holding the comm, the other was using a corner of the blanket to clean up his stomach.

//About thirty minutes away. Do you know where Wufei is? I tried calling him too.//

"Yes, he's around here somewhere." Heero glanced back at him and gave the minute smirk which was his equivalent of a smile. "He's...meditating."

Wufei closed his eyes and extracted one of his hands from beneath his body to give Heero the finger, which he thought was ample enough a response. Heero snorted, the noise covering Quatre's next question.

"Yes, I'll get him, we'll be there ASAP." He closed the comm. without waiting for any further question, stood up slowly and stretched, yawned. Wufei's eyes twitched open instinctively at the shift of weight off the bed. He found his gaze lingering over the strong back, the firm buttocks. Then his mind slowly started to drag itself back into the real world.

"You okay?" he asked abruptly, his warrior instincts tallying up the possible consequences of their wild ride.

Heero seemed to consider the question, eyes turned inward. "Yes. Mild soreness, but nothing that will impact my performance."

"Good." Apparently he'd managed to do it right...although Heero's above-average tolerance to pain might have more to do with it than Wufei's inexperienced and hasty preparation. Wufei used the cover to wipe off lube and semen absently, still watching, fascinated, as his partner started getting dressed with quick, fluid movements.

His own comm hadn't beeped again, apparently Quatre had bought Heero's 'meditation' excuse.

'That was some meditation!' the annoying little inner voice crowed, still with a gutter-snipe twang to it. 'Think Quatre will continue to buy it when he sees what state you're both in?'

Wufei muttered a curse. Heero turned towards him, pulling down his tank top, a questioning look in his eyes.

"Better tell the others we were sparring, in case they wonder about that." Wufei grumbled as he pointed to the bright red blotches on Heero's neck. Heero felt the spot, scowled. His own eyes flicked over Wufei who quickly waved a hand. "I'll drop by my quarters and pick up my jacket," he said, before Heero had a chance to point out the state of his bruised shoulders.

"That will do. We'll be more careful next time," Heero added absently as he bent to tie his boots.

"Next time?" Wufei pulled on his top with one swift movement. "Do you think it's likely we'll have time to do this again before things come to a head?"

Heero paused, thinking. "The frequency of attacks is going to increase exponentially the closer we get to Libra. And Zechs will undoubtedly confront me with Epyon soon. So...no, probably not." His voice was indifferent.

"That's what I thought," Wufei grunted, tightening his belt and walking to the door. "Let's go see if Marquise managed to find us some serious opposition this time."

"Chang."

He turned towards Heero who was following him.

Wing's pilot eyes were hard, already burning with the heat of battle, and the smile on the lips was feral. Wufei found that gaze focused on him for a few seconds.

"Don't die easy."

Wufei snorted, returned the hard smile. "I have a score to settle first. Just get Zechs out of my way, Yuy, that's all I ask."

"Hai." Heero preceded him out the door. Wufei took one last look at the small room, wondering if they should do something with the soiled and rumpled bed cover. Since Peacemillion itself had a good chance of being reduced to scrap metal in the coming days, he needn't bother. He stared at the bed, glanced at the tube of lube near his feet.

Felt a new pulse starting in his veins, battle fever rising.

Neither he nor Heero, nor any of the others, were complaining that they were sixteen and about to die. Everyone died. He closed the door to the room behind him and stepped towards battle. This...this was the way to go, a path worthy of them. He lengthened his stride and fell in step with Heero as they headed towards the command deck side by side.

Chapter Text

Tears cannot put out a fire.
--- Chinese proverb

99822.

It was amazing how life's greatest tragedies could often be summarized in a few words, distilling the essence of the pain.

My wife died in my arms.

I was too weak to avenge her.

99822.

Wufei focused on the wire he was tugging, made sure the laptop was still sending the counter-order to the tamper device. 99822.

You only fight for your ego, Treize! How many have died because of you?!

As of yesterday, 99822. Lady, how many dead today?... Ah... please give me their names later...

Why...

Why had Treize done that to him? Was this some kind of sick revenge? To make Wufei understand just what kind of man - what kind of great man - great in a way... It would be nice if it had been for revenge, because that would, in a measure, tarnish his image.

But Wufei didn't think that he rated high enough in Treize's schemes to merit revenge. He was beginning to realize just how little he had mattered at all.

99822 and one broken dragon.

...My eternal friend...

Was that some kind of recognition to a fellow warrior? Thanks to Treize's executioner? Or just one last head-game that would amuse the Machiavellian bastard beyond the grave?

Did it matter?

99822 dead, not counting the soldiers who had fallen in the final hours of the Last War. That's how people were calling it now; overly optimistically in Wufei's view. The scholar had studied the history of many other 'Wars to end all wars', which had claimed a great many more dead than that one. And ten, twenty or a hundred years later, 99822 or more men and women died to fulfill the ambitions of a man who wanted to shape history to his liking.

Unlike most of those dictators, Treize had known - and visibly cared - about this number. That had hurt Wufei in a way he couldn't even fully quantify.

But the fact remained that, however much Treize felt those deaths, he had caused them. 99822 was just a number; you had to multiply it by one man's hopes, fears, dreams, ambitions, petty sins and desires, his family, his friends, his pets, his favorite food, his hobbies, his place in the world, to grasp the full extent of that tragedy. And Treize had, willingly, caused these thousands of finalities for his own ends. Knowing the full extent of his sin. As if knowing could somehow justify it.

Wufei's eyes were two black, blind pits as his fingers moved quickly on auto-pilot.

How many people have I killed?

Does not knowing this make me better or worse than him?

What the hell am I doing?!

Wufei froze just as he was about to plunge the wires into the detonation device and realized he no longer knew which ones were from the laptop and which were from the cascade trigger.

...Oh good job, Chang. What a brilliant move. Daydreaming while you're wiring enough explosives to spread a Gundam over three city blocks.

Might save the world a lot of trouble.

But I'm not sure it deserves such consideration.

He shook his head, carefully followed the leads back to their ports. He had been about to plug in the right ones, after all. Then he concentrated until the last device was calibrated and reset on the fuel tank.

Then he rested his forehead against the cold Gundanium and let his hands tremble for a little while.

Why was he doing this? This was the second time he'd checked and rewired and improved Nataku's self-destruct device, remembering how Duo's had failed when it mattered. But he shouldn't need it, should he? The war was over. No one was asking him to blow himself up anymore. So why-... ?

Because he felt as weak and uncertain as he had during those weeks of defeat after his first encounter with Treize, and he wasn't even sure he could defend Nataku any longer. He needed to insure that if something happened, the mecha would not fall into the wrong hands.

Now he just had to figure out who the wrong hands were.

And what should he do with himself in the meantime? He'd had some...interesting offers. Some more interesting than others. He couldn't seem to care about any of them. It was as if he had been the one who died; a ghost had no future, only a past.

Damn, I wasn't expecting to win...Why am I still alive?

"I can't kill one who understands me."

Bastard.

99822.

Why hesitate to kill one more?

Wufei suddenly punched the metal just to feel the pain slam through his fist. Enough. He had to go over the security details of the hangar now. And make sure no innocent bystander could accidentally wander in here to-

His ears pricked. The echoes in the hangar were treacherous, he had heard nothing but the occasional creak of metal. It was his warrior's senses that told him he had missed the noise of someone creeping up on him.

Oh good! Wufei smiled fiercely at the metal before him as he idly picked up a wrench. He could take these clowns down with his bare hands, but he had warned them last time. This time he'd hear some bones crunch. This would steady his mood for a little while at least. He stood up casually, pretending to put away a few instruments. When his senses told him the intruders were near the control room and he was temporarily out of their sight, he darted sideways, threw himself from the repair platform, leapt as silently as he could from its cabin to the pile of empty fuel drums to the ground and ran the thirty meters separating Nataku from the steel walls of the small control bunker, stranded like an abandoned lunchbox in the huge hangar.

He steadied his breathing, put the wrench behind his back and stepped out to meet his guests. He'd let them attack first, if that was their plan. Maybe he'd even listen to them some more, though he'd made his conditions clear last time. He didn't want to deal with goons and he didn't want to go anywhere. If this mysterious leader wanted to talk to him, then it was up to him to come here -

It wasn't several muscle men walking stealthily. It was only one, naturally-quiet young man who was taking no particular precautions at all.

Wufei was speechless. This he hadn't been expecting.

"Your security is lax," Heero said with his usual charm and manners.

Wufei put down the wrench - somewhat reluctantly - and shrugged coldly. "It's only a preliminary system. I haven't been here long." And how the hell did you find me?

Heero looked around. He didn't seem impressed. Wufei had done his best. There weren't that many places you could hide a Gundam on a colony; you couldn't stick it in your backyard, cover it with a tarp and tell the neighbors it was an ornamental gazebo under construction. He'd moved twice in the last week before finding this hole. It was perfect, he'd thought. An old MS development base, deserted now, nobody around for a mile. The hangar had been the engine testing area. The wind tunnel had been dismantled, but the hangar was heavily reinforced and shielded, which hid his Gundam from scanners and casual searches. And it would protect the colony from damage if he was careless with his explosives.

"It's not a very secure location," Heero commented, with a glance upward as if the ceiling had been removed and he could see the curve of the colony above their heads, with its buildings and factories and inhabitants all looking down upon the Gundam in their midst.

"Where's Wing?" Wufei asked tightly, already annoyed.

"I hid it on an abandoned satellite. With full protective measures," Heero added.

"Well I want Nataku close by," Wufei countered sharply. "What are you doing here, Yuy?"

"What are you doing here?" Heero leaned against the steel wall of the reinforced bunker which used to house the wind-tunnel's controls.

"How the hell is that your business?"

Heero seemed to weigh his response to the words, and the aggression behind them.

Wufei knew where his anger was coming from. There had been a moment...Right after Treize had thrown himself on Wufei's weapon - that was beautiful, Wufei - there had been a moment when he could have ended it all. There were still plenty of opportunities, in the battleground that was Libra, to follow his enemy into the peace of oblivion. Hell, you couldn't fly three feet in a straight line without bumping into a mobile doll or an Earth Alliance suit, and they were all shooting at each other. The crossfire alone was deadly. He had been standing there, watching the last pieces of the Tallgeese shoot away, no gravity or atmosphere to dampen the inertia from the explosion that had sent them rocketing towards the four corners of the solar system. If he'd stayed put a few moments longer he would probably have been targeted by, well, one side or the other, it really didn't matter at that point.

And then he found his eyes focusing on a piece of metal that was not part of Tallgeese's rapid exodus from the battlefield, one that he knew well.

Wing's buster rifle.

The clench in his heart had reminded him it was still beating. Heero?! Had Wing been destroyed?!

Dragged back to life, the desperate words on the comm channels finally filtered through. And he'd reacted as a warrior, putting his confusion and grief aside to do his duty, one last time.

He still wasn't sure it had been the right thing to do.

Heero, of course, had probably never had any doubts.

Wufei resented him terribly for that.

And for not getting in touch after the so-called Last War, when Wufei had been staying on L5 with a few survivors of his clan.

And also for popping up now, when Wufei was hiding and trying to figure things out by himself.

Wufei turned away abruptly in dismissal. He knew his body language would probably give away the confusion and anger he was feeling. He didn't need his face to get in on the act and confirm it. He had nothing to say to Yuy now.

"Wait," Heero said firmly. Wufei's steps slowed but he didn't turn around. "Do you have any plans? For the future?"

Wufei put his hands on his hips. His eyes fixed on Nataku on the concrete apron of the test bay. He'd ran a check on most of the circuits, but the vernier rockets still needed going over if he wanted to get back into space. That was as far as his plans went and that was quite enough.

"The mobile dolls and MS that belonged to the Earth Alliance were destroyed when they returned to MO2." Heero's voice was brisk and neutral, as usual. "But most of the factions on earth did not join their suits to the war effort. There are still quite a few weapons around the colonies as well. There's still enough out there to cause trouble."

Including five Gundams, Wufei found himself thinking. That fact was of great interest to certain parties. Had the other pilots been approached as well? Well, not Heero, of course, unless these people were really stupid.

"Une is setting up an organization to watch for any groups that might try to collect these weapons. To make sure none -"

Wufei's laughter echoed through the hangar's empty space. It was a cold, jagged sound.

"Une?!" He turned to face Heero, who looked blank. "That's just rich. Treize's number one lackey, his most faithful devotee. Even she can't trust this so-called Peace he inflicted on us? She thinks she has to clamp down on it to maintain it?"

Heero glared, face suddenly rigid. "It's not an army, Chang, she's not going to force people to- it's just an agency to watch for potential trouble spots."

"Trouble spots? You always had such a way with words, Yuy. I thought we were all supposed to get along now. Why do we need this...agency?"

"It appears there are still some die-hard elements who might not accept Total Pacifism," Heero said softly, looking straight into Wufei's eyes. The L5 pilot had to swallow another fit of laughter.

"How uncooperative of them. And how inconvenient for you. But there's no need for an agency. Just sic Relena onto them." Why, why am I baiting him? "After a few hours of listening to her drivel, they'll either convert or blow their brains out." Why am I so angry with him?

Blue eyes were cold now, but Heero was still - of course! - perfectly in control of himself.

"When I heard you'd left your clan's new colony, I thought you might be at loose ends. I thought you might want to join us." Heero's voice was tight, but he was apparently going to ignore the direction the conversation was heading and try to wrench it back to its original purpose which was...what? Join them?

"Want to make sure I play nice, Yuy?"

Heero stared at him, then crossed his arms abruptly, in a move that was almost defensive. He turned his head slightly, his body language conceding. Barely. "I need a partner."

Partner?

The way his heart trembled was the same as when he'd seen that buster rifle floating through space, and realized he still had something pulling him forward.

For an instant he hung on the thread of that decision. But...not this time.

He turned abruptly and walked away. "Get the hell out of here," he snarled over his shoulder.

"Why are you still so-" Heero's voice was cold with anger. The rapid footsteps behind him were punching into Wufei's nerves like fists. "We won! The war is over!" A hand landed on his shoulder. "You defeated Treize-"

The hand spun him around and Wufei accompanied the movement, using momentum and every ounce of his balance and chi to land the blow. Heero's eyes were wide with shock, but his body had read the danger in time and he'd twisted instinctively to let the blow land on his shoulder. He staggered back, clutching his numbed arm.

"I didn't defeat Treize! I just killed him!" Wufei's angry shout seemed to shove Heero back another step, into a defensive stance.

Wufei's fists were clenched and he stared at them, aching to punch his way out of this situation. "You're a fool, Yuy! We didn't win! He did! This is his peace, his idea, his plan!"

"It's peace!" Heero snapped. The shock had faded from his eyes and the cold fury of the soldier had replaced it. "It's the peace Relena advocated-"

"And you know what?! I still don't believe in it!" Wufei let his anger and his fists lead him into the attack.

Heero fell back another step and his arm rose to parry as his other hand shot out, to grab and immobilize. Wufei almost laughed again as he dodged into a crouch, spun on his axis and swept Heero's legs out from under him. Wing's pilot cursed and rolled back, giving himself more room, but Wufei wasn't having any of that. He followed through, pressing the advantage.

Heero growled, and retaliated with the ease and violence his opponent remembered all too well. Wufei dodged a sharp uppercut and kicked in the same motion. Blue eyes widened, but Heero's body knew what to do. Wufei staggered as one of Heero's forearms blocked the kick and the other hammered into his leg, thrusting it sideways. I taught him that, Wufei thought with fierce pride as he used the momentum Heero had given him to spin again and connect a vicious backhand to his opponent's already wounded shoulder. Heero didn't even flinch. The bastard was tougher than his Gundam. Wufei smiled fiercely and stepped forward to meet the hail of blows as Heero used his power and stamina to take back the advantage.

Muscles coiling slowly, Wufei took a step back. He rubbed his forearm, wondering if the bone was cracked, not caring if it was. The pain was lost in the rush. Heero mirrored his move, his stance aggressive.

Beautiful, Wufei thought. Heero's eyes were slits and the blue had darkened to the color of the deep sea. He was silent, face set, giving away nothing, but Wufei could read that powerful body and it was singing with the harmony of violence. The soldier was never more alive than in these moments. Wufei's heart beat the fierce tattoo of war drums knowing he was one of the rare people in Earth and Space to be able to fully bring this out in Heero Yuy.

"What's wrong, Yuy?" he whispered. "Aren't you supposed to stand down, tell me about peace, convince me not to fight?"

Heero's posture shifted, ready for the next attack, assuming this was a distraction.

"You won't. Because this is who we are. We are meant to fight. It's the only time we are complete." Wufei dropped his own stance a bit so that Heero would actually listen to what he had to say. He saw the blue eyes widen as his words penetrated.

"We are soldiers," Heero acknowledged coldly. "But soldiers are now redundant. We can still be useful to-"

"Beat the swords into plowshares?" Wufei sneered. "People are even less malleable than Gundanium. You, Relena, Une, you're all blind fools. This will be the Last War for all of a year, if that. Then-"

"No." Heero's voice was tight, eyes blazed. "The people have accepted peace. They-"

Wufei's laughter interrupted him again. "Oh yes, the people. So traumatized, weren't they, when Une beamed your fight with Zechs across the Earth sphere. Such an ugly display. Yes, it didn't make for pretty television, did it.

"It's not going to change anything, Yuy. They'll get over the shock soon enough. You can hunt down the suits and artillery to your heart's content! They'll use guns, Molotov cocktails, kitchen knifes, their fists if they have to, but sooner or later we'll be at war again. Treize was wrong! Just showing them what war is like won't change them! There's only one way they'll understand! It's if they have to go through the same hell we did! That's the only way they'll earn it!" There, he'd said it; the idea that had been gnawing at him and tempting him and tormenting him, in one guise or another, since Treize's death. He could barely acknowledge it until now.

"And how many people will have to die this time?" Heero asked softly.

99822-...

"As many as it takes!" Wufei shouted and threw himself forward, fist swinging down like a hammer.

"You could be right-" Heero whispered.

Wufei's punch connected hard. He staggered in surprise. Watched Heero's body hit the ground limply five feet away.

He'd- Heero had dropped his guard! He'd not even tried to parry!

"Heero?!"

He'd just let Wufei's fist smash into him. Wufei found himself taking a hesitant step towards the fallen man, hand outstretched. Then Heero stirred and Wufei fell back.

Heero shook his head, looking dazed. He was clutching his chest where the blow had landed, and he winced as he moved. Wufei could almost hear the grind of cracked or broken ribs.

"You could be right. In which case, I can tell you." Heero's voice was weak and his breath was uneven.

"T-tell me-... ?" Wufei stared, completely confused.

"How many it will take. If you are right, it will be all of them. They'll all have to die. Even her."

Her? Wufei felt an icy thread of pain and horror run down into his gut.

"Over and over again. Even the innocent." Heero's eyes were unfocused. "Even young girls can grow up and wield a weapon if they want to. She'll have to die. Again and again."

How- how could Heero know?! Wufei felt himself tremble. How had he found out about Meiran? Her name echoed through his mind. He hadn't thought much about her these days...

Heero's voice was a whisper lost in the screaming, howling thing Wufei’s soul had become. The soldier's words barely made sense.

"How many times, Chang? How many times will I have to kill her? How many dead bodies? I know I'm a soldier. A killer. That's why I had to join Une, have to believe in peace, otherwise I will have killed all those people for nothing. And they'll have deserved it. If that's true, I might as well terminate myself because nothing I can do will ever matter."

Wufei found himself looking back at Nataku. She stood, gleaming in the dim light from the hangar's dirty windows.

His wife had not deserved to die. She had fought, true. But she had warred for Justice, and he knew that once that had been achieved she would have put down her weapons and gladly returned to him in that field of flowers. She would still have been strong. She would still be Nataku. She didn't have to fight to prove it.

How many times would she have to die, if war broke out again?

Would his Gundam deliver the killing blow this time?

I don't think they deserve peace, Nataku, Wufei thought. He heard Heero stir behind him, stand up slowly, but he was lost, his thoughts spiraling into a vortex. They are weak. This peace was given to them, bought by the blood of the strong. I don't think they've earned it. They've not learned their lesson. But...but I will not become a new Treize in an attempt to teach them. They'll learn it on their own, or not. It's their choice. It has to be, or it's all meaningless.

Forgive me, Nataku. I am weak, and your strength tempts me. I won't go down that path. I'll find my own strength.

His fingers fumbled at the device, removing the securities numbly.

There probably will be another war. But mine is over.

He heard Heero gasp as he raised the detonator and hit the button. An instant before the air solidified into pressure and light, something hard rammed into him and hurled him behind the far wall of the reinforced bunker.

His ears were ringing so badly it was as if the explosion was going on and on. His lungs and head ached at the sudden compression of the air around him. Around them. He realized Heero was lying next to him, with his hands over his head.

Wufei glanced around prudently. The bunker walls had protected them from the backlash of the explosion and pieces of Gundanium hurled at twenty thousand feet per second. The hangar doors had been ripped off and were resting twenty feet away, but the rest of the building looked fairly steady still. Or so he thought until he reluctantly crawled forward and poked his head around the edge of the bunker and realized the entire end of the hangar had been blown clear off. The ceiling would be weakened as a result. It was already a proof of the designer's ingenuity that the building was still standing at all.

He felt movement behind him and he turned, too quickly. His head swam and he stumbled. He sat and leaned against the bunker's walls. Heero had risen to his knees, hand pressed to his chest. He was shaking his head slightly as if to clear out the tinnitus.

Wufei's eyes flinched from a huge chunk of plate-armor, red enamel still clinging, embedded in a side of the hangar. From the angle, it might very well have scythed through the space he'd been standing if Heero hadn't dragged him behind cover. Then again maybe not, it was hard to tell. He tried not to think this was a piece of Nataku, while his heart ached.

"I should tell you," Heero said stiffly, his voice louder than usual. "If you were trying to self-destruct, that wasn't the most efficient way of going about it."

Self-... ? Right. It was nice of Heero to believe Wufei was actually thinking that far ahead when he hit that button.

"I know you speak from personal experience," Wufei grumbled, as Heero slowly got to his feet. "Don't worry, I'd do it efficiently."

"No you won't."

"What?" Wufei tore himself from his thoughts. Heero was scrutinizing him carefully.

"You won't self-destruct. You're stronger than he was."

Wufei stared at him for a long time, then he turned his head and shrugged.

Movement in front of him made him look back. Heero's hand was extended towards him. It reminded him of that time in the shed, their first time, after the sparring and the sex. He'd refused it without a second thought then. He didn't hesitate long now, using the wall instead to haul himself to his feet. Heero let the hand fall back, more slowly this time, but his eyes were steady and he didn't seem surprised.

Wufei, still leaning against the wall, turned the corner and took the full measure of the destruction. He could feel Heero move to his side, and sigh ever so slightly. Even the cold, efficient soldier must feel a pinch in the chest area at the destruction of one of their partners.

"I know this is probably not a good time-" Heero started with uncharacteristic diplomacy.

"There is a man."

" ...What?"

"I don't know his name, he's been quite coy about approaching me. But I dug up some information about one of his middlemen. Here." Wufei dug out the card from his pocket. His laptop was now blown to hell, along with his research, but he'd jotted some of it down. "This is the phone number they gave me to contact them. This - " He pointed to the name and address he'd scribbled down, as Heero took the card with a puzzled frown. "He's the man who hires people for them. He works at that address, it's a big company in the L3 cluster. I get the impression his boss is a big man there too."

Heero read the information carefully, probably memorizing it while he was at it. Then he glanced up, an eyebrow arched quizzically.

"They approached me with an offer to join them. With...Nataku. They didn't give me many details, but I have a feeling they're trying to form some kind of force."

Heero's eyes were on the card again and they were as cold as the vacuum of space. Then he looked up slowly.

Wufei knew what he was going to ask, and for an instant he was tempted. But, unlike Heero, he'd always been told to follow duty rather than feelings. In the void that his life had become, it gave him something to guide him. Now that revenge and the need to watch over Nataku were resolved, there was another obligation to focus on.

"Will you-"

"The information I gave you should be sufficient to determine who they are," Wufei said softly. "I...have duties to attend to."

"Your clan?"

"Yes. Several minor branches survived and they have regrouped. They want me to pursue my education. They have accepted that warriors are no longer needed." That's when he'd left. "They wish me to become an arbitrator, a politician, and direct our clan to fight for peace another way. They...may have the right path. It's my duty to follow it if I can." And maybe he could, now.

"Hn." Heero slipped the card into his jacket's pocket and glanced back at the mecha's remains. "I can take care of this for you, if you want."

Wufei cast a glance over the Gundanium scraps, the remains of sensitive circuitry, and the damaged but still salvageable weapons. "That might be a good idea. Thank you, Yuy."

Heero made a dismissive gesture and they turned towards the hole where the door had been.

"Yuy?"

Heero looked up from the number he was dialing on his cell.

"I...you honored me with your proposal," Wufei said carefully. "I'm not entirely convinced about this peace, but I wish you luck in maintaining it."

Heero shrugged. Luck was not something they counted on, Wufei remembered with a small flicker of amused recognition. His body spoke of resolve. There was no resentment towards Wufei in his stance. No regret either. Wufei felt he'd dropped below Heero's radar again. The man thought in straight lines, and Wufei was no longer his concern.

The steel soldier's mask unbent a fraction. "Find your peace, Chang. You'd better leave before the locals get here," Heero added as the faint sound of a siren trembled in the distance. "I'll deal with them."

Wufei nodded and moved towards his bike. He didn't look back as he gunned the motor and drove away from the remains of his life.

Chapter Text

A crane amongst chickens
--- Chinese saying

"Is this not satisfactory, Lord Chang?"

Wufei looked back at the older man in surprise. Then he realized how his silence could be misconstrued.

He turned and bowed slightly at the waist. "Apologies, honored uncle. It is more than satisfactory. It's..." Wufei glanced around as he straightened, "...in fact a bit big?"

Wai Law Chi didn't look at the apartment, he looked at Wufei.

"This is much smaller than your home back on A0206."

Wufei stared blindly at the painted wooden screen that broke the long rectangle of the main room, and tried to remember his childhood home. "I was in boarding schools since I was eight," he reminded his uncle absently.

"Ah yes. Well we can't have you sharing a dorm now." Wai chuckled at the thought.

The richly furnished apartment wasn't being measured up to a junior dorm in Wufei's mind. Nor to the succession of equally forgettable safe-houses, or the anonymous bunk room on Peacemillion. The room in the house he'd shared with Meiran's family during their brief marriage had been a guest room and felt like it. As long as he could remember, every place he'd been he'd felt in transition, in addition; except, perhaps, in Nataku's cabin, curled up in a sleeping bag surrounded by the faint hum and beep of monitors, the lights watching over him as he said a brief prayer to his ancestors' memorial stone and closed his eyes on the war to rest.

"The university is only a few minutes away," Wai continued. "Your father and your grandfather both lived here while they attended Zhejiang." It had been traditional to send the male heir of Wufei's side of the family to a Chinese University, to allow them to connect to their past with the Earth.

Wufei picked up a jade sculpture of a horse from a side table, felt its weight and the cold stone against his palm. In his mind’s eye, his father's face was pixelated and frozen in the pose from the single photograph Wufei possessed of him. Maybe his uncle would have other pictures of his father. Not likely though.

Wai was his closest living relative now, his mother's uncle. As the youngest son, Wai had married into a lesser branch of the loose set of families which formed Wufei's clan. Now that the two principal bloodlines were reduced to only one scion, there had been some reshuffling in the order of importance in the remaining lines. Wai, much to his surprise and dismay Wufei imagined, had come out as the new family elder. The sixty-year old was obviously not a politician; he was an engineer, a practical hard-headed man with an excellent reputation in civil engineering and not much diplomacy. He didn't seem terribly comfortable with being suddenly put in charge of the adolescent lord of his family. Wufei wasn't comfortable treating someone three times his age as a retainer, especially when his only memory of the man was from eleven years ago during a family reunion where Wai had picked him up, called him Xiao Chang, and said he looked like his mother when she was a child, probably in an effort to annoy Wufei's father.

Wufei wished he could have stayed in the colonies. Aside from being called Lord Chang, he'd not had any preferential treatment and he'd been able to do pretty much as he pleased. Wufei caught that thought and strangled it.

He'd accepted this duty, this path. He'd lost pretty much everything else in his life. His wife was dead. His home was gone. The war had abandoned him. His enemy had defaulted. Nataku was destroyed. But he still had this to do. As such, it would not occur to Wufei to not give himself entirely over to these duties. It wasn't in his nature to do things by halves.

He glanced around the apartment, trying to look approving rather than uncomfortable. It was big, particularly for one person. The large living area was over seven meters in length, from the spirit wall at the entrance to the fireplace at the other end. The walls were painted ocher, decorated with portraits, pictures and three red fans with the symbols of fortune, excellence and justice. The three narrow windows along one wall had traditional wooden screens on them, the regular latticework broken by the shape of the symbol of longevity in the center of each. The room was furnished with traditional furniture of old cherry wood, dragons and phoenixes embroidered on the upholstery. A discreet hallway led to a fully appointed kitchen, not that he really knew what to do with that. A bedroom and a study of more modern design, with a small but well-stocked library, rounded off the rich bachelor pad that had been in his family for over a hundred years. Wufei tossed his duffel down in a gesture to prove to his uncle - and himself - that this was indeed his new home, and just in time caught the strap and jerked the canvas bag back before it connected with the coffee table. The duffel contained a Luger, some ammo and a small set of tools barely cushioned by his spare clothes, he could imagine what that would do to the delicate wood and mother of pearl inlaid table top.

"This way, Lord Chang, you can put your things away in the bedroom."

Wai led the way. He was not much taller than Wufei, stocky, tough and durable with shrewd eyes. His face was heavily tanned, he spent a lot of his time on earth, designing and working on buildings sites. His hair was silver, cropped short, bristles standing out like small quills on the back of his skull. He showed the huge walk-in wardrobe to the soldier who had become the lord of his house. He took the duffel from Wufei with a smile and put it in the otherwise empty space, which promptly engulfed and belittled the rough, stained bag. Wufei added the laptop case, but it didn't help much.

"We'll have you settled in rapidly. Where is the rest of your luggage?"

Wufei sighed internally. The old man was doing as well as could be expected in the circumstances, but he hadn't entirely caught on yet...

"Don't worry, honored uncle, I'll manage the rest. Where's the university from here?"

"Three blocks down and across the main road to get to the gates. Ah, Lord Chang, I meant to ask you..." Wai took a piece of paper from a folder he carried. "As your guardian, the university has asked me to double check your schedule, make sure it's correct."

"What about it?" Wufei poked his head in the kitchen wondering if someone had thought to stock it. He wouldn't mind some tea. Or even some bottled water. After living in space most of his life, tap water on Earth just didn't taste right. Not enough recycling chemicals.

"Well...the courses you selected. The specializations, and the secondaries, added to all the tutorials...um, this timetable is brutal, Lord Chang." Wai was holding the schedule between his fingers as if it might explode.

Wufei glanced up from the - unfortunately empty - fridge. "The political studies curriculum is fairly intense. Although I was several years ahead of my age group in school, I'm still missing a few of the prerequisites. I have to catch up on a lot." He'd been surprised Zhejiang University, notoriously stringent in its entry requirements, had even accepted him. His clan had probably pulled some strings. He accepted that; the alternative was to rot in some high school with a bunch of children. He'd show everybody that he could earn the privilege his family's name had obtained for him.

"But you do realize that typically students do not pick all the courses in the curriculum, they normally leave out two or three."

"They're all worth studying to become a leader and arbitrator," Wufei said sharply as he closed the fridge and checked the ice-box.

"Well yes...I noticed you included an elective in Asian literature as well?"

Wufei paused in the act of opening a cupboard. "Is that a problem?"

"That is not part of the political studies curriculum." Wai sounded puzzled.

No. It was just what I wanted to do with my life back when I was fourteen, Wufei thought as he stared at some plates which would be better off in a museum's display case than a dishwasher. "I'll contact the university tomorrow and tell them to remove that course from my list of studies," he said quietly.

There was silence behind him. Wai was looking at him thoughtfully, though he dropped his gaze respectfully when Wufei turned and caught his eye.

"It is up to you, Lord Chang, but I think the chosen courses will already prove quite challenging."

"That's the idea," Wufei muttered as he left the kitchen.

Unfortunately the old man had excellent hearing for someone his age. "The idea, Lord Chang?"

"I get bored easily," Wufei said in tones of finality. He hesitated outside the kitchen, then unslung his sword from his belt, and put it on the sword stand above the house shrine near the spirit wall. He bowed to the memory of his ancestors, then went to check what kind of sheets to use with the antique canopied bed and if he'd have to go shopping for those as well.

 

 

Wufei picked the seat nearest the fire exit and sat down with a discreet glance around the auditorium. He'd timed his arrival two minutes before the course was due to start so he didn't have to mingle with the others. The big room was only half full, to his surprise. He'd been able to put at least five rows of empty seats on either side of him.

Absently he smoothed down his sleeve again. He kept doing a double take each time he caught sight of his arms clad in the rich red and black silk. But the colors of mourning would only elicit sympathy and unasked-for questions. Besides he had decided to leave the past behind him in more ways than one. He now represented his clan in their public face to the world and had to dress the part. The smooth tunic slid against his spine as he leaned back in the chair, and he missed the way the cloth would bunch slightly around the gun he no longer wore in his belt. He absently straightened the notebook, pen and books he'd set on the small desk, and felt like an impostor.

He kept a discreet eye on his surroundings. The clock above the door showed it to be 9:00 sharp. There were around fifty students in all. Some were talking in low voices, most were staring straight ahead. A few were reading. The big room was very quiet.

Wufei began to frown. Granted it had been a long time - a year and a half of hell - since he'd been in a classroom but there was something in the air that-

"Excuse me?"

He'd noted her approach, but hoped she'd pass him by if he ignored her. He turned slowly without a word.

"Erm, you don't have to sit all alone here, there's plenty of room on the other side of the classroom."

"I'm fine."

She looked a bit puzzled and slightly nervous even though she was probably two years his senior. She was dressed in a dark skirt and white blouse, western style, as if she were uncomfortable out of the school uniform she'd been used to before coming to university.

"I haven't seen you in class before. Are you new?"

"Yes." The school year had started three weeks ago, Wufei had missed it thanks to his self-doubts and hesitations. Fortunately the Zhejiang board of education had allowed for a late enrollment. "Isn't the class about to start?"

"Oh, Teacher Zhiang is very reliable. Always fifteen minutes late."

She didn't seem particularly discouraged by the curt answers or the strong hint in his question, she seemed to be trying to ask him something without actually being rude enough to question him.

"My name is Ju Mei. I'm from Beijing," she said carefully, as if this could be misinterpreted as an insult.

"Chang Wufei. Don't they have a university in Beijing?"

"Oh, ZJU is a much better institution," she said quickly, her eyes had flinched. "Erm, where did you say you came from?"

"I didn't."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"L5."

"Ah!" Her smile was warmer and she gestured towards the front of the auditorium near the door. "Well you should come and sit with us, then. There are a couple of other colonists down there, let me see if I remember-"

"I am fine where I am," he said, voice neutral. When she turned back to him in surprise, he held her gaze until she flushed and took a step back.

"I-I'm sorry. I-... " She stumbled back another step, bowing instinctively, then muttered, "Welcome to ZJU," before returning hastily to her seat.

Several people from the front of the auditorium had been staring at her and Wufei from the moment she had approached. He saw them ask a few questions in a low voice. The girl - Ju Mei, no last name, he made a note to check her against student enrollment data later - shrugged and sat down.

Wufei's gaze went from the front of the auditorium to the back. The soldier and strategist finally assembled a coherent picture to explain his sense of unease.

Nice peace you have there, Yuy. Well, at least they're not shooting at each other. Yet.

Students were sitting in distinct groups, with several empty seats between each. The students in front near the door were all seventeen or eighteen and had the bright, brittle, excited look of young people who had left home for the first time and for whom the novelty had not yet worn off. There was a smaller group to one side, near them but still distinct. Those students were on average older and their pose was almost aggressively relaxed. They sat front and center, claiming the room. At the back was another group, mostly young men from eighteen to late twenties, all sitting in pretty much the same stiff stance and looking straight ahead at the presentation screen.

What had everybody expected? The war had lasted in one form or another for over two decades. The alliance overtaking the nations of earth one by one, resistance movements opposing them, terrorism, retaliations, oppression, executions, counter strikes, bombardments, and finally the political and military turmoil of the last year. Now it was over and all sorts had returned to school. So if he had to take a guess: the loose-knit bunch of young people nearest the door were regular students, civilians. The small group near the front had been part of the opposition movement for which Sally Po had fought, the Chinese resistance against the Alliance's puppet, Bundt, and OZ. The group at the back were the discharged soldiers, either OZ or part of the forces of Bundt and his junta.

The girl had assumed he'd want to sit with the civilians. In theory Wufei belonged with the one-time rebels. But he probably went just as easily with his old enemy; an ex-soldier trying to catch and weave the threads of his life back into some semblance of a familiar pattern.

Yes, he was definitely better off sitting where he was. Out of it all and on no-one's side. It was where a Gundam pilot belonged.

He shook his head slightly as he remembered his words to Wai. The groups were now separate and intent on ignoring each other, but there was a hint of violence in the air like the taste of metal to the tap water in the apartment he kept thinking of as his safe-house.

He had a feeling attending university was not going to be boring at all.

By the end of the first day of observing all parties, Wufei had gone and checked. He'd been reassured to find that Zhejiang had discreet but very efficient metal detectors on every entrance to the grounds.

 

 

Wufei interrupted his katas as soon as he realized the door hadn't immediately closed again.

"There are no classes here," he said tightly.

"I know."

The man moved slowly through the small sports room, as nonthreatening as possible. He was tall, in his mid twenties, with the darker skin of the western provinces. His bearing was unconsciously military, and his hair was short and not particularly well kept, as if he'd still not gotten used to the absence of a helmet. His features were a bit crude, powerful, and he had a small scar across the bridge of his nose. His hands, relaxed unaggressively at his sides, were strong and had calluses; gun, not MS, Wufei judged. He was wearing jeans and a Chinese-style dark blue tunic, with a thick wristwatch, the kind that gave air-pressure and universal time. A simple metal medallion in lieu of dog tags around his neck. A casual observer would say he looked a bit brutish, but his eyes were sharp. Officer, OZ, probably Romefeller faction, Wufei guessed with the ease of practice that came from having fought and killed a great many of the man's peers.

"You look quite young up close. How old are you?" the man asked curiously as he closed in.

"What do you want?"

The man looked at him for a little while, weighing him. Wufei wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow and tried to encourage him to leave with a dead-eyed stare he'd learned from a certain L1 pilot. His punishing schedule of studies only left him a handful of free minutes to practice his katas, and he didn't feel like wasting any.

"My name is Ko Liwan." The man, visibly not discouraged, introduced himself with a small bow.

"Chang Wufei." He made the three short syllables as uninviting as possible.

"I just thought I'd warn you, Chang. It's not wise to provoke them."

"Provoke them?"

Ko made a gesture towards Wufei. "Your exercises. A bit too martial for times of peace. Tempers are already high enough against people with a military background."

There was the slightest question in that statement. Wufei had been under intense observation for the last two weeks since his late enrollment. His background had not been easy for the various factions to place, but on the balance of probability he'd apparently been slotted in with the Ozzies. Amusing.

"Thanks for the warning. I'd like to be alone now please."

"It's none of my business," Ko said slowly. "But the war is finished, and the sooner we stop thinking about fighting and factions, the better."

"You're right," Wufei said, backing away and turning back to his katas.

"Right in what I said, or the fact it's none of my business?" There was weary cynicism in Ko's voice.

"You choose," Wufei answered and returned to the practice of controlled violence.

"No one quite knows where to place you, Chang." The man continued oblivious and Wufei couldn't concentrate with a potential enemy at his back. "They're wondering whose side you were on."

"I thought we weren't supposed to be thinking about sides any more?" Wufei countered, facing the older man again.

"Hah! Well that's the theory. You said you're a colonist, but you bear yourself like a soldier and you left space...Whose side were you on, Chang? White Fang? One of OZ's recruits in space? Resistance? Alliance?"

"I was on nobody's side. Go away."

"Huh. That's an interesting and novel answer," Ko said with a sudden grin. "You know what everyone else says when I ask that question?"

"No."

"'The right side', of course."

Wufei couldn't help it, the snort of laughter slipped through the mask before he could quite stop it.

Ko gave him a smile that was both tired and bitterly amused, the smile of a soldier who had just wanted to lay down his weapons and get on with his life. His weapons had been taken away, but he'd found himself on a new battlefield all the same. He left without a further word and Wufei finished his katas without further interruptions.

 

 

"Hi Wufei. Don't worry, I won't sit down." Ju Mei's voice was slightly sardonic, but she'd apparently decided a few weeks back to adopt the young, hopelessly anti-social boy without family or friends in Hangzhou, and wasn't to be discouraged that easily.

Wufei, who didn't particularly want to be adopted by anyone, particularly Ju Mei and her clique, glowered at the interruption.

Behind Ju Mei and her unwavering smile, Li Pai glared right back at him. She was Ju Mei's best friend, also from Beijing, and visibly didn't approve of the ungrateful wretch who turned down all of her friend's efforts to socialize him and include him in some of the university's activities. On Ju Mei's other side, Gan Jiening, a colony ex-pat who never seemed bothered by anything, merely looked bored.

Ju Mei was one of the few who tried to put life into JZU's student body, using CPR if necessary. Her group had organized a few parties, some campus sports meetings, everything carefully arranged so that certain people didn't run into each other. Wufei thought Ju Mei would make an excellent social hostess, or possibly a peace-broker in a major war zone.

"So, Wufei, I was wondering-"

"No."

"But-"

"No. I have to study."

"You're always studying!" Ju Mei exclaimed, exasperated. "Don't you want to live a little?"

"I'll fit it into my calendar for after my master's degree," Wufei muttered and turned to the next page while taking another bite of his sandwich. He really could return to his apartment for lunch, it wasn't that far and he'd be undisturbed. But then he'd have to get his own meal ready. He'd been living on some form or other of take-out or rations since university started two months ago. After so long as a soldier, fresh food and domesticity just seemed like a sinful luxury, a waste of time he couldn't get used to.

He glared up from his book as he felt Ju Mei's lack of prompt departure after his snub. It was hard enough to get into economics. Some of it was interesting, the rest was so tedious he'd been tempted to go with his tutors' recommendations and drop it. But his clan needed someone with a head for financial realities as well as politics. He'd stick with it, he'd hammer away at it until he conquered it.

"You know, Wufei, if you never go out, you'll never meet any nice girls," Ju Mei said with a teasing smile. Wufei wondered just how rude he'd have to be to get rid of the pest.

"I don't think Chang's interested in girls."

Wufei had tracked Lun's approach. The various factions around the sparsely populated university were not structured enough to have leaders. Otherwise Lun Kai Bo would be one of them.

That first day impression had been wrong; most people, like Ko and Ju Mei, only wanted to study and get on with their life without fuss. But there were enough troublemakers on either side to make a fuss inevitable one day. School staff were constantly on the lookout for trouble, but were somewhat unsure how to handle the developing tensions. This was the first school year of the 'peace'. For a decade, JZU had been frequented by the children of highly placed members of government, the military or rich business men. Now it was open to all. Except, perhaps, to peace.

Wufei wasn't surprised. In fact a small part of him was bitterly amused; this proved his theory. This university was a microcosm of what was probably happening planet wide. Total pacifism? Last war? My ass. It's coming, Yuy. It's coming and you can remove as many weapons as you can find you will not be able to stop it.

"Well, Chang? You'll notice he's not denying it, Ju babe. You might as well give up!" Lun chuckled. He was a short man in his early twenties with burn scars across both his hands that spoke of a close miss from a shell, or an explosion in an MS cockpit. He had the natural charisma of a small-time leader, and, in Wufei's observation, no real interest in studying history he'd enrolled for.

"There wasn't anything to deny," Wufei said disinterestedly as he flipped a page. "You stated your opinion. It's your right to have one. It's my right to ignore it. Now go away."

The three girls tensed. A few other students stood up from a nearby table and left hastily.

Lun didn't seem bothered. "I see they've already taught you semantics in your political studies classes." Wufei's fingers tensed on the page. He forced himself to relax. This creature was beneath him. "So, I'll make it a question. You into guys, Chang?"

"Regretfully not, but I have a friend who is, I'll put in a good word for you." Wufei couldn't help himself. The mental image of this little rooster approaching Yuy and getting ripped limb from limb warmed his heart a little.

The silence turned ugly for a second, then Lun laughed. "You'll make a good politician, Chang." Once more Wufei strangled the temptation to leap up and retaliate more than verbally. It shouldn't be an insult. It would be true one day. "Well, Ju Mei, good luck finding a girl the right size for our Xiao Chang."

"I already have a date for the foreseeable future," Wufei snapped, lifting Fogherty's 'Economics of Interplanetary Resources'. "Now if you'll leave the two of us alone, I'd-"

The explosion brought him and half the students to their feet. The other half screamed and dived beneath the plastic lunch tables of the canteen.

"S-sorry." In the stunned, panting silence, the cook's voice sounded ludicrously loud. He was standing over the remains of a huge ten-gallon glass alembic of soy sauce, completely shattered. It had slipped from the lifter's clamp. Empty and sealed as it hit the tiles, it had sounded like a small detonation blowing out a window. Wufei realized he'd kicked his bench clear across to the wall behind him, and thrown himself in a crouch to the side, his hand reaching for a weapon he no longer wore. Lun's hand was similarly at his belt.

There was a whimper from the floor a few feet away. Ju Mei was frozen in shock, eyes huge in a bloodless face, but the pitiful noise jerked her like a puppet. She finally moved, cooing like a dove as she leaned over Li Pai, curled up shaking on the floor. Jiening stared down at the two, pushing her glasses up her nose with a trembling hand.

"Shhh, it's okay. It-"

"Sh-shelter, we're not in a shelter, we need to get to a shelter-" it was a thin thread of panic.

"No, Li Pai, it wasn't a bomb, they just-"

"No sirens, didn't hear the sirens, we need to get to a shelter-"

"Shh. Li Pai? Come on. Jiening?"

"Hm?" The ex-colonist's eyes focused behind the thick lenses. "Oh. Right, let's get her out of here."

"City's on fire, where's the shelter, they never showed us our shelters-"

Lun snorted, face twisted in a vicious snarl. "Don't know why you're complaining. At least you Beijing collaborators had shelters. We didn't, and they were actually aiming at us!" He turned and walked away quickly, head lowered, shoving a trembling student out of the way.

Wufei was suddenly grateful he and Nataku had never been near Beijing. He had no idea how he'd have reacted otherwise. He'd been ready from the moment he'd set foot back on earth to face a hostile soldier with a grudge, but this...

"Was Beijing hit bad?" he asked before he could stop himself.

"Yes," Ju Mei said tightly as she maneuvered her friend to her feet.

"Who? Alliance? OZ? Rebels?" Wufei added the last with a glance at Lun's departing back.

"Just about everybody including a Gundam," Ju Mei snapped back at him, eyes blazing. Then her gaze faltered. "Sorry, Wufei, you couldn't know. You were in the colonies."

"Yes," Wufei absently lied. Who the hell had been in Beijing? Sandrock had hit the base nearby, but that was a good thirty miles away from the city, at least...Well, it didn't much matter now.

He watched the girls leave, the other students settle down, eyes wide, or in tears, or laughing way too loudly. He picked up his bench and sat down to finish his lunch.

The book lay on the table, unopened. He didn't think Fogherty had a chance in hell of keeping his attention now.

 

 

The steady beat of his feet hitting the concrete put Wufei in a trance near to meditation, though he never lost sight of his surroundings. He sprinted through the small stretch of garden near the library just for the hell of it, feeling his muscles play like a finely tuned instrument, then he slowed to a quick, quiet step as he rounded the old building.

"- fucking colony bastards nearly dropped Libra on us! You want us to-"

"Shh!"

Wufei didn't slow down, but he didn't accelerate either, pretending he hadn't heard. He didn't think it was meant for him; the small group standing out of the light sprinkle of rain in the library porch were concentrated on their discussion. The shush had been automatic. No one raised their voice on campus. No one said anything. Everyone looked over his or her shoulder. It was the quiet before the air-raid siren.

Fortunately the campus was huge, it defused the tension somewhat. It had been the biggest university in the PR of China while that country still existed as such, over a century ago. Now it was a fifth the size, reduced to one of its founding universities, and it was more important by prestige than number of students, especially these last years. During his run Wufei had seen post-grads and doctorates walking around in ones and twos, but there were very few pupils in the years between entry level and graduation, when the war had been at its most intense. The university had been closed last year, as two of the science buildings on the edge of the campus had been accidentally shelled along with parts of the city due to a targeting error while OZ was attacking alliance forces nearby. No wonder ZJU had not made much of a fuss over his entry requirements, they needed the pupils.

Three hundred new students had enrolled, a pitiful number compared to even a few years back. And quite a few of them were having a hard time getting into the studying mindset.

Scuttlebutt still didn't know where to place Wufei. Military, most probably. But from the colonies, by his own admission. That left a few unfortunate choices.

A week before...

He practiced his katas at night, to avoid curious or hostile onlookers, and because it gave him a better shot at a peaceful night of sleep if he exhausted himself and let loose the day's tensions first. The changing room was empty when he finished but someone had disturbed the bench he'd left in front of his locker as a primitive security monitor. Ten merry minutes later he finished checking the locker over for every conceivable type of booby-trap, wishing, exceptionally, that he had Maxwell handy. Where was your explosives expert when you needed him? The locker was safe as far as he could tell. He looked at his clothes a bit more carefully, assuming they'd be slashed, or possibly trapped.

The only sign of disturbance was a white band strangling the sleeve of his tunic.

He wasn't sure how to react. For all he knew this was a test, from one side or the other, to determine which faction he belonged to. Paradoxically if he indicated in any way that they were right, it would definitely put him in with the Ozzies, because many of White Fang, and almost all who had a military background, had been ex-OZ from the colonies or the Treize faction.

The irony was just breathtaking.

He ripped off the band and pocketed it, thinking he could try to trace the owner. The chances were minimal, but what else was he supposed to do? Go through every member of the rebel and military factions and beat them up until he found the culprit, and then beat him up again?

Wufei tried to control the small part of himself that said this was a very good plan. It was the voice of the inner warrior who wished he were back on a battlefield where alliances had been muddled, but at least people were shooting at you. That always made things a lot clearer. How was he supposed to react to an attack on his clothes?

"Go sleeveless," Ko snorted the next day, lounging on the bench next to Wufei. His pose looked completely relaxed, but Wufei knew the ex-OZ officer was aware of the movements and whereabouts of each of the three other people in the study room.

"Why not," Wufei muttered, taking a sip. "It's only raining every other day now."

"If you can drink that energy-protein-vitamins-ye-gods-everything-but-taste drink, then you're not afraid of a little water."

Wufei held up the can of protein-blend thoughtfully. "Actually I'd rather it didn't have any taste. Tasteless would be quite an improvement in fact."

"So you are a masochist. That explains a lot."

"No, I just-...someone- a friend of mine got me used to these things during the war. I don't know why I still drink them." It wasn't as if he needed the extra energy. But somehow he found the flat taste comforting. He set the can down.

"So what do I do about this?" He held up the white band. Ko looked at it tiredly.

"Well, you can be smart and keep your head-"

"No."

"- down and stop pract-"

"No."

"-practicing your katas and jogging on campus-"

"No. I'm not going to give in to them."

"- and stop being a walking poster-boy for Veteran's Rehab Day, or else you can do what I do."

"Which is?"

Ko put his hands behind his head and grinned at the ceiling. "Lay back and watch with morbid fascination while every single faction on campus puts Chang Wufei on their hit list and then beat each other up for the privilege of making your life miserable."

Wufei snorted. "I'd like to see them try."

"Strangely enough, so would I..." Ko's eyes became dreamy. Wufei had watched Ko operate these last few weeks as the one-time officer tried to keep 'his side' calm and under control. The man was a natural mediator. But like Wufei he kept the soldier's instincts that occasionally made them both long to be able to cut through the crap. With a bloody big thermal beam.

"So is that why you hang around me?" Wufei asked before he fully thought the question through.

"Is that what I'm doing?" Ko tilted his head to look at Wufei from the corner of his eyes. Wufei shrugged. Ko didn't avoid him like others did, and would sit down to talk to Wufei when the ex-Ozzie's cynicism got the better of him, but it wasn't all that frequent.

Ko looked back at the ceiling again. "I must be the kind of guy who likes to watch acrobats walk the tightrope without a net. What are you doing Saturday night?"

Wufei almost choked on the drink he'd absently picked up again. "Studying," he said tensely, trying to look at Ko without seeming to. He stiffened as the other man stood up in one smooth movement and leaned towards him.

"Good," Ko said, grabbing Wufei's drink without looking at him. "That off-campus party they're organizing, I happen to know Meng invited some friends from his former unit, so I'd rather not see you there. Their whole squadron took some heavy losses attacking Libra-"

"I'm not White Fang."

"Well it would be stupid to get yourself beaten up over someone else's mistake then."

"Hey, that's my drink you're taking with you," Wufei snapped as Ko headed towards the door.

"How can you swallow this shit?" Ko said, after taking a swig. He made a show of looking at the label. "And it's got caffeine in it. Kid your age shouldn't drink this, Chang, it'll stunt your growth."

"Screw you, Ko."

"Yeah, yeah, see you around Chang." Ko left with a grin and a wave, still sipping Wufei's drink.

Wufei stared at the white band in his hand, then threw it in the bin and went back to his studies.

But the memory of that small move against him stuck in his memory the following week. The mention of the word Libra had him on edge now. He cut his run short, heading out the gates back to the apartment.

No other test of his partisanship had been forthcoming since the incident with the band. He suspected Ko had had words with someone. He wanted to forget about the whole thing, try to live a normal student life. But his warrior reflexes wouldn't let him, they were constantly on alert, surrounded as he was by potential hostiles. Sometimes, he wondered if his mind wasn't letting his senses run away with him, just to give him that extra edge, that little feeling of danger whose absence made life dull to the ex-Gundam pilot.

He saw a familiar figure at the foot of the apartment building as he slowed to a walk. The stocky man was looking at one of the stone lions adorning the frontispiece above the doorway, and scratching his chin. Wufei glanced at his watch in surprise as he drew near.

"I'm early," Wai said, in lieu of greeting, as he caught the tail end of Wufei's movements.

"I'll shower and we can go." Wufei had established shortly after their first meeting that his uncle preferred curt to obsequious. So did he.

"Pity... " Wai's eyes were back on the stone lion guarding the doorway. Wufei followed his gaze. The snarl was partially eaten away, the stone tinged green on the crack.

"Bullets? Shell?" Wufei asked, eyeing the damage he'd never really noticed before.

"Neglect," Wai answered quietly. "Apparently the caretakers got sidetracked by the war. We shouldn't let trivialities distract us from cherishing our past, any more than we should allow the worship of the past to distract us from the present..."

Wufei hid a smile as he unlocked the door. Though prone to fits of something like poetry, Wai was mostly hard-headed and practical. He'd be grumbling about the follies of youth as he laid spackle over fresh bullet holes in an old building, probably while the fire-fight was still ongoing around him.

Wufei enjoyed his uncle's visits. The old man showed up every other week or so, between his new duties as elder and his work on earth and in the colonies, to take his nephew out to lunch or to see the beauties of Hangzhou. As his guardian, he was supposed to be checking up on Wufei's health and well-being, but his uncle didn't fuss over him. They'd eat out, play chess or checkers in one of Hangzhou's parks, walk the streets and survey old buildings and new war damage. Wai was surprisingly easy to get along with, by Wufei's standards; which meant that the old man was argumentative, stubborn, not very chatty, and didn't mind the occasional long silence from his nephew. Sometimes Wufei found himself talking about the war, his doubts, the crushing burden of fighting alone against not one but two armies intent on destroying each other and everything Wufei had left to protect. The old man listened to his words and to his silences, and never insulted him with sympathy.

Wufei didn't mention his present difficulties though. They were nothing compared to what he'd already faced and defeated, and he would deal with them himself when the time came.

 

 

Wufei woke with a gasp. He lay in the unfamiliar darkness - three months now but still unfamiliar - and waited for his heartbeat to return to normal, as well as other parts of his anatomy. He scowled at the canopy above his head and wished he was the kind of dishonorable bastard who could just pick up a girl for sex and dump her the next day.

His studies were too intense, his schedule too tight...and that was just an excuse. Fundamentally he was completely uninterested in having any kind of relationship with anyone at present. If ever. He didn't even want any friends. They'd only be a distraction.

Despite the age difference and his cold attitude - a teasing Ko claimed that it actually made him a natural babe-magnet - there were still some girls who appeared eager to try to appeal to him. He'd found it all too easy to ignore them. He'd been approached by a couple of guys as well. Despite Lun's jab, he wasn't interested either. Deep down he'd felt relieved at that, and then embarrassed at even having considered - not a chance. The thing with Yuy had been a necessity of war, nothing more. The war was over now, he didn't feel the need for any sexual relief at this point.

If only his body had agreed.

Wufei glanced at the clock. Five AM. He'd been asleep four hours. Enough. He'd go take a shower - a cold shower - and go for an early morning run.

Most of his dreams were of battle-winds and bloodshed. But occasionally they took him back to a bed in Italy or a bunk aboard Peacemillion. They were confused jumbles of images and feelings, a glimpse of wall-paper, the sound of a tube of lube hitting the floor, the feel of a comforter beneath his throbbing body, blue eyes hazy with lust; power and scars writhing beneath his fingertips, violent pleasure, ragged breath in his ears, the tension of two bodies fighting and mating with the same passion. Wufei shuddered and quickly stepped into the shower.

Maybe he should try to find a temporary...Wufei rolled his eyes at the word ‘arrangement', but that was what it was. A woman who'd accept that he didn't love her, couldn't love her, who would agree to not distract him, and would understand that he would not be able to marry her. Or he could look for ivory in a dog's mouth, which would be easier. Best just keep it bottled up. In a little over four years he'd be twenty one and his clan would select someone for him to marry. The idea made him uncomfortable, but by then he'd have saved up enough frustration to be able to produce the required heir and then...Wufei shut the thought off. His life belonged to his clan now. He had long ago accepted that he didn't have the capacity for happiness, merely satisfaction. He couldn't even blame the war for that, it dated much further back. He'd always lived for his studies or his duties; for the pursuit of excellence, not joy. He'd lead his clan and excel in the role they'd chosen for him, as leader, arbitrator, husband and father. It would be the source of his pride and contentment.

Wufei strangled the little sneering voice inside him that said that it would be a pale sort of contentment. The voice, nasal twang reminiscent of dark streets and raw survival, fought back and asked him if he really could be 'a guy who never puts his life where his mouth is, hey, buddy?' A politician who would draw and blur the lines rather than the blade that cut through them.

To distract himself, he picked up the paper as the tea brewed. Relena was front-page news on an almost daily basis. The riots in various places were on the third page, in smaller print. They never led to much, to Wufei's surprise, but he was certain this state of affairs would not continue. The peace looked promising in black and white type-print, and in the salons and embassies where no one dropped the soy sauce and made hundreds of young men and women dive under the table. In the real world however, war was surely just a matter of time, in fact it was a miracle it hadn't already happened.

Wufei didn't look at the vice-foreign minister. His eyes went, as usual, to the shadows behind her. With all the journalists present, even he had slipped up once or twice; a shadow in the background, turning away, caught in the middle of his own vanishing act. Wufei didn't know if he watched over Relena all the time. It seemed a waste of his potential. Relena was in Berlin that day and the only bodyguard behind her was a thickset woman he'd seen in other pictures. He dropped the paper with a shrug and hoped they'd found something more exciting for Yuy to do than babysit her ex-Highness. If Wufei was going slightly stir-crazy, Heero would be fit to be tied.

Wufei left for his run. He'd take his usual route by the lake, a good long workout to start the day and get his mind back to the present where it belonged.

Chapter Text

A camel amongst the sheep
--- Chinese saying

It all came to a head, not to anyone's surprise.

Ju Mei had done her best to defuse the coming explosion, consciously or not. A peace fair had been organized that day. The evening's music and entertainment were excellent; the university arts club had put a great deal of effort into the silk fan dance. The fluttering butterfly movements were a symbol of childlike happiness and peace. The food and non-alcoholic refreshments had drawn out most of the students who, true to university life forms anywhere, were never adverse to a free meal. Ju Mei's success could be measured by the fact she'd even managed to drag Wufei away from the library to join them.

Wufei realized something was wrong, but he didn't know what. He'd been deep in his studies and had not really been interested in the events around him. He knew what would happen sooner or later. The wolves would fall upon each other, the sheep would panic, the cycle would start again.

It took him a few moments to realize it was starting again here and now. Most students were not aware of it, but Wufei noticed that there were people missing, men and women whom he automatically kept an eye on when they were in a crowd. Well, maybe they were studying; so much posturing probably hurt their grades, he thought sardonically. But his warrior's senses were tallying the nervous laughter here and there, the growing tension of the crowd. He should probably go home.

"Chang!"

Wufei filled his coffee cup at the refreshment table again. He had to study late tonight, an Environmental Politics paper was due on Monday and he wanted to go to the museum tomorrow. He ignored Ko, hoping the older man would get the hint.

"Chang, you've got to help me!" Ko grabbed his shoulder. Wufei took the other's wrist in a threatening grip and removed it. Ko grimaced.

"They're gonna do it! Stupid fools. Come on, we've got to stop this!"

Wufei stared at him in amazement. "We?"

"Yes! I think I can talk Meng down, but we might need to keep them apart by force until I do." Meng was one of the non-leaders of the military faction.

"They've finally decided to have it out, have they?" Wufei was suddenly tired. Cynicism was only fun as long as the world didn't catch up with you. Then it just became sad. "Are they having duels, or just a grand old melee? Or did they decide to go all out and have a proper battle instead?"

Ko gaped at him, cheeks flushed with anxiety and rising anger. Wufei frowned. "They don't actually have weapons, do they?"

"I- I don't know!"

"Are they on campus?"

"Yes! They're just next to the social science building, in the parking lot."

"Well then the metal detectors would have picked something up if they were armed." Wufei looked for some sugar.

"You're perfectly aware people can get killed with bare hands alone!" Ko snarled. "They're not all amateurs."

Wufei was silent. He knew it, he didn't want to acknowledge it.

"Don't walk away, Chang. You've got to help me." Ko's voice was low and intense.

"Why?" Wufei stirred his coffee.

"Because you fought for peace. You can't just let this happen."

The motion of the plastic spoon might have slowed a tad, but Wufei knew his features betrayed nothing. "I never fought for peace, Ko. Sort it out yourself."

A hand slammed into the wall, cornering him against the table as he tried to walk away. Wufei had seen it coming and didn't react, merely leaned against the wall and stared up at the taller man who was trying to get his temper under control.

"Look Chang...I know you can fight, and I know you don't give a damn about either side. That's already good enough for me. I happen to think there's a whole lot more to you. I'm not fucking stupid. When I see a guy from the colonies practicing high level katas, and reach for his gun at the slightest upset with reflexes a commando would envy, and he's not even sixteen-"

"I am sixteen." Wufei sipped his coffee.

"-then I'm smart enough to put it together, pilot. But I don't care. I just want some muscle and a cool head to watch my back while I talk Meng and the others out of this, before it gets FUBAR. Now you're gonna follow me out there?"

"Or?" Wufei asked softly.

Ko stared at him, then licked his lips. "...Can we just say I made a very frightening and realistic threat right now? One that will get you to come with me? 'Cause by the time I actually think of one, they'll need body bags out there. I'll spend the rest of the night thinking about it and I'll have a really good threat ready for you in the morning."

Wufei couldn't help the snort. "You know," he said, putting his coffee down on the table, "you remind me of someone; a guy who kept making these annoying wise-cracks at the most inappropriate time. I'm not promising anything, but let's go see what we can do."

"Thanks, Chang."

"Whatever."

They had nearly reached the gymnasium's door when they realized it wasn't going to be that easy. Two of Lun's friends were there. They were exactly the kind who'd stay away from the real fight to threaten the timid civilians into keeping out of it. Wufei felt the old anger rise in his gut, the recoil away from a weakness that was so pitiful it thought it was strength. Beside him Ko sighed, a short, angry sound.

"Wufei!"

Ju Mei appeared behind them just as one of the cowards stepped forward with a smirk.

"Wufei, stay here!" Ju Mei whimpered.

"Listen to the girl, Chang, stay out of this. Ko, you're more than welcome to go out and play." His name was Vin Kaito, Wufei remembered, having memorized the ID and pasts of everyone on the campus with a history.

Some students had gathered. Most were indifferent, and Wufei felt his fists tense, the tendons creak, when he remembered Treize throwing himself on Nataku's glaive for them. A few looked worried. Some ducked away, preferring to keep their head in the sand and pretend nothing was happening until it was over, after which they'd feel very sorry about the victims. But half a dozen looked like they wanted to intervene and Wufei didn't want this to get out of hand.

He knew how this was going to end. He'd done this dance before. Two sides met, they fought, no one could stop it, no one really wanted to stop it. You could only attack them both, finish it as quickly as possible, to try to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

"You." He turned towards one of the indifferent ones. Black eyes widened as they were singled out. "You have a cell phone." Wufei's chin jerked towards the bulge in the man's breast pocket. "Call the police."

The guy hesitated. Vin stepped up to Wufei and poked him in the shoulder.

"Stay out of this if you know what's good for you, Chang. We're in our right to clean out the house. We didn't fight Bundt and his OZ lackeys so that they could send their kids to university. When we finish outside we'll take care of those collaborators hiding in here, and -"

"Get out the phone," Wufei told the man tightly without looking at Vin. "And call the police. And an ambulance."

"They're just taking the trash out of the campus, Chang, they won't need an ambulance." Vin grabbed him by the front of his tunic, and made a noise like a punctured balloon when Wufei's fist slammed into his gut.

"You're right, and it wasn't for them," Wufei muttered. He thrust the man away and turned in the same movement. Ko barely had the time to gasp. His head snapped back and he fell like he was pole-axed. Wufei quickly checked the man's breathing; he hadn't meant to hit him that hard, he was too used to sparring against Heero. Then he nodded at Ju Mei, staring at him with eyes like saucers. "Take care of him and make sure he doesn't interfere. Get the medics to check both of them when they get here."

"But-"

"Tell the police to go to the social science building, the parking lot to the north of it. Tell them to bring riot gear, though I'm hoping they won't need it."

"But-"

"You." Jiening stared at the finger leveled at her. "Keep anyone from leaving the building until the police tell them otherwise." The woman had a very capable, calming presence and her wits about her, she should be able to keep the few do-gooders from interfering.

Wufei didn't wait for an answer. The other coward had run away before Vin had hit the ground. Wufei walked swiftly towards the social science building, bending his arms and stretching his shoulders to warm up.

 

 

They were still at the threats and shouting part of the evening's program when Wufei arrived.

The ex-military faction, two dozen or so men and women, from new students to post-docs, were standing practically in formation, in stiff poses, glaring. The rebel faction were a loose-knit group of fifty people, though some seemed to have a 'just a bystander' attitude. Half a dozen of them were at the forefront, shouting at their enemy.

Wufei approached and almost laughed as he realized he had a problem. The amount of violence in the air was rapidly approaching critical levels. Now in the past, Wufei's very presence had disrupted open warfare between hundreds of mobile suits. But the arrival of a slender sixteen year old did not have quite the same impact as the appearance of a Gundam.

"The police are on their way," he said loudly, just to get the ball rolling.

That brought some of the attention to bear on him. Lun stepped forward with a scowl. People from the military faction were glaring at him too. These were the hot-heads, the ones who resented the fact that this peace, enforced by the surrender of their superiors, had turned them into losers. They didn't want anyone to stop this. They'd had their full of provocations and snide remarks, and were just waiting for the opportunity to retaliate.

Wufei walked slowly into the twenty feet of no-man's-land between the two factions. There was a murmur of questions from either side as the students who were not first-year asked their colleagues who the hell was this teenager and what was he doing away from his babysitter.

"You guys aren't going to break it up on your own, are you... " Wufei found he was smiling. He should be sad, furious. Part of him was. He would stop this here and now, but something similar would flare up again tomorrow on any other part of the planet or in space.

"Just to get one thing clear from the start." Wufei raised his voice slightly. "Do any of you fools have any weapons?"

A few more eyes fixed on his lean form. "Don't need any," someone from the military side said with a snicker.

"That's a pity."

Slowly, more eyes were fixing on him in surprise.

"A weapon clarifies much. If you were armed, those of you who are cowards would have already run away and the rest of you would have skipped all this annoying posturing and gone straight to business."

His words sounded louder in the slowly growing silence.

"It would make things easier for me," Wufei added in a voice like steel. "I have no qualms in defending myself. Anyone serious enough to attack me with a weapon could expect broken bones or a broken neck, depending on my mood. That's a quick and efficient way to get someone to stop fighting, you'll agree. The more I can take out this way, the faster this farce will be over with; I might even have enough time to go work on my paper afterwards. Now I ask again, since I finally have everyone's attention. Is - anyone - armed?"

He kept his head slightly lowered as if he couldn't even be bothered looking at either party. His ears and senses picked up the slight shuffle. He hadn't bothered to concentrate on the ex-military side, they would be confident enough in their martial skills to show up bare-handed. On the resistance side, he heard just one person shift in the way he was waiting for. His eyes darted, caught the tail end of that movement. Wide eyes, fixed pupils, movement to grip something heavy in a bomber jacket. Wufei's memory flashed him up a history and some stats to match the boy's face. Shi Nu Sha. Nineteen, Shanxi province, hometown bombed out by Bundt's forces in an attempt to control the region, joined the resistance a year before Wufei killed Bundt and his cronies, not entirely by design. Had been caught and imprisoned by Romefeller's OZ a month before peace had been declared. He'd been one of the first on Wufei's list to have the means to turn this argument into something more deadly. The other suspects hadn't reacted the same way; chances were good that Shi was the only one who actually had a weapon. That was an almost miraculous bit of luck.

"Right, let's get down to business." Wufei slowly cracked his knuckles, eyes still on the ground, senses carefully on alert. "I don't have much hope this is going to end without violence, but just to give you the incentive to contemplate this possibility, I promise to smash the kneecaps of the first person who throws a punch. You older students can ask your juniors, if you don't know who I am. I may look young, but I'm not someone to mess with." No one seemed to doubt that, actually. "Now, if you people still want to do this, maybe we could arrange it so that you attack me directly instead of each other. You'll still end up hurt, but since I actually know what I'm doing, the number of casualties will be fairly low." Wufei took a few steps forward, positioning himself between the two hottest heads on either side, and getting a bit closer to Shi. The man's hands were loose at his side, he didn't look like he was going to do anything yet. He was a mad dog, that one, his reactions would not be predictable. Wufei found himself smiling tightly. If he had to be perfectly honest with himself, he'd admit he liked this better than writing that paper.

Two people from the resistance side stepped forward, turned to glare the others out of their shock. The silence was breaking under the assault of angry murmurs. Wufei tensed, weight poised. He'd go for the leaders first. The military would hopefully stay put if they weren't attacked directly, so if he concentrated on-

"Stop this now!"

Wufei felt his heart turn to lead. He turned slowly, trying to keep his cool, keep the all-important control of the situation before it blew up in all their faces.

"Go away, Ju Mei," he snapped and then stopped.

It wasn't only Ju Mei...

A trembling, ashen-faced Li Pai and two older boys were at the forefront by her side, but there was a trickle of people heading all the way back to the gymnasium. They were moving forward slowly, deliberately, but not as a herd. Wufei couldn't quite fathom their intent. He'd never seen people move like this, as distinct individuals towards a common goal.

He glared at Jiening who was a few feet behind Ju Mei. She glared back over her glasses and hoisted a groggy Ko more firmly onto her shoulders. She had a mulish air about her. Damn, he'd been wrong to put her in charge. Ko was awake, a hand clutching his jaw and he was scowling at Wufei too, though admittedly with a better reason.

Ju Mei took a step forward and tried to shake Li Pai, loose but her friend clutched at her jacket and took the steps with her. A quick argument flashed between their eyes, then Ju Mei took the trembling girl by the shoulders and helped her forward. One of the boys - a third year student, Wufei thought - walked with them, looking strangely calm. The fourth one hung back, waiting for others to catch up.

"You are not - we will not let you do this." Ju Mei's voice was pitched higher than usual, but it was firm.

"Ju Mei." Wufei licked his lips, but he could see from the jut of her jaw that he would not be able to talk her away quickly enough. Great, that was all he needed. He would not be able to pull his punches if he had civilians to protect. This was going to get very ugly.

Others were moving between the two sides. The second third-year student had walked over to some people his age in the resistance faction and was arguing in a low, intense voice. Ko had poked Jiening who, with the theatrical air of someone being unreasonably put upon, helped him walk unsteadily over to Meng and the others.

"Just what do you civvies think you are doing?" Lun put his hands in his pockets and tried to look relaxed, but surprise and unease were adding a line of tension in his shoulders.

"We could ask you the same thing," the third-year boy answered softly. People's angry murmurs abated as they strained to listen to him. "Don't you think there's been enough of this?"

Lun sneered. "We need to-"

"You want to!" Ju Mei shot back, eyes blazing. "You want to fight, you want to keep your hate alive. You want your revenge, you want to get even, you want to win, you want another war. Well fine. But we're in the way. We'll always be in the way sooner or later, caught between two warring factions. You want to fight, Lun, you'll have to go through us, because you will eventually anyway."

"Maybe we should try to round up a few kids," a post-doc said quietly. His face was white and rigid, eyes hard behind rimless glasses. "My younger sister lost her arm and one eye in the bombing of Nanking last year. Did you want any young victims here? Or are the first-years young enough to count?"

The murmurs of angry agreement were coming from the crowd gathering around the factions. More people were slipping into the gap. Wufei had to take several steps back to give himself room.

"So what, you'll fight both sides, is that it?" One of Lun's older buddies shot this like a challenge to the post-doc, who was probably morally easier to threaten than a trembling Ju Mei and Li Pai. But it was Ju Mei who answered.

"No. We're not going to fight anybody. Total Pacifism means not fighting for peace any more than for anything else. But whatever it is you're fighting for...we'll not let you have it."

"We want to kick these murderers out of our schools-"

"Then you'll have to go through us. And even if you do and you succeed...then we'll leave as well." Ju Mei's voice was slowly coming down from hysteria. "The handful of you who won can take your classes by yourselves, assuming that's what you actually are fighting for, and I'm not convinced."

"And if you can find teachers to teach you," someone added. Wufei recognized her as one of the lab assistants, part of the staff who had volunteered to watch over the evening's festivities.

"We'll not stand by and let you take us down this road again," someone else Wufei didn't know said slowly. "Where would it end? I hear some ex-resistance factions are talking about liberating China from the world nation, become our own country again, and kick the invaders from our soil. Well, I'll think you'll have to plow your way through a lot of people to do that too."

"And good luck finding someone to grow your food or take out the trash when you've won!" a fourth year student spat angrily.

"We can't fight you," the post-doc said calmly. "But you can't make us give up the peace. We died for it too."

Wufei shook his head. This all sounded nice, but there was one flaw in the argument.

He found himself moving to address it. It surprised him. There was a small part of him that wanted to keep a hold on his cynicism, that wanted Treize to be wrong. It was telling him to fully test the mettle of these people, whom he had dismissed as 'civilians' and who were now doing his job. Nothing like a little blood to see where someone's true values lay.

Wufei glanced back at Ju Mei, Li Pai and the others.

Some of them would die. But others would take their place. He could see it now. He had not wanted to believe it, but he should have. It had been in front of his face for months. All those small, localized riots all over the world, that had led to nothing bigger. The way so many people had quietly put their past and hate behind them and moved on. The war he'd been expecting that had failed to materialize.

Damn me, he thought, Relena was right. Treize was right. They are ready...

Now he just had to make sure no-one got killed for it.

He made as little noise as possible as he disabled Shi before the man could fully draw the gun from his jacket. The wild eyes had been fixed on the pacifists between the two factions, he'd not noticed Wufei's approach. Shi sagged as Wufei threw a quick, brutal punch to his solar plexus. He hauled the body to him and walked it away. The man was taller and heavier than he was, it wasn't easy. The resistance fighters were staring at the pacifists like wolves who've realized the sheep have formed their own alliance and have numbers on their side - no, more than that. They were weak yet they had a kind of moral strength that you could build the future on. It reminded him of Sally...None of the aggressors had noticed Shi and Wufei yet, but if the man slipped and fell, things could still get messy.

Some of Shi's weight shifted off Wufei's shoulders. Wufei glanced across the slumped body. Ko had grabbed Shi by the waist and was looking back at him expectantly. Wufei tilted his head towards the social studies building. Ko nodded and helped him carry Shi towards it. Behind them the argument was getting louder, but Wufei didn't think it would degenerate now. If it did...the people would take care of it. The peace was in their hands now.

Ko groaned and dropped Shi carelessly to lean against the building after they turned the corner and were out of sight. He rubbed his swollen jaw and closed his eyes, then slid down the wall to sit on the concrete. Wufei retrieved the gun he'd stuck in his belt and checked it.

"What the fuck is that?" Ko stared at it, eyes widening.

"Nice." Wufei's fingers danced over the charger, flicking it in and out, checking the barrel, disassembling and reassembling it with a few deft moves and absently cocking and aiming it at a stop sign a few meters away. "It's an alloy. Aluminum maybe, and some kind of non-metal ceramic. Tough as steel, but won't trigger most metal detectors as long as they're not calibrated to the bullets. Very new, obviously. I read about them online. Somebody's been producing them for criminal purposes, now that metal detectors have appeared in a lot of places. But I hear terrorists like them a lot as well."

"Where'd a two-bit psycho like Shi get a hold of that?"

"I'm sure the police would love to know." Wufei checked the man who had started to groan and stir. He wished he had handcuffs. "Did any of you suicidal idiots think to call them by the way?"

"Um, not that I know of."

"Morons."

"I think the staff will have. Chang...I can watch this piece of shit and give them the gun if you want. You don't have to stay here."

Wufei glanced up curiously.

Ko shrugged. "Not that I don't owe you a heap of trouble for breaking my jaw-"

"You're talking just as much as usual, Ko."

"-almost breaking my jaw, but the police will be looking into everyone involved in this tonight. You might want to avoid that."

Wufei hesitated, then handed Ko the gun after ejecting the charger. "You sure-"

"They know who I am anyway, but you...well, there's still quite a few people with a grudge against someone like you, and if word of your presence here gets out...Go on, get out of here."

"...Thanks, Ko."

"Whatever." Ko grinned and then winced at the pull to his bruised jaw.

"Oh, Wufei?"

Wufei turned back. Ko was fiddling with the charger, not quite looking at him. "Just for my own curiosity, I mean, I-...never mind. It's the past."

"Nataku. Shenlong, rather. The one you knew as 05. That what you wanted to know?"

"...Thanks. I thought so. I, ah, I was an MP on C0130 while my unit was deploying back to earth. Those idiots from White Fang and the MS corp decided to have it out right outside our fucking window. Me and my CO, we'd started evacuating the colony, we were sure one side or the other would end up blowing us all to hell. Someone stopped them though. Kicked both sides to the mat. And took out the colony's defense grid too, but I suppose that was fair enough. You always fought for peace, Chang Wufei."

Wufei turned without a word. Fighting for peace...That paradox was at the heart of his new problem.

 

 

Wai was waiting for him patiently. Wufei's politeness towards his elders was pricking him, but he finished his train of thought in the silence of his meditation. He needed to know where he stood before he talked to his guardian.

Finally he opened his eyes. Wai was sitting on the couch; he nodded a greeting.

"I heard about the fuss," the elderly man said in his usual abrupt tone. "My friend in the university board called to warn me. He almost missed me, I was about to return to L5."

"Sorry to have interrupted your trip, honored uncle." Wufei stood and went to make the tea.

"Hell, hardly your fault." Wai sounded a bit puzzled at the honored uncle' term. After their first meeting he'd ordered Wufei to call him Wai, or 'uncle' if he felt the need to be coddled, and forget about 'all that elder nonsense'. "In fact, that's why I'm here. First I wanted to make sure you were okay, since no-one's seen you in the past two days. Your friend - Ko, I think his name was - he was trying to wring your address out of the board, he was worried."

"That fussy old woman knew I'd not been hurt," Wufei muttered as he set the water to boil. His uncle cocked his head as he leaned in the doorway.

"It never hurts to check. Anyway, I'm here on behalf of my friend. The board want to keep this somewhat discreet. They've expelled the trouble-makers, but most of the students are-"

"Are they expelling me?"

"What?!" Wai shot away from the door jamb. "Why on earth would they want to expel you? You helped stop it!"

"No, I didn't. They didn't need my help to stop the fight."

"Well you certainly stopped that lunatic with a weapon, and that's what the board wanted me to thank you for. They can't do it officially since they'd rather that part of the incident was not known. The Preventers requested it too."

"Preventers? Oh yes, I suppose they'd be called in to trace the gun." Wufei prepared the things for the tea automatically, mind distant.

"So...that's why I'm here. Why did you think they'd want to expel you?" Wai was looking at him intensely.

Wufei said nothing. He poured the water into the tea pot and carried the tray into the living room, putting it on the coffee table. Wai had made way for him at the door and was following him, almost radiating puzzlement.

Wufei started to pour the tea, but put the pot down with a clunk instead, stood and bowed at the waist.

"I'm sorry. I have failed you," he said, in a voice he meant to be contrite. It merely sounded tired and angry.

"Yes, I'm getting that." Wai sounded still puzzled. "How exactly do you estimate that you've failed-"

"Before the others interfered, I was about to use force as well, to stop the fighting."

Wai's eyebrows shot up. "Force? Against who?"

"Everybody." Wufei crossed his arms and waited for the old man's displeasure.

"Figures." Wai rubbed the back of his head. The cropped grey hair made a scrunching noise. "But you only reacted as you would have during the-"

"The war is over!" Wufei snapped. "I am no longer a soldier. I am the leader of our clan and its arbitrator, the man who is supposed to find peaceful solutions to problems such as this."

"When you put it like that it does sound a lot worse." Wai shrugged with a grimace. "Chang, you've been a civilian for only a handful of months. It's normal that you-"

"I failed." The words were heavy, condemning. "I expect better of myself when I set myself a goal."

"Hmm yes." Wai's eyes dropped to stare blankly at the teapot. "I've not known you long, but I got that much. You know, boy, you're only human, you could be a bit easier on yourself."

"Tell me, uncle, when you build a building, do you accept that it will have weak foundations?"

Wai winced. "I'm not going to win this argument, am I. What am I supposed to do, Wufei. Make you run laps around the campus? Send you to bed without supper? Whip you? Seems like you're doing a good enough job of that yourself." The old man didn't seem approving.

Wufei shook his head. "I will deal with my faults as is appropriate, uncle, though if you think further punishment is necessary, I will obey you. You are the only elder in the family now, and my guardian, you have the final say on that."

"I do, don't I..." Wai was rubbing his head, staring blankly at Wufei's crossed arms.

"I thought you should know. It would be dishonorable for me to keep it from you, especially if you thought I had done well. But be assured. I will try harder."

Wai was silent for awhile, eyes distant. "You know, Wufei...there are others in your generation who could help you out with the leadership thing. I mean, Meiran's second cousin, he's a planet-sized prick, but he's got a head for business like you wouldn't believe. Maybe...maybe you could drop economics and pick up that elective in Asian literature again."

Wufei spilled the tea he'd started to serve. He'd been expecting to hear his uncle say he wasn't up to it and had been formulating arguments to convince the old man to let him try. He hadn't been expecting that.

"What? Literature?"

"I...don't take this wrong, Wufei, but it's obvious to me you're not happy with the role we've assigned to you."

Wufei slowly set the pot down again.

"We all have to do things we don't like, at times," Wai continued slowly. "I certainly don't enjoy being hauled from pillar to post with this elder business. But that's just extra work for me. This is your whole life we're talking about, Wufei. After all you and the other four boys did for us, don't you think you deserve to do at least something with your life you want? You can still be our leader, but-"

"No."

"Boy-"

"Apologies, uncle, but you do not understand." Wufei's voice was tight. He sat down and crossed his arms, eyes on the tea stain on the tray. "I have accepted the future our clan has chosen for me. I am needed." Wai shifted, but Wufei continued without letting him interrupt. "As such, I will accept no distractions. I will be the best I can be. Happiness is not a requirement. I doubt I have much capacity for it anyway."

"That's your thing, isn't it," Wai muttered. "Whatever you're doing, whatever the field, as long as you can beat yourself up and challenge yourself and push yourself to be perfect-"

Wufei snorted; the sound was raw and wounded. He rubbed his face with his hand. "I'm not perfect, uncle. But I strive to be," he said softly.

"Hmmm." Wai glared at the tea stain as well. There was a long moment of silence.

His uncle muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'screw this', then stood. The look on his face was so serious and severe that Wufei instinctively got to his feet and braced himself.

"Chang Wufei. I have decided your punishment. As the only elder of our clan, it is my decision who gets to lead it. It is not you. In fact, you are no longer a member of our clan. We reject you."

Wufei stared at him for a full minute, then swayed and sat down heavily.

"You..." His voice trailed off into silence.

"Right." In his narrowing field of vision he saw Wai's hands serve some tea. "Now that that's done, I'm no longer your elder, boy. But I'm still family. Indulge an old man's curiosity. Tell me what you're going to do now."

Wufei was silent. His eyes seemed chained to Wai's cup as the man took a sip then looked at him encouragingly, as if he hadn't just severed his nephew from the last meaning to his existence.

"Do... ?" Wufei finally croaked. "I...nothing. What can I do?"

"Be the best," his uncle said promptly. "But not as a clan leader. Chang, it was obvious the moment I saw you that you'd be a rotten politician. Well, not rotten in the sense that would actually be useful to our clan. The prick - I mean, Meiran's cousin, he'll make a fairly good leader for us, but I'm confident no one will listen to him too seriously. Most of our clan is gone, and the ones who remain are young, and deserve an unfettered future. They can build their own, choose their own at their discretion, find a path between new opportunity and tradition. But you're too bull-headed for that. It's all the way or 'no way' with you. So now, you're free. What is it you want to do, Chang Wufei. What is it you want?"

Wufei's mind was a whirlwind of jagged thoughts and memories. Justice, serve his clan, Meiran dead, Nataku, oh Nataku my strength, what, what was he supposed to do now...? What scared him the most was that though he was shocked to the core and shaking inside and out, he was not as devastated as he should be. The wind blowing through him was the hard, cold wind of sudden freedom, the dizzying possibilities. He was ashamed of the way his soul grasped at it like a lifeline.

His uncle sipped his tea loudly, and seemed as patient as turtles.

"If this was a misguided attempt to make me happy, uncle...it's not going to work," Wufei finally said, leaning his swimming head back against the couch cushions to stare at the paneled ceiling. Wai merely slurped his tea again.

"I...there is nothing...I..." Wufei tried to gather his thoughts. Happiness, contentment, he didn't even know what they were...

No, that wasn't true.

There had been a time when he'd had them. Not happiness, but...for once in his life, things had been clear. He remembered a long time ago telling Master O that no one could make a difference, could truly change things, but he'd been wrong. He had been the blade cutting down, the sureness of death and fate, and all his doubts had left him, because he was doing what was right to the best of his considerable abilities, constantly challenging himself to do better and to do more. He was bearing his full weight to where it mattered most, where it could change things, he'd made a difference and yes, in a strange way that no one else would have recognized, he'd been happy. He'd been about to die, but he had been happy.

He was free to reach for that again.

"I will join the Preventers." The sentence started out tentative, but ended in an affirmation.

Wai choked on his tea. "Wh-what? Didn't you want to study art?" That was obviously not what the old man had had in mind.

"Literature was a challenge to me. Understanding all the old philosophies and letting them confront and hone my own," Wufei said slowly. "But I've followed a different path since then. I need more." The pen might be mightier than the sword, but he knew which one he wanted to wield.

"Haven't you earned some of the peace you fought for, Wufei?" His uncle looked at him with some pain in his old eyes.

"No," Wufei said tightly. "I'd like to make this clear once and for all, and I'm starting to think I'll have it tattooed on my forehead. I never fought for peace. I was fighting for revenge, justice and against the warmongers who were endangering civilians and arming the weak. Not for peace, because I thought it was a lie. But I think...I think I can believe in it now, and it's something worth defending. And, because reality is always a lot more messy than the Peacecraft woman would like us to believe, I think peace will need defending. A lot."

"Yes, but how is this going to make you-...will you toss something heavy at your old uncle if I said the word 'happy'?"

"By reaching for perfection."

"I think, boy, that you have a rather misguided idea of what a policeman does for a living. From what I understand of it, there's lot of boring paperwork, then you get shot at, and then there's more boring paperwork."

Wufei hesitated, but he didn't want his uncle to worry. "I can handle some mundane tasks. And I believe in what they do now, so the work itself would be satisfying. But there's more. I...one of my wartime allies joined the Preventers. Before I came here he asked me to become his partner." Wai's eyebrows lifted in sudden comprehension. "I don't know if he's still interested. It's been a few months. He may have found someone - he's probably found someone else to work with by now, but I guess I can see if I can join their unit, or whatever they call it." He didn't feel too hopeful. So much time had passed. But it was worth a shot. He didn't have much else to aim for.

"This man is a friend of yours, you say?"

"Better. He's a rival," Wufei answered, reducing the complexities of their relation to the aspect his uncle might understand. "He's someone I can measure myself against, who will challenge me. We work well together too, we do what we need to, without distractions or-" he was about to add 'futile emotions' but his uncle, who did not know the force of nature named Heero Yuy, would probably get the wrong idea and go a bit weird on him. "It's what I want to do," he simply concluded.

"You won't be bored, is that it?"

Wufei nodded.

Wai looked at him for a long time, then put his cup down with a decisive clink. "Good. Well, I'll definitely have to make your removal from the clan official because there are a few who would have fits if they knew their supposed-to-be-Lord was going to be a cop. But that's just paper and politics, boy." Wai's eyes held his seriously. "The clans, and all these insulating ideas, they need a make-over. We should not be a cage for our children. We should be the nest from which they will leave to make us proud. That's all I ask of you, boy. Be your best, make us proud, and you will always be a part of us, whatever the old crusts like me say. Got that?"

"Yes sir." Wufei stood and bowed. Wai made an impatient gesture.

"Cut the kowtowing and get out of here. I'll deal with ZJU and the rest. Get to wherever you're meant to be. And if that guy you want to work with makes any trouble because you were mature and kind enough to try to sacrifice your future for the good of your clan, and made him wait a few months...if he cuts up rough, tell him there's a civil construction engineer who's practiced martial arts since he was a boy and who's still limber enough to kick his ass, who will want a word with him."

Wufei's smile twitched, but he managed to say: "I'll be sure to tell him, uncle."

He went to pick up his jacket and duffel; he'd never actually unpacked it. He didn't spare a thought for the clothes in the wardrobe or the few things he'd bought. He hefted his laptop bag on one shoulder and felt the reassuring hard nudge of the Luger hit his hip on the other side. He grabbed his sword from its stand and turned to bow to his uncle. The warning look in the old eyes turned his bow into a nod instead. Wai gave a firm smile in return. "Write to me when you get there, boy."

"Yes, uncle."

Wufei closed the door to the safe-house behind him and walked out into the night, mind on plans for the future, the most immediate of which was dropping by the university to smack Ko out of his worrywarting, then getting to the Preventer HQ without surrendering his weapons or going through too much hassle to find his one-time partner. Once he'd achieved that, he'd see if Heero still wanted Wufei to fight by his side.

Chapter Text

Smash the pots and sink the boats.
--- Chinese saying

 

The newly build preventer's headquarters in Brussels was an imposing building. Half of it was underground, but the rest was a gleaming peak of steel and glass, with the ESUN symbol emblazoned over two stories in marble and metal. There were uniformed guards at the door, though they stayed discreet since this was a force for peace, not repression. From the multiple heli- and MS pads at its apex to the pleasant if severely geometric gardens at its base, it represented the strong arm of the new world nation, the watchful eye kept over peace.

It was ridiculously easy to break into.

Wufei walked slowly and casually down the hall. The visitor's badge he'd lifted from the ditzy secretary hung from the belt of his jeans. He had an empty A4 envelope in one hand and a clipboard in the other, he wore his youth like a badge of innocence and the word 'courier' written all over him. He was all but invisible as he walked the hallways past cubicles and offices, all still smelling faintly of new carpet and wrapping plastic. He didn't like these subterfuges, but he'd not fought a war alongside Barton and Maxwell not to be able to pull it off when need be.

Of course, a small voice at the back of his mind pointed out dryly, this might not have been a situation that called for it. He could have avoided all this hassle with one phone call.

He caught the scowl on his face in the reflection from a glass door and schooled his features to impassivity again. It wasn't that much of an effort to break into this place. And it was a phone call he'd been reluctant to make, for reasons he didn't even try to explore.

When he'd left Hangzhou, he'd found a few remnants of Sally's resistance group operating out of Beijing, more or less under cover and on the edge of legality out of force of habit and a lingering suspicion regarding the peace they'd fought for. They'd offered him a place to sleep for one night and an unchartered flight out of China to the destination of his choice with his weapons and his privacy, in exchange for the small favor of having saved all their lives during the war. It was when they'd asked him where he wanted to fly to that he'd been momentarily stumped.

Of course the logical course of action all along would have been to get in touch with the Preventers, talk to Une or whoever they'd put in charge, explain his circumstances, sign on the dotted line...

He would join the Preventers. He believed in their cause now and he was never tepid when it came to defending what he believed to be just. It was just that...he rather wondered where Heero was and if he was still looking for a partner. He'd had no news from the man, and he had no idea where he was, or even if he was still with the Preventers himself.

Instead of resting that night, he'd spent it hacking into the preventer's database, to see if he could find a trace of his former partner. Their computer security was good, and Wufei was not a master hacker like some. He'd not made much progress by the time dawn had started spilling light on the bed he'd not slept in. Then he had the idea of checking for back doors. In the time he'd worked with Yuy and Maxwell, he'd seen their MO and knew their habits. Of course, the Preventer database was not the same as an OZ system to be cracked and then left vulnerable for later needs.

He'd been rather surprised to find that it was.

It was one of Yuy's old back doors and passwords, the kind he'd put in discreetly so that the others could access an enemy system even if he wasn't available to help hack into it. The access didn't leave Wufei in super-user mode. He could get in to some lesser systems in Preventers, but nothing crucial that he could see. But it did connect him to something interesting, an entry isolated from all other preventer functions and accessible only through that login. A simple table with five entries.

That's when he learned that Heero was in Brussels. Yuy's entry was short and to the point; it had a cell phone number, a PO box (also in Brussels), and a curt line informing whoever accessed the table that he was working for the next two weeks in the IS dept of Preventer HQ. The entry had been updated a few days ago.

Wufei's hand had drifted to his cell, but he found himself checking the other entries first, delaying the call.

Duo was apparently on L2. There was a cell number, an address, and a cheerful if rather cryptic message: "Hi guys! I'm back from that cluster, wasn't much to salvage after all. I'm hoping to go out again soon though, Hilde's got a good lead on some stuff on the moon base. I'll update this when I do, and warn her Ladyship. 427-fucking-E, right guys? Well, I'll be in touch. Call me, Yuy! Apart from your little love notes in this database we don't hear from you." It had been updated two weeks ago.

Trowa's entry was similar to Heero's, a cell number, a PO box on L3, and a list of colonies and dates, some of which were in the future. It looked like an itinerary. Wufei noted absently that two of the destinations were the same, Duo's address; Trowa had been there three weeks ago and would be there next week as well.

Quatre's entry was simply a phone number, and an address on L4. Wufei was surprised there wasn't more information, considering the previous entries. His own entry - he'd not been surprised to find it - was the same, his cell number and his address in Hangzhou. Nothing more.

"Hey kid!" A fist had slammed against the door. "Time to rise and shine! If you want to get a flight out of here today, you're going to have to tell us-"

Wufei had opened the door before the second knock.

"Brussels," he told the wide eyes behind the fist, and closed the door again to catch a few hours sleep.

He'd arrived in Brussels thirty one hours later. He stored his bag and sword at the station instead of taking a hotel room. Logically he should pause and take stock, and illogically he wanted to charge ahead regardless. He headed into the center of town, towards the newly constructed HQ.

He'd still not made that call.

He sat in a coffee shop on the other side of the Platz, his eyes going over the building. His cell phone was on the table, staring at him as reprovingly as such an object could. Just one phone call...

Using Yuy's back door and his own hacking skills, he managed to bypass the security cameras on the service entrance. Then he waited until some over-busy caterer wedged the door open behind his plates of sandwiches, and simply walked in, shaking his head disapprovingly. They'd not put a checkpoint at this access, they were relying on the door lock and cameras alone. It didn't strike him as very serious security. He was disappointed that Heero would work in such conditions and not do anything about it. He'd detoured by a stock room to get the clipboard and important-looking envelope justifying his presence, nicked the visitor's badge from the secretary that tried to flirt with him instead of asking him what the hell he was doing there, then used the computer someone had imprudently left unlocked during lunch break to check the building plans for the systems room.

He walked casually down the halls, knowing that attitude was ninety percent of any disguise. Which was how Maxwell had managed to infiltrate so many objectives despite being a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old with a foot-long braid. No one looked at Wufei. Most of the cubicles and hallways were empty, people were at lunch.

He turned a corner leading to the IS department and found himself faced with a checkpoint. Well, sort of. A desk, a phone and a security guard who looked younger than he was. The young man stopped playing solitaire when he saw Wufei and looked up with the bored expectation of someone who is going to have to pay a minimum of attention to his job.

"Package for a Mr Yuy," Wufei said, walking right up to the desk. If Heero wasn't going by that name then things would get sticky and he wanted to be in arms reach of the man.

"Okay." The guard held out a hand. Wufei shook his head.

"Hands only, I'm afraid."

"What?"

"I have to deliver it to Mr Yuy himself. He needs to sign for it." He waved the clipboard at the guard like a talisman.

"Oh. Well, he may be at lunch, most people are." The guard - his badge said his name was S. Hewitt - looked longingly at his screen, then sighed and thrust a ledger at Wufei. "Sign here and I'll get someone to walk ya to the fridge. That's where he'll be, if he's anywhere."

Wufei signed 'Duo Maxwell' into the ledger while the guard placed a call, and looked up to find a portly sandy-haired man trudging up the long line of cubicles on the other side of the checkpoint.

"Yeah?" The man grunted at the guard.

Hewitt swiveled smoothly in his chair to look at him. "Courier for Yuy."

"He's in the fridge."

"Yeah, but the guy says he needs to sign off on this himself." Hewitt continued his smooth rotation until he'd made a nearly complete revolution that put him back in front of his game of solitaire.

"He hates to be disturbed," the fat man muttered, his look of annoyance tainted with a bit of reluctance.

The guard shrugged as he clicked away. The fat man glared at him, then gave Wufei a curt gesture to follow.

Wufei glanced at his watch. It was fifteen past noon. He'd been in the building twenty minutes. He'd brought the cameras down an hour ago. At some point surely someone would notice the security breach, and would ring an alarm. Then, assuming the checkpoint guard could tear himself away from his game of solitaire, he would be one of many checking his list of names against the building's entry records. Wufei's presence would be discovered shortly. He should have made that phone call...

"He's in here, unless he went to lunch," the fat man said; his badge had been flipped the wrong way around, as had his tie, and he'd not bothered to introduce himself to a courier. He stopped in front of a sealed door with a security keypad on it. He entered a few numbers - 48293, Wufei noted automatically, and rolled his eyes to the heavens - and opened the door a crack with something like trepidation, as if he expected a feral animal to leap out at him.

"He's in here, he's working," he whispered, reinforcing the impression. Wufei fought to keep a smirk from his face. Looked like Heero still had it.

The fat man swung the door open, hesitated, coughed, and then took two steps inside. Wufei waited a few seconds before following.

"Um, someone here for you. Courier. Needs you to sign for a package."

The room was rich with the hum of dozens of servers and stacks, their fans whisking away and purring in the aggressive cold of air-conditioning, lights blinking green and red under harsh neon. Heero's back was towards the door, but Wufei caught the tail end of a movement from his swivel chair. He'd probably glanced up as soon as he heard the door open. His fingers were flying over the keys again though, and the line of his shoulders was unfriendly. Wufei and the fat man waited a few seconds until it was obvious that Heero was not going to turn around.

"Um, he needs you to sign," the fat man repeated.

"In a minute," Heero said. Once more Wufei had to catch his smile at the familiar cold, dead tones and the fat man's wince as he looked at Wufei, embarrassed.

"He doesn't like to be disturbed," the fat man told him in a stage whisper which Yuy would have been able to hear from the other side of the room, not that the man would know this. Wufei's escort hesitated, then when Wufei leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, visibly willing to wait, he left with a shrug and closed the door behind him.

Wufei glanced around the server room idly then rested his eyes on the familiar back. Heero was wearing gray fatigues and a khaki-colored t-shirt, despite the coolant-scented biting air of 'the fridge'. His hair was a bit shorter in the back than when Wufei had seen him last. He wondered if he'd cut the bangs as well. Heero wasn't armed, as far as Wufei could see, though he could have a knife slipped into the steel-capped boots.

The fingers were flying over the keyboard in a clatter of noise to rival the hum and ratchet of the hard disks around them. Then the typing slowed and stuttered to a stop and the dark head came up, listening to the silence behind him that was not the one you'd expect from a normal person shifting around and getting bored fast.

"Yuy," Wufei said just as Heero started to spin around.

The back of the swivel chair bumped against the keyboard -

"Wu- ?!"

- which clattered against the screen. Heero stared at him and that's when Wufei knew why he'd not made the call.

"Do I even want to know how you got in here and why they think you're a courier?" Heero asked, recuperating his impassivity with remarkable speed.

But in that instant of surprise...

"The security in this place is a joke."

- wide eyes, a face that suddenly looked sixteen when it usually didn't, the hitch in the shoulders...

"I know. I've informed Une of this fact on several occasions."

- the mouth that had lost its usual rigid line, the tone of the voice when it had gasped his name - his given name, Wufei noted with a shiver of curiosity and something like nervousness.

"Why don't you do something about it?"

Heero turned back towards the keyboard with a shrug. "Not my department. Give me five minutes." The clatter started again.

But that instant had given Wufei the answer he needed, to a question he'd been unable to ask even himself.

Heero's shoulders were locked and slightly hostile as he typed swiftly. He probably wasn't sure why Wufei was there, and the uncertainty was making him tense. There was no other indication that Heero was interested in seeing him after so many months or anything other than mildly annoyed.

But for an instant, because Wufei had surprised him, had shocked him out of the steel core he wrapped around himself and his emotions, Wufei had seen what Heero himself could not have put into words. Or maybe he had, once, when he'd been nearly comatose from sleep-deprivation. 'I never thought training with someone else would be of any value at all...But you despise distractions and mistakes. I didn't understand it to start with, your pursuit of improvement, of excellence, but I do now. I have even integrated it into my own overall mission plan.'

Wufei wondered if he should mind that the only time Heero let him know his presence wasn't just another annoyance was when the soldier was exhausted past caring or shocked to the core, and realized that actually he didn't care at all.

That slight give in the mask, which would never be repeated in words, that might not even be recognized consciously by its owner...it was good enough for Wufei. His tattered pride that had survived the war, Treize, the banishment from his clan and peace, would not have allowed him to ask Heero to resume their partnership if there had been any chance that he was imposing his flawed strength where it was not needed or wanted. But his presence was not an imposition. Knowing that, he could ask Heero to allow them to work together. Hell, he'd plead if Heero wanted to make him pay for those months' wait. The need was there and on either side, that was what counted.

Heero finally saved and turned again in his chair, leaning back against the small keyboard desk.

"Are you on a class break?" His eyes were cold and uncaring, running clinically up Wufei's frame to pin him with a stare.

Wufei took a breath, the cold air pinching his nostrils, the scent of plastic and air-conditioning flat and cloying.

"My clan has freed me from my obligations. I no longer have to study, I can choose my own career," he said simply.

Heero could have been carved in ice for all the effect that had. His control was absolute, as if to make up for the earlier slip.

"And why you are here?"

"To see if that offer you made me still stands."

They looked at each other, the silence humming around them.

"You want to join?"

"Yes. Do you still need a partner?" Wufei asked, politely framing the redundant question into words. He didn't think he'd have sensed what he had from Heero if the man had found an adequate replacement.

"...Yes." Heero's voice was non-committal, but the lines of his shoulders eased slightly.

They weighed each other some more, in silence, then Heero nodded, once.

"Acceptable. Let me finish here and we can-"

"You!" The voice was faint, muffled by the sealed door and diluted by the hum of servers. "Have you seen an annoying kid with a long braid and a grin about this big?"

Wufei and Heero exchanged glances, the latter definitely startled. They could hear the faint mutter of denial from someone else in the hallway.

The code on the door beeped. Wufei leaned back against the wall and moved sideways so that the opening door would shield him for a moment.

"Yuy!" A woman in uniform marched through the door, head swinging right and left in case any Maxwells were lurking around. "Did that infuriating friend of yours show up?"

Heero's eyebrows hitched and he glanced at Wufei in surprise, though the other person didn't catch the gesture. "Friend?"

"Maxwell. There can't be two Duo Maxwells in existence or else I'll resign. And retire to a nunnery somewhere. Him or someone using that name signed in a few minutes ago, said-" The woman finally glanced behind her, following Heero's gaze, and stuttered to a stop.

"Chang?!"

Wufei nodded once, trying not to appear overly defensive. The last time he'd seen this woman, she'd tossed him into a brig on the lunar base. Wufei wasn't sure of the sequence of events that had followed; he had a hard time believing she'd ended up being one of the motivating forces for peace, and head of the Preventers despite the fact she had a career sheet many a war criminal would envy and, last he heard, a few psychological flaws that would not allow her to hold a job in a burger joint in most places on earth and in space.

"What-...Did you-..."

"We tend to help ourselves to Maxwell's name on occasion, and I already told you the security on this building is ridiculous," Heero said dryly, figuring it out with his usual speed.

Une shot Heero a cold glance then turned back to Wufei. He found himself weighed down to the last atom. She might have become a fuzzy baa-lamb for peace, but she was still as sharp as a butcher's knife.

"Did you break into this building, Chang?"

"Yes." Wufei shrugged.

"Why?"

"I dropped by to say hello to Yuy," Wufei said, like one moves a pawn forward on the board.

Une smiled, a sweet, mature smile. Her voice was pure acid. "And you broke into the building to do this?"

"Yes," Wufei said and waited to see what she'd shoot back at him. In the background, Heero had scooted his chair sideways a bit so he could see both of them and was looking on with the interested air of a spectator at a ping pong match.

Une's smile curdled for an instant, then her eyes narrowed. The look became predatory. "Weren't you attending University somewhere in Asia?"

"Yes."

"So you just dropped by Brussels to say hello?" Une's eyes were unblinking and fixed on his pupils. He wondered just how sane she was these days. "Decided to see how your friend's job was going?"

"Something like that." This woman was going to be his boss, but he'd spent too long thinking of her as an enemy and Treize's minion, and the conflicting reflexes this elicited were making him cagey.

"Well then, maybe we could give you the grand tour. I think you'll like what we've been doing here, Chang. Our work here is important and very fulfilling. And since we're still a very new organization, there's no glass ceiling, plenty of room at the top in a few years time, when people who've been in it from the start will look at consolidating a career."

Wufei's eyes flicked towards Heero's with a very obvious 'what the hell?'

Heero's lips curved. "Commander Une has been having a hard time finding a partner for me," he said, his dull voice interrupting Une's calculated spin. "I think she's trying to tempt you into joining."

Une glared at Heero. "Thank you, Yuy, but I'd think you'd be just as interested as I am in getting another of you pilots here on a permanent basis."

Wufei opened his mouth, but wasn't allowed a say.

"Listen, Chang, let's discuss this, okay? I know you've got your future all worked out to your satisfaction - " she sounded very certain, as if she had been told this quite firmly before; Wufei shot Heero a glance, but the later gave away nothing "- and we don't actually have to make this a permanent arrangement, you could continue to study in your downtime. I'd be ready to guarantee adequate sabbaticals for any scholastic program you're willing to aim for. It will delay your graduation by a few years, but - "

"Really?" Wufei was surprised. They must be desperate for good agents.

"Yes!" Une pounced, misunderstanding his surprise. "And needless to say, the Preventers would cover the costs of your education, partly or in totality if you're willing to work towards skills we could integrate later. I don't want to pressure you, but maybe I could borrow a few hours of your vacation here to sit down and see if we could throw a few interesting ideas around. We can be very flexible. Barton and Maxwell have both come to satisfactory arrangements to-"

"Maxwell and Barton work for Preventers too?" Wufei's eyes flickered towards Heero again. How come he wasn't working with one of them?

"Only part-time, or on requirement to be exact." Une smiled. It didn't reach her eyes. "As you see we're quite flexible. What's your schedule for today? Yuy, why don't you take the afternoon off, oh and tomorrow too. Show your friend here around Brussels, maybe give him a tour of the HQ, and-"

"I'd rather have a mission," Heero said. His eyes flicked towards Wufei, an eyebrow lifted in a question.

Une turned fully to stare at him, puzzled. "I don't have anything in the works for a solo op, Yuy, you know that."

"He's not solo anymore," Wufei said quietly, deciding that the satisfaction he'd get from toying with her further would not be worth the creepy feeling of Une trying to be nice to him.

Une looked from one to the other, and then nodded slowly. Her eyes were calculating, and Wufei thought she'd understood a great deal more than what had been said, and had figured him out faster and more accurately than his uncle Wai had. She caught on fast, he should not underestimate her.

"I see. Are you even going to ask me about salary package and health benefits, or are you going to -"

"Skip straight to the part where you tell me what the mission is."

Une looked at him steadily, then nodded again. "Good. I'm sure we'll settle the rest to your satisfaction. And I can see where you'll fit in to the organization." Her eyes had flickered to Heero. Wufei was ready to bet Yuy had not inquired about salary either when he decided to work for her. "Yuy, get the hell out of this computer room, that lazy tech we hired will have to do the job now, even if he takes four times as long. Why don't you show Chang here the other office, while I get the paperwork ready. Where are you staying, Chang?"

"With me," Heero said, slipping smoothly into the slight hesitation her words had caused. Wufei nodded, knowing that only Heero would be able to read the stiff gratitude in the gesture.

"I'll fax the stuff over then. I need to make you jump through a few hoops, Chang, sorry about that, but this is an administration and there's only so much red tape I can cut through. I think I can slip you in to our evaluation tests tomorrow. Yuy will give you the rules and regs you need to know. I trust you can learn them as quickly as he did. You'll have a certification to pass eventually, and officially you'll be in Yuy's charge as trainee until you're done, but that's only what it'll say on your tax return. Uniform, medical, one last chance to pull out, and you and Yuy can be in the field by this weekend."

Wufei glanced at Heero. The latter did not seem surprised at the speed and slight taste of rule-bending Une was putting on display. The massive steel and glass edifice around them did not seem compatible with such alacrity. The marble ESUN symbol seemed too ponderous to cut red tape and get him out of what should be months of boring training.

"I think Yuy can give you a better idea of what to expect with us." He found Une watching him like a cat with its paws on either side of a single-exit mouse-hole. "It may not be quite what you expect. But I'm thinking you'll like it. If you have any concerns I'll be in my office, buried in paperwork and trying to perform miracles."

She spun on her heels and walked out. Wufei smiled slightly at the gesture; Une was no pushover. He'd have to ask Yuy how reliable she was these days though.

"Wait here a minute." Heero brushed past him. "I'll be right back. Try not to break into anything."

"I'll do my level best," Wufei told Yuy's back. He watched from the doorway as Heero caught up with his commanding officer, spun her around by the elbow - Wufei's eyebrow arched - and talked to her in a low voice. Last minute details, possibly. Heero's stance was slightly menacing. Une's eyes were like glass and her face was as impassive as her agent's.

Finally she left and Heero looked back at Wufei, a beckoning glance.

"What was that about?"

"Just making sure you have appropriate working conditions," Heero said curtly. "You didn't ask many questions."

"I didn't think I needed to." Now he was wondering.

"Don't worry about it, I took care of it. I'll show you around. Tell you what you need to know. Do you have a car?"

"No, I came by taxi."

"Good. Come on, we've got nearly an hour's drive ahead of us at this time of day."

"Where are we going?"

"To the office."

Wufei cast a quizzical look around them. Heero intercepted it and smiled ever so slightly.

"The other office."

 

Heero drove the nondescript car by the train station to pick up Wufei's sparse luggage, then headed off towards the outskirts of Brussels. Low-income high-rises gave way to industrial zones and cargo train yards. Wufei found himself hypnotized by the passing of one anonymous hangar after another. He couldn't even feel surprised that there was a second Preventer office in Brussels, or that it was in this unlikely area. His eyes squinted against the watered-down February sunlight, and he found them closing by themselves.

"You look tired." Heero was driving with serious attention, eyes darting to the rear-view mirror to make sure the completely empty road behind them was still free of enemy pursuit. Wufei was relieved he wasn't the only one for whom the war lingered like a bad habit.

"It was a very long trip," he acknowledged. "But I'll live. Where are we going?"

"You'll see."

Wufei tried to keep awake and distracted. He observed Heero through the corner of his eyes. His one-time ally had looked a bit taller when he'd brushed by Wufei in the computer room. His hair was shorter, but his bangs still fell over his face, hiding his eyes if he ducked his head just a little; Wufei suspected it was a defense mechanism that predated his days as a pilot. Heero was tanned and his skin was rougher than before; most of his missions must have been on earth and out of doors. He had a puckered pink scar across the back of his knuckles that looked new. A featureless denim jacket had been slipped over his t-shirt, but no weapon holster. He wore a thick, ugly chain around his neck with a couple of metal disks hanging from it that Wufei was itching to examine; they looked like dog-tags that were trying to seem less than military. He guessed the Preventers walked a fine line, being an armed force for peace, working in a world all too easily reminded of soldiers and take-overs and repression.

His intuition stirred. He'd been so intent on working with Heero, knowing that whatever Yuy would be doing would be worthwhile and certainly not boring; as a result he'd not actually thought much about the kind of work they would be doing. His uncle Wai's description of a policeman's job had been his vague template to date, and though he'd not been enthusiastic about parts of it, he now believed in the cause and would put up with the boring as well as the intense. He was beginning to wonder if he'd not made a few false assumptions though.

He followed a jetstream streak with his eyes and realized the shuttle at its end was in approach position. They must be near the spaceport/airport. 'A tempting target' his sleep-blurred mind whispered, and he caught himself with an inward wince and glanced around to distract himself. For the last five minutes they'd been driving alongside a high barbed-wire-topped fence with nothing but empty lots behind it. In the distance he could see some low hangars. Just as he was about to ask what this was, Heero pulled in at a check point in the fence. Wufei glanced at the steel plate bolted on to a concrete pillar, but the name of the place was a meaningless acronym. Heero nodded to the security detail, consisting of three men in a little hut, one of whom nodded back. From the way the light was reflecting off their windows, they were encased in concrete and plexiglass.

"Where are we?"

"Weapons disposal unit, for whatever hardware was not destroyed on return to MO2 at the end of the war. And there's a research block as well, to study any new things that might be developed. It's Preventer controlled."

"Ah. And this is where you work?"

"Not quite. I work in the underground facility beneath it, the one that's not on any map of the site. The one only a few people in ESUN and even Preventers know about."

Wufei leaned back against the seat and stared at the distant hangars. Heero didn't go through the checkpoint, he backed out and continued on down the road.

"Spec ops?" Wufei asked quietly.

"Of a sort. I think Une has it down as the Primary Intervention Division or such."

"You're right. I should have asked more questions."

"We're accountable," Heero said firmly. "And watched. And I watch," he added. Wufei found himself nodding. A black ops group could be the tool of tomorrow's oppression, but not on Heero's beat.

"What exactly is it that you do?"

"We take care of the fires."

"How?"

"Undercover work - but that's not my specialty." Heero suddenly turned the car into the dirt off the side of the road next to the barbed wire fence and the pock-marked desolate terrain behind it, and stopped the motor. His look when he turned towards Wufei was direct, serious. "The Preventers are a responsible organization, a policing force for peace. They are accountable to ESUN, and they have the legal authority to conduct arrests. The trials are held at the world nation's courts in Luxemburg and Mumbai. It's all above ground for the most part."

"For the most part," Wufei said, with a 'here it comes' voice.

"But before the young fresh-faced recruits go in and arrest people, before the detectives and forensics move in to do their job, before the lawyers and the right to remain silent...Before all that we're facing all degrees of military level opposition and we're not a military organization that can respond in kind. Une needs someone who can crack open a situation and allow the more conventional forces in. Someone-"

"-who's fought a war, knows what it's like to be heavily out-gunned, and who's not afraid of getting his hands dirty."

"You in, Chang?"

"I already said I was." Wufei didn't hesitate. "I can't even say I'm all that surprised, you wouldn't be good with paperwork, donuts and public relations, Yuy."

"We've managed to skip the last two." Heero scowled at the road, where a pigeon pecked at something on the other lane. "But we're policed, and there's paperwork. Granted, not many people have the security levels to look at it, but there's paperwork." His voice was as neutral as ever, but Wufei had the distinct impression this was the least liked aspect of the job.

"Drive on, Yuy." Wufei leaned back against in the seat and put his hands behind his head. "Weren't you going to show me your office?" he added as Heero pulled away from the curb.

"We'll do a quick tour tomorrow. Une needs to get your authorization through to them first. All five of us are on a watch list for any kind of secure installation and our prints and retinal scans are on file," Heero said as if this was perfectly normal.

"How did they get my retinal-...lunar base. They kept the OZ prison records."

"Hai. You won't get past the lobby without Une's direct approval."

Wufei made a small 'hmph' noise.

"Please don't try to break into this building," Heero added sarcastically. "You won't be able to."

"Oh really?"

"I try myself every so often and so far I've only gotten past the first level."

"Oh."

"There's not much to see anyway. I don't actually have an office. Like most agents I spend most of my time in the field or at home. There's five underground stories, most of them offices and IT systems for the surveillance division. For us field operatives there's a bunch of wired desks available if we need them. Most of the time I work in the computer room. There's a weapons depot - are you armed?"

"Luger in my duffel."

"Registered?"

"It was when I took it off the corpse of some OZ officer on the lunar base, does that count?"

"We'll get you sorted with something a bit more legal. There's a huge information gathering service; Sally Po and Lucrezia Noin work for that branch, I see them occasionally. Then there's what you'd expect: a small clinic, holding cells, interrogation rooms - no, not that kind."

Wufei tried to release the sudden tension that had touched him like a live wire. "Not that kind...but don't tell me that you get the bad guys all the way into the great 'secret base' and then let them make a phone-call to their lawyer."

"We're not the police, but there is a judicial representative present at every interrogation and we're not allowed to violate the constitution. Much. Actually it walks a fine line, but we draw it at truth serums, and only with approval."

"The rubber hose and electric shock methods are passé, are they?" Wufei tried to sound sardonic, but his voice was flat in his own ears. Memories lingered in his mind like the taint of bile in his mouth.

"I'll let you read our charter when we get to my place. If you have any concerns-"

Wufei interrupted him with an abrupt gesture. Part of him was not surprised, possibly reassured that the world still worked the way it always had. Even as a small part of him was also disappointed.

"Where are we?" He glanced around as the car stopped again. They were in an area of small industrial lots backing up to the barbed wire of the huge base. There was a long-term storage facility taking up most of the lot, a small workshop that made prosthetics according to the sign on the wall, and an empty run-down hangar. Most of the buildings around them seemed deserted; the last year of war had hit all earth economies hard.

"My place." Heero stepped out of the car and went to grab his laptop's bag in the backseat.

"Where?" Wufei asked, nonplussed.

For answer Heero headed towards the prosthetics shop. Wufei belatedly got out of the car and followed, in time to see Heero unlock a steel door with what appeared to be very adequate locks on it.

The workshop was a big empty space with a high ceiling. Dusty light fell through plastic windows high up on the walls. It had been stripped of any signs of its previous function. It didn't take Wufei any time at all to figure out why Heero lived here, apart from the fact that it was five minutes away from the gate they'd passed on their way over. The space had been sectioned off and each part was neatly and efficiently laid out.

The area closest to the door was a training center. The concrete was covered in a spring-board setup that must have taken Heero a considerable amount of work, but gave a good, elastic surface to work on that wouldn't damage the joints. There were neatly ordered weights and a bench off to one side, a punching bag hanging from the high ceiling by a thick chain; Wufei looked at it with some sympathy, it was already lumpy and sagging at the seams and he had a feeling it wasn't the first one Heero had owned either. Outside of the spring-boarded area there was weight lifting equipment and a rower, with elastic matting beneath them.

"Don't the Preventers have a gym?" Wufei asked as he followed Heero to the right hand wall.

"Yes," Heero said curtly. He didn't say anything else though; Wufei suspected that Heero did not like to show his superior training and skills where anyone else could see. Paranoia, discretion or a desire for privacy; Wufei could understand them all.

Next to the slapped-together dojo, the floor was concrete that stretched to the back of the workshop where a big service door led to the loading area, Wufei guessed. There were several worktops and counters in this area, with engine parts and a bike which Wufei looked at it with interest. Tools hung in regimental order from the wall. It looked like a mechanic's shop. Wufei wondered if there was a Gundam lurking under a tarp outside the door.

On the right hand side of the space, what had once been a small lunch room had been remodeled into a very rough kitchen, with metal racks and a free-standing sink. An electrical cooking ring, a plug-in kettle and a microwave sat side by side on a crude metal-top counter. A small fridge had been placed beneath it. Wufei spotted a few cardboard boxes piled up next to the counter, decorated with a brand name that made him shudder; dry rations, the kind he'd have won the war just to avoid eating ever again. Heero pulled out the single stool at a second high metal-topped counter at right angle to the first, in an invitation to sit. Wufei did so, letting his duffel slip heavily from his shoulder. He was getting tired, he'd not had much opportunity to sleep in the last three days. He watched blindly as Heero plugged in the kettle, then glanced around. The ceiling over the kitchen area was half as high as in the workshop area, and some stairs led upwards nearby. There was probably a small second story to the place. Offices or storage rooms, probably where Heero now slept.

"Tea? No, you'll want to sleep soon." Heero was standing at one of the racks of provisions, fingering a plain mug he'd picked up and looking through packages. "I seem to recall you're not fond of energy drinks. I've got fruit juice-"

"Tea is fine." When he lay down, nothing was going to stop him from sleeping.

Two functional mugs were placed on the counter near the kettle. Heero leaned back against it and looked at him while the water started to hiss behind him.

"Are you hungry?"

Wufei gave the boxes of rations an unenthusiastic glance.

"I've got some leftovers in the fridge. Chanko nabe from the oriental deli downtown."

"That'll do." It was three in the afternoon but what the hell.

Heero moved to place a tupperware in the microwave. A few minutes later a cup of tea, the crude breakfast stuff, and an aluminum plate full of vegetables, fish balls and chicken were placed in front of him, with two plastic chopsticks. Heero went back to lean against the counter to sip his tea. There was only the one stool.

"Thanks. For putting me up, too," Wufei muttered as he picked up the chopsticks. His stomach felt hollow, but his appetite was lacking. "I could have stayed in a hotel."

"There aren't any nearby," Heero said with a shrug. "And you'll have a busy day tomorrow. This is more practical."

"Hm." The leftovers weren't all that bad, but the tea was awful. Wufei sipped it anyway, too strung out to care much, his attention elsewhere.

"How was university?" Heero asked. Above his cup, his eyes looked faintly curious.

"Educational."

"I gathered that was what it was for."

"I didn't mean the classes. Those were mostly boring. Talking of which, how long am I going to be a trainee?"

Heero had been politely waiting for him to finish his meal before talking about more serious matters but Wufei wanted to deal with it while he was still more than half-awake.

Eyes on the rower in the training section, Heero shrugged. "Normally the technical and legalistic aspects take six months of training before the candidate takes a test. I'd estimate you'll be ready for it in three weeks, though you'll be out in the field with me until you do, we won't waste your time. Of course, if you'd-... "

Wufei looked up from his plate at the way Heero had abruptly interrupted himself. "Yes?"

Heero hesitated, then said dryly. "If you'd joined right from the start of the organization, before any of the rules were set and the heads of ESUN were still desperate, you could have avoided a lot of crap. I was given the certification on the second day, along with some very illegal ID that says I'm officially Heero Yuy born on an L1 colony eighteen years ago, with no criminal record and a clean bill of health."

Wufei waited, but nothing more was forthcoming on the subject. He didn't think his first refusal or any of the wasted months since then would ever be mentioned again.

"Is the fact I'm a sixteen year-old ex-terrorist going to be a problem?" Wufei finally asked.

"No, not much. Une will do what needs to be done, though the age thing might be annoying for a year or two. But she'll get you to work for her if she has to swear in court that you're her long-lost elderly uncle. She's been frantic about finding me a partner. We're meant to be watched and accountable so a partner is pretty much an obligation for the more delicate operations."

"And what? You, Sally and Noin are the only people working in this Intervention Division?"

"Oh no, there are many agents."

"They all ex-OZ?" Wufei hazarded, he'd been wondering if that would be a problem.

"Many are, but there are others. Une's been trying out a few as partners for me, but it was a waste of time."

Wufei looked at him in surprise over the rim of his cup. "Why?"

"They were inadequate."

Well that was a given, Wufei thought, but he was surprised that Heero had not made some effort to get along with them if this was the only way he could get out on the field. "Come on, Yuy, you put up with Maxwell for many of your missions during the war."

Heero stared back at him, body language expressing amazement. "Maxwell? Duo Maxwell was a good soldier, a dedicated Gundam pilot and a reliable ally."

Wufei felt his jaw drop in surprise.

Heero's eyes narrowed almost accusing. "You have no idea, do you."

"What, that you're carrying a torch for Maxwell? No, I admit I had no-"

"Baka! I meant, what it's like working with someone norm- who wasn't a Gundam pilot." Heero raked a hand through his bangs. "Maxwell was brash, and a distraction when we weren't on a mission, but that's in context. Compared to the people Une tried to get me to work with, there's no comparison."

Wufei thought back to his partnership with Heero during the war and had an inkling of what he meant. He would be an impossible act to follow for someone who'd not been cast in the same fire. Heero would not slow down now just because they'd won the war. It wasn't his nature.

It wasn't Wufei's either.

Blue eyes and black locked. For a few long seconds.

"There are two empty rooms upstairs, the old offices. You can use them as a bedroom and a study."

The abrupt statement would have floored anybody who had not had that eye contact previously. A whole understanding had been hammered out between them in an instant. They were back on Peacemillion, all extraneous matters and distractions and conventions cut out to leave the bare bones. It was more efficient for Wufei to live with his partner and near the 'office', so that was the way it would be.

There was just one last gray area, and Wufei actually wanted to have a verbal conversation on this one point because the question between them was hazy and unclear, and this was something they both had to agree on. He pushed the half-empty plate from him, picked up his tea-cup, licked his lips, hesitated.

"There need be no other obligation to you staying here," Heero said. His voice was abrupt, but Wufei noted the open-endedness of the 'need be'.

"Have you come to an arrangement with someone?" Wufei asked slowly, dragging the subject out into the open.

Heero glanced at him swiftly. "No. I've not had much time. Or need."

Wufei thought he understood that. It was the same conclusion he'd come to at ZJU. There were no more pressures of war. The need for sexual relief could be controlled and squashed, and the distraction it cost would not be life-threatening. It was simpler than the alternative. He found himself nodding.

"Well, if ever the need does arise, we know how to take care of it," he said shortly.

Heero stared at him, weighing him. It reminded Wufei of the look he'd been given so long ago, right before the arrangement had first been suggested. A bit less sure of itself maybe.

"I thought you'd be more interested in a heterosexual relationship."

"Yes, I would be," Wufei said dryly, after a moment of reflection. "But I will not compromise myself, my performance or my goals for a piece of skirt. If I wanted a woman, or a family, I'd have stayed where I was. I want-...you know what I want. That doesn't work with a woman I'd leave behind for months on end, and I don't want an emotional attachment anyway. We're the same on this, Yuy; the battle comes first. No emotions, no distractions. That leaves me all of one option as far as I can see. Yes, I'd rather it be a woman, that's more my inclination, but unless you're willing to go through some rather complicated surgery, that's not going to happen, is it?"

"Surg-" Heero nearly dropped his cup. Wufei smirked at the wide eyes, the startled face. Twice in one day, I better cut down or I'll give him a heart-attack, he thought dryly while part of him realized he liked this; he enjoyed catching Heero Yuy off guard, in the same way he enjoyed pinning him to the ground when they sparred, or surprise him with a particularly vicious move. It was their way. They didn't pull their punches, that was not how it worked. That was not how they wanted it to work. They stood back to back against the enemy, and when there was no enemy they were each other's rival, their reason to keep on striving to improve even more. There was no room for comfort, consideration, affection; they were traps in the same way as one's emotions.

"That...would not-..." Wufei had the rare privilege of seeing Heero Yuy hesitate and fish around for his words.

"It was a joke, Yuy." And it must have really caught you short if you didn't realize it, Wufei added mentally, giving the growing scowl a pleasant look in return.

"You finished with that?" Heero asked a bit sourly as he nodded towards the half empty plate.

"Yes, thank you."

"I'll let you sleep then. Don't worry, I'll clean up." He took the plate from Wufei's hands. "You need to rest if you're going to be evaluated by Foxwood tomorrow. I hope you haven't gotten soft sitting on a school bench."

"Shall I show you?" Wufei's eyes darted towards the spring-boarded dojo.

Heero looked like he was about to object, but then he must have remembered the surgery crack because he put the plate in the sink with a thump and turned towards the practice mat with a smirk promising a dessert of pain and humiliation.

 

 

Wufei showered in the bathroom which Heero had obviously constructed himself from the old workshop's lavatory. The shower was cheap plastic and the water didn't run fast. Wufei soaped off the sweat; not much he could do about the bruises. Despite his katas he had lost a bit of his edge in his months at the university and Heero had obviously enjoyed showing him how much. Wufei ha'd put up a good fight though. Heero would not have any doubts about taking him on as a partner.

He slipped on a pair of sweatpants Heero had tossed him - a burst of memory of a shower in Italy, but he put that thought back where it belonged. The arrangement...well, if the need arose they knew where they stood now, but it was all still a bit too new, too raw for...Besides he was tired.

"I can use the sleeping bag, you know," he muttered for the third time, as he saw Heero come out of his room with the balled up sheets from his bed.

"It needs airing out. I'll use it tonight. I've got work to do this afternoon, I'll be downstairs." It was an innocuous sentence, but it reminded Wufei of the old safe-house routine; sleeping in shifts, one to watch the other's back, making sure they knew where they both were in case of attack. Wufei shook himself mentally, that was the past. He'd been sleeping quite well on his own for the past four months. Well, fairly well.

The sheets and cover on the military camp bed were thrown back. He should probably consider himself lucky that Heero didn't sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag. Or a bed of nails for that matter, Wufei thought sarcastically, eying the rest of the room. He wasn't sure of its previous purpose, it was too big to be an office; maybe a main work area or a store room. Heero's small bed was up on one side beneath a window that had plastic sheeting taped to it, blocking out the sunlight. One corner was slightly lifted, probably to keep an eye on the back loading lot, Wufei was ready to bet, just as he was quite sure the whole place was thoroughly wired for security. There were metal shelves holding clothes, shoes, a few books, some odds and ends, and on one end was a cheap metal desk and filing cabinet, with a second PC, a small stack, a hub and docking station for the laptop. Heero had given him a very brief tour; the other two rooms on this floor were empty, small offices, thoroughly cleaned by the present occupant and used for storage. They'd make livable rooms, Wufei judged. He was surprised Heero wasn't using one of them for a study, but he obviously found it more efficient to live all in the one room.

Wufei glanced out the window through the lifted corner of the sheeting. There was a wheel-less old car outside, resting on cinder blocks, either a wreck come ashore in this beaten down industrial zone or a project Yuy was working on. There was a conspicuous absence of Gundams though.

He slipped between the rough sheets as Heero came in to grab a keyboard and mouse from the desk. "Where's Wing?" Wufei asked on the steps of his last thought.

Heero stopped moving, staring at the wall. Then he turned slowly, but didn't look at Wufei.

"I destroyed it," he said softly.

It was like a blow to the chest, like learning a friend's lover had died. Wufei found himself on the verge of giving his condolences, and managed to stop himself.

"Oh...I-..." I can't believe you did that. "Did Une make you?" The question slipped out before he could even think about it, reason momentarily mobbed by surprise.

"No, it was a conscious decision. We agreed that-"

"We?!"

"...Yes. Deathscythe, Heavyarms and Sandrock were also destroyed."

"I can't believe it." The words tumbled out numbly. In his shocked mind, a breath of fear; we're working without a net now.

"Hn." Heero turned swiftly towards the door as if he didn't want to talk about the subject any more.

"We're still needed though. More than ever now. It's good you're here."

The door closed on those curt words. Wufei's eyes lingered on it until they started to close. His mind followed Heero's silent footsteps down to the rebuilt workshop, sitting at the kitchen counter, drinking tea out of the cheap mugs, working on his laptop.

He glanced around the bare room and found himself smiling slightly, letting the shock ebb. Just so...Yuy. Why did he feel more at ease in this- this shed than in the elegant apartment in Hangzhou?

Because it didn't pretend to be something it wasn't, like a home.

I'm out on the edge again, the thoughts drifted through his mind as it plunged into exhausted sleep. The slight exhilaration of the thought followed him down into the darkness. He was where he belonged.

Chapter Text

It takes hundreds of reincarnations to bring two people to ride on the same boat...
--- Mandarin Proverb

 

Wufei woke up in darkness, but unlike all those nights in Hangzhou he knew instantly where he was. A thin line of yellow light drew the separation between the window's edge and the plastic taped to it, evidence of a streetlight outside. It was a rod of luminescence hanging in darkness, illuminating nothing. He waited several minutes, but his eyes couldn't get used to so little light. No matter, he remembered where every object in the sparsely furnished room was. He got out of bed, felt for the wall and walked silently to the door. The wave of harsh neon in the bathroom momentarily blinded him. He made as little noise as possible; Heero would be curled up in the sleeping bag in one of the spare rooms and the man napped like a cat.

He felt for each step in the dark, aiming for the gray slice of light at the bottom of the flight of stairs. Streetlight shone from the high-placed plastic windows, furnishing the big space in blue and gray shadows. Hunting around near the entrance he found the main switch and neon crackled to life. The big room flickered into existence by chunks, each as practical and unlovely as the next.

As the kettle started to boil, he glanced over the open laptop on the table. A note hung on the screen when he clicked a key.

'Test with Foxwood at 13:00 local. We'll go in to the office at 10:00 local to get papers signed and a medical. Here's a link to our charter and the essential rules and regulations you need to know before we can be out in the field.'

It was 4AM. Wufei scowled unhappily at the bags of foul-tasting black tea, then prepared his cup, sat at the counter and clicked on the link. He glanced over the information as he sipped the bitter liquid as quickly as possible. He had a few hours before Heero would wake up, might as well put them to good use.

But first...

He tossed out half the tea, rinsed out the cup and put it on the sink's small metal draining board. Then he went over to the training area, which he thought of as the dojo, though it wasn't enclosed, well oriented or particularly venerable. He smiled with pleasure at the feel of the springboard beneath his feet; Yuy must have spent ages setting it down and getting it just right, but it was a job worthy of a pro. Its edges were ragged and bare, showing the construction details of the floor beneath, and Heero hadn't bothered to cover it with matting or anything other remotely aesthetical, but it was infinitely better than concrete. During their bout yesterday it had almost been a pleasure to be slammed down on it. Repeatedly. He winced, a few bruises recognizing the floor too. He had to get back into shape. He stood at the center of the area, arms hanging loose, body poised.

Breathe. In. Out.

He felt the air travel through his body, relaxing it, cleansing. It seemed to move his arms by itself, up into fists at his side, then flowing into first form.

Now.

 

 

Heero didn't give him a tour of the 'other' office, the ops center as he called it. It was mostly underground and didn't look like much even from the inside. Une having done her work on his authorization, Wufei was whisked through the lobby and shunted into a small windowless box-like office to wait for the clinic's head to see him, and fill out forms. It took longer than either had anticipated, Heero giving the paperwork a well-remembered death scowl. This impressed the secretary but didn't cause the paper to spontaneously combust, much to Wufei's disappointment. He was still slipping on his t-shirt after the medical, jacket clutched in one hand, when Heero dragged him from the building, hustled him into a jeep borrowed from a guard at the ops center, and drove off across the wasteland of the Weapons Disposal Unit grounds.

After five minutes of dirt track and potholes, Heero pulled up in a squeal of breaks at a big building with a dome-shaped roof. Further buildings could be seen a hundred meters away, surrounded by a low wall and large freight containers. Wufei spotted an open shooting range, and a depot with a removable roof, like those used for Aries.

"Training center," Heero grunted, shoving Wufei inside the building where they'd parked. It was two minutes to one. "Stay here and I'll go get the weapons."

"Weapons?" Wufei asked the door that had just shut behind him. What kind of test was this going to be?

He looked around the empty building. It seemed to be a gym. Training and weight-lifting equipment sat unused off to one corner. A central area with a lot of matting had charts of strike points on the walls. Probably an arena to teach hand-to-hand combat.

He turned quickly at the sound of footsteps on the dusty path outside. It wasn't Heero's light tread; the steps were heavier. They thumped down with authority in thick boots, the kind of footsteps that made Wufei's hackles rise and his hand creep to his belt, not that he was armed yet. He faced the door and straightened out of his defensive stance. The war was over.

"Good god, I thought they drew the line at recruiting them out of kindergarten."

The man who'd entered was not that much taller than Wufei, though he was probably three times his age. He was barrel-chested and thick around the waist, but his legs and arms under the Preventer uniform were more muscled than flabby. He stopped a few feet away from Wufei, legs apart, head titled to the side. His skin was the rich dark of coffee grounds, his eyes were even darker, swimming with red veins and yellow spots. His nose was strong, the nostrils well-defined as if stuck in a perpetual sniff. He had a small scar on one corner of his upper lip, a dark stain on his skin. Pockmarks shadowed his cheeks. He was almost entirely bald, bar a slight gray ghost of hair lingering around his crown.

"So I guess they don't even make uniforms this small, uh? You are my 1 o'clock, right?" The man was looking dubiously at a page on a flip-chart and toying with a pencil.

"Yes," Wufei replied shortly. Letting the other choose which question that answered.

The man slowly raised his eyes again and this time the look was very sharp and weighing. Wufei stood perfectly still in his borrowed clothes; the commissioner had indeed taken one look at him and not even bothered checking through his racks of uniforms, grabbing a tape measure and a special order's form instead. Wufei was dressed in his black top under a thick jacket, and a pair of fatigues he'd borrowed from Heero that morning. The latter had told him he didn't need a uniform for the test or indeed for their job, which was for the most conducted in street clothes or anonymous fatigues. The uniform was necessary for court appearances and funerals, and Heero had pointed out he'd rather Wufei avoid either for now.

The man snorted softly and scratched the pen against his scarred cheek.

"Name?" he asked as if he doubted it would match the one on his clipboard.

"Chang, Wufei."

"Hmmm. You here to do a preliminary inscriptions test?" His voice was gravelly and rich with what sounded like a British accent. It was made for annoyance and world-weary cynicism.

"I'm not sure." Wufei shrugged. Heero hadn't actually told him much of what he'd be tested on, they'd been too busy trying to fill in the paperwork creatively: avoiding too many mentions of the past year's activity for example, following Une's recommendations, and trying to get in touch with his uncle Wai on L5 for a few signatures as his legal guardian. Wufei had read most of the ground rules this morning, memorizing them with the ability to retain loads of useless information that he'd mastered back in his school days, so he should be able to answer any questions if he was tested on that.

"Doesn't say much here," the man grumbled as if this was Wufei's fault. "I don't see what else it could be. I have a score of cadet hopefuls coming in two days from now, don't know why this had to be done today. And I have the full assault team standing by...waste of time...and made them skip lunch." His mutters kept fading to low grunts. "Right. Chang?"

"Yes."

"I am a consultant for the Preventers," the man said, and Wufei immediately understood that the word 'consultant' had been used just to get the man out of the hierarchy and the official chain of command, but that he was firmly ensconced in the black ops section. "In case you're wondering why this still allows me to order you around and call you a newbie or a kindergartener, keep in mind that I spent more years than you've been alive working in the London Met Police Armed Division and Specialist Operations team, both as officer and as CO."

Ah, a cop, Wufei thought; authority but not military, his guts had been telling him.

"My name is Sam Foxwood. Note that is short for Samir, not Samuel, though of course you will address me as Foxwood or Sir. The only people who can call me Sam are people my age who have several decades of service under their belt -"

"Hello Sam."

"Or Yuy here, who's a bit of an except-...ion...Yuy? What the blazes are you doing here?"

Heero put down the cases he was carrying on a table to one side and glanced back at Foxwood. "I'm here to assist Chang for his tests."

"Assist?! A newbie?! What-"

Foxwood's dark eyes went from Heero to Wufei and then back again a couple of times, then he said: "Oh. Right."

Wufei kept the smirk off his face.

"So." Foxwood was scowling as he flipped through the papers clipped to his chart. "I guess that means you can fire a weapon and handle a suit."

"Can we go straight to the combat test?" Heero was rapidly field-stripping a gun in the background, the Yuy equivalent of twiddling his fingers in boredom. Wufei felt a prickle of anticipation. Combat test? But Foxwood scowled.

"Let's do this properly. If putting teenage ex-terrorists in charge of public safety can be said to be in anyways proper," he added with a sniff. Wufei's widened eyes flicked towards Heero, but the latter did not react.

"So, guns, we'll give you that one. Suit controls and simulation, ditto. Endurance-"

"If we do an endurance test, we won't be able to take the combat test afterwards, not today," Heero pointed out crisply.

"We do things in order, Yuy." Foxwood responded sharply while still looking at Wufei. "Hope those boots are comfy, kid, I'm going to have you running laps until you start to slow down. If you're too tired to do the combat test after the endurance, we'll-"

"He won't be too tired, but by the time Chang drops half his speed in an endurance test, it'll be closing time for the training facilities," Heero said impatiently. "Besides, the sun sets at around five, he'll run out of light."

Foxwood looked like he wanted to challenge that, but then he glanced sideways at Wufei, assessing, and grunted. "I'll give you that. He looks pretty weedy but then so do you, Yuy, and I know you'd be here until tomorrow morning. That leaves-... hand-to-hand."

"He can take me down one time out of two," Heero said matter-of-factly as he started going through the ammo.

Foxwood stared at his clipboard fixedly for a few seconds then drew a careful tick. "Moving right on," he muttered.

"Is there anything left?" Heero tossed a gun at Wufei who caught it with a frown. It wasn't like Yuy to be careless with a weapon. Then he looked at it a bit closer, checking the charger.

"We're going to be playing a game of paintball?" he asked in some disgust.

"You prefer we use real bullets?" Foxwood's laugh was more like a bark. "No, don't answer that," he added, sobering suddenly. He leaned over his clipboard again. "Well I guess we can go straight to the combat simulation, Chang, since your buddy here is raring to go. Get into position, Yuy, you got ten minutes."

Heero nodded sharply and left without a backward glance, grabbing goggles, helmet and a flak jacket on the way out. He used a small side door that lead towards the distant hangars and wall.

"Know how to use one of these?" Foxwood was unwrapping a comm unit from a plastic bag. Wufei gave him a heavy 'of course' look.

"Good. Calibrate it to 180." He felt Foxwood's eyes on him as he set up the unit and then clipped it to his belt, fitting the small ear piece into his ear and the throat mike around his neck. "Right, here's the situation. Yuy and you have been tracking some gunrunners. Intel says there are ten of them. They are in those hangars over there."

Wufei nodded, looking out the window at the hangars a hundred meters away. They were surrounded by low stone walls and big metal containers and boxes. Not much cover, but once inside the area, things might be different.

"Armament?" he asked, weighing his approach.

"The usual."

"What's the usual, Tauruses, Leos or dolls?" Wufei asked a bit acidly.

Foxwood was silent for a moment. "I meant, submachine and handguns, Chang."

"Oh."

"They might have grenades. Plaster ones of course, since we don't want to blow up our own operatives before they get out on the field."

"Anything else?"

"Yes." Foxwood was glaring at his clipboard as if it could be blamed for all his grief. "You and your partner have found the gang, and your intel is that they will leave within two hours via shuttle. Let's hear your plan of attack."

"Go in on either side under cover, get into the farthest hangar - " he'd spotted what looked like a fake runway over there " - keep them from the shuttle until reinforcements arrive." By killing or wounding every one of them preferably. Simplest way. Someone who can't walk can't run away either.

Foxwood was ticking things on his clipboard again. Wufei reined in his impatience and temper. The man was just doing his job. The scowl on Foxwood's face was not regulation, but Wufei did not require him to be pleasant. He probably had something against Gundam pilots. This would be an attitude Wufei would meet time and again, might as well get used to it.

"Okay. What happens if your partner gets shot?"

"Yuy? Get shot?" Wufei asked a bit sarcastically. When Foxwood glared at him he shrugged. "Cover for him, inasmuch as possible."

"What?" Foxwood said after a few seconds of silence. "You wouldn't evacuate your partner?"

"Eva- do you know Yuy? If I dropped the mission and tried to evacuate him, he'd shoot me himself!"

Foxwood's eyebrows arched, pulling the faded skin around his eyes upward. "You know this for a fact?"

"I've partnered him before, if that's what you mean."

"Have you now? I thought you boys worked solo during the war."

"No," Wufei answered shortly, not wanting to go into details for this stranger.

Foxwood shrugged and made a further tick. He was looking almost as cross as Wufei by now. The L5 ex-pilot - who'd seen more fighting than this man even if latter had been Special Ops - was hoping that whatever negative report Foxwood made, Une would know his real worth.

"One final question," Foxwood growled, as if setting the last nail in the coffin. "A first approach indicates the runners have half a dozen hostages, the crew of the factory where they've gone to ground. What do you do?"

Wufei stared at him, bemused. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and bit off: "I'd call the police."

Foxwood's pencil froze over the clipboard. Old eyes slowly rose towards Wufei's.

"I'm not a goddamn hostage negotiator," Wufei snapped. "I'd rather shoot the bastards than talk with them anyway. I'd call in the special intervention squad from the local district. That's their job. If they need a hand taking the enemy down after the hostages are released, then I can-"

"You." Foxwood cleared his throat. "Are you going to be partnering Yuy? Is that the idea here?"

"Yes." If you don't fail me.

For the briefest instant, a smile flashed across Foxwood's face and he looked older - his grin pushing the wrinkles up into his eyes and across his forehead - but a good deal more approachable. The look was gone in an second, but it left Wufei startled and off-balance.

"From what I know of him, you won't be helping the squad, you'll be sitting on your partner to stop him from charging in and risking the hostages' lives like last time he took this test - " Wufei stared at him wildly " - but that's real life. In this test, you do not have access to the police. It's just you and Yuy. So, what do you do?"

Wufei ground his teeth, his arms tightening across his chest. "Go in, secure the hostages, take down as many of the enemy as possible-"

"We prefer the term perpetrator, or suspect even. We also prefer them alive," Foxwood slipped in smoothly, but his former aggression seemed to have evaporated, he looked like he was willing to let a few casualties slide.

"- and let Yuy stop the shuttle from lifting off." Wufei added.

Foxwood looked at him for a good ten seconds, his pencil tapping his lip. Then he nodded slowly and made a tick.

"Okay, grab a jacket, helmet and goggles. These are high velocity dumdums with a paint pocket to mark impacts, so needless to say, don't aim for the head, aim for their flak jackets. You ever do this before?"

"Do you mean shoot people? Or pretend to shoot people?"

"Use this type of bullet."

"No, I can quite honestly say I never have," Wufei sneered, automatically voiding the charger, checking the ammo, the chamber, then flicking the pieces back together once he'd made sure no live bullet had snuck in by mistake.

"Well trust me, they do more than sting if you catch them somewhere you're not protected. I will fail you if you remove those goggles or helmet. Got that?"

"Yes sir."

Foxwood tapped the pencil against his lip again. His eyes were deep and unreadable, and Wufei had had Heero to practice on so that was saying a lot. He wondered suddenly if Foxwood hadn't done his share of hostage negotiation during his stint as the special ops' CO.

Then the brief grin flashed again.

"Call me Sam. Get the hell out of there, Yuy will have started without you already. Here's a map of the area, and the cross here is your partner's starting point. Good luck."

 

 

Fools. It was running through Wufei's mind as his feet hit the dusty dry ground, torn up by jeep tracks, truck ruts and old bomb strikes.

Foxwood probably wasn't as bad as he first thought, though it was hard to tell; he was exceptionally hard to read. He suspected the initial hostility had been at the idea of 'another teenage ex-terrorist' going into situations with guns blazing. Anger pooled in Wufei’s mind, though he kept it carefully cauterized, concentrating on his surroundings. Nonetheless...Fools! The old man and, hell, even Une, they had no idea. They had the perfect weapon in their hand and they didn't even know how to use him.

His mind ran over what Foxwood had said and what he hadn't said. The mission, according to Foxwood, was to take down the gunrunners, stop them from leaving. The charter Wufei had read that morning stressed that there was no negotiating with terrorists, though all possible care should be taken to protect the safety of civilians.

They just never weighed the fact that to a soldier like Yuy, the mission and 'all possible care' didn't balance out! Of course Heero went in there with maximum force and damn the hostages during his test if Foxwood had presented the mission in the same way as he had to Wufei. Heero had never let the presence of innocents stop him from doing his job, or he'd never have been able to do anything at all. Heero thought in straight lines, then and now. Mission first; reducing civilian casualties preferable but not essential. Black and white, no gray areas at all.

It was his strength, something that Wufei almost envied him. Heero walked with measured, determined, unhesitant strides, like Meiran had. Wufei wasn't like that. He hesitated, or he threw himself in entirely to avoid his own inner conflicts. He didn't always know right from wrong, or care about mission success and failure; he just knew what was just and honorable, and these did not include making war on women and children, or unarmed factory workers who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But he also didn't want to let the murdering cowards get away. This inner storm, it wasn't logical, or efficient, or even very practicable sometimes. It left him at constant war with himself, unlike Heero's straight and rigid lines.

On the other hand, it gave him the mental leeway to allow him to figure out what Foxwood really wanted out of this mission.

And it allowed him to do it. Wufei's temperament was such that he wanted to go in there and take out the enemy that were so weak they had to hide behind innocents. But he was also aware that saving those innocent was more important than his own satisfaction at wiping out the vermin. Foxwood had read that in him, and had been relieved to think he would be a balancing element to Heero.

...Fools...

He didn't bother with the comm unit. Neither would Heero. His partner must have started penetrating the base over five minutes ago and there was still no contact. There wouldn't be. Radio silence during an infiltration mission was an ingrained habit. Wufei knew exactly what Heero was doing and he felt no need to interfere. Heero didn't need someone to watch his back or lay cover fire for him anyway. In fact Yuy was so used to working alone that assisting him could be downright dangerous for Wufei to attempt. Heero didn't need backup; he needed someone who could take down the other half of the base without getting in his way. If Wufei left the enemy alone and concentrated on securing the hostages, then Heero would take down all the hostiles on that base and not notice Wufei hadn't done any of the work until they counted up the 'bodies' later.

He had a feeling this was going to make for some interesting ticks on Foxwood's chart; no communication between partners, no coordination, each doing his own thing. But that was the way they worked and his superiors were just going to have to get used to it.

Wufei dropped to a crouch as he approached a broken jagged tooth of a ruined wall and saw a shadow shift nearby.

No more thinking.

He evened his breath, let the tension run once through his frame, a ripple of readiness, and then he focused.

The man shifted against the pile of packing crates he was leaning against and glanced around again. He was dressed in fatigues with the same flack jacket, goggles and helmet Wufei was wearing. The way he was moving spoke both of slight tension and much boredom. Foxwood had implied the combat test team had been standing by, maybe after another similar test this morning, so this man had probably been here for awhile. He was in his early twenties, with a rather weak mustache fighting to compensate a strong chin and losing, and a strong scimitar-shaped nose. He held a shotgun on his hip with one hand. The other was rubbing the red mark left by the collar of the flak jacket.

The Enemy.

Mustn't kill, of course. But neither was Wufei going to use his stupid paint gun and alert the ones inside to his location.

He could creep around the man...but it would be dangerous to leave a hostile free behind his back.

His fist twitched. Creeping wasn't much his style anyway.

He ghosted forward around the wall that had sheltered him when the man turned to look the other way for intruders.

His opponent was good. Wufei was still two meters away when he saw his target stiffen and glance around, alerted by the sixth sense any true warrior possessed.

Wufei lunged forward. The target jerked his shotgun from his hip, took half a step back, mouth opened and trying to bring the weapon round -

Mistake. Should have used the shotgun as a club.

One of Wufei's hands covered the mouth, slamming the man's head back against the crates. A hard fist hammered the man's guts - but stopping short of doing more than winding him slightly through the flak jacket.

Their eyes met over Wufei's hand on the target's mouth. Shock turned into a glare, turned into surprise again as the man took in Wufei's youth, then the eyes behind the goggles grudgingly shut. Wufei felt a shrug pass through the frame before the man let himself slump forward. Good. If he was going to be playing this silly game, he was glad to see that at least everyone was abiding by the rules.

He grabbed the shotgun before it hit the ground, glanced over it, cracked it open. Plastic shells, big, red and ugly, with a paint-pocket at the tip as well he supposed. They'd still hurt like hell if he was shot anywhere else than the flak jacket. Well he'd just have to avoid that.

He continued around the compound, keeping out of sight of the windows and roof of the target building. One down. An unknown number to go. Intel said ten, but he didn't think he should rely on that. Or on the scribble on the crude map that indicated the hostages were in the front office building. The instant that first guard had picked up his presence, he knew that Foxwood had set up a fairly good simulation with extremely proficient men; they would try to set up a realistic test for their recruits. That meant that, quite realistically, intel would be dodgy. In view of that, Wufei used logic. It wouldn't make any sense for real criminals to keep their hostages that far from their exit route. The hostages would be near the end hangar. Not in it, though; too open, not enough cover. They'd be nearby though. Yuy would deduce the same thing. He'd be taking down as many of the enemy as he could in silence, to minimize the chances of discovery and having one of the criminals going in and using the hostages as shields. Good, but not good enough, not if the hostages were to have the best chance of walking out of this alive.

Wufei regretfully left the second man he found standing where he was, at a side entrance to the hangar. There was no way to get near him under cover, and he couldn't shoot him, not yet. Wufei used a series of big cargo containers for further cover, running along the side of the hangar, looking for another option. The place was huge. The hostages would probably be in the offices near his end. Heero would be operating on the other side, near the big open doors, clearing the men away from the shuttle bay to keep them from leaving.

There.

In the office section, second story. An open window. And the containers and crates backed nearly up to the wall. Wufei measured it all with one practiced glance as he dropped the shotgun; too cumbersome. He took several deep breaths, concentrating his center. He'd noted the shooter on the roof as a matter of course, but the man had turned and headed towards the other end thirty seconds ago, and the roof was very large. Wufei had enough time.

Breathe. In. Out.

Now.

His feet found the balance between speed and silence. The first dash took him to a container higher than his head. Leap - catch the edge - he swung himself up as if weightless, rolling on the container and springing to his feet. Momentum hurled him up on to the second, smaller container stacked on the first. He crouched. Looked around carefully. Rooftop target still out of sight. No one else around.

Breathe. In. Out.

He was two stories up. The window was a good three meters away from the edge of his container, and slightly higher. He stood briefly to glance through the window, cutting his profile against the sky, a clear target but he had to make sure the room was empty. There was nothing in the room and the door was closed (and hopefully not locked). Good, the sound of entry would be less likely to alert anyone who might be patrolling the second story.

He eyed the space between the container and the window, ignoring the drop between the two.

He could feel it come over him; the calm at the heart of the storm. He was aware of every inch of the compound around him, of the distant footsteps of the man on the roof, of the icy breeze blowing into the collar of his vest and the damp skin there, of the shadows in the weak sun cutting across the yard.

He could feel his heart beating, strong and steady. His mind calm, as only the intense focus of battle could make it. His breath was even and empowering, in, out, gathering his energy to bridge that space separating him from his objective. He could feel the blood rushing through his muscles, the air pool in his lungs. Alive.

His boots rang hollow against the container's metal as he threw himself forward. Air rushed past him, unheeded, all his focus on the window, oblivious of the drop below. He caught the edge of the window with inches to spare, even managed to get his feet against the wall before his body slammed into it. Less noise that way, but the clang of his boots against metal seemed to hang in the air like a luminous trail behind him. He could almost feel the man on the roof spin in surprise, trying to locate the direction of the noise -

One heave of his arms had him up and curled over the window sill in near total silence, just a groan of metal and the scrape of his boots on the wall outside. He landed like a cat with his gun drawn in the same movement, covering the door.

He paused in the bare room, letting his senses unfurl, taking it all in. No noise from the hallway outside. A scrape of boot from the rooftop shooter above as the man inspected the now empty side of the hangar. A distant shout from somewhere deeper in the building - not an alarm. Good.

Breathe. In. Out. Move.

Wufei approached the door, absently flicking his free hand; the edge of the window had been fairly sharp, leaving a red welt across both his palms. He listened. Nothing from the hallway. And - a break for once - the door was unlocked. Good. It wasn't a complex lock, Maxwell could crack it in the time it took him to pop his gum, but Wufei wasn't quite that dexterous. And time was getting short, he couldn't afford to lose even a minute. He knew Heero's capabilities. He estimated that at least four targets were down by now, in total silence. Soon the alarm was going to be raised and Wufei had to get to the hostages before that happened.

The hallway was empty and smelled of dust. It led to some stairs. He kept low; there were windows looking out into the hangar on one side. Other offices - empty, his instincts told him - lined the other side of the hallway. He made his way to the stairs as quickly as possible.

The smell of gunpowder - a faint taint in the air, not too recent - made him pause.

He crept down to the first bend of the stairs, ears and senses already alert to the slight shifting below, followed by a mutter.

"-in, Trent. Trent?" A click and a small crackle of static. "Looks like it's started," the voice murmured. Another crackle and click. "Men, we've lost contact with Trent. Karavo, go check him, maybe he lost comms."

Wufei nodded slightly. These guys were good, they'd obviously been in this situation before, on the oppose side. Foxwood's crew knew that Heero and Wufei were attacking them, but the gunrunners they were impersonating would not be expecting an attack, not without sirens and sounds of shooting; they wouldn't panic because one man didn't respond to a hail, they'd investigate first, like these people were doing. But any minute now - if they stuck to the most likely scenario - the person on the radio would do a head count, or someone would find Trent's 'body'.

A quick glance below. The main office floor was one big space, empty bar a cracked desk on which the radio was sitting. The woman had the radio’s mike in her hand. She was leaning against the wall between two windows looking out onto the hangar. Her other hand held a submachine gun, the standard small Alliance type, with a finger on the trigger. She had a gun at her belt, a knife in her boot top. She was tall and muscular. Short-cropped brown hair peeked from below her helmet. She was keeping a careful eye on the approach to the office door from the hangar. There was another door at the far end of the office leading outside. That was the entrance with a guard in front, which Wufei had avoided. It was the only way into the room, other than the door leading to the hangar which the woman was watching. And, of course, the stairs leading straight down. He couldn't see the rest of the room, but he was willing to bet the hostages were there.

The radio crackled. It was quite big and sophisticated for just communication.

//Sanji? Did you pick up anything yet?// The voice just confirmed what he'd guessed. The 'gunrunners' were listening in to all frequencies, to pick up police channels as well as possible attacks. Just one more curve-ball that Foxwood would have tossed at applicants who might not have realized that reality does not always conform to intel, or play nice.

"No, still nothing on the airwaves. Did they switch channels do you think?" She'd turned towards the back of the room for that question - another hostile was present.

"If they did, it must have been a channel they decided on ahead of time," a familiar voice answered. Wufei frowned. What was he doing here?

//Who was that?// The voice on the radio crackled.

"The Old Fox decided to join us," Sanji answered with a small hard smile. Her eyes were back on the hangar around her, sweeping from side to side while she kept her body carefully shielded by the wall. A thought brushed the edges of Wufei's concentration, set aside to be examined later: if this was the caliber of people he could expect to work with, he wasn't too disappointed.

He ghosted down the steps in a low crouch. He was slightly behind her, and her attention was on the hangar, he had a small leeway before she picked up his presence. He glanced through the stairs' railings. A dozen chairs were lined up against the back of the room. Seven of them had dummies tied to them with steel cable, a few of them sagging sadly against their restraints. Another chair held Foxwood and his omnipresent chart. He had a cable looped loosely around him, symbolizing him as another hostage and not a criminal, though Sanji had visibly not dared to actually tie him up properly, and what a pity. He was writing something on his damn paper again. There was no other hostile in the room, the others must be in the hangar, they'd be preparing for their escape in little over an hour.

Wufei crouched and descended a few steps, as low as he could without being visible through the hangar's windows. His gun was trained on Sanji. She was alternating flipping through channels and checking the hangar outside. The radio whined and crackled. She frowned.

"Aren't these two guys even talking to themselves?" she muttered.

"They might be using a code of flicks and static," Foxwood surmised. "Didn't you find a live channel yet?"

"The only live channel around is ours and channel 180, but Fillmore has got that one on permanently and he'd have mentioned any noise at all." Sanji was puzzled, but not distracted one bit. There was no way Heero would get anywhere near this office without her seeing him, there was no cover to speak of near the door and she wouldn't be caught out. Thank the gods for that open window upstairs.

"Well, when they get here we'll ask-" Foxwood caught his breath as he spotted Wufei through the handrails. He tried to recover, but Sanji had already spun around to see what had alerted him. She stiffened and her eyes widened in shock as she saw Wufei's gun centered on her chest.

"Put the gun down slowly," Wufei whispered, remembering the other guard outside the door, and possibly others nearby in the hangar.

Sanji hesitated. She had her finger on the trigger, but the gun wasn't pointing in any particular direction; it would take her a precious second to swing it at Wufei or the hostages.

"Put. It. Down."

Sanji looked at his eyes, at the gun trained on her chest without a tremor, then she grimaced and leaned forward to put her weapon on the floor. She obviously estimated a real criminal would be sufficiently cowed by the gesture even if unimpressed by his age.

"Get on your knees, slide it towards me gently," Wufei murmured.

Sanji complied. The skitter of the gun across the broken linoleum sounded very loud in the silence.

"Now the revolver. Draw it from your belt with two fingers on the grip."

That weapon ended up a few feet away from the submachine gun.

"And the knife."

Sanji made a face, but drew the knife from her boot carefully, fingers loose on the hilt, and slid it towards him as well.

"Turn your back to me, lie on the ground, hands on your head." That part felt weird. He normally just had prisoners standing around, knowing that if they tried anything he'd shoot them without compunction. Now he had to actually take steps to limit the risk to the enemy - the suspects that is, as well as the hostages. New parameters for a terrorist, but they weren't too foreign to him. He was a fighter and a warrior, not a killer. He'd never liked shooting unarmed people.

Sanji got to the ground with a small grunt and complied. Her body was alive with tension. If he got within arms’ reach, she would make him pay for it.

He cast a quick glance out the windows towards the rest of the hangar. One hostile on the walkway off to one side, high up, looking over the empty space and the stripped carcass of a shuttle, symbolizing the runners' escape route. No other enemies visible. He waited until he was sure the man wouldn't spot his movements through the office window - keeping an eye on Sanji and the other door as well - and then darted down the stairs to put his back against the wall beneath the window. This put the table with the radio between him and the outer door, but he could still keep his gun on Sanji.

He caught a movement from Foxwood. The man had glanced at his watch. Wufei frowned at the distracting scribble from the chart.

"Do you have anything to say to us hostages?" Foxwood asked him quietly.

Wufei scowled at what he thought of as 'the other, less talkative, dummies'. "I'm a Preventer. If you want to live, don't make a fuss. I'll untie you when we've secured the area," he muttered.

Sanji snorted against the floor, and Foxwood made a face and scribbled some more. Time to target: 35 minutes. Performance subduing hostile: Acceptable. Bedside manner: Atrocious. Well, Wufei had made it clear he was no hostage negotiator.

The radio crackled. //Sanji? Come in, Sanji.//

Sanji tensed against the floor.

//Sanji? You already do the headcount?...Sanji? Come in, Ravee, can you hear me?//

Silence.

//Fillmore? Can you get a bead on Sanji?//

//Sanji?...No. You don't think-//

//Don't see how, I'm on the walkway, I've had the door in sight the whole time, and Ed's at the entrance. I talked to him thirty seconds ago. Sanji, if you can hear me but can't reach me, lean out the window and wave.//

A moment of silence. Then: //Switch.//

Wufei slid over nearer the table and motioned to Sanji with his gun. "Roll over, slowly, away. I'll tell you when to stop." If he could use the radio...it was sophisticated equipment, it would be able to pick up a live channel automatically if he programmed it, he would be able to find the enemy's new communication channel and follow their plans -

- and it hit him that Sanji's second in command might ask the guard at the entrance to check on her half a second before he heard the handle squeak.

He reacted purely on instinct. He threw himself sideways away from the table, gun swinging up. The man didn't have time to do more than open the door; the shot rung out -

Fuck!

He'd forgotten - part of him had been back in the war, despite all his mental preparation. He'd made it a head-shot without thinking.

The man's helmet went flying with the impact; he'd not tied the choker. He fell backwards with a thump.

"Dammit-" Wufei put his hand to his throat mike. Sanji had said Fillmore was listening on channel 180, he'd be able to get a medic here if-

"Ed, you okay?" Sanji hissed.

Ed lay still for two seconds, then lifted a hand and made a thumbs-up gesture. His arm was trembling a bit but he seemed okay.

"Sorry," Wufei muttered, trying to get back into the mind-frame of the exercise with some difficulty. The sound of Foxwood scribbling behind him wasn't helping. Ed turned the thumbs-up into a forgiving wave of his hand before lifting it further to rub his head, which must be ringing a bit. The helmet - with a bright blue paint mark on it - was still rocking back and forth like an overturned turtle a few feet away.

Wufei could almost feel the enemy making plans around him, alerted by the shot. He couldn't risk getting to the radio now, he'd be visible through the windows to the man on the walkway who would not miss the slightest movement. Wufei also had two doors to cover now, and Sanji to watch. How easy this would be depended on how many men Heero had taken down.

He tensed as more shots echoed through the hangar. He wanted to glance out the window, but knew better. The man on the walkway might miss him, but if Heero was out there, he certainly wouldn't. This was the most dangerous part of the exercise for the partners. For most of their war-time missions they'd been either fighting side by side, or each on their own with their own exit plans. They'd only had to meet up at a common target a couple of times. It had been easier then, because they were two teens in a base full of men in identical uniforms. Now they were dressed pretty much the same as the hostiles, and they both had quick trigger fingers. Wufei didn't want a friendly-fire incident to go on to Foxwood's chart with any other unorthodox thing they'd done.

Two more shots. Wufei crouched near the stairs, back to the wall, gun at mid-point between the two doors.

He barely heard the slight scuffle near the door. His senses told him who it was; he doubted anyone else could move like that. He trusted Heero's superhuman reaction times to stop him from shooting before he recognized Wufei, but it would be a close thing, and he knew how that would look to Foxwood. Better take a small risk and avoid another black mark. He flicked on the comms.

"Yuy." No more. Heero would instantly guess where he was and what he meant to say, they knew each other that much. An enemy listening in would not be able to guess where he was from so little.

The nearly inaudible steps paused and then the door opened, Heero's gun swinging around cautiously. Wufei held his own weapon pointed at the door until he recognized the small frame in the flack jacket and helmet, blue eyes focused behind the goggles. Heero cast a glance at Sanji, Foxwood and Ed, assessing the situation in a flash, then slipped inside and closed the door quickly.

Heero crouched where Sanji had been, glancing out the window. He looked around the hangar outside carefully.

"How many did you take down?" he murmured without looking at Wufei.

"Three," Wufei said as neutrally as he could.

That earned him a look of surprise. He was slightly gratified that Heero had expected him to neutralize more. Then Heero’s eyes flickered towards the 'hostages'.

"All unharmed," Wufei added, trying not to sound defensive.

"Hn. Nine down," Heero informed him. "All but one kill confirmed." Wufei winced at the scribble from Foxwood's chart.

"So that's twelve. Do you know how many there were?"

"No." Heero glanced at Sanji, as if remembering the novelty of a live captive. And its usefulness. "You. How many total?"

Sanji looked at him coolly.

Heero opened his mouth but Wufei cut in quickly.

"We're not letting you go, and your friends will have run if they're smart. A bit of cooperation now could mean a few years off your sentence when the judge is doing his tally." This lawful approach would mean a lot less interesting scribbles on Foxwood's chart than Heero's method, which would have consisted in 'tell me how many more while you still have enough fingers to count that high.'

Sanji looked at them carefully, then shrugged from her prone position. "Two more, if you guys took out as many as you say. It's a fair cop," she added with a sly grin at Foxwood as if this was a private joke. Foxwood grunted, eyes still on his chart.

Heero glanced at Wufei, a question in his eyes. And the slight longing of someone who'd been very, very bored these past few weeks.

Wufei struggled internally. They should stay here with the hostages, and damn the fugitives, let the police put out an APB. But Heero wouldn't accept that; the mission was to put them behind bars or in the morgue. So Wufei would have liked to be the one to do it! He had secured the hostages, he'd done his job and he'd been bored too back in Hangzhou. But he gritted his teeth. When it came to pure mayhem, Heero was just that little bit better than he was. And Wufei could see his duty to guard the hostages, where Heero only saw the mission of protecting the peace by defeating the enemy. It made sense.

"Go on, Yuy, I'll watch things here."

Heero gave him a curt nod and had ghosted out the door before he'd finished speaking. He was left alone with a hostile Sanji still on the floor, a dead Ed watching the clouds and scratching his nose at the door, and Foxwood scribbling madly and disapprovingly in his chart.

Ten boring minutes later Heero reappeared to tell him there was no trace of the runaways. They'd probably cleared out on getting no radio contact and hearing the shots. Foxwood called the simulation to an end, Sanji and Ed got off the floor with some relief, and Wufei stood, a bit lost, in the middle of the office, feeling let down by the whole exercise which had been a pale imitation of the real thing however proficient the opposing team were. It left him feeling unsatisfied.

Foxwood was still seated, though he'd thrown away the loop of cable. He was writing on his chart. Heero and Wufei drifted over, but he didn't seem to notice them standing over him.

Finally he lifted his old eyes and looked from one to the other.

"I'll send my report to Une. Here, Chang. Fill this in, sign it, fax it in to head office." He stood, stretched with a creak of old ligaments.

"You pass," he grunted, before Wufei could ask or examine the paper he was holding. "But I warn you two. I'm keeping an eye on you. I know what kind of job you'll be doing. Finesse will never be your thing. I know you won't always have the choice of bringing them all out alive - the perps or the bystanders. But do your best. Or I will know about it. And I will make you wish you were back in the war." He spun on his heels and walked out, flanked by Sanji and the man from the walkway who had a bright blue paint-mark on his back. They all left without a word.

Wufei was left alone with Heero, holding what turned out to be a certification of field readiness. He felt even more let down, though he'd not been expecting a hug or a handshake from Foxwood.

"What happens now?"

Heero shrugged. "Une has to read his report, the final decision is hers. She should contact us soon. Let's go back to the house. There's nothing more to do here."

After returning the weapons and protective gear, and picking up Heero's car at the ops center, they drove back through a sudden burst of wintry sunlight leaking through mid-afternoon clouds.

"Did Foxwood tell you to go for the hostages first?" Heero asked him abruptly after a few minutes of their usual silence.

Wufei took hold of every fiber of his body to answer as smoothly as possible: "The criminals were the first objective, the hostages were the secondary. I didn't think you'd need my help with a loosely scattered force though, and I was closer to the hostage location, so I decided to leave the first objective to you and secure the secondary." All of which was true, more or less; that was the way Foxwood would have given them the mission if he knew anything about soldiers, or, more precisely, anything about Heero Yuy.

Heero did not ask what Foxwood had said exactly. Wufei wondered if he suspected that his partner was, well, rectifying the truth, so to speak. Heero was silent for a moment before he said: "When I took down the fifth target without seeing any signs of you, I thought that might be the case."

Which was why Heero had taken out all the enemy he could reach before even coming near the hostages. If Heero had been alone, he'd have made his way to the office sooner, if only to free them and take them out of the equation. Wufei knew this by instinct. Though there had been no communication between them, and when it came down to it, they'd only worked together a dozen times during the war, they understood each other; their fighting styles meshed.

Damn Foxwood and his charts and his proper police procedures. Heero and Wufei were warriors, they breathed the same air, the rarefied oxygen of an unforgiving battlefield. They might be sixteen, but they knew what they were doing. They were two-fifths of a force that had taken down two armies. They could not be discounted.

Chapter Text

It takes hundreds of reincarnations to bring two people to ride on the same boat.
It takes a thousand eons to bring two people to share the same pillow.
--- Mandarin Proverb

 

"Go ahead," Wufei said as Heero gestured him towards the bathroom. "I'll fill this in and fax it to Une before I shower."

Heero nodded, not surprised that someone would prefer to finish a mission rather than indulge in a creature comfort, and headed towards the bathroom.

Wufei had faxed the signed certificate off when he heard a faint ringing noise. Poking his head out of the bedroom door, he heard the shower water abruptly cut off and Heero start talking. Twenty seconds later Heero opened the door, a towel knotted around his hips and his cell at his ear.

" ...know that, but why would Une-... his guardian? But-... Let me talk to her... Why?"

Wufei lifted his eyebrows, but Heero shook his head then jerked his thumb behind him towards the shower. Shrugging, Wufei dropped Heero's clothes out of the small room and took a quick shower, rinsing off dust, sweat and a couple of small aches he hadn't noticed until now. Despite training during university, he had lost some of his shape. He'd have to retrain himself severely. Heero would undoubtedly help with that. Painfully.

He merely rinsed himself off then struggled, still damp, into his pair of black jeans - the only clean clothes he had at the moment - and strode quickly to Heero's room, following the cold, measured tones of his partner's voice. Guardian. Wufei's guardian? Uncle Wai? Was there a problem?

Heero was sitting at his laptop, still wearing nothing but the towel, the phone squeezed between shoulder and ear, his fingers flying over the keyboard while he talked. "...Okay... but what if he's difficult about-...oh...he won't accept that. Not if he's as stubborn as Chang." The last was said with the smallest of wintry smirks in Wufei's direction as he closed the bedroom door. Wufei responded to the comment with the scowl it deserved.

"... Hn. He doesn't know you, commander. Very well, we'll be waiting." Heero disconnected without a goodbye.

"Well?!" Wufei barely waited for his finger to hit the button.

"Legal matters." Heero set the phone on his desk and finished typing. He turned around again at the hiss of hot-tempered frustration behind him.

"Nothing too serious. Une contacted your guardian, Wai Law Chi, she needed his permission for, well, a lot of stuff." Heero shrugged as if he couldn't imagine why society would care what happened to a sixteen-year-old.

"Wai knows I want to do this! He agreed!" Wufei barked. A trickle of water fell from his hair and ran down his bare chest, making him shiver, like the trickle of fear that he would not be allowed to do this, not be allowed to do what he was meant for, the only thing that made him feel complete.

"Oh don't worry, he signed off. But he imposed conditions. He wants to keep some control over what you do, check up on you a few times until you're eighteen. And he insisted that you have a month vacation before you do anything else."

Wufei didn't know what kind of face he made on hearing that, but it must have been a good one because even the normally impassive Heero snickered.

"I'll talk to him," Wufei snapped. A month? What was uncle Wai thinking! Oh he could do with a bit of retraining, but not a month!

"You don't have to. Better not in fact. He's still your guardian. He could give Une a big headache if he wants to."

"But-"

"I said you don't have to. Une's devious. I think she brought out the nicer side of her personality." Heero's lips twisted. "She promised him you'd have all the rest you need, unless there's some emergency."

"So?! Am I going to rot here for a month?!"

"No, Chang. In our job, any fire is an emergency according to the ESUN statutes." Heero's face was as blank as always, but the panther-like movement as he rose from his chair spoke of anticipation. Wufei relaxed in turn.

"And how soon are we likely to get an emergency?" he asked slowly.

"Today, or maybe tomorrow."

Wufei smiled, the feral smirk of a predator scenting blood. Sorry, uncle Wai. He knew the old man had his best interest at heart, but he didn't need a break, didn't need a holiday. He needed...it could barely be put into words. But it had to do with his heart thundering in his chest, the blood screaming through his veins, harsh air ripping from his lungs, his life on the edge where it made a difference...

That morning had been nothing but an appetizer, for all it had had its moments. And if he was eager, Heero must be desperate. Yuy had hunkered down to admin duties and the occasional solo mission with discipline and patience like the good soldier he was. But the rare smile that echoed Wufei's was just as fervent and deadly and ready for action.

And then it melted into something else.

Wufei caught the tail end of the look in that moment of shared anticipation, of fellow feeling. He noticed how Heero's eyes had dropped to his bare chest, to the waist of his jeans where he'd not bothered to do up the last button. Wufei read the expression that flickered across Heero's face and body before it was carefully caught and locked away in the soldier's prison of iron will.

Today, or maybe tomorrow...That was a long time to wait, in a certain way...Wufei found his eyes dragged to Heero's own frame almost reluctantly. Lean chest rippling with muscle, pared down to the most efficient edge of power and grace, slim hips from which the towel was starting to slip, the shadow of hipbone on golden skin...Wufei was still ambivalent about this. Though it took him a few seconds to remember why. Right, he wasn't actually all that attracted to men, and a true warrior should be able to control his baser instincts. He could see that was what Heero was doing; the blue eyes that caught his gaze were now clear, uncaring.

That sounds cool, but you're both sixteen and neither of you have gotten laid in the past six month, so at this point, who cares if he's a guy - a very, very good-looking guy may I add. Just remember that if you don't deal with your baser instincts now they might interfere with the mission later. That was why you guys made this whole arrangement in the first place. If it was good enough for the samurai, buddy...

Normally he felt like dragging that little voice from his head and shooting it between the eyes but...not today. Today he felt strangely absolved, and freed from the ambiguity of his desires. It allowed him to move to intercept Heero as the latter walked towards the door to go pick up his clothes left in the bathroom.

His partner stopped, poised, waiting. They weren't quite face to face, their shoulders were almost touching. Heero couldn't move forward without brushing Wufei out of the way.

"It could be a long mission," Wufei started, since he was damned if he could think of any other way of saying this. Actually he doubted he needed any words at all, not for Yuy, but maybe he needed to hear this for himself.

Heero nodded slowly. Though he was still facing the door straight ahead, the blue eyes had twitched to one side and fastened on black.

"It will probably be dangerous."

Heero nodded vigorously. One or the other had leaned forward another breath. Heat from Heero's skin prickled up and down Wufei's left side and shoulder where they almost touched. He waited. Damned if he was going to do all the work.

Apparently choosing his words with care, Heero said slowly: "But...your preferences are-"

"We've been through that, Yuy. Do you see any willing women here? There's just us."

The blue eyes flickered away from his own. "Even if the mission comes in today, we won't leave until tomorrow afternoon. We have to get you equipped. We could always go out tonight. We're no longer at war, security is no longer primordial. We could always..."

"What, pay for it?" Wufei sneered. "I had that option back in Hangzhou, and I'd rather jerk myself off." And Heero was probably the same; neither of them would feel comfortable relinquishing even a fraction of their control, of themselves, to someone they didn't know, much less a whore. "There's always that last option, but you're the one who said it was more satisfactory to share the need when you first slammed me to the ground back in that shed."

"You weren't very sure about it then." Heero's eyes had widened. He threw that like a challenge.

Oh just rub my face in it, Wufei thought furiously. He knew he'd been weak - and worse, a hypocrite - at the start, letting Heero give him the illusion he was forcing him to accept their mutual need. And yes, he still had his inner conflicts about this and much more. But he'd learned to dominate them, like a warrior should.

"Since we're taking a trip down memory lane, remember our first mission together? The target who liked Asian boys, to Maxwell's utter amusement? The one where you took a gamble and shot him yourself rather than risk the chance of me going in solo and screwing up?" His voice dripped acid.

Heero's pupils dilated slightly. "You weren't trained as an assassin."

"Think that would have stopped me?"

"No. I...didn't know you as well then." A hand brushed Wufei's chest as it reached for his face but didn't touch his cheek.

"So?"

"It wouldn't have stopped you, but I was still the best suited mentally for the job," Heero said severely.

Wufei's eyes narrowed. "Remember what happened afterwards?"

And he wasn't just talking about the screw in the alley. You are an efficient killer, Chang. The first time Heero Yuy had looked back and seen how close Wufei was following him, matching him stride for stride. The first time Heero had realized he didn't just have a convenient fuck, but a partner. Suddenly this was about more than just sex. It was about the whole arrangement. They were here, alone, because they chose to be, on the warrior's path that had no goal but to see how far they could go, how much better they could get.

Wufei could see the memories and thoughts playing across the blue eyes. Heero had let the mask slip for a few seconds. The hand near Wufei's face still hesitated.

"Don't underestimate me, Yuy," Wufei whispered with an edge of menace. "I may not be fucking perfect like you, but I am strong enough to face my own demons, bear my own sins and dominate my own doubts. I don't need your condescension."

"You never had it."

Wufei felt like contesting that - the 'never' part, he was pretty sure that was a lie - but he never had a chance to open his mouth, the hand cupped his jaw, hard lips were pressed into his own.

...there's just us...

No more thinking. Wufei slipped the grasp that was still light on his neck and hip and pulled Heero to him with arms like steel. The body against his was tense as a wire for a second or two; Heero Yuy let his guard down for no one, not even his partner. Then the hands on him hardened their grip, slipping across skin with a tingle of pressure to press him into the hard body fiercely.

They were side by side as their knees touched the bed. A ripple of hesitation ran from one to the other, a question. Then Wufei, with something of an inner grimace and a flutter of anticipation, broke the embrace to sit, then lie down on the bed. Heero didn't question it, didn't try to doubt his decision this time. Just nodded fleetingly and then leaned over to a box near the side of the bed. The towel had tumbled from his hips and Wufei, propped up on his elbows, let his eyes linger over the sight that had occupied some of his more involving dreams in that bed in Hangzhou.

He saw a slight grimace cross Heero's face and the hand came out of the box of toiletries with a tube of-

"Burn cream?" Wufei didn't know if he should laugh or glare. Heero shrugged, a bit defensively. Apparently he'd not thought he'd need any lubricant from now on. The only other thing he had around in his bathroom was soap.

"It'll do," Wufei grumbled; the nearest pharmacy would be quite some distance away from the industrial zone and it would be a pity for Heero to get dressed again. A great pity.

He forced himself to relax as Heero sat himself on the side of the bed, then crawled over until he was kneeling between Wufei's legs. He didn't really mind this. For starters it was his turn, Heero had been bottom last time. And after some of the research he'd done, he was...curious. He didn't think his first time, occulted by embarrassment, discomfort and confusion, had been all it could be.

The burn cream tossed momentarily aside, Heero put his hands slowly on Wufei's chest. Strong fingers ran down his body, too hard for a caress, as if trying to define and test the muscles beneath the skin. Then the hands met at the v of his partially open jeans, slowly popping the second button open with a small flick sound. Flick, flick, the third and fourth button followed, the sound blending in with their quickening breath to sound oddly erotic in the silence of the converted workshop. The rasp of Heero's hands against his skin was a melody onto itself as they reached to lift the jeans away from his hips. In the distance, a beep from a truck backing out, a growl of motor, a faint incomprehensible shout from men working on something or other. In the bare room, where the crack of winter sunlight paled in the light of neon overhead, there was only the rhythm of harsh breathing, the squeak of springs as Wufei arched his hips off the bed, the lush sound of cloth slipping from flesh as Heero drew the jeans down his legs. One of the neon spat and muttered; nobody else commented.

A sound of a screw cap twisting. Wufei had found his eyes closing by themselves, not in embarrassment this time, but...it just made the passivity slightly easier to bear. A sharp medicine smell stung his nose, like copper and camphor combined. He remembered it well, from their time in Italy and, more disturbingly, from the times they'd had to treat themselves or each other's wounds. An unwelcome invasion; memory of red pain and stinging, pulling flesh. Wufei lost a bit of the excitement that was prowling around his loins. A handspan of burn scar on his upper thigh tingled. At the back of his throat coiled the choking smell of burnt flesh and blood, his fingers twitched as they remembered smearing the stuff on Trowa's chest after a battle for Peacemillion, little clicks nearby as Quatre cut the gauze -

Lips crushed his own and a hand, slick and sticky now, drew a line from his neck down his chest, pausing to circle a nipple, before dropping to his erection. Wufei felt a ripple like a tsunami run through his flesh, ripping away the memories of war. The feel of Heero Yuy's hand on his cock was something else that had decorated his dreams during their time apart.

Satisfied that Wufei was back in bed with him, one of Heero's hands dropped lower, ghosting over the sacs to toy with the entrance beyond. Wufei could feel every move, strangely delicate from hands that could crush flesh and steel with equal ease. His eyes were still closed, heightening the sensations.

The breach was slow but steady, and not as uncomfortable as he remembered. Well, maybe a bit, as Heero felt deeper and the muscles stretched. Apparently this got a bit easier with practice. He'd done this a grand total of once so far, so a little pain was to be expected, however careful Heero tried to be. Wufei didn't actually mind, pain was not an issue. Actually he had to admit that it felt...interesting. The discomfort seemed to highlight the feelings of being stretched, stroked, like a massage, a touch both gentle and firm, demanding the surrender of muscles to warmth and respite. Wufei's back arched slightly as the feeling accentuated and the movement became more complex, prodding and poking, sending shivers of sensation flooding upwards, highlighted by the darkness behind his eyelids.

His hands twitched on the prickly cover of the bed. This was the only part he didn't like. Lying on his back like some damn woman letting the man do all the work, the seduction. Heero had taken it like a trooper last time, so would he. Actually how had Heero reacted last time...? Damn, he could only remember a thumb kneading the cords of his neck. And the sex, the feel of-...And a rather impressive set of bruises on his shoulders afterwards. A slight twinge of shame at that; Heero was much more considerate. Bloody perfect, even in this, another part of Wufei grumbled immediately; count on Heero not to get lost in the feelings, overwhelmed by sensation.

This-...really did feel good...

Heero's other hand had been tracing the firm, taut muscles of Wufei's abdomen, almost idly, occasionally dropping to his erection to distract him - very successfully - when the other hand probed deeper or added a finger to the task. Now the hand rose, still feeling its way; did Heero also have his eyes closed? Across his side, his chest, down one arm, kneading and pressing, another massage relaxing him, sending waves of sensation rippling back down his body to crash with the other set, meeting somewhere in the region of his groin. Heero lifted Wufei's forearm. His hand touched a firm shoulder. Fingers grasped flesh instinctively in a gasp; Heero's other hand had twisted slightly and flicked on the neon inside Wufei's eyelids. His whole body crackled and sparked.

His hand was buried in hair at the base of Heero's neck, both rough and silky, like a hound's pelt. Distracted, he let his fingers play, knowing that this was what Heero needed too. A touch. So little. So needed, to breach just once in awhile the voluntary isolation around the soldier.

Wufei's world dissolved. Little jagged spikes of pleasure and light drilled through his body. He still kept enough control - even here, even now - to avoid pulling Heero's hair. The head turned beneath his fingers. A mouth nuzzled his wrist, nipping gently at the beat threading and pulsating there.

Heero's fingers left him. Hands dropped to his hips, tilting them up. A flash of regret for that pain/comfort/pleasure, for a touch where he'd trust only one other person to touch him...

Well, bar the doctor from the medical this morning, the little inner voice suddenly piped up, probably just to see him squirm and flinch. Great, that wasn't the kind of memory he wanted to -

Breath left his lungs in a grunt of shock as Heero suddenly pressed himself where his fingers had been.

Hands immediately soothed, chased after the little shudders running through his flesh. Hunted them down and subdued them with rough pressure and stroking fingers. Wufei relaxed slowly, taking in this new sensation, the pulse running through his body. The way his hips were canted upwards onto Heero's lap. The sheer presence of Heero within him. His breath hitched again as Heero moved in deeper, but it was more surprise than pain; he hadn't remembered it felt so... so...

It feels fucking fantastic...The little inner voice was awed. Wufei didn't bother scowling at it, caught at the cusp of a pleasure so strange it was indistinguishable from pain.

He was panting against Heero's shoulder. His partner had leaned in, put his hand near jet-black hair for balance. A dip curved the mattress next to his head. Wufei's hands were grasping Heero's shoulders, both of them. A trembling grip that seemed torn between pushing him away and pulling him closer. The body shifted slightly above his own. Wufei's hands tensed, he was caged in. Not in control. But Heero hadn't complained last time. He could do this.

Heero moved and Wufei's thoughts dissolved and he just wanted more...

A strong hand grasped him under the shoulder. More than a caress, a grip. An arm reached around his waist. Wufei almost shouted in shock as he was jerked away from the cover. Disorientated, he scrabbled and his arms circled strong shoulders.

The pressure of penetration grew; only a fraction but very alarming. He almost panicked, tore himself away - then he realized Heero was holding him up bodily, with almost obscene ease, waiting for him to get his legs under him and support himself.

He stared down at piercing blue under tousled hair, flushed cheeks; his eyes had flown open instinctively. He could no longer close them. He was above Heero now, his legs on either side of his partner's lap. His hands gripped red marks onto the golden skin of Heero's shoulders. His hips and back tilted to accommodate their union. But he was now in control of the measure of it. Well, not entirely. A gentle but insistently growing tug on his shoulders was forcing him down, forcing him to move, to take more. He found himself smiling fiercely. Yes, this was how they did things. He allowed it but only so far and then thrust back up again. The pleasure of in and out clung to his skin like sweat. He shivered. Heero tugged him down again with a deep exhalation like a groan. Eyes hooded over clouded blue. Wufei flexed his legs, tilted further back.

It was more a fight between two opposing forces than cooperation, it should have been awkward. It wasn't. Wufei could read the play of muscle beneath his hands. Heero anticipated him. They knew each other's movements. Strike and parry. Separate and together.

A small change in angle left him gasping, head thrown back, blinded. Violent pleasure ripped up his spine. His hair, still loose from his shower, tickled his shoulder blades, skin rippling with the sensation like an aftershock. His grip and movement surrendered an instant to the punch of sensation. Heero's grunt of satisfaction and victory sent a breath across his chest as he let himself be pulled down deeper. A slight pain joined the pleasure and heightened it. His whole body started to tremble. Hammering like a heartbeat. He recaptured his share of the movement. More...

Breathe. In. Out.

Warm flesh beneath his fingers. Damp, slipping. His grip tightened.

Down. Thrill and a twinge.

In. Out. Breathe.

This wasn't going to last long. It was too perfect to last long. And the unleashed storm thundered through his veins, pulsed under his skin. It wanted satisfaction.

Heero leaned back. They both compensated for the shift in balance instinctively. A familiar hand caressed him - the storm broke.

Wufei gasped, a blow of air to the chest as if he had been holding his breath for months -

Blurred white. His heart thundered. His body coiled, and broke free in a rush.

He faintly felt Heero snarl against his shoulder, tug him down possessively, hips thrusting up into his pulsing body. Pain, slight, so distant...The rest felt so good...

A sudden disorientation jerked him from the moment of complete non-thinking he'd been lost in. A jumble of images - the room, flushed skin, tousled hair, dazed blue eyes - and he found himself lying on his back on the prickly cover, which would have left him some rather unpleasant burns if he'd been pounded against it. He could barely feel it; he seemed weightless, as if that deep breath that had blown out all the tame, stale air from his body was still buoying him. He distantly felt Heero pull back from him, and shove him a bit to one side, lazily, so that he could collapse by Wufei's side.

His body began to let itself come back down to the bed in sections. The first was his ass which felt rather sorer than last time. For some reason he just couldn't care...Just as his mind began to drift he felt the skin of his abdomen come into focus, with the very unmistakable feeling of a viscous liquid that had been at the same temperature as his body, now cooling rapidly in the room's fresh air. His arms were tired, as were his legs, from the effort of measuring his movements to Heero's. A tingle on his arm...

Heero was lying on his side, propped up on one elbow. Wufei's hip informed him of the dips in the mattress this was causing. A finger idly traced a scar on Wufei's upper arm as if his partner didn't remember that one. Maybe he didn't...Of course he didn't, he'd never seen it. Wufei cast an indifferent eye at the pucker of pink flesh running up to a harsh V of scar tissue. A flash of memory; gaping skin welling with blood soaking through torn cloth, dripping down to the throttle he was grasping, the gumminess of it between his fingers and the grip, the smell of burnt plastic and hot metal, a very distant pain barely noticed in the heat of that very last space battle...It seemed so long ago now.

And this...this was now. And this felt right. He knew why he'd done this, why he'd precipitated matters. The desire had been there of course; six months of not getting laid and having his blood quickened by the fake assault earlier, a pale ersatz of battle, no wonder they'd been horny. But there was more.

He and Heero were linked. It went beyond war now. In this peace they knew nothing about, they were now taking the same road. They were very different, but they were closer to each other than to anyone else in earth and in space; exhalation and inhalation, distinct yet linked, not by affection but necessity. The sex was a promise, the signature on the contract. They were not going to take the easy road in this peace. They would continue the battle against themselves, to become better, to reach for a goal that was now uniquely their own. They chose now to take on the missions, protect for others what they were probably unable to enjoy, and grab what satisfaction they could in the process. The closeness they'd just shared was a pact; it said they would not let anything interfere, get between them and their goals, not the affection of companionship, not the warmth of a woman's arms, no distractions, no -

All that and it was fucking great sex too!

Okay that was it! He didn't care what it took, he was going to get this little demon exorcised from his brain. Now what would be needed...Its name? He knew that. It was a Maxwell demon, tantalizing, self-assured, sensual and unashamed of it, everything he was not, so obviously an invasion from outside. What else? If he remembered right, an exorcism required six copper seals, red thread, incense, parchment and ink. And a Shinto priest. Easy.

"We have some time before the mission, maybe we should do some shopping," Heero muttered.

Yeah, where can I find copper seals?

"I suggest we get you a proper double bed."

Wufei realized the shifting besides him for the past minute had been his partner trying to fit into the very small space Wufei had left him on the military bed. Heero was pressed against his arm, and Wufei didn't think either of them really wanted this contact, not now. Heero was neatly compartmentalized, closeness went with sex and he wasn't much for a cuddle afterwards, he probably wouldn't see the point. Wufei obligingly shifted on the bed to leave him some room and found his right shoulder hanging over empty space, nearly up against the wall.

"A bed, agreed," he grunted. "And some sheets and stuff." That was obvious, of course, but he was thinking of having to change them after sex, as his abdominal muscles flinched away from the sticky, cool spot on his stomach. And that was nothing to the uncomfortable wetness he was starting to feel between his legs, running onto the cover. He lifted a hand, but what would he do once he wiped it away? He felt Heero lean away from the bed, nearly entirely off of it. When the weight returned besides him, the towel dropped onto his stomach. He grunted in lieu of thanks and started the cleanup.

"You'll need some furniture," Heero continued, propping himself up on one elbow again, eyes on the crack of sunlight in the taped sheet covering the window. "I know a place they have cheap stuff."

Wufei nodded. His uncle Wai had made it clear that finances were not too big an issue, his father's inheritance could cover him now that his clan was no longer providing. But why buy expensive furnishings for this shack? Especially when he wouldn't be here for months on end? Ah, but there was one thing he would spend money on.

"The bed will be comfortable. My days of sleeping on the floor on rotten mattresses are over," he stated imperiously. Heero shrugged, his eyes dropping indifferently to his bunk.

"Sheets...Clothes. I noticed you don't have many," Heero continued. Yes, Wufei had left the silk and finery behind him in Hangzhou.

"There's an army surplus nearby." And Wufei was willing to bet Heero had a frequent buyer card. "You'll need fatigues and tough jackets, but also casuals. We don't do much undercover work, but we often have to move around incognito."

Wufei nodded impatiently, this was similar to the war.

"What else? Ah, some more dishes." Heero's mouth lifted in a cold half-smile. Wufei had commented acidly on his 'camping out' when he realized his partner only had the one aluminum plate.

"Some proper tea," Wufei grunted, tossing the towel on the floor on Heero's side.

"More towels," Heero said reprovingly, picking it up and tossing it with condescending precision into the open box where he put his dirty clothes, half way across the room.

"An extra stool," Wufei countered, and that should have been at the top of the list; Heero had had to eat his breakfast sitting on the counter this morning.

"Lubricant."

"...Yes." The smell of camphor was mixing with semen and sweat and the dusty-plaster smell that seemed to permeate the workshop, making his stomach clench slightly. He sat up on the prickly cover.

"Shower."

"Uh? Oh, you mean now."

Wufei stood, wincing, more at the small trickle of tepid liquid against his inner thighs than any real pain. He glanced back, almost against his better judgment. Heero had taken his vacated position and was stretching full out without any hint of embarrassment. Grace and power, the muscles of a predator rippling beneath golden skin...

"Gun, ammo, flak jacket-" Wufei said as if to banish the thoughts that had rippled through his mind in an echo of that movement.

"We'll get those tomorrow before we leave," Heero answered lazily, eyes slowly blinking once as he gazed at the ceiling.

"Assuming we leave."

"We will, trust me- better yet, trust Une. She'll have our asses out of here as soon as she possibly can."

"Is there that much trouble out there still?" Wufei felt torn between eagerness and gloom.

"A fair amount. Not as much as I'd have thought." For the first time, Wufei realized that Heero himself must have had the same doubts about peace that he had. "But enough fires, and Une just doesn't have that many reliable agents. She can't use a lot of ex-OZ, ex-White Fang, ex-Rebels-"

"Hence Foxwood."

"Sam is actually a very proficient commander, though he doesn't hold the rank. There's a lot of administrative complexities that Une has dodged, so you'll meet a lot of 'consultants' like Sam. Actually the whole special ops section is rather...unofficial, and very hurriedly put together. That's why they let us both in so easily, without much training. But we're still kept on a tight leash, and Foxwood is our immediate supervisor. Une is our superior, along with Grecko, you'll meet him when he gets back from that conference on L1. Don't take Sam personally. That's just the way he is. He's got a formidable exterior and he won't give you an inch, but he won't let any emotion or hostility interfere with his work and he's very efficient."

"Oh trust me, I have a lot of practice dealing with that kind of guy," Wufei grunted and headed towards the shower before Heero could think of a proper comeback.

When he returned to the room five minutes later, he found Heero dressed and in front of his open laptop.

Heero's face was granite, his eyes were as cold as Wing's, but his body was straining at the leash like a hound who'd heard the horn.

"Chang, are you vaccinated against the full panel of exotic diseases?"

"Yes, of course," Wufei answered tightly. "Master O didn't want me coming down with anything weird while fighting in Asia or the African continent. Or L2 for that matter."

"Good." Heero twisted the laptop his way. Wufei's heart hammered as he took in the familiar form of a mission planning statement. He leaned forward eagerly on the edge of the desk, looking over Heero's shoulders. Read the specs. Huh, Une was throwing them into the deep end!

The excitement rose, but he controlled it, honed it, kept it ready for use. Heero was a live wire besides him, but nothing showed in his face and eyes. Only Wufei could read his anticipation.

Breathe. In. Out.

Now.

"When do we leave?"

Chapter Text

Real gold is not afraid of the fire of the crucible
--- Chinese saying

 

"It should be illegal!"

Wufei blinked, then dropped his eye to the liquid in his plastic cup that managed to taste watery, bitter and bland all at the same time; the plastic was more appetizing. "The coffee? I entirely agree."

"No, I meant you!"

"What are you talking about, woman?"

Sally ran her hands through her hair, which was limp and a bit greasy, falling from her usual style. Her lips were cracked and pale, her eyes dull and inked round with fatigue. But there was some combative energy still burning in the depths.

"I haven't slept more than-" her eyes glazed for two seconds "- seven hours in the last forty eight. I have spent my time talking to scum, chasing paper, arguing with idiots, eating garbage out of that dispenser. I happen to know that you've had even less sleep, that you've spent the last ten hours interrogating Ian Thrace, and that's after two weeks tracking him down and playing 'dodge the bullet' with his small private army. Yet you dare stand there- sit there, at your desk, as if you'd just had a refreshing snooze and a good meal! By all rights, Chang, you should look like- like a microwaved dog turd!"

Wufei carefully put down his cup of 'coffee'. "Thanks for that lovely image, Agent Po. Apart from insulting you with my very existence, is there anything I can actually do for you?"

"You can at least pretend to be human!" Sally snapped.

"I'll do my best. Anything else?"

"Can you sign off on this so we can get out of here?" Sally's voice sounded desperate.

Wufei went carefully over the papers, ignoring her hollow groan, then signed on the line.

"Here you go, Sally. You might want to get to bed now."

"Gee, you think?! I must look terrible," Sally added, in a slightly hopeful voice that left him room to disagree.

"Well, I wouldn't say you looked like a - ah, microwaved turd either, Sally-" Wufei said politely.

Sally smiled, crinkling her tired eyes, knowing a Chang compliment when she heard it-

"-since I've never seen such a thing, though looking at you I think I'm getting an idea of what it might -"

He dodged the roll of paper aimed at his head with the ease of practice and turned back to his keyboard.

"Agent Po."

Damn, he hadn't heard Heero approach. He was tired, though he'd take a jump off a cliff before admitting it to Sally, much less to Heero. He'd even drink the - for lack of a better term - 'coffee'.

"Heero." Sally grinned. "Do me one of two favors. Either kill this idiot you call a partner or call me Sally already."

"I apologize if he was rude," Heero said seriously and Wufei shook his head at his keyboard. His partner had gotten a bit better at distinguishing banter from serious arguing during their time together; Heero must be tired too if he'd misinterpreted the bit he'd overheard.

"Oh Heero." Sally's voice was suddenly gentle and mature. "We were just joking around. Don't worry about it. When are you two robots going to go to bed?"

"Good question. Chang?" Heero glanced at him.

"As soon as I finish this. Thrace cracked, by the way."

"Hn."

"That's Heero-ese for 'good, let's get some rest'? I'm inquiring as a physician here," Sally drawled.

"Yes, we'll leave in a bit. Goodbye Sally," Wufei grumbled dismissively and started typing again.

Sally left with a tired wave and went to pick up Lucrezia who had fallen asleep on a chair with her feet on someone's desk.

Heero sat down. His movements were not as lithe as usual, they were heavy and his eyes were a bit dull. Wufei felt a distant flash of pride that he himself showed no visible signs of fatigue to his partner. Hopefully Heero wouldn't notice he was deleting half the characters he was typing. As long as some of it made sense in the end.

"Sending a summary of Thrace's confession?"

"Yes. I'll cc you since you weren't in the room," Wufei muttered distractedly.

"Were you?"

"No, I was in the observation deck."

"Who got him to talk?"

"Sam. He said 'spill, or I bring my two boys back in to see you'. Thrace cracked like an egg."

Heero rubbed his eyes. "Ten hours. He was tougher than I thought. Hurry up."

"Brunswick can swing by and drop me off at the house, Yuy. Go home if you're tired," Wufei said with a pretense of solicitude.

Heero just gave him a look. Wufei had created a small mental cataloger of ‘looks by Heero Yuy’ since their association. This one was number 9, 'cut the crap, Chang, and get on with it', so he did.

"Done. Let's go home before Grecko reads it and buries us in paperwork."

"Hn."

 

 

The door closed behind them with a comforting click. The two-week knot of tension between Wufei's shoulder blades suddenly loosened; he had to stop in his tracks and stretch to cover a stagger. Heero dropped his bags and laptop at the door and headed towards the kitchen.

Wufei didn't remember walking to the couch. Suddenly it was there, in front of him.

"Do you want something?" Heero was at the fridge with a bottle of water in his hand. He was wiping his mouth with his sleeve. His face looked a bit pale against the tanned skin of his hand, but otherwise he looked fine. Bastard.

"Maybe some tea if you're making some." Wufei sat on the couch and picked up the book he'd dropped two weeks ago when the 'fire alarm' had come through. He flipped through it idly...then, making sure Heero was busy with the kettle, turned the book right side up.

He blinked slowly at the characters on the page. Did he want to read...? It was three in the afternoon. He had a few hours to kill before going to bed, if he didn't want to be jet-lagged. He focused on the characters and blinked again.

"Oolong? Green? White?"

"Huh?" Wufei realized his eyes had been closed and he snapped them open. "Oh. Oolong please." He looked at Heero carefully, but the latter was rummaging around the packets of tea Wufei had collected and hadn't noticed.

He blinked again, then rubbed his eyes viciously. He'd drink his tea then go outside. Take a walk around the block, for what that was worth; the storage facility and construction sites would be particularly pretty under the May sunshine, and there'd be birds perched on the barbed wire nearby. Oh well at least it would clear his head. Maybe he could go to the shooting range...

"Chang?"

Hm?

"Chang. Come on, wake up or you'll screw your internal clock." The voice was at a prudent distance from an ex-Gundam pilot who was just as twitchy as Heero when woken u-

"I'm awake!" Wufei snapped, his body jerking to something like alertness.

"Are you now..."

The voice curled with a hint of amusement, Heero's version of laughter. Wufei realized that he'd started up onto one elbow -

- he was lying on the couch -

- someone had swung his feet up onto the couch and he'd not even woken up-

- and added insult to injury by covering him with the spare blanket.

He glared sleepily at Heero. The 'just resting my eyes' excuse had about as much chance of flying as a roasted duck.

"How long was I asleep?" he grumbled reluctantly. Surely only a few minutes, he remembered he'd just put his book down and-

"An hour. You looked like you needed it." Heero was seated at the kitchen counter in front of his open laptop, a bottle of water and a half-eaten sandwich at hand. He was leaning his chin against a fist and looking across at Wufei with slight condescension. He looked perfectly fine and quite awake.

Score one for Yuy.

Wufei glared, acknowledging the touch with his usual bad grace. Heero's lips curved slightly.

The L5 Preventer stood up and stretched, then wandered over to pick up Heero's sandwich.

"What are you working on now?" he grumbled, returning to the couch while taking a bite. Spam and none-too-fresh cheese over long-conservation bread. Lovely. That reminded him that the fridge would have to be emptied of its disintegrating contents later.

"Nothing," Heero said, despite evidence to the contrary. Which meant one of his own programs he played with when off-duty, like a dog chewing a bone. "Grecko hasn't come back to us yet."

Wufei snorted. "Give it a few hours."

"Hm. Want to do anything tomorrow?"

Tomorrow afternoon, it went without saying. Tomorrow morning, after they'd caught up on their sleep, would be personal downtime.

"Assuming Grecko doesn't drag us back to ops?" Wufei muttered.

"Yes."

"Don't know." His head felt clearer, but his entire future went no further than the moment he'd be able to go to bed in a few hours. Tomorrow was terra incognita. "Want to go to the track?" he hazarded. It was an unspoken agreement that the first twenty four hours back from a mission were free of any kind of physical training or sparring. Even Heero needed a break from time to time. Or at least Wufei wanted to flatter himself into thinking so.

"It might rain," Heero said distantly, concentrating most of his attention on his program.

"Oh I'm sorry, Yuy. We don't want to get you all muddy. How inconsiderate of me."

Heero ignored that. It was pretty weak.

Wufei glanced at the tool shop part of their digs, twisting over the couch's back. His own bike was under a tarp, a sleek dark shape near the loading door. Heero's was near one of the workbenches. "Weren't you making adjustments to your cylinders?"

"Hai. I might work on it tomorrow morning. We can go to the track in the afternoon. If you don't mind the competition."

Wufei snorted as he got up and tossed the sandwich in the bin with spot-on precision. "In your dreams, Yuy. Stick to Gundams."

A soupy brown mess pressed against the transparent sides of the vegetable drawer was probably the remains of bean sprouts. They tended to go off after three days, let alone two weeks. Wufei glared at the mess, leaning on the open fridge door. Damn Une. If she would do her job correctly, they'd have a bit more advance warning before a small fire became a raging inferno. He swallowed half a bottle of water - his nap had left him dry - and then bent to clean out the fridge, penance for his earlier moment of weakness.

"Need a hand?" Heero asked innocently, fingers firmly flying over the keys with no intention of stopping.

Wufei glared at the straight back at the counter behind him that seemed to be laughing at him. Don't rub it in, Yuy.

"You shouldn't buy fresh food," Heero said after the third thump of something landing in the bin.

"You like to eat it too," Wufei grumbled.

"It's a waste to have to throw it away though," Heero pointed out. Tappity-tappity-tappity-...

"You're right. Tell you what, I'll scrape it off the bottom of the fridge, slap it between two slices of bread and you can call it a sandwich."

Score: Chang.

The typing stuttered to a halt. "That sandwich - the one you took and then threw away - was perfectly nutritious," Heero groused but not very strongly. From the way the spam had browned at the edges, he'd not taken a bite out of it himself for a good ten minutes; they both knew Wufei had the better eye for those small details and had noticed.

Wufei made a quick tally of the fridge's remains. It didn't take very long at all, and there was nothing very appetizing. Take-out again.

"What do you want to eat tonight?" he asked his house-mate politely.

Heero shrugged. "You choose."

Wufei had already decided on Indonesian, he thought his taste buds could do with a bit of spiciness after the 'coffee', the sugary snacks from the dispenser at work, and that sandwich. Heero would not disagree, he never did. He didn't seem to care much what he ate. Though the box of horrible dry-rations skulking beside the kitchen counter had not been touched since Wufei had moved in.

Wufei took his bottle and sat back on the couch. He didn't bother with his book. He didn't have his glasses on him anyway, they were still in his bag.

His tunnel vision had cleared. He glanced around the converted workshop, assessing it automatically, though nothing had changed in their absence. It was still the same unattractive but practical box. In the three months since Wufei had moved in, however, a few traces of his presence now marred the coldly utilitarian room.

The biggest change was the living area, which Wufei had set up knowing that sooner or later he'd not be able to fend off Sally's pressure to visit. He could be very rude when he wanted to be, but an inborn sense of propriety drew a fine line which he could not cross. Whereas Heero just said 'no'.

The big beige couch stood out like a comfortable oasis in the purely functional room. There was a small table in front of it and a tall lamp to give him light while he read. He sat there from time to time, while Heero worked at the counter-top, endured his strenuous daily training, or busied himself in the tool shop. At first Heero had treated this area like a gap in his functional setup, an aberration. Recently he'd unbent enough to join Wufei on the wide couch on occasion, to flip through specification manuals or mechanics magazines.

There was a second stool at the counter, some additional plates and cutlery, proper food in the fridge, a sword stand holding his blade and two bokken...Wufei considered himself a guest here. Heero had refused to sub-let him the rooms on account of that being more trouble with local taxes than it was worth. Wufei bought the food and the furniture in payment, and kept the traces of his presence minimal.

The only spot of color in the room was the small house altar near the door on the left-hand side. It was a simple, flat wooden frame decorated with strips of red paper, holding an incense burner, a stone tablet with his family's name and a small jade dragon Wai had brought as a gift. Wufei had built it and set it up for his uncle's visit, a month after he moved in. He'd apologized to Heero; this was Yuy's home, the shrine was an imposition, but his uncle Wai was his only remaining family even if Wufei was no longer part of the clan, and this was a mark of respect towards the old man. Heero had not objected, and after Wai's visit the shrine hadn't come down. Shortly before the latest mission, Wufei had found a small bowl of rice placed in front of the incense burner, a pair of chopsticks planted in it indicating an offering. He'd wondered which of his many dead Heero was feeding. But he never asked.

Nothing had changed in their shared space during the two weeks of absence, of course. Heero's security was quite thorough. The only invader appeared to be a spider quietly weaving its web between two kitchen shelves. Wufei frowned at it.

"I'll call the cleaners tomorrow. No wait, it's Saturday. Isn't it?" He rubbed his eyes again.

"Yes."

"I'll call them Monday, assuming we're not off again." Wufei thought it was beholden of him to clean the place as well as take care of the food to repay the permanent invitation to stay, but he had never mastered housework, and had no intentions of starting. He'd never be able to do it up to Yuy's level of satisfaction anyway. He called in a local cleaning firm to do the job whenever he could, and then let Heero follow the poor employees around every step of the way with the soldier's usual paranoia, to make sure they didn't plant bugs or demolition charges while they dusted.

The cleaners, his uncle Wai, Sally Po, Lucrezia Noin, Brunswick the one time the guard had driven Wufei home...so many small invasions of a space that Heero thought of as his safe-house, a place no-one had entered until Wufei had shown up. If Heero minded he said nothing. Maybe he considered it the price to pay to have a partner who could keep up with him.

Wufei smiled fiercely at the innocent, soon-to-be-evicted spider. Gunshots echoed in his ears, adrenaline flickered in his tired body. Kinshasa had been...challenging. Infiltrating the heavily guarded compound, wiring the bomb to the bunker, taking out the patrols in total silence as dawn washed over the sky, the shout of alarm and the whine of bullets...Wufei's fist curled against his thigh. The man had been a head higher, twice his weight and about to pull the pin on a grenade. One blow had taken him out. Heero's brief nod of thanks glowed in Wufei’s mind. Nothing more than that curt gesture; it had been more than enough. That was how their partnership worked and it was perfect. Thoughts expanded through Wufei's tired mind like oil on the surface of a pool. In battle, they were...

"Really Chang, if I'd known you were that tired, I'd have sent you home hours ago."

Damn it all, his eyes had closed again of their own volition...

Score: Yuy.

In battle they were harmony and power, they were unstoppable. But once the bullets stopped flying, the mundane snared them; paperwork, obligations, interrogations, public relations, Une and Grecko, Peace... it drained the strength, deadened the warrior's edge. It was necessary and it was boring.

They fought back to back like brothers. But after the battle, they lived together like two male tigers in a very small cage. It kept the numbing boredom at bay.

"Try not to sleep now though or you'll be out of synch." Heero's voice had a touch of cool amusement rippling through its usual neutral tones. Then his eyes narrowed. "I guess I'll have to keep you up for a little while longer."

Wufei looked at Heero with a stir of horror and incredulity. "What... ?"

Heero stood slowly, closing the laptop with his eyes still on his partner. Wufei caught himself shrinking into the couch cushions. No way. No way! Two weeks of sleeping short shifts in flea motels where the chairs were more appealing than the beds, a whole day solid of breaking into a heavily fortified compound full of armed mercenaries, fighting, minor injuries, Heero had caught a shot on his flak jacket that bruised his left side over several ribs...Then forty eight hours of interrogating captives, sorting trouble, placating Internal Affairs who failed to understand why you couldn't enter a heavy duty bunker without blowing parts of it up...No fucking way!

Heero was five feet away and moving like a tiger

"Um..." But even if Wufei’s partner was, in fact, completely inhuman and was actually contemplating sex at this juncture, Wufei would be boiled in rice wine before he actually admitted he wasn't up to it. Of course his body would probably make that point for him. Humiliation now, or later? Damn!

Heero leaned over the couch, hands on either side of Wufei's head.

"I know a way we could both stay awake..."

"... Yuy..."

"Why don't we go..."

"I-..."

"...and work on my bike."

Oh. Oh, good one.

...Match: Yuy.

Wufei scowled, but it was half-hearted. He'd been the one to teach this different kind of sparring to Heero, so in a way the aptitude of the pupil reflected on the master. Or at least that's what he told himself to shore up his wounded pride.

Besides, he was only losing this badly because he was exhausted and his brain felt like a drained battery. Heero's slightly wistful half-smile reflected this. Oh, it was perfectly fair to take advantage of an opponent's weakness. Heero's superb stamina gave him an edge today. Tomorrow would be an entirely different matter and they both knew it.

"Good idea. I don't want you to have any excuse when I leave you eating my dirt on the track tomorrow," Wufei said lazily as he followed Heero to the tool shop. He blithely ignored the snort this earned him.

New match...

 

 

Wufei woke up with dawn sunlight pouring through the cracks of the blinds, decorating his small room with slices of gold. They fell on the big double bed, the bedside table, the small chest of drawers and wardrobe that were the only objects in his room. His study, an equally small room next door, was full of books and knick-knacks, but his bedroom was bare and sober.

He could hear Heero move around two doors down. Then, very faint, the sound of laptop keys clicking. Wufei shared his exasperation with the ceiling. Didn't the man have anything better to do? Oh well...

Waiting until the tapping was in full blast, Wufei popped into the bathroom and took a quick shower. Refreshed, he headed to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. He thought he heard the door open upstairs, Heero going to take his own shower maybe. If his partner needed anything from the main room, he'd wait until Wufei had left. They wouldn't even see each other until lunchtime at the earliest.

Tea in hand, Wufei went back to his room, leaving Heero the use of the main room if he wanted it. He sat down on his bed cross-legged, back straight against the wall a few inches from the window blind, and flipped through a magazine, reading the political editorials while he drank his tea and ate a ration bar.

Silence filled the house, bar the slightest hint of a tap of keys. Wufei breathed in, breathed out. He let the magazine fall from his hands, put his cup down on the bedside table, and slipped to the floor, onto the thin matting he'd placed in its center. He breathed again, feeling his chi travel through his body, cleansing. After weeks of constantly living, sleeping, eating, working with others - even if it was just Heero - the solitude revived him. He slipped into meditation like a seal into a deep pool of water. His center was easy to find these days.

Time ceased. The weeks of pressure faded, the tense boredom of long watches, the bursts of danger...It had been good. Those twenty four hours, poised on the edge, the two partners against a hundred or so mercenaries out to kill them; it had been very good. He pulled his meditation around him. Each memory was picked up, analyzed, then stored away and on to the next until there was nothing but the calm of a successful mission, the peace of a battle won, the contentment of being. He let the nothingness wash over him for a little while.

Now he was ready to deal with Heero...He'd felt his partner pace in front of his door once or twice. His meditation was deep, but old war instincts kept him aware of his surroundings on some level. Heero treated Wufei's personal time with respect, so whatever was bringing him up to Wufei's door to hesitate, listen and then leave again must be of the utmost importance.

"Come in."

Heero had been walking away for the second time. Wufei heard the steps hesitate, then return. His door opened.

"We're needed. Grecko called."

"Damn him, and may all his descendants be stupid and ugly," Wufei said conversationally as he stood, brushing himself off.

"Ian Thrace tried to kill himself last night," Heero stated indifferently.

"Who was the idiot who stopped him?"

"No-one. He can't tie a slipknot to save his life." Wufei gave Heero a long look but of course his partner had said that perfectly seriously.

"I guess you can be a bandit lord and organize your own private militia in peace time, yet still have some gaps in your education. He could have made a bit of an effort and spared us all the expense of shipping him off for years of trials and appeals in Mumbai," Wufei grumbled as he slipped out of the loose pants he slept in and hastily drew on his usual outfit of jeans and a Chinese tunic.

"That's the opinion of everyone in Ops. Unfortunately Internal Affairs know this. They launched an internal investigation as a matter of course. Grecko is holding the fort, but he needs us there to finish our reports-"

"And get ready to present a united front and a wrapped-up case, I get it." Wufei sighed. Well, they often went for a week or two without a fire, they'd have other days to catch up on their rest. "Let's go."

 

 

Ops center was an old building, hidden underground. Wufei didn't know what it had been used for previously. It was in Romefeller heartland and doted with interrogation rooms and cells, so he didn't really want to know. Sometimes, alone at night, when neon whined down its somber hallways and the ventilation groaned, screams seem to drift by, echoes behind the dank quiet.

Wufei stopped his contemplation of the ceiling - its cheap, stained paneling would drive an aesthete to suicide - and glanced at Grecko to see if the man's mouth had stopped moving yet.

"-now this, how do you expect Anthea to be able to sort this out, Yuy? You- I mean, you actually put 'bribes' in an expense report! We call them Investigative Expenses, Local Information Gathering operating costs, and we put them here-"

Wufei tuned the monotone out again. His eyes wandered over the gray walls, the kind of color you found in prisons. Not that anyone complained; they'd rather the budget go to flack jackets than coats of paint. Grecko was the senior manager of the Preventer's Intervention Division, but even his office looked like a badly kept broom closet; pipes and electrical cords running across the walls, cheap neon, the ugliest filing cabinets ever made, bolted to the wall for some reason...

"-you do remember that your credit line goes direct to the Division's account? We need to know everything you withdraw. Here, what's this? Oh, the explosives. We'll get to that later, but if you need to buy demolition charges you must put the expenses in this column, 'Ammunition and Ordnance', and-"

Wufei tried to keep his impatience in check. If only Une hadn't been at that meeting in New York. She was the one who normally took charge of their mission reports, and she went to the heart of the matter. She left the paperwork for them to finish later, and their meetings normally lasted ten minutes. Wufei rubbed his hands, distracted by the damp cold settling in his fingers. Foxwood claimed the air-conditioning in Ops had two settings; muggy and 'London at three on a drizzling winter morning'.

"And I know, Yuy, that Anthea has already told you this time and again, but you must fill in the travel reports or-"

There was a war going on. Screw Total Pacifism; this was an all-out battle, bloody and violent, no prisoners and no mercy. It was waged between Anthea Stenhelz and Heero Yuy.

Anthea was the...what was her title again? Wufei thought of her as the Bureaucrat in Chief and that suited her well enough. She was the terror of any agent who ever filed a form.

And then she met Heero Yuy.

When Heero had gained a partner, they both fell into the official slot of Field Agents and they had to deal with her. Wufei tended to go through paperwork hastily, filling it in as badly as he could get away with. When Anthea had rounded on him, he'd reminded himself that it was dishonorable to strike a woman, or force-feed her paper for that matter, and made the required corrections with ill grace.

Heero filled in the reports he saw as necessary with scrupulous exactitude.

The ones he saw as unnecessary, he scribbled 'Irrelevant' across the top and filed in the bin.

Whatever Wufei's faults, it had been his partner who had become Anthea's chew toy. But if she thought she'd be able to nag him into obedience...The first day, he'd made her angry. The second day, he'd made her cry. The third day he ripped up a folder of paper three inches thick and shoved her out of the room in a confetti shower of mutilated forms. It went downhill after that. Two weeks later she'd made a formal complaint and discovered that she had a fervent admirer in Grecko, who was an excellent administrator himself, and happened to be Heero's superior.

Wufei cast a discreet glance at Heero. He looked just about ready to kill. Great. If only he could put that negative energy towards filling in the paperwork. Or killing the Stenhelz woman. Grecko was harder to shake off than a pit-bull on a bone.

"Sir, Yuy can correct those forms later," he offered, for the third time. Everyone in the room knew this meant that Wufei would correct them for him.

"No, Agent Chang, we need to go through this properly or he'll never learn." Grecko pointed out. "Agent Yuy has to follow proper procedures in order to-"

In theory every agent did his own reports and forms, and was accountable for them. In practice, Wufei insisted Heero fill in all the important reports while he took care of the trivia with gritted teeth. Unfortunately they'd not had time to do this today, they'd been too busy looking into important matters to worry about who did which bit properly. Or improperly, in Heero's case. Damn it, why had Yuy brought the forms with him to Grecko's office? Wufei had told him he'd go over them later. They were both busy, but he'd have managed it. The way the Division Manager was going on now, they'd be stuck in this fridge of an office until their retirement!

Wufei didn't mind Grecko that much, normally. The man was a miracle maker and dedicated to peace. He had no family, no hobbies, he spent most of his waking hours in the office, pooling their forces and resources to put out blazes as far away as Mars. Though he only fought with pen and phone, he was a good deal tougher than he looked. Wufei would rather die ten deaths than do that job, but he understood its importance. Heero saw Grecko as a hindrance on par with something he used to crush with his Gundam, but Wufei saw him as a necessary evil that he tolerated.

"Can we move on?" Wufei asked sharply, feeling his patience running a little thin. Okay, he'd be the first to admit that Heero and paperwork got along like ten tons of hydrogen fuel and a match, but the Preventers had the perfect weapon at their disposal, maybe they shouldn't be blunting it on paper. Une always let Wufei discreetly deal with the necessary admin duties, they had an understanding on that. Damn the woman for being away.

Grecko blinked his watery green eyes - if there was a face built for glasses, Grecko had it, but his vision was 20/20, strangely enough. His oval head, small nose and pale, papery skin seemed lost without a pair of specs, undefined and unfocused.

"Move on to what?" Grecko seemed surprised there might be something more important than Anthea and her forms. Office scuttlebutt was that he had a major crush on her. Wufei tried to rid his mind of that particular image. It was about as appealing as the mating habit of stick insects.

"There are some more leads that we need to explore." Wufei tried to unclench his jaw a bit, but his voice still sounded flat. "That Chilean mercenary we pulled in, Thrace's sergeant. Humbrild did a workup on him as a matter of course. She may have found something interesting. We think he's Syndicate. We need to-"

"You see, this is where a bit of forbearance on both your parts would have made things easier," Grecko complained, shuffling through papers. Wufei happened to know the man had photographic memory and a mind like a steel trap for facts. The paper was merely his comforter. He was telling off a couple of ex-Gundam pilots as if they'd been caught smoking behind the bicycle shed, he had to have something shielding him from that reality.

"What do you mean, Sir?" Heero's voice was soft and neutral.

"We need to review your procedural approach to downgrading the threat level of a target," Grecko said severely.

There was a moment of silence.

"You want us to put on kid gloves next time we attack a bunch of heavily armed militia?" Wufei finally translated, not quite believing his ears.

"Thrace's papers were in the bunker. The one you blew up," Grecko explained in a heavy tone of voice as if catering to heavy-handed brutes was a part of his job he didn't like much. "We might have lost a link to the Syndicate when you destroyed it."

"I hacked into his computer system beforehand," Heero replied, still so patient. "You have all the information he had. And there was no trace of a link to the Syndicate."

"He might not have kept it on his system," Grecko immediately countered. "He might have only had hard copies." His fingers riffled forms, pausing to wipe sadly at a coffee ring on one of Heero's.

"That would be ridiculously inefficient."

Wufei winced as Grecko bridled. Don't insult the paper, Yuy! We'll never get out of here.

"We interrogated Thrace," Wufei said quickly, trying to head off the lecture. "He said nothing about this. I'm certain he didn't know this man had links to the Syndicate, he'd have told us otherwise."

"Ah yes. The interrogation," Grecko said heavily and drew out yet another folder from the pile. "After what happened last night, Internal Affairs are all over it. We need to review your codes of conduct, gentlemen."

"We didn't lay a finger on him," Wufei snapped.

"Well, Oberwiller from Internals says that we may be on shaky ground on that. He doesn't see how Thrace cracked so quickly otherwise. You do know that threatening him with bodily harm is also an offense against the constitution, right, Chang? I mean, you do know our charter, right?"

Wufei rolled his eyes, mildly aggravated. But the armrest under Heero's hands suddenly gave an ominous creak.

"All our interrogations are recorded. Sir," Heero said softly.

"Yes, but you are an expert hacker, Yuy, and you happen to be the one who set up our backup and save procedure for all surveillance on base-"

Wufei stiffened in his chair, not quite sure he could believe what this insect had just insinuated.

"Are you accusing me of something?" Heero's voice was calm.

"Let's just say it’s shaky ground, Agents." Grecko flicked through his folder like it was a prayer wheel, again and again. "If Thrace lodges a complaint in the ESUN court, this could seriously jeopardize the proceedings against him -"

"He wouldn't dare." Heero shrugged dismissively.

"Ah you see, that's the kind of attitude that has Oberwiller all over my back! I know you're a fairly good agent, Yuy - "

Wufei's eyes widened. 'Fairly'?!

"- saying this for your own good as well as to insure the proper working of the Division. The codes of conduct are here for a reason. I know you are not used to following such a thing, but that's the difference between being a Preventer Agent and a - a -"

"Terrorist," Wufei said and he'd had enough. Fairly good? No one got to call his partner - or himself - 'fairly' anything. Especially not a pen-pushing reptile like Grecko!

He leaned forward, moving his chair towards Grecko's desk smoothly, putting his hands on the sacrosanct paperwork with deliberate slowness. Grecko's eyes flashed a warning that Wufei completely ignored. Behind him he heard Heero straighten up and lean forward, following his lead without question.

"I think - Sir - that you've made things quite clear," Wufei said conversationally with an undertone of steel. "We'll review our codes of conduct so that next time a weak piece of filth like Thrace decides to kill himself because he's going to rot in jail for the rest of his life, we will be absolutely blameless."

"Good," Grecko said, a bit uncertainly, his eyes flinching towards Heero. Wufei didn't need to turn around to know exactly what kind of look his partner had on his face. The kind that could freeze helium.

"We are perfectly aware of the charter - despite your insinuations. Sir." Wufei continued.

Grecko opened his mouth to slam that one down, but Heero abruptly pushed his chair back and stood up, and the administrator seemed to lose his train of thought.

"We will submit ourselves to a full review by Internal Affairs if you wish us to," Wufei added calmly. Behind him, Heero moved towards one of the walls, in a silence as deadly as a loaded gun. Wufei heard him pause and shuffle around in the corners as if looking for cameras that could record anything violent that might happen in the dank, gray office.

"What- Agent Yuy, sit down please." Grecko's eyes were darting between them, distracted, but his voice was firm.

"Is that what you wish us to do?"

"What-"

"We would have to run this past the Commander first," Wufei added, knowing that Une was the only thing Grecko feared more than a fire in the filing room, and that Heero and Wufei were her best agents - no goddamn 'fairly' about it!

Grecko licked his lips, but just as he was about to answer, Heero tapped the wall as if testing the soundproofing. "Er," Grecko said.

"Is that what you wish us to do, Sir?"

"Agent Yuy-"

"Yuy gets a bit tense in these kinds of situations," Wufei explained without turning around to check what his partner was doing; he didn't need to. "Your implications upset him. He takes his job very seriously. Sir." Behind him, he heard Heero try the doorknob thoughtfully, then fiddle with the lock.

"I-"

Wufei rose abruptly, leaning every so slightly forward. This distracted Grecko just as he was about to insist Heero sit down.

"So I take it we're clear on the codes of conduct violation," Wufei said in a voice as smooth as a knife. "What was the problem again?"

"I- well, the paperwork- it's quite-" Grecko showed his metal by sounding somewhat defiant still.

"This paperwork?" Wufei held the sheaf he'd picked up from Grecko's desk while the man had been distracted by Heero approaching slowly, like a tiger stalking a tethered lamb.

"Er-"

"We'll go and complete it now. Was that all?"

Heero stopped a hair's breath from Wufei's shoulder and they stood staring down at Grecko.

Ten seconds later they were out of the office.

"Well, that could have gone worse," Wufei muttered. "Sam, your turn."

Foxwood had been dozing on a chair. He jerked awake and the reports from the various teams he'd set on the field in Kinshasa cascaded to the floor.

"Bollocks! Oh-...Just gather them up and stuff them back in this folder, thanks, Yuy. You boys done already?" He stared at his watch. "No way! No way anybody gets out of The Gecko's office in less than half an hour when Oberwiller and Internal Affairs are on the warpath. What did you guys do, shoot him?" Sam sounded slightly hopeful. With reports and paperwork from four separate teams, he'd be there for the next three hours.

"No, it went fairly smoothly." Wufei smiled.

Heero stuffed the forms he'd picked up back into Sam's folder with a good deal more violence than they deserved. "He suggested we forced a confession out of Thrace and manipulated surveillance to-"

"Let it go, Yuy." Wufei sighed, rubbed his eyes. "I think we made our point."

Heero scowled, he was still angry. So was Wufei for that matter. 'Fairly good agent'...Pen pusher!

"What did you do, Chang?" Sam's voice was suddenly grave.

Wufei shrugged. "He seemed to doubt our interrogation techniques could wring a confession from Thrace in ten hours. So we gave him a sampler. He'll remember it when Internal Affairs ask him if we could get Thrace to break without compromising our charter."

Sam was grinning now, a dangerous smirk. "So you did the old Good Cop, Bad Cop routine on him, hm? Or rather, with you two, the Bad Cop, Worse Cop routine. Did he look convinced?"

"He's not popped out of his office to call you in yet, has he," Wufei said mildly.

"You do know that scoring points against your manager may not be the smartest thing in the interest of your promotion, right?" Sam looked like he already knew the answer.

"Remind me to care."

"I hear you, kid, I hear you. Go on, get out of here before he gets his courage back and hauls you over the coals again. Oh, just a sec."

Sam took two steps forward to stand in front of them, looked them both over with old, sharp eyes.

"I've heard back from my team leaders. Blowing up the bunker was a bit over the top, lads. I'm not too happy about the body count either. But if you two hadn't been there, I'd have lost some of my people for sure. So...you did your job. Take that home with you, and leave the goddamn paper here until tomorrow."

Wufei and Heero nodded, knowing that Sam's scrutiny was more thorough and demanding than Une's, Grecko's and Anthea's combined. Mission accomplished.

 

 

As he dropped his shoes by the door, Wufei tasted the silence that lingered around Heero since they'd left Ops. He glanced at his watch while Heero put down his laptop to shrug out of his jacket and take off his boots. Seven PM. That meant they'd been home for more than twenty four hours. And that meant-

Heero must have been deep in thought to have missed Wufei's first lunge. His partner stumbled with a gasp as Wufei gave him a savage shove, and barely righted himself on the springboard floor of the training area.

"What-"

Wufei walked slowly forward, flexing fingers and arms.

"You walked right into that one, Yuy," he murmured.

Heero opened his mouth, then realized Wufei wasn't talking about the attack just now.

"We did the job." The voice was as flexible as Gundanium slabs. "We took down Thrace and his mercenaries. We even found a lead to the Syndicate that Barton's been chasing for months now-"

"And we just spent way too long going over trivial details instead of those important facts." Wufei lunged on the last word. A light probing attack at chest height - Heero blocked it with crossed arms, but made no move to retaliate. He was glaring, wanting to protest.

"Don't give me that look." Wufei's other fist came low. Heero dropped his right arm to intercept, raised the left to defend - and then twisted out of the way of a swift kick aimed at his ankles. "What, can't you admit that you're not perfect in one area of your job?" Hardly the most important area by a very long shot, but Wufei knew that Heero would not accept any failing. He kept his voice steady, probing as much as his attacks.

Finally a flicker of true anger and Heero retaliated. "I filled in the forms that were relevant!" His fist lashed out, butting aside Wufei's light punch to reach for a shoulder to grab, spin his partner into a block. Wufei evaded lazily, noting the slight hitch in the movement as Heero pulled the muscles over his bruised ribs.

"That's not the point, Yuy." He spun into his parry and lashed out at Heero's ankles again. He followed through with a backhanded elbow towards that weakened side as Heero took a step out of the way.

"They should just let us do our job!" Heero snarled, blocking the elbow, a solid smack against his open palm. He feinted before hammering a fist towards Wufei's stomach.

"This is our job!" Wufei shouted, catching the fist and pinioning it, glaring at his partner. "We're not terrorists any more. We are accountable! You said so yourself!"

"And my mission reports reflect that!" Heero tore his wrist away, took a step back.

"Yes, it's all the rest that has Stenhelz up in arms!" Wufei moved, keeping the distance between them constant, violating Heero's personal space and daring him to retaliate.

"Fuck her!" A fist flashed towards his jaw.

"Why Yuy, I didn't know you liked her that much," Wufei purred as he batted the hasty blow aside.

Blue eyes widened - Wufei used the distraction and every ounce of his skill and strength to move right into his partner's guard, grab him by the arm, throw him over his hip and pin him to the ground.

For a split second, the cold mask slipped.

This was why...This was why they sparred, physically and verbally. Why Wufei kept probing Heero's stony facade, like a fencer trying to score a touch. It kept them on the edge where they thrived, it relieved the pressure, the aggression...But it was also - in a fleeting moment of surprise - to see past the great warrior who allowed Wufei to fight by his side, to catch a glimpse of the young man he lived with instead. Sometimes, when the touch was particularly good, or amusing, sometimes he even caught a hint of a real smile...

The moment passed almost instantly, followed by a few tense seconds of snarling, squirming in-fighting. They sparred on an almost daily basis when they weren't on missions. They had both continued to improve, and they knew each other's styles. Wufei had the tactical advantage however, and used his weight to override his partner's greater strength. Heero tested the hold with a few savage jerks then stopped moving.

"You're slipping, Yuy," Wufei murmured, trying to catch his breath. "Even Anthea could throw you, and she just might do so if she gets your forms back in their present condition."

That got him a look he knew well, one he remembered from the war; he could feel his eyebrows frizzle.

"I could break her with two fingers. The woman doesn't have a muscle in her body."

"Oh trust me, her tongue is on steroids. But if you lose your grip with her one more time, Grecko will put you on charges."

"Let him," Heero ground out and twisted in the hold.

"No, Yuy." Wufei slammed the wrists he was holding on the matting with a snarl. "Let me. For the last time, let me fill in the goddamn paperwork and stop butting your head against an immovable object! I know your skull is denser than Gundanium, but why don't you let me -"

"You hate that shit too!"

"Yes, but I can stand it." Let me do this. I can't always measure up to you, but I can be the bridge between a perfect warrior and a world that cannot understand that level of purity.

Wufei relinquished his hold and stood up in one fluid movement, taking a few cautious steps back. Heero sat up, then drew his feet under him. But he didn't leap to the attack. Wufei balanced on the balls of his feet, waiting; they had some frustration to burn off, not to mention the adrenaline in which they'd stewed for the past few weeks-

Heero's eyes were luminous in the fading twilight gathering at the windows. They raked his frame up and down. He wasn't looking for a fight. Wufei shivered as if the look had been two rough hands pinning his body, kneading his skin.

Ah...

Another unwritten ritual that allowed two territorial beasts to live together. Nothing ever happened during a mission. This was part of their downtime; the chance to sleep somewhere safe, the respite, the few hours of solitude, the play sparring...and this. Sometimes, if the mission had been short and dangerous, they didn't even make it to the bedroom; it would end up with a savage screw against a wall. But most of the time they did this properly.

The bed creaked as two bodies landed on it in a tangle. There was a moment of squirming that was almost as vicious as the sparring downstairs. It quickly resolved itself. If Heero had been solely in charge, they would take turns on top, it would be rigorous and logical. Since Wufei was involved, it was neither. Another rule, another habit; Heero asked - with his eyes, with his body- Wufei acquiesced, and then all the minor victories and defeats, the touches and the sparring and the need would be tallied. The shudo, the mating of samurai, the 'way'. The winner took the loser, in a battle of every moment between them. Their way.

Heero glared up at Wufei, then conceded, relaxing slightly against the covers. Wufei smirked and lifted the shirt from his partner. Heero shook his head as chocolate locks fell into his eyes, then squirmed out of his pants as Wufei rummaged in the bedside table drawer for the tube of lubricant and the towels he prosaically kept there for these occasions. Wufei turned to find a naked body like a Greek sculptor's dream, lying back on his bed, a pair of blue eyes practically ripping his clothes off. The shudder ran up and down his body again.

His clothes on the floor, he knelt over that perfect body. A clink of metal on metal, annoying-...Two sets of dog tags landed together on the bedside table and Wufei leaned in again, shoving Heero back, his hands gliding roughly over skin. Wufei didn't mind being taken. He'd gotten used to it, sometimes he even enjoyed it, though that knowledge stayed deep within his mind where he didn't have to look at it. But this...the privilege to be moving into Heero's body, feel those muscles shiver and convulse under his touch...It was definitely worth all the battles just to feel himself encased and caressed and held and trusted...

Heero made a move of impatience against the covers and Wufei quickly squeezed out some lube and hurried through the preparations. They mated like tigers; no need for foreplay or for tenderness afterwards. Yuy wanted it efficient - as well as hot and rough, Wufei thought with a throb of lust that seemed to turn his spine into molten metal and burn in his loins. Wufei didn't want any hint of affection to snare him and confuse him either.

Afterwards...

Wufei drove into the body beneath his. Each pulse ripping sweat and pleasure from his skin.

Heero's hands left welts on his shoulder and hip. Slamming them together. Heero could get screwed in ways that made many a tyrant look like a submissive cur.

Afterwards...

Wufei tore away from the teeth and the mouth that were searing like acid burns all over his neck and shoulders. He stared down at blue eyes losing focus, parted lips suddenly delicate...The fingers on his hip were beyond bruising.

They dropped a hand to Heero's erection at the same time, both feeling the end coiling like snakes through Wufei's muscles, gathering in the deep, hard invasions of the body tightening below his. Wufei ripped Heero's hand away. He wanted to feel the hardness of desire beneath his own fingers. He wanted to tear that small loss of control out of his partner's flesh himself. Heero snarled in silence and punished his shoulders. Wufei smiled in fierce triumph as blue eyes widened, breath caught. His heart hammered. His hand twisted and squeezed.

Heero hissed. An unconscious noise. As if trying to subdue the pleasure shaking him, spilling over Wufei's fingers. The shock went through Wufei’s body like concussive impacts and caught him as he pushed forward one-...last-...

"Ah!" He ripped away from the hands clutching him. Welts on his shoulder and down his chest. Tightness and waves of motion around his erection liquefying him into pure bliss.

Pleasure pulsed through him. Counterpoint to ragged breathing, pounding heart. The echoes faded slowly, left him gasping and shaking.

He raised a hand - a rather sticky hand. He grimaced and raised the other hand instead, to wipe away the sweat that was edging over his brow to trickle into his eye. Heero was panting; a tickle of breath stirred the strands of Wufei’s hair that had twisted loose of their tight thong. Wufei's breathing was harsh and irregular too; their chi met and melded between sated bodies. Wufei felt the final pool of tension accumulated in the past two weeks trickle away.

Contentment. He normally shied from it, but this was its moment. Their strict way allowed it, just for a while. This was the moment he'd withdraw from Heero with a pang of regret. He'd let himself sink to his partner's side and, almost lazily, wipe away the traces of a human desire from the hard, unrelenting body, and at this point in time, Heero would let him. For a while.

Afterwards...

Heero lay still, also resting in the unaccustomed nearness he normally refused. They didn't speak - sometimes they did, inconsequential words; the sound of another human voice near their ear while their defenses were down was a rare, strangely precious thing. Today they lay in silence for a few minutes, inches apart, and listened to the slight drizzle of an early summer shower start to tap against the metal roof not far above their heads.

Heero stood and stretched. Wufei could be as rough as he liked - as rough as they both wanted him to be - it didn't seem to matter much to the way Heero moved afterwards. When J had built Wing to be well-nigh indestructible, he must have used the pilot as his template, Wufei reflected with a small, inner smile.

"I'll go in tomorrow at eight," he said abruptly, ending the moment.

"Very well. I'll try to get some information about the Syndicate from the Chilean," Heero answered as he gathered his clothes from the floor. "And I'll get in touch with Barton."

"He's in Corsica, isn't he? Undercover."

"I'll try his drop box then. He'll want any information we can get him."

"Yes." The yawn that followed caught Wufei off guard.

There was something like a mocking purr from Heero. "Did I tire you out?"

"No, it's the thought of dealing with Anthea tomorrow, as I try to explain to her why she needs a box for 'bribes' on her field expenses form."

Score, Chang.

Heero sneered and left. Wufei wriggled to get away from the small wet spot. His bed was quite big enough for him and for the frenzied sex they occasionally indulged in. If he listened carefully, he would soon hear the squeak of Heero's small bunk bed. They used Wufei's double bed to satisfy their carnal urges, but Heero never spent more time there than necessary. They were both too highly strung to sleep together and that was only one of the reasons.

Wufei's eyes fluttered close. He'd get up and shower and read a book in a while, before going back to the grind again tomorrow, but right now he was clutching at the strands of contentment and pleasure rippling lazily through his body.

He couldn't wait to be out in the field again, he suddenly realized. He absently rubbed one of the welts on his hip. A bruise was forming there. He smiled, satisfied. Now it would just be a matter of waiting for the next emergency, the next fire, and he and Heero would be out on the edge again. Thriving on their warrior's peace.

Chapter Text

"The lotus root may be severed, but its fibered threads are still connected"
--- Chinese proverb

 

Wufei shook himself. A splatter of water against the curtain sounded like a drum, a counterpoint to the trickle still dribbling from the shower head. He wiped his eyes and reached out blindly for a towel. It landed in his hand before he got as far as the rack.

"Thanks," he grunted. There was a muffled 'Hn' from his partner and the sound of a toothbrush resuming its work.

The towels were decadently soft and fluffy. Much better than the rather coarse ones they had back in their own small bathroom. Wufei rubbed the water clear of his face and found himself looking at an equally fluffy white bathrobe that sent all the alarm bells ringing in his mind.

"Are you sure this room is being paid for by the Minister's lot?" he grumbled.

"Yes," Heero said through toothpaste before grabbing a glass to rinse; a real glass, not the plastic tumbler they had back at the house.

"You'd better be right. Or Anthea will be going after our respective balls with a blunt spoon."

"Hn."

"Do you even know how much a room like this cost at a five-star hotel like this? Especially here, in Berlin central?"

Heero shrugged in complete indifference. Wufei rolled his eyes, slipped on the bathrobe and went to get his gear from the cupboard. He glanced at the clock in passing. 5 AM. They had to be down in thirty minutes to review the last security details.

Wufei put his uniform on the bed, glaring distastefully at the tie. This would be the first time he actually wore the thing. He slipped the bathrobe from his shoulders, shivering a bit in the cool air. The room was old and elegant, and seemed to stare at his nudity with a maiden aunt's disapproval. Wufei's eyes trailed over the walls decorated with woven satiny wallpaper, solid, expensive furniture, two double-beds. The latter at a respectable distance apart, fortunately for the sake of two very light sleepers. The sheets had been thick and soft, the mattress too, a bit too much so. Wufei stretched after slipping on and belting his pants, trying to work out a kink. He slipped his shirt over his shoulders and buttoned it up quickly, leaving the uniform jacket to one side for now.

Heero walked out of the bathroom; he hadn't even bothered with the second robe.

"Hurry up. Sanderson will have commandeered some food from the kitchen for us," Wufei told him. Heero went to get his own uniform in the cupboard, still without a word. Wufei's partner was never a chatterbox, but this was unusual even by his standards. Wufei shrugged mentally and put his carrier case on the bed, flicking it open with a practiced snap. He slipped on the shoulder holster and buckled it over his shirt, toyed with the tie. It wouldn't be very visible under a flak jacket, maybe he could skip it...

Heero grumbled indistinctly and Wufei glanced over. His partner was over by his bed fastening his pants, which, even to Wufei's eyes, looked a bit tight.

"Not worn your uniform in awhile, have you," he commented dryly. Heero grunted.

Wufei let his eyes roam over the familiar body. They had both grown in the past few months, now that they were no longer fettered by the chains of war. These days, they had the chance to rest well, eat well - mainly thanks to Wufei, who believed in vitamins that didn't come in a tube - and exercise well without straining themselves or being continuously injured. Their bodies were catching up for lost time, rushing towards a slightly delayed adulthood. Since the war Heero had grown a couple of inches, and his daily regimen of exercise, in conjunction with the aforementioned food and rest, meant that his muscles were finally having a chance to bulk out a bit. He was never going to be built like a door, in fact to the casual eye he still looked rather slender, but a pro could easily spot the growing muscles running through his arms, his thighs, his abdomen now circled a bit too tightly by his uniform pants. He was due to go up another size in clothing.

Wufei passed hands down his own chest after he tightened his holster, smoothing his shirt and tucking it into his belt. He was growing too, but it looked like he might have inherited his father's build; short, tough and wiry rather than muscular. Well, considering how he'd been able to sneak through a broken air-duct two weeks back to get around Mad Mundson before he blew them all to Hell in little bits, it was probably a good thing.

He distantly hoped Heero wouldn't grow much taller than him. Though he couldn't really imagine either of them as adults. As usual, the 'future' was the end of this mission and the start of the next.

A rap at the door made him pause as he was about to get his semi-automatic from the case. Heero frowned at him, puzzled, then put his back to the wall out of line of shot of the doorway. The soldier's paranoia was still as healthy as the rest of him.

"Yes?" Heero asked loudly. His fingers gripped the gun he'd kept under the thick hotel pillow. Wufei shook his head derisively, not for the first time; his partner seemed unable to sleep without that frickin' Glock in the bed with him. Pa-ra-noid. Not like Wufei, who kept his Luger on the bedside table like a reasonable human being.

"Breakfast, sir."

Wufei and Heero exchanged puzzled glances. "We didn't order anything."

"Says here, room 1045. Continental deluxe for two." The voice was muffled by the door, but sounded honest.

The partners exchanged another look, then Heero snapped: "It's a mistake. Take it away."

"Oh. Sorry to have bothered you, sir." They heard the wheels of a trolley creaking away.

Heero took two quick steps to his laptop sitting on a table by his bed and flicked the mouse to get rid of the screensaver - still the same dancing scythe Maxwell had installed ages ago. Apparently Maxwell had implanted a virus in Spacenet that sought out Heero's email and IP as soon as he contacted the database the pilots used to keep track of each other, and installed the screensaver on whatever machine Heero was using. Wufei thought it a rather extravagant effort to go through for so little, but it was somehow typical of their strange colleague.

"Yuy, it was just a mistake. Forget about it," he muttered before Heero could break into the hotel's computer system to see where that breakfast had come from.

Heero hesitated, then turned back to the bed to fit on his tie. He had a first-class scowl on his face. Wufei watched him carefully.

"What's wrong?"

He thought Heero would ignore him, but after a pause his partner scrubbed a hand through his messy bangs and grumbled, "I don't like these missions."

Wufei fumbled the charger he'd been checking. Heero didn't often express a like or dislike. Saying something like that about a mission...Wufei felt like drawing the curtains back to see if the sun was rising in the West this morning.

"Why not?"

"They're boring and they make me tense," Heero snapped, tightening his tie with a jerk.

"Yuy..." Wufei fished around, trying to figure this one out. "Not two weeks ago we were in an L2 slum, where even the rats would have mugged us for our shoe-laces, tracking down an insane bomber with four K's of semtex derivative and a death wish. Are you saying that watching a bunch of politicians fuss around is more stressful than that? I'll concede the boring," he added.

"Yes. The problem is, we had license to shoot Mundson, while we have to protect these VIPs."

"I'm glad you've mastered that distinction."

"Don't you start...Politicians seem unable to follow even basic safety procedures. The fools break away to speak to reporters or shake hands with members of the public. They always want low profile security and a full room, and they talk way too much."

"Well, yes, they-"

A knock on the door again, much softer than the first. Wufei and Heero stared at each other, and even Wufei reached for the Luger this time.

"Yes?" Heero was back in his previous position, where a shot through the door wouldn't nail him.

"Heero?"

There were three thunderous seconds of silence and then Wufei tossed the Luger down with a snort while Heero went to wrench the door open, after darting his palm over the spy-hole through force of habit.

"Relena? What the hell are you doing h- where's your escort?!"

"Escort?" The soft voice turned into a squeak and there was a rustle of skirt. Wufei imagined his partner jerking the Minister inside. "I left them by my door. This floor has security."

"Only standard hotel security!" Heero snapped. "They have waiters and maids wandering all over the place!"

"Uh, those are hotel staff." Relena appeared, propelled forward by a firm hand on her elbow, talking to Heero over her shoulder. "I'm sure they're not-" her words ended in a hiccup as she looked around and spotted Wufei.

"Minister." He rose and gave a minimal bow. The stupid woman was a VIP and he had to behave accordingly. When she did nothing more than stare at him with her mouth open, he sat back down and continued dismantling and checking the semi.

"Who-..." Relena cleared her throat and her voice was a lot more sophisticated, though still slightly off-pitch. "Um, Heero? Could you introduce us?"

Heero had dropped his gun on his bed and shrugged on his uniform jacket. "This is Chang Wufei, my partner."

"Oh. Oh right! Yes, I remember Lady Une mentioning him." Relena made it clear from her tone that she had not expected the partner to end up in the room she'd set aside for Heero. Wufei saw her eyes flash over the two beds. The two unmade beds. She visibly relaxed while he found himself tensing. Great start to the day.

"My, you're awfully young to be a Preventer," Relena said, and the Darlian charm was finally recovering from its shock; the smile she gave him was sweet and winning. Of course, what she'd just said wasn't going to win her any points. Out of the corner of his eye Wufei saw Heero scowl briefly as he stuffed his Glock in its back holster.

"We were never actually introduced, but I was the pilot of the Gundam 05, Shenlong," Wufei informed her.

"Oh!" Relena pinked, but then the smile that followed was more genuine. "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you. I should have, we did see each other on MO2, very briefly. We owe you so much. I am sorry."

She looked at him. Wufei found himself on the edge of fidgeting. She was gazing at him, Chang Wufei, as if he was the savior of the human race instead of a hound of battle and a multiple murderer. Wufei wanted to drop the semi and stand up and well, do something - preferably leave. She wasn't unpleasant - actually now that he looked at her up close instead of through news print he realized she was rather pretty - but the way she was looking at him made him fundamentally uneasy, as if he was passing himself off as something he was not.

The cornflower blue eyes turned towards their primary target. Wufei nearly breathed out in relief, and felt a slight pinch of compassion for the subtle tensing that only he would notice in Heero's shoulders as his partner became the recipient of that intense gaze. He suddenly began to understand why Heero could want to protect Relena with his life, fight a war for her, but not want to spend more than a few hours in her company, however nice and honestly friendly she was trying to be.

"Did you find the hotel room comfortable, Heero? Did you sleep well? I heard you got in late last night."

Heero shrugged. This didn't seem to discourage her. Well, she was used to it. "I got up early this morning hoping to see you. We've not had an occasion to chat for months! Er... how have you been?"

Wufei caught her gaze flicking over the room as if looking for something, and he put it together. No longer caught by the spotlight of her eyes, he felt a tiny surge of his usual cold temper; resenting the moment of discomfort he'd experienced. This woman should know better than to try to distract Yuy! Not only was that impossible, but he was also the head of the close security team that were reinforcing her regular bodyguards on this visit, after the very precise death-threat she'd received. Distracting him was not advisable.

"I apologize, Minister," he said coolly and Relena started a bit as she glanced back at him. His presence had apparently been forgotten. "We sent it back."

"W-what?" Relena pinked a bit again. Heero hadn't caught on yet, he was staring at Wufei, visibly puzzled.

"The breakfast. For two," Wufei said for his partner's benefit, though he continued to address the Minister. "We didn't know it was from you. We sent it back."

"Oh...oh, that's okay." Relena was downright flushed now.

"Relena, did you send that?" Heero snapped. Relena turned back to him but, to her credit, didn't flinch or fall back. Wufei knew grown men who would dive for cover at that tone of voice from Heero. Well, Relena was probably used to that too. "You should know better. We would never eat anything that had been taken up to us unsupervised."

To us? Oh wake up and smell the coffee we sent back, Yuy. It wasn't 'for us', it was for you two. Oh well, he'd figure it out. Eventually. Wufei tuned out the excuses and the harsh explanations on security and such that followed, checking his barrel and putting his semi back together again with a quick and practiced movement. Relena's eyes kept darting towards the assembling weapon. If the rebirth of a gun was making the Peace proponent nervous, Wufei realized he could live with that. Besides, they really needed to get ready.

Heero knew it too. He interrupted Relena mid-sentence by grabbing her elbow again and hauling her to the door. "Chang, I'm walking the Minister back to her suite, be ready in five minutes."

"I'm ready now, Yuy," Wufei drawled. That got him a scowl too, then, with a last distressed squeak, Relena was pulled through the door and Wufei was alone.

 

 

Heero had been right; this was boring, Wufei reflected, yet also stressful.

Wufei had a better grasp of the politicians' thought process than his partner did; he realized that a death-threat was a distant thing, something that would follow them most of their career, whereas a photo opportunity with the charming, photogenic Minister Darlian was a much more immediate concern. It didn't help him be any more patient than Heero when some idiot tried to drag Relena near the window to get a better light for the picture, or had a genteel argument about changing his seat at the last minute because there was a breeze, or some fan broke through the security cordon for an autograph, not to mention the press's shenanigans. He could almost feel the tension radiating from his partner. If Heero had his way, the open debate and conference on the final abolition of world-wide frontiers would be held in a bunker, with the representatives in bullet-proof glass aquariums, and the guests listening to the speeches lying flat on their stomachs with their hands on their heads.

Sanderson and Tomoka nodded to them as they took their place on the other side of the low stage, giving him and Heero a ten-minute break. The partners cast one last look around the large, elegant hotel conference room before slipping into the wings. Waiters were moving among the tables with chilled water and fruit juice, and clearing up the breakfast buffet. A covered piano had been shoved off to one side of the stage. Relena was at the speaker's podium talking about something or other. Wufei had quickly tuned her out for the sake of his own sanity; he might believe in peace now, but as one who regularly shed his blood and shot people to defend it, the asinine generalities were giving him a headache.

He shrugged his flak jacket, trying to ease the rub at his neck, and put the bottle of water from his pack against his forehead briefly. It was hot in the conference room under the spots, if you were wearing a uniform and protective gear. He offered the bottle to Heero who shook his head without glancing at it.

"Let's go to the lounge," Wufei said after taking a drink. "I want to fill this up while we have the chance."

Silence.

"So did she persuade you to go to dinner with her tonight?" Wufei murmured. This was their break after all, and they were alone. A little sparring would relax them. At least it would certainly relax Wufei.

Heero stumbled. "How did you know she asked me to dinner?"

"I'm psychic," Wufei sneered, keeping his voice low as they passed behind the stage.

"I told her no, of course, but she insisted and said she'd ask me again later when I was in a better mood," Heero snapped sotto voce. "I don't know why she keeps doing this. Every time I guarded her previously, before you came back from University and we started getting proper missions, it was always the same thing. I always said no and she-" He bit down on the unusual flow of words as if suddenly annoyed by the whole subject, but Wufei caught a glance out of the corner of Heero's eyes.

Wufei was rather nonplussed. He thought his jab would lead to one of their little put-down matches, not a confession. If he didn't know better, he'd think Heero was asking him for his help and advice in the situation, in his own direct and charming way. Well Wufei had a bit more experience in this domain than Heero had, having to turn down giddy girls at University, but he thought Relena was probably a special case. He wasn't sure she was after Heero for romantic reasons, though that might be in the mix. But he thought there was something more...Security? Comfort? A link back to a time that was simpler, where she didn't have the weight of the world on her shoulders? The attention of somebody who treated her the same as he had during the war, well, minus the death-threats? Who wasn't impressed by her status, job and reputation?

"I don't know what she expects," Heero continued grumbling. "She looks at me like..." He lapsed into silence again. Yeah, I know, Wufei thought somberly, unable to put the feeling into words as well, but knowing exactly what Heero meant.

"I don't know-"

Wufei's bottle thunked against the floor. He had his semi out the next second.

Heero had flattened himself against the wall with his own weapon drawn purely on instinct, but his eyes on Wufei were confused. "What."

"Where's Emmet?" Wufei whispered, edging forward. The Preventer was one of their team, guarding the entrance to the backstage area of the conference room. He was not the kind to leave his post for anything unless relieved.

"K'so. Check." Heero turned and headed back toward the conference room at a silent, deadly run. Wufei poked a cautious head around the corner. Nothing was out place...at first glance. But Wufei had a very good eye for detail. He noticed a picture slightly askew on the wall Emmet had been leaning against when Wufei had last seen him an hour ago, before the conference started. No blood, but small signs of a disturbance. And, as he got nearer, a very slight smell in the air, scorched cloth and burnt hair. A tazer? Someone had gotten close enough to an old hand like Emmet to take him out. Someone whom he would not be immediately suspicious of - hotel staff?!

Wufei had spun on that flash of intuition when a shot rang out. Muffled screams. Doors being slammed. He ghosted back towards the conference room, leaned around the corner to the long hallway leading towards the stage. Heero was crouching at the other end of the hallway, at the room's entrance. Someone shouted, words indistinct to Wufei. Heero glanced back at him, one warning look, then stood and, semi pointing towards the ground, stepped out into the conference room.

Shit! Wufei couldn't see what was happening, but he could imagine. Someone must be threatening the VIPs. As he watched, Heero leaned forward slowly and slid his semi towards an unseen shooter.

Wufei turned, the hotel blueprint flashing through his mind. The mezzanine. It was cordoned off. The small nook near the high ceiling to the left of the stage would give him a good view and a shot. He thrust the semi back into its thigh holster and ripped open his flack jacket and uniform to dig out his Luger, preferring its precision to a lethal spread at this point. It wasn't regulations to carry it concealed, but that had never stopped him. He knew Heero had his Glock squirreled away as well, though he doubted his partner could draw it unless Wufei provided a distraction.

The guard, one of Relena's regulars, who had been on the door to the mezzanine was missing, of course. That left the three Preventers in the conference room itself, and Heero. All other personnel were positioned on the ground floor, as the VIPs had insisted they did not want high profile security. But these were teams who knew what they were doing, they had the area loosely under surveillance. Damn it all, how had the bastards managed to -

Shooter in the mezzanine.

Wufei darted back into the stairwell. The man hadn't turned. He was dressed in a waiter's uniform, with a short riffle pointing at the people below. Wufei leaned back against the wall, took a breath, stuck the Luger in his belt and drew his boot-knife.

His body remembered; every infiltration, alone against hundreds of armed and trigger-happy troops. Tread in silence. Move in shadow. Time your steps to your enemy's breathing. Erase your presence from his mind. Until you can-

One hand over the mouth. The blade stabbed into the base of the skull. His knife hand darted away from the hilt to catch the falling riffle. Wufei let himself fall back loosely, the jerking body toppling onto him to avoid it rattling against the floor. Warmth of blood on his chest. A smell he'd never forget and never get used to. A gurgle from the man's stomach as bowels clenched and then loosened. The body stilled and Wufei took his hand away from the mouth after he felt the last rattle tickle his fingers.

Leaning carefully over the edge of the mezzanine, he took in the view in one glance. Bad. He was opposite the wall where Heero was crouched, hands in the air, blue eyes flickering over the scene looking for an opening. Wufei lifted his head once more until Heero spotted him. Sanderson and Tomoka were on the ground, weapons thrown away. Dupont was lying on the floor near the main door to the conference room, probably downed by that earlier shot, in a small pool of blood from somewhere on her body; status unknown. The civilians were all on the ground, except for a few who'd been grabbed by the hostiles. He’d counted five. A quick glance confirmed it. And, most unfortunately, one of them - one of the waiters - was holding Relena in front of him with a gun to her head.

A flare of absolute anger. Just like OZ with the colonies: threatening the innocent to disarm the strong. In war, the weak didn't care about casualties. Heero had self-destructed to protect the colonies back then- the anger burned bright as Wufei saw his partner made helpless by a cowardly threat, fed by his worry for Heero and the sixty innocent people in the room who might get caught in the crossfire. Then all emotions were quickly suppressed by the warrior within.

Wufei bit his lip as the shooter holding Relena came into his sights. He could nail the guy but...it would be an unacceptable risk to the Minister. Damn it how-... the waiters had been checked. The other hostiles were dressed like civilians. How had they gotten weapons past the metal detectors?! If there were leaks in their own security, then he might not be able to rely on backup.

"You. Come here."

Wufei glanced over the balustrade again, puzzled. He had crept against the side of the mezzanine, so he couldn't be seen by any of the hostiles in the main part of the room. The man on the stage holding Relena was looking the other way. Another man was near Wufei's position, just below the mezzanine, holding a journalist to his chest, a gun to the man's jaw, but he was looking at the stage. It had been Heero they'd said that to.

Heero stood slowly, hands raised. Blue eyes flitted towards the gun he'd tossed away, towards the man holding Relena, towards the other enemies in the room. Wufei assessed the situation as Heero was doing. The conference table was thick oak, if Yuy could get Relena away, they could- no! Shit! Wufei's eyes widened in alarm as he got a better look at the gun the man was holding to Relena's head. A Desert Eagle, latest in line. That could put a bullet through just about anything in the conference room. Including, probably, their flak jackets.

"Come. Here." Wufei could see the man's face as it turned to follow Heero's movements. His partner had gotten nearer, but angled towards the front of the stage so that he was between Relena and some of the other weapons. The man holding Relena...his face was set and it didn't look like the face of a man who was intending to get out alive. Wufei had seen it before. He knew it well. He had a nasty feeling that Relena and the other VIPs were dead. Although if he was stupid enough to let a killer like Heero moving around the room instead of getting down on the floor there might still be a chance.

"Turn around." Heero stopped, a meter away from the man, way closer than Wufei would ever have let someone like Heero. His partner turned slowly, eyes flickering to the mezzanine as soon as he was facing in that direction, without alerting the others to Wufei's position. Wufei tensed, but there wasn't much he could do yet.

"Where's the other one! Has anybody seen him?" The man almost right beneath Wufei muttered, he sounded like he was talking into a comm. The journalist he was holding swallowed audibly.

"On your knees," the man holding Relena said. Heero stood still for a second then sank to his knees, raising his hands to lace his fingers at the back of his head. The man shifted Relena around a bit, to his left, and she was now completely between him and Wufei. She was pale but her face was calm and her eyes dry, and she twisted in his hold to face front with him. The man pressed his gun against her head warningly and her throat bent back as the grip around it tightened. Wufei's lips curled back in a silent snarl at the horrible angle for a head-shot, he'd never get the bastard like this without clipping Relena, at the very least.

"Did any of you see the other?! Paul? This is André! Come in!" the man below hissed.

"No," the man holding Relena said softly to Heero. "Get your hands away from your head. Put them - cross them at the wrist behind your back."

What-

No!

Wufei's finger tightened on the trigger, he had the man's shoulder in his sight, but he couldn't - the Eagle was at Relena's head - she was in the way of a fatal shot - Heero-

Heero's eyes flashed towards him as he put his hands behind his back. A warning. A message.

Finish the mission.

Relena made some noise of protest and moved against the loosening hold, eyes wide.

The killer smiled like a hanged man. And in one quick movement took his gun from Relena's head and put it against Heero's. Finger tightening on the trigger.

Relena twisted out of the loose hold and dropped her full weight onto the man's right arm.

The gun fired twice and Heero was hurled forward, crashing into the wooden floor.

Relena clear. The thought came after Wufei had already squeezed the trigger.

She screamed as the man's dead weight crashed into her. Head shot, one hostile down. Wufei was already firing at the man below him. Shoulder shot, head shot. A bullet slammed in the wall by his head. Mokota had grabbed the first man's Eagle and was covering Relena with his body; the crack of his bullets made the chandelier ching. Wufei hurled himself over the handrail and landed like a cat on the ground below. He rolled and came up firing, and threw himself behind a pillar. A bullet smacked into it, but then there were shouts at the door and the sound of running feet, and then nothing but sobs and screams for help.

Wufei broke cover and checked the room. No more hostiles. He spun towards Anderson and Mokota before heading towards the fire exit. "Get them moving." he barked over his shoulder. Mokota hauled a sobbing Relena to her feet, dragged her screaming away from the body that Wufei couldn't - finish the mission. Get the VIPs out. Mokota had Relena, Sanderson took the President of the Council and the Speaker and hustled them forward. Others followed. Wufei checked the fire escape as they gathered behind him. The ground below was clear; good thing they were only on the second floor. And local police officers were running up the alley, guns at a ready, heading for the fire escape to block off the shooters' possible escape route.

"Move, now," Wufei hissed, once he made sure the lieutenant in charge of the four-man police brigade had recognized his uniform. Sanderson and Mokota covered the VIPs with their bodies, eyes on the skylines, the ground, any hint of cover. Wufei followed them closely. A red-headed cop with a rugbyman build picked Relena up like a child as she staggered, and huddled over her as he started running towards the armored car at the end. The lieutenant turned towards Wufei to ask a question-

The alarm in the man's eyes saved his life. Wufei was on the ground before the shot echoed. The bullet spat up brick and dust as it hit the wall where his head had been. He twisted and brought his gun up. The officer had already fired, sending the shooter diving for cover behind a garbage container at the corner of two alleys some distance away. Wufei uncurled himself in one savage spring.

"Hey wait-" the officer shouted at his back. He ignored it. His gun was firing even as he threw himself behind an open fire door. A bullet rang against the thick metal, a wild shot.

"Come on! Come on!" A shout from further down the alley and the growl of a motorcycle. Wufei turned to the officer and mouthed 'cycle' at the man. The officer grabbed his comm, started ordering forces to surround the building if they weren't already. Wufei risked his head out and pulled back as a shot echoed through the alley.

"Come on!" The voice sounded desperate. British accent, he noted absently.

"Goddamn- we're still at war, motherfucker!" the shooter behind the container shouted and took off. Wufei risked a shot, but the man on the motorcycle had a shotgun pointed in his direction and he pulled back with a curse. The shooter had been one of the six in the conference room. The motorcyclist was a seventh. Not a huge force, unless there were others.

War? What the fuck did that mean?

Wufei stood as the whine of the cycle faded. Hopefully a barricade would be up by now. He brushed past the officer trying to ask him questions in a thick, Germanic accent. The armored car with Relena and the VIPs was already gone, Sanderson and Mokota with it.

The fire escape stairs clanged under Wufei's feet. A police officer asked him for his badge at the door and Wufei tore it off and nearly punched the man in the stomach with it as he burst back into the conference room.

The room was empty of civilians, though only a few minutes had elapsed; it was like a magician's trick. There were half a dozen armed men, Preventers, Relena's people and a few cops in their place. One was putting pressure on Dupont's shoulder, she was pale but conscious. Two others had their gun on a man on the floor, one of the shooters. He wasn't moving. At a glance, none of the civilians had been injured, or else they'd been mobile.

War...?

He made his way around overturned chairs, crushed glasses, dropped handbags and cameras, like a ghost of terrors past, heading for the stage and the two Berlin policemen leaning over-

...Alive?

He knelt next to Heero. Actually his knees had wobbled and near given out on him as he'd approached and heard the bubbling whisper of breath. Blood, frothy pink, on the lips but- Gods bless the creators of their flak jackets. He'd been told, without really paying attention, that they were wearing a new prototype coat. He'd only cared that it was tougher and lighter than the previous kind. He'd never thought to ask if it could resist two rounds from an Eagle at point blank range. Damn, that could have dented light armor plating.

"Yuy? Relena's safe. The VIPs made it out."

One of the cops said something. Wufei knew that the bullet's impact must have felt like a truck hitting Heero midriff. No wonder he was out cold. Still...he'd had to say it. Maybe it was for his own benefit. Relena was safe. Mission over. Now he had to get his injured partner to a safe-house.

Someone grabbed Wufei by the shoulder and jerked.

One second later, the paramedic was flat on the ground with the Luger in his face. Behind Wufei the cops both drew their weapons and yelled something. He realized they'd been talking to him for a while now; he hadn't really been paying attention.

"Sorry." He lifted the gun away from the paramedic, who just stared at him. The man's colleague glared at Wufei and knelt next to Heero, displacing one of the cops.

"Two bullets in the back," Wufei heard his own voice say, it sounded cold and exact. "Flak jacket took it, but I think it broke his -"

"Karl, get up! We have a lung wound here! And- go get a backboard!"

Wufei felt his battle-edge start to dissipate. Heero's face was pale. The breath dragged though his throat as if each one would be the last, but Wufei knew it sounded probably worse than it was. One bullet had impacted the back of the flack jacket, snapping some of Heero's ribs and sending bone plunging into his lung by the sound of it. The other one had hit him right over the spine. Wufei started to think like a Preventer again. A worried Preventer.

"Here." The paramedics were moving with quick efficiency. "Got it. Okay. Roll him."

"Be careful!" Wufei snarled, reacting to the sight of an IV. "He's insensitive to a lot of medication. Here." He reached past the medic and jerked Heero's dogtags from around his neck. "Scan this one. It'll tell you what you can use."

The medic took his PDA from his belt and used its inbuilt scanner on the tag. His eyebrows shot up at the result. "Gottverdamnt! We don't have any of this with us!"

"Then get him to a hospital that does," Wufei said through clenched teeth.

"Okay. Anamaria? What's our priority?" The man was talking into his comm. "We got a ride for him now. Creuz is taking the casualties. Let's go."

"I'm coming with you," Wufei snapped.

The paramedic seemed about to argue on principle, took one look at Wufei's face and changed his mind. "Ya ya, let's go."

 

 

"Are you the next of kin?"

"Well-"

"If not, tell the nurse where I can reach his family and please leave. You're not supposed to be here, this is pre-ops. Go to the emergency room for treatment."

"I- he doesn't have any family and I don't need treatment," Wufei snapped, resisting the urge to grab the surgeon by the collar and slam him against the wall a few times. "Look, we need to talk, I-"

"I need to get consent, if I can," the surgeon corrected him firmly. He was a man in his forties, wiry thin and stooped, with thinning light brown hair and a no-nonsense look of authority about him that made Wufei wonder if he hadn't been a military doctor at one point. The badge on his scrubs indicated his name was 'Helzman'. "Then I need you to leave. We have to get him prepped."

"You need me here for that, doctor," Wufei said. He was trying to keep his voice calm, but he could feel the seconds dripping through his fingers like blood. Heero had been shot over thirty minutes ago. He'd stabilized in the ambulance all by himself, much to the paramedics' amazement. Wufei had never felt more grateful for J's tinkering before. His partner had been whisked through the emergency room and up to pre-ops at record speed as a result. Wufei had managed to follow him up till now, but Helzman would be a definite obstacle. Wufei glanced at Heero's still form, on his side as nurses checked the restraint on his back keeping his spine and ribs from moving too much while they cut away the rest of his uniform.

Helzman looked up from the clipboard he'd been perusing as if amazed Wufei was still there. "What? Need you here?"

"Look, I'm a Preventer-"

"You are?" Helzman stared at Wufei, who suddenly remembered he had blood all over the chest of his flak jacket. No wonder Helzman had assumed he was another patient.

"Yes! I- I don't have my badge, I left it on the scene but- you!" One of the nurses around Heero started. "Look in the back pocket of his pants, you'll find his wallet. There will be a card with his ID and emergency contact details. It will have the number of Preventer HQ in Brussels. You can call our superior, Lady Une. She can confirm this."

"That's not the point, sir," Helzman snapped, letting the pages of the chart he was holding riffle back with a whisper. "You may be his colleague, but you should still wait in the hallway. Only family members are allowed in pre-ops, and then only until we start prep. We-"

"Look, I really need to talk to you-"

"No."

"Please," Wufei ground out. "We have to talk about what medical procedures you are going to use. He's-"

"I have all the details about his allergies to certain medication. As for medical details, you have no authority for that. Please remove yourself now, sir."

"Allergies are not the problem!"

"Rupert, Sicherheit anrufen." Helzman said over Wufei's shoulder to one of the nurses, who moved towards the interphone.

"No! I-" Wufei grabbed the surgeon by his scrubs and dragged him protesting out of earshot of the rest of the surgical team.

"This is not helping your friend! He needs immediate attention-" Helzman hissed, trying to break Wufei's hold.

"He's a Gundam pilot."

"-we need to operate while he's...what?"

"That's why he's resistant to a lot of drugs. And that's why you need me here. Now get Rupert to call off the hounds because my mood is bad enough as it is," Wufei growled.

Helzman was quick. His eyebrows shot up as he twisted to stare at Heero - who, still unconscious, actually looked all of sixteen for once, despite the blood and the pallor on his face. Then the surgeon's eyes twitched and riveted themselves on Wufei's face.

"That's right, so am I," Wufei added. "Now, you need to get Yuy sedated before-"

"I heard- I heard what those colonists did to you," Helzman stuttered, eyes wide. Wufei took a second to relate this to his own comment about Heero's drug resistance.

"Tell you what, doctor, once you've finished operating on my partner here, I'll sit down with you and have a long debate about ethics and the necessities of war. I could do with an intelligent conversation from someone who doesn't grunt or glare when I'm winning the argument. But right now -"

"Are you Wu F-Fei Chang?"

Helzman and Wufei turned towards the small nurse who'd been going through Heero's wallet. She was holding a card and looking at Wufei doubtfully.

"Yes I am, what-"

"Herr Doktor, he is next of kin," the nurse said, handing Heero's Preventer ID and contact details to Helzman.

"I am?" Of course, there was a Next Of Kin box on the Preventer emergency card. Wufei hadn't bothered to fill it in; since he was a minor, he expected his guardian, Uncle Wai, would take care of- Wufei recovered from his surprise and spun on Helzman. "There! That means I'm allowed to be here, as well as make medical decisions in his name, right?"

"You can stay until we start prepping him," Helzman corrected bitingly, reading the card with a dubious frown on his face. "And you're definitely not allowed to take his medical decisions. If he has no family, the hospital will take responsibility. Karina, go back and get Mr Yuy ready, I want him in there in ten minutes."

"If you're going to operate on Yuy, you're going to need me while you sedate him, and I want to scrub in and be in the theater so that -"

"What?!" He had Helzman's full attention again.

"Look, I happen to know how my partner - my friend - would want a spinal injury treated. I want to be on hand so I can tell you -"

"Absolutely out of the question!" The surgeon turned a fetching shade of purple.

"I know it's not procedure but-"

"You're damn right about that! I don't care if you were a Gun-mf!"

Wufei's hand muffled the end of the shout. Stay calm. Don't draw your gun or they will really have a reason to throw you out. If they do that...no. They'd call Une, or their physician back in Brussels. None of them would be able to make the kind of decision Heero would want regarding an injury that could potentially put him in a wheelchair. This was Wufei's responsibility.

"Call off security," Wufei said in a voice that was a lot calmer than he felt. He picked up the clipboard Helzman had dropped and grabbed one of the legal forms, ripping it from the clip and turning it over to get a blank sheet. He didn't look at the surgeon. Helzman hesitated. He could feel the man's eyes on his face but he didn't bother to look as he picked a pen out of the surgeon's breast-pocket. Helzman started, then slowly waved the two security guards hovering at Wufei's shoulder away.

Wufei scribbled quickly 'I, Heero Yuy, give authority to Chang Wufei to make all medical decisions on my behalf, signed, Chang Wufei, Heero Yuy'. He signed it with a scratch that made the pen bleed.

"Here." He stuck the mutilated form in front of Helzman's nose. "If I get him to sign this too, will that give me the right to call the shots on his treatment?"

"Well- but he's out cold!"

"We'll just see about that." Wufei grabbed a protesting Helzman by the front of his scrubs and dragged him to the gurney, stepping over cables and tubes. The three nurses were spreading betadine over Heero's chest and back, and inserting an IV in his ankle. They stepped back, uncertain. Wufei shoved Helzman against the wall, fairly gently, stuck the clipboard under one arm, then grabbed Heero's wrists.

"Yuy? Can you hear me?"

"I don't know what you expect," Helzman snapped. "He's got whiplash concussion from being hurled to the floor by point-blank shots-"

"Yuy?" Wufei gripped the wrists with one hand and tapped Heero's cheek with another. "Come on, snap out of it."

"- lung damage which we've barely patched up in the ER-"

"Yuy?"

"- possible spine trauma, several broken ribs-"

Wufei grabbed Heero's head by the hair and jerked it back. "Status, pilot!"

Good thing he was gripping Heero's wrists.

The clipboard went flying and Wufei almost followed as Heero jerked and wrenched one hand free. Wufei caught it as it tried to punch him blind. Heero rasped and wrenched it away again - goddamn it the son of a bitch was strong! The free hand flew up to his mouth.

"No- Yuy! Don't! You're-"

Heero coughed and gagged, but ripped the tube from his throat, and then made a spirited effort to roll off the gurney. It took Wufei a few heart-wrenching moments to immobilize his weakened partner without adding to his injuries. "Heero! It's me! Wufei! Calm down- safe! You're safe!"

Heero froze and then relaxed under his hands. Wufei blew a strand of loosened hair from his eyes and made sure Heero had something like recognition in his own before letting go.

"S...status..." Heero mumbled, breathing harsh and tortured.

"Safe. Relena's safe, mission's over, you're injured," Wufei shot out, leaning down to pick up the clipboard. "You took two rounds up close. Jacket stopped them. Damage to ribs, punctured lung - " blood was bubbling down Heero's chin again, damn it " - and back injury."

"...where..."

"Hospital. About to be operated on to patch the lung, get the bone shards out. You have a cracked vertebra and swelling in the spine, but they don't know how bad. Once they fix the lung they'll look into that, but -" Wufei stuffed the clipboard in Heero's lightly curled fist and fished around for the pen he'd stuck in his pocket. "Sign this. It gives me authority over your medical decisions. So I can tell them to take care of the spinal injury while you're still on the table." And tell them to take the risks needed to get it fixed. He knew enough about field medicine to know that a cautious surgeon would not want to strain a patient with an injury to a vital organ by spending hours working on a non-fatal back injury, preferring to leave the swelling to the care of anti-inflammatories and rest. But it was a precaution Heero didn't need, and a risk to his future mobility that neither partner would consider.

Heero's eyes tried to focus on him, then the clipboard. Wufei wondered how bad the concussion was. Then Heero painfully moved clipboard and pen together, Wufei steadying his hand, and Heero awkwardly scribbled something like his name across half the page.

"...can't...feel f-...fingers..." his words and breathing were torn and ragged, flecks of blood on the white of the paper.

"You got pretty beat up. But you can move them," Wufei said, then wished he hadn't. Heero didn't need this sugarcoated. "Doctor, is this enough?"

"We-we need to get him intubated again, his sats are dropping," Helzman said after picking his jaw up off the floor. He looked like he was trying hard to regroup behind an air of professionalism.

"Yeah, sorry about that, I should have seen that one coming," Wufei muttered. "But it if didn't happen now, it would have happened in a few minutes while you were prepping him and you'd have been in worse trouble. Now will you let me in the operating theater?"

"Well I-"

"...here..." Heero whispered. Wufei followed his gaze, reached out a long arm and dragged Helzman forward by the front of his already stretched and rumpled scrubs.

"Hey- let me go! Mr Yuy, I don't think you quite understand how serious your- urk!"

Wufei had released the scrubs and Helzman had leaned towards his patient only to find himself hauled nose to nose with the latter by a very similar grip.

"Do. What. He. Says," Heero said, voice wheezy and choked with blood but still deadly. Helzman nodded like a puppet with only one string until Wufei pulled him back.

"Okay, doctor, tube him-"

"I can't! He's conscious!"

"I told you he- he's not norm- he can control his cough and gag reflexes," Wufei ground out. "Get your people in here and let's get this done already! We've wasted enough time as it is! You've got the list of drugs you can use. I'll scrub and join you, hold him down while you anesthetize him. Yes I need to!" he cut Helzman's protests. "The last time he was put under, it was in an interrogation room. I'd have you cuff him to the table, but we don't have time to autoclave the restraints. I'm the next best thing if you don't want him killing your anesthesiologist while he's semi-conscious. Now can we do this?!"

Helzman looked suddenly older as he sighed. "Rupert, see if team A is ready. Make sure we get Iagerbrand for anesthesia. Karina, get me a tube kit."

"Are you sure?" Karina was staring at Wufei. So were the security guards still standing near the door.

"Yes. I think we're going to have to fly this one without radar or operating manual," Helzman muttered.

"MS corp medic? Alliance? OZ?" Wufei glanced up from where he'd grabbed Heero's wrists as he recognized the mobile suit lingo.

"Just a doctor, young man, just a doctor. Don't worry. I'll do my best. It'll be up to your friend to do the rest. You'd better be right about how tough he is."

"Doctor, I haven't told you the half of it yet."

Chapter Text

"To club a tiger, it takes blood brothers"
--- Taiwanese proverb

 

Wufei sat in the chair he'd bummed from the nurses' station, the beep of monitors punctuating his thoughts. In theory he wasn't allowed in post-ops, but after his help in the operating theater, he thought Helzman had warned the rest of the staff that both young men were something of a special case, and that, for the health of everyone concerned, Wufei should be allowed to do as he wished. As a result, he and Heero were as far away from the other patients as could be, stuck in a corner of the big recovery room, with a curtain half-drawn and the nurses with strict orders to leave them alone until summoned.

He knew the instant Heero came to, though his partner did not move and the monitors didn't get very excited about the fact. Wufei stood up and approached the bed with the caution required.

"Yuy? It's me, Chang. You're safe."

Heero was still for a few seconds, then he opened his eyes.

"Don't get agitated." The monitors beeped slowly and reprovingly at Wufei for making such a rash assumption about Heero's emotional state. Right. "You just got out of the operating theater - and you're wide awake a whole hour before they thought you would be, naturally. There wasn't-"

Heero had been staring at the ceiling, but suddenly he twisted sideways, away from Wufei.

"Yuy!"

Heero reached with practiced hand towards the monitor, unclipped a few wires, the ones connecting its alarm to the nurses' station, then -

"Goddamn it Yuy don't-"

Wufei tried to interfere, but he couldn't grab his injured partner and he couldn't quite reach the busy hands. The monitor recording air pressure and oxygenation data from the tube in Heero's throat gave an odd chuckle and then switched off.

"Yuy! You need that to-"

Heero had already pulled the tube out of his throat with a wrenching cough.

"Damn it! You-...fool! You'll rip your vocal cords out! You need that to breathe-"

Heero coughed and rasped, but the hand gesture was imperious as it flicked towards the respirator hooked to the oxygen outlet in the wall. Wufei gave him a glare that bounced right off hard blue eyes.

"Very well, sir!" Wufei snarled, jerking the mask from the wall and slipping it over his partner's head after checking the flow. "Anything else I can do for you? Sponge bath, maybe?"

Heero adjusted the strap on the mask, coughed some more. His mouth was gummy with dried blood. The look he gave Wufei was more than eloquent though. Try it and I'll break every bone in your wrist, and maybe a few in your arm too.

"Oh, you're going to be a joy to nurse back to health. I wish much happiness and fortune to our staff back in the Brussels clinic," Wufei growled. But he couldn't help a flicker of relief.

"When," Heero rasped, voice muffled by the mask.

"When? You'll be evacuated back to HQ as soon as you're stable."

"Stable now."

"Yes, I know, but the staff here aren't used to dealing with stubborn, indestructible hard-asses like you and will require a little more convincing. I expect they'll be glad to get rid of you sometime tomorrow, or possibly the next day."

"You said...Relena-"

"Safe and back in Sanq by now. Sam said she's been calling everyone from Une to the President of ESUN to be allowed to fly back here and sit around and hold your hand, but-"

"Sam?"

"In charge of the investigation. Yuy, you really shouldn't be talking this much. They patched up your lung, but you had quite a lot of damage -"

"Can move arms and legs but -" cough " - mobility compromised."

Wufei sighed. "Relax. And don't worry. There's still some swelling around your spinal cord, but they put in a shunt to reduce fluid buildup. No permanent damage, they think. And I know you're off the chart when it comes to healing anyway."

"Hostiles?"

"You know, if you don't shut up and rest, I'll just leave."

Heero gave him a look. No you won't. Wufei ground his teeth.

"One got away with the help of an accomplice. Three dead, one critical, one caught trying to get out of the hotel and in custody. We have some IDs. Two were local to Berlin, one of whom was a bona fide waiter at the Maxims." The one Wufei had killed in the mezzanine. "The other was a fake; he was the one holding Relena. Ex-OZ apparently. We think they were helped by others on the hotel staff, otherwise somebody would surely have noticed an addition to the roster. Plus someone put a loop on the cameras, and there was a false alarm that distracted some of the teams downstairs. Sam is heading interrogations. We're assuming the 'waiters' smuggled in weapons before the conference started. We're still not sure-"

Come. Here.

Where's the other one?!

We're still at war, motherfucker!

"We're still not sure what they wanted. They had exits planned and getaway vehicles, but...some of them weren't really expecting to get out of there alive."

Heero stared at him, but didn't ask any further questions. His breathing was still harsh, and lines of pain were starting to draw themselves around his eyes and mouth.

"Want...evac...now..."

"This place is okay. I'll keep watch. They're letting me call the shots now, after you nearly knocked their anesthesiologist on her ass while supposedly sedated." Heero's eyes were glazed but still twitching left and right. "I should get the doctor in here to check you, and keep him from flipping out when he realizes you've extubated yourself. I'll try to keep the nursing staff around you to a minimum."

Heero tried to speak but it came out in a rasp and he licked his lips. "They...make..." His voice faded to nothing but Wufei read the words. 'make...you...leave...'

"I'm staying right here."

Heero's lips moved again. '...you...'

"Don't worry about it. Just get some rest. I'll go get the doctor."

Wufei watched him as Heero's eyes closed and his body relaxed. Passed out again. He stayed by the bed, staring at the blood gumming Heero's lips beneath the mask. Then he looked around. Part of him was looking for Helzman or a nurse. The rest was just...looking. At the three other patients in the big recovery room; at the nurses quietly moving among them. At family members on the other side of the glass window, with only thoughts of their loved ones pulling through on their minds. At people moving around the hospital, trying to heal and get on with their lives.

In his mind's eye, he could see someone pulling a gun out and bringing all of this crashing down around their ears with one wayward shot.

'We're still at war'...screams...blood and overturned tables...the bend of Relena's neck, the gun against her temple...can't shoot without hitting her...the mission...helpless...still at war...

Wufei reached for the wall-phone nearby without really looking, punched a number.

"Operator? I need to be patched through to Preventer HQ here in Berlin. Chang Wufei, I'm in post-ops. That's right. Hello? This is Agent Chang, 342PID, Brussels. Can you patch this line through to a number I give you? It's a colony number. Yes, I'll hold, but hurry please."

 

 

Night was falling. Heero was in a private room, his vital statistics having remained so disgustingly stable the staff really had no excuse to keep him in ICU. Wufei was looking out the room's window at the lights coming on in the small green area surrounding the hospital. His arms were crossed on his chest and his fingers were tapping his biceps in a slow beat.

A sound from the bed made him turn. Heero stirred, then froze as pain woke up with him.

"I'm here," Wufei said as blue eyes, now more focused, flashed around the room.

"Hn." Heero coughed and frowned, shifting his oxygen mask.

"Want a drink? Nurses said you could have one when you came to."

He handed Heero a cup with a straw attachment when his partner nodded. Heero took a small sip and swished it around his mouth before swallowing with a grimace. He shook his head at the tube Wufei held up again; that small lag in his breathing had left him panting. Wufei put down the cup and picked up the papers clipped to a chart he'd set on the bedside table.

"Here. Sign this. Right of attorney for medical decisions." Wufei slipped the papers and a pen in Heero's hands, noting the grip was firm and steady.

Heero tried to focus on the page in the dim light shining on his monitors.

"...Didn't we already do this?" he rasped, "I thought I signed my release to you before-"

"You did. This is mine." Wufei leaned over and switched on the reading lamp.

" ...Oh."

Heero looked at the paper blankly. Wufei thought he knew how his partner felt; he'd been staring at the cream-colored hospital wall near Heero's bed with much the same dazed expression all afternoon.

"I never thought we'd need..." Heero's voice was a faint whisper.

"What, you thought I'd shoot you to keep you from falling into enemy hands?" Wufei asked, his voice more biting than he intended. "Despite what some may think...the war is over. We might actually make it to our majority. It came as a shock to me too," Wufei added in a mutter. It had. The biggest shock, the reason he was being sarcastic and cold right now, was the thought, every time he had looked at Heero's unconscious face today, that he might actually live to see the ripe old age of, say, thirty...alone. Though Une rather expected them to come back from their missions alive, their jobs were still dangerous.

The thought of being alone had never frightened him before; they had expected to die during the war, and the first to leave would not have had long to wait at the gates of Hell for the others to show up. Death had been such a constant, such a certitude; almost reassuring. The Peace hadn't changed that; Death clung to their every thought like scar tissue. It was why they could fill in a Next of Kin box but not think of a medical release...Wufei chased the thought from his mind bitterly. They'd been abruptly forced to move past that this morning, with a bullet that had missed propelling them into a future they might actually live to see. Oh, he knew that Death still dogged them. He'd filled in his own Next Of Kin card earlier that day, listening to its recipient's ragged breathing and the beep of monitors. But Death had spared them till now, amazingly enough. They shouldn't be counting on it. Especially if it could be avoided thanks to some stupid paperwork or other.

We're still at war...

No, we're not. It's time to stop thinking like we were. It's time to start looking out for little details like this.

Wufei didn't fear his death, but he didn't like the idea of living while losing his rival/partner, losing the edge that made life still worth living. Losing one of the few people who could understand that. From the look in Heero's eyes, in that one unguarded moment, he wasn't relishing the thought either. Though they were both uneasy with the concept of being each other's only family, the alternative was ugly enough to accept it without further posturing. This was also a necessary arrangement.

"We're idiots," Wufei said, breaking the moment as Heero handed him the signed paper. "We should have thought of this before. Here, sign this one too, it's a cleaned up version of the one you signed this morning. Without the illegible scrawl and the bloodstains. I'll have these notarized and put into the Spacenet database and Preventer files, we'll be covered in both Earth and Space from now on." He scribbled his own signature on the forms and put them away carefully.

Heero nodded as he sank back into the cushion. He was frowning, his eyes on the ceiling. Then they twitched towards Wufei's.

"Chang...what happened? How did he miss me? You couldn't shoot him with Relena in the way. The hostages-"

"There was interference," Wufei said as smoothly as possible. "It gave me the opportunity for a-"

Blue eyes narrowed. "What. Happened."

Wufei winced. So much for evasion. "You're recovering from severe trauma, you should-" Heero's glare had been unaffected by the lung injury. Wufei was immune by now, but he knew Heero would not let it rest. "...Relena managed to throw off his aim."

"Throw...his aim?"

Wufei rolled his eyes. "She dropped her weight on his weapon arm."

The deep indrawn breath whistled through Heero's lips and mask. "She...what?!"

"Yuy-"

"What-...suicidal-...foolish-"

"Breathe, Yuy. Calm down, it's over. It was instinct."

"I'll give her-...instinct!"

"She's back in Sanq-"

"Next time-...I see-"

"She saved your life. I don't know much about women, but I think you owe her dinner rather than a verbal thrashing."

Heero sagged back against the cushion, pale and visibly exhausted. "My life-...Mission-...She-...could-...have gotten..."

"I know. But she didn't. And it gave me the opportunity for a head-shot. We got her and all the other VIPs out safely." Mission accomplished.

"Hn. When can you get me...out of here?"

"Tomorrow afternoon, or the day after tomorrow."

"Why not now? Stable."

"The hospital won't release you. Anyway, Yuy...there's something-"

"Excuse me?"

Wufei turned towards the door. A doctor he didn't know was leaning in.

"You shouldn't be in here. It's past visiting hours."

"Doctor Mund gave me permission."

"But we're going to night shift." The doctor, Orwill according to his tag, came in and closed the door. "You've been here since this morning. And you're covered in blood as well! It's hardly hygienic for the patient."

Wufei frowned at his stiffened uniform. He'd discarded the flak jacket, but some of the blood had leaked through. "A friend was going to bring me a spare, but he forgot, he's been busy...Can I shower and change into scrubs?"

"No!" the doctor snapped. "You should go home and rest, anyway. Were you planning on staying here all night?"

"Yes, actually," Wufei said coolly.

"Out of the question, especially in that state. The patient needs to sleep." Orwill crossed his arms on his chest. "I must insist you leave. Herr General Direktor Mund did not give you permission to be here on a permanent basis."

Wufei hesitated. He'd rather thought the hospital's director had, but since the man had probably gone home by now, he couldn't confirm it. Wufei looked at the doctor carefully. The man stared back, hostile and resolute. Wufei glanced down at Heero, catching a vulnerable flicker in his expression before the mask settled once more. The body beneath the sheet was tense. Wufei would have liked a bit more time to talk things over with him, reassure him.

"Very well," Wufei said slowly. "Give me a minute."

He waited, but Orwill didn't look ready to leave. Wufei turned back towards the bed, angled his body and leaned towards Heero slightly. "I have to go, Yuy. There's something I have to do anyway."

Heero nodded. His body language was uneasy, even though it was almost trembling from the remnants of shock, anesthesia and exhaustion. He looked tired but not at all ready to let go and rest in such an unsecured location, and Wufei knew he'd be the same if the positions were reversed. The war was over, but old habits died even harder than Gundam pilots.

"I'll come back tomorrow morning," Wufei said, leaning and practically sitting on the bed. "The staff here are quite efficient and there is a security system and guards." He drew his Luger from its shoulder holster beneath his uniform and slipped it into Heero's hand, the movement masked from the doctor by his body. Blue eyes widened slightly. "Try to get some sleep." Wufei leaned forward as if to pat Heero's shoulder, and helped his partner slip the gun under the pillow, making sure Heero could reach up that far despite the injury to his ribs.

'Security on. Don't shoot nurse,' he mouthed. Heero smirked.

"I'll sleep okay, Chang," Heero replied, shifting his head a bit so it rested partly against hard metal.

"Sure. See you soon."

 

 

At ten PM, Doctor Orwill entered the room again. He picked up Heero's chart, flipped through it quickly with his eyes on the monitors beeping slowly, indicating that Heero was deeply asleep. Orwill stood still for a minute, then fumbled the chart back into its holder at the foot of the bed, went to poke his head out the door and nodded.

A man dressed as an intern came in. His brown hair was short and ragged, as if recently cropped but now growing out. His face was hard, thin jaw prominent with clamped teeth, making him look older than his late twenties.

"Keep an eye out," he grunted. Orwill hesitated, then cracked the door open an inch to see out in the empty hallway beyond.

The man walked slowly towards the bed, eyes narrowing at the young man's face on the pillow, pale in the darkness of the room. The dim night-light over the monitors added shadows to the wounded features under the oxygen mask. The man drew a magnum with a silencer fitted on the end from beneath his hospital coat.

"How do I stop the monitors from going off?" He didn't have to say why they would be going off.

Orwill swallowed, still looking out into the hallway. "I'm not sure. If I switch them off it will show up on the system."

"Hm. Too bad. Get ready to run back to the lounge and look innocent, Edwin. I'll find my own way out." He flicked the security off the gun, stopped near the head of the bed, and brought it to bear slowly, as if savoring the moment. He twisted at the sound behind him, a thump and a muffled choking noise from Orwill.

"Ed? Wass-"

The muzzle of Wufei's borrowed HK 4 touched him just at the edge between the cheekbone and the eye. "Gun. Down."

The man froze, staring at Wufei and a close-up of the gun in disbelief. Behind Wufei, Orwill choked again, trying to breathe through the punch to his solar plexus.

"How did you-"

"Gun."

The man's lips curled back in a snarl. He stood still, as if daring Wufei to shoot - then his eyes widened and he flinched as he felt the barrel of his silencer butted aside. He spun to see the Luger shoving his gun away. Then it was pointing straight at his head.

"I got it, Yuy," Wufei muttered, afraid his partner's fingers would spasm on the trigger. Heero's hand was shaking ever so slightly, though not enough to make the shot any less deadly. Wufei leaned forward and ripped the magnum from the would-be assassin. The man finally moved, tried to wrench away from Wufei's hold, but he wasn't very good at hand to hand; he found himself cuffed, hands behind his back, in fairly short order. Wufei threw him face first against a wall, kicked out the back of his legs to make him kneel, then picked up and cuffed Orwill and dropped him in the same position.

"What-what are you going to do with us?!" Orwill gasped, still breathless.

Wufei didn't answer. He went back to the window. The room was five stories up. Fortunately the hospital had decorative frontispieces at every story that had made the climb fairly easy in the darkness, and he'd broken the window latch earlier, long before he'd been kicked out of the room. He stood silhouetted against the faint light behind him and waved twice.

"Look...I don't know what you think you're doing but you can't just-...I just need to shout for help-..." Orwill's voice was trembling. The other man said nothing.

"Did you hurt anybody to get him in here?" Wufei asked without turning away from the window.

"Wass? N-no! We are not murderers!"

"That's what I thought. Shout and I will hurt you. It would be pretty easy to say that you were resisting arrest. Know what a bullet through the hand or the shoulder would do to your career, doctor?"

Orwill made a choking sound. Wufei went to take up the man's previous position by the door without adding anything.

The sound of a woman's heeled shoes clacked in the hallway outside. Orwill moved, then froze as Wufei drew back the hammer of the HK without turning around. Voices echoed from further down the hall, speaking English and German. The hum of air-conditioning, the beep of Heero's monitors...two light quick raps on the door. Wufei pointed the HK at it and knocked on the door with his other hand five times in quick succession.

The door opened and closed swiftly. In the dim light, a small figure moved slowly towards the bound men while holstering another HK in the back of his black jeans. On the bed, Heero's eyes widened as he recognized the new arrival, but he said nothing and the other's eyes stayed fixed on the two kneeling figures.

"Let's do this." Duo grabbed Orwill and spun him around on his knees with deceptive ease. "This the guy?" His voice was low but still pleasant. On the surface.

"No, he's a doctor here, he helped him in. But take his prints too, just to be sure."

"Hmm." A gloved finger lifted Orwill's badge thoughtfully, then drew a small reader from the pocket of the black jacket. Duo pressed several of Orwill's fingers against the glass surface of the reader, bending them roughly against the impairment of the restraints, heedless of the doctor's voiceless protests.

"Okay," he grunted as the reader confirmed the prints' storage. "Next." He grabbed the shooter's hands, still cuffed in the back, to find the man had balled them into fists.

Duo grabbed the man's shoulder and spun him around so violently the intern scrubs ripped at the shoulder seam. The man found himself staring at a dangerous smile.

"Steady, Scythe," Wufei murmured.

"Steady my ass," Duo whispered, the manic grin and the eyes still fixed on Heero's assailant. "We can do this two ways, buddy. The easy way..." wave of the scanner -

"...or my way." Shinigami concluded, a knife tapping the man on the wrist.

The attacker glared, but made up his mind quickly, looking away and relaxing his fingers. Duo sighed in obvious disappointment, his grin as sharp as the knife. A few beeps from the scanner and he stood up again.

"Were there others?" Wufei murmured.

"Yeah." Duo's smiled widened at the suddenly chagrined look from the attacker. "Two more in a car downstairs." Then a look came into his eyes as he fiddled with the blade; a look Wufei hadn't seen much even during the war. "Heavyarms, ah, took care of them. Sorry, Wing, but I've lost the taste for cold-blooded executions now that we're at peace."

Wufei rolled his eyes as a look of horror and hate warred in the man's eyes. "Scythe..."

"Wha-at?" Duo gave him a laboriously innocent look.

"Don't torture the prisoners. Heavyarms only took their prints and shouldn't have harmed them."

"Only because you told us to, Shenlong. Only because you told us to." Duo's smile was feral as he held the man's furious gaze. Then he spun, braid curving into the movement like a snake. "Sandrock has his guys ready, we'll be in touch."

He paused for a second at the foot of the bed. "Take care, buddy," was all he said. Heero nodded painfully, but Duo had already turned and was listening at the door. Satisfied, he gave Wufei a thumbs-up and slipped out as silently as nightfall.

Wufei listened at the door for a few minutes, then he turned and grabbed both men by the cuffed hands and heaved them to the small bathroom.

"You'll wait in here," he said, shoving them to the tiles. On second thought, he took a third pair of cuffs from the small bag he'd brought with him on his climb and had dumped in the tub while waiting. He fastened the shooter's cuffs to the sink's stand. Orwill he didn't bother with. "It's not comfortable, but I was able to stand it for a couple of hours, I'm sure you'll manage it too."

Door closed on Orwill's whimpered question and the killer's glare, Wufei sat down in the chair next to Heero's bed. He leaned back into it, stretched his legs and closed his eyes, settling in for another long wait with the patience born of long hours of meditation.

A few minutes passed, lulled by the slow beep of monitors and a few noises from the night staff outside.

"Chang?"

The voice was soft, and sounded thoughtful.

"Yes?"

"Why do I have a killer cuffed in my bathroom?"

"Seemed the best place to put him really. Avoid giving the nurse fits if she does a round."

"Chang?"

"Yes?"

"I still have a gun under my pillow so stop fucking around. Why haven't you called Sam yet? And what are the others up to?"

"There's something we have to deal with. Just rest, okay?"

"...They were after me from the start." It was an indifferent assertion. "Taking Relena hostage, invading the conference...threatening all those civilians...and it was just to get me."

'Just'? Wufei stared blankly at the ceiling, remembering the flicker of feeling that had made its way even through his warrior's focus as he saw the executioner put the gun against Heero's head. At the time there had only been...shock, a small reflex denial. Despite his habit of trying to self-destruct at regular intervals, Heero seemed so...invulnerable. Wufei had always assumed he'd be the first to die. That was all he'd felt with Heero kneeling on the ground with that gun to his head. The pain had started when Wufei had realized Heero was still alive and that life was a lot less simple than before. That small niggling worry was still with him, unwanted yet strangely a part of him already, and he doubted it would ever leave him; it was part of having a future again. He thought he would get used to it, eventually. He wouldn't let it hamper his performance.

"Don't let your head swell, they were after me too," he murmured, banishing the memory. "You just happened to be the one who walked into the trap first. Luckily for me, since I doubt Relena would have thrown herself on that gun for my sake."

"...She would have."

"She might have," Wufei conceded. "As it is, she was incidental, but handy for us; people will assume they were after her."

Heero grunted and dropped off to sleep with a suddenness that spoke of his exhaustion. Wufei hoped he'd get better soon; it was disconcerting having his partner so weakened.

Several hours passed. Apparently Helzman's instructions were followed because no nurses came in to check on the potentially dangerous patient. Heero slept, breath regular though still slightly labored as it pulled stitches and moved his sore ribcage, now patched together with the best bone sealant modern medicine could provide. Wufei watched the rise and fall of the sheet, a sliver of moon that briefly appear in the window's frame, the hypnotic dance of lines on the monitors...

Heero's bedside phone rang with the effect of a grenade going off. Wufei nearly knocked his chair over and Heero had the Luger out from under the pillow again. They both froze, Wufei trying to assess how awake his partner was before moving again. Heero's eyes were momentarily confused, but then he frowned in recognition. They both started as the phone rang again. Wufei, reasonably certain he wouldn't get shot now - it probably had been a bad idea leaving Heero with a gun - went to pick it up before a nurse could wonder why a phone was ringing at six in the morning when the hospital operator didn't allow calls to a visitor's room before nine. The hospital would probably not appreciate knowing how easily their phone system could be hacked.

"Shenlong," he said into the receiver.

He said nothing else, just listened. The person on the end talked for about ten minutes. Finally Wufei hung up without a word and glanced at his watch.

"Now are you going to tell me what's going on?" Heero's voice was getting back to its well-remembered tone of hard-edged detachment, but still betrayed some annoyance as Wufei elevated the end of his bed a bit and propped him up.

"No," Wufei said and turned before Heero could respond violently. He went to drag a dozing Orwill and a furious and cramped killer from the bathroom, and sat them both on the ground beneath the window.

"Doctor Edwin Orwill."

The doctor started and stared up at Wufei like a rabbit staring at a wolf.

"Your father was the pilot of the El Paso, an OZ MS carrier that was destroyed while bringing a cargo of dolls down to Earth. The convoy was attacked by a Gundam."

Orwill stared at him.

"Is that why you did this?"

Silence.

"In case you didn't know: this man here had nothing to do with that."

"He knows," the other man said with a cold smile. "But we'll get that pilot too sooner or later; he knows that."

"'That pilot' was here just earlier," Wufei murmured, eyes still fixed on Orwill. "He was the one who took your prints. The pilot of Deathscythe. Did you know that?"

Orwill continued to stare at him. His eyes were so wide they rimmed his irises with white, and his face was pale in the glimmer of morning sunlight from outside.

"You could have at least spat at him," Wufei commented with a shrug, then turned towards the other.

"Albert Ganz. You live in Düsseldorf. You used to work as a communication engineer for the Alliance. Your wife was a translator on General Noventa's staff. She got on the same plane as he did when they pretended to evacuate him from New Edwards."

Ganz glared at him, then slowly turned to stare at Heero on the bed. Heero's eyes were indifferent. Wufei knew he'd laid those ghosts to rest long before.

"This is not over. We will not let you get away with your crimes," Ganz whispered. "You can kill me; others will come. We're still at war. It doesn't end here."

"Well that remains to be seen. The other two men you left down in the car were Ernest Laus, from Basel, and Anthony Merristock from a borough of London. Laus is a hothead who believes the Gundam pilots work for a world-wide conspiracy that is trying to enslave Earth to some Colony think tank. Or... something. Merristock was part of the Libra's maintenance crew, most of his platoon went down with it. Right?" Ganz didn't answer him and Wufei hadn't expected him to.

Wufei took the television's remote from the windowsill. He keyed it on and moved aside so that both men could see it from where they were sitting. Orwill still had a dazed look in his eyes, but Ganz was frowning at the tube, puzzled. Wufei flicked it on and surfed around until he found a twenty-four hour news channel with countrywide coverage. They listened for a few minutes while the news presenter discussed the various economical problems in Germany and elsewhere after the latest proposal of free-trade between Earth and Colonies. Then some advertisements - Ganz was starting to shift restlessly - and the headlines. The attack by terrorists unknown on the conference in Berlin was discussed, photos of Relena flashed on the screen. Nothing new was actually said.

//Berlin was rocked by yet another shocking attack a few hours ago. A house in the suburbs of East Berlin was utterly destroyed in an explosion shortly after four this morning. Police say the explosion was of criminal origin. Neighbors said that armed men-//

Orwill's scream - muffled by Wufei's hand over his mouth - covered the next few sentences of the presentation as pictures of police tape and fire engines marring a residential area were shown. Ganz was staring at Wufei, eyes widening.

Wufei took his hand away when Orwill began to sob. Words in German and three names were tumbling over one another, each trying to rip the greater measure of grief from him. The uncaring voice of the presenter overrode his pain.

//-this second bombing, though smaller and confined to one apartment, was very similar to the one in Berlin. Since no-one has claimed responsibility for either, the police refuse to speculate whether these two blasts are related. They say gang activity might be involved.//

Ganz gasped. Orwill's panic had covered some of the journalist's comments but the camera had switched to a helicopter view of a low-rise building with one fire-scorched window, and the tag on the screen read Düsseldorf.

//An hour ago we learned of an explosion in Basel that may have had similarities to these two attacks. The German anti-terrorist forces are cooperating with their Swiss counterparts to determine whether this could have been the same group. News from Basel is sketchy at the moment, we will update this broadcast when-// Wufei switched it off.

"I suspect they won't mention it right away, but there is a small house burning in London tonight." Wufei's voice was distant, still looking blankly at the graying screen.

"You..." Ganz shook his head and cast a glance that was both angry and pitying at a collapsed Orwill. Then he looked up slowly at Wufei, face twisted and pale. "You...fucking...murderers..."

"Unarguably." Wufei put the remote down on the small table in the corner next to the window. Then he knelt in front of the men again.

"Orwill." He snapped his fingers in front of the man's glazed eyes a couple of times until the litany of names broke and the man focused on him, dazed. "Your wife and sons are alive. They were evacuated before the house was destroyed. So were your neighbors, to be on the safe side."

Orwill simply stared at him, mouth wide.

"Why should we believe you?!" Ganz hissed.

"Why should I lie?" Wufei answered, suddenly very tired. "The people living in the - whoa." He caught Orwill as the man slumped.

"Here." Heero tossed him a pillow from the bed. Wufei frowned reproachfully at him for the unwise movement that had visibly tightened his body with pain, but the look he got in return was uncaring. The mask was impenetrable once more.

After making Orwill comfortable, Wufei turned to Ganz. "We evacuated the people living in your apartment building as well, as they might have been harmed by the blast. They-"

"Why should I care?" Ganz said numbly. "I didn't know them. I don't have any more family for you to threaten."

"You knew them. Even if it was just arguing with the old lady in 4b because of the way her terrier always roamed the hallway outside your door-" Ganz's head whipped up to stare at him, "- or yelling at the neighbor's kids to shut up when they were playing outside your window. And you have an uncle and a young cousin living in Lucerne, and your wife had family in a little village north of Munz."

"Wha-...you didn't!" Ganz stared at him wildly.

"No, we didn't. This time."

"So what, this is a threat?"

"No. We don't do threats. It was reprisals; for Dupont, Emmet and the other cop you tazered, coshed and stuffed in a broom closet. For the innocent people you terrorized, held at gunpoint just to get at us, pistol-whipped to the ground, clipped with bullets on your escape. But we didn't kill anybody because you didn't. This time."

Ganz stared at him, hostile but unsure. Wufei sighed.

"It was you, wasn't it. You're the one who shot at me from behind the garbage container."

"I wanted the other one." Ganz stared venomously at Heero. "But the man who was killed in the conference room- one of the men who was killed. His younger brother was a cadet in that base you blew up. That kid was the only family André had left. I was thinking about him. I would have liked to have killed you for him."

"Fair enough," Wufei said with a shrug. "That's not what I wanted to talk about though. It's what you said. 'We're still at war.'"

"Yes. The Peacecraft bitch can say what she wants, we won't rest until we -"

"I found that rather amusing actually."

Ganz stared at him.

"You obviously have no concept of what the word means. Most civilians or support personnel don't; they just see the results, and they take it very personally sometimes. There were a couple of ex-soldiers among the ones I killed in the hotel yesterday. They could have told you how wrong you were.

"You aren't at war, Ganz. War is when you want something - revenge in your case, or possibly justice - badly enough where lives are of secondary importance. All that matters is to obtain what you want, and you're willing to pay the cost. All that matters to the other side in a war - since two sides are something of a necessity - is to make the cost high enough where you cannot afford it. The cost is counted in resources; weapons, money, human lives. That's war. If you were at war, you would not have attacked with five men. That was a needless waste of resources, since you were all ready and rather expecting to die. You'd have chosen one of your numbers, smuggled in two K of C-4 instead of guns, strapped it on him and had him walk up to Yuy and myself while we were guarding the VIPs. You'd have gotten us both for only one life that way. Of course there would have been casualties, but that's war, right?"

Ganz was staring at him defiantly. "So that's your answer. Any attack against you, and you'll-"

"You're not listening. I'm telling you what war is, and that you're obviously not at war, considering your actions up till now. And if you continue this way, you're quite free to attack us anytime."

"And you'll blow up our houses and our families if -"

"No. We will defend ourselves, but nothing more."

Ganz stared. Orwill, who'd come around, was looking at Wufei in glassy-eyed bewilderment.

"Personally, I don't care if you kill me in the pursuit of revenge. Actually there is a poetic justice there that I find somewhat...appealing. We were ready to die every day of the war and we are ready to die for its consequences every day for the rest of our lives. It was the cost of the war when we started it, and the price we are quite willing to pay. In a way we've all been dead since we were fifteen. So no, our lives are not that expensive.

"But never...ever...threaten innocents again in an effort to stalemate us.

"This is between us and whoever wants to take it out on our hides, for whatever satisfaction that will provide. But do not involve other people in this. You said you weren't murderers before, that's why you didn't kill any hospital staff to get here. Good. Continue like that. You are quite welcome to try to kill us. But don't start a war. Not with us. Trust me, we will find a way of making the cost too high for you. Maybe not for you, although I'm thinking you wouldn't want to see your wife's family dragged from their homes at midnight and shot. But we will attack your resources. Like him."

Orwill recoiled from the finger pointed at him.

"We are letting you go, in case you've not figured that out yet. Feel free to tell others what I've said. Or not. It doesn't matter. I know these things have a way of spreading anyway. Soon, people will know. It will be a rumor, a legend, something people will not quite believe in and not quite dare discount. It will be said that anybody who starts a war with us - the kind of war where it doesn't matter if innocent people get caught in the crossfire - will pay. Anybody who helps them - with information, weapons, or simply by looking the other way - will pay too; them, their families, their homes, their fucking pets. It's not fair, but it's war. There will be casualties on both sides."

Wufei released the cuffs. Ganz rubbed his wrists, red and white flesh, but stayed seated against the wall, eyes wide and dazed.

"You...you really would-"

"To stop this from escalating? To stop you from making it a massacre next time?"

"...I think you're bluffing..."

"Do you?"

Silence.

"Do you think this will stop us?" Ganz finally whispered.

"Who knows. It will stop some of you." Wufei shrugged. "The others...You'll find it difficult to infiltrate a conference room full of innocent people if no-one's willing to help you. You won't find someone willing to sell you a lot of weapons or explosives if they know who your target is. And they'll be asking from now on. They'll be on the lookout for such as you. The underworld and the black market know us well already. My friends have been very busy tonight. They've been making calls, seeing people. You'd be surprised how fast this kind of bad news can travel."

"...won't stop us..."

"Good for you. I admire a man of principles. Here." Wufei grabbed a notebook from his uniform breast-pocket, scribbled a number on it and stuffed the piece of paper into the recoiling Ganz' collar. "Here's my secured number in Brussels. If you or anyone else wants my life, just call me. I swear on my name that I will show up alone, armed with my gun, one spare charger and my sword. Anytime, any place you name, just somewhere far away from any innocent bystanders. Pass that offer on to anyone who might be interested. If you or those others get lucky enough to kill me, no reprisals will be taken against you or anyone you care about."

"I can be reached at the same number," Heero said suddenly from the bed. His voice made Ganz start.

"Now get out of here." Wufei stood up and moved between the two men and Heero.

Ganz stared at Heero, then Wufei. Orwill tried to get to his feet, staggered. Wufei caught his arm and held him until he was steady. The doctor gave him a look of incredulous horror and tore himself away, staggering towards the door.

Ganz got up more slowly. He stared at Heero again, for a few long seconds. Then he smiled. "See you soon then...'Wing'."

Heero simply nodded.

Ganz walked stiffly out of the room and Wufei closed the door after him. After five minutes listening to the noises in the hallway outside, he went to sit down in the chair, suddenly limp with exhaustion.

"Take a nap, Chang, you've been up for over twenty four hours. I'll take watch."

"You need rest, Yuy."

"I've been resting. Take an hour, I'll wake you." Heero patted the lump of the Luger beneath his pillow, an unconscious gesture. Wufei grunted and closed his eyes, memories of many catnaps sitting in Nataku's cabin coming back to him.

"So I'll be seeing Ganz again," Heero remarked, voice still indifferent, as Wufei settled.

Wufei snorted. "Hell no. I forgot to mention another rule to Ganz; you only get one shot at us. He's had his go. Barton is following him, and Winner put a tail on the others too when Barton released them. Let's see who they contact with my message. See if we can follow this one to the source. We're very curious to know how they found out you and I were going to be Relena's watchdogs yesterday; you've not been near her for awhile, and I can't think how they knew I'd be there. Our movements are kept secret."

"A leak?"

"From somewhere in Preventers. Maybe even our Division."

"Hn. But you meant what you told him."

"Yes." Wufei felt his lips go numb, his limbs were heavy. His voice drifted with a will of its own. "Ganz'll spread the word...before Barton reels him in and arrests him. He'll..." Wufei relaxed in the chair, head nodding. "He'll pass the message...no more war...civilians safe...They'll know...anytime, any place...Just me...and one gun...and..."

"But not alone."

It was the last words he heard before he drifted off. No, not alone. Not anymore. Medical release and next of kin, and 'Scythe', 'Heavyarms' and 'Sandrock' one phone call away. So that was the future...? Who'd have thought...

Chapter Text

"Married couples tell each other a thousand things without speech"
--- Chinese proverb

 

Wufei was a warrior. He would probably be so for the rest of his life. He slept with one eye open, one ear on alert, and a part of his brain always attuned to his environment. During missions, his sleep was light and fitful.

When he was in his room in the converted workshop, the 'safe- house', he slept better, knowing instinctively that, with Heero's security system and his partner's fine senses also on alert, he was Safe. His sleep was deeper, restful. The small part of his awareness that kept watch, even here, even now, analyzed all noises but rarely saw fit to wake him.

So he was aware of the steps coming up the stairs, but they didn't disturb him. Slower and heavier than normal; Heero was still hampered by his injury. But Wufei had grown used to the different tread in the three weeks his partner had been back and walking again. Way ahead of schedule of course, stupid doctors. Wufei had warned them, but they didn't listen...better off seeing a faith healer than those quacks...his thoughts drifted back into dreams as his brain processed the information without any fuss: Heero. Safe. Sleep on.

Whispers.

"So this door's to the master bedroom? Your room?"

"Hai."

Because he was Safe, the first words, in a voice that was not Heero's, did not make him bolt awake reaching for his weapon. Heero's voice further helped to keep him under; his partner would never allow anything like an enemy near Wufei while the latter was asleep.

Sound of a door opening.

"And this is the study. Cool."

Voice nearer...In his sleep, Wufei's brow wrinkled. His brain registered the voice approaching, though the only footsteps he could clearly hear were Heero's. Safe was one thing, but there were limits; his brain upped his awareness levels. Even in sleep, Wufei now had both ears pricked, seeking further information.

"Nice, nice. Ah, and this will be the spare bedroom then, right?"

"Wh-No!"

Several things hit him at once. The voice - at his door. But - familiar. Doorknob - turning.

Wufei was awake and staring at the door when it popped open. His fingers were on the Luger's hilt, but the familiarity of the voice kept him from snatching it from the bedside table and aiming.

"Oh- Ow!"

The figure outlined against the brief flash of light was hauled back on that last exclamation, accidentally jerking the door closed.

"Baka!" Heero's voice, a hiss. "Why did you- I told you Chang was sleeping upstairs!"

"Well...yeah. But I thought-...you said you had a master bedroom and a guest room, and I asked you if the room at the end was your room and you said yes..." The meanderings wound down into a shrug that Wufei could almost feel through the door.

"My room? What?"

Heero's voice indicated he was confused. Wufei, despite his brutal awakening, was not.

The owner of that unexpected voice had meant 'your room', as in, Wufei's and Heero's. He had assumed they slept together.

The rush of emotion in response to that thought was blurred by the sleep still clinging to the corners of his mind, but he was pretty sure he was annoyed.

There was a soft knock on the door. Wufei was already sitting up in bed, but didn't answer. No need to.

The door opened and a familiar tousled head was outlined against the light.

"Chang?" A whisper. "You awake?"

"What do you think?"

"Sorry."

"Yuy, what the fuck is Maxwell doing here?"

"It's complicated. Go back to sleep."

The door closed softly. Wufei stared at it.

"Hey, sorry man." A whisper in that oh-so-recognizable voice, somewhere near the stairwell. "I didn't realize...Say, where am I gonna sleep?"

"Couch," Heero growled softly.

"Oh. Well, okay. It looked comfortable-" the voice and footsteps faded down the stairs.

Wufei stared at the door, then shook his head once, violently. Unfortunately it appeared he was indeed already awake.

No way in hell was he going to back to sleep before finding out why Maxwell was setting up house on their couch.

He was dressed and coming down the stairs a few minutes later. His last hope it might have been an illusion born of exhaustion faded. Duo Maxwell was sitting at the counter, large as life, sipping the instant coffee Wufei and Heero kept for their rare guests.

"Wufei! Hey, sorry I woke you, buddy. Didn't know which room you were in." Duo waved at him cheerfully.

That's one way of putting it, Wufei thought darkly, still furious at Duo's blithe assumption about his relationship with Heero.

Heero had stood as soon as Wufei had come down the stairs, refilling the kettle and setting it to boil again. Duo's eyes, curious and alert, went from Heero's back to Wufei, who was hesitating at the counter.

"Use my stool," Heero said without turning around.

"Oh, sorry guys, didn't realize you only had the two. This yours, Fei? Here, siddown. Least I can do. Heero tells me you were out all last night, following a suspect?"

"Yes." All last night, and the night before. It was now early afternoon and he needed his sleep, but more than that, he needed to know what Duo was doing here. Maxwell's voice rang too loudly in the big, empty space of the workshop's floor. He was perched on the counter near the kettle now, finishing his coffee and giving Wufei his well-remembered grin, which was too bright and vibrant to bear after only four hours of sleep.

"Find anything good? Did the guy have loads of guilty secrets?"

"It was a woman, and no," Wufei muttered, rubbing his face, his interrupted sleep clinging like grime to his skin. Heero was still preparing the tea but his head suddenly tilted slightly, indicating he was listening; he'd done some hacking and ID checking on the case. It was to him Wufei was speaking as he continued, though he didn't look in his partner's direction. "Turned out to be a false lead. Armand's team came back with the contact, their tail tried to close the deal last night. All settled and passed on to ESUN services."

Heero nodded minutely. Duo, missing the whole silent part of the interchange between the partners, looked puzzled. Wufei didn't really care if he followed the conversation or not.

He nodded in thanks as Heero put a cup of tea in front of him before returning to his own stool with a protein blend drink from the fridge. Wufei took a sip, then another. Duo was beginning to fidget.

Feeling sufficiently awake to be able to cope, Wufei put down the tea. Heero immediately started talking.

"Maxwell is here to test the defenses of Ops Centre."

Wufei hesitated, his hand hovering over an apple in the basket on the counter. "Because you're out of commission?"

Heero nodded. He tried to break in to Ops every so often, to test their defenses. It wasn't a very serious attempt. The guards were warned he was coming. It was mainly a test of the wired security and computer system. But he still had to be physically able. And he wasn't quite up to that level just yet.

Heero's recovery, in the past four weeks since being shot, was nothing short of amazing, and had their clinic's head, Dr Hampton, completely flabbergasted...and his staff mightily relieved. In the few days Heero had spent in the Ops clinic, he'd been just about as impossible a patient as Wufei had expected. The bone-like alloy that had been injected into Heero's vertebra and ribs was even more solid than the skeletal structures it held together, so the fractures were no issue, but his muscles and nerves had been damaged by the shot and the surgery, and bed rest had been indicated for at least two weeks, followed by intense and thorough physiotherapy to regain lost mobility.

The so-called patient had rearranged his room in the clinic on the first day - all by himself, despite strict orders not to move - to get a better view of the doorway and have his back to the wall. He'd broken out of the clinic on the third night to filch some supplies and power tools from the mechanics division. The next day the staff had found a metal bar bolted across a corner of his room at head height, and Heero doing minimal pull-ups and stretching 'to keep his back muscles fit'. When a nurse changed his bed and found the Glock he'd stashed at the head of the mattress, Hampton had called in Wufei to 'help deal with it'. Wufei had pointed out that Heero would have to be a good deal more weakened than he was for Wufei to be able to disarm him. Hampton had stared at him as if they were both insane.

Finally, Heero had only spent five days in the clinic before being kicked out as being way too healthy for the staff to deal with. He had returned to the converted workshop and promptly ignored all appointments for physiotherapy, since he knew better than anyone the limits to which he could push his body and he wasn't going to stand for some worrywart physician telling him what he could and couldn't do. Wufei had wisely said nothing.

He was making tremendous progress but he wasn't up to breaking into Ops yet. But that didn't mean he had to call on Maxwell! Wufei looked at his partner from the corner of his eye. While Heero was recovering, Wufei had been doing a few solo missions or helping out other teams. Pretty boring work for the most part, but nonetheless necessary. He wasn't that busy though, he could have done the test in Heero's stead. The annoyance he'd felt since he'd woken up - been woken up actually - increased. Apparently his abilities to break into a stronghold were not comparable to the ‘perfect soldier's’.

Heero caught the loaded look with an even one of his own; he was probably used to Wufei's thought processes and his hyper-sensitivity to any suggestion that his skills were being disparaged.

"I would have asked Maxwell here even if I was fit," Heero's voice was neutral, but a minimal hand gesture told Wufei to calm down, he wasn't being taken lightly. "It's been a year since we set up Ops's defenses. I want to put them through a thorough run."

Wufei paused with the cup near his lips. "Thorough?"

"He wants me to crack the joint!" Duo chuckled, finally unable to contain himself. "Cold!"

The teacup rattled against the counter in alarm. "You don't mean-"

"It's the only viable test," Heero explained. "No warning of the personnel. Une is the only one who's been informed. Duo will go in knowing nothing of the system as it is set up, as if he were really trying to infiltrate the base."

Wufei's eyes were wide as he stared from Duo's grin to Heero's calm eyes. "He's going to get shot."

"Don't diss the man, Fei. They won't even see me!" Duo snorted.

"He'll be going in with a flack jacket, and strict orders to surrender if caught without trying anything stupid." Heero's eyes were like twin blow-torches, melting even Duo's indomitable grin a fraction.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Just remember to bail me out of jail, in the very unlikely event that happens." Duo sniffed.

"So, when are you going to do this insane stunt? Tonight?" Wufei asked, wondering where their couch came into the equation.

"Nah. 'Wing' said to go in cold, not blind. I'm tackling this like a regular job. First I case the joint. That'll take me one or two nights, depending on outer security. Then I'll probe, see how far I get. Then I get serious and-"

"How long are you going to be here?" Wufei interrupted. The skin of his neck felt like someone had pressed cold metal to it.

"Best guess, two weeks. Depends on how fast the final phase goes."

"Or if you get arrested on your first attempt," Heero murmured, finishing his protein drink.

"Not gonna happen, Yuy, not gonna happen."

Wufei barely heard their banter. Two weeks, or more, with Maxwell? That much time on a mission with Duo wouldn't be a problem, but...here? In their house? Something within Wufei reacted with an immediate No! and from the way Heero was slightly hunched over the empty bottle and watching him, he was rather expecting that reaction and not really looking forward to it.

"And you're planning on staying here the full duration of the mission? I mean, here with us?" Wufei's shoulders were tense as he glanced at Heero. His body language clearly said: Have you gone insane?!

"Huh-uh!" Duo said brightly. Heero caught Wufei's glance, and he let his fingers twitch away from the bottle, a little flick, and an eyebrow curved slightly. Wufei could read the gesture and the reasoning perfectly, as if Heero had actually said the words. Duo's doing me a favor here, what was I supposed to do? Tell him to fuck off?

"Ah." Wufei's nails rapped against the counter. Yes!

Heero's eyes hooded fractionally. Well you try then.

Fine! Wufei's back informed him as he twisted on his stool to fully face Duo. "You might be more comfortable staying in a hotel than on our couch. Une would cover the expenses."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Heero move languidly to lean his chin on his fist, body language contemptuous. He'd probably already tried that line of argument, and many others. Heero would be just as reluctant as Wufei to let someone stay in their sanctum for any length of time, especially someone as...overwhelming as Duo.

"Hey, no probs, Fei! I'm used to bunking out. And I hate being lonely! Couch is fine."

Wufei smiled tightly. "You'll be doing most of your work at night, right?"

"Unless you give all the guards really, really dark sunglasses, yeah."

"So you'll be here during the day, but Heero and I will be out of the house. You'll be alone, and we have no television or sound system to keep you from getting bored."

Duo blinked several times, while Heero suddenly relaxed, his eyes widening fractionally. He had not apparently thought of that particular line of attack. Wufei's smile broadened a hair's breath as Duo looked pained.

"...Damn, you guys living in a monastery or something? You're not going to get me up every day at four for morning prayers, right?"

Wufei saw Heero's eyebrow twitch a fraction. He looked like he wanted to say yes.

"Oh well, it'll be tough, but...I can watch the tube another day. It's so rare to see you guys! I'll stay here."

Wufei's cup trembled slightly as his fingers clenched, and he glanced reluctantly at Heero. But the latter didn't look smug. Strong shoulders slumped a bit. It was a good try...guess we're stuck though.

"You'll see, guys! We'll have loads of fun!"

The rather funereal response to his cheerful exclamation was, as usual, completely ignored.

The next few hours were, predictably enough, spent listening to Duo. That is, Wufei listened while idly finishing his report, and Heero ran some diagnostics on the Ops computer system, the lack of brutal 'shut up's as close as he was going to get to chatting.

Duo did not seem to mind the apparent lack of interest in what he had to say. He was fiddling around with his own laptop, probing the first line of Heero's defences in Ops, occasionally throwing little pieces of information, nuggets and dross, over his shoulder; they shaped up into a crooked mosaic illustrating the last year of his life and his contact with the other pilots.

If pressed - as in, interrogated by a professional, with the aid of the appropriate truth serums - Wufei would have admitted that he was interested in what Duo had to say. Otherwise he'd have gone to work in his room. He was curious about how the other pilots were doing since the war. The only contact he'd had with them had been through the Preventer grapevine, and their rally to his call four weeks ago.

Duo and Trowa were still working with the Preventers part time, when Une needed their special skills. Otherwise, Duo helped someone called Hilde in a salvage business; Wufei vaguely remembered a short-haired, unconscious girl being wheeled into Peacemillion's infirmary which seemed to go with that name. Duo also spent time with Quatre, presumably for the touch of luxury that would provide. Trowa was working at the circus. Wufei learned that Catherine had survived the war and was doing fine, though she still couldn't make a cup of coffee to save her life. Trowa occasionally stayed with Duo and helped out Hilde with the bigger salvage orders, when construction suit work was needed. According to Duo's little anecdotes, he and the others were doing well. Duo never lied, but he didn't always tell the truth either. In a way - a way Wufei had been completely oblivious of until the very end of the war - Duo was almost as private a person as he and Heero. He just hid himself in a totally different way, and Wufei did not know Duo well enough to be able to read him like he could read his partner. But it was not his place to dig. Wufei decided to take Duo's words at face value. He and the other pilots were 'doin’ okay'.

Duo tried to invite them out to dinner that night, to repay their ‘generous hospitality’. But Wufei was too tired and Heero was, well, Heero. Duo munificently took care of the take-out, and they went to bed early. Wufei woke with a start at two in the morning at the faint sound of their front door closing; Duo, going to stake out Ops. It created a fissure in his mental safe haven. He trusted Duo. With his life. He'd be able to sleep again, deeply but...Wufei felt the shape of something awry in his life, small but annoying. Something he couldn't define yet.

These would be a long two weeks.

 

 

For an instant upon waking up, Wufei wondered if it had all been a strange dream. When he was in the safe-house, he normally woke clear- headed and focused and ready for another day on the edge. Having Duo Maxwell invade their space was shaking his center. Memories of the war blended with the twinges of a private man having to share his home territory. Wufei stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, trying to get used to the idea.

He descended the stairs, automatically timing his soft steps to the rhythm of Heero's exercises. He could hear his partner running through his usual morning routine on the weight lifter. Working his upper arms by the sound of it.

Duo was sitting at the counter with a mug of coffee in his hand. He was staring at Heero. His eyes were narrowed and his face looked older and marred by lines of anger as he watched Heero struggle at the weights. The expression lasted only long enough for Wufei to catch it; as soon as Duo realized someone was in the kitchen area with him the expression disappeared as if it had never been, replaced by the usual good humor. But Wufei had seen that look and knew what it meant. He'd have to have a word with Duo. Heero and Wufei had agreed that no further reprisals would be taken against Heero's aggressors, unless they were foolish enough to try again. Wufei would have to make sure Duo abided by this. That expression had been that of Shinigami looking for blood. Legalities and peace and the social contract could not quite banish this demon; those who wounded one of Death's few friends could only hope for a swift demise.

Duo leaned his chin against his fist, turning his face towards Wufei.

'Should he really be doing this?' he mouthed, hiding the words from Heero with his hand.

Wufei shrugged. "No." He kept his voice low but he didn't turn away from his partner, who continued pressing the weights, ignoring them.

Duo stared at Wufei, eyes narrowing again; this time the anger was directed towards a visible target. 'Aren't you going to stop him?'

"War's over, Maxwell," Wufei said with an arrogant smile he didn't really feel. "I don't take suicide missions anymore."

The blue eyes were blade-thin slits, dissecting his words, his stance. 'You aren't going to say anything?' The last word was mouthed aggressively.

"He knows what he's doing, Duo," Wufei replied, voice very quiet but firm as he turned towards the kettle.

A disgusted huff was all the answer he got. Wufei listened with one ear to the sound of weights hissing. He knew why Duo was upset; could see in his mind's eye the trickle of sweat on Heero's pale face that came from controlling pain rather than effort. But his partner had been training his body into a fine-tuned instrument of death for over half his lifetime; Heero knew how to tread the fine line between pushing his body towards optimum recovery and harming himself.

Of course, that line did not take into account anything as trivial as excruciating pain. Wufei didn't turn around, kept his eyes nailed to the kettle. His mind ran through its frequent litany, the words repeated like a rolling prayer wheel. Lords of Hell, may J be rotting in your deepest pit, the one reserved for abusers of children, with the words 'the means justify the end' burnt across his body with a red-hot poker.

The ring interrupted his thoughts, the swish of Heero's weights and Duo's unarticulated grumbles of concern. Heero let the weights swing back carefully and slipped the phone from his pocket. All the way across the room, Wufei could see the way Heero's body tensed as he read the caller ID, and he guessed who was calling. Though seeing how often she'd phoned in the last two weeks, it wasn't all that powerful a deduction.

Heero held the phone like he wanted to hurl it across the room, but he knew Wufei was watching. Wufei leaned back against the counter and glared reprovingly. Stormy blue eyes flung a look his way, swift and lethal as shuriken, but Heero flipped open the phone without further procrastination.

"Relena," he snapped. "I told you to stop- just a minute."

With another murderous glare at Wufei he stood and headed towards the stairwell, grabbing his towel in passing.

"Be polite, Yuy," Wufei reminded him sharply as Heero passed him with the phone muffled against his chest. Heero didn't even bother to grunt a response. It had already taken considerable persuasion on Wufei's part to get him to agree to answer and talk to her each time she called.

"Soooo...the Princess has his number?"

Wufei turned back to the kettle, dismissing Duo's inquisitive look. He nodded in response and poured hot water into his cup. The delicate smell of white tea rose with the steam.

"Huh, she's still chasing him, hm? Man that girl don't know when to quit! She's got it bad."

"No," Wufei answered softly, eyes on the stairwell. "She only wants to know he's alive."

There was a scrape against the kitchen's cheap linoleum, as if Duo had twisted around to get a better look at Wufei's back. "Know he's alive? What do you mean? From the way he's acting, she's been calling for awhile now."

"The last time she saw him, he was lying on the floor with two bullets in the back, as far as she knew, and she was being dragged away from his body. She hasn't seen him since. I don't think a phone call is enough." Wufei's voice was even, he tried to keep the pity and annoyance out of it; they weren't completely deserved. After all, he'd been living with the proof of Heero's survival - fighting, arguing, refusing to stay in bed and pushing himself to the edge of exhaustion with typical Yuy stubbornness. The only thing Relena had was a curt voice on the other end of the phone.

He turned towards the counter to find Duo scrutinizing him. "You think he should go see her?"

Wufei shrugged. "It would put her mind at rest. I know it doesn't make sense, but then logic has never been that woman's strong suit. But he won't."

"Oh?" Duo's eyebrows twitched up.

"That's why she's calling so often. He said he would never see her again and she's trying to change his mind."

"Whoa. Did a jealous lover ask him to give her up?"

Wufei almost spilled his tea. He glared at the joker. He'd been having a serious conversation here! Why had Duo-...oh, what else had he expected.

"No, Maxwell," Wufei ground out. "Yuy's reasons are as eminently logical as always, if you can get your head around that concept." Duo's grin widened. "She represents something important to him. He would die to defend that, and her. But as it turns out, the only time she was truly at risk in this last year was because someone was using her to get at him. His presence near her is a danger and he won't allow that. End of story. She seems to have the same lack of basic understanding that you do, though, hence all those calls."

"So...it's not because someone close to Heero asked him to cut the ties?"

"...There is no one close to Heero," Wufei answered, thoroughly puzzled now by the question and the look in Duo's eyes. Playful, cheerful...calculating.

Duo's grin seemed artificial. His eyes had darkened at Wufei's response, to the color of deep pools. "Oh? Not even this guy I know who's been working with him and living with him and shooting people by his side for almost eight months?"

Wufei put his cup down with a click. "If there is something you want to ask, Maxwell, just ask."

"Okay. Are you two a couple?"

Wufei gave Duo a long, cold glare just for the enjoyment of seeing him edge back and adopt a slightly more defensive posture.

"No. We're partners," he finally said with some relief. He had wondered if this question might come up, after Duo's strange assumption he and Heero slept in the same bed. He'd been ready to hedge or lie outright, but in this instance he could answer the question truthfully. Being a couple implied affection, love, mutual support. If Duo had used some other term - the word 'fuck-buddies' floated through Wufei's mind, in the L2 street-rat twang that seemed to vocalize his more inappropriate thoughts - he'd have had a harder time denying it, but a couple? No.

Duo was staring at him as if unsure whether to believe him or not. Then he slouched back against the counter.

"No? Really?"

"No, really. How on earth did you come up with that ridiculous theory?"

Duo's eyes twitched away from his. "...You two have been awfully tight since the war. We were wondering-..."

Wufei snorted contemptuously and Duo bridled and glared down at the counter.

"So you won't mind if I make a play for him?"

Wufei choked on his tea, and coughed a couple of times. "Wh-what?"

Duo's head was still bowed but Wufei caught a flash of blue through brown bangs. The voice was easy and sensuous. "Hey, the guy's probably horny. And he's hot. And he's available, if what you say is true." Duo finally lifted his head, leaned back easily against the counter, with that same grin painted on his face, but his eyes were level and clear.

"...You work part-time for Preventers, right?"

"Yeah." Duo looked puzzled. "Why, is there some requirement that I have to work all-out for Une to be able to jump his bones?"

"No, I was just curious to know if part-time came with full medical coverage."

"Uh? Wha- oh I get it. Trying to tell me to lay off the stud?" Duo leered.

"Trying to warn you, but it's your health. Do what you want."

"You don't mind if Heero and me hook up?" Duo clarified, enunciating each word; he was looking at Wufei as if examining every inch of his face for the slightest trace of hesitation. The man has the curiosity, the adventurousness and the hormones of an alley cat, and he better have every one of the nine lives that goes with that if he's even remotely serious, Wufei thought, suddenly amused.

"Mind? Not at all. In fact I wish you the best of luck, Duo. I think you'd both make a very cute couple," Wufei said loudly, since he could almost feel the glowering presence of the other half of the 'cute couple' somewhere near the stairwell, cutting into his back with a thermal-beam stare. Score one for Chang. Maybe there would be some source of entertainment out of Duo's visit after all.

"Hear that, Heero?" Duo tossed over his shoulder. "We got Wu's blessing! Want to go out tonight?"

"Did you scout out the Center already, as you planned?" Heero asked through clenched teeth. He must have given Relena all of thirty seconds to make her case again, as he was showered and dressed in jeans and a clean shirt.

"Yup." Duo turned and leaned back against the counter, looking Heero up and down. His pose was insolent, and just a touch seductive.

"Then we'll go out tonight, so you can make your first attempt at breaking into Ops," Heero snapped.

"A mission for two in the moonlight. How delightful." Wufei murmured. Duo twisted around and stared at him as if he'd gone insane, and it was true that Wufei rarely let anyone other than Heero see this side of him. He wouldn't if they were on a mission, but they were at home, between jobs, and he was too used to their baiting to be able to pass that one up.

Heero had agreed, reluctantly, that he'd have to wait until fully recovered before they resumed their sparring, so Wufei was quite safe from physical retaliation, though the glare he got was the next best thing.

There was some surprise in Heero's deadly scowl. They never dueled, verbally or physically, in front of anyone else. It was too private; it was part of who they were. It wasn't always light banter. It could be hard and cruel, a tool designed to search and cut out the faults and weaknesses that they could see in the other, even if it hurt. Wufei shrugged minimally at Heero's questioning look and let his eyes flicker towards Maxwell. This was Duo. He was...'a friend' was a vague term, 'an ally' was not strong enough. Duo had seen them in their darkest glory, their most murderous splendor, their weakest humanity. Duo, and the others were close enough to be allowed to see some of what made the partners tick. Within limits. Besides, if Duo still had any mushy ideas about Heero and Wufei being a couple, listening to their put-down matches and score keeping would probably disillusion him quickly.

"Good. Tell me when you're ready to leave tonight, Maxwell. Chang will be going with us. Since he's feeling playful," Heero ground out that last as if he was chewing glass. Duo twisted again, staring at Heero this time. Yes, that tone would have certainly taken the aforementioned mushy ideas, shot them in the back of the neck and buried them six feet under. Duo knew them both well, but not well enough; he listened to Heero's words, winced at the cold look on his face, but he couldn't read everything else about Heero the way Wufei could. Heero's body spoke eloquently to the man who'd battled against it, treated its injuries, fought at its back, and, well, there was the sex too, of course. Heero was agreeing with Wufei's assessment of the situation, on that level where no words reached, where the partners operated; he was playing along.

"Maxwell, I've taken the day off today." Heero turned the glare on Duo, who flinched slightly. Apparently immunity to The Scowl faded in time, Wufei concluded. "You wanted to go into town to pick up your equipment?"

"Yeah, that's right." Duo jumped off the stool and stretched, recovering quickly. "I don't like getting the customs guys excited, so I shipped my B&E stuff over via the Sweeper route. Should be at the shuttle port by now. I also need a few things in town. You gonna be my escort?" There was the slightest purr in the question, which Heero completely missed, much to Wufei's leisurely disappointment.

"Yes. Car's outside. Drop you off at Ops on the way, Chang?" Heero asked, heading toward the door. Typically for the soldier, he'd apparently decided that the previous 'cute couple' conversation had simply not happened. He wasn't given that option for long as Duo, with a conspiratorial smirk at Wufei, ran to catch up to him and draped his arm over Heero's shoulder. That garnered the expected reaction, but if Duo minded the elbow in the ribs and the scowl, he didn't show it. Wufei followed with a vague sense of amusement of his partner's obvious discomfort. Looked like peacetime hadn't changed Duo's dangerous sense of humor.

 

 

Wufei returned early, having finished up the odd jobs Une had lined up for him. Unlike a certain soldier they both knew, Une could assign a temporary partner to Wufei and the latter wouldn't chew him up and spit him out again. But neither one of them wanted to get Wufei involved in a long-term case with anyone else; Une shared his faith in Heero's healing abilities and knew he'd soon be on his feet and ready for the more deadly challenges she regularly handed to them. Wufei withstood the boredom with growing irritability, passing it on to the punching bag when he got back to the house.

Smash; the bag's chain clanked,

It was even worse today...

Thump-thump-thump-jangle; a series of quick uppercuts pummeled the bag.

Something about Maxwell being here, even if so far he'd been a fairly agreeable house-guest as far as Wufei was concerned.

Step back, spin around - whack - high kick - the chains holding the bag groaned where they clung to the high ceiling and floor for dear life.

...Probably the lack of sparring...thump-smash!...and the lack of sexual relief. They'd agreed to postpone that too, until Heero was back into something like his usual shape. They were a bit too used to rough play to take a chance.

He stilled the quivering bag with one hand and looked up expectantly when he heard the car pull up outside. Duo's voice preceded the returning men.

"- didn't get much of a chance to explore, though, their security system was tops. As you'd expect from any bank, as well as a bank that's financing guerrillas. Une was happy enough with what I brought her, we had enough evidence to - does she give you bonuses when you ace a mission?"

"No."

Duo was carrying a stool, price tag still dangling from one leg. That sent something hot and spiky spiraling down into Wufei's stomach, though he couldn't explain why the idea of having three stools bugged him so much.

"Really? You're getting screwed. Me and Tro get a nice little pile of cash whenever we exceed Her Ladyship's expectations. You need to talk to Quatre, get him to negotiate your working terms, babe. Hiya Wu."

...Babe?

Wufei stopped glaring at the stool to look at Heero, carefully measuring his partner's reaction. Heero looked like the usual block of ice, but Wufei's life had hung on his partner's slightest movements, and they spoke clearly to him now. Heero appeared as startled as Wufei at the endearment. But not overly angry. Apparently he was giving Duo the same leeway he accorded to Wufei's sharp tongue. Wufei wondered if Duo appreciated the gesture, and thought maybe he did. And the L2 denizen's native astuteness would also know not to push it too far. That was good. It meant Wufei could stop worrying about Duo's health and enjoy the look on Heero's face as he contemplated a universe in which someone had called him 'babe'. That was even better. Wufei abandoned the hapless punching bag and went to shower, feeling a bit less annoyed at the world in general and wounded partners in particular.

The evening meal was...interesting. Duo and Wufei talked about work and Preventers they both knew, and occasionally Duo would drop a line Heero's way. The bland responses were probably better than the curt rebuttal he was expecting, and he looked rather surprised at that. Wufei, who knew his partner a whole lot better, was exceedingly amused by the fact that Duo thought he might actually be getting somewhere when in reality most of his hints and innuendos were flying right over his target's head.

'Looks like I'm doing okay,' Duo mouthed smugly at Wufei while Heero's back was turned.

'You're standing still, Maxwell.' Wufei moved his lips in silence, smirking. 'Try to be less subtle.'

A series of emotions flickered across Duo's face; surprise, annoyance, and a definite 'you asked for it' as Heero sat down, putting some fruit on the table.

"Say... that couch is kinda soft for me," Duo said slowly, eyes fixed on Wufei. "Maybe I could sleep with you tonight, Heero?"

Wufei had to bite the inside of his cheek at the look on Heero's face. An acid glare hurled his way indicated that Heero hadn't missed his amused reaction.

"My bed is too narrow, according to some," Heero answered, with a sidelong glance at Wufei, who'd complained about it before. "I suggest you sleep with Chang. He has a double."

Wufei almost dropped the pear he'd picked up. Score, Yuy. He spared a conceding glare for his partner before scalding Duo with a look that blasted away the words that were about to come out of the joker's mouth. "I already suggested you'd be better off at a hotel, Duo," he commented sharply.

"Trying to get me out of the way, Wufei?" Duo asked, coy and teasing.

Now he was getting double-teamed. Great.

"Will you be sleeping at all tonight, Maxwell? Aren't you going to try your break-in?"

Duo grinned, then generously allowed the diversion. "That'll only take me a couple of hours. It's just a first probe. Speaking of which, I'm going to take one last quick look around the fence and pick my entry point. Heero? Come with?"

Heero had missed most of the flirting previously and had probably not picked up much of a hint from the bed remark; the mention of the mission had put him into soldier-mode anyway. There wasn't the slightest hesitation or annoyance on his face as he nodded firmly and went to put on some dark clothes. Duo - who was, no surprise there, already wearing black - stayed sitting at the counter.

Wufei put the dishes in the sink and turned for the soap to find Duo leaning near him, close to his face. Wufei jerked back, reflexes screaming. Duo had been as silent as a shadow.

"Time to lay down your hand, Wu. If you don't want him, I'm going for it."

Wufei stared at the hard blue eyes.

"Want-...you're serious?" Duo could kid around, but there was a limit he wouldn't cross. There was a look in those blue eyes that didn't belong to the joker's mask. Wufei wished he'd noticed it sooner. He'd been assuming this was one of Maxwell's little head games.

"Yes," Duo smirked, it wasn't an amusing expression. "I don't steal from a brother, so if you're even remotely interested, now's the time to holler. But if you don't, finders keepers."

"Max-... Duo..." Wufei tried to gather his thoughts. This wasn't so funny anymore. "I...Heero is not going to be interested, and he's not subtle when he puts people down." Ask Relena.

Duo's expression went from a hint of 'oh so you are interested' to puzzled to outright amazed. "You're worried about me?!"

"Well...I don't think he'd try anything violent. And anyway, he's slowed down by his back injury so -"

"The only thing you have to worry about is losing your shot at him. Shinigami gets his guy." Duo's eyes had narrowed. "Watch what you're saying."

"Watch what you're doing."

"Why, Chang, I didn't know you cared."

"Only a very, very little bit, Maxwell."

Duo looked away slowly as Heero came down the stairs, slipping on his jacket. Heero looked puzzled to see them close together in front of a sink full of dirty dishes and no water. Duo smiled at him and nodded to the door.

"Let's ride, Tonto."

"What?"

"Never mind." Duo fell into step with him. Close. There wasn't any of the previous, playfully blatant display to disarm the intentional approach into Heero's personal space. Wufei felt he was watching a mountain lion shadowing its prey. He stared at the closed door for awhile, wondering what Duo was up to. Was he serious...? Wufei's instincts might not be wholly accurate when it came to the multi-faceted mask of his more volatile friend, but he felt that Duo was definitely on the hunt. Shinigami gets his guy...But those same instincts warned Wufei that he was missing something...he could still hope this was an overly elaborate joke. He turned towards the dishes and washed them absently. His ears kept straining for the sound of returning footsteps at the door while his mind was lost in conjecture.

 

 

The October air was cool and damp. It smelled of nighttime and rain, with a faint chemical taint from the pharmaceutics plant upwind. The night clung to their skins, casually ignoring jackets and clothes. True to his word, Heero had insisted Wufei accompany them as Duo set out on his first attempt.

Heero and Wufei sat against the car hood, on either side to keep an eye on the grounds behind the fence and on the road, normally deserted in the rundown industrial zone. Duo was dressed in black, his braid tucked inside the flak jacket, and tackle like climber's gear around his waist and thighs. He had a pouch of various tools and lock picks attached to his belt, a small laptop in a slim case on his back, and he still moved without a sound.

"Okay, guys, I'm off." Duo's voice was low, but not anywhere near subdued. He stared at them, arms akimbo, and grinned. "Leavin' you guys behind to go and make my way into a heavily defended base, all alone against an unknown number of armed guards...Just like old times!"

"Don't blow anything up," Wufei and Heero said at pretty much the same time.

Duo rolled his eyes and grinned. He walked up to the fence, climbed it with quick efficient movements, propelled himself over the barbed-wire section as if floating through the air, and dropped the three meters down to the other side with barely more noise than a cat. He stepped away and the darkness slipped around him like an old familiar coat.

Heero double-checked his cell phone, then crossed his arms over his chest. His fingers tapped his biceps; patience wasn't really his thing. Wufei settled down in a very light meditative state, keeping an eye on the road and trying to ignore Heero who was looking at his watch approximately every ten seconds.

"He should be breaking in by now," Heero muttered. Silence settled again, textured by the whoosh of cars from the nearby highway and the faint buzz of streetlamps. Heero started to fidget against the car and Wufei sighed internally. And fought off the sudden, strange urge to go around to Heero's side of the car and sit nearer to him. He shifted, and decided he needed a distraction.

"So, have you fallen for Maxwell's charms yet?" he murmured. Wondering if Heero would tell him what had happened during their scoping out of Ops. If anything had happened.

"What?" The car creaked. Wufei glanced over his shoulder to find Heero in a mirror position, looking at him slightly bewildered.

"Maxwell. He's been flirting with you." Wufei stared, surely Heero had at least realized that much by now.

Apparently not. "With me? No. He was jerking around earlier, but that was just Maxwell. He did the same during the war."

And we were both so self-centered and callow, we never even noticed it was teasing until much later, Wufei added mentally. Well, in Wufei's case, some sexual frustration may have made him take Duo's jibes a bit more seriously than they were intended. He'd been...rather resentful of Maxwell back then. Well, envious, actually; envious of the sure sensuality, of the ease of his mock flirting, of his attitude of getting what he wanted. He hadn’t realized it was as much a mask as Heero's steel facade.

Heero was looking at Wufei with a slightly raised eyebrow. "If anything, that was mild compared to what he was like when we first started hiding out together. The second time I met him, during the war, we'd been undercover in a school for two weeks when he approached me with two cans of green and purple spray paint. He suggested that since we were both going to attack the nearby base, we should each...'tag' the guards we stunned or killed. Whoever had the smallest number of hits afterwards would clean the other's Gundam with his toothbrush."

Wufei's lips curled despite his best effort to stop them. "And what did you reply to that interesting idea?"

"That I had no intention of attacking the base at the same time he did, and that if I had any more proof he was insane, I would consider him a danger to my mission and terminate him." Heero's voice still held a trace of aggravation. "That actually shut him up for awhile."

Until he realized you weren't nearly as murderous as you made out to be, just as he wasn't nearly as frivolous as we thought. Wufei chuckled, though inside he was writhing a bit, embarrassed at other war-time memories. Duo must have had a great time at his expense; Wufei had fallen for every one of his teases. And what was worse, there had been times he'd feared Heero might have actually been attracted to the handsome, sexually mature Duo. But that, his partner would never, ever know.

"Why are you worried?" Heero's eyes had narrowed.

"He'd stopped teasing like this at the end of the war," Wufei said slowly. "When we were all aboard Peacemillion." When they were all about to die. When keeping the masks seemed trivial, a waste of resources. When it was almost a comfort to know that in the eternal night that was reaching for them, four other people had glimpsed the person behind the warrior/killer/joker/pacifist/mercenary. Four comrades had seen past the posturing and the lies, and they were not ashamed to die side by side. Duo had still been the most light- hearted one of the lot, his cheeriness maintained as a relief for his friends and a slap in their enemies' faces, but he showed the other Duo too. Wufei had found the serious, focused, cheerfully bloodthirsty and driven young man to be more than an ally...not quite a friend...something else. Duo's words came back to him. 'I don't steal from a brother'. Yes, maybe that was it...

The war was over and they'd reassembled their masks, to live in a peace they'd created and knew little about. But things didn't go back to the way they were before, thank the gods. The older Wufei knew himself and his partner much better now. He knew that Heero would never risk a commitment towards someone who could become emotionally compromised over him. Even if their job wasn't so dangerous, it just wasn't Heero's way. He'd been brought up in a world of cold choices and sacrifices, and it was where he thrived. He wouldn't compromise that for anybody. No, not anybody. And Duo...Duo had a deep core of loyalty towards his friends/family and his cause, something that was so deeply a part of him that he hid it almost by reflex, as if expecting from past experience to have anything or anyone he loved used against him.

Which was why Wufei had assumed Duo was joking, even when he'd seemed so serious. Wufei didn't think Duo would 'go' for a comrade, actively try to seduce one of them purely for lust, and drive right in to a sticky situation. It was tempting to think it was a joke, but...

"Are you sure he's just teasing now?" Wufei asked softly, breaking the silence that had settled between them again. Heero still had the social instincts of road kill, even when it concerned someone he knew. Wufei didn't think he'd pick up the subtleties.

Heero snorted. "Certain, and I'm not the one he's teasing, Chang."

Wufei turned slowly on the hood of the car after a quick glance around. "What do you mean?"

"We had a chat while scouting around the fence earlier," Heero muttered. "He was talking about you."

"What about me?"

"He said you looked lonely, and obviously needed to get laid." Heero's mouth was a hard, uncaring line, but he shifted uneasily, making the car's hood creak - a touch frustrated, Wufei thought with a slight smile. "He thinks you 'have the hots' for him. He said some fairly unflattering things about you being rather uptight, but that he might..." Heero frowned. "He said he might throw you a bone. I'm not sure what that meant."

"It means I will kill him when he gets back," Wufei ground out. But actually he was rather relieved. There was no way Duo was serious about-...no, he wasn't serious. It had been Maxwell clowning around as usual, and since Wufei had been the brunt of that joke, Duo had put on a grand show for his victim. Amazing, after all that time and all they'd been through, Duo could still fool him. He probably was too uptight, but somehow, Wufei thought with an inner sneer, he would learn to take that in stride.

"What did you say to that?"

Heero shrugged easily, eyes still scanning their surroundings. "I said I didn't think you were interested, since you are preferentially heterosexual."

"I guess that shut up him."

"If only."

"These are going to be the longest two weeks since Einstein coined the theory of relativity," Wufei sighed, rubbing his eyes.

"If he annoys you, I'll kick him out." Heero's voice was suddenly harsh, catching Wufei by surprise.

"He's not annoyed me yet. Well, much." Except for the invasion of their space. The disruption of their comfortable routine. The presence of a stranger that demanded thought and understanding and explanations and words.

Two hours later, when Duo melted out of the darkness and started clambering over the fence again, it occurred to Wufei that they could have spiked this running joke completely if they'd just told Duo from the start that...

That what? That he and Heero were together? A couple? Boyfriends? Wufei sneered inwardly. That was why it hadn't even occurred to them. It was their private business, and besides, there were no words to explain what they shared. Having Duo listen to their explanations and getting it all wrong, and looking at the cold and clear-cut thing that lay between them with his cheerful blue eyes, would just make it all too...complicated. The weight of his gaze might disrupt a delicate balance that neither partner acknowledged.

Duo dropped down to their side of the fence with a wide grin. "All done for tonight, guys. Let's get this batmobile back to the cave."

It was past two in the morning, but none of them felt like sleeping. Duo was wound tighter than a spring, with a dangerous edge of eagerness and adrenaline. They sat down at the kitchen counter. Duo chugged back half a bottle of water, wiped his mouth, then jumped off his stool and made a showy bow in Heero's direction.

"Gotta hand it to you, Heero, the security on that place is pretty tight. I only got to the second level."

Wufei schooled his features into neutrality, a trick he'd learned from his partner. Heero's reaction was minute, in fact Duo looked a bit disappointed at the lack of response, positive or negative. But Wufei caught the clench of fingers. Though Heero had set the system up himself, he'd never made it past the first underground level of the complex.

He was visibly itching to ask Duo how he'd managed it, but he didn't actually have to ask. Duo spent the next twenty minutes telling them all about his attempt, the clever way he'd broken through the fire door separating first and second level, and the funny things he noted about whatever guard he happened to dodge.

"Well, he only made it to the second level, there's nothing too sensitive there," Wufei told his partner prosaically as Duo took a breather to chug down the rest of the water. Heero didn't look any happier.

"Yeah, well, I got further than that, thanks to some klutz in the secretarial pool." Duo wiped his mouth with a huge gesture, leaving the smirk in place.

"What do you mean? You said-"

"Physically I only made it to the second level, but here. Found this. I'm pretty damn sure it wasn't supposed to be lying around someone's desk in a fancy red folder screaming 'steal me'. I think they put these to bed on the fourth level at least." Duo produced a paper from his laptop case.

"Maxwell!" Heero snarled. "You weren't supposed to steal anything!"

"I made a photocopy, and it's an object lesson to the person who takes care of paperwork," Duo said, archly. "It has the address and bank details of an undercover agent. Not something that should be left lying around-"

Heero threw back his head and laughed. It was a sound that many mobile suit pilots had heard before they died and it had sped them on their way to hell. Wufei glanced up, startled and Duo actually started to duck behind the counter.

Duo made a sound in his throat, then glared at Wufei, a somewhat more congenial target. "What's so fucking funny? That could have been your address some psycho stole. Or Trowa's. It's not-"

"It's serious, Duo, we don't underestimate that," Wufei murmured, his eyes on Heero, who was staring gloatingly at the paper he'd snatched from the former thief. "But the person in charge of the proper procedures and filing of all sensitive documents is...Let's say, the manager of that department, Anthea Stenhelz, is an old acquaintance of Heero's. She, ah, hasn't endeared herself to either of us. Once your mission is finished, we'll be pleased to-"

"I will tell her," Heero ground out in a voice that even his sparring partner wasn't about to contradict. The smile hovering over his mouth wasn't pleasant.

"Always knew he had a vindictive streak," Duo told Wufei, fingers laced behind his neck and elbows up, a familiar gesture. "All that shit with Zechs..."

"We'll wait until you finish your mission, Duo, since we don't want to alert anyone in Ops until you're done. Then we'll drop it on her. It won't happen again," Wufei concluded crisply. "Still think you can get to the fifth level?"

"Is the Pope catholic?"

"The last Pope died over a hundred years ago."

"Okay, so he's dead, but he's still catholic!"

"I'm going to bed, suddenly I have a headache."

"Poor Wuffers. Want me to come up and massage your temples?"

Heero glanced up from his haze in which he'd probably been thinking of the various ways of laying into Anthea with the evidence, to give Wufei a 'told you so' look. But Wufei could read Duo's tone better. The offer had been entirely sarcastic.

"No thank you, Maxwell, I know you only want to steal my bed out from under me," Wufei shot back, and made it up the stairs before further comeback could occur.

Chapter Text

"Honeyed words and flattering looks seldom speak of strong affection."
--- Confucian Saying

 

"Maxwell."

"Yeah, Wufei?"

"Yuy and I had a mission right before Relena's convention, so we were out of the house for a couple of weeks before going straight to Berlin. Then Yuy got shot, and he's been convalescing ever since. Now he's a lot better, but of course you've been here for, what, a week and a half?"

" ...So?"

"So it's been two months since we were alone and fit in a safe place together, and we're both beginning to feel edgy as a result. Do you think you could get lost for a couple of hours so Yuy and I can have sex?"

Duo simply stared at him, jaw hanging somewhere near his breastbone, then faint crack lines began to appear at his extremities, shivered through his petrified form, and shattered him into a small heap of surprised dust and debris.

Wufei sighed and shifted against his bed. He'd been trying to meditate, but that had been so much harder than usual. It shouldn't be, not for someone with his reserve and focus. In the end he'd pretended he was done and let it rest.

He could hear Heero move around in his own room, two doors down. He'd come back ten minutes ago, sans Maxwell, the latter having apparently opted to make his own way home for some reason.

Heero's chair squeaked and, like a mathematical equation, the computer keys started to clatter as a result. Wufei's mouth tightened. Humph. Well, Yuy was the one getting all tense and bothered, and rather aggressive without a ‘break’. Wufei wasn't as uptight about it, and it wasn't up to him to start something if Yuy could get by without it. Besides Maxwell would probably be home Any Minute Now, and that was quite discouraging. The cheeky ex-pilot was a silent as a shadow even when walking normally, and he had never mastered the art of knocking; it was as foreign to him as the practice of levitation.

Wufei shifted again. He found himself clasping his arms, rubbing them as if he was feeling cold. He grimaced, anger and self-directed contempt twisting his lips. He'd cut his meditations short because, while he was feeling rather cocky that he wasn't as bothered as Heero by the lack of sex in their lives right now, the absence of something else, at once simpler and more fundamental, had suddenly leapt up from behind and stabbed his awareness in the back. It was the little constraint he'd felt right from the start of Duo's visit. The little discomfort, slowly growing. It was so...strange, so unexpected, he hadn't wanted to face it head on just yet. But it was still there; his fingers gripped his upper arms, rubbed unconsciously.

He tore his hands away, more ashamed than if he'd emerged from his thoughts jerking off. Hell, at least that was a normal teenage urge.

He imagined Duo bursting through the door to find him hugging himself.

"Hey Wufei! If you were that lonely, you just needed to tell me!" Cue an enthusiastic arm around the shoulder.

Imaginary Duo found himself catapulted against the wall where he bounced off like a rubber ball before glaring daggers at Wufei.

"Geez. You're one sad bastard, you know?"

"I agree," Wufei sighed, idly looking around for something to toss at the pest. "This weakness is something new. I've gotten soft since the war. Solitude used to be my comfort. And now..."

"Now you need a hug!" Duo beamed at him, from a very safe distance. Wufei wondered if he could wing him with the bedside table. "But by sad bastard, I meant, because you're not even admitting that it's normal to want someone to touch you once in awhile. We're social animals, buddy!"

"No, we're not. We're killers. Conditioned to fight or flee anything that enters our personal space."

"A little factoid that would explain why you're so twisted up inside. But you should at least admit to it, and not call it a weakness. Hell, even the Great Heero Yuy, Perfect Soldier and all around hard-ass extraordinaire, needs a bit of skin-on-skin action from time to time."

Wufei shuddered at the leer he imagined on Duo's face. A part of him was simply mortified; it might be influenced by a certain braided demon, and wearing his face in Wufei's imagination, but that voice, those irreverent words and weak sentiments were in fact coming from a part of his own mind.

"Yuy doesn't need - he gets rid of it efficiently." Heero blended it all in with his carnal urges and left it there, in the rumpled sheets of Wufei's bed.

"Is that so?" Duo asked gnomically. He was suddenly in a lotus position on Wufei's meditation mat, leering like a blasphemous bodhisattva.

"Pf, of course! Yuy and I never touch except when we're having sex." Wufei frowned at the ceiling, trying to banish the image and the question, while his mind, in the form of an imp, reminded him of...

...The sparring, and boy did he miss that, even more than Heero appeared to. That implied a lot of physical contact, though of the painful variety. Well, painful and yet thrilling too. Ugh, don't go there.

But apart from that-

...The way they occasionally cooked their meal together, Heero chopping the meat and vegetables with ruthless, killer efficiency while Wufei cautiously reached around him to get the rice or noodles...

...Then there were the times they worked on a piece of machinery side by side, or cleaned their weapons at the kitchen counter after going to the shooting range, sharing the rags and oil...

...Or just sat on either side of the couch, an act that shouldn't count but did, because the couch wasn't big enough to allow them to sit together without entering into each other's personal space and for men like them, to allow that was the same as actual physical contact.

That had happened for the first time a couple of months after Wufei had moved in, he remembered, mind wandering. He'd been working on his Asian literature course, a five-year long distance part-time program he'd organized with a Chinese University. Something to occupy his mind during their breaks, an old love. He rather thought Heero disapproved of the occupation, seeing it as a waste of mental resources and time Wufei could spend training. He'd been studying a volume on poetry, and out of the blue and without a word, Heero had sat down on the couch to flip through the latest issue of The Practically Perfect Programmer. Wufei had been so startled he'd almost dropped his book. Heero had glanced up from his article with a 'Yeah, what?' look on his face and Wufei had decided not to comment. He quickly plunged back into his book though he hadn't studied very well that evening.

Then he'd gotten used to it.

Like he'd gotten used to a few other things that Maxwell had disrupted.

"Hey, don't mind me!" Maxwell was still strutting around in his mind. "You two want to cuddle, go right ahead!"

"No way." Wufei shuddered.

"What? Jeez Louise on a breeze, Wuf, do you really think I'll take one look at you and Heero reading together at either end of the couch and say, 'doggone it, they are boning each other'? I'm pretty smart, but I ain't that astute!"

Wufei grabbed the monkey by the scruff of his neck and hurled him out of his mental room, but the truth was clawing its way back through the door before he could shut it again. For Wufei and Heero, sitting together like that was intimate, it was significant, it was...it was not something either of them would feel comfortable doing with Maxwell anywhere in the entire European Confederacy. Ultimately, it wasn't about what Duo might deduce. In the final equation, Wufei didn't really care if Maxwell knew he and Heero were fucking each other as long as he didn't make any lewd remarks or jump to stupid conclusions. No. The problem was, that the closeness they shared in those moments together was not the affectionate contact of friends or bed mates, but rather it was the delicate negotiation of a no-man's-land, and one of Maxwell's brash comments could disrupt a fine balance, an unspoken agreement between them, that just-...was too private, too...

Wufei ripped his hands away from his arms again. How long was 'Any Minute Now' anyway?!

The banging of the front door closing answered that question. He waited in resignation for Duo to bound up the stairs and pick on one or the other of them. Apparently, the flirting the first day really had been teasing because it had never been repeated; it had been cut off like it was on a switch. But Duo did hate being alone, and he would always join one of his friends in whatever they happened to be doing, even if it was only to sit next to them in silence and work on his own stuff. A week ago Wufei would have sneered at that as being a rather pitiful weakness, but he was honest enough with himself not to go there tonight, considering the thoughts that had been running through his mind just before that door slammed.

No sound of Maxwell leaping up the stairs.

Wufei frowned at the ceiling, then rose silently from the bed, ears pricked. There was no noise from downstairs at all. He was halfway to his door when Heero's opened.

The partners exchanged a puzzled glance on the landing. If there'd been any real danger, Maxwell would have found a way of making some unusual noise - unless silence was unusual enough to count? Heero, Wufei noted with no real surprise, had his gun tucked into the back of his jeans. Wufei made a 'decoy' gesture and walked noisily down the stairs, Heero ghosting behind him, hidden in shadows.

It wasn't Maxwell in the main room. It was Shinigami.

He was sitting on the couch, legs stretched out at shoulder width, hands relaxed on his thighs, eyes thoughtful, wearing a small smile like a half-concealed blade. His usual leather jacket had been replaced by a more formal black trench coat. An innocuous black cap hid his hair and clashed with the less casual attire, but so would the tell-tale braid.

"Hi guys," he said without looking up. "We have something of a situation."

"Were you followed?" Heero asked, coming down the stairs, eyes sweeping the room. "Was that why you walked straight past my car and headed towards the bus station?"

"That was just a precaution. But yeah, as it turned out, I was being followed. I lost him now."

"But you were expecting something like that, weren't you?" Heero grabbed a stool from the counter and sat on it, back rigid, arms crossed over his chest, glaring down at Duo like he was conducting a debriefing.

"Got a lot more than I expected... "

"Are you injured?" Wufei asked, pragmatically. He couldn't see any traces of a struggle, but Duo would have hidden any such signs before taking the bus. Though there shouldn't have been any struggle. The meeting should have been routine, and fairly safe.

After two more attempts at a break-in that had only gotten him as far as the third level, Duo had decided to 'get serious'. He'd done what a terrorist or professional thief would be expected to do; he contacted the Brussels underworld to get in touch with organized crime, to try to buy the information he needed. Every big city had small groups of people whose only brush with illegality was gathering information on tempting targets that they could then sell to interested parties. For a price, they could provide floor-plans, guard details, security system codes. They would go through garbage cans looking for passwords on pieces of paper - a surprisingly successful way of obtaining them. They would pay people working in security firms, janitorial staff, building inspectors and small-time employees for anything they couldn't literally dig out of the trash.

"I barely had time to say 'Preventer's HQ Special Division', they were talking price already. A big price. 'Do you want a Taurus or two with that' size of price," Duo said, eyes still terribly thoughtful, ignoring Wufei's question. "Way more than I expected them to ask; I had chump change. I thought they'd have a few measly floor plans and the name of the colonel's pet dog that would give me access to the private PC where he keeps his porn. Caught me a bit off guard, but fortunately I have, ah, accounts. They had enough money in them to impress the boss himself."

Heero and Wufei nodded. They had similar accounts. They never used them; it was blood money hacked from the worst of OZ's specials black ops bank accounts. But they didn't feel like giving it back to whatever politician or organization that would take a cut out of it. The dividends went to charities. The bulk was kept in case they ever had to go underground again; they were all too paranoid to fully trust in the new peace without leaving some kind of wiggle room. They'd destroyed their Gundams, that was as big an act of faith as anyone could ask for.

"I flashed some sums around. We started negotiating. I asked to get a sampler of the goods. So he showed me what I could buy. Heero... " Duo slowly looked up. "They have it all. Every system password, every blue-print, every goddamn wire junction, and the entire guard detail and patrols. They could fucking waltz in there tomorrow."

"How?" One word, cold as the slopes of Hades.

"I don't know, mate. They were leery of me. Not as much as they should be, but pretty close. Asked me very pointed question about what organization I worked for, what my aims were - funny, actually, I think they only wanted to make sure I wasn't trying to make a hit on you two. Our warning scared a lot of roaches under the floorboard of society." Duo absently reached for his cap, jerked it off and let his braid coil across one shoulder. "I fed them a line. I called Quatre and Une on the bus back, to make sure as much of the cover details can be set up -"

"You're going back in?" Wufei sunk down on the other end of the couch.

"I have to. They had everything. They've got some source, or something...and if nothing else we need to know who they sold this info to. Heero can play merry havoc with the codes and some of the landline securities, and we can change guard patrols, but Ops is still pretty open. I chatted with one of them afterwards. Elsabeth, lovely woman. Very open." Duo smiled like a wolf and Wufei found himself nodding in memory of the Maxwell charm in action. "She hinted that maybe I should save my money, that there might be something in the works that could queer my info before I could use it." Heero leaned forward on the stool, eyes like diamond drills. "I gotta go back and see what I can fish out. I've got an opening to return. Considering the sum involved, I said I had to go back to my buyers to get their opinion. I have an appointment in two days' time to close the deal - according to Elsa, nothing will blow up before then."

"How will you get the information you need?" Heero asked quietly.

"I'll have to get back to you on that," Duo answered, standing in a smooth black blur and spinning to look back at the toolshed. "I need one of your bikes."

"Take mine," Wufei said. "Yuy's always tinkering with his." A low grumble didn't contradict him so much as tell him to mind his own business, but he and Duo ignored it. "Keys are in the ignition already."

"K. I'll be back. Probably in less than an hour. Maybe more. Maybe not until tomorrow."

"Do you need backup?"

"Where I'm going, you two dames would stand out like a couple of nuns in a brothel. You'd be more a liability than a help, sorry." Duo leered over his shoulder, striding towards the bike. "But keep shifts on Yuy's cell. If I need a hand, I'll holler so loud all of Brussels will hear me."

"You do that," Wufei said severely, knowing that things would have to be almost terminal before Duo actually made good on it. There was the screech of the garage door opening, the grumble of Wufei's bike starting, and the thump of Heero's feet up the stairs.

Wufei followed slowly after closing the garage door behind the black-clad figure. He knocked on Heero's door and opened it without waiting for the grunt.

"Yuy, I'll take tonight's shift. Give me your cell phone."

"No." Heero was already at his desk, fingers flying over the keyboard, eyes like pits in the darkness only broken by the dubious light of his screen, which was covered in DOS windows. "I have it."

"You don't have it, Yuy, you only have eighty percent of it," Wufei sneered. "That's how much of your top fighting capability you said you had when I asked you yesterday. If Duo needs backup, I'll take it."

"I can handle it."

"Don't be a pig-headed-"

"I need to work on this," Heero snapped, eyes still glued to the screen. "You go sleep so you can take a shift tomorrow."

"Maxwell probably won't have to go out tomorrow. The criminal world is rather notorious about sleeping in very late. And you can't reinforce security, you might blow Maxwell's cover, it's thin enough as it is."

"I'm not reinforcing anything. I'm setting shepherd programs on vital functions, so that if anyone disrupts them, I'll be alerted. Then I'm running a thorough diagnostic to verify nothing has slipped in already, and then I'm-"

"Bed, Yuy."

That got him a murderous glare before Heero turned back to the screen. Wufei took one weighing look at the stiff, unrelenting shoulders. There were times he could argue with Heero - they'd had some spectacular fights in the past eight months, some ending up on the dojo floor - and there were times he had to bend like the willow. He ended up cat-napping on Heero's bunk bed, lulled by the clicking of keys, on alert for a call from Duo. But Heero's cell phone stayed mute.

Duo showed up the next day and told them - with typical Shinigami jubilation - that he had The Plan.

 

 

"This is a very stupid plan," Wufei grumbled. He'd been trying not to, but seeing Heero grimace as he tightened the straps on his flak jacket had prompted the words.

Heero ignored him. Of course.

"You are in no condition to abseil down anything, Yuy."

Silence. Of the stubborn, pig-headed, masochistic variety.

Wufei wondered if he could get away with clocking Heero on the jaw and locking him in the trunk of the car. But Heero wasn't quite impaired enough for that. And even if, by a staggering bit of luck, Wufei managed it anyway, Heero would kill him afterwards, and that would be rather tiresome.

In his ear, Duo was flirting with someone, probably the Elsa woman, or maybe someone else. His voice was metallic and flat through the earpiece. The meeting was in ten minutes. They had to be in place by then.

Both Heero and Wufei had insisted that Duo wire up. He could be open about it; since he had access codes to an account with a considerable sum in it on his person, he was perfectly in his right to come with backup and a way to holler for help. There should be no reason for the information brokers to be suspicious. Duo's false credentials had been probed, a light background check had been run on him, but Une, who was handling things herself, didn't think they had anything to make them suspicious.

Wufei didn't like it. Because no-one knew where the potential leak was coming from, in Ops or from another Preventer division, they couldn't involve their usual surveillance staff, they couldn't have Sanji's squad around the corner for backup, they couldn't even do any of this legally. If they were caught or killed...well, Une said it would be messy, and that was probably an understatement. They had to do it alone and they had to do it right. Which was why Heero had insisted on coming along, though Wufei had pointed out several times that he could have gone in on his own.

Two rooftop scrambles later they were at the elevator shaft and disabling the simple security system on it. The brokers were not a dangerous target. They tried to keep a low and fairly clean profile, so they didn't have an army of trigger-happy guards or high level alarms for the partners to run into. This was minimal risk, Wufei reminded himself for the tenth time as he watched Heero stretch up and hook a pulley over one of the elevator's support joists. He'd have offered to do it except that he didn't feel like getting roasted right before a mission, plus if Heero couldn't easily reach that high, Wufei would have a very good reason to tell him to go sit in the car.

The plan was simple. Duo was meeting with the boss in the conference room of the building, a trading firm which was the brokers' cover. While he was distracting the boss, Heero and Wufei would discreetly break into the man's office and hack into an offline, heavily secured computer. The underworld scuttlebutt had informed Duo that this was the only place the man kept the details of his shadier business deals.

Duo had started with the preliminary civilities - Wufei heard the clink and gurgle of drinks being poured - when Heero and Wufei found the office, after letting themselves down the elevator shaft. Security was average, a joke compared to an OZ base. Duo had done his work well when he'd obtained the details of their objective; they had floor plans and a rough idea of the security arrangements.

The office was a twelve by twenty foot box, with very few attempts at decoration. It was the boss's real office, not the showroom he took customers to. It had a pyramid of beer cans in the corner, the bottom layers dull with dust, and several PCs on a metal table with a few wheeled chairs in front. There were no windows, as they were deep inside the building, on the second floor near the back. Blueprints and charts with coded titles pinned to them decorated the walls. In the darkness of the room, with the only illumination provided by the dim light from the monitor screens, Wufei couldn't make out many details. There were a few children's drawings as well, provided by the boss's kids or someone else's. A very impressive safe lurked in one corner, gunmetal gray and heavy, and fortunately not their objective. The big desk was cheap and solid with wood pattern sidings. Heero's target was underneath it.

Wufei stood near one of two doors, listening out, while Heero hooked a small beam torch to his ear and picked the lock on the PC's casing. There were a few noises in the hallway outside; unlike a legit firm, most of the brokers' business was done in the evening or at night, with people passing by to check on last minute changes in security or picking up false keys at all hours. Wufei filtered the noises, listening for anything that didn't belong, occasionally glancing at Heero over his shoulder and checking his progress. Heero had the computer's case popped and was installing a small receiver in case they couldn't hack into the machine in the hour or so Maxwell could buy them, or they were interrupted. It would allow them to hack the PC later from outside, as long as the tampering was not detected. Next time Wufei looked, Heero had closed the case and was testing his receiver on his laptop. Then his fingers were caressing keys on the laptop connected to the PC, running hacking programs, looking for a weakness.

Another part of Wufei's concentration was on Duo and the boss negotiating through the earpiece. This seemed to involve a lot of details and piddling price reductions and such. All rather tedious, but it gave them time. Wufei heard a soft grunt from Heero as his partner broke through a significant barrier. Movement down the hallways, several steps, fading away. Wufei glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes. Making good time so far.

// ...I'm not really interested in this code, though. You sure we can't knock a bit off the price? Why should I pay ten grand to get into a room I don't give a fuck about?// Duo's voice drawled. There was a rubbing sound. Duo was scratching his ear, idly.

Wufei was instantly on alert, and he heard the chatter of keys behind him stop. The scratches were sending slight peaks of static through their earpieces. A wartime code. 'Trgt stall'

Their target was stalling? Wufei frowned back at Heero, wondering if he'd heard that correctly. Maybe he'd misunderstood - Duo was the one who was stalling, trying to give them as much time as possible before he broke off negotiations and left, and the boss and his bodyguards returned to the office. But that was the plan, so Duo would not spam the lines with something they already knew. And Duo was adept at reading a situation of this type, his past as a fence and a thief had given him a fine sixth sense for dealing with criminals, and sensing unusual situations...like a trap. Wufei gripped the hilt of the Luger and listened carefully. There were steps down the hallway again, still nothing downright alarming, but...

He glanced at Heero who was glaring at the machine in front of him with a fair amount of aggravation. Before Heero even muttered, "Five minutes", Wufei knew he was close but not quite there yet.

Fuzzy and distant: // ...this code is in fact linked to camera security, Mr Hellsmith. If you don't get a man in here, how will you protect someone infiltrating the south sector?//

//You're not listening, Harold. I don't give a shit about the south sector.// Duo pointed out. Scratch scritch. 'Abort.'

Heero immediately started to pack his laptop and clean up the desk. But it was too late.

"Yuy," Wufei breathed, plastering himself to the wall near the door. The random footsteps weren't random anymore. Heero had ducked under the desk and drawn his Glock in one smooth movement just as the far door, the one they'd jimmied shut, was forced open. Wufei's door was thrown open at the same time. The first man through was punched unconscious before he even saw his attacker, the second one went down with a fist in the face that sent him hurling back into the far wall of the hallway. Shots behind him - Wufei ducked out the door, to avoid presenting a target. Startled cries. He was right among the attackers, who couldn't fire. One man tried to grab him, pinion his arms. A heel back in the groin took care of him. Arms released, he sent a fist crashing into another's gut, then a kick scythed the gun out of a third one's hand before he could fire, breaking his wrist. Inertia slammed Wufei against the wall. He tensed ready to propel himself towards his next target-

Crunch! A bullet cratered the plaster right next to his head. Wufei froze.

"That's right. Stand still and drop the gun," the man grunted. One of the attackers from the other door. They'd outflanked Heero. Damn.

Wufei hesitated, but his options were rather limited, with one of his other attackers, grimacing through the pain of a punch in the gut, scooping up his gun and aiming as well. The other two men were either unconscious or wishing they were, but two guns...He slowly put his hands up after dropping the Luger.

// ...you see, Mr Hellsmith - we'll pretend that's your name - our previous buyers for this information were rather particular about retaining exclusive rights to it.// The broker's voice sounded sincerely apologetic. Wufei realized that Duo must have been cornered as well. Double damn.

//Then why'd you try to sell it to me?// Duo's voice was scornful.

//Ah, well, business...// The broker coughed. //Actually, they wouldn't have minded me selling you parts of it, but they did insist on running their own background checks on you. Turns out you don't quite add up to what you claimed to be. Mr...Hellsmith.// From the slightly hesitation and the turn of phrase, Wufei realized that no-one knew who they were yet, just that they were trouble.

The man gestured at Wufei with his gun. The Preventer tensed, there had been a slight opening - one that would have gotten him severely injured, but an opening nonetheless. But he decided to see what Heero's situation was, before trying anything. They'd make a better last-ditch attempt in concert. If Heero was still alive.

//So that's who these goons are?// Duo purred. //I didn't think muscle men were your usual style.//

Great. So these were the terrorists or whatever who were trying to break into Ops in the first place. The broker must have warned them that someone was trying to acquire the same information that they had bought, and they'd been just that bit more paranoid. Wufei had been hoping to meet these people, but in slightly better circumstances.

Heero was on his knees near the desk, hands on his head, Glock dropped a few feet away. The pose gave Wufei one single moment of a very nasty flashback that made him stumble a step. The desk was pocked with bullet marks, some of which had gone through the siding. Heero in top form would have surged out from under that desk like death incarnate, but in his present condition, his chances had been too slim. The soldier was coldly pragmatic about these things, unlike Wufei, whose pride was torturing him for the surrender. Heero was dispassionately awaiting his chance...and keeping one eye on the laptop, which was still running programs to break into the broker's PC and download the data they were looking for. Trust Heero to keep his mind on the mission; if they managed to break out of this situation, Heero would drag that laptop out of there even if he had to leave Wufei behind to do so.

"Get them out. Apply first aid to those who are still alive. Get them into the truck and drive them back to base for treatment. We'll follow in the van."

A voice of authority. Wufei glanced away from the nearby men he was silently planning to kill. A woman had come through the door. She was tall, bulky without being fat, with short-cropped brown hair and the pale face of a colony citizen. She was wearing a flack jacket and fatigues, indistinguishable from the other attackers, but there was no doubt she was in command. Her eyes were hard and weighing as she watched two men start to drag the wounded and dead away. She was judging how much her force had been reduced, rather than worrying about injured comrades, though the pinch of her mouth indicated that consideration would come when she allowed it to, later.

That same judging stare was directed first at Wufei, then lingered on Heero.

"I'd ask you to tell me who you are and who you work for, but I just know you're going to be tedious about this and require me to torture the information out of you." Her voice was softer and more cultured than when she'd been barking orders.

"I apologize for the inconvenience," Wufei murmured. Heero just knelt like a votary statue, completely unmoved.

She flashed Wufei a hard smile. "Oh, the inconvenience will be all yours, trust me. Your friend will be joining us shortly-"

"Friend?" Wufei frowned. He'd managed to shake loose and crush his earpiece when being hustled into the room; they might not have anything to connect them with Duo. Except for the coincidence of their presence here. Which, from the woman's sneer, was quite enough.

"Once he gets here, we'll go for a drive. A long one. And-"

Some of her men were amateurs. The mistake was small in appearance but significant, and both Heero and Wufei spotted it at once and moved instantly, on instinct. The two men carrying out the last of Heero's victims - their Uzis hanging from their straps on their backs to leave their hands free - moved in front of the last two men on the far side of the room holding Heero at gunpoint.

Hands still held high, Wufei hurled himself back bodily into the man holding a gun to his head. Caught off guard, the taller man oof-ed and folded around Wufei's elbow that had come crashing down into his gut. Wufei spun and shoved the man at the one behind them, who was pointing the machine gun but not firing with his friend in the way. Wufei grabbed the FAMAS from his first target's shoulder as he hurled him away, spinning the heavy assault rifle around. The second man had twisted away from his comrade's falling body, gun swinging too wildly to compensate - Wufei fired point blank into his target's gut. The bullets crashed into his flak jacket and threw him against the wall. Wufei spun before the man, retching blood, hit the floor. He threw himself forward, angling away from a weapon firing at him. His attacker went down in a flail of limbs, downed by a shot from Heero's side of the office.

The room fell still again, heavy with the echoes of gunshots and the smell of cordite. Five people were left standing and in a position to fire. Heero was crouched against the side of the desk, Glock back in his hand and pointing at the attackers' leader. She had a Kimber out of its holster and aimed at Heero's head. Near her, two men had weapons directed at Wufei, who was also aiming at their boss, though a slight change of angle would strafe them too. His hand tightened on the unfamiliar stocky grip. The adrenaline sang in his veins, tingled in his finger on the trigger which was thicker than his Luger's, a soldier's weapon.

"Just what do you hope to achieve?" the woman snarled. The Kimber was not trembling in the slightest. Basic military training, Wufei thought, and guts galore. Colonist? OZ? At this point he didn't really care. "I have more men coming, and we outgun you already."

Wufei slowly twisted against the wall, presenting as small a target as possible while getting ready to lunge to one side or the other. The men aiming at him looked a whole lot less sure than their boss. They were probably professional soldiers. Wufei hadn't been keeping count, but he knew their forces had been seriously reduced in the last ten minutes. Men they knew and fought alongside, mowed down by the two youths now armed again and showing no signs of hesitation.

"Drop your weapons." Heero's voice was as amiable as a computer's.

"Which part of 'outgunned' did you not understand?" The woman grinned without humor.

"The bit where your head explodes even if your men manage to shoot my partner - not that they have a chance," Heero countered. If he was at all concerned by the Kimber pointing at a spot between his eyes, he gave no indications, even to Wufei. A grimace thinned the latter's lips. One day really soon, he'd have to have a talk with Heero about suicidal attitudes. Now that would be a fun argument.

Wufei breathed in and out, centering himself. Heero was right; numbers meant nothing, the advantage was theirs. They would kill all three people in this room. But one or both partners would be injured or killed doing so, probably Wufei considering the two guns aimed at him. Even with a flak jacket. He readied himself, preparing himself mentally for the pain, the shock of the bullet strike, so that it would not stop him from doing his duty in those few seconds that mattered. After that, it was in the gods' - and Heero's - hands.

"Look, kid," the leader said curtly, still not grasping the standoff they were in. "In this room alone we have three guns for two and my - "

The shot ripped the air. The ominous ratchet of an expelled cartridge and the smooth chambering of the next shell followed while the bang still echoed.

"Better review your math, darling. Tell your last soldier to stop pointing his cannon at my buddy or I get really mean." The voice cut over the squealing yammer of one of the men who'd been holding Wufei at gun point. The weapon was on the floor, as was most of the man's hand. He was curled around the remaining ragged stump, grunting in time with the spurts of blood.

The woman had flinched and twitched her gun towards the source of the shot. A fatal mistake a pro would not have made. She froze as Heero surged forward, dodging to put her between himself and the last gunman. The Glock was suddenly three feet from her head. Wufei was now aiming at the last attacker. But his target wasn't looking his way; he was staring at the figure that had appeared in the gloom of the still-dark office, illuminated by the light cutting in from the hallway.

There were few sights quite so terrifying up close as Shinigami with a pump-action 12 gauge shotgun and a grievance. Even the woman's eyes were flicking away from the Glock aimed at her head to stare at the half-smile that looked as deadly as the gun's barrel. The man behind her let the gun slip from numb fingers.

"Right. In case you were wondering, the reinforcements pouring down the hallway turned out to be only little ol' me," Duo purred. Wufei chanced a glance at him. From the slightly thick way Duo was talking, Wufei wasn't surprised to see a bruise on his friend's jaw, already starting to swell and change color. If he was injured anywhere else, he didn't show it.

The tension of the tableau was broken by Heero prosaically turning away and putting his Glock next to the laptop, to finish downloading the data, which was at least partially useless now. There would be other interesting tidbits in there, Wufei thought with resignation, making sure the two remaining perpetrators didn't try anything funny. The only difficult bit now was what to do with these people, this having hardly been the most legal of ventures to begin with.

 

 

In, out, around, pull, in, out, around, clip, done.

"There we go. All finished!" Duo exclaimed as the last stitch went in, apparently no longer able to bear the silence. Since Wufei was doing the stitching and Duo was the one being stitched, his remark was rather out of place, but Wufei made no comment. He could practically taste the adrenaline roiling off his friend.

"It won't be as neat as Trowa's stitches." Wufei stripped off the surgical gloves. "Keep the ice pack against your face," he added as Duo bent to look at the sutures.

"Yeah, Tro's the best! Good thing, or Heero would look like a Frankenstein!" The man in question sat at the counter running through the acquired data, and he ignored the comment.

"You mean Frankenstein's monster-" Wufei gave up. "Sorry we couldn't take you to the Ops clinic. We could have driven you to a hospital -"

"I'd rather not leave a trace in Brussels, I told you. Huh, twelve stitches. You know, we'll end our careers looking like a tic-tac-toe board."

Wufei passed a careful finger around the straight gash, now stitched. "That was a close call." It was over Duo's shoulder. One inch downward-

"Yeah well..." Duo shrugged in a way that Wufei would not have considered appropriate for his stitches. Then he lunged.

"Max- get the hell off!"

"Geez, you guys are so unhuggable! We made it out alive, we beat the bad guys, you just stitched me up like a regular Florence Nightingale, I thought that deserved a hug." From the cheeky way Duo was grinning, he was perfectly well aware what reaction he was going to get. Oh yes, Duo Maxwell was spoiling for a fight.

"Try to get some rest, Duo," Wufei grunted, putting their medical kit away. Neither of the partners were more than bruised.

He didn't have much hope Duo would follow his advice; he himself would not sleep for a while. He was planning to meditate, bring the bloodlust and the battle fever under control. If only-...but even if Maxwell weren't here, Heero was busy sifting through the data. They'd both be in Ops tomorrow, to take over the interrogation of the culprits from Sam. They probably wouldn't be able to keep them beyond their legal forty-eight hours of preventive detention. They had no proof, no case, at least none that they could admit to after illegally breaking into a building and stealing the data. But the terrorists didn't know that. Wufei felt pretty sure one or the other would spill most of what they needed to know. Identification and flagging would insure this cell wouldn't be much of a problem in the future. Wufei discovered that he wasn't even that curious to know what cause they were supporting. At the heart of the matter, it was always the same. A group who thought they'd been shortchanged by the peace, one way or another, and decided that they would make someone - anyone - everyone pay.

They'd both be busy for the full forty-eight hours. Then-...

"So we owe you a favor now. Another favor." Wufei smiled tightly at Duo. "Feel free to collect any time. But I guess you want to get back to L2 now."

Duo had been cleaning his gun with a surfeit of nervous energy. He glanced up and grinned.

"No way, man. Duo Maxwell is not a quitter."

"...Quitter? I don't-"

"I still have to break into Ops! Of course, now I don't have a good floorplan, and I doubt I'll get one. But hey, that's okay, I'll go in slow and easy. Probably take me an extra week or so."

"You don't have to, Duo." Wufei tried to keep the edge of hysteria from his voice. At the counter, Heero had stiffened. "Besides, Yuy is going to rewire and rebuild the entire security system, so that will change everything you've scouted out so far."

"Hell, that's right!" The charger slid into the pistol with a slick metallic noise. "Make it two extra weeks then!"

Wufei threw a brief, aghast look at his partner. Heero’s eyes were wide and he looked like he was about to bang his head on the counter. Duo wasn't that unpleasant to live with, and he was a great ally, but-...

Duo's eyes were turned inward and pensive when Wufei turned back to him. It was an unusual expression for Duo. Something serious must have occurred to him, or possibly caught him off guard.

"Then again..." Duo scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Heero? How long will it take you to rewire everything?"

"We need to go through the data. It could take a while."

"Hmm, tell you what, guys. I'll give you a rain-check. Why don't you interrogate the baddies until they're on their knees and confessing all their sins. I'm going to hire a rental car and go see the sights in Brussels. Then when you're done, you can take me out for a wild night on the town, after which I will leave you two solitary wolves to your tundra. We can try this break-in thing in another year, when the guards have gotten into their routine and all. What do you say?"

Forty eight hours? No problem, Wufei thought, even as his skin seemed to ache for...something. Probably sex. Well, most certainly sex. He didn't need a touch, that was stupid and weak, and besides, Duo had hugged him and he'd brushed him off, as usual.

Forty eight hours. And then the house would be theirs again. Home. Safe. No more masks except the ones they chose to wear.

 

 

Wufei said his goodbyes to Duo while the man was still packing and went up to his room, strategically avoiding the more exuberant farewell. He tried to meditate, but the noises from the shop floor, Duo's enthusiastic last words to a fairly silent Heero, were distracting. Actually that described the whole two weeks of Duo's visit. Not unpleasant, or overly imposing, or hugely fun either. Distracting. Finally the front door closed, and the voices were outside.

Giving up his attempts to meditate, Wufei went to stand by the window, flicking the slats of his venetian blinds up. Duo was talking while putting his duffel in the rental's trunk. He was grinning and spinning and moving. Heero was a contrast of forbidding stillness beside him. Night was falling fast. Duo had finally given up on the 'wild night on the town' plan and was catching the red-eye back to the colonies.

Wufei grinned, seeing it coming even if Heero didn't; the twirl, braid flying, the rapid step, almost feinting to one side then the other, and just as Heero stiffened in surprise-...the hug! Wufei snickered as Heero went as stiff as a board while Duo held the hug the exact amount of time he could get away with without incurring a shove, then leapt back with a smug grin. Maxwell...Wufei shook his head in something like affectionate annoyance or disgruntled admiration, he wasn't sure which anymore.

He let the slat drop, then fiddled with the string. Damn, it must have knotted in the mechanism again; the last slat was slanted and wouldn't quite close. Strange, it had been fine this morning when he and Heero had gone to work. They'd given the interrogations one last shot before releasing the disbelieving terrorists into a world where their every move would be carefully monitored and any future illegal activity, even jay-walking, would see them roped in to pay for their crimes. Wufei fiddled with the cord again, then shrugged. Breaking a terrorist plot before it even hatched was one thing but this? He would investigate the mystery of life that was venetian blinds tomorrow. Right now he wanted to relax, fully, for the first time in two weeks.

The silence of the house beckoned to him. He picked up his book, slipped on his glasses, and walked downstairs. The space seemed to wrap around him, silent, peaceful, all theirs again. Safe. Wufei lounged on the couch, flipped open his book, drank in the silence before he started to read. He heard the slam of a car door outside, distant and somehow enriching the silence rather than disturbing it. He didn't pay any attention to the well-known steps at the door, then moving through the room; they were as familiar as his own. Wufei turned a page. Deep within him there was the slight hope that Heero might sit down on the other end of the couch, a tentative resumption of one of their rituals he'd grown rather used to.

The book was ripped out of his hands. Wufei started, fingers tingling. He opened his mouth but found himself squashed against the couch with a hard mouth gagging his before he could even shout, a hand capturing his head.

Heero freed Wufei's mouth to tug the glasses off his nose before they scored his cheekbone again, and their owner had the time to protest.

"Mm- what the- I was reading, Yuy!" Wufei snarled, shoving his partner away. A ball of very different emotions made way for a more familiar anger. He didn't appreciate being interrupted during his relaxation, or feeling like he was there for Yuy's convenience when the latter had an itch he couldn't scratch by himself.

"I know." Heero's voice was rough and husky and sent vibrations right down to the pit of Wufei's stomach via the skin of his neck. "Wouldn't normally while you're reading. Won't again. Just this once." The hot whisper brushed Wufei's skin, skittering over the mark left by Heero's mouth. Wufei realized that the hands that had been shoving Heero away were now clutching his partner's shirt. The fury nipped at him again.

"Get off, Yuy!" he growled, though his damned hands, which could normally chop through an inch of wooden plank, refused to do more than shove a very little bit. "I don't appreciate being jumped on! I finally have time to read in peace without being interrup-hnn..."

Heero had grabbed the hand that had finally started to push in earnest, and was kneading it between his strong fingers, almost to the edge of pain, pressing against bone, sending shudders down Wufei's spine. The other fingers rubbed at the base of his skull, snagging and loosening his hair a little, attacking the knot of tension that they frequently found there. Damn it! Wufei fumed. This wasn't fair! Yuy knew all his weak spots!

Still manipulating the bones of Wufei's long, strong fingers and palm, Heero slowly bent his head and mouthed the sensitive little patch of skin near the wrist. Blue eyes were fixed on Wufei, unembarrassed, incandescent with lust, and still the hard, analytical eyes of a tactician who was feeling out the effects of his strategies to get what he wanted. Wufei was about to remove that expression the hard way when the other hand dropped from his neck and slipped between his thighs, thumb working the muscles, fingers, more delicate, ghosting over the skin beneath the cloth. Wufei was suddenly one long, rippling shudder. But his glare was still stubborn. The mouth against the pulse in his wrist curved a bit, in amusement and something like admiration. The fingers between his legs started to linger on his hardening cock, which, like the rest of Wufei's rebellious body, was listening to its own desires.

"I don't...appreciate..." Wufei kept forgetting what he was trying to say. He could barely hear his own voice through the rush of blood in his ears. Yuy wasn't normally this pushy. The weeks of need had built up. In both of them. Wufei's breath hitched as a delicate tongue, a counterpoint to the fingers' hard manipulation, darted out and slowly drew a shiver of sensation from his wrist to the root of his thumb. Why...why was he saying no again?

"Oh, ok-hey!" Wufei gasped as Heero hauled him from the couch and towards the stairs before the second syllable was out. Likely the only thing that was keeping Heero from scooping his partner up and carrying him to the bedroom was the sure knowledge that Wufei would kick his ass if he dared to.

They crashed, bodies fused, into the door of the study at the top of the stairs, hands digging wildly through clothes, pressing flesh, burning along skin. Wufei managed to take a step towards his bedroom. Heero growled deep in his throat at the loss of the warmth between them and followed, pressing his body against his partner's, crushing him against the wall. They stumbled a few more steps, while Heero's hands slipped into Wufei's loose pants, fingers firm on his hipbones, his ass. Wufei's hand slammed blindly against the doorknob before he managed to turn it, his mouth caught on the pulse in Heero's neck, the life and passion there hammering to burst free. The steel body shivered beneath his mouth; Heero also had weaknesses. Wufei tried to use every one of them at once, and barely felt the door open behind them. Heero groaned, one hand caught on the doorjamb to stop them from falling on the floor as the door swung wide.

Heero's hand was on his ass again as they stumbled into the room. This was a familiar opening gambit and Wufei knew where this was going. He exploded, chopping Heero's arm away, his other hand shoving his partner towards the bed.

"Goddamn it, Heero Yuy! You're the one who asked him here, who kept him here two weeks, you're the one who can't wait, so you're damn well going to be on the bottom!" Wufei shouted into startled blue eyes.

A feral growl in response, face darkening, then a minimal shrug as Heero let himself fall bonelessly backwards onto the bed, surrender unspoken. Wufei marched up, opened the bedside table drawer and barely had time to switch on the bedside lamp and find the lube before two strong hands grabbed him and dragged him onto the bed. Cloth creaked under strain, threads stretched as Heero's hands, too rough, tore off Wufei's shirt. Wufei managed to keep a hold on the lube, barely. He wriggled out of his pants himself, before those rough hands could, in their hurry, accidentally rip off something he might need later on. Heero had fastened himself on to his chest, biting his collarbone, a firm hand warm on Wufei's erection. Wufei groaned and struggled to get his partner out of his clothes despite the awkward position. Heero was ignoring his prods and wouldn't back off.

Heero moved, rolling Wufei onto his back, hands greedy, hips thrusting. Wufei squirmed - both men gasped and panted when the friction rippled pleasure through them. Heero's grasp weakened and Wufei threw him off, shoving him towards the wall and following immediately. Heero slammed his hand back against the wall for leverage and Wufei was on his back again with Heero's full weight on him before he could even gasp.

The lube was ripped from his hands. Wufei coiled, ready to move. To open it, Heero would need both hands on the screw cap. Heero grinned savagely an inch above his face, eyes challenging and hard. A hand delicately dropped the nearly full tube of lube on the bedside table - Wufei's eyebrows shot up in surprise - then smashed down, fist nearly breaking the bedside table beneath it. The tube burst at the seams and Heero smirked triumphantly, not once looking away from Wufei as his fingers scooped up the mess. Wufei was about to shout in pure fury when the gelled hand dropped swiftly to his cock. The shock of sensation - cold - and the movement - grasp, twist, curl - sent shudders through him, and his back arched off the bed to collide with the rock that was his partner above him. Wufei strangled the moan before it could erupt and let Heero lube his erection. His right hand was caught under Heero's body, his left hand couldn't reach much - his breath was tearing through his lungs and Heero's pants were feathering the skin of his throat as his head rolled back against the pillow displaced by their violence.

Can't let him - he'll injure himself - fragments of thought flew through Wufei's mind like shrapnel, as the busy hand finished spreading the gel over his cock. Wufei lay still until Heero lifted himself to move over him. Blue eyes gleamed, anticipating the pain of thrusting himself down, riding Wufei and controlling their savage screwing; the act reaching deep down into those dark corners of Heero's mind that no one else knew about, and that he rarely, if ever, let out. But Wufei knew them intimately. He writhed at the slide of muscles against his. He was excited - and a bit pissed off at being top only in the most technical of terms. But the practical part of him clung to rationality, reminding him that Heero was still injured. He waited until the single instant when Heero's balance was compromised and shoved. His whole body bucked and thrust upwards. Heero tried to stay on top, twisting. Wufei rode the movement, slipping around him, clamping onto Heero's back, rolling them onto their sides.

Legs tangled and blocked, and Wufei tightened his arm around Heero's chest with all his considerable strength. Heero squirmed but no longer had any leverage now that they were pressed together, chest to back. The soldier snarled and then shuddered once, violently, as Wufei's freed hand dropped to Heero's previously unattended erection.

"Calm down," Wufei ground out, trying to get his breath back. A low rumble from the chest beneath his arm. The body against his still a coil of unreleased violence. "Calm down. Don't stress your back."

Heero gasped out a few choice words about his back.

Wufei ignored him, leaned over to dip his fingers in the mess of gel from the smashed tube. "We've not done this in two months. If you want to be able to sit down tomorrow, we do it my way," he said firmly. He felt Heero try to twist around a bit, the movements less aggressive, but Wufei kept him pinned, legs tangled, as he slid his hands down Heero's ass. The resistance ceased as he started to spread the lube, around, slipping inside, as slowly as he could when he was burning to bury himself into the body pushing back against his, moving against his chest. Heero arched and rubbed himself against the other’s body. Wufei increased the speed of his preparation before he got so excited that he wouldn't be able to do this; and he wanted this. He wanted to plunge into his partner, get as close as was physically possible.

Still, Wufei took his time. He didn't want to injure Heero. And, deep inside, where reason and logic did not reach, he knew where Heero's attempt to get savagely screwed was coming from. But a quick fuck wouldn't satisfy the need. Wufei kept his chest pressed against Heero's back, his arms still firm around the hard chest, skin caressing skin. Heero was no longer fighting the hold, though he bucked and gasped when Wufei finally pushed his way in. The movement was slow to start with, trying to find the rhythm they remembered, the one that met all needs...

 

---

The light of Wufei's bedside lamp was switched on, throwing thin lines of gold through the slats of the blinds, a wider gap shining at the bottom. The walls of the workshop reflected the light of the streetlights nearby, except for one dark patch near the window.

The black shape of a man was hanging, seemingly weightless, from his fingertips on the windowsill; one foot was wedged against the drainpipe, while the other had found purchase against a line of decorative brick-work that ran along the front of the workshop.

The figure pulled himself up effortlessly by the fingertips, one foot moving to gain friction purchase against the wall in total silence, until his eyes were level with the bright triangle of light at the edge of the window.

Almost immediately, the figure ducked down to his previous position and hung there, completely motionless for a minute or two. No sign came from within the building that he'd been noticed, though something thumped against the wall inside. Slowly the arms, slender yet deceptively strong, flexed almost in slow motion and brought the eyes back to their previous position to peek through the slats. This time the figure stayed there for a few seconds before lowering himself again.

The foot against the drainpipe moved as the figure prepared to descend to ground level, but no actual movement followed. He hung there like a spider, apparently caught in indecision, head leaning one way, then another, following an internal argument.

Finally a very slow, careful flex of the arms brought him up smoothly once more to the level of the crack in the slats. This time the figure stayed in place with almost casual upper body strength and endurance, watching for several minutes. Then, still in complete silence, he slipped back down the front of the building, falling the last few feet as lightly as a shadow.

Duo unfolded from the crouch and leaned back against the building as if he needed the support. He absently rubbed his arms, shaking out the stress from his exertions, but his eyes stayed wide, staring and slightly dazed.

Then he propelled himself away from the wall and walked, still in absolute silence, towards the rental he'd parked a couple of blocks away. His eyes remained fixed on nothing, unblinking, but after walking a block, his right hand slipped into his back pocket and drew out his phone, flipping it open and hitting a speed-dial sequence without looking.

"Hi. It's me. Or at least it was me last time I checked, but now I'm not so sure of anything anymore. Listen, Q...you're not gonna believe this, I know I barely do, but you were right. Yeah, about Heero and Wu. Uh-huh. That's what I said; well, not out loud of course. Man."

He shook his head in disbelief, finally starting to blink.

"I can't believe it. They're just...you don't know what it's like here. I know you're relieved, but I don't know if I am. It's not like they're...close, you know? I thought you were completely out of your mind when you asked me to find out if they were an item. I spent two weeks living with them and trying to think of ways to tell you your space heart needed new batteries. But then I occasionally got a, well, a funny vibe, I guess you could say, and I wondered if you weren't right after all. It's a really weird scene here, though, they just don't talk to each other, it's frickin' scary. They don't seem to give a shit about each other beyond this 'partner' thing; they tear strips off one another, they don't get jealous if you make a pass, they -"

He interrupted himself, but it was too late. There was a loud and angry exclamation on the other end of the phone, followed by rapid, reproving words. Duo's face scrunched and he rolled his eyes.

"Okay, okay, I know I said I wouldn't try the 'green-eyed monster' gambit but I just wanted to know, and what was I supposed to do, ask them? Actually, I tried that, and Wufei blew me off. So I tried the oldest trick in the book. I mean, I wasn't taking that big a risk, they were never that interested during the war. Hm? Oh well, if one of them had suddenly been interested in me, yeah, that could have been sticky, but what were the chances, I mean, come on, Yuy and Chang? Talk about blood from a stone. Two stones, I should say. Uh? What would I have done if one of them had been interested? Faked a heart attack, probably. It's what I would have done during the war if one of them had ever defrosted long enough to take a second look at my ass, and I never imagined that would happen."

He climbed into the rental that he'd parked a way off but he didn't start the engine. He leaned against the steering wheel with a dazed look back at the workshop.

"Still can't believe you were right, Quatre. I guess this is a good thing...You were worried they were alone and going nuts, but looks like they're going nuts together and having a fucking good time of it on the way. Sure made for an interesting show! Er, yeah, I kinda caught them in the act. Ah, no, Q, I'm still alive, so of course they didn't notice, I was careful, made sure I had a good view from a discreet spot with a good getaway ready - Hey, hey, I was just trying to find out what you wanted to know! And how else was I supposed to- Nah, I didn't watch for long. Just long enough to figure out who was gonna be on top `cause I'm damned if I could have guessed - good grief, it's not the end of the world! You can be so prudish, sometimes. Man. Okay, okay. Sorry. Well, I can't apologize to them, now can I! Uh? 'Which one was-'! Oh no way, Q!" Duo burst out laughing. "I risked my life to find out that piece of information, you ain't gonna get it from me that easy! Anyway, gotta tell you-" the eyes focused on slashes of light from the distant window, "- I gotta tell you, for all that I'm not interested in our hard-assed surly pair, that was the second hottest thing I've seen in my short life. Talking of which, I'll be on L4 in a few hours. You better be wearing something that's easy to remove in a hurry."

He clicked the phone off, cutting off the laughter on the other end, and drove off into the darkness with a feral smile of his own.

 

---

 

Wufei still held Heero loosely against him. The staccato heartbeat he could feel through Heero's back slowed, along with his own. On the second attempt, Heero managed to get a small towel out of the bedside table without moving from the cage of Wufei's arms, and cleaned himself up in three swipes. Wufei bit down on a sigh, eased out of the warm, pleasant haven, and rolled away to lie on his back. Then Heero turned, after automatically folding the towel and putting it on the floor near his clothes - Wufei rolled his eyes - and let himself fall back on the bed. Heero's hip rolled against Wufei's arm; the latter felt his fingers twitch against warm skin.

I should move, Wufei thought. This was one of those limits they didn't talk about. Beyond all that 'killer instinct' and 'safe space' stuff, Heero just didn't like physical contact. As far as Wufei could gather, he'd spent most years of his life being touched only for training and punishment. He wasn't going to be touchy-feely as a result. Neither was his partner for that matter. Wufei should move...This was one of their habits - rituals - unspoken laws - rigid frontiers...The need for touch was in both of them, but it was assuaged at the same time as their sexual urges. Unless Heero also enjoyed sitting on the couch with him...? Wufei really should move...Though of course, it was Heero who had the biggest problem with contact - Wufei's fingers trembled, flexed slightly, warm skin flowed beneath sensitive pads - and Wufei was tired and comfortable and, damn it, if Heero didn't like it, let him move.

Heero didn't move. Not for ten whole minutes. A mixture of satiated lassitude and stubbornness kept them both still. After ten minutes, Heero finally stood and made his way to his own room without looking back, as was usual, as if nothing slightly different had ever happened, and, in a way, it hadn't. There were no words for that slight need that had trembled on the edge of want. There was no need to delineate it, explain it, admit it. It was gone, past, it had never existed.

It went without saying, really.

Chapter Text

“Using hempen cloth to make gowns.”

- Hakka proverb.

 

Heero's mouth, lips closed, hard, forceful, pressed against Wufei’s. The kiss knocked his head back against the wall. A crime-scene photograph crinkled as it was crushed beneath his shoulder blades. Heero's body surged against his in a hands-off caress that would have turned Wufei into a bonfire...if shock and complete mortification hadn't drenched any kindling lust.

Despite his surprise at the unexpected move and a rough grip tugging his thigh up against Heero's leg, he managed to keep his hands on Heero's shoulders, instead of decking his partner out of instinctive reflex.

Heero released Wufei as suddenly as he'd grabbed him, and turned away abruptly.

"There. No problem. See?" Heero said.

Wufei braced himself against the wall, kept his face absolutely neutral with some effort, and turned towards the desk as if nothing had happened.

Une's face was a picture of incredulous shock, predictably enough; she looked like she'd caught their Gundams boning each other.

"I... I...Ah, Agent Yuy, I didn't-...That's not-" Her voice was pitched higher than usual. She turned away abruptly, two ragged red spots staining her cheeks, and reached for a glass of water on the side table. Her hand was shaking slightly.

"That wasn't convincing?" Heero inquired coldly.

"Of course it wasn't, moron!" Wufei snarled, violently shoving Heero out of his personal space. "She said, 'I'm not sure you can pretend you're boyfriends'. She didn't say 'Throw Chang up against the wall and screw him'!"

"What? I didn't- Commander, are you all right?" Heero stopped glaring at Wufei and went around Une's desk. He looked ready to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Une had gasped most of her glass of water into her windpipe, and she was hacking and coughing. However, she still had a fighter's instincts, and she was edging away from Heero with her hands raised protectively at this imminent threat. Wufei moved to her other side reassuringly and patted her on the back, forestalling Heero's efforts; he didn't want his annoying partner arrested for breaking every one of their commanding officer's ribs.

"Here, sit down, Commander. Yuy, get her another glass of water. I apologize for that, Ma'am. But despite Agent Yuy's enthusiasm-" the two partners exchanged a glare that could melt lead, "I can assure you that we are quite capable of fulfilling this mission."

Please, please, please give us this mission! This wasn't something they were used to, in fact, under normal circumstances, Wufei would never have contemplated taking this on despite the three dead officers. But it had been a couple of weeks since Heero had decided he'd recovered from his injuries and was now back up to operational capacity, and, to regain his full combat abilities, he'd been sparring, no holds barred, against Wufei on a twice daily basis. The L5 Preventer wasn't sure he'd survive this fitness program, or his partner's boredom, much longer.

"I... Chang?" Une turned towards him with an almost pleading look in her reddened, watery eyes. She was still coughing, but trying to speak calmly. "You realize it isn't just the, ah, that aspect. Right?" Cough. "I mean, I know you and Yuy will, ah, will-" Cough. "You're willing to do a lot for a mission, but-" Choke.

"Commander, both Yuy and I have performed some undercover operations during the war," Wufei said quietly, though he didn't add that most of them had been very short, and, in at least one case slightly similar to this mission, had ended up with them breaking their cover barely thirty minutes after infiltrating the base and fighting their way out the hard way. But in this case, they weren't being asked to act like teenage prostitutes. Just a normal couple.

Quite challenging already, but they should be able to manage it.

Une seemed to read the assurance in his eyes. It went unsaid that Wufei would be the one counted on to decide what 'normal' was in these circumstances. He hoped he was up to the task.

Heero set a new glass of water on Une's desk and went to glare at the display on the wall. They'd been looking at the photographs when Une had dropped her bombshell of a mission outline - and immediately admitted her reservations about their ability to pose as a couple. Heero had said something about it not being an issue. The next thing he knew, Wufei had been grabbed by one shoulder, spun around and slammed against the evidence wall.
Some of the photographs were askew; Heero righted them, unaffected by the sight of the executed officers in the shots. Three dead bodies: two local police officers and a Preventer. Heero frowned at the rest of the information pinned to a wall. Photographs of the man responsible for the murders, and some of his entourage. A floorplan of his huge house, taken from the colony's building archives; four stories, an underground garage, sixteen rooms. Circled in red, the office where the target computer system lurked, behind a firewall that had defeated their attempts at hacking it to date.

"If you don't think we're capable of infiltrating the locale, Chang and I could always break into it," Heero threw over his shoulder, fingers tapping at various weak points in the mansion's security.

"No." Une sighed, regrouping behind her official persona. When she straightened up, she was Commander Une again. "No," she said more firmly. "Don't get me wrong, it would be my choice of approach. Faster, and more likely to succeed. I don't doubt you'd find enough evidence to get this man convicted. But there's a chance that you could get caught breaking in, and that would leave us in a very awkward position. The L3 authorities and the ESUN council have decreed that discretion is the highest priority on this mission." Une glanced at them and then shook her head, as if wondering why the hell she was asking Heero and Wufei to do this.

Wufei rather agreed with her unspoken assessment. He sat down in the chair in front of her desk, arms crossed over his chest, frowning. "Yuy and I will do our best, Ma'am, of course, but..."

"I know you're neither of you undercover specialists," Une inserted, guessing what he was about to say. "In fact, this job was tailor-made for Barton and Maxwell. Unfortunately, Barton is on another mission that takes highest priority, and Maxwell is injured."

"What?!" Heero and Wufei exclaimed together. Une blinked in surprise.

"Didn't he tell-"

"How did it happen?" Heero barked, spinning away from the information pinned to the wall, while Wufei leaned forward and asked: "Is it serious?"

"Calm down, gentlemen. He's got a badly sprained wrist and a mild concussion, and it didn't happen on the job, so I didn't think I'd be the one telling you. Though I guess I know why he didn't." Une smirked as if enjoying a private joke.

"He was fine when he left Brussels two weeks ago-" Wufei started.

"He was on leave at Winner's estate on L4 after his mission here," Une explained dryly. "Winner, who is normally an eminently rational person, must have succumbed to a fit of madness and suggested they go horseback riding. Why he ever assumed Duo had ridden a horse before is beyond me; if they saw that much meat on the hoof in the colony Maxwell came from, they'd eat it. But of course Maxwell wasn't going to admit that there was any kind of ride he couldn't master. Apparently, he went about it as if riding a horse and piloting a Gundam were roughly on par. The poor horse managed to throw him or it would have had a cardiac incident, I'm sure. Winner is the one who called to warn me that Duo would be unable to take on any missions for awhile. Maxwell is fine and recuperating at Winner's, but unavailable for at least a few weeks, since it's his gun hand he managed to sprain."

"Oh." Wufei and Une shared a small grin of wicked amusement at the thought of the cocky Deathscythe pilot defeated by a horse. Heero just sniffed and turned back to the far wall with its photographs and floor-plans.

"So the mission parameters are to infiltrate the group of clubbers that get invited to Exeter's mansion. Get invited repeatedly, become known to the guards, evade surveillance during those encounters, break into the office, familiarize ourselves with the system and hack open a landline access to the system." Heero had obviously dismissed the Horse Incident as if it had never happened. Maxwell was unavailable, so he'd take the mission in his stead. Good little soldier, Wufei thought, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He just doesn't have a clue how hard this is going to be...

"Yes. The two undercover police officers had been working this case for three months, with that aim in mind. You'll be following in their footsteps. Well, except for the part where their cover got blown and they were murdered before they could get into the mansion for their first visit."

"Isn't that enough to bring Exeter in for questioning?"

"We don't really care all that much about Exeter," Une explained wearily. "It's the information on his system that is our objective. He's Syndicate."

Wufei leaned forward abruptly. Besides him, Heero quickly slipped into the second chair, concentrating on Une's words.

"He's a financial backer, not a top player. But Exeter has information on high ranking Syndicate members and their financial dealings. This would get us up close and personal with the ones we didn't bring down during the Barton incident."

Heero grunted. Wufei glanced from his partner to Une, catching a troubled look between them. He'd not been involved in that near-disaster, though it had been his information that had led to the break-up of the plot. This had been the mysterious leader who had tried to recruit Wufei after the war, when he'd been wandering like a ghost, looking for a cause. The name he'd given Heero that day, after destroying Nataku and leaving for university, had led the Preventers to an L3 businessman by the name of Dekim Barton; the man who'd financed Heavyarms, as it turned out. Heero had given Wufei a curt outline of what had happened last December: Barton - their Barton - had infiltrated Dekim's operation, and gotten the Preventers enough ammunition to bring the man and his army down. All four of the active Gundam pilots had been involved in this; Wufei had been rather put out when he learned about it, he'd not even read about this in the news. But he couldn't complain, since he'd been the one to walk away at the time.

It turned out that Dekim Barton had been one of several heads of a hydra known only as The Syndicate, a group that had infiltrated all sides of the recent conflict. They were the disease that had set in after too many decades of war. It was an old story, repeated throughout history. War forced the worst of the underworld to evolve, structure itself, protect itself, thereby leaving a virulent, all-pervasive organism behind once peace was declared. The end of martial law meant that the authorities could no longer use truly brutal means of repression, and, like a virus working its way through a weakened immune system, the organism spread, infecting all businesses and walks of life, and rooting itself in deep. Human society had taken decades, even centuries, to rid itself of the Mafia, the Triads, and other similar parasites. Wufei didn't think they would be able to destroy The Syndicate for a long time, until it had grown too complex and heavy for its own good, and society had formed defenses against it.

But that didn't mean they couldn't try. One of the Syndicate's main sources of revenue had been providing weapons to terrorists and rebels the world over. Peace had already been a blow to their finances, hence Dekim's attempt at destroying it. There was now a state of all-out war between the Syndicate and the Preventers. A quiet, hidden conflict without shellings and Gundams; a battlefield of financial manipulations and murders in the dark.

"Exeter has, of course, the usual protections: high ranking politicians, financial support, and enough lawyers to form an army in their own right. Most of his businesses are above board anyway. His links to the Syndicate are mainly for money laundering, and he has top-flight financial wizards to help him drown out the illegal influx of cash. His colony protects him almost as a matter of course...No, we will likely never put Mr Andrev Exeter in jail." Une looked bitter, as she always did when it came to L3 and its tolerance of such corruption. "But we need his information, and the moment he spots a warrant he'll wipe all of it from his systems.

"Fortunately, Mr Exeter is used to the L3 way of doing things, and the amenities of a wartime government when he could bribe his way out of most trouble. He's careless. This gives us a chance to get in close to the higher ups in the Syndicate. Preferably before they pull another coup on us."

"He'd have to be careless to invite unknown people to his mansion, if that's where he keeps this information," Heero affirmed, cold and condemning. Then he went back to the important business: the mission. Une didn't really have to give Heero so much background intel, she just needed to tell him what had to be done. "So we are to infiltrate the objective by posing as a young couple, such as those he regularly invites to- what precisely does he want them for? Sex?"

Very briefly, 'Commander Une' faltered and the much more prim Lady Une threw Heero a horrified glance at his cold, matter of fact question, as well as what he was implying he'd be ready to accept for the mission. But she recovered quickly.

"No, Agent Yuy. He just...likes to have them around. He has a small private club there. Word is, he's bisexual, but he's mainly interested in young, gay couples, preferably men, um..." Une was trying not to squirm under two, clear, hard gazes. "Which is why, well...We don't know how he spotted the two undercover operatives. They were professionals, and good at their job. But they were part of the L3 force, which means-"

"Someone sold them out." Wufei snorted in disgust.

"Probably. The Preventers are not local, so the L3 authorities - the reliable ones - asked us for help. I'm afraid we sent Agent Santoro in blind. He was really there only for a recon, his cover was a bit light. We didn't think-...He was just hanging around, as if trying to pick up people at the club, Désirs. It was too soon after they caught the two cops, though, they must have been keeping an eye out, and Santoro was, well, he was thirty, and not really trained for that milieu. He rather stood out."

"Which is why you're asking us," Wufei finished. "We're young enough where we won't look out of place at this night spot where Exeter picks up his clubbers."

"Yes. And you'll be going in with a proper cover story. We're working overtime to build it, so it'll be ready to set in motion if you agree to-"

"Of course we agree," Heero announced, cold and sure.

"Just a minute, Yuy." Une sighed and rubbed her temples. "I want you two to realize what you're getting into. The investigation into the death of the two undercover policemen indicated they'd been placed under close surveillance by Exeter's men shortly before they were killed. He's - this will sound strange, but he's not an animal, or a hardened criminal, though he will kill if threatened. Apparently all efforts were made to insure that these two men were, indeed, a threat to him before they were executed. Now he's going to be even more careful. You two may never be invited to his mansion at all; he may stop that behavior now. But if he does ask you over, you can expect every aspect of your life to be under close scrutiny for a few days prior to the invite. He'll want to be sure you're not plants. And that means, well-"

"He'll have us followed, investigated, and he might bug our apartment. We understand that," Wufei interrupted calmly. "Don't worry, Commander. As Yuy just demonstrated, I think we can make it look convincing."

Une frowned and fiddled with a folder on her desk. Heero shifted beside him as if to add something at this point. Wufei quickly flicked his fingers on the chair's armrest, catching his attention. Heero's eyes lifted to his. They exchanged a glance; wait, let me do the talking, I'll explain later, Wufei indicated. Heero subsided.

"I'm under pressure by ESUN to send in two more agents for another attempt at infiltration," Une said softly. "Young agents. I have some new recruits who can do the undercover part, but..." Her eyes lifted to them, hard, and angry. "But I'm damned if I'm catering to L3's sensitivities and their wish to avoid a scandal with Exeter by sending two cadets into what could very likely turn into a deadly trap. Personally, gentlemen, I don't think you have much chance of making it into that mansion. I doubt Exeter is dumb enough to keep on inviting pretty young things to his house just to-"

Une's ears caught up with her words and she choked briefly. The 'pretty young things' - war-hardened soldiers who'd killed more men than Exeter and all his goons ever had - waited patiently for her to continue.

"Well, whatever. If you can get the information, I'll be very, very happy, and very, very surprised. But mainly I'm sending you two in because if things hit the fan, I know you can survive it. There's only one thing I'm...worried about.

"You two..." Une's mouth pinched unhappily. "You're my best. You're the ones I send in when I know nobody else can do it. You've busted up operations that I would have needed an army to crack. I...don't want to compromise that. For anything. But I'm aware that putting you into this kind of situation, months living as a- well, it might stress the...entente you two have. It's rather different from what I would normally have you do. I don't want this to ruin your partnership..."

Once more, Wufei could feel Heero stare at him, waiting for him to say the few words that would put Une's worries to rest. Once again, Wufei threw a cautioning glance at his partner.

"Ma'am, don't worry. Yuy and I are professionals. This won't be a problem."

"Very well," Une concluded, resigned. "Sam will brief you. If at anytime you have any doubts about -" she must have caught sight of their 'mission' faces and didn't bother finishing. "Do your best. Don't get killed. Dismissed."

 

 

Wufei wasn't surprised to feel hard fingers grab his arm and drag him off into a section of deserted cubicles, away from the main hallway leading towards Sam's office.

"Why didn't you tell her?" Heero's voice was cold, slightly annoyed but mainly curious. Wufei felt a touch of something...pride maybe; his partner trusted him implicitly, and knew he had to have a reason for keeping silent about the nature of their relationship.

"Tell her what?" Wufei asked patiently, knowing what Heero meant, but needing him to spell it out before he could take it apart.

"That we won't have any problems acting like a couple, or having sex even if they bug our apartment."

"Won't we?" Wufei asked dryly. Heero stared at him, surprised.

"I won't say I'll enjoy knowing someone may be watching." Heero cocked his head to one side. "But that won't stop us. And that's what Une was worrying about. So why-"

"That was only one detail Une was worrying about. And that's why this is going to be hard," Wufei corrected him, suddenly uncomfortable. This was stuff they never talked about. "Look, Yuy... just stop a minute, and run one of our usual days through your mind. Now, remember we're supposed to be a normal couple, above suspicion."

A brief moment of silence...

"Oh." Heero frowned. "Well, we can act...I guess." The brief, uncharacteristic moment of hesitation spoke volumes. Wufei knew Heero hated to admit he wasn't perfect at every aspect of being an agent, but his partner was also brutally honest enough to admit that infiltration was not one of his skills. Not after successfully standing out as, at best, an unsocial jerk in most schools he'd hidden out in during his wartime career.

"Une's mainly worried that we can't act like normal people in every day life, well enough to withstand even a light scrutiny. We're not just supposed to fool the hostiles by screwing each other in bed while they listen in over a mike. We have to convince every person we meet who might be questioned by Exeter's men that we're just a normal couple. And we'll be doing this for months."

Heero glowered at the floor, arms crossed over his chest. Wufei watched the lines of his shoulders expressing the inner struggle; the need to take on and succeed at a mission on one hand, the admission of a difficulty, a lack in his own abilities on the other.

"I don't have much experience. With normal," Heero bit out, still glaring at the floor. "I'm not sure what that entails." Eyes flickered towards Wufei's. "But you said we'd take the mission." There was a question in his words.

"I think we can do it," Wufei answered quietly and firmly. "It won't be easy. But I have enough knowledge about 'normal life', as you call it, to pass. And Une underestimates us."

The rest went unsaid. The closeness, the almost telepathic ability to understand one another, follow one another's near invisible leads in high-risk situations...Damn, they'd managed to delude a live-in Duo Maxwell for two weeks, they could certainly fool a couple of thugs looking through a bad image feed for a few days. No, they weren't normal, but in this instance it was also a strength. Heero Yuy didn't know the meaning of the word embarrassment, as the demonstration for Une earlier proved. He wouldn't trip them up by hesitating or recoiling away from anything. And Wufei thought that, for a mission, and a chance at taking a bite out of the Syndicate, he could once more be the one who drew the attention away from Heero, put up the front. Bury his pride, his normal instincts, and lie to the world without shame, regret or remorse. Besides, if Heero could do it, so could he.

They nodded, arguments, logic and conclusions unspoken, as always, but understood and accepted. Wufei turned, but fingers caught his arm again, more gently this time.

"Still, why didn't you tell Une? That would have set her mind at rest about this mission compromising our team's integrity." Heero seemed simply curious this time, trying to understand his partner's reasoning. Wufei smirked in enjoyment at the thought of Une's face if he'd dropped that one on her, then he shook his head.

"That wouldn't be wise. You heard her worry about how even pretending to be involved would get us embroiled in some emotional tangle. I don't want her double-guessing our competence and detachment from now on, if we were to tell her we actually are fucking each other."

"Une knows us both well enough to realize that our arrangement will not interfere with our performance," Heero refuted firmly.

"Une is a fairly good commander, but she's also a woman," Wufei retaliated. "Women can be good combatants, but they will too easily let their feelings overwhelm them, and then they seem to forget all their common sense, duty and even self-preservation. And they tend to assume other people are the same," he ended with a sneer. Burying the slight pang of bitter regret as he remembered another woman who should have cared more about her self-preservation than the life of her unworthy husband...

Heero's eyebrows shot up. "Is that actually an observation? Because I don't recall-"

"Noin and Zechs. She was all for stopping White Fang blowing up the earth, as long as she could do it without mussing up his hair."

"That's not exactly-"

"That brunette, Hilde, and Maxwell. She was with OZ and she was supposed to shoot him down; instead she ends up saving his life and doing spy work for him."

"Well-... "

"Do I really need another example?"

"Two women don't make-"

"Relena." Wufei laid down his trump card.

Heero visibly winced. "That's not really a valid example," he muttered. "She has her ideals-"

"I wasn't talking about Berlin. Before she even knew she was a Peacecraft, you threatened to kill her what, twice? At least?"

"How did you know-"

"Maxwell has a big mouth, and found the whole episode very amusing. He tells it like it’s one of his best jokes if you give him half a chance. You know what I would do if you threatened to shoot me even once, Yuy?"

"You'd get me first," Heero muttered, conceding.

"Right! Women don't have the ability to make completely rational judgments in combat situations, it's that simple. They think with their hearts, not their heads. I don't think they should even be involved in fighting. They should just take care of business or diplomacy, like the Peacecraft woman, or they should stay at home and make babies- what?"

Heero's eyes had focused on the hallway behind Wufei and widened in alarm. "H-hello, Sally," he said, tone and stance a warning.

Wufei stiffened and spun around, bracing himself. He turned back slowly from the quite empty hallway to glare at the growing smirk on Heero's face. Good touch, he granted reluctantly, though on the outside he simply sneered dismissively.

"All I'm saying is that we should not divulge the -"

Heero actually laughed, a twisted little snicker. "You're right, men do have a better sense of self-preservation,"

"-the details of our arrangement, Yuy, concentrate, I-"

"Maybe we should discuss this whole issue with Une."

"Mission, Yuy. Dead bodies. The Syndicate-"

"But don't mention the thing about the babies."

"- dead fellow officers -"

"She'd castrate you."

"If you're quite finished, Yuy!" Wufei snarled at that smug look, acknowledging defeat. Score, Yuy.

"Yes." Heero smirked. Then he was all business again, indifferently locking away the Heero Yuy that Wufei was the only one allowed to see. "Let's go talk to Sam."

 

 

Wufei went to get the next box from the van. Heero wasn't helping; he was inside unpacking the computer system and the hub, and glowering at the rather primitive setup he'd have to make due with. Student life sucked, Wufei thought with a sly grin.

"Mr... Chan Gen Lin?"

Wufei had kept an ear on the footsteps behind him, curbing his desire to turn around and face the potentially hostile person approaching at his six. He looked around only when she spoke, turning with the last box in his arms. Ah, the lawyer. He noted how she'd tripped over his assumed name and gotten it in the wrong order; she wouldn't be familiar with Asians and their customs, here on L3.

"Yes? May I help you?" Wufei asked politely.

"My name is Phillipa Scarriot." The young, horse-faced woman in a tidy green suit was looking at him curiously. "I work for the firm Meier and Konstanz."

"Ah, yes."

"I was very sorry to hear about your uncle, Mr Lin." Not, of course, that she'd known him, Wufei reflected, or that the uncle had ever existed.

"Call me Chang. It's a nickname," Wufei said easily enough. He'd practiced saying that for the last week. "Oh, and this is Yuy Summers. My boyfriend." Boy, that had taken some practice too. But he barely stuttered anymore.

Heero had come out of the apartment with a scowl on his face, probably ready to complain about the computer system again. He was now looking at the lawyer as if wondering if she were armed.

Sam had taken personal charge of their cover story, much to Wufei's relief. The old Fox knew how they worked. It meant they could still call each other Chang and Yuy, when the regular information services of Ops were going to set them up with fake identities using their first names, the ones they never used with each other. Sam also insured that they both had a bit of military background in their falsified records - OZ cadets, ironically enough - and that Heero had left behind him in his previous 'job' a record of being sullen and uncommunicative, an unsocial computer nerd. It all helped...

Phillipa's eyebrows had flexed a bit at the mention of 'boyfriend', but she'd covered the moment of surprise with the promptitude and smoothness of someone who never had any opinion whatsoever about a client’s personal life as long as his cheque cleared.

"A pleasure to meet you, Mr Summers. Phillipa Scarriot, from Meier and Konstanz."

"What do you want?"

Shit, Yuy, you could at least make an effort, Wufei thought resignedly, as Phillipa bridled ever so slightly at the curt demand. He firmly shoved the box into Heero's arms and turned towards the lawyer.

"Sorry, he didn't sleep much in the shuttle over. What can I do for you? I thought I'd signed all the papers already."

"Yes, we just need you to fill in this form here, taking formal possession of the property and acknowledging that all was left in order by the former tenant. Take your time checking it, and send it in by fax or mail. You're settling in well, I hope?" Her eyes trailed after Heero who was carrying the box upstairs without further word to either of them.

Wufei nodded at the moving van that had brought their few personal items, those items that people in their circumstances were supposed to have. "We had to buy some furniture, but mostly, we're good."

"I understand that you're enrolled in our university?"

"Yes. Both Yuy and I were taking courses by correspondence and working part-time back on Earth, but now, of course..." Wufei let the expected minute of silence elapse in memory of his supposedly deceased uncle, who'd left him a bit of money, this apartment and a few other properties, allowing him to attend university full time on L3. Phillipa let the minute pass with ingrained professional courtesy, then pretended to look interested.

"What courses do you attend, Mister- sorry, Chang?"

"Asian Literature, modern." Wufei didn't have to fake the small smile. It wouldn't be a drag keeping up his cover; he had enough knowledge to do so, and he was rather looking forward to a few months of proper courses. "Yuy is doing a degree in advanced computer engineering." The only difficulty about maintaining that cover would be for Heero not to let his professors realize that he knew ten times more than they did. And to handle the boredom. Heero hadn't been overjoyed at his proposed coursework, but he'd muttered something about doing some research on AI security programs to keep him busy. As long as he didn't reinvent Zero, or a computer that would try to take over the world, Wufei wouldn't interfere. A severely bored Heero would be rather unpleasant to live with.

"I hope you enjoy your stay on L3, Chang. Here's my card. Please don't hesitate to call me if you have any questions or problems. I think you'll enjoy it here. This is a fairly nice neighborhood, and it's so convenient for the University! It's got handy transport to the center of town - the night life on this colony is much more exciting than in many other clusters. Where did you say you were working, before you came here?"

"Tokyo."

"Ah. Well. Of course, we're just a colony. Ah-" Phillipa might have added more civilities, but at that moment Heero returned from the apartment. He stopped right next to Wufei and looked silently at the lawyer. Wufei could almost read the thoughts going through her mind. Boyfriend; probably jealous, possessive, and definitely unpleasant. In fact, Heero obviously just wanted a word with him, and was waiting for her to leave, but Wufei could see how she could misunderstand that silence and intense look. It was why they might actually manage this infiltration, Wufei thought, not for the first time. Heero didn't act normally, true, but his actions were often open to a normal interpretation, and anything he did that was truly bizarre would hopefully be put down to the fact that he was an unsociable computer geek and left at that. And, put plainly, it didn't feel like he was playing a part, simply because no one would be expected to be that bad at it. They might not make any friends, Wufei thought, watching Phillipa hastily excuse herself, trot back to her car and drive off a bit abruptly, but they probably wouldn't get spotted as undercover agents either.

"Yes?" he whispered, watching Phillipa's fast departing vehicle.

Heero turned without a word and left Wufei to follow him back into the apartment. It was much smaller than their safe-house. The living-room and kitchenette were big enough for two people, as long as they didn't have the territorial instincts of male tigers. There was a very small study for Heero's computer, still in its boxes, and a bedroom where Wufei could read when he wanted some solitude. He could see it from here, the door opened, boxes piled here and there. And a single bed, queen-sized.

"We're clear," Heero announced, closing the front door carefully behind them. "I checked, no bugs yet."

"Checked?" Wufei tore his eyes away from the bed. "What do you mean?"

"Sam left me some detection equipment. He'll send a courier to pick it up in a couple of hours," Heero added as Wufei's eyes widened in alarm. Though it would be weeks, months, before they might expect Exeter's men to check their apartment, they couldn't have anything like that around when it happened. "Foxwood wanted to be sure we were clear at least to start with, though there's no reason we shouldn't be. He said we might need some time to settle into our roles." Heero shrugged and idly switched on the overhead light; they'd drawn the curtains from force of habit when they first walked into the apartment, Wufei suddenly realized. Damn. Well, they'd start ironing out small details like that tomorrow. Sam was right, this was going to take some getting used to. It was nice to know they could at least discuss things out loud for a day or two to start with.

"We need to set up a system of communication, now that we're here." Heero's eyes were sweeping the apartment professionally. "A set of codes and signals we can use once we're no longer sure of this place's integrity. We can also talk at the university in case of emergencies. We'll scout out possible RV spots tomorrow. When do we recon the preliminary objective?"

"If you mean, when do we wander over to Désirs and have a drink, we'll go tonight," Wufei answered dryly. He felt suddenly curious to know what it would be like to live with Heero when he wasn't acting like, well, a soldier. Or a rival, or a brother-in-arms, or a fellow tiger. Wufei assumed he'd be doing most of the talking once they were fully undercover. The idea of Heero making small talk just...didn't fit into his view of the world.

"Tonight?" Heero looked askance. "So soon?"

"Yes, we might as well establish ourselves there. We won't go for long, just an hour or so. Get a feel for the place and let them see us. It's a fairly well-known club on the gay scene, it's not unlikely our alter-egos would have heard of it on the net before coming. And I want to go before the weekend; there won't be so many people tonight."

Heero nodded, in acceptance rather than informed agreement. It was understood that this was Wufei's operation, at least until they became regulars at Exeter's mansion, some of the beautiful people he collected for his private club. Then, assuming they could sneak away - or even get there in the first place - Heero would once more be in his element, cracking their computer and security systems for Ops to access whatever information Exeter kept there, as discreetly as possible.

In the meantime...Wufei found that he was looking at the bed again. "Are you going to be able to sleep on that? I mean, sleep with me?" Damn, that had sounded weird. As weird as 'boyfriend'.

"I can catnap with someone in the same room," Heero answered, without turning around. He was digging through the boxes in the study, pulling out cables.

"We're going to be at this for months, Yuy, until we get into Exeter's place or until Une pulls the plug on this mission. You can't catnap for months."

Heero paused, hands entangled in cables, eyes thoughtful. "My university courses end at five most days. So do yours, right? I can come back here and sleep for a few hours. That will keep me operational." He'd be able to sleep, alone in the bed, while Wufei kept watch in the living room; it really went without saying.

"The courses end at five, but we're supposed to be students. They don't come back home and take naps, Yuy. I think part of your curriculum forces you to stay late at night with the other geeks, doing odd things to your computer networks and playing marathon sessions of the latest strategy game."

"If I play a strategy game, it won't last long enough to qualify as a marathon," Heero pointed out dryly. Wufei snorted and decided not to remind Heero that they had to blend in. He'd feel the situation out later, how much deviation from the norm his partner could get away with. Wufei and Sam had taken care to place the 'Yuy Summers' character at the far end of the 'unusual' scale anyway, so it was likely he'd be okay.

"I'll go get us lunch from the local deli," Wufei announced. "You stay here, start putting the furniture we bought together, unpack a few things. And I don't mean the computer equipment, Yuy. Start with our clothes, they may need an iron. We'll unpack this afternoon, then we'll get ready for tonight." He cast one last look at the bed and left to see if the deli had something edible. He was tense; there were so many small details that could trip them up. And they might end up killing each other before the week was out, he added with a mental snort; they weren't used to cohabitating peacefully, without sparring matches and missions to relieve their natural tension. But there was a small part of Wufei that felt a twinge of anticipation, too. This would be different, challenging... and interesting. He found he was rather looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

"Cheat the ghosts by wearing clothes made of leaves."
--- Hakka proverb

 

"Chang... " Heero toyed with the rice, which was so watery and overcooked that Wufei had unpacked the spoons instead of their usual chopsticks, or lunch would have taken hours.

"Sorry, they didn't have much of a selection at the deli. I didn't think you'd want sauerkraut or paella. I'll get some fresh supplies tomorrow, and we'll find a proper place for take-out."

Heero gave him his usual dead-eyed stare. "I wasn't worried about the food."

"That's because you don't have any taste buds," Wufei muttered, shoving the plate of bland chow mein away, and grabbing an apple. He took a bite and grimaced in distaste. Floury. And pretty expensive. Damn, he'd only been on earth a year, but already he'd forgotten what it was like to live on the colonies. With a student budget to work with, too; he'd have to get creative with their menus.

"We've been so busy these last few days, we've not had time to go into details on this mission yet." Heero pushed his own plate away too. He was looking at Wufei seriously. "What exactly are we expected to do?"

Wufei's apple hovered near his lips. The week since they'd accepted the mission had been hectic: building the cover stories, memorizing them, getting the necessary items for their roles. Flying to Tokyo to try to set up what background they could in so short a time, and showing themselves at a few of the places they were supposed to have frequented. They'd not had time to discuss much about what they'd do once they got to L3. But now that they were here, they had months to figure out how to get noticed by Exeter and get invited into his pack.

But that wouldn't do for Heero Yuy, Wufei realized. His partner had to have clear guidelines from the start.

Wufei watched Heero walk away from the rickety kitchen table and pace the living room, from the small couch, to the television Sam had insisted they needed. They'd have to watch it, Wufei suddenly realized. To maintain their cover. The news, and maybe a film or two. Sitting on the couch. There wasn't anywhere else to sit, and it'd look weird if they didn't. Wufei looked at it blankly. It was a very small couch...

"Chang?"

"Hmm? Oh, well, you know the outline already. We hang out at Désirs. It's Exeter's club, one of his cash cows on this colony. He often goes there at night and watches the action. If we spend time at the club, once or twice a week and on Saturdays, then he'll see us there eventually and hopefully give us an invitation to his mansion."

"I know that bit," Heero snapped. "What no one's bothered to explain to me is how we're supposed to get that invitation. They have hundred of people going in and out of that club. He only invites a few. How do we catch his attention?"

Wufei considered his partner thoughtfully. Heero was pacing the living room with the grace and raw power of a tiger shouldering his way through a jungle, arrogant and sure. His jeans - Sally and Lu had had a field day, dragging Heero off to go shopping, and Wufei would be eternally glad that, one, he didn't have to go, having an adequate wardrobe, and that two, he'd had the foresight of disarming Heero before the trip. The jeans were one of the new acquisitions, and obviously made Heero feel uncomfortable; he was digging his hands in the back pockets again, trying to loosen the cling of the denim against his skin. Heero hardly ever wore anything but loose fatigues, or sweatpants and tank top when he worked out. Wufei scrutinized the well-sculpted body in the tight denim and a clinging dark blue long-sleeved t-shirt that defined his partner's chest and abs, and thoughtfully weighed them against Exeter's known set of criteria.

"I don't think catching his attention will be too difficult. Don't worry about it."

"What? I don't understand. First of all, what is he looking for? The outline said gay couples, but that's a bit vague. They pretty much don't let anyone else into Désirs."

"He's looking for beautiful, interesting people," Wufei recapitulated, remembering the information they'd been given. "He invites them to dance at his mansion and to party with him. Occasionally he indulges in a threesome, when it's obvious all parties are interested. But we won't have to go there, we just need to get into the joint."

"How? Beautiful and interesting...interesting how? Do we have to dance well?"

"No, and I don't think we'll dance anything too vigorous to start with. We both move like martial artists, and it shows."

"Then what are we supposed to be doing?"

"Well, drinking-"

"We can't do too much of that. Neither of us is used to alcohol."

"True."

"So what are we going to be doing? How do we get noticed?" Heero bit out, sitting abruptly on the couch and crossing his arms over his chest.

"In your case, Yuy? Don't talk, sit around and try to look sexy. Even if that doesn't get us in, the entertainment value alone should be worth it."

The look that quip got him deserved its own chapter in the Heero Yuy Book of Death Glares. Wufei was suddenly thankful that they didn't have the room to spar in this apartment.

"Seriously, Yuy." Wufei stood and stretched, then turned to gather the plates. "The only qualifications are to be young, look good, and grab his fancy. I don't know how to do the latter any more than you do, but the first two we should be able to manage. If that doesn't get us in after a couple of months, at least we'll be familiar enough with the club by then to see if we can try something else: talk to one of his men; make friends with the bartender; get up on stage and dance. I don't know. We've got time to figure it out, remember."

He put the dishes in the sink, turned on the water. Time...This wasn't one of their quick and dirty jobs. One of the most essential parts of this mission would be to get into the skin of their alter-egos. Chan Gen 'Chang' Lin, and Yuy Summers. Heero was focusing on their objective, of course, but there was so much more that would be involved. Meeting the neighbors, paying bills, touring the colony, finding places to eat, making friends with a few other students, hanging out, jogging together before classes - since they would quickly miss any physical activity, but couldn't indulge in their usual sparring. In fact, far from fighting each other, they'd have to be friendly, even here, in private. No more put-down matches; well, fewer of them anyway. And in between they'd have to act, well, like a couple. They'd have to talk about their day; go to the movies; dance together at Désirs; take walks in the park; meet up at Uni and have lunch together...

Wufei turned off the water briskly, covering the slight tremble of panic that had run through him. There was something fundamentally surreal about the whole thing, and it...worried him in a way he found hard to define. He decided it was because of all the hurdles he knew they had to face; figuring out how to behave at Désirs was important, but it was just one of many stumbling blocks the partners would be facing. No wonder Une didn't think they had a chance in hell.

But they'd prove her wrong. Wufei glanced around the small apartment - their apartment. How hard could it be? They routinely fought side by side against impossible odds. Brothers-in-arm. How hard could it be to just act like normal people? Together? This was a mission. They were not in the habit of failing those.

Wufei glanced at Heero as he put the plates in the drainer. Was Heero thinking the same thing he was? Possibly. Their abilities to read each other were amplified by danger, in clear-cut life and death situations, and this hadn't become one yet. Wufei discreetly studied the hard profile from the kitchenette, trying to follow the train of his partner's thoughts in the stiff neck, the tightly crossed arms. Heero was staring at the television as if wondering what it was for. He looked a bit tense. Wufei couldn't blame him. But he was Heero's template in this, he had to forge ahead, ignoring the little twist of worry twisting in his stomach. Assuming an assuredness he didn't quite feel, he walked over to his partner and squeezed his shoulder over the couch's back. Heero started and twisted to stare at him. Wufei met the look calmly, silently reminding his partner that they'd have to get used to small gestures like that.

Heero sighed in self-directed annoyance at his own reaction. "Yes?"

"Let's go put the stuff away, I hate living in boxes. Then we can choose what we'll wear tonight and talk about what to expect."

"Got a lot of experience in this?" Heero asked archly, as he stood up and followed Wufei into the bedroom.

"Some. I did go to such places during my university days in China."

"You did?"

Wufei glanced back at the uncharacteristic level of surprise in Heero's voice. "Yes, of course. Clubbing and hanging out in bars is a rather standard student activity."

Heero continued to stare at him in surprise. Wufei shrugged nonchalantly, opening a box. "A friend of mine, Ko. He dragged me out a few times."

"Oh?" Heero blinked, still obviously off balance. Surprised that Wufei had actually had a life, a social existence, in the time they'd spent apart?

"It's not something I enjoyed," Wufei admitted. "I mainly sat in a corner, drinking orange juice and waiting until Ko was distracted enough that I could slip out and head home without him moaning at me for being an antisocial jerk."

The press of drunken bodies, the flashing lights, the noise drowning his senses... he'd have felt more at ease in an interrogation room. He'd never been tempted to repeat the experience once he'd become Heero's partner, though Sally and Lucrezia had invited them both out a couple of times. He doubted he'd enjoy it any more now than he had then, the whole concept seemed trivial, boring and a waste of time. Most things did, outside of the job. The partnership and the arrangement it entailed had become the center of his life, and they kept him on an edge of excellence and adrenaline which made most entertainments pale in comparison.

"I only went a few times, but I have some idea on how to behave. Watching the crowds was about the only thing I had to keep me from becoming totally bored. From my observation, clubbing mainly consists of sitting in hard seats drinking watery beer, staring around the room, watching the opposite sex while trying not to be too obvious while they do pretty much the same. Then occasionally dancing like scarecrows, or going into agonies of indecision about inviting a girl to dance, then hanging around her like a puppy if she says yes. Here, we'll put my books in the living room, they won't fit in here."

"Right," Heero said, picking up the box absently and turning away. Wufei had been holding one end of the heavy box of books, waiting for Heero to help him by lifting the other end, and found himself empty-handed and staring at his partner's back; but that worked too. He shrugged and opened the next box. Shoes.

"So that's what we can expect?" Heero, apparently fully recovered from his previous surprise, glanced up from the books as Wufei passed by him, carrying the shoes to the cupboard near the door.

"Yes. Well, except for the bit about looking at the opposite sex. And since we're supposed to be together, you can't look too long at anybody of the same sex either. But mainly we'll just be drinking, watching people, trying to talk together, dancing when the music's slow, and eventually leaving to go home and study."

"Trying to talk together?"

"The music will be loud."

"We can lip-read. Oh."

"Yes, oh, as in, we don't want that to be obvious."

"This is going to be...quite challenging," Heero commented, voice soft. Wufei glanced over his shoulder at the uncharacteristic pause in his partner's voice. Heero was holding some books in front of the cheap shelves they'd bought, but he was not looking at them. His eyes were focused on the upcoming mission. He looked intense, expectant, and not all that daunted by his lack of knowledge. Heero Yuy loved a good challenge, even this kind. The fact that this was terra incognita to him, and dangerous because of that, just excited him. He was treating this like an infiltration mission into hostile territory, Wufei realized, not like it was a first date, which it was, by a stretch of the imagination. Wufei wondered if Heero would be even able to see this as anything other than a mission. Though that was, of course, the best frame of mind for him to be in. As long as Wufei fed him the right cues, Heero, as an excellent soldier, would get it right and not worry about appearances and sordid emotionality. Wufei felt the flicker of excitement rush through him too, setting the torch to his previous faint worries; this would be a test of their skill to communicate in silence, of their ability to fool the enemy - the other clubbers, and anybody else who might notice they didn't belong there. If they got it wrong, they might end up like the other three officers who'd previously failed.

"I doubt we'll have that many problems." He shrugged, careless, arrogant, and sure of their skills. Heero's eyes held a well-known gleam as he glanced up, hearing that familiar tone. "Besides, our cover story is good, and we look young enough that they won't suspect we're cops. Hell, the most they'll be suspicious of is that we faked our driver's licenses to get into the club. It's going to be hard enough to look like we're eighteen."

"Hn."

They worked on the boxes in silence for most of the afternoon, deep in their own thoughts. Heero started to flip through his course material with a disgusted look on his face. Then he glanced up as Wufei put away the last pieces of kitchenware.

"You mentioned getting dressed?"

"Yes. Let's go check out your wardrobe. I didn't actually get to see what Sally and Lu bought you."

"I bought it all. The only thing they did was pick things out and giggle." And you weren't there with me, the grumble clearly stated. Some brother-in-arms you are!

Wufei smirked, glad, once more, he'd been able to dodge that particular trip, and knowing it showed. Heero glowered.

"Do I have to wear these jeans? They feel constraining."

"I noticed. You keep tugging at them like that and they'll be completely shapeless before the week's out."

The look on Heero's face indicated he could live with that.

"You don't have to wear those jeans. It's important that you're comfortable, especially on this first visit. You'll wear fatigues." Wufei opened the closet.

"Won't it be strange, to wear my fatigues to a bar?"

"You won't be wearing your fatigues, you'll be wearing mine."

"Yours?! But you're one size smaller than me."

"Precisely."

"What?"

"We're trying to show off your assets, Yuy," Wufei stated as crisply and neutrally as possible. He hoped Heero wouldn't ask him for any more explanations.

"Humf. What are you wearing?"

"Black jeans and my red tunic."

"You wear that around the house and at Ops."

"So? We're not going to the opera here. We just need something to look natural in." Wufei tossed a few items at his partner, including his dark green fatigues, and slipped his Chinese tunic from its hanger. They'd go eat first, find a restaurant close to the club, maybe walk around the neighborhood. They'd memorized the floor plan of Désirs until they could draw it in their sleep, but it was always good to see the real thing too, including exits and back alleys. Then they'd pop in and have a drink, get a feel for the place. Wouldn't stay too long, not the first night. And then...Wufei realized he was staring at the bed again.

He turned abruptly, slipping on his tunic. After a moment of inner struggle, he gave in to the necessities of the mission, slipped off his fastener and finger-combed his hair out. It had grown since the war, reaching to his shoulder-blades now. He'd have to get it cut at some point... He caught Heero staring at him briefly in the mirror, measuring the move, its significance.

"Here, wear this." Wufei fished around the small box of accessories Sally had remembered to throw in. He drew out a bracelet made of a simple leather thong running through a piece of pierced jade. Heero took it from his hands and attached it without protest. He stayed right behind Wufei, watching him as the L5 Preventer set a small ring in his newly pierced ear. After throwing Heero to the wolves, his honor had pushed him into accepting this small concession and personal sacrifice to the mission. Besides, Sally had insisted.

Wufei gazed into the half-length mirror attached to the wall above the dresser. The clothes were familiar, but the hair brushing his shoulder blades was making his hands itch to pull it back and fasten it, and the earring seemed to stand out way more than that small, simple strip of metal could justify. He looked young, unprofessional, and different. It felt weird, but he had to get used to it quickly. He couldn't afford any signs of discomfort. He glanced at Heero in the mirror; his partner had taken another step closer and was standing right behind him, staring over his shoulder. He looked fairly normal, though there was still a small shock in seeing Heero with any kind of ornament, even something as insignificant as that cheap bracelet.

Lost in thought, he tensed as Heero slipped his arm around his waist. Heero's face was cold and neutral in the mirror; he seemed to be trying the gesture out, deliberately and calculatingly. Wufei didn't comment, and started to fasten the row of small buttons on his tunic's sleeves. Part of his attention was on the mirror though. He saw Heero glance around the room, as if measuring each object and piece of furniture for its strategic value, then he stared at the bed. His partner's lips curled in an expression that definitely belonged to their arrangement rather than the roles they were playing.

Heero's hips shifted. He tightened the arm around Wufei's abs, and his groin was a solid pressure against his partner's ass.

"We'll be coming back here after the club."

"Unless you particularly wanted to sleep under a bridge, yes."

"We should get used to doing other things like normal people," Heero murmured. "Before they might plant a bug in here."

"Possibly," Wufei answered neutrally. The last week, they'd been busy and out of the safe-house, so of course, no sex. Now...well, that was something else that was going to feel weird. Fucking on a mission; that was going to take some getting used to. That, and the fact they couldn't go at it like two tigers mating either. Wufei felt a prickle of heat, excitement mixed with uncertainty and still a little foreboding he couldn't explain. He bent over the second row of buttons to cover the moment.

"We should try to make it sound convincing." Heero swayed his hips ever so slightly. The hand on Wufei's abdomen pressed him against that movement so that his body swayed with it. "Maybe...you could scream my name out while we're having sex."

Wufei's eyebrow twitched. This was a game. Right? Heero was trying to bait him.

Heero's other hand walked up his spine to toy with the lengths of his hair.

"And I could..." Heero's voice was soft and low in his ear, speculative.

"You could what? I don't own you, Yuy, if you want to dress up in a maid outfit or something, I have no right to object." Wufei straightened his sleeve's cuff with a crisp movement.

There was a moment of silence behind him, and then the hand drifted from playing with his hair to pressing the back of his cranium.

"It would be very easy to snap your neck in this position, Chang," Heero commented softly, eyes like polished gunmetal in the mirror.

"We have to work on your pillow talk," Wufei countered idly. "Spare me the threats. You may be the perfect soldier, Yuy, but even you can't play the role of a couple by yourself."

That was a double touch; Heero hated that 'perfect soldier' tag. The growl in Wufei's ears was a reluctant concession as their eyes clashed in the reflection - smug on one hand, a sulky glower on the other. Score, Chang.

 

 

The bouncer took one look at them and practically dragged them into Désirs. Good, apparently they'd dressed and acted correctly. Preliminary target, infiltrated.

Not that it would have been all that difficult. It was a quiet night, being a Thursday, the club was hardly bursting at the seams. There were about twenty people present, maybe a few more in the darker nooks and crannies. There were mostly couples, as well as a small party of two girls and four guys, a group of friends looking for action. A few loners drank at the bar.

Wufei and Heero chose a seat against the wall, on a small bench behind an octagonal table bolted into the floor. A waiter came over and asked them for their drinks selection - but not their IDs, Wufei noted. L3, true to its European roots, was rather lax about the legal drinking age. The waiter looked at them with some curiosity and asked them if this was their first time here. Wufei did the talking; explaining about their move here, university, the dead uncle and the rest. Heero was a pool of tension by his side, but he didn't think the waiter noticed. His partner was wearing his game face, the assassin's mask that Odin had crafted for him in his childhood. Wufei had already resolved not to do anything about that; Heero would never be Mr Sociable and any efforts to change him into such would feel tooth-achingly false. It shouldn't be a problem where their mission was concerned; he doubted Exeter picked his beautiful people according to their wit or extroverted personalities. Their source of information said that he rarely talked to them before having one of his men extend an invitation. No, Heero could keep his mask. It would help him feel more comfortable and in control in this rather unusual situation. And maybe Exeter had a thing for dark, silent and dangerous types, in which case, Wufei thought with a mental roll of his eyes, they were a shoo-in.

Wufei felt a tug on his hand beneath the table. He turned towards his partner. Heero was talking, he could tell by the very faint movement of his jaw, but he was whispering without moving his lips, like a ventriloquist. A very useful ability when under possible surveillance, but Wufei could see in Heero's eyes the instant he realized that it would be pretty useless in Désirs; the music wasn't as loud as some of the places Ko had dragged Wufei to, but it still easily covered Heero's discreet attempts at communication.

Wufei leaned over, put his hand on Heero's jaw to turn his head slightly, then put his lips next to his ear. Heero, startled, had gone about as tense as garrotte wire for an instant, but was now forcing himself to relax. Good.

"Talk like this," Wufei said, quietly - absently noting the smell of Heero's hair, skin and shampoo this close, familiar scents cutting through the odor of stale cigarette smoke clinging to the walls. "Keep your hand in front of your lips. They won't be able to use directional mikes in this noise."

Heero turned towards him. There was a moment of hesitation; this close, pressed up against him, Wufei could read it in Heero's body like braille. Heero lifted a hand, leaned towards Wufei's ear, fingering a lock of hair to give him an excuse to mask the movement of his lips. Wufei gave his partner full marks for improvisation in the heat of the moment. He quickly turned over the picture they must make in his mind and decided they probably looked like a couple sharing some secret, or flirting or whatever. Nothing suspicious, as long as they didn't hide their lip movements too often.

"Are you sure about mikes? Modern filtering technology," Heero questioned concisely, at odds with the 'flirting' image that Wufei had been mentally examining.

"We're good for now. They won't have a bead on us yet, not for weeks, maybe months. If ever Exeter wants to pick us up, that's when we have to be careful." By then, they would hopefully no longer have anything truly urgent to communicate this way. As he spoke, Wufei vaguely noted the warmth of Heero's skin up close, and he frowned as the tickle of breath near his ear when it caused a loose curl of hair to tease his skin. Haircut, definitely.

"The waiter," Heero said softly. "He was checking us out."

Wufei leaned back sharply; he couldn't help himself, that was really not what he was expecting, and his first instinct was to read Heero's body language to understand what his partner was trying to tell him, like a partially deaf person instinctively turning towards a speaker to lip-read. A glance at Heero's face, demeanour... he meant the waiter was a potential hostile, casing them out, Wufei realized, obscurely relieved for some reason.

"Don't worry about it, he was just curious," he dismissed, leaning back to talk into Heero's ear again. He felt his partner nod, silently accepting his assurance on the matter, as he usually did. They both knew Heero's radar was exquisitely tuned to detecting hostility and fear, but was rather off when it came to other kinds of attention. Like curiosity. Or sexual interest. Or a mixture of both.

The waiter returned with their drinks. He didn't seem to mind Heero's scrutiny. With tight black pants, a black vest and little else, he was probably used to it, and hopefully he wouldn't realize Heero was checking him over for hidden weapons and surveillance devices. Wufei smiled and paid for the drinks; beers, as light as they could get on L3. It would be the first time he'd be having anything alcoholic apart from a little rice wine during formal ceremonies at his colony. Heero wouldn't even have that experience, but with his abnormal metabolism, he would hopefully not react too badly. His partner was eyeing the glass, expression neutral as always, so no one but Wufei would read the rather dubious look he was giving the golden liquid reflecting shards of the red lighting from the corners of the club.

Wufei took a sip. It was chilled, which was nice, but the taste made him want to grimace. He'd take rice wine any day. But since he doubted they had that here, he'd have to get used to it. He glanced around the club as discreetly as possible, then realized that, if reconnoitering would be suspicious, curiosity on the other hand was perfectly natural. So he looked around openly.

The club was dark, with low red lighting in strategic places and highlights of gold and amber over the bar, the dance floor and a few of the alcoves. It looked pretty much like the clubs Ko had dragged him to back in university; all hard edges and plastic. There were several raised sections here and there on the dance floor, of different heights. The braver or more intoxicated would get up and dance on those small podiums under the flashing lights when the weekend turned the place into a press of bodies. Empty, they looked like broken columns in a particularly chic ruin. Wufei tried to rid his mind of the image as the lights swirled once over the dance floor, lazily, blood red, fire yellow.

The small party of six were the only ones dancing at present, fairly self-consciously, with loads of grinning dares and smirks at each other, getting their courage from numbers and a few drinks. The dance floor was large, the middle of it as hostile and empty as a no-man's-land; they were hanging out at one end, nearest the bar. The bartender was looking at them, glancing up occasionally from a card he was holding. There were two waiters for the whole floor and terraces. It was only ten o'clock at night, and a weekday, presumably that was enough personnel. They were leaning on the far end of the bar, talking together and ignoring one of the customers as he signaled for another drink.

Wufei's eyes lingered over the patrons, but didn't dwell overly long on the more significant people present. A man was leaning against a thin metal pillar in front of a discreet stairway, eyes hard and watchful, at odds with the relaxed air of the customers. Bodyguard. That meant Exeter was here. He often spent a couple of hours at the club, even during the week. Wufei didn't look at the sheet of one-way glass high up on one wall. Recon indicated that that was where Exeter was when he was in residence, working, or watching the dancers in the floor below. It was at an angle to where Wufei and Heero were sitting, so they wouldn't be visible, but that was all right. It wasn't really Wufei's intention to get noticed this first night. They'd have plenty of time for that. This was habituation.

Heero's hand reached for Wufei's face, fingers gentle on his cheek. Wufei let his head be turned away from the bodyguard, eyes flickering over the rest of the room automatically, while Heero leaned close to him. Lips brushed Wufei's ear; he quickly took another mental snapshot of their position, checking for flaws. They were both nice and relaxed. Good, very good. Just a small part of his mind boggling at the fact that Heero was touching him like that in public. But most of him was focused.

"Bodyguard at stairs, two hostiles at back door. And bouncer."

"Yes." Wufei smiled as if Heero had said something nice. He'd noticed the two goons at the exit as well. That was fairly routine for Exeter. He should have two more people with him at least; his principal bodyguard, a hardened woman named Abigail Pels, and his aide and sometimes lover, Raphaël Romain, an ex of the Foreign Legion who was still a pretty good shot for someone with an administrative job nowadays. Not that they would actually have to exchange gunfire with any of these people, Wufei reminded himself, not if they did the job the way they were supposed to.

The music started to get louder, and a couple joined the party on the dance floor. More people arrived. Regular customers greeted the bartender and waiters. The songs got dancy. Mostly they were modern pieces, things Wufei heard on the radios while hunting down suspects in the trendier parts of town. The fashion nowadays was some sort of electronic baroque with the 'singer' dropping a few, unrelated words here and there in a desperate panting, high-pitched voice, which Wufei couldn't determine as being male or female - or care. The combination was supposed to create a 'musical, sensorial and mental ambience', according to one of the Ops' agents who was into this shit. Wufei found it unutterably pretentious and annoying, and he hoped that wasn't obvious in the small smile he was forcing onto his face. Heero was shifting next to him behind his neutral mask, bored after the first five minutes with that very special boredom you felt when everybody else around you seemed to be having fun in a way you couldn't really comprehend, and you weren't too sure you wanted to. Wufei was familiar with it. He leaned back towards his partner. He'd better give Heero a mission, a task, or he was going to simmer like that all evening.

"Watch the dancers. Pick a couple that don't move too dramatically and remember how they do it. We'll probably have to imitate them at some point."

"Tonight?"

"No. We'll dance something slower later, just for show. Then we'll leave." He could almost feel the slight lift of Heero's spirits when he said 'leave'.

Heero dutifully scrutinized the dancers, picking a couple of young men on the basis of their height and build which were similar to their own, Wufei noted with wry amusement, since his description of 'not moving too dramatically' had been a bit too subjective for Heero to appreciate. The couple - obviously a couple - was dancing in a way that- Wufei flicked a hand against Heero's, then indicated, with a fleeting look, another couple, slightly older and a bit more staid, who weren't making quite such a spectacle of themselves. Heero's eyes fixed on them discreetly, memorizing their every move with the studiousness and lack of feeling one would expect of a vid recorder.

This kept Heero busy for another ten minutes. That would be enough time for him to be able to memorize and mimic every one of the two men's movements and expressions, as well as lip-read their conversation and commit it to memory. Then he got twitchy again. Wufei was feeling it too. He had to force himself not to glance at his watch. It was only ten forty. They should stay and look like they were enjoying themselves for at least another half hour. He was a bit more patient with long watches and surveillance duty than Heero was, but the music and the cigarette smoke were making his head buzz and his eyes tear, and the beer had brushed his skin with a sticky heat. Yes, this was definitely a mission. The possibility of actually enjoying any of this was remote. Wufei kept his eyes and brain focused on the club, but let a part of his mind dwell on the courses he was going to start tomorrow, a pleasant distraction. First period was dialectics in-

Heero stood up, leaned towards him. "Bathroom," he announced shortly. Wufei gave him a warning glance. He knew that was hardly all Heero was going to be doing. Don't get caught sticking your nose where it doesn't belong, he indicated with a fierce flex of fingers on Heero's and a glare. They couldn't afford that. Heero nodded reluctantly, a bare dip of his head that would be lost in the lights that were beginning to swirl and dance around them as the music and the atmosphere picked up in pace.

Wufei's mind went back to the preliminary objective. Was Exeter watching the dancers on the floor from that one-way glass? Or was he talking over business with Romain? Or were they fucking each other's brains out? Intel, from a talkative waiter, indicated this happened on occasion. Wufei caught movement from the top of the stairs. Pels. The bodyguard had just stepped out of the discreet door to Exeter's lounge. Dressed in a bulky jacket, despite the rising human heat from the dance floor. He couldn't tell what she was packing. She beckoned the man below her, who turned and walked up a few steps to listen. Wufei lifted his glass and read her lips over the rim. '- a new bottle of Langavulin. They've run out.' Oh. He automatically tracked the guard’s routine trip to the bar-

And nearly choked on his beer as a scene, caught from the corner of his eyes, slammed into his awareness. His fingers darted towards a holster he wasn't wearing.

After a second look at the two figures halfway across the room, he brought his alarm under control. The man had a hand on Heero's chest, but it was light, barely fingertips, not a restraining move. The stranger's back was towards Wufei, so he couldn't tell what the man was saying to his partner, but from the tilt of his hips and the slight flex of the fingers against Heero's clinging shirt, he could pretty much guess. Heero's face was on neutral, neither his forbidding scowl nor his deadened expression. It confirmed that the man was an annoyance rather than a threat. Wufei watched carefully. Normally Heero attacked any person who touched him like that, either with a deadly scowl, harsh words, a shove or worse. There was a delicate tension in his body. Wufei could measure it all the way from where he was sitting. Heero wasn't quite sure how to deal with the situation and so was letting it evolve, waiting for an opening. His eyes flickered towards Wufei, looking for suggestions. Wufei thought very quickly, then let the hand holding his glass dip slightly, touch his own chest.

Heero promptly turned towards the man who was, Wufei reminded himself pityingly, only trying to make friends and flirt a little. The words were clear on Heero's lips: 'Sorry, I need to go. I'm with him.' His chin jolted towards Wufei, and then he brushed the man out of his path and headed back towards the table.

His rejected flirt looked at Heero's receding back, slightly stunned. Early twenties, Caucasian, sandy hair in a loose pony-tail- stop filling in a crime-sheet description, Chang, he's not a suspect, he was only chatting him up. Puzzled gaze traveled, glanced ahead of Heero and widened in comprehension as he caught Wufei looking back. The man smiled apologetically and shrugged. Indicating he didn't know Heero was taken, Wufei presumed. He nodded in return, hoping that was a normal reaction, and resumed watching Heero make his way through the crowd, unmolested this time.

In the back of Wufei's mind, the image of Heero walking towards him suddenly changed. For the briefest instant, this was no longer 'Heero', his partner, the man he battled with, his brother-in-arms. Maybe he'd borrowed the sandy-haired man's vision for a second. He was looking at Heero as a stranger would; noticing, somehow for the first time, the way Heero really moved, lithe and graceful but not dangerous, really, not unless you knew the potential in that deadly body. Heero could pass for eighteen. His face had never had any kind of baby softness to it, even after you'd discounted hard eyes and looks. But he still looked young, his features surprisingly delicate around the chin, the mouth soft and full. His eyes were large, deep blue and captivating, peeking out from behind the thick bangs. His body was...solid, even though it was still rather slender. The proportions were perfect. Wufei found himself watching the way he walked, a flutter of something undefined stirring in his gut, a growing warmth as he remembered those were, in fact, his fatigues Heero was wearing. Muscles rippled under the cloth, tighter than usual; he moved quickly, poised, not a motion wasted or out of place, a spare elegance, long-fingered hands loose at his side.

Eyebrow lifted in question at Wufei's scrutiny.

Enough beer for tonight. Two glasses in three quarters of an hour, and he was losing his focus. He'd have to build up his tolerance quickly; they'd be here longer in the future, when they would be working more seriously to catch Exeter's attention.

Heero slid down behind the table again, eyebrow still raised in a question mark. Wufei shook his head minutely. By the time they got home, if Heero still remembered the incident and asked him about it, he'd have some excuse ready. Something about checking if Heero walked too much like a soldier for his cover story, maybe. He'd avoid saying that he'd suddenly and quite unexpectedly noticed that his partner - the one he'd known, had been working with, and had sex with on a regular basis on and off for the last two years - was, in fact, remarkably attractive. For a man, of course.

No, that didn't matter, actually. Heero's looks, the way he moved, his intensity, his unassuming grace...it went beyond gender. His partner was attractive. And it was rather strange, after all their time together, that Wufei had never noticed. It had just never even entered his mental head space. Even when he'd assessed his colleague after lunch, earlier, it had been perfectly clinical, weighing how others would react, not Wufei himself...With an inward shrug, he buried the thought away. Not relevant to the present situation. Or indeed, any situation in their lives. It did give them one more good shot at actually acing their mission, though. He didn't think Heero had to be able to dance well, or provide fascinating conversation, to prick Exeter's interest.

"Can we leave now?" Heero said, putting his fist in front of his mouth. He looked uncomfortable. The man touching him had heightened his already raised stress levels, jumpstarted by the mission parameters, the thugs at the back door, the noise and constant motion around them.

"Let's finish our drinks, dance at least once, and then we can leave." Wufei sighed. The smoke had killed his taste buds. A good thing in a way, since now he couldn't really taste the bitterness of the beer.

"Dance?" Heero's lack of enthusiasm was obvious. His eyes picked out his former 'tutors', who were now sitting down in an alcove and making out, Wufei noticed.

"Yes. At least once. They should be playing something slow soon."

Heero's eyebrows arched but he didn't ask any questions. He finished his beer with quick, efficient sips, and then crossed his arms over his chest, staring at the DJ in his booth above the dance floor as if to get the man to hurry up and put something slow on soon by sheer will-power.

The songs had been flowing one into the other - proof, in Wufei's mind, that they were pretty much clones, and lacked any kind of artistic merit or inventiveness to them whatsoever. But at one point there was a pause. Then a brush of music, a chord on a synthesizer, very light, a distant rumble. People began to sit down. Some headed towards the bars, while couples stood up, pulling each other towards the dance floor. Wufei didn't recognize the music, of course, but gathered that this was their cue. Maybe Heero's glare had worked on the DJ on a subconscious level, he thought, amused. He touched Heero's hand and motioned him towards the floor.

The lights were dimming and beginning to flicker. Good, that would cover any lack of skill they had. They weren't expected to dance like gods, not at all, but it mustn't be obvious that this was a big first for either of them. The distant rumble was still shaking the floor, the music was loud. Another sound started, a trickle of insane laughter rising above the chords. Then a very rapid tick, which made Wufei think of a detonator counting down. He turned, placed his hands on Heero's shoulder and waist, twisted under his partner's fingers so they rested more firmly on his hip, and closed the distance between them.

Wir teilen Zimmer und das Bett

Brüderlein komm und sei so nett

Pre-colony, Wufei realized after the first few words; that music was popular in the darker edges of their generation. Since it was old, and thus considered classical music, it escaped the genteel ban that the new peacetime culture had imposed on music studios and radios. After the war, society wanted its music to be clean, wholesome, non-violent and enlightening. The song was in German, a language he didn't know, but from the tone of the singer, and something...

Brüderlein komm fass mich an

rutsch ganz dicht an mich heran

...in the way the singer was almost whispering, or that small trickle of coos and insane laughter still running in the background of the track... Wufei gathered that clean, wholesome, non-violent and enlightening this probably wasn't. What had Relena and company expected? The children of war needed to express themselves, purge themselves. This didn't seem very war-like, but it sounded...unhealthy, erotic and alluring. No wonder it was popular.

A trickle of synth and the sound broke. A rhythm erupted from the breathy pause at the end of the words. Hard, pulsing. Faster than he'd thought it'd be, though still slower than the previous dance music.

Vor dem Bett ein schwarzes Loch

und hinein fällt jedes Schaf

The voice had dropped half an octave, very raw and male compared to the previous androgynous singers. It throbbed with the beat, violent and smirking.

bin schon zu alt und zähl sie doch

denn ich find keinen Schlaf

Not quite what Wufei had expected. He'd thought it would be a slow, sappy love song requiring minimal movement. Apparently that wasn't the style of Désirs. The people around them had started to move with the music. Slowly, clinging to each other, but also swaying and thrusting to the beat. Wufei realized that he and Heero were plastered together, pressed against each other by the hypnotic crash of rhythm, the stifling warmth, the sweat and smells around them. Moving in rough time to the music.

Another trickle of synthesizers, taunting. Crude. The voice was deep, cloying, with a slight sneer that covered dark desires, forbidden yearnings.

Unterm Nabel im Geäst

wartet schon ein weisser Traum

Wufei's hips swung. His hand smoothed the dark blue shirt under his fingers unconsciously. Their bodies picked up the rhythm naturally, with the precise reaction of men who controlled their movements to a fault, eyes picking apart and analyzing the other dancers' steps and imitating them. Can't let the hostiles notice they were unused to this. Wufei automatically controlled his stance, the set of his spine, the curve of his neck; relaxed. At ease. I belong here.

Brüderlein komm halt dich fest

und schüttel mir das Laub vom Baum

A part of him was registering the way Heero was moving against him, but fortunately they were both too much in mission mode to really care, or, in Wufei's case, be mortified at the display they were making. Not that they were going to stand out much in comparison to those around them. There was a couple in his line of sight...Wufei kept himself under rigid control, clamping down on the part of him wondering, horrified, if he and Heero would be expected to dance so lewdly in the future to attract Exeter's attention. Really - don't pay attention. But - focus. But the only reason that is not sex is because they have clothes on! Who cares. The warrior and the prim scholar had a quick tussle in Wufei's mind, and the warrior won out. It usually did, these days.

A tightening of fingers against his back. He followed Heero's deliberate glance. The, ah, 'tutors' were back on the floor. They were dancing a bit more calmly than some of the others present. The two Heero had been imitating until now were near their alcove, on the edge of the floor. And they were making out with pretty much the same enthusiasm as they had been sitting down, almost ignoring the music. Heero turned towards Wufei again, eyebrow raised in a question.

Spiel ein Spiel mit mir

gib mir deine Hand und

The music wound up to a breathless pause in the background, the voice almost flat, toneless. Wufei hesitated, torn between making sure he and Heero looked like a proper couple, while recoiling from hampering their field of vision the way kissing would imply. They were far away from the press of dancers, off to one side, near the wall, safe enough, but the warrior's instincts were not easily quelled.

Drums.

piel mit mir

ein Spiel

spiel mit mir ...

The music had crashed from its breathless peak into an abyss of pulsing sensuality, and Wufei realized the first stanzas had been a warm-up. The synth was falling and rising in a crescendo like a lover's caressing hand, pausing and teasing before plunging further. The throbbing beat was a lot less subtle. Okay, they could either move like they were fucking each other on the dance floor, or they could take the making out option.

...ein Spiel

spiel mit mir

weil wir alleine sind...

A rather embarrassing consideration popped into his mind, tipping the scales; Heero and Wufei indulged in little to no foreplay normally. Not efficient. The way some of these people were dancing - rubbing, grinding, thrusting - would probably- well, they were young, and had a fairly low sensitivity threshold to that kind of stimulus, seeing how they normally screwed each other. Heero's control over his body was exquisite, that wasn't an issue, but Wufei wasn't sure that he himself would be able to- and he really didn't want to- to-

Kissing was safer.

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel

Vater Mutter Kind

The music sighed and stilled, pausing as if to listen to the laughter and cooing at its back. The beat took a breather, to let the synth soothe and caress, but only for a moment. Wufei brushed Heero's mouth with his own, after a last quick glance around. No one near, no threat. They pressed their lips together. Down south, their hips seemed to have picked up the new seductive, sordid rhythm and were doing their own thing. No matter. Looked natural, probably. Their bodies were completely familiar with each other, fitting together in a way that could not be faked or imitated, obviously long intimate. It would help them blend in. Wufei twisted his head to get a better angle for the kiss and noticed a flash of blue as Heero snuck another glance at the dancers.

Dem Brüderlein schmerzt die Hand

er dreht sich wieder an die Wand

der Bruder hilft mir dann und wann

damit ich schlafen kann

Something wet and foreign brushed Wufei's lips as they pressed against Heero's. His partner had squeezed him slightly, a warning that he was about to do something, but Wufei still started. The tongue touched his lips again, gently, tentatively, almost shyly. Wufei flicked the word shy out of the previous thought. Heero wouldn't know shy if it ran him over in a Gundam. He was merely being careful not to startle Wufei and get himself laid out by a lightening fast punch to the gut. Wufei groaned inwardly. He was ready to bet that the men they were imitating were indulging in a little tongue play. And Heero was nothing if not thorough in following instructions.

Spiel ein Spiel mit mir

gib mir deine Hand und

The music gathered itself into another breathless pause, like the instant before climax, and Wufei realized he'd opened his mouth before really making a conscious decision about it.

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel ...

The music plunged back into its thrusting, pounding rhythm and Heero's tongue brushed the tip of his own. The synth purred and caressed and teased. Wufei put his hand on Heero's jaw, an instinctive move to give him some control, or an illusion of it. His other hand rested on the fall of Heero's hips as their bodies moved together in a rhythm they had tamed long ago. Memories of gasps, sweat, trickles of pain highlighting pulsing pleasure, fluttered in the back of Wufei's mind where he couldn't swat them away. Heero's hands slid down to the small of his back, flexing his fingers to the back and forth of hips.

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel

The beat was pounding through his head, his body. He snuck a glance at the room around them as discreetly as he could. No one watching them, apparently, though his field of vision was very narrow. His tongue traveled up the side of Heero's, swept the corner of his lips. They'd never done this before. They fucked each other on a weekly basis but they never kissed like this first.

Because it was intimate. It was something they didn't do.

spiel mit mir

weil wir alleine sind

Another quick glance around as their lips broke apart a fraction, breath warm in each other's mouths. The bodyguard was still at the foot of the stairs. Wufei could tell, from the angle of Heero's head, that he was keeping an eye on the men at the exit. Then their lips fused again, and Wufei's tongue idly flickered out.

Intimate? Was this really intimate? The mouth, the one he was licking from the inside, was one that went down on him occasionally. Just how much more intimate than that could you get?

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel

The blowjob was just sex though. This...

Wufei jerked away from the breathless little uncertainty that was threading its way through his focus. He knew where this was going; the way the beat was driving through them like hammers, nailing them to the sensuous synth cords. The way Wufei was starting to react to the thrusting against his groin. Sex was definitely going to happen at some point tonight. A good, clean fuck. They'd planned to anyway, as practice for their cover stories.

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel

Another quick glance around - someone watching! Oh, the sandy-haired man from earlier. As Wufei focused - Heero's tongue flicked at the corner of his lips - the man turned away, looking at other dancers wistfully.

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel

Lips moved against Wufei's as Heero sucked slightly, drawing little spikes of feeling along the sensitive tip of Wufei's tongue.

Heero's hands slipped further down, pressing Wufei's ass into the motion, lifting him slightly so that their groins ground together, arousals hardening and pulsing in sympathy with the singer's ragged words.

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel

Wufei's mind was clear, distinct from his quickening body. The mission was still uppermost in his mind, and Heero's too, because it would take a lobotomy and electroshock therapy for Heero Yuy to forget about a mission. This was part of their cover, and that reality was an anchor in his mind. Wufei observed, almost clinically, the way his hands grasped Heero's face and shoulder, getting more contact in each other's mouths. His cock was hard now, and his heart was hammering, but it was a distant distraction for the warrior who stayed watchful and alert. He caught a flicker of blue from Heero's eyes as the latter took another quick peek at the enemy, then the other dancers. Wufei hoped he wouldn't find anything too extreme to imitate. This was quite enough.

spiel mit mir

ein Spiel

...In the back of Wufei's mind, a pulse had started; it sang to the rhythm of the music, darkly sensuous, ominously thrilled. He didn't quell it; they were young, hot blooded, and rubbing and thrusting up against each other like tigers in heat, it'd be weird not to react. Just go with the flow, everyone else was. Go with the flow and rise above it. Let it simmer where it could do no harm. Ignore the hard-on pressing against Heero's, the ripples of pleasure along his skin, the taste of beer and someone else's mouth.

Vater Mutter Kind

The music trickled down. The kiss broke as the last, departing chord echoed like a broken whisper. The partners panted, bodies stilling.

"Can we leave now?" Heero asked tightly.

"Good idea." A mental check list quickly totaled up in Wufei's mind. They'd been to the club, they'd had a look around, they'd seen what was expected of them, they'd had a drink and danced. And they were now in no condition to go and sit down and pretend to have fun, or, gods forbid, dance some more. They could control their bodies, their training was more rigid than any hormones when it had to be, but that might look odd. And it was unnecessary. The warrior was satisfied that they'd done their job. It allowed him to listen to the dark, writhing, sensual thing inside that wanted out, out of the smoke, the crowds, the mission-related situation, and go somewhere private.

Heero grabbed both their jackets and dragged him across the floor. Wufei thought he caught a conspiratorial grin from the waiter as they passed him, heading towards the door. The air was oppressive with smoke, the smell of sweat and perfume wafting on the heat rising from the dancers, moving to a new, seductive rhythm starting. Wufei forced himself to move casually, look relaxed, but he couldn't wait to be outside. He'd take a few deep breaths of air, rid himself of the club's ambiance that clung to his skin and hair like the smell of cigarettes and the sheen of sweat under his tunic. Then he'd get his body under control. They had a bus trip of ten minutes to get back to their apartment.

The grip on his hand was bone-breaking. Heero's muscles flowed and rippled beneath Wufei's tight fatigues. Wufei reminded himself that they were no longer teenage terrorists; they were seventeen year old Preventers. It wouldn't do to end up fucking each other's lights out two alleys down from the club. That wasn't professional. Or proper. They'd get back to their bed first. Their bed...

Almost outside. They were walking swiftly through the lobby, the coat check stand empty on a weekday -

"Hey, kids! Hold up!"

Wufei ran straight into his partner as the other twisted around like a startled panther. He turned, catching his balance.

Heero's hand ground the bones of his fingers against each other.

Raphaël Romain.

Chapter Text

"A person needs a face; a tree needs bark."
--- Mandarin Proverb

 

Raphaël Romain.

The ex-legionnaire was walking towards them swiftly. He'd not come from the club's main floor but from a side-door near the coat check stand. Jeans and a sport jacket - he could be carrying concealed, Wufei automatically noted, and dropped back a bit and sideways, giving Heero and himself a free field of action. They were in the lobby of the club, between the entrance to the dance floor from which vibrations and thumps spilled out, and the double doors leading to the street. There was a bouncer there, Wufei remembered. If they made a run for it and Romain shouted, the man would try to stop them.

Heero's fingers twitched, trying to free his hand, but Wufei kept a hold of it; didn't want to look suspicious.

"No need to run off. Or is there?" The man smiled sensuously, casting an amused glance down at their groins. Wufei felt himself color and didn't suppress the reaction. Romain would think it embarrassment, rather than fury at the man's crass nosiness.

Romain stroked his chin with his thumb. His fingers were well- manicured but callused. He probably kept up his marksmanship. Dark hair was cut conservatively, neat bangs over hard, brown eyes. His look was a bit at odds with his face; angular, hard planes that had been withered and baked in the suns of Sudan and Malaysia, where he'd served in a mercenary group after the Alliance had disbanded the Legion. He'd retired from his militaristic career a decade ago. Now in his forties, he was comfortably set in both Exeter's affairs and occasionally his bed. Wufei noted the strength in the muscled frame. He had half a head over Heero. His body spoke of power and endurance, but he didn't seem overly aggressive.

"My name's Raphaël," he introduced himself, pronouncing his name with the French inflection. "I work for Andrev, he's the owner of this club. We noticed you two dancing. You're new here, aren't you?"

"Yes," Wufei replied, keeping his voice as casual as he could. "We arrived from Earth just recently. We're studying at the University here."

"Really? Students?" Romain's voice was not in the slightest bit doubtful, only curious. "Hm, if you've just arrived, you've probably not heard that Andrev sometimes invites people over to his other club. Would you be interested?"

Heero's hand flexed in anticipation, crushing Wufei's fingers a bit.

"Tonight?" Wufei let his eyes go a bit wide.

"Sure! It's barely eleven! Night's not even started yet."

"What other club?" Heero asked, probably prompted by the fact that Romain's eyes had flickered over him curiously.

"It's a place twenty minutes from here. We have a van, and there'll be others coming with us. It's on invitation only. No cover fee, though drinks are charged. It's very select." He let that dangle in front of them.

Wufei made a show of turning towards Heero, as if consulting him with a glance, though he already knew what he had to say.

"Hmm, I don't know...maybe this weekend, but not tonight, if you don't mind," he refused slowly.

A spasm crushed his fingers again, though Heero did not express his surprise any other way. Romain's eyebrows arched.

"You sure? Other people will be coming, so you'll, ah, be quite safe."

"Erm, thanks." Wufei wasn't particularly worried about getting into a van with Romain to go somewhere he wanted to go, but his alter-ego would be expected to be more cautious. "We appreciate the invitation, but we have courses early tomorrow morning. We were going to call it a night. Sorry."

Romain studied him. He looked a bit surprised, but the hard planes of his face were difficult to read accurately. "That's okay, kids. I can't claim to have ever had a university life, but I remember what reveille was like when I'd hit the bottle a bit too much the night before. So you'll be here again this weekend?"

"Sure. We heard this was one of the best clubs in town. For, well, couples."

"That it is. Okay- what're your names?"

"Chang Lin, and this is Yuy Summers."

"Right, well, I'll keep an eye out, and see you on Saturday, maybe." Romain gave them a pleasant if slightly dismissive smile, and turned back towards the discreet door near the coat-check stand.

Wufei took deep breaths as soon as the club's double doors closed behind them, but it was no longer to get his hard-on under control. That had rather taken care of itself. They walked away from the bored-looking bouncer in silence, heading towards the bus-stop.

Heero said nothing, but Wufei could almost feel the question pressing him like the fingers still pressing his hand. Wondering why they'd squandered a chance, maybe their only chance, of getting invited to the mansion and finishing the mission.

"That was too soon," Wufei finally muttered, after they had traveled a few minutes away from the club. Exeter had caught two undercover cops and a Preventer trying to infiltrate his club and his mansion, no way would he pick up two strangers like that without a minimal amount of checking up.

"And...it was wrong," Wufei added, the back of his neck prickling. He'd let his intuition guide him, prompt him to refuse; there had been something off in that situation.

Suddenly it struck him. Romain had approached them in the deserted lobby. Normally he approached the guests at the bar or with the waiter at a table, so one of the club employees could vouch for him when he extended the invitation.

Romain had wanted them to accept where there were no witnesses.

Heero let loose a slight hiss of breath, almost a sigh, as he probably came to the same conclusion. His fingers tightened again, warningly.

"You're right. Tail."

"Fuck." Wufei tried to listen for footsteps behind them, but he couldn't hear them above the brush of their own boots against asphalt. No matter; he trusted Heero. His partner could tell someone was following them from the faint prickle of a hostile gaze on his back a hundred meters away. He was better than a radar when it came to things like this.

They walked a few more meters in silence, still holding hands, just like a normal couple on their way home. Maybe they really had grabbed Exeter's interest, and he was just having someone follow them home to check up on them? No. It was too soon, they'd hardly done anything to stand out yet. Had they? And Romain had invited them out in the lobby, away from the other clubbers...Failure ate like acid in Wufei's mind, his memory scouring over the evening. What had they done wrong? How had they blown their cover so soon? Man, Sam was going to have an aneurysm over this. Talk about a waste of time, money and effort to set up their background stories -

They both realized at the same moment that there was a good deal more at stake than getting chewed out by Foxwood.

"Play it or fight?" Heero muttered under his breath as they saw the van pull up two blocks ahead of them. It idled by the sidewalk, but no one stepped out. It was between them and the bus stop, around the corner. Fuck.

Wufei heard a scuffle of shoe on tarmac behind them. The tail - two men, maybe three - was getting closer. Closing in.

"Play it or fight?" Heero murmured again. His fingers tightened once then loosened over Wufei's, as he got ready to throw himself to the side if need be. How many in the van? Neither partner was armed, of course. Play it or fight?

"Play it," Wufei decided, hoping he hadn't condemned them to death. He caught Heero looking at him, assessing, but his partner did not question his decision. No need for him to do so; Wufei already was. The instinct to try to keep up the bluff had no basis in logic that he could see...Maybe something in Romain's demeanor as he'd left them earlier. But if he was wrong, he would be placing Heero and himself in a position they would have a hard time fighting their way out of.

The van doors opened as they passed it, and three men jumped out and shoved them bodily into an alley between two buildings opposite the van doors. Wufei shouted in feigned surprise. Heero was silent, probably too busy stilling his reflexes. Someone clamped a hand on Wufei's face - missing his mouth in the hustle, but the gun that was suddenly pressing against his ribs was warning enough to keep silent.

The alley was clean and free of garbage. This was L3, not some dirtside town, or L2. A chainlink fence at the end of it blocked it off from other alleys between the buildings. Wufei and Heero found themselves backed up against it at gun point. They wouldn't do it here, Wufei reminded himself savagely, quelling his reflexes to fight and kill; they wouldn't want to deal with bodies, not this close to the club. They'd get the partners into the van and drive them somewhere, maybe the same place the other three men were killed, near the recycling plant.

The two who'd been following them on foot turned into the alley and walked up to the three men holding the partners at gunpoint. One of the former was Romain. He had his hands in his jeans' pockets and he was frowning. Wufei thought he looked puzzled and anxious, not murderous. A cautious relief flickered in Wufei's heart. His intuition had been trying to tell them that they still had a chance of bluffing their way out of this. It seemed to find itself confirmed by the man's demeanor.

"What the hell is this?" Wufei snapped, making sure he sounded as scared as he could manage. Heero, wisely, said nothing. "What do you guys want with us?"

Romain just stared at them, first at Heero for a long minute, then at Wufei. He looked uncertain. Then he turned away without a word and walked to the entrance of the alley, hooking the receiver of a slim phone in his ear.

Wufei chanced one glance at Heero. His partner's head was down, but his eyes, hidden by the rich fall of his messy bangs, were riveted on Romain's profile as the man dialed a number. Good, Heero could hopefully keep track of the call, figure out what Romain was planning, while Wufei provided the distraction.

"People saw us leave the club," he said, loudly, letting his voice tremble. The eyes of the men holding them at gunpoint twitched towards him. One of them motioned with his gun and Wufei let himself fall back against the chainlink fence with a frightened gasp. The warrior let a moment of pleased surprise flutter through him; he was a better actor than he'd thought. Nothing like a little pressure to bring out hidden talents. He quickly tried to remember the expressions and body language of people he'd seen in similar circumstances - namely criminals and OZ soldiers he himself had held at gunpoint in the past.

"We-we talked with the waiter, he knows who we are," he added, voice low but pleading, letting the words stutter. At the entrance to the alley, Romain glanced back at him. He was talking very softly into the phone and he looked worried, gesturing angrily at them, a distracted movement the person on the other end of the line could not see.

Wufei continued to plead, his mouth on automatic, probably not making much sense, but then he wouldn't be expected to in these circumstances. He started a bit as he felt Heero's hand slip into his. Romain was nodding on the phone, his conversation visibly wrapping up. Fingers squeezed his. Wufei glanced at him. Heero's face was on neutral, unreadable, but his tension had dropped considerably, and he no longer looked like he was a fraction of a second away from killing everyone in that alley who wasn't his partner. This was further confirmed when he released Wufei's hand, and then slipped his arm around Wufei’s shoulders, the gesture of a comforting boyfriend - full marks for improv, Wufei noted distractedly - a hindrance to their mobility that he would never have allowed himself if they were about to fight for their lives.

Reassured, Wufei let himself be shoved into the van when Romain gave his men the all-clear.

 

 

Wufei covertly scrutinized the walls of the cellar room, unwilling to take things at face value. He was too used to being caught, caged and kept as a Gundam Pilot to convince himself this was normal rather than some form of elaborate trap. Where were the guards with the itchy trigger finger and the ugly light of revenge in their eyes? The cameras? The bars? The handcuffs? The drugs? The pain?

They'd been shoved around a bit, but it had all been remarkably gentle, well, if you had the kind of standards Wufei had. He was trying to keep in mind how Chang Lin would be reacting to all this; the sight of weapons, the hard, watchful look in their guards' eyes, Romain's weighing glance, and the silence. No one had said anything in the van, or when they had changed vehicle in a deserted building site, or when they had parked in an underground garage. After a while, Wufei had stopped pleading and demanding an explanation; his throat was getting sore and the sound of his voice was shredding his own nerves. His flight-or-fight instincts kept telling him that any second now he'd get shoved to his knees with a cold press of metal against the back of his head and bang! Instead, he was firmly herded through the garage, up a flight of stairs, into a small room with monitor feeds and consoles. The pictures on the screen, particularly of the drive-way, were familiar. That's when he realized they were in Exeter's mansion. The question 'Why?!' exploded into his mind; such a risk for Exeter, to have brought them here. The question was immediately answered when one of the men present, who'd been watching the screens, stood up and uncovered a particularly bulky machine on one side of the room. Wufei had felt a wave of tension run through the hand that was still holding his, as he and Heero realized it was a retinal scanner, and that Romain was going to be checking their identities more thoroughly than anyone at Ops had ever imagined.

But that made no sense, Wufei thought, glaring at the cellar's metal door. Their alter-egos would not have their scans anywhere in the system. The identity cards and student IDs, fingerprints and pictures that Romain's men had collected would be what was needed to confirm they were the people they claimed to be. Retinal scans were useless. Hell, even if they were cops, they probably wouldn't have their scans in the system unless they'd been in charge of a high-level security operation at some point. So why had Romain taken this unusual step? One that had forced him to take two potential hostiles to his home ground?

It didn't actually matter that he'd scanned them. Heero and Wufei's retinal patterns were no more available than information on their home address or previous occupation. As far as the world was concerned, the Heero Yuy and Chang Wufei who worked in the Preventer's Primary Intervention Division didn't exist. But Wufei didn't like the feeling of uncertainty the strange move had engendered. He glanced around the walls again, hunching over, senses wary like an animal sensing a trap. In both his careers, pilot and Preventer, what you didn't know was very likely to kill you.

Heero was sitting next to him, still and unmoved, as if carved from stone. The cellar was full of boxes and old furniture, including a double bed with a stained mattress. It was the only place to sit. The guards had shoved them down on it when they'd led them to the underground room. Then they'd left the partners alone, with a last injunction to shut up and behave if they wanted to get out of this in one piece.

Wufei took one last discreet glance around. He couldn't see any cameras. Would they have any in a cellar? Paranoia, cultivated in a few OZ interrogation rooms, would not let him take a chance. He pretended to rub his arms as if cold and in shock, then he swung his feet up on the bed and inched over to Heero, put his arms around his shoulders and buried his face in the crook of his neck. Heero had gone as rigid as a board for an instant, before understanding what he intended. A hand - awkward, since it was safe to say he'd never done this before - patted Wufei's shoulder in reassurance, before Heero twisted a bit to embrace him comfortingly, masking his mouth from any potential watchers.

"What do they want with us?" Wufei asked, out loud, letting his voice quiver.

"Don't know." Heero's words sounded stiff and forced, but Wufei knew that shock did strange things to people. It wouldn't seem faked.

Then Heero spoke again in a low whisper, lips nearly unmoving where they brushed Wufei's neck.

"Romain called Exeter. They were told we were coming." Wufei stiffened, even though it was obvious something was up from the way Romain had reacted. Shit! How had they known?! "But apparently they were not given all that many details. They're not sure we're the men they were waiting for. Too young, and not what they expected. Romain wanted to kill us anyway. Exeter stopped him, I think."

Yes, that would fit his profile, Wufei estimated.

"They're holding us here until they can get confirmation from their informant, whoever that is. What do we do now?"

Wufei licked his lips. Good question. He glanced over Heero's shoulder. This wasn't a prison, it was the cellar. The door was metal but the lock was crap. Maxwell could open it just by sneezing on it. Heero probably wouldn't even bother doing that.

"How many outside?" he whispered. He'd heard the scuffle of shoes on concrete, the scrape of a chair or something being pushed back, and low voices.

"Three, from the sound of it."

"So they do consider us a threat."

"Yes."

They could have an army out of earshot too; waiting for Heero and Wufei to betray themselves, confirm that they were plants by trying to break out.

Well, that was the risk. But on the other hand, they were here, in sight of their main objective. This could go one of two ways. Their captors would be going back to their informant, trying to get confirmation, and they'd also be checking up on the partners' backgrounds to see if they were valid. So either Exeter would pierce their cover and they'd end up taking that drive out to the recycling plant - Romain wouldn't do it here, not in the mansion. Or their cover would hold and...what? Wufei's mind, cold, analytical and perfectly detached from the death threat hanging over them, went over all known information on Exeter and the profile the Preventers had put together. This was L3; Exeter had the local cops pretty much in his pocket. If Exeter believed they were students, he'd probably release them with a few very realistic threats, and the knowledge that if they went to the police, he'd be able to quell the investigation. There was no real risk for him, so he probably wouldn't kill them offhand. It wasn't his style.

But one thing Exeter certainly wouldn't do, would be to invite them back to his private club at a later date. So whatever happened, this was it. This was the first and last time they'd be in this mansion, at least if they didn't break their way back in later at the risk of getting caught and dropping the Preventers into hot water.

Wufei leaned back in Heero's arms. They stared at each other for a few seconds; the deadly gamble considered and agreed upon with a glance.

'You take the door and one guard, I'll take the others,' Wufei mouthed.

Heero didn't bother to nod. He was off the bed and throwing himself at the door in an instant.

One savage kick and the measly lock as well as the hinges snapped like sticks. The door, catapulted from its frame, slammed into one of the men standing behind it. Wufei was a split second behind Heero. His partner leapt on the man felled by the door, leaving the last two to Wufei. They'd been sitting on a bench, five feet away. One was trying to get his gun from his holster, stumbling away from the wall. The other was already swinging up the rifle he'd had across his knees. Wufei crashed into him, slammed him against the wall, elbow in the solar plexus. The man bent sharply forward with a grunt. The rifle slipped from his hands. Wufei grabbed his neck in a head lock, twisting his victim so that his torso shielded the Preventer. The other thug had his gun raised, but he hesitated to shoot at his friend for that one fatal second. The gun wavered, dipped. Its owner - beefy, solid muscle, a head taller than Wufei - took a step forward, towards the apparently slender young man, to rip him away from his colleague. Wufei used the hold on the other's neck for leverage and kicked high, a vicious scything blow with their combined weight behind it. His boot met the last man's head with a solid crunch. The goon fell as if poleaxed. The man in the headlock was gasping in painful gulps of air, fumbling at the rifle's strap that had caught on his wrist, trying to push Wufei away with his other hand. A short, savage punch to the gut and the man folded with a retching gasp. Wufei slammed an elbow down on the exposed neck as his victim doubled over. The man fell to the floor like a sack of meat.

Heero was already finished with his man and was positioned at the door leading to the garage, listening. Wufei grabbed one of the weapons from the floor and ran to the far door at the end of the hallway, which opened to the rest of the house. No noises or cries of alarm; it seemed the possibility of their escape had not been planned for. Floorplans flashed in his mind's eye. He remembered that there were security cameras in the garage, and there would be some inside the mansion, but if Heero and he were careful, they could reach their objective without being seen. Their aim was Romain's office, where he and Exeter did the criminal work and where the secured computer system, containing details of the financial transactions with the Syndicate, was kept. Exeter's office and bedroom also contained computers and safes, their informants had said, but most of the stuff there was related to Exeter's official businesses. Romain was the keeper of his dirtier secrets. That was what they were after.

Still without one word - unnecessary, they were of one mind, one lethal intent - they dragged the three men into the cellar room. A few seconds' search in the boxes turned up nothing to tie them with. Wufei hesitated. The men were out and pretty badly hurt; he expected the man he'd kicked might die, and Heero's target was breathing funny through a broken, swollen jaw. They should be out of it for long enough.

The partners fit the door back into its frame. It would pass casual inspection. More so than the absence of their three guards would. This was only a stopgap measure anyway and they knew it. This was probably going to end in an almighty mess, however they played it.

Heero scooped up one of the fallen weapons, a Kreig 552 rifle, then glanced back at him. Wufei realized he'd actually sighed out loud. He shrugged under his partner's questioning look.

"Une sent us undercover- she wanted us to do this the subtle way," Wufei explained ruefully.

Chack-clack-chack. Heero checked the rifle, the chamber and the magazine, the rattle of metal familiar and strangely thrilling.

"Subtle's not our style," he stated succinctly, letting the rifle rest against his shoulder as he headed towards the door, slipping a Magnum in the back of his belt. Wufei gripped his borrowed Kimber and followed in silent agreement.

 

 

Romain's office was large and pleasant, overlooking the mansion's small, night-cloaked park through barred and reinforced windows. It had been locked, but not with a key fortunately, since they had no lock picks. The electronic system gave up under Heero's ministrations in less than twenty seconds. The Kreig scored a dent in the elegant oak sideboard where the monitor for the secured system rested. The system was on and unlocked. Heero glanced back, a warning, and Wufei nodded in understanding, taking up a spot near the door, ears pricked. Chances were Romain had been here just minutes before and would be returning shortly. He concentrated on the silence in the mansion. It was past midnight. He could hear no one moving.

"In," Heero murmured. Wufei glanced over to where his partner was sitting. Heero had disabled the firewall and opened a link to their team in Brussels. Almost immediately, messages and command line windows started to flash up on the screen as the professional hackers working for Ops started to break through the protections set around the secured information, using the access Heero had provided for them. They would also warn Une that things were going down months earlier than expected. Wufei, at the door, spared a second to think of the look on the commander's face when she realized that the odds of them having done this quietly were minimal at best.

With the hackers and their massive computing power doing the hard work for once, Heero was free to start rifling through the filing cabinets on one side of the room, after he'd broken its lock with a vicious tug. He flipped through some papers, then just grabbed most of what he found and carried it over to Romain's scanner. Wufei saw him hesitate as he passed near the safe. That would be where they would hit the real pay dirt, but neither of them had thought that explosives or a blowtorch would make appropriate club accessories, so they had no means with which to open it.

"Yuy!" Wufei hissed, hearing footsteps in the hallway outside. Heero was a blur of movement as he swapped the files for his borrowed rifle. He pressed himself against the wall on the other side of the door, five seconds before the electronic lock was carded and the door swung open.

"-we'll contact Minsk, but I think Luxemburg is more likely to-" Exeter gasped at the sight of the files spilled on the side desk. Romain, right behind him, reached for a weapon in a shoulder holster beneath the sport's jacket he was still wearing, but Heero already had the Kreig pointed at his head. Wufei grabbed Exeter and pressed a gun to his side, a silent order to keep quiet. Heero slipped a hand beneath Romain's coat, relieved him of the gun, and shoved him into the room. He closed the door quietly behind them after a quick glance outside.

"You-" Exeter was just beginning to get over his shock. Wufei patted him down briskly, pressing the gun into his ribs in a silent threat when the man recoiled instinctively from the frisking. He could hear Heero give Romain the same treatment.

"Maintenant, on sait vraiment à qui on a affaire," Romain muttered.

"No talking," Heero ordered in his deadliest voice. Exeter paled, but Romain looked unimpressed. Wufei shoved the financier into one of the chairs in front of Romain's desk. Heero kneed Romain to the floor and ordered him to put his hands on his head. He left Wufei to watch them, and went to pick up the files and continue scanning them and downloading the copies to the Preventer system.

"Who...?" Exeter was getting over the shock. He was a tall man in his late forties, taller than Romain and sinewy thin. His long, elegant fingers were white as they tightly gripped the armrests. Brown eyes flickered between Wufei's Kimber and Romain's prostrate form. He had strong, clean-cut features and light brown hair that reminded Wufei distantly of Treize. There was some of the same self- assuredness; the thin lips narrowed and he started to stare at Wufei's face instead of his gun, as if memorizing his features with an eye towards future retaliation.

"Just how does your Lady Une think she can get away with this?" His voice was now cold and measured, all business.

Heero's smooth movements over the scanner did not falter one iota.

"This is...what did you do to the men watching you?" A flutter of anxiety passed through Exeter's eyes, disturbing his calm as he suddenly realized he might be in considerable danger himself. "I have high level contacts here, in the government and even the-" his voice had hardened again, but Romain made a hissing noise and he stopped talking.

There was silence in the room for a little while. No alarm outside yet, though Romain's cell phone did ring once. He glanced at Wufei and made no move to answer it.

Heero rifled the files, then picked up the Kreig again.

"Exeter. Do you have the code to the safe?"

The man glanced up, startled. He didn't say anything, but his eyes narrowed and his mouth took a stubborn line.

"Open it," Heero bit out.

The thin lips twisted in bitter contempt. Exeter leaned back in his chair firmly.

Wufei sighed. He walked around the man lying on the floor until he was on the side opposite from Exeter, and pointed the Kimber at Romain.

Exeter turned that icy glare on Wufei. It was measuring him to a fine degree, a businessman judging someone's grit. The Preventer returned the stare and slowly moved the Kimber until it was aiming at the back of Romain's knee. The ex-Legionnaire tensed. Wufei could feel the movement, though his eyes did not leave Exeter's. As he tightened his finger on the trigger, Exeter looked away in enraged acquiescence, put his hands on the armrests and pushed himself up.

Romain's fingers loosened over his neck, one line of tension ready to uncoil -

"Raphaël, ne bouge pas," Exeter ordered quickly.

Romain whispered a half-voiced protest, but Exeter shook his head. He walked towards the safe, the Kreig trained on him every inch of the way. Romain's heated gaze dropped to the carpet an inch from his nose. His fingers laced themselves over his neck again, whitening as they tightened their grip in frustration.

"Unlock it slowly," Heero instructed Exeter in his familiar monotone. "Then stand back and open it at arm's reach. If you make any move to reach inside it, I will kill you."

Exeter bit his lip, but did as he was told. Wufei kept the gun trained on Romain, who was glaring angrily at the floor, face white under his tan.

"How do you think you'll get out of here alive?" Exeter suddenly asked. He'd stepped away from the safe and, obeying the Kreig's mute but eloquent instructions, was returning to his chair.

"Irrelevant," Heero answered coldly, poking through the contents of the safe cautiously.

"What?" Exeter stared at his back.

"He means that they have what they came for and have gotten it out to their people," Romain explained from his position on the floor, glancing pointedly at the computer cheerfully downloading its data to the hackers' system. "How they get out, or if they get out, is not important; they've met their objectives."

"But-but-"

"Now you see what we're up against. J'aurais due les éliminer tout de suite..."

"Yes, you should have killed us when you had the chance," Wufei agreed calmly, catching enough of the words, and the tone of voice, to translate the gist.

"This is not over." Exeter turned towards Heero to spit venomously. "You pigs cannot just come in here and-"

"Andrev," Romain said quickly.

"- we will find out who you are and -"

"Andrev-"

"- don't think your precious Preventers can protect you from our org- "

"Andrev! Tais-toi!"

Exeter fell back in his chair with a hiss of frustration.

Wufei was leaning against the desk, keeping an eye on the door and on Romain. The silence of the office was only interrupted by the sound of Heero mauling the contents of the safe. He put several papers aside for scanning, but tossed most of it casually aside; bundles of cash, land titles, a small sachet of little blue pills, a quickly dismantled semi-automatic.

The beep behind him startled Wufei, though he kept eyes and gun on Romain until he'd identified it. It was from the laptop in its docking station on Romain's desk. It was connected to the main system, as secure as the rest, and undoubtedly being poked and prodded by their people in Brussels. Maybe it was a message from one of them. Keeping an eye on Romain and Exeter, he moved around the desk and moused away the screensaver. The hackers had already broken open all firewalls and password protections. The email program was up and running, with a message in the inbox, already decrypted and open for perusal, as if Romain had just recently checked it again. He probably had. The beep had been incoming email, but the current message on screen captured all of Wufei's attention.

"Listen to this." Wufei's voice was pleasant, with an acerbic undertone. Heero glanced up in mild surprise from the scanner.

"Email to Exeter, cc-ed to Romain. 'Andrev, we confirm the arrival of two visitors to your colony. They'll arrive from Earth in a couple of days' - this was sent three days ago."

"Does it give our flight number?" Heero muttered. He'd turned from the scanner to cover Romain with the Kreig while Wufei checked the PC.

"...No, but it's so detailed, it was probably an oversight," Wufei ground out. "'Expect two men, both of them Asian' - is that what threw you, Romain? I admit my colleague doesn't look very typical." Heero's eyebrows arched slightly. Romain glared at the carpet.

"'Indications are that they are young, probably in their twenties.' Hm, that didn't help either. 'They should be posing as students, part time or full time. Expect them at your club shortly. You need to take care of them asap. Our source indicates they could be break-in specialists.'" Wufei's voice had slowed down as he read, eyes widening. "'If you try to keep them away, they might decide to take a short cut. I know you don't like these methods, Andrev, but our friends insist that they be made an example. Une and her vermin may have free reign on Earth, but the colonies are ours, especially L3. We will not tolerate a move against one of our interests there. This is important, Andrev. Call me on the secured line if you need any help, and our man in Minsk is standing by too.' It's signed, Simon, no last name."

Wufei clicked a few keys to open the new email. It was in code. A program on Romain's desktop amiably inquired if he wanted to decrypt the incoming message. Wufei clicked away, indicating that he would be delighted.

"'Re: Guests'. That's us," he informed Heero. "It's the answer to Romain's demand for confirmation of our identi-... ties..."

Heero's grip tightened on the Kreig, hearing the note of shock that Wufei had uncharacteristically let slip.

Wufei read slowly.

"'Andrev, I'm sending this to you and your man Romain. Please read and respond asap. This is urgent. The information you sent us has confirmed that your guests are the ones we were expecting. But there's a big problem. They are VIPs. I hope you have them under sufficient guard. Double it anyway, just to be on the safe side.'" Wufei noted, from the corner of his eyes, the way Exeter was staring at him, then at Heero, eyes widening. "'I know these guys look like kids, I wasn't sure myself when I saw the pictures Romain sent us. But our people managed to obtain their retinal scans for comparison, and have confirmed it.'" A creak of metal as Heero's fingers tightened on the Kreig's grip. "'They are extremely dangerous. I've included something for final verification on your side; if this is indeed the men you have, neutralize them immediately. You can-" Wufei's voice did not pause or fluctuate as read the next few words, "-kill the Asian one immediately. Make the body disappear, this is crucial. They have connections, beyond Une's Rats. But if at all possible, our friends have indicated that they would like to have the other one. When you see who it is, you'll understand. Personally, I don't think this is wise. Dekim would not want us to endanger our organization even to avenge his murder." Wufei's eyes flickered to Heero. Dekim Barton...murder? Heero's face and his entire stance were entirely closed and uncommunicative, even to Wufei. "But it would score you points if you can keep this bastard alive until they send someone to fetch him. A team has been dispatched from Minsk, expect them tomorrow. Take care, my friend. Simon.'"

"What's the 'something for verification' he mentioned?" Heero asked tightly.

For answer, Wufei swung the monitor around, and then pointed the Kimber at Romain so that Heero could come and read the screen. Heero bent over, then grabbed the monitor and jerked it to get a better angle, a rough gesture that expressed his shock even though his face remained set in its usual lines. Wufei smiled grimly through the sour taste in his mouth; the view of the photocopies of their Preventer ID cards had caused a flash of undirected adrenaline to flood his system. They accompanied a point-comparison of their fingerprints and stored retinal scans, and every detail of their lives, except for their home address, bank details and what their favorite color was. Heero breathed out heavily, cutting off an abortive exclamation. Probably something along the lines of 'I'll kill that bitch Anthea for this', or at least, that's what Wufei had wanted to say. It was her job to keep this sort of information secret.

If Exeter and Romain had received that email just a bit earlier, Wufei and Heero might well be dead by now.

Heero, eyes hard and anger printed in every line of his body, moved around the desk and started hammering at the computer's keys. Exeter stared at him, eyes going over his features lit by the screen's light.

"Heero Yuy," he finally said. Heero didn't glance at him. Romain made a soft, cautioning noise deep in his throat, but his boss ignored it.

"We know who you are," Exeter continued softly. The urbane image of the businessman was tarnished by the faint, feral look in his eyes. This man wasn't a natural killer, but he had the ruthlessness it took to become one when he needed to be, and have no regrets over it. "We've been looking for you. You, and the L3 traitor who took Trowa Barton's place. Une and her lot are also in our sights. You're no more than the roaches crawling through the foundations of our house, but you've grown annoying and before long, we will crush you. But you...you and the Heavyarms's pilot...we will make you pay for what you did to Dekim. You do not harm us and get away with it."

Wufei kept his gun on Romain. The ex-Legionnaire had twisted his head, trying to catch Exeter's attention, honest worry for the man in his eyes. It wasn't necessary. Heero would not do anything to either of them without an order or a cause, and a threat wasn't cause enough for him. Wufei didn't need to turn around, he knew there would be that small quirk on Heero's lips; 'If you want me, you're welcome to try'.

As his partner, Wufei was feeling a bit less phlegmatic about this. Une's information was that Exeter wasn't a real player, just a money-mover, but his words seemed to indicate that maybe they should re-evaluate that profile, and there was no time like the present. "What- " Wufei started, but was interrupted by the alarm going off, shrill and shocking. Heero switched from the keyboard to the Kreig in a heartbeat, training it on Romain in less than a second. Wufei let his partner watch the men while he ran to the door. He couldn't hear anything over the alarms ringing. Would someone other than Romain and Exeter have the key to this office?

Romain had tensed, but Heero's speed had discouraged him from trying anything. After ten seconds the alarm cut off. Wufei, with a glance at Heero, walked over to the ex-Legionnaire and slipped his cell phone from his pocket.

"Here. Call whomever is in charge, or Pels. Tell them we have you and Exeter, and not to try anything funny."

"How are you planning on getting out of here?" Romain grumbled, lifting himself on his elbows to dial. "You know we're not going to let you get away with this alive."

"I know you'd like to present our heads on a platter to your 'friends' in the hope that they'll forget how easily we got all this interesting information from your system," Wufei elaborated, agreeably. Romain snarled, but there were creases of worry around his eyes. "But I'm afraid we're not going to make it that easy for you. As soon as our team is finished with your system and the contents of your safe, we're calling the police."

"The-" Romain bit back his exclamation of surprise. Exeter stared at Wufei, brown eyes wide with shock.

"Yes. I'll tell them that you invited us here, but then you started to get pushy, and we panicked. When they get here, you'll apologize, we'll do the same, we'll all conclude it was a big misunderstanding, and we'll get the cops to drive us back to town," Wufei concluded.

Romain's eyes narrowed.

"And don't think you can accuse us of breaking in here, or being the cause of all this fuss," Wufei murmured, voice touched with steel. "First of all, if things come down to legalities, we are Preventers, that makes our word rather hard to counter in a court of law. Second, your own cameras will show you leading us through your garage at gunpoint. You won't have the time to modify those pictures. You can erase them - which will look suspicious - or we can invite the authorities to view them before we leave. That would make for a fun home video."

Exeter sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly. "And just what will you tell the police once they get here? That, having been brought here by force, you decided to go the whole way and break into private information, without, I assume, anything remotely resembling a warrant? Do you think that will stand up in court?"

"Oh, I know we won't be able to get you arrested, either of you. Though I'm thinking I would like to try." Wufei tapped Romain thoughtfully on the shoulder with the Kimber as the man's fingers stayed frozen on the cell's keys. "Was it you, by the way? Did you pull the trigger on those two cops? And Santoro?"

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about," Romain sneered mockingly.

"Of course you don't."

"This isn't over."

"No. No it isn't," Wufei agreed softly.

Romain got up on his knees and placed the call, then went and sat down on the floor next to Exeter's chair. Wufei didn't object. Not even when the man twisted his head and muttered a few words in French. Wufei's grasp of the language was weak - except for some interesting vernacular picked up from Trowa - but it didn't sound like an ominous plot. More like an apology, regret...Exeter's hand dropped to Romain's shoulder and squeezed it before being clasped once more in his lap. A few whispered words in his accented French, something about no real harm done. Wufei pretended not to notice the gesture. He kept an eye on them and the door, until Heero had finished, and then he placed the call to their contact in the L3 police force, who would get things moving with the least amount of fuss.

 

 

Heero slipped on his jacket in one smooth movement, patted the Glock in its back holster with a pleased gesture, then grabbed his bags from the bedroom. He looked inordinately cheerful (for Heero). His face was its usual cold mask but he was moving around the apartment like a bird taking a last farewell flight around a suddenly open cage.

"Got everything?" he tossed over his shoulder.

"Yes," Wufei replied absently, standing immobile near the counter.

"Good. Sam said he'd do the cleanup, what there is of it. He doesn't think we were here long enough to leave many traces. All in all, that went well. Quick and efficient."

"...The man I kicked died a few hours ago." Sam had called to warn him while they were still at the police station, sorting out the details - and the lies - with their contacts, trying to wrap things up.

Heero grunted an acknowledgment without glancing up from where he was slipping the Kreig, which he'd apparently adopted, into his bag. "Is that going to be a problem?" he added as an afterthought.

"No. Exeter wants a fuss even less than we do; he knows it will ultimately not lead anywhere, not in the circumstances in which he brought us to the mansion. And he's got a lot of damage to repair with the Syndicate, he's going to be busy with that. Apparently he's decided it's safer all around to pretend nothing happened, that we were a normal couple invited to his club, and there was some misunderstanding. As for the dead man, he told the authorities that he'd fallen down the stairs."

"Oh. I'd like to meet the coroner who can be bribed to sign off on that, with your bootprint all over his face." Heero leaned over and zipped up his duffel, muttering something about 'bloody L3'. When he straightened, he'd visibly dismissed the matter. "That aside, it couldn't have gone better. We fulfilled our mission parameters, got the information, and we didn't even need to bother with all this," Heero added dryly, waving.

Wufei followed the gesture with his eyes. 'All this' was the kitchen where they'd have eaten their meals and talked about the day's courses; the couch where they'd have watched the news, curled up together; the bed where they'd have slept, and made- fucked.

Heero grabbed his duffel, then slowly put it down again. Wufei realized his partner was looking at him oddly. Damn. His lack of enthusiasm, which he himself couldn't explain, was probably obvious in every line of his stance.

"It would have been nice to have proper courses for a few months," Wufei explained briskly, trying to shake the odd listlessness that seemed to be rooting him to the spot near the small kitchen counter.

Heero lifted an eyebrow; obviously that would not have been his idea of fun. Then he shrugged. "We've been on missions continuously for almost a year, give or take a week's recuperation here and there. If you want, Une could give you a month's leave to take some classes -"

"No point," Wufei interrupted. "We both know that it would be cut short by some fire or other. I wouldn't be able to fully concentrate knowing that. I'm sure we'll have a couple of weeks before the next crisis, I can study during my downtime, as usual."

Heero nodded, accepting that at face value, and why shouldn't he? He shouldered his duffel and strode briskly towards the door. "Let's go, Chang."

"...Yes."

The door didn't quite close behind his partner. Wufei could hear quick footsteps clattering down the short flight of stairs to the lobby. The squad car had arrived five minutes ago, it was waiting outside to take them to the shuttle port and the Preventer's small troop carrier there.

He stared at the apartment, not really seeing it. It was an illusion, about to dissolve back into smoke and light. Sam would take a team in and make sure nothing could be traced back to Wufei and Heero by the time the next occupants moved in.

There were some papers on the counter. Wufei picked up a couple of brown envelopes absently. Addressed to Yuy Summers and Chang Lin. They had the university logo on them. He stared at them blankly. As he put his down, something slipped from the open envelope. A round disk - the chitty for his locker in the university's gym. It bounced and spun on the counter, a tiny little noise briefly disturbing the silence of the uninhabited apartment. For a second it revolved on its edge like a spinning penny, perfect, as if the movement could go on forever. But then the light plastic started to wobble, its vacillations increasing exponentially until-

Wufei's hand had snatched it up before he even knew he was moving. He found himself gripping the thin plastic, felt its edges bite into his palm. He stared blindly at the kitchen counter. His mind felt numb, as if a shot of novocaine had muted an indefinable ache to a faint, dismissible prickle.

"Chang!" The shout echoed in the stairwell.

Wufei stood frozen with the chitty and Heero's envelope for a few more seconds. Then he shook himself. Time to go back to HQ. Mission successful and all that, and they hadn't had to fake anything. Much. And only one dead body, and Exeter adequately neutralized. Une would be over the moon. She might even give them a week's vacation, one where they could actually forget about their cell phones and- well, no, what on earth would they do with themselves? Maybe she'd give them a bonus. That they wouldn't have any interest in spending. Okay, maybe she'd reward them by letting them tie Anthea to a hill of fire ants. Wufei smiled wolfishly, and absently dropped paper and plastic on the counter. Let Sam's men deal with it, make these fake lives disappear. He grabbed his duffel and marched out the door.

Chapter Text

"Three feet of ice does not result from one day of cold weather"
--- Mandarin Proverb

 

The two bokken crashed and rasped, wood on wood.

Wufei pushed against his opponent's blade, took a step forward -

No! He'd moved too soon!

Heero's bokken lunged, a bent wrist wresting it from the deadlock with its mate, and hammered into Wufei's shoulder.

Wufei tried to spin -

The sword promptly swept from his shoulder to his knees.

Wufei swore as he tottered and tumbled to the tatami. His furious glare hid the acid bite of shame. What a stupid mistake! Stupid!

Heero let his bokken rest on his shoulder and lifted an eyebrow. The first time he'd managed to catch Wufei out, he'd been rather pleased with himself. The second time, he'd been mocking. This time - the third - there was only that eloquent eyebrow asking Wufei just what the hell he thought he was doing: knitting?

This was humiliating. Heero was a good fencer, but that didn't translate to other sword forms such as Chinese sabers. Wufei had been teaching him for the past few weeks.

My timing and my balance are off...The words squirmed like vermin eating away at his confidence, his pride in his ability.

Heero turned towards the sword stand on one side of the room to put away his practice sword - only to find his way blocked by Wufei's bokken.

"I thought you'd have had enough," Heero commented dryly, glancing at his partner.

Wufei didn't say anything. He glared his challenge, took a step back, and swished the bokken up in a brief salute.

Heero did the same with a cool indifferent movement that Treize would have envied. Wufei normally admired his partner's composure. But today, he found his fingers squeezing the bokken hard enough to make his bones ache. Bad. He forced himself to relax, or Heero would disarm him at the first touch. He steadied himself. Breathed. In. Out...Looked for his center... gave up that attempt quickly; he'd not found it in weeks. He threw himself into a furious attack.

Crash! The bokken bit, wrestled, swept away and crashed together again, barking wooden insults at each other. It went wrong almost immediately. Wufei felt like he was stumbling from one movement to the next, perpetually off-balance.

He was tired. And he shouldn't be, his mind countered ragingly on the heel of that thought. Heero wasn't tired! They'd been working furiously for the past month, ever since that stupid mission on L3. But did Heero show any signs of being affected? Oh no, not the perfect soldier! Fresh as a fucking daisy.

The first two weeks back from L3 had been immediately and insanely busy, and considerably dangerous. The partners had been at the forefront of several offensives to break Syndicate operations: weapons factories, drug manufactures, suit depots. They'd arrested a lot of the Syndicate's small fry, netted from Exeter's information. But the big fish were harder to catch, even with those resources. After their first frantic round-up of criminals and a few truly vicious fights, they'd spent the last two weeks in Brussels, looking for more leads, interrogating the men they had already caught and building their cases.

No cleansing fights, no all-consuming battles, no real life-or-death situations in two weeks - the look on Heero's face as he easily dodged the blow aimed at his shoulder seemed to contemptuously underline the fact that he certainly wasn't in any danger now. He looked almost bored. Wufei whipped the sword towards the hand so lazily holding the bokken, and staggered as his own practice blade bit air. He wrenched a few back muscles stabilizing himself and jerked out of the way of Heero's counter, avoiding it by the breadth of a hair that had been previously quartered.

They worked sixteen hour days at Ops, following their leads, then, when Sally, Sam or Une chased them away, they went back to the safe-house and worked some more. Once the interrogations were done, they both opted of a common, silent accord, to work from Heero's place all the time and avoid all interruptions. The patterns of their lives for the past week or more had been endless repetition. Sitting at the kitchen counter for the most part, hacking into accounts, chasing leads, directing and analyzing satellite surveillance. They'd get up, work for twenty hours, sleep, wake up and repeat. Hours drifted by like hungry ghosts. The only relief was these moments of practice, and the occasional quick, efficient fuck.

Heero's sword darted - a feint! Wufei barely recovered in time to parry the counter-slash that nearly ripped the bokken from his tired hands. Heero had been about to call the fight to a close, but since Wufei had decided to go another round, the soldier was going all the way and showing absolutely no mercy. Of course.

Wufei parried again, and was pushed back. This lack of focus on his part was all the more infuriating because he had been longing for this all day. The quiet of the house had been drilling into his nerves. Heero had been assiduously working for the past ten hours on his laptop, breezily hacking into a few highly secure Swiss bank accounts, following their leads on the Syndicate's financial setup. Apart from a few necessary breaks to keep his body working at peak efficiency, he had not moved away from the computer, or stretched, or talked, or even looked at Wufei all day.

The latter was a bit at a loss to figure out why this bothered him. This was Heero's usual attitude when he had A Mission. It had never annoyed him before. But by the end of the day, Wufei had been ready to grab that laptop and break it over his partner's hard uncaring head just for the excitement that would lead to.

He was off-balance.

It was because he was tired. And bored - this part of the mission wasn't all that interesting, for all it was crucial.

Heero's sword slammed against his, shoving him back again.

Yes, bored and tired.

And Heero, of course, wasn't.

And if he'd noticed Wufei's odd restlessness - of course he'd noticed it, it was about as hard to ignore as a pissed-off dragon in a bamboo grove. Wufei had caught a couple of nearly-curious looks thrown his way, Heero noticing, weighing, and deciding it was none of his business since it didn't affect Wufei's ability to fight against an average opponent.

...He didn't care.

Wufei's muscles screamed as he twisted, bent and straightened, right into Heero's guard, like a mine going off in his face.

...Heero didn't ask what was wrong, because that wasn't the arrangement.

A shove of his shoulder - Heero staggered.

...They shared their strengths, and they honed each other's edge, that was all.

His sword smashed aside Heero's defensive thrust.

...Heero didn't care that his partner was out of sorts for the last month, as long as it didn't affect his work. So Heero just -

A sweeping kick took out Heero's legs.

- didn't say -

Wufei landed astride him, bokken twisting downwards.

- anything!

The sword slammed point first into the spring-board floor with a harsh bark of wood. His hands smashed into the tsuba, which snapped clean off from the violence of the blow.

The small sound of the little handguard falling to the matting was the only noise, apart from their harsh breathing. Heero's wide eyes were on the white oak of the bokken that had been slammed point-first into the floor an inch away from his head.

Then those dark blue eyes fastened on Wufei.

So...you're looking at me now.

He found himself leaning forward, towards those wide eyes peeking through the rich brown fall of hair, the mouth softened and open in slight shock - they seemed further away. They were at the end of a long tunnel, darkness ringing his vision...From a distance, he saw Heero blink and glance off to one side.

Lips moved. Blood, anger and faint stirrings of lust were boiling in Wufei's ears, it took a moment for the words to filter through-

Heero snarled and shoved. Wufei was tossed aside like a child.

Fury ignited and he scrambled to his knees, the oak of the bokken rasping along the floor as he swung it up.

Heero, who'd uncoiled from the floor like a snake and taken three steps towards one side of the dojo, stared back at him, startled and a bit annoyed. "Are you deaf?"

"What?" Wufei was on his knees or he would have staggered.

"I said there's someone knocking at the door." Heero turned with a dismissive scowl and headed towards the front door. Wufei stayed on his knees. The sword had dipped, taking some of his weight like a crutch.

Heero's voice sounded distant.

"Sam."

"Yeah, hi, got something for you. What have you been up to, boy? You're sweating like a pig."

Wufei saw his own hand pick up Heero's fallen bokken, fingers like light copper against the ivory of the wood. He found himself moving towards the sword-stand, his back to Heero and Sam. Center. He needed to find his center.

It had eluded him for weeks now.

 

 

Sam grimaced as he sipped the ersatz coffee but was too polite to say anything. Or too tired. His rich brown skin had a yellowy, stretched quality to it, his eyes were red and swollen, underlined with blackened bags like bruises. It had been a long month, and Sam was responsible, as directly as a 'consultant' like him could be, for most of the teams hunting down the lower echelons of the Syndicate on the strength of the information the partners had secured from Exeter.

The coffee cup, bought for Duo's visit a while back, clunked on the counter. Sam picked up and leafed through a folder instead.

"I thought you boys might be bored doing all this number crunching stuff," he said without further preamble. Wufei must have suddenly looked like a hound straining at the lead, because the Old Fox grinned. Then he grimaced.

"To be honest, we're tapped out. Our resources in Ops are being stretched like Commander Une's nerves. That's why I have you guys doing the cyberspace hunting; we just don't have anybody else who can take up the slack, though we all know that's not where your true talents lie."

"So what do you have for us?" Wufei's fingers itched to grab the folder from him. The promise of getting out of the house and into a fight burned like a promise of salvation in his mind.

"It's one of the Syndicate bosses we're slowly closing in on. He's starting to feel cornered. We got word on the street that he's had this brainwave. He's decided to kidnap bigwig politicians and industrials, the ones close to Preventers. He's going to hold them so we can't attack him."

Heero's silent sneer was an assessment of how likely that was. Wufei stared from that expression to Sam, eyes wide. "You want us to do hostage rescue?!"

"Are you kidding me?" Sam let loose three short barks of laughter. "I wouldn't trust you guys to rescue my mother in law, and the old cow's bullet-proof! No, he's not put the plan in motion yet. You've got to realize, the people he's aiming his sights at are VIPs. They don't consider their day complete without the odd death threat or two. They know how to defend themselves. So unless one of them does something stupid, it'll take our bloke awhile to get his hands on them. But I'd rest the easier if you two lads could nip his plan - an' him - in the butt."

"Bud," Wufei corrected automatically, then rolled his eyes at Sam's small, cynical grin. Foxwood occasionally pulled out his 'just a beat copper, guv' routine from his repertoire. Wufei sometimes wondered if he'd developed it to fool the criminals he'd spent his life hunting, or the London politicians and senior management he'd had to navigate like an obstacle course while doing his job.

"What do we have?" Heero was, as usual, all business, and didn't show the slightest interest in semantics.

Sam frowned as he flipped through the four pieces of paper contained in the folder. "Not much, strangely enough. I got this direct from the Lady, and she said to pass it to you right away. Obviously this is urgent. Still, not much to go on. No informants, no satellite surveillance, no research. Just a few leads, possible locations, and that's it."

Heero frowned, and his eyes darted towards his laptop.

"I know it sounds a bit low-key," Sam added quickly, "but indications are that there is a real threat here, and the leads are valid. If this is in any way, shape or form a real plot, we'd get our arses roasted if any of these toffs get snatched and we only had a couple of cadets on the case. And cadets are all we have left in-"

"We'll do it." Heero cut him short in a voice indicating that the soldier did not need justifications for his orders. "It'll be nice to get out of the house," he added with the swiftest glance at Wufei. The faintly sardonic tone had tagged a '-and my partner is feeling restless' to his statement. Wufei managed to return the glance, thinking, yeah, that was what was bugging him, he was restless. Getting out of the house sounded good.

Heero grabbed the laptop, started closing programs quickly and efficiently. Wufei finally snagged the folder from Sam's clutches and went through the information, which didn't take very long.

"They're in Brussels?" he asked, rather surprised.

"Sure. They want to hurt us. You can't kick a geezer in the bollocks without getting close. Besides, they, aaah, they have a cunning plan. A lot of their targets will be coming here next week for a conference and some meetings with the Lady and the board of ESUN security. They think this will be a great occasion. Never mind that the whole Brussels police force will be out watching these VIPs," Sam sneered, obviously not impressed by their foe's strategy.

Heero surfed through the online information while Wufei read out the addresses in the folder. They were on the far side of Brussels, in the oldest industrial zone near the river, beyond the old train station; an area of mostly abandoned warehouses, docking bays and haulage facilities. A good place to assemble and house a group of armed nasties in preparation for an attack. Nobody would report them to the police over there. The muggers, hookers and pimps in that region hated anything with a badge.

Wufei glanced back at Sam suspiciously, while his fingers hovered over the locked and reinforced cabinet where the partners kept their more serious artillery. "Is this another mission where we have to be circumspect?"

Sam snorted hugely as he stood. "Hell no. I have six other things I need you two and everybody else in Ops to do, I don't have the time for you to dance the foxtrot with these buggers. And you'll have no backup, lads, unless its regular police, and I'd rather not involve them. So you know what that means: if you actually find these guys, you have my permission to ventilate their arses."

"Perfect," Wufei muttered under his breath, the word covered by the beep of the code he'd entered. He felt his indefinable malaise vanish as his fingers closed around the stocky grip of the special ops Micro Uzi he used when he felt like taking names only to slap them onto the toe-tags at the morgue.

Of course, it was understood - confirmed by a glare from Sam's dark eyes as he left without any other form of farewell - that it was Heero's job to apply liberal doses of mayhem, and Wufei's job to insure that most of the suspects survived, albeit somewhat holed. Despite the Old Fox's brash statement, he was still very attached to proper police procedure, where killing was used only as the last resort, instead of a means of simplifying things. Sam knew that he and Wufei were somewhat on the same wavelength on that.

Normally.

Wufei felt a distant prickle of pity for the Syndicate thugs as he slipped the SMG's strap over his shoulder and grabbed a thick long coat to cover it. Today he wasn't feeling in the mood to pull his own punches, much less Heero's.

Though it turned out that pulling punches was the least of their worries.

 

 

Stupid!

Wufei tightened the field dressing with a small hiss. It was a minor wound across his lower back. Small but painful, stinging and bleeding again every time he moved, and he was moving a lot.

Stupid to have gotten injured. Heero, of course, had been rolling away and firing back before the first bullet clashed into the concrete floor where he'd been standing. Alerted by the sound of the trigger tightening, probably. The second bullet, an instant behind the first, hit Wufei, but he managed to mostly avoid it. They'd been aiming for his legs. That small boon and the fact they'd aimed for Heero first was the reason Wufei still had full use of his legs; he wasn't as quick as Heero when it came to avoiding fire and retaliating. No-one was.

Their attackers hadn't tried for fatal shots, strangely enough. They must prefer the partners alive. Wufei's grip tightened on the small SMG. He had no intention of finding out why, except maybe when the judge asked the bastards in court.

Heero was doing his thing. Wufei heard the Glock fire twice, each time followed by a scream and shouts. His partner was in his element. Hell, he was probably having fun, inasmuch as Heero understood the concept, Wufei groused inwardly. For Wufei, the enjoyment factor had dropped considerably when he realized how thoroughly they were surrounded, and how neatly the jaws of the trap were closing in.

Someone really knew what they were doing out there. This was no hide-out they'd stumbled upon. There had been no traces of occupation to warn them as they entered the docking hangar, still in use for the few ships navigating the canal. They'd thought it would be empty, like the first two leads they'd checked that night. Far from it. These people were here for one reason only, to capture the partners. They'd chosen their location perfectly, and had quite a few men waiting for them. No wonder they hadn't bothered with a head-shot, Wufei thought bitterly. They must feel pretty confident they'd get Heero and Wufei alive.

Time to rip shreds out of their delusions.

Wufei stood in one fluid movement, firing at a shadow. Heero was a pinpoint of light in his mind, he knew where his partner was and would be, as if they'd had hours to discuss their tactics instead of Heero hissing 'left and up' over a pile of old boxes before taking off. Without even checking if Wufei was seriously wounded or not, of course. He was working on the assumption that Wufei could stay conscious, if not mobile, and be able to cover his route as he tried to get around the shooters.

This was not going to be easy, Wufei estimated, ignoring the stab of anxiety as he listened in vain for further shots from the Glock. The men were surrounding them from all directions, even above; he'd fired at several people on the gangplanks over their heads, but the bastards had been shielded by the mechanisms of the cranes used to transport heavy loads across the huge hangar. He'd caught one of them out in the open, the SMG doing short work of him, but the others had circled around him, staying out of sight. How many people were trying to round them up? A