The Arrangement + Chapter 19 (cont)
Infiltration, Part I

"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? Wh-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, enouncing 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, despite Duo's presence.

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, and 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 after a while, 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 houseguest, 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 and pleased 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 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 him-?...You're serious?" Duo could kid around but there was a limit he wouldn't cross and this...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 but-

"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...? Yes, he was 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 away inside the flak jacket, and tackle like climber's gear around his waist and slim thighs. He had a pouch of various tools and lock picks attached to his belt and 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 young, 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...without realizing 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?" He asked.

"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 were preferentially heterosexual."

"...Well 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.

It occurred to Wufei later - when Duo melted out of the darkness and started clambering over the fence again, two hours after he'd gone - 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 slight 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.

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