Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, Drama, Humour (some)
Pairings: 1x5x1, others tba
Rated: NC17
Warnings: Violence, language, sex, adult situations
Spoilers: Yes, quite a lot for end of series (no EW though)
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer:Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.

Thanks (I forgot, last chapter!) to Dawna for beta-ing and allowing me to bounce the ending off her Also to Sol who allowed me to try a few of these scenes out on her months ago (sometimes in...March? Parts of this chapter have been brewing awhile now).

WARNING:
- scenes that might be considered a bit disturbing throughout this entire four-part chapter
- spoiler alert for episode Zero and second half of series
- I put Wufei through the mincer. Heero's not having fun either.

EXTRA Warning:
Not only am I an evil author (ask Wu), I do like to surprise my readers too :evil grin: That means that all is probably not as it seems...there's gonna be a twist in the tale. It's gonna be ugly. It's gonna be cruel. It's probably not gonna be what you expect...keep the prozac and handkerchiefs handy.

The Arrangement + Chapter 32
Breaking Storm, Part II

"Enough shovels of earth -- a mountain. Enough pails of water -- a river."
Chinese Proverb

---

The walls of Wufei's room took on a red tint as the sun went down. It was the first time in two weeks he'd actually been back at the house for sunset. He stared at the opposite wall blankly. He was exhausted. But that was becoming something of a habit these days. Hell, he was getting so used to functioning with minimal resources and half of his brain stunned by fatigue, that if he actually had a full night's sleep, it'd probably kill him.

Today had been a good day. He'd meditated for two hours that morning after that dream about his sins being put on trial. His soul was now much more serene. He didn't think he would have that nightmare again. Then he'd gone into work, and he and Susan had officially entered Evan's reluctant testimonial into the WCC official records, along with others. And Susan had found new leads. Lieutenant Karzowitz was dead, as was his entire unit - Wufei had seen to that, after Master Li had performed the last, valiant act of sacrifice for his sake. But there were still many people to interview, many little cogs left in the machine that had killed his wife and his home.

They'd interrogated one of them today; Susan had obtained another subpoena, and boy had she used it. Their suspect had been a captain at the time. He had authorized Evans' departure, bypassing the military L5 Colony Council, who should have been appraised of this order to move on one of their own. Susan hammered into him hour after hour, until the truth was laid out, bare and stinking. This armchair warrior had been hoping for the destruction of the Gundam that he considered a personal insult to OZ's occupation of space. He hadn't cared about the civilians that were, maybe unknowingly, hiding someone who had fought against Treize's supremacy.

At the end, the man was whispering over and over again that it had been for Treize, all for Treize...despite the fact he knew that the general had admired the Gundam pilots. Susan had reminded him of that fact, like you twist a dagger into a man's gut before you disembowel him. Wufei was looking straight into the man's eyes when the core of his soul broke. Oh, that one-time captain walked away afterwards, nothing but his words had been caught and imprisoned in the WCC's war crime's archives.

But his mind had tumbled into an oubliette far more dismal than the highest security prison. And it would never leave. Yes, today had been a good day.

Wufei nodded firmly. He was sitting on his meditation mat in the middle of his small, sober room. Not that he felt like meditating. But his exhaustion, his annoying habit of zoning out over dinner, his lack of appetite, and the fact that Heero seemed to have guessed he'd barely slept again last night...all this would have inevitably led to the same questions again.

They weren't the questions that Wufei dreaded - and that a small, weak part of him secretly wanted, though he despised and denied that bit until it slunk away again. No, Heero seemed completely oblivious to the effect this investigation was having on Wufei. Not surprisingly. Wufei knew that Heero felt the guilt, regret, pain they'd all inherited from the war, but he kept it in its place, he mastered his own weakening emotions. In a way, it was flattering that Heero automatically assumed Wufei had the same control and equanimity. It was a balm to Wufei's tired mind.

The problem was, that Heero could still see Wufei's physical condition, his exhaustion, his obvious lack of focus, and was assuming the problem was a lot more straightforward than the demons roaming through Wufei's skull. Wufei felt his hackles rise slightly and he scowled at the red-tinted wall. Apparently, in Heero's eyes, Wufei's troubles had a much more down-to-earth source: Wufei was a wimp who couldn't handle the strenuous retraining Heero was putting him through.

Wufei couldn't find any other way to interpret Heero's searching questions; he frequently asked Wufei how his injuries were, especially when he came down in the morning to find Wufei already up and staring dispiritedly at breakfast. How serious is the pain? Do you want to go talk to Sally about it? Are you sleeping alright? Maybe we shouldn't train tonight, maybe you should take some medication and try to rest? Do you know that regular sleep and nutrition are necessary for prompt recovery? Heero didn't say much but what he was saying was getting pretty repetitious. Wufei had stopped listening. Otherwise he'd just snap at Heero that the pain was nothing he couldn't handle, and that his partner should get off his back.

But in a way he was reassured. If Heero believed his physical condition was caused by his injuries, Wufei was not about to correct him.

He would beat this. His part in the investigation should last another two weeks or so, and then he'd have the physical with Sally and be fit for duty again. In the meantime, he wanted to beat this!

Heero was giving Wufei his space, not pressing his questions when Wufei told him to back off. Allowing Wufei to beat this on his own. Only a true partner, who respected his strength, would do that! Not for the first time, Wufei reflected that the arrangement and the partnership on which it was based was a privilege for a warrior like himself. Two samurai, living on the edge of a blade with no affection or tenderness needed or wanted. Yes, it was perfect.

---

Wufei sat up in bed with a strangled gasp.

He tried to catch the noise even as it left his mouth but there wasn't much point; the way he'd jerked the bed would have woken Heero anyway.

"...what? 'nother nightmare?" Heero mumbled into his pillow.

"I was living in a box!" The words tumbled out of Wufei's mouth regardless of common sense.

Heero was motionless for two seconds, then slowly lifted a sleepy face away from the pillow. "...You what?"

"I-...never mind." Wufei shook his head and sat there, thrumming, his body caught in indecision while his mind stayed stuck in the oh-so-detailed nightmare that had snared him. It had felt so real! Pain. Loneliness. A way of life like the edge of a blade. Cutting him mercilessly.

"Was a dream. Go t'sleep." Heero's head sank back into the pillow.

"I know," Wufei muttered. He lay back down again, as relaxed as a board.

He almost yelped as a strong arm suddenly grabbed him by the waist and dragged him bodily into the little nest of warmth that was Heero's spot under the covers.

"You were living in a box." Heero's voice was still muffled by his pillow and sleep, but it sounded more focused. "What, you were homeless?"

"I-" Wufei was about to order him to ignore it but then suddenly a light of recognition flipped on. "It was your study, actually, the room down the hall. I- it's so square, and it only had my dresser and a bed and my meditation mat in it, so it looked like a box. Erm." It sounded even more stupid out loud.

"My study."

"...well-"

"You were living in my study."

"...yeah."

"Wufei...for starters, your meditation mat is where you left it, rolled up by the door, I trip over it almost every morning-"

"You do not!"

"-and your dresser is over there, opposite the door. The only thing in my study is my desk."

"I didn't say it made any sense," Wufei snapped - his eyes going over the big room they shared, just in case, and feeling himself reassured to find it all the same as when he'd gone to bed with Heero earlier. "I just...I was living in your study, and you were living in this room, alone, you had your desk in here. And we-" Wufei stopped and licked his lips.

There were a few moments of silence. Then Heero muttered: "Yes? We what?" The words whispered against Wufei's shoulder, just above the line of his tee-shirt.

"We weren't talking. Same as when we hooked up, during the war. I-...I was investigating the destruction of my colony." The arm around his waist suddenly tightened, a firm comforting pressure. "And you said-...actually, I really needed..." Wufei cleared his throat. "It was just a nightmare."

"What did I say?" Heero's voice was now fully awake and had that persistent quality that told Wufei he might as well spit it out or forget about having any more sleep tonight.

"You weren't saying anything. And neither was I." Wufei forbade his voice to shake, threatening it with dire retribution if it dared to show such a weakness.

"...we weren't saying the stuff that mattered," Heero interpreted. It wasn't a question.

"...you kept mentioning my injuries. I'd been hurt in a car accident, chasing down a suspect. You were asking me if they were much of a problem, if they were stopping me from sleeping properly, if I needed-"

"But you know -"

"Yes, I know that's Heero for 'Are you hurting inside, do you want my help', but-...it was like during the war. You didn't know yourself what you were asking, and I didn't know either; I just assumed you were questioning my worth as your partner- it's stupid, I know. That's all. It-..." Wufei's mouth twisted. He hated this, but he had to be honest and say it. It was part of their arrangement. "It hurt. And I didn't know how to ask you for-...I didn't want you to pity me, or appear as if I was begging for your help-"

"That's Wufei for 'I'm being a stubborn ass'," Heero mumbled. "I got used to that during the war too."

Wufei opened his mouth, but he decided he didn't want to argue, not now. The arm tightened once around him, as if understanding that. Heero's voice was soft in his ear. "It was just a nightmare. We each have our share. Go to sleep. It's three in the morning."

"Sorry," Wufei apologized stiffly.

"Hn." Heero could now get a lot of nuance and exasperation into that one little grunt. "Don't you start that again. Go to sleep." The arm stayed around his waist like an anchor. Wufei felt like saying something; he knew Heero would only be able to doze lightly if they were actually touching each other instead of sleeping each on their side of the big bed. But Wufei knew what was being offered, freely and without any kind of hidden intentions. And he knew he'd dishonor himself more by refusing than by accepting. His own arm covered Heero's as it lay over his waist, and he squeezed it lightly, and closed his eyes. Warm breath caressed his neck, slow and regular, and a thumb on his ribs started a gentle back-and-forth rub that soothed him. He actually felt like he might get back to sleep tonight. As long as Heero didn't start to drool against his shoulder.

Wufei opened his eyes, stared at the ceiling of his small room, striped in yellow by the streetlights shining through the blinds. He was alone, in his own bed. Of course. His arm lay loosely across his waist, holding on to nothing, and his shoulder tingled as with residual warmth.

At least it wasn't one of those violent, painful nightmares, he told himself. Yeah, it could have been worse, he thought, as his soul screamed and screamed. He stared at the ceiling, willing himself to not think, not remember, not feel. Not to believe. He couldn't afford to believe...

By five in the morning, he was approximately successful. He got up and went to work.

---

"Push."

Wufei strained, trying to move - hell, nudge even - the steel trap that was Heero's arm restraining his right leg.

"Again."

A lesser man would have whimpered. Wufei just bit his lip and focused, ignored the fatigue, the ache...Heero's arm moved an inch.

"Good. Release."

Wufei put his leg down slowly, as if his muscles were not aching and tired, as if he had tons of reserves left. The partners had argued less than an hour ago whether Wufei should work out tonight. Heero had heard him come down the stairs early that morning, after that nightmare Wufei was studiously not thinking about at all, no, not even a little bit. His partner had wanted him to get an early night, but Wufei had shown him just how stubborn and cranky he could be when tired out.

His fatigue made it harder for him to read his partner's body language. Their near-telepathic ability to communicate worked best on the battle-field anyway, not in a more domestic context. But Wufei had noticed Heero's scowl, his distant expression and the way he occasionally clenched his jaw. Wufei felt that his partner was trying to find the words to say something. Normally, if Heero had anything on his mind, he came right out and said it, whatever it was. But living with Wufei these past few weeks had forced him to learn diplomacy as a survival skill.

"Chang, I've been thinking."

Here it comes.

"So that's what those vapor trails were," Wufei snipped automatically, brain turning over quickly, looking for a neutral way to once more explain his exhaustion, his physical and mental degradation this past week. Blame it on his injuries again. That was the only option.

His jibe got him a glare. Score: Chang, he thought, without pleasure.

"If you and Susan Wu need it, I think I can help you with your WCC case."

Wufei's movements faltered - he'd been doing small sit-ups to keep his muscles warm. And also to discourage any disparaging remark about his fitness levels. "Help?" His voice had been a bit strangled but he was breathing hard, so it wasn't too apparent.

Please...I need...I need...Despite his best resolve, the dream he'd had last night trembled in his soul.

"Yes." Heero sat back on his haunches and nodded firmly. "You only have two weeks left with her and you still have a lot of ground to cover." Everything in Heero's voice, his stance, his eyes, expressed an absolute certainty that Wufei would pass the physical exam in two weeks without the slightest problem. Wufei felt a trickle of warmth in the chest area. He'd been so wound up, thinking that Heero was about to criticize his physical condition, that this simple faith in his capabilities went straight through every one of his barriers.

"Yes, we're going to be very busy," Wufei admitted, forcing his voice to stay neutral. "We have new leads to explore." We have more murderers to see. More people who helped - by pushing paper, or looking the other way, or following orders - murder first my wife, then later my home. And we can do nothing to them. It's as if I'm carrying the weight of their confessions on my back, unable to put it down. I could really...really use someone strong at my side...to help...

"Une has assigned me to some one and two-day missions, Syndicate crackdowns throughout Europe," Heero explained. "I'm to assist Sam's people. I'll give you advanced warning of my destinations, and you can ask Miss Wu if there are any leads she needs to follow in those locations. I could do the groundwork for you. Save you time on trips."

Wufei stared at the ceiling of the main room, far up and slightly grayed with old traces of machine-shop grime. Then he stood up swiftly and grabbed his towel.

"Thank you. I will relay your offer to Susan," he answered without turning around. He wiped his face and headed towards the stairs.

"Chang?"

"You were right, I am tired. I'll go to bed. Thank you for the workout."

He didn't think Heero said anything in return. Wufei walked up the stairs, locked the bathroom door, stripped on automatic, turned the water on by feel, stepped into the shower and leaned his head against the yellowy plastic sides.

"What did you expect...you weak...pathetic...fool." So not only was Heero not going to be by his side, he'd be gone for days on end too. Doing some dangerous work, by the sound of it. While Wufei rotted in Brussels, caught in snares from his own mind.

This just got better and better. To make things worse, he'd probably vexed Heero back there by walking off like that. That is, someone normal would have been vexed; he wasn't sure Heero had it in him. But Heero's offer had been generous; to take time off from his own duties to run around after Susan's leads.

Wufei passed a hand absently through wet hair, rubbed his neck. This shouldn't bother him. He was used to Heero's way of thinking now. But the fatigue was eating away at his mind, and his barriers were crumbling; only exhaustion was stopping him from panicking too much about this.

He almost laughed - a slightly hysterical gasp that blew the shower water from his lips. Wow, he was going to have some interesting nightmares tonight!

---

Wufei opened the workshop's door and limped inside. He was tired, he was sore, he was pretty cross. This kind of mood should come with a dangerous weather warning across all channels.

"I'll get the tea," his partner stated after one look at him.

"Thanks." He took off his holster, stuck it on top of the gun cabinet instead of in it - he shrugged off the disapproving stare pinning him through the shoulder blades - and collapsed onto the couch, his eyes closing by themselves.

"What happened?"

"Evans," Wufei grunted. "He's hired a lawyer to have his interview removed from the WCC archive."

"...he wants to remove a freely-made testimonial from a historical Human Rights endeavor even though his name will never appear in their records?"

Wufei nodded. "Susan thinks he might actually succeed if-"

"But that's not fair!"

Wufei felt his lips twitch. Even after the kind of day he'd had...it felt good to be home. "Well, I'll just tell him to quit it because my wife thinks it's not fair, shall I?"

Meiran exploded right on cue. "We're both in uniform, Chang! When we're Preventers, I'm your partner, not your spouse!"

"Whatever you say, dear," Wufei murmured. He snuck a glance at her and decided he should stop now, or he'd be getting the tea in his lap and not in a cup.

He closed his eyes again on the grumbles coming from the kitchen area. So tired...damn nightmares...damn investigation...damn car accident that had left Meiran to cover the partners' regular duties and left him alone to deal with all these criminals he could never bring to justice...At least his leg and shoulder were feeling a bit better now.

"Here." Meiran slipped the cup between his fingers, then went to stand behind the couch and rubbed his shoulders, working gingerly with the healing one.

"Wufei, we should take a holiday after you're done with the WCC case," Meiran declared with her usual abruptness.

"A holiday?" Wufei's eyes opened, and he tilted his head back to get an upside-down view of his wife's face.

"Yes. We're due! You'll have time to finish healing, and...we could do with the rest."

"That sounds like a good idea." Wufei wasn't going to raise any objections! He knew his wife was working long, stressful hours to cope with their cumulative workload. He was surprised by the suggestion - one he'd been ready to make himself for her sake. Not like his Nataku to give herself a break. But he wasn't about to complain! That saved him a few hours of cajoling and arguments.

"After you finish helping Susan. Right? That'll be in less than two week's time. If she lets you go, that is!"

Wufei snuck another glance at Meiran. He thought the grin looked a bit venomous, and he smiled. Despite her insistence that they were partners first and man and wife second, Meiran had been, well, not jealous, of course, but somewhat unenthusiastic, shall we say, about all the time he spent with a bright, beautiful young woman like Susan.

As if...

Susan was intelligent, she was pretty enough. She was also entirely obsessed by her mission. She never asked Wufei any private question, beyond teasing him a bit about Meiran. Wufei knew, without being overly bothered about it, that Susan didn't care about him as a person at all. Her soul burned with a passion for justice that was too busy consuming the enemy it pursued to even think about such trivial matters. In fact, it was frighteningly similar to the firestorm that had been Wufei's own soul during the war. They were too similar, hiding an intransigent view of the world like the edge of a blade, behind a mask of cool uncaring. They both had a soul that could cut down anything in their path in the name of an ideal they refused to see as layered and complex.

Wufei snuck another peek at his wife. No, he wasn't at risk of falling for Susan. He had his own bright flame, one that was warm and wise beyond her years, compassion and faith tempering the fire. No, Nataku had nothing to fear...

"Don't worry, Susan doesn't really care who helps her. And I lined up another partner for her already, one she should have no complaints about."

"Oh?"

"Heero." His friend had taken some persuading, but-

"Heero Yuy?! Oh that's just perfect!" Meiran laughed. "Definitely someone who can keep up with her! Excellent! Does that mean I can go ahead and book tickets? Susan will definitely let you escape?"

Wufei nodded and sipped his tea.

The fingers squeezed his shoulders enthusiastically.

"Good! We can go to China! Grandma will be there for a Long family reunion!"

Wufei choked. "Wh-wh-"

"I haven't seen her in ages!"

"Five months!" Wufei protested weakly, still sputtering tea.

"Well, that's ages! I grew up with her, after all! And she likes you." The fingers on his shoulder were becoming a lot less gentle.

"Yes...but-"

"But what?!"

Wufei made a face. "She keeps dragging me off to one side by the ear and asking me when I'll persuade you to give up this dangerous job, find a proper home - " he gestured at the converted workshop around them, which was practical and which they both quite liked, " - and settle down on L5 and have babies."

"Grandma's old-fashioned," Meiran said with indulgence. Wufei wished she had a tenth that much patience with him when he cautiously suggested she take fewer risks at work. "But her heart's in the right place. Just ignore her."

A memory of a wrinkled face, beady eyes that were more terrifying than SMG muzzles, a tongue sharper than his sword, and claw-like fingers stabbing at his midriff, flashed through Wufei's mind. 'Just ignoring her' was definitely not an option; they wouldn't even find his body. Wufei thought, not for the first time, that if Meiran became more like her grandmother as she got older, he'd be better off dying young.

But his wife was tired these days; she'd been working so hard. Not surprisingly; she was just so ardent in everything she did. She never kept any reserves for herself. Even putting up with Grandma Long would be worth it if it allowed Nataku a break and let her visit those relatives that had escaped their colony's destruction.

"Very well," he sighed, and was rewarded with an enthusiastic hug. That showed how much this meant to her; normally she accepted his rare capitulations as if they were her due.

"Go and take a nap, husband. I'll go pick up some take-out in about an hour, and then we can train, okay?" She gave him a warm smile, took the empty cup from his fingers and shooed him away.

Wufei stretched as he woke from his nap. He lay there in peace for a few seconds, and then opened his eyes slowly. What-...it was night time! He sat up abruptly. Meiran shouldn't have let him sleep that long! What-

Then he remembered that his wife had been dead for over three years now.

Wufei slumped back into the pillow and stared at the ceiling, looking warily for the pain and distress lurking in his soul.

He found none.

His dream had seemed so real...they all did these days, more real than the waking world. In this instance, he really had been with his wife. He remembered her vivacity, her tenacity, her relentless passion for so many things.

Wufei found himself smiling. He should feel terrible that she was dead, and he did. Though he hadn't loved her, he'd respected her immensely, once he'd let himself. And he'd let her die. There should be so much guilt. But...

But now that he'd seen her again, he didn't think Nataku would want him to torture himself over her fate. She would consider it pathetic, an inappropriate tribute to the way she'd lived her life. Hell, she'd be downright furious. Wufei crossed his arms behind his head and gazed up at the pattern of lines on the ceiling, yellow street lights splashing through the blinds, a very familiar scene he was seeing night after night since this bloody WCC investigation started

Nataku....

He didn't think he'd have any more nightmares about her...in fact, he was sure of it. The bright, vital woman she'd grown up to be in his dream might even protect him from some of the nightmares that were stalking him. He thought she would like that. He smiled gently at the ceiling.

Thank you...wife.

Yawning, Wufei rolled over, pleasantly tired for a change, instead of harassed by exhaustion that left him too weary to sleep properly. No, tonight he'd sleep okay. He'd barely dropped off when the cell phone rang.

He pinched himself violently, just to be on the safe side. No, apparently this wasn't a nightmare. Well, not in the literal sense. Goddamn it, if this wasn't a question of the planet's imminent destruction-

//Wufei? I'm sorry to wake you.// The voice didn't sound all that sorry though. It was said like a formality.

"Susan?" Wufei tried not to growl. It was dishonourable to bite a woman's head off, and besides, she was a damn good lawyer, and she would retaliate.

//We have a problem.//

"Evans?" the name was out before he could stop himself. Shit! Had he dreamt that or had it really happened?!

//Evans?// From Susan's puzzled tone, he'd screwed up: Evans hiring a lawyer to get his testimony revoked had been only part of his dream. Fortunately Susan had bigger concerns than her aide acting odd. //I was contacted by commissioner Alderbruck. Wufei...someone's trying to close this case.//

"Close it." Wufei stared blankly at the far wall. No, it was too hard to even think about this in his present state of fatigue.

//Yes. They want it closed as a non-event, because the colony self-destructed. And yes, I brought up the biochem weapons question but- Wufei, I think we found a rat.//

"Rat."

//How awake are you?! I think someone high up is trying to get this investigation squashed.//

"But...why? This is not a criminal procedure-"

//I don't know. But we're going to find out. Alderbruck, bless his soul, is fighting this tooth and nail. He'll give us some time, let us gather some ammo. In the meantime, I need you to help me. We have to find out what's going on and counter it before they shut us down!//

Wufei glanced at his watch. Just past three. Way to go. "I'll be in the office in- I need to call a cab, and they take forever to come out here, if they come out here at all, I-"

Damn, he'd never get in. Looked like he only had one option, and that would only be available if the phone ringing hadn't woken Heero up.

//Wufei?//

"I'll be twenty minutes, give or take," he whispered. Okay, so his shoulder and knee were still a bit stiff, but he could ride his bike! At least, well enough to not crash and that was surely the most important criteria.

Which wouldn't stop him from creeping down the stairs and inching the garage door open, he knew. Heero had declared himself Wufei's physiotherapist and it kind of stood as a standing order that Wufei wouldn't try anything physical without permission to do so. In fact, Heero insisted on driving him to the bus-stop or all the way to HQ these days. That was due to the fact that Wufei kept blaming his sleepless nights on his injuries; Heero was probably concerned about his knee. Wufei should have known that lie would come back to haunt him.

Heero would no doubt give him a glare when Wufei rode back on the bike tomorrow; scowl number sixteen, the one reserved for insufferable fools.

Still not as bad as Meiran's grandmother, Wufei thought with a shrug as he went down the stairs as stealthily as any Shinigami.

---

Wufei watched Susan with something like curiosity. His own fury and distress were blanketed by exhaustion. He'd really, really not needed an all-but-sleepless night on top of everything else that had happened these last two and a half weeks.

In addition to the numbing fatigue, Wufei already had the experience of being betrayed by politicians; this was kind of par for the course. Susan, in contrast, was used to the rigid proceedings of the law, as intransigent as her own righteous obsession for justice. He watched the lawyer tiredly, to see if that fine mask would finally crack.

Susan was making tea for them. She was half hidden behind the fancy carved wooden screen, but he could still see that her hands were shaking while she filled the kettle with bottled water. She was damned tired herself, he knew that, working all hours on the case, but he doubted it was fatigue that put that tremor in her hands.

"Well, now we know where the interference is coming from," Wufei finally said, simply because he thought that if she didn't explode soon and start shouting and swearing, she'd choke.

"Yes." Still the lawyer's voice. Still so cold and measured.

"Who knew Colonel Wen's family were so devoted, that they wouldn't want his memory tainted by any hint of something as uncivil as a crime against humanity," Wufei sneered, trying to reignite his own indignation. It was there, prowling around at the bottom of his gut, twisting it, but his mind was too foggy to fully comprehend that some...some blue-blooded military family, talking to this and that member of ESUN at a garden party somewhere, were going to throw away so much work and pain on Susan's part. All those nightmares, for nothing. It just...it didn't seem to want to make sense.

"...no justice..."

He glanced up. Susan's back was slumped, and she was staring at the two steaming cups.

"No justice...laws cannot-...cannot force the guilty to confront-" she bit her lip. He had the feeling she'd just remembered he was in the room. He turned in his chair to face the desk again, let her gather herself in private.

Finally a cup was placed in front of him. Wufei started a bit, he'd half dozed off with his eyes open.

Susan-the-lawyer was back. Cool, relaxed, confident.

"Drink up! That's my father's favourite, best reserve of the Yulien Green Mountain! Horrendously expensive, I only have it on special occasions. I wouldn't serve it to anybody else in this building. But you, Chang Wufei, know how to enjoy tea. It's in your blood."

She smiled into her cup. It was a strangely feral grin, and Wufei looked at her, startled. She caught his eyes.

"Ah, don't worry. Colonel Wen's family may have connections...but so do I! And so do you, Wufei. I think you should mention this to your Lady Une. She knows all those high ranking military types who are banding together to protect dear Colonel Wen's reputation, besmirched by us two grubby mud-slingers."

That was a good idea! Une was completely behind the WCC inquiries. It was why she'd lent them Wufei. She'd have very little patience with those generals trying to protect the reputation of one of their own, hastily washing away the bloodstains before anyone noticed. He shared the smile with Susan and took a deep sip of the hot, flavoursome liquid in the eggshell grey cup. It was excellent.

---

Wufei was resolute, positive, determined.

His mind, however, must have felt whatever little justice he and Susan were hunting for slip from their grasp.

Wufei peeled his tunic off. It was almost solid with dried blood. That was the disadvantage of wearing white. That 'Shinigami' person had the right idea after all; black was so much more convenient.

A distant whistle-bang of mortars brushed the air. He ignored it. It had been convenient that those other pilots had attacked the naval side of the base; it provided a good distraction. They'd wanted him to join them. He'd ignored them, and hadn't spoken to them since that first refusal. They were looking for something different, fighting their own war.

Wufei wasn't fighting a war.

He was Justice.

He'd found a nice silk tunic in the closet - the son of the family was only a couple of years younger than he was, and roughly his size, so the fit was perfect. Black, an intransigent colour that swallowed all others. A good colour for Justice. He slipped it on, and laid out the mourning white, stained red and black with blood, a banner in Meiran's name.

But he wasn't done yet. Now he had to find the men who had cornered his colony into committing suicide. He had some names; he'd find others. That lawyer from L5 was helping him. She should have more names for him by now. Their names and their address.

And that of their families.

It was only justice, after all.

He fiddled briefly with the blood beneath his fingernails, then leaned over and wrenched his sword from Colonel Wen's guts. The tip had sliced between the back ribs, avoiding the spine, to embed itself in the oak floor beneath the body, pinning him down. The man hadn't taken as long to die as Wufei had thought he would; must have had a weak heart. Well, there were others to take care of; no time to dally here.

Oh, first he needed to fill up on ammunition. There had been a lot of men between him and the Colonel. From the sound of it, those other Gundams were still wreaking merry havoc on the ships docked in the bay; he should be able to get out of the base without too much trouble with that kind of 'distraction' going on in the background. He went to see what the Colonel had in his private stash of weaponry.

Wufei grabbed the handles of the weapons locker and jerked, and blinked as they held fast. Weird. The Colonel had grabbed a gun out of here when he'd seen Wufei, and shortly before losing most of his fingers. The cabinet shouldn't be locked. Wufei frowned and tugged again, but the doors refused to open. He snarled and got ready to wrench it open by force, then stiffened and spun around. Someone had turned off the lights!

In the darkness, the room was bigger than the Colonel's study. Wufei looked instinctively at the spot where he'd pinned Wen to his elegant wooden floor. Gone! Impossible, the man was deader than Confucius! Wufei had checked! He growled, an animalistic sound, reaching for his sword again. He'd track the bastard to the ends of-

His hand grasped only air. His sword was gone!

And he was wearing- Wufei stared down at the tee-shirt and boxers that had taken the place of the dark silk tunic, then looked around the changed room in growing panic.

Like a series of pixels resolving themselves into a single frightening picture, the significance of the room - which was the main room in Heero's house - his night-time clothes, the lack of bodies on the floor, everything came together. He leaned back against the weapons locker, suddenly dizzy and nauseated.

Good god...he'd been sleeping. He'd been sleep-walking! It had been a dream. The bloodshed, the murders, killing the- Wufei's stomach flipped and he put a hand to his mouth to stop himself from throwing up - killing the Colonel's family-...He'd come down and-...

Cold fear gripped his gut. He'd come down and had been trying to open the gun cabinet. In his sleep. Thank the gods the partners had a lock on it. And that, in his semi-conscious state of mind, he'd not remembered the code. His mouth was so dry he couldn't even swallow the small wash of bile that bit into it. If he had-...

This was getting out of hand. He should go see Sally.

He shivered in the cool air and headed back to bed on quiet feet, thankful he hadn't woken Heero. He didn't feel up to a creative explanation of why he was wandering around the house in his underwear trying to open the weapons locker in the dead of night.

Talk to Sally. Take some time off tomorrow - no, he and Susan had an important interrogation in the morning, the man they were seeing was being flown in from Cyprus. That couldn't be put off. And then they had to go and take care of the political thing, make sure the case wasn't shut down. Wufei had arranged to talk with Une and her aide, and see what they could do. The Lady had moved an important conference so that they could do this tomorrow afternoon; he had to attend. Okay, the next day he'd go see Sally. No, he had to go with Susan to Barcelona. Okay, when they got back, he promised, slipping into bed. For sure.

And what would Sally say? Wufei stared at the ceiling. His heart beat was slowly returning to normal, though the horror and disgust at what a part of him might be capable of, if he let it, still clung to him. What could Sally do? Give him sleeping pills? He had a feeling this might be a bit beyond the sedatives she would prescribe. He might have nightmares anyway, and not be able to wake up! He'd go insane. He was already halfway there as it was.

Sally would tell him, in all kindness, to give up the case. She was a friend, she knew his strengths and his weaknesses, she'd seen him at his worst after all. He wouldn't be...too ashamed to tell her what was haunting him, why this was making him suffer.

But she might order him to lay off the case. She was his superior in the chain of command, as a medical officer. He couldn't give up now! The dead of his clan and his family deserved better than that.

He hated this. He hated being brought low by his own limitations. The little boy was having nightmares. God, that was pathetic! At least he wasn't wetting the bed!

No, he was trying to get guns out of the weapons locker instead.

...

As soon as they got back from Barcelona, he'd talk to Sally.

---

"You should talk to Sally."

Wufei's chopsticks, which had been toying listlessly with his breakfast, clinked harshly against the plate. He'd not been able to do more than doze last night, after that blood-soaked dream, and he had woken up at five. Susan didn't need him in the office until ten, when the man from Cyprus would arrive, so he'd practiced his forms that morning, the slow, elegant Tai Chi Yang movements loosening his tense body.

"I'm seeing her in little over a week for my physical evaluation," Wufei answered his partner, in a voice that did not lend itself to discussion.

Heero stared at him. He'd visibly been turning this over in his mind since he'd come downstairs to find Wufei already up.

"Maybe you should see her now. You're not sleeping. Or eating." Heero glared at Wufei's bowl, then up at his face. Strong arms crossed themselves over his chest and he waited.

Wufei stared right back, mulishly. In the dazed state he was in, the only thing that seemed to be properly functioning was his ability to get annoyed. "I didn't realize you were my nurse as well as my trainer."

Heero's scowl became puzzled. "Nurse? I just said you weren't-"

"Don't worry about me," Wufei snapped. "I'm just a little tired; my shoulder is keeping me awake. And there's a lot of work for the WCC case, it's very involving. But I'm okay. By the end of next week, I'll be ready to resume our missions."

"Not at this rate, you won't," Heero countered bluntly.

The sticks clattered against the bowl. Wufei stared at Heero, then something went 'snap' in his tired mind. "I apologize for having something like a normal recovery rate, despite your best efforts," he sneered acridly. "Waste of time on your part, I guess. Well, tell Une she can take you off light duty and assign you to Sam's team on a permanent basis until your injured partner can start to take up the slack, in a couple of months."

Heero was staring at him, he knew it, but Wufei didn't bother turning around; he was at the door, dragging on his boots and his jacket. He had plenty to do, leads to follow for Susan. He had intended to work here for awhile, but he could work just as well at the office, without any criticism regarding his merely human body.

"I'm walking to the bus stop, I should be able to manage that," he threw over his shoulder, as Heero finally reacted, shoving his chair back from the counter. "I'll see you tonight, assuming you're not reassigned to-"

"Chang! I didn't mean-"

The door slammed, and Wufei walked off. Fortunately, he didn't need a stick anymore, 'cause he'd probably have forgotten it. His leg was better and he could walk the ten-minute walk to the bus stop without any pain, as long as he stopped stomping, that is.

His flash of anger cooled a hundred feet away from the workshop, letting him fall back into fatigue and apathy. No, Heero hadn't meant it like that and Wufei knew it. And it had been unfair for Wufei, who was the talker of the two, to twist his partner's words like that. But...it had hurt. And it shouldn't have; Heero was only stating facts. Wufei had tried to cover for the flash of pain, his fear of the questions Heero might ask. He'd done so very stupidly; it was one thing to say his injuries were aching a bit to explain his lack of sleep, but shouting at Heero that he himself didn't think he'd be fit for another month or two... way to go, Chang.

Now Heero was going to assume that Wufei physically wasn't up to it. Maybe Heero really would get Une to assign him to Sam's team for awhile. Get out of the house where his ill-tempered partner blew up in his face at regular intervals. Heero had never mastered the art of not taking angry words at face value; after living with Wufei for over a year, you'd think he'd have caught on by now. Literal-minded moron!

No...that wasn't true anymore, either...Wufei let the annoyance elapse. There was no-one here to pretend to.

His partner had been getting better at social interaction this past year. Wufei didn't feel like admitting it though, because it made him wonder if Heero might not go and find himself another partner.

Maybe Heero would be gone by this evening. Or maybe not. Wufei had a very hard time reading Heero these days. Partly because he'd get mixed up in all his dreams. Partly because what he thought he saw, didn't make sense, not coming from the Heero Yuy he knew. And part of Wufei was afraid to look any deeper.

If his partner was still here when Wufei returned that night, he was ready to bet that Heero wasn't about to press the issue any more.

A tiny lost voice in his head wished Heero would. Even if that led to everything coming out. But Wufei squashed that little whisper relentlessly. This was for the best. Heero had apparently conquered his own war-time demons with little difficulty. If the soldier realized his partner was being tormented by a few figments of his own imagination, he'd really have reason to think of Wufei as weak. Not in the body, but in the mind, and that was something no injury could excuse and no amount of exercise could help.

Better to stay silent.

When he returned, late that night, too late for any training exercises, Heero was still there. Neither of the partners said anything.

---

"You know..." Treize sipped the wine and looked thoughtful. "Chianti doesn't really go all that well with this. It's too light a wine. Not enough body."

"I think it's good, Your Excellency." Une piped up devotedly (Treize had provided the beverages).

"Can I have some?" Meiran asked hopefully.

"No. You're too young," Master Li told her severely without looking away from the red liquid in the crystal glass. Meiran tried to look angry and severe, too, but there was a bit too much teenage pout to truly succeed. Her pig-tails bounced as she scrunched down in her chair in a sulk.

"Yes, the flavour isn't strong enough. Especially for abats. Maybe something leaner." Treize put down his glass and fished around the crockpot at the centre of the table. "Hmm. Lady? Did you want- oh. Here. Yuy? Did you want this piece? It's the heart."

Wufei jerked himself away from the horrified contemplation of his own dismembered carcass on the kitchen's chopping block, to stare around wildly at the long dining table, trying to catch Heero's reaction.

Heero was looking dubiously at his untouched wine - he didn't drink alcohol normally. He glanced at the chunk of cooked meat Treize had fished out with a pronged fork spearing it through.

"Why would I want that?"

"It's said to be the best bit," Treize told him fastidiously.

"I'm full." Heero pushed away his half-eaten dish and took a cautious sip of wine.

"Oh dear. I'm rather full, too. It's not very rich meat but one tires of it quickly. Lady? Sally?"

"Nah, I'm good."

"No, thank you, Your Excellency."

"Can I try some?" Meiran asked hopefully.

"No," Sally said gently. "You've not finished what's on your plate as it is. And it's too rich for a little girl like you."

"Don't know about that," Treize muttered, letting the heart slip off the fork back into the huge pot where the rest of Wufei's butchered body - the edible bits - were simmering. Skin, guts and bones had been discarded in a bin beneath the chopping block against which Wufei was - somehow - leaning, invisible, non-existent, a screaming slip of consciousness. Wufei turned back to the table, because he didn't want to see what was left of his upper body - the first few vertebra, ribs and head - hanging from the butcher's hook above the kitchen's drain -

Bile washed in Wufei's throat as he woke, teeth clenched so hard they felt like cracking. He spun and buried his face in the pillow to muffle his dry choking sobs. His fist crashed into the mattress, then again.

No. No, no, no, no....I'm going insane. I can't...I can't...someone, please....please help me- please, I just want to sleep...

His hand fished at the bedside table, from which he'd long removed the Luger. His mind felt frozen, immobile, unable to move past the sight of his corpse, dismembered and gored and ringed with clotted blood lining the butcher's block, the table where the remains were being feasted upon by- his body scrabbled with a volition all its own, like an animal trying to escape a trap.

The cool of the phone against his ear jerked him back to reality - or something like it - just as the second ring was interrupted by the connection being established.

//Hello?//

Fuck! What was he doing?!

Wufei fumbled and cut the connection, and then he stared at the phone. Why the hell had he done that?!

The memory slammed into him, making the nausea even sharper. In his dream, the guests at the table had been eating and laughing, clinks of glass and cutlery. Duo was trying to get Trowa to feed him, for some reason. And sitting next to them, plate completely untouched, wine knocked over and staining the white tablecloth like blood, Quatre, pale and stiff with horror, was staring straight back at Wufei.

Wufei shook himself so violently the muscles in his neck creaked. Then, face set and grim, he hit the speed dial '4' again.

//Wufei?! Is this you?//

"Yes-"

//Why did you call me, why did you hang up, I was about to call you back, are you-//

"Winner! Sorry about that. I meant to dial another number and hit yours by mistake," Wufei explained in a voice he forced out from between his teeth.

//Are you okay?!// Quatre exclaimed, voice suddenly tight and tense with worry.

Damn it! Wufei leaned his head back against the pillow - clammy with sweat - and took two deep breaths, releasing his clenching muscles one fibre at a time by force of will.

"I'm fine. Sorry, I'm in a bit of a hurry. But I didn't want you to worry. I'm sorry if I woke you."

//You didn't wake me.// Quatre sounded completely puzzled now. //It's almost seven in the morning on L4. I was just finishing my breakfast-//

"Right, right, time difference. I've got to go, Quatre. Sorry for bothering you."

//Wu-// Click.

Wufei quickly turned the phone off and put it on the bedside table. Hopefully Quatre wouldn't call Heero. Not much his partner could do even if Winner did contact him; Heero was somewhere in Eastern Europe, on a mission for Une. Well, since Wufei was alone...it was three thirty in the morning but Wufei intended, if at all possible, to never sleep again. And hopefully never eat again, he thought with a new surge of nausea as he remembered the feast. Tomorrow, he'd said he'd go see Sally.

But...

But he was afraid to.

For the first time in weeks, Wufei looked at himself in the bathroom mirror instead of studiously ignoring it.

He'd lost weight, and he had black marks under his eyes. But he didn't look that bad, all in all. His body had hardened during the desperate hours of the war. It would take a lot more than the last few weeks of trauma to physically impair him more than this. The lines of stress and exhaustion were lost in his usual tough and arrogant expression.

But his heart-rate was more elevated even at rest, from exhaustion and tension, no doubt; he didn't dare imagine what his blood-pressure must be like. His skin was very dry, his stomach rebelled if he ate most anything, in fact, it felt suspiciously like he was developing an ulcer...all these signs would make it hard to downplay the extent of the problem to Sally, who knew him well, and who was a very good doctor used to dealing with recalcitrant patients.

The real problem would be telling Sally that he was having dreams that were leaving him half awake in front of a weapons locker.

Damn.

Well, he would be seeing her next week anyway, for his physical. Susan had broken through the political resistance to their investigation, and things were going well again. Hopefully, the nightmares would ease, and he would be okay.

A small part of Wufei was trying to tell him that this attitude was illogical and very dangerous, but it didn't make much headway against the fog in his mind. He kept seeing Sally eating his remains, licking her lips and reaching for the wine-

Wufei started and stumbled to the toilet as the full memory of his dream came crashing through his mind and worked at wringing his body. He'd not eaten that evening, so there wasn't much to throw up, and his gut cramped so badly that he stayed crouched on the bathroom floor for ten minutes afterwards, unwilling even to get up and rinse out his mouth, and take a drink to moisten his desperately dry throat, made raw by the acid bile.

Next week. He'd go see Sally next week. He wasn't weak. He was Heero Yuy's partner! He'd fought and helped to win one of the most hopeless wars in history! He wasn't going to let this beat him. He was stronger than this.

If Sally learned about the gun locker incident, she'd put him on full sick leave, probably for a considerable time, and recommend him for psychiatric evaluation too, he was ready to bet. That wasn't acceptable. Heero was counting on him to be ready for duty again next week. They'd go on missions again, get rid of the stress in a cleansing fight. Battle together, back to back once more; no more arguments, no more questions, no more searching looks, no more doubts. Destroy real criminals instead of fighting evanescent phantoms. He would be alright.

He'd go see Sally next week.

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