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.

AN: As most people have guessed, Heero was eavesdropping (he probably sees it as 'scouting and gathering information') during Wufei's confession to Quatre. So now he knows. He's obviously going to approach Wufei to confess, they will have a long discussion on the subject, barriers will crack, tearful confessions of love will be made and they'll head off into the sunset and if you actually believe that then you're probably reading the wrong fic. Hang on to your seats, the real tough stuff is about to begin.

AN2: HUGE thanks for all the people who filled in those nifty little Review boxes in GWAddiction! I can't express how nice it is to know people are reading and enjoying my fic =-_-=


Thanks, as always, to Dawna for beta-ing and assuring me I'm not a raving psychotic.

The Arrangement + Chapter 35
"Chinese Poles", Part I

"Like a mouse trying to pull a turtle out of his shell; don't know where to begin"
Chinese saying

---

"Chinese Poles": An acrobatic act, evolved from an ancient military technique to allow soldiers to cross enemy walls. Involves balancing on two upright bamboo poles. Once balance is lost it is virtually impossible to regain, and the more efforts made to do so, the worse the loss of equilibrium becomes.

---

Wufei awoke in total darkness. His slight gasp of surprise was muffled; he must be inside a building. It smelt musty and disused, with a slight taint to the air that made his skin crawl. And there was the sound. Soft skittering, little clicks...

He had a torch in his hand. He flicked it on without thinking.

And choked.

He knew where he was.

Somalia. OZ had cordoned off the route out of Kisimayo. He’d gone to ground in a bombed out area.

The bodies were reduced to dry bone and brownish gristle. The flies no longer wanted them. The rats had taken over, gnawing for marrow.

Wufei felt his gorge rise. Beetles were still crawling around one of the corpse’s torn jeans, as well as all around him. As he lay there, petrified, a few ran across the back of his hand, up his forearm, over his chest and thighs. The rats had turned and were eyeing him, eyes little green specks of refracted light as they easily dodged around the torch’s beam and scurried, feet pattering -

He hissed and fought against the musty air, so thick and cloying that it held him pinned down. Freeing himself, he sat up abruptly.

Reality factured into kaleidoscopic shards: he was in his room - but there was a slight wiggle out of the corner of his eyes as the beetles darted out of sight. The sound of the rats had been real! He spun - he realized he was sitting up in bed but the sense of danger was overpowering that distant observation. He glanced around wildly, looking for the source of the noise-

Heero was near the opposite wall, half out of his chair, staring at Wufei. His laptop had slid towards the floor, though he’d apparently caught it before it hit; he had it pinned against his leg with his left hand. His right hand had his Glock partway out of his back belt holster.

The partners stared at each other for a few tense seconds. Heero’s expression was carefully weighing. Then he must have decided Wufei wasn’t going off the deep end despite his abrupt and agitated awakening; he slipped his gun back in its holster and gathered up the laptop in both hands.

“How long-“ Wufei cleared his throat, which was so dry the words were a hoarse whisper. “How long have I been asleep?” He shivered, the ghostly touch of the beetles crawled along his naked spine. His skin felt tainted by the smell of old carcasses and the scurry of rats.

“About six hours.” Heero straightened and moved towards the dresser. His matter-of-fact monotone was refreshingly familiar, banishing much of the dream still miring Wufei’s mind.

“Six hours? I thought Sally’s pill was supposed to knock me out for more than twelve,” Wufei mumbled. He felt dull, numb. Except for his bladder.

Heero had frozen again, this time in the process of putting the laptop on the dresser. He was looking at Wufei in a careful, measuring way.

“Sally gave you that medication two days ago.”

“What?!” Wufei croaked.

“You’ve been sleeping for two days. Winner and I got you out of bed yesterday for some water and six hours ago to make you eat.”

Well, that explained the bladder.

“Oh.” Wufei felt a shudder run across his shoulders, making his skin goose bump, like a little skitter of beetles. Heero was obviously telling the truth. But there was nothing in Wufei’s memory except a huge stretch of darkness and a distant souvenir of the war, that time in Somalia he’d- rats, bugs...Wufei found himself glaring at the laptop as Heero rapidly clicked keys, saving and terminating programs before shutting it. So that’s where the skittering and pattering noises had come from.

He bit back a groan as he threw off the sheets and stood up. His head swam briefly, and he caught himself against the wall. When his eyes focused again, Heero’s hands were an inch away from his arm, ready to catch him.

“M’okay, just need to go to the bathroom,” Wufei muttered, though he waited another three seconds before moving away from the wall's support. Heero hovered near him but Wufei didn’t condescend to notice, as he made his way slowly yet steadily towards his goal.

Heero’s hand stopped the bathroom door from closing. Wufei stared at his partner in puzzled silence; his brain felt like it was wearing three layers of fuzzy socks.

“Sally said that we should watch you at all times; you could be subject to black outs,” Heero announced, as if this was all the explanation needed.

At that Wufei came fully awake. He managed to bite back the first three responses that came to mind, and then he throttled the fourth and fifth, which weren’t much more helpful, as he reminded himself that this situation was partly his own fault.

“I will leave the door unlocked,” he finally said, in a voice that sounded oddly neutral, as if it were still half asleep and not up to expressing all the emotions currently sizzling and popping in his brain. “If I’m not out in ten minutes - or if you hear a loud thump - you have my permission to come to investigate.” He made another move to close the door. The hand still held it fast. He glared at Heero, who gave him a puzzled look in return; apparently the soldier did not think that propriety rated higher than essential safety precautions. Or maybe he was thinking he’d seen it all before. Some of the old fire must have returned to Wufei’s eyes because, after a few seconds, his partner let the door close without further comment.

Wufei went about his business in a slight trance. Then he drank three glasses of water and glared at his reflection. He looked more tired now than he had when he’d been about to lose his mind from sleep deprivation and drug-induced hallucinations. The pillow creases on his face weren’t helping. The rest was probably due to the lack of stress; his body was finally catching up. Two days - scary to have eaten and not remember it - he’d not brushed his teeth, he’d warrant, as they felt as wooly as his brain. He filled a fourth glass of water, drank it more slowly. Two days; Sally’s pill had long stopped affecting him. But he’d slept pretty well, except for that last nightmare that was due to a certain partner of his who couldn’t sever his ties to his blasted laptop for more than a few hours without going into withdrawal. He really had to get around to teaching Heero meditation.

Heero...

Wufei stared at the mirror blindly as he remembered aiming at his partner, his finger tightening on the trigger. The memory felt surreal. But this he was quite certain had not been a nightmare.

Damn.

He poked his mind for something more constructive. It felt like prodding a bag of linen.

Wufei made a strategic decision.

Heero started slightly as Wufei wrenched the door open; he’d been leaning patiently against the wall next to the bathroom. Wufei strode right past him.

“I’m going back to bed. Wake me tomorrow.”

---

Wufei woke, choking with raw anguish. Insane! Susan?! Poisoning him?! That was mad! Fuck, another nightmare! It had all been a nightmare - he was still having them - he was going crazy! He-

He lifted his head abruptly from the pillow as he felt/heard another presence in the room.

There was a sleeping bag on the floor, half way to the door. The occupant’s back was turned towards him, but a patch of blond hair poked out, reflecting a bit of light in the dimness of early dawn.

Wufei took a deep breath, slightly shaky. His mind felt clear after the wash of adrenaline - clearer than it had all month. He touched the memories, tentatively to start with. Then, ignoring the pain, shame and guilt, he ran them through his mind slowly, like a film rewinding. It was fuzzy and occasionally out of focus, but he thought he could now distinguish what had been real, these past few weeks, and what had been a drug-induced hallucination. Finding out that Susan had been drugging him for some twisted revenge: reality. The house on fire, the madness of those final hours: hallucinations. Threatening to shoot Heero: reality.

Quatre was breathing slowly and regularly, deep in sleep. Wufei was fully awake now and was not surprised to see Quatre here; he remembered Sally’s instructions that he be watched at all times. He also remembered waking up yesterday to the sound of Heero's laptop. Quatre and Heero must have been relaying each other.

Quatre...Wufei flinched and curled up, knees against chest, hands rubbing desperately at his forehead as if they could scrub out another memory. He remembered the essence of what he’d told Winner just before passing out. And it was definitely not a hallucination, or delirium, and how he wished it had been. Wufei’s mind shied away from the crack that had appeared in his soul. No. No, don’t go there. Just...ignore it and it will go away. It has to. It just-

A noise made him tense; he thought it was what had woken him. Heero was moving around in the hallway. Wufei heard his partner’s door close.

Wufei lay back and stared at the ceiling - something he’d done a lot of during his month of torment. First things first. He gathered his courage, his pride, and then his words. He knew what he had to do. It would sting, but it was necessary.

Finally he slipped out of bed and ghosted around Quatre, his familiarity with the room stopping any creak of floorboards. Quatre’s breathing hitched and grew lighter in response to Wufei's movements, but he didn’t wake. Wufei eased the door open and slipped out into the hallway.

His knock on Heero’s door was very light, barely brushing the wood; this was going to be difficult enough without Winner being present. He’d deal with Quatre too, in his own time. But he owed his partner the greater debt. He opened the door without waiting for a response, confident that Heero would have heard the slight signal and would have recognized its originator.

Heero was sitting at his desk. He had several disks out, and the laptop was booting up. A protein drink rested on a stack of papers. He was looking at the door, but he didn’t have his hand on his gun. Wufei hoped this was a good sign.

He glanced out of the window while he closed the door behind him. A grayish light broke the night outside; it must be around five in the morning. His usual time to get up during the past month, but it was rather early for Heero.

His partner was staring at him, his entire posture guarded. Wufei licked his lips.

“Yuy.” Wufei crossed his arms over his chest - noticing absently that he could faintly feel his ribs below the padding of muscle. He didn’t let the realization distract him. Get on with it, Chang. "May I have a word with you?" Might as well be polite. Maybe Heero was doing something important-

Heero didn’t twitch. Wufei noticed an odd tension running through his partner’s body. Well, not tension exactly. More like watchfulness. Attentiveness. It seemed oddly out of place; normally his partner expressed his few emotions bodily, especially if he was annoyed. This was more akin to the total focus Heero normally accorded to flying a Gundam or planning an arduous field mission. This wouldn't be surprising if he was still concentrating on his laptop, but Wufei was a bit surprised at finding that looked directed at him.

He took Heero’s silence for permission to continue.

"I apologize for that regretful incident in Susan Wu's apartment. I knew I was under the influence of a drug, I'd deduced it by then," Wufei added that just to salvage a little bit of his pride. "I should have given my gun to Winner before leaving the workshop."

Heero stared at him.

"Actually I shouldn't haven't left at all, I should have explained myself to Quatre and yourself first. I wasn't thinking straight. But I should never have pulled my gun on you." His words sounded stiff and formal even to his own ears, but he didn't think Heero would notice, or care.

Silence.

Wufei was struggling to read his partner. For a month now, he’d been pretty far off, but he’d been so exhausted and confused that wasn’t surprising. Now though, he felt clear headed and awake. But Heero’s forced immobility was removing any clue that might allow him to see how his apology was being received.

No anger, he thought, a bit relieved. Just...a single-minded attention that was rather unnerving. Heero was looking at him like Wufei was a bomb he was trying to disarm in his mind before his hands took the risk instead.

Oh. Of course.

“Ah. I also apologize for my temper this past month. I obviously wasn’t myself.”

If the silence had lasted one millisecond longer Wufei would probably have snapped; his fingers were already digging into his arms as they lay crossed over his chest. Fortunately Heero immediately answered those last words.

“I know that.” Heero was matching Wufei’s quiet tone. His voice was as shorn of emotions as his stance, and it, like his posture, also gave no clue as to what he might be thinking. Wufei started to frown. This didn’t feel right. Heero wouldn’t be able to hide anger from him, but he was clamping down on something. This utter stillness wasn’t normal.

Heero turned slowly towards his desk again and stared blindly at his laptop. The silence hung, full of undefined expectations; Wufei had a feeling he had more to say.

“I should have realized,” Heero finally added, still softly. His voice held no trace of self-recrimination or regret. It was a perfectly neutral.

“You and me both,” Wufei snorted, leaning back against the door, Heero’s words loosening some of the tension despite the odd body language that accompanied them. “I guess that will teach me not to let my guard down. Peace-time my ass. I’ve had more fun in an OZ cell during an interrogation.”

He looked at his partner carefully. Heero appeared to be listening to his words as attentively as if he was supposed to decrypt them for some sort of hidden meaning. Some of Wufei’s tension returned.

“Yuy?” He waited until Heero turned towards him, still moving very slowly, as if making sure no extraneous body movement might escape the tight prison of his motions. Blue eyes scrutinized his face. Heero could be thinking about the chemical composition of Gundanium or planning to strangle Wufei in his sleep for all the latter knew.

“Are we good?” Wufei tried to sound straightforward, but some of his consternation made it into his voice.

Once more his words appeared to be snatched from the air, dissected and carefully analyzed.

“Yes. I realize that none of this was your fault. You were under the influence of a very clever disinhibitor. You were not accountable for your actions.” The words were slow and deliberate. Heero was watching him closely, as if weighing their impact.

“...Good,” Wufei concluded, a bit weakly. Actually, good wasn’t what he was feeling at all. There appeared to be no hostility in Heero’s manner; he’d seen his partner stretched out on the rack of war, his soul bared, he knew exactly what an angry Heero looked like and this wasn't it. Wufei wasn’t sure how to interpret this watchfulness though-

Oh, get a clue, Chang. Last time he saw you - bar the past sixty hours he was watching you snore into your pillow - you held him at gun point. Partner or no, friend or no, Heero Yuy doesn’t forget little things like that. He probably understands you were not in your right mind, but until he’s one hundred percent sure that you are, he’s not going to relax around you.

Maybe not even then.

No, that didn’t bear thinking about. Wufei licked his lips and glanced at his partner who was still staring at him with those careful eyes as if Wufei was someone he'd never seen before, who had inexplicably wormed his way inside his house. No, he couldn’t bear to think that his partner would be watching him like this from now on.

But he wasn’t going to press the issue. Whatever Heero said, Wufei blamed himself, partly. Okay, Susan deserved the biggest share of the guilt pie, but Wufei had fallen into her trap like a real cadet. He’d been trained to resist that sort of mental manipulation, but the coincidence of her scheme and the investigation on his colony’s destruction, that so handily explained away his nightmares until he’d spiraled down too far, had hidden the truth from him. He felt sure that Heero, in his place, would have had the emotional detachment necessary to realize something was wrong, and he would've reacted appropriately long before things had gotten out of hand.

Well, it had been his mistake; it would be his duty to repair it. He would have to work hard on regaining his partner’s trust. Wouldn't be the first time, Wufei thought with a mental huff. He wasn't about to forget war-time Heero Yuy who wouldn't let Wufei take any kind of responsibility that could compromise a joint mission. He'd shown Heero his worth back then, he'd taught him respect. Wufei didn’t think this one lapse had undone all the work since then. Heero’s eyes were not mistrustful or condescending, merely...watchful. Judging, maybe. Waiting to see what Wufei did now. Well, he’d go about proving himself to his partner all over again. And maybe to himself as well.

Wufei nodded once, severely, the gesture both for Heero and himself. He could feel the eyes on his back as he turned and left to shower. Heero wasn’t the only one he’d have to work on. His own confidence had been cracked, his spirit partially broken - Wufei remembered, and oh how he wished it had been also a nightmare, his shameful breakdown with Quatre, his whispered confession. Damn. Facing Winner again was going to be about as pleasant as being set on fire. But he'd get over it, he'd move past his momentary lapse. He had to work to rebuild himself, both physically and mentally. Then, if Heero was still not convinced, Wufei would find a way of beating into his partner’s cautious skull that the old Chang Wufei was back and most definitely ready for action.

---

It took an inordinate amount of time to properly apologize to Quatre, mainly because he refused to let Wufei get more than half a sentence out each time before interrupting him and assuring him that this wasn't his fault. Quatre seemed unusually insistent on that point; he normally had a bit more sense about the way Wufei worked. The latter wouldn't be able to move on until his debts were squared.

It took even longer to get rid of the Winner heir, who probably had better things to do than nursemaid a Preventer agent. Quatre didn't seem to think so. He only agreed to leave after Wufei solemnly promised on the heads of all his Ancestors, even the ones he didn't particularly like, that he would call Quatre the minute he was needed, or if Wufei felt the urge to talk and get things off his chest.

Then he was alone with Heero.

The day was spent quietly. Wufei meditated, as well as he could manage. Things still tried to crawl on the outskirts of his vision sometimes, skittering across his skin if he let his guard down, but he ignored them. He had more serious things to concentrate on.

"Chang?"

Just when the beetles were leaving him alone...

"What?" It took some effort not to snap.

"I'm going downstairs."

Wufei stared at his partner. This was the third time this afternoon that Heero had checked in on him - well, presumably that was what he was doing. Fair enough; Wufei could understand that he needed supervision for a few days. Sally's warning came back to mind: after effects of the drug could include mild hallucinations, black outs, seizures.

What he didn't understand was why Heero was giving Wufei an itinerary every time he moved around the house. If Wufei started seizing, it wouldn’t be helpful to know if Heero was in the kitchen, the toolshop, or his room.

His partner was looking at him in that intent manner again. Maybe this was just some sort of awareness test. Or an excuse to check on a potentially cranky dragon.

"Okay," Wufei finally replied, since Heero looked to be expecting a response. If he asks me what day of the week it is, I'll be sorely tempted to answer 'orange', he added mentally.

"I'm not doing anything crucial. If you need anything, tell me," Heero added after the silence lasted just one second longer than it should have.

"Need anything?" Wufei stared. "I can walk now, Yuy."

Heero stared back, then nodded slowly and closed the door. Wufei glared at it, then shrugged and resumed his meditation, without much more success, until dinner.

His appetite was returning cautiously, like an animal frightened by a loud noise. At least the cramps and nausea had abated. Since Heero was cooking, Wufei didn't have to worry about the meal being too spicy, or too rich, or indeed anything but too bland. He ate the rice and unsalted fish balls on automatic.

"Chang?"

"Huh?!" Wufei sat up abruptly. He was on the dojo floor. "What am I doing here?!"

Heero was cautiously kneeling just out of arm's reach, his face and entire body as neutral as his voice. "You went to sleep while you were doing some stretching exercises."

Wufei's mouth went dry in panic, and then he relaxed. No, he hadn't lost time; he could remember the end of his meal and his decision to start nibbling away at the physical damage caused by both the drug and his physical reactions to it. He even remembered Heero risking life and limb by telling him to go slowly. Wufei hadn't answered back; his partner had racked up a good deal of credit to spend on that account. The memories were a bit fuzzy but they were there. Good, those periods of zoning out were more frightening than hallucinations; he couldn't stand the feeling that he'd moved around, talked, acted normally, and couldn't remember it.

"Hey!" Wufei's thoughts were interrupted as Heero leaned forward and gently scooped him up. Or tried to. Wufei slithered right out of his grasp, landing back on the mat with a thump.

"You should go to bed," Heero said guardedly. He'd immediately retreated again and was watching Wufei with eyes narrowed. Man, I must have really been unbearable these past few weeks, Wufei thought, though somehow Heero's attitude wasn't that of someone afraid of getting bitten in two.

"Well, I can get there on my own two feet," Wufei mumbled. He didn't feel sleepy - that was a bit worrisome too - but if he was going to nod off abruptly, then it might as well be in bed, reading.

Heero stood up and backed off. "Narcolepsy was one of the side-effects Sally Po warned us about," he informed Wufei quietly, "so be careful going up the stairs."

Wufei stumbled at the edge of the dojo. "Narco- when did she say that?!" Not another black out-

"Yesterday. You were sleeping. She dropped by to examine you. No, she didn't even enter the room," Heero added, correctly interpreting the way Wufei's back had tensed in confusion. "We left you to sleep. Both Winner and I can recognize the signs of organ failure, and you were presenting none of them."

"Oh. Right." Wufei shook his head; it was feeling fuzzy again after his sudden unplanned nap. "You said...this morning, you said the blood samples had shown no damage either."

"Nothing significant," Heero corrected. "Sally had the results when she came to check on you. Your body is stressed, dehydrated, and weakened. She still wants to check you for possible lesions of the digestive system. She suggested a low protein, low sodium diet for a few days, since your liver showed signs of strain. Some damage but recoverable, with the medication she left you. You’ll feel tired for a few days, and we need to watch for jaundice or other signs of degeneration but Sally thinks there’s no permanent harm done. Nothing else."

"I was lucky," Wufei grunted, heading towards the stairs.

"You were strong."

Wufei stumbled on the lower step and glanced back. His partner was looking at him with that intent, unreadable expression again. But those words were not ones Wufei would expect from someone who was doubting him. He...he didn't know how to interpret that. He didn't want to think. Wufei nodded a bit warily and went to bed.

---

Wufei stared at the weapon cabinet's lock. A mild anxiety prickled his neck. He had entered the right code. Right? Like many things repeated automatically, now that he thought about it he could no longer be entirely sure he remembered it correctly. Especially in his own tired state of mind. He'd read until two in the morning and slept fitfully after that. He knew that his three-day sleep was to blame, but it still seemed the height of injustice for someone with narcolepsy to also suffer from insomnia.

He'd gotten up at five this morning - hopefully one day he might actually sleep till six, or maybe even indulge in the sinful luxury of a lie-in until seven. He'd made himself breakfast, his appetite still shy but willing to try. Then he'd practiced his martial arts, just simple Tai Chi forms to start with, trying to judge how much he'd harmed himself over the past month. He'd lost weight and a bit of muscle tone, and his leg and shoulder were stiff, but after an hour he'd felt the extent of his fall from his physical peak, and it wasn't too bad. With a proper diet, rest and exercise, he could retrain himself into top shape in the few weeks of sick leave Sally had given him.

Heero had moved around upstairs while Wufei finished his routine, but didn't come down. Wufei, a bit at a loss for something to do, decided to do maintenance checks on their weaponry, only to be foiled by their gun locker.

"What are you doing?"

Wufei started and turned around, the obdurate lock still in his hand.

"Oh. Well-"

One look at Heero's face and he knew what had happened.

"Did you change the code on the locker?" He needed to hear it confirmed.

"Yes."

Nice simple answer, and no explanation. Wufei slapped an iron clamp on his emotions, his sudden surge of anger. He'd mentioned the hallucination where he'd tried to get weapons out of the locker to Sally. Quatre had been there, too. Heero had undoubtedly heard about that.

"I'm not hallucinating any more, Yuy." Wufei kept his tone as neutral as his partner's. "Anyway, what's the point of changing the code? I have my Luger upstairs." If he was going to blow a fuse and start shooting-

"I removed the charger from your weapon."

"You-" Wufei swallowed. Heavily. Keep your temper, Chang.

"That was unwise," his voice was tight but steady. "You should have at least told me. If I had needed my weapon I would not have known it was unloaded. What would I have done if we were attacked?"

"I was here."

Wufei felt his eyes bug out. Temper, temper. You brought this on yourself.

"I-..." Wufei took a deep breath because he wouldn't be able to finish that sentence otherwise. "I do not want you to defend me, Yuy. I am no longer injured. I am not helpless. I am not suffering from any more hallu-"

Wufei stared at the silver oblong that Heero had produced from his pocket and handed out to him. It was the 12 9mm JSP ammo charger specifically built for Wufei's modern version of the Luger he'd had constructed on special order when he'd started working for the Preventers, as familiar as the back of his own hand.

"3479 star 9."

"What?" Wufei asked weakly. Maybe he wasn't the one who was hallucinating here-

"The code." Heero jerked his chin at the weapons locker, wrapped Wufei's fingers around the charger, and then turned and climbed back up the stairs.

Wufei checked the charger automatically. He found himself staring at the lock suspiciously as well. He felt a strong urge to make sure his partner had given him the right number. It gnawed at his mind, trying to bring him to scrutinize Heero's actions and words for any sign of distrust, of anything suspicious.

Sally had mentioned mild paranoia as a side-effect of stopping the drug...Wufei groaned internally and opened the weapons locker, trying to convince himself it was because he wanted to go through with his original plan and check their equipment. The slight relief he felt as the lock beeped and released the latch made him a liar.

Damn, he hoped things would go back to normal soon; in his own head and in the partnership. He couldn't even put his finger on what wasn't quite right, either. Normally, Heero should have dryly and sarcastically reminded his partner of why he'd changed it in the first place, instead of immediately giving him the code without comment. Heero shouldn’t have passed up that opportunity to score one over Wufei. It was their way, their own private bushido - you did not let a weakness in your rival pass unchallenged. A sort of tough training tool. Seen in that light, the whole exchange felt wrong. And still that impression that Heero was watching his every reaction while letting none of his own slip out, as if running an elaborate undercover operation at Wufei's expense-

Mild paranoia, he reminded himself with gritted teeth.

It was frightening not to be able to trust his own instincts, his own mind. Wufei stayed frozen with his hand on his micro Uzi. Was he doing this because he wanted to perform maintenance? Or was he just looking for some subconscious reassurance, the feel of heavy artillery in his hand? Or was he about to lose it and run amok, and his mind was just trying to find excuses to pick up a weapon-...would he even know?

Wufei carefully closed the weapons locker again and almost wished Heero had not given him the code. Almost. But Wufei was a warrior, and his mind was disciplined and sharp. He knew the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia and hallucinations, and could distinguish each when he was forewarned and actually awake. No, he wasn't about to crack and start shooting up the house or blow his brains out. He had to stop second-guessing himself too much. Well, up to a point. He would take just one day at a time and concentrate on getting his centre and his body back into shape. The rest...would probably take care of itself, or he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.

He climbed the stairs, intent on meditating on this new state of affairs, and look for his balance. He fingered the charger now in his own pocket. Just to be on the safe side, he put it in the dresser drawer which contained his Luger but didn't rack it into the handgun, for now.

It was hard to chase away the memory of that watchful look in Heero’s eyes, or forget that he'd come down as soon as he’d heard Wufei try to open the locker; or the bulge at the back of his loose tank top that meant he had his Glock on him - hell, that last was understandable. Wufei would have done the same had the positions been reversed.

The way he’d given Wufei the code without any hesitation...

Confusing, Wufei thought, growling internally, but that’s okay, Heero’s probably trying to reestablish himself in our partnership too, trying to figure out where we stand. And he's not the only one.

---

Wufei stared at his ceiling. His throat and chest felt tight, his eyes ached. Shit...

He knew what this was. He knew the symptoms. Hell, he'd been tortured before, and he knew exactly what the consequences were, even if he'd always been extremely lucky and never had the truly bad treatments, the kind that could unfailingly break even the strongest spirit.

But he knew all about the choking depression that followed: the darkness that bled the colors from the world, the helplessness, the feeling of being weak because he was merely human, because he'd wanted it to stop.

Knowledge didn't make it much easier to bear.

This time it was even worse. He knew, clinically, that feeling guilty, feeling that there had to be a reason this had happened to him, a reason why the interrogator has put him through that, was also part of the emotional package bequeathed to torture survivors, like a departing blow.

But in this instance, that feeling was probably justified.

Susan...Une had called earlier. She was being indicted today. Charges of attempted poisoning. But it was doubtful they would stick. Since Wufei had told Une immediately that he would refuse to be a witness for the prosecution. Une had actually bellowed down the phone. She'd also mentioned subpoenas, at which point Wufei had hung up.

Then she'd apparently called Quatre, who'd called Wufei and asked the same question.

Why.

Wufei had told him.

Because he would be incriminating himself.

Quatre had been silent for awhile, said he understood and hung up.

Wufei had been sitting at the kitchen counter during both calls, reading while his partner worked in silence at the other end. Heero had been looking at him very oddly when he'd put the phone down the second time. It had probably gone right over his head. Heero Yuy might have guilt, regrets, but he kept them carefully in line and would never let them interfere with what had to be done.

Wufei envied him.

He turned on his side, starting to curl up into a reassuring little ball, then snarled and straightened out again. He didn't like giving in, even that little bit, and besides, Heero's habit of sticking his head through the door ten times a day to check on him stopped Wufei from relaxing his guard. He didn't want to show Heero his weakness.

The depression pounced once more.

Susan...was Wufei as guilty as she had said he was? Shouldn't he be a lot more tortured about his colony's destruction?

No! a part of him shouted, fighting back. Susan was simply out for revenge; she was hurting, and she was trying to hurt right back. She hadn't been there. She hadn't seen Master Li's calm resolve as he pushed the button. Did not understand...

Or was it Wufei who didn't understand.

If only he'd surrendered. Well, surrendered more quickly, because he'd been about to do so. He could have escaped from OZ again, like he had on the Lunar Base!

No, fool, his reason immediately countered. OZ wouldn't have taken a second chance. They'd have destroyed Wufei and Nataku where they stood. And then probably destroyed A0206 for harboring a wanted terrorist.

But he couldn't be sure...Master Li and his clan might have survived...

It was their choice to go out this way...

But they made it because of me...

Wufei realized he'd curled up into a ball after all.

It hurt...and in that moment he couldn't see how the pain could ever go away.

...maybe he should take Sally up on that offer...let her prescribe some anti-depressants...

No. Both sides of his soul rebelled at that. The part which thought that this pain was Justice, the kind Susan had tried to apply. And the half that wanted to know that when he conquered this beast, he'd done so without help. He really needed that victory.

Somehow, that flash of resolve soothed him. The darkness receded, a few colors returned to the world. Wufei sat up, sighed, scrubbed his face with his hands, as his own mental discipline finally reasserted itself. He wouldn't be a witness for the prosecution. But he wasn't going to put himself on trial, either. Meiran, Master Li, the followers who'd stayed with the man to the last, refusing to evacuate, even Treize...they would not want Wufei to curl up into a little miserable ball like a whipped puppy, punishing himself for their choices, their deaths. They would want him to make sure that they had not died in vain. He had to get better. He had to get back out onto the field. He had to justify his survival, his choices, and make sure that he never made a wrong one again.

He had to-

He really, really had to get out of this bloody house.

Wufei swung his feet to the floor, mind hunting for an excuse. He glanced at his watch and realized it was late afternoon. Be eating dinner soon.

Oh boy, there was a good excuse! Hell, not so much an excuse, more of a necessity! He walked swiftly towards Heero's room, the promise of a tiny speck of action, of taking charge of a part of his life helping him fight back the darkness that would always be hovering on the edge of his mind.

"Yuy?"

Heero, seated at his desk, looked up at him, still with that indefinable expression.

"I'm going to the shop; do you want anything?"

A few moments of silence, as Heero appeared to weigh the significance of Wufei deciding to go and buy some supplies. "I'll go with you."

Wufei bit down on his response. He'd figured it out by now. The reason why Heero kept an eye on him at all times. It wasn't just Sally's instructions. Wufei had been to see her yesterday and she'd declared him well on the road to recovery. Even the beetles had disappeared. But Wufei was ready to bet that Une had heard a version of the gun incident and had not been amused.

His partner had been made into his keeper. Wufei swallowed the bitterness at the revelation. His fault, he reminded himself, this was all partly his fault.

He repeated the litany over and over again as Heero watched his every move in the shop, discreetly but intently, as if there were anything important to be learned from which vegetables Wufei picked. Wufei concentrated on what he was doing fiercely, fighting both depression and a rising annoyance. His fault, partly his fault.

And still he felt there was something slightly off with his assessment of the situation. Heero didn't have the feel of someone ready to subdue him at the slightest sign of Wufei going over the deep end. But he couldn't interpret Heero's actions any other way. There was still this distance between them; his partner was all but completely closed to him. His interpretation was the only one that seemed to fit the facts; he tried to forget about Heero giving him the gun locker codes without blinking the day before yesterday. He didn't know where to fit that fact. Along with Heero's neutral statement about Wufei's strength.

Wufei tried to shove his confusion from his mind and continued his shopping philosophically, dropping some noodles and a bottle of hoi min sauce into the basket. Heero's version of a nutritional diet would have Wufei recovering from his deathbed at record speeds. If he didn't have something even mildly tasty to eat tonight, he really was going to go ape-shit with the shotgun.

"Damn, forgot to get some instant coffee, Winner drank-" Wufei turned to find Heero striding back along the aisles, presumably to go get the coffee. Wufei frowned at the departing back - noting where the Glock swelled Heero's jacket - then glanced around. It was a Thursday afternoon; the shop was filled with mothers and pre-schoolers. If Heero was following him around to avoid his harming others, he wasn't doing too good a job. Though Wufei wasn't armed, he was opposite the butcher's stand and a nice big knife was just on the other side of the glass. Wufei found himself looking at it nervously, wondering if his mind had noticed it to make the point that Heero was being a bit derelict in his duty, or because Wufei was about to start a massacre. The moment passed, and he shook himself.

"Are you okay? Do you want to go home?"

Wufei glanced once more - a bit longingly - at the butcher's knife, and then counted down from twenty, in Japanese, before he answered.

"I'm fine, Yuy. Did you get the coffee?"

Heero nodded sharply - for a crazed instant Wufei expected him to say ninmu kanryu- and placed the instant coffee in the cart.

That's the problem; he's so serious and attentive. We're not sniping at each other any more. This lack of aggression is unhealthy, Wufei thought, irritated. How was he supposed to regain his edge if his partner coddled him?

"What's wrong?"

Wufei glanced up. "What?"

"You look annoyed." Blue eyes scrutinized him.

Wufei hesitated. 'Stop being so nice and start tearing strips out of me already' was probably not the thing to say if he wanted to convince Heero of his recovered sanity. Besides, Wufei hadn't been going for his usual jibes either, still aware he'd stretched his partner's forbearance this past month.

"I- I'm not." Wufei wished once more that he was a better liar.

Oh hell, his thing was aggression and coming right out in the open. He spun on Heero, letting the cart roll a foot down the aisle unheeded. "Did Une ask you to watch me? Do you really think I'm going to start shooting innocent bystanders or myself because I held you at gun-point while I was under the influence of a hallucinogen?"

A mother stared at Wufei, then packed up her three-year old and headed towards the door at high speed, leaving a full shopping basket behind her. Wufei barely noted their departure over Heero's shoulder; most of his attention was on his partner. Heero's eyes had widened slightly, and his whole body had frozen into an unreadable chunk.

"No," he replied softly. "Une did ask me to keep an eye on you, same as Sally, but only so you didn't come to harm. She gave me full leave to stay and work from home. Une suggested you might be better off in the Ops clinic but Sally insisted that you would recover more quickly in a well known environment."

"Oh."

"But I don't think that you're about to harm anyone. Why did you think that was on my mind?" Heero's eyes were going over Wufei's face an inch at a time, as if he were trying to read letters scrolling across Wufei’s features.

"...you're always around. You're watching me," Wufei answered, a bit lamely.

Heero was silent once more, apparently adding one more variable to the difficult Chang equation in his mind; Wufei was beginning to dread what lay beyond the equal sign. "Does that bother you? Would you rather be at the clinic?"

"What?! No!"

Silence again. A few shoppers passed them in the aisle with a glare for the space they were taking up.

Wufei dropped his gaze, annoyed at himself for the small ache where there shouldn’t be any. Why should Heero think he’d recovered, when Wufei’s centre was still shattered? He mumbled: "I just don't like the feeling you don't trust me - though I understand perfectly well why you don’t-"

"I trust you."

Wufei blinked. He was staring at Heero's back; his partner had taken the cart and was heading towards the cashiers. Those words had not been in a neutral monotone and had not sounded calculated for the first time since Wufei had woken up. They'd been immediate, soft, but intense, with something like an undertone of frustration, as if Wufei was a dolt for doubting it.

They had sounded very, very honest.

Wufei shook his head. One day at a time. One day at a time. He trusts you, and he doesn't think you're going to snap. That’s already very good. Probably more than you deserve. Just deal with the rest one day at a time.

---

Swish-creak.

Wufei licked a bead of sweat from his upper lip.

Swish-creak.

Five more.

Swish-creak.

Rhythm was soothing.

Swish-creak.

No more questions, anger, frustration....

Swish-creak.

Just moving, thrusting-

Swish-creak.

Muscles rippled, harmony, power.

Swish-creak.

Done.

Wufei let the weights spring back gently and grabbed his towel.

Without the repetitive noise of the weights, the clicking noise from Heero's laptop filled the silence of the main room, along with Wufei's deep breaths.

Wufei rose, wiped his face, and started moving around to keep warm. He tried not to glance at Heero. It was an effort. His gaze tried to sneak off that way as soon as his attention let up.

It was stupid; Wufei felt pretty confident he wouldn't catch Heero watching him obsessively any more; his partner had stopped that abruptly two days ago, after their shopping trip. Just like that. Wufei stretched and moved his arms, glaring at the matting beneath the weight machine.

Heero wasn't watching him like a bug under a microscope any more. But it was a fact that each time Wufei came down to the main room, Heero had some reason or other to be there three minutes later. It was pretty reliable. Wufei was starting to use it instead of a stop watch these days. Ah, Heero's coming down the stairs, that'll be three minutes, tea must be ready.

Moron. He didn't think Wufei would notice? Or did he just not care if Wufei did notice?

At least Wufei could get away from it in his room. Though 'getting away from it' implied it was unpleasant, and that was too strong a word...confusing. Mildly annoying. But mainly because he couldn't read Heero and couldn't figure out what he was thinking these days. Yeah, mainly that.

Even his room wasn't a complete refuge from his mystifying partner. Heero would still pop his head through the door half a dozen times a day, to see if he was hungry, or to tell Wufei where he was. 'I'm going to be training downstairs. Setting up my laptop at the kitchen counter. Getting a drink. Going to work on my bike.' On that occasion he'd invited Wufei to join him, and that had been nice, it was a return to the normal routine that Wufei craved.

But then things would go back to being strange. For instance...

Wufei told himself not to but found himself moving towards the kitchen area anyway, the towel around his neck. It was like prodding a sore tooth with your tongue; you just couldn't stop testing if the pain was still there.

"Busy?"

"Hn." A positive 'hn'. One thing that hadn't changed was his partner's economy with words.

"What are you working on?"

There it was. That little glance, a flicker of blue through thick brown bangs. And the silence that lasted just one second longer than it should, making Heero's answer less than spontaneous.

"Computer work."

Wufei rolled his eyes-

"On a suspect's IP connection," Heero added quickly before Wufei could blow up.

"Ah. What case?"

"Current investigation. Work for Grecko. Nothing interesting."

Oh, and why not let me be the judge of that? "Syndicate?"

"No."

Wufei waited. After four seconds, the flicker of blue again, slightly puzzled.

He waited some more but it was obvious that no more information would be forthcoming. He didn't push any further. Heero would give him a curt brush-off - nothing you can help with, Chang, you're not assigned to this case - and then Wufei would-

...Then Wufei would have to confront the reason this bothered him so much: that he just wanted to talk to Heero, listen to him describe his work in his usual monotone, discuss the difficulties, find solutions together, enjoy the synergy that used to define them and hold them together...

Wufei turned abruptly, stretching his arms to hide the stiffness of hurt and anger that would otherwise radiate from his shoulders.

Damn him! Wufei's mental grumble was an empty clap of thunder. He didn't know why he was so frustrated. After all, Heero was right, this wasn't his case, he was on full sick leave. And in little over a week, Sally would certify him fit for duty again and then Heero would damn well have to start talking to him!

For some reason, the thought brought him no pleasure.

Wufei swung his leg over the bench and sat down again, with something a bit more like a discontented slouch than usual. Heero was confusing these days, and Wufei's feelings - the ones he shouldn't be having anyway - kept tripping him up as well.

It was Heero's fault! That was established, Wufei thought grumpily. Wufei was sure that if Heero treated him normally, Wufei would be able to regain his usual cold detachment. But one minute he was getting a cold brush-off, or being watched like a tiger in a zoo, the next-

Wufei grabbed the weight bar but couldn't avoid yet another replay of yesterday's unusual occurrence. Heero had dropped by Wufei's room to say he was going to work at his desk - he'd been tidying up the toolshop downstairs. Wufei had grunted something.

The next moment, Heero was in Wufei's room. And sitting down on his bed, the far corner away from Wufei. To date, that was the first time Heero had come in contact with Wufei's bed without sex being in the equation. Wufei had nearly dropped the book he'd been reading.

"Are you okay?" Heero had asked him gruffly.

Wufei had stared at him, wild-eyed. He'd just been reading quietly alone in his room, he hadn't done anything! Unless he was starting to hallucinate again!

"Is there anything you wanted to talk about? You've been very quiet."

Wufei had been rather grateful that he'd already been sitting down at that point. "I-" What could he say? He'd been very quiet because Heero wasn't talking to him, was what he'd wanted to say, but he didn't want an argument. Every time Wufei raised his voice, or used a cutting comeback, he'd have an almost physical flashback to that month of nightmares and shredded, raw nerves. Heero had born the brunt of it, and Wufei was too achingly aware of how badly he'd treated his partner to let his temper loose now; instead he caught it and leashed it inside his soul where it festered.

"I'm okay," he'd muttered.

Heero had stared at him then gotten up and left without a word. Only after he'd left had his words come back to Wufei. 'Is there anything you wanted to talk about...' Had that been a cue for Wufei to ask Heero about his life and work these days? Then why did Heero give him the brush-off when he did ask? What had that been? He didn't know.

Just didn't make sense.

Wufei started pressing the weights. Muscles warmed. This was simple. Clean. Appeasing. This made sense.

Swish-creak.

Heero sitting on his bed...

Swish-creak.

Heero in his bed...

Swish-creak.

Rhythmic - thrusts-

Swish-creak.

Muscles coiling - thrusting -

Swish-creak.

- into Heero-

Swish-...

Wufei fumbled the weights and tried to keep the repetitions regular, not looking at his partner who'd probably glanced up at the break in the rhythm. Shit, he hoped his thoughts weren't written all over his face! Or his body for that matter.

Two months without sex...

When Heero had sat down on his bed, Wufei had been expecting - hoping - for something other than words.

It was...frustrating. The weights started to crash a bit at the end of the press, but Wufei ignored them, the discordant noise suited his thoughts. Two months. Just like when Heero had been injured. But Wufei wasn't physically unfit any more. Swish-creak-clash! No he wasn't! So, what was Heero waiting for?!

It was always Heero who made the first move in their ritual. Wufei accepted or declined, but Heero made the opening gambit.

Except now he wasn't doing so.

And Wufei was having quite a few hormones curdling up along with the confusion, the anger and the frustration.

Swish-creak.

Shit, now he'd lost count.

Swish-creak.

Heero's fault.

Swish-creak.

Well, maybe it was time Wufei stopped waiting for their arrangement to return to normal.

Swish-creak.

Maybe it was time he took matters into his own hands.

Swish-creak-bang!

And he knew just how to do it.

A frown had crinkled Heero's brow at the final clash of weights - he never mistreated the equipment, except for the martyrdom of the punching bag that was the designated sacrificial lamb those rare times Heero was in a bad mood.

Wufei uncoiled from the weight bench, wiped his face and arms with the towel, and stalked towards the kitchen counter.

Fingers flew over the keyboard, strangely delicate for someone who possessed such strength. But Heero was careful with all his necessary tools: weapons, laptop, training equipment...the only necessary items in his life that he treated roughly were the punching bag, which he replaced on average every three months, and Wufei, who could take that and more. Time to remind his partner of that little fact.

The click of keys faltered minutely and slowed, and Heero peeked up through his bangs. That look, as he was caught slightly off-balance and pinned by Wufei's stare, was...well, strangely appealing. Especially the way his fingers were still curled up over the keys, hovering delicately, unsure but ready to caress the keyboard again if allowed to. Damn, I need to get laid, Wufei thought, noting the familiar prickle at the base of his spine.

"I'm finished with the weights," he purred.

Heero blinked and straightened up slightly. He still looked nonplussed.

"Now I need some combat training. No use having muscles if my martial skills have rusted away to nothing."

Heero glanced down at his laptop, then up again. "You want to practice some moves?"

"No," Wufei murmured, "I want to slam you down on the floor and pin you in a lock until you give up." And then we'll take it from there, he added mentally. Wouldn't be the first time one of their wild sparring matches ended up with a savage hump on the dojo floor.

Heero's fingers had been on the keys again, possibly closing programs, but he froze at that. "You want to fight?"

Normally, that would have been said with a feral grin, a 'you really sure you know what you want, and that you know it will be painful?' sort of arrogant smirk.

This time, the four words were said in a guarded, neutral tone that made Wufei's eyebrows arch.

"Come on, Yuy. I've not had any actual combat for two months, and the last fight I had was with a car. But if you're scared, I'll promise to go easy on you." Okay, he was going to pay for that, Heero was going to make him suffer for that remark, but at least he'd-

Heero didn't even twitch. He was looking at Wufei with eyes half-hidden by his bangs, motionless. Wufei started to frown.

"Is that what you want?" Heero asked slowly.

Huh? Wufei tried to analyze that. Not the words, which could have meant anything, but the tone. Intent? Searching? What the hell-

"Yuy, stop dithering! My leg and shoulder are fine! Or if not, I'd rather know now than next week when we have to go back on a mission! Now get your ass on that tatami!"

Heero closed a few programs slowly and stood up. "Okay. We can take it easy to start with, and we do need to test your fighting levels," he acknowledged with a frown. He carefully shut the laptop and walked over to the springboard floor, Wufei following him like a hungry tiger stalking an oblivious deer.

"What did you want to -" Heero started, turning around, and gasped and leapt back as Wufei's first probing attack flew towards his face.

"Wake up, Yuy," Wufei sneered, immediately pressing the advantage, moving forward and swinging again. They were just light strokes to start with, testing the waters; Heero caught them on his forearms without even trying. Wufei absently noted blue eyes wider than usual and a mouth open as if to say something but he really wasn't interested. The first flesh-on-flesh contact had switched on his adrenaline; battle lust was starting to burn in his veins. He pushed his strikes a bit more, and Heero took a step back, regaining his balance. Wufei jumped forward automatically, his body trained to react instinctively to any perceived weakness. Heero had to take another step back, and then another, as Wufei's attack became quicker and more vicious.

...Odd that Heero was backing off. Pacing himself? Observing Wufei's technique? The last suggested a difference in skills; it ignited Wufei's battle fury. Heero gasped as a well-placed blow got through his defenses, scoring his abs. He twisted and retaliated, probably on instinct. Wufei tilted his head to let Heero's fist whistle past it and was on the offensive again. No thinking. They were dogs of war, trained to fight on instinct, their minds focusing on higher strategies while they killed without caring. This was it, this was their edge. Elation made Wufei feel light on his feet as he darted forward. He'd forgotten about sex - this was just as good!

Heero was fighting back - whatever had held him back to start with, wasn't going to stop his body from moving in the deadly dance that had been trained into its very fibers. Wufei grinned savagely as he received a few blows on his arms and thighs, his body twisting to dodge them or minimize their impact, already retaliating. Yes. This was them. Blow - counterblow- this was the heartbeat between them-

Wufei stumbled. A tiny slip-up. But in this kind of battle, the rhythm of the fight - as primal and reliable as sex - meant that any break caused an opening. One that Heero exploited immediately and instinctively. Wufei managed to grunt a curse as he overbalanced on the dodge, and stumbled to the mat. Heero landed on top of him, accelerating his fall.

That was more like it! Muscles and mind sang in fierce harmony. His only goal: throw Heero off and back on the tatami. Before jumping on him in turn!

He bucked, turned-...and found himself twisting in air. Overbalanced again, he thumped back against the mat on his side like a landed fish.

Levering himself up, he glanced around, bewildered.

Heero was three feet away, half crouched, a knee to the ground, hands out as if to catch him. “Are you okay?”

“Huh?” was the most intelligent thing Wufei could come up with.

“I didn’t come down on you too hard, did I?”

Wufei just sat there. He absently wondered if he had little question marks comically floating around his head. Or possibly cartoon stars from the way Heero was checking him over visually with a touch of worry.

“Are you alright? You didn’t hit your head, did-“

“Yuy, what the hell was that?! You got lucky, my own balance did more to bring me down than you did, I landed soundly, I was ready to toss you like one of your bloody Japanese pancakes! Where was your follow-through?!”

Heero stared at him, and Wufei’s spirit sank like a stone. It was back. That watchful, weighing look. It hadn’t left, it had only gone undercover.

Before Wufei could do more than glimpse it, Heero was standing and had his back to him, as if aware of having shown something he shouldn’t have.

“We agreed to go easy,” he said flatly, over his shoulder.

Wufei made spluttering noises. Well, that’s what he’d said, but that had been a joke! His whole body language should have screamed that he wanted a real duel. And a good deal more after that, thank you very much.

And Heero knew it, he was sure. Those quick words were an excuse to cover up the moment, his odd actions. He'd been attacking quite satisfactorily up until that point; there had been no doubt in anybody's mind that they were going at it as hard as they could.

Then Heero had backed off. As if suddenly alarmed by the intensity they normally courted.

“Do you want to continue?” Heero was looking at him. Wufei wasn't sure how to read him any more but he didn't think his partner looked all that enthusiastic. “You’re in form, I can see that.” Heero added quickly.

Wufei stared at him, his mind spinning in slowly diminishing circles like a fallen gear. “...no. That’s okay.”

Heero’s eyes were on him - discreetly, while he grabbed a towel and made a show of wiping his face - and why the hell was he doing that, it’s not like Wufei had managed to get him sweating!

Wufei stood and turned away. “You have work to do. I’ll practice my forms.”

He could feel Heero's eyes on him, watching him silently. He ignored his partner, taking up a stance at the centre of the tatami and flowing into first form. After a few movements, he heard Heero move towards the counter again, and the laptop boot up.

There's something wrong.

The forms followed one another. A dance he'd been practicing since he could walk.

There's something different.

In the back of his mind, voices barked out the names of each movement, and corrected or praised him: his father, Master Li, a succession of respected teachers.

This is more than his worrying about my injuries.

Tenth form - 'eagle pouncing on snake' - eleventh form, flowing into twelfth and thirteenth - his father's favorite combination -

This is more than worrying about the after-effects of the drug.

Fifteenth form, leg scything out. The dojo was the perfect size for his wushu; he was well clear of the walls at all times.

It's as if...no, he said he trusted me. He actually said it.

'Snake going up bamboo' - arm punching air from full extension of the body, enough power in that uncoiling to kill someone - he'd done it before.

It's as if...

The forms slowed ever so slightly.

It's as if...

He faltered, but caught himself on the twenty-second form before he accidentally twisted his spine the wrong way around. His mind stopped paying attention, though his body continued in the movements, both violent and graceful.

No, Quatre had promised; at Wufei's insistence, he had sworn he'd not told Heero about- about what had been said, and wouldn't in the future either.

Twenty fifth form, twenty sixth.

Wufei had even double-checked, knowing that Quatre would not be above dropping a big fat hint even if he didn't give Heero a verbatim account of Wufei's shameful breakdown.

Punch-punch. Balance back on the rear foot. Crouch and kick.

What Quatre had said, was, 'You already asked me not to interfere before, Wufei. It's not my place to volunteer any unasked-for information'.

Turn, stand, parry, and dodge an invisible attacker-

Which, now that Wufei thought about it, left quite a few loopholes...but Quatre knew better than to meddle with the complicated and delicately balanced arrangement between the two ex-pilots. Although Winner had insisted strongly and for longer than was proper that Wufei talk to Heero, ASAP.

Destroy the invisible opponent with well placed kicks and lunges.

Maybe he should...just walk up to Heero and ask him what the hell was going on, and refuse to take a blank look or feigned ignorance for an answer.

Stand back, gather balance. Fists drawn back at the waist.

But what if Heero wasn't acting all that oddly? What if it was just Wufei's damned emotions and remnants of perfectly understandable tension between them, making him paranoid...?

Breathe in, breathe out. Put fists down. Relax.

Or rather, try to relax. Wufei found himself caught between two opposing forces yet again. He wanted to make sure there was no problem, if it meant sitting down and glaring at his partner until the latter talked. And he also wanted to maintain the silence, go back to normal, not risk losing what he had over something that might not even exist.

He started stretching on automatic, his spirits sinking; he wished he had someone to talk to.

That feeling was so alien to him, it made him pause, and then he shook it off, and continued with his stretching, ignoring occasional glances from the sidelines.

[chap. 34] [chap. 36] [back to Maldoror's fic]