Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimers

Author's Notes: I've been a bit remiss in thanking all the wonderful people who've reviewed me :) this fic is very hard to write and to keep in character and close to my original intent, so your encouragements really help! To answer a question that has been put to me repeatedly, yes, Duo does eventually find out, but it won't be for quite a few chapters. And Heero does sorta recognize Duo's merits, indirectly, but that's not for awhile either.

And thanks to Arith for thwaping me over the head with the stick she saves just for people who mistreat her Quatre ;) The fic is much better for it, and now Quatre isn't trying to kill me anymore.

AN2: //whatever// means talk over communication channel.

The Arrangement + Chapter 5
Caught In The Cage Of The Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

They hadn't found Nataku yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sirens exploded throughout the base. Wufei was moving before the first banshee ululation had waned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//Unlikely.// Yuy.

"01, 04? Come in."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"01!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//Status? Did you escape?//

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

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

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

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

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

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

//Great! Is he hurt?//

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

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

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

"Chang?"

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

"Chang, how badly are you injured?"

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

"Internal injuries?"

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

"Anything else?"

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

"Hn."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Chang."

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

"We've arrived."

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

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

The L5 pilot did not have the time to inquire. Or the desire. Heero's problems were his own. That was the way they worked. They shared their strengths and a mutual physical relief, not their problems. Wufei wasn't about to lay his self-loathing at his capture on Heero's shoulders. And a good thing too. He'd get a sneer of annoyance in lieu of sympathy. Which he probably deserved, but he didn't need Yuy to provide it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How did you find me?"

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

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

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

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

"You weren't with him?"

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

"Yuy was alone here?"

"Er yes."

"So then what?"

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

"Does he look alright to you?"

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

"You don't think he looks tired?"

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

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

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

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

"Don't bother."

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

"I'm not coming with you."

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

"What?! Why not?"

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

"But you're injured-"

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

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

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

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

"Go. I'll be fine."

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

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

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

"You're wide open you know."

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

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

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

"Wh- of cou-" Heero's eyes suddenly unfocused, then he muttered 'Che!' and turned towards the laptop. He knelt and picked it up, checking it -with a nasty glare in Wufei's direction- then quickly opened a window and typed in a code. The L5 pilot heard a faint beep from the door as the wireless connection activated the sensors in and around the house.

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

"Why are you here?"

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

Heero's eyes narrowed. "On?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Body language."

"... "

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

"Is that why you stayed?"

"Yes."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I owe Barton a favour." Wufei said morosely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh. And?"

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

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

Cobalt blue eyes caught his frown and read it correctly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You?" Heero muttered, eyes closing.

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

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

Shit he's asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[chap. 4] [chap. 6] [back to Maldoror's fic]