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

AN: I'm going to repeat myself again but I want to be sure I don't send Duo fans screaming into the night. This is Wufei's POV and his feelings towards Duo are still confused, and rather unfair as yet. Also, there are reasons for the way Duo behaves at the start of this chapter. One reason should be obvious from reading between the lines of Wufei's impression. The rest of Duo's character will be developed in the last few chapters of this fic and will explain some of his war-time attitude.

Thanks to Arith for beta and a sanity check. I owe ya, hon. And thanks to The Jack! for a few good Chinese swearwords.

Update: Thanks to Scutter for correcting my pharmaceutics. I'm mean enough to Duo in this fic already, don't need to dose him with a chemical straightjacket as well!

The Arrangement + Chapter 6
Battlelust, Part I

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

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

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

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

Mustn’t...Kill...Maxwell...

“Fei? You awake over there?”

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

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

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

“Maxwell, shut up!”

“Why? This is boring enough without being quiet.”

“Nonetheless we need to concentrate on our objective.” Wufei ground out.

“Yeah, well, that would be easier if I wasn’t so bored.”

“Sleep.” Before I knock your lights out for you.

“Well that would be easier if I wasn’t so horny. Man I haven’t gotten laid in ages!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Although I don’t see where he would be seein’ some action. Wait a minute...”

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

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

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

“You-...you don’t think he’s doing Relena, do you?”

“Fool!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that he couldn’t learn a lot from Maxwell if he was actually willing to listen and encourage him...Wufei found himself grinding the binoculars again. He hated to admit it but that was probably part of his irritation. The thought curled in the back of his mind where he couldn’t reach it and rip it out; when compared to Maxwell’s knowledge and relaxed sensuality, Wufei felt completely repressed and inexperienced. These were not feelings the hardened warrior was used to coping with. Sometimes he found it hard to believe that Heero would really want to continue the arrangement with him, when Maxwell was apparently willing to-...But Duo would never be able to have any kind of relationship ­ even a working relationship - without investing feelings into it, and that would be disastrous. Wufei clung to that. Despite all the L2 pilot said about pure sexual relief, he seemed to be always ready to give his entire heart as well as his body to the people he liked.

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

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

Finally!

“Maxwell, shipment incoming.”

"About fucking time!"

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

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

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

“Get packed, Wufei, we’re leaving.”

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

“Get moving. They’re on to us.”

“How can you -“

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

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

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

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

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

"Halt!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey!"

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

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

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

"Injury?"

"Legs."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But- but you-"

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

"Wufei, wait, we can both-"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wufei watched Heero hunt down the suits like a pack of frightened rats. It was just too...perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To set a trap?” Duo’s face paled. “Oh god, Quatre? Trowa?”

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

“What’s minor in your book?!” Duo snapped, eyes wide in pain.

“No injuries, the damage was to Sandrock.” Heero grunted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heero turned Duo over and slipped out the knife from his steel-capped boot to slit the L2 pilot’s clothes open along the back. He and Wufei surveilled the damage. Nothing critical, the bleeding was already slowing, but several holes didn’t have exit wounds, and sutures would be needed once the shrapnel was extracted. Heero took a flashlight from the medical kit. Wufei leaned forward to take it from him, but Heero’s other hand caught his chin in a tight grip. Before the Chinese pilot could say anything the flashlight was glaring into his eyes, first one then the other, as Heero inspected his pupils, then pressed a hand against the swelling above his ear, feeling for the creak of bone. He absently rubbed his thumb and fingers to clear away the clotted blood that stained them as he glanced over Wufei's body.

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

“No, nothing noteworthy.” He grunted, taking the flashlight from Heero and turning it on Duo’s back.

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

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

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

“Did I get any on my ass?”

“None too deep.”

“Looks fine?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

Heero just grunted and reached for the bandages. “I don’t need you now, Chang. Go rest.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” He said, a bit too quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He didn’t want a sedative.”

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

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

[chap. 5] [chap. 7] [back to Maldoror's fic]