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

Huge thanks to Dawna, who beta-ed this latest offering of this monster-sized fic in record time! Any remaining errors are due to my usual last-minute bouts of doubts. Thanks to Sol for giving my bunnies a hearty shove in the right direction, as well!

Big thanks to all who reviewed using the GWAddiction review boxes! I love to hear your comments. This fic wouldn't be half as good without all the great feedback and constructive remarks I received throughout its writing (can you believe I only started writing this last November?? I'm faster than I thought)

The Arrangement
Epilogue, Part I

"Things are to be tried"
Japanese proverb

---

Heero came awake in one adrenaline-drenched second, muscles clenched and frozen.

"It's me."

The words were quick and cautious, but Heero had already been relaxing. He'd set his mind like an alarm clock, to recall the essentials of what had happened - 'you're sleeping in the same bed as Chang, wake up quickly without any sudden moves' - to avoid any unpleasant incidents.

But he'd slept remarkably deeply. Considering. Heero let a trickle of warmth flow through him, a sort of 'mission successful' buzz; then he wondered if that was appropriate. Well, if nothing else, it was a good training tool. He could teach himself to get used to this, and not wake up with a cardiac clench after a few weeks.

He could grow to like it, too. The thought poked its head up unexpectedly as he focused. Wufei was propped up on one elbow; he'd actually moved around in the bed and Heero had not woken up, the latter realized with another small rush of pride/success. This sleeping together thing might work out after all.

Wufei's dark skin contrasted with the sheets. He looked sleepy but not exhausted, Heero judged, automatically scanning his partner for signs of injury/stress/fatigue.

"I was expecting to find you wrapped up in one of the sleeping bags on the other side of the room," Wufei murmured, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. He sounded pleased.

Heero let his head sink back into the pillow. For some reason, he wasn't in any hurry to get up. Normally he was out of bed three seconds after waking, once he'd done a visual check of the room and ensured nothing had been moved or looked suspicious. "I slept fine," he confirmed.

"I know."

There was a funny tone to Wufei's voice. Heero realized, with a small flash of surprise, that his eyes had drifted closed again. He estimated he'd slept about four hours, which was more than sufficient even after a five-day mission of cat-naps and sleeping with one eye open.

His gaze focused on Wufei, trying to analyze that strange note in his partner's voice. Amused? Exasperated?

"...I'll get used to it, eventually," Wufei elaborated without further prompting. "Sharing the bed with you. Well, with you and your gun." Heero followed Wufei's pointed gaze, and he realized that he'd scrunched up against the wall during the night, defensive even in his sleep. He'd pulled his pillow with him. His Glock had been left stranded on the sheets by the retreating pillow.

Heero glanced at his partner obliquely. Wufei knew he slept with a gun at hand, and hadn't said anything last night. Heero always had a weapon at his fingertips, even back when he was sleeping near Odin - well, as near as the other man would let him, which was never so close that a single attacker or grenade blast could incapacitate them both.

He and Wufei were considerably closer. Heero automatically checked the window behind them and wondered if they should move the bed. The proximity sensors would detect a car bomb or someone close enough to lob a grenade, but they weren't ranged for a shot from a mortar. They should probably move- he hadn't even thought of this last night, but now-

"You okay?"

"Yes," Heero answered, turning away from the window. He'd gotten used to Wufei's ability to read his reactions, to feel the tension that had suddenly sprung up in his body, where nobody else, not even Odin, had been able to.

Wufei didn't look convinced.

Heero's eyes dropped back to the Glock, lying between them like a sword. How much of a problem was this going to be...? It had taken Heero nearly an hour to get to sleep with his partner so close, if he had to try to do it without a gun-

"As I said, I guess I'll get used to it," Wufei smirked, rolling onto his back and putting his hands beneath his head.

"I always have a weapon beneath my pillow when we sleep in the same room, during a mission." Heero said slowly, wondering why this was bothering Wufei now. And wondering how he could talk his partner into letting him keep his security blanket.

"Yes, but..." there was the usual tight, controlled smile on Wufei's lips. The smirk was trembling on the edge of something warmer though, as if it couldn't decide whether to be sarcastic or sincere. "I've never been close enough to observe you properly in those circumstances. You...have an interesting twitch when you sleep."

Heero frowned, puzzled. Wufei slipped his right hand from beneath his head, holding it up where Heero could see it. The hand was held loosely, fingers slightly curled. And the trigger finger was flexing spasmodically, in illustration.

"Oh," Heero stared at the imaginary gun being fired, and he scowled anxiously. He...wasn't happy about that gesture. He wondered what he'd been dreaming about.

"You watched me sleep?" The words slipped out involuntarily and caught Heero off guard. That had been something that had started to happen to him in contact with Wufei, and he was at a loss to explain it. He'd opened his mouth to speculate about removing the Glock's charger while he slept, and instead that question came out, uneasy, slightly...defensive. The trigger-action was already something that had startled him; he was wondering what else Wufei had seen of him while he slept, while his barriers were down. What his partner would think of it.

"I didn't think I had much choice in the matter," Wufei pointed out with a wry grin. "I woke up ten minutes ago, and I rather wanted to get out of bed and visit the bathroom, but that twitch made me decide to stay exactly where I was until you woke up. Speaking of which..." Wufei levered himself off of the bed and stood up stretching.

"I'm sorry."

Wufei's stretch hitched and he stared down at Heero in surprise, his arms still in the air. "What? Good god, man, I'm not about to hold you accountable for a reflex twitch while you sleep! I'm sure I have the same."

"...that I listened. Yesterday. While you were having a nightmare." Heero had become suddenly acutely aware of why this had bothered Wufei. Up until now he'd put it down to his partner's hyper-sensitivity due to drugs and fatigue. As far as Heero was concerned, it had been a legitimate and harmless way of getting information about Wufei's state of mind when neither of them had wanted to address the problem directly. In hindsight, and in view of his own vulnerable feelings at being scrutinized while he was sleeping and defenseless, he could understand why Wufei had reacted so badly. He'd been lucky his partner had only punched him quickly on the way out.

Heero fingered the bruise on his jaw, checking the state of the swelling, and caught Wufei's wince from the corner of his eye.

"Let's just forget about yesterday. We both screwed up," Wufei muttered, turning away. Heero nodded at his partner's back. That's what they usually did when they had a serious fight. Once the original cause was resolved, the snarled words, the insults, and the blows were deleted from memory. Unimportant, a product of anger, of the tension that lived with them, like a third tiger between them.

"Hey, don't you have to get to work?" Wufei had glanced at his watch while heading towards the door. "It's past ten."

"No, I finished my report yesterday, and I asked Armand to do the follow-through." Wufei spun around, looking surprised. "I have the day off," Heero added. The surprise doubled.

"Day off?" Wufei echoed as if these were foreign words he was trying to figure out.

"I was going to go to L4. I thought that was where you might be. If you hadn't come back last night."

"You were going to come looking for me?" Wufei seemed caught completely off guard.

Heero nodded. He wanted to ask Wufei if he really had been on L4, but he wasn't going to go anywhere near that question. He wasn't sure he would know what to do with the answer. Anything to do with Quatre and Wufei seemed to elicit an unusual degree of anger these days.

"...well...L4? Would have been a wasted trip, I wasn't there," Wufei said slowly.

Oh. Winner's call yesterday must have been a coincidence after all. He certainly had looked surprised when Heero had told him about the argument, but that could have been easily feigned.

Wufei was looking at him - you had a lot of bladder control when you'd done as many ops and surveillance mission as they had, Heero thought with a touch of amusement which was also something he had cultivated through his contact with Wufei. His partner looked like he expected questions. Heero wondered if he should ask them. He didn't give a damn where Wufei had been, where he'd gone to get his space and calm down, who he'd talked to, if anybody. Heero understood now why it hadn't been him. And as long as it hadn't been Quatre - as long as it had been just anybody, and Quatre did not have some kind of privileged status as the man Wufei confided in when he had problems - then it didn't matter.

A slight tension left Wufei's shoulders with a minute shrug, and he headed towards the door. Heero watched him leave; movements as graceful and deadly as a well-balanced blade. He's back, Heero realized. He really came back and he's staying.

Heero rolled onto his back as the door shut, and he rubbed the grit of sleep from his eyes, felt the bruise at his jaw again - the swelling was all but gone today. More details of last night were coming back to him. And questions.

What the hell have I gotten myself into...?

...what if I'm not up to this...?

No, kid. Wrong. Odin's voice in Heero's head was phlegmatic, as usual, with a tinge of exasperation and amusement, maybe. You're getting it wrong again, kid. Don't think like that, because it'll lead to 'how can I be up to it', which just comes down to 'how can I fix it', pretending and manipulating Chang's feelings again. Just be yourself. It appears to be enough for him, strangely enough.

Odin had always been a part of him, something big and fundamental that he never questioned. Only this last month, particularly these past few days, had he been thinking about Odin a bit differently. He remembered the man's distance, but also his smiles, the care he took with Heero. He remembered their contract: Odin would protect him and train him, and in exchange Heero would pretend to be his son and give him a cover story and some backup. That contract had set the distance between them. But it had also been comforting, tangible proof of the need between them, something that would guarantee that Odin wouldn't discard Heero without very good reason.

For the first time, Heero wondered if Wufei had considered their arrangement like that...if he had, too...

He thought he might have grown up to be a bit like Odin - a circumstance which didn't displease him; he could have done a lot worse. But Odin had cut Heero off, in the end. Even before his death, the contract killer had planned to abandon his 'son'. Probably for the latter's sake, so Heero could lead 'a normal life'. Not that that had worked out. Heero hoped he could manage what Odin had been unable to do: cross the distance between himself and the only other person he'd ever let close to him.

Maybe.

He'd distantly registered the flush, and he opened his eyes as Wufei closed the door behind him. His partner walked into the room slowly, with maybe a trace of uncertainty as he glanced quickly at his clothes, folded on the dresser, then dropped his gaze to his bare feet. He wandered over to the bed as if pulled by a string. Heero watched him. He could feel it, too. A lot of walls and barriers had been knocked down a few hours ago. That left a whole lot of wide open space to get lost in.

Wufei stared down at the mattress, and then he nudged it with his foot.

"I'm still on sick leave until I show up at Sally's office and get my papers," he announced abruptly. "Might as well take the day off too." The words had come a bit awkwardly out of his mouth. "Let's go into town and get a bed."

Heero looked at him inquisitively.

"I am not sleeping on a mattress on the floor," Wufei announced imperiously. "I got enough of that during the war. We are going into town, and we are buying a bed. If you want to."

The last words were muttered, and Wufei had turned away a bit abruptly to stare at his clothes on the dresser. After a couple of seconds he seemed to kick himself into motion and walked in that direction; Heero noted the stiffness of his neck, the way his body had lost some of its grace.

"That sounds good," Heero agreed quickly. Wufei's body lost a bit of that edgy coil; Heero, relieved, hesitated to add the obvious objection, he didn't want Wufei to think he had any doubts about- but since this was a question of basic security, his mouth was already forming the question. "Do you think we can find a bed big enough?" Big enough for what was obvious; Wufei knew Heero's safe distance like he knew the blast radius of a grenade.

"Yes," Wufei replied, with a small smile over his shoulder that reassured Heero somewhat; despite the abruptness of the question, it had not been taken badly. "The place I bought my bed had some really big sizes. Not quite that big," he added, glancing at the mattresses, "but close enough."

Heero merely nodded, it seemed safer; the slightly vulnerable look that had brushed his usually resilient and arrogant partner for a moment there had made him nervous. The air between them still felt sensitive and fragile, like the skin over a newly healed burn. Buying a bed seemed a safer occupation than talking right at the moment.

---

The music managed to take harmless notes and scales, and pound any sort of melodiousness out of them. Heero wondered just how much trouble he'd be in if he whipped out his gun and shot out the store's speakers. Probably a lot less trouble than if he shot Miranda. Did that make it alright? Heero tried to mentally run that line of reasoning past a judge, and decided to keep it in his holster.

Wufei had been Miranda's first victim, by reason of being the first in the store, and being probably more immediately approachable. He'd done something Heero could never hope to imitate - peeled Miranda off in about five sentences without being rude or frightening her. He'd explained he wanted to buy a bed, introduced himself, then Heero, and before he knew it the latter had caught a bad case of Miranda. A warning look from black eyes over her head indicated that Wufei had done this on purpose, and he wanted Heero to take care of her and keep her off his back. They'd done this before, Heero distracting people while Wufei, the more observant investigator, ferreted around for clues. Heero was up to that sort of mission; when he talked, most people listened to him assiduously. Some witnesses forgot to blink for several minutes in a row. But he didn't understand why he was required to do this today, when, as far as he could tell, Miranda's only crime was to have a shrill voice.

She was talking constantly - it was almost as annoying as the music - her hands fluttering from her arms, to her chest, to cover her mouth as she giggled. Every time Heero stepped back, she'd move right into his personal space again; granted, his personal space was pretty large, but he rather wished she'd figure it out.

It was strange; Heero had caused mass murderers to drop their weapons with one glare and a menacing gesture. But it never seemed to work on young female civilians. He had tried giving Miranda a watered-down version of the same treatment, but she'd only asked him if the air conditioning was bothering him, and then started talking about the problems she had with her contact lenses and how she was considering eye surgery. Heero had caught a minute grin from that rat he had considered his partner up until now, as Wufei wandered by to look at mattresses without coming to the rescue.

Miranda was wearing perfume; it wasn't a lot, and it wasn't unpleasant, but it was there, as slightly aggrieving as her presence as she moved again to bridge the gap he'd tried to put between them. She also wandered between him and the door on a regular basis.

Heero was multi-tasking, as usual. A small part of his mind kept a suspicious watch on Miranda; wouldn't be the first time a pretty bottle had contained a potent poison, and maybe Wufei knew something he hadn't shared. Most of Heero's mind was on his surroundings, though that was so instinctive that it didn't require all that much active attention. Each time Miranda, himself or Wufei moved, a strategy board evolved automatically in his mind, so that he knew, a second later, exactly how he'd react to an attack from one of the three entrances to the store, where he'd shove Miranda to get her out of harm's way, in which direction he'd dodge to not get in Chang's line of fire, and a host of other reactions, all primed and waiting for a starting signal.

And Heero was also watching Wufei as the latter walked around. He'd been doing that a lot these past weeks, and the habit was hard to break. When their partnership first started, Wufei was part of Heero's mental and physical space, like his right hand, or his gun. He knew his partner's habits, his fighting style, his warning signals. Then Susan Wu's little tricks had shown him there was a whole side to Wufei he didn't know at all. Since then, he'd been trying to learn this aspect of his partner like an anthropologist studied wild animals - and just about as carefully once he realized it was making Wufei paranoid.

Wufei had walked right past most of the beds, and he was lingering in the deluxe section. Heero was rather surprised - in the background, Miranda changed the subject, but she was still talking about something unimportant; a customer walked in through the main door, was scrutinized and assigned a position in Heero's unfolding mental strategy - true, the deluxe section contained many big beds, but there were others of correct size in the normal price ranges. Heero didn't care about money; the only things he spent his salary on were computer parts for his personal network, and his bike. He didn't know how much he had in the bank account they'd set up for him at Ops, but he thought it was probably more than sufficient to indulge in an expensive bed, if Wufei wanted it. He was assuming they'd share the costs; it was going to be their bed after all. Though Wufei could be funny when it came to matters of money and 'imposing his presence in Heero's house', whatever that meant, so Heero hadn't said anything; he was hoping he'd be able to play it by ear when they got to the cashiers.

Miranda started talking about this great bar she went to regularly - Heero told her, when she asked, that he'd never heard of it. Wufei sat down on a big bed that was very low off the floor, bouncing on the mattress a few times in a way that took up a few percent more of Heero's attention.

"Oh, that's a very popular model," Miranda supplied, switching gears seamlessly. "We have several types of mattresses to go with it, too."

Wufei didn't look satisfied; he shrugged off her bright attention, got up, and moved on.

"Were you looking for anything in particular?" Miranda chirped, finally bringing a bit more of her attention towards clinching a deal, which seemed a reasonable attitude for a vendor, Heero thought.

"As I said, big, solid frame, no-...fancy stuff." Wufei waved a dismissive hand towards a four-poster. "I'll look, don't worry. You keep talking with my friend," he added with a slight smile and a warning look at Heero, indicating the latter was to keep her busy without being rude.

Miranda turned a brilliant smile at Heero who could feel the Glock itching in its holster. He normally wasn't so twitchy. Something about Miranda was making him watchful and irritated, though he wasn't sure why, she was being quite nice. And then there was the way Wufei had said 'I'm looking for a bed' when Miranda had zeroed in on him at the door. 'I'm looking'. It was logical; Wufei was the one who cared about this kind of comfort, who wanted a bed; he'd run his choice past Heero before actually buying it, it was to be hoped. But...for some reason that irritated him too, and Miranda was making it worse, by hanging around him and not letting him relax.

Wufei put his hands on his hips as he appraised yet another bed. He looked at it for a few seconds, then sat down near the cushions and bounced on it again. Heero actually lost the thread of Miranda's conversation for a few seconds.

"...the band playing tonight is absolutely fantastic. What kind of music do you like, Heero?"

"Jazz," Heero lied; he had no musical preferences whatsoever, most forms of art bored him and puzzled him in equal measure, but he'd long ago figured out that a banal or expected answer was much preferable to the truth when trying to not stand out too much. Duo had taught him that.

"Ah, well, this is more modern, but they use a trumpet of some kind, so that's very much the same, right?"

Wufei stiffened and shook his head minutely as if he were trying to clear tinnitus. Then he reached over to the headboard of the bed he was sitting on, feeling it thoughtfully. It was solid wood, with thick joins. To Heero it looked big and bed-shaped, like every other bed Wufei had examined; what the hell was his partner looking for?

Wufei cast a quick look at Miranda over his shoulder and then gave the headboard a quick, discreet but very hard tug. Wood creaked a bit, but even from where he was - distracting Miranda from Wufei's tests, if Heero had read his partner's body language correctly - Heero judged the bed to be very-

...solid...

...a flash...shoving away from the headboard with all his might, back onto the hardness of Wufei's erection stretching him wide - his partner's strong hands making the wood groan under his fingers - just like he was doing now - on either side of Heero's hands, using the grip to slam into Heero, sending him crashing back into the wood, pinned-

"What?" he asked a bit weakly. He was horrified to discover he'd almost lost his mental awareness of his surroundings. He'd definitely missed more of Miranda's words, but that wasn't such a loss.

"I was saying, it was nice of you to come help your friend to choose his bed," Miranda had gotten nearer again. Closer up, her perfume's scent was slightly different, warmed by her skin. The fluttering hand landed on his arm briefly, and it was gone again so quickly that Heero, frozen in indecision about how to react, was left to stare at it helplessly. "You said you two worked together?"

"...yes. We work for the Preventers." He normally didn't add that detail, but he'd known that to make people back off.

"Really?" Miranda didn't back off. A mother and child entered through the side entrance; more innocents to fit into his mental map and defensive strategy. "That's so interesting!" Wufei moved over, in a graceful fluid movement, and tugged at the footboard. It was a solid piece like the headboard, but it had rectangular cutouts in it that made it look like prison bars, in Heero's mind.

Until Wufei thoughtfully slipped his fingers through one of the large openings and tugged at the piece of wood left between, slightly rounded at the edge-

- Wufei's hands catching and holding in the wood, anchoring him, as Heero pounded into his body; he could feel strong legs curling around his waist, pulling him in hard-

"Hn," Heero grunted weakly, aware Miranda had ended her latest monologue with a questioning note.

"That'd be great! I'm sure your friend would love to come too!"

I certainly hope so. Er, what?

Wufei got up from the bed - Heero's confusion was lost in a flash of disappointment, he'd rather liked that one - and looked at the next one thoughtfully. He sat down on it heavily, and a slight moue crossed his features.

"That one is also a very nice model," Miranda chirped up. "Somewhat expensive, but you get a very good bed for your money! The quality-"

"It squeaks," Wufei interrupted. Ah, so that was what he was testing? A rhythmic squeak would be annoying enough while they were having sex, but it would be even worse if there were noise at each toss and turn from one of the partners while they were trying to sleep; both of them had the hearing and twitchiness of male tigers sleeping on a bed of brambles. Peaceful nights would not ensue. Wufei eyed a few more beds. Heero glanced back at the one Wufei had been trying before; that one hadn't squeaked. Not until Wufei had tugged on it hard, and surely anything made of wood would creak under those conditions - maybe Heero could build a frame out of solid metal in the Ops toolshop? Then they could get out of here and away from Miranda and this music. But would he manage to make a headboard and footboard like that...? Worth trying.

Heero glanced at Wufei to judge if he'd be amenable to that suggestion, and found black eyes watching him.

"That one," Wufei announced, pointing at the bed Heero had been looking at. "Now, the mattress-"

"Oh, that's a very good choice. Isn't it, Heero?" Miranda gave him a brilliant smile; her hand fluttered to his sleeve and stayed there this time, until Heero went to examine the bed more closely, the first reason for moving away that came to his mind that didn't involve breaking any parts of Miranda's wrist. Wufei had asked him to distract her after all, not harm her.

He noticed Wufei looking at Miranda's hand fixedly, as it started its butterfly path from her chest to her mouth again.

"Oh, Heero said that you two might show up at this club I told him about, this evening," Miranda dimpled at Wufei. Her smile lost some wattage as he stared back. He wasn't scowling, in fact his eyebrow was raised inquisitively, but for some reason it seemed to take the wind from her sails. "Erm, I'll be there with some friends, just a couple of girl friends from work-"

"Really? Yuy and I might be busy. We work for the Preventers," Wufei said slowly.

"Oh, I know, Heero told me! It's amazing, you're both only my age!"

"Actually a few years younger," Wufei murmured, to Heero's surprise. It was a good thing when people misjudged their age, it avoided awkward questions.

"Oh?" Miranda's eyes had narrowed a bit. "Ah, but my friend Lisa is only eighteen, if you're looking for a date!"

Heero's mental world screeched to a momentary halt. Date?!

"Unless you've already got a girlfriend? Is that why you're getting the big bed?" Miranda inquired saucily, while Heero stared at her, aghast, irritated...but not, after all, all that surprised.

"No girlfriend, no." Wufei had gone to sit down on the bed he'd selected. "Yu- Heero, what do you think?"

"I think we'll be working tonight," Heero said tightly. Now he knew why his instincts had been putting him on guard against the giddy twit from the start-

"Oh, but you said you'd try to come!" Miranda interjected in a charming voice - with a hint of whine that put her dangerously close to the speakers' annoyance level.

"I meant the bed," Wufei interrupted her before Heero could ask when the hell he'd said that. "What do you think of the bed?"

Heero had thought his preference had been obvious, and had influenced Wufei's choice. But if his partner needed it confirmed- "It looks fine."

"Come and try it though," Wufei insisted, patting the covers next to him. "I don't want to get something you won't like."

"...Okay." Heero moved forward. Miranda didn't follow him this time.

"This isn't the mattress we'd pick, but you can still test the frame. Make sure it doesn't creak under both our weights," Wufei murmured, smoothing the covers in a distracted gesture.

Heero sat down cautiously, bracing against sinking into the mattress that might unbalance him and make him momentarily vulnerable. The slight lapse of his guard was made easier by the fact that Miranda was out of his immediate aggression zone now; she'd actually taken a few steps back and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Miranda?" Wufei asked, raising his voice. "For the mattress. Both Y- Heero and I are light sleepers. We'll need one of those mattresses you have on demo near the front of the store, the kind that absorbs shocks and movements."

Heero looked from Wufei's expression to Miranda's. He'd figured out what she'd been trying to do - it never ceased to amaze him that some people, women or men, were blind enough about his true nature that they were sexually interested in him. You'd think human beings would have a greater sense of preservation. Wufei often ran interference between Heero and those deluded people, to avoid Heero having to be rude or hostile to get the point across. In terms of Wufei's usually polished diplomacy, this had felt rather crude and forceful though.

Miranda's face had smoothed, and her smile was as artificial as the music. "Yes, I know the kind - weight distribution and patented spring-like material ensure that however much one person tosses and turns, there won't be any movement to bother the bed's other occupant." The words sounded rehearsed. The next ones did not. They sounded regretful in a way that somehow wasn't. "However, I'm not sure we have that type of mattress in these sizes."

Wufei was looking at a point an inch above her head. "Would you mind finding out?"

"I'll go check. I'll be right back," Miranda murmured professionally. She turned on her heels in a gesture that was almost regimental and marched off towards the office.

Heero watched her leave, automatically correcting his mental map of the store. Then he glanced at Wufei, who was leaning back against his hands, a tight smile on his face. He was curious but he wasn't sure how to ask the question-

"She was annoying me," Wufei answered him curtly before he even had to open his mouth.

She was annoying me from the start, but I still managed to be half-way polite, Heero wanted to point out, but he didn't. One reason being, he couldn't exactly point out how Wufei had been rude; nothing in that conversation should have caused that much tension.

"I've been getting better at understanding the way people react," he said instead, slowly, "it was necessary for our job."

"Yes, we're supposed to manage human relations without the aid of semtex, these days," Wufei agreed calmly.

"But I rather missed her interest in me until it was blatant. And I don't think I could have gotten rid of her that quickly without..." being openly rude, he meant to say, but he wasn't sure how Wufei would take that remark.

A small smile brushed Wufei's lips, but he didn't say anything. He just let himself slide back until he was lying on the mattress, hands beneath his head.

"This mattress is way too soft," he announced. "Feels like a water bed. How do people sleep on these? I'd prefer the floor."

Heero gave the mattress a judicious poke with a finger. There was no way he'd be able to lie back like that, relaxing in an unsecured location. Part of him was amazed that Wufei could. Intellectually, Heero knew the chances of being attacked here were remote, but the only place he could let go like that was back at the safe-house.

"Hopefully Miranda will be able to get us the kind of mattress you were talking about." Heero had never slept on a water bed, and, if this was anything like it, he didn't want to.

"Not if there's the slightest chance she can get away with telling us it's not possible for this frame, I'm afraid," Wufei muttered, looking a bit annoyed with himself. "If you want to learn more about human interaction, write this down: never annoy someone who's supposed to perform a service for you. I probably should have just ignored her, instead of getting her back up."

Heero ran that scenario in his mind and decided he liked the one where Wufei got rid of Miranda much better, though he wasn't sure why. He shoved the feeling aside to address the problem instead: "If she comes back with that answer, we'll just go talk to her manager, to make sure," he announced reasonably.

The mattress beneath him shivered as Wufei laughed silently. "See? You have a much better grasp of this 'human relations' thing than you give yourself credit for!"

"Really?" Heero glanced obliquely at his partner, his lips twitching. "I must have learned from the best."

[chap. 39] [epilogue, part ii] [back to Maldoror's fic]