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

AN: Huge thanks to Dawna who managed to beta despite heavy schedules I know how that is! The epilogue might take a couple of weeks. I'm off on a 4-day weekend, hopefully I'll come back with my bunnies in fighting shape!

ARCHIVISTS: Please put this side story/intermission/aberration thingie before or after the epilogue, up to you, but don't put it after chapter 34, even though that is where it belongs chronologically. It would interfere with the end of the Wufei POV section. Thanks!

The Arrangement ( Intermission )

"Shame when you ask is less than when you didn't"
Japanese Proverb

---

"No!" Wufei growled.

Heero watched. His eyes traced features that were as familiar as his own - more so; Heero rarely looked in a mirror.

"...I won't..." Or had Wufei said, 'I want'? It wasn't clear.

Muttered words into the pillow. Mandarin, Heero thought, automatically trying to read the dry, chapped lips. He thought he caught a name. Meiran. He could have been mistaken.

Wufei was lying on his side. He'd been on his back before, sleeping peacefully. To be more accurate, sleeping like someone so close to the edge of exhaustion that it was technically unconsciousness. Now he was curled up and jerking a bit against the sheets, fighting something. Always fighting. He was scowling, the force of the expression watered down by sleep; his eyes were screwed shut. The skin beneath them looked bruised, a darker copper tone that contrasted with the unhealthy pallor of his usually golden skin. His lashes looked longer and darker against his cheeks. The curve of his nose was buried into the pillow. His mouth was slightly open, barely touching the words that fell among the folds of the sheet his fists had scrunched up near his chin. His hair was loose. That and the exhaustion made him look different, Heero concluded. He could count on his fingers the number of times that he'd seen Chang with his hair down. Particularly in bed. It fell over his face, cutting it into chunks, making the skin even paler by comparison. Heero had been fighting the urge to go and gather it back, maybe even tie it. He knew Wufei hated to have his hair down.

Heero had tried several times to work that morning. His eyes kept being dragged back to his partner's face. When the nightmare had started, he'd shut his laptop and given up any hope of actually getting anything done. Now he watched.

Should he wake Wufei up? He'd questioned Sally at length about the drug Susan Wu had used on his partner, and he had spent most of the time since doing research. At this point, rest was the most important factor in recovery, to get over the effects of complete exhaustion and mental stress. Sally had said to let him sleep and wake him only in cases of actual physical distress, or sleep walking, or hallucinations.

How the hell did one tell if a sleeping man was hallucinating?!

After all, Heero hadn't figured out that Wufei had been hallucinating repeatedly for weeks.

The bitterness of that thought caught him by surprise. He put it aside. And realized he was tracing Wufei's features with his eyes once more.

How often had he actually seen his partner sleep?

The question took him a bit off guard. What could it possibly matter?!

But his mind had started an automatic tally. Not often. On a mission, one slept while the other kept watch outside. In the rare cases they were resting together in the same room, they slept lightly, and they came awake at the same time. It wasn't planned, it just happened. They slept and woke and worked and fought like parts of the same body.

The only time they slept deeply was here, in the safe-house. Separately.

"I'm not!"

The hoarse cry startled him. The features that Heero had been scrutinizing - again! - came together abruptly into a whole, into Wufei's face, no longer an alien collection of nose, eyes, cheeks and hair but his partner, his friend. Heero tensed. Should he wake him? Wufei desperately needed the rest, but if this was another hallucination then-

"...m'not..." This time it was much softer, a mumble into cloth.

Heero relaxed a fraction. Wufei's face softened, his eyes no longer tightly screwed shut; he sighed into the pillow and went still. Hopefully deeper into sleep.

He needed sleep. Then he'd be alright again. He'd be Chang again: reliable, in his rather unique way; a blend of cold sarcasm and burning intensity. Heero had missed that this past month, though he'd had much more to worry about at the time. Wufei's physical and mental deterioration hadn't only been hard to understand, it had been difficult to witness.

The self-directed anger weighed in his gut like a chunk of ice. Heero blamed himself entirely for the whole episode. Chang, of course, had not been in a position to realize what was happening; the drug had affected his judgment. Heero had been on the outside, an impartial observer. How had he managed to ignore the significance of the drastic changes in his partner?! And the way it all started at the same time as that fucking WWC case?!

He'd let his partner be systematically poisoned for over a month. He should have realized...

His eyes were tracing Wufei's features again. The sharp curves of the cheekbones, the dip of the throat, the way the shoulders hunched protectively even in sleep.

A lock of hair slipped further down Wufei's face, landed lightly on the pillow.

He could just wake Chang up briefly and help him with that...he'd probably go right back to sleep...where did he keep his hair ties...?

Speculation about where Wufei kept hair accessories was futile. Even if Heero had one on hand he would not approach his partner. There was a no-man's-land around the bed that Heero did not feel he had the right to cross.

Heero shifted in the chair - had to remember to put it back in the study after Chang woke up. Wufei hated to have his room cluttered. The Glock in its back holster dug into Heero's kidneys. It was uncomfortable; he'd thought several times of putting it away. But in the end, a sort of instinct made him keep it. He assumed, at first, that it was because he was in charge of a potentially deadly killer, one of the rare people who could rival Heero himself in fighting abilities. Wufei was under drugs, he had suffered severe hallucinations, and he had held Heero at gunpoint less than two days ago.

All those made for very good reasons, but Heero had realized, after a rare moment of self-examination, that the main reason he was wearing his gun at all times was because his partner was no longer able to watch his back. Wufei was helpless in his present state. Injured, incapacitated. Man down. Fall back, find a safe position, defend. Heero wasn't sure he liked the feeling; it wasn't very rational; the chances of being attacked were small. Not many people knew this address; besides, Winner was downstairs, working, and Heero had given him the new access code to the guns locker. But Heero had slowly learned to trust his feelings more and more since the start of the war. The press of metal at his back was comforting. If anybody decided to start a war with him now, they would find that their timing was very, very off.

Footsteps approaching. Familiar. Heero took his hand from the Glock where it had wound up automatically. After a gentle knock and a prudent pause of five seconds, the door opened. Quatre walked in, eyes on the bed, then he glanced at Heero.

"He should probably eat something," he whispered softly.

Quatre walked over to check on their charge. Heero felt a moment of shocked disbelief that Quatre could just - go over there- violate Wufei's private space like - waltz right into the no-man's-land as if it wasn't there- his hands were gripping his knees, and Heero glared at them. They relaxed slowly.

"He looks okay," Quatre whispered, standing over Wufei, a hand actually resting on his shoulder. Heero shifted. The Glock dug further into his back.

"He's still sweating a bit...Heero, why don't you go make something to eat? And mix him some fluids; sugar, bit of salt, you know the drill. Unless you have some sport's drink? Heero?"

Heero found his voice, that is, the one that wasn't telling Quatre to mind his own business, and that Heero could take care of his partner by himself. That was irrational. As well as untrue, as the last few days had shown, Heero reminded himself bitterly.

"Sally said to go easy with sodium." He spoke reluctantly and very softly. Wufei needed his rest.

"Yes, but he's still dehydrated, and he's lost electrolytes and minerals. Just put a bit of salt. Or water down the sport's drink if you have any. None of that proteinated stuff, though."

"I know," Heero snapped in a low voice, heading towards the door.

He could feel Quatre's eyes on his back until he closed the door behind him gently. By unspoken agreement they concentrated on taking care of their charge and avoided each other, but there was a tension between them that Heero wasn't sure he understood. Quatre was being civil, but apparently he was still angry at Heero for eavesdropping the other day, for some reason he seemed to think was obvious. And Heero's irritability had no discernable cause whatsoever and was probably the result of stress, fatigue, and the fact that he'd had to arrest Susan Wu formally instead of shipping her safely off to the Mars penal colony for preventive detention, which would have been his first choice in how to deal with the matter.

Heero stirred the bowl's contents quickly, an ear out for disturbances upstairs. He'd heard a flush, and the shower run briefly. He hoped Winner wouldn't be stupid enough to leave Wufei alone in the bathroom. Maybe he should go check-

Steps in the stairwell stopped him. He hesitated, put the bowl and bottle down on the counter, went quickly to get a spoon, and then leaned against the edge of the sink, out of the way.

Wufei was holding on to the stair's ramp tightly as he came down the last few steps. Quatre was on his other side, hand extended in case Wufei stumbled. Heero gave his partner a quick visual once-over, as if Wufei were stepping down, battered and bruised, from his Gundam's cockpit. Tired, eyes unfocused, face lax, shoulders slumped. His hair was no longer loose though. Quatre must have found a hair-tie. Quatre had gotten him out of his sweat-soaked clothes and into a pair of loose cotton pants and a clean tee. Heero hoped Wufei wouldn't mind the liberty. Winner was a friend of his, so he probably wouldn't.

"Here, sit down. Have something to drink." Quatre maneuvered Wufei onto the stool and placed the bottle of watered down sport's drink in his hands. Heero noted the slight tremble as Wufei lifted it to his lips automatically. He drank for awhile, put the bottle down, and stared blankly at the counter before him.

After waiting for a bit, Quatre slipped the spoon between Wufei's fingers and dipped it in the bowl, frowning anxiously.

"Come on, Wufei. You've got to eat something. You'll feel better afterwards," Quatre pressed him in a soft voice.

Slowly, Wufei began to eat. He looked distracted, his gaze still fixed on the kitchen counter. He was propping himself up on one arm in a slouch that was unusual for him.

"Are you still feeling tired?" Quatre asked, completely unnecessarily in Heero's opinion.

Wufei nodded after five seconds. Then his gaze dropped to the bowl. The slow, automatic back and forth of the spoon stopped.

"What is this?" His voice was a thread-bare murmur.

"...soup, I think," Quatre answered, glancing at Heero.

"...did Heero make this...?"

Heero felt a faint ripple along his spine. 'Heero', not 'Yuy'. What did that mean? Nothing, it meant Chang was exhausted, that was all.

"Yes." Quatre hadn't noticed the slip. He was listening and talking to Wufei in hushed tones, like he was receiving the dying words of his best friend or something.

"...tastes like boiled socks and seaweed..." Wufei said solemnly, after a few seconds of apparently intense reflection. Heero felt a bit reassured. If Chang was back to making snarky comments about his cooking, then he had to be getting better.

"Oh. Maybe you'd prefer-" Quatre interrupted himself. Wufei was eating again, slowly and methodically, as if nothing had been said, his eyes glued once more to the counter.

The bowl was three quarters finished when the spoon slipped from his fingers. Heero had been expecting it; he'd noticed Wufei's eyelids droop.

"You done? Want to go back to bed?" Quatre asked gently.

Wufei didn't say anything. One hand was still gripping the bowl; he was staring at it now, frowning slightly.

Quatre pulled a bit at his arm, but Wufei didn't move. Heero hesitated, and then he walked forward slowly under the irritated blue gaze that was prodding him to help, to do something. He grabbed the bowl and tugged, ready to order his partner to go rest and recover.

The bowl didn't move. Wufei had it in an iron grip that quite belied his weakened appearance.

As Heero tugged again, a bit at a loss, black eyes fastened on his hand, slowly climbed his arm, latched on to his face. Heero felt his mouth go inexplicably dry.

"I know it wasn't very good," he muttered, taking himself completely by surprise since that hadn't been anywhere near the instructions to go to bed that he'd intended.

Wufei looked at him, eyes not quite entirely focused. Then he smiled.

Heero realized distantly that Wufei had let go of the bowl; its edge was digging into Heero’s chest as he clutched it there. He couldn't look away from that small smile. It was...naked. It was...just there, without pretence, without its usual veneer of detachment and arrogance, it was just-

"Yeah, that tasted pretty bad," Wufei whispered. The smile was almost playful -not hard, nor taunting - it was as if they shared a joke, a moment that was just for them, it was - it was-

Heero found himself wrapping his arms around the bowl against his chest. "...didn't have time- just put some instant rice and fish stock in a bowl, nuked it- no salt, because Sally Po said-"

"I'll cook next time," Wufei declared kindly. The smile suddenly melted and his eyes completely lost their focus, turned inward. "What-...what-...time is it...?"

"Nearly noon," Quatre's brisk tone reminded Heero that the other man was listening, was actually seeing his partner like this- Heero clutched the bowl tighter and fought down a slight, irrational surge of resentment.

"Come on, Wufei. Let's get you back to bed." Quatre tugged Wufei's arm gently.

Wufei stood up slowly, blindly. His eyes stayed fixed straight in front of him. He appeared to forget Heero was there.

Heero turned towards the sink on automatic. Chang was just tired. Just tired. Not his normal self yet. That was all. He just needed more rest. His body had been put under stress. All of this - everything - everything he'd said or done since Susan Wu had slipped him that high dosage in his tea - all the product of delirium, drugs and fatigue, Heero knew that.

"Wufei...? Wufei, come on," Quatre whispered in the background, while Heero made once more a list of all the drug's effects, side-effects, possible complications, resulting injuries and estimated length of time necessary for recovery before being A-OK and ready for field duty. Water splashed in the bowl. He reached for the dish soap without looking.

"Wufei...? Heero?"

Heero started and turned. Water and soap splashed out of the bowl and wet his sleeve.

Wufei was clinging to the edge of the counter, resisting Quatre's growing efforts to lead him back to the stairs. His eyes were focused on his surroundings, but what else was going through his mind could only be guessed at; there was a look of distress, of growing panic on his face. The bowl thunked into the sink with a clank, water ran unheeded.

"Wufei?" Quatre's voice was louder, trying to get through. Wufei could obviously hear him; his eyes flickered briefly towards Quatre. But who knew what else he was seeing, what deathtrap the kitchen had become in his mind. Heero felt sure Wufei knew, on some level, that this was only an hallucination; he bore a look of frustration and self-directed shame that was as strong as the fear keeping him clinging to the counter.

"I-I'm sorry..." it was barely a whisper, "I know it's not-...I'm....sorry..."

"Don't be. Come on, Wufei, we need to get you into bed," Quatre announced firmly. He tried to lead Wufei away but the latter was still clinging to the counter as if his life depended on it, as if there were an abyss beneath his feet at all sides. The skin beneath Winner's fingers was getting white, with red edges due to pressure as he tried to peel Wufei away from the counter.

Wufei said nothing, but his lips were still moving. He looked lost, broken. I'm sorry...I'm sorry...

The faucet crunched and twisted beneath Heero's fingers, nearly snapping off.

Three steps brought him over by the counter. Quatre opened his mouth to say something but Heero had already loosened his hand on Wufei's arm - with only a bit of bruising of the thumb joint - and scooped his partner up into his arms. Chang hated to be carried - he'd rather crawl, or at least that's what he'd said when his knee had been injured. But that was okay. It was better than okay. If he got mad at Heero, that was just fine. That was better than- there was nothing he should feel sorry for- this was-

Heero wrenched the covers away from the bed with one hand, the other steadying Wufei against his chest.

This was all his fault.

Wufei was already asleep by the time the cover settled over his shoulders. Heero realized he was scrutinizing Wufei's face again; the strong, tired features of a man he wasn't sure he knew anymore.

He'd been trying to forget what Chang had said. Obviously drug-influenced.

- but it wasn't...it was the darkness in Wufei's eyes that had been gathering these past months, finally given form...

If it hadn't been the drugs talking, then that showed a weakness in his partner that would surprise and shock Heero to the core!

- but Wufei wasn't weak...and Heero wasn't surprised...and the momentary flash of sordid relief that his rival and partner wasn't as strong as he was had faded almost immediately...to leave only a bleak, lost feeling that Heero had judged irrelevant and unfounded and shoved aside...

If Chang were foolish enough to develop some kind of emotional bond with Heero, then- then-

- Wufei's words, which he'd been so assiduously trying to categorize as the products of drug-related delirium, were throbbing in his body like a chest wound... an echo of the obvious pain that had been wracking Wufei when he said-

Heero didn't know-

-...he didn't know-

This was all his fault, and he didn't know what to do!

Heero sprang up from his crouch near the bed and was at the door in five long strides. Quatre barely had time to blink before getting slammed against the far wall of the corridor outside. Mindful of his sleeping partner, Heero kept his voice low. That might have made it sound a bit more menacing than was intended.

"What's wrong with him?! Why is he like that?! What am I supposed to do?!"

Quatre stared at him. "Do about what?" He sounded remarkably calm, though he was hunched a bit defensively around the hands fisting the front of his jumper.

"About- about this! About what he said!"

"Oh. That." Quatre's voice took on an oddly flat quality. "You wait until he wakes up and recovers a bit, and then you tell him you listened in on him while he was saying things he obviously didn't want you to hear. I suggest apologizing at some point."

"That's not what I meant! What do I do to- how do I -" get my partner back. How do I make the pain go away. "How do I fix this?!"

Quatre blinked. Twice.

Heero resisted the urge to shake him until an answer dropped out. He had to know! This was wrong! Wufei shouldn't be hurting like this, not because of him. And behind his concern, and the odd ache in his gut, a part of him - a part he'd been taught to listen to - was insisting that he leave Winner to watch over Chang and move out of the house while he could, take solo missions from now on, or go with people who couldn't become emotionally attached to him, Heero was just an expendable tool for - fuck, why, why had that happened?! No matter, it was a distraction and they couldn't afford it, Wufei couldn't afford it, Wufei couldn't afford to be hurting like that, and the only reason Heero wasn't leaving was because Chang was still the best partner he could ever have in his mission to protect the peace, and because Wufei had said that he'd only been half-alive before their partnership, and Heero knew exactly what he meant.

Okay. That was actually two reasons.

Heero realized his grip had loosened on Quatre's jumper. The latter had his hands over Heero's wrists, but he wasn't breaking his aggressor's thumbs or applying a nerve pinch. He was staring at Heero as if he could read every thought that was going through his head, an annoying habit the blond had started developing in Sanq. The blue eyes managed to be both analytical and sympathetic.

"You really want to know how to fix this, Heero?"

"...yes." Please.

"Then do exactly what I said. Wait until he's a bit better, and tell him what you heard."

"How's that going to help?" Heero whispered numbly.

"It'll get things out in the open. It will force him to talk to you about this - once he's done shouting, of course. Then he'll help you figure out what he needs from you."

"Will he?" Heero bit his lip until he could taste blood. He'd not meant it to come out that bitterly. Quatre's look of sympathy was doing things to his self-control that were probably not very healthy for anyone concerned. It just...

Wufei hadn't told him before, so why should he tell Heero anything now?

His partner had in fact gone to great lengths to hide this from him, from anyone.

Quatre was smart, and he was emotionally well balanced. But he didn't know them, not that well; he’d barely seen them this past year, and they’d not fought together that often during the war. Winner had something like a normal life now; he knew nothing about the edge of danger and achievement that the partners pursued. Heero knew just how horrified Wufei would be at having let those words slip. Under the influence of a drug, Heero reminded himself. It had hardly been voluntary.

"...Heero?"

"I'll tell him. When he's better."

"Yes, of course I meant-"

"How do I make him better?"

Quatre looked confused. "What? What do you mean? Just let him rest, there's not much else you can do."

Heero already knew that. Rest. Chang was on full sick leave anyway. Heero was going to make damn sure he had all the rest he needed. "What else?"

"What else?" Quatre looked nonplussed. "Just be here for him, he might want to talk-"

Quatre interrupted himself and his eyes took on a suspicious glint. "Look, I'm not going to tell you how to cozen up to your own lov- partner. If what you heard made you realize that you guys might have a problem, then I'm almost glad you walked in on us. But sooner or later you two will have to communicate. Now, if you want my help, I'll play counselor. For both of you, mind you, not just-"

"We'll sort it out," Heero interrupted, letting go of Winner. "You're a proficient diplomat and negotiator, but that just wouldn't work."

Quatre rolled his eyes and muttered something about 'two of a kind', but he didn't look surprised, or offended. "Do you want me to at least break it to him that you accidentally overheard-"

"No need, I will tell him myself when he's recovered." Heero turned back towards the room. He closed the door on Quatre's prudent relief and words of encouragement.

He would, too. He didn't want to tell Chang, knowing very well how explosively his partner would react. But keeping it from him...felt strangely wrong. Heero wasn't sure why - it was a good thing he'd heard this, after all; now he knew for sure there was a problem, and he could see its cause, too. And telling Wufei would probably cause a good deal of anger and distress, while hiding it would hurt no-one. But still, he decided to go with his feelings on this one.

But before he caused any further harm, he was going to make Wufei better. Rest was indicated. Exhaustion was probably much to blame for Chang's present condition. Not just the Susan Wu incident; the fatigue accumulated from over a year of intense fighting following a war. Heero sometimes forgot that Wufei was only human (not that he'd ever put it that way to his partner, not being particularly suicidal anymore). That was probably the cause of this- this problem. Wufei had never shown any signs of this sort of complication during the war, or at the start of their association. Wufei knew Heero down to the ground; he knew just what kind of killer he was living with. An emotional attachment showed that his judgment was impaired.

So, rest. What else...? Heero would have to figure out what else Wufei needed. Chang was normally an extremely well balanced, self-contained and resilient man; what was missing in his environment that could cause him to lose that? Heero had been trying to avoid thinking about what he'd overheard, knowing Wufei would be embarrassed by it, but he now replayed every word, nuance and intonation in his mind as he sat down again. On the face of it, Chang hadn't said all that much. In fact, most of the conversation had been spent denying Winner's speculations. It had made it easy to discount it, after the initial shock-

- relief - pain - confusion -

Heero concentrated, shoving his feelings away. They were not needed here; they would only get in the way of his mission. He didn't have the time for self-directed anger; he had to help his partner. Now, though Chang's words had been few, and mostly denials, Heero remembered every flinch, every defensive gesture. He thought he could guess what were the salient points of the problem.

That Wufei was tired, mentally as well as physically, was obvious - rest would fix that. Could he recover from such an ordeal in only a couple of weeks? Heero would judge his state by the end of his sick leave and see if more time off was required.

Wufei needed a friend to talk to; self-expression and communication were an essential part of most therapies, after all. Heero side-stepped the surge of bitterness that he'd not been found adequate; in the more analytical part of himself, he knew why that was. The rivalry between them made Heero less than ideal as a confidante, obviously. Wufei would rather bite his tongue than concede a weakness to his partner. Who would Wufei feel comfortable talking to? Winner...? The man knew the worst already, he was the ideal person...but he might try to interfere and spill what he knew. Heero composed a quick list of Wufei’s friends for later analysis of other alternative solutions.

And for Wufei's sake, he'd have to tone down their rivalry somewhat. That would be a pity; he would miss their competitive sparring. But Wufei needed a break from that. And an assurance that he was keeping up with Heero, that he was as strong as ever. Positive reinforcement.

Heero leaned over, rested his elbow on his knee, chin in hand, and stared at the strong, tired features. Too bad Winner couldn’t be counted on to help. The man apparently did not see the need to rebuild Wufei’s self-esteem and inner balance before dropping a new bombshell on him. The partners would be better off without that kind of interference, well-meaning though it was. It was a pity because Winner's empathetic abilities would certainly come in handy, from an observational standpoint; Wufei was exceptionally good at hiding these feelings, if the past few months were anything to go by. When he wasn’t being drugged nearly to death, that is, and that was hardly a viable option. Heero hoped that now that he knew what the problem was, he would be able to read Wufei a bit better, and evaluate the effectiveness of his treatment. Otherwise he’d be working blind.

The part of Heero’s mind that had been constructed by Dr J was telling him this was a lot of effort, when he should be concentrating on his mission.

Heero weighed this carefully, and then discarded it, in favor of following his feelings on this. He was not going to give up a powerful ally, even over this unforeseen complication. He was not going to leave Wufei so off-balance and miserable. He was not going to break up their partnership.

He was going to fix this.

---

Mind made up - in reinforced concrete - it would be several weeks before Heero would have to question the root of that decision, instead of concentrating on the means of achieving it.

End Intermission

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