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

Beautiful Symmetries + Chapter 1
1 Solitary Dragon.

It was a few months after I'd started my new life. Things had been going very well. Or at least I thought so. Sally tended to disagree but she can be a silly, over-protective woman sometimes. So what if I didn't make any friends among the few people we worked with. There are no rules or regulations in the Preventer codes that say I have to be a party animal. I happen to prefer spending my free time reading or catching up on my studies; I was idly working on a master's degree in Asian literature in my spare time, and this took up most of it, and quite happily. Especially since I could do it by correspondence, which avoided classrooms and student gatherings and such. Sally got that funny look in her eyes when I mentioned that, and I quickly invented something to do to get away from her for awhile, which wasn't hard, we were very busy. I didn't want her to go into mother hen mode again.

Sally was really the only person I needed to get along with, being my partner, and it so happened that I did. It was a strange relation, and it shouldn't have worked as well as it did; Sally tended to seesaw between the over-protective big sister and the admiring junior colleague. I remained consistent - I believe it's one of my qualities - in being a misanthropic hard-assed ex- terrorist with a short temper and a habit of perfectionism that Sally managed to admire instead of finding tiresome. She kept seeing this as part of my whole 'Gundam Pilot' perfection thing, I think she had just a little bit of hero-worship in her approach to our partnership. But it allowed her to put up with some of my less...endearing qualities (I'm not like Maxwell, I do lie when it suits me, but I try to be honest with myself. Most of the times).

So we did some stellar work, cracked some serious cases, doused particularly nasty fires and all in all I had some meaning to my existence, and whenever Sally started clucking about 'making friends' or 'meeting people' or 'I know this nice girl who-' I found something else to concentrate on until she was finished. It was a good time.

And then she had to go ruin it all, stupid woman.

If you tied me to a rack and tortured me with red-hot irons I would probably confess that I was happy for her. I liked the man. And he was no weakling; he'd been the head of one of the better organized resistance factions in China. He was tall, well-build, charismatic, he could handle hundred of men with confidence, and swing up and fire a land-to-air missile launcher single-handed.

Didn't stop him from wilting like a debutante at her first ball when I caught him kissing Sally after our mission in Shanghai. Okay, granted, I was giving him the down-the-nose you-are-lower-than-dirt- molecules glare that had been known to douse even Maxwell's enthusiasm for all of five minutes, and a lesser man would have fainted or ran away screaming.

We quickly got a few things straight - Sally was very surprised to get a marriage proposal so soon, and I don't think she ever guessed why, but I don't feel bad, he's a good and honourable man, it would have happened sooner or later anyway. Of course I made sure this was right, and that Sally was really happy about this. Then I pulled some strings and got her the offer for a top job in the military hospital and research facility in Beijing.

I had no qualms while I reassured Sally I was fine; none when I walked her down the aisle, or when I gave the guy a few last minute threats to make sure he treated her right - I had no real doubts about it but I felt it had to be said, and he was probably expecting it - and I was fine with it while I watched them leave for their honeymoon then ran to pack my bags and leave myself. I had a mission in the Burmese jungle, hunting down weapon's traders. A tough assignment but I was feeling on top of the world; Sally could and did take care of herself but she just wasn't in my league. She knew exactly what to do, the risks to take and to avoid and we worked well together, but this mission would have pushed her hard. I was much better off doing it on my own. I was much better off on my own.

If only Une had agreed.

I gripped the phone as if I could strangle the orders coming from the other end.

"What?? A new partner? But I said-"

"Look Chang, I've been reviewing the mission parameters you outlined - the ones you so artfully downplayed-"

"Uh? I didn't-"

"Oh please! Respect my intelligence, Chang! The first time I read through this pile of hogwash you sent me it sounded like you were preparing a vacation on a beach resort somewhere! I had to make sure I hadn't put my hands on Sally's honeymoon plans by accident!"

"Commander I assure you -"

"Spare me. In fact that was where you messed up. You made this jungle hunt sound so mild that I got second thoughts; the Gundam Pilots I know don't go for such easy missions. So I reread it more carefully - very well done, by the way, you have a future in our PR department. Which is where you're going to end up if you continue bitching about this. I've assigned a partner to you."

"I don't want a new partner!"

"It's only for this mission, Chang. You are not tossing the Burmese jungle upside down trying to find a heavily guarded weapons depot on your tod, so get over it!"

"But-"

"Your partner should arrive any minute now, and I'm sure-"

I didn't hear the rest. Une understands Gundam pilots, you see. She has several under her orders. She knows we'll follow her directives and ace her missions but we don't fit in the whole chain of command environment. So I'm sure the stream of Mandarin that erupted from the phone before I slammed down the receiver didn't faze her too much. Mandarin is a great language to swear in. Particularly when your boss has only a small grasp of it.

I continued swearing as I swept the phone off the nightstand, a futile gesture. Since she'd given me a direct order, I would have to go through with it and that's all that mattered to her. She was a wise one. Une may be an old enemy but there's no one else I'd rather work for. Could work for, probably, with my attitude.

I felt a flash of, well, almost guilt as the buzzer to the Preventer apartment I was currently living in rang at that point. That would be the partner. Soon to become a snowflake in the renown Chang Wufei temper firestorm. None of this was his - or her, ancestors preserve me- fault, but that wasn't going to stop me from making life excruciating for the unknown agent on the other side of that door.

I wrenched the door open and my mouth lost the biting words I was about to deliver in a startled hiss of surprise.

Heero...Yuy...

We stared at each other for a few split seconds - an eternity for men with our reflexes and fast reaction times. I think he was a bit startled at the violence with which I had opened the door and the glare I had given him before I recognized the messy chocolate hair and blue eyes behind the Preventer uniform. As for me...I hadn't spoken to Heero since that incident. The one where I almost killed him. Yes, that one. I hadn't seen him since. For a second there, an old set of emotions resurfaced, and I completely forgot about Burma, partners, Preventers and missions and just wondered if he'd finally found the time in his busy schedule to come and kill me.

"Chang?" Well, no, not quite a question, but a greeting with a 'I'm not here to fight but if you start something I'll damn well finish it, and you are aware of that, right?' sort of nuance to it.

"...Yuy." I said, digging well into my reserves of 'cold, disdainful bastard' to try not to appear too much of an idiot in front of this man for whom, to be honest, I had very, very mixed emotions, ones I'd avoided as carefully as I'd avoided Heero himself.

"Come in, please." I added with the politeness ingrained into me as the heir to a now-deceased clan. That cold courtesy and the arrogance that goes with it come easily to me. It's something I use when I'm uncertain about things. I don't do 'uncertain'. I detest the feeling.

Heero walked in slowly, those piercing blue eyes on me as if still not entirely sure of his welcome. I winced internally - not a twitch on my face of course - as I realized my bloody temper had put me at fault with someone I'd rather not offend.

"Sorry for- " I gestured abruptly at the door. "I was expecting-"

Then I finally registered the uniform, the duffel-bag, the walking boots, the knap-sack with tent and sleeping bag on his back. As Maxwell would say...duh!

I closed the door carefully while I organized my thoughts rapidly, trying to appear calm and collected.

"I was expecting someone else. Never mind. So, you're to be my partner for this mission?"

"Hai. Is that alright?"

I tried not to gape at the man. Is that alright? Let me think. The Preventers are still a very new organisation; most of its recruits are fresh out of the academy, which makes them three to five years older than I am, which takes some adjusting to on both sides let me tell you. My mind went back to the first and last partner that Une had assigned me when Sally had traitorously decided to take a -pah!- holiday. Name was Anderson. Peterson. Jackson? -Son something. Which was appropriate, his only accomplishment to date had been being born, as far as I can tell. The reason I don't remember his name -my memory is normally excellent- is because I made him cry and call in sick two hours after we started working together.

So who would I prefer to take on this mission, a bumbling incompetent half-witted desk-jockey of a Preventer fresh out of the academy or the perfect soldier, the only man in the Earth Sphere and space who can match me point for point, and maybe even outclass me on a few. Hmm let me think. Tough one.

Since I am who I am, I didn't actually say all this out loud. Instead I said: "It will have to do."

Maybe Sally is right. Maybe I should work on my people skills a bit...but then again, this was Heero Yuy, and that's maybe the one point where I do outclass him. Which is a scary thought, by the way. So he took what I said at face value, nodded and sat down, sweeping books and magazines from the coffee table to lay out maps and the ever-present laptop, to start getting on with the mission already!

Heero Yuy was all about efficiency. I wasn't surprised to find myself in a chopper an hour later, and on the first lap of our journey half a day after that. It was great, I hardly had to take care of a thing. Yuy was an even greater perfectionist than I was - I felt a momentary regret Sally wasn't with us, so she could appreciate the fact I had shown some restraint with her- and there was just nothing for me to correct or fix. It was...refreshing.

Soon, we found ourselves sitting in front of our tent and a small fire; the night quickly fell over the jungle like the sun had been shot out of the sky.

We had hardly exchanged a word in the last twenty-four hours, apart from essential mission details. Another refreshing change. But there was something about the humid night, the darkness of the jungle around us, the industrial-strength insect noises echoing from the underbrush, which made the mood strangely open.

"I could have done this mission by myself." I said, just to establish the fact at the outset.

"Hn." It was an agreement. He poked the fire and added: "Thank you for letting me team up with you."

I leaned back on one hand and let the other discreetly pinch the tender part of my sides. No, I wasn't dreaming. I was really sitting in a Burmese jungle with Heero Yuy, the man I'd nearly killed, thanking me for 'letting' him come with me. Maybe I was coming down with malaria...

"I should be thanking you." I muttered, the shock shaking the words loose. "Who knows what Une would have partnered me with otherwise."

"Hn." I pinched myself again, but yes, that had been the ghost of a smile that flashed across his firm lips. I didn't think he knew what those muscles were for. "You don't want to know. Fortunately Une asked for my opinion on this assignment - you write a very interesting mission outline, by the way."

I waved away a mosquito to hide the fact I'd winced.

"I suggested to Commander Une that I partner you for the mission, once she realized it wasn't going to be quite as easy as your outline indicated." Heero added calmly.

My side was getting quite sore with all the pinching. Heero had wanted to be my partner? Well, either he really had forgiven me for the Mariameia mess or he was waiting to get further out into the jungle to better bury the body. Probably the former.

"How about Maxwell?"

I cursed myself before the words were even fully out of my mouth. That was the last question I wanted to ask.

Winner insisted on keeping me updated on the lives of all the Gundam pilots and their friends. He always cc-ed Sally on those e-mails, since she was one of those friends, so I couldn't just delete the things when I saw them appear in my mailbox. Sally would be reviewing all the gossip with me whether I wanted to or not and she'd go into major mother-hen mode if she knew I wasn't really interested in Winner's little resumés.

So I knew that Heero had given up his job as Relena's protector once her security system was up to the task, and had joined the Preventers with Maxwell as his partner, though the later was freelance and only worked occasionally. I also knew that he and Maxwell were living together. I'd reread that e-mail until I could recite it in my sleep, that was how surprising that news was. I mean there just weren't greater opposites than the perfect soldier and the perfect charmer. I found it hard to believe they could work together - though they'd been a formidable team during the war. I could scarcely give credence to the mind-blowing news that they were living together and hadn't yet killed one another. And of course, going as far as believing what Sally read in between the lines - she laughed and joked about it for weeks afterwards and each time I felt as if the universe had turned upside down like a gigantic snow globe, setting the stars swirling around me. Still, as Sally said, opposites do attract. After awhile I had to reluctantly agree she was probably right, and that it even made sense.

I didn't disapprove. I mean, if they could make it work then no problem. I had no issues with same-sex relations. In fact, sometimes, I wondered, well, especially when Sally was trying to set me up with one of her 'I know this girl' friends, but mind you those occasions were pretty disastrous so it probably didn't count, so I couldn't really say if I was - forget I mentioned it.

I didn't mind but never in a thousand years did I want to hear any details about any of this! I didn't want to get involved in anyone's personal lives, particularly Heero's. Or Maxwell's. That...well, I just didn't want to.

"He's your partner." I said, quickly, as Heero lifted an eyebrow at my remark. "What's he doing while you're with me?" That hadn't come out right. At all. Fortunately Heero wasn't one to pick up on things like that.

"Duo only works part-time with the Preventers." He said quietly. He's always quiet, calm, precise. It...soothes me, in some way I can hardly describe or admit to. "The rest of the time he spends with his friends - he helps out Hilde a lot - or he just..." He hesitated, trying to explain something that had to be totally foreign to him. "He just bums around, I think he calls it."

"Sounds like him." I sniffed.

There was that minute flash of a smile again. It was...rueful and almost tender. And it stirred such strange, unexpected and conflicting emotions in me that I stood up abruptly, grabbing our empty bowls and muttering something about washing up. I took two steps away - away from surprised blue eyes, away from the moment of openness we'd unexpectedly started to share - and then every biting, scratching, stinging thing on earth decided to rise out of the undergrowth and find out what we tasted like.

"Do it tomorrow!" Heero barked, his old war-time manners coming back to the fore in the face of enemy attack. "Let's get in the tent."

Inside the tent and the netting, his body was way too close to mine for comfort, which was strange. We'd never shared a bed during the war like he did with Maxwell - in fact I always slept alone- but we'd shared small spaces aboard Peacemillion and in safe-houses before. It had never bothered me before. I hadn't shot him down before either.

I could tell from his breathing that he was not asleep. He was on his back, and I was on my side, turned away from him, almost stuffed into the canvas of the tent to put some distance between us.

"Yuy?"

"Hn?"

"I...never said anything, but...I'm sorr-"

A hand on my shoulder had about the same affect as a cattle-prod. He pretended not to notice my reaction, he just said: "I know, Wufei." I noted the use of my first name automatically. "I..."

In that hesitation, I heard how confused he himself had been by that war which should have been so simple. How torn he was, to discover that beneath the weapon meant for mass-destruction was a young teen who didn't want to kill. How he himself had not been sure of what peace was or meant, how can the ultimate instrument of war know what peace even is?

The slight pressure from his fingers on my shoulder said it. I knew he understood why I'd done what I'd done and that forgiveness wasn't even necessary. But that if I wanted it, it was mine.

"I know." Was all he said, repeating himself. No other words were needed.

I felt absolved and strangely humbled. Two more feelings that I do not deal with well. But in the humid darkness of the jungle and the intimacy of the close quarters I was able to accept them as I would not have been able to anywhere else, under any other circumstances. I hesitated, trying to find something to say, anything, but words were pitifully inadequate for what needed to be expressed. Finally I simply brushed my fingers against his as they remained lightly on my shoulder, acknowledgement and apology and gratitude and closure all at once. The fingers squeezed my shoulder again and left it, and I heard him shift and settle and then drop off to sleep as if chloroformed. Lucky bastard. I sighed silently and settled myself to try to sleep a little, a feeling of solace, of ease with this man helping me centre myself and find a haven of calm into which I slipped to rest.

The next ten days were the best and the worst I'd had since the war. The best because I was at the peak, I was doing what I did best with the one man more than able to keep up with me. We hunted down those gun-runners through the logging roads and hunting trails of that jungle like tigers tracking deer. We found their hide-out and took them down with almost condescending ease. Yuy was fantastic. He was so good he didn't even have to kill any of them - I think he would have if he'd had to, but I knew he was trying to avoid killing from now on, and I respected that. With his show of excellence, I damn well had to! The looks on their faces when they realized that they'd been sent down for the count by two teenagers.

But the very perfection of the partnership only reminded me that this was a temporary thing. Heero never said anything but I knew very well that he would be leaving to go back to the L2 branch of the Preventers, back to Duo, when this was over. In a way I was glad - I am a solitary dragon by nature, and work just as well by myself as with others, even with this monument of perfection and efficiency. I knew that. So I was hard put to explain why I felt so...hollow at the thought of being on my own again soon. Not on my own, that wasn't the problem. Without Heero Yuy.

"It's just a bruise." Calm voice, so...restful, but strong. A rampart, a fort against the tempests of life. His hands on my back made my skin tingle - the adrenaline from the battle was still making me twitchy I thought to myself defensively.

"I was careless." I bit out, reaching for my shirt, trying to distract myself with self-directed anger.

"I hardly call that careless. You took all five of them down without unnecessary bloodshed or using your gun, that was very impressive."

I snorted, not wanting to let go of my self-flagellation. Especially since he was pressing my bare shoulders with his hands, as if trying to reassure me that- when was that bloody chopper coming to get us out of here already!

Maybe Sally was right. Maybe I needed to get out more. Yes, right after I needed a major frontal lobotomy. No, what I needed was to get laid, to put it crudely. I was really in need of that if I was starting to entertain thoughts I could barely begin to admit to about Heero Yuy. Sally was a smart woman, and a good doctor. She probably knew what effect abstinence could have on someone my age in my dangerous profession. It was obvious a mental breakdown was just around the corner. Maybe that was why she was always trying to set me up. I'd never been interested before, really. Women...anything weak just made me want to cringe, as if avoiding contamination. Sally kept assuring me it was just a case of 'finding the right girl', and who knows, maybe she was right. One thing I was pretty damn sure of, the 'right girl' was not Heero Yuy.

I was almost glad the mission was ending, even if our partnership had been the most stimulating thing that had happened to me in awhile. Because I was horrified beyond words that he might guess some of the insane notions that were flitting through my mind. Heero wasn't an empath like Quatre, but he could read body language to perfection. Not that I was drooling or anything, actually I avoided all forms of physical contact as much as possible. But when I did so I still caught the occasional look, eye contact that went on a fraction longer than was normal, that I could just not explain...if he guessed the kind of thoughts going through my mind -at a dead run and without daring to linger lest I shoot them on sight- I would have had no other option than suicide. I kept that firmly in mind during the days of sharing a tent, bathing in leech-infested waters, treating each others mosquito bites and scratches.

The chopper finally arrived, we evacuated, the partnership ended. I drove him to the shuttle-port, we shook hands without a word, two warriors content in the success of our mission. I thought I was doing well until I caught the look again, just as he was turning away.

I swung around, breaking the eye contact before he could see the feelings I was trying to deny. I didn't need a partner. Sure Heero was perfect. Sure he brought out the best in me. Sure he made me feel strong, invulnerable, safe by his side. But I could manage just as well on my own. I didn't need him. Didn't need a friend. Didn't need...

I caught a last glimpse of him in the reflection of a window as he boarded the shuttle behind me. Straight, walking slowly but surely, as if nothing in the world could make him hesitate, or doubt, or fear. Everybody else faded to pale shadows next to him.

I found myself thinking, 'Duo Maxwell is a lucky man'.

I spent the whole afternoon punching my way through as many katas as I could manage before collapsing in a near coma to erase the existence of that thought from the universe.

[prologue] [chap. 2] [back to Maldoror's fic]