Not only can water float a craft, it can sink it also.
"What are you doing?"
Wufei glanced over the top of his glasses at his partner, then down at the book in his hand. He doubted that 'reading' was the appropriate answer.
"What are you doing? Is that for your university degree?"
Wufei shifted on the couch, the movement defensive. "Yes. Paper due."
"You have to read every one of those books you have on your desk upstairs?"
"...Yes." Wufei batted down the surprise that Heero knew about what he had set aside in his study, to brace for Heero's estimate of how much time he was wasting on-
"Why so many? Don't you just have to read one book?"
"...it's not a book report. It's a comparative literature study." Wufei closed the book, marking the page with his finger, still feeling a bit wary about this out-of-character interest in his studies.
"Hn." Heero picked up a book that Wufei had left on the counter.
Don't say anything, Chang. None of your business. "Uhm..." He's not really interested, he's just bored. "That's not..." Shut up.
Heero glanced at him curiously. He'd been looking at the book's spine.
"Tran Anh Hoang is not the easiest author to start with," Wufei found himself saying, listening in quiet disbelief to himself as his words tumbled out to wander innocently into a minefield. "Her imagery is a bit exotic for someone who hasn't studied her contemporaries -"
"The fact it's in Vietnamese might be more of a problem," Heero noted with a strange quirk of the lips.
The near-smile, the soldier's hand on one of his books, the fact that they were having an entire conversation about literature, for gods' sakes, was shaking Wufei's composure badly, in ways he really couldn't explain. He was over that first horrible week of withdrawal from Susan Wu's attempt to poison him; his brain felt back where it belonged. He even felt well enough to start working on his neglected studies, despite the fact that Heero probably considered it a waste of time; if he was well enough to worry about dead poets, he was well enough to work on live cases, would be his partner's approach. That didn't worry Wufei; that attitude was normal - for his partner at least. And that's what he wanted. For everything to go back to normal. He watched Heero warily, trying to figure out what angle his partner was working.
"If you want something to read-" Wufei started, and then slipped his hand under his thigh because it had been about to smack him for that impromptu and bone-headed suggestion. But he had to finish it now. "I have some Miyamoto, in Japanese."
"I read The Book of Five Rings," Heero answered, with an inscrutable expression. Wufei could once read his partner like a book but suddenly he was finding there were whole new chapters he'd never noticed, and he seemed to have lost the index. The partners' near telepathy only worked in combat, when they were fighting back to back with their lives on the line. When they were at rest, waiting for their next assignment, things were less clear. Except...they were never really at rest. Their constant little verbal matches, their sparring, their perpetual honing of each other's edge: that took the place of combat and gave them a common ground for communication. Wufei had assumed that he would always be able to figure out his straightforward partner. Apparently he'd been mistaken. Right now he couldn't guess what Heero was about to say, or was trying to get at, and part of him didn't like it one bit.
And another part of him was intrigued.
It was this last that took him rather by surprise.
"When did you read that? During the war, in your classes in Jap Point?" he fished, though he wasn't quite sure why he wanted to pursue this.
"During training on L1."
"Ah right. I bet you read the modern, expurgated version. The one that concentrates on and analyzes the strategic import and skips the philosophy." Wufei tried to keep the weary bitterness from his voice. He didn't think J had tried to instill an appreciation of literature in his child-weapon. "It was a rather popular version among Alliance officers a few years back."
"Maybe. I remember that it was very logical, but...he seemed to be enjoying the language he used, as if that was almost as important as what he was saying. As if using the right word could make it mean even more than just the plain explanation of the concept." Heero looked strangely thoughtful, a look that spun like a penny between incomprehension and approval. "It was a reward."
Wufei had the distinct impression that last had slipped out unintentionally, riding coattails on the memory. "A reward?" he asked before he could stop himself. He regretted it almost immediately; the partners didn't pry into each others' pasts.
Heero's face and posture had started to close, but he answered nonetheless. "I did exceptionally well during training at one point. The book was my reward. It was the only thing I possessed, until I-...It was taken from me later."
Wufei was about to set fire to the couch to get out of this conversation. Who knew a paper in Asian Literature could take him walking along the edge of such a dark precipice. He ran his usual litany regarding Doctor J through his mind - he had a fond hope that a devil would whip the old bastard at every repetition - and tried to think about what to say in response. "Would you like to read the original text? I think you'll find it interesting."
The phone rang before Heero could answer, and despite the extreme discomfort and the dangers of this conversation going into unknown, uncharted, and extremely unstable territory, Wufei felt a flash of pure irrational fury towards the caller.
He stood up and wandered over to the kitchen counter, picking up books as he went. Heero was using his 'mission-mode' voice, grunting and asking for details in a monotone. Wufei half-listened morosely. Heero was busy with a lot of different projects. And he still didn't share any with Wufei. Wufei glared at the books in his hands. He'd been enjoying the break, the chance to read and relax, but at times like these, the padded cell they all had him in made him claustrophobic.
"I have to go out," Heero announced shortly, closing his cell with a distant frown.
What? He's going to leave me alone in the house? Without a nanny? Wufei managed not to say anything, just nodded as if it were no big deal that Heero was leaving him alone for the first time since The Gun Incident.
Heero was slipping on his jacket and boots. "I shouldn't be long. Two hours, tops. I need to go to the Preventer HQ. Sally is in Ops though, and so is Sam. You can call them if you need anything. You can call me, too; my cell phone should be on."
If I trip and break my toe, I'll have loads of people to tell, Wufei snarled mentally, but didn't say any of that out loud either.
"I'll be back soon." Heero repeated, looking at him out of the corner of his eye. "You sure you'll be-"
Even Heero Yuy flinched away from the look Wufei gave him at that point.
Wufei turned to the counter, aligned his books, and picked them up. If Heero was leaving, he might as well go work in his room. Not that he'd come down here because Heero was down here, particularly. But now that his partner was leaving, the main room was going to seem very big and empty. Maybe he'd take a nap. He considered that as he picked up his books and turned towards the stairs. He was still a bit tired these days, his sleep uneven and broken by surreal bad dreams as his mind tried to cope with the remnants of its injury-
An arm at his elbow turned him, interrupting his thoughts. Wufei flinched instinctively, and the kiss landed on the corner of his mouth, Heero's nose bumping his cheekbone. Then there was a blur of motion, Heero's back, a flutter of jacket, and the door closing.
After a few seconds of thunderous silence, Wufei's books slipped from his numb grip. The thump of literature falling on linoleum made him jump a mile.
What the fuck was that?!
Wufei sank to his knees and began to blindly pick up his books. He walked up the stairs on automatic, dropped the books off in his study, and then went to sit on his meditation mat. His head was spinning.
For over two weeks now, he'd been working to regain his confidence in himself, as well as prove himself to Heero. Move past the drug-induced guilt and nightmares, and soul-rendering revelations. Forget all that and go back to normal.
And then 'normal' went and pulled stuff like this on him!
He needed his centre. Wufei had been kicked about every which way these past three years, his ideals betrayed, his own convictions used by others, his place in the universe lost in blood and fire. Since the end of the war, he clung to what he knew, what he could rely on. Stability. Duty. Efficiency. Until recently, his partner had been one more of these solid, reliable things. But now his rock was shifting.
And it didn't even make sense! Heero wasn't making any sense. If Heero was being consistent - a word which could have been designed for the man, Wufei would have said a mere month ago - then Wufei could have coped, well, a bit. These little gestures could have been the result of a small shopping list Quatre had given Heero: 'Little things you can do to make Chang Wufei feel a bit more appreciated, do it or I go Zero on your ass', and Wufei could imagine Heero following the instructions to the letter like the good little soldier he was.
But Quatre had sworn he'd said nothing to Heero about- about Wufei's shameful lapse. And besides, if Heero was following instructions, they were being provided by two different people, one of whom was apparently trying to drive Wufei insane.
Wufei had been desperately working to convince himself everything was back to normal, like a man fighting against the tide. That kiss had finally broken the dam. Every action Heero had taken since he had gotten the drug out of his system - which Wufei constantly fought to interpret according to this or that pattern of known behavior in his partner - was stacking up in his mind. And it just refused to make-
Maybe Heero was hoping they could have sex when he got back.
With a wash of relief, Wufei jumped on that explanation. Yeah, okay, that made sense. Heero must be feeling pretty damn frustrated too. Lack of action, heh, all kinds of action. Had to affect him too. So that's what the bit about Wufei's books had been about! Heero had, up till now, kept his promise about not badgering Wufei while he read; he must have been testing the waters, seeing if Wufei would mind a little break from studying for some good old physical relief. Then the phone had interrupted him, but he had left with a small promise, a nod, notifying Wufei of what he'd like when he returned. Right. Made perfect sense.
Wufei wasn't about to complain, either! Two hours, Heero had said. Plenty of time for a nap. A shower first, then a nap.
His hair spilled over his shoulders as he dragged his tee-shirt off a bit over-enthusiastically. Wufei made a face as he fished around the floor for the fallen hair-tie. He found it, grinned and straightened.
A stranger stared back at him from the mirror.
Wufei winced, his gaze flinching away from his reflection's. He...hadn't looked at himself much during the month of drugged madness. Afraid of what he would see.
The image dragged his gaze back, almost helplessly. His hair fell around his face, his shoulders. He didn't appear too tired these days, he was getting better. He looked pretty much as he always had. Hard, face strong, a touch arrogant even at rest, accentuated by the natural curve of eyebrows and nose. His body was wiry and tough, he was getting back to his original weight, he was-
He was fooling himself if he was going to try to deny that the stranger in the mirror was looking back at him with a glint of sick, sordid hope in his eyes.
Wufei's gaze fell to the faucet as if it were too heavy to keep fixed on the black eyes plunging searchingly into his.
It was there, at the back of his mind. A small shiver, a pulse of hope, that was keeping him off-balance still.
Wufei had nearly died a few weeks ago. He had certainly come close to going insane, or permanently ruined. Their partnership, their arrangement, had nearly ended. What if...Heero had suddenly realized the importance that had in his life? A realization that had already come to Wufei a while back, though he tried to control and minimize it as much as possible.
What if all those odd little instances - the kiss, the few words of trust and encouragement, the looks - were a sign of...of something else? Of Heero wanting something else...?
Not that that made much more sense, Wufei quickly reminded himself, trying to still the flutter, kill it before it could knock him even more off-center. There were still lots of things that Heero had done these past weeks that didn't fit into that picture either. But more than that...
Wufei hauled his gaze up to meet his reflection's again, to stare it down. Get real, Chang.
You don't want that.
And Yuy certainly doesn't want that. More to the point, he doesn't even know what 'that' is.
His eyes lost their focus, stared blindly over his reflection's shoulder. He was seeing an intense, sixteen-year-old killer by the codename of Heero Yuy, as deadly and focused as Wing itself, telling him that he would never get involved with anyone who didn't have the necessary emotional detachment. The child-man who would die without hesitation, regret or even fear for his mission.
Wufei was willing to admit - had been made to admit, under duress, to be more exact - that he wasn't always able to understand his own feelings very well, that he couldn't control them as well as he wanted to.
But he knew this one truth.
He knew about Heero's training, his upbringing. Heero had never had any affection in his life, anyone on his side who wasn't trying to use him. Hell, Heero had had a considerable amount of trouble understanding the concept of 'allies' to start with. He barely managed the notion of 'friend'. Wufei knew, coldly, clearly, that Heero would sacrifice any one of the four people he'd let close to him for his mission, if he had no other choice. Even Wufei. This was what defined Heero to the core of his soul.
Heero needed Wufei because Wufei understood that.
If Heero ever thought Wufei had lost sight of that, might do something that could interfere with the efficiency of their well-honed unit, then...
Wufei focused reluctantly on his reflection again. The little light in his eyes was still there, a trace of sadness, of pitiful hope. Fuck. How pathetic.
Well, no matter. In the very unlikely - hell, impossible - event that Heero was actually starting to care about Wufei as a person instead of a handy sword at his back, then he'd eventually show it a bit more clearly. Heero's actions were always reliable pointers, expressing Heero's mind much more surely than words. And the first action Wufei was expecting when Heero got home was a bit of one-on-one action! He turned from the mirror brusquely, getting rid of the rest of his clothes. Shower. Sleep. Wait for partner to get home and jump on him. Hey, he'd just had a thought! He had that appointment with Sally later. It was a pre-check-up for his final evaluation in three days, but both Wufei and his partner were hoping that Sally would declare him fit right away. He certainly felt fit! Heero had better watch his ass when he got home. Because Sally was probably going to give Wufei the rubber glove treatment as a matter of course, and that was a made-to-measure excuse to be on top before the visit if he ever heard one.
The first lash of cold water against his skin made him grin fiercely, banishing the ghost of false hopes clinging to his mind. They were still there, corrupting his balance, rubbing him raw behind his shields. But he'd get over them. Get certified healthy, get out onto the field...get back to normal.
He couldn't wait.
Wufei struggled against the beetles. They'd fed on so many corpses that they were now the size of polecats, and with the same disposition. But Wufei was back in fighting form! His sword wreaked havoc in their midst. When they got too close for the blade, a boot through their carapace left a rather ugly mess on the dojo floor. He didn't worry about the ones at his back; a bullet picked off any that got too close. Heero was at the top of the stairs, a gun in each hand, firing down coldly and methodically. Wufei didn't look - couldn't afford the distraction - but he found himself grinning savagely. Destroy all the beetles, escape...and jump his ally's bones in the nearest alleyway afterwards.
He started at an alien sound rising above the ugly chittering. A whine, almost melodic - he spun, and ducked as a gigantic fly dive dived towards his head. Air support! These beetles were organized!
Wufei sat upright with a start, staring around. Stupid dream, but the buzzing of the fly had been real and familiar and had woken him up - cell phone, on his bedside table.
He picked it up, noting it was Heero's number on the caller ID. He glanced at his watch. Exactly two hours since his partner had left the workshop.
"Yeah. Whazit, Yuy?"
//Are you alright?//
Wufei stared at the opposite wall, but it had nothing constructive to say at that point.
//Chang?// There was a slight tension audible over the line.
"I'm fine!" Or he had been until some idiot had woken him up from a perfectly good nap - one where he was actually squishing those damn beetles - to ask him if he was alright as if he were a ten-year-old left alone in the house for the first time!
//You sounded dazed.//
"No, I sounded dozy. That's probably because I was dozing. What do you want, Yuy?"
//You were sleeping. I'm sorry.//
Oh, in the name of- "Why are you calling?" Wufei forced his voice down to 'medium broil' with an effort.
//The meeting's been extended. Another two hours, at least.//
Wufei's mood, already pretty foul, took a definite nose-dive. Great. That meant no sex before going to see Sally.
//I'm sorry, I won't be able to drive you to your appointment this evening. You will have to take your bike.//
"The alternative - to roller-skate - would be difficult without skates," Wufei muttered, fuming quietly.
//What?// There was a definite edge to Heero's tone. Probably wondering if Wufei was hallucinating again.
"I'll take the bike," Wufei said through clenched teeth. "Was there anything else?"
//Actually,// Heero suddenly sounded uncharacteristically hesitant, //the meeting might extend even more. I'll call you if that happens. Is that okay?//
Wufei hoped Sally wouldn't take his blood-pressure when he saw her.
"Why shouldn't it be?! Gods, Yuy, why don't you put me in a straightjacket and get it over with?!"
The shout took Wufei entirely by surprise. He'd been holding his temper so conscientiously these days! Damn.
From the stunned silence on the other end of the phone, he wasn't the only one caught off-guard.
Wufei felt his lips draw back over his teeth in a silent snarl, but he forced his voice to a more neutral tone. He couldn't quite manage apologetic right then.
"Sorry. I- " Oh, there was a challenge, trying to explain that one away. "We've been cooped up in this bloody house for weeks. It's..."
//I don't think you're crazy.// Heero's voice was neutral too. Though Wufei thought he could detect a slightly offended quality. Wufei frowned, puzzled at Heero's objection, until he remembered that he'd shouted about a straightjacket.
"I know. I meant-...look, tell Une that I don't need constant supervision anymore, okay? I'm sure it's driving you stir-crazy too. You have to realize by now that I'm not going to lose it and start blowing holes in the neighborhood. Right?" he added suspiciously.
//No, I don't think you're about to 'lose it'.// Heero's monotone had grown a bit of a bite, and Wufei found himself nodding. A bad case of cabin fever for both of them. What did you expect, locking two tigers together for any length of time?
"I'll be fine, Yuy. Tell that to Une, and I'll show Sally myself tonight. As for the meeting, or whatever, heavens forbid I'd ever assume you'd - you'd stint on the job." Wufei clamped his jaw shut on the last words. He'd come perilously close to saying, ' heavens forbid I'd ever assume you'd put me before your duty'. The very thought of how close he'd come to that slip made the skin on his chest and back prickle. Maybe Sally could surgically remove this traitorous, delusional bit of his brain that was trying to trip him up and humiliate him in front of the only person who-
//Very well. I might be awhile-//
"Then I'll see you when I see you," Wufei said, a bit tightly.
//Yes. See you.//
Wufei grunted, disconnected the call and tossed the phone back down on his bedside table. He glared at it, temper actively roiling now that he was no longer at risk of snapping at his partner. Great, now he had over an hour to kill before he went to see Sally, and enough frustration, sexual and otherwise, to blow a vein before the appointment. Better do something about that or he'd have a hard time convincing Sally of his serenity and sanity.
The punching bag would be made to suffer for the greater good, once again.
Sally slipped into the booth and grabbed the cocktail menu in the same movement.
"Time for my favorite medication. What do you want, Wufei?"
"Of course. Do you ever drink?"
"No." Wufei settled into the booth and tried to appear sane and serene; it required a certain effort.
Sally had declared him A-OK physically, but said she was concerned about his mental state of health. It wasn't something she could palpate or measure during a physical however. She'd have better luck over a casual conversation. Wufei had asked her, in barely leashed annoyance, when she intended to have this casual conversation, and he had found himself invited out to dinner three seconds later, with the faint hint that being polite might get him out into the field a bit faster.
In hindsight, he'd walked right into that one.
He'd tried to reach Heero on his cell while Sally finished up in her lab - and hopefully get an excuse from his partner not to go. But Heero's phone was off. Wufei left a message saying he'd be out for awhile, and where, feeling like a prisoner contacting his parole officer.
Sally sipped her cognac with the relief of an injured soldier receiving morphine. Wufei glanced at the menu and wondered what would be the choice of a perfectly sane and serene warrior.
"This is nice." Sally put down her drink and looked around the diner as if it was the Ritz. "We should do this more often."
Is that an order, Wufei thought moodily. He hoped this wouldn't last too long. He wanted to go back to the house. He wanted to go back to the house and get laid.
Still, it was nice to see and talk to someone consistent, for a change.
"Maybe we can do this again tomorrow night, or the following? Or at lunchtime?" Sally asked, with what Wufei thought looked like forced casualness. "What with Heero being busy. It's a pain to eat alone."
Wufei stirred. Oh, this was likely to become a common occurrence, to have his partner out of the house in meetings? He almost felt like asking Sally if she and Heero had a conspiracy going to make sure Wufei ate properly at every meal, but that was hardly the way to convince the good doctor that he was getting over the mild paranoia of the first days.
"What's he working on, anyway?" he grumbled. Sally would probably know; she was involved in a lot of projects, in her role as biochemical weapons expert, as well as general busy body and friend of Une's.
"Well, I'd tell you, but it's classified," Sally answered, nodding seriously.
Wufei stared. "Classified?"
"Hmm-hm. Security rating H, highest there is!"
Wufei slowly put down his orange juice. "Has my security clearance been dropped?" he asked tightly.
Sally promptly choked on her drink. "Wu- I was kidding!"
"What's this H thing then?"
Sally blushed. "Erm, stands for Heero. You remember, when I put you on full sick leave, that I told Une and Heero I meant full, and not 'working at home like a dog'? That you should avoid stressful situations and workloads? Well, Heero apparently took me very seriously. He told everyone you're likely to talk to that if they gave you any case details or anything to work on, they'd be dealing with him." Wufei's jaw dropped. "He might have meant that he would deal with the work, and get back to them, but no-one, not the toughest field agent, Sam, or even Une, looked ready to risk getting that wrong."
"I can't believe it."
"He didn't tell you? I'm not all that surprised. Guess he didn't want you getting all pissy about it." Sally grinned archly and leaned back against the cracked leather of the diner's seat. The industrial zone around Ops did not sport fine dining. "Well, I'm satisfied that you're physically fit again, and I'm sure that if you don't break down during dinner and start stabbing invisible enemies with your fork, that I'll be giving you clearance on the mental side too by the time we finish eating. However, I'm still keeping you on full sick leave for a few-"
"What?!" Wufei nearly spat out his juice. "You just said-"
"Just for a few days. Good god, man, you've been working like a maniac for a year, and don't even get me started on your life during the war! Consider it a vacation! You don't really want to do grunt work, do you?"
"No, I want to get back out on the field," Wufei ground out.
"Well, you will, you will." Sally murmured as if she was placating a five year old. She grabbed a handful of peanuts and inspected them suspiciously. "But Heero won't be back for a few days anyway, so you might as well stay on full rest until he does. Then you can both go and knock some heads."
Sally glanced up from her peanuts in surprise. At the bar, a waitress turned to stare.
"What do you mean he won't be back, he's at a meeting!"
Sally's mouth opened slightly, and her eyes widened in surprise. "...Didn't Heero manage to reach you? He called me five minutes before you got to my office. Turned out, it was more trouble than it was worth getting him to prepare someone else for this mission in a few hours, so when Une asked him to take it, he went with the flow. I assumed he contacted you right after he called me, to tell me you were on your way over by yourself. Said I should tell Sam if I detected any serious problem with your health; Foxwood is coordinating."
Wufei forced his clenched fists to relax, and flattened his hands against the plastic table.
"Where is he?"
"...Antarctica. That old base where Zechs rebuilt-"
"How long is he going to be gone?"
"I don't know; depends on what they find."
"'They'? He's gone with Sam's group?"
"No, this was a two-man job. Infiltration, recon. Unless they get themselves into trouble, in which case it's fire-fights, explosions, and the cavalry coming to the rescue." Sally glanced at him somberly. "I'm sorry this fire blew up on us out of nowhere; if I'd known, I'd have had you at the clinic this morning, tried to get you certified sooner. I'd feel better if you were the one with him. Armand's a good man, and this is not too tough a mission, but having a brand new partner-"
Brand new partner-
"-might throw Heero's game. I expect he'll be alright. He sounded more worried about you, actually. Made me promise to check in on you regularly, make sure you had someone to talk to - very insistent about that."
"I guess he was concerned...like myself...that you tend to bottle things up inside when you have problems. Now, I do not think that Susan Wu drugging you was in any way your fault, okay? But if you'd felt comfortable talking to someone, then maybe-"
"-the worst effects could have been avoided. It's hard to get perspective on your own troubles. And I understand you don't even talk to Heero that much - hey!"
The door slammed shut, drowning out Sally's call. Good thing he'd followed her over to the dinner with the bike rather than riding in her car. Otherwise, he'd have had to run back to the workshop.
But he had to see.
He barely remembered the ride back. The beam of his bike's headlight seemed to hang, suspended in the darkness, illuminating nothing.
His hands were steady as he disabled the security. The door shut softly behind him. He already knew his partner was not at home; he could feel it in the quality of the silence around him. He didn't switch on the lights of the main room but went up directly to Heero's. He knocked briefly on the door, the automatic courtesy ingrained, and went in.
He didn't need to switch on the lights here either; Heero's room was so regimented it was easy to see if anything was missing. Wufei knew exactly where Heero kept the bag with his mission kit and his rifle case - they'd been living together for over a year, after all, for over a year.
Wufei nodded shortly and went to his own room, though he wasn't sure what he planned to do. His hand hesitated over the light switch, but he was reluctant to turn it on. Then he noticed something out of place. A piece of paper on his bed, faintly illuminated by the light shining through the blind's slats, a white addition against the dark of his bed covers.
The light switched on, and he blinked and started to frown.
On his bed...for some reason, that bothered him. Why not on the kitchen counter? He glared at the piece of paper, feeling anger starting to build, slowly but with the power of an avalanche. That Heero...would presume...would come in here...and-
The note held nothing unexpected: 'Job came up. Sam is contact. Be back in a few days.'
So, Sam would be the one to tell Wufei if they ended up bringing Heero home in a body bag. The thought drifted like a hungry ghost through his mind.
The anger was rising, but it was the malicious edge to a growing storm of emotions that was making the piece of paper tremble beneath his fingers.
The feelings twisted around. Torn between striking out at Heero-....brand new partner...
-and his own weaknesses....
...why don't you put me in a straightjacket...I'll see you when I see you...and all that month under the drug...
Is this my fault? The thought was so pitiful that it made his fingers clench over the note, crumpling its corner.
He left...He just left...
A little voice of reason pointed out that Heero had been very patient up till now - Heero, the perfect soldier, the man completely dedicated to a peace that he placed even before his life, had taken two months to help Wufei get back on his feet. Surely nothing else was owed.
The note drifted to the floor. Wufei turned on his heels, heading towards the dojo. If he didn't get some of this anger out of his system, he was going to- to do something- he didn't even know what any more.
He knew nothing apparently.
There were seven people sitting on the benches next to the start of the circuit. They wore the red tracksuits of first-year cadets, and they possessed the eager air of those who'd not run this circuit before and who thought it looked like a really cool challenge.
Wufei dropped his bag and towel on the furthest bench, fifteen feet away, without greeting them, and finished warming up.
A few whispers drifted his way.
"This guy wasn't in our introductory class, was he?"
"Nah. He's not wearing the uniform anyway." Wufei was wearing his usual workout outfit: dark green fatigues and a dark blue tanktop, with a black sweat jacket over it, zipped up.
"Seen him before?"
"No. Maybe a new guy, joining in late? Hasn't got his trainers yet?"
Wufei ignored the speculations without even thinking about it.
"Doubt it, too young. I bet he's one of the officers' kids. Come to run laps while waiting for daddy or something."
"Shhh." Someone giggled.
Wufei warmed up his shoulders. Lack of sleep was leaving him numb. The whole scene unfolded for him as if it were happening to someone else.
"Jeez, Alicia, get your hormones under control!" Cue more laughs and the sound of a little shoving match.
Wufei stopped his deep-knee bends. He'd warmed up a bit already, running over from the safe-house to here, a ten minute jog. He moved forward.
"Hey." One of the cadets had followed him towards the start of the circuit. "You running a lap on the track?"
Wufei turned to look at him. The boy was a year or so older than Wufei, and taller by half a head, with ginger hair and deeply tanned complexion; he lost a bit of his grin at Wufei's silence, but then soldiered on, encouraged by the sounds of friendly support from behind.
"Want to compete? Run a race? First one to finish the lap?" The kid started to squat and straighten, warming up his legs. Someone giggled and whispered: "Don't be too hard on him, Ed."
Wufei dragged his voice from within. He hadn't spoken to anyone in four days. "Aren't you supposed to wait for your trainer before going onto the course?"
"Yeah, well, we won't do the obstacles, just the track." Ed shrugged and grinned at the race track that circled the confidence course. "Just a race, you know?"
His grin slowly disintegrated under Wufei's uncaring gaze.
"You were given an order," Wufei said softly. "If you are unable to follow such a simple directive, this does not bode well for your future in this agency."
Wufei turned away from Ed's gaping expression and started to run, glancing at his watch. "Who does he think he is?!" echoed briefly behind him, then he forgot all about them.
His feet found their rhythm. He'd been training intensively for four days now. Using the hard edge of adrenaline, endorphins, fatigue and discipline to drown out the riot of feelings that tried to bypass his control and erupt whenever he gave himself a break.
He wasn't running the usual obstacle course; he was doing the 'Yuy-Chang' circuit. That's what they called it. He remembered hearing Foxwood talking to his special taskforce one day. Sam always gave them extra training if they hadn't been on a mission in a week, to keep them at peak level. "Listen up, gang! Your lazy arses have gotten soft! I want you out there like you mean it! And you're doing the 'Yuy-Chang' circuit today!" Cue horrified groans and protests.
Heero had been beside him that day; they'd been about to run it themselves. His partner's face had stayed unreadable but his shoulders had gone back and his spine had straightened in a full-body smirk that had made Wufei smile.
He didn't smile at the memory. He didn't scowl either. Four days of anger, of feeling betrayed, yet also unworthy, both guilty and abandoned, and a whole host of other emotions, had left him feeling hollow. Or maybe it was the lack of proper sleep. He slept fitfully, mired in agitated and senseless, formless dreams, and he would jerk awake at the slightest noise outside the safe-house. The only thing active these days seemed to be a few dregs of anger and a bland sort of depression. They were so pale that by concentrating on building his body back up he could mostly ignore them and their cause.
One of the rules of Heero and Wufei's particular course were that they couldn't use any of the facilities to get over the obstacles. They coordinated their efforts - going at a dead run, they helped each other over the walls instead of using rope or net, ploughed right through the water or ditch obstacles without bothering with the platforms, boosting each other up to the edge - a performance of synchronization, coordination, split-second timing, and mutual understanding. By himself, he had to use most of the obstacles properly, feeling a bit more morose each time.
He grabbed the dummy at the top of the high platform. It was as tall as he was - he was smaller than most agents. Normally, Heero and he handled this obstacle unconventionally but efficiently, manhandling one dummy down at top speed between them, racing up and taking down the second...Wufei managed it by himself, holding the dummy in a rough hold that might spare a fellow agent's wounds; in the back of his mind drifted thoughts of Heero getting shot in Berlin. Or in Antarctica.
Obstacle followed obstacle, not in the usual order but in one that forced him to crisscross the whole course at a dead run. He used the beams to cross the moat, then another wall, scrambling lightly up the netting. He jumped from the twelve-foot barrier, landing gracefully in the sandpit, and glanced at his watch. Better than yesterday.
Wufei took the turn away from the combat course and ran at full speed the fifty feet to the target range, unzipping his jacket as he ran. The grounds keeper always left a target out for them- for him. He smoothly pulled the Luger from its holster, blocked, aimed and fired three times, all in about two seconds, leaving a neat little clover leaf of bullet holes over the heart bullseye.
He slipped the gun back in its holster and darted back to the circuit. The tunnel, then another balance obstacle-
There was one final detour to their circuit: the combat training circle. Once more, a bitter taste filled his mouth as he found his feet taking him there automatically before he remembered that his partner wasn't here to round off their exercise with a one-point sparring match. There were training dummies off to one side. Wufei leapt at them. Two fists hammered into the hardened rubber of the dummy in quick succession. The wooden post supporting it groaned and protested, then creaked loudly as Wufei dropped back and delivered a full-powered scything kick to the torso that definitely killed the dummy, fueled as it was by a bitter frustration that his body acknowledged while his mind tried to ignore it. His leg protested a bit - his chi had been slightly unbalanced, he hadn't prepared for the impact sufficiently. Nothing damaged. He dropped back and ran easily towards the starting point, glancing at his watch critically. His time was still not up to what he expected of himself. His leg and shoulder were alright now, but his stamina was still a bit lacking. It was still better than most of Foxwood's taskforce. He didn't think Armand could beat it.
He noticed that all the cadets were standing and staring at him, gaping like a shoal of particularly dumb bright-red guppies. Their trainer had arrived while Wufei was running. He recognized her: Gerrie Wertz (or you could call her Gertrude, if you really wanted to die). She was grinning wolfishly at him as he approached. Her notorious sense of humor must have kicked in; she clapped her hands and turned towards the cadets.
"As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, we have a couple of teenagers on the force. They run a different circuit than the adults. Don't worry, you guys are running the adult circuit! Now get started!"
She nodded at him kindly as he passed her - ignoring the stunned, horrified silence from the cadets - and Wufei found himself smiling back automatically. He grabbed his towel and bag and kept walking, not wanting to engage in conversation. He'd cool down and stretch on his way back to the house. He'd eat something, he didn't really care what, then he'd go to the target range, practice with the long-distance riffle. Concentration, focus, and the satisfying punch of recoil against his shoulder. Then back to the house, practice his wushu. He was working on sequences he hadn't done since before his marriage, recalling old skills he'd let lapse to pilot a Gundam. And then-
Heero had left four days ago and Wufei was no longer wondering when he was going to come back.
On to part thirty-seven. Back to part thirty-five.