Genre: Action, investigations, my usual strange humour, tiny touch of angst, some weird politics and a bit o' romance (yes, I still know how to write those - just don't expect anything majorly fluffy)
Rated: NC17 - for language, violence, sexual content
Archived: http://www.raygunworks.net and GWAddiction under the pen-name Maldoror
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Spoilers: Some, for series and episode zero.
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. The very idea is laughable. See? This is me laughing. Ha ha. Songs quoted aren't mine either. So there.
Author's Notes: Dedicated to Dacia, as always!
Big thanks to Anaitis for the quick beta and the great suggestions/fixes. You're right, Duo's hand is much better where it is now ;)
And as always, my most heart-felt thanks for the reviews and encouragements on GWAddiction. You guys rock! XD
Man, I struggled to find this quote! I've been concentrating my search for quotes among authors and artists who have at least a nodding acquaintance with anarchy or revolution, cause I'd thought it'd be fun (in a masochistic way of needlessly complicating my life kinda 'fun' >< ). Joy Division isn't so much anti-establishment as anti-life, but I guess they qualify, and the quote worked too well for the chapter on too many levels. Good ol' Joy Div. I listened to both albums, trying to find this quote. Now, excuse me while I go jump off a bridge.
"This is the hour when the mysteries emerge.
A strangeness so hard to reflect.
A moment so moving, goes straight to your heart,
The vision has never been met.
The attraction is held like a weight deep inside,
Something I'll never forget.
How can I find the right way to control,
All the conflicts inside, all the problems beside,
As the questions arise, and the answers don't fit,
Into my way of things,
Into my way of things."
---Joy Division, 'Komakino'
Freeport by Maldoror
Wufei cursed his inattention as he felt the chain-link fence loom up behind him. He'd been concentrating on Duo, the man he was supposed to be protecting. He never thought he himself could be a target. But Mako had taken pains to separate them, and from the way he glanced over his shoulder before closing in, he didn't want to involve Duo, at least not right away; it was definitely Wufei alone he was after. Wufei could have warned his friend with one shout, but if Duo was safer over there... first, Wufei wanted to know what Mako wanted.
Once the fight broke out - and Wufei's instincts were telling him a fight was pretty much inevitable - it would take a beam cannon to keep Duo out of it, anyway.
Wufei took a final step back. The chain-link fence pressed against his shoulder blades. He didn't like reducing his range of movement, but he wasn't keen on getting a six-foot goon at his back, either.
Mako watched him thoughtfully, then he glanced at the other men. It was just a brief scowl, but it had whips in it. The other bodyguards fell back instantly. They stayed in a loose ring around the two, though; like beta wolves circling the alpha and a challenger at a respectful distance. Wufei knew they'd stop him if he tried to move away without Mako's explicit permission.
"So you're Duo's new guy, hmm?" Mako's voice was just as friendly and relaxed as it had been in the bar. With his gesture towards the other guys, his attitude confused Wufei for a second. But body language was more trustworthy than intonation; Mako was deliberately boxing him in.
"What happened to Heero? You know him? Scary-looking dark-haired guy, blue eyes to kill for; he's been here on and off for years now. If you know Duo, you must know Heero. Right?"
...Why the hell was Mako asking questions, when Wufei was not allowed to answer? They weren't rhetorical either, like Babka's gentle musings; the tone was probing, and Mako was staring at him expectantly, head slightly cocked as if to better hear Wufei's response.
"What's your name?" Mako asked after a short silence, once more in a way that made it almost an insult not to answer.
Wufei remained silent. One last glance over Mako's shoulder- Duo still looked safe. The smuggler had his back nearly turned to them, facing Darbois, who seemed to be talking very earnestly, with many a wide, quick gesture.
Just when he was about to focus on Mako again- Duo suddenly glanced back, as if he'd heard a shout. He was frowning. Blue eyes searched for Wufei; the frown deepened as they settled on Mako's back. Duo took a step sideways and caught Wufei's attention, a silent question in the tilt of his head.
Mako's eyes narrowed, though he stayed perfectly relaxed, hands in the pockets of his biker pants. He knew Duo was watching; the man had the instincts of a predator, Wufei thought, reluctantly impressed.
There was a naked challenge in Mako's smile.
Wufei didn't even hesitate. Duo looked safe. Keep it that way. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the fence in a pose that hopefully looked casual if you were thirty yards away and the light was bad. Duo's attention skipped back to Darbois as the other gestured again. Wufei focused once more on Mako, ignoring the small fry around them.
The killer's smile widened, a calculated movement of the lips that put no warmth into his eyes. He put one hand in his thick hair and brushed it back, then he rubbed his neck gently, head to one side. The movement parted the open jacket, showing a slice of hard chest. Mako made a deep pleasant rumbling sound in his chest; he shrugged the jacket off, catching it with his fingers as it slipped down his arms, and tossing it gently to the ground a few feet away. In all that time, his half-closed eyes hadn't left his target.
"I think it was 'Wufei', wasn't it?" Mako finally said, taking the last three steps between them. He leaned forward slowly, and put both hands through the links of the fence just above Wufei's head, staring down at the smaller man. He smelled of leather and metal.
One of the bodyguards slouched against the bar's wall a few feet away, looking Wufei up and down. The brute glanced at Mako hesitantly. When no scowl discouraged him, he turned to Wufei with a sneer.
"He's too pretty to be a Hound. Right, guys? Too pretty for Maxwell, anyway."
"Rat-catcher Maxwell," another thug muttered, his voice dripping with sudden venom.
Mako smiled again, though his eyes remained perfectly cold and calculating, and nailed to Wufei's. "Tell me. Wufei. Do you like your position as Duo's... Hound?"
There was a sudden burst of greasy chuckling around them.
"Duo's a good-looking guy," Mako added, just as Wufei was wondering what was so funny. "I guess I don't blame you for wanting to bend over and be his bitch."
Wufei was going to level a killing glare at the animal for that insult-
- the way people looked at Wufei when Duo introduced him - Babka asking Wufei if he was staying, because Duo was lonely - Duo dismissing Heero's absence in short, painful words, as if the two had had a lover's quarrel - the bed made for two -
Wufei managed to keep his rigid, arrogant mask in place despite a burst of intuition hitting him like a mortar shell; for all Mako had intended the remark as an insult, it wasn't based on a complete fabrication.
Goddamn it, Duo! Why didn't you tell me everything that being a Blade implied?!
The answer occurred to Wufei almost immediately: Duo hadn't told him because, one, he must have been justifiably nervous of Wufei's explosive reaction at the news, and two, because Duo had expected to be at Wufei's side to do the talking if the need ever arose.
Wufei tried to search out Duo with his eyes again, but Mako was now blocking his view. He'd have taken Mako on in a fight, but he wasn't sure how he should handle insults. Would Duo be in more danger here or over there? If Wufei shouted, it might distract his friend at a crucial moment, and leave Duo open to a quick strike. Was Darbois armed? Were there others nearby?
The questions flashed through his mind to be dismissed just as quickly. His natural inclination was to take care of this himself.
In the background, the thugs had finally stopped laughing; they were glancing from Wufei to Mako expectantly. It looked like they hadn't had any forewarning of Mako's intentions, but they were all following his lead, and looking forward to a spot of fun.
The killer tilted his head, leaning closer.
"I heard what you did in Zapata the other day. Took down all those men by yourself. Friend of mine said he barely saw you move. Like lightning." A faint interest coloured Mako's voice. His eyes twitched to Wufei's unbound hair, very briefly. "Like silk ripping through the air," he whispered.
So this guy wasn't one of Ericson's buddies, out for revenge. Wufei would have actually preferred that to be the case.
"How long does your agreement with Duo last? I'm assuming you guys have some form of verbal contract, and not just a leash and a collar... I know you're not allowed to talk to me. Just nod," Mako murmured. His eyes were going over Wufei's face, his throat, his body. But they were cold, and they kept flickering back to Wufei's, trying to catch his reaction.
Wufei kept himself perfectly still, arrogant gaze plunging straight into Mako's. The bastard was trying to rile him. Fine. Let Mako have his fun insulting a man who couldn't talk back. Looked like Mako wanted Wufei to strike first, and take responsibility for the resulting fracas. But Wufei was Duo's Blade; Duo would be the one taking ultimate responsibility for anything Wufei started. And Duo was not the kind to get into a needless fight. No, Duo would laugh off this pitiful baiting, or tell Mako to go fuck himself in an amusingly creative way. Wufei couldn't do that, but he hoped his icy silence conveyed the same message.
"Not chatty, is he?" one of the other thugs murmured.
Mako's fingers flexed in the links. He was wearing a short t-shirt that wouldn't hinder his movements; it was taut across his chest. The muscles in his arms were tight and lean. He tilted his head; closer. Breath washed over Wufei's face.
Wufei ignored it. His instincts were prickling. This was... not right...
Mako was very good at masking his battle aura and hiding his intentions, but up close like this, the L5 warrior could read him just that little bit better, and something was off. Mako's eyes were still cold and strangely wary. This... didn't feel like idle baiting, leading to a harmless macho brawl. It didn't feel like a seduction, or the start of an assault, either.
No, Wufei could feel it; he could taste it in the air, catch it in the reflection of streetlights across Mako's shoulders. Mako was a coil of nerves beneath his air of ease. He was tracking every movement of Wufei's body, every breath, every dilation of his pupils; he was ready to leap away at Wufei's slightest move. He might be leaning over the smaller man, their lips a breath apart, but he was leaving Wufei no potentially life-threatening openings. This was a deliberate provocation, and Mako was expecting a lethal comeback any second now.
"I think we should get to know each other. I'm always looking for talent on Ravachol's behalf. I think we could work well together. Maybe you could be my Blade, when your agreement with Duo is over."
There was a slimy chuckle from one of the others, quickly turned into a cough. It was obvious that this new contract would also be 'with benefits'.
Wufei ignored that, he ignored the words; he stared only at Mako. They weighed each other across the short distance still between them. Wufei knew what the killer wanted now.
Mako was on to him.
Not in any detail, perhaps. Since he hadn't attacked Wufei outright, he must only suspect something. So he was trying to get Wufei to betray himself, testing his cover as Duo's Blade.
The danger was much more real than Wufei had thought; he could take Mako down in a fight, but now that wasn't the point. It would be useless to win the battle and lose the war. This required careful handling; his investigation, his life and Duo's were all in jeopardy. A brush of panic tried to wriggle its way through Wufei's control. This changed everything. If this was some sort of test, it probably required in depth knowledge of Freeport's tradition that Wufei didn't-
"Get the fuck away from him, Mako."
The words were harsh and deadly, spiking ugly echoes off the metal streets and buildings. Wufei knew that voice, though he hadn't heard it since the worst days of the war.
The thugs spun around and fell back immediately, one of them fumbling a shiv from its holster with a nervous jerk. Mako's pupils had constricted abruptly, but only Wufei, up close, could have noticed the instinctive twitch of tension that ran through the muscled frame. The killer looked totally relaxed an instant later; he moved slowly to Wufei's right, but his body and right hand were still caught in the chain link, keeping Wufei pinned against the fence, like a rough embrace.
"Duo. Calm down. We're just talking."
"Explain to me how you have a conversation with a guy who can't talk back to you."
Duo was a dark promise of violence six feet away. Darbois was coming up behind him, out of breath, looking worried.
"We're getting along fine, if you must know. Body language is a wonderful thing," Mako murmured sensually. "He's quite the catch, you lucky bastard."
Wufei caught the slightest wince in Duo's deadly stance. Blue eyes twitched towards Wufei's before quickly centering back on Mako again.
"Get. Away. From him."
"You're rather protective... " Mako raised his left hand slowly towards Wufei's face. He half-turned towards the Asian man, but he was watching Duo out of the corner of his eyes. "Isn't that supposed to be the other way around?"
"Wu, if he lays one finger on you, feel free to rip it off and keep it as a souvenir," Duo spat murderously.
Of course Mako didn't stop his gesture. Wufei groaned inwardly. His friend thought Mako was just trying to molest him; Duo hadn't observed the situation long enough to detect its darker, more dangerous undercurrents.
Mako's finger, long, strong and callused, touched Wufei's chin, swept caressingly up his cheek.
Wufei could tell from the way Duo's eyes were flicking from him to Mako, like a cornered animal looking for an exit, that a fight with the man would be a costly mistake. It would have consequences, particularly with Ravachol, the crime-lord who might hold the key to their investigation. Wufei stayed still and kept his hands loose at his side, letting Mako sweep his hair back from his face, and finger it appreciatively. He would not compromise the justice he'd promised Carver, or Duo's life in Freeport, for his pride.
"Mako, I'm serious." Duo certainly sounded serious. He sounded one scant second away from bloody murder. His left hand was flexed; a twitch would trigger the spring-loaded sheathe and shoot his stiletto into his palm.
"He's your Blade, Duo, not your sex slave. Though I wouldn't blame you, man," Mako chuckled. "I wasn't doing anything wrong. In fact, I was suggesting he might like me as his Handler."
"He's not interested," Duo growled.
"Now, that's not your decision to make," Mako corrected, sleek as a cat cornering a mouse. "You're normally a lot more relaxed... what's got you so uptight? Can't I just talk to the guy? Are you afraid he might be tired of you already? Leave you like Heero always does? Maybe he wants to be the Blade of a man who's going places; not a part-time player like yourself."
The words were tossed out like casual taunts, but Mako was scrutinizing Duo's reactions as carefully as he had Wufei's. Duo's eyes widened a fraction then narrowed, as he realized he'd misread the situation. Darbois, off to one side and at a prudent distance, suddenly coughed and started to make a few protesting noises, but both Duo and Mako ignored him, and he eventually shut up, looking worried and unhappy.
"He doesn't know you, Mako. You expect him to kill and die for a man he doesn't know?" Duo's voice had shed most of its anger in a flat second. He was speaking coldly; his words were measured. Wufei was now sure that a fight had to be avoided at all cost.
"Oh, but I think he does know me... " Mako's finger tilted Wufei's head to look at him. Up close, his irises were grey; their natural colour, no lenses. His hair had been dyed to match. The almond-shaped eyes were heavily lidded; the pupils small. Pinpoint eyes. It made him look even more dangerous. Trapped in the situation like a fly in a web, Wufei stared back at him, expressionless.
"I think we understand each other... warrior to warrior... man to man... You should give him the opportunity to talk with me, Duo. I've got the whole evening free; why don't you give him permission to go out with me and have a chat. Let him make a choice. That's the one right a Blade has. You do know that... right?"
Duo's sneer was a masterpiece, not showing the slightest hint of hesitation or reluctance. Wufei was very nearly fooled too, but he'd been making a close study of Duo for nearly two weeks, and he had prior knowledge to work with as well.
"He's in quarantine," Duo stated, not bothering to answer Mako's last taunting question. "That makes him my responsibility for at least six months, probably more. That's the way it works, when you do things the right way, like a decent citizen should. You do know that... right?"
Mako's eyes narrowed in appreciation at the repartee. He didn't pick up the challenge either.
Duo made a dismissive gesture, as if he really couldn't care.
"Sure, in a few month's time, if he's interested, I'll let him meet with you and you guys can talk. If he wants it, and you agree to be responsible for him during the rest of his quarantine, then I won't-"
"Why not now?" Mako murmured. "Why not give us time to get acquainted? Starting tonight?"
"Are you afraid to let him talk to me, Maxwell?"
"Why should I be?" Duo scoffed. The fingers of his left hand twitched ever so slightly. Wufei wondered if he actually heard the dagger's spring creak or if it was his imagination.
Wufei wasn't the worst of the Specials unit when it came to undercover work or putting on an act, but that was only because Heero was working in the same unit and took the prize.
But desperation is the mother of improvisation. Wufei suddenly thought of a way that might get them both out of this without a fight, or would at least get Mako to show his true colours. It wouldn't even be all that hard, though he was loathe to admit it. The hardest part would be to forget he was on a mission, for a few minutes...
"You certainly look nervous about us talking," Mako had just murmured. The fingers were back, caressing Wufei's cheek. "You know, Duo-"
The fingers were cool, barely touching his skin. Wufei leaned against them slightly. Mako's attention jumped back to him instantly. Grey eyes narrowed and lips twitched back from teeth, the smallest movement, a wolf's grin of anticipation. His body was poised to leap away from Wufei's strike -
Wufei focused on the lips. He'd noticed them back in the bar, even when he'd been concentrating on the killer's stance and motives. The rest of his features were handsome, but that straight mouth, full without being wide... that had caught a tiny bit of his attention...
Mako was a skilled fighter; he could read people too. His eyes widened a bit in surprise as he sensed the change in Wufei's attitude.
Wufei's eyes returned to that mouth - very, very interesting mouth. It would be firm, almost hard to the touch, but the fullness of the lips promised a surprising sensuality... he bet Mako would look quite exceptional when he smiled and meant it. Which he probably didn't do often. The rest of his features were handsome enough; regular, fine, harmonious. Nothing ugly, nothing to stand out much either, except for that mouth...
The chain links in Mako's fingers creaked a bit as he tensed; he leaned back, cautiously trying to gauge Wufei's intent and what it meant.
Wufei leaned back a bit too, against the fence, widening the gap between them. The distance allowed him to get a better look at the man's body.
Well proportioned and strong. Not in an over muscled way; as sleek and deadly as a drawn arbalest. Nice legs... he'd never had his back turned to Wufei so the latter hadn't been able to judge how well those legs ended, but - Wufei let his eyes trail thoughtfully over the man's hips, and Mako shifted a bit - but he doubted he'd be disappointed.
Wufei reached up and pushed at the arm that was pinning him against the fence. The fingers fell numbly from the chain links; Wufei took a step away without encountering any resistance.
He glanced up at Mako's hooded eyes, and he wondered how many men had been killed for fun or profit with those strong, long-fingered hands and powerful arms. The package was handsome, but Wufei didn't like the contents. Mako's eyes narrowed, but he made no move to restrain Wufei as the Blade walked away from him.
He stopped at Duo's side, back still turned to Mako. Duo's mobile face was, for once, indecipherable. He was probably as startled by all this as Mako was, but he hid it better. Wufei lifted his left hand, reached across Duo's chest and placed a finger on his Handler's right shoulder. The start of muscles beneath the coat hopefully went unnoticed by anybody else. He let his finger travel slowly down the so-fine leather, his forearm brushing Duo's chest; this time, the body he was touching didn't flinch. Duo had by this point put together a smirk rich in lingering anger and triumph, an impeccable mask that even Trowa couldn't have criticized. Wufei ran his fingers down the arm - muscles lithe and wiry compared to Mako's hard, imposing frame. When his fingers reached Duo's right hand, he caressed the wrist through the glove and gave a slight tug. Duo turned. Wufei stepped aside, giving themselves room to fight, if things came to a head.
"Looks like he's made his choice, Mako. Better luck next time," Duo sneered. He speared Darbois with a cold look, a deadly promise to remember this. Darbois shrank back, and made a small gesture of apology which was ignored. Duo's back was already turned on them all, as if he hadn't any doubt that they would let the pair walk away.
A proprietary hand settled on the small of Wufei's back. He managed to keep himself from jumping about like a startled race-horse by a small margin. Trowa would be downright amazed. The hand was good improvisation on Duo's part, Wufei told himself sternly, trying hard to act like Duo touched him that way all the time. He had to keep up the pretence. They were not out of this yet; Wufei could feel the way Duo's fingers were stiff with tension, even through his jacket and shirt. Duo looked relaxed, but his body was a hair-trigger, waiting to spring aside and unleash a deadly retaliation at the slightest sign of an attack at their backs. Wufei forced himself to not glance over his shoulder, though his spine felt like it was being pricked by a dozen tiny needles. They took one step away, two, three - this was too easy -
They both turned at the hail. Mako was leaning against the chain link fence, arms crossed, relaxed, grey eyes hooded.
" ...Look me up when you're through with Maxwell," was all he said. He held Wufei's gaze with complete self-assurance.
Wufei kept his expression noncommittal, neither insulting, nor promising, in case this was another test. He wasn't sure it was, though.
They walked away, alert, ears strained for any sound of footsteps pursuing them. Duo's hand was still at his waist, Wufei realized, too keyed up to be embarrassed. Behind the wash of adrenaline, his mind was beginning to race. How had Mako known? What did he know? Had Wufei managed to pass whatever test the man had had in mind? He scrutinized the dark alleyways of the empty sector that they passed. Duo was doing the same. But nobody followed them, no other bruisers showed up to beat the truth out of them. The seconds of reprieve turned into minutes; the minutes lined up quietly until the pair had nearly reached the airlock.
Their footsteps clanged across a small bridge running over pipes carting water to hydroponics. The instant their feet hit the road again, Duo shouldered him roughly into a dark alley, swinging him against a wall. The hand that had rested on his back was now grasping the collar of his jacket tightly. The blue eyes were irate. Duo had been surprised, and he didn't like surprises.
It was a completely rhetorical question. There was no way that Wufei was that good an actor and they both knew it.
"Why didn't you tell me?!" Duo snapped, affronted. His voice rang with unrelieved strain. Wufei thought there was an echo of hurt behind it, too.
"Why didn't you tell me a Blade is supposed to be the Handler's bedwarmer?" Wufei countered. He deliberately kept his tone down, though it was still a bit acid.
Duo winced; Wufei felt the tremor through the hand on his collar. Blue eyes searched his face, apparently surprised at how relatively calmly he'd said that.
"I... " Duo's hand dropped away. He rubbed the back of his neck, scowling. "I didn't expect you to find out. I mean, I didn't expect it to come up."
"How could it not? Apart from Mako, do you think I wouldn't figure out all those hints Babka keeps dropping, or the glares Gilla gives me each time he sees me leave the house alone?"
"Huh? What glares?"
"The 'you break his heart and I'll break your neck' glares." Now that Wufei had all the pieces of the puzzle, he realized he'd been the recipient of that warning look a number of times, from Karl in customs, Gilla, the neighbours, some of Duo's informants...
Duo blinked, obviously surprised. As if he hadn't realized he had a dozen people around him who obviously cared deeply for his happiness. Moron.
"Well, it's sort of a misunderstanding. No, normally a Blade is not- does not sleep with his Handler. Some do, because they're friends, maybe more, but it's not, er, required."
"Your friends seem pretty sure that we're a done deal," Wufei growled, glancing around, tension still high.
"Yeah, well, that's because of Heero."
Wufei froze. "Oh," he said weakly. He felt caught strangely off-balance by the news, though he'd been suspecting it for years now, really, so why was he even surprised-
"It was during our very first mission together. Me and Heero had to hang out with this guy to get info, and he tried to hoist a couple of girls on us."
"Didn't you tell me Freeport was free of prostitution?" Wufei enquired. As a scholar, the question was of interest, and he didn't really want to know how Duo and Heero had gotten together, he had no right to be privy to -
"Let's not get into details," Duo shot back, rolling his eyes. "Anyway, neither one of us wanted to catch the clap, or have these two chicks hang out with us, or, God help us, follow us home, so, in a fit of my usual genius, I said that Heero and I were an item."
Still on a knife's edge of tension, the question had slipped out. Wufei mentally reached back and gave himself a hard smack on the head for that tactless, inappropriate, nosy remark into something that was strictly none of his-
"Me and Heero?" Duo was looking at him strangely. "No, mate. Not by a mile. Was that what you thought?"
"No," Wufei answered, too quickly. "I mean, it's none of my business, really, and it's not for me to-"
"Oi, don't go off in a spin, I got it. No, me and Heero are just good friends." Duo fingered his braid absently. His eyes were also flickering left and right, his ears obviously pricked, but the question appeared to have derailed his attention. He looked momentarily absorbed in some thought, before he shook his head abruptly.
"Nope, nothin' between us, never was, never will be. But after that lil' episode with the skirts, I put about that I was having this stormy on-off relationship with Heero - non-exclusive, of course, so I could still get laid from time to time, but it came in handy to explain why he came and went so much, and why I didn't have any other Blade in the meantime. Your arrival kinda queered that. But I never thought that story'd got around that much, or that anybody'd think that you and me were- were- Jesus, I can't even say it with a straight face. Erm, why am I not dead yet?" Duo rubbed the back of his neck even harder and peeked at Wufei from the corner of his eyes. Wufei could have sworn there was a slight hint of colour on his cheeks. This was such a perfect opportunity to jerk Duo's chain, but Wufei didn't have the heart for it.
"Because I doubt that's what got us into this fix tonight," he sighed.
Duo suddenly looked gloomy, an expression matching Wufei's.
"I don't flatter myself that Mako was that interested in me," Wufei muttered sourly. "Odds are better that this was some kind of test. He was trying to trick me into talking, before going for provocation. I think he suspected I'm not really your Blade. I'm not sure what he thinks now."
"Hell, after you pulled that one outta your hat, I'm not sure what I think now," Duo noted drolly. Then he grew serious. "Yeah, that's how I read the situation too. Damn, I wish I'd seen it coming. I knew Darbois was up to something, but it didn't feel sinister at all; I just thought he was going to try to gouge me on commissions or something. Actually, I'd bet my rep that Dar didn't know what Mako would do. Not in detail. I've got connections, and Darbois is too smart to make that kind of enemy. Besides, if Dar had known, I'd have smelled it on him, and we'd have never even left the bar unless they dragged us out fighting. I'd certainly never have agreed to talk to him privately, leaving you behind with the goon squad."
Duo's eyes were gleaming in the reflections off a streetlamp, probably reviewing the scene and dissecting every nuance from it. "The way he was talking... he's very good at saying nothing in a long-winded and important way, is our Terrence. It took me a few minutes to realize he was pissing in the wind, and then it took me a few more to realize where the problem was. Mako now... I'm not sure. He's harder to read. Whatever he knows, he didn't tell Darbois. Hopefully that means he knows very little. If Mako or anybody else knew who you were for certain, you'd be dead already. I wonder what Rav's playing at... Damn, I hate surprises. Which reminds me that I'm still mad at you for springing that whopper on me," Duo added in a mutter, striding back towards the street.
"Is that going to be a problem?"
Duo glanced back from the mouth of the alley. "Problem? If we made it onto Rav's radar, for whatever reason, particularly you, then yeah, that'll be making life somewhat interesting. We'll work around it somehow."
"I meant... my sexuality. We live in close quarters," Wufei explained stiffly.
Duo snorted. "I'da been happier if ya'd warned me, buddy. I might not have been quite so hasty to show you the goods in the shower the other day! Is that why you shot out of there like a scalded cat? Afraid you'd be tempted by the candy?"
"Maxwell!" Wufei stared at him, scandalized, and also slightly horrified that Duo would think- though of course he was somewhat correct. If Wufei hadn't been attracted to his own gender, Duo could have dropped that towel and Wufei wouldn't have given a- "I would never- you don't think I-"
"I'm teasin' ya, Fei." Duo had that impish grin on his mug again. "You caught me a bit off guard, though. You don't have any other shocks in store for me, do you? You don't dress up like a dame every Sunday, or anything? 'Cause that would stop my ticker dead."
Wufei gave the joker the glare he deserved for that suggestion.
"Nah, don't worry your pretty head about me getting all hostile with you," Duo smirked, voice brimming once more with his usual self-confidence, cheerfully fighting off any residual tension from the near-miss with Mako. "Whether someone likes tits or tail is none of my bizz. And Duo Maxwell has always walked both sides of that particular street, if you know what I mean. Hell, maybe you're the one who should be worried about living with me, not the other way around!"
Wufei looked impassively at the wolfish grin thrown his way. "Duo, I could chop you down to size in my sleep."
"Dark and deadly, just my kinda guy. Mako was right, you are quite the catch."
"You should have yelled for me," Duo grumbled, then nodded his thanks as Wufei handed him a bottle of juice. They were still too stressed to sleep.
Wufei shrugged as he sat down on his bedroll. Duo hadn't sounded that reproachful. In Wufei's position, he'd have done the same thing: played the situation and tried to get out of it by himself. Hell, he had done the same thing, or damn well tried to, when he'd nearly challenged Ericson to a duel the other day. Quatre had hammered them into some sort of team at the end of the war, but by nature they were still as cooperative as tigers prone to toothache. Even the fight in Zapata hadn't been real teamwork; they'd been both fighting individually, with nothing more than a blind spot where they trusted the other would watch their backs. Quatre would have been banging his head against the sector wall, after he'd dispatched his own share of attackers.
Actually, no, that wasn't true. Quatre had shed some of his tendencies to blame himself for everything. He'd have banged their heads against the sector wall. Wufei's mouth twitched into an involuntary smile around the neck of the bottle. His body still felt like one large surface area of snarled-up nerves. He took a swig from his own bottle; the tart fruit juice chased away the lingering taste of beer and adrenaline that coiled in his throat.
"Do you think I broke my cover?" he asked, carefully rubbing the moisture of the bottle from his palm onto his thigh as if it required the sort of attention piloting Nataku once had.
"We're still alive," Duo muttered. The way his fingers kept tapping against his bottle spoke of the same surfeit of nervous energy Wufei felt.
"Did I do anything to make Mako suspicious, I meant? By not calling you over? Or-"
"He was already suspicious. I don't think you made it worse. The fact he let us get away that easily... I don't think he's gonna forget about this completely, but maybe you threw him off the track a bit, making doe eyes at him like that."
The juice turned bitter in Wufei's mouth. He'd been very aggressively trying not to think about that.
Of course, he was glad he'd managed to get them out of the situation without a fight; he might have even managed to allay Mako's suspicions somewhat. But he didn't like the coin he'd used to pay for the reprieve. Sex and sensuality were nothing but an innocent pleasure he indulged in only between missions; most of the time, and particularly in the field, he sternly controlled himself. That repression had become instinctive, and he was proud of it. On a mission, he was observant, impartial, and not to be swayed by any weaknesses, his own or others. He was distantly surprised he'd managed to relax enough to play the part tonight. He feared that the reason for his success was that it hadn't been entirely an act. Mako would be pretty much the kind of man he'd be interested in, well, except for the fact that the guy was a criminal and a killer. But those details aside, that mixture of toughness and sensuality, the confidence and emotional self-containment - and that mouth... Mako had looked slightly interested too, at the end.
Wufei couldn't figure out if that made it worse or not.
"Of course, I'm glad nobody was around to take a picture of me with my jaw hanging around my knees when you leaned back and-"
"Yes," Wufei interrupted abruptly. "It was the only way I could think out of the situation. I wasn't sure if I could retaliate without breaking my cover. Besides, if I'd killed him-"
"Mako's a tough son of a bitch. Just thought I'd mention that... " Duo murmured as an aside.
"If I'd killed him, that would have compromised our relation with Ravachol's organisation."
"Hell, yeah. Rav and Mako are friends. I don't mean, Freeport-type 'friends', as in, part of the same gang; I mean actual friends. Which is funny, 'cause Mako used to be one of the Alliance's spooks, and Rav was a colonist rebel. War can make strange bedfellows, but peace ain't that bad at it either. Not that they're sleeping together. Ravachol is straight. I think Mako's bi. And Darbois loves big-breasted red-heads who-"
"I'm more interested in how compromised you think my position is, rather than in anybody's sexuality," Wufei ground out.
"Well... they don't know you're the heat - relax, I scanned for bugs as soon as I walked through the door. I do it regularly anyway. This place is clean. Anyway, if they knew that much, you'd be recycked by now, my friend."
"He asked me about Heero... " Wufei mused. "He asked me if I knew him. It might have just been a way of getting me riled. He didn't say anything pertinent."
"Hmm." Duo bit his lip and stared at the ceiling. "I can't think how Rav noticed us."
"All fairly standard for the type of route I'm trying to set up. It looked like Darbois wasn't buying that one from the start, though. He asked some funny questions too, though not quite as aggressively. I'm starting to think Dar had been instructed to keep away from deals in the Nines, if not me specifically. This really smells fishy. And it don't add up. The only way this situation could be any freakier was if it wore glasses and its hair in twin buns."
"She's not that bad anymore. Quite stable these days."
"Glad to hear it."
"You said, your enquiries were fairly standard."
"I am trying to find Carver," Duo pointed out with dry amusement. "I am asking questions that will lead us to him. But I'm spreading them around. Rav wouldn't-... "
Tap-tap-tap; his fingers danced along the bottle.
"What?" Wufei asked, as the silence stretched.
Duo was staring blindly across the room, eyes narrowed and unseeing.
"Rav wouldn't notice them and put them together, unless he was paying specific attention to anybody who might be asking his runners slightly unusual questions about recent trips outta the Nines. Questions that could, as it happens, lead to a certain hitman who landed here in the last two months."
Wufei digested that in silence.
"You mean, Carver could be working for this Ravachol guy?" he finally concluded.
"I wouldn't think so. Rav's into drugs. Carver kills people. They're not mutually exclusive, but then again- What was Carver's last job, on L2-X953?"
"The one we know about? The leader of a resistance cell, and his second, who also happened to be his lover. Mind you, they were together at the time, so her death might have been incidental."
" ...A resistance cell? Resistance to what?"
"It seems to change on a regular basis," Wufei snorted. "The only thing they seem to agree on is that Relena shouldn't be involved in their politics. 'Prevent Peacecraft!' is their rallying cry, which is more stirring than grammatically correct-"
"And Carver whacked this idiot?"
"Yes. We assume a rival terrorist group hired him. There were indications of it. Ironically, if they wanted to take the lead of the overall resistance in that part of the cluster, they made a strategic mistake. The third in command of that particular cell was a nutcase by the name of Mandsom. He took the lead and did a little fricassee of leaders of various factions; a week later, we had a riot."
"Fucking splinter groups. This is why I bloody well worked alone during the war," Duo growled.
"Seconded," Wufei murmured, lifting his empty bottle a fraction in a small salute.
"Still, that's got nothing to do with Ravachol. If Carver had exed a drug lord, I'd see the connection... "
"Maybe Carver just paid Ravachol to cover his tracks? And Ravachol is giving him his money's worth?"
" ...maybe." Duo didn't look convinced. "Don't know why Mako went after you then. I'm the brains of this outfit. You're just the brawn."
Wufei levelled another glare at the smirk hovering over the bed. It had absolutely no effect. When he got back, he'd corner Yuy and ask him to teach him a few tricks.
"So what do we do now?" Wufei groused.
Duo stood up, stretched and yawned, his juice bottle carelessly tilted at a dangerous angle. "Now, we're going to bed. We been up more than eighteen hours."
"Then tomorrow, we go on working the case."
" ...how hard will that be?" If Ravachol was on to them...
"We'll just have to see!" Duo exclaimed, his grin one of feral anticipation. "I have other avenues into Rav's organisation. And Darbois owes me now."
"'Course. You don't mess with a man's right hand like that, it's bad form. Especially on the sly. If Mako didn't tell him what he suspects, then I have Terrence by the balls. If Mako did tell him, afterwards... I might be able to worm it out of him. We'll see. Say, Wufei? Mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Yes," Wufei grunted, leaning forward on his bedroll to take off his scabbard and jacket.
"Did you ever sleep with Heero?"
Wufei froze in the act of putting his sword down near the sleeping bag. "What?!"
"Heero. Pilot 01. The other dark and deadly in your team. Did you ever-"
"No- what possible business could it be of yours?!"
"I just wondered," Duo answered, without taking offence. He was standing near the kitchen counter, the empty bottle dangling forgotten from his fingers. "I... worry about him. You know? And the way he talks about you... He lets so few people get close to him. It never occurred to me before, simply because I assumed you were as straight as a linear equation, and also, I thought Heero would tell me. But as it turns out, though he mentioned your work and your brilliant arrest record and your tendency not to suffer fools gladly, he never bothered to mention you were- he does know you swing that way, right?"
"Yes, but I would not think he'd tell you," Wufei answered primly. "This is something private."
"Private. Right. From there to assuming he wouldn't tell me if you two were boning each other, there's no distance," Duo added sourly, leaning against the kitchen counter, free hand in his pocket, glaring at his workbench as if he'd caught it withholding secrets. "So I guess you won't tell me if he's seeing someone? Just to put my mind at ease about the emotional well-being of my best buddy?"
Wufei hesitated. It shouldn't be difficult to brush Duo's query off with another 'none of your business'... but Duo was looking at him now, with a searching gaze that had something wounded in its depth, and Wufei found himself muttering 'not that I know of' without quite his conscious volition.
"You don't know?" Duo looked startled. "You work with the guy day in and day out!"
"Yuy and I have a... sort of agreement. We don't meddle in each other's private lives."
"Well, that's just sad," Duo muttered, hurling his bottle into the garbage can where it clattered angrily.
Wufei stared at the sword gripped loosely in his hand. He was as proud of being Heero's battle-hardened brother-in-arms as he was of his detachment during a mission. But when he faced the pain and incomprehension in those blue eyes, the quality of his friendship suddenly felt tepid and distant. Because Wufei was worried too, sometimes...
Maybe it was because he saw Heero day in and day out that he could lull himself into thinking his competent friend was mostly alright. If Heero had said but one word, Wufei would have rallied to him in a second- but Heero never said anything, or was anything less than his extraordinarily proficient self. So maybe there was nothing to worry about at all. Right? The blue eyes searching his told him otherwise, and Duo hardly ever saw Heero at all. And Wufei couldn't lie to himself under that steady gaze. He knew Heero had a problem, even if he couldn't even begin to define it. But, unable to breech the silence with his pitiful conversational tools and his bloody reserve and propriety, Wufei had gratefully accepted their unspoken agreement never to talk about any truly personal matter. Maybe that's why he'd been so quick to pair Heero off with Duo in his mind; to allay some of his worry, and tell himself he wasn't really failing a friend...
"Did you ever want to?" Duo asked abruptly, losing his anger. His voice was wry, almost teasing. Wufei couldn't comprehend how someone could change moods that quickly.
"Want what?" Wufei asked, shaking off his guilt trip for now.
"Meddle in his private life? Or... be a part of it?"
Wufei faced the leer, but he didn't return a glare or bother with any posturing. Behind the derision, the blue eyes were as serious as his own.
"No," he answered softly. "To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure I know Heero's sexual orientation."
"Yeah, that's what worries me too. Nobody seems to know, including Heero." Duo grimaced. "He's... I don't know. I feel my Sweeper instincts prickle when he's around; I wanna put space-beacons all around him: Warning! Dangerous Material Adrift In Space! At one point, I kinda tried-... "
Duo's eyes flashed to Wufei's and dropped away. His mouth moved a few times, and then he laughed. If it was an attempt at lightening the mood, it failed; it was harsh with an undercurrent of self-contempt. "I was going to drag him into bed at one point, but I chickened out. I woulda fucked him just to make sure he knew it was fun activity for two. But he... he just keeps it all close to his chest. I think once you breach that shield, it'd be for ever and- and I... well... I was afraid of doing more harm than good. I didn't think he'd understand- but I'm worried about him. He's my best friend."
The last was said with a challenging glare at Wufei, blue eyes hot and almost angry. Daring him to criticize Duo's small moment of self-preservation, or to doubt the quality of his friendship. Wufei felt hardly worthy of doing either.
"He's my best friend too," he answered softly. "But... we each have to find our path. He knows that if he needs my advice or my help or-... anything else, he can ask. That's understood."
" ...funny we have this best friend in common and we hardly know each other," Duo mused, his mood switching again, this time to thoughtful.
"I tend to blame the best friend, myself. I am so gonna kick his ass when I see him again! How could he not tell me you're gay?! That's like, the news of the fucking century! I mean, say it with me, people! Chang Wufei, Mr 'Straight And Narrow' himself, is gay!"
Wufei rolled his eyes, but strangely enough, it was a smile rather than annoyance he was fighting down. Duo was back to making his wide, dramatic gestures. The smuggler shook things off quickly, unlike a certain L5 Preventer who probably brooded a bit too much over things he could do little about.
Despite Duo's clowning around, there was an uneasy feeling in the air as both men got ready for bed. Duo checked the locks twice, and stood back to look at the door for a few seconds. Then, with a sigh, he went to his laptop and typed in a few words.
"If you want to go to the bog during the night, don't. Or else, type in the password. It's the first nine number of the Gaussian gravitational constant, with a star instead of the second zero."
"You have a security net?"
"Yep. I don't use it normally."
"'Cause Gilla sometimes taps on the window's shutters on his way to the commissary, to see if I want anything, and I hate waking up with an adrenaline jolt when the alarm goes off in my ear. I prefer coffee."
"The way you drink coffee, adrenaline is probably healthier."
"Fuck, what is this, you and Babka part of a league against my coffee?!"
After one minor spat over the benefits of tar-like coffee versus green tea, the two were in bed, trying to sleep.
Wufei shifted in the sleeping bag, his hand checking his sword of its own volition for the third time. He thought about Heero. Then he stopped. He was the last person in the universe to solve someone else's problems with guilt and self-imposed isolation. That was just too much irony for even his stomach.
It was Lance he went to sleep thinking about, with a touch of longing. Which was strange; he never did that on a mission. Even when he wasn't on a mission, he rarely thought about his occasional lover. Then Lance would finish whatever involving project he was working on, sleep for twenty-four hours, and wake up in an empty room, alone and horny; if Wufei wasn't away on a mission, he'd find Lance on his doorstep, his eyes still tired but hopeful. He'd show up again for a few nights, each time looking more rested, until another brilliant idea dragged him away again...
Wufei tried to push the thoughts and feelings away. Lance didn't belong in this cold room, in the perpetual darkness of this colony, tainted with wild freedom and violence. He was part of Wufei's orderly, regulated life back in the real world, where sex was a nice exercise in sensuality that involved only camaraderie, and the rest of his time was dedicated to a cause.
It was this bloody place. Freeport. It got everything mixed up; the investigator, the scholar, the sensualist, the warrior, the Preventer, the one-time soldier, the friend... it was as if the anarchy the colony seemed so proud of had crept into his soul and had broken down all the regimental barriers between his different selves, revelling in the chaos.
He hoped they'd find Carver quickly. The sooner he left this hellhole, the better.
End Part 11
On to Chapter Twelve
Back to Chapter ten