"Everyone sees what you appear to be; few experience what you really are." - Machiavelli
Against Better Judgement
by D.C. Logan
He couldn't have heard that right.
"You heard me Chang, you too Merquise. This is your new assignment; the terms are non-negotiable. Of course, if you'd rather not accept the responsibility, you do have at least one other option available to you."
Une paused, giving both of them a chance to accept the inevitable.
"You will continue to use Merquise's apartment. I will make a specialist available to assist Chang in getting up to speed as Owens' replacement in this sting operation. If you have any questions on how to act and react to each other, you will work directly with him. Now, do you have any questions that you wish to direct at me?"
Wufei looked at Zechs, he sure as hell wasn't going to say anything.
"Commander? How long do you expect this... particular assignment to last?"
Damn, Zechs almost sounded like he was asking her whether or not the motor pool was operating--his delivery was that smooth. Une destroyed that composure with her parting shot though.
"As long as it takes Merquise. As long as it takes. I'm not interested in excuses; I'm interested in results. The people I report to are not pleased with the delay, and are expecting answers. The sooner we can get moving on this, the better."
She turned to address Wufei. "I apologize for not informing you of the details of this operation in advance."
Zechs raised his hand to interrupt, and she cut him off. "Yes, Zechs, I fully realize the problems this may cause, but I believe that the two of you will make a believable couple. Since you have an established working partnership, and rumors are already circulating in HQ that it has been more than a strictly working relationship in the past, it would seem natural for you, Zechs, to turn to Wufei for comfort in the aftermath of Owens' death, and we are too deep in the case at this point to bring in another completely untested agent. Wufei is the best man I have--and though using him on this high-profile exposure case may damage his public persona, this case is so high profile that I just don't give a damn as long as I get the results I'm looking for." She paused to catch her breath and gave each of them a hard stare in turn, doing her best to impress upon them the gravity of the situation. "Is that clear, gentlemen?"
Zechs sat back in his chair. "Crystal, Commander."
Well, Wufei had suspected that the news wasn't good when she'd taken the time to hunt him down and deliver the assignment details personally. He hadn't seen this coming though. Not at all. So, definitely the chatter in the break room wouldn't stop any time soon if this was the direction she expected them to take.
There was no way they were going to survive this with their sanity intact.
Among other things.
"Fine. Chang? You're going to need to put some extra effort into this assignment, and I'll do my best to see that you're compensated for it. Owens was selected for this branch of Preventers, not for his paramilitary expertise, as you well know by this point, but specifically for placement in this case and for his sexual orientation, which was a well known fact that we planned on exploiting with our blackmailer. Chang? Your main credibility as a target lies in your notoriety as a Gundam pilot and your easy accessibility as Zechs' partner--you'll need some help with the sexual aspects of the sting operation and the 'sell.'
"Now that you've been briefed, We'll take a ten-minute recess while I go speak with our consultant on this case. Chang? This is your one and only chance to back out of this case. I want you to know that there will be no negative repercussions if you elect to do so. Zechs? I'll see you in the room in ten minutes. Wufei? It's your call."
Wufei sat in his chair long after Zechs and Une had exited the room, rocked by the sudden realization that Zechs might not be gay after all--that this covert operation was in effect when the other men on the squad had made their 'discovery,' and that his partner might actually be straight. He thought back to some of the things Zechs said about Noin and Treize and couldn't come up with a workable solution to his quandary. He sat for five minutes more, to the end of his allowed time allotment, and decided for better or worse to take the assignment. To take it one day at a time. No matter which way the scenario played out, he'd still have some memories, either manufactured or real, that he could use to console himself with.
He picked himself up off of his chair and made his way to the private office Une had indicated had been reserved for their use.
"You're Une's expert?"
Wufei was not simply surprised; he was drop-jaw stunned. Duo took the moment to enjoy the revelation. Thoroughly. It wasn't often that he was able to rattle cool, professional Agent Chang.
This operation had the distinct potential to be wildly entertaining, and he'd jumped on the opportunity when Une had presented it to him. He'd be able to milk this for years as the potential to embarrass Wufei had been too good to pass up. Zechs, however, was an unknown quantity, and would have to be approached with considerably more caution. Still, if Wufei's dropped comment during dinner the holidays was taken into account, a rare opportunity to play with both of their heads might exist.
Duo walked into the private office and closed the door carefully behind him, taking the moment to look over the two agents seated in front of him. They were looking at him--not at each other. Wufei was still halfway risen from his chair--apparently the news that Duo was Une's 'expert' in homosexual behavior came as a complete and total surprise to him. Agent Merquise, on the other hand, was sitting calmly, eyeing him consideringly, and waiting for him to speak.
Duo mentally evaluated both agents. Une wanted them to play a convincing couple. Hell. At the moment, there was no way on earth that an outsider would see any connection between the two men... yet. That was his job--he needed to remedy this situation as soon as possible. This was definitely going to be fun. Une had given him free reign over the two men--they were 'his' for the duration. He could make them do anything short of actual sexual intercourse--and they'd have to learn how to simulate that as well.
Oh, he loved his job. Too bad he couldn't tell anyone else about this.
"Chang? Merquise? You've both been briefed on this, correct?" Wufei was still crouched on the edge of his seat, Duo grinned to himself and checked to see what Zechs' reaction was. Zechs caught his glance, crinkled his eye towards Wufei and winked. Duo's smile broadened considerably. This guy was quick--which should make this all the more fun. "Chang? You may be seated now."
Wufei grimaced and moved back into his chair, still in shock.
"Gentlemen? My job is to make you into a couple so convincing that no one will doubt your dedication and sincerity towards each other. Or the sexual attraction between you." Duo watched the men carefully, Zechs was leaning forward slightly, looking, if possible, even more interested in the subject matter than Duo had expected. Wufei, on the other hand, had shifted farther back into his chair and had crossed his arms over his chest. Duo didn't need an advanced degree to figure out what that meant. "Nothing leaves this room. Only you, me, Une, and my associate will know about these special training sessions."
Wufei looked puzzled. "Your associate? Why do we need another person who can expose this mission?"
Duo looked thoughtfully at Zechs and Wufei in turn. "Well, Wufei, I'd assumed that you'd prefer that I had someone else to demonstrate on, but if you'd be willing to volunteer either yourself or your partner?"
Zechs shot a half-disbelieving look towards Wufei. How could he not know about them? Really? He looked at Duo with the second half of that considering look, than back at Wufei to watch for the response. "I'm assuming that you're referring to your Mr. Yuy?"
Wufei shot Zechs a condescending look. "But Heero isn't homosexual. Neither is Duo. They're just good friends." Wufei stated it as an undeniable fact. They don't even live together. Heero has an apartment here, and Duo has one on L2 on V08744.
Duo smiled at both men, but his comment was directed solely at Wufei. "I can see that we have a long way to go."
Une knocked and entered the room, trailed by a circumspect Heero Yuy, who checked the hall thoroughly before carefully locking the door behind him.
Une took in Wufei's gape-mouthed stare and Zechs' and Duo's quiet amusement in her visual tour of the room. Correctly interpreting the response, she sat on the edge of the desk and spoke to the room.
"I believe that introductions are unnecessary. Maxwell and Yuy have agreed to this special assignment, and will be listed as consultants on Preventers' payroll for the duration. If anyone inquires, they will be told that you are discussing the outcome of the Eve Wars and dissecting the aftermath with two of the participants. You will address them respectfully as Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Yuy unless they indicate otherwise. Mr. Maxwell will be taking the lead in this training exercise; Mr. Yuy will provide backup and further instruction as necessary. In the event that your regular duties remove you from headquarters for any length of time, Mr. Maxwell will be assigned to Agent Merquise, and Mr. Yuy to Agent Chang."
"I'm quite sure that you wish to know the duration of this assignment and the limitations of the behavior that I am expecting of you. This is directed at Chang and Merquise, Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Yuy are present only to understand what I expect of them as instructors."
Zechs looked to Wufei to read his reaction. Wufei's face was white with shock. So he really hadn't known about the relationship between Heero and Duo then. Why hadn't they told him before this?
Une continued. "There are specific limitations to what I can and cannot ask you to do in your roles as undercover agents for Preventers. I need not restate the importance of this mission. This started over my head agents, but I was the one who chose this particular method of investigation, so if you have a problem with it, you will need to speak with me about it personally. Any questions so far?"
Zechs shook his head, he'd been through this briefing before. Wufei seemed incapable of speech, or indeed, any response at the moment. Une continued onward, "Good. Merquise? Because of your background, rank, and recent past, you are considered a high-profile risk. Chang, you are well known as a Gundam pilot and as my top-ranking, lead point agent. Together, the two of you pose the perfect target for our blackmailer. While he or she is known to target upper reaches of the political ladder, I am setting you up as an irresistible target--one that could potentially damage Preventers as a policing unit among earth and the colonies, my position as chief advisor, and indirectly, Ms. Darlian's current position as Ambassador. I do not believe that our target will be able to resist such an opportunity."
"Which brings me to my next point. You two," she paused to look at Wufei and Zechs, "will have to be very convincing to pull this off. There should be no question regarding your sincerity towards each other and your dedication to my office. These two consultants," she indicated Duo and Heero in turn, "will help prepare you for this endeavor.
"You will continue to be partnered together in order to facilitate a reason for your relationship. You will be working on real cases, and on the surface, will be working a regular shift together. You will also be expected to be found in each other's company in off-duty hours, and will be expected to exhibit, however subtlely, the indications that you are attracted to each other. So, what I am asking you to do, is to prove to our blackmailer that there is enough evidence for him or her to act on, and for you two to maintain enough cover so it looks like you are concealing your growing relationship from your coworkers and superiors at Preventers.
"If this were less important, or an easier assignment, I would have assigned it elsewhere. But I need your talents on this. And I'm asking for your full cooperation in this matter."
Wufei looked thoughtful. "So this is what the assignment with Owens was about?"
Une regarded Zechs as she answered Wufei's question. "Yes, this was the special assignment that Owens was scheduled for. He and Zechs had been briefed on this assignment and had just started some of the preliminary staging before he was killed. Zechs' apartment was selected in case this eventuality became necessary."
Wufei quietly considered her answer, thinking about all that it implied about his partner and what it said about Zechs' devotion to Preventers.
Une addressed the room at large again. "So, in order for you to be convincing in your behaviors and actions towards each other in this relationship, you will have access to advisors who have been in a stable relationship for," she turned to Heero, "how many years now?"
Heero smiled at his partner before answering. "Officially? Three. Off the record? Oh, I've been interested in him since he first took a shot at me all those years ago."
Zechs checked on Wufei again to verify that he was still breathing. He was, in shallow breaths that barely maintained his regular skin tone. The poor bastard.
"As far as the limits of what I can ask of you as agents? While you're welcome to define your own parameters, I do expect you to show enough sexual contact between each other that there would be little to no hesitation on the part of our target that the two of you are involved with each other. While I do not know the surveillance techniques used by our target, it is safe to assume that he or she will not expect to gain direct access to your rooms, therefore, expect visual spotters, cameras and the like. I expect that you will customize your plan to exploit this assumption.
"Zechs? Your apartment is on a second floor in a central location. It also has the advantage of large windows across the street from a public park. I suggest that you take advantage of them at some point."
She looked at Zechs carefully, reading his hesitation. "What is it agent?"
"Commander? No disrespect intended, but what if our blackmailer sells this exposure material directly to the press instead of presenting it for sale to Preventers? I expect that there would be a wide market of buyers for such material. Not just those interested in discrediting either of us personally--but also you, ESUN officials... other factions as well I expect."
Une looked thoughtful, and truth be told, reservedly sad. "Then the two of you will have a very public endorsement of your relationship from Preventers, the EarthSphere Alliance leaders, and myself. We will publicly accept your relationship, prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that we do not consider a homosexual relationship between established partners in any way, shape, or form, a limitation of your ability to perform your regular duties as Preventer agents." There was a significant pause as she made eye contact with first Zechs and then Wufei before continuing, "And both of you will support and agree to any public disclosure that this exposure would entail, for as long as I, personally, deem necessary."
Zechs seemed hesitant to interrupt. "And as to our continuing to work together? As partners?"
She hesitated not at all, apparently having given that some thought or checked into the written regulations beforehand. "Your job duties and functions might or might not change, as per our regulations on married couples working together. It would depend upon your duties and your psychological evaluations maintaining a standard level. And my personal discretion in the matter, of course."
Zechs, for once, seemed taken aback. "Of course, Commander."
"There you have it gentlemen, agents. If you have any further questions, you know how to reach me. In the meantime... enjoy your discussion on the Eve Wars."
And she was gone.
An uncomfortable silence hung in the middle of the room. Heero looked questioningly at Duo, who tipped a shoulder at Wufei.
Zechs sighed, successfully drawing the attention of the three other men, and spoke for his partner. "I believe that Agent Chang was... uninformed about the relationship between the two of you. He is now under the impression that you told me, a stranger, about your relationship before confiding in him."
Wufei looked at Heero and Duo, confused. "Why didn't you say anything? Do Trowa and Q..." There was a significant pause while Wufei connected a second set of dots--best friends, went places and did things together, always politely affectionate with each other, shared an apartment. "Hell, am I the only straight guy in the room?"
It effectively broke the tension, and Duo laughed with relief. "Not when I'm through with you, you won't be."
Heero walked over and crouched by Wufei's chair. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you. I know we never said anything, but we assumed that you knew about us, we never tried to keep it a secret from you, but we thought you'd be uncomfortable with the two of us... um..."
"Getting affectionate with one another?" Duo supplied.
Heero nodded. "Are you going to be okay with this? With us? Seriously?"
Wufei cautiously looked at Heero, then Duo, putting the pieces together and coming up with a picture he could live with. "Yes. It's just... well... more information than I was expecting to receive at the briefing today."
"I guess that brings us to our first point then," said Duo. "Zechs was reading clues that you didn't know how to look for. Come to think of it, how did you know Zechs? Oh, and I'm making an executive decision here--we're on a first-name basis as long as we're in this room. We're going to be talking about some very private and personal things here, and you two, especially, should get used to calling each other by your given names, got it? And let me reiterate, nothing leaves this room. Okay? Nothing."
"Done. In response to your question, well, OZ intelligence was remarkably, well, thorough, regarding your relationship with each other. As to why I thought you were still together? Well, you're finishing each other's sentences, touching each other casually, and Heero has warned me away from you about once every sixty seconds since he entered the room."
"And don't you forget it."
"Not that your partner isn't charming Heero, but he is entirely devoted to you. And he has never, to the best of my knowledge and limited access to modern surveillance techniques, ever shown an interest in anyone but you. A trait I believe you've returned? Yes?"
"There's no question."
"Now that you're done pissing over your territory, can we get started?"
Duo laughed at Wufei's impatience, "Gentlemen, may I present the Alpha Male."
Heero and Zechs looked at each other and shrugged. They'd made their point, so moving forward was acceptable to them.
"Wufei? Zechs? Can you give me an idea of how much you know about homosexual relations? I need to establish what you already know so we can build on that information moving forward."
Wufei already looked lost. "I was married in AC194--to a female Duo!" Duo snickered. "She was killed later that year. I haven't, um, been interested in anyone since."
"This doesn't leave this room. Right?" He waited patiently for the three nods. "Une knows, no one else. Noin and I dated briefly after we graduated from the academy. Noin was my bodyguard, assigned to me by Treize. After the war, after I destroyed Epyon, I was picked up by the Sweepers and met... someone. He and I had a, I guess you could call it a relationship, for about six months. I returned to join Preventers when Relena was captured, he told me it was between her or him, and he left. Noin followed me back to Mars after that. We tried to make it work, but it was pretty obvious that we didn't have the same expectations, and she returned to Earth a few months later. There hasn't been anyone since. Despite my reputation, I've actually led a fairly protected life up until now."
"Okay Zechs, I'll need you to give me an idea of how far your relationship with this man went."
"We worked the same ship, got to know each other physically. I wasn't honest with him though--never shared any of my real background. I only told him my alias and what history I'd invented for myself."
"How physically?" queried Wufei.
Zechs, lost in the memory considered how best to answer that particular question; Duo, firmly in the present nodded in a pleased fashion at Heero beneath Wufei's notice. Wufei was curious. Good.
Zechs looked at Duo and Heero for advice, "Just how clinical would you like me to be?"
Now it was Heero's turn to look embarrassed. "Just give me an idea of how far your relationship progressed: Kissing? Stimulation? Penetration?"
Zechs shifted in his chair, uncomfortable being the center of attention, at least with this sort of subject matter. "No kissing, some mutual stimulation, no penetration."
"That's good enough. Your age and experience relative to Wufei would make you the obvious pursuer in our scenario then. Are any of the details of your brief relationship within the Sweepers community known?"
"Duo? I would think that you would be ideally positioned to answer that question yourself." Heero was watching his partner carefully. Something wasn't adding up; Duo was looking puzzled.
"You were hiding out with the Sweepers?"
Zechs nodded. "Out within the Shifter mostly."
"You were in Shifter? Between the wars?"
Another nod from Zechs as Duo tried to piece together what he knew of that community. They were pretty tight-knit from what he could recall. "Who spoke for you?"
"Howard? Howard! We're talking about Mister Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses Howard? The sonofabitch never told me." And then with conviction, "I'm going to kill him."
Zechs seemed surprised. "I asked him to hold my secret--never thought he'd withhold it from his favorite protégé though. I expect that I owe you an apology."
"Naah, forget it. Just keep Chang here from embarrassing himself. Think you can handle that?"
Zechs looked over to where his partner was silently bristling. "I suppose so."
"Shall we get started then?" Zechs checked with the others in turn, and then directed their attention to a schematic of his apartment building and the neighboring streets. "Une seems to think that the best opportunity for a third party to gain visual access to my apartment is by way of either the public park across the street from the kitchen and dining area, or by way of the neighboring buildings that parallel the windows in the master bedroom." He pointed to the locations on the map. "Owens was staying over at my apartment twice a week, and we were working with both of those views on and off during his time in the apartment, and then closing the blinds when we needed privacy for other activities. The living room is viewable only from a single apartment in a neighboring building, and that is currently leased by Preventers for the use of surveillance of the street and park environment."
Heero nodded, apparently already briefed or already familiar with the preceding operation. Duo was glaring at him again. "And how long had this been going on? I mean, prior to Agent Owens' death."
Wufei watched Zechs closely for any sign of remorse or mourning, but saw only professionalism in the response. "We'd just begun that phase of the operation. Two and a half weeks. Agent Owens needed enough time within the Preventers organization and as my partner for his cover to become established."
Duo studied the timetable Une had set before him before turning his attention back to Wufei. "Okay, and the two of you have been living together now for how long?"
"I've been out of the hospital for ten days."
Duo tapped his pen on the edge of the desk and smirked at Heero. "Okay, we're going to start slow then. Zechs? Wufei said that you've been sleeping out on your sofa, right?"
Why didn't he like where this was heading? Oh hell... what was he saying. He liked where this was heading way too much, that was the problem. "Yeees..."
"Well, you're going to stay out there for a few more days."
"We're going to assume that we already have a watcher, and that he, or she, is confused by the change in personnel. Hopefully they've done their homework and they also know by now who Wufei is and the background you two have together, so the fact that you're going to become intimate with each other shouldn't come as a surprise. And he, or she," Duo rolled his eyes, "we'll be using 'he,' damn political correctness, will take the bait, so to speak. Our job is to make the progression from partners to, um, partners, a realistic and believable one."
Wufei shuffled his feet before looking up at Duo. "And we do this how?"
"Well, you can start by just walking around the apartment in your underwear and starting to touch each other more than casually." Duo resisted the urge to wink or otherwise share in his enjoyment with Heero. "Naked is good too, but it's more difficult to pull off in front of the windows, so better to save that for next week's assignment."
Wufei had to know. "And from there, what will we be doing?"
Duo looked up at Zechs first, then continued with the prepared checklist. "Touching, kissing, and more of the affectionate and intimate forms of foreplay, and eventually, simulated sex in the bedroom in the hope that our blackmailer will attempt to capture some images on film to present to Une or another public official." Duo made it sound like he was reading off a laundry list. "We need to progress slowly enough to make it seem natural, but quickly enough to provide material to be valuable to our potential target."
Wufei looked over at Heero and Duo, still uneasy about the revealed depths of their relationship. "I think we can handle the first part without additional instruction. Zechs?"
Zechs chuckled. "It's called homework, Wufei."
Duo couldn't stop snickering quietly to himself as the four of them packed up the room.
Homework was when Wufei found Zechs leaning against the kitchen counter early the next morning, pajama bottoms slung oh-so-casually low around his hips, cup of coffee held negligently at his mouth as he looked out of the window. His hair hanging in damp tendrils, obviously towel dried and left to chance. Gravity seemed to be winning the battle with his hair, as a few drops of water caught in the light from the window and reflected in the narrow trails running down the man's chest as he turned to hand a second coffee cup to Wufei.
He looked incredibly edible. What was Duo's favorite pet expression? Fuckable as all holy hell? Wufei unconsciously licked his lips.
Zechs' attention zeroed in on his new target.
"Didn't mean to wake you."
Wufei stood near Zechs at the window and looked out at the park beyond, hesitating only briefly before remembering that, yes, this was probably exactly the opportunity they were waiting for. "You didn't."
Zechs offered a teasing smile in return. "You're lying, Chang."
Wufei turned quickly, irritation present in the movement.
"Wufei," Zechs offered in a quieter, more questioning tone. "Sorry. This is difficult for me, too." He set the coffee mug aside and reached out to touch Wufei's shoulder. Wufei turned into the movement, automatically leaning into the touch and warmth of Zechs' hand on his bare skin before he could catch himself and pull back. Zechs smiled, his expression soft, and he pulled Wufei closer.
Zechs whispered along Wufei's face with a rasping chuckle, as if he had a secret he was telling unwillingly, "I'm guessing that we have someone watching us at the moment, so you may want to look like you're pleased to be here."
While Wufei's mind was busy digesting the fact that, on one hand, this was all a game, a farce, and a staged play for their stalker; Wufei's body was quite happily informing him that Zechs was quite attractive, thank you very much, and that the upper and lower parts of him were quite pleased indeed to make his acquaintance.
Wufei muttered a mental, 'down boy' at his privates and moved closer to take advantage of the close quarters Zechs was offering. He sidled in and stroked his hand lightly down the side of Zechs' arm before leaning against him and taking up his coffee cup again and looking out of the window in companionable silence, tucked in against Zechs' side, leaning warmly.
It felt odd until he found his balance; then it felt oddly pleasurable.
"So you were going to go through all of this with Owens, were you?" Ouch. He hadn't meant to state that quite that openly, but the fact that Zechs had been willing to play... had started to play this game with a different agent, another man... well... that hurt, dammit.
There was a pause as Zechs reached for and took up his cup of coffee again as well, using that as an excuse to drape a familiar arm across Wufei's shoulder. An arm he left there, Wufei noted. "Yes. Yes, I was." There was the feel of Zechs' chest moving as he took another swallow from his coffee, and then set the mug on the counter again before leaning back and drawing Wufei away from the window. "You have the clearance, now, to ask questions if you like."
"I'm not certain that I know which sorts of questions are safe to ask."
Zechs favored him with a close, level look. "Most of them are, at this point." He walked with deliberate grace back to the refrigerator and opened the door, perusing the contents. "Breakfast?"
"You cooking something?"
"You offering to help?"
Wufei hesitated only a moment. "Yes."
The rest of his day was disturbingly ordinary in comparison to its start, starting with their regular morning routines, their commute to the office, the standard morning rundown meeting, and then light reconnaissance duty, which Wufei strongly suspected Une had arranged in exchange for the double shift the two of them were working for her now. Not only did it grant them some privacy time away from the office in which to discuss their other case, it also gave them an unprecedented amount of time together in order to help cement their credibility to their target. And then Wufei remembered the rumors that had circulated of Zechs and Owens kissing and having sex in their car, and he felt like a second wife.
More opportunity indeed. He stared at the empty warehouse, less pleased with the assignment, now that he'd put all of the pieces together. Zechs touched him lightly on his shoulder, disturbing his thoughts, and he realized with a jolt that he'd been nodding off, his head nearly touching his chest.
"I'll take first watch; see if you can catch up on some sleep."
Wufei looked thoughtful for a moment, lifted his hand as if to protest, then nodded in defeat. He unfastened his seatbelt and reached down to release the catch on the back of the passenger seat and it dropped flat with an unexpected lurch. He grunted in surprise, leaned back, and settled his arms comfortably across his chest before looking to Zechs again. "You'll wake me in three hours?"
Zechs studied his partner's face for signs of any other stress or carryover from his injury, but found none. "I promise, now sleep."
"If you start to get tired, wake me up."
Get tired of watching you? I don't think so. Zechs had learned to live for opportunities such as this. It was silly, perhaps, but it gave him the opportunity to fantasize about what his life would be like if they were more than just partners at work. Zechs would never confess to it under even the most sublime torture, but he'd developed a new and nearly full-proof strategy for staying awake on stakeouts, and this was it. He imagined Wufei as his housemate, his dearest friend and confidant, his lover. He built one endless scenario after another in his mind, each more detailed, realistic, and erotic than the last. Many built on simple wishes of household chores, holidays together, travel and shared experiences that had little to do with their day-to-day reality of investigative protocol and crime.
It was his coping strategy, and he'd had yet to find a better one. It was something he could pull out of the corner of his mind when things were difficult and he had trouble coping with the job, when he thought of Noin and Treize and his family and all of the others that were mere memories in his current life. And it helped him. It might not have been the healthiest coping mechanism out there, but it beat the hell out of drugs, alcohol, or any other number of vices he could think of. The negative repercussions from his therapy were acted out only in his deepest dreams and subconscious.
Where did his immense strength come from? And that grace? His life-long practice of martial arts was evident in very move Wufei made, but there was an underlying rhythm that was undeniably him that was more a reflection of his inner spirit than any applied training could have contributed. He had a wicked sense of humor, and could and often did serious damage with an acerbic dry comment dropped intelligently into a discussion. Those barbs usually slid over the heads of most of the agents, but Wufei would often look up, expecting to find Zechs' appreciative nod of acknowledgement.
For better or worse, Zechs found that he was beginning to lay his fragile trust in this man. For better or worse... He realized where his thoughts were taking him, and quickly diverted from that road before he found himself in more trouble than he was ready for.
He turned and faced the warehouse, monitoring it carefully for any signs of activity, but his thoughts remained focused on the man sleeping soundly next to him.
Their behaviors stabilized over the next few days, and became a regular part of their day, almost natural, frighteningly real at times. "Only in front of the windows, Merquise," became a regular part of Zechs internal mantra, not that it was helping him maintain his control all that much.
Not only was Wufei within reach, not only did Zechs have permission to touch and to hold him, but he was returning the contact. This was nothing like the casual play that he and Owens had worked to enact in front of the windows. Nothing at all.
God help him, he wanted this.
He wanted more of this.
God save him when they escalated the activity beyond what they were doing now.
"Control, Merquise." Ah hell... he'd give their target a show, hell yes. The trick would be talking Wufei into going along with the idea. He sighed. And Wufei was too honor-driven, and he just plain respected the man too much to resort to subterfuge and lies to get him into his bed. His mind happily supplied the thought that handcuffs and ankle restraints would do a nice job of keeping him there once he got him there, but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind and tossed a sheet over it. And added a blanket over top of that for good measure.
God save him indeed.
Duo and Heero were going to torture him to death first.
Duo had that gleam back, the one that spelled trouble in big doses. "Okay, now I think it's time to throw some major kissing into the mix. After you do that, I think it's pretty much up to you how you want to handle the rest of it, as we can work this so the blackmailer will assume that you're either sleeping together, or that you're taking the slow and cautious route to sin."
Heero chimed in with, "That translates to, 'Duo's way or Heero's way'."
Wufei leaned back in his seat and said, "I think I want to hear more about Heero's way," the exact same time Zechs started laughing.
Duo licked his finger and drew a line in the air with it, and Heero smiled back at him.
Wufei frowned. "You were betting on me again?"
"Fine. We'll do it the other way then. Your way."
In the other chair, Zechs mouthed the words 'I owe you one' to Heero.
Wufei caught him at it and smacked him in the shoulder with an open hand. "Idiot."
Duo laughed. "I know, on one hand, Wufei's ready to gut me, but it proves my point. You're comfortable enough with each other and within each other's personal space now that the next step won't look as forced as it would have before." He grinned. "Which means Une got what she paid for in her consultant. So, on to the next step."
"Next step?" Wufei slid his glance over to Zechs again. "You mean the kissing, right?"
Duo nodded. "You want me and Heero to demonstrate how it's done?"
To see his best friends kiss... now there was a novel thought. "Um... no. Thank you, but no."
Zechs considered the problem from Wufei's point of view. "Duo? Perhaps if you approached the exercise from a... generic standpoint first. Talk it over instead of acting it out?"
"Other than get close and suck face?"
"Other than, I mean, in the interest of avoiding making Wufei feel any more uncomfortable than we have to, how much of this do you think we can safely simulate for our remote camera?" Zechs had a closed and thoughtful look on his face, one that Duo was at pains to remove.
"Short of you standing in front of Wufei and blocking the view, not much. And that would sort of avoid the reason behind doing this." Duo looked from Zechs to Wufei and back again. "Alright, it limits the fun factor, but you can stick with lips-only and open mouth kisses. That means no tongue, Wufei."
Wufei flushed red. "Hell, Duo, I know what that means."
Duo put on his serious face, the one reserved for business. "I know it's no cakewalk guys, but you're doing a great job so far. Heero and I are really impressed."
Under the scrutiny of the honest praise, Wufei's fluster collapsed. "Thanks."
"Okay, so start with the sensual touching that we've been working on. Get close within your personal space, and extend the touching into kissing. Wufei?"
"You want a shortcut for this?"
Wufei gave him the finger.
"That's not included in my consultation fee, Wufei. No, I was going to tell you to close your eyes and pretend Zechs has tits."
Wufei looked up at his partner, who was looking down at his chest and trying to stifle his laughter.
Duo winked at both of the agents. "Now go knock 'em dead."
That night, they stood together at the window again, still gambling on that unseen voyeur, staring at the park across the street. Zechs a warm, steady presence along his ribs, Wufei settled hard against that strength, giving in at long last to the urge to simply accept some of what their viewer was expecting--what Zechs was offering--and dammed be whatever the troubling consequences handed back to them.
Zechs' play started this time with a gentle but firm touch across Wufei's arm, pushing his hair behind his shoulder, tucking it behind his ear. The fingers continued, tracing the firm translucent shell of his ear, studying the shape of it from behind, as careful lips began nuzzling the back of his neck.
Wufei considered. So... this was what it felt like to give in. So easy. More like finally, at the very last moment, slipping under smooth water than making the decision to take that sudden high dive. Wufei turned his face into Zechs', reached a hand up to still the surprised, reactive flinch, and touched his lips to his partner's, easing the transition from explorative touch to deeper contact. He caught the flash of surprise in Zechs' eyes before opportunity upended the moment and turned it into something unexpectedly passionate and hot. The kiss sweetened into something intimate and memorable as they gave their watcher at the kitchen window show of a lifetime.
Zechs pulled away from Wufei's lips with a rasping gasp for air, but refused to release his hold, instead surveying the rest of Wufei's face with interest: his dilated eyes, swollen lips, open mouth. He licked his lips once, then again, liking what he tasted there and forgetting in his moment of reflection what he intended to say. Wufei reached up a hand, noting with fragmented objectivity that his fingers seemed to be trembling somewhat, and pulled Zechs down for another round.
"Are we going to bed now?"
Oh, holy hell yes. Oh, wait. Actual sex wasn't part of the program, just the sleeping together at this point. Damn. "Okay."
Zechs maintained the routine they'd established since Wufei had moved in to his apartment, and by the time they moved away from the target window in the kitchen, he'd managed to regain his usual level of control. He closed the blinds, carefully adjusted the internal lights in the room, and suggested that they act out their new bedroom routine as well, on the off chance the other window was 'active.'
Wufei watched him with interest. Active. Right. At least he knew for a fact now that Zechs was interested in him. Timing. It would all come down to timing.
The bedroom routine they'd worked out was a fairly basic one. So far they'd been counting on the blackmailer following the police reports and knowing about Wufei's injury, so while Zechs had moved from the living room sofa into the bedroom a few nights ago, they hadn't tried simulating sex yet.
Wufei was rather hoping that they wouldn't have to simulate much, but not have to show much skin in case their expected camera showed up. Preventer's bulletin boards wouldn't be forgiving if he and Zechs made the front page of the WorldSphere News.
Sleeping in Zechs' bed hadn't been much of a hardship. Sleeping in Zechs' bed with Zechs in it was a different prospect altogether. He was a restless sleeper, usually apologetic about it as well. So after enough time had elapsed to establish that they were actually sleeping together, he would usually get up and wander off to the living room and watch the vid or read case files until morning, or, more likely sleep on the sofa in order to ease Wufei's supposed feelings on the matter.
Wufei took one look at Zechs' tired face and stacked their files on the table. "You go in first tonight. I want to call Duo and check up on the guys. I'll be in bed in a few minutes, okay?"
Zechs walked over and stood in the doorway to the bedroom, watching as Wufei sat down at the vid console. "Listen, if I fall asleep and get too... just yell at me or something to wake me up, okay?"
Too what? Loud? Sexual? Restless? What? "Okay."
The dream always started the same way, with Treize's face on his communications monitor in Epyon, talking with him, repeating his final private transmission to him on continuous loop. "No one understands the abuse of power quite so well as those who share the potential." And then in the manner of nightmares, the dream seized him, taking him to the moment Epyon exploded along with Libra. His world went suddenly white, his body involuntarily shuddering in response.
He came back to consciousness with a jolt, and worked his way back to awareness, trying to find his bearings in the shattered remains of his craft. He fought the controls to turn Epyon to center an image in his main monitor screen, wanting to see Earth and the aftermath, but the rotational thrusters were disabled or destroyed, and the one remaining camera showed only the massive debris field floating in the microgravity around him. In his dream, the time he spent floating in and out of consciousness coalesced into a single moment, and his timeline came back at the second his camera was struck by a piece of his ship, tethered and unstable, that shattered the lens.
The feeling of vertigo that ensued was all encompassing. He had trouble orienting himself without aid of his monitors, and he went intentionally limp, trying to relax his body, wrapping his arms around his torso as he'd been taught at Lake Victoria all those years ago in order to minimize the zero-G nausea. He felt the sensation of his mobile suit shuddering and beginning to collapse, and his vision went as black as his monitors, lowering him into oblivion. He remembered clawing his way into consciousness at the sound of someone on the outside doing their best to cut the bolts holding the hatch in place, and to the radio contact of the Sweeper ship that Howard had sent to look for him and salvage what was left of Epyon.
His remembered his life support systems failing, even as they were working to free him from the cockpit, the lights dimming, and then the carbon dioxide alert sounding, warning him that the level was beyond tolerable levels. He began to struggle to draw breath, flailing in his sleep and tearing out at the sheets.
"Zechs? C'mon, Zechs, wake up."
He gasped his way awake, and for the first time in his life, there was someone there for him, someone real. Someone who would understand him.
He grabbed hold, and held on through the night.
It was just two bodies pressing close to each other for warmth. It shouldn't have meant more than that. It shouldn't have, but it did, at least to Wufei.
Zechs was curled up along the length of his back, and warm, so very warm. Wufei lay there, considering, trying to place the feeling in his chest, and settled on 'protected.' Zechs was with him, holding him and guarding his sleep, and for the first time in many years, it didn't bother Wufei to release responsibility unto another soul. It felt right in a way that his brief time with his wife hadn't. He didn't have to pretend to be anyone else for him. Zechs knew him--his highest highs and his lowest lows--he'd seen it all and stood by Wufei without complaint through the best and worst of it. He knew the worst and darkest things about him, and they didn't matter to him. He'd been assimilated and accepted into his life.
Wufei shifted against Zechs, tentatively testing both his limits and his. He pushed back experimentally and tilted his hips to better align with the hollow of his partner's, and felt his body awakening with the subtle erotic contact. There was a shift of Zechs' hand under the sheet, curving around the side of Wufei's chest as he murmured, "Be sure you don't start anything you're unable to finish..."
"I was shot over two weeks ago; I'm not dead." He paused as he said that, thinking aloud, "Unless I am dead, and this is one of the gifts bestowed in the afterlife."
"Let's test that theory, shall we?"
Hell... was Zechs implying what he thought he was implying? Or was that just his hopes getting in the way of reality again?
Heero walked back through the apartment, carefully checking the light-dampening drapes positioned through the 'vacant' unit Preventers had rented for surveillance purposes on the building across the street from Zechs'. He shifted the takeout box from one arm to the other, and lifted the drape to the back bedroom where they had set up their monitoring equipment for the exterior and street views of both buildings.
Duo was positively glued to one of the small video monitors, both of his hands clamping the earphones to his head.
There were only three feeds with sound. Heero could think of only one that could have Duo that fixated, and only one subject...
He set their dinner aside and moved closer, peering over Duo's shoulder at the small camera image. Despite the angle distortion, it was an amazingly sharp image of Zechs' apartment, the living room, if he wasn't mistaken. Preventers purchased only the best quality equipment. Their covert installation was top notch.
He tapped Duo on the arm, and Duo obediently moved one of the earphones aside so he could hear him. "Are they doing what I think they are doing?"
"You mean, is this an x-rated movie you can watch? Yeah, it is."
Duo turned the volume down and handed Heero a second set of headphones.
Heero held up a hand in protest. "No thanks."
"You sure? I mean..."
Distracted, Duo turned back to the monitor and stared at what the couple on the screen was doing then, and Heero watched along with him, hearing a faint echo of ambient sound backwash through the open headphone. Wufei was... well... flexible. And vocal. And Zechs was driving into him very hard, the muscles on his back and thighs tensing with each thrust until he lost his rhythm and collapsed along his lover, sated at last.
"I guess they're finished." Duo checked to make sure that the unit was still recording.
Heero blinked. "I would have thought that Zechs would have had more staying power."
"You missed the part when they were over on the chair in the corner with Zechs pounding up into him for a while, and I mean a long while, and before that Wufei got off twice. I'll have to rewind the tape so you can see that part. Zechs has been holding back on us. Bastard. He knows a lot more about this than he's been letting on. He apparently gives one hell of a blow job."
"Does he?" Heero watched the screen where the two men were being quietly affectionate with each other. Wufei did appear to be rather well taken care of for the afternoon.
"Yeah, if they had been in the kitchen or the bedroom, it would have been some really wonderful material for our blackmailer. You know, nipple licking, throat biting, and I don't know where the two of them have been practicing all the kissing, but they've obviously been practicing a helluva lot." He pointed at the monitor. "See? There they go again with the kissing and fondling thing." He narrowed his eyes at the monitor image. "Cuddling too. God, that's pathetic. Look at the two of them on the sofa. They've been at it all afternoon. You've missed some great footage."
So this is how Wufei had felt when he and Duo had demonstrated homosexual behavior patterns for him at HQ. It felt... odd... With a decidedly erotic edge to it.
Duo looked down at the erection straining the front of Heero's pants. "Our turn now."
"We can't, we're on duty."
"If they can fuck while they're on the cock... Did I say on the cock?" Duo laughed and started taking off his shirt. "Then we can fuck while we're on the clock. The cameras will do all of the recording for us anyway. We're still here to change tapes and check the equipment. Besides, as fired up as we both are after that, this won't take long."
"Oh yeah? You sure about that?"
Heero glanced up at the live feed of the living room. "I hereby take back any negative comments I said about the man's endurance."
"I know how your ethics work, but we can't allow Une to see that tape of Wufei and Zechs together. I know it's Preventers business, but..."
"We'll destroy the tape. Some things are meant to be private." He looked at Duo. "Okay, mostly private." He looked around the room and the inventive use they'd discovered for the spare blinds, the chairs, and the take-out food. "I had no idea that voyeurism was such a turn on for you."
"Then we can keep a copy of the tape for ourselves?"
"Yes?" The reply was mumbled somewhat, as it was uttered into the soft skin of his partner's neck, said partner still covering him like a warm and very agreeable blanket at the moment.
"I need to ask you something."
Zechs had just started mapping his way into more interesting territory, namely Wufei's chest, but something in the tone of voice stopped him, and he looked up. "What is it?"
"Well, that's it. What do we have now? I mean..."
"You're never going to get back to full-time undercover work so long as you're partnered with me you know."
"Well, you can hardly wear that helmet of yours anymore, not out in the general population anyway."
"The thought doesn't bother you then?"
"Not as much as I thought it would."
"And if this sting operation of Une's goes in the wrong direction?"
"That doesn't bother me either."
Zechs held him tight, finding all of the answers he needed in that simple response. "Good."
Zechs and Wufei approached her desk with reservation, until Zechs saw the folder centered on her desk. "Is that what I think it is?"
Une smiled. "You two are, shall we say, a very photogenic couple."
"Our lab is working on the copies as we speak, but they've assured me that they can calculate the angle that the photographs were taken from based on the stationary objects in your room, and we can project that back on the neighboring building to get a location."
Her smile faded as she lifted one of the images. "You two seem to be putting more... enthusiasm into this cover operation than I'd anticipated."
Wufei looked at Une, then back at Zechs. Definitely, he wasn't going to ask. And the crime lab had the pictures? Hell. Maybe he could get a job on one of the colonies. Maybe Zechs would be willing to go back to Mars and take him along.
"Which building exposure seems to be the target location?" Well, at least Zechs was still managing to maintain his composure.
"It appears to be the one facing your bedroom. Our blackmailer apparently felt that that room had the greatest, shall we say, potential, for activity." Wufei winced. Zechs flushed and had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "Though there are some nice examples of the two of you in the kitchen area as well, so the park angle was utilized as well."
"None from the living room?"
Une's response was thoughtful. "No."
Zechs and Wufei's eyes met over her desk, and they both let out a deep breath of relief. Small favors at least.
"Pending any problems with the seizure of the evidence or the legal end of the process, I believe that this will conclude your covert involvement in this case. What are your intentions moving forward, gentlemen?"
Zechs stepped forward. "I don't believe that either of us were expecting such a quick wrap up to our part of this case. Might we have a few days to consider our options, Commander?"
"Certainly. You will, of course, maintain your cover and current living arrangements until we have final seizure, but I anticipate word of that within the next forty-eight hours. Thank you agents, you are dismissed to go about your duties."
They parted just outside of Une's office, Zechs to finalize the collection of material with Heero and Duo, and Wufei to assist in the processing of material down in the investigation lab.
Wufei stared down at a color image of himself. He was facing the camera, Zechs was in profile next to him, and they weren't kissing, or having sex, or participating in any activity that could be construed as carnal. It was the look in his eyes that was holding him in place and so very damaging. Taken by an as yet unidentified stranger only a few days prior, what he was holding could easily destroy his career. No doubt, there would be Photostat duplicates all over the building by the time this case was over. Une had already seen this image. Zechs had not.
He fingered the plastic sleeve thoughtfully, and wondered how a stranger could so easily reveal in a picture what he couldn't tell Zechs was in his heart.
"Remember when you got perforated during the Owens fiasco?"
Wufei winced; even now, the mere mention of that name caused distress. He turned and nodded bleakly at Noin. She walked over to the table spread with the photographs, adjusted a few in passing before leaning against the table next to him.
"Well, you may not remember it at all well, since you were pretty drugged up at the time, but I was there when he picked you up at the hospital."
Wufei nodded again; it seemed the safest recourse.
"Do you remember what Zechs said?"
Wufei gave her a puzzled look. Whatever it was she was trying to get across to him, she was dragging it out. That wasn't like Noin at all.
"You want some advice? I don't know who said it first, but it's true. Don't listen to what a man says, listen to how he says it." She looked up from her paperwork and took a gamble. "He didn't say that you would be cared for, he said that he was going to take care of you." Noin took in the pole-axed expression on Wufei's face, and softened her approach out of mixed respect and pity for the poor man. "Listen Chang, you didn't hear it from me, okay? But that man is so in love with you that it's a miracle of modern science that he can still tie his bootlaces in the morning." She took the photograph from his hand, glanced at it, and then added it back to the others on the table, leaving him and his thoughts sagging against the counter together.
So he had his answer. Now what was he going to do with it?
He could think of one good man to ask.
Wufei tracked Zechs down in their office. After asking after his whereabouts all over the building and enduring yet another round of 'misplacing his partner' jibes from the day crew on the main floor. He hadn't expected to find him in the one predictable place in the building. Out in the field, yes. Still working with Heero and Duo, certainly. Sitting in their office, kicked back in his chair and catching up on paperwork? No way in hell.
He stood there for a moment, just enjoying the process of staring at him. "Was trying to find you."
"I've been here for a while. Heero and Duo are finishing up with the video work. They've got footage of a man leaving the building from the apartment the crime lab marked, so they're working their way through the rest of it to see how many dates and times they can come up with."
Wufei closed the door to their office, and pulled the blind completely shut. Zechs raised his eyebrow and put his reading aside. "What is it?"
"I've got something I want to say to you, Zechs."
Zechs righted himself in his chair and gazed back at Wufei. "Okay, but first I have another confession that I think you should hear."
Wufei flinched and dropped into his own seat. "Not another one?"
Zechs lifted his eyebrow. "You're not running out on me this time? No issuing of ultimatums?"
Wufei waved a hand back at him. "Not anymore. Do your worst."
"It's like this... I was rather hoping that our blackmailer would go public. Then you wouldn't have to move out of my apartment." He continued, hesitant, testing. "Then we'd have a reason to stay together. And I could tell you that I think I'm... falling in love with you."
"Are you telling me that you love me?"
"I think so, yes."
"Well, to use Duo's favorite expression, you suck at saying it."
Zechs smiled back, taking Wufei's correction in the spirit it was given. "Okay, how about... 'I was initially attracted by your body, but I fell in love with your mind, and I worship your soul. You have the purest soul of any person I have ever met'."
Wufei nodded. "That's better."
Zechs met his eyes. "Tell me you'll stay with me?"
"And?" Zechs moved closer, hoping that the door would remain closed.
Wufei reached for him. "And I love you too, but you already knew that."
"Suspected. Hoped. You never know for certain until you hear the words." He had an afterthought, a frightening one. "Promise me something?" Zechs suspected that kisses stolen under the cover of office security were better than the ones at home. He was very willing to experiment and find out for certain.
"You'll tell the rest of your friends about us living together?"
"Anything but that."
"If we put it under the tree, Quatre and Trowa will ask questions about it."
"Ask questions, hell. They'll want to watch it."
"Okay, so we can't do that."
"Is that such a bad thing?"
"Maybe we should just ship it to Wufei and Zechs."
"Right, and run the risk that it'll get lost in the mail and someone will wind up with Preventers' Greatest XXX Hits."
"Okay, so we can't do that."
"So we'll disguise it as something other than a videotape and put it under the tree."
"Duo? Using the wrapping paper with the fornicating polar bears is going a bit too far, don't you think?"
"Right, there's no such thing as too far in the Maxwell dictionary. I keep forgetting that."
"And we'll make the card out to 'Wufei & Zechs, Merry Christmas, From Heero and Duo'."
"You don't like 'Wifey & Sexy, Have a wonderful time in the sack, From the Guys'?"
"Duo? It's your Christmas party. Whatever makes you happy."
"If you really loved me, you'd just let me copy this."