Title: Year of the Snake - Chapter 2/?
Author: Mookie
Pairings: 5xS, eventual 2x1
Warnings: het, shounen ai, eventual yaoi
Notes: Based on one of Sharon's plot bunnies. Takes place four years post-EW.

Chapter 2: An Innocent Man

He woke to the sensation of hair tickling his nose and he moved his head out of the way, only to find more of it teasing at his lips and chin. He opened his eyes and realized that a warm body was lying on his, part of it draped over his chest and pressed against his side.

Wufei blew at the strands of hair beneath his nostrils and removed his hand from Sally's waist to smooth them down and out of the way the best he could without disturbing her.

He closed his eyes again and suppressed a groan. He'd told himself that this wasn't going to happen.

It had started months ago - probably long before that, he supposed, but it wasn't until New Year's Eve that he'd realized that he found his partner attractive on a purely physical level.

Not purely, he corrected himself. Yes, she had a decent figure - trim waist, generous curves hidden beneath her uniform, a mischievous gleam in her eyes that he should have hated.

He'd tolerated her at first, or so he'd tried to believe. She'd placed far too much faith in him from the start, and it had angered him as much as surprised him. She'd made a lot of assumptions about him, ones that he'd resented. How dare she claim to understand him, to make such bold assertions as to the sort of man he was.

He'd known then that her practical side was marred with idealism. He'd seen it firsthand at that shop when she'd embroiled herself in some sort of conflict, only to receive a couple of blows in exchange for her efforts.

He'd come to her aid because he'd known that she'd do something stupid, and he'd been annoyed to find out he'd been right.

She seemed to have a thing for fighting losing battles. He'd known someone with that same defiantly stubborn streak before. A brave fighter, a champion for the underdog, someone who didn't care how seemingly hopeless a fight was, trusting in some sort of divine justice, or at least a miracle, to win the war if not the battle.

He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. He'd swear it was his lot in life to be constantly surrounded by women who lacked the good sense they were born with.

Sally's breath was warm against his collarbone and her lips twitched slightly. Wufei felt her lashes flutter against his skin before she shifted her body, lifting one leg to entwine it with both of his. He inhaled deeply, smelling the scent of her hair, a combination of shampoo and sweat.

She lifted her head and looked into his eyes.

He expected her to say something. A good morning, a comment about the night before, or preferably, an explanation as to how they'd thrown away their good judgement after a couple of drinks that didn't contain so much as a drop of alcohol.

She said nothing, just studied his face. He could feel her eyes sweeping over his brows and his nose, lingering on his lips before moving to his chin and neck. He remembered the way her mouth had traveled along the same path, and he felt a faint twitch of interest below his waist, one that fortunately Sally seemed unaware of. The last thing he wanted to do was continue this foolishness.

They were partners, and he'd grown accustomed to the way she worked. Making more of their relationship than that was a mistake.

Sally slid from the bed, the sheets whispering across her skin as she reached for her shirt. She didn't bother to put her bra on; she merely stuffed it into her pants pocket as soon as she'd zipped them closed. Once she was dressed, she raked both hands through her hair and wrapped a band around it; then she turned and faced him again.

"See you around, Wufei," she said.

He watched her walk out of his bedroom, and strained to hear the door to his apartment open and close. His gaze returned to the ceiling for a few minutes before he threw himself out of bed and headed for the shower.

Fifteen minutes later he was clean and dressed. As he pulled his hair back into a tight ponytail, he avoided meeting his eyes in the mirror.

Breakfast was something he'd pick up on the way to work. He was in no mood to spend any more time in the apartment. There was work to be done, after all.

To Wufei's surprise, he found Sally standing near the coffeepot, talking to Heero Yuy. He didn't mean to stare at them, but he couldn't help it. Sally was looking much the way she did the first time he'd seen her, the light brown hair in two thick plaits framing her face. He'd found he preferred it that way over the style she'd taken to wearing it in more recently, not the more mature loose ponytail gathered at the nape of her neck but the two straighter looking ones, as if she'd compromised between the two extremes. She looked far too young when she wore her hair in ponytails, too naive and childlike.

This was more acceptable. It reminded him of the woman who'd asked him if he'd be interested in joining the Preventers. That was the agent he wanted as his partner, not the woman that he'd woken up in bed with that morning.

He spared Heero a mere passing glance, noting the fingers wrapped around the mug that he knew featured a smiling cartoon sun on it. Yuy was the last person that Wufei would have picked owning something of that nature. He was sure it had to be Quatre's. He'd seen it on Winner's desk often enough.

He turned and made his way to the office he shared with his partner of nearly four years.

As he turned on his computer and typed in his password, he found his mind wandering back to that first kiss. He still couldn't come up with an explanation for why he'd done it.

He'd had a modicum of grudging respect for the woman in a way that was at odds with his longstanding rivalry with both Treize and Heero. He'd recognized in her a few familiar traits, ones that caused memories long buried to rise. If anything, that alone should have made him fight against the growing attraction with renewed determination.

They'd both worn their hair down that night. Unbound hair, in certain ancient civilizations, was tantamount to wearing a scarlet letter. Women who wore their hair loose were proclaiming their status as sinners or harbingers of chaos.

He'd allowed his hair to grow while he'd been away at boarding school, before he'd been summoned back to wed the heir to the Long clan who'd just reached her fourteenth year. The significance of hair throughout history was not lost on Wufei. His wife had adopted a utilitarian style, without a hint of respect for any of the long standing traditions. Hair, skin, body, and proper maintenance of all of them - these were signs of filial obedience.

She'd looked the part of the respectful bride but once, and the words that had spilled from her mouth had completely torn down any illusions that she would be a docile wife. On one hand, he'd hardly expected anyone from the banished warrior clan to act in a genteel manner, but on the other, he'd expected that she'd set an example by her behavior.

She had, Wufei acknowledged. It had just taken him far too long to realize it.

In the short time he'd been married to her, he'd not once seen her with her hair down, and after she died, he'd kept his own restrained. He'd never really given it a thought as to why. It had certainly been practical.

Seeing Sally with her hair streaming down her back, and the smile on her face as she noticed his brushing against his shoulders, had left him feeling vulnerable in a way that not even Treize's blade at his neck had done.

It had been the moment when Sally's fingers ran through the hair that had fallen in front of his face when he'd felt it. Even now he wasn't sure what it was, only that it had been overwhelming and that he'd needed to prolong it as long as possible.

That's when he'd made the first mistake.

He'd been both relieved and disappointed that it had been a chaste kiss. She'd smiled warmly at him, and then her fingers had laced through his for just a moment and no longer.

Wufei could still picture the way the exploding lights overhead illuminated her face before he, too, tilted his face toward the night sky to watch the finale.

He'd avoided giving it any more thought until that reconnaissance mission. They'd been holed up in that seedy apartment as a cover for over a week. Seven days and eight nights should have been nothing. Listening to her breathing as she slept when it was his turn to stay on watch, however, had seemed far more intimate than he'd expected. He'd never felt that way when he'd lain in a prison cell with another person. Not with Heero, nor with Duo.

Upon their return they'd gone straight to the office, and Wufei had still been typing up a preliminary report for Une when Sally returned from the women's showers. Her hair was still wet and tousled, obviously from a brisk toweling, and she'd stood in the door of their office and asked him if he wanted to grab something to eat. The almost imperceptible slur in her voice had indicated just how very tired she was.

He hadn't planned on saying yes, but then his stomach had growled in protest, and he'd realized that neither of them had eaten yet that day.

He should have followed Sally's example and taken his shower there instead of going home first. When he'd come out of the bathroom wearing a clean T-shirt and a pair of pants, he'd found her dozing off on his couch with one of his books in her lap.

The lights from the neon sign outside the hotel down the street streamed through the window, and he'd been reminded of New Year's Eve.

The night passed with neither of them getting anything to eat, and Sally was still there when he'd woken up that morning.

It was an entirely unacceptable situation.

Wufei wanted to talk about it with Sally, but this was neither the time nor the place. Personal business should not be mixed with work, and they both should have remembered that last night.

When she finally joined him and set her coffee cup on the desk next to her telephone, he'd grunted a good morning to her. He then spent the next ten minutes watching the metamorphism of a wire framed solid from sphere to cube to cylinder on his screen saver before deciding that the results of Yuy's and Winner's investigation might be related to the reports of civil unrest that he and Sally had followed.

It had nothing to do with wanting to avoid his partner.

He knocked on the door of the office next door and walked in, heading for Quatre's desk and making useless small talk before hinting that he might be interested in what they'd come up with so far. He cringed internally at the sound of his own voice as he attempted to disguise the other, more shameful, reason he was here.

Quatre drained the last of his coffee and turned the screen to show Wufei a scanned copy of a handwritten scrap of paper. He set the mug next to the mouse pad and began explaining that they weren't optimistic that they'd find anything concrete, but that they couldn't leave any stone unturned, especially not when they had nothing else to go on at present.

Then Yuy said something that brought the events that had been plaguing Wufei to the forefront of his mind, and he turned abruptly to stare at Heero. In doing so, his elbow hit the handle on Quatre's mug.

Wufei would have sworn that the grinning sun was mocking him as it fell.

A couple of quick swipes of the dust broom and attention was back on the enlarged receipt on Heero's screen, where he used the cursor to further zoom in on the lower left hand corner.

"It's been erased," Quatre murmured, squinting at the gray blur on the screen.

Heero nodded, frowning thoughtfully. His thumbnail toyed with his upper lip as he stared unblinkingly at the monitor.

"Did you expect to find something?" Wufei asked.

"No." Heero did not sound pleased.

Quatre turned and leaned against Heero's desk, folding his arms across his chest and bowing his head. The fingers of his right hand drummed against his upper arm as he spoke. "You suspect this is all just a little too convenient." It was a statement of fact.

Wufei looked from one to the other. The two of them spoke far too often in riddles. It wasn't that he couldn't decipher what they were saying, it was just a wasted effort when the same thing could be accomplished without all the hints and innuendo.

His brows furrowed as he recognized the glint in Heero's eyes. He'd long been driven to prove to Heero that the Wing pilot couldn't possibly know all the answers, and in response, Heero had taken his Gundam for a scuba dive. Just when Wufei thought he'd recognized the heart of a fighter in Heero, he'd turn around and act in ways that no real warrior should.

Wufei had found that to true about all of his comrades. If he were completely honest with himself, before he'd taken control of Nataku, the most he'd known of warriors was what he'd read in books and seen in the news. Of all the fights he'd participated in, none of them had been life or death. Not until the one that had made him swear to prove himself a worthy husband. The one that had made him, not a man, but a widower.

Not for the first time, he found himself wondering what it had been like for the Long clan, to be driven from their home in China and exiled to a broken-down colony. It hadn't taken long for OZ to arrive in an attempt to finish the job that the leaders of the old country had hoped to accomplish through banishment. They'd obviously not counted on the hardiness of the clan.

Was it because they were Longs, rumored to have been the most powerful on the continent, or because they were too stubborn to die, much like Heero?

Wufei ended their silent brooding by stating the obvious. "The receipts are a dead end."

The sound of Heero's chair creaking forward brought Quatre's head up. Wufei saw the two of them exchange a look, and then Heero smiled, the same sort of expression Wufei had once seen on his face in battle.

Heero's fingers were typing on the keyboard rapidly, and Quatre's face was stonily determined.

"Dead men tell no tales," Winner stated as Heero pulled up a list of agents missing in action.

Wufei's eyes widened. "Especially if you don't know they're dead," he said.

"Or," Heero said, rolling his chair out of the way and pointing to the screen. "If they don't even know they're dead."

Wufei stared at the screen. There, in the middle of the as-yet-unreleased list of agents killed in action, was his partner's name.