Disclaimer: If I owned Gundam Wing, Relena Peacecraft's role would be severely diminished. You do the math. Please refer to the lovely Author's Note at the end of this story for explanations and other random musings that may/may not prove to be entertaining.

Summary: Missing for three years from a poorly planned mission with suicidal parameters, Chang Wufei emerges once more. He is nothing like who he was before. 1x5

Dedicated to: Silverserpent, here is the 5,000+ word writing that I promised you ages ago.


I think I'm drowning/
It's something beautiful/
A contradiction.

5:00 am
Paris, France

Heero is a methodical man. He wakes up every day at four, takes a shower, dresses, grabs an energy bar for breakfast, and arrives at the Preventer's headquarters no later than five-thirty. There is a certain charm to his carefully planned routine, a certain charm to the fact that he sleeps with a loaded gun underneath his pillow every night. But there's a very empty feeling as well—like maybe his roomy living quarters are a bit too big for one person. That's probably because there's supposed to be a second person living there. Three years ago, things were different. Not that Heero wasn't methodical back then, but his routine has certainly changed in these past years.

Three years ago, he was living with his fellow agent.

Three years ago, Chang Wufei would wake up with him at four, take a shower at four-fifteen, dress, partake in some rice porridge he'd made the night before, and they'd carpool to the Preventer's headquarters. They never arrived later than six.

But there is no quiet, philosophical Chang to accompany him in the mornings now. There is no one in his two-person office to exchange witty barbs with. Heero no longer starts planning missions at seven in the morning anymore. No, everyday is the same. He stays in front of his laptop from six-forty five am to midnight always searching for the same thing: the whereabouts of one missing Chang Wufei. He isn't accustomed to failure and even as the results turn up bleaker and bleaker, he keeps on hacking and searching.

Three years ago, Heero didn't know what desperation was.

But this morning, as he turns to grab the keys to his motorcycle from a little Chinese wicker basket, his entire routine is disrupted. The doorbell chimes happily four or five times before Heero manages to get to the door—one hand clutching his ever-present pistol. It's absurd to think that a killer would ring the doorbell and expect to kill him—there's an element of surprise that's somewhat important to have after all. He attributes the slow reaction time to the fact that he's only had two hours of sleep. After all, even gundam pilots have their limits. He just doesn't appreciate his.

A hand strong enough to strangle a man shoots out and swiftly unlocks the door even as the owner of said hand backs away a couple steps. But there's no point to the distance, this type of damage doesn't require physical contact after all. It's only through years of training that Heero manages to stay upright as he stares into the figure of a ghost. A familiar ghost with long black hair now let loose and scars crisscrossing every single available piece of flesh. One black eye stares coolly back at him while the other is a murky white. The gun clatters loudly to the floor.

"Yuy, it's been a long time." The voice is a bit breathy compared to before, as if the Chinese man's vocal chords aren't quite working. They probably aren't, Heero's mind points out to him logically as he swallows in the sight of a man he hasn't seen for three long years. He has three thousand, five hundred and seventy-six questions on the tip of his tongue, but he chooses to ask only one. The one that matters. The one that will provide the answer to his three years of futile and useless searching. The one he's actually afraid to ask.

"Where have you been?" Clipped and to the point. Too short for any strange emotions to bury themselves in there. Too long for his suddenly dry throat to rasp out. He wants to walk away from this bizarre dream, tell himself to ask Sally for a temporary bottle of sleeping pills. But this is very much reality as much as he wants to believe that it isn't.

The figure takes a powerful stride forward into a house he hasn't lived in for what seems like eternity. "Dead. Wishing I were dead. You can pick, Yuy. You'll know the real answer when you finally report to work today." The words themselves are robotic sounding, the fire and sharp wit from before wiped blank. There is no humor or scholarly intelligence left. The scarred face turns slowly before returning to gaze at the neglected kitchen. "You can ask what you want later in the evening. I'll still be here."

There should be a measure of comfort in Wufei's last sentence—but there isn't. Heero isn't quite sure what to make of his old partner and so he picks his fallen gun from the floor and leaves, shutting the door behind him. He's too confused and shell-shocked to really do much else than obey instructions. Three years, his mind echoes back and forth and back again. Three years of bleary-eyed searching, dark rings circling his eyes, and long days without reprieve. Three fucking years. Brilliant.

The motorcycle hums quietly as he turns the engine on with half of a mind. He has the feeling that he's missed something important, missed some fleeting expression or careless gesture from his old partner. But there's no time to think about that now and he guns the engine as he gets on the highway.

Later, he'll figure it out.

7:00 am
Paris, France
Preventer's Headquarters

"Chang's alive." It's the first thing that the awed secretary says to him as she swipes his identification card the wrong way before giving it back to him. He nods his head curtly and leaps over the still-closed gates. He knows Chang's alive, he just doesn't know how or when or why. The hallways are alive today, filled with hushed whisperings and hundreds of eyes all focused on him. They wonder if the invincible team will get back together again, if Wufei's changed much, and how the number one field agent is taking the news. He wants to tell them to mind their own business, but he doesn't. It just isn't something that he would do—regardless of Chang's reappearance.

He walks past his office (and the empty desk next to it), completely assured as he heads to Une's private office. He'll get his technical answers now; the rest will come from the now-laconic agent in his house. He doesn't knock on the oak door emblazoned with Une's name and ranking. He doesn't need to. The door swings open easily enough and Une is already in position, hands clasped together underneath her chin. "He showed up back at home today." It's a neutral statement to put the ball in her court.

Her lips thin in barely-concealed stress. "I know."

He inclines his head in acceptance and waits. He has no need to say anything—his silence is a statement in itself. It's his way of saying 'yes, go on.' He isn't surprised that she knows Chang's back. He just wants his answers. "The mission…" Une starts, hesitates and then clears her throat twice, as if the words are stuck in her throat. "The mission three years ago that Agent Chang accepted during your recovery time was poorly planned. I suppose he never told you a word about what the mission exactly entailed."

Heero has no trouble identifying the time period she's talking about. It was in April that he'd gotten shot straight through the left shoulder, the bullet nicking open a major artery. He'd almost bled to death right there and then in Bombay, but Wufei had fastened a tourniquet immediately. It was the one time the Chinese pilot had ever left him behind on a mission. Left him in the camouflaged area to turn white with rage at suddenly becoming a hindrance to the mission. When they'd returned, Sally had ordered Heero to stay on desk duty for three weeks. Five days into the first week, Wufei left on a classified Level 7 solo mission. He left behind a beautifully made dinner and a curt note. That was their last contact until today morning, if the person in his home could even be called Chang Wufei anymore. "Your assumption is correct. Chang did not speak of his mission at all."

Une gives a bitter smile before replying. "Then he didn't tell you that the mission he was sent on was a suicidal one. It was supposed to be for the two of you together, since it required both physical ability and superb hacking techniques. But Wufei took one glance at it and told me he'd go solo. I told him he was insane." She pauses to gaze at a spot on her desk, fingers curling into a fist. "He told me that he'd been insane for quite awhile and that I was a fool for not noticing sooner. I let him take the mission. I couldn't delay it any longer and wait for your body to recover." Brown eyes clash sharply with Prussian blue and Heero is surprised at the amount of self-loathing contained within Une's expression.

"I let him take it, knowing full well that he would probably die. He was sent to L1 to handle a well-formed terrorist group. There was virtually no information on them, only that they planned on assassinating Ms. Peacecraft soon and had the means to do so. He was sent to dismantle them. I didn't realize that virtually a third of L1 had been taken over by them until halfway through the mission updates. Wufei's last report to me was to state that they had somehow gotten access to mobile suit information and were planning on construction. It seems that half the group was to focus solely on the extermination of Relena Peacecraft and the other half was responsible for starting a new war. I don't know what happened afterwards."

Heero's expression is carefully neutral, though there's a hint of cold-heartedness lingering in the blue of his eyes. He understands Une's action. Even if it meant Wufei's death, she could count on him to at least partially disrupt the terrorist group's plans. That would buy the Preventer's enough time to send him to finish the job when he recovered. It was a risky move, but perfectly acceptable. At that point in time, it would've been the best solution possible. He doesn't blame her for what she chose, though a part of him wishes that there'd been some other way. "He was captured and tortured." He states bluntly, mind flashing back to the scars marking Wufei's skin.

Une take off her glasses, wipes them clean, and then puts them back on again. Her gaze this time is steely and remorseless. All things have a price and she has paid hers. A good leader knows when sacrifices are necessary, even when those sacrifices hurt the most. "Presumably, that is what happened. I am not sure what happened between then and now, but reports are telling me that L1 has suffered enormous casualties. Between one hundred to five hundred have been killed within a major operating base. All the wounds inflicted have either been done by an ancient Chinese dao or an assortment of rifles and guns."

She leans forward, fingers interlocking together against her forehead. "I think you know who was responsible."

He inhales sharply, feeling the figures run through his mind. One hundred to five hundred dead. Just a body count, no questions asked. Efficient, his mind praises. Ruthless and brutal. But the Chang Wufei he used to know is not like this. Missions always revolved around killing only the people who needed to be killed. They both had enough blood on their hands to last them a lifetime from the war. They didn't need any more to further soak through their mind. A massacre was what ended the ill-fated mission. He finds himself numb and walks away from Une. He doesn't ask for permission to leave and the hundreds of eyes are no more real to him now than the imaginary victims of his nightmares. He asks himself over and over again what happened, and the answer keeps evading him. Only one person can tell him the truth. He slings his legs over his motorcycle and watches as the scenery flies by.

Three years has made Chang Wufei dangerous.

12:15 pm
Paris, France

Heero isn't quite sure if he trusts Chang now. He isn't quite sure if he's ever trusted the former pilot of Shenlong. Perhaps the reason behind their partnership of five years is due to his constant wariness—to keep an eye out for the most lethal of their little group. Chang is a loose cannon now, in Maxwell terms, and he has to be cautious. So even as he inserts the key into the door of his house and bends down for the retina scan, his fingers are wrapped around the handle of his gun. The door swings open to a nearly pitch-black inside, the windows are blocked with various fabrics and the lights are all turned off. The adrenaline starts rushing, swirling, and taking over his senses.

"I apologize for the darkness, but the light irritates my eyes. You can stop holding onto your gun now, Yuy. I'm not going to do anything besides talk to you." The voice comes from the kitchen counter where the former pilot is leaning, an arm resting on the tiny, Chinese wicker basket. Heero can hear a ghost of a bitter smile and relaxes a small fraction, but his hand is still on the gun. Old habits, after all, die hard.

"Was it necessary to kill as many as you did?" Chang Wufei's entire character revolves around morality and justice. An eye for an eye. They are not like the rest of the population, so far set on mercy that it ends up killing them. If the man in front of him, half-shrouded in shadow, is truly Wufei, he will answer with honor. It's a simple test and the both of them know it.

"You have never really lived through personal grudges, Yuy. It is always about completing the mission objectives first and considering yourself last with you. But I am not like that. I went to war with Shenlong for personal vengeance against the man who took away my wife, my family, and my colony. I killed those men to avenge all of us, and most of all, to avenge you and me. We fought hard for peace, threw away what we could've been to become adolescent soldiers. These conniving bastards wanted to destroy what we'd worked so hard to achieve. They wanted to completely ruin us. You believed in Peacecraft's words more than any of us. You were willing to kill yourself for a cause that you believed was greater than yourself. I wasn't going to wait for the shit to hit the fan, Yuy. I acted and I killed. Each and every one of those men deserved it. Some probably deserved more than what I allowed for them." It's unnerving, Heero thinks as he stares into the murky white of Wufei's left eye. The ex-pilot has changed so much, but he still carries his core values with him.

It is that realization that makes him relinquish his grip on the gun. It settles back innocently in his pocket as he lifts his head to lock gazes with Chang again. The corner of the Chinese man's lips lifts up in a mocking smile as he steps forward, flicking on the kitchen light as he does so. The brightness makes both of their eyes flinch, but Heero recovers first. There's a long silence that stretches between them as Prussian blue eyes trace over every jagged line and every plum-colored bruise coloring caramel skin. There are plenty of them, the scars crisscrossing every arm like ornate designs. They brand pilot 05 like a beast, cage him in within a hold that never fades. But those don't affect Heero. He can't tear his eyes away from the rope burn marks on Chang's neck, signs of attempted hanging and then further up to the white line separating his face into two parts. It's the faintest scar, starting from Wufei's right temple, cutting through his nose, and finally ending just below his left lip. The single white eye stares blankly back at him, its black counterpart carefully neutral. "You should have waited for me. I know L1's territory better than you. You wouldn't have been captured and I wouldn't have been left wondering where my partner went all these years." He takes a breath and steps closer, unaccustomed to saying so much. "How did you escape and just how much damage did they manage to inflict on you?"

Chang doesn't move from his position and laughs, a mockery of what it used to be before. "If I'd waited for you, then Relena would no longer be alive right now. L1 was your place, that much is true. But the more you know a place, the greater the chance that it holds unwanted memories for you. I didn't want to risk opening past war wounds just for the sake of a mission." There's a brief moment of something in his eyes, something like protectiveness and resignation. It takes awhile before Heero understands. His partner went on a suicide mission to protect his ideals, to guard him from the ghosts of the past. Selfless and self-sacrificing.

Those injuries should be his, not Chang's.

"I was careless and tired from exhaustion when they managed to trap me. An informant turned out to be a mole and they drugged me before I could fully react. Luckily, I managed to send Une most of the information that I'd gathered before they took me in. She was going to forward it to you in the event of my death, but I don't think she ever did." Wufei pauses as Heero slowly shakes his head. "She was probably hoping that I was still alive and there was nothing to convince her one way or another. As long as Relena stayed alive, she didn't need to act and send you to L1."

There's something off about the sentence, something wrong about the hesitance in Wufei's tone. Heero understands now. Chang is lying to him. Regardless of whether Une personally believed Chang had been alive or not, she would have sent him as soon as he recovered. But she didn't and Wufei hadn't been captured at that time anyways. He was never meant to receive the mission in the first place. "Wrong. You made her promise that she wouldn't hand the responsibility to me if you didn't manage to come out alive. That's why Barton and Maxwell were suddenly declared Relena's temporary bodyguards a year and a half ago."

"Guilty as charged." Wufei says, though he isn't even apologetic. "She figured that I was captured when I stopped sending reports, but knew that I'd severely hampered their plans regarding Mobile Suit construction. Her primary concern was Peacecraft and that was why she elected to use Barton and Maxwell. She would've chosen you, but I told her that you were to have nothing to do with this particular mission." Heero clenches his fists and tries to calm the anger rising deep inside of him. He doesn't need protection and this mission was partially his to begin with. If Chang hadn't been so insistent, then there wouldn't be rope burns, bruises, and scars. There wouldn't be three years of constant anxiety. Three years of loneliness.

"You were a fool." He states coldly and looks away. A fool to compromise such an important mission for his sake. L1 holds no memories for him, no regrets and ghosts still half-alive in his mind. But he's lying to himself. Every night, a blond-haired girl with a chestnut colored puppy visits him in his dreams, and every night they are burned alive again and again.

"Yes, I was. But not for your reasons. I was a fool to allow myself to be taken alive. They didn't appreciate my emotionless stare, so they dripped chemicals in my left eye. You can see the result for yourself. Electrocution, knifing, whipping, and waterboarding. Every single solder in the goddamn base had at least one shot at me. They gave me a noose to hang myself with and I used it. That's why there are these marks on my neck, but they cut me free last minute just to have me play victim for a little longer." With steady strides, the Chinese pilot leans close to a still Heero and whispers his next sentence. "I screamed for so long that I ended up permanently injuring my vocal chords. That was the first and the last time I gave them that pleasure again. They stopped chaining my arms and legs after that. A stupid move." He backs away, strands of fine black hair ghosting across Heero's shoulders.

"You killed the guard." It's a statement, not a question.

"He always came in to play a bit with my head—usually with a friend. I allowed myself to rest for an entire week after my hanging attempt failed. I managed to recover enough strength to snap his neck. It was the one time he was overconfident enough to come alone. I took his rifle and made my way through. I managed to find my sword, which made it all the more difficult for them. There isn't a single one of them alive within that base right now. I left, contacted Une via one of their vidphones, and took the first shuttle back here."

Heero can picture the scene perfectly in his mind. He can see a tortured Chang effortlessly snap the ignorant guard's neck with his bare hands, bend down to grasp the rifle's handle and take to the hallways—bullets shattering bones and cutting through organs easily. Then later with a sword in hand, the injuries change from holes to slash marks. A macabre dance. "What now?" He asks, stepping forward and allowing one finger to trace the scar on Wufei's face. "What will you do now?"

"I would like to stay here." The answer is simple but poignant.

"Will you continue to work for the Preventer's?" Heero wants the answer to be yes, so that he can return to three years ago with a more than capable partner and a comfortable routine. He wants the answer to be yes, even though he knows that Wufei won't be able to pass the physical examination without rigorous training to adjust to his half-blindness.

"If you would not mind a scarred and half-blind partner, then yes."

They stay in the dimly lit room for awhile, Wufei's head resting on Heero's shoulder. They're quiet, but they don't need words. Heero's still frustrated that he was left behind and Wufei's still unable to get past the memory of a small, white room and his blood stains covering the floor and walls.

But they're together once more…and nothing else quite matters.

2:27 am
Torture Cell #2

The flickering light above his head is familiar and it makes him want to scream. Not again, please, not again. There's still blood in his mouth from last time and his body feels like it's about to snap completely in half. But he can't scream, because that'll make them feel satisfied. He keeps his mouth shut and watches as the so-called surgeon of the group takes out syringe after syringe. They're never labeled, but these chemicals paralyze him at times, leave him unconscious other times, and always change a part of him. Needles upon needles. He is their experiment.

"Your eyes are extraordinarily black, but I'm more of a fan of white. Your stare is rather unappealing to me right now." One of the voices says, cruel mouth twisting into a sneer.

"Shall I remedy the situation?" The surgeon asks, lifting up a syringe filled with clear liquid. "I've always preferred white myself. I wonder if his eye color will change if we add enough."

Horror grips him and leaves him powerless as the surgeon draws his arm back, the long needle glinting even in the poor lighting. He doesn't know if he'll survive another day of it. His mind is breaking, fragmenting. Where is his justice now? But he can't think because there's bright, white-hot burning pain in his left eye. It sears like the fire from lava and tears form from his eyes. His body wants to wash the chemicals out, but it's futile. Useless.

"No, don't do the other eye. He looks quite beautiful with one eye black and the other white. Isn't there something like that in his culture? Ah, that's right. Yin and Yang."

His tears wash the blood away, but they can't take away his blindness.

Heero doesn't know what wakes him up at this ungodly hour, but there's a heavy feeling weighing him down and his first thought is of Wufei. The Chinese man's door is unlocked and one glance at the pained expression on Chang's face is enough to tell him everything he needs to know. His jaw tightens from suppressed anger before he walks in, sure only of his concern for the other's situation. "Chang. Chang." His hand closes around a surprisingly thin shoulder, unsure of just exactly what to do.

Heartbeat racing, a phantom pain still lingering in his sightless eye, Chang Wufei awakes to reality in the form of tousled hair and blue eyes. His breath comes out short and uneven, sweat beading at his temple. His mouth open and closes, but there's only silence. A horror only he can see holds him prisoner. "They took my eye again." He whispers and brings a trembling hand to cover his left eye in disbelief. "It was the same room, the same person. And I couldn't stop him. I just lay there, spread out on the operating table. I couldn't even turn my head."

Waking up to silence and a narrow vision. Waking up unbalanced with a throbbing pain behind his left eye. Waking up to a world without justice. Without morality.

Heero is not like Wufei. He does not despise weakness; he just looks down on it. But this time is different. This time, Wufei has fallen after overcoming impossible circumstances. The figure in his arms in the darkness of twilight is very much different than the figure that first confronted him twenty-one hours ago. He is not surprised that Wufei is breaking now. He is surprised that the ex-pilot has managed to stay unbroken for so long, has managed to shoot and slash his way out of L1 and back home—back to their home.

"Sleep." He doesn't know how to tell Wufei that he understands and that he will wait for as long as he needs to in order to have the Chang Wufei of three years ago back again. He doesn't know how to heal or how to comfort. He only knows how to complete an objective and kill a man. Tomorrow, he'll phone Quatre and update the other ex-pilots on the Chinese man's status. But today, there's only the two of them. He finds himself hoping that it will be enough to fix what's broken. It's awkward for him to be in the same bed as his partner, one hand thrown securely around Wufei's waist. But he's willing to go through that awkwardness if it means that the nightmares will leave them alone tonight.

Wufei understands that this is not a fairytale story with a 'happily-ever-after.' This is all real and the fact that he's psychologically and physically scarred for life won't ever change. Heero's silent vow of protection won't keep the surgeon and the needles away from him. There isn't a magical remedy for these types of things. Love, after all, can't solve every problem. But he isn't alone anymore in an unforgiving white room with tears burning their way down his face. He isn't alone with the water filling his lungs until he can't breathe—can't breathe, yet still somehow alive. He isn't alone with a noose hanging in his prison cell, swaying back and forth like a malevolent invitation to his battered body.

He isn't alone anymore.

The night does not pass by peacefully. His thoughts are always haunted by water, fire, and the same desperation that a drowning man feels as the water closes in on him and takes him under. When the sunlight finally creeps past the closed window curtains, there is only silence between the two of them. Heero's hands are gentle as they hesitantly skim over the expanse of marked skin. He does not seek attractiveness nor does he seek flawlessness like so many other shallow humans. He only needs a strong spirit to argue with him when he's wrong, to care for him without unnecessary words, and to understand his silence for what it really is.

Chang Wufei is not beautiful.

But he is everything and just a little bit more. Courage is what Wufei wears on his heart as he walks back to work a month later, wearing a short-sleeved shirt for the world to see his pain. Self-confidence is what guides him as people on the street stop to stare and whisper behind his back. Invincible is the adjective Maxwell uses to jokingly refer to him as, even as amethyst eyes darken with sorrow every time they meet.

Chang Wufei is not invincible.

When news of their relationship gets out, Une turns a blind eye but the other preventers do not. It's always, "It's a wonder how Yuy can bear to look at that face. Those scars are a pretty damning sight. Chang's pretty unlovable with the way he always bristles at the slightest joke. Chang used to be hot, but he's lame now. What does Yuy see in him anyways?" But they're wrong too.

Chang Wufei is not unlovable.

And he is reminded of that fact every night Heero grips his hand tighter as his dreams take him down and under again. Heero can't save him from drowning in the water, can't save him from the knife that carves through his skin.

But Heero can save him from loneliness.

And that's enough.

That's more than enough.


Author's Note:

I really struggled with this piece. I didn't want to make them out of character, but I wanted to show a more humane side of them. Because they're not the type to say, "I love you," but they're the type that shows their love through actions rather than words. I don't know what you guys think. I apologize if you think I've destroyed their characters, but it's been years since I've last touched Gundam Wing. I'm a bit out of shape. Asphyxiated comes from Muse's Time Is Running Out. Search it up on youtube and listen for a bit.

Oh, and Silverserpent. Please update your fanfiction soon. I'm positively dying of a lack of 1x5 action recently.