Warnings: Awkwardness, Yaoi/Slash, a few unsavory topics

Pairings: Multiple and Changing

Companion to Reflection

Written drabble style, so there's no telling how long or short a chapter will be. "Reflection" happens in AC 200 roughly, four years after EW. This fic starts after Christmas in AC 196 and continues to and past "Reflection".

Chapter 2

AC 197 - July

Une noted with worry Wufei's handwriting on his reports. It was quickly declining in quality, looking more harsh and sharp as the days went by. The five pilots and a few other hand picked agents were the only ones she reviewed personally unless one of her assistants brought something to her attention. Une almost called Wufei into her office to ask him what was going on, but something kept her from doing so.

And then Wufei did not come to work one morning. Fearing the worst from her inattention, Une sent Sally to check on him. The message she got back was, "Wufei's painting again. I left him sandwiches."

Une sighed and directed his paperwork to other agents for the next four days. When the teen came back, tired but so much more relaxed, she decided the first paint spree had not been a fluke or one time thing and then that it must be some kind of catharsis Wufei needed to stay sane. She'd allow for it, mostly because his work jumped in quality immediately after.

They met in the rec room a few days later and Une asked about his painting. Wufei paled and muttered some kind of excuse before he escape. Une frowned a bit and then asked Sally about it. The doctor was quiet a bit before she told Une what the wall now held.

Une reconsidered the psych evaluation but Sally talked her out of it. If anyone alive understood what those boys had gone through, they were Une and Sally. Une accepted that after thinking a bit. Wufei had found an outlet. That's all that mattered.

AC 197 - August

Une received the notice on her way out of the office for the night. She stared at it a moment, reading the name on the telegraph, then sent the messenger away. Une read the message in the hall, then uttered a strangled sound that made the remaining agents look up and shudder a bit. By the time their boss made it down to medical, there was a pot on who it was the chief was going to go Colonel Une on.

Ten seconds later, they were startled by the sound of Une's laughter, entwined with their chief of medical's.

Sally drew up the necessary paperwork while Une booked the right flights, then they sent the information to Mars and headed out to drink.

News traveled quickly and before the night shift was over, nearly every Preventers agent was in on it. Lucrezia Noin had arranged for maternity and Milliardo Peacecraft proposed. A few jokes were jabbed over the "shotgun" wedding, but anyone who knew the two also knew it would have happened eventually. Either event.

The wedding was scheduled quickly and instead of making the journey back to Earth, a two way video link started being set up to televise the wedding for their earth and colony bound friends. Une, however, was not going to miss the opportunity to see the vows in person.

She and Sally drank themselves silly after securing a babysitter for Mariemaya, and spent the night at the doctor's flat, laughing and singing congratulations.

AC 197 - September

He didn't know if he could handle it anymore. He'd seen blood on Heero's skin and clothes too many times to count, but it made him more and more sick to his stomach every time. It didn't matter if it wasn't Heero's blood. It was somebody's blood and the coppery smell made bile rise in his throat.

He couldn't sleep. There were terrors in the night that left him breathless and shaking. Nameless faces, unfamiliar voices, cold and dark and alone... It ached and burned away at his will, reducing it to a mere shadow of what he used to wield. He was tired of everything and fighting just made things worse. Fighting made him think there might be a chance, a way to make it all stop. There wasn't.

Heero washed his hands efficiently in the sink. Duo couldn't help staring, watching the flecks of brown and drops of red slid from his tanned skin. He felt sick but couldn't take his eyes away. The water washed the sin free, but was it really gone? Could it ever be gone? How many times had he done the same methodical actions? Heero started digging dried blood from under his fingernails.

Duo barely had time to get to the toilet before he vomited.

It took getting a full spectrum examination before Heero concluded that his partner was simply suffering from stress and exhaustion, not an illness or poison. He tried to make things easier, tried to help in ways he could and understood. He took on a few more duties from Duo, lightening his workload, took to bringing home pizza since the braided man seemed to be obsessively fond of the stuff. He even got a few of those horrible old kung fu movies he'd seen Duo and Wufei laugh at and pick apart once.

Two weeks after, Duo handed over his badge.

"I can't do it anymore. I'm sorry. I'll get my stuff out of here by tonight."

Heero didn't know what to do. He took the bit of metal, stared at it, stared at Duo, tried to reason out the whys and whats and whens in his mind with no information to draw them from.

"Why?" he blurted. Duo looked at him and tried to smile. He couldn't manage it.

"I'm tired 'Ro. I'm just...really tired."

Heero looked at the badge as if it would give him some insight into what that meant. He didn't budge until he heard Duo start shuffling about and realized he was starting to pack. Something cold and painful lurched in Heero's chest.

"Don't go," he said before he realized what he was doing.

Duo stopped dead. They looked at one another and hours of conversation passed through their gaze in the span of seconds. Duo put his things back in place.

The next morning, Heero told Une and made sure she wouldn't bother Duo about it further.

AC 197 - October

It wasn't that they forgot him, precisely. It was more that he was an inconvenient third wheel. Fifth wheel, rather. But, it was hard to be anything more when your four best friends had paired off so nicely right under your nose. Oh, they were being very hushed about it all, but he could take the hint. So, he stopped accepting invitations to avoid the awkwardness of being one-too-many and soon enough, they stopped asking. After all, why bother the cantankerous Dragon when their lovers kept them far more entertained?

Wufei didn't fault them. He tried very much not to think of them at all, really. Sometimes, they passed in the hallways of the Preventers Main Office, but only Yuy and Maxwell worked on his floor. Winner held an office two floors up and Barton was one floor down, though he spent more time in basement level 2, where the newest recruits were trained. No, not recruits: agents. It was little things like that which were the hardest to remember. The Preventers weren't made up of soldiers. Instead, they had agents. Silly how well a change in one word worked.

He took missions with Yuy sometimes. Those were moments he savored, when he was able to work to his full potential without having to worry about a less skilled partner, knowing Yuy would pull his full weight and wouldn't be a burden. They were also moments he dreaded, for it becomes so much harder to hide one's adoration when the object there of is nearby for long stretches of time. Thankfully or not, these missions didn't last long and they parted their separate ways easily enough. Yuy had a permanent partner, after all. Third wheel once more.

Then Maxwell quit. No one knew why the braided teen handed in the towel, but Yuy had told Une personally and had cleared out Maxwell's office the same day. There was no fight for it. He just didn't come back and expected everyone else to get along with it. Wufei hated himself for the quiet thanks his heart felt. No Maxwell meant...

He wasn't surprised when Une called him into her office to ask if he'd be interested in being Yuy's new partner.

Wufei accepted, but guilt ate away at him. He was almost happy Maxwell was gone, because that meant he could spend time with Yuy. He could get close to Yuy. Well, as close as anyone could. Wufei wondered how Maxwell had done it. He was still living with Yuy in an apartment only ten minutes from the office, but Wufei had no idea what he was up to. He was almost afraid of asking Yuy. It was stupid, but he shied away from anything that might break up their tentative balance with one another. Not that his interest in a friend's life would have hinted anything, but Wufei admitted to himself being a little jealous and disgruntle towards Maxwell.

Okay, perhaps a lot jealous and disgruntle.

He felt shamed, but Wufei had admitted a while back that he liked Heero Yuy a little more than he should. He was damned if he knew exactly why and doubly as to how to rid himself of the infatuation.

Because that's all it was, of course. Had to be.

He wondered how long he could continue to lie to himself.

AC 197 - November

Duo spent a month trying to figure out what to do with himself. He didn't have to work yet, really. He'd siphoned enough money from various warring organizations during the war and besides the charity on L2 he'd set to gifting every month, he hadn't touched it.

Heero tried to help him but he had little idea of what could be done outside of his current work. Duo was glad for the company though. He talked to Quatre finally, who suggested perhaps going back to school. Duo had gotten his GED, since it had been required for Preventers work, but hadn't thought about going further.

It took a week, but Duo got a late enrollment to one of the colleges in town. Apparently, a healthy donation was good to quickening things like that. He tentatively started with three random classes for the semester, not really caring about credits as much as figuring out if there was anything to learn that would interest him. A fourth and fifth class were added within the first week. School life somehow agreed with him.

Heero didn't have an opinion on the matter, it seemed. He made sure to clean thoroughly before coming home with take out to Duo studying on the overstuffed couch, school books spread over the living room table. They would eat together and talk about their day, falling into relative peace.

Duo took a liking to German. The language came easily to him, as had most languages he'd learned through the years. He was flying through the course, too fast for his professor to keep up with and the poor woman had finally just given him a list of the assignments so he could complete them at his own speed. He was done in two weeks and received his final grade for it. The professor then helped enroll him into the second level and caught him up to the others. Duo did just as well.

The other classes weren't as interesting to him but he still did well. His training as a Gundam Pilot was rather good for this sort of thing. Duo talked to a councilor about what classes he might be able to klep out of and started figuring out a testing schedule to get rid of some of the lower level things. He racked up quite a classes to skip that way.

When Quatre heard about his success with German, he urged Duo to try some of the other languages to see if he'd like them as well. Duo promised to in the next semester. His German professor told him about certifications he could get for the languages he was already fluent in and they started that process.

Heero talked to Wufei about the whole thing. He was glad Duo didn't seem lost anymore and found something he'd liked. The braided teen had worried him a bit after he quit. Wufei seemed oddly uninterested but he never told Heero to keep quiet. Heero kept him updated on Duo's studies, mostly because he found he liked talking to Wufei in general but rarely had a subject to speak on. Plus, it calmed him to talk to the grumpy Chinese man.

Wufei always managed to make it home before he started cursing and verbally abusing Duo Maxwell's very existence.

AC 197 - December

Christmas came before anyone expected. Une made a committee to plan the Preventers Holiday party so she didn't have to deal with it. She gave them a budget, a mostly empty floor, and let them handle things on their own. Personally, she just didn't give a damn what they ended up doing.

The party was set for the last weekend before half the force was off for their week of leave. The other half took leave in the next week. Une didn't want to go but Sally convinced her that, for the sake of the organization, she had to at least make an appearance. It took bribing with a bottle peppermint schnapps before Une begrudgingly agreed. Sally had to grin at how easy her friend was to please sometimes.

Since Une was required to go, she forced her four gundam pilots to do the same and was pleasantly surprised when Heero dragged Duo along with him. There had been rumors around the office during Duo's time there that the two were a couple but they died down when Duo left. Seeing the braided teen at Heero's side again just got the rumors going again. Of course, now there was the added element of Heero's current partner to make things extra juicy.

Maybe that was why Wufei hated most of the female staff and about half the male.

Trowa and Quatre mingled through the crowd, talking to various agents they knew. Or, rather, Quatre mingled and Trowa stared silently at most people. When Sally caught them, she managed to get an update on his circus friends. Apparently, Catherine was already expecting and the entire circus doted on her constantly. She wouldn't be able to do her act soon but her husband's steady job would be enough to support them until she could go back to it.

When Mariemaya arrived from school, freshly changed from her uniform into a rather cute party dress, the whispers began. The pilots seemed hesitant to speak with her beyond the polite hellos and she stuck to Une's side, one small hand curled in the woman's skirt and her head down. Finally, it was Wufei that actually engaged her and the two stuck up a rather in-depth conversation at the buffet table. They ended up stuck to one another the rest of the party and Une seemed fine with that, though she glanced over every once in a while to make sure her ward was still all right.

Good byes came both too soon and not soon enough. The agents dispersed over about an hour and Wufei ended up lingering longer than the others to keep talking to Mariemaia. Une was a bit surprised at the apparent swift friendship but thought perhaps their time together the previous Christmas had a lot to do with it. The two connected on a level the others didn't quite get. As she took Mariemaia's hand and lead her off to the car, the girl asked quietly if she could come to the office after school instead of going back to the house. Une agreed, as long as she got her homework done and didn't bother any of the workers.