Wufei tenses up when the other SOLDIER come in. Zack Fair isn't one of the last people Wufei wants to see right now, but then the list is pretty crowded at the top. "Do you miss laundry duty that much?" he asks dryly, and lifts another basket of clean clothes to sort out.
The other man laughs. "Oh yeah, laundry duty, my true calling."
He seems so young for his age, Wufei thinks. So young for the job he does. He's a whole four years older than Wufei was when he went to war to free his Colony, so maybe not that young after all.
"What do you want?" Wufei asks, maybe too harsh, harsher than Fair deserves. Fair only wants to make friends. It's just about the last thing Wufei wants.
"Need a hand?"
Wufei doesn't even think twice. "No."
"You sure? It wouldn't bug me." But the young man doesn't try to help against Wufei's wishes. He leans against the doorjamb, hands held loosely at the small of his back in a posture that should look more military than it does.
Wufei grits his teeth in silence and turns his back pointedly as he starts folding and sorting shirts. Fair doesn't say anything; he waits. He isn't even whistling or fidgeting, so Wufei can't kick him out on account of making his headache worse.
Going for a drink with his unit was about the worst mistake he could have made. Then again, Wufei was damned either way. He can't afford to have people get to know him too well or start to care about what he does with his off-hours -- but he can't afford to completely alienate them either. In the best case, rejecting all socialization would probably gain him a long talk with his CO about cooperation and team spirit. Wufei already got that talk when he was with the Preventers, and in the Preventers people work in pairs, not in platoons. In the worst case, he doesn't want to get killed stupidly because others didn't feel like covering his six.
It never goes over well when he's too obvious about how little he trusts others to do their part to keep him safe.
He knows why Fair is here. Fair is very good at greasing the machine, making sure every part keeps working with as little friction as possible for the best performance. He's even better at it because it comes to him so naturally. He comes across as if he doesn't even see it like that -- he's just generally friendly and therefore he's concerned. Which makes him even more efficient. Wufei, in all his cynicism, sometimes doubts how unaware of his role in things Zack Fair truly is.
"About that story you told yesterday," Zack starts, and even though Wufei isn't looking he can tell he's smiling.
Zack sighs, tone light with good-humored patience. "You don't even know what I want to ask."
"I was drunk, Fair. I was drunk, I barely remember half of it, and it would be a lot less funny sober."
He remembers Zack laughing at him, like the rest of their platoon; Garrick, Hamar, Tanner, Vernes. Vernes is an especially vivid memory, because he actively dislikes Wufei. The feeling is mutual.
"I thought it was more interesting than funny," Fair says, and sounds entirely sincere. "I mean, it was amusing, but I still want to know more."
Wufei pairs lone socks back together. It's a job that requires concentration. It keeps him from swearing. He wishes he could swear; he made Fair curious.
"There's nothing else to know."
"I think there is."
And he doesn't sound suspicious, he doesn't look suspicious when Wufei can't help it and glances back. Just patient, just open. Wufei knows his type, so easy to talk to, you find yourself rattling off your credit card code before you know it.
The harder he tries to protect his secrets and the harder Fair will look for them. So once again he starts considering which part to sacrifice to appease him and protect the rest. That's how you infiltrate best, Barton told him one time. Truth with lies...
"I don't want to talk about it." More quietly; "I shouldn't have talked about it."
He did anyway because... he was drunk. Because everyone was relaxed, because hard-to-please Garrick had commended him on a job well-done, because it so happens Hamar's sense of sarcasm is very similar to Wufei's, because Vernes had gotten laid and was less of an ass. Because they'd saved the day together, and after so long spent doing nothing but training and keeping watch on military locations it was something he missed. Fighting. Cutting away corruption. Protecting the innocent.
"... I don't think they noticed it was important to you. They wouldn't have laughed otherwise."
Wufei snorts. "Of course." Of course they would have.
He's still not even sure why they found it funny; he wasn't trying to be amusing. Something cultural he doesn't know about, he supposes. Something else he needs to learn if he wants to blend in.
"Aw, man. I'm sorry I laughed too. It's only because you were so animated, I swear. It's like you never smile!" Zack pushes away from the door and moves closer; he peers around Wufei's shoulder and grimaces at him sheepishly. "You used to smile more often, huh. At least a bit."
Wufei pauses for a second, sock in hand, then slowly and deliberately matches it with its lost mate. "Why, Fair, I didn't know you were so interested in my... smiles. Should I warn your girlfriend?"
Of course Fair cannot react like a normal military guy and draw back, no; instead he bursts out laughing. "Oh man, you'd better not, she'd ask if she can watch."
Wufei blinks at him. "I don't even know why I find it surprising that you of all people are dating a pervert."
Fair chuckles again and punches him lightly in the shoulder. Wufei berates himself for joining in the teasing, however lightly. He doesn't want Fair to think they're friends. He's not home here. He's not one of them. He can't afford to start thinking of these men as his peers.
Even though with the mako running in his veins he doesn't have peers anywhere else anymore.
"That Nataku you were talking about, I wonder if they worship her in Wutai?"
Wufei doesn't allow himself even a second to think 'shit'. "I wouldn't know. I've never been to Wutai in my life."
All he really knows about the place is that it seems to be home to a sort of pseudo-Asia, or at least a place where people present enough physical traits -- smooth black hair, slanted eyes, golden skin -- that at first glance no one is willing to accept him as less than a full-blooded Wutaian. And that barely a year ago there was a war, between Wutai and Shinra. One that makes veterans sneer at him and call him a turncoat and other, racial slurs, and some even after he's shown them his Mideel residency.
It's a well-known fact that there have been Wutainese-looking people on the Mideel islands for the last five hundred years or more; that's all that saved him. Except Zack Fair is wondering.
It's one thing to have the official Shinra agency doing background checks on him. It's routine. It's quite another to be suspected by one of his own, especially one who is rumored to be observant and helpful, and has the ear of the General himself.
Zack leans over his shoulder and gives him a friendly grin. "Sure you don't remember the story? It was interesting, I wanted to know how it ends."
"Fair, that's not funny," Wufei snaps angrily. Zack immediately looks guilty.
"You know I just tease you because I like you, right?"
Wufei sighs and mutters, "I really should warn your girlfriend."
He shouldn't have, because Fair correctly interprets it as humor and laughs, sincerely entertained by his sarcasm. For a moment Wufei misses Maxwell so bad he can hardly breathe.
"Alright, alright, I'll stop hitting on you. But if she gives me the puppy eyes it'll be your fault."
"My heart bleeds." He shrugs Zack's arm off his shoulder, where it somehow landed. Sneaky.
Zack put it right back and smiles in that deceptively harmless way that makes Wufei's hackles rise. "Hey, Chang. You ever wish you could go--"
"To Wutai? Why should I?" Wufei snaps, and doesn't know how much outrage he should add before it looks suspicious. Because while Fair doesn't openly mean it that way, it still sounds like he's angling to find out whether Wufei has a link with the place.
Zack doesn't retract his question, doesn't look startled as the double-meaning in his words becomes clear to him, doesn't look apologetic or embarrassed that he was caught fishing. He just looks at him, a little sad. Wufei thinks he must have had gray eyes, before mako turned them materia-purple. They're close enough he can see the reflection of his own gold-over-black irises in them.
"No. I wanted to say 'home'."
Wufei breathes in, a bit too fast, a bit raspy. How does he know. How does he know. "I believe you were leaving."
"Okay." Zack smiles then, a small, not that amused smile -- an almost tender one. And then the smile fades away and he's serious like he almost never is. "I really do want to hear the end of the Nataku story one day, if you feel like telling me. I promise I'll keep you sober until the end, and get you as drunk as you need afterwards."
And then he leaves the laundry room, abandoning Wufei with his many piles of SOLDIER uniforms still left to fold.
"I'll ... consider the offer," Wufei whispers once he's alone, knowing that Zack is close enough to hear him anyway. Then he goes back to work.
It doesn't go fast, when all he can think is 'I'm not lonely, I'm not, I'm