Smash the pots and sink the boats.
The newly build preventer's headquarters in Brussels was an imposing building. Half of it was underground but the rest was a gleaming peak of steel and glass, with the ESUN symbol emblazoned over two stories in marble and metal. There were uniformed guards at the door, though they stayed discreet since this was a force for peace, not repression. From the multiple heli- and MS pads at its apex to the pleasant if severely geometric gardens at its base, it represented the strong arm of the new world nation, the watchful eye kept over peace.
It was ridiculously easy to break into.
Wufei walked slowly and casually down the hall. The visitor's badge he'd lifted from the ditzy secretary hung from the belt of his jeans. He had an empty A4 envelope in one hand and a clipboard in the other, he wore his youth like a badge of innocence and the word 'courier' written all over him. He was all but invisible as he walked the hallways past cubicles and offices, all still smelling faintly of new carpet and wrapping plastic. He didn't like these subterfuges but he'd not fought a war alongside Barton and Maxwell not to be able to pull it off when need be.
Of course, a small voice at the back of his mind pointed out dryly, this might not have been a situation that called for it. He could have avoided all this hassle with one phone call.
He caught the scowl on his face in the reflection from a glass door and schooled his features to impassivity again. It wasn't that much of an effort to break into this place. And it was a phone call he'd been reluctant to make, for reasons he didn't even try to explore.
When he'd left Hangzhou, he'd found a few remnants of Sally's resistance group operating out of Beijing, more or less under cover and on the edge of legality out of force of habit and a lingering suspicion regarding the peace they'd also fought for. They'd offered him a place to sleep for one night and an unchartered flight out of China to the destination of his choice, with his weapons and his privacy, in exchange for the small favour of having saved all their lives during the war. It was when they'd asked him where he wanted to fly to that he'd been momentarily stumped.
Of course the logical course of action all along would have been to get in touch with the preventers, talk to Une or whoever they'd put in charge, explain his circumstances, sign on the dotted line...
He would join the preventers. He believed in their cause now and he was never tepid when it came to defending what he believed to be just. It was just that...he rather wondered where Heero was and if he was still looking for a partner. He'd had no news from the man, and he had no idea where he was, or even if he was still with the preventers himself.
Instead of resting that night, he'd spent it hacking into the preventer's database, to see if he could find a trace of his former partner. Their computer security was good, and Wufei was not a master hacker like some. He'd not made much progress by the time dawn had started spilling light on the bed he'd not slept in. Then he had the idea of checking for back doors. In the time he'd worked with Yuy and Maxwell, he'd seen their MO and knew their habits. Of course, the preventer database was not the same as an OZ system to be cracked and then left vulnerable for later needs...
He'd been rather surprised to find that it was.
It was one of Yuy's old back doors and passwords, the kind he'd put in discreetly so that the others could access an enemy system even if he wasn't available to help hack into it. The access didn't leave Wufei in super-user mode. He could get in to some lesser systems in preventers, but nothing crucial that he could see. But it did connect him to something interesting; an entry which was isolated from all other preventer functions, and accessible only through that login. A simple table with five entries.
That's when he learned that Heero was in Brussels. Yuy's entry was short and to the point; it had a cell phone number, a PO box (also in Brussels), and a curt line informing whoever accessed the table that he was working for the next two weeks in the IS dept of Preventer HQ. The entry had been updated a few days ago.
Wufei's hand had drifted to his cell but he found himself checking the other entries first, delaying the call.
Duo was apparently on L2. There was a cell number, an address, and a cheerful if rather cryptic message: "Hi guys! I'm back from that cluster, wasn't much to salvage after all. I'm hoping to go out again soon though, Hilde's got a good lead on some stuff on the moon base. I'll update this when I do, and warn her Ladyship. 427-fucking-E, right guys? Well, I'll be in touch. Call me, Yuy! Apart from your little love notes in this database we don't hear from you." It had been updated two weeks ago.
Trowa's entry was similar to Heero's, a cell number, a PO box on L3, and a list of colonies and dates, some of which were in the future. It looked like an itinerary. Wufei noted absently that two of the destinations were the same, Duo's address; Trowa had been there three weeks ago and would be there next week as well.
Quatre's entry was simply a phone number, and an address on L4. Wufei was surprised there wasn't more information, considering the previous entries. His own entry - he'd not been surprised to find it - was the same, his cell number and his address in Hangzhou. Nothing more.
"Hey kid!" A fist had slammed against the door. "Time to rise and shine! If you want to get a flight out of here today, you're going to have to tell us-"
Wufei had opened the door before the second knock.
"Brussels." He told the wide eyes behind the fist, and closed the door again to catch a few hours sleep.
He'd arrived in Brussels thirty one hours later. He stored his bag and sword at the station instead of taking a hotel room. Logically he should pause and take stock and illogically he wanted to charge ahead regardless. He headed into the centre of town, towards the newly constructed HQ.
He'd still not made that call.
He sat in a cafe on the other side of the Platz, his eyes going over the building. His cell phone was on the table, staring at him as reprovingly as such an object could. Just one phone call...
Using Yuy's back door and his own hacking skills, he managed to bypass the security cameras on the service entrance, then waited until some over-busy caterer wedged the door open behind his plates of sandwiches, and simply walked in, shaking his head disapprovingly. They'd not even put a checkpoint at this access, they were relying on the door lock and cameras alone. It didn't strike him as very serious security. He was disappointed that Heero would work in such conditions and not do anything about it. He'd detoured by a stock room to get the clipboard and important-looking envelope justifying his presence, nicked the visitor's badge from the secretary that tried to flirt with him instead of asking him what the hell he was doing there, then used the computer someone had imprudently left unlocked during lunch break to check the building plans for the systems room.
He walked casually down the halls, knowing that attitude was ninety percent of any disguise. Which was how Maxwell had managed to infiltrate so many objectives despite being a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old with a foot-long braid. No one looked at him, most of the cubicles and hallways were empty, people were at lunch.
He turned a corner leading to the IS department and found himself faced with a checkpoint. Well, sort of. A desk, a phone and a security guard who looked younger than he was; the young man stopped playing solitaire when he saw Wufei and looked up with the bored expectation of someone who is going to have to pay a minimum of attention to his job.
"Package for a Mr Yuy." Wufei said, walking right up to the desk. If Heero wasn't going by that name things would get sticky and he wanted to be in arms reach of the man.
"Okay." The guard sighed and held out a hand. Wufei shook his head.
"Hands only, I'm afraid."
"I have to deliver it to Mr Yuy himself. He needs to sign for it." He waved the clipboard at the guard like a talisman.
"Oh. Well, he may be at lunch, most people are." The guard - his badge said his name was S. Hewitt - looked longingly at his screen, then sighed and thrust a ledger at Wufei. "Sign here and I'll get someone to walk ya to the fridge. That's where he'll be, if he's anywhere."
Wufei signed 'Duo Maxwell' into the ledger while the guard placed a call, and looked up to find a portly sandy-haired man trudging up the long line of cubicles on the other side of the checkpoint.
"Yeah?" The man grunted at the guard.
Hewitt swivelled smoothly in his chair to look at him. "Courier for Yuy."
"He's in the fridge."
"Yeah, but the guy says he needs to sign off on this himself." Hewitt continued his smooth rotation until he'd made a nearly complete revolution that put him back in front of his game of solitaire.
"He hates to be disturbed." The fat man muttered, his look of annoyance tainted with a bit of reluctance.
The guard shrugged as he clicked away. The fat man glared at him, then gave Wufei a curt gesture to follow.
Wufei glanced at his watch. It was fifteen past noon. He'd been in the building twenty minutes. He'd brought the cameras down an hour ago. At some point surely someone would notice the security breach, and would ring an alarm. Then, assuming the checkpoint guard could tear himself away from his game of solitaire, he would be one of many checking his list of names against the building's entry records. Wufei's presence would be discovered shortly. He should have made that phone call...
"He's in here, unless he went to lunch." The fat man - his badge had been flipped the wrong way around, as had his tie, and he'd not bothered to introduce himself to a courier - stopped in front of a sealed door with a security keypad on it. He entered a few numbers - 48293, Wufei noted automatically, and rolled his eyes to the heavens - and opened the door a crack, with something like trepidation, as if he expected a feral animal to leap out at him.
"He's in here, he's working." He whispered, reinforcing the impression. Wufei fought to keep a smirk from his face. Looked like Heero still had it.
The fat man swung the door open, hesitated, coughed, and then took two steps inside. Wufei waited a few seconds then followed.
"Erm, someone here for you. Courier. Needs you to sign for a package."
The room was rich with the hum of dozens of servers and stacks, their fans whisking away and purring in the aggressive cold of air-conditioning, lights blinking green and red under harsh neon. Heero's back was towards the door, but Wufei caught the tail end of a movement from his swivel chair, he'd probably glanced up as soon as he heard the door open. His fingers were flying over the keys again though, and the line of his shoulders was unfriendly. Wufei and the fat man waited a few seconds until it was obvious that Heero was not going to turn around.
"Erm, he needs you to sign..." The fat man repeated.
"In a minute." Heero said. Once more Wufei had to catch his smile at the familiar cold, dead tones and the fat man's wince as he looked at Wufei, embarrassed.
"He doesn't like to be disturbed." The fat man told him in a stage whisper which Yuy would have been able to hear from the other side of the room, not that the man would know this. Wufei's escort hesitated, then when Wufei leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, visibly willing to wait, he left with a shrug and closed the door behind him.
Wufei glanced around the server room idly then rested his eyes on the familiar back. Heero was wearing grey fatigues and a khaki-coloured t-shirt, despite the coolant-scented biting air of 'the fridge'. His hair was a bit shorter in the back than when Wufei had seen him last. He wondered if he'd cut the bangs as well. Heero wasn't armed, as far as Wufei could see, though he could have a knife slipped into the steel-capped boots.
The fingers were flying over the keyboard in a clatter of noise to rival the hum and ratchet of the hard disks around them. Then the typing slowed and stuttered to a stop and the dark head came up, listening to the silence behind him that was not the one you'd expect from a normal person shifting around and getting bored fast.
"Yuy." Wufei said just as Heero started to spin around.
The back of the swivel chair bumped against the keyboard -
- which clattered against the screen. Heero stared at him and that's when Wufei knew why he'd not made the call.
"Do I even want to know how you got in here and why they think you're a courier?" Heero asked, recuperating his impassivity with remarkable speed.
- But in that instant of surprise...
"The security in this place is a joke."
- wide eyes, a face that suddenly looked sixteen when it usually didn't, the hitch in the shoulders...
"I know. I've informed Une of this fact on several occasions."
- the mouth that had lost its usual rigid line, the tone of the voice when it had gasped his name - his given name, Wufei noted with a shiver of curiosity and something like nervousness.
"Why don't you do something about it?"
Heero turned back towards the keyboard with a shrug. "Not my department. Give me five minutes." The clatter started again...
- that instant had given Wufei the answer he needed, to a question he'd been unable to ask even himself...
Heero's shoulders were locked and slightly hostile as he typed swiftly. He probably wasn't sure why Wufei was there, and the uncertainty was making him tense. There was no other indication that Heero was interested in seeing him after so many months or anything other than mildly annoyed.
- But for an instant, because Wufei had surprised him, had shocked him out of the steel core he wrapped around himself and his emotions, Wufei had seen what Heero himself could not have put into words. Or maybe he had, once, when he'd been nearly comatose from sleep-deprivation...'I never thought training with someone else would be of any value at all, Chang...But you despise distractions and mistakes. I didn't understand it to start with, your pursuit of improvement, of excellence, but I do now. I have even integrated it into my own overall mission plan.'
Wufei wondered if he should mind that the only time Heero let him know his presence wasn't just another annoyance was when the soldier was exhausted past caring or shocked to the core, and realized that actually he didn't care at all.
That slight give in the mask, which would never be repeated in words, that might not even be recognized consciously by its owner...it was good enough for Wufei. His tattered pride that had survived the war, Treize, the banishment from his clan and peace, would not have allowed him to ask Heero to resume their partnership if there had been any chance that he was imposing his flawed strength where it was not needed or wanted. But his presence was not an imposition. Knowing that, he could ask Heero to allow them to work together. Hell, he'd plead if Heero wanted to make him pay for those few months' wait. The need was there and on either side, that was what counted.
Heero finally saved and turned again in his chair, leaning back against the small keyboard desk.
"Are you on a class break?" His eyes were cold and uncaring, running clinically up Wufei's frame to pin him with a stare.
Wufei took a breath, the cold air pinching his nostrils, the scent of plastic and air-conditioning flat and cloying.
"My clan has freed me from my obligations. I no longer have to study, I can choose my own career." He said simply.
Heero could have been carved in ice for all the effect that had, his control was absolute, as if to make up for the earlier slip.
"And you are here-....?"
"To see if that offer you made me still stands."
They looked at each other, the silence humming around them.
"You want to join?"
"Yes. Do you still need a partner?" Wufei asked, politely framing the redundant question into words. He didn't think he'd have sensed what he had from Heero if the man had found an adequate replacement.
"...yes." Heero's voice was non-committal, but the lines of his shoulders eased slightly.
They weighed each other some more, in silence, then Heero nodded, once.
"Acceptable. Let me finish here and we can-"
"You!" The voice was faint, muffled by the sealed door and diluted by the hum of servers. "Have you seen an annoying kid with a long braid and a grin about this big?"
Wufei and Heero exchanged glances - the latter definitely startled - and listened to the faint mutter of denial from someone else in the hallway.
The code on the door beeped and Wufei leaned back against the wall and moved sideways so that the opening door would shield him for a moment.
"Yuy!" A woman in uniform marched through the door, head swinging right and left in case any Maxwells were lurking around. "Did that infuriating friend of yours show up?"
Heero's eyebrows hitched and he glanced at Wufei in surprise, though the other person didn't catch the gesture. "Friend?"
"Maxwell. There can't be two Duo Maxwells in existence or else I'll resign. And retire to a nunnery somewhere. Him or someone using that name signed in a few minutes ago, said-" The woman finally glanced behind her, following Heero's gaze, and stuttered to a stop.
Wufei nodded once, trying not to appear overly defensive. The last time he'd seen this woman, she'd tossed him into a brig on the lunar base. Wufei wasn't sure of the sequence of events that had followed; he had a hard time believing she'd ended up being one of the motivating forces for peace, and head of the preventers despite the fact she had a career sheet many a war criminal would envy and, last he heard, a few psychological flaws that would not allow her to hold a job in a burger joint in most places on earth and in space.
"We tend to help ourselves to Maxwell's name on occasion and I already told you the security on this building is ridiculous." Heero said dryly, figuring it out with his usual speed.
Une shot Heero a cold glance then turned back to Wufei. He found himself weighed down to the last atom. Well she might have become a fuzzy baa-lamb for peace but she was still as sharp as a butcher's knife.
"Did you break into this building, Chang?"
"Yes." Wufei shrugged.
"I dropped by to say hello to Yuy." Wufei said, like one moves a pawn forward on the board.
Une smiled, a sweet, mature smile. Her voice was pure acid. "And you broke into the building to do this?"
"Yes." Wufei said and waited to see what she'd shoot back at him. In the background, Heero had scooted his chair sideways a bit so he could see both of them and was looking on with the interested air of a spectator at a ping pong match.
Une's smile curdled for an instant then her eyes narrowed. The look became predatory. "Weren't you attending University somewhere in Asia?"
"So you just dropped by Brussels to say hello?" Une's eyes were unblinking and fixed on his pupils. The mature smile had returned. He wondered just how sane she was these days. "Decided to see how your friend's job was going?"
"Something like that." This woman was going to be his boss, but he'd spent too long thinking of her as an enemy and Treize's minion, and the conflicting reflexes this elicited were making him cagey.
"Well, then, maybe we could give you the grand tour. I think you'll like what we've been doing here, Chang. Our work here is important, and very fulfilling. And since we're still a very new organisation, there's no glass ceiling, plenty of room at the top in a few years time when people who've been in it from the start will look at consolidating a career."
Wufei's eyes flicked towards Heero's with a very obvious 'what the hell?'
Heero's lips curved. "Commander Une has been having a hard time finding a partner for me." He said, his dull voice interrupting Une's calculated spin. "I think she's trying to tempt you into joining."
Une glared at Heero. "Thank you, Yuy, but I'd think you'd be just as interested as I am in getting another of you pilots here on a permanent basis."
Wufei opened his mouth but wasn't allowed a say.
"Listen, Chang, let's discuss this, okay? I know you've got your future all worked out to your satisfaction - " she sounded very certain, as if she had been told this quite firmly before; Wufei shot Heero a glance but the later gave away nothing "- and we don't actually have to make this a permanent arrangement, you could continue to study in your downtime - I'd be ready to guarantee adequate sabbaticals for any scholastic program you're willing to aim for, it will delay your graduation by a few years but - "
"Really?" Wufei was surprised. They must be desperate for good agents.
"Yes!" Une pounced, misunderstanding his surprise. "And needless to say, the preventers would cover the costs of your education, partly or in totality if you're willing to work towards skills we could integrate later. I don't want to pressure you but maybe I could borrow a few hours of your vacation here to sit down and see if we could throw a few interesting ideas around. We can be very flexible. Barton and Maxwell have both come to satisfactory arrangements to-"
"Maxwell and Barton work for preventers too?" Wufei's eyes flickered towards Heero again. How come he wasn't working with one of them?
"Only part-time, or on requirement to be exact." Une smiled. It didn't reach her eyes. "As you see we're quite flexible. What's your schedule for today? Yuy, why don't you take the afternoon off, oh and tomorrow too, show your friend here around Brussels, maybe give him a tour of the HQ, and-"
"I'd rather have a mission." Heero said. His eyes flicked towards Wufei, an eyebrow lifted in a question.
Une turned fully to stare at him, puzzled. "I don't have anything in the works for a solo op, Yuy, you know that."
"He's not solo anymore." Wufei said quietly, deciding that the satisfaction he'd get from toying with her further would not be worth the creepy feeling of Une trying to be nice to him.
Une turned again, looked from one to the other, and then nodded slowly. Her eyes were calculating and Wufei thought she'd understood a great deal more than what had been said, and had figured him out faster and more accurately than his uncle Wai had. She caught on fast, he should not underestimate her.
"I see. Are you even going to ask me about salary package and health benefits or are you going to -"
"Skip straight to the part where you tell me what the mission is."
Une looked at him steadily then nodded again. "Good. I'm sure we'll settle the rest to your satisfaction. And I can see where you'll fit in to the organisation." Her eyes had flickered to Heero. Wufei was ready to bet Yuy had not inquired about salary either when he decided to work for her organisation. "Yuy, get the hell out of this computer room, that lazy tech we hired will have to do the job now, even if he takes four times as long. Why don't you show Chang here the other office, while I get the paperwork ready. Where are you staying, Chang?"
"With me." Heero said, slipping smoothly into the slight hesitation her words had caused. Wufei nodded, knowing that only Heero would be able to read the stiff gratitude in the gesture.
"I'll fax the stuff over then. I need to make you jump through a few hoops, Chang, sorry about that but this is an administration and there's only so much red tape I can cut through. I think I can slip you in to our evaluation tests tomorrow. Yuy will give you the rules and regs you need to know. I trust you can learn them as quickly as he did. You'll have a certification to pass eventually, and officially you'll be in Yuy's charge as trainee until you're done but that's only what it'll say on your tax return. Uniform, medical, one last chance to pull out, and you and Yuy can be in the field by this weekend."
Wufei glanced at Heero. The later did not seem surprised at the speed and slight taste of rule-bending Une was putting on display. The massive steel and glass edifice around them did not seem compatible with such alacrity. The marble ESUN symbol seemed too ponderous to cut red tape and get him out of what should be months of boring training.
"I think Yuy can give you a better idea of what to expect with us." He found Une watching him like a cat with its paws on either side of a single-exit mouse-hole. "It may not be quite what you expect. But I'm thinking you'll like it. If you have any concerns I'll be in my office, buried in paperwork and trying to perform miracles."
She spun on her heels and walked out. Wufei smiled slightly at the gesture; Une was no pushover. He'd have to ask Yuy how reliable she was these days though.
"Wait here a minute." Heero brushed past him. "I'll be right back. Try not to break into anything."
On to part thirteen-b. Back to part twelve.