"I'll do my level best." Wufei told Yuy's back. He watched from the doorway as Heero caught up with his commanding officer, spun her around by the elbow - Wufei's eyebrow arched - and talked to her in a low voice. Last minute details, possibly. Heero's stance was intriguing; slightly menacing even. Une's eyes were like glass and her face was as impassive as her agent's.
Finally she left and Heero looked back at Wufei, a beckoning glance.
"What was that about?"
"Just making sure you have appropriate working conditions." Heero said curtly. "You didn't ask many questions."
"I didn't think I needed to." Now he was wondering.
"Don't worry about it, I took care of it. I'll show you around. Tell you what you need to know. Do you have a car?"
"No, I came by taxi."
"Good. Come on, we've got nearly an hour's drive ahead of us at this time of day."
"Where are we going?"
"To the office."
Wufei cast a quizzical look around them. Heero intercepted it and smiled ever so slightly.
"The other office."
Heero drove the non-descript car by the train station to pick up Wufei's sparse luggage, then headed off towards the outskirts of Brussels. Low-income high-rises gave way to industrial zones and cargo train yards. Wufei found himself hypnotized by the passing of one non-descript hangar after another. He couldn't even feel surprised that there was a second preventer office in Brussels, or that it was in this unlikely area. His eyes squinted against the sparse watered-down February sunlight, and he found them closing by themselves.
"You look tired." Heero was driving with serious attention, eyes darting to the rear-view mirror to make sure the completely empty- road behind them was still free of enemy pursuit. Wufei was relieved he wasn't the only one for whom the war lingered like a bad habit.
"It was a very long trip." He acknowledged. "But I'll live. Where are we going?"
Wufei tried to keep awake and distracted. He observed Heero through the corner of his eyes. His one-time ally had looked a bit taller when he'd brushed by the Chinese teen in the computer room. His hair was slightly shorter but his bangs still fell over his face, hiding his eyes if he ducked his head just a little; Wufei suspected it was a defence mechanism that pre-dated his days as a pilot. Heero was tanned and his skin was rougher than before; most of his missions must have been on earth and out of doors. He had a puckered pink scar across the back of his knuckles that looked new. A non-descript denim jacket had been slipped over his t-shirt but no weapon holster. He wore a thick, ugly chain around his neck with a couple of metal disks hanging from it that Wufei was itching to examine; they looked like dog-tags that were trying to seem less than military. He guessed the preventers walked a fine line, being an armed force for peace, working in a world all too easily reminded of soldiers and take-overs and repression.
His intuition stirred. He'd been so intent on working with Heero - knowing that whatever Yuy would be doing would be worthwhile and certainly not boring - that he'd not actually thought much about the kind of work they would be doing. His uncle Wai's description of a policeman's job had been his vague template to date and though he'd not been enthusiastic about parts of it, he now believed in the cause and would put up with the boring as well as the intense. He was beginning to wonder if he'd not made a few false assumptions though.
He followed a jetstream streak with his eyes and realized the shuttle at its end was in approach position. They must be near the spaceport/airport. 'A tempting target' his sleep-blurred mind whispered, and he caught himself with an inward wince and glanced around to distract himself. For the last five minutes they'd been driving alongside a high barbed-wire-topped fence with nothing but empty lots behind it. In the distance he could see some low hangars. Just as he was about to ask what this was, Heero pulled in at a check point in the fence. Wufei glanced at the steel plate bolted on to a concrete pillar, but the name of the place was a meaningless acronym. Heero nodded to the security detail - three men in a little hut, one of whom nodded back. From the way the light was reflecting off their windows they were encased in concrete and plexiglass.
"Where are we?"
"Weapons disposal unit, for whatever hardware was not destroyed on return to MO2 at the end of the war. And there's a research block as well, to study any new things that might be developed. It's preventer controlled."
"Ah. And this is where you work?"
"Not quite. I work in the underground facility beneath it, the one that's not on any map of the site. The one only a few people in ESUN and even preventers know about."
Wufei leaned back against the seat and stared at the distant hangars. Heero didn't go through the checkpoint, he backed out and continued on down the road.
"Spec ops?" Wufei asked quietly.
"Of a sort. I think Une has it down as the Primary Intervention Division or such."
"You're right. I should have asked more questions."
"We're accountable." Heero said firmly. "And watched. And I watch." He added. Wufei found himself nodding. A black ops group could be the tool of tomorrow's oppression, but not on Heero's beat.
"What exactly is it that you do?"
"We take care of the fires."
"Undercover work - but that's not my specialty." Heero suddenly turned the car into the dirt off the side of the road next to the barbed wire fence and the pock-marked desolate terrain behind it and stopped the motor. His look when he turned towards Wufei was direct, serious. "The preventers are a responsible organisation, a policing force for peace. They are accountable to ESUN, and they have the legal authority to conduct arrests. The trials are held at the world nation's courts in Luxemburg and Mumbai. It's all above ground for the most part."
"For the most part." Wufei said, with a 'here it comes' voice.
"But before the young fresh-faced recruits go in and arrest people, before the detectives and forensics move in to do their job, before the lawyers and the right to remain silent...before all that we're facing all degrees of military level opposition and we're not a military organisation that can respond in kind. Une needs someone who can crack open a situation and allow the more conventional forces in. Someone-"
"-who's fought a war, knows what it's like to be heavily outgunned, and who's not afraid of getting his hands dirty."
"You in, Chang?"
"I already said I was." Wufei didn't hesitate. "I can't even say I'm all that surprised, you wouldn't be good with paperwork, donuts and public relations, Yuy."
"Well the last two we've managed to skip." Heero scowled at the road, where a pigeon pecked at something on the other lane. "But we're policed, and there's paperwork. Granted not many people have the security levels to look at it, but there's paperwork." His voice was as neutral as ever but Wufei had the distinct impression this was the least liked aspect of the job.
"Drive on, Yuy." Wufei leaned back against in the seat and put his hands behind his head. "Weren't you going to show me your office?" He added as Heero pulled away from the curb.
"We'll do a quick tour tomorrow. Une needs to get your authorisation through to them first. All five of us are on a watch list for any kind of secure installation and our prints and retinal scans are on file." Heero said as if this was perfectly normal.
"How did they get my retinal-...lunar base. They kept the OZ prison records."
"Hai. You won't get past the lobby without Une's direct approval."
Wufei made a small 'hmph' noise.
"Please don't try to break into this building." Heero added sarcastically. "You won't be able to."
"I try myself every so often and so far I've only gotten past the first level."
"There's not much to see anyway. I don't actually have an office, like most agents I spend most of my time in the field, or at home. There's five underground stories, most of them offices and IT systems for the surveillance division. For us field operatives there's a bunch of wired desks available if we need them, most of the time I work in the computer room though. There's a weapons depot - are you armed?"
"Luger in my duffel."
"It was when I took it off the corpse of some OZ officer on the lunar base, does that count?"
"We'll get you sorted with something a bit more legal. There's a huge information gathering service - Sally Po and Lucrezia Noin work for that branch, I see them occasionally. Then there's what you'd expect; a small clinic, holding cells, interrogation rooms - no, not that kind."
Wufei tried to release the sudden tension that had touched him like a live wire. "'Not that kind'...but don't tell me that you get the bad guys all the way into the great 'secret base' and then let them make a phone-call to their lawyer."
"We're not the police but there is a judicial representative present at every interrogation and we're not allowed to violate the constitution. Much. Actually it walks a fine line but we draw it at truth serums, and only with approval."
"The rubber hose and electric shock methods are passé, are they?" Wufei tried to sound sardonic but his voice was flat in his own ears. Memories lingered in his mind like the taint of bile in his mouth.
"I'll let you read our charter when we get to my place. If you have any concerns-"
Wufei interrupted him with an abrupt gesture. Part of him was not surprised, even reassured that the world still worked the way it always had. And a small part of him was disappointed.
"Where are we?" He glanced around as the car stopped again. They were in an area of small industrial lots backing up to the barbed wire of the huge base. There was a long-term storage facility taking up most of the lot, a small workshop that made prosthetics according to the sign on the wall, and an empty run-down hangar. Most of the buildings around them seemed deserted; the last year of war had hit all earth economies hard.
"My place." Heero stepped out of the car and went to grab his laptop's bag in the backseat.
"Where?" Wufei asked, nonplussed.
For answer Heero headed towards the prosthetics shop. Wufei belatedly got out of the car and followed, in time to see Heero unlock a steel door with what appeared to be very adequate locks on it.
The workshop was a big empty space inside, with a high ceiling. Dusty light fell through plastic windows high up on the walls. It had been stripped of any signs of its previous function. It didn't take Wufei any time at all to figure out why Heero lived here, apart from the fact that it was five minutes away from the gate they'd passed on their way over. The space had been sectioned off and each part was neatly and efficiently laid out.
The area closest to the door was a training centre. The concrete was covered in a spring-board setup that must have taken Heero a considerable amount of work, but gave a good, elastic surface to work on that wouldn't damage the joints. There were neatly ordered weights and a bench off to one side, a punching bag hanging from the high ceiling by a thick chain - Wufei looked at it with some sympathy, it was already lumpy and sagging at the seams and he had a feeling it wasn't the first one Heero had owned either. Outside of the spring-boarded area there was weight lifting equipment and a rower, with elastic matting beneath them.
"Don't the preventers have a gym?" Wufei asked as he followed Heero to the right hand wall.
"Yes." Heero said curtly. He didn't say anything else though; Wufei suspected that Heero did not like to show his superior training and skills where anyone else could see. Paranoia, or simply discretion and a desire for privacy. Wufei could understand them all.
Next to the slapped-together dojo, the floor was concrete that stretched to the back of the workshop where a big service door led to the loading area, Wufei guessed. There were several worktops and counters in this area, with engine parts and a bike which Wufei looked at it with interest. Tools hung in regimental order from the wall, it looked like a mechanic's shop. Wufei wondered if there was a Gundam lurking under a tarp outside the door.
On the right hand side of the space, what had once been a small lunch room had been remodelled into a very rough kitchen, with metal racks and a free-standing sink. An electrical cooking ring, a plug-in kettle and a microwave sat side by side on a crude metal-top counter. A small fridge had been placed beneath it. Wufei spotted a few cardboard boxes piled up next to the counter, decorated with a brand name that made him shudder; dry rations, the kind he'd have won the war just to avoid eating ever again. Heero pulled out the single stool at a second high metal-topped counter at right angle to the first, in an invitation to sit. Wufei did so, letting his duffel slip heavily from his shoulder. He was getting tired, he'd not had much opportunity to sleep in the last three days. He watched blindly as Heero plugged in the kettle, then glanced around. The ceiling over the kitchen area was half as high as in the workshop area, and some stairs led upwards nearby, there was probably a small second story to the place. Offices or storage rooms - probably where Heero now slept.
"Tea? No, you'll want to sleep soon." Heero was standing at one of the racks of provisions, fingering a plain mug he'd picked up and looking through packages. "I seem to recall you're not fond of energy drinks. I've got fruit juice-"
"Tea is fine." When he lay down, nothing was going to stop him from sleeping.
Two functional mugs were placed on the counter near the kettle. Heero leaned back against it and looked at him while the water started to hiss behind him.
"Are you hungry?"
Wufei gave the boxes of rations an unenthusiastic glance.
"I've got some leftovers in the fridge. Chanko nabe from the oriental deli downtown."
"That'll do." It was three in the afternoon but what the hell.
Heero moved to place a tupperware in the microwave. A few minutes later a cup of tea - the crude breakfast stuff - and an aluminium plate full of vegetables, fish balls and chicken were placed in front of him, with two plastic chopsticks. Heero went back to lean against the counter to sip his tea - there was only the one stool.
"Thanks. For putting me up, too." Wufei muttered as he picked up the chopsticks. His stomach felt hollow but his appetite was lacking. "I could have stayed in a hotel."
"There aren't any nearby." Heero said with a shrug. "And you'll have a busy day tomorrow. This is more practical."
"Hm." The leftovers weren't all that bad, but the tea was awful. Wufei sipped it anyway, too strung out to care much, his attention elsewhere.
"How was university?" Heero asked. Above his cup, his eyes looked faintly curious.
"I gathered that was what it was for."
"I didn't mean the classes. Those were mostly boring. Talking of which, how long am I going to be a trainee?"
Heero had been politely waiting for him to finish his meal before talking about more serious matters but Wufei wanted to deal with it while he was still more than half-awake.
Eyes on the rower in the training section, Heero shrugged. "Normally the technical and legalistic aspects take six months of training before the candidate takes a test. I'd estimate you'd be ready for it in three weeks, though you'll be out in the field with me until you do, we won't waste your time. Of course, if you'd-..."
Wufei looked up from his plate at the way Heero had abruptly interrupted himself. "Yes?"
Heero hesitated, then said dryly. "If you'd joined right from the start of the organisation, before any of the rules were set and the heads of ESUN were still desperate, you could have avoided a lot of crap. I was given the certification on the second day, along with some very illegal ID that says I'm officially Heero Yuy born on an L1 colony eighteen years ago, with no criminal record and a clean bill of health."
Wufei waited but nothing more was forthcoming on the subject. He didn't think his first refusal or any of the wasted months since then would ever be mentioned again.
"Is the fact I'm a sixteen year-old ex-terrorist going to be a problem?" Wufei finally asked.
"No, not much. Une will do what needs to be done, though the age thing might be annoying for a year or two. But she'll get you to work for her if she has to swear in court that you're her long-lost elderly uncle. She's been frantic about finding me a partner. We're meant to be watched and accountable so a partner is pretty much an obligation for some of the more delicate operations."
"And what? You, Sally and Noin are the only people working in this Intervention Division?"
"Oh no, there are many agents."
"They all ex-OZ?" Wufei hazarded, he'd been wondering if that would be a problem.
"Many are, but there are others. Une's been trying out a few as partners for me, but it was a waste of time."
Wufei looked at him in surprise over the rim of his cup. "Why?"
"They were inadequate."
Well that was a given, Wufei thought, but he was surprised that Heero had not made some effort to get along if this was the only way he could get out on the field. "Come on, Yuy, you put up with Maxwell for many of your missions during the war."
Heero stared back at him, body language expressing amazement. "Maxwell? Duo Maxwell was a good soldier, a dedicated Gundam pilot, and a reliable ally."
Wufei felt his jaw drop in surprise.
Heero's eyes narrowed, almost accusing. "You have no idea, do you…"
"What, that you're carrying a torch for Maxwell? No, I admit I had no-"
"Baka! I meant, what it's like working with someone norm- who wasn't a Gundam pilot." Heero raked a hand through his bangs. "Maxwell was brash, and a distraction when we weren't on a mission, but that's in context. Compared to the people Une tried to get me to work with…there's no comparison."
Wufei thought back to his partnership with Heero during the war and had an inkling of what he meant. He would be an impossible act to follow for someone who'd not been cast in the same fire. Heero would not slow down now just because they'd won the war. It wasn't his nature.
It wasn't Wufei's either.
Blue eyes and black locked. For a few long seconds.
"There are two empty rooms upstairs, the old offices. You can use them as a bedroom and a study."
The abrupt statement would have floored anybody who had not had that eye contact previously. A whole understanding had been hammered out between them in an instant. They were back on Peacemillion, all extraneous matters and distractions and conventions cut out to leave the bare bones. It was more efficient for Wufei to live with his partner and near the 'office' so that was the way it would be.
There was just one last grey area, and Wufei actually wanted to have a verbal conversation on this one point because the question between them was hazy and unclear and this was something they both had to agree on. He pushed the half-empty plate from him, picked up his tea-cup, licked his lips...hesitated.
"There need be no other obligation to you staying here." Heero said. His voice was abrupt but Wufei noted the open-endedness of the 'need be'.
"Have you come to an arrangement with someone?" Wufei asked slowly, dragging the subject out into the open.
Heero glanced at him swiftly. "No. I've not had much time. Or need."
Wufei thought he understood that. It was the same conclusion he'd come to at ZJU. There were no more pressures of war. The need for sexual relief could be controlled and squashed, and the distraction it cost would not be life-threatening. It was simpler than the alternative. He found himself nodding.
"Well if ever the need does arise, we know how to take care of it." He said shortly.
Heero stared at him, weighing him. It reminded him of the look he'd been given so long ago right before the arrangement had first been suggested. A bit less sure of itself maybe.
"I thought you'd be more interested in a heterosexual relationship."
"Yes, I would be." Wufei said dryly, after a moment of reflection. "But I will not compromise myself, my performance, my goals for a piece of skirt. If I wanted a woman, or a family, I'd have stayed where I was. I want-...you know what I want. That doesn't work with a woman I'd leave behind for months on end, and I don't want an emotional attachment anyway. We're the same on this, Yuy; the battle comes first. No emotions, no distractions. That leaves me all of one option as far as I can see. Yes, I'd rather it be a woman, that's more my inclination, but unless you're willing to go through some rather complicated surgery that's not going to happen, is it?"
"Surg-" Heero nearly dropped his cup. Wufei smirked at the wide eyes, the startled face. Twice in one day, I better cut down or I'll give him a heart-attack, he thought dryly while part of him realized he liked this; he enjoyed catching Heero Yuy off guard, in the same way he enjoyed pinning him to the ground when they sparred, or surprise him with a particularly vicious move. It was their way. They didn't pull their punches; that was not how it worked. That was not how they wanted it to work. They stood back to back against the enemy, and when there was no enemy they were each other's rival, their reason to keep on striving to improve even more. There was no room for comfort, consideration, affection; they were traps in the same way as one's emotions.
"That...would not-..." For once Wufei had the rare privilege of seeing Heero Yuy hesitate and fish around for his words.
"It was a joke, Yuy." And it must have really caught you short if you didn't realise it, Wufei added mentally, giving the growing scowl a pleasant look in return.
"You finished with that?" Heero asked a bit sourly as he nodded towards the half empty plate.
"Yes, thank you."
"I'll let you sleep then. Don't worry, I'll clean up." He took the plate from Wufei's hands. "You need to rest if you're going to be evaluated by Foxwood tomorrow. I hope you haven't gotten soft sitting on a school bench."
"Shall I show you?" Wufei's eyes darted towards the spring-boarded dojo.
Heero looked like he was about to object but then he must have remembered the surgery crack because he put the plate in the sink with a thump and turned towards the practice mat with a smirk promising a dessert of pain and humiliation.
Wufei showered in the bathroom which Heero had obviously constructed himself from the old workshop's lavatory. The shower was cheap plastic and the water didn't run fast. Wufei soaped off the sweat - not much he could do about the bruises. Despite his katas he had lost a bit of his edge in his months at the university and Heero had obviously enjoyed showing him how much. He'd put up a good fight though. Heero would not have any doubts about taking him on as a partner.
He slipped on a pair of sweatpants Heero had tossed him - a burst of memory of a shower in Italy, but he put that thought back where it belonged. The arrangement...well, if the need arose they knew where they stood now but it was all still a bit too new, too raw for...Besides he was tired.
"I can use the sleeping bag, you know." He muttered for the third time, as he saw Heero come out of his room with the balled up sheets from his bed.
"It needs airing out. I'll use it tonight. I've got work to do this afternoon, I'll be downstairs." It was an innocuous sentence but it reminded Wufei of the old safe-house routine; sleeping in shifts, one to watch the other's back, making sure they knew where they both were in case of attack. Wufei shook himself mentally, that was the past. He'd been sleeping quite well on his own for the past four months. Well, fairly well.
The sheets and cover on the military camp bed were thrown back. He should probably consider himself lucky that Heero didn't sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag or a bed of nails for that matter, Wufei thought sarcastically, eying the rest of the room. He wasn't sure of its previous purpose, it was too big to be an office; maybe a main work area or a store room. Heero's small bed was up on one side beneath a window that had plastic sheeting taped to it, blocking out the sunlight. One corner was slightly lifted, probably to keep an eye on the back loading lot, Wufei was ready to bet, just as he was quite sure the whole place was thoroughly wired for security. There were metal shelves holding clothes, shoes, a few books, some odds and ends, and on one end was a cheap metal desk and filing cabinet, with a second PC, a small stack, a hub and docking station for the laptop. The other two rooms on this floor - Heero had given him a very brief tour - were empty, small offices, thoroughly cleaned by the present occupant and used for storage. They'd make liveable rooms, he judged. He was surprised Heero wasn't using one of them for a study, but he obviously found it more efficient to live all in the one room.
Wufei glanced out the window through the lifted corner of the sheeting. There was a wheel-less old car outside, resting on cinder blocks, either a wreck come ashore in this beaten down industrial zone or a project Yuy was working on. There was a conspicuous absence of Gundams though.
He slipped between the rough sheets as Heero came in to grab a keyboard and mouse from the desk. "Where's Wing?" Wufei asked on the steps of his last thought.
Heero stopped moving, staring at the wall, then turned slowly but didn't look at Wufei.
"I destroyed it." He said softly.
It was like a blow to the chest, like learning a friend's lover had died. Wufei found himself on the verge of giving his condolences, and managed to stop himself.
"Oh...I-..." I can't believe you did that. "Did Une make you?" The question slipped out before he could even think about it, reason momentarily mobbed by surprise.
"No, it was a conscious decision. We agreed that-"
"...yes. Deathscythe, Heavyarms and Sandrock were also destroyed."
"I can't believe it." The words tumbled out numbly. In his shocked mind, a breath of fear...we're working without a net now.
"Hn." Heero turned swiftly towards the door, as if he didn't want to talk about the subject any more.
"We're still needed though. More than ever now. It's good you're here."
The door closed on those curt words. Wufei's eyes lingered on it until they started to close. His mind followed Heero's silent footsteps down to the rebuilt workshop, sitting at the kitchen counter, drinking tea out of the cheap mugs, working on his laptop.
He glanced around the bare room and found himself smiling slightly, letting the shock ebb. Just so...Yuy. Why did he feel more at ease in this- this shed than in the elegant apartment in Hangzhou?
Because it didn't pretend to be something it wasn't, like a home.
I'm out on the edge again, the thoughts drifted through his mind as it plunged into exhausted sleep. The slight exhilaration of the thought followed him down into the darkness. He was where he belonged.
On to part fourteen. Back to part thirteen-a.