AN: Some people were wondering when this relationship was going to deepen already! Well, in that last chapter, I tried to show you a moment in time of stability in the arrangement and the partners' lives. Being who they are, the state of affairs of last chapter could have gone on until their retirement, without any change in their relationship. You don't see it? Well, remember these are two war-scarred, teenage guys with a lot of emotional baggage and the communication abilities of ten-day-old roadkill. Think about it...But fortunately, fate (as personified by this evil, meddling author) will not let them stay in their comfortable rut and will drag them out, kicking and screaming (and shooting and swearing and bleeding). Ready for the ride?
AN2: I'm normally not this chatty...but a word on languages. I'm assuming English - or a very bastardized version thereof - is the international language of the future. Now don't squawk! I'm half-French, I have my reservations about this too, but seeing how polyvalent and adaptable English is - and how it's being integrated into other languages at an alarming rate - I think it's a workable assumption. Plus I write in English so it makes things easier for me. I'm assuming other languages are still kept up, more or less, as local dialects, something you'd speak at home or among friends of the same nationality. Hence the conversations are peppered throughout Arrangement with Japanese, French, German, Chinese and so on, though I don't let it proliferate. Yes, there is method behind my madness...
The lotus root may be severed, but its fibered threads are still connected.
Wufei shook himself. A splatter of water against the curtain sounded like a drum, a counterpoint to the trickle still dribbling from the shower head. He wiped his eyes and reached out blindly for a towel. It landed in his hand before he got as far as the rack.
"Thanks." He grunted. There was a muffled 'Hn' from his partner and the sound of a toothbrush resuming its work.
The towels were decadently soft and fluffy. Much better than the rather coarse ones they had back in their own small bathroom. Wufei rubbed the water clear of his face and found himself looking at an equally fluffy white bathrobe that sent all the alarm bells ringing in his mind.
"Are you sure this room is being paid for by the Minister's lot?" He grumbled.
"Yes." Heero said through toothpaste before grabbing a glass - a real glass, not the plastic tumbler they had back at the house - to rinse.
"You'd better be right. Or Anthea will be going after our respective balls with a blunt spoon."
"Do you even know how much a room like this cost at a five-star hotel like this? Especially here, in Berlin central?"
Heero shrugged in complete indifference. Wufei rolled his eyes, slipped on the bathrobe and went to get his gear from the cupboard. He glanced at the clock in passing. 5 AM. They had to be down in thirty minutes to review the last security details.
Wufei put his uniform on the bed, glaring distastefully at the tie. This would be the first time he actually wore the thing. He slipped the bathrobe from his shoulders, shivering a bit in the cool air. The room was old and elegant and seemed to stare at his nudity with a maiden aunt's disapproval. Wufei's eyes trailed over the walls decorated with woven satiny wallpaper, solid, expensive furniture, two double-beds. The latter at a respectable distance apart, fortunately for the sake of two very light sleepers. The sheets had been thick and soft, the mattress too, a bit too much so - Wufei stretched after slipping on and belting his pants, trying to work out a kink. He slipped his shirt over his shoulders and buttoned it up quickly, leaving the uniform jacket to one side for now.
Heero walked out of the bathroom; he hadn't even bothered with the second robe.
"Hurry up; Sanderson will have commandeered some food from the kitchen for us." Wufei told him. Heero went to get his own uniform in the cupboard, still without a word. Wufei's partner was never a chatterbox but this was unusual even by his standards. He shrugged mentally and put his carrier case on the bed, flicking it open with a practiced snap. He slipped on the shoulder holster and buckled it over his shirt, toyed with the tie. It wouldn't be very visible under a flak jacket, maybe he could skip it...
Heero grumbled indistinctly and Wufei glanced over. His partner was over by his bed fastening his pants, which, even to Wufei's eyes, looked a bit tight.
"Not worn your uniform in awhile, have you." He commented dryly. Heero grunted.
Wufei let his eyes roam over the familiar body. They had both grown in the past few months, now that they were no longer fettered by the chains of war. These days, they had the chance to rest well, eat well - mainly thanks to Wufei who actually believed in vitamins that didn't come in a tube - and exercise well without straining themselves or being continuously injured. Their bodies were catching up for lost time, rushing towards a slightly delayed adulthood. Since the war Heero had grown a couple of inches, and his daily regimen of exercise, in conjunction with the aforementioned food and rest, meant that his muscles were finally having a chance to bulk out a bit. He was never going to be built like a door, in fact to the casual eye he still looked rather slender, but a pro could easily spot the growing muscles running through his arms, his thighs, his abdomen now circled a bit too tightly by his uniform pants. He was due to go up another size in clothing.
Wufei passed hands down his own chest after he tightened his holster, smoothing his shirt and tucking it into his belt. He was growing too, but it looked like he might have inherited his father's build; short, tough and wiry rather than muscular. Well, considering how he'd been able to sneak through a broken air-duct two weeks back to get around Mad Mundson before he blew them all to Hell in little bits, it was probably a good thing...He hoped Heero wouldn't grow much taller than him...though he couldn't really imagine either of them as adults...as usual, the ‘future' was the end of this mission and the start of the next.
A rap at the door made him pause as he was about to get his semi-automatic from the case. Heero frowned at him, puzzled, then put his back to the wall out of line of shot of the doorway - the soldier's paranoia was still as healthy as the rest of him - and asked, loudly: "Yes?" His fingers gripped the gun he'd kept under the thick hotel pillow. Wufei shook his head derisively, not for the first time; his partner seemed unable to sleep without that frickin' Glock in the bed with him. Pa-ra-noid. Not like Wufei, who kept his Luger on the bedside table like a reasonable human being.
Wufei and Heero exchanged puzzled glances. "We didn't order anything."
"Says here, room 1045. Continental deluxe for two." The voice was muffled by the door but sounded honest.
The partners exchanged another look then Heero snapped: "It's a mistake. Take it away."
"Oh...sorry to have bothered you, sir." They heard the wheels of a trolley creaking away.
Heero took two quick steps to his laptop sitting on a table by his bed and flicked the mouse to get rid of the screensaver - still the same dancing scythe Maxwell had installed ages ago. Apparently Maxwell had implanted a virus in Spacenet that sought out Heero's email and IP as soon as he contacted the database the pilots used to keep track of each other, and installed the screensaver on whatever machine Heero was using. Wufei thought it a rather extravagant effort to go through for so little but it was somehow typical of their strange colleague.
"Yuy, it was just a mistake. Forget about it." He muttered before Heero could break into the hotel's computer system to see where that breakfast had come from.
Heero hesitated then turned back to the bed to fit on his tie. He had a first-class scowl on his face. Wufei watched him carefully.
He thought Heero would ignore him...then his partner scrubbed a hand through his messy bangs.
"I don't like these missions." He grumbled.
Wufei fumbled the charger he'd been checking. Heero didn't often express a like or dislike. Saying something like that about a mission...Wufei felt like drawing the curtains back to see if the sun was rising in the West this morning.
"They're boring...and they make me tense." Heero snapped, tightening his tie with a jerk.
"Yuy..." Wufei fished around, trying to figure this one out. "Not two weeks ago we were in an L2 slum, where even the rats would have mugged us for our shoe-laces, tracking down an insane bomber with four K's of semtex derivative and a death wish. Are you saying that watching a bunch of politicians fuss around is more stressful than that? I'll concede the boring." He added.
"Yes. The problem is, we had license to shoot Mundson, while we have to protect these VIPs."
"I'm glad you've mastered that distinction."
"Don't you start...Politicians seem unable to follow even basic safety procedures; the fools break away to speak to reporters, to shake hands with members of the public, they always want low profile security and a full room and they talk way too much."
"Well, yes, they-"
A knock on the door again, much softer than the first. Wufei and Heero stared at each other and even Wufei reached for the Luger this time.
"Yes?" Heero was back in his previous position, where a shot through the door wouldn't nail him.
There were three thunderous seconds of silence and then Wufei tossed the Luger down with a snort while Heero went to wrench the door open, after darting his palm over the spy-hole through force of habit.
"Relena? What the hell are you doing h- where's your escort?!"
"Escort?" The soft voice turned into a squeak and there was a rustle of skirt. Wufei imagined his partner jerking the Minister inside. "I left them by my door. This floor has security."
"Only standard hotel security, Relena!" Heero snapped. "They have waiters and maids wandering all over the place!"
"Uh, those are hotel staff." Relena appeared, propelled forward by a firm hand on her elbow, talking to Heero over her shoulder. "I'm sure they're not-" her words ended in a hiccup as she looked around and spotted Wufei.
"Minister." He rose and gave a minimal bow - the stupid woman was a VIP and he had to behave accordingly. When she did nothing more than stare at him with her mouth open he sat back down and continued dismantling and checking the semi.
"Who-..." Relena cleared her throat and her voice was a lot more sophisticated, though still slightly off-pitch. "Erm, Heero? Could you introduce us?"
Heero had dropped his gun on his bed and shrugged on his uniform jacket. "This is Chang Wufei, my partner."
"Oh. Oh right! Yes, I remember Lady Une mentioning him." Relena made it clear from her tone that she had not expected the partner to end up in the room she'd set aside for Heero. Wufei saw her eyes flash over the two beds. The two unmade beds. She visibly relaxed while he found himself tensing. Great, great start to the day.
"My, you're awfully young to be a Preventer." Relena said, and the Darlian charm was finally recovering from its shock; the smile she gave him was sweet and winning. Of course, what she'd just said wasn't going to win her any points. Out of the corner of his eye Wufei saw Heero scowl briefly as he stuffed his Glock in its back holster.
"We were never actually introduced, but I was the pilot of the Gundam 05, Shenlong." Wufei informed her.
"Oh!" Relena pinked, but then the smile that followed was more genuine. "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you. I should have, we did see each other on MO2, very briefly. We owe you so much. I am sorry."
She looked at him; Wufei found himself on the edge of fidgeting. She was gazing at him, Chang Wufei, as if he was the savior of the human race instead of a hound of battle and a multiple murderer. Wufei wanted to drop the semi and stand up and well, do something - preferably leave. She wasn't unpleasant - actually now that he looked at her up close instead of through news print he realized she was rather pretty - but the way she was looking at him made him fundamentally uneasy, as if he was passing himself off as something he was not.
The cornflower blue eyes turned towards their primary target. Wufei nearly breathed out in relief, and felt a slight pinch of compassion for the subtle tensing that only he would notice in Heero's shoulders as his partner became the recipient of that intense gaze. He suddenly began to understand why Heero could want to protect Relena with his life, fight a war for her, but not want to spend more than a few hours in her company, however nice and honestly friendly she was trying to be.
"Did you find the hotel room comfortable, Heero? Did you sleep well? I heard you got in late last night."
Heero shrugged. This didn't seem to discourage her. Well, she was used to it. "I got up early this morning hoping to see you. We've not had an occasion to chat for months! Er...how have you been?"
Wufei caught her gaze flicking over the room as if looking for something and he put it together. No longer caught by the spotlight of her eyes, he felt a tiny surge of his usual cold temper - resenting the moment of discomfort he'd experienced. This woman should know better than to try to distract Yuy! Not only was that impossible, but he was also the head of the close security team that were reinforcing her regular bodyguards on this visit, after the very precise death-threat she'd received. Distracting him was not advisable.
"I apologize, Minister." He said coolly and Relena started a bit as she glanced back at him, his presence had apparently been forgotten. "We sent it back."
"W-what?" Relena pinked a bit again. Heero hadn't caught on yet, he was staring at Wufei, visibly puzzled.
"The breakfast. For two." Wufei said for his partner's benefit though he continued to address the Minister. "We didn't know it was from you. We sent it back."
"Oh...oh that's okay." Relena was downright flushed now.
"Relena did you send that?" Heero snapped. Relena turned back to him but, to her credit, didn't flinch or fall back. Wufei knew grown men who would dive for cover at that tone of voice from Heero. Well, Relena was probably used to that too. "You should know better. We would never eat anything that had been taken up to us unsupervised."
To us? Oh wake up and smell the coffee we sent back, Yuy. It wasn't 'for us', it was for you two. Oh well, he'll figure it out...eventually...Wufei tuned out the excuses and the harsh explanations on security and such that followed, checking his barrel and putting his semi back together again with a quick and practiced movement. Relena's eyes kept darting towards the assembling weapon. If the rebirth of a gun was making the Peace proponent nervous, Wufei realized he could live with that. Besides, they really needed to get ready.
Heero knew it too. He interrupted Relena mid-sentence by grabbing her elbow again and hauling her to the door. "Chang, I'm walking the Minister back to her suite, be ready in five minutes."
"I'm ready now, Yuy." Wufei drawled. That got him a scowl too, then, with a last distressed squeak, Relena was pulled through the door and Wufei was alone.
Heero had been right; this was boring, Wufei reflected, yet also stressful.
Wufei had a better grasp of the politicians' thought process than his partner did; he realized that a death-threat was a distant thing, something that would follow them most of their career, whereas a photo opportunity with the charming, photogenic Minister Darlian was a much more immediate concern. It didn't help him be any more patient than Heero when some idiot tried to drag Relena near the window to get a better light for the picture, or had a genteel argument about changing his seat at the last minute because there was a breeze, or some fan broke through the security cordon for an autograph, not to mention the press's shenanigans. He could almost feel the tension radiating from his partner. If Heero had his way, the open debate and conference on the final abolition of world-wide frontiers would be held in a bunker, with the representatives in bullet-proof glass aquariums, and the guests listening to the speeches lying flat on their stomachs with their hands on their heads.
Sanderson and Tomoka nodded to them as they took their place on the other side of the low stage, giving him and Heero a ten-minute break. The partners cast one last look around the large, elegant hotel conference room before slipping into the wings. Waiters were moving among the tables with chilled water and fruit juice, and clearing up the breakfast buffet. A piano had been shoved off to one side of the stage and covered. Relena was at the speaker's podium talking about something or other - Wufei had quickly tuned her out for the sake of his own sanity; he might believe in peace now, but as one who regularly shed his blood and shot people to defend it, the asinine generalities were giving him a headache.
He shrugged his flak jacket, trying to ease the rub at his neck, and put the bottle of water from his pack against his forehead briefly. It was hot in the conference room under the spots, if you were wearing a uniform and protective gear. He offered the bottle to Heero who shook his head without glancing at it.
"Let's go to the lounge." Wufei said after taking a drink. "I want to fill this up while we have the chance."
"So...did she persuade you to go to dinner with her tonight?" Wufei murmured. This was their break after all, and they were alone. A little sparring would relax them. Well, it would certainly relax Wufei.
Heero stumbled. "How did you know she asked me to dinner?!"
"I'm psychic." Wufei sneered, keeping his voice low as they passed behind the stage.
"I told her no, of course, but she insisted and said she'd ask me again later when I was in a better mood." Heero snapped sotto voce. "I don't know why she keeps doing this. Every time I guarded her previously, before you came back from University and we started getting proper missions, it was always the same thing. I always said no and she-" He bit down on the unusual flow of words as if suddenly annoyed by the whole subject but Wufei caught a glance out of the corner of Heero's eyes.
Wufei was rather nonplussed. He thought his jab would lead to one of their little put-down matches, not a confession. If he didn't know better, he'd think Heero was asking him for his help and advice in the situation, in his own direct and charming way. Well Wufei had a bit more experience in this domain than Heero had, having to turn down giddy girls at University, but he thought Relena was probably a special case. He wasn't sure she was after Heero for romantic reasons, though that might be in the mix. But he thought there was something more...security? Comfort? A link back to a time that was simpler, where she didn't have the weight of the world on her shoulders? The attention of somebody who treated her the same as he had during the war, well, minus the death-threats? Who wasn't impressed by her status, job and reputation?
"I don't know what she expects." Heero continued grumbling. "She looks at me like..." He lapsed into silence again. Yeah, I know, Wufei thought somberly, unable to put the feeling into words as well but knowing exactly what Heero meant.
"I don't know-"
Wufei's bottle thunked against the floor. He had his semi out the next second.
Heero had flattened himself against the wall with his own weapon drawn purely on instinct, but his eyes on Wufei were confused. "What."
"Where's Emmet?" Wufei whispered, edging forward. The Preventer was one of their team, guarding the entrance to the backstage area of the conference room. He was not the kind to leave his post for anything unless relieved.
"K'so. Check." Heero turned and headed back toward the conference room at a silent, deadly run. Wufei poked a cautious head around the corner. Nothing was out place...at first glance. But Wufei had a very good eye for detail. He noticed a picture slightly askew on the wall Emmet had been leaning against when he'd last seen him an hour, ago before the conference started. No blood but slight signs of a disturbance. And, as he got nearer, a very slight smell in the air, scorched cloth and burnt hair. A tazer? Someone had gotten close enough to an old hand like Emmet to take him out someone whom he would not be immediately suspicious of - hotel staff?!
Wufei had spun on that flash of intuition when a shot rang out. Muffled screams. Doors being slammed. He ghosted back towards the conference room, leaned around the corner to the long hallway leading towards the stage. Heero was crouching at the other end of the hallway, at the room's entrance. Someone shouted, words indistinct to Wufei. Heero glanced back at him, one warning look, then stood and, semi pointing towards the ground, stepped out into the conference room.
Shit! Wufei couldn't see what was happening but he could imagine...someone must be threatening the VIPs. As he watched, Heero leaned forward slowly and slid his semi towards an unseen shooter.
Wufei turned, the hotel blueprint flashing through his mind. The mezzanine. It was cordoned off. The small nook near the high ceiling to the left of the stage would give him a good view and a shot. He thrust the semi back into its thigh holster and ripped open his flack jacket and uniform to dig out his Luger, preferring its precision to a lethal spread at this point. It wasn't regulations to carry it concealed but that had never stopped him. He knew Heero had his Glock squirreled away as well, though he doubted his partner could draw it unless Wufei provided a distraction.
The guard - one of Relena's regulars - who had been on the door to the mezzanine was missing, of course. That left the three Preventers in the conference room itself, and Heero. All other personnel were positioned on the ground floor, as the VIPs had insisted they did not want high profile security. But these were teams who knew what they were doing, they had the area loosely under surveillance. Damn it all, how had the bastards managed to
Shooter in the mezzanine.
Wufei darted back into the stairwell. The man hadn't turned. He was dressed in a waiter's uniform, with a short riffle pointing at the people below. Wufei leaned back against the wall, took a breath, stuck the Luger in his belt and drew his boot-knife.
His body remembered; every infiltration, alone against hundreds of armed and trigger-happy troops. Tread in silence. Move in shadow. Time your steps to your enemy's breathing. Erase your presence from his mind. Until you can-
One hand over the mouth; the blade stabbed into the base of the skull. His knife hand darted away from the hilt to catch the falling riffle. Wufei let himself fall back loosely, the jerking body toppling onto him to avoid it rattling against the floor. Warmth of blood on his chest. A smell he'd never forget and never get used to. A gurgle from the man's stomach as bowels clenched and then loosened. The body stilled and Wufei took his hand away from the mouth after he felt the last rattle tickle his fingers.
Leaning carefully over the edge of the mezzanine, he took in the view in one glance. Bad. He was opposite the wall where Heero was crouched, hands in the air, blue eyes flickering over the scene looking for an opening. Wufei lifted his head once more until Heero spotted him. Sanderson and Tomoka were on the ground, weapons thrown away. Dupont was lying on the floor near the main door to the conference room, probably downed by that earlier shot, in a small pool of blood from somewhere on her body, status unknown. The civilians were all on the ground, except for a few who'd been grabbed by the hostiles. He'd counted five. A quick glance confirmed it. And, most unfortunately, one of them - one of the waiters - was holding Relena in front of him with a gun to her head.
A flare of absolute anger. Just like OZ with the colonies - threatening the innocent to disarm the strong - in war, the weak didn't care about casualties - Heero had self-destructed to protect the colonies back then - the anger burned bright as he saw his partner made helpless by a cowardly threat, fed by his worry for Heero and the sixty innocent people in the room who might get caught in the crossfire; then all emotions were quickly suppressed by the warrior within.
Wufei bit his lip as the shooter holding Relena came into his sights. He could nail the guy but...it would be an unacceptable risk to the Minister. Damn it how-...the waiters had been checked. The other hostiles were dressed like civilians. How had they gotten weapons past the metal detectors?! If there were leaks in their own security...he might not be able to rely on backup.
"You. Come here."
Wufei glanced over the balustrade again, puzzled. He had crept against the side of the mezzanine, so he couldn't be seen by any of the hostiles in the main part of the room; the man on the stage holding Relena was looking the other way. Another man was near Wufei's position, just below the mezzanine, holding a journalist to his chest, a gun to the man's jaw, but he was looking at the stage...it had been Heero they'd said that to.
On to part seventeen-b. Back to part sixteen.