Don't chase a dog into a blind ally.
'Smile!' the tee-shirt proclaimed.
The back added, 'It'll make them nervous', but the fact that Heero was wearing it was already irony enough for Wufei.
It was a gift from Maxwell. Of course. He'd brought them both tees a few months back as a 'thank you' present for his stay on their couch. Wufei had expected the tee-shirt to be used as an oil rag in the tool shop shortly after Duo's departure, but instead it had remained, forgotten and slightly rumpled, at the bottom of the stack of Heero's clothes until Wufei had decided that his partner's usual green or black tank-tops were too military and the clothes he'd bought for the L3 mission not casual enough. It had been badly wrinkled when Heero finally remembered that he owned the thing and found it in the pile; Wufei had dragged his partner away from the ironing board with considerable difficulty. Now it fell, loosely and slightly mussed, hiding that splendid chest. With a pair of jeans and a blank expression, wandering around aimlessly on the main floor of the mall, hands in pockets and earphones in his ear, Heero looked so much like a teenager that Wufei had actually done a double-take when he had first spotted him.
//Target?// The voice was low but clear in Wufei's ear, the crisp, military lingo at odds with the picture his partner made.
"Negative. See you though," Wufei answered, nearly sub-vocally, without moving his lips too much.
He saw Heero's eyes twitch, left and right, then his partner stopped his slow pacing and turned, as if trying to decide where to go. The eyes hunted for him again.
"Up," Wufei murmured. The piped music and background noise of the mall covered his nearly silent words, but he knew that the throat mike, carefully disguised as a tiny music player clipped to his collar, was picking up both the words and the vibrations in his throat and relaying them clearly to his partner's earphones.
Blue eyes idly followed a path of fantastic, floating billboards hovering in the great open space that led to the roof of the three-story mall. They flickered discreetly over the people shopping on the second level and passed over him with no overt signs of recognition, but Heero indicated he'd spotted him by turning back to his ambling.
//North.// Heero decided. Wufei 'hm'-ed an acknowledgment and headed towards the south end of the mall, in the opposite direction. Managing not to say 'be careful' as he lost sight of his partner again.
He had that under control. Most of the time. It wasn't always easy.
Most of the time, he was still entirely focused on the mission, living on that edge of adrenaline and fierce pride in their accomplishments that made everything else seem trivial.
Concentrated, single-minded, mission-mode...then he'd have a flash. Today, it was the crime-scene photos Une had shown them to impress them of the danger their quarry represented. He'd been detached as he examined them; he'd seen worse, he'd done worse. But occasionally the picture would burn in his mind, brighter than even duty, for just a second. Except in that version, it was Heero's body lying huddled against the sidewalk with his throat slit, blood pooling in the gutter and trickling down a drain. It was stupid - what were the chances of the target even catching Heero, much less overpowering him and doing that to him?
The image clung to him in spite of all reason, like a stain he couldn't remove. He ignored it. Not much else he could do. If he actually told Heero Yuy, ex-Gundam pilot and all-around excellent agent, to 'be careful', all he'd achieve would be to insult him. That's certainly how Wufei would have felt in his place.
His hair fell forward as he lowered his head, trying to slouch instead of walking with his usual straight-backed gait. He caught a glimpse of his own reflection in a shop-window and almost did a double-take again, a good sign that his disguise was working. His own tee-shirt hung loosely from his shoulders; Maxwell always picked them too big. It had a logo on it; a stylized black bat in a yellow oval, with JLA written on the back. Duo had told him it was a historical reference from a pre-colony book, and 'just perfect for him', presumably as a scholar of history and literature. Wufei hadn't recognized the reference, and he had the sneaking suspicion that he was being subtly mocked, but he couldn't put his finger on it, so he had also consigned the tee to the bottom of his dresser with an indifferent shrug. He was glad now that he'd not thrown it away; despite its garish yellow oval it stood out a good deal less in the mall than his usual Chinese tunics. His hair was loose, and he'd forced a stud back into his pierced ear - with a bit of pain and blood, as he'd let it close again after their L3 mission. Personally, he thought he looked weird but he did have to admit that the ensemble blended in with the youths around him, finished off as it was by a pair of Heero's jeans - baggier on him than his own - and a slow saunter he'd been practicing for the last hour. It probably looked a bit strange to see a teen on his own in a mall, as they appeared to be pack animals in this environment, but the place was huge, and the partners had had to break up to cover it if they wanted to have a chance at finding Hunter.
The ear-piece crackled faintly as he approached the south end of the mall. Its range wasn't too good inside the building. They'd have to watch that. In theory they could both single-handedly deal with their target. Then again, the men featured in the bloody crime-scene photographs had thought the same; Wufei was going to err on the side of caution.
//Target?// As usual, his partner was not patient. Oh, he wouldn't do anything stupid or rash that would endanger the mission; he'd have the endurance of rocks even if they had to visit every mall in Brussels and then the rest of Europe. But he was still impatient. The old Heero Yuy would have bottled it up and merely scowled, but this Heero had a partner to complain to - this was what the frequent repetition of that word amounted to for the soldier - and complain he did. Wufei bore it stoically.
"Nega-" he forced himself to continue walking at the same ambling pace. He let his gaze trail over the different counters in the food court before darting towards one of the tables again. He turned towards a place that sold what looked like pebbly mud in folded cardboard - 'Terrific Tacos' the sign proclaimed - as if he were interested in a meal, though he couldn't imagine himself ever getting that desperate.
"Acquired," he mumbled.
"In front of a public health hazard. Food court," he amended quickly. They'd been working extremely hard these last two weeks; under the onslaught, Heero's embryonic sense of humor had gone to ground, leaving only the implacable and very literal soldier in its place.
Trowa's mission had dealt the Syndicate a serious blow, and it was writhing in its agony, thrashing and killing indiscriminately. An ESUN board member and his family had been killed in a bomb blast in Lausanne. Undercover agents had been found with their throats slit in dark alleys. A few of the partners' informants had disappeared, probably permanently. Shoot-outs and murders were staining the genteel veneer of L3's colonies, and the secret war on Earth had erupted in starts and spurts into front-line news, though few people knew about the origin of this crime wave.
On the other hand, Heero and Wufei and the other Preventers had performed a thorough and satisfying roundup of the moles and double-agents that the careful sting operation had uncovered. Twenty nine men and women so far, in all kinds of positions. Secretaries, janitors, security guards, middle managers, data coordinators, a couple of directors of ESUN offices...Anthea's department had been hit hard, losing four members, and even one of the special field agents Wufei knew by sight had been arrested two days ago. People in Ops were going around with a look of shock on their faces, trying not to stare at the empty desks. Wufei, who hadn't really known most of the people arrested, and whose life had been endangered by the small, seemingly innocuous pieces of information they'd sold to the Syndicate over the last year, felt a good deal more pleased with the situation.
While Une was cleaning house, and since they were finally free of spies, the partners had gone after the big fish based on their previous work and the data captured from Trowa's operation. Wufei, looking at the cardboa- that is, tacos behind the glass, noted the dark circles under his eyes in his faint reflection. They were hardly sleeping these days, bringing down criminal after criminal. Wufei, a born pessimist, was sure that the Syndicate would survive. It would mutate again and move deeper underground, become less ambitious, stick to L3 and its European strongholds. It would live, but it would be severely diminished; the risk that Trowa had taken, and the ceaseless efforts of the Preventers, had drawn its fangs. One of which he kept a careful eye on as he moved away from the taco stand.
//On my way. Will stay downstairs and be ready to take the tail.//
Heero didn't tell him to be careful, of course. He knew Wufei wouldn't let his guard down for anybody. Especially not Isabel Eugenie Farthings-Hunter.
She was sitting primly at the plastic table, drinking something in a white cardboard cup. Dressed in jeans, a loose blouse, and a cream-colored jacket, she still managed to look almost regal, someone mature and poised despite her young age of twenty-four. Three young men were looking at her covertly from another table, eyeing her appreciatively then talking quietly amongst themselves. They looked to be older university students, attracted by the obvious air of intelligence and sophistication Hunter exuded, as well as her somewhat-good looks.
Get an eyeful, kids, Wufei thought darkly, his own eyes narrowing as he watched the scene from the corner in which he'd stashed himself. She's got more murders to her account than you've had birthdays. Cumulatively.
At least their sources had been right. She was here to accept a contract and obtain information about something, according to Une's spy network; Hunter would be meeting several people throughout the morning in different areas of the mall, at different stages of negotiations. Not that it mattered. The men she was meeting were small fry. It was Hunter that Wufei wanted, badly. Unfortunately, she was undoubtedly armed, and previous history indicated that she had a blithe disregard for bystanders. They could not arrest her in here. Heero and Wufei were slouching around in these childish outfits so that they could follow her discreetly once she left the mall. They'd arrest her outside, where a shoot-out wouldn't end in a bloodbath.
Hunter finished her drink and rose gracefully, pushing back medium-length brown hair, slightly bobbed. She disposed of her cup in the trash with economical movements that probably looked elegant to the students and lethal to Wufei. He eyed her jacket over the loose blouse. What could she be packing...she went for small caliber, discreet. She also carried a halotech ceramic knife when she needed to pass metal-detectors. She knew how to use that blade to best effect, as she'd proven by slitting agent Ganzi's throat with barely a struggle. When necessary, she also used it to bring back proof of her contracts' terminations. Despite all he knew about her, even Wufei was having a hard time reconciling the elegant young woman before him and those very ugly crime-scene photos.
He remembered Une's warning. His commander seemed very familiar with the real creature hidden behind that image of gentility and breeding. 'I know I said no more undercover missions for you two, but this is a special case. I don't want any more accidents like Ganzi. Hunter requires my best. If need be...if need be, do not hesitate to use terminal force.'
It was rare for Une to require that these days. But that small hesitation had also been unlike her, come to think of it; once she decided what was needed, she normally showed no hesitation nor remorse...she'd been staring at a crime-scene photo, Ganzi's body, side by side with an ID shot of Hunter. Maybe even Une had had a hard time connecting the two.
"Moving. Heading north."
He let her leave, waiting a few seconds to follow that light brown hair and cream-colored jacket. He quickly ran through her profile, one more time, like a hunter checking his rifle for the tenth time before going after the big game.
Hunter was Romefeller, another child-soldier in her days. That explained her impressive body count despite her tender age. Ancient lineage, exquisite education...even went to the same finishing school as Dorothy Catalonia, a bit of trivia which said pretty much all there was to say about her. Wufei made a mental note to have that hotbed of female maniacs shut down once he'd finished with this particular alumnus. Fanatical about Romefeller's cause, she'd worked as a spy for her family, but she'd gone a step further than Dorothy, and taken up arms as well. Not as a soldier though; she never stood on a battle field in a mobile suit. Like Dorothy, she worked in the dark using misdirection and poisonous words, corrupting young minds her own age.
And sometimes the poison she used was a lot more literal. First dead body at fourteen. And not the last by far.
Wufei followed twenty feet behind Hunter, at a slower pace, letting the distance between them grow. She was good, Une had stressed that. He wasn't going to take any chances of being spotted.
Their sources said she has already been working for the Syndicate before the end of the war. In her job - her mission, as she probably saw it- of insuring Romefeller's supremacy by whatever bloody means necessary, she'd often had to use underworld resources when she couldn't compromise her own. With hardened practicality, she'd carried out a few 'jobs' for the Syndicate in exchange for their help with her own assassinations. As long as the criminals she dealt with didn't touch Romefeller, she didn't care what they did.
She was walking faster. He either had to match her speed or lose her. Wufei turned blindly towards a shop window.
"Moving. Losing her. Second floor, section eight. Acquire."
He watched her disappear into the crowd from the corner of his eye. Had she glanced back there, briefly? Hopefully not.
How had she taken the end of the war? When all her murders, compromises, lies and sins had proven to be in vain? Une had kept an eye on her, and on many of OZ and Romefeller's old soldiers. According to the Lady's sources, Hunter had started working for the Syndicate full time after the war; how had she justified this to herself...? Well, he would probably find out, tomorrow or the day after, in an interrogation room. He couldn't wait to charge her; five police officers, good men and women, had died when they went to her hide-out to arrest 'a young girl'. Ganzi was the third Preventer agent to die trying to bring her in. Wufei didn't know the other two, personally, they'd been posted in the colonies. But Ganzi had worked three cubicles down from Sam's office, an efficient agent if a bit slow, and always ready with a smile. She'd killed him four days ago in Brussels, when he had been following her tracks and she happened to double back. No-one knew why she'd come back to Brussels; her odds of staying hidden in a colony were much better. This was something else she'd be able to tell them when they had her in their grasp.
Wufei realized that for the past two minutes - while he was desperately waiting for Heero to tell him he'd picked up the tail - he'd been staring at women's underwear in a shop window. He turned away hastily, glancing around. Hunter was long gone but if one of her unknown informants was around and had spotted the strange - and, incidentally, quite embarrassing - behavior, he might warn her. Hopefully anybody watching would assume he was looking for something for his girlfriend-
//Do you have anything for me?//
The unfortunate mental association of Heero's words and the thought they'd interrupted made Wufei walk straight into a decorative pillar.
"What?" he croaked, grappling for composure and valiantly ignoring the two teenage girls tittering at him from the entrance to a music shop.
//Did you see which way she's heading? I'm circling, but I don't see -//
//Ground floor, escalator nine. Heading east.//
They'd both hastily memorized the floor plans of the mall yesterday, when one of their stoolies in the contracting business had sold them her rendezvous point. The agents placed discreetly around the shopping centre - the few they could spare from their current overworked forces - had missed her coming in. The partners had been staking out the mall looking for her for the last hour. Wufei tried to figure where she was going, according to the floor plan. East didn't have many shops, but it had an exit, next to the big indoor swimming pool that occupied one side of the mall. Maybe she was leaving. They had agents waiting on that side. Heero could follow her and drive her into their noose. Wufei hesitated - wanting to go east to help his partner, but knowing his help probably wasn't required. If she changed her mind and went off in another direction, Wufei had to be ready to pick up the tail again if Heero had to let it drop.
"Heading towards south-east exit in case she dodges that way," he muttered reluctantly.
He made his way through crowds of teenagers indulging in the youthful sport of mall crawling. It was a school holiday, unfortunately, so there were many potential victims around. They were his age, he sometimes had to remind himself. And a lot of them had known the war. Not as intimately as he had, but he spotted a couple of prosthetic limbs beneath jeans and a ragged 'War Sux' tee-shirt, scars and slightly haunted eyes beneath too much make-up. A few of the older kids sported the rigid stance of cadets from one or the other army. How could they go about having a normal life, wasting time and laughing at nothing much, and pretending, not very successfully, to be adults, when they'd seen so much? Or were they faking it as much as he was...
//She made me! Running towards the swimming pool!//
The pool?! Wufei swore and started running, ignoring the startled stares as he broke cover. The big pool, sauna, gym, and luxury spa went from one end of the east side of the mall to the other. It had several exits out into the parking lots around it, too, one near a subway station. If they lost Hunter in there-
Through his earpiece, he heard shouting, then Heero's voice ordering someone to get out of the way.
Wufei hesitated for a split second; which way should he go? There was a second floor entrance to the gym, should he take that? Or-
Then his earpiece erupted with static, horrible squeals of - no, it was hysterical screams!
"Yuy what the fuck are you doing?!"
//She went into the women's dressing room for the pool.// His partner's voice was still remarkably cool and uncaring, despite being almost covered by angry and frightened female shouts. //In pursuit.//
Wufei winced as the screams in his earpiece trebled in volume. He knew...he just knew Heero had drawn his Glock from its ankle holster. Oh god...Wufei was the one who had to fill out the forms explaining such things as liability for public disturbances. He could just see a rain of paper being showered onto his desk by a fully recovered and smirking Anthea.
//K'so...// Wufei bit his lip, a vivid picture of the likely scene slamming into him: Heero, in the middle of dozens of hysterical, partially dressed females, looking for a female target who'd ripped off her jacket and blouse if she was smart...sticking his gun in the face of anyone with brown hair. Causing more panic...He heard Heero shout something about being a Preventer. No, Yuy, no! How many times do I have to tell you this! You don't tell them the truth when all they can think about is the piece in your hand! You shout 'police, everybody get down'! You can introduce yourself properly once the bullets stop flying.
While he mentally chewed out his partner - who still had the same subtlety as when he was piloting Wing around - Wufei was also thinking fiercely. This was a bit too slick for an on-the-spur escape. His instinct was telling him Heero wasn't to blame; Wufei was the one who had somehow tipped Hunter off that there was a noose closing in around her. Which meant that she'd headed towards the pool on purpose. But she was smart, and she might have realized that Preventer agents were dogged. He heard, in the crackle of his earpiece, the agents around the east side shouting at each other, gathering to block the exits from the pool and gym.
A fire alarm started ringing. He could hear it squealing over his earpiece, and he could also hear it, fainter, coming from the gym and spa up ahead.
Heero's answer was covered by all the noise - the siren and some hysterical sobbing; he must be checking the women fleeing the dressing room.
Wufei's eyes narrowed; floor plans danced in his mind. She could-
He leaned abruptly over the rail guard of the second floor mezzanine of shops.
There! Shit, he'd almost missed her. She'd just burst out of the fire exit that led from the gym to the mall, and she was running - along with a few panicked pool and mall customers - towards the south mall exit, which the agents outside had probably left unattended to circle the gym.
Wufei didn't hesitate. He vaulted neatly over the balustrade and plunged towards the ground floor. He hooked one of the floating billboards in passing, then tumbled into a planter full of unhappy medicated mall plants, breaking his fall in the synthetic dirt they were supposed to thrive on, and rolling to absorb the impact. He was up and running in one smooth movement, eyes fixed on the cream jacket up ahead.
"Yuy! Target acquired! Heading towards south exit!"
//-wh-t- rep- com- in?//
Wufei could barely hear himself think over the alarm's noise from the earpiece. Goddammit!
"Yuy! I'm- come in?" He didn't want to shout. Right now he was one of the mall's customers - made jumpy by past wars and air-raid sirens - prudently heading towards the exit at the same rapid pace as Hunter. The exclamations from his descent to the ground floor had been covered by screams from a few people bursting from the gym shouting garbled information about a shooter drawing his gun, and he'd left those behind now. He couldn't alarm Hunter. Right now she was choosing flight over fight but he knew what she'd do if she thought she'd run out of options...
She burst out of the mall doors and darted to the right, away from the commotion of the gym half a block away. Wufei was almost on her heels, invisible in a small crowd of teens bursting through the doors. Hunter broke into a run towards the other shops of the big shopping area. The teens that'd been Wufei's cover had unfortunately headed left after exiting, to prudently go and see what the commotion around the gym was about. Wufei ripped the Glock from its ankle holster and started to run. Not too many people out here; he'd take the chance.
She dodged without looking behind her into a narrow street leading around the mall, behind other massive stores. No one around.
Got you, you little bitch.
She immediately bolted towards an alley a block away, but a bullet near her ankle forced her to stumble to a halt.
"Put your hands up! If you reach for your jacket, I will kill you." Wufei approached carefully, gun aimed at her chest as she turned around slowly.
She stared at him over the twenty meters distance he was rapidly closing. His demeanor must have shown her he meant what he'd said, because she reluctantly raised her hands, her fine face scornful, like a well-brought up young lady faced with a cad. Wufei knew aristocratic disdain down to the ground and he was rather impressed. He fished cuffs from the small backpack he'd been sporting, without ever letting his sights waver-
In war - and in situations like these - there is preparation, strategy, strength, abilities...
...and there is always that portion of blind, rotten luck.
Wufei started at the squeal of tires behind him, but his instincts were to keep his eyes and gun on Hunter.
The car, driving way too fast for a shopping centre, or even a normal street, careened into the road behind him.
Wufei finally turned - saw the car roaring towards him - swaying from one side of the narrow street to the other - which way to dodge- Hunter behind him-
It was coming right at him!
Wufei took three steps at a run, towards the wall - no, won't make it - he leapt just as the front bumper was about to plough into him.
A frozen instant.
Mind-body-chi, launched together into that single point in time. One chance.
He had a clear picture of the car and its driver in that second stretching out like a lifeline he was trying to grasp; she hadn't even seen him, her eyes were on the rearview mirror, wide and terrified. Young, female, wet hair, and naked except for lacy white underwear - the word 'pool' darted through his mind.
He almost made it, but the car's top clipped his foot in passing.
Wrenching pain in his right leg -
He tumbled, rolled off the back of the car - stink of rubber as tires howled near his head -
He lay for a second, stunned. If that was his spine he heard/felt snap...then he was dead...
Then pain made its appearance, delayed but vicious, and Wufei realized dazedly that he'd probably not broken his back or it wouldn't hurt this much. He twitched and froze; pain hammered into him. Fuck...Yuy was going to let loose a full blown smirk over this. Run over by a car while he was supposed to - Hunter!
Wufei rolled over and blackness tried to engulf him.
He fought against it. The tarmac was rough beneath his palms - shit, his entire upper body felt like it had been ripped apart. Blood was spattering the road near his hands. Where was he wounded? He pushed the pain away expertly. His bleeding palms shoved him away from the street, from the black rub of a tire mark.
Where was Hunter? He felt like he was floating as his hands left the cool, rough road. Was he standing? Fuck, he'd hit his head...maybe it was his skull that had made that sickening crunch of broken bone...he'd seen men with terrible head injuries, holes in their brains, pieces of metal sticking out of their foreheads, walk away dazedly and fall down dead a few feet away...the memories of those deaths kept cutting in front of his eyes, obscuring his view of the road that was tilting beneath his feet.
Something went squish inside his leg - his first indication that he had made it to his feet. His right knee felt like splintered bones floating loose in a bag of water, it twisted helplessly, dumping him onto his back. He was up again immediately, to find himself staring down the muzzle of a gun.
Hunter was there but he couldn't focus, he kept losing her to darkness. She was in front of him, pointing a gun in his face. Then she was beside him, picking something up. And then she was behind him - Wufei lunged at the flickering shape with an elbow, and hit air. His arm was grabbed and twisted behind him. He spun into the movement, ignoring the wrench of pain - would have pulled her towards him and killed her but his leg wobbled again, spoiling his balance, and she grabbed his left arm and-
Pain. Breathless, red pain.
Wufei almost threw up, but continued fighting. He was moving in slow motion though, as if he were drunk. She had his arm in a hold, he could tell - barely - above the burning, shrieking pain in his left shoulder. He felt something cold settle on his wrist. The arm felt like it belonged to somebody else, severed. Hunter twisted again. She dodged the weakened blow to her head. Wufei gasped and tried to step away from the pain in his shoulder. She shoved him further and kept the pain biting at his heels; hell hounds and darkness and the copper taste of blood from where he bit his lip.
The bang of the metal door being kicked open resounded in his head like a physical blow and made his stomach lurch. His body was a distant thing as she shoved him inside. He swallowed a groan as his shoulder jarred against the floor that rushed up to meet him.
Pain was in the mind. Move beyond it.
The shock was ebbing. He concentrated on reducing the pain. His head still felt a bit fuzzy but clearer. He had a fierce burning at the back of his skull, a throbbing ache. It wasn't as bad as his shoulder though.
He twisted to get up and suddenly realized that his hands were cuffed behind him, a bit loosely. He'd dropped his cuffs in the crash, she must have- He'd lost his earpiece and mike -...damn, no one knew which way he'd gone. His Glock was somewhere in the street outside. He was wearing sneakers so he didn't have his boot knife. Hunter had dragged him into the utility shed of a big shop whose back abutted that of the mall. She was standing three meters away, aiming at him with a small caliber pistol he couldn't quite make out in the half light filtering through barred and dirty plastic windows.
Wufei took a deep breath. In. Out. He focused on the gun.
He'd have a chance when she fired - if his body was up to cooperating with his present injuries and wherever she managed to put the bullet when he dodged. Then-...chances were good this was it. Fuck, he'd survived that shit-fight of a war, torture, interrogation, captivity, space battles, and he was going to end up run over by one hysterical female and shot by another. He tensed his muscles. In the back of his mind, the last thought before his focus became absolute, was that he hoped Heero would be okay.
"This is fortunate. You are just the man I wanted to see. Well, one of them."
Wufei relaxed slightly. Oh...looked like Hunter wanted to talk. Or gloat. That was unusual, from what Une had told them of her, but it was a very good thing for him. It allowed him to live a few more seconds and gave him a better chance of turning the situation in his favor when the time came. He regulated his breathing, forcing the effects of shock and injuries away, though he carefully kept his eyes wide and hopefully looking dazed.
"What...?" he mumbled, to keep up the pretense and keep her talking at the same time.
"I was hoping to meet you. Especially under these circumstances." A clear-cut voice full of elegance and breeding. He didn't look at her face; he kept what he had of his attention focused on the gun.
"Yes, you. My ultimate target is that traitor, Une. But I was hoping to get a chance at you, or that other one who was chasing me. Either of you will do, really."
Wufei shifted discreetly, trying to judge how mobile he was.
"I want to send Une a message, and I'm pretty sure you're the right medium," Hunter explained, her voice neat and precise. For a thumping heart-beat Wufei thought she'd let him live to give Une the message, but he definitely didn't like the word 'medium' in that context. At all. There was a hard edge in her tone. And something he hadn't expected from the hardened killer; a raw edge of emotion he couldn't identify. "It wasn't easy to get information about you. I've seen pictures of all of Une's known operatives, but not just any would do."
Hell, she'd seen his picture. If he survived this, he was never going on another undercover mission ever again...Any would do...? Do for what?
"It had to be you. Well, you or your partner. I've heard from a reliable source - before he was arrested for spying - that you are her two favorites. Her best. I had suspected it, actually, so I only needed it confirmed. But it was pretty obvious; she must have bent a lot of rules to get two kids your age working for her."
Whatever. Keep on talking, Hunter. Wufei's body slowly coiled like a spring, getting ready.
"You look like you're expecting something." He could see Hunter better now. Her plain-to-comely face was set in disapproving lines, like a lady faced with a bug. And there was still that edge he didn't understand, that didn't match what he knew of her. Why was she talking..."Do you think he'll come and rescue you?"
"...who?" His left shoulder was injured. And his right leg. He'd go left, but swing to the-
"Your partner. Do you think he'll come and rescue you?"
"My source said you two have been working closely together for a year. You must think he's your staunchest ally. The one who'll rescue you from certain death."
Heero and he...they didn't rescue each other. Hell, the most Heero had ever done for him was blow up his prison and hope that would give Wufei a slim chance of breaking out alive before he leveled the place...Except for that time in Italy, and that had been because Quatre had ordered it.
Heero expected him to get out of this sort of mess by himself.
Hunter took a step closer. Against all reason, she was coming closer. A ceramic knife glinted like ivory in the dusky light of the shed. Wufei stared at it, in blank incomprehension. She already had a gun on him, what-...?
"Trust me, he won't come. He's busy with his duties to her. She's your mentor, isn't she? You're both very young. Easily molded. That's what she'll have taught you: do your duty to her, before all else. Tell me, are either of you besotted with her as she was with Treize? Would you betray your ideals if she asked you to? Would you try to execute your partner if she ordered you to?"
Wufei stared at the knife, weaving through the air, leaving a faint white trail in his eyes, hypnotizing. He couldn't seem to put everything - her words, the knife, her slow approach - together into a coherent picture. Hunter was talking...talking...she was more efficient than that, he knew it. And only an idiot would approach a Gundam pilot even under these circumstances. What was she saying...? Message...for Une...
Hunter's mouth twisted. He could see her eyes, a deep brown. They were, strangely enough, quite sane. He'd have liked her a bit better if the fall of Romefeller had made her snap.
"He won't come to save you. You are going to die. Normally I pride myself on making my executions quick and efficient, but this time I need to make an exception. Tell me, do you think he will cry, your partner, your friend, when he sees what I've done to you? Do you think she will?"
"...Yuy?!" Wufei's head was seriously starting to spin.
"Yuy? Is that his name? I will visit him as well, eventually, once I find out where he lives. If I cannot reach her first, I wouldn't mind seeing her bury both her pupils. I wish I'd seen her bury Treize. I wish I had been the one to kill him, not that Gundam pilot." Wufei's eyes widened. "I was helping the Syndicate kill the peace she betrayed everything for, but she was too good for those little crooks. Well, I will just have to make this more personal. More direct. Starting with you."
He stared at her. The surprise was making his ears buzz. She was saying something about Une having betrayed Romefeller, and failing her responsibilities to uphold the values of her class as she approached him with the knife.
"...why...exactly...are you killing me?" So many people tried to kill him. Because of who he was, what he was, what he had been. He'd never been...incidental before.
Hunter was two feet away, gun in one hand, knife in the other. Wufei was still flat on his back, hands cuffed behind him, making his shoulder ache with each rapid beat of his heart.
"So young. Did you sell your soul to her? Would you betray your partner if she asked you to?"
"Ah." A look of bitterness passed over her face. "Then you're either deluded or you're the fool of the pair. And colony born, by your accent. I guess that after betraying Romefeller, she couldn't find any person of quality to work for her. Treize was a gentleman, but he was a fool and a traitor to his class as well! And she followed him blindly and helped bring about his bastard peace, without any kind of moral control by the elite! If I didn't hate her so much, I would be very disappointed in her stupidity."
Hunter finally focused on him. He had the feeling she would have said all that even if he'd been lying in a coma at her feet. Maybe not quite that sane after all...
"I see you're still dazed. That's probably better for you. I have no interest in your suffering, only in the end result. I'll make this as quick as I can-"
"You...don't know..." His head was aching but one thought was clear.
"Don't know? Wh-"
"-who I am." Wufei concluded, and broke the wrist holding the gun with one clean kick. It fired but he'd already rolled - ignoring the pain - and shoved her and the knife away with a head butt to the stomach. Hunter landed on her rump. The knife skittered away.
Then, with a wrenching agony that almost made him pass out, he slipped his body back through the circle of his cuffed hands. He was normally limber enough to do this but his entire left side felt like it had been turned into a single inflexible slab of raw meat, and if Hunter had tightened the cuffs more, so they held at the wrist instead of sliding almost to his palms, he'd have been helpless. Through the great big blotches that ate at his vision, he kept his eyes fixed on the fallen gun. His cuffed hands snatched it up just as another hand reached for it. He swung it up and fired. Missed, but Hunter froze, staring into the barrel now pointed at her face.
"Let's do this again," Wufei announced, clearly and coldly, though his mouth was gummy with blood and his jaw felt stiff. But his vision had cleared with the feel of the gun against his palm, and his hand was as steady as a rock. "Don't move, Hunter. Put your hands up. I'm much more than you think I am, and you had many, many better reasons to shoot me out of hand and from a prudent distance than the fact that I work for Une. I will shoot you if-"
Hunter leapt to her feet, lunged sideways and ran for the door.
Wufei wasn't a gentleman along the lines of Treize or Romefeller's gentry. He shot her through the back of the knee. Hunter went down with a terrible scream, rolling and clutching her leg.
Wufei struggled to his feet. His right leg almost gave out beneath him again, but he braced it and moved towards her carefully. The tarmac, the light from outside, the clouds - everything was dancing in choppy sequence again now that he was standing. He kept his attention focused on Hunter, despite the black spots that peppered the sides of his vision, narrowing it. He leaned over her cautiously - the world dipped and turned, but fortunately she was too busy with her ruined leg and broken wrist to take advantage of his swaying.
She had no other weapons. Wufei grabbed a cell-phone from her jacket's pocket and went to sit down on the doorstep, leaning gratefully against the jamb. He looked around vaguely. No-one was around. The fleeing woman in the car must not have warned anybody about the pedestrian she'd mowed down. Hell, after having Yuy in mission mode stick a gun in her face in the pool's dressing room, she was probably on the outskirts of Brussels by now and still accelerating. All the Preventers and Wufei's partner must be busy surrounding the gym. Over the fire alarm, they wouldn't have heard the gunshots.
He stared at the phone for a few seconds. His mind kept swimming, as if he were on the edge of forgetting what he was about to do. The gun pointing at the gasping, white-faced Hunter was perfectly steady though. Wufei dialed almost on automatic. He couldn't even remember if Heero had his cell on him...but that was the number his fingers had chosen and his mind couldn't provide an alternative at the moment.
//Who is this?// His partner's voice was clear and crisp. Wufei was silent for a second - then realized the faint sense of surprise that had made him pause had come from the lack of female screeches in the background. Apparently his partner had finished checking the women in the dressing room. Wufei found himself smiling. It hurt so he stopped.
//Chang?! Is that you?//
"Hm. Need..." something like hysterical laughter crept up upon him, making his head ache. "Need you to rescue me...apparently." The cuffs clinked. His shoulder ached as he leant over to talk in the phone while keeping the gun on Hunter.
There was an interesting second of silence.
"I need you to rescue me." Wufei smiled at Hunter who didn't get the joke. She'd slumped against the tarmac, face pale and sweating, eyes wide. Still glaring at him though. The woman had grit.
//Chang?// There was a second of hesitation. //Wufei? Where are you?//
Wufei blinked bemusedly. Oh yeah, their emergency code. If he answered using Heero's first name, it meant that he was in immediate danger and that someone was listening in on the conversation.
"I'm...somewhere behind the mall. Yuy," he remembered to add, so his partner realized no one was holding him hostage and making him call at gun-point. "To the south and west a bit, between two buildings. I have Hunter. But I had a bit of an accident."
//...are you alright?// Heero's voice kept fading. Wufei hoped it was the phone's connection that wasn't too good, rather than a sign he was about to pass out.
"Injured. Mobile, 60%. Concussed, maybe." The cuffs clinked and he swore; the gun had dipped. The small Browning he'd lifted from his target was feeling as heavy as a machine gun right now. Hunter didn't look up to taking advantage, but she might try to crawl away if he lost his focus. He stared at her and big black blotches almost hid her from sight. "Almost certainly concussed. Need assistance. Hunter down. Get an ambulance-"
//I have one on its way.// From the rhythmic break in his voice, Heero was running.
The cuffs clinked again.
"Ah, er, I lost my backpack...get someone to bring bolt-cutters. And Yuy...I am armed. If you so much as smirk when you get here, may my Ancestors forgive me but...partner or not...I will shoot you."
Wufei let the phone slip from his numb hand. He thought he'd heard that last exclamation from the street nearby; Heero was coming. From a long way away he saw his other hand prop the Browning against his knee, in Hunter's general direction. He kept his other leg stretched out, it was stiff and aching. The pain in his shoulder was a distant throb, a second heartbeat. He kept his eyes and his gun firmly on Hunter until someone gently pried it out of his grip, and then he passed out.
On to part thirty. Back to part twenty-eight.