"Are you sure you're ok? You
look like you're in pain. Do you need some painkillers or something?"
"I said I'm fine, Quatre!" Wufei snapped. Dammit, you have the worst timing, sometimes.
Duo flinched, drawing into himself slightly, and Wufei swore mentally as he realised how angry he'd sounded. "Really, I'm okay," he muttered, reaching out to tentatively stroke Duo's back. "I just jostled my shoulder when I moved. It'll stop hurting in a minute."
As Quatre bustled around rearranging the cushions to support Wufei better, Trowa poked his head out of the kitchen. "Have you had lunch yet?"
"No," Wufei admitted. "We didn't have much breakfast, either. Sally Po was cracking the whip over her minions to get us in for our checkups, so we didn't have time to grab more than a slice of toast."
Duo's stomach gurgled audibly, and he blushed.
"I'd say it's worn off," Trowa said, a tiny smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. "The washing won't be ready to go in the dryers for a while yet; I'll make some lunch."
Hearing that, Quatre planted himself in the computer chair. "I'm not even going to think about volunteering to help," he announced. "I know my limitations."
Except when it comes to washing machines and doing the dishes, Wufei thought, suppressing a grin.
"Oh, I was going to tell you about the nice lady we met in the laundry. Mrs. P," the blond boy said. "She and her husband live in apartment 31, and they'd both be more than willing to help out any time you need a hand. She seemed to know you, Wufei...?"
"We've never met... or at least we've never been introduced. We got a note from her once, though, in a basket of laundry I'd left downstairs. What's her full name?" Wufei asked. "'P' can't be all of it!"
"Gwennol Pa-- Pta-- Ta--"
"Ptaschiniski," Trowa supplied from the kitchen.
"Thank you," Quatre groaned. "I don't often have trouble with names, but I can see why Mrs. Pa-- Pat-- I can see why Mrs. P tells people to call her Mrs. P."
Wufei couldn't help grinning. "It does seem to be the simplest way around the problem, yes."
* * * * *
"Marie doesn't have a chance of winning," Relena said, smiling at Heero and Georg. "She's suing for wrongful dismissal, but we've got plenty of evidence to show that I had every right to fire her."
"What's she asking for?" Heero asked curiously.
Relena picked up the documents in front of her and flicked through them. "Dismissed without notice, hmm, blameless record of service, ha... here we are. She wants a written apology stating that her dismissal was entirely unwarranted, and fifty million credits to compensate her for 'mental pain and suffering and the damage to her reputation'."
"She wants what?!" Georg yelped. "That's ridiculous! I don't believe her lawyer is going along with this!"
"The usual tactic is that you ask for a lot more than you expect to receive," she pointed out. "And, apparently, being fired by the Queen of the World does a lot of damage to your reputation," she added, sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
"She was the one who publicised it!" he sputtered indignantly. "Nobody would have ever known about it if she hadn't spread it around! There sure as hell weren't any leaks from this office-- beg pardon, ma'am."
Relena blinked, one finger touching her mouth as an idea occurred to her. "Hmm... can we prove the press didn't get their information from here?"
"Sure." Georg nodded thoughtfully. "Subpoena the reporters who broke the story and ask them where they got their leads. Most of the news services are sympathetic to us; they'll tell the truth."
"Excellent." She smirked. "Any damage to her reputation is therefore entirely her own fault."
The intercom on Relena's desk buzzed quietly, and she pressed a button. "Yes, Karl?"
< < Are you free for a moment, Miss Relena? > >
"We're not discussing anything that can't wait. What is it?"
Karl chuckled. < < My brother Nicklaus just dropped off a video disk that I think you really want to watch. > >
"Oh? Bring it in, Karl; we can play it right away."
Karl walked in a moment later, grinning from ear to ear. "From what Nicklaus told me, you might want to put this up on the wall screen," he said, handing Relena an unlabelled disk. She raised an eyebrow at him as she slid it into her computer.
"Oh? What exactly is this?"
The grin widened. "A little incident at Preventers headquarters, involving people you'll recognize. Nicklaus felt that you should be... informed. Maybe you should just watch..."
Raising the eyebrow even further, she waved him to a chair and clicked 'start'.
* * * * *
Ninke looked up with a smile as Trowa and Quatre walked into Quatre's outer office. "Welcome back, Mr. Winner, Mr. Barton. Did you have a good--" He nearly choked, eyes widening as he registered Quatre's appearance. "Mr. Winner, what happened?"
Quatre beamed happily at him. "I cleaned the bathroom!"
"I... see," Ninke said quietly, blinking at his boss.
Trowa was his usual calm, neat self. Quatre... Quatre was smiling, eyes sparkling with the sort of innocent joy usually seen on a child's face after they've been given an ice cream. And he was dripping. His shirt sleeves were soaked from the elbows down, his slacks were sodden from mid-thigh to ankle, and at some point, water had splashed generously across his torso. His face was smudged, his fingers were wrinkled, his hair was sticking up on end, and he looked happier than Ninke had ever seen him before.
"I take it that the bathroom-cleaning was a success?" Ninke hazarded.
"Oh, yes," Quatre answered. "And Duo actually talked to us, which is great. He didn't say much, but it's a vast improvement over being glared at or ignored."
"I understand perfectly," the Dutch man murmured, smile returning. "Shall I call the house and have some clothes sent over for you to change into?"
Glancing down at himself, Quatre chuckled a bit sheepishly. "Er, no. We just came back to pick up a few things and check our messages before going home. Is there anything that has to be handled now?"
Ninke considered. "Hm... some questions have come up about the revised procedures, but that can wait until tomorrow. The company lawyers sent over an update on the pending case against Taarnby, but they don't require an answer; a couple of rumours have made it into the press, and I added the articles to the package. You can take it home to read if you want to see it right away."
"We certainly do," Trowa said, taking the folder Ninke held out. "Thanks."
"And then there's this," Ninke said, holding up a video disk and smirking.
Quatre looked up from trying to squeeze some of the water out of his sleeve into a potted plant and blinked. "That's an extremely worrying expression," he said slowly, straightening up. "It reminds me of the sort of look Duo used to get just before someone walked into one of his practical jokes." Or just before the bombs went off, he added, privately. "Ninke, what have you done?"
"I haven't done anything, Mr. Winner," his assistant said virtuously. "My brother Nicklaus brought it over. It's got some... interesting information on it, that he thought you might like to see. He thought I might like to see it, too, but I managed to restrain myself until you got back."
"Self sacrifice like that deserves a reward," Trowa said, plucking the disk out of Ninke's fingers and checking for a label. "Don't you think so, Quatre?"
"Oh, definitely," the blond boy agreed, eyeing the disk speculatively. "Ninke, why don't you join us for dinner? Then we can all watch this. Unless you've made other plans, of course."
Ninke snorted, grinning. "Two weeks ago you abruptly turned my life upside-down, sir. My head's still spinning, and I don't intend to make any plans until it stops."
* * * * *
Wufei carefully lowered himself to sit in front of his computer, clinging to the desk with his good hand until he was sure the chair wouldn't go shooting out from underneath him on its casters. Once settled and reasonably secure, he propped his forehead in his palm and closed his eyes, waiting for the throbbing in his shoulder to die down.
Gods, I'm tired, he thought blearily. I was so tense the whole time Trowa and Quatre were here... Duo reacted surprisingly well, but I kept thinking something would happen to drive him back into his shell. I nearly did it myself, snapping at Quatre. And every time I turned around I bumped my shoulder... and then Trowa went downstairs to dry the laundry and Quatre locked himself in the bathroom to clean it. It sounded like he was destroying everything in there!
Glancing over towards the (intact and pristine) bathroom, he managed the ghost of a smile. It turned out he was just destroying his clothes. It made Duo laugh again, too. Rubbing at his eyes, he straightened up carefully and switched on his computer. I can think of nothing I'd like better than to join Duo for a nap, but he'd feel me wince every time I moved, and I don't want to worry him. I told him I was going to check my mail, so I'd better do it...
As his computer hummed quietly and the screen flickered to life, Wufei spotted an unlabelled video disk lying next to the mouse pad. Hm? Oh, that's right-- Assink said this would explain why he and McKenzie knew that Duo and I were Gundam pilots. Frowning slightly, Wufei fed it into the computer's drive; after a slight struggle with the mouse, he managed to open a window to check its contents.
Let's see... one video file, named-- His eyes widened. "'Death Kicks Ass'?!"
* * * * *
< < You'll damn well stand there and take whatever I choose to hand out, asshole, > > Duo said icily on screen.
Relena nearly bounced out of her chair. "Ooooh! Ooh, oh that's wonderful!" she squeaked, hands clasped under her chin. "Oh, oh, did you see Anders's face?! This is perfect-- I want to see that look on Marie's face!"
Georg and Karl were leaning forward in their chairs, grinning, but Heero sat back behind Relena and watched with a painful lump in his throat.
< < --went after my 'Fei because you were jealous-- > >
Swallowing, Heero closed his eyes.
I gave him up to Wufei. I let him go. He's not mine any more, I've accepted that... but it hurts...
He never wanted to have to be Shinigami again. I wanted to protect him from that. I haven't protected him from anything. I've just made things worse. I don't know if I can ever make it up to him.
Where do I start?
* * * * *
Quatre had one hand pressed to his mouth as he watched, eyes wide. "Oh, no," he moaned softly. "He didn't want-- after the war he told me, he was so glad he'd never have to wear that mask again. And just look at him!"
"I am looking," Trowa grinned.
< < --said why you were after my 'Fei-- > >
"Ha! He said it again!" Trowa's grin widened, and a wobbly smile appeared on Quatre's face.
"It's awfully sweet, actually," he said wistfully. "I was starting to worry that maybe they'd lost their chance to be happy together... but, Trowa, it's not good for Duo, slipping back into that old role!"
The European boy shook his head. "I think it is. You told me to look at him; well, you look. He's not apathetic or depressed, is he? He's got something he cares about, enough to make him willing to be Shinigami again for a moment. And he's admitted it. He didn't 'slip' into that old role, he dived. Head first."
"Pilot 02 from L2, isn't he?" Ninke commented casually. "Pilot of Gundam Deathscythe, also known as Shinigami; master of destruction and practical-joking thorn in OZ's collective backside..."
Trowa and Quatre swivelled in their chairs to look at him, eyes wide, and he smiled calmly back at them.
"Good looking young man, isn't he?"
Trowa's eyes narrowed. "All right, talk."
"After we've seen the rest of the video!" Quatre insisted, diving for the screen controller to rewind a bit.
* * * * *
Wufei stared at the computer screen, transfixed by the sight of Duo-as-Shinigami terrorising a bunch of prisoners. He'd seen it before, of course. Nothing new there... except for the fact that this time, Duo was doing it for him.
He said "my 'Fei".
He didn't want to be Shinigami ever again... but he did it. For me. Because they hurt me. And afterwards, he was worried that I'd be upset with him for sneaking out... but he wasn't upset that he'd been Shinigami again. He must have decided that... it was worth it.
I was worth it.
"My 'Fei". Twice.
He does love me!
< < The God of death is in the building, Anders, and he is looking right at you. You're going to get a nice long prison sentence, and when you come out, you are going to find a hole and pull it in after you. Aren't you? Because if I ever see you again, I will not be happy. Nobody touches my 'Fei. > >
A soft noise behind him, an intake of breath, pulled Wufei's attention away from the screen. Duo was standing in the doorway watching him, eyes wide and uncertain.
There was a long pause before Duo spoke; he shifted from one foot to the other, flicked a glance at the computer screen and away, licked his lips...
"Are you mad?"
"No." Wufei shook his head. "I'm not mad."
"I couldn't let them get away with it," Duo said awkwardly, hands fidgeting with his cross. "I mean, I knew they weren't going to get away with it, exactly, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to do something, not just leave them to Une and the police... though leaving them to Une wouldn't be particularly merciful--"
"It's okay," Wufei said softly. "I... I'd feel the same way, if it was you they'd hurt."
Wufei held out his hand, and waited for Duo's decision.
* * * * *
Quatre clicked off the video and turned to Ninke. "Now talk."
"Certainly," he said calmly. "Ah... how much research have you done into my family?"
"Heero did some," Trowa put in dryly. "Obviously not enough."
Ninke smirked. "We can make allowances for the fact that you've all been distracted... and, of course, we have been covering our tracks."
"And where would those tracks lead?" Quatre asked.
"My family ran an intelligence network all through the war-- ran, hell, we were the network. We still are, too; my grandmother Matilde saw no reason to relax just because the war ended."
"Who were you working for?"
Ninke's smile widened. "The doctors."
Trowa's eyes narrowed slightly. "A little proof before this goes any further might be a good idea. Codenames, perhaps? Passwords?"
"Did you know the codenames the doctors used for their informants, or are we going to have to put this on hold while you get confirmation?"
"We knew the regular informants."
"Oh, then this won't be a problem. We were the Yggdrasil ring. My grandmother is very interested in mythology, and Yggdrasil seemed appropriate... since it's regarded as the Tree of Knowledge. Personally, I was Yggdrasil 2."
Quatre's jaw dropped. "You reported to Instructor H?"
"That was me," Ninke nodded. "We didn't actually confirm that you were pilot 04 until after the war was over and I'd started working for WEI. I had the worst time keeping my face straight at work for weeks..."
"So who reported to Doktor S?" Trowa asked.
"Yggdrasil 5, my brothers Janne and Joost. They work as a unit. You haven't met them yet," Ninke added.
"How many siblings do you have? --No, don't answer that. I'm sure I'll find out eventually," Trowa muttered, rubbing at his forehead. "I have only one more question before we start going into the details of all this."
"Why are you revealing this now?"
Ninke leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach. "Well, as I said, the Assink family intelligence network is still very much operational, and we have decided to place it at the disposal of you, the other Gundam pilots and Miss Relena. Er, that is, Grandmother Matilde decided and we all said 'yes' when she brought it up. Theoretically, we all vote on this sort of question, but her ideas always win. Please don't tell her I said that."
Quatre reached over to his desk and typed a code into the vidphone without looking.
< < Yes? > >
"Heero, you and Relena should really get over here. We have to discuss the Assinks. Oh, and bring Karl..."
* * * * *
Karl grimaced slightly. "My brother and his wonderful sense of timing. He could at least have waited until everyone had had time to properly enjoy the video."
"...So you were expecting whatever this is?" Relena asked, slightly suspicious.
"I wasn't expecting this quite so soon, Miss Relena, but yes. Er... can we discuss this after we reach the Winner residence? It will save us going over all the details twice. I'll gladly explain everything then."
Heero raised an eyebrow at Relena, who considered for a moment, then nodded; he turned back to the vidphone and nodded to Quatre. "We'll be there shortly."
* * * * *
Duo and Wufei had moved to the sofa, since there was not room for two in the computer chair, and arranged themselves as comfortably as possible. Wufei had his good arm wrapped around Duo's shoulders and his face pressed into Duo's hair; Duo had dragged his afghan rug over their laps, then wrapped his arms around Wufei's waist and nestled against his chest.
Any thoughts of 'giving Duo up for his own good' had been driven completely out of Wufei's head.
He honestly does love me. He isn't staying with me because he thinks he's got nowhere else to go, or because he thinks he owes me something. He wouldn't go Shinigami for me if that was all I meant to him...
Maybe there is someone out there who'd be better for Duo than me... but if Duo doesn't want them, they're not getting him!
Wufei closed his eyes and nuzzled briefly into Duo's hair, pulling him closer and breathing in his scent, then pulled back far enough to speak. "You know, Quatre has incredibly bad timing sometimes," he said softly, voice slightly husky with nervousness. "Do... do you want to try again?"
He felt Duo swallow, tensing, then the braided boy shifted against him, looking up into his eyes. "Well," Duo whispered, "Quatre's not here now..."
"True," Wufei whispered back, hand sliding up to caress the back of Duo's neck as he leaned down.
Duo's lips tasted sweet.
Their first kiss, eight months earlier, had been passionate and hungry, and they'd plunged straight from no relationship at all to --nearly-- sleeping together. This time was very different. After the horrendous misunderstandings and emotional torture they'd gone through after the party, neither was willing to push matters beyond the first step... at least not yet.
The first moments were awkward and clumsy, bumping noses, with both teens tense and a little afraid of doing the wrong thing, fearful that something would happen to ruin the moment. Seconds ticked by without anything going wrong, however, and they started to relax. Lips softened and parted; greatly daring, Wufei traced the curve of Duo's lips with the tip of his tongue, and felt a flickering touch in response.
Wufei shifted slightly as Duo pressed against him, silently cursing the bandages that stopped him from holding the braided boy in both arms. He settled for cupping Duo's cheek in one hand as he dropped light kisses on forehead, closed eyes, cheekbone, chin... then he returned to Duo's mouth, gently biting at his bottom lip.
The vidphone rang.
Wufei groaned softly, pressing his forehead against Duo's. "There is a god in charge of moments like this; he frequently directs Quatre's actions. I believe he's called 'Murphy'," he said, torn between disgust and laughter.
"I'll get it," Duo muttered, starting to pull away.
"No," Wufei said firmly, tugging him back down on to the sofa.
"But you were limping--"
"I didn't mean I was going to get it," the Chinese boy explained, gently stroking Duo's cheek. "We are going to ignore it. They can leave a message, and I'll call them back later... if I feel like it." Smiling, he leaned forward and kissed Duo again, then pulled back a fraction. "This is more important," he whispered, breath tickling the braided boy's lips.
The phone rang a few more times as they settled back against each other, then cut off; there was a beep, and Wufei's recorded voice brusquely informed the caller that they would have to leave a message.
< < Oh, bother, > > Quatre's voice said. They broke off their embrace and blinked at each other for a moment; then Duo started to giggle helplessly, and Wufei covered his eyes and moaned.
< < Um... I guess you guys are having a nap, or a shower, or something. Could you call back as soon as you get this message? It's pretty important; we need your input. We're at home, not WEI. > >
"I guess you should call him," Duo said, still giggling. He didn't let go, however.
"I suppose so," Wufei agreed, reluctantly. "... In a minute," he added leaning in for another kiss.
* * * * *
Arif opened the study door and bowed. "Master Quatre? Master Heero, Miss Relena and another Mr. Assink are here." He stepped back and bowed the visitors in.
Quatre stopped pacing. "Oh, good! Come in, Heero, Relena... Karl... We're just waiting for Wufei to--"
Quatre dived for the vidphone as everyone settled themselves in front of the desk, in visual range. "Hello-- Wufei, good timing!"
Wufei raised an eyebrow at the group of people, frowning slightly. < < This had better be good, Quatre. > >
"Oh, it is, Wufei," the blond replied. "Our Assink decided to reveal some very interesting information this afternoon."
< < If you're referring to the video disk from HQ, I've already got it. > >
Behind Quatre's back, Karl raised an eyebrow at his older brother and mouthed 'our Assink?'. Ninke just shrugged.
"No, this is something different... though that was impressive. Is Duo there? He should hear this, too."
< < He's listening, > > Wufei replied, glancing off to his right. < < Go ahead. > >
"The Assink family was the Yggdrasil Ring."
On screen, Wufei's eyebrows rose; Relena looked slightly confused. Heero blinked and looked accusingly at Karl.
"I didn't do much," Karl said, a little defensively. "I was still in university... admittedly, I associated with a lot of OZ officers' children, and reported what I heard to Grandmother Matilde. But I didn't even get a number."
Ninke rolled his eyes. "Are you still upset over that? Sigrid didn't get one either! And Janne and Joost shared theirs."
"They're twins," Karl sniffed. "They like it that way."
"Anyway," Quatre said pointedly, "it appears that Grandmother Matilde decided it was time to come clean... and offer their services to us."
The two Assinks winced at his phrasing. "We voted on it," Karl muttered. "Sort of..."
"What are we talking about?" Relena asked plaintively. "What's the Yggdrasil Ring?"
Heero smirked, still eyeing Karl. "Only the most reliable set of informants the Doctors ever had."
Wufei nodded. < < They were actually partly responsible for us beginning to work together, > > he said. < < They gave all the Doctors the same information sometimes, so quite often two or three of us would turn up at the same target. It's how we met... and then it became obvious that it made sense to coordinate with each other. > >
Trowa nodded at Ninke. "Thanks."
"Coincidentally," Quatre put in, gesturing to Ninke, "our Assink was the one who reported to Instructor H. Janne and Joost passed information to Doktor S."
"Who did J get?" Heero asked.
"Our father Kerstan," Ninke said. "Nicklaus reported to Doctor G, and his twin, Nils, to Master O."
"There are two sets of twins in your family?" Relena asked, blinking in mild surprise.
< < Nicklaus? > > Duo's voice came from the vidphone, though he remained out of sight. < < Why is that name familiar? > >
< < You've met him, > > Wufei replied, looking off-screen, a small smile twitching at his mouth. < < This morning. After you flashed McKenzie, he helped you get dressed. Then you fell asleep on him. You were in 'zombie mode', so I'm not surprised you don't remember. > >
Karl's eyes widened as Quatre blushed and Trowa chuckled. "Nicklaus didn't mention that when he dropped off the video disk," he quietly complained to Ninke.
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