Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, Drama, Humour (some)
Pairings: 1x5, others tba
Rated: NC17
Warnings: Violence, language, sex, adult situations
Spoilers: Yes, quite a lot for end of series (no EW though)
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer:Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.

AN: Thanks to my wonderful beta, Dawna, once again. Any errors remaining are due to my own, frantic, trademark last minute rewritings and are entirely and utterly my own fault. And thanks to Sol for allowing me to bounce this off her, particularly the last section, and who came up with Une's Vermin!

The Arrangement + Chapter 23
Cover Stories, Part III

"A person needs a face; a tree needs bark."
Mandarin Proverb

---

Raphaël Romain.

The ex-legionnaire was walking towards them swiftly. He'd not come from the club's main floor, but from a side-door near the coat check stand. Jeans and a sport jacket - he could be carrying concealed, Wufei automatically noted, and dropped back a bit and sideways, giving Heero and himself a free field of action. They were in the lobby of the club, between the entrance to the dance floor from which vibrations and thumps spilled out, and the double doors leading to the street. There was a bouncer there, Wufei remembered; if they made a run for it and Romain shouted, the man would try to stop them.

Heero's fingers twitched, trying to free his hand, but Wufei kept a hold of it; didn't want to look suspicious.

"No need to run off. Or is there..." The man smiled sensuously, casting an amused glance down at their groins. Wufei felt himself color and didn't suppress the reaction. Romain would think it embarrassment, rather than the fury it actually was, at the man's crass nosiness.

Romain stroked his chin with his thumb - his fingers were well-manicured but callused. He probably kept up his marksmanship. Dark hair was cut conservatively, neat bangs over hard, brown eyes. His look was a bit at odds with his face; angular, hard planes that had been withered and baked in the suns of Sudan and Malaysia, where he'd served in a mercenary group after the Alliance had disbanded the Legion. He'd retired from his militaristic career a decade ago; now in his forties, he was comfortably set, in both Exeter's affairs and occasionally his bed. Wufei noted the strength in the muscled frame; he had half a head over Heero. His body spoke of power, and endurance. But he didn't seem overly aggressive.

"My name's Raphaël." He introduced himself, pronouncing his name with the French inflection. "I work for Andrev, he's the owner of this club. We noticed you two dancing. You're new here, aren't you?"

"Yes." Wufei replied, keeping his voice as casual as he could. "We arrived from Earth just recently. We're studying at the University here."

"Really? Students?" Romain's voice was not in the slightest bit doubtful, only curious. "Hm, if you've just arrived, you've probably not heard that Andrev sometimes invites people over to his other club. Would you be interested?"

Heero's hand flexed in anticipation, crushing Wufei's fingers a bit.

"Tonight?" Wufei let his eyes go a bit wide.

"Sure! It's barely eleven! Night's not even started yet."

"What other club?" Heero asked, probably prompted by the fact that Romain's eyes had flickered over him curiously.

"It's a place twenty minutes from here. We have a van, and there'll be others coming with us. It's on invitation only. No cover fee, though drinks are charged. It's very select." He let that dangle in front of them.

Wufei made a show of turning towards Heero, as if consulting him with a glance, though he already knew what he had to say.

"Hmm, I don't know...maybe this weekend, but not tonight, if you don't mind." He refused slowly.

A spasm crushed his fingers again, though Heero did not express his surprise any other way. Romain's eyebrows arched.

"You sure? Other people will be coming, so you'll, ah, be quite safe."

"Erm, thanks." Wufei wasn't particularly worried about getting into a van with Romain to go somewhere he wanted to go, but his alter-ego would be expected to be more cautious. "We appreciate the invitation, but we have courses early tomorrow morning. We were going to call it a night. Sorry."

Romain studied him; he looked a bit surprised, but the hard planes of his face were difficult to read accurately. "That's okay, kids. I can't claim to have ever had a university life, but I remember what reveille was like when I'd hit the bottle a bit too much the night before. So...you'll be here again this weekend?"

"Sure. We heard this was one of the best clubs in town. For, well, couples."

"That it is. Okay- what're your names?"

"Chang Lin, and this is Yuy Summers."

"Right, well, I'll keep an eye out, and see you on Saturday, maybe." Romain gave them a pleasant, if slightly dismissive smile, and turned back towards the discreet door near the coat-check stand.

Wufei took deep breaths as soon as the club's double doors closed behind them, but it was no longer to get his hard-on under control. That had rather taken care of itself. They walked away from the bored-looking bouncer in silence, heading towards the bus-stop.

Heero said nothing, but Wufei could almost feel the question pressing him like the fingers still pressing his hand. Wondering why they'd squandered a chance, maybe their only chance, of getting invited to the mansion and finishing the mission.

"That was too soon." Wufei finally muttered, after they had traveled a few minutes away from the club. Exeter had caught two undercover cops and a Preventer trying to infiltrate his club and his mansion, no way would he pick up two strangers like that without a minimal amount of checking up.

"And...it was wrong." Wufei added, the back of his neck prickling. He'd let his intuition guide him, prompt him to refuse; there had been something off in that situation...

Suddenly it struck him. Romain had approached them in the deserted lobby. Normally, Exeter's right hand, or another flunky, approached the guests at the bar or with the waiter at a table, so one of the club employees could vouch for him when he extended the invitation.

Romain had wanted them to accept where there were no witnesses...

Heero let loose a slight hiss of breath, almost a sigh, as he probably came to the same conclusion. His fingers tightened again, warningly.

"You're right. Tail."

"Fuck..." Wufei tried to listen for footsteps behind them, but he couldn't hear them above the brush of their own boots against asphalt. No matter; he trusted Heero. His partner could tell someone was following them from the faint prickle of a hostile gaze on his back a hundred meters away; he was better than a radar when it came to things like this.

They walked a few more meters in silence, still holding hands, just like a normal couple on their way home. Maybe they really had grabbed Exeter's interest, and he was just having someone follow them home to check up on them? No. It was too soon, they'd hardly done anything to stand out yet. Had they? And Romain had invited them out in the lobby, away from the other clubbers...Failure ate like acid in Wufei's mind, his memory scouring over the evening. What had they done wrong? How had they blown their cover so soon? Man, Sam was going to have an aneurysm over this. Talk about a waste of time, money and effort to set up their background stories -

They both realized at the same moment that there was a good deal more at stake than getting chewed out by Foxwood...

"Play it or fight?" Heero muttered under his breath as they saw the van pull up two blocks ahead of them. It idled by the sidewalk, but no one stepped out. It was between them and the bus stop, around the corner. Fuck.

Wufei heard a scuffle of shoe on tarmac behind them. The tail - two men, maybe three - was getting closer. Closing in.

"Play it or fight?" Heero murmured again. His fingers tightened once then loosened over Wufei's, as he got ready to throw himself to the side if need be. How many in the van? Neither partner was armed, of course...Play it or fight?

"Play it." Wufei decided, hoping he hadn't condemned them to death. He caught Heero looking at him, assessing, but his partner did not question his decision. No need for him to do so; Wufei already was. The instinct to try to keep up the bluff had no basis in logic that he could see...maybe something in Romain's demeanor as he'd left them earlier...If he was wrong, he would be placing Heero and himself in a position they would have a hard time fighting their way out of.

The van doors opened as they passed it, and three men jumped out and shoved them bodily into an alley between two buildings opposite the van doors. Wufei shouted in feigned surprise - Heero was silent, probably too busy stilling his reflexes. Someone clamped a hand on Wufei's face - missing his mouth in the hustle, but the gun that was suddenly pressing against his ribs was warning enough to keep silent.

The alley was clean and free of garbage - this was L3, not some dirtside town, or L2. A chainlink fence at the end of it blocked it off from other alleys between the buildings. Wufei and Heero found themselves backed up against it at gun point. They wouldn't do it here, Wufei reminded himself savagely, quelling his reflexes to fight and kill; they wouldn't want to deal with bodies, not this close to the club. They'd get the partners into the van and drive them somewhere, maybe the same place the other three men were killed, near the recycling plant.

The two who'd been following them on foot turned into the alley and walked up to the three men holding the partners at gunpoint. One of the former was Romain. He had his hands in his jeans' pockets and he was frowning - Wufei thought he looked puzzled and anxious, not murderous. A cautious relief flickered in Wufei's heart; his intuition had been trying to tell them that they still had a chance of bluffing their way out of this. It seemed to find itself confirmed by the man's demeanor.

"What the hell is this?" Wufei snapped, making sure he sounded as scared as he could manage. Heero, wisely, said nothing. "What do you guys want with us?"

Romain just stared at them, first at Heero, for a long minute, then at Wufei. He looked uncertain. Then he turned away without a word, and walked to the entrance of the alley, hooking the receiver of a slim phone in his ear.

Wufei chanced one glance at Heero. His partner's head was down, but his eyes, hidden by the rich fall of his messy bangs, were riveted on Romain's profile as the man dialed a number. Good, Heero could hopefully keep track of the call, figure out what Romain was planning, while Wufei provided the distraction.

"People saw us leave the club." He said, loudly, letting his voice tremble. The eyes of the men holding them at gunpoint twitched towards him. One of them motioned with his gun and Wufei let himself fall back against the chainlink fence with a frightened gasp. The warrior let a moment of pleased surprise flutter through him; he was a better actor than he'd thought. Nothing like a little pressure to bring out hidden talents. He quickly tried to remember the expressions and body language of people he'd seen in similar circumstances - namely, criminals and OZ soldiers he himself had held at gunpoint in the past.

"We-we talked with the waiter, he knows who we are," he added, voice low but pleading, letting the words stutter. At the entrance to the alley, Romain glanced back at him. He was talking very softly into the phone, and he looked worried, gesturing angrily at them, a distracted movement the person on the other end of the line could not see.

Wufei continued to plead, his mouth on automatic, probably not making much sense, but then he wouldn't be expected to in these circumstances. He started a bit as he felt Heero's hand slip into his. Romain was nodding on the phone, his conversation visibly wrapping up. Fingers squeezed his. Wufei glanced at him. Heero's face was on neutral, unreadable, but his tension had dropped considerably, and he no longer looked like he was a fraction of a second away from killing everyone in that alley who wasn't his partner. This was further confirmed when he released Wufei's hand, and then slipped his arm around the Chinese Preventer's shoulders, the gesture of a comforting boyfriend - full marks for improv, Wufei noted distractedly - a hindrance to their mobility that he would never have allowed himself if they were about to fight for their lives.

Reassured, Wufei let himself be shoved into the van when Romain gave his men the all-clear.

---

Wufei covertly scrutinized the walls of the cellar room. Unwilling to take things at face value. He was too used to being caught, caged and kept as a Gundam Pilot to convince himself this was normal rather than some form of elaborate trap. Where were the guards with the itchy trigger finger and the ugly light of revenge in their eyes? The cameras? The bars? The handcuffs? The drugs? The pain?

They'd been shoved around a bit, but it had all been remarkably gentle, well, if you had the kind of standards Wufei had. He was trying to keep in mind how Chang Lin would be reacting to all this; the sight of weapons, the hard, watchful look in their guards' eyes, Romain's weighing glance, and the silence. No one had said anything in the van, or when they had changed vehicle in a deserted building site, or when they had parked in an underground garage. After awhile, Wufei had stopped pleading and demanding an explanation; his throat was getting sore and the sound of his voice was shredding his own nerves. His flight-or-fight instincts kept telling him that 'any second now' he'd get shoved to his knees with a cold press of metal against the back of his head and bang! Instead, he was firmly herded through the garage, up a flight of stairs, into a small room with monitor feeds and consoles. The pictures on the screen, particularly of the drive-way, were familiar. That's when he realized they were in Exeter's mansion. The question 'why' that exploded into his mind - such a risk for Exeter, to have brought them here - was immediately answered when one of the men present, who'd been watching the screens, stood up and uncovered a particularly bulky machine on one side of the room. Wufei had felt a wave of tension run through the hand that was still holding his, as he and Heero realized it was a retinal scanner, and that Romain was going to be checking their identities, and more thoroughly than anyone at Ops had ever imagined.

But that made no sense, Wufei thought, glaring at the cellar's metal door. Their alter-egos would not have their scans anywhere in the system - the identity cards and student IDs, fingerprints and pictures that Romain's men had collected, would be what was needed to confirm they were the people they claimed to be. Retinal scans were useless. Hell, even if they were cops, they probably wouldn't have their scans in the system unless they'd been in charge of a high-level security operation at some point. So why had Romain taken this unusual step? One that had forced him to take two potential hostiles to his home ground?

It didn't actually matter that he'd scanned them - Heero and Wufei's retinal patterns were no more available than information on their home address or previous occupation; as far as the world was concerned, the Heero Yuy and Chang Wufei who worked in the Preventer's Primary Intervention Division didn't exist. But Wufei didn't like the feeling of uncertainty the strange move had engendered. He glanced around the walls again, hunching over, senses wary like an animal sensing a trap; in both his careers, pilot and Preventer, what you didn't know was very likely to kill you.

Heero was sitting next to him, still and unmoved, as if carved from stone. The cellar was full of boxes and old furniture, including a double bed with a stained mattress. It was the only place to sit. The guards had shoved them down on it when they'd led them to the underground room. Then they'd left the partners alone, with a last injunction to shut up and behave if they wanted to get out of this in one piece.

Wufei took one last discreet glance around. He couldn't see any cameras - would they have any in a cellar? - but paranoia, cultivated by a few OZ interrogation rooms, would not let him take a chance. He pretended to rub his arms as if cold and in shock, then he swung his feet up on the bed and inched over to Heero, put his arms around his shoulders and buried his face in the crook of his neck. Heero had gone as rigid as a board for an instant, before understanding what he intended. A hand - awkward, since it was safe to say he'd never done this before - patted Wufei's shoulder in reassurance, before Heero twisted a bit to embrace him comfortingly - masking his mouth from any potential watchers.

"What do they want with us?" Wufei asked, out loud, letting his voice quiver.

"Don't know." Heero's words sounded stiff and forced, but Wufei knew that shock did strange things to people. It wouldn't seem faked.

Then Heero spoke again, in a low whisper, lips nearly unmoving where they brushed Wufei's neck.

"Romain called Exeter. They were told we were coming." Wufei stiffened, even though it was obvious something was up, from the way Romain had reacted. Shit! How had they known?! "But apparently they were not given all that many details. They're not sure we're the men they were waiting for. Too young, and not what they expected. Romain wanted to kill us anyway. Exeter stopped him I think."

Yes, that would fit his profile, Wufei estimated.

"They're holding us here until they can get confirmation from their informant, whoever that is. What do we do now?"

Wufei licked his lips. Good question. He glanced over Heero's shoulder. This wasn't a prison, it was the cellar. The door was metal but the lock was crap. Maxwell could open it just by sneezing on it. Heero probably wouldn't even bother doing that...

"How many outside?" He whispered; he'd heard the scuffle of shoes on concrete, the scrape of a chair or something being pushed back, and low voices.

"Three, from the sound of it."

"So they do consider us a threat..."

"Yes."

They could have an army out of earshot too; waiting for Heero and Wufei to betray themselves, confirm that they were plants by trying to break out.

Well, that was the risk. But on the other hand, they were here, in sight of their main objective. This could go one of two ways. Their captors would be going back to their informant, trying to get confirmation, and they'd also be checking up on the partners' backgrounds to see if they were valid. So, either Exeter would pierce their cover, and they'd end up taking that drive out to the recycling plant - Romain wouldn't do it here, not in the mansion. Or their cover would hold and...what? Wufei's mind, cold, analytical and perfectly detached from the death threat hanging over them, went over all known information on Exeter and the profile the Preventers had put together. This was L3; Exeter had the local cops pretty much in his pocket. If Exeter believed they were students, he'd probably release them with a few very realistic threats, and the knowledge that if they went to the police, he'd be able to quell the investigation. There was no real risk for him, so he probably wouldn't kill them offhand, it wasn't his style.

But one thing Exeter certainly wouldn't do, would be to invite them back to his private club at a later date! So...whatever happened, this was it. This was the first and last time they'd be in this mansion, at least if they didn't break their way back in later, at the risk of getting caught and dropping the Preventers into hot water.

Wufei leaned back in Heero's arms. They stared at each other for a few seconds; the deadly gamble considered and agreed upon with a glance.

'You take the door and one guard, I'll take the others.' Wufei mouthed.

Heero didn't bother to nod. He was off the bed and throwing himself at the door in an instant.

One savage kick and the measly lock - and the hinges - snapped like sticks. The door, catapulted from its frame, slammed into one of the men standing behind it. Wufei was a split second behind Heero. His partner leapt on the man felled by the door, leaving the last two to Wufei. They'd been sitting on a bench, five feet away. One was trying to get his gun from his holster, stumbling away from the wall. The other was already swinging up the rifle he'd had across his knees. Wufei crashed into him, slammed him against the wall, elbow in the solar plexus. The man bent sharply forward with a grunt, the rifle slipped from his hands. Wufei grabbed his neck in a head lock, twisting his victim so that his torso shielded the Preventer. The other thug had his gun raised, but he hesitated to shoot at his friend for that one fatal second. The gun wavered, dipped; its owner - beefy, solid muscle, a head taller than Wufei - took a step forward, towards the apparently slender young man, to rip him away from his colleague. Wufei used the hold on the other's neck for leverage and kicked high, a vicious scything blow with their combined weight behind it. His boot met the last man's head with a solid crunch. The goon fell as if poleaxed. The man in the headlock was gasping in painful gulps of air, fumbling at the rifle's strap that had caught on his wrist, trying to push Wufei away with his other hand. A short, savage punch to the gut - the man folded with a retching gasp - Wufei slammed an elbow down on the exposed neck as his victim doubled over. The man fell to the floor like a sack of meat.

Heero was already finished with his man and was positioned at the door leading to the garage, listening. Wufei grabbed one of the weapons from the floor and ran to the far door at the end of the hallway, which opened to the rest of the house. No noises or cries of alarm; apparently the possibility of their escape had not been planned for. Floorplans flashed in his mind's eye. He remembered that there were security cameras in the garage, and there would be some inside the mansion, but if Heero and he were careful, they could reach their objective without being seen. Their aim was Romain's office, where he and Exeter did the 'real' - that is the criminal - work and where the secured computer system, containing details of the financial transactions with the Syndicate, was kept. Exeter's office and bedroom also contained computers and safes, their informants had said, but most of the stuff there was related to Exeter's official businesses. Romain was the keeper of his dirtier secrets. That was what they were after.

Still without one word - unnecessary, they were of one mind, one lethal intent - they dragged the three men into the cellar room. A few seconds' search in the boxes turned up nothing to tie them with. Wufei hesitated. The men were out and pretty badly hurt; he expected the man he'd kicked might die, and Heero's target was breathing funny through a broken, swollen jaw. They should be out of it for long enough.

The partners fit the door back into its frame. It would pass casual inspection. More so than the absence of their three guards would; this was only a stopgap measure anyway, and they knew it. This was probably going to end in an almighty mess, however they played it, Wufei realized, watching Heero scoop up one of the fallen weapons; a Kreig 552 rifle.

Heero glanced back at him. Wufei realized he'd actually sighed out loud. He shrugged under his partner's questioning look.

"...Une sent us undercover- she wanted us to do this the subtle way." Wufei explained ruefully.

Chack-clack-chack - Heero checked the rifle, the chamber and the magazine, the rattle of metal familiar and strangely thrilling.

"Subtle's not our style," he stated succinctly, letting the rifle rest against his shoulder as he headed towards the door, slipping a Magnum in the back of his belt. Wufei gripped his borrowed Kimber and followed in silent agreement.

---

Romain's office was large and pleasant, overlooking the mansion's small, night-cloaked park through barred and reinforced windows. It had been locked, but not with a key, fortunately since they had no lock picks. The electronic system gave up under Heero's ministrations in less than twenty seconds. The Kreig scored a dent in the elegant oak sideboard where the monitor for the secured system rested. The system was on and unlocked. Heero glanced back, a warning, and Wufei nodded in understanding, taking up a spot near the door, ears pricked. Chances were Romain had been here just minutes before and would be returning shortly. He concentrated on the silence in the mansion - it was past midnight, and he could hear no one moving.

"In." Heero murmured. Wufei glanced over to where his partner was sitting. Heero had disabled the firewall and opened a link to their team in Brussels. Almost immediately, messages and command line windows started to flash up on the screen as the professional hackers working for Ops started to break through the protections set around the secured information, using the access Heero had provided for them. They would also warn Une that things were going down months earlier than expected. Wufei, at the door, spared a second to think of the look on the commander's face when she realized that the odds of them having done this quietly were minimal at best.

With the hackers and their massive computing power doing the hard work for once, Heero was free to start rifling through the filing cabinets on one side of the room, after he'd broken its lock with a vicious tug. He flipped through some papers, then just grabbed most of what he found and carried it over to Romain's scanner. Wufei saw him hesitate as he passed near the safe. That would be where they would hit the real pay dirt, but neither of them had thought that explosives or a blowtorch would make appropriate club accessories, so they had no means with which to open it.

"Yuy!" Wufei hissed, hearing footsteps in the hallway outside. Heero was a blur of movement as he swapped the rifle for the files. He pressed himself against the wall on the other side of the door, five seconds before the electronic lock was carded and the door swung open.

"-we'll contact Minsk, but I think Luxemburg is more likely to-" Exeter gasped at the sight of the files spilled on the side desk. Romain, right behind him, reached for a weapon in a shoulder holster beneath the sport's jacket he was still wearing, but Heero already had the Kreig pointed at his head. Wufei grabbed Exeter and pressed a gun to his side, a silent order to keep quiet. Heero slipped a hand beneath Romain's coat, relieved him of the gun, and shoved him into the room. He closed the door quietly behind them after a quick glance outside.

"You-" Exeter was just beginning to get over his shock. Wufei patted him down briskly, pressing the gun into his ribs in a silent threat when the man recoiled instinctively from the frisking. He could hear Heero give Romain the same treatment.

"Maintenant, on sait vraiment à qui on a affaire...." Romain muttered.

"No talking." Heero ordered, in his deadliest voice. Exeter paled, but Romain looked unimpressed. Wufei shoved the financier into one of the chairs in front of Romain's desk. Heero kneed Romain to the floor and ordered him to put his hands on his head. He left Wufei to watch them, and went to pick up the files and continue scanning them and downloading the copies to the Preventer system.

"Who..." Exeter was getting over the shock. He was a tall man in his late forties, taller than Romain, and sinewy thin. His long, elegant fingers were white as they tightly gripped the armrests. Brown eyes flickered between Wufei's Kimber and Romain's prostrate form. He had strong, clean-cut features and light brown hair that reminded Wufei distantly of Treize. And there was some of the same self-assuredness, as the thin lips narrowed and he started to stare at Wufei's face instead of his gun, as if memorizing his features with an eye towards future retaliation.

"Just how does your Lady Une think she can get away with this?" His voice was now cold and measured, all business.

Heero's smooth movements over the scanner did not falter one iota.

"This is...what did you do to the men watching you?" A flutter of anxiety passed through Exeter's eyes, disturbing his calm, as he suddenly realized he might be in considerable danger himself. "I have high level contacts here, in the government and even the-" his voice had hardened again, but Romain made a hissing noise and he stopped talking.

There was silence in the room for a little while. No alarm outside yet, though Romain's cell phone did ring once. He glanced at Wufei and made no move to answer it.

Heero rifled the files, then picked up the Kreig again.

"Exeter. Do you have the code to the safe?"

The man glanced up, startled. He didn't say anything but his eyes narrowed and his mouth took a stubborn line.

"Open it." Heero bit out.

The thin lips twisted in bitter contempt, and Exeter leaned back in his chair firmly.

Wufei sighed. He walked around the man lying on the floor until he was on the side opposite from Exeter, and pointed the Kimber at Romain.

Exeter turned that icy glare on Wufei, slowly. It was measuring him to a fine degree, a businessman judging someone's grit. The Preventer returned the stare and slowly lowered the Kimber till it was aiming at the back of Romain's knee. The ex-Legionnaire tensed, Wufei could feel the movement, though his eyes did not leave Exeter's. As he tightened his finger on the trigger, Exeter looked away in enraged acquiescence, put his hands on the armrests and pushed himself up.

Romain's fingers loosened over his neck, one line of tension ready to uncoil -

"Raphaël, ne bouge pas." Exeter ordered quickly.

"Mais..." Romain whispered, but Exeter shook his head. He walked towards the safe, the Kreig trained on him every inch of the way. Romain's heated gaze dropped to the carpet an inch from his nose. His fingers laced themselves over his neck again, whitening as they tightened their grip in frustration.

"Unlock it slowly." Heero instructed Exeter in his familiar monotone. "Then stand back and open it at arm's reach. If you make any move to reach inside it, I will kill you."

Exeter bit his lip but did as he was told. Wufei kept the gun trained on Romain, who was glaring angrily at the floor, face white under his tan.

"How do you think you'll get out of here alive?" Exeter suddenly asked. He'd stepped away from the safe and, obeying the Kreig's mute but eloquent instructions, was returning to his chair.

"Irrelevant." Heero answered coldly, poking through the contents of the safe cautiously.

"...What?" Exeter stared at his back.

"He means that they have what they came for and have gotten it out to their people." Romain explained from his position on the floor, glancing pointedly at the computer cheerfully downloading its data to the hackers' system. "How they get out, or if they get out, is not important; they've done what they came here for."

"But-but-"

"Now you see what we're up against. J'aurais due les éliminer tout de suite..."

"Yes, you should have killed us when you had the chance." Wufei agreed calmly, catching enough of the words, and the tone of voice, to translate the gist.

"This is not over." Exeter turned towards Heero to spit venomously. "You pigs cannot just come in here and-"

"Andrev." Romain said quickly.

"- we will find out who you are and -"

"Andrev-"

"- don't think your precious Preventers can protect you from our org-"

"Andrev! Tais-toi!"

Exeter fell back in his chair with a hiss of frustration.

Wufei was leaning against the desk, keeping an eye on the door and on Romain. The silence of the office was only interrupted by the sound of Heero mauling the contents of the safe. He put several papers aside for scanning, but tossed most of it casually aside ­ bundles of cash, land titles, a small sachet of little blue pills, a quickly dismantled semi-automatic.

The beep behind him startled Wufei, though he kept eyes and gun on Romain until he’d identified it. It was from the laptop in its docking station on Romain's desk. It was connected to the main system, as secure as the rest, and undoubtedly being poked and prodded by their people in Brussels. Maybe it was a message from one of them. Keeping an eye on Romain and Exeter, he moved around the desk and moused away the screensaver ­ the hackers had already broken open all firewalls and password protections. The email program was up and running, with a message in the inbox, already decrypted, open to perusal, as if Romain had just recently checked it again. He probably had. The beep had been incoming email, but the current message on screen captured all of Wufei's attention.

“Listen to this...” Wufei’s voice was pleasant, with an acerbic undertone. Heero glanced up in mild surprise from the scanner.

“Email to Exeter, cc-ed to Romain. ‘Andrev, we confirm the arrival of two visitors to your colony. They’ll arrive from Earth in a couple of days’ ­ this was sent three days ago.”

“Does it give our flight number?” Heero muttered. He’d turned from the scanner to cover Romain with the Kreig while Wufei checked the PC.

“...no, but it’s so detailed, it was probably an oversight.” Wufei ground out. “’Expect two men, both of them Asian’ ­ is that what threw you, Romain? I admit my colleague doesn’t look very typical.” Heero’s eyebrows arched slightly. Romain glared at the carpet.

“’Indications are that they are young, probably in their twenties.’ Hm, that didn’t help either. ‘They should be posing as students, part time or full time. Expect them at your club very shortly. Note that you need to take care of them asap. Our source indicates they could be break-in specialists.’” Wufei’s voice had slowed down as he read, eyes widening. “’If you try to keep them away, they might decide to take a short cut. I know you don’t like these methods, Andrev, but our friends insist that they be made an example. Une and her vermin may have free reign on Earth, but the colonies are ours, especially L3. We will not tolerate a move against one of our interests there. This is important, Andrev. Call me on the secured line if you need any help, and our man in Minsk is standing by too.’ It's signed, Simon, no last name.”

Wufei clicked a few keys to open the new email. It was in code. A program on Romain’s desktop amiably enquired if he wanted to decrypt the incoming message. Wufei clicked away, indicating that he would be delighted.

“’Re: guests’. That’s us." He informed Heero. "It’s the answer to Romain’s demand for confirmation of our identi-...ties...”

Heero’s grip tightened on the Kreig, hearing the note of shock that Wufei had uncharacteristically let slip.

Wufei read slowly.

“’Andrev, I’m sending this to you and your man Romain. Please read and respond asap. This is urgent. The information you sent us has confirmed that your guests are the ones we were expecting. But there’s a big problem. They are VIPs. I hope you have them under sufficient guard ­ double it anyway, just to be on the safe side.’” Wufei noted, from the corner of his eyes, the way Exeter was staring at him, then at Heero, eyes widening. “’I know these guys look like kids, I wasn't sure myself when I saw the pictures Romain sent us. But our people managed to obtain their retinal scans for comparison, and have confirmed it.'" A creak of metal as Heero's fingers tightened on the Kreig's grip. "'They are extremely dangerous. I’ve included something for final verification on your side; if this is indeed the men you have, neutralize them immediately. You can-“ Wufei’s voice did not pause or fluctuate as read the next few words, “-kill the Asian one immediately. Make the body disappear, this is crucial. They have connections, beyond Une's Rats. But if at all possible, our friends have indicated that they would like to have the other one. When you see who it is, you’ll understand. Personally, I don’t think this is wise; Dekim would not want us to endanger our organization even to avenge his murder.” Wufei’s eyes flickered to Heero. Dekim Barton...murder? Heero’s face and his entire stance were entirely closed and uncommunicative, even to Wufei. “But it would score you points if you can keep this bastard alive until they send someone to fetch him ­ a team has been dispatched from Minsk, expect them tomorrow. Take care, my friend. Simon.’”

“What’s the ‘something for verification’ he mentioned?” Heero asked tightly.

For answer, Wufei swung the monitor around, and then pointed the Kimber at Romain so that Heero could come and read the screen. Heero bent over, then grabbed the monitor and jerked it to get a better angle, a rough gesture that expressed his shock, though his face remained set in its usual lines. Wufei smiled grimly, through the sour taste in his mouth; the view of the photocopies of their Preventer ID cards had caused a flash of undirected adrenaline to flood his system. They accompanied a point-comparison of their fingerprints and stored retinal scans, and every detail of their lives, except for their home address, bank details and what their favorite color was. Heero breathed out heavily, cutting off an abortive exclamation. Probably something along the lines of ‘I’ll kill that bitch Anthea for this’, or at least, that’s what Wufei had wanted to say. It was her job to keep this sort of information secret.

If Exeter and Romain had received that email just a bit earlier...Wufei and Heero might well be dead by now.

Heero, eyes hard and anger printed in every line of his body, moved around the desk and started hammering at the computer's keys. Exeter stared at him, eyes going over his features lit by the screen's light.

"Heero Yuy." He said, finally. Heero didn't glance at him. Romain made a soft, cautioning noise deep in his throat, but his boss ignored it.

"We know who you are." Exeter continued softly. The urbane image of the businessman was tarnished by the faint, feral look in his eyes. This man wasn't a natural killer, but he had the ruthlessness it took to become one when he needed to be, and have no regrets over it. "We've been looking for you. You, and the L3 traitor who took Trowa Barton's place. Une and her lot are also in our sights. You're no more than the roaches crawling through the foundations of our house, but you've grown annoying and before long, we will crush you. But you...you and the Heavyarms's pilot...we will make you pay for what you did to Dekim. You do not harm us and get away with it."

Wufei kept his gun on Romain - the ex-Legionnaire had twisted his head, trying to catch Exeter's attention, honest worry for the man in his eyes. It wasn't necessary. Heero would not do anything to either of them without an order or a cause, and a threat wasn't cause enough for him. Wufei didn't need to turn around, he knew there would be that small quirk on Heero's lips; 'if you want me, you're welcome to try'.

As his partner, Wufei was feeling a bit less phlegmatic about this. Une's information was that Exeter wasn't a real player, just a money-mover, but his words seemed to indicate that maybe they should re-evaluate that profile, and there was no time like the present. "What-" Wufei started, but was interrupted by the alarm going off, shrill and shocking. Heero switched from the keyboard to the Kreig in a heartbeat, training it on Romain in less than a second. Wufei let his partner watch the men while he ran to the door. He couldn't hear anything over the alarms ringing. Would someone other than Romain and Exeter have the key to this office?

Romain had tensed but Heero's speed had discouraged him from trying anything. After ten seconds the alarm cut off. Wufei, with a glance at Heero, walked over to the ex-Legionnaire and slipped his cell phone from his pocket.

"Here. Call whomever is in charge, or Pels. Tell them we have you and Exeter, and not to try anything funny."

"How are you planning on getting out of here?" Romain grumbled, lifting himself on his elbows to dial. "You know we're not going to let you get away with this alive."

"I know you'd like to present our heads on a platter to your 'friends', in the hope that they'll forget how easily we got all this interesting information from your system." Wufei elaborated, agreeably. Romain snarled, but there were creases of worry around his eyes. "But I'm afraid we're not going to make it that easy for you. As soon as our team is finished with your system and the contents of your safe, we're calling the police."

"The-" Romain bit back his exclamation of surprise. Exeter stared at Wufei, brown eyes wide with shock.

"Yes. I'll tell them that you invited us here, but then you started to get pushy, and we panicked. When they'll get here, you'll apologize, we'll do the same, we'll all conclude it was a big misunderstanding, and we'll get the cops to drive us back to town." Wufei concluded.

Romain's eyes narrowed.

"And don't think you can accuse us of breaking in here, or being the cause of all this fuss." Wufei murmured, in a voice touched with steel. "First of all, if things come down to legalities, we are Preventers, that makes our word rather hard to counter in a court of law. Second...your own cameras will show you leading us through your garage at gunpoint. You won't have the time to modify those pictures. You can erase them - which will look suspicious - or we can invite the authorities to view them before we leave. That would make for a fun home video."

Exeter sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, tiredly. "And just what will you tell the police once they get here? That, having been brought here by force, you decided to go the whole way and break into private information, without, I assume, anything remotely resembling a warrant? Do you think that will stand up in court?"

"Oh, I know we won't be able to get you arrested, either of you. Though I'm thinking I would like to try." Wufei tapped Romain thoughtfully on the shoulder with the Kimber as the man's fingers stayed frozen on the cell's keys. "Was it you, by the way? Did you pull the trigger on those two cops? And Santoro?"

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about." Romain sneered mockingly.

"Of course you don't."

"This isn't over."

"No. No it isn't." Wufei agreed softly.

Romain got up on his knees and placed the call, then went and sat down on the floor next to Exeter's chair. Wufei didn't object. Not even when the man twisted his head and muttered a few words in French. Wufei's grasp of the language was weak - except for some interesting vernacular picked up from Trowa - but it didn't sound like an ominous plot. More like an apology, regret...Exeter's hand dropped to Romain's shoulder and squeeze it before being clasped once more in his lap; a few whispered words, in his accented French, something about no real harm done. Wufei pretended not to notice the gesture. He kept an eye on them and the door, until Heero had finished, and then he placed the call to their contact in the L3 police force, who would get things moving with the least amount of fuss.

---

Heero slipped on his jacket in one smooth movement, patted the Glock in its back holster with a pleased gesture, then grabbed his bags from the bedroom. He looked inordinately cheerful (for Heero). His face was its usual cold mask but he was moving around the apartment like a bird taking a last farewell flight around a suddenly open cage.

"Got everything?" He tossed over his shoulder.

"Yes." Wufei replied absently, standing immobile near the counter.

"Good. Sam said he'd do the cleanup, what there is of it. He doesn't think we were here long enough to leave many traces. All in all, that went well. Quick and efficient."

"...the man I kicked died a few hours ago." Sam had called to warn him, while they were still at the police station, sorting out the details - and the lies - with their contacts, trying to wrap things up.

Heero grunted an acknowledgement without glancing up from where he was slipping the Kreig - which he'd apparently adopted - into his bag. "Is that going to be a problem?" He added, as an afterthought.

"No. Exeter wants a fuss even less than we do; he knows it will ultimately not lead anywhere, not in the circumstances in which he brought us to the mansion. And he's got a lot of damage to repair with the Syndicate, so he's going to be busy with that. Apparently, he's decided it's safer all around to pretend nothing happened, that we were a normal couple invited to his club, and there was some misunderstanding. As for the dead man, he told the authorities that he'd fallen down the stairs."

"Oh. I'd like to meet the coroner who can be bribed to sign off on that, with your bootprint all over his face." Heero leant over and zipped up his duffel, muttering something about 'bloody L3'. When he'd straightened, he'd visibly dismissed the matter. "That aside, it couldn't have gone better. We fulfilled our mission parameters, got the information, and we didn't even need to bother with all this." Heero added dryly, waving.

Wufei followed the gesture with his eyes. 'All this' was the kitchen, where they'd have eaten their meals and talked about the day's courses; the couch where they'd have watched the news, curled up together; the bed where they'd have slept, and made- fucked.

Heero grabbed his duffel, then slowly put it down again. Wufei realized his partner was looking at him oddly. Damn. His...lack of enthusiasm, which he himself couldn't explain, was probably obvious in every line of his stance.

"It would have been nice to have proper courses for a few months." Wufei explained briskly, trying to shake the odd...listlessness that seemed to be rooting him to the spot near the small kitchen counter.

Heero lifted an eyebrow; obviously that would not have been his idea of fun. Then he shrugged. "We've been on missions continuously for almost a year, give or take a week's recuperation here and there. If you want, Une could give you a month's leave to take some classes -"

"No point." Wufei interrupted. "We both know that it would probably be cut short by some fire or other. I wouldn't be able to fully concentrate knowing that. I'm sure we'll have a couple of weeks before the next crisis, I can study during my downtime, as usual."

Heero nodded, accepting that at face value, and why shouldn't he...He shouldered his duffel and strode briskly towards the door. "Let's go, Chang."

"...yes."

The door didn't quite close behind his partner. Wufei could hear quick footsteps clattering down the short flight of stairs to the lobby. The squad car had arrived five minutes ago, it was waiting outside to take them to the shuttle port and the Preventer's small troop carrier there.

He stared at the apartment, not really seeing it. It was an illusion, about to dissolve back into smoke and light; Sam would take a team in and make sure nothing could be traced back to Wufei and Heero by the time the next occupants moved in.

There were some papers on the counter. Wufei picked up a couple of brown envelopes absently. Addressed to Yuy Summers and Chang Lin. They had the university logo on them. He stared at them blankly. As he put his down, something slipped from the open envelope. A round disk - the chitty for his locker in the university's gym. It bounced and spun on the counter, a tiny little noise briefly disturbing the silence of the uninhabited apartment. For a second it revolved on its edge, like a spinning penny, perfect, as if the movement could go on forever. But then the light plastic started to wobble, its vacillations increasing exponentially until-

Wufei's hand had snatched it up before he even knew he was moving. He found himself gripping the thin plastic, felt its edges bite into his palm. He stared blindly at the kitchen counter. His mind felt numb, as if a shot of novocaine had muted a small, indefinable ache to a faint, dismissible prickle.

"Chang!" The shout echoed in the stairwell.

Wufei stood frozen with the chitty and Heero's envelope for a few more seconds. Then he started, shook himself. Time to go back to HQ. Mission successful and all that, and they hadn't had to fake anything. Much. And only one dead body, and Exeter adequately neutralized. Une would be over the moon. She might even give them a week's vacation, one where they could actually forget about their cell phones and- well, no, what on earth would they do with themselves. Maybe she'd give them a bonus. That they wouldn't have any interest in spending. Okay, maybe she'd reward them by letting them tie Anthea to a hill of fire ants! Wufei smiled wolfishly, and absently dropped paper and plastic on the counter - let Sam's men deal with it, make these fake lives disappear. He grabbed his duffel and marched out the door.

[chap. 22] [chap. 24] [back to Maldoror's fic]