Author: Mel and Christy,
Category: AU, Drama, Romance
Pairings: 5x2, 1xR, 3x4
Warnings: Yaoi, language, angst
Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Gundam Wing are not ours. We
lay claim to the Assinks and other original characters, though!
Feedback: Yes, please.
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback or dream starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
thoughts (and the occasional sound effect): *Tadah!*
some more sound effects (little ones!): -tadah!-
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>
+ Chapter 18
The vidphone on Duo's desk
bleeped, and he automatically reached out to hit the 'accept' button without
looking up from his notes. If I were going to be here any more than
a week or two, I'd reprogram that thing to sound better, he thought
absently. Sounds like it's going to sick up its buzzer--
< < I hope I'm not interrupting
anything too complicated, Duo, > > Une's voice said, and he nearly
lost the notepad over the edge of his desk as he jumped.
"No! No, really, I was just
going over... um... yeah, sorry. You rang?" he asked sheepishly.
< < Yes, I did, >
> she said dryly. < < I need a rather more concrete reason than
'because my consultant wants me to' to start an investigation into a Preventers
officer's family. > >
"Uh, I don't want a full-scale
investigation exactly," Duo objected. "I don't know exactly what term
is right for what I want to do -- it's just that I think that Gilmore's
family, um, environment is relevant to this. The way he was brought up,
and stuff. I need to find out about that."
< < The way he was brought
up--? > > Une cut herself off, frowning in thought. < < Duo,
just where are you going with this? > >
"Um. If you don't mind..."
Duo gulped, feeling his heart start to hammer against his ribs. "I don't
really want to give you my preliminary report until I've got a start on
a full solution to this problem, as well as working out the cause. I'm
pretty sure I'm on the right track about what's wrong, but I'm still going
on the rest of it..."
< < Full solution?
She smiled, slowly. < <
You want to help him, too, don't you? > >
He aimed a crooked grin at
the vidphone screen. "It's kinda looking like he needs it..."
< < Well. > >
Une turned to one side, apparently checking something on a different screen.
< < I do have some rather strict limits on what I can do officially,
when it comes to prying into cleared agents' private lives. However, if
I put you in touch with Gilmore's next of kin, who happens to live in
this city, and you go to talk to her, that's another matter. It will all
be entirely unofficial, of course, and she will be under no obligation
whatsoever to meet you, or to answer your questions. > >
"That's fine!" he said hastily,
waving his hands at the screen. "That's perfect, actually... uh, she is
a close relative of his, isn't she? One who'd know what things
were like for him, growing up?"
< < I should hope so,
seeing as she's his older sister, > > she said, mouth quirking into
the shadow of a smile. < < I hope she can -- and will -- tell you
what you need. > >
After Une disconnected, Duo
sat staring at the blank screen for a moment, then sighed. "Oh-kay...
more interviews. First I visit this guy in hospital, then I have to arrange
to meet Gilmore's sister. Damn. Why couldn't I do this all from the files?
You don't have to talk to files..."
* * * * *
"Hey," a tentative voice came
from the doorway. "Are you feeling up to having visitors? I can come back
later if now is a bad time..."
Flat on his back in traction,
Michael Sipps bit off the last few swear words in his tirade and forced
a fair imitation of a smile onto his face. "Come on in; I could use the
distraction," he growled. "And a hand to pick up that remote, if you don't
A short, slim figure in jeans
and a polo shirt sidled in, dropping a warm jacket on a chair as he bent
to look for the offending gadget. "I don't see-- oh, there it is." A long
brown braid came into view as whoever-it-was bent double to reach under
the bed, making Michael doubt his first impression of his visitor's sex
for a moment, but the face that popped back up grinning with triumph was
Pretty as hell, but male,
Michael decided, accepting the remote with a more genuine smile of thanks.
He's got an adam's apple, for one thing, and those are some interesting
calluses and scars on his hands. Damn interesting, when you consider
how young he is. So who are you, pretty boy?
"Who do I have to thank for
my rescue?" he said out loud, muting the ceiling-mounted TV and propping
the remote back on his bedside table, close enough for him to get it without
knocking it on the floor. Again.
"Duo Maxwell," the boy said,
shaking hands with a cautious respect for the splint holding two of Michael's
fingers together. "I'm doing a consultancy job for Lady Une at the moment,
and you're one of the people I need to talk to."
"Oh-kay... first, you mind
if I ask to see some ID?"
Duo blinked, looked down at
the front of his shirt, and seemed surprised to see nothing there. "I
know I put-- argh! Now that was bright," he muttered, snatching his jacket
up and unhooking an ID badge from its front pocket.
"Hey, at least you had it
with you," Michael said calmly, taking the badge and examining it with
interest. "A friend of mine once forgot his completely. Made it through
most of a day in a top-secret lab because everyone knew him, so nobody
bothered checking his pass. Then he ran up against the one new door guard
who didn't know him by sight, and ended up getting the 'hands on the wall
and feet apart, sir,' speech. Guns drawn and everything."
"Since he was the head of
security there, yeah." He grinned at the snickering teenager as he passed
the badge back, and made another mental note. Seems kind of nervous,
a bit shy, and then you get him to laugh and it's like the sun coming
out... Maxwell, Maxwell, where have I heard that name? Didn't Daria say
something about somebody with a name like that when she came in to see
me a couple of weeks ago? Damn drugs were playing hell with my memory,
it's a good thing they've got me off half of them...
"Well, it looks like you've
got enough clearances and accesses to ask me about anything I'm likely
to know," he went on, shifting his shoulders and wishing he could somehow
reach the middle of his back to scratch it. "Not to mention anything I'm
allowed to know, and a few dozen things extra. How'd you pull
"I have lots of clearances?"
The kid blinked, and Michael could swear he saw whatever lines he'd had
planned dissolve out of his head. "I mean, I knew I had clearances, but
lots of them? You can tell I have lots of clearances from my
badge? How do you do that?"
"Kid, the only people with
more clearances than you are Lady Une, Po, the Four Horsemen, Merquise,
Noin, and God. And I'm not so sure about God. As for how you tell, you
"Wait wait wait wait wait,
Four Horsemen? What's that about?!"
Michael grinned. "Chang, Yui,
Winner, and Barton. The nickname around HQ for those guys is the Four
Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Only one of them is a full-time Preventer,
and Winner doesn't go on missions, but you can guarantee that if one of
them is involved, all hell is going to break loose."
"Four Horsemen, huh?" Duo's
smile wavered for a moment, and his eyes slid away. "That's pretty cool..."
His voice dropped. "Shame there weren't five in the Bible."
"What was that?"
"Ah, it's nothing. So how
do I tell people's clearances from their passes?"
Now why the hell did that
make you wince? "See that multicoloured strip across it, about a quarter
inch up from the bottom?" Michael gestured vaguely in the direction of
the pass, still in Duo's hand. "Different bits are different colours to
show your clearances, codeword accesses, special zone accesses and stuff.
If there's a gap in the strip, that's a clearance or an access you don't
have. My strip is just four different patches and a lot of empty space.
Yours goes almost all the way across, see?"
"Whoa," Duo muttered, raising
an eyebrow. "I feel privileged."
"Nah, it just means you get
the most trust, and therefore the worst jobs. I'm happy with my patchy
little card. So, what were you planning to ask questions about?"
"Ah, yeah, right. Sorry."
The kid yanked a notebook out of his jacket and flipped through the pages,
face suddenly so serious that Michael bit back a laugh. "Okay. You went
through the Covert Operations and Sabotage course late last year, correct?"
"For my sins, yes," Michael
"I gather you didn't enjoy
it," Duo muttered, before looking back at his notes. "You completed your
training, got assigned to a field team with some of your classmates, and
on January the fourth your team -- minus Agent Vanderveer, who had been
involved in a motor vehicle accident -- attempted to infiltrate and suppress
the Black Lotus group's headquarters in Denver."
"That wasn't a question, but
yeah. 'Attempted' about covers it, I think." And now I'm flat on my
back in hospital, being driven insane by an itch in the middle of my back,
lucky to be alive, and really lucky to not be permanently crippled.
Jacobsen and Lassiter only got released to recuperate at home last week,
and Gifford is going to be a long time recovering his nerve if I'm not
"Right. Starting at the very
beginning... did you have any experience in covert ops before you began
As Duo's questions moved from
the general to the specific, asking about the course itself and the way
it had been run, Michael found himself intrigued. Curiouser and curiouser,
he mused, less than half his attention on answering the question about
classroom routine he'd just been asked. If I didn't know better, I'd
say he's dancing around the subject he really wants to know about, slanting
his questions to get me to talk about something without him actually coming
out and naming it. And since I don't know better, that's probably
exactly what he's doing.
"You know," he said mildly,
interrupting Duo before he could move on to his next question, "this would
probably be more efficient if you just came straight out and asked me
"What--?" Duo jerked upright,
eyes widening as he looked up from his notebook. "How did-- Why the hell
aren't you in intelligence gathering or interrogation?!"
"Not glamorous enough. I saw
too many old James Bond movies as a kid," Michael grinned, enjoying his
reaction. "I'm right, aren't I?"
"Shit." The teenager glared,
then cleared his throat and attempted to look prim. "Investigating an
active agent who has not been charged with an offence and suspended from
duty is against Preventers' internal disciplinary regulations... even
if some people think that's stupid."
"Ah. Right. But beating around
the bush until you get the information anyway is allowed?"
"Right. Not that I'm investigating
anyone," Duo pointed out virtuously. "I'm investigating a training course,
and the track record of the department using that training course, not
any specific people."
"Even if you think perhaps
you should be...?" Michael guessed, and noted a faint flicker in his questioner's
"I did not say that."
"No, you didn't. And I can
testify to the fact that you haven't asked me any questions that could
be interpreted as breaking those regulations. Important things, regulations.
But it's hardly your fault if I'm feeling gossipy and tell you all sorts
of things without being asked, now is it?"
A slow grin spread across
Duo's face. "Well, I do have a bunch of questions about the course
and that mission that I have to ask you. Still, it must be pretty boring,
stuck in here--"
"Terribly," Michael agreed
enthusiastically. "Bad TV, no view, and hardly any visitors," he lied,
ignoring the multiple boxes of chocolates and get-well cards piling up
on his bedside table.
"--so I guess the least I
can do is to humour you by sticking around for a while and letting you
chat about, oh, random subjects."
"Very random. No connection
whatsoever to anything official. Completely off the record."
"Not that it would be interesting
enough to record anyway," Duo sighed, ostentatiously flipping his notebook
"Of course not." Michael's
grin widened. "Think that's enough bullshit?"
"Plenty," the teenager nodded,
pulling his chair closer. "Let's dig some dirt."
"You got it. First, though,
could you do me a favour?" Grimacing with the effort, Michael reached
across and grabbed the right bed rail with his left hand, pulling until
he raised his torso slightly up off the bed. "Could you scratch my back?
Right in the middle, where the damn bow is on the gown? I keep telling
the nurses to leave it undone so it doesn't bug me, and they keep doing
it up again as soon as I manage to wiggle the right way and get it loose..."
* * * * *
Duo glanced at the time as
he parked Wufei's Blazer back in its usual spot in the main HQ parking
lot, and smiled. He hadn't been sure he would make it back before the
end of his and Wufei's shift, but he had half an hour to spare to call
Gilmore's sister and make some additions to his notes before it was time
to go home.
Everything Sipps told me
just backs up what I've been thinking, he told himself, walking past
the front security post with one hand holding up his pass and the other
holding his notes in front of his face. Gilmore can't teach for peanuts,
and he can't plan missions to save his life. Or anyone else's life, for
that matter! The Black Lotus mission was planned with the assumption that
all the team members would be involved, but Daria Vanderveer was out of
action when it went down; the plan should have been changed to take account
of that, or postponed. Heck, it was a bad plan to start with! He's been
planning without full information, sending inexperienced teams against
terrorist cells that have turned out to be larger or better armed than
expected, or just plain gone. And Sipps says that Gilmore just
didn't seem to get what was going on when he showed his students something
and they didn't catch on right away... "like he realised there was
a problem, but he couldn't understand why".
So why didn't he report
that there was a problem? Why did he pass them as fit to serve
as field agents, when all they could do was go through one or two classroom
problems by rote? Is he incompetent and trying to cover it up no matter
what it costs anyone else -- in which case, screw him; is he actually
trying to sabotage Preventers operations -- in which case, Une is going
to fillet him; or is he out of his depth and unable to get help for some
reason? Finding out about his home life could tell me what's behind this,
so I really do need to talk to his sister... but I'm really not
looking forward to it!
"Mr. Maxwell?" Amanda's gentle
voice broke into his thoughts. "You have a meeting with Justine Gilmore
at ten-thirty A.M. tomorrow."
"I took the liberty of making
the appointment for you," she smiled, handing him a slip of paper with
the time and address written in her neat cursive handwriting. "As Lady
Une's secretary, it's sometimes easier for me to get through other people's
secretaries to make necessary arrangements..."
Easier than it would be
for a teenager who's got long hair and no tie, yeah, Duo agreed mentally,
eyeing the paper as if it might bite. "Thanks," he muttered, and winced
as he realised how unenthusiastic he'd sounded. "I mean it, really. Thanks.
Um... so, you spoke directly to her? What's she seem like?"
"In a word?" Amanda's smile
turned sympathetic. "Frosty. Wear a tie."
She read my mind. "Those
things are crimes against humanity," he grumbled, "but I guess I can borrow
one from 'Fei. Thanks for the warning."
"All part of my job, sir."
"Whoa, hey, no," he protested,
wincing. "I am not a 'sir'. I mean, 'Mr. Maxwell' is bad enough!
I'm nobody special, Amanda. Really, I'd be happier if you just called
me Duo. 'Mr. Maxwell' and 'sir' make me feel like-- like-- I dunno, like
I've been infected with responsibility germs and aged about twenty years
She muffled something suspiciously
like a giggle behind one hand, and nodded. "Duo it is, then. I wouldn't
want to make you uncomfortable... though I do have to disagree with one
part of your argument."
"Lady Une certainly seems
to think you're 'somebody special'."
Blushing bright red, Duo stammered
out something that didn't even make sense to him, and bolted for the safety
of his office.
I do like that
young man, Amanda chuckled to herself, turning back to her computer.
Now if he'll just get a little more self- confidence, and show his
sense of humour more often--
"Amanda," Lady Une said coolly
from behind her, "were you teasing my consultant just now?"
"Teasing?" She blinked innocently,
turning to look at her boss. "I wouldn't call it 'teasing', Lady Une.
I just corrected him when he said he was nobody special."
"Oh dear," Une groaned,
stern expression vanishing as one hand came up to cover her eyes. "That
could be worse than teasing him."
"On the contrary, ma'am, I
think it could be good for him. After all, if he hears the truth often
enough, from several different people, he might actually start believing
it." Amanda paused, then dimpled. "And he blushes so beautifully."
"I'm sure he does. All right,
I won't interfere with your attempts to boost his confidence-- or whatever
you're trying to do. However, you might want to be careful."
Une turned to go back into
her office, one corner of her mouth quirking upwards. "You might want
to consider what Chang's reaction could be if he catches you making his
"...Good point, ma'am. I will
boost with discretion."
Embarrassed, but with a faint
warm glow in his heart, Duo sat at his desk and started rearranging files,
sorting out the ones he was finished with from the ones he wanted to go
over one more time. I've got time to put at least a few of these away,
he decided, then 'Fei and I can go home. Better make sure he's got
a tie I can borrow -- I mean, of course he's going to have a tie, but
with my luck they might all be colours that don't go with any of my shirts
-- and I need to make sure I know the way to this place and how long it's
going to take, I don't wanna turn up late--
Picking up the slip of paper
once more, he read the address and froze.
Oh. Oh man. Oh shit.
I'm gonna need more than a tie!
"'Fei! We gotta go shopping!
I need a suit!"
Wufei's glasses slid down
his nose as he raised his eyebrows, surprised. "I beg your pardon, Duo.
You need a what?"
"A suit. A swish one, you
know, a serious suit. One that says 'hey, this guy is boringly
respectable and should not be thrown out of your offices by your hulking
security guards even if he does have long hair'," Duo said, waving his
hands as he paced back and forth in front of Wufei's desk.
"Duo, calm down, don't panic,"
Wufei told him, standing up and reaching for him. "Sit down, take a deep
breath, and tell me what's going on--"
"I need a suit!"
"--from the beginning."
"From the beginning. Okay."
Duo plonked himself down in the visitor's chair and clutched at his hair,
breathing heavily. "Okay. Right. I decided I had to talk to Gilmore's
sister. Well, his next of kin, anyway, or somebody who could tell me about
his family life, not specifically his sister, but it turned out to be
his sister anyway."
He is panicking,
Wufei decided, coming around his desk to sit on the edge next to Duo,
knees touching for reassurance. But he's not freezing up or going silent,
the way he has been lately. This is... this is a very Duo sort
of panic. This is the way Duo used to panic during the war. This is...
"So Amanda made the appointment
for me, which is nice, because I wasn't looking forwards to calling this
lady and saying 'hey, I think your brother wasn't raised right, wanna
talk to me about it?', and God knows what Amanda told her to get the meeting
set up, but it's at ten-thirty tomorrow and I can't just borrow your tie!
I need a suit!"
"Why?" Wufei asked, reasonably
enough he thought. "You have some good clothes--"
"I have nice jeans, 'Fei,
and nice casual shirts, and boots, or sneakers. I can't walk
in there in that and a borrowed tie!"
Wufei scanned the small square
of yellow notepaper, and felt his eyebrows rising again. "Ah. I see."
Wufei, nobody in that building has a soul! Expensive lawyers!
These are the lawyers really famous rich people hire when they're in really
deep guacamole! They're going to take one look at me and-- and--"
"And they're going to see
your consultant's badge."
"Yeah! And then-- huh?"
"It's all right, Duo. Let
me think for a moment."
Wufei leaned forwards and
kissed Duo gently, feeling him jerk in surprise and then slowly relax,
responding. "It's okay," he whispered, pulling back barely an inch. "Calm
down. It's okay."
"Um. Right. Calm," Duo whispered
back. "I can do that."
"Good." Smiling, he kissed
Duo one more time before leaning back and beginning to think aloud. "Well.
I can understand you not wanting to go to this meeting in casual clothes,
no matter how nice they are. Two-hundred-dollar jeans are still jeans,
"Yeah," Duo muttered, still
slightly dazed from the kisses. "I-- two- hundred-dollar jeans? I have
"Quatre," Wufei said dryly,
and smirked when Duo rolled his eyes and nodded understanding.
"He would do something like
that," he muttered, then blinked. "Hang on... he got me four or five pairs
of those jeans! How much did the shirts cost?! How the hell am I ever
going to pay him back?! He--"
"Duo. Focus. Calm,
remember?" Wufei eyed Duo until he was sure the outburst was over. "I
honestly do not think that Quatre either expects or wants repayment."
"But... they're two-hundred-dollar
"Can you honestly picture
Quatre going to a discount store? Getting back to the current topic, I
don't think a suit is necessarily the right thing for you to wear either.
I mean, honestly, Duo, would you be comfortable in a suit?"
"No," Duo admitted reluctantly.
"But it's the right thing to wear in that environment."
"It's the right thing for
them to wear in that environment, but you're not a lawyer. You're
going there as a consultant for the Preventers, conducting an investigation."
"Er, this part of the investigation
is completely unofficial. I'm not allowed to specifically investigate
"I doubt Amanda told his sister
that, or you'd never have got the appointment," Wufei smirked. "If you
tell her that she is under no obligation to answer your questions, well...
she's a lawyer. She's far more likely to assume that that means 'I don't
have a warrant but I can and will get one if you refuse to cooperate',
not 'I shouldn't be here'. Especially if you are dressed appropriately
and seem confident, which will be far easier if you are comfortable with
what you are wearing. So, not a suit."
"I like it," Duo told him,
beginning to relax and smile back. "What's your definition of 'appropriate'
"As much like a Preventer
as you can be without breaking the law," Wufei decided, twisting to reach
"Who are you calling?" Duo
asked, craning his neck to see the screen.
"Barents' Workplace Apparel,"
Wufei muttered, calling up a directory and scribbling down phone number
and address. "They supply all of the Preventers' uniforms. The slacks,
boots, shirts and ties are all pretty standard items, so anyone can buy
them; dress uniforms and standard jackets are distinctively styled and
not freely available, but your consultant's badge should be sufficient
ID to get you a jacket -- especially since I'll be with you. The insignia
are the only part you definitely aren't legally entitled to, but if you've
got the rest of the uniform and your badge clipped to your lapel--" he
smirked "--I don't think you're going to need them."
[chap 17] [chap 19]
[back to Mel and Christy's fic]