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 17
Fuming, Quatre looked up from
the sheaf of papers in his hand to glare at his lover. "Trowa, Duo needs
us to take this seriously, not just... um..."
His eyes widened as he realised what he'd been hearing for the last minute
or so. Snickering. Quiet, muffled snickering, coming from where Duo was
leaning against the wall, bent over with one hand pressed firmly over
his mouth, tears of mirth in his eyes.
"I was taking it seriously," Trowa said, deadpan. "That was a perfectly
"Hoo!" Duo whooped, giving up the struggle to be quiet. "Logical?! 'What
drugs is he taking' is logical?!"
"It adequately expressed my concerns that he might not be operating on
the same plane of reality as everyone else..." Trowa's voice trailed off
as Duo collapsed into helpless laughter again, and he raised an eyebrow
at Quatre. "Just like Duo took his missions seriously during the war,"
he explained, barely above a whisper, "but still managed to find room
for a little humour. I thought it was a good idea, and look..." He smirked
slightly. "My work here is done."
"Hiyo, Heavyarms, awa~ay?" Quatre sighed, slumping a little. "You're right,
and I didn't even see that he needed to--"
"Don't start that again!" the taller pilot hissed under his breath,
snatching the printouts out of his hand and swatting him with them. "You
didn't do anything wrong, now just relax!" Turning smoothly to Duo as
Quatre yelped and jumped back, hands up to protect his head, he continued
calmly, "You have to admit, that mission plan reads like it was written
by somebody who believes every member of the team is a superhuman being,
to whom normal physical limits do not apply. ...Hm." He looked thoughtful.
"Are you sure that was written by Gilmore, and not Heero or Wufei?"
"Positive," Duo sputtered, straightening up with an effort. "Heero's plan
would be something like 'This is my mission. The rest of you, wait
outside...' And Wufei's mission plan would be at least ten pages longer,
with every single detail planned out, listed in black and white, and timed
to the second."
"Plus it would be possible," the blond said, managing an awkward smile.
"Exactly!" Duo laughed, then looked around guiltily, seeming to remember
where he was. "Um... so, anyway, if you guys could finish the evaluation,
I'd appreciate it," he went on, voice lower but eyes still sparkling.
"Oh, hey, I nearly forgot-- did things turn out okay with your panicking
manager? There was something going on with the EPA, wasn't there?"
"Oh, that!" Switching mental gears in a hurry, Quatre looked confused
for a moment. "How did you-- oh, stupid of me, that was why I left early...
Yes, everything should be fine now. That branch of WEI deals with manufacturing
a wide range of industrial chemicals, some of which are dangerous, so
they're subject to periodic visits by the EPA. They check to make sure
that all the documents are up to date, properly stamped by government
inspectors, the plants are being maintained as necessary... that sort
of thing. There's a schedule for these visits, but it was one of the bits
of paperwork Elite managed to misfile--"
Duo grimaced at that, and Quatre winced slightly, but went on.
"--and that manager got promoted into the position after the last
visit, so he didn't remember about them. Though he should have, it's not
as if he was transferred in from outside that branch... Well, since the
EPA inspectors have to have full access to everything, they always arrive
with a warrant. It's a perfectly routine matter, but he wasn't expecting
it, and he panicked." He snorted, remembering the babbling, hand-waving
man he'd spoken to on the vidphone. "Not a good idea even when the EPA
are genuinely on the warpath, which they weren't. Just very confused,
when he ran into his office, locked the door and phoned me in hysterics..."
"Ow!" Duo stifled another snicker, trying to look suitably solemn and
disapproving. "I guess he's kind of in trouble now?"
"Let's just say Boris Wertheim isn't a regional manager for Winner Enterprises
any more, and his referral letter doesn't advise giving him too much responsibility."
The braided teen blinked, eyes widening in shock. "I wasn't thinking that
much trouble! That's a bit harsh, isn't it?"
"I don't think so," Quatre disagreed, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Not
when you consider that I had to spend over three hours in a conference
call with the EPA inspection team, Wertheim's second-in-command, and the
head of the regional EPA branch, explaining that no, Wertheim didn't actually
have a reason for not wanting the Environmental Protection Agency to be
examining his books; no, we weren't hiding anything; no, I certainly had
not ordered him to try to lock them out of the building... I think
they're going to be paying extra attention to my Eastern European branches
for a while, even so, and that's a black mark WEI does not need on its
"...Point," Duo conceded weakly. "Good point. I hadn't realised it was
a screwup of that magnitude, sorry..."
"Neither did he," Trowa cut in. "I saw Une's head sticking out of her
office door and looking this way a moment ago, so I think it would be
a rather major screwup for us if we don't head in that direction now...
When do you need these evaluations, Duo?"
"Uh, Une wants a preliminary report next week, so... as soon as convenient?"
Duo hazarded. "Tomorrow would be good, but if you're busy--"
"Tomorrow it is," Quatre said firmly. "This is hardly a Herculean task,
and we're glad to help!"
"What he said, only without the literary reference," Trowa smirked, patting
Duo's shoulder as he moved past. "See you."
Duo stood for a moment, looking after them, chewing his lip indecisively;
then he nodded to himself, and headed back towards Wufei's desk.
Lady Une looked at the clock, then out her open door.
Quatre Winner is never late for an appointment, she thought,
frowning. Punctuality should be his middle name, not--
Her eyebrows rose as she heard the blond teen's voice raised in exasperation.
"Trowa, Duo needs an evaluation, not a comedy sketch!" There was a bit
more muffled conversation, then Quatre nearly shouted "Trowa!"
Well, he's here... Une listened more closely, rising and stepping
to the door, staying out of sight. That sounds like Duo... I hope they
There was a shout of laughter, and she began to relax, leaning against
the door frame. Peeking out, she watched Duo talking to Trowa and Quatre,
eyes bright and occasionally snickering; he'd quieted down since the first
delighted yelp, but was obviously still enjoying himself.
Well, it seems Chang's mission may have had added benefits, apart from
convincing Duo that he'll come back, she thought, moving back to her
desk and settling into the chair. He's actually talking to them...
He didn't take it well, though, I wish it hadn't required something that
drastic... Ah well, what's done is done. Picking up a sheaf of paper,
she leaned back and perused the report. Fortunately, I don't have any
other appointments. Quatre can be as late as he wants.
A few minutes later, she looked up at a knock on her open door. "Winner,
Barton... come in. Good morning."
"Good morning, Lady Une," Quatre said, shooting a guilty glance at the
clock. "I'm really very sorry we're late--"
"I'm not," she interrupted him, tossing the report back onto her desk
and sitting up straight. One and a half pairs of wide, startled eyes met
hers, and she stifled an unladylike snort. "From what I saw, you were
making Maxwell laugh. I consider that to be a worthwhile endeavour right
now... though that shouldn't be taken to mean that you can be late to
anything really high-priority," she added dryly. "Now, shall we
"Hey... how's it going?"
Wufei snorted without looking up, absorbed in writing a comment in large,
emphatic block letters. "The man is a fool. He's completely failed to
take into account the varying skill levels and specialties of the team
members, and from the look of this he's working from about half of the
information he should have got before making concrete plans. There's
one stage of the plan where I think he expects one person to be in three
different places at once..."
Duo grinned. "I take it you wouldn't go on this mission, then?"
His boyfriend looked up, blinking in surprise. "Oh, I'd go," he said blankly,
sounding surprised that anyone would consider any other course of action.
"I'd rewrite the mission plan to my own satisfaction first, of course,
but I'd go."
There's a major difference between us, Duo thought, not realising
he was smiling fondly at the picture Wufei made with his reading glasses
perched on the end of his nose and a strand of hair escaping from his
ponytail, wisping down across his forehead. I look at this and think
'hell no'. He looks at it and thinks 'duty requires it, but I'll do it
my way'... Wufei was speaking again, and Duo dragged his attention
back to the conversation.
"As written, I think the only one of us who could pull this off is you,
Duo, and only if there were seven of you," Wufei said, looking back at
the printout. "I could do most of it, but the security system is beyond
my abilities to crack quietly. Noisily, yes, but not quietly. In any case,
I'll have this finished in a few minutes, so--"
"Oh, hey, no rush!" the braided teen insisted, waving his hands. "That's
not what I came to talk to you about, though it's great that you're already
mostly done with it. Um... I sort of wanted to ask..."
"Yes?" Wufei smiled, _expression warm and caring, and Duo gulped as he
nearly lost his train of thought.
"Uh... I just ran into Tro and Quat," and Quatre was so damn twitchy
around me I wanted to scratch, "and I was thinking... maybe
we could invite them to dinner? If you don't mind?" Maybe that'll make
him settle down? I'm not mad at him... not any more... not really...
but I guess he's still worried, and maybe this'll help?
Wufei's eyes widened slightly, but that was the only outward indication
that he might be finding the request at all unusual. "I don't mind at
all," he said emphatically. "In fact, I think it's a great idea.
Hmm... Quatre tends to run into the same 'high visibility' problems as
Relena when he eats out, so dinner at our place would be best, don't you
'Our place'. He said it again! "Uh, yeah," Duo stuttered, feeling
his cheeks heat up in a blush. "Trowa's okay with garlic, but Quatre doesn't
like it that much, so the Spaghetti Bolognese of Death is out, though."
"I'm sure that between us, we can come up with an alternative," Wufei
said soothingly, punching buttons on his vidphone with one hand as he
beckoned Duo into his little homemade enclosure with the other. "You'll
sprain your neck if you keep twisting it to peer in past the bookshelves,
you know... hold on a moment... Amanda, hello."
< < Agent Chang, good morning. How can I help you? > > Une's
secretary said, her apparently permanent gentle smile firmly in place.
"Could you let me know when Barton and Winner finish their appointment
with Lady Une, please? Nothing urgent, but Duo and I do need to speak
< < No problem. They're scheduled to break for lunch at 12.30, so
it'll probably be shortly after that... certainly not before, judging
by past experience, > > she added, dimple appearing briefly as her
smile widened. < < I'll call you, and ask them to wait for a moment.
"Thank you." He nodded politely and disconnected, turning away from the
screen with a quiet, satisfied sigh as Duo sidled cautiously in. "Welcome
to my office," he grinned, picking up the copy of the mission plan
and waving it at the 'walls' around them. "Not as official as yours, perhaps,
but I do have a penholder as well."
"Ooh, red plastic," Duo said admiringly, relaxing enough to perch
on the corner of the desk. "Stylish."
"And good Feng Shui, in theory, not that I ever put much faith in that...
anyway. This might look good to somebody who doesn't read past the summary
or doesn't know any better, but I can say with full confidence that you
are not overreacting to it," Wufei went on, voice souring as he
waved the plan again, contemptuously this time.
"Even if I recommend disposing of it -- and all the rest of them, and
possibly the author -- with a flamethrower and napalm?"
"...That didn't sound like you were joking."
"Not really," Duo said grimly. "I've got the reports on what happened
when Gilmore's students tried to execute his fucked-up excuses for plans,
too. No fatalities, yet, but... it got pretty close, a few times. I know
what I'm going to say about the plans. My recommendations for dealing
with him... well, I'm going to start talking to his students this
afternoon, and doing a bit of research into the man himself. We'll see."
Duo's expression was unusually serious, even taking into account the fact
that he was generally quiet and non-manic these days, a glint of hard
steel in his eyes; Wufei swallowed uncomfortably, and changed the subject.