Author: Mel (She Who Tortures Wufei) and Christy (She Who Channels Duo)
Category: AU, Drama, Romance
Pairings: 5x2, 1xR, 3x4
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Yaoi, language, angst & FLUFF!
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Don't claim to own them. Don't get any money for this. Sucks to be us!
Feedback: Yes, please.

Key:
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!>>

Rebuilding + Chapter 15

"Wufei, good morning," Quatre said cheerfully, stopping by his desk. "You're looking well. How's Duo?"

"He's fine," Wufei said a little too quickly, looking up from his paperwork. "Thank you for staying with him."

"No, really, there's no need to thank me; I'm glad I could help," Quatre assured him. "I understand he and Relena have been having fun."

The Chinese Preventer snorted, relaxing slightly. "It's an alliance made in hell. They would have cleaned me out yesterday if we'd been playing for real money. I certainly don't begrudge them their fun, though, even if it is at my expense... she goes back to her home and office tomorrow, and I think I'll almost miss being double teamed."

"Well, it's good to see that he's willing to pull a double team play with somebody that isn't you," Quatre pointed out, smiling a little sadly. "I just wish he felt the same way about me."

"...He will, I think," Wufei said quietly. "Give him time."

The blond teen grimaced slightly, but nodded. I gave him time before, he thought bitterly, without realising it. Eight months' worth. That certainly produced dramatic results...

"What brings you here?"

Quatre accepted the change of topic with relief. "Budget appropriations time is coming... yes, already," he added, seeing Wufei's surprised expression. "Lady Une and I need to discuss how to squeeze a bit more money out of the Powers That Be this year, so that you don't end up trying to do your job on less than the half- shoestring budget you've already got."

"Most politicians do seem more interested in funding military organisations to expand their power, instead of para-military organisations dedicated to stopping anyone from accumulating extra power," Wufei murmured cynically. "At least Relena is one of those 'Powers' and can be depended upon to support you."

"And I don't know what we'd do without her," Quatre grinned. "I wish you'd been at the first lot of appropriations talks, just after the war ended. One idiot got up and spent fifteen minutes oh-so-politely explaining that Relena was young, and female, and a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist, and therefore couldn't possibly have any sort of opinion on military matters. She waited until he'd finished, thanked him sweetly for his concern, and proceeded to demolish every single point in his anti-Preventers platform. It was beautiful. He was squawking like a chicken by the time she finished with him."

"It sounds like it would make a good spectator sport," Wufei grinned back. "Perhaps you should sell tickets."

"It might be a good way to raise extra cash for the Preventers' budget..."

"Mister Winner?" Amanda, Lady Une's secretary, materialised at Quatre's elbow, smiling serenely. "If you'd like to go in, Lady Une is free now."

----------

"Good morning, Lady Une... uh... what's wrong?" Quatre blurted out, coming to a halt just inside the office door.

"It's that obvious?" she sighed, looking up at him with her expression hovering between a wry smile and a scowl.

"I wouldn't say obvious, exactly," he said evasively, "but you certainly don't seem to be your normal composed self. Even when you snarl at people, you do it with flair. Right now you look... er..."

"Frazzled?"

"Distracted."

"Always the diplomat," she said dryly, waving at the visitor's chair. "Sit."

"Well, we seem to have established that something is wrong," he said just as dryly, sitting down. "Is it something that I can help with?"

"That's what Chang asked," Une muttered, rubbing at her forehead. "Unfortunately, I have to give you the same answer I gave him; this isn't your area of expertise. Unless all my intelligence reports during the war were wrong, that is, and you're brilliant at stealth and sabotage, instead of tactics and planning..."

"Um." He looked thoughtful. "No, but... what exactly is the problem?"

For a moment, it seemed as if she was going to refuse to explain, but then she sighed and sat back in her chair. "As I'm sure you're aware, stealthy reconnaisance is not one of my strong points," she began. "I prefer to walk straight in the front door and blow things up; rather like Chang, actually. Sally-- Major Po, that is-- is better than I am, but she's still far from expert, and in any case she has just as many demands on her time as I do. The point is, we needed someone to teach it, and not only can't we teach it ourselves, we can't really evaluate someone else's teaching to see if it's effective. We had a reasonable pool of ex-Oz and Alliance soldiers to draw on when we built the Preventers from scratch, not to mention both acknowledged and secret resistance fighters, but stealth isn't something that OZ placed a high premium on--"

"No," Quatre agreed with a twisted smile. "Somebody I know once described OZ's usual tactics as 'If it moves, shoot it. If it doesn't move, undermine it and blow it up.'."

"--and I didn't know any of the other recruits well enough to confirm whether or not they really had the skills they claimed," she finished, glaring half-heartedly at him for a moment. "Agent McKenzie would have been perfect for the job of 'Instructor of Stealth and Dirty Tricks' as the position has been nicknamed by the cadets, but she joined after we'd already set up the training corps. Now, I'd like to use her to evaluate the current instructor's work, but I also need her on that damn resource satellite Chang was on; I was planning to leave her there for a few months, as interim head of the new office."

"You don't think the current instructor is up to standard?"

"He's ex-Alliance," Une replied, not answering the question directly. "I have his old files. He's good; he saw a lot of action before the Alliance started openly crushing resistance, while they were still operating secretly. The Yggdrasil Ring say he's good."

"And if anyone would know, the Assinks would," Quatre nodded, grinning briefly. "But?"

"But... his students are starting to graduate, becoming regular agents and going on missions. He says they're up to standard. Nevertheless, four missions in the past six weeks have gone catastrophically wrong. Several of my people have been hospitalised, and I think it's only luck that nobody's been killed yet."

"So, you need somebody to review what he's been teaching them, to find out what he's doing wrong-- if anything-- and how to fix it," Quatre finished. "Somebody who will understand what they're looking for."

"Exactly." Une sighed again, pushing her hair back from her face. "I looked at his proposed curriculum when he first started, and it looked fine then, but as I've already said, this isn't my area of expertise. Yui has a full-time job on his hands looking after the Minister's security, when he isn't taking unauthorised side jaunts to L2; Barton is just as busy and specialised in infiltration, anyway; Chang's style is too direct, and I don't want to increase his workload any more than I have to while he's looking after Maxwell--"

"What about Duo?" Quatre interrupted. "You have to admit, he has exactly the sort of expertise you need right now."

Une blinked at him, taken aback. "...Well, yes," she admitted. "He certainly gave me plenty of opportunity to observe his talents... but he isn't a Preventer. He isn't even a 'part-time' Preventer."

"You could bring him in as an outside consultant. It might even be an advantage," Quatre pointed out. "He has no connection to the man you want evaluated, he isn't a rival for his job, no personal agenda..."

"Good point. Is he... would he be up to it, though?"

"Ask Sally what she thinks," Quatre said confidently. "Personally, I think she might agree with me that it could be exactly what you both need."

* * * * *

"How was your day?" Duo asked, stepping back to let Wufei through the door. Behind him, an impressive card house on the dining table told Wufei how he and Relena had spent at least part of theirs, and the sound of the shower coming from the bathroom told him what Relena was doing now.

"Busy, and slightly puzzling," Wufei told him. "Lady Une apparently wants to discuss something with you; she asked me to bring you in tomorrow morning. Is that all right? I told her it was entirely your choice..."

"Uh... yeah, I guess so," Duo said doubtfully. "What does she want?"

"She wouldn't tell me. All I know is that it's nothing to do with Anders and his little ambush on Christmas Eve, because I asked and she said 'no'."

"She could have at least given you a general idea of what's going on," Duo grumbled, "or called me and asked me herself... Oh well. Did you get them?"

Wufei displayed his shopping bags with a triumphant smirk. "All of them. Tiramisu, liqueur chocolates, the ingredients for your spaghetti recipe--"

"Duo's Spaghetti Bolognese of Death!" the braided teen snickered, peering into one of the bags and locating the string of garlic bulbs.

"--five rolls of different coloured ribbons, and a bag of very small rubber bands," Wufei finished. "Remember, I take no responsibility for this if it backfires."

"I never got her back for putting my hair into zillions of tiny braids," Duo said, glancing towards the bathroom and lowering his voice as the shower noise stopped, "and this might be my best chance ever. Her time has come. At least we're going to give her an end-of- vacation feast first! I was stuck with field rations."

* * * * *

"Mister Maxwell, come in," Une said cordially the next morning, checking Duo over in one sweeping glance and was apparently pleased with what she saw. "Thank you, Chang; you aren't essential to the proceedings, but you're welcome to sit in if Maxwell doesn't mind..."

Wufei eyed Duo for a moment, got no clear indication of whether Duo wanted him there or not, and shook his head. "If I'm going to be superfluous, I might as well take care of some of the paperwork I found waiting for me yesterday instead," he said easily. "You know where to find me when you're finished, Duo."

"Left rear corner of the big room," Duo confirmed quietly.

"Behind his homemade ramparts," Une added dryly, sitting down as Wufei left and closed the door behind him. "Sit, please, Mister Maxwell. Now, I know I didn't tell Chang what this is about, but considering how effective your intelligence gathering was during the war, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if one of you has found out...?"

Duo shook his head, hunched and sitting nervously on the edge of the chair. "No. This isn't something to do with me kidnapping you that time, is it? Or all the times I broke into your quarters?"

A faint smile appeared on her face. "Not exactly. Those incidents did play a large part in my decision to ask for your help, though... Duo." His body relaxed and straightened slightly as she abandoned the more formal mode of address, and she made a mental note to stick to his first name as much as possible. In private, at least, she amended uncomfortably. I don't want him to feel like I'm giving him the third degree, but I also don't want anyone to think he's getting special treatment. Sally already knows that I have a soft spot for him!

"You want my help?" Duo asked skeptically, seeming to forget some of his nervousness as he reacted with disbelief. "Why me?"

"Because you are one of the two people who have the precise skill set I need," Une said bluntly, "and of those two, you're the one I can get my hands on right now."

He looked down at the end of his braid twisted in his hands, frowning unhappily, and Une felt a pang as she realised just how shattered his self-confidence was. A year ago, he wouldn't have had any doubt that he would be up to whatever I might throw at him... or if he did, he wouldn't have shown it. Now, I think he might refuse just because he's afraid to try and fail...

"Let me explain the problem first," she said, and dropped the thick file onto the center of her desk with a satisfying thump.

"...so I'm sure you can see why I need someone like you," she finished, ten minutes later. Her explanation to Duo had been far more detailed (and more logically set out) than the one she'd given Quatre; she'd had time to plan it, after all. "The number of times you scouted and invaded OZ bases during the war was a constant amazement to me, when I wasn't too annoyed to be amazed. And we caught you... how many times? Five? Two of those occasions don't count against your stealth skills, since you were in your Gundam at the time, and of the other three, I'm pretty sure you let yourself be caught once."

"Uh, yeah," Duo agreed unthinkingly. "If it's the time I'm thinking of, I was providing a distraction while Quatre and the information we came for got out at the other end of the base."

"It worked," Une muttered, eyebrows rising. "I wasn't aware Winner had been within kilometers of that base."

Duo was still playing with the end of his braid, but now it was just absent-minded fiddling to keep his fingers occupied, not nervous pulling and twisting. As Une explained the situation, he'd shifted more and more towards the sort of posture she remembered from the war, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and feet planted firmly. He threw himself back in the chair and squinted at the ceiling, waving the end of his braid to illustrate points or emphasise questions as he made them.

"Right. Four bad missions in six weeks. Have any missions gone right?"

"One," Une said sourly, "but I refuse to count it as successful since the terrorist cell in question had moved out of that location three days earlier and stripped the place. There were no guards or traps to evade."

"Well, that's reconnaissance failure, right there," Duo muttered. "Somebody should have noticed that people weren't going in and out anymore. You can't sneak into a place without having some idea of its normal traffic patterns... um. Who planned the missions? The agents going on them?"

"Gilmore did," Une said shortly, naming the instructor.

"Who did the after-action evaluations?"

"Gilmore."

Duo dropped his gaze from the acoustic tiles on the ceiling and shot an incredulous look at her. For a moment, he looked so much like his old self, reproaching her for 'pulling such a damn stupid trick, Une- chan, what the hell did you think you were playing at?' that she found herself stiffening and reaching up to settle the glasses she no longer wore.

"That's part of the problem," she said defensively. "We don't have anybody else with his qualifications! Well, Agent McKenzie... but by the time we realised the problem was this bad, she was on her way off Earth!"

"Uh-huh. What did his evaluations say?"

"Essentially," Une said slowly, frowning as she thought back over her quick skim-read of the file, "that although the agents were competent in class situations, in their first exposure to the real thing they forgot procedure and made serious mistakes."

"All four mission reports say that?"

"Ah... with minor differences, yes."

Duo squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose, a gesture that seemed familiar to Une, yet somehow out of place. "Four stealth teams, totalling something close to fifty agents, most of whom are experienced soldiers even if they weren't stealth specialists to begin with, and he's blaming their failure on buck fever?"

[cont]