authors: Mel & Christy

Key:
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, someone waking up from a dream, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
thoughts: *Tadah!*
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>

Rebuilding + Chapter 4

"Before we get seriously sidetracked onto the subject of Duo flashing people or exactly how many sets of twins there are in the Assink family--"

"Three," Ninke muttered quietly.

"--I think we should find out exactly what you meant when you said your grandmother intends to 'place the Yggdrasil ring at our disposal'," Quatre continued determinedly. "Also, how active is it? What sort of reach have you got? What have you been doing since the war?"

< < I want to find out how active Nicklaus and Nils are in this ring, > > Wufei said seriously. < < They're Preventers. Have they been passing classified information out of the organisation? > >

"No," Ninke said seriously, shaking his head. "They took the secrecy oath and meant it. They have passed information to the rest of us, but only unclassified data. The, er, security video of Duo is a special case; Nicklaus said he had reason to believe that copies of it are already making the rounds of several agents' families and friends."

< < But most of the information passed to the Doctors during the war had to come from OZ internal communications, > > Wufei pointed out. < < To get it, one or more of you almost had to be working for OZ... and they had secrecy oaths as well. > >

Ninke smiled. "I'm almost tempted to say 'I had my fingers crossed', but this is a serious subject..."

"You worked for OZ?!" Quatre asked sharply.

"Yes, sir, I suppose you could say I did, and so did three of my brothers," his assistant said calmly. "I divided my time between the Communications and the Records sections, which meant that when it became obvious that the war was almost over, I could lift our personnel jackets out of the files and wipe all the computer records that said we were ever OZ soldiers; then we just vanished. That's why it never came up in my employment history," Ninke said dryly. "To get back to Mr. Chang's point... yes, we did take the loyalty and secrecy oaths. However, technically we weren't working for OZ. We regarded ourselves as on the other side, working against OZ, so the oaths meant nothing to us. Our first loyalty was to an equitable peace for Earth and the colonies, which the Doctors, the Gundam pilots and Relena Peacecraft had the best chance of achieving, not OZ. We are not opposed to the Preventers, however. Quite the opposite. That's part of the reason why we decided to work for you. Through you, we'll be working with the Preventers, and if the rest of us can get clearance, there won't be any conflict of interests for Nicklaus and Nils. They won't have the problem they have now, where sometimes they come across information relating to a 'situation' Grandmother Matilde is... interested in, but they can't pass it on because it's classified. They will also be able to pass Yggdrasil information to the Preventers, without having to explain their sources, protecting our anonymity; or they can let you pass it on and pretend to have nothing to do with it."

"Why not work directly for the Preventers, then?" Trowa asked.

Ninke's smile twisted slightly. "We don't work for organisations, sir, they're too... changeable; we work for individuals. Grandmother Matilde trusts in your motives, goals and honour to ensure that our information is put to the best use. Some day, it might be best not to give it to the Preventers."

"Not to mention that 'civilians' can get more and varied information than known agents," Karl added.

There was a moment's silence before Quatre spoke. "So, during the war... you considered yourselves to be working for the Doctors, not their organisation or the colonies?"

"Yes, and they didn't choose us, we chose to work for them."

"Grandmother Matilde chose, anyway," Karl muttered, grinning. Ninke casually swatted his younger brother in the back of his head, and continued.

"In fact, to the best of our knowledge, they never worked out who we were. We communicated with them through blind drops and some incredibly twisty electronic channels."

"I tried to trace some of your messages," Heero said abruptly. "J was going nearly insane with curiosity. I didn't get far. That habit you had of routing your data packets through Swiss banks, disguised as transaction information, caused me a lot of trouble."

"They are very protective of their data," Ninke murmured politely. "We're getting off track again, though; Mr. Winner asked what we're offering you, among other things, and I think I should get to that."

"We would like to do for you what we did for the Doctors; gather and analyze information on our own, and pass on anything that might be of interest to you. If you come across an indication that something might be worth investigation, of course we'll follow it up, but frankly, we work best when we direct our own lines of inquiry. It would help immensely if you organised clearance and access to Preventers intelligence reports for us, but we certainly don't require it. We also don't require payment."

"...what?"

Ninke's polite smile widened. "We all have other jobs, and the family as a whole is quite well supported. You weren't the only ones abstracting money from OZ accounts during the war, and before that we were bleeding the Alliance... besides which, we're not doing this for the money. We're doing this because we all believe that you have to work towards the world you want, not just sit around and say 'well, somebody ought to do something!' And it's fun. This sort of work is in our blood; it's as necessary as breathing to us, I think."

"That's... an interesting point of view," Relena said slowly. "Several of my security guards think that way. Georg always says they're the best ones..."

The discussion continued for a while longer before breaking for dinner, but the Assinks had already made their point. Their skills, experience and contacts would be incredibly useful to the Preventers-- even if they were insisting on (mostly) not working for the peacekeeping agency. Heero, Trowa, Quatre and Relena were all making quiet plans to check up on the Assink family's past history, but none of them seriously expected to find anything unacceptable.

* * * * *

In another part of town, Sally and Une were settling into chairs at their usual table in King O'Malley's, drinks in hand.

Sally politely smothered a yawn behind one hand. "Uff... I swear, I don't think I sat down after ten this morning. Was it my imagination, or did it get incredibly busy the moment Duo and Wufei left?"

"It wasn't your imagination," Une said, surreptitiously kicking her shoes off under the table and wriggling her toes. "I would be inclined to think it was the universe punishing you for tormenting Chang about his 'love life', but why would your karmic burden result in more work for me?"

"Instant karma splashes?" Sally suggested. "Can we be bothered cooking tonight, or do you want to eat here?"

"Here," Une said definitely. "When we get home, the only thing I want to do before getting into bed is have a hot bath. And speaking of Chang and Maxwell--"

"Were we?"

"We are now. You never did give me a proper report on their condition. 'They'll be fine' lacks a certain something that I'm used to getting in reports. What was it again...?" She stared into space for a moment, sipping at her drink, then nodded. "Ah, yes. Details."

Sally chuckled and reached for a menu. "Wufei does have a very pretty crack through his shoulderblade, as I thought, as well as a wrenched knee and an impressive collection of bruises. Another couple of days of rest, however, and he can safely go onto light duties. Duo is still making slow but steady progress; he's not improving as quickly as I'd like, but he is improving as quickly as can be expected under the circumstances."

"You said that last time you gave him a checkup," Une pointed out.

"It was true the last time, too. Running around in sub-freezing temperatures on a mission of vengeance doesn't exactly count as 'resting'."

"No... I see your point," Une murmured into her glass. "What caused his somnolent state this morning? Will that have any adverse effects on him?"

Sally's smile widened and she chuckled again. "No. I was a bit worried, I'll admit, but apparently Christmas Day was rather tiring as well and it pushed him past the end of his reserves. That's just how he reacts when he's exhausted or sleep-deprived. He calls it 'zombie mode'."

Une raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that rather a liability for someone in his-- er-- previous profession?"

"Not really. By the time Duo goes zombie, almost anyone else would have collapsed days before. He can still function if he has to-- admittedly, in a limited fashion-- and he won't drop into that state unless he considers himself safe."

"You've seen him like this before, I take it?"

"Oh, yes. Only once, but it was a memorable occasion..."

~*~*~*~

Climbing into bed with a hot drink clutched in one hand, cursing the fact that her tiny apartment 'safehouse' had no insulation and almost no heating, Sally snuggled down into the warm blankets with a sigh. A couple of minutes with her feet planted on her hot water bottle, and she might even stop shivering...

There was a loud knock on the door.

Even if that's not somebody from OZ, I may shoot first and patch them up later, Sally thought sourly, putting her drink on the floor and groping for the gun under her pillow. Or not patch them up, she amended, wincing as her feet hit the floor. Even through two pairs of socks, it was freezing.

The knock was repeated as she moved out of the bedroom. "I'm coming!" she yelled, gun lifting to point at the door. "Who is it?"

"Us," a flat voice answered.

"Ah, Mister Talkative," Sally muttered, relaxing slightly. "I should have guessed."

Once she got the multiple locks open, she threw open the door and glared at the two pilots on the doorstep. Duo was seemingly asleep, leaning heavily on Heero, not even twitching an eyelid. "I might have known it was you," she snapped, giving them a quick visual once-over after checking up and down the corridor. They look exhausted, but there's no visible wounds or bandages. Good. "I only know five people with timing this bad."

"We're supposed to have it," Heero informed her, shifting his grip on Duo to a slightly more secure one. "It's called 'the element of surprise'."

"You're supposed to do it to your enemies."

"I'm practicing. Now, let us in before I drop Duo."

"First things first," she sighed, stepping to one side to let them past, and then closing the door. "Do we need to leave in a hurry or are we secure?"

"Secure," Heero grunted, walking Duo over to the sofa and sitting him down. "We lost our tail four hours ago."

"Second thing. Are you staying here or just passing through for treatment?"

"Staying. Four or five days."

"Okay. Third thing. There is only one hot water bottle, and it is mine."

Heero raised an eyebrow and looked her up and down. Flannel pyjamas, quilted dressing gown (with an automatic pistol tucked in the belt), thick socks... "You look warm enough."

"I'm not," Sally snapped, tucking her hands into her armpits and shivering. "There was ice in the toilet bowl this morning! I am not tough enough to wear spandex in all climates, damn it, and God only knows how you keep everything functional in temperatures like these... at least Duo wears long sleeves and pants! And yes, I can see that you're not wearing spandex now, but I bet you would be if it wouldn't attract attention. The hot water bottle is mine. Live with it. Are you two hurt?"

He blinked. "No."

"Good. Hot chocolate?"

"Yes. ...please," he added when she glared.

"Fine. Coming right up. Blankets and quilts are in that closet, take as many as you need, there's plenty."

When Sally came back out of the tiny kitchenette with a steaming mug in each hand, she paused for a moment as she saw Duo still slumped on the couch in the exact same position. "Duo?"

"He's asleep," Heero said, pulling bedding out of the closet and arranging it on the floor.

"...oh. Duo? Wake up, Duo. Hot chocolate... Duo?"

"Give me one of those," Heero said brusquely, getting up and moving to sit by his friend. "You won't wake him up like that." Holding Duo's head steady with one hand, he guided the mug to Duo's lips; Sally watched in amazement as the braided teen drank without twitching an eyelid.

"He drinks in his sleep?"

Heero snorted, slowly tilting the mug. "For the next couple of days, he'll be doing everything in his sleep."

Sally watched, bemused, as Heero put down the mug, got Duo up on his feet, half-stripped him and got him under the covers without Duo opening his eyes, or-- more surprisingly-- his mouth.

~*~*~*~

[cont]