I REALLY like this chapter. I just love a noble, tortured, angsty Zechs. And noone does angst like Sexy Zechsy!
by: Shoori

Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 12
Old Business

Wufei signed the last of the documents on his desk with a flourish, and sat back, pushing the stack of papers away.

"Finished?" the man sitting across from him asked, looking up from the file he was perusing.

Wufei nodded. "It's unbelievable the amount of paperwork this organization requires," he groused.

His guest nodded. "I feel your pain," he remarked simply.

Grinning, Wufei slowly nodded. "I imagine you do, Prince Milliardo," he commented. "You must have even more than we do."

The blond sighed loudly, allowing the folder he was holding to fall lax onto his lap. "Please... don't call me that, Mr. Chang," he asked wearily.

"Prince Milliardo?" Wufei clarified, raising an eyebrow. "But isn't that the name you go by now?"

"It's the name my sister addresses me by," the other man corrected sourly. "I hadn't been called that with any regularity for years, and frankly, it makes me rather uncomfortable." He hesitated for a moment before continuing. "Particularly from you," he added softly.

Wufei turned his attention back to the papers on his desk, carefully neatening the stack, not replying to the personal comment. "Yes, well, what name do you prefer?" he asked briskly.

There was silence for a moment, broken only by a faint, nearly stifled sigh. "Zechs," the blond said wearily. "I prefer to be addressed as Zechs."

"Why... " Wufei stopped himself just as he was about to utter a very personal question. It wasn't any of his business why exactly the tall blond would prefer to go by that name, with all its sad and painful connotations. He could be called by whatever name he wanted, and it was not at all up to Wufei to be asking why he'd make those choices.

Plus, he didn't want to know.

"Any comments on the status of our forces?" the Chinese man asked briefly. He looked up, staring calmly at Zechs. The other man schooled his expression into a polite, blank mask, but not before Wufei saw a strange, forlorn expression in the icy blue eyes. It unsettled him deeply, but fortunately the blond pressed on.

"Actually, I think that they're shaping up quite nicely," Zechs complimented, only the barest trace of disappointment in his voice. "You've done an excellent job on them. You don't really need me at all."

"To the contrary," Wufei corrected smoothly. "I've been too close to them. I can't see where the holes in their processes are as well as someone who hasn't been working in such proximity with them."

"Perhaps, if you're cleared to do so, you could explain to me exactly what they're going to be used for?" Zechs suggested. "I know the basics of the operation, but I'd probably be able to judge their readiness a bit better if I knew exactly how they were going to be called in."

Wufei felt his shoulders slump, and he stared at the huge pile of papers again. He hated thinking about this mission.

He glanced up, and Zechs quickly jerked his head away.

The blond had been staring at him.

Now, he was sitting there stiffly, thinking that his offer of help had been rebuked.

Wufei suddenly couldn't stand it anymore.

He couldn't stand any more tension, anywhere, between anyone.

His life, which had been so ordered and predictable, was suddenly a mess.

Duo was gone, Trowa was a mass of simmering rage, Heero was jumpy and uncertain, Quatre was working to become the main bait in a mission against sick and disordered criminals...

It was too much. It was too damn much.

And on top of it all, they'd thrown Zechs at him.

He'd seen the blond many times over the past few years, since they'd both been back at the Sanc Kingdom, both working for major political concerns.

They'd met at summits, meetings and social events. They'd spoken, exchanged pleasantries, once or twice even worked together.

And always, between them, was the unspoken, undealt-with legacy of their... history together during the war, creating a mounting, straining tension between them.

Every time they saw each other, that tension was greater.

Wufei was always amazed that noone ever commented on it. It was so clear and real to him that it was almost tangible; he couldn't imagine how anyone could be in close proximity to himself and Zechs for more than a minute and not sense it too.

But no one had ever remarked on it, noone - even his lovers - ever seemed to notice that it even existed.

Maybe they were both better at acting than he had ever given either of them credit for.

Or maybe, the matter was so intensely personal, that noone else could perceive any trace of it between them.

But, all at once, Wufei was no longer able to tolerate it. He couldn't ignore it any longer.

"I'm sorry," Zechs said aloud, suddenly breaking the silence. He rose stiffly to his feet. "I... It's obvious that you don't... This is an important mission for you. You don't need... anything that adds to the difficulties of your work."

You don't need me, was the unspoken corollary.

"If you do need anything, please don't hesitate to call on me. Until you do, I'll stop disturbing you." He turned, carefully placing the file on the chair he'd been sitting on, and headed for the door of Wufei's office.

The Chinese man stared after him, the slight headache that had been threatening for days suddenly throbbing painfully behind his eyes.

Everything was wrong, disordered, uncontrolled.

Too much tension.

He had to fix something, and then perhaps all the discordant pieces of his existence would finally fall into place.

"Zechs!" he called loudly after the retreating blond.

The tall man stopped, his back and shoulders ramrod straight. He turned around slowly, and faced Wufei, his expression carefully neutral. "Yes?"

Wufei stared at him for a moment, at a loss for what exactly to say.

"I need a drink. Want to come?"

Two hours later, Wufei found himself leaning comfortably against padded seats in a small booth in a quiet bar located on the bottom floor of Zechs' high-priced apartment building.

It was meant to be a convenience for the occupants, Zechs had explained. You could only be in here if you lived here, or if you were accompanied by someone who did leave here. Each resident could only bring in two non-residents at a time, unless he'd made other arrangements in advance. This way, one could socialize or even conduct business matters in relative privacy, and not have to drive home afterwards.

A very sensible arrangement. Wufei approved.

"It's nice here," he commented, taking another sip of the fresh drink the waiter had just brought to him.

Zechs looked up from his own drink and glanced around the mostly-empty bar. "I suppose it is," he commented. He sounded slightly surprised.

Wufei frowned. "Haven't you been here before?" he asked.

Zechs shook his head. "I... don't have a lot of time outside of my work," he said slowly.

Wufei stared narrowly at him. It was true that Zechs spent a great deal of time on Sanc business. He was, more or less, in actuality if not in title, the co-ruler of the Sanc Kingdom. Relena wore the crown and fulfilled ceremonial duties, but the actual administration of the kingdom had been divided fairly evenly between brother and sister. In fact, if one carefully examined their workloads, Zechs probably dealt with slightly more of the day-to-day business, to make up for Relena's ceremonial roles.

Wufei had carefully examined how the two operated.

At first, he had been incredulous when the Lightening Count had returned to Sanc. He'd been amazed that Relena of all people would bring a former officer of OZ to the home of Absolute Pacifism at all, much less install him as a major political force.

Then, he'd watched for signs that Zechs was shirking the duty he'd been given, or simply using the kingdom and the people in it to kill time, or for his own purposes.

Then, he'd watched, waiting for the blond to become bored with his new responsibilities.

None of those things had happened. Zechs had worked quietly, unobtrusively and faithfully for Relena and for Sanc.

He'd made a lot of positive changes in the way the business of the kingdom was conducted.

He'd been a steadying influence on his sister - since he'd returned, Relena had shown marked growth as a ruler and a person.

He'd also become immensely popular, with the very people he'd once turned his back on.

Ah, irony.

But... Zechs himself, for all that he'd clarified so much for so many, had remained a mystery. Even the tabloid reporters had all but given up on him in disgust - he never did anything that made a good story.

He just worked and went home, and then repeated that cycle, day after day.

Noone really knew anything more about him than they had during the war.

Perhaps, Wufei mused, staring at him, they knew less.

"So," the blond said, his eyes moving nervously to the side, "did you want to talk about the mission?"

Wufei shook his head sharply, flushing slightly when he realized that he'd been staring rudely at the other man. No wonder Zechs had seemed uneasy.

"The mission," Wufei repeated, forcing his mind away from the enigma that was Zechs to the business that he'd been working on for over a week.

He scowled, as he always did when he allowed his mind to dwell on the upcoming operation. "This mission... well, you know the basics, correct?" he asked briskly. "Quatre is going to infiltrate, and we're going to monitor his activities. He's going to move in and out of whichever of their bases we manage to penetrate, posing as a member of their clientele, until we have managed to gather enough information to make some arrests. By then we should have been able to find some of their other points of operation as well. At that time, we'll make a simultaneous move on all known installations at once. We'll get information from whomever we manage to arrest to find the rest of the members of the organization." He shrugged. "The troops we're training are the ones that are going to be part of that initial push. We have no idea yet as to what level of resistance the Order will be capable of establishing, so we're training for maximum levels."

"Sounds fairly basic," Zechs noted cautiously.

Wufei shrugged again. "We have very limited information right now," he admitted with a scowl. "We don't even have any idea yet when we're going to be able to get Quatre in - he still has people on the street trying to establish a connection for him. We can't, for obvious reasons, use any of our own people to get him in."

"So, he'll be playing the role of... what? Some sort of double agent?" Zechs clarified, blue eyes narrowed.

Wufei scowled. "To the Order, the face he will present is one who is a traitor to the Preventers," he said stiffly. "He will claim that he is using his position within the Preventers to gain more access to the establishments of those we attempt to persecute."

Zechs shook his head slowly. "But everyone knows that Quatre has never had any dealings with that element... "

"Heero is creating those dealings right now," Wufei interrupted dryly. "He's been planting shadow accounts in Quatre's business and personal records for a week."

Zechs looked surprised at that. "That's... a bit of a risk," he noted delicately.

Wufei snorted, taking another sip of his drink. "Heero has signed orders from Une for every change he makes," he informed the other man shortly. "And he'll get specific orders again when it's time to change them back."

The blond nodded. "Wise," he murmured.

"Common sense," Wufei corrected. None of them trusted Une any further than they could throw her. It was interesting to see, though, that Zechs apparently harbored misgivings regarding the head of the Preventers as well.

"Well... you seem to have the operation well in hand," Zechs noted slowly.

"Any comments on it?" Wufei asked bluntly.

The blond hesitated. "Well, as I said earlier, your operatives seem to be very well trained. Their movements are correct, their team approach is excellent... You might want to consider moving their setting a bit," he suggested. "They seem a bit reliant on routine - put them in a different place and they might suffer from losing their comfort level. It'd be best to deal with that in a training setting, rather than during an actual mission."

Wufei nodded as the blond continued. "Since you can't anticipate what sort of weaponry you'll be facing, the broad spectrum training you've employed is the best decision. I would imagine, though, that there'll be a lot of close quarters encounters, so some additional focus there would probably not be remiss."

The blond continued to talk about the training for a few minutes, commenting individually on some of the agents he had seen that day. Wufei listened attentively, filing away the blond's suggestions to follow-through on. "That's about all that I noticed. Everything seems to be under control," Zechs concluded finally.

Wufei nodded. "Now, what do you think about the mission itself?" he asked bluntly.

The other man frowned. "Well... as I just said... "

"No," Wufei interrupted. "Not the condition of the operatives. The mission."

"Certainly it's an integral one... Has the potential to be very high-profile as well," Zechs began.

Wufei shook his head. "The mission, Zechs. The plan. What do you think of it?"

The blond stared at him for a moment through narrowed eyes, and Wufei stared back.

"I don't think it's a very good plan," he declared firmly, after they had stared at each other in silence for a few minutes.

"Why not?" Wufei challenged.

Zechs stared narrowly at him again. "I think that Quatre Winner has about as much credibility as a traitor to peace and decency as my sister would," he said shortly.

Wufei raised an eyebrow.

"I don't think it's a good mission for him," Zechs continued decisively. "He has to infiltrate a brothel, for God's sake. He'll need to... avail himself of prostitutes, and, if the informants we have are any indication, prostitutes that are obviously not there voluntarily."

"Yes," Wufei said softly.

Zechs shook his head, looking slightly sick. "I can't imagine Quatre going in to do this, Wufei. Quatre, practically a rapist? Does he realize what he has to do?"

[cont]