Warnings: Amazingly, no lemons in this one. Mentions of prostitution, child prostitution, lots of exposition J
by: Shoori

Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 2
Orders Revealed

"... that we had a meeting at seven this morning! I told you about it myself five times yesterday, and... "

"All right, Une. I'm sorry we're late. I told you, we... "

"And if you think I'm buying that stupid story about traffic on the bridge... "

"There was traffic on the bridge... "

"Going in the other direction!" Une shouted loudly. She stopped and took a deep breath, the pink flush to her cheeks betraying her aggravation.

"I'm sorry," Quatre repeated. "But we're here now, so... "

"The five of you need to start putting your priorities in order," Une snapped. "All you do is spend every spare moment screwing around with... "

"That's enough," Quatre interrupted quietly. He didn't raise his voice, but Une stopped abruptly. "It really isn't any of your concern what we do outside of business hours, Une. If you have a complaint about our job performance, and would like us to leave the organization, we can definitely do so... "

"No," the woman interrupted hastily. She stopped, an expression of frustration crossing her face as she realized how her quick denial had weakened her strategical position in the argument.

Quatre smiled at her smugly. It really wasn't much of a challenge to play with Une - she was always so depressingly forthright in her responses.

Une sighed loudly, and turned and began to stomp down the long corridor, lined with doors leading to conference rooms and interrogation rooms.

"Anyway," she said, her tone promising that they hadn't heard all of her opinions on the matter, "the informants are still waiting. They're... " she paused, and Quatre frowned. It was unlike Une to hesitate in a report.

"They're... nervous," she said finally. "It was very difficult to get them to speak, and the delay's made them even more antsy."

"What are they nervous about?" Quatre asked, loftily ignoring the implied criticism.

"Getting caught," Une replied concisely.

"What is this case anyway, Une?" Duo asked curiously from his position on the other side of the woman.

Une sighed. "What does it always boil down to?" she asked, her voice tight. "Drugs and..."

"So it's a drug ring?" Wufei interrupted, frowning. Wufei didn't really like working drug cases. He couldn't respect their opponents in the field, couldn't see any honor in their point-of-view, and so, for him, the cases were almost worthless. They were merely a sweeping away of scum, without any challenge or new ideas to ponder involved.

"Not exactly," Une corrected slowly.

"Well, what is it, exactly?" demanded Trowa, green eyes narrowed. None of them liked it when Une prevaricated. It usually meant that they were going to end up doing something that they really didn't want to do.

"It's a prostitution ring," Une snapped finally. "It's huge. We've had people working on isolated cases for years, and in the last year or so we've gotten the idea that maybe there was something going on out there that we had no conception of - bigger than we could have imagined."

"How big?" Heero asked.

Une sighed. "We think that this ring is operating in most of the major cities on Earth, and on the colonies as well."

"Which colonies?" Heero pressed.

Une stopped and turned to stare at him, her brown eyes boring into his blue ones. "All of them," she said flatly. "All of the colonies."

"All of them?" Quatre repeated, aghast, as Heero and Une continued their silent staring contest. "That's impossible. It would have had to have been developing for decades... for centuries to have reached that far. It's impossible that we would never have heard of it before. It... "

"It's not so impossible... if noone ever gets out of it," Duo interrupted. Everyone swung their attention to him, and Quatre noticed that the slender man was paler than usual. "Right, Une?"

She stared narrowly at him. "What do you know about this, Duo?" she asked suspiciously.

Duo shrugged. "There were rumors, back on the streets in L2. I used to hear about them when I was a kid. Hookers would disappear, never be found. Sometimes someone saw a man dragging one away into a car. But noone ever heard anything from anyone who went missing like that. No bodies... nothing."

Une frowned. "Why didn't you ever tell me this before?"

Duo rolled his violet eyes in exasperation. "Because for one, there was never anything concrete, and two, I haven't thought about it in years. That was more than ten years ago, Une. I don't come running to tell you every rumor I ever heard my entire life."

Une scowled back, but tacitly let them matter drop. "Well, the informants we have... they were part of that," she said.

She let that sit for a minute.

"Hold on," Heero said, his voice tight with doubt. "You're telling me that there's some prostitution ring so powerful that they've escaped any notice for decades, at the very least, and now all of sudden someone's escaped and come running to you?"

Une reddened. "I know what you think, but... "

"I think someone's playing you like Quatre's violin," Heero interrupted flatly.

Une stared at him, dumbfounded. Quatre grinned. People still weren't used to Heero saying things like that. He'd really loosened up since the war.

Une shook her head slowly. "Wait until you see them," she said slowly. "Then we'll discuss that possibility."

She moved again, leading the rest briskly down the hall, stopping in front of the door to one of the conference rooms. Not an interrogation room, Quatre noticed with interest. Une must like these informants, whoever they were.

She paused for a moment, glaring one last silent warning at all of them, before opening the door and stepping into the room.

Quatre was the first in behind her, and he stopped short in the doorway as he got his first look at the informants. Heero slammed into his back and Quatre stumbled forward, letting out his breath in an undignified whoosh.

Une glared, and they all managed to enter the room without further incident, although Quatre felt the same surprise emanating from the others that he felt rising in himself.

Quatre tried, anymore, not to use his empathy that often. He'd learned, over the years, to control it, to muffle it, to only access it when he wanted. It was... difficult to be around criminals and to always feel their emotions, their urges, their lusts. It was also difficult, though in a different way, to be one of a five-way sexual relationship and be so attuned to what everyone else was feeling. It was rather exhausting.

So, he'd learned to control his ability, to dampen it. But sometimes, when he was caught off-guard, or when the emotions someone was projecting were particularly strong, his ability escaped his careful controls.

Quatre wasn't sure which situation applied at the moment. He was certainly surprised.

The "informants" were no more than children. A girl, who was probably about twelve years old, and a boy who was slightly older, but certainly no more than fourteen.

These were the escapees from the prostitution ring? Quatre shook his head at himself. Despite everything he'd experienced in his life, he was sometimes depressingly naive. Of course a flesh market that size would also involve child prostitution. They'd have to cater to every sick perversion out there to ensure that they had as broad a customer base as possible, and there were a lot of disgusting people who got their sexual excitement from exploiting children.

As Quatre carefully seated himself, he worked at controlling the anger that was slowly rising in him. It was one thing to know intellectually that people were harming children in that way. It was another thing completely to see the evidence hunched nervously in a chair across the table from him.

The anger only grew though, and he felt more and more furious by the instant as he thought of people using these kids in that way. He breathed in deeply, used all the calming techniques at his disposal, but only felt himself growing angrier.

He frowned, confused. He was much better at controlling his anger than this. Quatre considered himself to be very practical, at times even pragmatic. When he was younger, he'd wanted to save the entire world. The war and the events after it, not to mention three years as a glorified cop, had scraped away at that idealism. He didn't have any - well, many - illusions left. He still thought he could make the world better, but he'd finally been forced to acknowledge that there was a large segment of people loose in the world who had no interest - and no desire - to do good, or to be good. They were just bastards, and they knew it, and they had no inclinations to change.

The world would never become a truly good place in his lifetime - it might never become that. He could make a start, of course, do everything he could to improve it - but he knew now that the battle would probably be eternal.

That realization had made him very angry for awhile, but eventually he'd come to understand that that anger was counterproductive. It didn't solve anything, and it didn't harm anyone but himself. So he'd trained himself to acknowledge the evil or injustice of a situation, then face it calmly so that he could best decide how to fix or eradicate it.

But that wasn't happening now. He was just getting madder and madder - angrier even than the situation seemed to justify.

He frowned as an idea occurred to him. Une was babbling away to several other personnel in the room, so he could ignore her for a moment. He focused on his connections to his lovers, and closed them, one by one.

As soon as he closed his connection to Duo, the anger disappeared. He took a long, shaky breath as he suddenly found himself in control of his emotions again.

He stared at the other man. Duo was sitting bonelessly in the chair, his eyes fixed on the long, scarred table in the center of the room. He certainly didn't look enraged. One hand was out of sight, pressed between his thigh and the edge of his chair, but the other rested casually on his knee, fingers unmoving and relaxed.

Then, Duo happened to look up, and fix his violet gaze directly on Quatre. He looked down almost immediately, but that one brief glimpse of the other man's eyes had been enough. The anger had come from Duo. The braided man was furious. Quatre hadn't seen that much anger on Duo's face... Well, truthfully, he couldn't remember ever seeing that much anger coming from the American. And he'd seen Duo pretty angry a time or two.

"All right," Une said briskly, and Quatre's attention returned to the woman. He noticed that everyone except for the five of them, Une, and the two kids had left the room. "First, let me introduce everyone. This," she said, gesturing to the girl, "is Dacia. This is Michel," she continued, gesturing to the boy. "The Preventer outpost in London notified us about them, and brought them here to Sanc. These are the agents I told you about," she continued, addressing the children. "Agent Quatre Winner, Agent Trowa Barton, Agent Heero Yuy, Agent Chang Wufei and Agent Duo Maxwell," she said briskly, nodding at each man as she named him. "They're going to help us capture the people you told me about," she said, her voice unusually gentle for her.

The two young people didn't reply. They'd looked briefly at each man as he was introduced, but had torn their gazes quickly away, as though afraid to maintain eye contact for too long.

Une launched into her next speech, assuring the young people that they would have protection, explaining exactly what that protection would entail, and explaining the questions that they would be asked today. Quatre allowed his attention to wander again, focusing on the familiar faces of his lovers, wondering how they appeared to these abused, afraid children.

Duo's appearance was still defined by the lustrous chestnut braid that streamed down his back, and by the unusual shade of his vibrant violet eyes. He was the shortest of them all, and his slender build and still-rounded features made him look younger than he was. That look of innocence was deceptive, though - Duo was one of the best hand-to-hand fighters Quatre had ever encountered. And that was, Duo himself often explained cheerily, because he wasn't afraid to cheat. He hit below the belt, he kicked when his opponent was down, and he took ruthless advantage of any opportunity that presented itself in a fight. He was also completely reckless, throwing himself into any fray with no thought of possible harm or injury to himself.

Wufei. He was only about an inch taller than Duo's five-foot-seven, but he was built a bit more broadly. He wasn't stocky, by any means, but muscle was tightly packed under the smooth skin of his arms and chest. Quatre grinned. Wufei's habit of wearing a uniform shirt that was a size too small emphasized every bulge of muscle in his torso. People very rarely picked fights with Wufei. His strong build and the his habitual expression of suspicious irritation made Wufei appear one of the most outwardly menacing of the five former pilots. Which was ironic, Quatre mused, because Wufei was the most gentle of them. He would probably, Quatre thought suddenly, be perfectly happy to leave the Preventers forever. The Arab frowned, wondering where that thought had come from. But as he stared at the Chinese man's impassive profile, he knew somehow it was true. Wufei had already seen too much of the ugliness of the world. He really didn't want to see any more. Quatre sighed. How unfair. He rather suspected they would all be seeing a lot more unpleasantness in the near future than any of them wanted to see.

Heero. Quatre's lip curled in another smile as his eyes wandered over Heero's body and he remembered the feel of that sleekly muscled chest under his fingers, those powerful thighs flexing as Heero thrust into him... Quatre shook his head. Not the right time or place! But it was difficult, sometimes, to look at Heero without thinking those thoughts. Heero had become so much a creature of passion and carnal sexuality that they all had storehouses of memories such as that to draw on when thinking of the Japanese man. And Heero added to that stockpile every day. Wufei had once, haltingly, asked Quatre if he thought that Heero was really just the same as he had always been, only with a different shield over himself. The Chinese man thought that perhaps Heero's excessive emotionality was just the reverse of his former excessive impassivity - if he had merely exchanged sensuality for repression, still not allowing the real Heero to escape or develop. Quatre had pushed the thought away, not wanting to let such heavy thoughts intrude on their very pleasant existence, but it had remained in the back of his mind, rising from time to time to prod him. As Quatre was again unwillingly pondering that thought, Heero raised one strong hand and ran it through his hair. Quatre suddenly forgot what he'd been thinking about as he thought about running his own hands through that hair - feeling its softness, its texture as Heero bent his head and... Quatre shook his head again, forcing his thoughts away from the beguiling visions of sex with Heero.

He turned his head and fastened his gaze on Trowa. Trowa was just... gorgeous. His coloring was somehow unusual in a man - deep auburn hair, penetrating green eyes, clear, almost translucent skin... He should, perhaps, have looked feminine, but he certainly didn't. Trowa was very decidedly a man. He had fulfilled his early promise and grown very tall, looming three inches over Quatre's own six foot one. He was slender, as slender as Duo, and as with the American, that sleightness was deceptive. Trowa didn't have as much aggressive strength as Duo, but he had enough, and his grace and agility often helped him best even opponents stronger than he. Trowa simply wore them out chasing him around. He could get out of any hold, he could elude any blow, and he could contort that long, lean, gorgeous body into just about any position known to man...

Quatre scowled, irritated with himself. Here he was in the presence of children who had been exploited, and all he could think of was going home and getting his lovers into bed. Maybe Une was right. Maybe they did need to align their priorities a bit. Or at least work a little harder on self-control.

He tore his gaze, and his thoughts, away from his partners' bodies, and thoughtfully regarded the children. They were beautiful. The girl had large, liquid eyes and skin of a perpetual olive hue that hinted at some Mediterranean origin. The boy was delicate, slim, with golden hair and fair skin. They both emanated an air of apprehensive innocence that Quatre, veteran of three years police work, knew would be enormously arousing to a certain category of pervert.

He relaxed his hold on his empathy slightly, and almost reeled in his seat at the emotions radiating from the two children. He hadn't felt such terror in a long time. And their fear... it was of a different quality than that which he was used to. Usually, he encountered people who feared the loss of whatever their greed and criminal activities had built for them, or, more often, who feared for their lives.

These two - Dacia and Michel, he reminded himself - didn't fear death. They feared something else far more than they feared dying. How incredibly unusual, for children so young as they.

"What are you afraid of?" he blurted out suddenly, interrupting whatever drivel Une was spouting at the moment.

The girl and boy both fixed their gazes on him, their eyes wide with fear. He stared directly at him, and didn't look away. He thought that very unusual for a moment, until he realized why they held his stare. He'd asked them a direct question, and they wouldn't look away until he was satisfied with the answer.

He tried to smile at them, and to gentle his appearance. He could see where he might intimidate children who didn't know him. He'd been so small in his youth, he sometimes forgot how much he'd grown. He stood over six feet in height, now, taller than all the others except Trowa. His shoulders were broader than those of any of the others, his chest deeper. His muscles stood out rather ostentatiously - he was actually a bit self-conscious of them. Unlike Wufei, he didn't wear his shirts small to emphasize his physique - he had to have his shirts specially tailored. If he didn't the fabric strained across his back, or, if it fit there, it bagged horribly around his waist. It was really kind of a pain. He would much rather be built like Duo.

"I can tell you're scared," he said to the children. "You don't need to be afraid of us," he promised. "But you need to tell us what's frightening you, so that we can take care of it."

They stared at him for a moment, then the girl shook her head almost frantically. "We can't," she said, her English perfect if slightlyaccented. "We can't tell you! They'll... "

"Dacia!" the boy interrupted. He turned and stared at her intently. "Dacia, we have to tell them," he told her gently. He too spoke with an accent, but it was different than the girl's.

She shook her head again. "We can't," she protested. "They'll... "

"Who is 'they?'" Trowa interrupted. Quatre turned and flashed him an approving smile when he heard the tone of gentle inquiry in the other man's voice. If he wasn't thinking about it, everything that came out of Trowa's mouth came in the same flat, bland tone. For his voice to sound so calm, so soothing, he had to really be working at it.

The boy took a deep breath. "The Order," he said simply.

"Michel, no!" Dacia cried.

"The Order," Michel repeated firmly. "We fear the Order."

There was a moment's silence.

"Which... order?" Une asked slowly.

The boy frowned. "Just... the Order," he said, confused.

"Who... " Quatre paused, trying to figure out how to best phrase the question. "Who is the Order?" he asked finally, giving up on the attempt.

The boy's face hardened. "The Order is what captured Dacia and I. I've been part of it since I was six. They took me off the street. They took Dacia when she was seven. They made us... "

His voice faltered, and he turned and looked at the girl by his side. Her head was bent, and tears were flowing down her cheeks.

Quatre felt anger rising in him, anger at the people who had so used these children. He glanced over at Duo. The American was leaning forward in his chair, his fists clenched as he stared intently at the children. His rage was almost palpable, but Quatre didn't think the rage he was feeling was coming from Duo.

It was all his own.

"Michel," he said softly, and waited until the boy was looking at him. "I know that it will be difficult for you to tell us what's happened to you," he said softly. "But I promise you - we will never let them get hold of you again. And you must tell us all you know... so that we can destroy the Order."

The boy's eyes widened, and a small gasp of amazement escaped the girl at his side.

"We will destroy them," Quatre repeated, nodding to affirm the seriousness of his declaration. "I promise."

The others around the table nodded, adding their agreement to Quatre's vow.

"Why?" the boy asked suddenly. "We haven't even told you anything yet - why would you promise to go up against something so powerful as the Order to help us?"

Quatre grinned suddenly, and leaned back in his chair. "Well," he said whimsically, his gaze sweeping the others in the room, "Let's just say it's been awhile since we had a challenge."

[part 1] [part 3] [back to Shoori's fic]