Author: Gloria
See Ch. 1 for other warnings, notes, disclaimer

Summary: It helped to think Heero was on his side on at least this, that they needed to be a team to survive this crap without being manipulated into anything else they did not want to do. It just helped to think that Heero was on his side.

Spoiler Warning: Scattered quotes of Duo-isms from the series.
Alternate Warnings: Rating MA is for violence, swearing and adult sexual situations, which include, but are not limited to, homosexuality. Also contains characters dealing with serious subjects like death, war and grief, so standard angst warnings apply.

Author’s Note: Fun that I was able to whip this up so quickly. Pre-planned much of the technical stuff, so that helped it along. Another roller-coaster chapter, but I’m very pleased with it. I think, officially, Black and Gold by Sam Sparro is Prerequisite’s theme song, or at least this chapter’s, for without which, I never would have been able to type this up as quickly as I did. Please enjoy.

Prerequisite + Chapter 7: For Thirty Pieces of Silver

AC 203

Duo had always known Heero was more than a generic black and white carbon print. In fact, probably, everyone who’d ever met Heero figured that out, if you could get him to talk. Relena had been quick to guess that, even when Heero’s version of flirting was an adrenaline scabbed threat of bodily harm. Trowa knew, because they seemed to be cut from the same mold, even if their backgrounds were dissimilar. Quatre knew it instinctually, because Quatre knew most things instinctually. Duo knew, but only because he refused to believe otherwise.

That didn’t mean it wouldn’t come as a surprise that Heero flippin’ Yuy would take to this sort of life like fish to water. With Hilde, it was effortless, like so many things with her were effortless. By rights, Duo shouldn’t have a problem adjusting. By rights, it should be him coaxing Heero and not the other way around. Maybe he was defective, maybe something about recent events broke him permanently, or even just periodically, but even just that made Duo terrified he was going to screw this up and Heero would just--just be gone one day. And Duo knew if that happened, he would never find him again. Heero was as good as dead if he didn’t want to be found. Funny though, in an awful way, that Heero moped around with the same fear. Vicious too, because Duo wasn’t concerned with trying too hard to make him feel better. Because the crux was that Duo was pissed. He was pissed and a good deal of it was he
was pissed at Heero. Not as much as before, not nearly as much as Monday, when they finally arrived and saw the house for the first time that was as sick a metaphor for their fucked up life as anything Duo had ever seen. And probably somewhere in Virginia, Wufei was meditating and trying not to smile. Probably, when Duo saw him again he wouldn’t hold back. Probably, Duo would punch him in the mouth. Probably. And not ironic that they would have to literally fix the house they were dumped in, like they would have to fix everything else to make it livable. Shouldn’t have to fix everything. Shouldn’t have to fix attitudes and fix relationships and fix standards. Some things ought to come already fixed. Some things ought to be natural.

Because--Duo had meant roommates when he propositioned Heero in Brussels, not...not lovers. And that might have been naïve. Really naïve, because there was at least one thing between them that was effortless, natural, and it was the one thing that was never effortless with Hilde. Sex. And why did Duo feel like he had to fix the one natural fucking thing that happened between them? It felt like pushing too hard against the grain. Well.

They had to close the still-unnamed-dog out of a bedroom to fuck the night they brought him home. It had been surprisingly tender, and that had hurt. Hurt in ways Duo couldn’t put words to. Because there wasn’t much of a reserve for tenderness in Duo, and he thought they might be hoping for too much too soon. Sweet, in a way that made Duo think of the startled look in Heero’s eyes that first time, that hour before the last significant space battle of the war, that stolen moment on Peacemillion. Heero touched him like he had then, like he wouldn’t ever get a chance to again. Fingers curved around muscle spastically, roaming, quick and fleeting. Rush of skin on skin, crushing embraces, hot mouth everywhere, head buried in his shoulder when Heero came like he was trying to sink into him. But one plus one doesn’t equal one. One plus one equals two.

The next day was better. More quiet smiles from Heero as they ordered furniture, as they painted the inside of the house, as they let Chris help them pick out paint for the outer paneling. Duo saw that Heero secretly enjoyed Chris, and what she meant to their newly-born, weird sort of family. She taught them how to deal with the dog, who received so much instantaneous affection from Duo, he had to wonder where it came from. He had never loved anything for absolutely no reason, and absolutely never on this scale.

Chris. Chris was something of a mystery. She often referred to her parents, but Duo never saw them. The brother was close-mouthed about the allusive parental figures, and although her younger sisters, 'the girls’, were exceptionally friendly, neither himself nor Heero ever had much of a conversation with them. She was bright, that much he was certain, and craftily helpful which caused him to respect her. It was the same sort of self-serving 'compassion’ the better sides of L2 operated on. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that hard evidence suggested she had never set foot off-planet, Duo would’ve pegged her for a colonial.

The dog--Ha, well, the dog became their obvious glue. They didn’t have to talk about 'them’ when they had such an obvious thing to adore. He followed them around happily, contentedly, oddly at most ease when they rubbed his belly. They discovered more about the neighborhood running him, which Chris insisted was vital to a dog’s temperament. The neighborhood itself wasn’t over-large and literally walking distance from the military base. A few miles in the opposite direction was a strip of shops, furniture imports, salons, a pizzeria, restaurants, grocery store, and no less than three coffee shops within the same mile radius. And just a mile beyond that was a large mall with probably the worst designed parking lot Duo had ever seen. He swore to Heero, loudly, he would avoid that mall like the plague come Christmas.

The temperature dropped noticeably on Thursday, and on Friday their furniture arrived. Doug, Chris’s brother, perked up perceptibly at the notion of helping them assemble it all. Heero didn’t like him. Of course, Doug was too simple to read that in the set of Heero’s shoulders, but Duo knew. Maybe it was because Heero couldn’t trust an unstable mind to not become suddenly--well--unstable.

And funnily, Doug seemed thoroughly imperceptive to Heero’s warning glare, apparently making it his sole, fervent mission to impress Heero with his ability to lift furniture, make forts, sweep floors and order pizza. During lunch, Duo finally interceded and allowed Doug to show him his collection of video games, giving Heero a much needed break after his willpower against snapping at the guy became strained to the point Heero’s body was quivering.

Saturday was quiet, their neighbor’s house seeming empty, even Nefie gone, and Heero and Duo could barely look at each other, gazing instead at their new dog, new furniture, freshly painted walls...anything else. Until about one o’clock in the afternoon when Duo abruptly burst into laughter, holding his sides as his hysteria shook his body, shook the room, the whole house--shook an incredulous grin from Heero’s lips. Goofy, because suddenly, in the quiet, in the absence of Chris and her family, their anxiety seemed weirdly unnatural.

Duo wandered, chuckling, into the kitchen and began preparing a meal of eggs and cheese Hilde used to make for him, conscious of Heero watching almost fondly from the doorway.

Sunday they spent in bed.

+

"I know," Duo said, slurping down his watery oatmeal breakfast. "Why don’t we call him 'Trio’?" Duo couldn’t decide if Heero’s aghast expression was for the idea, or for his choice of breakfast. "What?"

Heero shook his head and turned to the coffeemaker, poured himself a mug, drank it black and steaming. Monday morning dawned cold and frosty, the non-winterized glass windows and patio doors foggy against the chill outside. Their cabbie would be arriving any minute. Duo briefly considered mutiny, but decided Wufei would only track them down again. Of course that was assuming Heero would run with him.

"You don’t like 'Trio’?"

Heero grunted. "Why not 'Maple’?"

Duo frowned and rolled his eyes. "Heero, he’s black and grey and white. And grey. And look, he’s got grey on him. Why the hell would we call him 'Maple’? He’s grey. And he’s a grey 'he’."

"Fine. Why not 'Willow’? There’s a grey-ish connotation to 'Willow’."

"I’m not gonna name him after a tree."

"Why not."

"My dog pisses on trees and chews on branches, like a good dog. I’m not gonna name him after one."

"I like 'Willow’."

"Well, I like Trio."

"Our pit isn’t Solo the Third."

"Hey, that’s fucked up." Duo turned to rinse his bowl out, set it in the sink with a small clatter. Outside in the drive, a black Lincoln pulled up. Duo grabbed his duffel, packed with imperatives, just in case. Heero brought nothing but the clothes on his back and his badge. "That’s really fucked up."

Heero was already trotting down the stairs to the middle landing. "How about 'Cedar’?"

"No. And fuck you."

Heero was almost certainly grinning, but Duo couldn’t tell. He watched him slide into his jacket from the terrace, leaning on the wrought iron rail. "You put down the pee pads?" Heero called up.

"Yeah." Duo caught his coat as Heero tossed it to him, tried not laugh at hearing Heero actually say 'pee pads’, flipped their driver the finger when he honked the horn. "You know, we should probably just have Chris walk him when we’re at work. Give her a key."

"She wasn’t home to ask." Ah, so that bugged him.

"Well, when she is, we should ask."

"Fine. You can ask. You ready yet?"

"I’m not askin’ her shit, Heero. You’re the one she makes eyes at."

Heero glared up at him, and Duo batted his lashes, laughed when Heero yanked the front door open and stomped outside. Duo heard scuffling against his bedroom door, felt a tug at his heart, a lance of guilt for keep the pit bull cooped up all day. When he launched himself inside the backseat of the Lincoln beside Heero, he resumed their conversation as if there had never been a pause. "When we get back, I’m building him a doghouse."

Heero nodded. "Wool lining. It’s getting cold outside. How about 'Birch’?"

"Firstly, 'Birch’ is a girl’s name. Secondly, birch is a tree. And thirdly, fuck you."

Heero smiled mildly, a faint crinkling at the corner of his eyes. "Why not Dogwood?"

"Ha ha, no."

"Deciduous?"

"No."

"Conifer?"

"No."

"Chanticleer?"

"What?"

"It’s a Shade tree." Heero was trying his best to stay stone-faced. Oh so ever gallant.

"No," Duo growled.

"Redspire?" Heero glanced at him and looked away just as quickly. "It’s a pear tree, a Willow."

"You’re gonna give him a complex."

"I’m trying to give you a complex."

"Yeah, it’s working." Duo rubbed at his temples.

"How about Patmore," their driver suggested, catching the theme of the conversation.

"Eyes on the road," Duo snapped sourly.

"Actually." Heero sat up, looking thoughtful. "Ash tree. Ash. Ash is as grey as it gets."

"It’s still a tree."

"Unless the glass is half full," Heero argued lackadaisically. The Lincoln was slowing at the barricade outside the military base, the driver speaking lowly to the guard. "What’s your thing with trees, anyway?"

Duo gazed out of the window, shuddering at his view of thick forest, spindly trees thinning as their leaves turned yellow and orange and brown. He hesitated, and then spoke in a rushed, awed voice, quietly because he didn’t want their nosy, irritating driver to hear. "They’re living organisms, Heero. They breath and grow--and these fuckers," he said, jabbing a finger towards the window, in the direction of the line of trees fencing the road, "are old. Not used to seeing crap like that in space. The oldest living thing up there is a person, and people don’t freak me out. People, I’m used to."

Heero was giving him a look, a look Duo remembered all too well giving others on countless occasions. The you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look. Duo felt a rush of defensiveness. "Oh don’t do that, ass. Don’t pretend you don’t remember what it was like to be able to look up at the boundless sky the first time, the way the ocean might’ve swallowed you whole if you turned your back on it, the way the moon actually looks pretty from down here. You remember. I’ll get used to it. Back off."

It was heavily quiet for a long painful moment. Duo felt his face burning as he scowled at the back of the seat in front of him, feeling the weight of Heero’s eyes on him as Mr. Perfect attempted to analyze that, him--and realized Heero probably never felt afraid of the sky or the sea before. Wasn’t ever afraid of anything but himself back then. And even that’s passed. And all the while Duo...he gets jumpy around loud noises, careless bumping bodies, remarks he can’t dissemble right away. Afraid of everything, now, wasn’t he? Stupid. Maybe Preventers won’t want him anymore, once they found out what a spook he’d become.

"We’re here," the driver said, and Duo was out of the car before the man even finished, or put the car in park. Heero followed more slowly, more thoughtfully, and Duo couldn’t even guess what was going on inside that head. General Eckhart wasn’t there, but two of the same armed Marines stood by, leading the two new ones in a snappy salute as they jogged forward to hop on the 'copter. Duo halfheartedly released them, his salute turning into some sign of the cross, eff you hybrid. One Marine smiled, the rest looked bemused. Duo didn’t care, even after all the work he’d put into that salute last week. The flight was quick, taking them over the Nation’s capitol and their ancient architecture that was still an infant compared to most of the world, and into Virginia where they passed Langley and landed not fifty miles south of that on a patch of land surrounded by ocean. The Preventer building mimicked the
one in Madrid, but dwarfed the European version. It was massive and long and fenced ominously. No one got in or out without heavy clearance. Wufei was waiting for them on the airstrip, surrounded by a new escort of Preventers and not a single other familiar face.

The bird lifted off again just after they had jogged a few safe yards away. Duo turned to watch the helicopter fly away, Heero moved forward to greet Wufei, but not before leaning to whisper, "Get your head on straight. I need you to focus on spotting the bullshit so we don’t get our asses handed to us today. You’re better at that then I am. Understand?"

Duo gave him a stiff nod, felt the cold of his continuing forward, but also let the tension out of his shoulders, his scowl smooth away, his thoughts become a bit less crowded. It helped to think Heero was on his side on at least this, that they needed to be a team to survive this crap without being manipulated into anything else they did not want to do. It just helped to think that Heero was on his side.

He didn’t hear the pleasantries because of the whir of the helicopter blades, and when the bird was out of range, it was quiet; the people amassed waiting for Duo to acknowledge them. It was the first time since wanting to hit Wufei in Madrid that he actually, honestly, felt childish. Fuck trees, anyway. He turned, smirked at Wufei, and said: "Where to, boss?"

Heero’s face was smooth and gave nothing away. It was almost shocking seeing him like that again, after weeks peeking underneath the stone mask. He’d almost taken Heero’s openness for granted. Wufei looked sharp in his olive on black uniform, Deputy Director indeed, or Assistant, it seems, as Duo peered at his breast stitch. His expression was a little anticipatory, a little too wide-eyed as the man tried to predict Duo’s next move. The people behind Wufei were beginning to shift their weight. Duo won the stare-down, a little victory, watching Wufei’s expression settle, a little amused quirk to one heavy black brow suggesting he’d laugh, maybe, if they didn’t have company. He imagined Wufei saying, Oh Duo, exasperatedly, a little contemptuously, as if Duo was nothing more than a petulant child, even though Wufei would never. Duo wondered when he’d get to sock him in the mouth without getting a bullet
between the eyes. Probably should wait until after swearing in.

Wufei turned abruptly, stiff-spined, but only because he’d always done so, just so, and led them toward a hangar off the side of the airstrip. The entourage shuffled in after Heero and Duo, who drew closer together, shoulder to shoulder, as they followed Wufei. Hangar was huge, suggesting more than 'copters and planes came through here--interesting--and at the one end, a trolley waited to drive them to their next destination. Duo saw a fire escape plaque on the wall as he found his seat, a section of HQ mapped out. He memorized it. Wufei became their driver, which made Duo smile for reasons unknown to even him, and he visualized the little plaque as they wove in and out of hangars, hallways, bunkers, past a large hall that looked like Mess, or at least one of them. Wufei stopped several times, and each time some of their entourage left the trolley. No introductions, no straight looks or friendly smiles. Just
there and gone like maybe they weren’t ever there to satisfy their curiosity. Perhaps they were being briefed for something before Heero and Duo arrived. Not as interesting. Wufei parked the trolley in a section of a hall that seemed to get suddenly smaller, thinner, and they disembarked to walk the rest of the way. Wufei finally began to talk, taking them down winding, mark-less halls that were empty except for filmy overhead lights and bad watercolor paintings lining the walls. It felt like a hospital in this section of the building. Wufei’s voice was smooth and sure and a little lower than he remembered it in Madrid, or on Quatre’s patio.

"Every morning, upon landing, you will take the trolley to Lot 16 and sign in," Wufei was saying. "Afterwards, you will go to your office and settle in for an hour. During this time you will brief on any new assignment, any upcoming assignment, plan out your day for a current assignment. If you’re on mission, of course, your routine will become variable. After briefing, you will report directly to whatever division you are assigned to at that time. Are you with me so far?"

Neither said anything, neither nodded. Wufei continued on anyway. "Une wanted to handle the two of you herself, which is why we had to wait a week to swear you in. She had business in Europe, just got back. There are files you need to read over, manuals you need to review, paperwork to sign--today will be boring. Brace for that." Wufei fell quiet, turning to a door and unlocking it by pressing his finger against a mechanism by the handle. His finger came away with a pinprick of blood ballooning slightly, discreetly, and the door swung open. Within was another hallway, a larger one, more expensive. They followed Wufei through more twists and turns, the doors lining these halls massive and lacquered wood, some rooms paneled by glass and only slightly opaque, some completely transparent, some conference style with men and women in business suits staring intently at a large screen depicting some grid, some
analyzed material, or sitting in a large circle around some massive desk, sipping ice water and debating some politick. There, at the end of the hall, a set of large cherry wood doors with ornate handles and intricate engravings. Just before, an opening with a large corporate desk, two women seated behind it with microphones in their ears, speaking rapidly and quietly to whoever was on the line. Both girls pretty in a severe, straight-faced sort of way, one dark-haired and dark-skinned, the other self-tanned and bleach-haired. Neither looked up, but the self-tanned one waved at them with a quick flick of her wrist. Wufei never broke stride and went immediately to the double doors, pulling them open after a buzz and a click, and stepped aside so Heero and Duo could venture within.

Another massive room, of course, thank you very much. Encased in glass except for the one single wall the doors were attached to, the sprawling sky dazzling just beyond the three large wall-windows. Thick rugs over the carpeted floor, muffling their footsteps to nothing but a whisper, a living room facing a plasma television suctioned to the glass on the left side, a wet bar on the right, and several filing cabinets behind a large oak desk most likely hauled from Une’s former office in France--unless that particular one ended up in Brussels, and maybe this one came from Victoria. Duo sighed, looking apathetically at the claw-footing, the intricate engravings, wondering if that desk alone cost more than his gundam ever did. And it was probably just as heavy.

Lady Une sat behind it, hunched over something beside her monitor and scribbling furiously on it with a ball-point pen. A slight frown twisted her mouth, her thin brown hair falling like a curtain over her face, her blue suit jacket rustling as her shoulders moved to accommodate her stiff, jerky movements. Wufei closed the door and left them standing aimlessly in the middle of the room, meandering casually over to the set of couches and sitting down. Wufei rested his head on the back of the white leather sofa and closed his eyes. Duo looked at Heero. Heero returned his gaze for a brief moment, and then Une threw down her pen with a disgusted sigh and pushed her hair away from her face. With an angry movement, Une yanked the phone chord from her phone, preventing any calls, and tossed it to the floor.

"Council’s not budging on the Charter," she announced suddenly, pushing the file she’d been immersed in away from her. "Stupid pissers."

"Funding?" Wufei murmured, his eyes still closed.

"That’s the excuse they’re giving. But that’s the most moronic--it doesn’t cost anything to sign a piece of paper."

"They’re stalling."

"Yes, but now its obvious. It’s giving cause for protests in parts of the world that wouldn’t otherwise think twice about Africa. They’re waiting too long."

"Some people will take any reason to protest," Wufei said, his eyes sliding open, his black gaze landing on Duo.

Duo smiled like the Pope. "Don’t push your luck, Wufei."

Une ignored them both, standing abruptly and taking the topmost sheet of paper with her as she quickly crossed the room, smoothing down her skirt and yanking the door behind them open. "Nelly! Type this up and fax it Mansfield." The door was closed again and suddenly she was facing them. She ran a hand through her hair, her brown eyes hard and unreadable. She gestured to the two seats in front of the desk. "Don’t bother saying you’ll stand. I’m not in the mood for the ego trip." She was back behind her desk before Heero’s hand even landed on the back of his designated chair. They sat.

"I’m going to run through this once," she said, "and once only. I’ll send you off with the Preventer’s Manual and a few other files so you don’t forget, even though you shouldn’t. I’ll preamble by saying thank you for considering Preventers as your career choice. We’re hiring you as Prerequisite Fundamentals Officers, which is a pretty way of saying advisor. Because of the nature of your position, you’ll answer directly to me--and if you waste my time with petty displays of testosterone, immoral extracurricular, physical disputes, or any my dick is bigger than your dick whatsoever, so help me. Do I make myself clear?"

It was quiet as a grave. Une continued. "Preventers are the organization that upholds the Inter-Intelligence and Prevention Act of A.C. 195. There within, it describes the role of Preventers to connect and analyze intelligence provided from International and Colonial Intelligence, and to provide paramilitary support in Covert Special Activities. Thereby, we are the sole analytical team of International and Colonial Estimates Prevention." Une paused. "You can see why we like to simplify by just saying Preventers, yes?"

Duo resisted the urge to cough rudely, slouched a little in his chair. Fancy lingo for saying we’re the fuckers who connect the dots.

Une inhaled deeply and wet her lips, finally taking a moment to look at them, really look at them, gauge where Heero and Duo were with her. Whatever her conclusion, she kept to herself. "Tric Mansfield is our Director of International and Colonized Prevention Intelligence, our liaison between the President of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation and the DPI. I am considered the Directorate of Prevention Intelligence. We have several divisions and several sub-divisions under them. Quickly, and please keep up with the acronyms, we have: The Transnational and Space Reconnaissance Office; the surveillance, counter surveillance and cryptography of ideal Prevention Cases and the preparation of Estimates, quick response publications, guidance in a crisis, and fore-estimated disturbances with interagency consensus.

"Deputy Director for Plans, Felix Geoffrey, runs the Covert Special Activities Division, or CSAD, and is assisted by your friends Chang Wufei and Sally Po. This division includes the Special Preventions Group, SPG, and overall includes covert political influence and paramilitary operations. SPG is the element within CSAD responsible for paramilitary operations, which are the collection of intelligence in hostile and/or denied areas and all high threat military and/or intelligence operations when ESUN does not wish to be overtly associated with such activities."

Duo refused to look at Wufei, staring instead straight past Une’s shoulder. Beside him, Heero was so still he could have been a rock. He remembered what Kim had told him in Madrid, and clenched his teeth together.

"Next, is the Office of Transnational and Space Issues which applies unique functional expertise to asses existing and emerging threats to ESUN international and colonial security, and provides the most senior ESUN policymakers, military planners, and law enforcement with analysis, warning and crisis report. Our Space Liaison Division specializes in colonial intelligence and space reconnaissance, and these fine people answer directly, and only, to OTSI.

"With the support of the Office of Terrorism Analysis, the International and Colonial Counterterrorism Center provides paramilitary support for Counterterrorism Special Activities." Duo almost found that funny. His teeth nearly squeaked under the pressure of his clenched jaws.

"Our Crime and Narcotics Center," Une continued, "researches information on international and colonial narcotics trafficking and organized crime for policymakers and the law enforcement communities of ESUN. Since Preventers have no domestic police authority, it sends analytic information to ESUN’s Drug Enforcement Administration."

Duo sat up straighter for that. No domestic policing authority? That might actually be something he could get behind. Finally.

Une’s voice continued to fill up the empty space of her office, interrupted only by the very faint sounds of breathing, ticking off divisions like she was reading a list in her brain. "Our Defense Threat Reduction Agency provides intelligence support with international and colonized threats, as well as supporting threat reduction and arms control. Primary function is to account for rogue mobile suit machinery and supplementary factories. Lucrezia Noin is the former Commander of DTRA, and was most noted for her involvement in the 196 'Incident’.

"Information Operations Center Preventer Analysis evaluates foreign threats to ESUN computer systems, particularly those that support critical infrastructures. It works with critical infrastructure protection organizations in the ESUN Department of Defense.

"Directorate of Science and Technology creates and applies innovative technology in support of the intelligence collection mission. Their primary focus is to create and apply counter-technology for rogue mobile machinery. They also focus on Application Software and Analytics, Bio, Nuclear and Chemical Technologies, Communications and Infrastructure, Digital Identity and Security, and Embedded Systems and Power." Slight movement from Heero, a thoughtful tilt to his head.

"Our Preventers Special Forces Assessment and Selection Division is a unique opportunity for former military and intelligence officers and soldiers to enlist and train under the Preventers standard, and work towards Preventers Selection. And our Preventers Enlistment Division provides civilian training." Une paused, shuffled something on her desk. "Preventers cooperate and connect intel with ESUN recognized international services, as well as separate divisions broken off by respective colony clusters. This is an on-going movement as more and more territories are splintered off and spoken for." She met Heero’s eyes for the briefest of seconds. "I understand you’re aware of the situation in Kenya, Mr. Yuy."

Heero nodded, but gave away nothing further. Une glanced at Duo once and continued. "Until these splintered nations are recognized by the Council, we do not adhere to them. The ones we do communicate with, however, are the UK Secret Intelligence Service, or M16, the Canadian Secret Intelligence Services, CSIS, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the US Central Intelligence Agency, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, SVR, France’s Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Israel’s Mossad, the South African Secret Service, Lunar Cluster One Intelligence Committee, Lunar Cluster Two Office of Strategic Services, Intelligence Service of Lunar Cluster Three, and Secret Intelligence Committee of Lunar Cluster Four."

Recent, these colonial intelligence divisions, in nothing but name. Really, these new intel groups 'recognized’ by ESUN were made up of the cast and crew who previously added the creations and implementations of things like gundams and Op. M. Tricky, because unless ESUN casts a special eye on them, they might run wild like White Fang and cause another Mariemaia 196 'Incident’, especially now that its pretty given none of the Docs were coming back from the grave, even if they were in fact somehow alive. Duo figured that granting them title and vote at Council, giving them special liaisons to Preventers, making it all very official, represents a sense of autonomy to colonials who were willing to meet in private nearly a decade ago and launch gundams and fire beam canons inside colonies in the defiant scream for independence. Pity they never gave Kenya that option. It doesn’t get much fancier than having your own
certified 'Intel Group’. Ridiculous. But smart. Might work in the long run. Duo wondered if that was Une’s idea, or maybe if it was even Relena’s. Rumor had it she had 'Catty’ Catalonia under her wing, whispering in her ear again about how to preach smart, keep your head above the flames.

Une was looking at him. Duo arched his brows, disappearing them under the fringe of his hair. "So, okay, we get it. We’re the fuckers that connect the dots."

"Uncouth, but yes. And no." Une gestured to herself and Wufei. "We’re the fuckers who connect the dots; you’re the fuckers that help us connect the dots when we don’t know our ass from our elbow." And then to top it off, she smiled. Duo felt mildly ill.

"So, okay. Okay." Duo shifted. "What’s next?"

Une’s smile vanished, her face serious all over again. "Let’s talk straight, Mr. Maxwell. I know you don’t trust me, or Preventers, or even the man sitting next to you. That’s a problem, because if you don’t trust us, it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to trust you. But this is my dilemma. The masses know you. There’s still a lot of anger out there for gundam attacks, particularly the one that resulted in the obliteration of an entire minor colony."

"I didn’t blow that colony," Duo said through his teeth.

"I’m not tossing out accusations here," Une said smartly. "The people are doing that better than anyone here ever could. So, again, you’re a problem for me. Because, yes, Relena insisted on ESUN granting the five, six, hundred thousand of you clemency. So, really, I can’t just toss you in jail and throw away the key--which is a shame because I would then know you’re safe and I would know the rest of the world is safe too. But I can’t, which is why you’re here."

"How far we’ve come from turning off the oxygen," Duo said acidly.

"Hm," Une hummed dismissively. "Yes, well. Another issue is that both of you are exceedingly over-qualified. PFO is a position designed for your specific qualifications. You’ll be Shifters, moving within divisions, helping wherever and whenever you’re needed. I will decide those assignments. You will report to me. And the two of you will be partners until otherwise designated. I do not think I need to reiterate the positive in your favor for taking this job. I am fairly certain you’ve already been thoroughly briefed. I will remind you that the possibilities for advancement within Preventers are limitless. Everything you’ve ever wanted seen done, any wrong you’ve ever wanted righted, you can do that here. And don’t try to sell me for a single minute that a fifteen-year-old that climbs into a gundam doesn’t grow up a teensy bit disgruntled at the world he sees around him. Especially you,
Mr. Maxwell, who just had his home burned down, his girlfriend leave him for another man, his work blacklisted, and his real estate sold. You cannot tell me you don’t still have some righteousness to burn off."

Duo felt the insolence creep, like a cold slime drifting down his nose, his throat, his fingertips and toes. Give 'em hell, Solo would have said. Duo smiled blackly. "Give me a gun, I’ll see what wrongs I can right for you."

Une smile was even colder. "One foot out of line, Maxwell, and that cell will become a permanent residence. Heed me."

"Do you even know me?" Duo spat. "Really, Une, one foot? I require no less than twenty."

"You kill someone, or cause someone to be killed that was not predetermined by this office, Maxwell, and those twenty feet become none."

"Deal." Heero was staring at him. Duo leaned his head in his direction. "Don’t worry, Yuy. I can just about guarantee they won’t ever send me to assassinate anybody."

"Quite," Une agreed ambiguously. "Now, for thirty pieces of silver, I need you to sign here."

+

So. All things considered, nothing Duo didn’t know already. Certainly, Une put things into perspective for him. She basically threatened him with imprisonment for petulance. Empty, that, because there wasn’t a cell on this planet that could hold Duo Maxwell--and all parties involved knew it.

They spent the next half hour signing their life away, Heero never making a single fucking sound. Whatever Wufei promised him in that hotel room must have been a gold mine of a--a lifetime supply of photo negatives or something, because Heero’s compliance was starting to really itch. Afterwards, Wufei silently led them back into the dungeon, showed them how to get to their lockers from Lot 16, and gave them uniforms to change into. He left them, then, to stand outside the locker room to change.

Duo yanked off his jacket and tossed it onto the bench. Heero laid his hand on Duo’s arm, and he jerked it away. After that, Heero didn’t bother him again. Once changed, Duo stared at his Preventer jacket, still folded on the counter to his left. Dark navy with olive lapels; ugly, even for military standards. Duo loathed it, hated the 'PFO’ stitched on the breast, his newly assigned codename 'Blackbird’ just under it. He despised that once he put it on, he’d believe in it, know in his core he’d come to work tomorrow with a reason, a must, a commitment he never wanted to feel. He’d left this crap behind when he opened Maxwell Scrap. He looked up, and immediately wished he hadn’t. His reflection stared back at him from the little rectangle of mirror on the inner flat of his locker. Burning eyes glared back at him, sunken amongst the dark circles between his fringe and his cheeks, the bones in
his face pressed jaggedly against his skin, his mouth sloping down in a grimace. He wondered if he would look very different dead. Duo put on the jacket.

Heero wore his new uniform like a second skin. Man could make anything look good. Wufei knocked on the door and then let himself in, black eyes lifting to appraise them both approvingly. Wufei didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to. It was enough for Duo to have him just stand there within arm’s reach. Duo let his fist fly, glancing Wufei across his left cheekbone before Heero was there, manhandling him back towards the opposite end of the locker room.

"Knock it off," Heero growled in his ear, as Wufei straightened, fingers probing and coming back with only a little blood. Duo’s hands came up in a passive gesture. He felt better already, and allowed a humorless grin stretch his face.

"I’ll let you have that one," Wufei said quietly, frowning at the red smudge on his fingertips. "I know I deserved it."

"What is that, an honor pledge?" Duo laughed nastily. "Your intel here sucks, man. Hilde was never my girl, and you were the fuckers that sold my yard. You deserve more than a black eye, you fuck twat."

Wufei’s head snapped up, his dark eyes blazing. "Une made her own conclusions and, no, we didn’t touch your real estate. That was solely L2."

"Whatever, boring. What’s next?"

Wufei’s mouth twisted as if he was going to say something else, but Heero must have been glaring at him because he turned and left the locker room. After a disapproving shake of his head, Heero followed.

"You can fucking blow me, Yuy," Duo called after him, and slammed his locker closed.

They were assigned new badges next, and Wufei showed them how to move through the higher classification zones. Some required a blood sample, others retina scans, some bar codes or manual codes, and for some of the more restricted areas, a combination of that and more. After arriving in Mess and being handed a pair of manuals, Wufei left them to study and eat. Duo smiled in grim satisfaction at the darkening bruise just under his left eye. Heero finished reading through his manual in forty-five minutes. Duo put his down for a sloppy joe after page two. It was just more 'we’re the fuckers that connect the dots and it’s a good idea not to fuck your co-worker’ jargon.

After Mess, Wufei returned to lead them to their offices where they briefly met a handful of other Preventers that eyed them curiously but said less than little. Then they were taken to the gym, which took up a good tenth of the entire establishment. There were the basic machines, buts dozens of them, three Olympic-sized pools, a couple acres of outdoor recreation, two high ropes courses, and four low ropes, several tracks and eight courts used for various sports. After this quick, silent tour, Wufei led them to the Preventers Special Forces Assessment and Selection Division office. He left them there, just outside the door. Just turned on his heel, and without a word, left them there. Heero stared at Duo until Duo looked back at him, acknowledging the accusation in Heero’s blue eyes.

"There’s nothing to worry about," Duo muttered. "Kim said we’d skip most of the crap."

Inside, they met several blank stares until someone murmured, "PFO." A slight boy, just barely over eighteen, rushed into a back office and retrieved another man who reminded Duo of old OZ generals, thick-skinned and leather-faced, deep lines everywhere and eyes turned grey with rage or apathy or too many losses to count. His breast read Deputy Director Fitzgerald.

For the next four hours, they ran track, lifted weights, swam, sprinted, climbed, and sparred, tested heart rates, blood pressure and the rest. Duo won every fight he didn’t have with Heero, and only two with--which was sobering. He’d been hoping, maybe, that Heero was out of shape, but he should have known better. And Heero seemed to have enjoyed the opportunity to vent his irritation with Duo, making him really work for every one of those two spars. Fitzgerald remarked that their scores were as high as Wufei’s when he’d started, which he considered, apparently, impressive, and also told them to be prepared for technical, analytical, psychological and industrial tests similar to the physical over the next few days--just to be sure their abilities were scored and on file. Heero didn’t like that, his heavy brows dropping ferociously low over his eyes, startling the pleased grin from the Deputy Director. Wufei returned for them at
five and led them back to the locker room. He did not go inside with them.

The journey home was quiet, tensely contemplative. Chris had both Nefie and their still-yet-unnamed pit on leashes when they pulled up in the drive, a thunderous expression darkening her pretty face. Duo thought his own temper might snap if Heero didn’t handle her immediately. The mere notion that their neighbor had been inside their locked home while they were away just about blowing the fuse on a very bad day. The cold felt good on his face when he stepped out of the car, and he pinched the bridge of his nose as Chris began her tirade.

"...do you have any idea how anxious a dog can get left alone like that for hours? I could hear him barking from my living room! You can’t--"

Duo decided not to wait for Heero. "Chris, you broke into our home."

Chris stilled. "I did not. The door was unlocked, the dog was barking. I assumed you wouldn’t leave the house open if you didn’t want me able to go in to take care of him for you."

Duo opened his eyes, looked from her to Heero. Heero was waiting on his answer, his head tilted in that curious way he does, when he was genuinely interested in Duo’s reaction. His body was angled somewhat between the two of them, though, just in case. "We’re gonna build him a doghouse tonight," Duo said tiredly, listening absently to the sound of the Lincoln pulling away. "And it would be really awesome if you could walk him for us."

"Okay," Chris said slowly, warily. "Okay, sure. Good idea. How was your first day?" Her gaze turned toward Heero, but he only smiled wearily at her and lowered his eyes to their excited pit as Chris handed him the leash.

"It sucked," Duo said plainly. "I sold my soul to the devil and punched my friend in the face."

"Nice," Chris remarked. "You thought of a name for your pit yet?"

"Yeah," Duo said, scratching the dog behind his ears. "We’re calling him Ash."

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