"That won't be possible; she's in a meeting with ministry officials."
Wufei frowned at Une's secretary. Heero and he had allowed themselves exactly ten minutes to wake up, wash their faces, get dressed, and get out. They'd gotten to work twenty minutes early -- and she was already working? Damn. He could have slowed down and bought himself a coffee. "Which ministry?"
Heero and Wufei exchanged a mildly puzzled look. There were probably things the Preventers could do for such a ministry, but none that were immediately obvious. The Preventers were first and foremost a peacekeeping organization.
"All right. We need to see her sometime today. It needn't be very long, fifteen minutes at most." Hopefully, with limited time to argue, Une would choose not to.
The neat little man behind his desk nodded like he heard that excuse all day and never believed it. "Of course. I'll page you when Director Une is available to see you. It might not be today, though -- how about I call you at six PM to reschedule in case she couldn't fit you in?"
Wufei sighed and nodded his assent. That was the best they would get. "Thank you."
They turned away and went back to the elevator. Wufei could see Heero watching him push the button for the office floor; he might have put more strength than necessary in it.
"As if you need to ask," Wufei groaned, and trudged his way to the machine after him.
He was so tired. Surviving the jungle, the enemies, and the people he pretended to work with; fulfilling his mission and orchestrating his escape; and then that mess with trying to prove none of the clues meant Maxwell or Barton were involved... Two months of stress on not enough sleep were starting to take their toll.
The only reason he hadn't fallen over for an impromptu nap was his daily caffeine intake.
He really, really wanted his coffee. Needed it. Craved it.
That was his excuse as to why he didn't notice Sally swoop down on him until he had the note demanding he report to the infirmary under his nose, blocking his view of the perfect inky blackness inside his plastic cup. The note was wrinkled from Wufei stuffing it in the pocket of his to-be-laundered disguise jacket and still had a little piece of adhesive tape at the top.
"Hi, Wufei," she said brightly. "I see you're not terribly busy this morning."
Wufei drew himself up. She still was a little taller than he was, curse her. "As a matter of fact--"
"We're waiting on Une to get free," Heero said, and took Wufei's betrayed glare with placid neutrality.
Sally gave the two of them a pleased smile. "And I have it on good authority that they'll be at it for a few hours at the very least. Great! I'm kidnapping you."
"We have reports to submit--"
"Heero can do that, can't you, Heero?"
"No problem," the traitor agreed easily.
"Yuy, damn it."
Heero looked at him as if he had no clue what he'd done wrong. Wufei might almost have believed it -- hah, right. Heero wasn't that socially clueless, he was just good at pretending he was. Wasn't he?
"... Whatever." Wufei drained his cup and threw it in the wastebasket. "Let's get this over with."
He followed Sally up the stairs to the second floor. They crossed a glass-walled
corridor showing a half-dozen technicians in masks and gloves fiddling with
what Wufei presumed were some kind of bio-weapons, and a door labeled "forensics",
before reaching the infirmary proper. Wufei had expected her to lead him to
the usual consultation room, but she directed him all the way to the back and
a discreet door.
"Oh, it's Gail's turn to play doctor on call today, so he gets the front room." Smiling, she pushed the door open and let him in. "I hold another first-aid class at ten."
That room was smaller, without any windows; the equipment looked a little more dented as well, but he doubted Sally would still use it if the damage was more than cosmetic. Wufei walked in with only a hint of reluctance.
"You know, it would be nice if next time you came to me before you gave everyone in the building some exotic jungle disease."
"I don't have any jungle diseases," Wufei grouched. "You trained the medic with the extraction team yourself, don't you trust his judgment a little?"
"Oh, but I do," Sally replied pleasantly. "I just trust my equipment more than his."
Wufei gave her an unconvinced look; nevertheless, he took off his shirt, sat on the examination table, and allowed her to feel him up for swollen ganglions, to check his pupils, wrap a blood pressure cuff around his biceps, and prick him with a syringe. Her readings taken, she left him on the table to rest with electrodes stuck to his temples and chest, fiddling with her centrifuge and her microscope, which, he admitted, looked significantly more impressive than the medic's.
"So how much sleep have you been getting recently?"
Wufei sighed and reclined on the table. It was easier to talk to Sally when she had her back to him and seemed so neutral and unconcerned, when all he could see was the white lab coat and not the worried, compassionate eyes. "About four hours a day for the last couple of weeks. Often less." When he got any sleep at all.
"Hm. I don't need to tell you how to use your in-between-missions time, right?"
He groaned. "Ancestors, no. It's not as if I like being sleep-deprived."
Sally laughed lightly. "I'll give you some pills for that. Anything else? Soreness, headaches, dizziness...?"
"Nothing worth mentioning." She looked at him; he added reluctantly, "A couple of fatigue headaches, nothing bad."
"Hm. Pretty appropriate, in your state. Well, you know your own body," she added, distracted by beeping machinery. "Warn me if you notice any symptoms."
Wufei grunted an acknowledgement and closed his eyes. He wasn't going to spit on an occasion to rest his mind and body. He would probably fall asleep if he didn't watch it, though.
"What did you read about that newtype affair?" he asked, eyes still closed.
He could hear soft little clinks as Sally worked on the blood samples. "That's right, you were incommunicado when the news broke. What do you know so far?"
"There's a new gene, it is found mostly on people whose families have been Colonists for a few generations..." His tone went a little ironic, "And it enables them to predict symbols on cards, which is obviously something people should riot about."
Sally made a rude noise under her breath. "It's not a new gene,
it's a combination of genes that just didn't happen or didn't express themselves
on Earth. Being conceived and living in space apparently only changes their
concentration and transmission -- ah, I have scientific journals, maybe you'll
like looking at them."
Wufei made a little 'listening' noise. "I might take you up on it. Not surprising that the newspapers would dumb it down, though."
"That, and there are several counter-studies, and of course they're not done yet and none of them agree." Sally chuckled ruefully. "There are some really fascinating things if you hunt down the more detailed reports, though. For example, some people could guess the card all the time, even chosen by a machine, but some could only guess it right when the person supervising the test looked at it first."
Wufei opened an eye. "... That is interesting. The implications alone -- it's not the same talent at all."
Sally threw him a quick grin over her shoulder. "It has a slightly different gene sequence, too. They're still cataloguing all the permutations and trying to tie them to specific talents. It's hard to find enough test subjects for the rarest, too, and there are some potential gifts that are difficult to quantify."
Sally gave a faint worried frown. "Charisma, for one. It's something that people have spent centuries trying to define. How do you tell when it's perfectly natural and unique to the person, and when it's boosted by something in their genes?"
Wufei stretched his legs comfortably and smiled. Mmh, academic debate. Now that was a lot better to think about than vendettas and vigilantism by old friends. "You could argue that's the definition of natural charisma, too. Physical appearance and voice are largely defined by genetics, and I suspect even someone who has the newtype genes for it wouldn't go far if their personality was too horrid to support it. It's not a brainwashing kind of ability, is it?"
Sally's back hunched a little, her tone of voice a little more somber. "Not as far as we can tell. But we don't have a wide enough research pool to test for that one. And, of course, the very idea that they could be robbed of their free will and made to unconditionally adore someone is already starting to panic people."
Wufei frowned. "And even if researchers never find someone strong enough to do that, it still won't be enough to prove that they don't exist somewhere."
"Yes, exactly," Sally replied with a frustrated huff. "It's easy enough to prove that something like that exists, you just have to find it -- but that it doesn't..."
They lapsed into silence, Sally thoroughly testing his blood for jungle parasites, Wufei brooding over the propensity of the human race to scare itself silly and turn on itself over unproven conjectures.
"... Anyway... You might find it funny, there was a subject who got every single answer wrong. How statistically likely is that?"
About as much as getting them all right. Wufei gave an amused snort.
"Which means he'd actually be pretty high-level, because very few of them had a success rate over ninety percent. And by very few I mean perhaps a half-dozen people at most out of the thousands tested. It's a relief, isn't it?"
Wufei grunted his assent. "Good to know they still have an error margin. ... Will this be done soon?" He tapped the electrodes.
"Oh, no, I need a full reading. I'd say at least two hours."
"That long?" Wufei scowled. "I have things to do."
"If it's research for your new case, Heero can do it. And if it's paperwork for the old one, it can wait," she said firmly.
Wufei frowned, suspicious. "Why do you need a full brain and body reading anyway? I understand a short EEG to make sure the lack of sleep isn't causing problems..."
Sally chuckled as she powered down the instruments she'd been using. "Don't you trust me?"
Ah, so that was it. "Of course I trust you." Wufei didn't bother hiding his cynicism. "I trust you to make bogus excuses to make sure I take a nap today, amongst other things."
They stared at each other for a few seconds, Wufei with his eyes narrowed in wariness, Sally with a casual and innocent expression that didn't suit her much; and then she laughed again, a little chagrined. "I really would appreciate a full reading..."
"... For comparison purposes, in case something happens at some point."
Wufei scowled, unconvinced. "So it doesn't need to be now."
"No, but it's one of the rare times of the year I can catch you where you're not too busy to afford it. I'll come get you when I get the result for the blood tests, how about that?"
Wufei glared at her.
"Thank you, Wufei." And with a last smile and a friendly wave, she was gone, closing the door behind her with a soft click.
Wufei opened his mouth to protest, but of course she would pretend not to have heard him, and then chastise him like a child if he went and freed himself. With an irritated huff, he lay back down on the padded table.
Meddlesome woman. At least she could have brought him to one of the rooms that had actual beds. She had better wake him up in two hours tops; he didn't want to waste all morning. With some luck, Une would see him during lunch, and it wouldn't hurt to have a little more dirt on Kamenov to convince her with.
"Oi, Yuy, food time!"
Heero looked up from the report he was checking for mistakes and gave the young man leaning through the door of his cubicle a weird look, complete with eyebrow arched quizzically. "Dietrik. The panel won't support your weight for long," he pointed out.
The man just laughed and stepped inside, all six foot three of him plus linebacker shoulders, considerably shrinking the rest of the space. "Aw, you do worry for me! Come on, I'm sure you're hungry. It's noon already."
Heero didn't bother checking his computer clock. "Still ten minutes to go for that."
Another head popped in sight, hair dyed green and purple and twisted into strange loops, on top of an exceedingly proper woman's business suit. "You know what they say, the early bird gets the worm!"
"You can have my worm," Heero deadpanned. In his opinion, it hadn't been terribly funny, but the two laughed anyway. At least they recognized it as an attempt at humor, which was better than many of his other coworkers. His supervisor, Heero knew, would have stared at him with faint horror and believed he really was that ignorant.
The forty-something woman with the strange hair gave him a stern look. "Stop it, we know you're not that busy or you'd have just pretended we weren't there. My treat?"
Heero arched an eyebrow. "Generous." Mostly because the meals were practically free, and she owed him anyway.
He'd planned on having a sandwich with Wufei as they discussed the results of his search on Kamenov, but Wufei hadn't reappeared. Heero was reasonably sure he would have sent word not to wait if something had prevented him from coming back to the cubicle after leaving the infirmary. Heero briefly considered the likelihood of Chang Wufei, pilot 05, getting kidnapped on the second floor of a high-security building full of armed and intensively trained policemen, and decided that he was probably being debriefed on some minor point of his report. That, or Sally had locked him up for incubating some strange jungle sickness.
Heero noticed that Sofia had been giving him a narrow-eyed glare while he'd been thinking, but the second he looked at her she switched it for an affable smile. "We've got a puzzle for you."
Heero blinked. "Puzzle?"
Smugly, Sofia rattled out a list of computer specs and security measures -- both on the computer itself and in the building it was housed -- that would have made even Heero think twice. "There was no internet. There was no intranet. The computer wasn't even equipped for wireless. The next Monday, the info had been sold to three separate parties."
The woman's smugness went up a notch. "Not in that case."
"... Give me thirty seconds." Heero speed-read the rest of his report, didn't find anything worth correcting, and keyed send, close-program, and shut-down in under five seconds. Two seconds later, he was out of his chair and slipping between Dietrik's imposing frame and the wall. "Let's go."
They were almost to the cafeteria when Sally's voice called his name. Heero paused and turned to look for her, finding her emerging from a conference room. Sofia and Dietrik took another dozen steps before they noticed he was gone.
"Heero!" Sally crossed the growing flow of people emigrating to the cafeteria. "Just the man I wanted to see."
Huh. "Sally," he acknowledged, neutral. She was smiling, but it looked more like habit than amusement or happiness.
"Reassure me -- you managed fine without Wufei?" she asked briskly.
"Good! So I won't have to feel guilty. Your partner is taking a nap in the infirmary, room 10-C. Will you wake him up? I'm not going to be able to get away for a few more hours here."
"... Sure. Did you drug him?"
Sally let out a laugh that was more surprised than amused. Though knowing her, Heero didn't think it had been such an unreasonable supposition.
"I thought about it, but he must have been more tired than I believed; he barely protested. I hope he won't be annoyed at me for messing up his sleep cycle."
Someone called her back from inside the conference room, and Heero nodded. "He'll deal. Just go."
"Alright. I'm counting on you!"
Sally strode away and disappeared. Heero turned around to find his two colleagues waiting a few polite steps behind. It wasn't far enough not to hear anything, though, and Dietrik made disturbingly anguished puppy eyes at him. "You gotta go?"
Sofia nodded sadly. "Such a shame, I bet by the time we get this mystery unraveled you won't even be back yet."
Wufei came before irrelevant computer mysteries, of course; but he also needed all the sleep he could get. Heero shook his head and started walking toward the cafeteria again. "I'll go afterward."
The cafeteria was already filling up, though due to the absence of three field teams it wasn't packed as thick as it could have been; but the rest of the Geek Squad -- the Computer Crimes Division -- had decided to gather at one table instead of spreading onto two. Dietrik dragged an extra chair to sit at a corner, and they started debating. Heero didn't say much at first, listening with one ear as he read over the case file. Without being able to inspect the computer itself, Heero couldn't rule out external tampering. Still, it was an intriguing mental exercise. And contrary to his other headache -- the case he and Wufei were working -- it didn't suffer from lack of theories and difficulties to prove or disprove anything. Either something was doable or it wasn't.
The table was animated, and a few of the guys were noisy. Heero disliked trying to speak over someone else, but Sofia and Matthew from Accounting didn't see anything wrong with digging their elbows in people's ribs to make them pipe down. Of course, elbowing too hard provoked short spats that were even noisier than the rest. Vaguely annoyed, Heero reclined in his seat and tried to ignore them -- and that was when he noticed Commander Une making the rounds.
Stiff and stern, she led a pair of men in beige suits through the floor; a secretary trailed after the three of them. Heero had known Une for quite some time now, and while her expression was still that of long-practiced neutrality, there was a tilt to her shoulders that reminded him more of the ex-OZ colonel than the ex-ambassador. The two men -- no doubt the Health Ministry envoys -- chatted amiably at her as they looked around. It seemed like she was introducing people here and there on the way out of the cafeteria...
Looking back at her guests, she waved her hand toward Heero's table. Huh. She didn't look at Heero, only at a blond guy with floppy hair who was busy making sure one of his coworkers knew exactly why he was right and she was wrong.
"Agent Ling, if I could..."
"--Are you blind or what, it would blow up in your -- oh, Commander."
Une's eye twitched a little, but she didn't say anything, only waving at the two men following her. "Agent Ling, Eric Madison and Cliff Branforth from the Health ministry. They're heading a national effort to chart some unknown parts of the human genome. Director Madison, Mr. Branforth, Edward Ling, biochemist."
Human genome, huh. Considering the current news, there wasn't much of a question as to what this was about. Heero's gaze sharpened. Now the real question was why would people researching Newtypes stress out Une so much.
Madison had cropped, graying honey-blond hair, and a winsome smile. Branforth was older, fifty perhaps, and with a sharper, more prominent bone structure; but the graying haircut was about the same, and the suits matched, apart from the nuance of blue of their shirts. The discussion at the table died down as the two newcomers flattered Ling and joked about trying to tempt him away from the Preventers and in one of their own labs. Une looked quite impressed; thankfully Ling didn't seem to be all that interested by the offer.
They did a token effort at being polite by introducing the rest of the members. Sofia stretched out to shake hands over the table, but Heero only nodded his greeting, unwilling to bend over and unbalance himself. He hadn't expected Director Madison to take a couple of steps between the tables to get closer to him. It was hard to refuse to shake hands now without being grossly impolite.
"Agent... Yuy, was it?" Madison said, glancing down at Heero's badge.
Heero frowned a little; it might have been paranoia, but he had a feeling the man's glance had only served to confirm something he already knew.
"Heero Yuy, huh. Like the great pacifist? That's strangely appropriate," the man joked. "A relative perhaps? Where are you from?"
Une hadn't told them his first name when she introduced everyone, and the badge only had his last. "The Sank kingdom," he replied blandly, declining to laugh along. Madison's chuckles died down.
"Ah. ...Well. I heard you were partnered with an agent from L5?"
They definitely were too aware of who he was, who Wufei was. And perhaps even of what they had in common, apart from currently being partners. Was it about their shared past? "...Yes."
"Would you happen to know which specific colony he's from?"
Heero frowned. "No. Why do you want to know?"
Madison chuckled. "Nothing bad, nothing bad. We're conducting a little survey, and we would be very interested to have more participants from the L5 cluster."
At least they hadn't looked deep enough to know that while Heero's ID listed him as a Sank citizen, it was just as likely he'd been born there as anywhere else in the Earth Sphere.
"We don't have time for surveys." Heero caught Une's eyes. "We're waiting for orders to leave on a mission."
Une's eyebrow twitched upwards in an interrogative fashion, but Branforth looked at her and her expression smoothed out again. Madison was still talking at him.
"--wouldn't take much longer than it takes to get a blood sample. One of our projects deals with correlations between an individual's genetic predispositions and their chosen career, you see."
Heero arched a doubtful eyebrow.
"So you want to know if Newtypes have favorite jobs, then?" Dietrik joked.
Neither Heero nor Madison acknowledged him. "The same kind of correlation between people with good physical coordination and people who practice sports," Heero suggested blandly.
Madison and his colleague laughed, and the rest of the table gave a polite chuckle, though Ling and Sofia's expression was attentive and Dietrik's a little worried . "I suspect as much," Branforth said from where he was standing beside Une. "But we have to make sure anyway."
"All genetic samples are to be anonymous, of course, and we welcome all kinds, but I thought it might be especially interesting to get Agent Chang's. For reasons which you're no doubt aware of, samples from a few specific areas of that cluster are, ah, something of a rarity."
Due to the cluster not being very large even before the Dragon Clan colony self-destructed, and the sole Dragon survivors being people who had been stranded on Earth or other colonies at the time of its self-destruction; yes, Heero was aware.
"I'll pass the invitation along," Heero promised neutrally. Except that by invitation he meant warning. Even if those men's project came from innocently academic motives, the last thing Newtypes needed was to end up on a list -- and field agents already at a risk of being attacked just for doing their job needed it even less than the rest. Even anonymously given, a genetic sample wasn't untraceable; if it were, the forensics department would be out of a job.
Une apparently had had enough; she checked her wristwatch briskly. "Gentlemen, we're going off-schedule. I suggest we proceed to the next department."
Madison laughed, of course; Heero wondered if he ever truly stopped. "Ah, of course, of course, my apologies. Well, Agents, nice meeting you. Agent Ling, don't forget about our proposition, eh?"
Madison waved genially, Branforth nodded a salute to the table, and they left with Une, whose eyes had a steely glint Heero found a lot more Colonel than Lady.
"Well, uh." Dietrik frowned worriedly and gave Heero a puzzled look. "I'm sure they mean well, but it's kind of a silly idea, isn't it? What with how messy things are out here."
"Yeah," someone else agreed. "Also you need just one dirty official -- and voila, a whole convenient list of Newtypes in the government, complete with name, address and position, for them to do god knows what with. Oh, you lost your job? Sorry, just budget cuts, you know how that is. No, nothing to do with that innocent blood test at all."
"Yeah, or... 'use your mind powers to kill the President or we out you!'"
There was laughter. "You read too much comics!"
Someone started teasing Ling for flirting with big manly men for money; Heero decided he'd socialized enough. He got up, his tray in hand.
"Yuy?" Sofia asked, startled. "You're already leaving? You haven't eaten anything..."
"I've got to get Chang."
But when he was in the corridor, he wasn't sure anymore that he needed to rush. Wufei was in the infirmary, in a room out of the way. If he was still sleeping, good; he needed it. And even if he woke up at the wrong time and met those men, what could happen? They wouldn't get much past the confirmation that he existed and a marked lack of interest in participating. They weren't going to force a blood sample out of him right on the spot; besides, in the unlikely event that they were crazy enough to try, Wufei would bleed them right back.
Wouldn't be impossible to borrow a lost hair, though.
Heero had a tendency to paranoia. He knew that. So instead of going straight to Wufei, he went to his desk first, to get the files he was supposed to work on.
He could work on them just as well in the infirmary.
Wufei woke to a faint rustle of paper sheets under a scratchy pen. He expected Sally, but when he opened his eyes just a crack and slipped a stealthy glance at his companion, he saw a head of messy brown hair leaning over a huge pink folder. He sat up; Heero looked over at him and nodded a greeting.
"What are you doing here?" Wufei asked. He rubbed the back of his head; the impromptu nap had left him a little muggy.
"Sally told me to wake you up."
Wufei frowned. "... I notice you didn't."
"I wasn't that quiet. Figured it would wake you once you had slept enough." Heero looked up at him, and then went back to his report. "It's four PM."
"-- What?" Wufei checked his watch. So it was. "Yuy!"
Of course, Heero entirely failed to look guilty. "Une is still too busy to deal with us; you didn't miss anything. Apart from some paperwork."
Wufei glared, and then sighed heavily. "Now I'm going to be up all night."
"You would have been anyway." Yuy pulled an envelope out of his pocket and threw it on Wufei's lap.
Huh. Short-term mission : high-kidnapping-risk child needing a bodyguard from five PM to whenever her guardian would come back in the evening... Wufei wasn't on the bodyguard roster, but he'd been known to make exceptions for one person, and he relaxed a little. He hadn't seen Mariemeya in over five months now, between her school obligations and his undercover mission.
"Ah, but the affair..."
"We have no info today that we didn't have yesterday," Heero commented philosophically. "Who knows, maybe you'll have a flash of genius over dinner."
Wufei would have snorted to hide his smile, but Heero's expression didn't quite match his words. Too serious. The man leaned forward, index finger brushing along the lines of the message. No name, he mouthed in silence.
... No name, he was right -- Mariemeya was designed as 'your usual charge.' Strange. Wufei frowned at Heero. Someone listening? he mouthed right back, but Heero only shrugged, as if he had no clue.
"Has Une been in reunion all afternoon?"
"Mmh. Messenger said she hasn't left that room since lunch."
So she was still around the Health Ministry representatives. He wondered if that was relevant. At the very least it meant he couldn't go and ask if the lack of name had a reason.
Wufei took a pen out of Heero's backpack and started filling the Mission Accepted paperwork.
"By the way," Heero said casually, "the ministry is trying to figure out what kind of newtypes work in the Preventers."
Wufei didn't pause at all, handwriting neat and regular. "Oh?"
"Probably in other ESUN-run organizations as well. Maybe even in civilian groups. They're curious to see if special talents benefit to specific jobs, apparently."
Wufei grunted, and started ticking off boxes. "Interesting."
"Director Madison said he'd like you to participate. Seems like L5 genotypes are rare nowadays."
Wufei's eyes narrowed, though he pretended he was only glaring at his incomplete badge number. "Really."
So they wanted his genotype. Or so they said. And Sally arranged for him to spend the day asleep in a corner, and Heero chose to work at Wufei's bedside rather than at his desk where he could be found. Add that to the strange formulation of the message, and the fact that Une had spent all day with the two men; it made Wufei wonder if perhaps Une didn't want said Health Ministry representatives to know that Preventer Agent Chang was routinely trusted with the safety of her adoptive daughter. Or maybe just that she didn't want him around them. He was grateful, but he could have rejected the offer on his own. ... Or could he have?
Or their interest could be entirely innocent, and Sally just wanted to mother something and it just so happened her latest cactus had died on her so Wufei was it, and Judy Carlson from Accounting had tried flirting with Heero again so he'd retreated where she wouldn't think to look for him, and Une did not, despite appearances to the contrary, know every single form by heart and like all common mortals she sometimes forgot unimportant details.
Wufei shrugged philosophically. He would know soon enough, and in the meantime he would keep his eyes open. He smirked wryly. "It's too bad I have no time to get poked and prodded with a needle these days, isn't it."
"Heh. I didn't get the feeling it was mandatory anyway."
Wufei allowed himself to roll his eyes in amusement; he hid the sharp wariness he felt deep under it. "Thank all the gods and ancestors it isn't. And I doubt many of our colleagues will go through with it, for the same reason as mine." Paranoia was a way of life for a Preventer. "As if we don't get shot and stabbed full of enough holes on the job."
Heero hummed in apparent disinterest.
"Still..." Wufei mused. "It might be interesting to know what kind of jobs newtypes prefer, from a purely scholarly point of view."
Too bad all practical applications of those results gave him thoughts of potential disaster. From favoring those with powers and fostering resentment and fear in the ones without, to putting newtypes on file and restricting their freedom for being born potentially dangerous... Wufei could see the ghosts of frankly dystopian futures on either end of the spectrum. Hell, it didn't need to go too far to become unfair and discriminatory -- many jobs asked for a drug scan at employment.
"...You know, when you look at the psychic ability test results, most of those people probably had no clue they were in any way different before they got the results..." Wufei mused. "It's just too subtle in a lot of cases. At most they just assumed they were insightful or lucky."
It occurred to him, then, to wonder if he was a newtype too. If the progression on L5 had been the same as the other Colonies, then there was a twenty percent chance he carried at least some of the genes -- maybe even more. His colony had been one of the oldest; on his mother's side he was fourth generation.
Meiran had been fifth generation Colony-born on one side, and, in some way, sixth through her father's mother's lineage, though personally Wufei didn't think immigrating just before the baby was born really counted. The argument had been fierce, bitter, and was still unresolved...
...Never mind that. Whether he had some subtle, unremarkable ability or not, it didn't change who he was. And if he did, better if people didn't know it. Himself included. He might start depending on it, or wondering what he could have changed if he'd only known how to.
Wufei's laptop was in his bag, at the foot of the table. He started working with little enthusiasm, knowing he had to leave soon but not wanting to have come to work just to end up sleeping the day away.
He clicked absently on a news site's link, even as he gathered authorizations and cost sheets and the info he needed to tidy up his reports. Read the whole article. Clicked two links open, so as not to lose the first. Summarized more case reports. Opened five articles, plus an online encyclopedia page to clarify some background assumptions. Hit a search engine. Remembered that he had pictures to include in his second report, swore a bit, had to reformat the whole thing so they would fit. Went right back to his newtype articles.
Geneticist shop talk and religious flailing, enthusiastic geek blogs and worried watchdog sites, a so-called true newtype's own point of view and at least twelve he was pretty sure were fakes. So many sides of the issue.
He probably would have kept reading past the time he was to go pick up Mariemeya if Heero hadn't nudged him. Damn, five minutes left.
"What's so funny, Yuy?" he growled as he started closing tabs.
His partner smirked at him. "You. It's only now you're starting to think about what that newtype business actually means. Humanity turned out to be a sci-fi fan's wet dream and your first thought was for the riots it was going to cause."
"That's the only relevant one!" Wufei grouched back, and clicked 'print' on his report. "The rest is idle speculation." Heero only shook his head in fake sadness and kept smirking, Wufei huffed at him. "And what was your first thought, hm?"
Heero's expression slid back to cool and unconcerned. "That it was interesting, and that it would get messy."
Wufei frowned. Yuy rarely lied to him; that didn't make him like it much better when it happened.
It was useless to try to guess the truth, though; knowing Heero, it could be just about anything, from "it was deeply traumatic" to "I've always known about them" to "they get me hot and bothered." On second thought, Yuy would need hormones for that last one.
"You're going to be late," Heero said without looking at him.
Well, maybe he'd tell him later. And maybe it was just a way to tell Wufei to back off.
Without a word, Wufei powered down and packed up his laptop, picked up the printed pages, and walked out of the infirmary and down toward the motor pool. He'd get a car, go pick up that brilliant, teenage ex-World Sovereign, and spend an entertaining evening attempting to verbally spar her to a standstill. At least he would be able to clear his mind of all that L2 and newtypes rubbish and relax a little.
"Mariemeya, you're fourteen."
"You were married at fourteen!"
"Not to someone seven years older!"
"Then of course it degenerated into 'are you calling me immature' and 'how dare you tell me what I feel' and 'I would know if it were just a crush'."
Wufei groaned and massaged his temples. He'd forced himself to go to bed anyway, but he hadn't slept too well.
"She's not entirely wrong. She didn't get the luxury of being a child very long either."
Wufei glared nastily at Heero, who sat on the other side of the table, totally unperturbed, and kept making little annotations in the margins of Wufei's case report.
"That was helpful, Yuy. Really."
Heero shrugged, his nose still in the report. Wufei glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the café, just to check that Heero wasn't the only one being totally indifferent to the fact that an underage girl had propositioned him just the previous evening. Heero wasn't; Wufei didn't know whether to be grateful or annoyed. The matter was more delicate than his partner seemed to realize. Granted, they had other things to worry about at the moment, like the fact that they'd wasted another half-day and Une still hadn't had an occasion to see them and approve their trip...
"... Never mind. I don't know what possessed me to think you might have some insight into the situation."
A corner of Heero's mouth tilted up in a fleeting smirk. "I lack your experience with jailbait."
"Don't make me hurt you."
Heero didn't even dignify the empty threat with a response. He picked up his coffee cup and took a sip, eyes still fixed on the sheets of paper in his hand. "The numbers are wrong. Divergence of zero-point-seven percent. I'll check the database to see where the error occurred."
Wufei frowned, and leaned over the table to check what Heero was pointing at. They bowed their heads together over the paper as Heero's finger tapped the wrong numbers. Wufei was good at math, but not by nearly enough to pick up on the discrepancy Heero had found.
"... There's a calculator in your brain, isn't there," Wufei commented.
"Doctor J thought it might come in handy," Heero retorted dryly. Wufei rolled his eyes at him and sat back down.
The back of his neck prickled with the awareness of a whole roomful of people behind him. Next time he would reach the café early, so he could steal the bench against the wall from Yuy. He vaguely thought of shoving Heero in the corner and sitting beside him -- craning his neck to see the paperwork was getting annoying as well -- but while Heero wouldn't care what that looked like, there were enough colleagues coming here on their break that Wufei did.
"So you're not interested in her."
Wufei twitched. "Yuy, for god's sake, she's fourteen -- of course not!"
"If her age is the only deterrent, you could just tell her you'll talk about it when she's eighteen. She's smart enough to understand the legal ramifications." Heero quirked an eyebrow. "She might grow out of it in the meantime."
Heero looked too placid to get angry at, and his tone of voice just too reasonable to take offense. Wufei was tempted, though. "Grow out of it? You're talking about Mariemeya Barton Kushrenada. The only person more stubborn than her is--"
The bastard was smirking. Wufei growled. "One of these days I really am going to hurt you."
"If you meant it, you'd challenge me to meet at the gym for a spar."
Wufei gave him a teeth-baring grin. "Good idea. How about tomorrow?" They would sadly have the time, if the PR circus that camped in Une's office was anything to go by.
Heero seemed more amused by the second. Wufei was starting to look forward to an occasion to slam him down into the tatami.
"So it's not simply that you've never considered her, but that you're actively against it?"
And now he looked thoughtful. Wufei wondered why he had ever thought it a good idea to mention the situation to him. Sure, they were great partners on the field, and his insight was invaluable on a lot of Wufei's cases, and they had a common interest in hand-to-hand, politics and good guns, and Wufei might even -- god forbid -- enjoy his subtle sense of sarcasm and his strange philosophy of life. But like he needed Yuy to turn that brilliant analyst's mind to such a delicate and -- well -- mundane matter.
"... Yes. I am."
"Did you tell her so?"
Wufei sighed. "Yuy... I like the girl. She trusts me. I have no wish to hurt her feelings by telling her the idea of sleeping with her makes my skin crawl."
It was really too bad that neither Wufei nor Mariemeya were Heero Yuy; the man could take and dish out honest criticism at point-blank range without flinching. It was a very admirable trait, and one Wufei wished more people shared. Not that Wufei couldn't do blunt with the best, but -- not with Mariemeya. Not about that. He gazed at the table without really seeing it, thinking back to her confession. It had to have taken a lot of guts, and with some distance, he was almost proud of her for being so brave and tenacious... Almost being the key word. Damn it.
"Why does it?"
"Why does what?"
"Make your skin crawl. Why?" Heero picked up his cup of coffee and raised it to his lips, his eyes still fixed on Wufei.
"I met her when she was ten," Wufei snapped.
"She's not ten anymore."
Well -- of course she wasn't! It didn't mean Wufei didn't remember her being ten. "Do you want me to molest her, Yuy?"
Heero snorted. "From what you tell me, she would be the one to molest you." He shrugged off Wufei's frustrated glare. "I'm just curious."
Wufei sighed and leaned back in his chair, staring away from the table. He couldn't meet Heero's frank stare and just be objective and cold about the situation. "... She's -- it's not ethical."
Wufei set his cup down and nudged it around by the handle, watching cold tea slosh around inside. "We are not equals. The relationship is closer to mentor-student. It wouldn't be right."
Wufei sighed again -- he was doing it a lot, it seemed -- and admitted, more quietly. "I killed her father. There is a debt there. There always will be. Telling her of him... That can never compare. I must strive to compensate for her loss anyway -- in part by being a dependable older male figure in her life. Not a father -- never a father -- but a ... brother, uncle maybe. Children need those."
Heero's voice was just as quiet when he answered, "She never knew him."
"Because I killed him before she could!"
Heero didn't flinch in the face of his anger, but then he never did; his voice stayed perfectly steady. "Then it's more about your feelings toward Treize than your feelings toward Mariemeya."
Wufei stared at Heero, dumbstruck. "...My -- what toward Treize?"
Heero arched an eyebrow. "Guilt is a feeling, isn't it?"
-- Oh. Of course. What had he thought Heero meant? It was a good thing Wufei didn't blush easily. He lifted his cup of tea to his lips, and grimaced when the cold liquid hit his tongue. That was what he got for getting distracted by the conversation.
"If I tell her that, she might believe that our whole relationship is nothing more than an attempt to soothe my guilt, though." And it wasn't -- he enjoyed their long historical talks or the triumphant smiles she gave him when managing a new kata without stumbling, enjoyed being around her more than he'd ever thought he would enjoy being around a child -- or, well, a teenager now -- but it wasn't romantic, would never be romantic, and the idea felt, in fact, slightly incestuous to him.
But if he told her that, she'd probably retort that he was an only child, so what did he know about incest. And he really, really wanted to turn around and check whether anyone was listening in on the conversation, but surely Yuy would signal him if that happened. Bastard and his back to the wall.
"So you have good reasons why not, but explaining them to her would hurt her feelings." Heero leaned back and crossed his arms, contemplative.
"Yes." Wufei massaged the bridge of his nose. "She's a smart girl, but you know how difficult and contrary she can get. I can't possibly find a way to explain that she cannot take as a personal slight, if she puts her mind to it."
"So you need to give her a reason that has nothing to do with her at all. Hm. You haven't gone out with anyone since the war, have you?"
Wufei rolled his eyes. "Are you channeling Sally? I'm busy, Yuy, busy and in no mood to make time for inane chattering with people I don't have anything in common with."
"Hm." Heero gave him a long, sober look that was probably his equivalent of a 'this might hurt, please don't take umbrage' caveat. "Does this have anything to do with your wife? Mariemeya would probably accept that."
"... Hah." Wufei couldn't help a small, rueful smile. It did hurt, a bit; he tried not to dwell on it. Heero's obvious awareness of the old wound helped; he wasn't gentle with people's feelings very often. "Mostly insofar as it's rare to find people with Nataku's fire and her sense of right and wrong."
"Of which Mariemeya is one," Yuy commented pseudo-innocently.
Wufei's eyes narrowed. "That's it. Meet me tomorrow evening at seven at the gym."
Heero smirked faintly at him; Wufei gave him a threatening glare, that he couldn't keep up. Heero really was annoying when he put his mind to it, but Wufei had to admit, he was glad to have him around. ...Sometimes. Somewhat. Bastard.
"So you have no objection to dating other people."
Apart from his own high standards, no, not any objection that would stand a Sally-class counter-examination. He switched tracks. "I can't tell her she doesn't meet my requirements."
"But you could tell her you're already dating someone else."
Heero looked so matter-of-fact; Wufei almost forgot to be offended. Almost. "Are you suggesting I lie to her?"
He didn't have words for how abhorrent the idea was. Heero paused, tilted his head as if he were considering it. Taking a sip, Wufei watched him, eyes narrowed, just waiting for him to dare agree.
"Tell her you're dating me."
Wufei almost spat his tea on the files. "What?"
"We've been meeting for more or less social purposes for a while now. I'm sure some people would count them as dates."
Wufei stared at him, and almost sagged in relief when he caught the glint in Heero's eyes, like a smirk that wasn't allowed to reach his mouth.
Heero's sense of humor was completely twisted. "Oh, great idea," Wufei retorted, only a second too late for a natural comeback; Heero's lips quirked up smugly. "You are of course right; all those walks on the beach and long talks by the fire, nothing happened that was different from a real date." Wufei paused. "Save for the lack of anything remotely intimate or romantic. Ever."
Heero tapped his chin with his fingers, giving the perfect appearance of being deep in thought.
And then he shrugged, leaned forward, and pressed his lips against Wufei's in a quick, entirely casual dry kiss. Every single cell of Wufei's brain crashed and burned.
"Now it's not a lie anymore." Heero sat back, and picked up his coffee to finish it.
Crunch. Wufei unclenched his fingers from their tight grasp on his ex-cup and blotted cold tea off his lap, mind whirling, unable to do anything but stare in disbelief as Yuy took sip after sip.
What the hell?
"Did you just ... Kiss me?"
Heero shrugged, indifferent save from the devilish glint in his eyes. "That makes our meetings dates, technically, so you're not lying. You're safe from the jailbait."
Wufei kept staring. Heero couldn't mean that, could he? It was probably a joke -- he'd done worse, Wufei just knew he was behind Cadet Jenson's bothersome cellphone ending up serenading the newbies from the very tall, very unclimbable radar tower, there was just no one else, and there had been other times...
Wufei just could see his face, too, using his supposed social cluelessness like a weapon. 'I just provided you with a way out of your little dilemma, Chang. Who cares?' And he'd arch an eyebrow like he didn't know what the fuss was about and wasn't too impressed with Wufei's reaction either way. Argh.
Unless he was testing the waters, and then -- argh. Augh. Urrgh. Gah. Where were his words? Wufei couldn't find any, not even to tell himself what the hell he was thinking right now.
Heero picked up his backpack and slung one of the straps over his shoulder, and looked at him as if nothing abnormal had ever happened. "Still on for that spar tomorrow?"
Wufei stared at Heero. Heero just tilted his head patiently, all calm blue eyes and floppy bangs and utter ordinary-ness.
Wufei threw up his hands. "Oh, fine." He wasn't sure what he was agreeing to; fine, I'll meet you or fine, I'll pretend-date you. Thinking wasn't working right now. But if Yuy wanted to give him occasions to beat him up... "Since you're so smart, what do I say when she asks me why I didn't tell her I've suddenly become gay?"
"The truth." Heero allowed that smirk to bloom. "You're not gay; I'm just that good."
Wufei lunged over the table; but Heero dodged his swipe with irritating ease, escaping into the crowd, and strolled away without turning back.
Cocky bastard. Wufei was going to hurt him tomorrow.