Once his decision was made, Duo didn't feel like waiting on the local shuttle companies for a commercial flight that'd accommodate a bondwolf. Blahblah proof of up-to-date vaccinations blahblah what do you mean you're not registered with a military or law agency blahblah I'm sure it can fit in a normal Doberman cage in the luggage hold with the other pets oh what do you mean no it won't well in that case we might have enough space sometime by the end of next week and no need to be rude.
Luckily that same day a Sweeper salvage ship was leaving for the Moon; he knew none of the crew personally, but gossip was a hard currency amongst spacers, and they had a berth for him and Killer for nothing but some manual labor and a few war stories.
Also Killer didn't have to travel in a box. Always a plus.
Duo had only bothered to shoot Une a quick "coming down" email before they left, with no flight information, and they wasted a half-day exploring the Serenity park and its weird moon rocks and moss, and enjoying the low gravity -- nothing Killer liked better than doing a triple somersault for virtually no reason, the weirdo -- before hopping on another decidedly not commercial ship. Which was why it was a bit surprising to leave the docks, throwing a last hand/tail wave combo at the crew, and then to turn around and see Wufei Chang waiting for them in his nice Preventer uniform.
He hadn't gotten much taller since the last time they'd met, the poor bastard, though his shoulders had widened minutely. He still wore his hair in a ponytail so tight it probably accounted for two third of his tension headaches -- heck, it gave Duo a tension headache just looking at him. He still had that cynical look on his face, black eyes half-lidded in a permanent expression of unsurprised contempt, a downward quirk on thin, pinched lips.
He also had the biggest bondwolf Duo had ever been acquainted with sitting right beside him, cream and rust-red and black in vivid patterns and a mane like a lion.
Two years later they still didn't seem to fit.
"... Did you give him a perm so his fur would fluff out? He looks all shampooed up."
"He likes to run through car washes," Wufei shot back, deadpan. Duo choked on a startled laugh.
The wolves were looking at each other, Killer with his head low and his ears tilted doubtfully back, but already inching before Duo like he might need to protect him, the other wolf sitting regal with his feet perfectly placed, maybe a little curious behind the calm.
New one. Greeting. Almost words, wrapped up in a sense of patience, something Duo might translate as 'I have no desire to fight you, though if you start it I have no issue with finishing it.'
Killer lifted the undertone from his mind and his ruff started prickling up, his tail stiffened. He didn't growl; he never did, when he meant it. Duo caught a fistful of fur and gave a tug. No fighting. Spaceport. Nobody's turf.
Wufei's left eyebrow arched pointedly. "Friendly."
"Oh, shut up." Duo had to breathe in and out, shed his wolf's unease and irritation, that itch to know where they stood, if the not-quite-stranger was an enemy or an alpha or an inferior to protect or what. He didn't want to start arguing with Wufei, they had enough potential issues that might blow up at the merest wrong touch and Duo really wanted to let sleeping wolves lie.
Even though it still stuck in his throat that the last time he'd been on the same battlefield as Wufei they'd been on opposite sides of it.
No. Just -- no, no. He was being stupid. A stupid puppy. Grown up now.
Duo was grown up too, damn it. He could totally be the bigger man.
Okay. Deep breath. Step forward. Offer hand. "Hey, oh-five."
He was greeted by silence, for a second, two, and then the red and black wolf tilted his head to look up at Wufei and Wufei nodded a slow, deep-in-thought nod and took his hand. "Hey, oh-two."
Shake. Duo couldn't help but fling him a smirk; hah, the iceman unbent! kind of thought.
Iceman used to be (corditenitroglycerineblood) Yuy, I seem to remember.
And now Wufei was smirking back, thin and mocking, playful like a tiger would be -- run or fight you'd end up savaged either way, but at least the tiger would have fun. "You're broadcasting."
"Aw, shut up. I'm not! It's not like I -- how the fuck does it even work?"
Wufei shrugged. "Killer speaks to Glenfiddich, who speaks to me?"
Duo transferred his glare on his brother. Killer flipped an ear back in annoyance. Not! Not talking. The red and black wolf snorted; it sounded like one of Wufei's snorts, not out of any need to sneeze, just a need to underline his incredulous amusement.
"You've been Killer's brother longer than I've been Glenfiddich's. You should know this." Concern came through before he could get offended, and Wufei's eyes, sober for once, not mocking or distant. Duo breathed out and tried to loosen the muscles in his shoulders without being too obvious about it.
"Yeah, well, not like there's a big pack up there to chat with." He sighed, looked at Glenfiddich straight on. His markings were really sharply delimited, more like a German Shepherd's black saddle than a wolf's more blurred coat, but then again Killer did have some facial markings that came out a bit Husky at the edges. He supposed that was what came out of centuries of semi-controlled breeding. He offered his hand, palm up, shushing Killer's unease, ignoring the way he pushed his muzzle close so he could counter-bite if Glenfiddich made a wrong move. "Hey, Glen. Nice to meet you properly."
The scent of alcohol filled his nose, sharp and smooth, and hints of some big Earth animal -- exhaustion-sweat through fur -- over snow. "Stag," Wufei said, and then rolled his eyes a bit. "Stag and whisky. His official name is 'Evening at a Hunting Lodge on the Last Day of Deer Season'."
Duo cracked up. Just pure and simple cracked up, folding in two as he choked on uncontrollable giggles. He knew Killer was head-tilting at him in confusion (the fuck were those mouth-noises so funny), and he knew the rare people who had any reason to pass by -- mostly spaceport employees carrying things around -- were just plain stopping by to stare at the tableau, but he -- the way Wufei had rolled his eyes as he recited it, and the name, oh god, the name.
"Ah, phew, sorry. It's just -- so snooty." He spared the wolf a half-apologizing, half-laughing look. "The scent's fine, Glen, it's just -- official name? I thought that was Glenfiddich?"
"Glenfiddich is his call name. His registration name is a transcript of his scent name. Between you and me, he'll make me an alcoholic before I'm even old enough to drink." Wufei gave his brother a narrow-eyed, half-serious glare. Glenfiddich lolled his tongue. Alright, so dogs and wild wolves might not but bondwolves definitely laughed that way too; Duo made note, and let go of that particular little niggling worry.
Old yellowing paper and mineral oil, Glen offered, Wufei's scent name, and Killer grudgingly replied with Duo's own ozone and burnt wires from a sparking engine.
In wordless agreement Wufei turned on his heel to go and Duo fell into step with him, the men side by side and their brothers flanking them on the outside -- and rarely used corridors or not it was crazy how much that cleared the way.
"I take it Killer doesn't have a registration name?"
"He's not even registered. Shit, what'd his name oughta be? Broken-down car abandoned on the street in a colony with shitty climate control?"
"I don't even have his -- oh. Thank you, Killer." Wufei shook his head a bit, as if that could clear his nose of hot asphalt and rust on steel.
"Yeah, sorry, he's loud. Had to push kinda hard for Hilde to hear him."
"No matter." Wufei kept striding ahead; he checked his watch and the cynical humor fell away, replaced by distant professionalism. Duo stuck his hands in his pockets and slouched, strangely disappointed. "He'll learn to modulate. Une's waiting for us."
The Preventers building was pretty new. Duo supposed the war had made sure a lot of old fussy edifices in Brussels were leveled; left a lot of space to build right in the center of town. There was an office tower, pointy and vaguely Eiffel-ish in shape, if much shorter, and a low complex spreading all over the block behind it; gymnasium, shooting range, motor pool, and probably training grounds or whatever else out of sight behind the buildings.
The receptionist didn't look twice as Killer went sniffing all around the lobby with almost frenzied interest. Duo's attempt to get issued a visitor badge kept getting interrupted with blood! bitch wolf scent! another bitch wolf scent! spiciest curry! yummiest donut I want a donut now! male and old male and new male and cubs! Wufei and Glenfiddich waited nearby for him to be done, watching Duo's brother zoom by and probably laughing themselves breathless behind their bland lying faces.
"Okay, if you're done with the three-rings circus, buddy, we're going this way."
Killer let Duo clip a visitor ID collar on him with barely a flicker of puzzlement, but his enthusiasm took a nosedive when they crossed through the security gates. There were glass doors to go through and it was like suddenly they were in enemy territory; he had to check out the hospital-sized elevator before he let Duo in it, and even then he was tense, head low and walking all slinky.
... wolves there.
Uh. Wolves outside too. Duo didn't get it. He'd certainly been bombarded with enough distinct scents to be aware of it. A dozen must have gone through the lobby in the last month only.
... passing through. Not territory.
Oh. And from here on it's their territory.
Killer pressed against his side, responding only with a sense of unease and trapped. Duo slung his arm over his brother's shoulders and scritched his flank.
Mission ? In-fil-tration?
He sounded hopeful, too, like storming through an enemy base stealing intel and ammo and leaving bombs and dead officers in exchange was more comfortable than coming in all polite to meet the locals properly. Oh god no, it's not a mission, you are not coming out of the elevator like a murderjack-in-the-box.
Glen stretched his neck before Wufei, sniffed at Killer's nose, making a questioning sort of whine-bark noise. Killer's ears went flat and his golden-brown stare cold, direct. Measuring. He'd probably learned it from Duo; it wasn't a challenge, per se, the way it should have been. It was... colder, more calculating than that. Killing mindset, all locked up. Duo tightened his hold on his brother's ruff. "Killer. No."
"Glenfiddich can't feel him in the pack sense." Wufei frowned, eyeing the two wolves. "What's the problem?"
The elevator went ding before Duo could answer. He braced himself, blocked Killer's way with a knee before his chest; not like it'd stop the wolf if he put any more weight in it. "So. Er. How far is it to Une's?"
Wufei hadn't become a Gundam pilot by being slow-witted. "... I'll lead the way and make sure people stay in their offices."
He slipped out of the elevator, immediately went against a wall so he wouldn't be in Killer's way, so Killer wouldn't feel trapped. Duo allowed his brother to drag him out.
Of course he went the wrong way, yanking Duo to an office door three doors down and sniffing stealthily at the bottom of it. Behind it Duo could hear a curious whine. Aw fuck.
"Lambert, Razor, stay in," Wufei said from way behind them -- normal speaking voice, like the man would hear him fine through the wood... oh.
It was real weird to think of Wufei Chang, loner extraordinaire, as hooked into any pack mind. Duo wondered if he'd only bothered to speak aloud so Duo could tell he had. ... Or maybe it was just that the wolf inside could hear the words and relay them to his brother.
Great first impression. Just great. His irritation and embarrassment slipped through; Killer flinched.
You are not fighting any wolf or human here. Not any. Now just trust me already!
Killer's ears flattened down. Trust! was shoved back at him, wounded and absolute, only there was still an edge of unsafe, enemy, notmine, and... fuck, but he'd been trained for that just as long as Duo had. Duo'd been thinking in the back of his head, where he thought Killer wouldn't know, about how most of those guys used to be Specials or OZ or even Romafeller.
Wolves could lie mind to mind, but they rarely saw the need, not strongly enough to become proficient at it, and if Duo himself hated lying he wasn't going to teach his brother how to, beside; whenever Duo had any infiltration mission that needed him to pass amongst wolves he went alone, without his brother. When Killer met any other wolves on their own turf it was usually to kill them.
He was really good at it.
Summer breeze through the city, Duo pushed at him, hard, and bird up in a tree.
Where? Killer returned, looking around like just maybe they'd be turning the corner in a second. Wincing, Duo pulled on his ruff a bit to get him to follow. After a long second of deliberation Killer allowed it to move him, though he gave the closed door and its stranger-wolf smells a long, wary look.
No, not here, just... You got along with them. Didn't fight. Friends. It was good, wasn't it? He knew the difference, though; they'd been allies' brothers and they hadn't met on each other's turf to start with, and there hadn't been so many of them that Killer felt surrounded. Friends here too. It'll be good. Promise.
Side by side if not quite touching, Wufei and Glen were holding up the wall a couple doors down and not-staring at them in a way that was so deliberate it had Duo twitching. Godfuckingdamnit, of all the people Duo didn't want to...
...hell is going on? came from a voice he didn't know, and Just stay inside for fuck's sake and The Fuzz says and a mess of other thoughts, impressions, who? notpack hostile wary dangerous who' sdominant? and smells and flashes of vision, a jumble of offices seen from the carpet and a training room and the sidewalk zooming underneath at a trot and, oh, god.
And they were alone again. Killer had gone stiff and his fur was up from ruff to tail-tip.
"... Okay. Une. Now." Only he was starting to really wonder if she'd still want the both of them, if she wasn't going to take one look at them and put back that phone he'd heard ringing in her office a couple seconds ago and just say never mind, no, go.
Wolves everywhere, Killer told him, and pressed hard against his side, like he was still small enough to hide his head under his arm.
Trust, Killer said, and then, quietly, Scared.
Glen exchanged a look with Wufei, and then went at a trot to the other end of the corridor, the nice important door with the golden plaque on it, manipulated the handle with an experienced twist of his jaws. Wufei held his hands behind his back, casual and relaxed, and waited to see which side Killer would decide he got to walk on, Killer's or Duo's, before he fell into step with them. (Killer chose to let Duo have him, which had Duo's fingers scritch sadly behind his ear; it was rare when his brother needed to be protected more than he needed to do the protecting.)
Duo expected Wufei to make a remark all the way down to Une's office, only he never did.
He let Wufei walk in first, (safe-ally-recon), and then he followed. Killer slinked in last, and then Duo closed the door, safe from attacks from behind.
"Agent Chang, what -- ah, Mister Maxwell. Killer. It's always a pleasure to see you."
Yeah, right. Hah.
Une was of course seated behind a big important desk with a huge wall-to-wall window at her back that had Duo's shoulders tight with the thought of snipers, even if there was no doubt the glass was a dozen inches thick and reinforced beside and all viewpoints monitored. Smooth shiny loose hair, neat pantsuit, screaming professional-but-not-military down to her polished fingertips -- only she wasn't seated with perfect poise to match her dry greeting, she had Glen's heavy head on her shoulder and was wrist-deep in his fur, giving his neck practiced scritchies. When Wufei came to a stop before her desk she slowly let her hands fall; the look they traded was... weird, just weird.
Sword oil and crushed rose petals, Killer shared cautiously, confused, and it wasn't the name of anyone in the room but it was so present Duo could almost smell it himself. He could swear he used to know who...
Must be awkward to see your old commander's brother attached to the guy who killed him.
Rather, yes, came Wufei's response, sharp but tired, worn.
(Wufei at fifteen and barely awake, having crashed for twelve hours after the last battle and yet looking even more exhausted than before he'd gone to bed somehow, wiry muscles in sharp relief from constant exercise and too little food and tight with anger, black eyes burning as the Treize Faction representatives tried to stare him down, appalled at his hand clutching white-knuckled at rust-red fur. 'He chose me,' was all he'd said, and Duo had wrapped both his arms around Killer's neck to make sure he didn't jump out of the shadows of the gangway overhead because he didn't know who his brother would savage, the strangers come to take back a corpse or the wolf stealing one of Duo's almost-pack.)
It's not your fault that grandstanding bastard used you to commit suicide!, Duo tried to send back, but he wasn't sure how or whether Killer was relaying and Wufei's expression didn't shift any way that might have shown he'd heard.
Aw, hell. Whatever. Later. "Milady. Hey. Nice digs."
"Thank you," Une replied, deadpan, eyebrows faintly raised.
Une's scent name, Glen politely reminded them, was marble in shadows where blood has dried. Cheerful.
"Thank you, Agent Chang. If you could...?"
"I'll get him settled in one of the dormitories. Come on, Glenfiddich."
They left. Duo felt strangely bereft. On one side of the desk, a hellbeast with all-devouring teeth and claws. On the other side, Duo and his poor bondpuppy. It was crazy how short on backup he felt.
Killer nipped him. Duo bit back a smile.
"Sit down, please." He sat. "You might want to start with whatever happened out there."
Aw, hell. Straight away with the hard questions. Then again it kind of was a potential dealbreaker, so. Okay, maturity and honesty, he could do that. "Kinda went into hostile territory mode." He sighed, raked his hand through his bangs. (Huh, time for a trim, he could stick them behind his ears.) "He's just not used to so many wolves at once. Or so many people, for that matter."
"Hm." Une was frowning, tapping on her lip thoughtfully as she watched his brother, who'd gotten bored with the discussion already and was wandering around the room tracking things. "Lack of proper socialization. In your opinion, is that something that can be remedied?" She speared him with a penetrating look. "Without any serious injury?"
"If I say no?" Duo retorted, scowling back. Couldn't fault her, but after all the harassment she'd subjected him to --
"I refer you to a trainer of my acquaintance. Off campus, as it were." And then seeing his face she smiled thinly. "Did you think I would let go of the chance to have another Gundam Pilot in my employ so easily?"
Duo huffed his exasperation and relaxed in his chair. "How many of those do you have, by the way? Anywhere close to a complete set?"
"Alas, Mister Winner is quite busy with his... little business," Duo snorted, "and as for Mister Yuy's whereabouts..."
The look she sent him next was clear, a little softer, a little chagrined. She'd been hoping he knew.
It pinched a bit, because he'd been hoping she would, too. She was the one with the spy network. He was the one Heero didn't consider a close enough friend to keep in touch with.
No, that wasn't quite fair; as far as Duo knew Heero hadn't kept in touch with any of the other pilots, anyone from the war. Maybe Relena would know, wasn't she his almost-girlfriend or something? but it wasn't like Duo was close enough friends with her to ask. Also she was kind of Vice-Foreign Minister by now, he seriously doubted a random message from some wretched has-been war vet on L2 would make it through her secretary.
It was really weird to think of where the people he used to know had ended up.
"... But you've got Trowa?"
"Mister Barton is currently on assignment, but yes, he and his brother are part of the Preventers."
Duo almost smiled, lips twitching. He could tell she could tell, she didn't hide her own.
Ozone and burnt wires and sparking engine?
Trowa and Coyote, man! Been a while, huh.
Killer smacked him in the face with a tangle of scents that felt almost excited, if scents could have feelings. As always, it was hard to untangle Trowa's name from his brother's. Duo just wasn't good with trees; it all smelled foresty to him. He was a city brat! He just knew one of them had a pine tree -- Trowa -- and his brother had some kind of bird along with his own not-pine tree.
... But anyway. "So. Sales pitch?"
"Do I need to give you one? You're aware of the salary I would pay you, and the other, ah, less tangible advantages."
Killer was chewing on one of her houseplants when she glanced at him to make a point.
"...Like proper housebreaking," she continued dryly. Duo's cheeks started burning.
"Okay fine. Lodgings?"
"All new agents are housed on base for a duration of a year. Mandatory. After that time period they can request to stay on base or move out. Agent Chang will show you around. I've heard it said most find it satisfactory."
Duo could guess from her expression that she would waive it for him only if Killer started leaving chewed-up trainee tidbits on the carpet. And again, maybe not even then. Whatever, Killer did need to socialize and Duo had never really cared where he slept so long as it was out of the rain and (luxury of luxuries!) not on a hard surface.
They went into other tedious things like vacation time and available union affiliation that he didn't give a shit about. Killer had wandered off to another plant. He seemed to be looking for the best one to purge with. Goddamnit. Stop that. Come here.
Yeah, me too, but stop eating her plants, she'll pitch you through the window one-handed, I swear to God.
Killer was probably as heavy as her massive oak desk. He eyed the woman dubiously, and slinked his way to Duo's chair.
"Okay. All well and good. Mm, that delicious legalese. What would we actually do?"
She leaned forward, hands crossed before her chin, spearing him with her eyes. "It does depend greatly on whether you've retained the skills that used to make the five of you such a force to be reckoned with."
Duo stiffened in offense.
"Which we will know at the end of the mandatory month of training with the other new recruits. Which you will not try to wiggle out of. Three other new agents in this batch have brothers of their own. Killer will integrate faster with them than with long-established pack dynamics."
Goddamn, but that wolfless woman read minds better than most wolf-brothers would have.
"I don't plan on giving you the run of the mill missions, Oh-two."
His immediate reaction to her quiet, intense voice was embarrassing. Mostly just oh yes please, and a reaction near physical to the thought of the adrenaline highs waiting for him. Killer had looked up, eyes gleaming, expectant.
Not yet, he had to say, reluctantly.
Oh please, make it soon.
It was then that he fully accepted that the Devil Witch-Woman from OZ had him by the short hairs, and perfectly knew it. She didn't even need to ask before getting out the paperwork and sliding it across the desk for him to fill.
"Agent Chang will explain the details to you. Welcome to the Preventers, Trainee Maxwell Killersbrother."
[Prologue] [Chapter 2]