Part Eighteen: War Wounds, Part II
Wufei sat in the chair he'd bummed from the nurses' station, the beep of monitors punctuating his thoughts. In theory he wasn't allowed in post-ops, but after his help in the operating theater, he thought Helzman had warned the rest of the staff that both young men were something of a special case, and that, for the health of everyone concerned, Wufei should be allowed to do as he wished. As a result, he and Heero were as far away from the other patients as could be, stuck in a corner of the big recovery room, with a curtain half-drawn and the nurses with strict orders to leave them alone until summoned.
He knew the instant Heero came to, though his partner did not move and the monitors didn't get very excited about the fact. Wufei stood up and approached the bed with the caution required.
"Yuy? It's me, Chang. You're safe."
Heero was still for a few seconds, then he opened his eyes.
"Don't get agitated." The monitors beeped slowly and reprovingly at Wufei for making such a rash assumption about Heero's emotional state. Right. "You just got out of the operating theater - and you're wide awake a whole hour before they thought you would be, naturally. There wasn't-"
Heero had been staring at the ceiling, but suddenly he twisted sideways, away from Wufei.
Heero reached with practiced hand towards the monitor, unclipped a few wires - the ones connecting its alarm to the nurses' station - then -
"Goddamn it Yuy don't-"
Wufei tried to interfere but he couldn't grab his injured partner and he couldn't quite reach the busy hands. The monitor recording air pressure and oxygenation data from the tube in Heero's throat gave an odd chuckle and then switched off.
"Yuy! You need that to-"
Heero had already pulled the tube out of his throat with a wrenching cough.
"Damn it! You-... fool! You'll rip your vocal cords out! You need that to breathe-"
Heero coughed and rasped, but the hand gesture was imperious as it flicked towards the respirator hooked to the oxygen outlet in the wall. Wufei gave him a glare that bounced right off hard blue eyes.
"Very well, sir!" Wufei snarled, jerking the mask from the wall and slipping it over his partner's head after checking the flow. "Anything else I can do for you? Sponge bath, maybe?"
Heero adjusted the strap on the mask, coughed some more. His mouth was gummy with dried blood. The look he gave Wufei was more than eloquent though. Try it and I'll break every bone in your wrist and maybe a few in your arm too.
"Oh you're going to be a joy to nurse back to health. I wish much happiness and fortune to our staff back in the Brussels clinic." Wufei growled. But he couldn't help a flicker of relief.
"When." Heero rasped, voice muffled by the mask.
"When? You'll be evacuated back to HQ as soon as you're stable."
"Yes, I know, but the staff here aren't used to dealing with stubborn, indestructible hard-asses like you and will require a little more convincing. I expect they'll be glad to get rid of you sometime tomorrow, or possibly the next day."
"You said... Relena-"
"Safe and back in Sanq by now. Sam said she's been calling everyone from Une to the President of ESUN to be allowed to fly back here and sit around and hold your hand but-"
"In charge of the investigation. Yuy, you really shouldn't be talking this much. They patched up your lung but you had quite a lot of damage -"
"Can move arms and legs but -" cough " - mobility compromised."
Wufei sighed. "Relax. And don't worry. There's still some swelling around your spinal cord but they put in a shunt to reduce fluid buildup. No permanent damage, they think. And I know you're off the chart when it comes to healing anyway."
"You know, if you don't shut up and rest, I'll just leave."
Heero gave him a look. No you won't. Wufei ground his teeth.
"One got away, with the help of an accomplice. Three dead, one critical, one caught trying to get out of the hotel and in custody. We have some IDs. Two were local to Berlin, one of whom was a bona fide waiter at the Maxims." The one Wufei had killed in the mezzanine. "The other was a fake; he was the one holding Relena. Ex-OZ apparently. We think they were helped by others on the hotel staff, otherwise somebody would surely have noticed an addition to the roster. Plus someone put a loop on the cameras, and there was a false alarm that distracted some of the teams downstairs... Sam is heading interrogations. We're assuming the 'waiters' smuggled in weapons before the conference started. We're still not sure-"
Where's the other one?!
We're still at war, motherfucker!
"We're still not sure what they wanted. They had exits planned and getaway vehicles but... some of them weren't really expecting to get out of there alive."
Heero stared at him but didn't ask any further questions. His breathing was still harsh, and lines of pain were starting to draw themselves around his eyes and mouth.
"Want... evac... now... "
"This place is okay. I'll keep watch. They're letting me call the shots now, after you nearly knocked their anesthesiologist on her ass while supposedly sedated." Heero's eyes were glazed but still twitching left and right. "I should get the doctor in here to check you, and keep him from flipping out when he realizes you've extubated yourself. I'll try to keep the nursing staff around you to a minimum."
Heero tried to speak but it came out in a rasp and he licked his lips. "They... make... " His voice faded to nothing but Wufei read the words. 'make... you... leave... '
"I'm staying right here."
Heero's lips moved again. ' ...you... '
"Don't worry about it. Just get some rest. I'll go get the doctor."
Wufei watched him as Heero's eyes closed and his body relaxed. Passed out again. He stayed by the bed, staring at the blood gumming Heero's lips beneath the mask. Then he looked around. Part of him was looking for Helzman or a nurse. The rest was just... looking. At the three other patients in the big recovery room; at the nurses quietly moving among them. At family members on the other side of the glass window, with only thoughts of their loved ones pulling through on their minds. At people moving around the hospital, trying to heal and get on with their lives.
In his mind's eyes, he could see someone pulling a gun out and bringing all of this crashing down around their ears with one wayward shot.
'We're still at war'... screams... blood and overturned tables... the bend of Relena's neck, the gun against her temple... can't shoot without hitting her... the mission... helpless... still at war...
Wufei reached for the wall-phone nearby without really looking, punched a number.
"Operator? I need to be patched through to Preventer HQ here in Berlin. Chang Wufei, I'm in post-ops. That's right. Hello? This is Agent Chang, 342PID, Brussels. Can you patch this line through to a number I give you? It's a colony number. Yes, I'll hold, but hurry please."
Night was falling. Heero was in a private room, his vital statistics having remained so disgustingly stable the staff really had no excuse to keep him in ICU. Wufei was looking out the room's window at the lights coming on in the small green area surrounding the hospital. His arms were crossed on his chest and his fingers were tapping his biceps in a slow beat.
A sound from the bed made him turn. Heero stirred, then froze as pain woke up with him.
"I'm here." Wufei said as blue eyes, now more focused, flashed around the room.
"Hn." Heero coughed and frowned, shifting his oxygen mask.
"Want a drink? Nurses said you could have one when you came to."
He handed Heero a cup with a straw attachment when his partner nodded. Heero took a small sip and swished it around his mouth before swallowing with a grimace. He shook his head at the tube Wufei held up again; that small lag in his breathing had left him panting. Wufei put down the cup and picked up the papers clipped to a chart he'd set on the bedside table.
"Here. Sign this. Right of attorney for medical decisions." Wufei slipped the papers and a pen in Heero's hands, noting the grip was firm and steady.
Heero tried to focus on the page in the dim light shining on his monitors.
" ...didn't we already do this?" he rasped, "I thought I signed my release to you before-"
"You did. This is mine." Wufei leaned over and switched on the reading lamp.
Heero looked at the paper blankly. Wufei thought he knew how his partner felt; he'd been staring at the cream-colored hospital wall near Heero's bed with much the same dazed expression all afternoon.
"I never thought we'd need... " Heero's voice was a faint whisper.
"What, you thought I'd shoot you to keep you from falling into enemy hands?" Wufei asked, his voice more biting than he intended. "Despite what some may think... the war is over. We might actually make it to our majority. It came as a shock to me too." Wufei added in a mutter. It had. The biggest shock, the reason he was being sarcastic and cold right now, was the thought, every time he had looked at Heero's unconscious face today, that he might actually live to see the ripe old age of, say, thirty... alone. Though Une rather expected them to come back from their missions alive, their jobs were still dangerous.
The thought of being alone had never frightened him before; they had expected to die during the war, and the first to leave would not have had long to wait at the Gates of Hell for the others to show up. Death had been such a constant, such a certitude; almost reassuring. The Peace hadn't changed that; Death clung to their every thought like scar tissue. It was why they could fill in a Next of Kin box but not think of a medical release... Wufei chased the thought from his mind bitterly. They'd been abruptly forced to move past that this morning, with a bullet that had missed propelling them into a future they might actually live to see. Oh he knew that Death still dogged them - he'd filled in his own Next Of Kin card earlier that day, listening to its recipient's ragged breathing and the beep of monitors. But Death had spared them till now, amazingly enough. They shouldn't be counting on it. Especially if it could be avoided, thanks to some stupid paperwork or other.
We're still at war...
No, we're not. It's time to stop thinking like we were. It's time to start looking out for little details like this.
Wufei didn't fear his death, but he didn't like the idea of living while losing his rival/partner, losing the edge that made life still worth living... losing one of the few people who could understand that. From the look in Heero's eyes, in that one unguarded moment, he wasn't relishing the thought either. Though they were both uneasy with the concept of being each other's only family, the alternative was ugly enough to accept it without further posturing. This was also a necessary arrangement.
"We're idiots." Wufei said, breaking the moment as Heero handed him the signed paper. "We should have thought of this before. Here, sign this one too, it's a cleaned up version of the one you signed this morning. Without the illegible scrawl and the bloodstains. I'll have these notarized and put into the Spacenet database and Preventer files, we'll be covered in both Earth and Space from now on." He scribbled his own signature on the forms and put them away carefully.
Heero nodded as he sank back into the cushion. He was frowning, his eyes on the ceiling. Then they twitched towards Wufei's.
"Chang... what happened? How did he miss me? You couldn't shoot him with Relena in the way. The hostages-"
"There was interference." Wufei said as smoothly as possible. "It gave me the opportunity for a-"
Blue eyes narrowed. "What. Happened."
Wufei winced. So much for evasion. "Yuy, you're recovering from severe trauma, you should-" Heero's glare had been unaffected by the lung injury. Wufei was immune by now but he knew Heero would not let it rest. " ...Relena managed to throw off his aim."
"Throw... his aim?"
Wufei rolled his eyes. "She dropped her weight on his weapon arm."
The deep indrawn breath whistled through Heero's lips and mask. "She... what?!"
"What-... suicidal-... foolish-"
"Breathe, Yuy. Calm down, it's over. It was instinct."
"I'll give her-... instinct!"
"She's back in Sanq-"
"Next time-... I see-"
"Yuy, she saved your life. I don't know much about women but I think you owe her dinner rather than a verbal thrashing."
Heero sagged back against the cushion, pale and visibly exhausted. "My life-... Mission-... She-... could-... have gotten... "
"I know. But she didn't. And it gave me the opportunity for a headshot. We got her and all the other VIPs out safely." Mission accomplished.
"Hn. When can you get me... out of here?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, or the day after tomorrow."
"Why not now...? Stable... "
"The hospital won't release you. Anyway, Yuy... there's something-"
Wufei turned towards the door. A doctor he didn't know was leaning in.
"You shouldn't be in here. It's past visiting hours."
"Doctor Mund gave me permission."
"But we're going to night shift." The doctor, Orwill according to his tag, came in and closed the door. "You've been here since this morning. And you're covered in blood as well! It's hardly hygienic for the patient."
Wufei frowned at his stiffened uniform. He'd discarded the flak jacket but some of the blood had leaked through. "A friend was going to bring me a spare, but he forgot, he's been busy... Can I shower and change into scrubs?"
"No!" The doctor snapped. "You should go home and rest, anyway. Were you planning on staying here all night?"
"Yes, actually." Wufei said coolly.
"Out of the question, especially in that state. The patient needs to sleep." Orwill crossed his arms on his chest. "I must insist you leave. Herr General Direktor Mund did not give you permission to be here on a permanent basis."
Wufei hesitated. He'd rather thought the hospital's director had, but since the man had probably gone home by now, he couldn't confirm it... He looked at the doctor carefully. The man stared back, hostile and resolute Wufei glanced down at Heero, catching a vulnerable flicker in the blue before the mask settled once more. The body beneath the sheet was tense. Wufei would have liked a bit more time to talk things over with him, reassure him.
"Very well." Wufei said slowly. "Give me a minute."
He waited but Orwill didn't look ready to leave. Wufei turned back towards the bed, angled his body and leaned towards Heero slightly. "I have to go, Yuy. There's something I have to do anyway."
Heero nodded. His body language was uneasy, even though it was almost trembling from the remnants of shock, anesthesia and exhaustion. He looked tired but not at all ready to let go and rest in such an unsecured location, and Wufei knew he'd be the same if the positions were reversed. The war was over but old habits died even harder than Gundam pilots.
"I'll come back tomorrow morning." Wufei said, leaning and practically sitting on the bed. "The staff here are quite efficient and there is a security system and guards." He drew his Luger from its shoulder holster beneath his uniform and slipped it into Heero's hand, the movement masked from the doctor by his body. Blue eyes widened slightly. "Try to get some sleep." Wufei leaned forward as if to pat Heero's shoulder, and helped his partner slip the gun under the pillow, making sure Heero could reach up that far despite the injury to his ribs.
'Security on. Don't shoot nurse.' He mouthed. Heero smirked.
"I'll sleep okay, Chang." Heero replied, shifting his head a bit so it rested partly against hard metal.
"Sure. See you soon."
At ten PM, Doctor Orwill entered the room again. He picked up Heero's chart, flipped through it quickly with his eyes on the monitors beeping slowly, indicating that Heero was deeply asleep. Orwill stood still for a minute, then fumbled the chart back into its holder at the foot of the bed, went to poke his head out the door and nodded.
A man dressed as an intern came in. His brown hair was short and ragged, as if recently cropped but now growing out. His face was hard, thin jaw prominent with clamped teeth, making him look older than his late twenties. "Keep an eye out." He grunted. Orwill hesitated, then cracked the door open an inch to see out in the empty hallway beyond.
The man walked slowly towards the bed, eyes narrowing at the young man's face on the pillow, pale in the darkness of the room. The dim nightlight over the monitors added shadows to the wounded features under the oxygen mask. The man nodded then drew a magnum with a silencer fitted on the end from beneath his hospital coat.
"How do I stop the monitors from going off?" He didn't have to say why they would be going off.
Orwill swallowed, still looking out into the hallway. "I'm not sure. If I switch them off it will show up on the system."
"Hm. Too bad. Get ready to run back to the lounge and look innocent, Edwin. I'll find my own way out." He flicked the security off the gun, stopped near the head of the bed, and brought it to bear slowly, as if savoring the moment. He twisted at the sound behind him, a thump and a muffled choking noise from Orwill.
The muzzle of Wufei's borrowed HK 4 touched him just at the edge between the cheekbone and the eye. "Gun. Down."
The man froze, staring at Wufei and a close-up of the gun in disbelief. Behind Wufei, Orwill choked again, trying to breathe through the punch to his solar plexus.
"How did you-"
The man's lips curled back in a snarl; he stood still, as if daring Wufei to shoot - then his eyes widened and he flinched as he felt the barrel of his silencer butted aside. He spun to see the Luger shoving his gun away. Then it was pointing straight at his head.
"I got it Yuy." Wufei muttered, afraid his partner's fingers would spasm on the trigger. Heero's hand was shaking ever so slightly, though not enough to make the shot any less deadly. Wufei leaned forward and ripped the magnum from the would-be assassin. The man finally moved, tried to wrench away from Wufei's hold, but he wasn't very good at hand to hand; he found himself cuffed, hands behind his back, in fairly short order. Wufei threw him face first against a wall, kicked out the back of his legs to make him kneel, then picked up and cuffed Orwill and dropped him in the same position.
"What-what are you going to do with us?!" Orwill gasped, still breathless.
Wufei didn't answer. He went back to the window. The room was five stories up. Fortunately the hospital had decorative frontispieces at every story that had made the climb fairly easy in the darkness, and he'd broken the window latch earlier, long before he'd been kicked out of the room. He stood silhouetted against the faint light behind him and waved twice.
"Look... I don't know what you think you're doing but you can't just-... I just need to shout for help-... " Orwill's voice was trembling. The other man said nothing.
"Did you hurt anybody to get him in here?" Wufei asked without turning away from the window.
"Wass? N-no! We are not murderers!"
"That's what I thought. Shout and I will hurt you. It would be pretty easy to say that you were resisting arrest. Know what a bullet through the hand or the shoulder would do to your career, doctor?"
Orwill made a choking sound and Wufei went to take up the man's previous position by the door without adding anything.
The sound of woman's heeled shoes clacked in the hallway outside. Orwill moved, then froze as Wufei drew back the hammer of the HK without turning around. Voices echoed from further down the hall, speaking English and German. The hum of air-conditioning, the beep of Heero's monitors... two light quick raps on the door. Wufei pointed the HK at it and knocked on the door with his other hand five times in quick succession.
The door opened and closed swiftly. In the dim light, a small figure moved slowly towards the bound men while holstering another HK in the back of his black jeans. On the bed, Heero's eyes widened as he recognized the new arrival, but he said nothing and the other's eyes stayed fixed on the two kneeling figures.
"Let's do this." Duo grabbed Orwill and spun him around on his knees with deceptive ease. "This the guy?" His voice was low but still pleasant. On the surface.
"No, he's a doctor here, he helped him in. But take his prints too, just to be sure."
"Hmm." A gloved finger lifted Orwill's badge thoughtfully, then drew a small reader from the pocket of the black jacket. Duo pressed several of Orwill's fingers against the glass surface of the reader, bending them roughly against the impairment of the restraints, heedless of the doctor's voiceless protests.
"Okay." He grunted as the reader confirmed the prints' storage. "Next." He grabbed the shooter's hands, still cuffed in the back, to find the man had balled them into fists.
Duo grabbed the man's shoulder and spun him around so violently the intern scrubs ripped at the shoulder seam. The man found himself staring at a dangerous smile.
"Steady, Scythe." Wufei murmured.
"Steady my ass." Duo whispered, the manic grin and the eyes still fixed on Heero's assailant. "We can do this two ways, buddy. The easy way... " wave of the scanner -
" ...or my way." Shinigami concluded, a knife tapping the man on the wrist.
The attacker glared but made up his mind quickly, looking away and relaxing his fingers. Duo sighed in obvious disappointment, his grin as sharp as the knife. A few beeps from the scanner and he stood up again.
"Were there others?" Wufei murmured.
"Yeah." Duo's smiled widened at the suddenly chagrined look from the attacker. "Two more in a car downstairs." Then a look came into his eyes as he fiddled with the blade; a look Wufei hadn't seen much even during the war. "Heavyarms... took care of them. Sorry, Wing, but I've lost the taste for cold-blooded executions now that we're at peace."
Wufei rolled his eyes as a look of horror and hate warred in the man's eyes. "Scythe... "
"Wha-at?" Duo gave him a laboriously innocent look.
"Don't torture the prisoners. Heavyarms only took their prints and shouldn't have harmed them."
"Only because you told us to, Shenlong. Only because you told us to." Duo's smile was feral as he held the man's furious gaze. Then he spun, braid curving into the movement like a snake. "Sandrock has his guys ready, we'll be in touch."
He paused for a second at the foot of the bed. "Take care, buddy." was all he said. Heero nodded painfully but Duo had already turned and was listening at the door. Satisfied, he gave Wufei a thumbs-up and slipped out as silently as nightfall.
Wufei listened at the door for a few minutes, then he turned and grabbed both men by the cuffed hands and heaved them to the small bathroom.
"You'll wait in here." He said, shoving them to the tiles. On second thought, he took a third pair of cuffs from the small bag he'd brought with him on his climb and had dumped in the tub while waiting. He fastened the shooter's cuffs to the sink's stand. Orwill he didn't bother with. "It's not comfortable but I was able to stand it for a couple of hours, I'm sure you'll manage it too."
Door closed on Orwill's whimpered question and the killer's glare, he sat down in the chair next to Heero's bed, leaned back into it, stretched his legs and closed his eyes, settling in for another long wait with the patience born of long hours of meditation.
A few minutes passed, lulled by the slow beep of monitors and a few noises from the night staff outside.
The voice was soft, and sounded thoughtful.
"Why do I have a killer cuffed in my bathroom?"
"Seemed the best place to put him really. Avoid giving the nurse fits if she does a round."
"I still have a gun under my pillow so stop fucking around. Why haven't you called Sam yet? And what are the others up to?"
"There's something we have to deal with. Just rest, okay?"
" ...they were after me from the start." It was an indifferent assertion. "Taking Relena hostage... invading the conference... threatening all those civilians... and it was just to get me."
'Just'? Wufei stared blankly at the ceiling, remembering the flicker of feeling that had made its way even through his warrior's focus as he saw the executioner put the gun against Heero's head. At the time there had only been... shock, a small reflex denial. Despite his habit of trying to self-destruct at regular intervals, Heero seemed so... invulnerable. Wufei had always assumed he'd be the first to die. That was all he'd felt with Heero kneeling on the ground with that gun to his head. The pain had started when Wufei had realized Heero was still alive and that life was a lot less simple than before. That small niggling worry was still with him, unwanted yet strangely a part of him already, and he doubted it would ever leave him; it was part of having a future again. He thought he would get used to it, eventually. He wouldn't let it hamper his performance.
"Don't let your head swell, they were after me too." He murmured, banishing the memory. "You just happened to be the one who walked into the trap first. Luckily for me, since I doubt Relena would have thrown herself on that gun for my sake."
" ...she would have."
" ...she might have." Wufei conceded. "As it is, she was incidental, but handy for us; people will assume they were after her."
Heero grunted and dropped off to sleep with a suddenness that spoke of his exhaustion. Wufei hoped he'd get better soon; it was disconcerting having his partner so weakened.
Several hours passed. Apparently Helzman's instructions were followed because no nurses came in to check on the potentially dangerous patient. Heero slept, breath regular though still slightly labored as it pulled stitches and moved his sore ribcage, now patched together with the best bone sealant modern medicine could provide. Wufei watched the rise and fall of the sheet... a sliver of moon that briefly appear in the window's frame... the hypnotic dance of lines on the monitors...
Heero's bedside phone rang with the effect of a grenade going off. Wufei nearly knocked his chair over and Heero had the Luger out from under the pillow again. They both froze; Wufei trying to assess how awake his partner was before moving again. Heero's eyes were momentarily confused but then he frowned in recognition. They both started as the phone rang again. Wufei, reasonably certain he wouldn't get shot now - I knew it was a bad idea to leave him a gun - went to pick it up before a nurse could wonder why a phone was ringing at six in the morning when the hospital operator didn't allow calls to a visitor's room before nine. The hospital would probably not appreciate knowing how easily their phone system could be hacked.
"Shenlong." He said into the receiver.
He said nothing else, just listened. The person on the end talked for about ten minutes. Finally Wufei hung up without a word and glanced at his watch.
"Now are you going to tell me what's going on?" Heero's voice was getting back to its well-remembered tone of hard-edged detachment, but still betrayed some annoyance as Wufei elevated the end of his bed a bit and propped him up.
"No." Wufei said and turned before Heero could respond violently. He went to drag a dozing Orwill and a furious and cramped killer from the bathroom, and sat them both on the ground beneath the window.
"Doctor Edwin Orwill."
The doctor started and stared up at Wufei like a rabbit staring at a wolf.
"Your father was the pilot of the El Passo, an OZ MS carrier that was destroyed while bringing a cargo of dolls down to Earth. The convoy was attacked by a Gundam."
Orwill stared at him.
"Is that why you did this?"
"In case you didn't know... this man here had nothing to do with that."
"He knows." The other man said with a cold smile. "But we'll get that pilot too sooner or later; he knows that."
"'That pilot' was here just earlier." Wufei murmured, eyes still fixed on Orwill. "He was the one who took your prints. The pilot of Deathscythe. Did you know that?"
Orwill continued to stare at him. His eyes were so wide they rimmed his irises with white, and his face was pale in the glimmer of morning sunlight from outside.
"You could have at least spat at him... " Wufei commented with a shrug, then turned towards the other.
"Albert Ganz. You live in Düsseldorf. You used to work as a communication engineer for the Alliance. Your wife was a translator on General Noventa's staff. She got on the same plane as he did when they pretended to evacuate him from New Edwards."
Ganz glared at him, then slowly turned to stare at Heero on the bed. Heero's eyes were indifferent. Wufei knew he'd laid those ghosts to rest long before.
"This is not over. We will not let you get away with your crimes." Ganz whispered. "You can kill me; others will come. We're still at war. It doesn't end here."
"Well that remains to be seen. The other two men you left down in the car were Ernest Laus, from Basel, and Anthony Merristock from a borough of London. Laus is a hothead who believes the Gundam pilots work for a world-wide conspiracy that is trying to enslave Earth to some Colony think tank. Or... something. Merristock was part of the Libra's maintenance crew, most of his platoon went down with it. Right?" Ganz didn't answer him and Wufei hadn't expected him to.
Wufei took the television's remote from the windowsill. He keyed it on and moved aside so that both men could see it from where they were sitting. Orwill still had a dazed look in his eyes, but Ganz was frowning at the tube, puzzled. Wufei flicked it on and surfed around until he found a twenty-four hour news channel with countrywide coverage. They listened for a few minutes while the news presenter discussed the various economical problems in Germany and elsewhere after the latest proposal of free-trade between Earth and Colonies. Then some advertisements - Ganz was starting to shift restlessly - and the headlines. The attack by terrorists unknown on the conference in Berlin was discussed, photos of Relena flashed on the screen. Nothing new was actually said.
//Berlin was rocked by yet another shocking attack a few hours ago. A house in the suburbs of East Berlin was utterly destroyed in an explosion shortly after four this morning. Police say the explosion was of criminal origin. Neighbors said that armed men-//
Orwill's scream - muffled by Wufei's hand over his mouth - covered the next few sentences of the presentation as pictures of police tape and fire engines marring a residential area were shown. Ganz was staring at Wufei, eyes widening.
Wufei took his hand away when Orwill began to sob. Words in German and three names were tumbling over one another, each trying to rip the greater measure of grief from him. The uncaring voice of the presenter overrode his pain.
// ...this second bombing, though smaller and confined to one apartment, was very similar to the one in Berlin. Since no-one has claimed responsibility for either, the police refuse to speculate whether these two blasts are related. They say gang activity might be involved.//
Ganz gasped. Orwill's panic had covered some of the journalist's comments but the camera had switched to a helicopter view of a low-rise building with one fire-scorched window, and the tag on the screen read Düsseldorf.
//An hour ago we learned of an explosion in Basel that may have had similarities to these two attacks. The German anti-terrorist forces are cooperating with their Swiss counterparts to determine whether this could have been the same group. News from Basel is sketchy at the moment, we will update this broadcast when-// Wufei switched it off.
"I suspect they won't mention it right away, but there is a small house burning in London tonight." Wufei's voice was distant, still looking blankly at the graying screen.
"You... " Ganz shook his head and cast a glance that was both angry and pitying at a collapsed Orwill. Then he looked up slowly at Wufei, face twisted and pale. "You... fucking... murderers... "
"Unarguably." Wufei put the remote down on the small table in the corner next to the window. Then he knelt in front of the men again.
"Orwill." He snapped his fingers in front of the man's glazed eyes a couple of times until the litany of names broke and the man focused on him, dazed. "Your wife and sons are alive. They were evacuated before the house was destroyed. So were your neighbors, to be on the safe side."
Orwill simply stared at him, mouth wide.
"Why should we believe you?!" Ganz hissed.
"Why should I lie?" Wufei answered, suddenly very tired. "The people living in the - whoa." He caught Orwill as the man slumped.
"Here." Heero tossed him a pillow from the bed. Wufei frowned reproachfully at him for the unwise movement that had visibly tightened his body with pain, but the look he got in return was uncaring. The mask was impenetrable once more.
After making Orwill comfortable, Wufei turned to Ganz. "We evacuated the people living in your apartment building as well, as they might have been harmed by the blast. They-"
"Why should I care?" Ganz said numbly. "I didn't know them. I don't have any more family for you to threaten."
"You knew them. Even if it was just arguing with the old lady in 4b because of the way her terrier always roamed the hallway outside your door-" Ganz's head whipped up to stare at him, "- or yelling at the neighbor's kids to shut up when they were playing outside your window. And you have an uncle and a young cousin living in Lucerne, and your wife had family in a little village north of Munz."
"Wha-... you didn't!" Ganz stared at him wildly.
"No, we didn't. This time."
"So what, this is a threat?"
"No. We don't do threats. It was reprisals; for Dupont, Emmet and the other cop you tazered, coshed and stuffed in a broom closet. For the innocent people you terrorized, held at gunpoint just to get at us, pistol-whipped to the ground, clipped with bullets on your escape. But we didn't kill anybody because you didn't. This time."
Ganz stared at him, hostile but unsure. Wufei sighed.
"It was you, wasn't it. You're the one who shot at me from behind the garbage container."
"I wanted the other one." Ganz stared venomously at Heero. "But... the man who was killed in the conference room- one of the men that was killed. His younger brother was a cadet in that base you blew up. That kid was the only family André had left. I was thinking about him. I would have liked to have killed you for him."
"Fair enough." Wufei said with a shrug. "That's not what I wanted to talk about though. It's what you said. 'We're still at war.'"
"Yes. The Peacecraft bitch can say what she wants, we won't rest until we -"
"I found that rather amusing actually."
Ganz stared at him.
"You obviously have no concept of what the word means. Most civilians or support personnel don't; they just see the results, and they take it very personally sometimes. There were a couple of ex-soldiers among the ones I killed in the hotel yesterday. They could have told you how wrong you were.
"You aren't at war, Ganz. War is when you want something - revenge in your case, or possibly justice - badly enough where the lives are of secondary importance. All that matters is to obtain what you want, and you're willing to pay the cost. All that matters to the other side in a war - since two sides are something of a necessity - is to make the cost high enough where you cannot afford it. The cost is counted in resources; weapons, money, human lives. That's war. If you were at war, you would not have attacked with five men. That was a needless waste of resources, since you were all ready and rather expecting to die. You'd have chosen one of your numbers, smuggled in two K of C-4 instead of guns, strapped it on him and had him walk up to Yuy and myself while we were guarding the VIPs. You'd have gotten us both for only one life that way. Of course there would have been casualties but that's war, right?"
Ganz was staring at him defiantly. "So that's your answer. Any attack against you, and you'll-"
"You're not listening. I'm telling you what war is, and that you're obviously not at war, considering your actions up till now. And if you continue this way, you're quite free to attack us anytime."
"And you'll blow up our houses and our families if -"
"No. We will defend ourselves, but nothing more."
Ganz stared. Orwill, who'd come around, was looking at Wufei in glassy-eyed bewilderment.
"Personally, I don't care if you kill me in the pursuit of revenge. Actually there is a poetic justice there that I find somewhat... appealing. We were ready to die every day of the war and we are ready to die for its consequences every day for the rest of our lives. It was the cost of the war when we started it, and the price we are quite willing to pay. In a way we've all been dead since we were fifteen. So no, our lives are not that expensive.
"But never... ever... threaten innocents again in an effort to stalemate us.
"This is between us and whoever wants to take it out on our hides, for whatever satisfaction that will provide. But do not involve other people in this. You said you weren't murderers before, that's why you didn't kill any hospital staff to get here. Good. Continue like that. You are quite welcome to try to kill us. But don't start a war. Not with us. Trust me... we will find a way of making the cost too high for you. Maybe not for you, although I'm thinking you wouldn't want to see your wife's family dragged from their homes at midnight and shot. But we will attack your resources. Like him."
Orwill recoiled from the finger pointed at him.
"We are letting you go, in case you've not figured that out yet. Feel free to tell others what I've said. Or not. It doesn't matter; I know these things have a way of spreading anyway. Soon, people will know. It will be a rumor, a legend, something people will not quite believe in and not quite dare discount... it will be said that anybody who starts a war with us - the kind of war where it doesn't matter if innocent people get caught in the crossfire - will pay. Anybody who helps them - with information, weapons, or simply by looking the other way - will pay too; them, their families, their homes, their fucking pets. It's not fair but it's war. There will be casualties on both sides."
Wufei released the cuffs. Ganz rubbed his wrists, red and white flesh, but stayed seated against the wall, eyes wide and dazed.
"You... you really would-"
"To stop this from escalating? To stop you from making it a massacre next time?"
" ...I think you're bluffing... "
"Do you think this will stop us?" Ganz finally whispered.
"Who knows. It will stop some of you." Wufei shrugged. "The others... you'll find it difficult to infiltrate a conference room full of innocent people if no-one's willing to help you. You won't find someone willing to sell you a lot of weapons or explosives if they know who your target is. And they'll be asking from now on. They'll be on the lookout for such as you. The underworld and the black market know us well already. My friends have been very busy tonight. They've been making calls... seeing people. You'd be surprised how fast this kind of bad news can travel."
" ...won't stop us... "
"Good for you. I admire a man of principles. Here." Wufei grabbed a notebook from his uniform breast-pocket, scribbled a number on it and stuffed the piece of paper into the recoiling Ganz' collar. "Here's my secured number in Brussels. If you or anyone else wants my life, just call me. I swear on my name that I will show up alone, armed with my gun, one spare charger and my sword. Anytime, any place you name, just somewhere far away from any innocent bystanders. Pass that offer on to anyone who might be interested. If you or those others get lucky enough to kill me, no reprisals will be taken against you or anyone you care about."
"I can be reached at the same number." Heero said suddenly from the bed. His voice made Ganz start.
"Now get out of here." Wufei stood up and moved between the two men and Heero.
Ganz stared at Heero, then Wufei. Orwill tried to get to his feet, staggered. Wufei caught his arm and held him until he was steady. The doctor gave him a look of incredulous horror and tore himself away, staggering towards the door.
Ganz got up more slowly. He stared at Heero again, for a few long seconds. Then he smiled. "See you soon then... 'Wing'."
Heero simply nodded.
Ganz walked stiffly out of the room and Wufei closed the door after him. After five minutes listening to the noises in the hallway outside, he went to sit down in the chair, suddenly limp with exhaustion.
" ...take a nap, Chang, you've been up for over twenty four hours. It'll take watch."
"You need rest, Yuy."
"I've been resting. Take an hour, I'll wake you." Heero patted the lump of the Luger beneath his pillow, an unconscious gesture. Wufei grunted and closed his eyes, memories of many catnaps sitting in Nataku's cabin coming back to him.
"So I'll be seeing Ganz again... " Heero remarked, voice still indifferent, as Wufei settled.
Wufei snorted. "Hell no. I forgot to mention another rule to Ganz; you only get one shot at us. He's had his go. Barton is following him, and Winner put a tail on the others too when Barton released them. Let's see who they contact with my message. See if we can follow this one to the source. We're very curious to know how they found out you and I were going to be Relena's watchdogs yesterday; you've not been near her for awhile, and I can't think how they knew I'd be there. Our movements are kept secret."
"From somewhere in Preventers. Maybe even our Division."
"Hn. But... you meant what you told him."
"Yes." Wufei felt his lips go numb, his limbs were heavy. His voice drifted with a will of its own. "Ganz'll spread the word... before Barton reels him in and arrests him. He'll... " Wufei relaxed in the chair, head nodding. "He'll pass the message... no more war... civilians safe... they'll know... anytime, any place... Just me... and one gun... and... "
"But not alone."
It was the last words he heard before he drifted off. No, not alone. Not anymore. Medical release and next of kin, and 'Scythe', 'Heavyarms' and 'Sandrock' one phone call away... so that's the future, eh... ? Who'd have thought...
End Part 18
On to chapter nineteenBack to chapter seventeen