Used Episode Zero to double-check Wufei's background info.
The doctors later said that Wufei's heart had stopped beating twice on the operating table. With the horrifying extent of his injuries, the breathing tube keeping him alive, and the IV replenishing the blood as fast as he lost it, the proud young man was unrecognizable. To see someone so fierce and independent brought so low…it was enough to make one question the integrity of the peace that the pilots had fought so hard for.
The other four all waited for the final verdict in the bland reception room, knowing that this might be the day in which one of their own was buried. It had been some time since the pilots were reunited—each had their own life, whether with their own company or space-scavenging or Preventers.
But Wufei was in critical condition. One of their own had been fucked with during a peacetime that all five had bled and sacrificed for. "That's just not cool," Duo quipped, his light words belied by Shinigami's dark expression.
When Wufei was stabilized enough for visitors, Quatre sat on the edge of the hospital bed and very gently laid a hand over the martial artist's chest. After several moments, Quatre turned to the other three and said in a carefully controlled voice, "Preventers is bound by the laws they try to protect. We aren't."
One of their own had been hurt. Whatever distances might incidentally separate them, the Gundam pilots were bound inextricably together; a deliberate attack on one was an attack against them all. Quatre had felt the painrageterror in Wufei's heart and the blond's wordless look was all the others needed to understand.
Terrorists weren't known for forgiveness.
While Wufei lay in a coma in the hospital, the four planned their counterattack with the same careful precision and ruthlessness that had gotten them through the war. And like all good teams, the players took full advantage of their respective talents (at least, to an extent; Duo's enthusiastic call for mass destruction and big booms was quickly vetoed by Quatre and Heero, who explained that starting a second war wouldn't be as much as fun now that their Gundams had been destroyed. Trowa didn't say anything, but he shared a secret smile with Duo behind Quatre and Heero's backs).
A bit of sweet talking from Quatre got some information from Une, which was added to the little that Heero, who was occasionally hired by Preventers, already knew from Wufei.
A postwar investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the self-destruction of L5-A0206 (which Wufei had naturally demanded to be in charge of, when he heard about it) had turned up some interesting details previously overlooked by a war-occupied government…like the authorization of the biological weapon YO-448. General Septem's disregard for every international law and treaty. Marginalization of the inhabitants, resulting in the colony's decrepitude. Duo read through Wufei's precise notes, written in beautifully cultured script, feeling like he was looking at a mirror of L2 in a funhouse of irony.
It took three weeks of meticulous planning. Wufei didn't wake up during that time, but his physical condition was stabilized and at least one other pilot remained with him at all times. They each took eight-hour shifts, and took them very seriously. When their plan was ready to put into action, an unsuspecting Sally Po volunteered to watch over Wufei for them while the pilots left for a mission that Une had presumably given them.
"To capture the people that did this to him," Duo explained, glancing away from the doctor to the martial artist's face, which bore a slight frown even in sleep. Duo didn't have to fake the emotion, just the words, and Sally put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
"Just make sure all four of you come back to him," she said softly.
"Of course." There was no arguing with the note of finality in Heero's tone.
It took another week to set themselves up without tipping off their prey. With the magic of an unparalleled strategist and politician Quatre managed to wrangle himself a last-minute invitation to their prey's political dinner; Trowa lost himself in the anonymous tide of servants hired for the large occasion. Heero took control of the host mansion's electronic security without the actual security guards ever noticing, and Duo slipped around the property like a thorough, determined shadow.
Their prey was a Chinese man of average height and build, first name Shi Hong, hair cut stylishly short and himself dressed in an expensive tailored suit. Heero watched from the security feed he'd routed through his personal laptop as the man greeted Quatre Winner with the polite ass-kissing that politicians liked to think of as diplomacy. Duo pressed a headset against his ear, listening to the conversation through the tiny microphones he had hidden in the dining hall previously and thinking that their prey had the same tone of cultured arrogance as Wufei. Only it wasn't endearing, not when he knew that this was the monster that had—
"Duo," Heero murmured through his own microphone, and Shinigami forced himself back to a predator's waiting calm. Just a little longer and then Shinigami could play all he wanted.
Shi Hong was the type of bored aristocrat who threw lavish parties at his grand home for no particular reason other than intrigue, like a petty emperor summoning a court of wealthy adolescents that had never had to work for their lot in life. Duo wasn't the only one getting more and more disgusted by these people the more he overheard at the dinner. Even Heero found himself clenching his jaw so hard that the muscles ached. Trowa, who had never had any illusions or expectations about life, was able to flawlessly maintain his cover as one of the many servants flitting around the tables at the aristocrats' beck and call.
No one saw the calculating edge of Quatre's smile, or the careful distance in Trowa's gaze. No one knew that four young men had effectively hijacked the apparently impenetrable security of the mansion with hardly a whisper, or that Death himself was hovering over their dinner like a nightmare.
That was all right. Sooner or later, whatever fate these people deserved would be meted out. In the meantime, the Gundam pilots remained focused on their target.
"Shinigami has thrown wide the gates of Hell," Duo whispered into his headset, unable to help the slightly manic amusement thrumming down the wires. "E nomine padre, boys."
Some time later, their unsuspecting host woke up in a barren room. He blinked his eyes a few times to adjust to the light, and when he realized that he was tied to a chair he made a small noise of fearful surprise.
"Look," purred a dark voice in his ear, "we haven't even done anything and he's already squealing like a pig."
"Who are you?" the Chinese man demanded, looking around wildly. Four young men stood around him; three he didn't recognize, but the fourth…
"Winner, what the hell is going on here? If this is your idea of a joke—!"
"No," Quatre said flatly, "it's not. This is…justice."
"Patient number zero-six-two-five," Heero began, reciting it all from memory. Like the others, it was unlikely he'd ever forget what had been written on the chart at the foot of Wufei's hospital bed. "Chang, Wufei. Twelve broken bones, two torn ligaments, ligature marks on both wrists and ankles. Lacerations across his back and shoulders, sexual assault with a foreign object, severe blood-loss. Current status: severe but stabilized. Prognosis: unknown."
"Did he forget anything, gentlemen?" Quatre asked mildly.
Trowa's quiet answer was, "You're also his uncle, Lord Chang."
Shi Hong sat in stunned silence. The young man behind him with the dark voice murmured, "Not even Shinigami is that sick, sweetheart."
Quatre found it wise not to point out that in a culture as traditional as L5's, a man suffering sexual abuse at the hands of another man was tantamount to complete emasculation. It was taking the pride and honor as a male from the victim and sacrificing it all on the social stigma attached to male rape. Against someone like Wufei, it would be a devastating physical and especially psychological weapon…perhaps so much so that the shame of it would promise Wufei's silence on his blood-relative's sins.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Chang Shi Hong snapped. "If you'd bothered to do your research, you'll know that my home colony self-destructed—"
"Precisely three months after you were disowned by the clan elders and your father, the clan patriarch," Trowa interrupted.
Putting aside his train of thought, Quatre took up the new thread with the calm of an experienced diplomat. "After several occasions in which sparring matches went too far and your opponents ended up in the hospital, your cousin Long Xui Ying died from the injuries you inflicted. Because the Chang and Long clans were merciful, you were only disowned and then banished rather than executed."
"Then you sold them out to General Septem as rebels," Heero concluded.
Shi Hong looked at them with sweat on his brow and a murderous expression, but they weren't finished. One of Duo's gloved hands fisted in the man's hair and yanked his head backwards, forcing him to meet cold violet eyes.
"You were dumped like so much trash. Believe me, I know that type of anger. But even on the streets, you never, ever, snitched on your family." His grip on Shi Hong's hair was so tight that the Chinese man groaned, and Duo released him roughly with a sneer of disgust. "So a few years later your nephew shows up at your door and suddenly you realize that all the shit you hoped got buried with the bodies was coming back to haunt you. And you couldn't have all this glitzy wealth get taken away by a silly little war-crime, now could you?"
"You've done very well for yourself, Lord Chang," Quatre observed, making a show of looking around them. The room was plain and stone-tiled, but still well-constructed. Duo had done his reconnaissance well; Quatre could sense the lingering echoes of pain in this room, just enough to tell him that Wufei probably hadn't been the man's only victim.
"Even more impressive to have caught a Gundam pilot," Trowa pointed out. Chang's eyes widened.
"Him, a Gundam pilot? That's insane, I heard the original pilot was killed. Besides, the little bitch wouldn't raise a hand unless it was to prove how much fucking better he was—"
Duo pulled sharply on his hair again. "Careful, that's our buddy you're talking about."
"I'm assuming he used their familial relationship to manipulate Wufei." Heero pulled out his semiautomatic handgun and casually slammed in a fresh magazine. Duo felt Shi Hong tremble under his hand. "I don't see how else he could've gotten the slip on him. Considering Wufei's past, I'm guessing he's especially vulnerable to that kind of weakness."
"Does it matter?" Duo asked bluntly as Heero lifted the firearm and leveled it at their gracious host.
Two shots fired and suddenly the room echoed with screams of pain. The Gundam pilots watched Shi Hong cry himself hoarse without pity, undisturbed by the ruined remains of the man's kneecaps. Duo helpfully cut the man's bonds, kicking him off the chair, and Shi Hong curled around his shattered legs with a breathy moan.
The pilots allowed the silence to stretch, but when Duo made a movement towards their hostQuatre shook his head sharply, stopping him. Shinigami stilled, eyes narrowing, but was willing to let the blond lead.
"Chang Shi Hong," Quatre began calmly, "you have no family, and now you have no honor. You—" He stopped suddenly, then shook his head ruefully. "No, I'm simply wasting words. Duo?"
But it was Trowa that stepped forward, holding out a hand, and Duo passed him one of the objects he'd found while reconnoitering the room: a simple black leather belt, the thin kind typically worn by businessmen, with a silver buckle. A smudge of rust-red marred the silver in a groove, indicating that the belt's last use hadn't been for a conference to discuss mergers and acquisitions. Quatre looked to him with a raised brow, somewhat surprised that the normally straightforward Trowa would bother with what technically amounted to base torture, but the acrobat was staring down at Shi Hong with the dark shadow of some childhood memory in his eyes. It was a shadow akin to the carefully controlled anger in Duo's movements, and Quatre was reminded that the two had been born already marked by the wars.
If nothing else, Trowa wielded the leather belt with an uncomfortable degree of familiarity. But this was about Wufei, and family, and protecting one's own, so Quatre said nothing as the belt left long red welts over Shi Hong's back and shoulders. Trowa had mastered the art of hiding his thoughts even better than Heero, but a deep understanding and his empathy allowed the blond pilot to sense the mix of vengefulness and grim determination.
It wasn't long before Shi Hong passed out from shock and pain. Heero dutifully bandaged the man's knees to prevent further blood-loss while Quatre prepared a syringe with an adrenal concoction. Trowa stood by impassively as Duo examined the results.
"Nice," the thief murmured, tapping a leather-covered finger idly on a hip. "No broken skin and no crossed lines. You're almost as good as I am, Barton."
"Thank you," was the dry answer, and they shared the cynical smile of two people used to fighting tooth and nail just to survive.
It took some minutes before the man jerked awake with a groan after being jabbed with Quatre's syringe. He jerked again when he found Shinigami crouched in front of him, their faces close together.
Dark eyes were narrowed in both anger and fear. It was strange for all four pilots to see a face so remarkably similar to Wufei's twisted in a very foreign expression. Not even the toughest of Oz interrogations had managed to inspire terror in the martial artist, and Chang Shi Hong was far from being the same man as Treize Khushrenada.
("'Shi Hong'," Quatre had read aloud from Heero's laptop, a week before enacting their plan. If their prey had known how simple it was for teenagers to break into his records, former terrorists or not, it would have been humiliating for him. "'The world is red.' I think whichever parent named him was either clairvoyant or had a very twisted sense of humor.")
All five pilots had been well-trained in inflicting and also taking the most amount of pain for the least work. With one of their own near death, the others put this knowledge—unforgotten even in this so-called peacetime—to practical use.
Terrorists weren't known for forgiveness. Families weren't known to forget. They rewrote their comrade's medical chart on the original tormentor in red ink.
By the time Quatre packed up the first-aid kit, Heero relinquished control of the security, and Trowa and Duo stripped the mansion of the pilots' presence, there was no sign that anything untoward had occurred after Lord Chang's pleasant political dinner. Of course the servant staff had been startled to receive an email from their boss granting them all a week's leave after performing their duties well at his social event, considering Lord Chang wasn't known for his generosity. But they didn't need to be told twice, and by midnight the entire property had been cleared for the next seven days.
When one of the returning maids followed her nose to a room that her boss normally kept locked, she would scream. Her cries would bring the other maids, and panic would ensue until the most senior of their number would call the police to report the gruesome death of their boss. At least, the body was assumed to be Chang Shi Hong's; it would take a few days for dental records to confirm the man's identity.
The death of an aristocrat would throw that social circle into an uproar, but no matter how much money and how many threats were thrown the police would never be able to find a scrap of evidence pointing to the killer. Or killers, since no one could even be sure how many people had been involved in the crime. Even when the alleged email giving the staff a week off was discovered to be hacked, it had occurred within the home itself, making an outside trace impossible.
The situation was made a little more complicated for the detectives when Lord Chang's genitalia were found packed in the kitchen's main freezer. (Quatre's idea; a quiet little commentary on the reality of 'emasculation.')
The story made its way onto the Sphere news. When Sally saw it, saw who the victim was and that the killer (or killers) may as well have been a ghost for all the evidence left behind, she felt something cold grip her heart. The Marimeia uprising had been bad enough; if four Gundam pilots had decided to go rogue on the fledgling government…
After a moment of indecision, she decided not to say anything to Une first, wanting fiercely for her suspicions to be wrong. Instead she went straight to where she knew they would be: the hospital, specifically the bedside of the fifth pilot. She strode to the door, was already opening her mouth to demand answers—and froze.
Wufei lay on his side, his ribs finally healed enough to do so without stabbing pain, and was curled against Duo with his face hidden under the other's arms. Heero was pressed against his back with a gun displayed openly and without shame, making his protectiveness clear without words. Trowa sat at the head of the bed, fingers discretely tangled in Wufei's unbound, slightly greasy hair.
Sally managed to step back out of sight before Trowa or Heero noticed her, but a presence at her back made her whirl around with a hand on her gun.
"Hello, Sally." Quatre's bright smile was sincere, but there was still something off that made her feel uneasy. "You look a little tired, are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she breathed. The she shook her head and repeated more firmly, "I'm fine, Quatre, I just stayed up a bit late reading into a new case."
"Don't forget that you need to take care of yourself to take care of the peace," said the blond, putting a hand on her arm. He was one of the shorter of the pilots, putting him at eye level with Sally. "All we have is what we can hold onto, right?"
"…Right," she agreed awkwardly, wondering wildly at his somewhat strange statement and the following squeeze he gave to her arm. He looked like an angel, made a career as a politician, but there was no mistaking the soldier's strength in his grip.
"We've all lost precious things in the war. I know you're doing everything you can to make sure that doesn't happen in our new peace."
Quatre's smile was somehow both sad and determined, as though quite confident that he and the other pilots could handle whatever repercussions Preventers tried to throw at them but hoping it wouldn't come to such extremes. Sally watched him enter the hospital room, watched from the shadowed doorway as Trowa smiled subtly at Quatre and the tension left Heero's shoulders. She watched as Quatre leaned over Duo and Wufei to converse quietly with the other two, a hand coming to rest almost unconsciously on the curve of Duo's shoulder. Together they formed a Gestalten circle without a blind spot or a forgotten aspect.
After a long pause, Sally turned and left, later that evening curling up with her cat in her lonely apartment and hoping that her silence was the right choice.