Ch. 9 ~ "Bullet-Flavored Coffee"

It was strange to have a contact as twitchy and quiet as Agent Miles after growing accustomed to Lesa's talkative manner. Still, Heero was grateful for the deafening silence in his ear as he stepped into the small bookstore, eyes automatically flicking about in search of his partner. Wufei had entered twenty minutes prior and was already browsing the magazine rack idly, hooded gaze shifting every now and then towards the cafe. He caught Heero's eye and indicated with a sharp glance a pair of men hunched over a small table near the windows. One of them kept reaching down nervously to touch the handle of the briefcase at his feet, as if reassuring himself it was still there. The other man was indicating a spread of papers in a folder opened between them. They were speaking quietly, but were not going out of their way to be the epitome of discretion. Cocky, Heero thought scornfully. They must have done business here and gotten away with it. Or thought they had; it was probably how Une's sources had found out about them in the first place.

Heero adjusted the mp3 player on his right hip to make it more visible, and headed towards the cafe counter at an unhurried pace. He ordered the first coffee on the menu, waited for the bored-looking barista to slowly complete his order, and picked a table somewhat close to the men's. They glanced his way briefly, but he ignored them, pretending to be absorbed in his nonexistent music and the tattered textbook he'd brought along.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Wufei stroll down the magazine aisle to get closer, hands stuffed in the pockets of his trenchcoat to disguise the bulge his sword made under it. Heero reached down as if to fiddle with his mp3 player's volume, activating the sensitive microphone it hid. Muffled but audible, the conversation three tables away slowly became discernible. In the van outside, Miles would already be recording and listening in.

"Dammit, I told you I don't like meeting here like this," the man with the briefcase insisted uncomfortably. He kept sending wary glances towards the few other customers. "What if someone gets suspicious an' wonders why we keep comin' in here? What if--"

"Cool it, Dom," the other man interrupted impatiently, stirring a bit of sugar into his coffee and sending his partner a brief scowl. "They'll only get suspicious if you keep actin' so suspicious. We're just regulars as far as anyone's concerned. No one gives a shit. Now did you bring it or not?"

"Yeah, I brought it. Of course I brought it." The man nudged his briefcase further under the table with his toe. "See for yourself."

The other man sent a brief look around to make sure they weren't being watched before reaching under the table to open the briefcase and take a quick peek. "That's all of it?"

"C'mon, Terry, have I ever shorted you before?" the other-- Dom --demanded, sounding offended. "What about you? You've got the goods?"

The bigger man reached in his pocket and tossed a car key onto the tabletop. "The red Impala around back. Everything you asked for, as well as a couple party favors for good business."

Dom's mouth twitched in a quick, unpleasant smile. "Pleasure doin' business with you, as always," he murmured, scooping up the key and pocketing it swiftly. He started to say something else, but just then the book Heero was blindly staring at was abruptly tugged down flat against the table. Startled, Heero looked up quickly, tensed for a fight.

"Surprise!" Aubrey crowed, grinning in triumph at having caught him so off- guard. "Fancy seeing you here. Does this mean Wufei's with you?" She glanced around expectantly. Behind her, Penny offered Heero a timid but brief smile of greeting. Heero shot a quick look towards the table where the transaction was being held, and caught the bigger man staring at him with an odd expression. Looking away quickly, Heero caught Aubrey by the wrist to get her attention. "I'm trying to study," he said firmly. "What do you want?"

"There he is," Aubrey exclaimed, ignoring Heero as she waved her other hand cheerily at Wufei, who was stubbornly trying to appear absorbed in his car magazine. "Hey~ Wufei!" She grinned down at Heero. "C'mon, Heero, like you don't study enough already. If you want some alone time together, you can just ask--"

"YUY!" Terry bellowed, getting to his feet so fast he overturned his chair. "I knew I'd seen that fucking face before--"

Heero's mind was drawing a blank with the man's face, but obviously the man knew who he really was-- or even who he'd been before the Preventers. Ex-soldier? Middleman? These questions flickered through Heero's head in an instant. Even as the man shouted his name and reached behind himself-- presumably for a gun --Heero was leaping up and throwing himself to the side, arm snapping up to wrap around Aubrey's waist and haul her along.

She yelped in confused surprise at the rough treatment, then screamed and threw her arms instinctively over her head as the man jerked up his gun and fired at them both. A second later the breath was knocked out of her as she and Heero hit the ground hard.

Penny, who had dropped down automatically at the sight of the gun, reached out and grabbed Aubrey's arm like a lifeline, her eyes huge and terrified. "Get down, and get behind something," Heero commanded, shoving Aubrey towards her and rolling away. The other patrons were screaming and either running for the exit or jumping behind the nearest cover.

Heero rolled again, barely missing another shot, and scrambled behind a bookshelf. Squatting down, he jerked his gun from its calf holster and chambered a round, shooting a look towards the magazine stands. Wufei was similarly positioned, crouching behind a rack and gripping his sword close by his side, calmly waiting for the firing to stop. Terry was firing wildly at the bookshelves, hoping to either pin Heero down or catch him with a stray bullet. "What's going on in there?" Miles' frightened voice crackled in Heero's ear. "Who's firing??"

Heero twitched the volume down, ignoring him. There was little the other man could do, other than call for backup that would likely show up too late anyhow. "Where's the other one?" he mouthed to Wufei.

Wufei jerked his chin towards Heero's left and flicked his fingers in the direction of the door, indicating an escape attempt. Heero drew his thumb across his throat quickly-- 'Stop him' --and readied himself for attack as Wufei turned and slipped off among the racks to intercept Dom.

The firing stopped, but Heero remained frozen, finger hovering by the trigger guard of his gun. There was no way Terry had emptied an entire clip already. He was waiting for Heero to be stupid enough to show himself.

Heero slipped a heavy book free from the shelf and tossed it to his left. An instant later he bobbed to the right, aiming as Terry turned instinctively towards the sound of the book slamming against the ground, presenting his side to Heero for one precious moment. Heero fired quickly, intent on injury rather than fatality. They would need the man for questioning later.

Terry howled in pain as the bullet caught him in the knee, very nearly bringing him to the ground. At the last instant he seized hold of a table edge to keep himself in a painful wobbly crouch, and fired blindly in Heero's direction. Heero ducked hastily behind his cover again, frowning to himself. He would have to unarm the man before some innocent civilian got caught in the crossfire. Belatedly he remembered that Aubrey and Penny were two of those civilians, and gritted his teeth in a fleeting moment of irritation and unexpected worry.

From the front of the store came a high-pitched, decidedly unmanly shriek of fear as Dom encountered Wufei. One shot went off, shattering a window, then there was the sound of a struggle and the heavy thumps of flesh slamming into flesh as Wufei simply beat his opponent senseless. Typical. Heero chanced a quick peek around the corner of his shelf.

"Who the fuck are you?" Terry screamed in fury and agony, catching a glimpse of him. He was trying to shift his weight into a more steady position without putting too much pressure on his destroyed knee, his face white with pain. He was handling it better than Heero had expected. Most men would be on the ground screaming in pain. This man really didn't want to get caught.

Heero shut his mouth on his automatic reply. This was usually the part where he informed whatever pitiful scum in his sights that they were in the presence of Preventers agents. Une insisted on it to cover their asses. She had also said it might have the added perk of getting a hasty surrender. In Heero's experience, it usually only earned him a death threat and a rain of bullets. But it was prudence that held his tongue this time. There was no way to tell from his position whether or not Aubrey and Penny were in hearing range, and Une had insisted (very pointedly and in a somewhat threatening manner) that he was not to blow their cover. He was already halfway there, but maybe he could think up some excuse for Aubrey that was conveniently not the truth to cover up for this whole mess later.


Heero barely twitched at the quiet murmur just over his shoulder. "He's not going down," he said quietly, shifting into a ready crouch. He glanced back at his partner. "We need to take him down before he gets the bright idea to grab a civilian shield. Get around him and distract him. I'm going to need at least a couple of seconds to aim precisely."

Wufei nodded silently and darted off, keeping low. Heero rocked back on his heels to wait, calling out to Terry to make sure he didn't notice Wufei's movement. "Put down the gun and give yourself up, or things will only go worse for you."

"Fuck you!" Terry fired at his bookshelf a few times for good measure, ensuring he stayed down. Renewed shrieks from the customers rose up. There were scraping noises as he tried to hobble his way towards the back door. "Fuck you, you stupid kid! You'd better stay the hell out of my way, or I'm going to start shooting everyone in this god damn place!"

"That would be inadvisable," came Wufei's dry remark from across the room.

Terry swung around, firing in a panic. Heero was already moving.

Springing up, he took quick aim and fired. Terry gave an unholy howl as the bullet slammed through his wrist, knocking the gun from his hand. Wufei dodged out from behind a coffee display and swung his sword at the man's temple, hilt first. The broad pommel cracked against the bigger man's skull, dropping him in an unconscious heap.

Heero took a step towards him, then swung around, lifting his gun as the front doors slammed open.

"I'm here! I'm here!" A frantic looking man came barreling into the store, clutching a military rifle and looking determined and terrified at the same time. "Freeze! This is the Pr--"

"Miles," Heero interrupted sharply, striding up and snatching the gun's muzzle to shove it safely towards the floor. He glared at the shaking young man. "What are you doing in here? We've got the situation under control."

"I-I heard all the commotion, and you weren't answering on comm..." Miles looked around nervously, and spotted Dom moaning on the floor, hands cuffed behind his back. His gaze swung towards the cafe, where Wufei was already squatting down to roll over Terry's bloody form. "Oh. Oh good-- No, oh god! Yuy, you weren't supposed to kill him! We need to know his clients, his store houses--"

"He isn't dead," Heero said, glancing around as horrified customers slowly began to rise trembling to their feet. "Call it in. Chang and I are getting out of here before our cover's blown more than it already is."

"What? But--"

"There are students here," Heero said in a low voice, giving the gun muzzle another shake to get the jumpy man's attention. "The suspects are restrained and unarmed. Call it in and take care of it. We can't be seen here when the local police arrive."

"R-right." Miles finally lowered his rifle, switching the safety on as an afterthought. "You go, then. Er, do I need to debrief these students, or..?"

"No. We'll handle it." He hesitated, looking back towards Terry with a frown. "And I want to know that one's background. He knew my name. That's what blew the operation."

Wufei walked over, tossing a key at Miles, who barely caught it. "That opens a red Impala parked behind the store. You should find the weapons in there. We'll send our report to headquarters later tonight."

"H-Heero? Wufei?" Aubrey came tottering out from behind a bookcase. She and Penny were clinging to each other, wide-eyed and pale. "What's going on? Is.. is it over?"

"Take the van," Miles offered, digging in his pocket for his keys and handing them to Heero. "I'll be going back with the others anyway. I'll send someone to pick it up later."

Heero nodded and reached out, taking Aubrey's elbow in a careful grip to pull her along when it looked like she wasn't going anytime soon. "Come on," he said, forcing his voice back into a more relaxed cadence. "We'll give you a lift to the school."

Penny nodded numbly, letting Wufei steer her outside with a hand against her shoulder. But Aubrey resisted against Heero's hold with growing desperation. "No. No! I want to know what's going on!" she gasped, her breaths coming short and fast as she looked from Dom to Terry and back again. "Who ARE these men? Who's this guy with a gun? Why do YOU have a gun?! What's going on?!"

Heero hauled her outside firmly. "Don't make a scene. I'll explain everything later. But we need to leave. Now."

For a moment Aubrey looked ready to fight him. A moment later all the strength seemed to go out of her, and she numbly stumbled along as he pulled her to the van. She and Penny were silent for the whole drive, huddled in a seat together and staring at Heero and Wufei as if they'd never seen them before.

"What are we supposed to tell them?" Wufei muttered, barely audible over the sound of the engine.

Heero took his eyes away from the road for a moment to check on the girls in the rearview mirror. "Undercover cops?"

"We're a little young for that," Wufei pointed out with a touch of sarcasm.

"We can't tell them the truth."

"I know that." Wufei scowled down at the phone he was rapidly texting on-- letting Trowa in on what had happened, no doubt. "I don't think we should mention Barton. If you and I are compromised, he at least can still attend school without suspicion."

Heero nodded, grip tightening on the steering wheel. "So?"

"So what?"

"So what do we tell them?"

Wufei's eyes turned towards the rearview mirror. "...I'm still working on that."


Author's Notes: So, er, I got a couple reviews from people that didn't know I left fanfics behind asking wtf was taking so long with an update from this, and felt guilty >_>; So uhhh SURPRISE.
*dodges bricks and rotten tomatoes*
Since I'm only like... one or two chapters away from the end now, I might as well finish it XDD;; *FLEES THE SCENE* -----

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