Author: Mel and Christy,
Things from the Blank Lagoon (otherwise known as Writer's Block Swamp).
Category: AU, Drama, Romance
Pairings: 5x2, 1xR, 3x4
Warnings: Yaoi, language, angst
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing, and everything we borrowed from it, are not ours.
Things we made up ourselves are ours. If you can't tell the difference,
a) you need to watch Gundam Wing again, and b) we're flattered!
Feedback: Sure, why not. Bolster our failing egos, why don't you?
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, etc): ---
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback or dream starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
thoughts (and the occasional sound effect): *Tadah!*
some more sound effects (little ones!): -tadah!-
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>
+ Chapter 20
"Mister Maxwell, do come in,"
Justine Gilmore said with a practiced smile, standing up and holding out
her hand as Duo walked into her office. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting,
but you know how it is; busy, busy."
"Not a problem, Ms Gilmore," Duo replied easily, falling automatically
into the proper role as he felt all his mental warning signs snap on.
*Whoa. I do not like you, lady... and it's not just because
you're a scary lawyer. Now, why is that?* "I appreciate your taking
the time to speak to me." He shook hands with her, applying exactly the
right pressure and smiling his best 'totally-honest-and- open' smile,
watching her do exactly the same thing back.
"Anything for our brave defenders of law and order," she chuckled, eyes
flicking over him in a quick evaluation and then returning to his face.
Her smile warmed a notch, and she gave his hand a little extra squeeze
before letting go.
Duo snorted inwardly. *You're good, lady, but I'm better -- I'm never
that obvious about checking someone over. And you've just decided I'm
worth schmoozing up to. Guess 'Fei was right about the jacket.*
He settled into the chair she waved him to and sat back, pulling out his
notebook and getting ready for what he privately vowed would be one of
the best bits of fast-talk in his life.
Justine busied herself pouring water for her 'guest', marshalling her
thoughts. When she'd heard that someone from the Preventers wanted to
speak to her, her first thought had been that one of her firm's clients
-- one of her clients -- was mixed up in something... serious.
A bit more thought, though, and she'd dismissed that idea. Even if one
of her clients was up to something, ah, 'irregular' enough to attract
the Preventers' attention, lawyer-client privilege still meant something;
nobody would expect her to testify against someone with whom she had a
Besides, she was smart enough to arrange things so that she could honestly
say she didn't have proof of anything illegal her clients might
be doing. Knowledge without proof wasn't admissible in court, even if
she might be giving her clients advice that somehow applied perfectly
to the shady dealings she definitely didn't admit they might have.
Which meant, of course, that the Preventers were interested in something
else, and that meant her brother Patrick. That surely couldn't be too
serious; little Pat was too prudish and too stolid to have involved himself
in anything major. Besides, she hadn't really spoken to him in years.
That's what she'd told herself... before she saw the agent they'd sent.
He didn't look like a Preventers agent at all, which immediately
set off warning bells in her mind. That young, and with that ridiculous
non-regulation braid... but his ID would have been checked as he came
in, and an impostor would have tried to look more normal anyway. Therefore
he was one of 'those' agents, the ones everyone knew the Preventers had,
the ones who had special skills or special duties and were allowed leeway
in other areas. That, plus the number of colours in the band across the
bottom of his ID, plus the lack of insignia on his uniform, had to equal
'highly cleared secret agent of some sort'.
*He's a prodigy,* she thought quickly, passing him his glass with
a smile and pouring for herself. *Either that or he's a lot older than
he looks. Probably works undercover. This is serious. Little brother,
what have you done?!*
*Well, I'm sorry Patrick, but if you're going down I'm not going to be
tarred by association. Mister Maxwell, you just got yourself one very
cooperative interview subject.*
Settling back in her seat, Justine steepled her hands in front of herself
and fixed her best smile on her face. "Now, Mister Maxwell, how exactly
can I help you?"
Ms Gilmore's bustling around with carafe and glasses gave Duo time for
a more subtle evaluation of her and her surroundings than she'd managed,
and by the time she was finished he was frowning inwardly.
*Big imposing desk, squishy leather furniture that's so retro it's been
back in half a dozen times, power suit from a major designer, subtle-yet-screamingly-expensive
jewellery... that plus what I've seen of the rest of this firm equals
money money money, all right. You don't get this high in this corner of
the legal world as young as she is without family money and connections,
either, no matter how good your Uni scores in law and butt-kissing were.
Which means she's rich from birth. Therefore her brother should be rich,
too... but I checked, and he's living within his not-exactly-handsome
Preventers salary, no extra sources of income.*
A glance at the expensively-framed photographs on the wall turned into
a longer look as Duo's instincts nudged him again, telling him that something
important was there to be seen if he could just get his conscious mind
to notice it. There were several 'brag wall' photographs, pictures of
Ms Gilmore shaking hands with assorted celebrities and politicians (presumably
after winning cases for them), and two or three that looked like family
shots -- no, five; the tall, powerful-looking man standing next to a younger
Justine in academic robes with a proud hand on her shoulder in the graduation
photograph there was also shown there, there, there and there, always
the centre of attention, and the older-brother type standing on her other
side at graduation was sharing a frame with him there and there- -
*Oh. So that's it.*
Patrick Gilmore was standing in the background of the graduation photo,
half-hidden behind their father, somehow managing to give the impression
that he was huddling into his Alliance uniform collar despite the fact
that he was standing up straight.
He didn't show up anywhere else.
*Hm. Daddy darling rates a good proportion of the brag wall, and big brother
dear is almost as favoured despite being a typical boring Suit if ever
I saw one, but little brother gets the short end of the stick. One photo,
and it doesn't look like you actually meant him to be in it. So much for
the 'brave defenders of law and order' schtick, huh lady?*
Duo shifted his gaze back to Ms Gilmore in time to be looking polite-
and-attentive at her when she turned back to him, flipped to a blank page
in his notebook, poised his pen, and never noticed that he was now completely
"Now, Mister Maxwell, how exactly can I help you?"
The young man sitting opposite her smiled, a wonderfully warm expression
that didn't reach his eyes, and Justine found herself shivering inside.
*This is one dangerous man,* she thought, recognising the mannerisms
of someone who was completely in control of events as he shifted his shoulders,
pushed his booted feet out a fraction, and somehow took control of the
space around him, making a large chunk of her office subtly his
territory. It was something she did herself in court, but she'd had to
study and really work at it to pull it off, and she felt a stab of jealousy
as her visitor accomplished it without effort.
"Before we get started, I should let you know that this interview is completely
unofficial," he told her, sparking another surge of alarm. "You are under
no obligation whatsoever to answer any of my questions, and you can end
the interview and ask me to leave at any time."
*And have you get a warrant and come back-- or worse, not get
a warrant and come back anyway? No thank you!* Justine thought, mind
filling with unpleasant scenarios where 'unofficial' meant 'covert', or
maybe even 'black op'. "I'm sure that won't be necessary."
His smile widened. "Thank you."
* * * * *
Wufei eyed the clock for perhaps the fifteenth time in five minutes. *Unless
that woman's keeping him waiting, his appointment should have started
twenty minutes ago. He hasn't called or come back, so she didn't just
refuse to talk to him, which is... good?*
*Unless she refused to talk to him and he's sitting somewhere feeling
like a failure. That would be bad. Very bad.*
His hand reached out for his terminal, then pulled back and clenched into
a fist. *Chang Wufei, you are not going to phone him!*
Another glance at the clock. Twenty-one minutes.
* * * * *
Lady Une sat at her desk, paperwork lying forgotten in front of her, moodily
playing with the ears of the floppy stuffed toy sitting in her lap.
*Twenty-two minutes and counting,* she told herself. *Everything
must be going all right. If it didn't, he'd call Chang, and even if Chang
didn't think to tell me, I'd notice when he broke the sound barrier as
* * * * *
Sally Po was halfway through an impromptu spring cleaning of all the cabinets
in her surgery. It didn't stop her checking her watch.
*Twenty-four minutes and Une hasn't called, so nothing's gone wrong yet...*
* * * * *
Justine kept her courtroom smile going as she showed the Preventer to
the door after what had turned into nearly an hour of the most searching
cross-examination she'd ever experienced in her life. *Which isn't
too surprising, since I'm not normally on the receiving end!* she
told herself, feeling a drop of sweat prickling at her hairline. *That
was worse than defending my thesis!*
And the boy -- young man, she corrected herself hurriedly -- had been
perfectly polite and courteous the whole time, unlike one of her thesis
examiners. In a way, it would have been better if he'd been rude or threatening;
she was used to dealing with that, and if worse came to worst it would
have been an excuse for her to break off the interview... even though
that would have ended up with her looking over her shoulder for months.
As it was, she'd had to answer dozens of probing questions about her brother
and the rest of her family, staying strictly within the bounds of the
truth while carefully shading her answers to make it clear that no other
member of the small Gilmore clan could possibly be involved in Patrick's
Whatever it was. She still didn't know. It would have been far
easier to avoid incriminating herself if she'd just known what it was
she was supposed to act oblivious to.
"Samantha? Hold my calls for the next thirty minutes," she told her assistant,
shook Maxwell's hand goodbye, and hurried back into her office to regain
her composure, go over everything she'd said one more time... and, most
importantly, decide whether or not to call her father.
* * * * *
A lifetime's instincts and practice kept Duo's expression cheerful and
unrevealing as he joked with Justine Gilmore's assistant ("How'd it go?"
"Mildly chilled, but no frostbite!"), waved to the receptionist and walked
out of the building, but inside he was starting to get genuinely angry.
Snatches of the conversation he'd just had echoed through his mind.
"Well, Mister Maxwell, my brother Patrick's always been sort of the black
sheep of the family..."
"I haven't seen Patrick lately, so I don't know how much help I can be,
"We've never been what I'd call close."
"Oh--" a delicate laugh "--Patrick lives his own life regardless of what
the rest of us are doing. He's always been like that."
*So much for family solidarity! Why don't you just hand the guy an
anchor and cut the rope?*
And then there'd been the clincher. "He never really managed to... you
know." A wave of the fingers. "Measure up."
He'd raised an eyebrow at that. "Measure up to what?" A momentary impulse
to leer and make a crude remark was ruthlessly suppressed.
Another vague wave. "Family expectations."
"Family expectations? Do you mean your parents' expectations, or yours
"Oh, parents' of course, though I shared their feelings. Father knows
best, after all." Justine practically simpered at him.
*Interesting how that went from 'parents' to 'father' so quickly. Come
to think of it, I couldn't see any pictures that looked like they might
be of their mother either, but Gilmore's file lists both parents as living...*
*So. Dad runs the family and Father Knows Best. Mom's either out of the
picture -- literally! -- or totally without influence. Maybe the 'perfect'
trophy wife, there to support her husband and be a hostess but nothing
else? Number One Son and Daddy's Little Girl fit in just fine, but Number
Two Son somehow fails... probably every day of his life, judging by the
tone of some of those remarks.*
*Number One Son becomes a rich polished Suit, just like good old Dad.
Daddy's Little Girl becomes a high-powered lawyer, just like good old
Dad wanted. And Number Two Son is supposed to be something else, but ends
up going into the military. In some families that's an honoured tradition,
but in other families it's the sort of thing you do if you don't have
the skills to do anything 'better'. I think I can guess which sort of
family Gilmore's is... which makes his entire career a failure too. No
matter how well he did, it would never count, because it wasn't success
in the 'right' field.*
*And what does this sort of upbringing do to Number Two Son?*
Duo frowned, one hand pulling gently on his braid.
*Time to give Une my preliminary report, I think.*
* * * * *
Wufei leaned sideways in his chair as he heard light, quick, familiar
footsteps coming into the room, peering past his bookshelf ramparts. Seeing
Duo, he started to get up, smiling... then sat down again as Duo walked
straight into his office, tugging at his braid and apparently muttering
into the open notebook in his hand.
*Oh. I guess... he's busy?*
Feeling rather deflated, Wufei suddenly realised that he was beginning
*Ugh. Stop that! Duo doesn't have to come and talk to me every
time he gets back into the office!* he scolded himself, scooting his
chair back in front of his computer and snatching up a file at random.
*Busy and absorbed is much better than upset or panicked! He will come
and talk to me when he wants to!*
Five minutes later, he realised he was holding the file upside down.
* * * * *
Une looked at the thin sheaf of neatly-typed pages sitting on her desk
and raised an eyebrow. "My. That's certainly concise."
Duo shrugged uncomfortably. "You said you liked brief reports. I put all
the facts in there, I just didn't dance around the evaluation."
"Believe me, I'm glad to see it," Une assured him, smiling but sounding
a little acerbic as she glanced towards her ever-full in tray. "Sit, please."
Duo sat, fingers and braid tuft twisting together nervously in his lap.
Une picked up his report and started to read.
*...Well,* she thought, *concise and coherent. Logically
set out, clear, easy to follow...* "I may have to hire you to give
lessons in the proper way to present a report, next," she murmured, turning
over the one-page outline of the problem and starting to read the 'Observation
and Analysis' section. A few of the things listed as observations made
her eyebrows lift again, but she wasn't distracted enough to miss Duo's
Turning finally to the last page, 'Conclusion and Recommendations', Une
read the two short paragraphs, nodded to herself, and laid the pages down
again. "How sure are you of your conclusions?" she asked, looking up,
and Duo shrugged.
"Like it says, that's just my preliminary report, but I'm pretty sure.
All I need to do before I turn it into my final report is to talk to Gilmore
"You don't think he'll object to your suggested changes?"
"If I'm right, he'll jump at the chance to get out of the job," Duo said
seriously, hitching forward in his chair to make his point. "He's a brilliant
solo agent. Not so sharp on the reconnaissance end of things, but that
doesn't matter if someone else is in charge of gathering intelligence
for him, and he makes up for it by being great at improvisation anyway.
Teamwork and teaching, though, nada. Zip. He's useless and he knows
it... but he was offered the position, and in his family that's the
same as getting an order. The person in charge tells you what you're going
to do, and you do it. No excuses. No saying 'I can't' or 'I don't want
to'. If you fail, it's because you failed, not because you were given
a job you weren't prepared for. You weren't good enough. You didn't 'measure
His voice turned biting on the last words, and Une nodded for him to go
on. "You sound..." She gestured vaguely. "Mildly annoyed about this?"
"I wouldn't say 'mildly'," he snorted. "Severely narked, that might cover
it. I spent nearly an hour listening to his sister preen herself about
how she and her big brother were just so much better than 'dear Patrick',
so much more successful, so much better at living up to what their father
decided for them... She said that a lot. 'Father decided'. She didn't
become a lawyer because she watched a lot of courtroom dramas when she
was a kid; she became a lawyer because 'Father decided' she should go
to law school. She was just lucky he picked something she was actually
good at! Same for her big brother, 'Father decided' he should go into
the family company."
"Yes, well, Father didn't decide so well there." Duo grinned coldly. "Apparently,
'Father decided' really early that it would be nice to have a doctor in
the family. That was the family expectation, starting from when our Gilmore
was about five... but he only got into medical school because 'Father
decided' to buy him a scholarship, and he bombed his first year. Y'know,
if you're heading for medical studies, you don't do well in all the preparatory
units in high school and whatnot and then suddenly lose the aptitude.
It had to be obvious -- obvious for years -- that he wasn't headed
for the right career, but oh no, Father had decided, so they made him
go on until he hit the wall and made it blazingly obvious. I may not know
too much about families, but even I know that's no way to raise your kids."
Une studied him for a moment, then quirked a smile. "I'd say you know
plenty. So. Gilmore's personal track record made him look like
a good choice, we-- I-- offered him this job--"
"And either he didn't know whether he could do it or not, or he knew he
couldn't, but refusing wasn't an option," Duo nodded. "As far as you were
concerned, he could have said no, but he didn't see it that way. And he
can't teach, because for one thing I think his social skills are shot,
plus he's so good he doesn't think about how he does things any more.
Stealth and infiltration are so easy for him, he can't understand why
other people can't just see him do something once and catch on. Maybe
he knows intellectually that they need to start with the simple things,
but everything is simple to him.
"So his teaching sucked, but he managed to get his students to look
competent by training them to do a series of classroom problems by rote.
Then he had to plan missions. I bet he can plan one-person missions for
someone at his skill level just fine, but he can't plan anything that
takes teamwork. He can't plan for people who aren't as good as he is.
He doesn't remember to write down some things that are absolutely necessary,
because he's so used to them that he doesn't even think about them any
more. They're a given for him, like-- like writing directions to get someone
from the lounge room to the bathroom in your house. You'd write 'go into
the hall, turn left, second door on the right' or whatever it is, not
'get up from the sofa, walk to the door, stop, open the door, move through
it, close the door, turn on the hall light if it's dark...' You see?"
"I'm beginning to," Une sighed. "I'm also beginning to feel rather sorry
"Well, yeah." Duo ran one hand back through his bangs. "He knows he's
screwing up, but he can't ask to be removed from the job. It's the medical
school thing all over again. He's been given a job to do, and he has to
keep doing it until it all comes crashing down around his ears and he's
told to stop. The way he's been raised, he's not allowed any other
"So what do we do now?" she asked quietly.
"Well, first I talk to Gilmore to make sure I'm right about all this,"
he said, grinning sheepishly. He almost seemed to deflate a bit as he
backed off from his anger at Gilmore's family, but she was pleased to
see that he wasn't retreating back into timidity just yet. "Then, if I
am right, you've got to take Gilmore out of his teaching position. He
really is good within his area of expertise, he'd be invaluable to the
Preventers back in the field, and I think he'd be pretty good as a teacher's
assistant. You could bring him in after a mission to tell an advanced
class what he'd done; you'd just need someone else to tell them why
he did it that way, and why other methods wouldn't have worked. And...
it might also be a good idea to get him some counselling, so next time
he needs help he knows how to ask."
"That sounds like the right thing to do. It will mean a demotion for Gilmore,
however, and I'll have to find a replacement."
"He might not mind the demotion if it gets him out of something he can't
handle," Duo pointed out. "Most of his students said he seemed like a
nice enough guy, and he wasn't a heavy in the classroom -- y'know, no
leaning on his rank, no insisting they called him 'sir'. Besides, it was
a provisional appointment anyway, wasn't it?"
"As for a replacement, you mentioned McKenzie, right?" He grinned. "From
what Wufei's told me about her, she definitely wouldn't keep quiet if
she thought there was a problem..."
"I believe I can safely say that failure to communicate her feelings is
not one of McKenzie's flaws," Une said dryly, and waved him away.
"Go. Shoo. I'll have Amanda set up a meeting with Gilmore in the next
couple of days, and I'll expect your final report as soon as it's ready.
I doubt you'll keep me waiting. Now go make Chang take you to lunch or
something, it's nearly two o'clock and you look hungry."
"What, you mean 'Eat, eat, you're too thin already'?" Duo was already
sidling towards the door as he continued with, "You know, you don't look
like a Jewish grandmother--"
The stuffed puppy hit the door as he yanked it shut behind him.
* * * * *
Wufei looked up -- again -- as he heard Lady Une's door open and close,
and he nearly catapulted himself up out of his chair as he saw Duo, heading
for him this time.
"How'd it go?" he asked as Duo stepped into his little homemade office,
carefully not asking all the other questions in his head -- at least,
not asking them yet.
"Well. Um." Duo blinked at him and then seemed to sag all over, wilting
forwards into Wufei's arms for a long, tight hug. Eventually pulling back,
he sighed, "Man, I needed that. Um... how'd it go? Well, it... it went.
It went okay, I think. Oh God, I just advised Une to totally rewrite a
guy's career and she agreed with me!"
"Then she obviously knows how to recognise good advice when she hears
it," Wufei said soothingly, carefully steering Duo to sit down.
"Uh. Okay. Cool. Thanks." Duo managed a wobbly smile. "I'll know for sure
when I talk to him. Amanda's setting that up. Oh, and the scary lawyer
lady did not shoot me. Actually, I think I scared her, I'm
not sure why but I think it might have something to do with the way scary
lawyer minds work. I guess the jacket worked. And Une says I should make
you take me to lunch."
"Far be it from me to argue with my commanding officer. Where would you
like to go?"
"Somewhere with nice soundproof booths so I can have a minor nervous breakdown
and babble at you without anyone calling the men in white coats."
* * * * *
An hour and a half later, after a leisurely lunch (during which he had
indeed babbled, but had managed to avoid breakdowns of any kind), Duo
was back in his office sorting his files and making a few final notes
before putting them away. Leah McKenzie might not be in charge of the
filing room any more, but that didn't mean he was going to leave them
for Amanda to deal with; after all, he liked her, and for all he knew
she might have been taking lessons from Leah on how to deal with file
His reaction when he answered the vidphone and saw Amanda's face looking
back at him was therefore amusing, but understandable.
"I'm putting them all back, I swear!"
< < What? --Oh! > > She dimpled at him. < < I'm pleased
to hear that, but that's not actually why I called. I have a call for
you, from a Mister Gilmore, Senior. > >
Amanda nodded, and he straightened his tie, suddenly very grateful that
he'd left both it and his jacket on. "Okay, put him through."
< < Certainly, Duo. Ah... Mister Gilmore asked to speak to 'Preventers
Agent' Maxwell, and I did not correct his assumption. > >
"Gotcha. Thanks, Amanda."
< < You're welcome. > >
There was a brief flicker of static, and Amanda's image was replaced by
that of a heavy-set, scowling man. He hadn't changed much since the photos
on his daughter's wall were taken.
"Good afternoon, sir," Duo said politely, cold-calm once more. "To what
do I owe the pleasure?"
Cold brown eyes studied his face, flicked over his clothes, examined his
badge, and returned to his face... now showing the faintest, almost invisible,
flicker of wary respect. < < Agent Maxwell, > > he said.
*Oh yes. The jacket really works.*
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