By RazorQueen

Chains + Chapter 2

"Hey."  Noin slid into her chair and faced Zechs across their back-to-back desks.  She leaned forward, speaking just loud enough for him to hear. The noise of the station swirled around them, isolating them in a bubble of privacy.  "I think I've got something."

Zechs looked up from his computer, hopeful. So far, he'd turned up nothing.  No enemies to speak of, no one with motive. No sour or shady business deals.  Nothing.  He'd begun to believe that whoever killed Marcum had an intensely personal reason to do so, some secret shared only between the two of them.

"On Marcum?"

"Nope. On Maxwell."  She pushed a folder across the desk.  "Look at this."

Zechs stretched and reached for it.  "That's from downstairs."

"Yep.  Sweet-talked one of the guys in records to let me bring the file up here. Turns out Maxwell has a rap sheet.  Juvenile record, too, but that's sealed."

Zechs held his breath as he opened the folder and scanned Duo's police record.  He wasn't sure what he was afraid of seeing, or why he was afraid at all.  With something that felt like relief, he read through the string of arrests. 

"Nothing particularly serious.  Petty larceny, mostly.  Trespassing. A couple of drunk and disorderly. Resisting arrest with those, too." He noted the addresses. "Nasty part of town. Street kid?"

"That's how I read it. I'd like to see what's in the juvie file, just out of curiosity.  I'm guessing more of the same."

Zechs looked at the date and location of his last arrest.  It was more recent than one would think for someone living in a trendy, expensive neighborhood and working at a top consulting firm.  How did Duo go from the corner of Fifth and Main to a corner office at Marcum & Associates in a few months? 

Frowning, he drummed his fingers on the cold steel of his desk. "What are the usual qualifications for a job like his?"

"Junior exec in a place like that? Degree in business, at the very least.  They can usually hire the best of the best.  You know, Harvard, M.I.T.  The top business schools."

"I'm guessing that if Duo Maxwell set foot on a campus like that, it was to steal a stereo out of someone's car."

"So how'd he get hired by Marcum?"

"How indeed."  Zechs had an easier time mentally fitting Duo into a gang hanging on a street corner than he could into an Ivy League classroom. "Who had the job before him?"

Noin pulled out her notebook and flipped through it. "Guy named Trowa Barton.  He's at Winner Enterprises now."

"An even bigger player than Marcum. Check him out.  I'm going back to Marcum's office, see if we missed something. Try to have another chat with Duo Maxwell while I'm at it."

"Oh, I see how it is." Noin feigned a put-upon look.  "You want to ditch me so you can make time with the cute witness."

Zechs rolled his eyes. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Me?  You're the one who drooled over him. Not that I blame you."

"You want me to take Barton? Then you can go drool over Maxwell."

"It'd be tempting, if I thought for a minute you meant it."  She grinned, but her eyes were sharp and serious. "No, really.  You'd better go.  He's already talked to you, you're familiar.  You'll get more out of him than I would."

"I didn't get much out of him before.  He's not a talker."

"Use your charm."

Zechs let out an exasperated sigh. "Noin--"

She laughed again and grabbed her coat. "See you later, Zechs.  Try not to drool all over the nice topcoat."  She waved, and then was gone.

Zechs scowled after her, then flipped through the file again, trying to piece together Duo Maxwell's past.  The date on the first adult conviction was more recent than he expected, only four years ago, and judging from the frequency of his run-ins with the court, he'd probably had his last juvie conviction six or eight months before that.  Young, then, to be a rising star in the business world.

How had a street punk gotten catapulted into Grant Marcum's realm? Where would their paths have ever crossed to begin with?  Zechs frowned. He was missing something. He studied the reports again, hoping for an answer to jump out at him, but nothing did. Finally, he closed the folder. It was all speculation until he talked with Duo again. He stood, put on his coat, and left the room. 

As he walked down the hall toward the front door, he felt a cold chill and his neck prickled.  He told himself to keep walking, that he didn't need a confrontation today.  But it looked like he was going to get one, whether he needed it or not.

"Lieutenant Merquise."

He turned, his hackles already rising at the ice in her voice. "Captain Une."

She stood in the doorway of her office.  Une was a striking woman, dressed in a dark suit almost military in the severity of its cut, her brown hair pulled back from a face both delicate and austere. Zechs didn't doubt that some men and women found her beautiful, but he thought she had the eyes of a snake about to strike.  Those eyes fixed on him, hard and predatory, and he suppressed a shiver. 

"In a hurry?" 

"I'm on my way to interview a witness." He pointedly looked at his watch, even though he had nothing actually scheduled. "Is there something you wanted?"

"You're going without Noin?"

"She's following another lead."

"Alone?"

"She's perfectly capable."

"I'm not worried about her capabilities."

Zechs sighed. "Captain, if you have something to say, please say it.  I have work to do."

"I'm just surprised at you, Lieutenant.  That's all.  Letting your partner go off alone.  I thought you'd have learned.  Carry on." She turned on her heel, disappeared back into her office, leaving him standing in the hall alone.

Zechs felt a sudden moment of fear and reached in his pocket for his phone.  He had dialed half of Noin's number when he realized what he was doing and flipped his phone closed.  Damn Une.  That was exactly what she'd wanted.  She'd wanted him to be afraid for his partner, to remember the helpless, numbing fear--as if he would ever forget it.  And more than that, by resurrecting that fear, she wanted him to blame himself for Treize's murder.  Savagely, Zechs shoved the phone back in his pocket. He didn't need her help to feel guilty over his partner's death.  He managed that quite well on his own.

But that was the past.  In the present, he had a murder on his hands, and more questions than answers. 

Zechs stepped off the elevator into the bland expanse of the executive lobby of Marcum and Associates.  Strangely enough, it had the same empty feeling as the last time he'd been here, despite the presence this time of a receptionist.  Today, someone had turned on the ambient music, and it made a soft, unobtrusive backdrop for the receptionist's "May I help you?"

The receptionist was a pretty young woman with a friendly face but with the eyes of a dragon. Her job was to keep people like Zechs away from the company's top dogs.  He gave her his best dragon-slayer smile.

Her defenses faltered slightly, and when she said, "Good morning, sir," she almost sounded as though she meant it.

"I'd like to speak to Duo Maxwell, please."

"Mr. Maxwell is in conference. I'll be happy to tell him you called." She didn't ask for his name, nor did she pick up a pen or have a notepad handy.  Zechs wondered if she actually intended to mention his arrival at all.  He suspected not.

Zechs looked her in the eye.  She melted a little more under his intense gaze.

Allowing the fiction that Duo was unavailable to continue a little longer, he said, "I'm afraid that won't do.  How long do you expect him to be in conference?"

"I can't say."

Zechs tipped his head toward her slightly, allowing his platinum hair to fall forward.  With apparent nonchalance, he swept it back off his face in an elegant, practiced gesture. She glanced at her phone in a moment of indecision that he felt was probably uncharacteristic of her.  He gave her another hopeful smile.

She picked up her phone. "Let me see when he expects to be free. May I have your name?"

"Zechs Merquise."

Zechs waited while she spoke quietly on the phone.  It took no more than a few seconds before she said, "Mr. Maxwell will see you immediately," and only a few more seconds after that before Duo himself walked into the lobby.

Duo looked much the same as Zechs remembered him.  It caused him both relief and discomfort, relief that his imagination had not created a creature that did not exist, and discomfort in knowing that this very real Duo Maxwell was going to be trouble for him.

Duo spoke first. "Lieutenant. Please, come back to my office?" He glanced at the dragon. "Lisa, hold my calls."

Zechs followed him back a hall almost identical to the one that he'd taken to Marcum's office, although this one led to a much smaller office.  Zechs looked around.  There didn't seem to be anything of Duo's personality in it. That disappointed him.

Duo saw Zechs' look. "I just moved in here.  My old office was next to Grant's. But I couldn't work there. I kept thinking...so I moved over here."

"You're staying with the company?"

"For now. But I'm keeping my options open." Duo perched on the corner of his desk. "Have a seat?"

"I'll stand, thank you. I won't take up much of your time." 

Duo looked discomfited for a moment, as though unsure whether to stand or remain where he was.  After a second of shifting uncertainly, he stayed seated, looking up at Zechs with his wide, violet-blue eyes. "What can I do for you?"

"Can you tell me more about Grant Marcum? How well did you know him?"

"As well as anyone, I guess. He was a hard man to get close to."

"Were you close?"

Duo shrugged.  "It depends on what you mean.  If by ‘close' you mean did he talk about his business plans with me, then yes.  If you mean did he tell me what kept him awake at night, no."

"What about family, friends? Did he ever talk about those?"

"He never mentioned his family at all, and I never asked.  Friends...the only ones I knew of were really more like business associates.  He was a very private person."

"So I gather.  But even private people have enemies.  Who would have wanted him dead?"

Some of the color drained from Duo's face. "Believe me, I've thought about that.  But I can't think of anyone.  He could be a hard person to work for, because nothing less than perfect was acceptable. But he didn't trample over people to get to the top in business." He looked down, played with the edge of the desk.  "He didn't have to."

"Maybe it wasn't business. Maybe it was personal."

Duo's head jerked up sharply, a sudden shadow in his eyes.  "I-I wouldn't know about that." 

To Zechs, who had seen that shadow too many times, Duo suddenly looked trapped.

He wanted to press, but he didn't have enough yet to know what direction to take.  Still, the brief conversation convinced him that Duo knew more than he was telling.  "I'd like to take a look at his office again." No matter how politely phrased, it wasn't really a request.

"Sure."

He seemed relieved not to be asked any more questions, though how Zechs knew that, he couldn't say.  "I can find my way.  Thank you for seeing me."

"Oh, anytime!" A faint flush stained Duo's cheeks as he undoubtedly realized he'd answered too quickly, too enthusiastically.

Zechs smiled a little. "Indeed." With a polite incline of his head, he left Duo Maxwell's office and headed back to the murder scene.

Duo watched Zechs Merquise walk away, and to his horror, he discovered he was shaking. The man's presence hit him like a juggernaut. It wasn't just his appearance, although god knows that alone was enough to give him the shakes. Duo had never seen anyone so beautiful and so completely masculine at the same time.  He could imagine angels looking like Zechs, white and gold and beautiful, but with terrible strength when they were roused.

He shut the door of his office and leaned against it, trying to get control of his wayward body.  There was more to Zechs Merquise than his magnificent exterior.  He had...power. Duo didn't know how else to describe it.  It's like when he's in the room, I can't look at anything else but him.  Like I just want to get down on my knees and do anything he tells me.

The last time he'd felt like that...Duo closed his eyes and hugged himself. The last time he'd felt anything like that, he'd wound up here. But what Grant made him feel was only a faint echo of what Zechs' presence did to him. And look what I did for Grant...

Dangerous.  That's what Zechs was.  Duo knew himself much better these days.  He knew where his vulnerabilities lay, and he understood how far his weaknesses could take him.  But he's a cop.  How can I feel that way about a cop?

Like an animal in a cage, he paced to the window and looked out over the city.  How many of the people going about their business down there in the sunshine had shadow lives as well?  How many had dark things that they'd pay to keep hidden, secrets they'd kill to keep?

Lots of them. That's what kept Zechs Merquise in business.  Duo took another deep breath, slowly growing calmer as the immediacy of the man's presence faded a little.  He wasn't sure how he'd managed to keep from babbling everything he knew to Zechs.  It had been close. He didn't dare get in that situation again.  He didn't have any doubts about the lieutenant's intelligence--one wrong word, one clue, and he'd have the whole thing figured out. And if he does that, I'm a dead man. We both are.

Zechs sat down at Marcum's desk, acutely aware of the bullet holes just behind his head.  From all he'd learned, the man practically lived here. He opened a drawer, hoping to find more clues to who Grant Marcum was and why someone wanted him dead than he'd found in Marcum's townhouse.  That place had reminded Zechs of a residence hotel suite. Tastefully but unremarkably decorated, it reflected nothing of the man who'd lived there.  Zechs had a hard time picturing Marcum in such bland surroundings.

The pencil drawer held just that, at least a dozen pencils, all perfectly sharpened. Zechs pulled it out all the way, but found nothing more revealing than a box of paper clips.  The pedestal drawers were just as mundane in their contents.  More out of habit than hope, Zechs ran his hand along the bottom of one of the drawers.  His fingers brushed something irregular and he pulled the drawer out, lifting it off its tracks.  He dumped it over on the desk, ignoring the assortment of office supplies that spilled out.  When he found what he'd been looking for, he smiled, a triumphant, predatory baring of teeth. Taped to the bottom of the drawer was a flat manila envelope.

Zechs carefully lifted the tape and peeled the envelope away. Shoving aside the mess on the desk, he laid the envelope down and opened the clasp, then slipped his hand inside. His fingers made contact with the slick surface of photographs, and he took them out.

The triumph in his smile died.  Apparently, Grant Marcum had a private life after all.  One that included leather and whips--and Duo.

Zechs' focus narrowed to the photo on top of the small stack.  Grant Marcum, in black leather bondage gear, one booted foot propped on a low stool, dominated the photo, but he didn't rivet Zechs' attention. The other figure in the picture captivated him.  Dressed in little more than black, heeled boots that reached nearly to his knees and a black, silver-studded collar, Duo bent over Marcum's thigh.  His legs were spread wide, his toes barely touching the floor, and cuffs held his wrists at the small of his back.  Marcum pulled Duo's head up by the braid with one hand.  In the other, he held a riding crop. From the red welts that crisscrossed the white skin of Duo's ass, it was obvious what he'd been doing with it.

Zechs shifted in the chair, his slacks suddenly, uncomfortably tight in the hot rush of blood to his groin.  He turned the first picture face down on the desk, momentarily forgetting he was investigating a murder. 

The second picture seemed more posed.  Once again, Marcum wore bondage gear.  He stood with his boots planted shoulder width apart.  One fist rested solidly on his hip; the other hand held Duo's bound wrists. Duo knelt at his feet, arms stretched above his head, back flush against Marcum's knee, his cheek pressed against the man's inner thigh.  His hair hung loose over his shoulders, pooling around him on the floor. He wore the boots and collar, a tightly laced black corset, and black panties pulled down halfway to his knees. 

Zechs closed his eyes.  He could almost smell the leather and the perspiration, could feel the whip in his hand.  He remembered the heady thrill of seeking that small spark of fear in even the most acquiescent sub's eyes when he stood over them. It was like a drug, that feeling of absolute power.  An addiction he'd kicked, but a high he still craved.

He imagined himself in Grant Marcum's place, with Duo Maxwell in any one of those positions.  His breath grew ragged as he pictured Duo over his lap, felt that smooth, white skin warm under his hand. He ached thinking of Duo's soft cries as he begged for more. Because Duo would beg, he knew.  He wanted it. Zechs read his need in the line of his body, the soft glaze in his eyes, the arch of his bowed neck.  He was submission, willing and beautiful. Perfect.

How long had it been since Zechs had had that?  A long time. Too long.

The other photos were much the same, Marcum displaying his dominance through a variety of poses and paraphernalia, Duo offering his submission in an exquisite fusion of struggle and surrender. The room seemed suddenly hot and airless, even though he could hear the soft whisper of the ventilation system.

He turned over the last photo.  At first, the only difference Zechs saw was that, unlike in the others, a third man joined them.  Marcum had Duo on a leash, and Duo knelt before the other man, who was much older.

Something nudged at his awareness.  He studied the face of the third man more closely, eyes widening in sudden recognition. Alexander "Duke" Dermail, chairman of the Romafeller Foundation.  The Feds had been watching Dermail and Romafeller for years, knowing the Foundation was a front for organized crime, but never able to make any charges stick.  Mostly, witnesses had a way of recanting--or disappearing.

Zechs examined the photo again, noting other differences.  Duo wore thigh-high boots this time, and a thong, and the background was different, a curtained window or wall.  It wasn't just Duo's wardrobe, if one could call it that, that had changed. His whole attitude, his posture, his expression was different.  Tense. Fearful, even.

A cold rush snuffed his desire as surely as an icy shower.  His mind cleared, and he realized the importance of the photos he held.  They might somehow tie Marcum's murder to the Romafeller Foundation, might give him the means to bring down Dermail for good.  But for the first time in his career, he was half sorry for finding a clue, for getting the first break in a case.  He'd never wished before that he was the kind of cop who could look the other way, make evidence disappear, but part of him wanted to take these photos home and send them through the shredder.  But he couldn't.  Duo was in this, whether Zechs liked the thought or not, and if he was involved in Marcum's murder, then Zechs would see him pay.

He laid the photos out on the desk in a row, looked at them with a cop's eye.  His body had gotten control of his head, and for a moment, he'd almost considered looking the other way.  But it didn't matter that the pictures gave him a hard-on. They might also give Duo a motive--or tie him to the largest, most deadly criminal organization in the city.

He took out his phone and punched in Noin's number. She answered on the second ring.

"Hey. What's up?"

Zechs traced the line of Duo's braid with his finger. "Where are you?"

"HQ. Didn't get a lot out of Barton. You got something?"

"Yes." He took a last look at the photos then slipped them back into the envelope. "Go get us an interrogation room. I'm bringing Duo Maxwell in for a chat."

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