by: Sunhawk

Confrontations (cont)

God. With a good night's sleep under my belt, this whole thing was starting to seem like a fairly... half-assed idea. I was having a little trouble believing that I had gotten eight hundred miles away from home on little more than a major case of pissed off. What the hell was I going to say to this woman? Hi, my name's Duo Maxwell and your dead husband asked me to come and save you from the Rat-bastard you married after he was killed by him, sort of, because it was kind of my fault too because you see it might have been my Gundam and... My brain kind of petered out after that, which was probably a good thing, because I didn't even need Francis to tell me what a horrible idea that was. What in the hell was I going to do now?

I blinked when a glass of orange juice suddenly appeared in front of me, accompanied by the loud pop of that infernal gum. "There you go, Honey," the waitress said, not unkindly. "Your pancakes'll be out in a bit."

So that's what I'd ordered. I nodded and mumbled a thank you and she went away again. I sipped at the juice and went back to staring out the window.

I needed to be formulating what I was going to say to the woman when I got there. I needed to decide on a plan, settle on the roll I was playing. But all I kept doing was worrying at Heero and Wufei's actions like it was a sore tooth. I couldn't quite believe they had tried to do this to me. Tried to keep this from me. Just what in the name of God had they been afraid of? What the hell did they think I was going to do? I kept replaying yesterday's lunch conversation over in my mind, seeing all of those weird looks and gestures with a new understanding. I was actually a little appalled that I hadn't realized then that something wasn't right. It was so unlike Wufei to just give up on something. With almost no explanation. I found myself wondering if Wufei had convinced Heero to lie to me... or if it had been the other way around. And did it really matter?

"Here you go, Sugar," the waitress said, and I must have jumped a foot in the air. I blushed darkly and she laughed out loud as she sat my pancakes down in front of me.

I muttered another thank you, but she didn't immediately go away this time. "Give those a try Honey, and make sure they're all right. Cook sometimes doesn't get 'em done in the middle."

I dutifully cut into the stack and took a bite. "They seem to be all right," I told her and I got a roll of the eyes.

"Good Lord, Honey," she blurted. "That's no way to eat pancakes!" She tapped at a glass jar sitting on the counter. "Put some syrup on those or you'll choke to death on 'em!"

So I poured some maple syrup across the pancakes and took another bite, just so she'd go away. Instead I got a heavy sigh.

"What's wrong, there, Sweetie?" she was suddenly asking in a weird, maternal kind of voice. "You look like you just lost your best friend?"

I almost laughed and was a little surprised to hear myself say, "I think the jury's still out on that one."

She folded her arms and leaned against the counter, letting me know that she wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. I sighed. "What happened, Sugar?" she asked, all sympathy and curiosity.

I snorted, taking another bite of breakfast. "He lied to me," I said solemnly and was shocked when she laughed at me, shaking her head in disbelief.

"So?" she chuckled, wiping at the counter. "Everybody lies."

I gave her what I hoped was a disdainful glare, but it must have fallen short because she just laughed again.

"So," she grinned at me. "I'm talking to the world's only honest man? You never lie?"

Well, now; that was just a completely crappy thing to say... because I didn't have a ready answer. I glared harder. She laughed harder, but finally walked away.

Well... fuck.

I probably would have stormed out of the place if it wouldn't have just left me with nothing to do and nowhere to go until the day progressed enough that I felt like I could go over to the Cam...Williams'.

Ok, fine. Let's be blunt. I'm a hypocritical little snot. Please do not think that this whole little irony thing was lost on me. I was pissed off because Heero had lied to me. But I lied to Heero all the time. I am not stupid, this does not escape me. Now get ready for the real shocker; it wasn't the same damn thing.

Saw that line coming, did you? Well, come on... just what had I lied to Heero about? You want to do this forward or backward? Backward? Fine. The car. I had lied to him about not minding the car. But that lie had done him no harm. I had lied to him about wanting the job in the Preventors motor pool. But I had needed a job and that one had become available. What did it matter if it wasn't what I wanted? Again... that lie did him no harm. Technically, I suppose, you could say that I lied to him about being able to sleep alone, though it was more of an omission than a lie. But look at how upset he had been after he had found out. That lie had actually kept him from harm until I hadn't been able to maintain it any longer. So you see the pattern here? I may lie to Heero, but it's only to protect him... never to harm him. Never to keep something from him in a malicious way.

I couldn't understand what Heero's lie was meant to do. I couldn't fathom how this was protecting me. Had they decided to lie to me because they thought I would be upset about Williams being married to Anna Camden? How did that balance against my being haunted for the rest of my life by a one-eyed, pissed off ship's Captain?

How could Heero not understand how important this quest was when I had even stalled off our starting a home together until it was seen through? And how could he have connived with Wufei to keep me from it, knowing how important it was to me?

I suddenly became aware that I was just too tense to eat any more and carefully laid my fork aside before that part of me that was hurting so bad, threw the damn thing across the diner. I sat and stared down into the bright, cheerful depths of my orange juice and just let time pass, trying to quiet the roiling in my gut.

A piece of paper slid into my line of vision and that voice with the oddly maternal twang said, "What'cha thinkin' about so hard, Honey?"

I looked at the paper long enough to realize it was my bill, looked up at the waitress and quirked a mirthless little half grin. Standing up to pull my wallet out, I said, "Just the fact that a lot of people's lives would be a hell of a lot less complicated if I'd just fucking died in the asteroid belt." Then I threw down a twenty, way more than my meal had cost, and turned to take my ass the hell out of that place. If she came up with another comment, she didn't think of it before the door closed.

Screw this. I'd just drive around for a couple of hours. I did not need some gum-cracking, irritating busybody poking their too-damn perceptive nose into my business.

About an hour later, I pulled into the K-mart and went in to buy some props. A notebook and some mechanical pencils, a small soft-side briefcase and an appointment book. Then I spent the next half hour sitting in the parking lot, scribbling notes in my new acquisitions and trying to make them look well used. When I was done, it was after nine o'clock, and I decided that it was late enough.

Show time. I thought I would throw up.

I wished above and beyond everything else that I didn't have to face this alone, and of course, that thought just burned me right to the core. All those promises of undying friendship, of support and help... had turned out to be pretty damn empty promises, hadn't they? The guys were there to help me with all the things I didn't need help with... but what the hell had happened with the one and only thing I had ever fucking actually asked of them? Where were they now? Well, kiss my lilywhite ass; Duo Maxwell had managed fairly damn well up until that little trip to the belt. I would just suck it up and get the hell on with it... just like I always did.

So I took a deep breath, popped a breath mint and drove on over to the Williams' place. I arrived promptly at nine-thirty and got out of my car with briefcase in hand, carefully checking the address against the one noted in my day planner. With a vaguely bored, but pleasant, _expression plastered all over my face, I walked up to the front door and rang the bell. I was wound so damn tight, the muffled chime made me jump like somebody had fired a shot at me. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the door glass and I looked really pale. I had no fucking idea what I was going to say.

There was a moment's delay and then the door swung open to reveal a tiny little slip of a woman. She probably didn't come up to my chin, and was so petite I most likely could have picked her up like a child and parked her on my hip. Dressed in a pastel, embroidered sweatshirt with butterflies all across the front, she was the last thing I had envisioned. I had to blink and look a second time to see the faint lines that told me this woman really was old enough to be my mother. We just stared at each other for a minute and I began to see the ghost of apprehension in her _expression. I expect it had been a while since she'd had to worry about who she opened her door to.

"Can I help you?" she asked cautiously, looking like she might be considering slamming the door in my face.

I opened my mouth to speak and had to stop and clear my throat, still not sure just where in the hell to start. It was the stupid butterflies, of all things, that let me get words past my leaden tongue. The smile I managed to dredge up was for Neo and his butterflies, but the woman in front of me didn't need to know that.

"Hi," I grinned at her, glancing down at the little book in my hand as though referencing something. "Would you be Anna Williams, by any chance?"

She frowned and unconsciously changed her stance so that she was partially behind the edge of the door. "Yes... I am," she admitted, albeit reluctantly.

I flashed her a dazzling grin, feeling a persona finally settling around my shoulders like an old, well-worn cloak. "Great!" I beamed. "I'm Duo Maxwell; I'm with the Preventors. My partner Chang Wufei contacted your son a couple of weeks ago?" I juggled my little book somewhat clumsily out of my right hand and then extended that hand for her to shake. She took it automatically and I was relieved that she was so busy digesting what I had said that she didn't even notice the scars.

I released her hand, still smiling broadly and waited for her to acknowledge that she knew what I was talking about. Her _expression was a strange mixture of dread and hope and I felt really... odd. "Yes," she finally managed. "Jimmy told me about the message... but I thought that I would be contacted before anyone came out... I... I'm not sure..."

I sighed in exasperation and rolled my eyes, trying to look very put out. "Agent Chang didn't call you?" I blurted, all indignation on her behalf. "Well... you aren't the first one. I've done five of these interviews for him in the last two days and you're the third person he didn't get in touch with." I waved my appointment book around like the holy bible. "I don't know what gets in to him," I said, lowering my voice conspiratorially. "Just because he's the senior agent, he thinks he doesn't have to do any of the tedious work." She smiled faintly, but still looked a little uncertain and I sighed heavily. "I am so sorry. If this isn't a good time, I suppose I could come back... it certainly isn't your fault that Agent Chang sent me on an eight hundred mile trip without verifying first!"

I watched her eyes widen and knew I'd delivered the proper guilt trip. She stepped back and gestured me inside. "Oh good Heavens, no! You've come all this way... I can certainly spare the time so you don't have to reschedule."

As I stepped into her immaculate, unassuming living room, I was struck with this bastard mix of exultation and oh-my-God terror. What now? I'd gotten myself in here... what the hell now? Did I just give the damn journal to her and run? Didn't seem to be the proper choice. So, I bided my time and followed her as she led me into her home.

Then another voice, a man's voice, called, "Annie? Who is it, Hon?"

I honestly think that for the space of about thirty seconds, I blacked out on my feet. There's no other explanation for the fact that between one blink and the next, a man just appeared in the doorway from another room. I heard his voice... I remember a bit of hissing, static noise... and then there he was. I knew in my soul I was looking at Emery Williams. Somewhere in the back of my head, Captain Camden growled like a mad dog.

He was... ordinary. Almost disappointingly so. I suppose he had assumed rather larger than life, Ming the Merciless kind of proportions in my mind. He was anything but; no taller than I was and rather... round. Dark haired, with a receding hairline. Sure as hell didn't look like he'd ever been in the military. I became aware that Anna was speaking to me.

"Mr. Maxwell?" she asked, and I had the impression it wasn't for the first time. "Are you all right?"

I tore my gaze back to her slightly frowning face and managed another smile. "I'm terribly sorry," I told her. "I'm afraid I've been on the road for days now... I think it's starting to catch up to me."

She waved me forward, gesturing towards the cozy little sitting area. "Please sit down," she told me solicitously and beckoned her Rat-bastard husband to her side. "Mr. Maxwell... let me introduce my husband, Emery Williams." He came, rather protectively forward, frowning at me slightly. I managed to take his hand and shake it, only because my own fingers didn't really feel his, so I was able to keep from wiping my palm on my pants leg when he let go again. I nodded to him while Anna said, "Mr. Maxwell is with the Preventors, dear... remember that e-mail Jimmy showed us?"

He made a little 'ah' sound and we all sat down. I took the rather overstuffed chair closest to the door and Anna perched on the edge of the love seat directly across the coffee table from me, nervously smoothing her skirt over her knees. Rat-bastard balanced on the arm of the couch next to her. I guess I was going to have to stop thinking of him like that, or I was going to start calling him that. He dropped a hand to rest on her shoulder and she leaned slightly toward him.

I shuffled around in my briefcase, stalling for a minute while I desperately tried to think of what I should be asking. What was my role here again? Oh yeah... I never came up with one. Damn.

I pulled out my notebook and a pencil and sat back, trying to look... official. I flashed another grin at Anna and tried to pretend that Williams wasn't sitting there, right next to her. But then it dawned on me that if I really were in possession of a list of survivors and relatives, he'd be on it. I took a deep breath and just fucking leaped in.

"Well," I grinned, glancing down at my 'notes' despite the fact that it was really just a list of things I hated about my car. "I'm afraid I've done a number of these interviews in the last several days and I'm not sure..." I leafed forward a couple of pages and tried to look suddenly enlightened. "Ah! Here it is!" I scanned a few lines of song lyrics and looked up at her sympathetically. "I'm so sorry... your husband was Captain Camden?"

She nodded, looking a little uncomfortable and Williams rubbed her shoulder encouragingly. It was rather disconcerting, seeing him sitting there with James Camden's wife. I had to remind myself that he was a Rat-bastard.

"Mr. Maxwell," Anna ventured into my slight hesitation. "Just what has prompted this investigation after all this time? I didn't quite understand from Agent Chang's message..."

I gave her a conspiratorial wink and smiled. 'He is rather vague, isn't he?' She smiled with me, but waited patiently for her answer. Well... no time like the present to stir up the anthill. "I don't know if you were aware, but an expedition was mounted several months ago to salvage the wreck of the Londonderry."

Anna nodded vaguely, looking slightly unhappy, but I noticed that Williams' face took on a strange frown and I couldn't resist smiling straight at him. Does my name sound familiar, asshole? I wanted to ask him. Are you sweating yet? Somebody went and saw your handiwork and returned to tell the tale. Sweat Rat-bastard... sweat.

"Some data was retrieved," I continued talking to Anna, "that raised some questions that the Preventors thought should be... looked into."

"Questions?" she asked, looking slightly confused. I suspected she just didn't want to think too hard about the subject at hand. "Jimmy told me you were trying to clear James's name of the charges that were filed against him... posthumously."

I'd always wondered about that practice. Just what was up with charging a dead person with a crime? What the hell were you going to do? Resurrect them so you could execute them again?

"Yes ma'am," I smiled gently. "The accusations that were made may have been leveled with false information. The expedition was able to retrieve a full download of the ship's logs and system data."

I stopped for a second, appearing to be checking my notes, but actually watching Williams. I was expecting the man to look nervous... scared even. He only seemed to be wearing a very... sad _expression.

I ran my eyes over a blank page, pretending to read, while I wracked my brain, trying to think of things I could ask the woman. What would a real agent in my position need to know? I needed to gain control over this interview... she was asking all the damn questions here!

"Mrs. Williams," I finally addressed her, wording my question very carefully. "Do you recall any correspondence you might have received from the Londonderry... around that time period?"

She sighed wistfully and somehow seemed to shrink a little bit, looking like nothing more than a child next to Rat-bastard. "The... the last real message we received from... from James was a letter he sent to us with my son's birthday present. It was his fourteenth birthday."

I cringed inwardly at the wobbly sound of her voice and stalled a second while I pretended to make a note of it in my book, before bulling forward. The echo of Camden's voice rumbled in my head, sounding upset. I wanted to yell at him that he had fucking gotten us into this, hadn't he realized this was going to upset his widow? What the hell did he want from me?

"Do you recall if your husband mentioned any... discipline problems, or people that he might have been having problems with?" I pressed forward, one eye on Williams.

Anna shook her head. "James never mentioned things like that. He kept his family and his career quite separate. He... always talked about... personal things."

Williams rubbed at her shoulder as her voice faltered and she looked up at him gratefully. He smiled warmly at her, but when she looked back at me, his _expression became... pensive.

What in the hell was I doing? This was getting me nowhere. I had no more idea what to do with this damn situation than I had when I'd left on the trip to come here. All I was doing was upsetting the very woman that I was supposed to be... supposed to be helping.

"Mr. Maxwell," she was asking me, since I had hesitated and lost control of the interview again. "Just what was in that data that leads the Preventors to think that my husband didn't do what they say he did?"

I saw the tiny, infinitesimal flinch that Williams made when Anna had called James 'my husband'. Well. There was some feeling there after all.

I took a deep breath. "The downloaded records indicate that Captain Camden wasn't on duty at the time the attack on the... rebels was launched." I let that hang there, watching their expressions. Did Anna know enough about the military to understand just who would have been on duty in his stead? Did she even know that Williams had been the second in command? Her _expression didn't lead me to think that she got it. It was only vaguely... hopeful. Williams, however, looked like he'd just been given a week to live.

"Annie," he said and his voice was very... odd, like he was saying goodbye. "We've been terribly remiss... why don't you go put some tea on for our guest?"

She looked positively shocked, turning to me with wide eyes. "Oh! I am so terribly sorry! Of course... I'll be right back!" Then she was up and leaving the room.

I would have objected if I hadn't understood perfectly well what was going on. I turned my attention completely to Williams and waited to see what his game was.

He rose from his perch on the arm of the sofa and settled in the seat his wife had just vacated. He sighed heavily and we just sat and stared at each other.

"I think," he said after a moment. "That I can save you some trouble Mr. Maxwell."

"Oh?" I said coolly, raising an eyebrow in question. We were to the part that James Camden had been waiting for, there in the back of my head. We had his mortal enemy on the ropes, and the man knew it.

Williams sighed again and reached up to slick a hand over his thinning hair, an obvious nervous gesture that I'd not seen him make until now. "You have to be aware of the fact that I was the second in command aboard the Londonderry on that mission."

I stared at him until he squirmed and then said. "Is Mrs. Camden aware of that fact?"

His eyes narrowed a bit at my choice of what to call her, and he tried really hard to stare me down, but ended up dropping his eyes first. "Yes... though I doubt she truly comprehends just what it... implies."

"And just what does it imply, Mr. Williams?" I asked and knew my voice had that oiled silk quality that I could manage sometimes.

He looked at me long and hard, his hand making that gesture of smoothing his hair again. "I think you know exactly what it means, Mr. Maxwell."

So... we both knew what in the hell we were talking about here. Fine. I decided to escalate things; it wouldn't take Anna all that long to make a damn pot of tea. "You want to explain to me just how you came to be married to the widow of the man you left on a dying ship?"

His eyes narrowed and he looked at me with a hint of anger showing there. "I did not leave him anywhere," he bristled. "He had the same chance the rest of us did."

I just sat for a second and stared at him, not sure if I could believe the prickly denial in his voice. "He would have... if two of the escape pods hadn't been damaged in the attack."

I watched his eyes widen in shock and couldn't help the gratified rush of feeling when I saw his face go pale. Take that Rat-bastard! Have you been sleeping all right at night? I haven't. Maybe it's time you shared some of my ghosts?

"What?" he finally managed to choke out.

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