Authors: TB and Marsh
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Code of Silence + Part Eleven

"Next witness, Mr Lebreton?" Padilla said.

Lebreton stood, buttoning his jacket. "The People call Duo Maxwell, your Honour."

From the angle Trowa sat at, he could see Duo's right hand in his lap. He was dragging his thumbnail back and forth across his index finger. The way he'd been chewing them lately, his nails had to be ragged. But it was the only tell that Duo was nervous as he stood. He was short next to Lebreton, crossing paths with him as he walked around his table to the witness stand, somber in his black suit and tie, remarkably un-Duo-like. He mumbled through the swearing in at low volume with the clerk, and climbed the stand, and sat.

Lebreton nodded in greeting as if they hadn't been occupying the same room for the past two weeks. "Are you comfortable, Mr Maxwell?" he asked. "Would you like a glass of water?"

"No," Duo said. "Thank you."

"We'll start with an easy question," Lebreton said. "Where did you grow up?"

Addison shot to his feet, making everyone start. "Objection, your Honour, outside the scope."

Lebreton faced Padilla. "I know the boundaries, your Honour. This is well within the scope of these proceedings."

"You can continue," she decided. "Be careful what you ask."

"Please answer the question, Mr Maxwell. Where did you grow up?"

Duo's eyes flickered from his lawyers back to Lebreton. "L2."

"What was it like there?"

"Objection," Addison interrupted again. "Relevance."

"If Council will let me get on with it, I can demonstrate relevance," Lebreton retorted. Padilla only waved a hand, and Addison subsided, his expression tense.

Duo took his cue from the judge. "It wasn't great. I don't know."

"Some of our jury members might not know much about the Colonies. It's hard for us to imagine what they were like before the War." His tone was pleasantly patient. "I'm hoping you can describe it."

"Like what?"

"Where did you live?" He paused, then elaborated before Duo could answer. "A house, an apartment?"

"No," Duo said sullenly. "I didn't have a home."

"You were indigent."

Duo hadn't wanted to prepare for Lebreton's questions. Anticipation won't change my answers, he'd said, and just refused to think about it. Trowa thought he was being a moron, and he'd said so, but Duo's wasn't the kind of mind that needed to keep a story straight. Except he didn't have anything straight in his head anymore, and having your guard up wasn't the same thing as being ready for the hurt.

"I lived on the street, yeah. Sometimes in the superstructure," Duo said. "You could stay there for a few days before the cold got too bad."

"Why on the street? You were an orphan?"

"I guess. I didn't have any papers and I never knew my parents."

"No family at all? Who raised you?"

"There's a lot of gangs in the Colonies. We looked after each other."

"Gangs made up of orphans, yes? The side-effect of decades of civil conflict. We've all read stories about the child gangs. Some serious criminal activity. Drugs, arms, even prostitution."

Duo's expression was hard. He looked at Addison again, but there was no help coming from there. "The plague killed off a lot of them," he said finally. "The ones who were left didn't have a lot of choice. No-one was handing out food and shelter on L2. They sent the police to wipe us out, and when the police weren't enough, they sent the Feds."

Lebreton drifted toward the jury box, and leant against the railing. "What do you mean, ‘wipe you out'? Were you ever afraid for your life?"

"I knew of soldiers who kept a count of how many they killed. No-one ever put any of them on trial."

"Tell us about the Maxwell Church orphanage."

Fuck, Trowa thought. Duo went still as stone up on the stand. There weren't all that many who put it together, Duo and the Church, and the ones who did know knew damn well better than to bring it up.

"You were rounded up under Mayor Scott Schulyer's ‘Clean the Streets' Act of 188, yes? And placed in a state-sponsored orphanage. Where you just happened to be the sole survivor of one of the worst cases of violence against Colonials in our history, yes? The Maxwell Church Massacre." He crossed his arms over his chest, gazing at Duo. "How many people were living in the church at the time of that tragedy?"

"Fifty-four," Duo said, almost inaudibly. "Father Maxwell, two nuns and four initiates, and-- us."

"All of them killed when Alliance military fired artillery on the Church. Except for you. You lived."

Duo's lips were parted like he was having trouble breathing. He kept looking at Addison for rescue. Trowa felt pain in his palms and realised he was clenching his fists.

"You even took on the name Maxwell, as a tribute to what you'd been through, I imagine." Lebreton came back to the stand. "Would it be accurate to say you've got a lot of anger about the life you led on L2?"

"I don't think I'd describe it like that."

"How would you describe it then?"

"I would say that I-- I don't live there anymore, and I don't live like that now."

"Have you ever been professionally treated for Post Traumatic Stress?"

Trowa silently imagined Lebreton's head imploding.

Duo's expression was impossible to read. "Yes."

"Multiple times, am I correct?" He didn't wait for Duo's confirmation. "What about anger management? Yes? Two different seminars."

"One of those was mandated by the Department. Everyone in my squad had to go."

"Four agents in Preventers Narcotics have filed complaints against you. They said you were biased against the agents born on Earth, especially ones who had transferred to Preventers from the Alliance military or OZ."

"They filed that complaint after they were fired for not doing their jobs. I'm biased against incompetence, is what I'm biased against."

"It sounds like you have an excuse for just about everything, Mr Maxwell."

"Objection," Addison said.

"Withdrawn." Lebreton crossed his arms. "Have you ever killed anyone? Aside from the men you're on trial for murdering."

"Objection!" Addison was on his feet, and so were the rest of the team. "Your Honour, the ADA is violating the pre-trial motions!"

Padilla was frowning. She depressed the noise button on her microphone and motioned the lawyers forward. Trowa strained to listen, but couldn't hear anything. Addison was furious, his hands waving as he spoke, but Lebreton had scored a point with just the suggestion. Trowa looked at Duo. Duo was already looking at him.

At last the conference broke apart. Addison did not look relieved as he returned to his seat. Trowa sat up, but Addison only shook his head, and faced resolutely frontward.

"Let me rephrase my question," Lebreton said. "Have you ever been forced to kill a perpetrator while on duty with the Preventers?"

"Yes." Silently Trowa offered whatever encouragement he could. Duo broke their stare, and turned his eyes to the ADA. "It's an unfortunate part of my job."

"How many?"

"I don't know."

"I'm not asking the precise amount in your checking account, Mr Maxwell, I'm asking how many men you've personally killed. Can you at least estimate? One? Five? A dozen?"

"Ten," Duo said.

Lebreton returned to his table to grab the file of photographs he'd used earlier. "You don't have alibis for 13 December 204, 5 March 205, 24 August 206, or 17 October 207, do you? And on the night of 28 January of this year?" He didn't wait more than a second for Duo's answer. "On the 28th, you say you got a call from a confidential informant who directed you to the apartment of Rene Vasquez. But that's not true, is it? Any more than that you were home alone on the other nights in question, when you in fact strangled one man, hung another, forced a third to slit his own veins, and burned a fourth alive in an abandoned car."

"No," Duo said forcefully.

"Except that you got caught on the 28th. Two of your own colleagues responded to a call and found you standing over the body of Rene Vasquez. You had forced him to kneel against the wall, and you shot him in the face. But that's not all. There was another man there that night. Craig Becker was there, too. You bashed in his skull and you shot him four times in the chest, didn't you?"

"No, I didn't."

"And once you had killed them, you started to get rid of the bodies. That's your MO, isn't it? You kill them and you move the bodies somewhere where they won't be found for a few days, where they won't be connected to you. You dragged Becker's body to a city dump and you tossed him out like the garbage he was."

"No," Duo interjected.

Lebreton overrode him. "And then you went back to take care of Vasquez, except you'd run out of time. Agents Chang and Yuy interrupted you before you could get rid of the second body. And even though they'd served in Preventers with you for nine years, they came to the same conclusion: that you had killed the man they found you standing over."

"I didn't kill anyone."

"Except for the people that you have killed, isn't that right? The people you killed because they were criminals, because they were dangerous, because you thought you had no choice. Are you telling us that faced with these men-- gang leaders, drug dealers, rapists, child molesters, terrorists-- you're telling us that you never believed you were ridding the earth of people who deserved to die?"

Duo was white-faced, his hands clenched in his lap. "No," he repeated. "I did not kill them."

Lebreton shrugged at the jury. "I'm done, your Honour."


**


Trowa started stripping before the door swung back and latched. He threw his sock at the back of Duo's head.

"Gross," Duo complained. "Now my hair smells like feet."

"You're tired, and I'm tired. Fortunately, there's a simple solution to this conundrum." He dropped his shirt to the floor, and attacked Duo's belt buckle. "It's been a long time since we took a nap together in the daytime," he suggested. He pulled sharply, and Duo's trousers fell to his calves. "Oops. My bad."

He'd managed to put a smile on Duo's face. It didn't quite erase the darkness collecting around his eyes, though. "Come on," Trowa coaxed, refusing to give up the drop he'd got on Duo's mood. "We were up at five. Seriously, let's just lie down." He whirled Duo's shirt in a circle and tossed it. It landed on the coffee table. "Don't say anything about that, either."

Duo was already straining toward it. He stopped, at Trowa's hands capturing his wrists, and considered him. Trowa kissed him.

"You can bitch at me later," he promised. He walked backward, dragging Duo along with him. He nudged opened the bedroom door with his shoulders and flipped them about in time to trip Duo onto the bed. Duo bounced, and that little grin grew a bit. Trowa returned it, and picked up Duo's feet to peel off his socks. "We're napping," he whispered, and crawled onto the mattress next to him. He chased a sliver of sunlight down Duo's hip to a freckle just below his navel. "Close your eyes."

"Or we can fuck," Duo offered. He covered Trowa's hand with his. "If you do all the work. I'm not up to heavy lifting."

He smiled despite himself. "You're not decompressing," he reproved.

Duo sighed, and put his arms behind his head. "Addison told me today he thinks the deliberations might last as long as a week," he said.

"Duo."

He got silence, finally. Duo went mulish and mute, and stared up at the ceiling.

Trowa propped himself on a pillow and kept his sigh on the inside. "So, did you believe him?" he asked.

"It's his job to be right, isn't it?" Duo said.

"No. It's his job to win. That's what lawyers do. Even when they know they're wrong. Which, in this case, he isn't."

"He's doing this pro bono, you know." Duo's mouth did something bitter. "Quatre offered up his millions, and Addison turned it down. He says it's nice to fight for a ‘good guy' once in a while."

"Wow. A real humanitarian." In Trowa's experience, lawyers didn't do anything for free. For any reason. He guessed it was a lie, meant to make Duo feel better; or maybe Quatre had asked Addison to say that. It was the sort of thing Quatre would do. The expenses the firm had racked up had to be astronomically beyond an unemployed ex-Preventers' budget, even combined with Trowa's contribution. Trowa wasn't going to burst Duo's bubble, though.

"He's done an all right job so far," Duo said.

"Yeah. He's good."

"You should hire him next time you get caught with your hand in some third-world dictator's cookie jar."

"I might. He's kinda hot, in a white-bread kind of way."

Duo nudged him. "Don't be jealous. I'm too tired to be amused."

He chuckled at that. "I was trying to make you jealous, dimwit. Sleep if you're tired."

"Believe me, I want to." A beat passed in silence. "Maybe we should switch to eating biscuits in bed instead. That I could get with."

"I don't like sleeping on crumbs."

"I was looking at the jury. All these people picked for being extremely average."

All right. Lebreton's questions hadn't been pretty, but he thought Duo had held his own. A lot of it was probably nervous energy Duo just had to run to the end. Duo had his own tensile strength. He could register a blow without shattering. "You're not that kid from L2 anymore," he said softly. "The jury saw that. You're the only one who can't let him go."

"That kid is never going to disappear."

"I know. But you're the only one who looks close enough to tell." Trowa thought he understood. Lebreton had stuck his dirty fingers in places Duo himself probably hadn't ventured. He'd invested his entire character in being this Officer of the Law, the defender of the system, and he'd fought for eleven years, longer than either Wufei or Heero and a tougher fight than either of them had had, making that system as fair as he could personally ensure it to be. And now it was creaming him.

Or maybe he had gone there. "You have survivors' guilt," Trowa said, and Duo snorted. "What? None of your shrinks ever said so?"

"All of them. Apparently I'm supposed to figure out what to do with it on my own."

"Abandon it?"

"You've got a three-metre radius of 'personal space'. You ever thought about abandoning that?"

"Sometimes. Selectively." That earned him a smile. Duo nudged him again, and Trowa nudged back. He pulled, and Duo shifted to lay on him. "Come on," he said. "You've been facing worse shit than this since you were a kid."

Duo was a warm pleasant weight on half his chest. The radiator was working overtime to counter the chill from the broken window, an almost inaudible hum in the background. Duo nudged the sheet lower on their hips and replaced it with his arm over Trowa's belly. He rested his chin on his arm, a brownish blur in the corner of Trowa's sight. "One of my therapists asked me once what would have happened to me if I'd never left L2," he confided.

Duo was the only one who'd ever tried a psychiatrist. Three years of pills and four of talk therapy, and for all Trowa knew, there would be a new doctor when this was over, charting all the secrets Duo never shared with his friends. It wasn't that Duo was a hypochondriac, but sometimes he was just the sum of his issues. Or maybe he was a hero for admitting he had issues at all. It wasn't like the rest of them had ever managed.

"What'd you say?" Trowa asked at last, deciding he wanted to know the answer.

"That I'd probably be dead, or serving twenty-five to life. Dead was more likely, though."

Trowa smiled at that. "They tried like hell, didn't they?"

"Gave it a good fucking shot."

"I've always... respected that about you. You survive."

Duo let out a laugh of self-deprecation. "Yeah, Duo Maxwell and the roaches."

"I always thought we were more like rats." It was odd to confess it. Duo went still with the question unspoken, and Trowa elaborated his metaphor uneasily. "Scavenge, survive on next to nothing." He had thought about it. It wasn't just compatibility. It was similarity. They hadn't lived the same experiences, by any stretch, but even at seventeen Duo had had this look of knowing, like it never had to be said at all, that come flood or fire, you'd find Duo Maxwell on the other side of it, still scraping by. It had been a long time before Trowa had decided it was a quality to admire, because he wasn't used to admiring things about himself. Adaptability, maybe. Endurance.

Duo broke his quiet. "We don't ever talk about this stuff."

"We don't usually talk."

"True fact." Wait for it, Trowa thought, and realised he was smiling. Sure enough, a beat later, Duo pressed, "Why didn't we ever?"

"I don't like dredging this shit up."

"You don't like dredging any shit up."

"No. I don't." Duo had his therapists, Quatre would have Relena... Wufei could go fuck himself, and Heero too. Trowa said, "Sublimation is comfortable."

"Only until you can't avoid a confrontation any longer."

"I'm talking to you now."

There was shifting, and then Duo sat up, taking some of the sheet with him, twisted around to gaze down. Trowa propped his head on his arm. He couldn't tell what was going on in Duo's head, what that close look in his face was. Reading Duo was like reading Sanskrit; all he could tell was that it was meant to be a language, not how any of it translated. That had been exciting, in the beginning, Duo outsmarting him, Trowa giving chase, but they'd never reached a place where both of them spoke with the same words.

"I think a lot about these milestones that I had," Duo said. "You know, the chances for things to be different, radically different..."

"Life just deals you a hand. You play as well as you can and you hope you keep some chips."

"I could be a drug dealer right now," Duo said. "Except the plague happened. Or if I'd been adopted out of the orphanage. Some of the foster homes were really horrible, six or seven kids in a room, some drunk asshole beating the crap out of us if we complained, but there was this old lady, Missus... I don't remember her name anymore. Missus. I could tell that she cared and it wouldn't be so bad with her, but I ran away anyway, just out of habit, I guess, and after that no-one tried to adopt me again. I could have been sitting in some grandma's kitchen baking cookies all through the war."

"I don't believe that," Trowa disagreed. He pulled, and the braid caressed Duo's cheek. He tried to imagine Duo as a child, a blurred impression of the old devilish grin, the old mischief. He missed that smile. "You were never going to be sitting in anyone's kitchen while there was a chance to make a difference."

"I think I've spent most of my life being angry. After... the church..." Duo fussed with the sheet, tucking it up over Trowa's waist, his thumb making a circle around Trowa's navel. His hand shook.

Post-traumatic stress. I smell burning sometimes, Duo had admitted once, on a particularly bad night, and once at a restaurant some server had dropped a tray and Duo had gone out in the alley to puke until he couldn't breathe. Trowa had never had that problem, not really, and it wasn't like Duo was crippled, but God, he was twenty-eight, and for someone who wanted to talk, there was a lot that Duo couldn't talk about.

"I would spend all my time thinking about how I'd kill the fuckers, if I could just catch them," Duo said hoarsely. "How they'd never see me coming, until just the last second, just long enough to know who I was and why I'd come after them. And maybe I would be a serial murderer now, except for-- except for what, I don't know."

"Maybe." He brought Duo's hand to his lips, kissed the back of it.

"I'm afraid of being a vic," Duo murmured a moment later. "I always have been. I'm not sure it counts as survival."

"I never once saw you as a victim."

"What happens if I don't get off, Trowa?"

He didn't like where that was going. "You'll get off."

"What would happen?" Duo repeated stubbornly.

"We'd run."

The play of contrary impulses on Duo's face was obvious enough. Trowa propped himself on his elbows, sure he wasn't going to like it.

He didn't. Duo said, "It doesn't have to be 'we'."

"Fuck you. I can't believe you just said that."

"Your life doesn't have to be over just because mine is!"

"Who says it would be?"

"You act like you don't give a shit, but there's a big difference between having this cushy home base to come back to and having no-where in the Sphere where you can relax and not watch your back. We both know what that reality lives like."

"My whole life's been no-where in the Sphere to relax, Duo. Yours too."

"We're not teenagers anymore. It would be different."

"You're going to get off, you idiot."

He could see the concentration it took to keep Duo's chest rising and falling in even breaths. Duo's body was as rigid as a highwire, tense from the bottom up, and his mouth opened a few times before he got the voice together to match it.

"I was pretty stupid about this. I just-- panicked. But it wasn't a good decision, was it?"

Trowa sat up for that. Duo's chin was smooth with a fresh shave. He pressed a kiss on it, then on Duo's mouth. "It sucked," he said. "You couldn't have lived with yourself if you hadn't done it."

He must've hit close to the right thing, because Duo didn't explode. Some of the hysteria began to ease out of him.

"We're going to be fine," Trowa told him firmly. He coaxed Duo into a kiss, and lay back. "You're insane," he added gently.

Duo's eyes dropped down to his own fingers, splayed out over Trowa's solar plexus. "I'm not going to ruin your life, Trowa. I'm not making you part of my collateral damage."

"I'm not worried about that." He snagged hold of Duo's hair and dragged him down inch by inch. "You're staying here. Understand?"

Duo bent to kiss him, his mouth open. And maybe it said something that they hadn't often kissed unless it was leading to sex, when they'd been together before. A lot of sex, certainly, that was a language they both spoke, but not romance, not the soft loving looks that Quatre had been giving Relena, and Trowa was willing to bet those two would save the bed for the wedding night. He didn't understand that, personally, not really. Sex cut out a lot of bull, got to the essentials, and had the advantage of a guaranteed happy ending. But there they were lying in bed, and not fucking. For once. And for once it felt as right as sex always did.

I love you, Duo had said. It was a solid lump of weight sitting in his gut, undigestible, and he didn't, just didn't know what it meant. To Duo; for them. If it changed things or if it was-- an apologetic prelude to a good-bye.

"I'm better with you," Trowa said. "If that... makes a difference."

He saw he'd touched Duo. It was in a blink and the tentative way his lips stayed parted, the way Duo's hand curved to his cheek. Trowa turned his face to kiss Duo's palm. Then Duo lay down again, and resumed his spot against Trowa's body. It was a good sensation. Duo's weight there, still and warm on him. Secure.


**


"Venti soy-milk latte with a shot of ginseng and whey protein," Trowa said, and put it in Duo's hand. "It tastes just about as gross as it sounds."

Duo managed a brief smile. "Thanks."

"Sure. That's four fifty."

Duo rolled his eyes, and dug in his pocket for change. "I wanted a muffin, too."

"They didn't have anything made out of organic grass or tree bark or whatever it is you eat." He spotted Wufei coming in the lobby, and tracked his progress across the marble floor. "You ready for today?" he asked.

"As I'm going to be." Duo noticed who he was looking at. "I'm going inside," he said briefly. "I just want a minute to put my head down."

"Yeah." He brushed his knuckles across Duo's cheekbone. "I'll follow soon."

He waited long enough to be sure that Duo, and an escort of Preventers who still insisted on showing up every morning and afternoon to ensure their safety, ventured off to the courtroom. He left the shelter of his large window and put himself on intercept. He caught up with Wufei about five yards from the collision Wufei'd been planning with Addison and Kiplis, who were sipping coffees of their own on one of the lobby benches.

"One of the uniforms just told me they've had reporters sneaking in from the west wing," he lied, randomly choosing the first place he thought of that would keep Wufei far away from lawyers and other policemen. "I need your help securing the area."

Wufei glowered suspiciously at him. "That's not a street-side exit," he said.

"Good idea," Heero grunted. He joined them, dropping a hand to Wufei's shoulder and reaching for his pocket comm. "Eagle and Phoenix moving to the west wing. We've got reports of unscreened people coming in."

Wufei opened his mouth to protest. Trowa didn't move, and didn't back down.

"We can cover it," Heero said. "We're going. Now." He nodded to Trowa, and took his partner with him at a crisp stride.

"What was that about?" Addison called to Trowa. "Something wrong with the security?"

"Not a thing," Trowa answered. The vibration at his belt caught his attention, and he unhooked his mobile. New text message. He punched in his code, and held the screen into the light.

coming to SF. c u 2morro.

It was from Quatre. Trowa blinked. Then he replaced his phone, and smiled at Addison. "Sorry," he said. "Where were we?"

Addison binned his coffee cup and joined Trowa. He glanced around them, then murmured, "I don't want you to be surprised. This isn't going as well as we hoped. Lebreton got a lot of what he wanted, yesterday."

"Then we're going to have to try harder, aren't we?"

"We've still got cross with Duo. He'll do a great job."

Kiplis entered their little conference as well, her thumbs moving independently on her PDA as she talked. "We're worried about jurors Three, Seven, and Twelve," she said. "Three was swayed by the forensics. Twelve doesn't like Duo, after yesterday. And frankly, Two is a wild card."

Trowa tried to picture them in his mind. Seven was the black woman. He thought they might have won her over. Twelve was a Latino man who glowered a lot. He thought Two might be the mousy man who looked like a computer salesman, a shut-in with a vivid imagination fueled by online battleship games. "Do you have something to offer that will tilt the scales?"

Addison said, "The best thing we can do is just play to the facts. And bring up the copycat murders that got dismissed from the indictment."

"That's all?"

"We've made our case," Kiplis answered. "It's as strong as it's going to get. All Lebreton has is smoke and mirrors."

"Pardon me if that doesn't fill me with confidence." Trowa fingered his mobile. "I'll give it some thought."

Addison held up both hands in protest. "We're not telling you so you'll go out and do anything, Trowa. We're telling you just to give you a heads up. We could have a verdict by this time tomorrow, you know?"

Kiplis closed her PDA and slipped it into her purse. "That jury's going to be out at least a day for each juror we haven't convinced."

"Yeah, I hear you. Sorry." He wasn't, particularly, but it did no-one any good for him to lose his cool in front of them.

Addison squeezed his shoulder. "We're doing our best, Trowa. We'll make it happen."

Addison, Trowa thought, would be a much better liar if he kept track of his own lies. He let the lawyers get a few steps ahead, and took out his phone.

Kettles on, waters boiling, he typed, and sent.


**


Addison put up another card, this one displaying the floorplan of an apartment, marked with coloured circles showing the location of Vasquez's body and the blood from Craig's body. "Run us through what happened when you arrived."

"One of the other residents of the complex was fleeing the building when I arrived. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me she'd heard repeated gun shots. I went into the building. When I got to Vasquez's apartment, there was no noise inside, but the door was open. I went in."

Wufei was in his usual spot, two rows back from Trowa on the aisle. His stoic expression gave no clues to what he was thinking. Heero leaned against the wall in the back, his arms crossed over his chest, his bulky Preventers jacket winning him a small circle of space amongst the other onlookers in the overcrowded galley.

Trowa rubbed the fold line on his trousers again, trying to smooth it out. Duo's story made perfect sense. It should have been completely believable. Except that, taken cynically, it could also sound like so much bull.

"The prosecution has made much of the fact that you were alone in Vasquez's apartment for nearly ten minutes before two more agents arrived on the scene, at which point they found and arrested you." Addison put his hands in his pockets, looking between Duo and the floorplan. "What were you doing during all that time? Are there special procedures that might explain why it took you so long?"

Duo nodded abruptly again. "The first responsibility of any agent approaching a suspected crime scene is to ensure that the space is clear of all possible danger. When I entered Vasquez's apartment, all the lights were off and it was very dark inside. I thought I saw a body, but I couldn't just stop to look at it. It took me approximately two minutes to cover the entire apartment. I started to turn on lights then, and-- the place was just covered with drug paraphernalia. I went to check on the body to be sure he wasn't still alive, but then I had take care of three open flames. When I got back to Vasquez, I realised there was too much blood, and I searched for a second body, but it wasn't in the apartment. At this point, Agents Yuy and Chang arrived."

Trowa evaluated the jury in small glances, unsure if they were buying it. Two was the mousy guy, a bad comb-over, a suit that didn't quite fit. He was taking a lot of notes while Duo talked, and Trowa couldn't remember if he'd done that before. The black woman was frowning and looking at the floorplan poster.

"Why did you decide to go alone that night?" Addison asked. "You don't have a partner, but I can't imagine you thought you'd be safe, confronting local gang leaders in their own buildings like that. What did you think you could accomplish if you showed up, one agent against who knew how many men?"

"It's not like in the movies," Duo said. "A million cops in kevlar don't bust in with guns blazing."

"Still, it seems a little overconfident of you."

Duo rubbed his mouth. "I guess. Maybe. Maybe it's hard to imagine how fast everything happened. I got the call, I was already in the neighbourhood. It was the chance to stop something from going down, versus the possibility of missing it entirely. It's never an optimal situation, ending up with a room full of dead bodies. So that's what I was thinking. If I could get there in time, I could stop it."

He'd gone there to stop Wufei, Trowa realised suddenly. Either his informant had known, or Duo had put it together, and he'd gone running hoping to stop Wufei. Reckless. So unbelievably reckless.

And in a second Trowa was thinking about all the asinine risks Duo had ever taken, all the bad odds he'd gambled on because he believed it was the right thing to do. That he personally could save someone's ass, whether in the short or the long run, and that it was worth the personal damage. Duo's mind was always working, and he was smart enough, usually, to know when he was being stupid, but over and over again, he did it anyway.

And in a second there, Trowa felt gutless by comparison. No-one had stuck their neck out for Duo, not really, not the way he did on a daily basis for all of them. They'd all sat by, every damn one of them, letting Duo go down in a blaze because he'd told them to let him. If it had been any of them, damn straight Duo wouldn't have listened to an idiotic idea like covering for a murderer. He'd have been out tracking down the truth, shoving everyone's face in it, and watching their backs while he did it, because that was the kind of friend Duo was, the kind of friend who said hell or high water and not only knew what it meant, but knew you could face it better with two than just one. But they'd left him alone with a secret he shouldn't have taken on in the first place, all of them so concerned with keeping it quiet, so concerned with pretending they weren't as messed up as they were because admitting it meant admitting they'd let it get that way, and that implied a slow decline and they didn't want to write off the lives they'd somehow patched together out of the days where a little effort was all that could be managed. They were all guilty, and they'd let Duo take the rap, every one of them.

Trowa reached over the woman next to him and grabbed the sketchpad from the trial artist. He ignored her spluttered protest as he flipped to a new page. The charcoal pencil scratched across the paper as he scrawled ask him if he's covering for someone. He ripped the page free and leaned over the rail to jab Kiplis in the back.

She read the note. Then she waved subtly for Addison's attention. Addison stepped back to take it from her hand, and he read it while Duo described his own arraignment. Addison looked sharply at Trowa.

Do it, Trowa urged silently. He could see Addison putting it together, the thoughts racing over his face. Trowa nodded firmly.

"Duo." Addison whirled back, interrupting Duo mid-sentence. "I need you to take a deep breath here. I need you to just sit still for a moment, all right?"

Duo looked startled. He glanced at the judge uncertainly. The ADA came to his feet, but he looked confused as well.

Addison put both hands on the bar. "I've got to know you pretty well in the past month. I know you're a good man with a strong sense of responsibility, maybe even a misplaced sense of responsibility. So I need you to take this moment to be absolutely sure that you're not lying even by omission."

"I'm not lying," Duo said automatically.

"It's not enough to be not guilty, Duo, not if you know who really did this and you haven't told anyone."

Duo went white-faced, but the weak protest he made was nothing compared to Lebreton's. The ADA shot to his feet with a clatter, almost shouting. "Your Honour!" he yelled. "He can't introduce a new theory of the crime this late in the trial--"

"It's not a new theory," Addison retorted swiftly, swivelling to face the judge. Padilla was frowning deeply, but she didn't immediately stop him. "If Mr Maxwell has any information about someone else who committed these murders, it's reasonable doubt and the jury deserves to hear about it."

"You're on very thin ice," Padilla said slowly. "Be careful how you walk this."

"Your Honour--"

"Duo," Addison repeated, cutting Lebreton off. He gripped the rail again, and Duo shifted back uncertainly. "You've lost your job over this, people who've known you for decades wonder whether you're a murderer, and you've sat through all of this when you didn't have to, because you're covering for someone. You're covering from someone."

Duo fumbled to catch Trowa's eyes. He looked raw and fragile, like a piece of antique porcelain. Towa dug his fingernails into his palm. He was sorry, and he wasn't. It was time to freaking move, even if it hurt.

Addison was tense in anticipation. "Don't look at the jury," he commanded. "Just look at me." Everyone in the court was hanging on this now, and the artist next to Trowa hadn't even demanded back her pad yet. The jury all looked confused, but the suspense was catching on.

"Someone you know," Addison said finally. "Maybe even someone you love. Someone you've known a long time. I know you, Duo. You give someone your loyalty and they have it forever." He made a grab for Duo when Duo squirmed away, catching his wrist and holding him physically in place. "I know you, Duo. And I know that a person who goes through what you have doesn't become a cop unless they have a true devotion to justice. If you're protecting someone, even someone you think deserves your loyalty, you're compromising on something equally central to your character. You don't have to tell me who it is. That can wait for right now. All you have to tell me right now is the truth."

Some instinct, some feeling of eyes where they shouldn't be pricked his neck. Trowa turned his head. Wufei was there, sitting on Duo's side of the room, uniformed, like every other day, like he was flying wing for his old friend. He was as grey as his shirt. His shoulders dropped just the smallest increment; and then the entire picture rearranged. His eyes settled on Trowa, and blinked once.

"Duo?" Addison prodded.

And even though it was a private moment between the two of them, with all the drama in the front of the room between Duo and the judge and the attorneys, Trowa went cold in the pit of his gut. You sick bastard, he thought numbly. You really did do it.

Addison straightened, tapping the rail once into the silence. "All right," he said softly. "I think you've answered my question."


**


Addison touched Duo's arm, and they rose as Padilla accepted the paper from the clerk. Padilla read quickly, and handed it back. Trowa scanned the faces of the jury members, but his own anxiety was getting in the way. He couldn't decipher their poker-blank expressions.

"The jury have reached a verdict," Padilla said. "Madam Forewoman, in the matter of the People versus Duo Maxwell, on six counts of homicide, how do the jury declare?"

It was the black woman who stood. She looked at the judge, not at Duo, her hands folded in front of her. "Your Honour," she said, "we unanimously find the Defendant not guilty on all counts."

"Yes!" Addison jerked his arms. Duo swayed just slightly on his feet, but Addison grabbed him in an embrace, and then Kiplis and Virbach were hugging him next. Trowa felt a rush of heat, then a moment of light-headedness. He stood, too, as Duo turned to look for him.

Thank you, Duo mouthed.

A group of Preventers went past him, over the railing, all of Duo's colleagues eager to congratulate him on the victory. Trowa kept watching for a minute after Duo was distracted, watched him shake hands and accept the well-wishes he'd earned. Then he slipped out along the wall, and found a solitary spot to wait outside the courtroom. He stared at the ceiling blindly, and concentrated on just breathing regularly.

"Hey," Quatre said.

Trowa opened his eyes. "Wasn't sure you'd made it," he said.

Quatre smiled at him. "You knew I'd be here." He leaned against the wall beside Trowa, their shoulders just brushing. "You all right?" he asked softly.

Trowa shrugged off the concern. "I'm not the one who just got the verdict."

"No?" Quatre mimicked his shrug. "Try not to be so ashamed when people figure out that you care."

"You're managing me," Trowa reproved him.

"Love is tough. You're lazy." Quatre smiled at him, though, and there was no sting to the words. "You did well, you know."

"Quat--"

"Just let me say something nice?" Quatre faced him. "What I want to say is-- What I want to say is that I realise this wasn't just about Duo. This has really been your story, too. And what you've done for him has... It's brought you back from a lot of wasted years, Trowa."

There was no room around the tightness in his throat for the snappy comeback he wanted. "I didn't do it for that," he said finally.

"I know. That's why you can be redeemed by it."

"You're full of shit."

Quatre smiled, and reached up to fix the lay of Trowa's collar. Trowa let him. When Quatre's fingers rested on his tie, he bent, and brushed their lips together.

"Dumbass," he whispered, and smoothed back the little golden cowlick one last time.

Quatre stepped back first. "Take Duo out the back," he advised. "Let Addison handle the reporters."

He nodded, and straightened. "What about Wufei?"

"I'm going to Une right now. I've got it done."

"Keep me updated."

"I will."

The courtroom was almost empty when Trowa went back inside. The jury was gone, and so was the judge; some of the Preventers had lingered in a group. Heero and Wufei were gone already. The noise of the reporters outside was kicking up as they realised the story was about to break.

Addison saw him coming, and offered Trowa his hand when they drew even. "It was a good win," the attorney said jovially. "You coming back with us for the drinking part?"

"No, but thanks," Trowa declined. "I think it needs to sink in, first."

Duo was coming out of the shell-shock. Over Kiplis' shoulder, he met Trowa's eyes.

"Sure, sure." Addison was smiling warmly. He clasped Trowa's hand again, then let him go. Trowa beckoned, and Duo joined him. "We'll see you," Trowa added, and began to move for the rear exit.

"You know, I thought it was you, when you passed me that note," Addison added suddenly.

Trowa paused. "I figured you would."

Addison's mouth quirked. "Whoever it was, I hope he was worth it. Duo, it was a pleasure."

Duo managed a small smile. "Thanks," he said. "All of you."

Duo was silent while they walked the back halls. His hand was dry and twitchy in Trowa's, like he didn't want to be held, and finally Trowa let go.

"You want a coffee, maybe?" he asked. "Or we can go straight home and do shots off each other's stomachs."

He didn't get the laugh he'd been aiming for. Duo rubbed his nose, shook his head minutely.

Jesus, Trowa thought. Duo couldn't give himself one hour to enjoy the win. He could sense the clock ticking.

A uniformed guard buzzed them through the secure door to the judges' private parking lot. Outside, it was a virtual wind tunnel; the loose hair around Duo's face began to dance. Trowa folded his coat closed against the bite of it, and faced Duo.

"It's just you, me, and the Volvos," he said. "So if you have to get something off your chest, this is the place."

Framed against the grey sky and the white courthouse bricks, Duo looked washed of colour, too, a stark figure that was a little too lean, a little too deadly. His hands were clenched, but he shoved his fists savagely into his pockets.

"Am I the only one who gives a flying fuck about the law?" he said finally.

Trowa shook his head. "What's your problem with this? You got off, and exactly the way you wanted to. Without implicating anyone else."

Grudgingly, Duo answered, "I'm not ungrateful."

"Aren't you?" A gust of cold air made him blink, and Duo was like an afterimage, not quite solid. "What did you want, Duo? Really."

"I don't know. I...."

Trowa curled his hand about Duo's neck and pulled his head down. "You can go back to whatever life you want now," he said gently. "Just let it go. You've been cleared. I don't think they're even looking any more, and that's probably the best thing."

"What life?" Duo demanded. "I've been fired, remember?"

"That was bullshit."

"It's not bullshit. It's not even just covering their asses."

"You didn't do anything wrong. And you've been cleared from what everyone else thought you did wrong. They have no grounds."

"I didn't do anything wrong, but there's a lot I didn't do right. And I protected a murderer. What's an officer of the law who's willing to ignore it when it feels right?"

"Did you? Because no one has any evidence that you did."

"I got lucky. And Heero and Wufei were sloppy all over this. They'll be lucky if they don't get the ax, too, IAB have always wanted us out--"

"They'll survive it if they do. All three of you will. Une's probably already writing you a new contract."

"I'm not going back. Even if they ask me to."

"Like hell." That surprised him. "Why?"

"Put it together," Duo said harshly. "I covered up a murder. Which means I covered up all the other murders, because it's the same perp on all of them. And there will be more."

"Shut up," Trowa overrode him. "Just shut it right now. Sometimes you're so fucking stupid." Duo resisted when he stepped in close and pressed him back against the wall. He mimed a deep kiss, pressing his lips just barely to Duo's, covering their faces with his hands in Duo's hair. "We haven't even left the damn courthouse. Are you one hundred percent certain no-one hears you, that there aren't cameras here? They can still bring charges against you. Accessory after the fact, criminal conspiracy. You give them even the littlest bit of evidence that the cover-up story wasn't just a courtroom stunt and they'll have you back on trial so fast you won't know what hit you."

Duo's body was humming under his. It took a long time. Trowa kissed him for real, until Duo responded, fit his palms to the slight curve of muscle in Duo's back, and finally let him go.

"Tell me what to do," Duo whispered.

"Fight for it," he said. "Even if it means taking him down."

"I don't-- I don't know if I have that in me. Even if I should."

"You said it wouldn't stop. Do you think he can live with that?"

"Lived with it this long."

Wufei hadn't been at the verdict. It was at least possible that Duo was right, and Wufei could reconcile this and keep right on the path he was following. But only if they let him.

"Have you talked to him?" he asked finally. "Really talked."

"No. I don't know that there's anything to say."

"Except that you let him ruin your life."

"So, what? I yell for a while? He's not gonna confess to make me feel better."

"Maybe he'll confess to fix himself." Trowa heard the buzz of the mag locks on the door being released a few seconds before the door popped open. One of the judges emerged, giving them a distracted glance. Trowa nodded as civilly as he could manage, arranging his features into a pleasantly blank expression. It worked; the judge ignored them and walked off to his car.

"Let's just go home," Trowa resumed, turning back to Duo. "We can finish this--"

"I'm going to my place," Duo said abruptly.

That took a moment to register. "Do you want a ride?" he asked slowly. "Is this-- I don't know, is this a permanent transfer, or is this an ‘I want to pack the rest of my stuff'?"

"I don't know!" Duo pushed his hair out of his face. He pushed past Trowa and headed for the exit. "I'll see you later," he offered over his shoulder. "I'll call you."

It wasn't supposed to be that fast, Trowa was thinking. It was supposed to be a drawn-out fight, because Trowa always won those; it was supposed to be a lot of broken ceramics and some hurtful words and sex on every half-way flat surface in the condo, and then things were supposed to go back to normal. It wasn't supposed to be Duo walking away before he even got a chance.

He pulled his mobile out of his belt and dialed Duo's cell number. Duo was in front of the stairwell, hand on the latch. He could hear the ring from across the lot.

Duo looked at his phone, and glanced back once. He didn't answer it.

When he was gone, Trowa shut off his phone, and went back inside.

[part 10] [part 12] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]