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

Code of Silence + Part Twelve

18:21 Friday
11 April 208



He couldn't breathe.

He sat with his head low between his hands. A trickle of sweat threaded down his back. He could hear the verdict in his head repeating on a crazy kilter until it was drowned out by a staticky roar that grew louder and louder until he thought he--

It had been Duo's case.

That was the grand irony. They'd been at dinner, just him and Duo, both of them tired, struggling to stay awake in the low lights of the Persian restaurant that stayed open past closing to serve two men in uniform. He'll get off, Duo had said, nose down, dim-eyed in a glass of wine. There should be an eraser for guys like this. Something to wipe the stain off.

Wufei had agreed, had more than agreed-- he'd been unable to stop thinking about it, unable to shake the scene from his head, unable to so much as sleep without it invading his dreams. Six days later, he'd come to himself with his hands wrapped around a dead man's throat, staring down into dead eyes. He'd told himself--

He'd promised himself it was one time, a kind of secret gift, a sideways win that someone like Duo would appreciate all the more for never knowing who had given it. That was justification. That was justice.

Then had come the anxiety. Then had come the sick certainty that he'd be caught and his life would be over, his freedom, his precious and already endangered chances to life a life of meaning and purpose. But no-one had tracked it to him. No-one had so much as questioned one evil man's death. It was like-- a pass. A wink and a nod.

Permission.

There were always more evil men.

He was going to vomit, only he never vomited. Never. Not when his colony vaporised or Meiran died or when he'd killed Treize. Every time he'd wanted to, had suffered this terrifying seizure of every muscle and nerve, but it wouldn't come, something must be wrong with him that he couldn't, because this...

He'd pulled it off. He'd actually pulled it off. Murdered with no consequences.

Well-- a few consequences.

Most of them paid for by a man who couldn't have been a better friend if Wufei had actually asked him to do it. He certainly would have faced a different fate if it had been him at the defendant's table, not Duo.

The scrape of the door along the linoleum was his warning. There was someone coming. Wufei straightened quickly, cementing a mask of indifference in place. He stood to his open locker, prepared to appear busy.

It was Heero entering. The door swung shut on silent hinges-- he was a quiet man, a quiet partner. Not partner. Not now. Now they all knew him.

"Thought you would be here," Heero said.

Wufei propped his gym bag open on the bench and dressed himself in clean sweats. As he stripped, Heero ventured closer, slow in checking to be sure there were no other Preventers in the room. The showers were all off, the steam room empty. It was late in the day, and a Friday night, for that matter.

"You didn't stay for the verdict even," Heero said.

"I was there."

"And?"

"And I'm happy for him. He can get back to living life." Wufei bent to wipe his bare feet, and pulled on new socks. "What do you want from me?"

"I think you can do a hell of a lot better."

Heero was glaring at him, thick brows pulled low in disapproval and loss. Wufei tried to mask his twitch of shame in irritation. "I will," he answered. "If Duo wants my life, my badge, my confession--"

The roaring was back in his head. No coherent thought could pass that barrier. He let Heero claim his shoes, just to stop them touching.

"I've been thinking," Heero began slowly; or maybe Wufei just heard him at a lag, as time stretched thin and strange. "I've been thinking-- what to do-- with you. You and I--"

The door, again. They turned together. Duo stood there. Of course Duo. He ought to have given back his key, but locks had never kept him out of anywhere he wanted to be.

Wufei's stomach turned over and settled hollowly. "Hello."

Duo's eyes flicked to Heero. With a jerk of his chin, he indicated the door. Heero hovered stubbornly for a few moments longer, but Duo's level gaze didn't waver. To Wufei, Heero said, "I'll be outside."

In sudden dread Wufei would have given an arm to keep him in the room. He didn't want to fight with Heero in front of Duo; he didn't want to fight with Duo alone. Heero left, ducking around Duo through the door. Wufei swallowed, and sat.

Duo came closer. He hadn't changed from court; he wore a dark suit and in those long legs, he looked like he was stalking. He didn't look to either side, down the rows of lockers, didn't glance to the showers the way Heero had. He just came stalking near, and Wufei watched it with horrified wonder. He hadn't seen that since the war. Duo had a deadly glamour. It struck fear and admiration in equal measure.

He spoke before he could form a determination not to. "It wasn't supposed to be you," he said.

Duo halted a foot from him. "Yeah? So who was it supposed to be?"

"You should have let me finish it."

"Oh, yeah, I'm the idiot." Duo slammed the locker shut. "Hey, fuck you too, buddy. Some plan of action."

"Are we speaking of plans? You shouldn't have done this. How long did you know?" Duo stood there seething with violence, and Wufei only barely restrained himself from taking that step that lay between them. He lowered his hands with an effort. "Why didn't you do something to stop me, instead of just covering for me?"

"Why didn't I do something? I had ten fucking minutes to figure out whether you were a victim or a psychopath, and you can god-damn thank me for not turning on you the way you did on me!"

It almost felt good to speak honestly about it. He'd carried it for two years in comfort, but suddenly it was a burden he would have hurled away from him if he could. "Don't pretend you didn't know," he countered. "For months, probably. You're not stupid."

"I'm supposed to look at my friend for murder? That night, Wufei. That fucking night, and I didn't know what to do, and you didn't give me a chance to ask you, did you? You stood there looking at me like I was guilty, and I didn't know what to do!"

"Neither did I."

A painful and worthless confession. Not the right confession. He'd forgot what it felt like to trust, had deliberately retracted trust in the knowledge that he himself was untrustworthy. He had failed, when Duo had turned up that night in Vasquez's flat, there with the body, like a nightmare breaking everything open before he was-- ready. But Wufei didn't have the excuse of panic. Neither of them did. There had been choice, and even mutual-- understanding. Acknowledgment. He remembered that look, those eyes coming to meet his in the interrogation room, the first time Duo had looked him in the face that night, and that look had said-- We both know what's been done, and we both know-- They had both known what the way forward would be.

"So what now?" Duo said. "Am I supposed to believe you won't turn around and do it again, now that the spotlight's off? Am I supposed to follow you around for the rest of our lives, ducking all the shit for you?"

He shook his head, but it wouldn't clear. He turned away to fumble with his shoes, to cover the tremor in his hands. "I want to stop. I mean to stop, damn it. I need you to believe that."

"Who's the next one?" Duo pushed. "Another low-level junkie like Vasquez? Another retired child molester?"

Wufei gripped the bench. "No. It was-- no... No-one."

"You've already got him all picked out, haven't you?" Duo was in his space, crowding him, radiating that untenable anger. "No? Well, all right then. Why don't we go back upstairs? We can go through all the open cases. There's some real scumbags in town. If not, we can take a walk to the floor. Maybe we could go straight down to the cells and just pick one in holding. I mean, why bother with the hunt? Just a time-waster, and it's not like anyone suspects you, any more."

"Don't do this. Please. I've told you, I'm finished--"

"Or we could take a drive. Pick up dinner, finger a perp, dump him in the Bay on the way home. I noticed you don't do women. What's that about?"

"I don't." His hands were trembling. He had never wanted to hit anyone so much in his life. Duo stood there glaring hot holes in Wufei with eyes that promised more death than forgiveness, and Wufei couldn't get in a full breath around the choking-- hopelessness. "Stop it," he said mindlessly. "Just stop. I know I was wrong. I know. You're finished with me, with our friendship, fine, I can accept that. I have no choice. Go home and leave me alone, Duo!"

"That's not the way the world works. That's not how I work. And I guess I'm just as stupid as you are."

Wufei wiped his upper lip of sweat. He hoped Heero was guarding the door outside, and half hoped as well that Heero was off getting Une. "You're not stupid," he said, "but you knew, and you decided. We're both guilty men."

He fully expected the burst of motion, and he was ready. Duo took an underhanded swing at him, slicing up toward the chest, but Wufei blocked with a shove, pushing Duo back into the lockers. He caught the force of Duo's next rush and tried to heave Duo over his hip, but Duo held his arm in an iron grip and flipped back to his feet. There was a stinging kick to his knee, a feint left, and he blocked wrong, just a second too slow to anticipate. Duo's shoulder hit Wufei's chest, and they went down. There was a double impact-- his back to the tiles, and Duo's fist across his face. He heard the crack of his own nose breaking. A wave of acute pain washed over him, and instinctively he curled.

Duo didn't land another hit. Heero had come running in at the noise. He pulled Duo off of Wufei and held him back in a half-nelson, bodily preventing him from moving. Wufei clawed for his gym towel and pressed it to his face.

Duo was panting. Wufei's blood was on his hand, his sleeve.

"Are you finished?" Wufei demanded. He checked the towel. There was a great crimson stain from the bleeding, a blotch swimming in his tearing vision. He wiped angrily at his eyes. "We're supposed to be friends."

"Friends don't do this!" Duo tried to shake Heero off. "Friends are people you see on weekends, talk to during the week. People you care about. People you like. We're not friends, Wufei."

"You left, Duo, what was I supposed to do?"

"I didn't leave. I transferred." Duo wrenched hard, and Heero finally let him go. "I wasn't making a difference in Homicide. We used to talk about that."

"None of us make a difference," Wufei retorted harshly. "We used to talk about that."

"We can. We should. And you feel that way too, which is why you started your own little one-man butcher-shop justice league."

He swallowed a thick coppery mouthful. Not broken, his nose, just badly battered.

Duo's case. It had been Duo's case. Unsolved. He had solved it. Closed it. Duo of all people should understand.
Understand.

Maybe just enough. It was Duo who made the next move, then. The Duo who knew how to forgive, the Duo who knew how to reach out when Wufei could only stand still.

"Come to Narc with me," Duo pleaded, voice cracking roughly. "I'll be your partner. You'll see how it feels to make a difference."

"Heero's my partner now."

Heero spoke quietly. "I'll understand."

"I don't think I can stop," he whispered.

Duo took his wrist. "You listen to me. You owe me. I know you didn't ask for the debt, but that doesn't make it disappear. You owe me to try to be better."

"Moises Aguilar." They were watching, Heero dim in Duo's shadow, both of them sad-eyed. "He's a pimp," Wufei said. "Dealer. Likes to beat up his women. He killed his mistress. I know, because I'm the one who closed that case, but he traded on one of his associates and got immunity. His cousin is a councilman. He's next. He's the one I've chosen. I've been watching him, I know his habits, I know every abominable thing he's ever even thought--"

"He's a nobody." Duo's voice was like sawdust, whispers rough-edged. "He's scum under your boot."

"Maybe I'll be caught this time. Duo, it's-- what I want. You're asking me to promise things I can't give you. Be reasonable. Be a Preventer."

"When did that ever do us any good?" Duo's pained smile had a large dose of irony. "I should have spoken up. I know that. That's why I went there, to Vasquez's apartment. Because it clicked, the-- The way all the cases were from different departments. The way all the deaths were different, but the clean-up was always the same. The way you suddenly had no life when this started two years ago." He didn't wait for Wufei's interruption. "We used to see each other all the time. We really were friends. But you practically dropped out of my life after I went over to Narcotics. And you may not realise it, but you took Heero with you."

"And you got Trowa. You left first, Duo."

Duo looked shocked. Wufei wished he hadn't said that, but there was no way to take it back. It wasn't even entirely true. He'd been happy for them both, glad for them when Duo had slowly drifted away from those weeknights at the bar with friends to the evenings in with the man he was making a life with. If it had left Wufei a little lonelier, a little more solitary, that was entirely Wufei's fault, and it was beyond shameful to suggest Duo bore any blame for what had followed.

"Duo," he began awkwardly.

"No."

"No?"

"If you want to destroy your life, you do it without my approval and without my help."

Wufei scrubbed his face, dug the tips of his fingers into his temples. "Should I ask Heero, then?"

Duo pointed at the man watching them silently. "Heero's not the one who went down for you," he accused.

"You're refusing me."

"If you can walk away and deal with that, then fine. Do it."

"I don't think either of us is--"

"They'll know who you are even if they put you in protective custody. They'll buy off your guards. They'll corner you. They'll beat you to a pulp and they'll tear you open and set you on fire and when they're done with all that, they might let you die. That's what they do to cops in prison."

He covered Duo's mouth with his hand. Duo blinked away tears at him, and one fell down his flushed cheek. "Then I'll die," Wufei told him gently. "And it will be a waste. But it will be an end for me, and you'll be free of this."

Duo turned to Heero. "Why don't you do something, say something," he appealed. His voice broke.

Heero hesitated too long. Duo cursed, and threw the gym bag at him. It bounced off Heero's arm, raised to block the blow, but distracted him long enough for Duo to attack Wufei again, landing solid hits to the collarbone and then the stomach before Wufei caught both his hands and restrained him.

The rattle of the latch stopped it escalating further. Everyone froze.

Quatre's voice followed. "Unlock this door right now," he said grimly through the wood.

It was Wufei who moved first. He released Duo, and passed Heero going to the door. Quatre waited no longer than it took to unlatch the door, turning himself to lock it again behind him.

"You all have quite the audience," he told them. "People heard you fighting. They were worried enough to alert Une."

Wufei glared at the door. "They have better things to do."

Quatre raised his eyebrows. "You can't expect them not to be curious. Especially when the three of you can't be bothered to keep your voices down."

The calm reprimand was jarring after Duo's strident emotionality. Wufei straightened unconsciously. "This didn't have to happen," he tried again.

"No, it didn't. I'm glad you realise that."

He was being stung from all sides. "Why are you here?" he demanded; and then was embarrassed by his own petulance. Quatre's expression reflected nothing but his own chagrin.

"I'm here to pick you up," Quatre said after a pause.

Even Duo looked surprised. Thrown, Wufei stuttered. "I don't understand."

"I have a mid-level position in my staff that's become available. I've hired you. You'll serve me in security." Quatre stepped closer, bearing down on him, slight young man with no smiles now, no give, no release. "We're leaving today."

He opened his mouth to protest. A position. Leaving-- he was thrown into a cocktail of uncertainty, fear, hope, pandemonium in his own head. Desperation to do something right, for all of them-- for Duo.

He sounded hoarse to his own ears, and it had nothing to do with all the yelling they'd done. "All the clouds on his reputation will be gone if I do?"

Quatre stood almost nose to nose with him. "Let me be very clear on this," he said. "I'm not here to bargain with you. You are coming with me."

Duo wasn't looking at him. He was looking at Quatre, a poignant, piercing hope alight in his face. "No charges?"

"No charges. Assuming that the behaviour-- which we are never going to speak about-- ends right now. I want your word, Wufei."

He didn't give it immediately. "Security?" he said.

Face to steely face, Quatre said, "Give me your word. Right now."

They stood there, united front, all of them loyal, committed to stopping him, to kill off this urge in him that had almost destroyed them. Like they were a unit again.

He wasn't sure he'd ever lose the need in him that had tumbled him onto this path. But maybe the need to stop was bigger, more important. Maybe he wanted it badly enough to be sure he would. His will had always been strong. He knew that about himself, at least.

He inclined his head stiffly. "My word, then."

Quatre nodded. "Now swear to me that if you ever, ever feel..." He drew a deep breath, and the severity of his remoteness slowly eased. "If you ever feel overwhelmed, or tired, if it ever hurts that much, you have to promise to come to me, Wufei."

The sheer invasiveness of that demand was shocking. It had never been Wufei's way to go running to anyone with his cares. Even the desire to had been trained out of him from the time he'd learned to walk, that even Duo had never managed to plumb out of him. "I can't-- historically-- confidences don't come easily to me," he tried to explain. "You don't know what you're asking of me."

"You will promise it," Quatre said relentlessly. "Because there's no choice for you here. You will promise me."

Where had the weight pressing on his chest come from? "I'm not-- I'm not damaged, damn it!"

"Then you've got to be the healthiest person I've ever met, because there are still days when I want to lay down and die because of what I did."

He fumbled behind himself for the bench. His eyes stung again, but it wasn't the soreness from his bruised nose. He knew Duo and Heero were still there, watching Quatre decimate him inch by inch, humiliation in the burn, now, that he hadn't felt even minutes ago. But--

But.

There was choice. There was choice, and understanding. Decision.

"I'll promise anything you require," he managed, voiceless, empty. "Whatever you want of me."

Quatre sank to his knees. "Thank you," he whispered. He leaned forward, and embraced Wufei. Wufei dropped his head to Quatre's shoulder as Quatre rubbed soothing circles on his back. He ached with shame; Quatre's compassion was almost as much a burden as the secret he'd been carrying.

"You're not broken," Quatre whispered to him. "But you are damaged. We'll work on that together."

But a sweeter burden, perhaps, once he surrendered to its inevitability. It wasn't quite forgiveness. He would still have to earn that. Quatre would let him.

Everyone was silent by the time Quatre finally released him. Wufei wiped his cheeks, smearing his palm with reddish tears. He stood. Quatre's hand lingered on his shoulder.

"Give Duo your badge," Quatre said.

They were to it. Duo was the one who looked ravaged, pale skin drawn tight over his clenched jaw. Wufei pulled the chain free of his shirt. It snagged on his collar, so he snapped it tight. He'd worn that badge almost every day for nine years; he knew every scratch and smudge in the stainless steel. He wrapped it in its chain, and held it out.

"Take it," Quatre urged.

Duo still hesitated. Wufei pressed the badge into his palm. Duo nodded, at that, his fingers curling about the metal. He clutched it tightly.

Quatre beckoned Heero. "Take his gun."

Heero was not as reluctant as Duo. He stepped forward, his hand out. Wufei wanted to avoid his eyes, but Heero looked directly at him. Wufei couldn't read him, didn't know if that look was disappointment, exoneration. He looked away first. He opened his locker, and took out his gun, holster and all. He kept his eyes on his hands as he passed it to Heero.

Quatre's hand slipped down to Wufei's elbow. "I've already spoken to Une. We're just going to leave. My car's out front." Wufei nodded. He let Quatre gather his wallet and jacket. Quatre squeezed his arm, and murmured, "You can tell them later. There will be time."

"Right," Wufei said. He straightened his spine. "Let's go."

They were at the door. Duo darted forward. He caught at Wufei's sleeve.

Wufei turned. Duo's neck was warm under his hands. He touched his forehead to Duo's.

"Come on," Quatre said.

+

02:48 Saturday
12 April 208



He didn't usually write immediately, unless there were numbers involved. Dates, times, addresses, for accuracy. But he'd been at this for almost ten hours. He tapped the pen on the steering wheel. The new book he'd bought at the convenience store sat on the seat next to him. He'd made one entry, logging Duo's arrival at his complex at six. He couldn't think of anything else to add.

He knew Duo was cleaning. It was the kind of thing Duo did, when he was upset. He'd been out of his own place for two months and he'd be in there, scrubbing out all the corners, bisselling his carpets until his arms ached.

He'd seen Quatre leaving with Wufei from Preventers Plaza. Trowa didn't really have the imagination to think what Quatre planned on doing with the man. For all he knew, Quatre was going to dress Wufei in a French maid's uniform and parade him around until the humiliation beat the psycho out of him. It was hard to care, particularly. Whatever his reasoning, Wufei had been a coward. But what did that really mean? They were all being cowards. Wufei killed and let Duo take the punishment. Duo wanted Trowa to love him and ran away.

Heero wanted Duo to love him, and settled for just driving him home. They'd sat in Heero's rice-burner for a damn hour, parked in front of Duo's apartment, talking. If it had been Trowa, he would at least have tried to make it to the inner sanctum. You only got what you asked for.

Except Trowa wasn't asking for anything. It was three in the morning, and he was sitting in his car across the street from Duo's, because he was too damned gutless to go to the door.

He turned on the engine briefly to warm the cab. It was snowing outside, unseasonably, tiny flakes that came and went in gusts. He checked the bag he'd brought from the store. He was out of caffeine, and candy bars. There was half a danish still in the greasy wrapper. He dropped it back with a grimace. He was already jittery, and none of it even touched the nauseating weariness riding underneath.

It was closer to four when the lobby door of the complex opened. It was Duo, tee shirt and jeans, bare-armed to the cold. He came crossing the street straight through the lot to Trowa's car. It took a moment to register. Trowa put the log down and sat up straight. How was that for coming to grips with opportunity?

Duo halted next to the driver's side. He tapped the window, and Trowa turned on the engine again to roll it down.

"Here," Duo said. He passed Trowa a thermos and a plate-- toast and oatmeal. "I'm in for the night. Go home, Trowa."

"Invite me up," Trowa said.

"Trowa--"

"Please."

Duo resisted for a moment. Duo would have resisted the Rapture if it came for him. But then he nodded.

That actually surprised him. He didn't question, though. He turned off the car, struggled out of it on legs that felt suspiciously weak. He locked the door behind him, and followed Duo back into his building.

He'd been right. Duo had cleaned. He hadn't anticipated the boxes.

"Try not to speculate," Duo said. He leaned on the door.

The books were boxed. The kitchen gear. And Duo hadn't been washing the windows, he'd been taking down the blinds. The whole place was bare.

"You're going to--"

"Don't get on me about running away," Duo pre-empted him. His bare arms were pale even in the gold glow from the overhead light. "I can't afford this place without a job. That's all."

Oh, bullshit. Duo didn't need to give up the apartment in a hurry. He had to have reserves. And even if he didn't, Trowa did. Beautiful. Just fucking perfect.

Everything they'd been through, all the battering at each other, it hadn't even bought him a day past the verdict.

Duo blinked. "What--" He crossed his arms over his chest. "No. I'm just--"

"Are you coming home or not?"

"Sit down. Please."

"Because you said things that made me believe you were. No. I don't want to fucking sit down, Duo."

"I said things?" Duo half-shouted at him, and just like that they were back in the middle of the only real argument they'd ever had. "Yeah, I did. I said a lot of things. And it's like talking to a black fucking hole! When's it your turn to say things? When's it your turn to make me believe?"

"That's what I've been trying to do for the last two months, and you don't want to hear it because ‘I love you' isn't in the sentence--"

Duo's head turned. He stepped closer. "I'm sorry. For calling you out of the blue and landing a murder trial on your lap. For being down on you because I didn't have another punching bag since this started. For needing someone to stand on and demanding you be the one. For always asking for more. I know I do that. I know."

"What do you want me to say? That it's okay with me? I guess it is because I didn't stop it and I didn't rat him out. It's not up to me to tell you how to be. You ask for help when you need it, like this time. If I pushed you, maybe you wouldn't and then you'd be fucked and I'd be--" His thoughts derailed. He didn't know how to finish his sentence. "--kicking myself in the head."

"You know I hate that about you sometimes." Duo's eyes were dark. "How you have to think to figure out what I mean to you."

"I know what you mean to me, and so do you."

"No, I know you miss me. I know you like it when I'm around. Beyond that, I don't know. I'm not ungrateful. Just-- If I stayed, how long before the urgency is over? A few weeks? A month?"

So, Trowa thought. This is what rock bottom looks like.

"I guess this is the part where I'm supposed to fight for you, huh." He looked away. None of Duo's windows were broken. It was just an apartment that looked out over a courtyard, over other buildings. He tried to swallow, but his throat was tight. "I've been fighting for you since your arrest," he said. "I'm tired. I'm going home."

Duo's shoulders shrank down an inch like he was pulling in. "I wasn't going to disappear. I wouldn't."

"You know what, I'm past hearing it. So you can relax. Your stalker's taking the night off."

"Don't do this."

Trowa leaned close. He kissed Duo softly, lips barely parted.

"Seeya," he said, and left.

+

09:17 Sunday
14 April 208



"You should transfer to Narcotics," Trowa said.

Heero pretended he'd been typing all along. "Why are you here?" he said.

Trowa sat at the empty desk abutting Heero's. Wufei's nameplate was still there, but the drawers were empty when he opened them to look. "You don't know shit about homicide."

Heero wore a small frown when Trowa glanced up. "I've got three commendations that say otherwise."

"You arrested the guy you banged in my kitchen," Trowa said. "So yeah, you don't know shit."

Heero paled, then reddened.

"Did you think he wouldn't tell me?"

It was almost hard to look at Heero. In every memory Trowa had of him, he was so directed, so focussed. Maybe it was unfair to find him so pathetic now. Maybe he was being a jealous bitch about something he couldn't fix, and Heero was still the same as ever.

Heero's voice rasped just on the edge of apology, but Trowa didn't fool himself who the regret was aimed at. "He never did know how to watch his own back," Heero murmured.

Trowa put his elbows on Wufei's desk. "Do you have his back, Yuy?"

"Yeah. I do."

"Did you talk to Une about getting him reinstated?"

"Yes." Heero entered a line of script, and reached for a binder on the shelf behind him. "And she promptly reminded me she has absolutely no reason to do me any favours."

"Offer her head. She likes that." Heero grimaced, and Trowa relented about an inch. "Or maybe you could remind her that he's a good cop and that you all fucked him over."

"Why are you here?" Heero asked.

"To offer her head." It was his turn to make a face. He leaned back in Wufei's chair and propped his foot on the desktop. "Or any other damned thing she wants. Jesus, can't you even look at me? You didn't used to be this gutless, Yuy."

Their eyes connected, Heero's a fierce blue, Trowa's frigid. "What about you, Trowa?" Heero's big hands rested in fists. "You think it's an accident that I got Duo in your kitchen?"

"I don't know, Heero. You tell me."

"You've done two good things in your life. The war is a long time over, and Duo did most of this himself."

"Yeah." It took an effort to breathe normally, with the bottom dropping out of his stomach like that. Trowa fixed his gaze on Heero's bookshelf, reading coded titles on bindings until he was able to relax his spine. "It wasn't always like this," he said. "Was it?"

Heero eased back slowly. "No," he agreed softly.

"What happened?"

"We grew up. Apart."

He didn't really want to hate Heero. And he could guess that Heero didn't want to hate him. They just kind of had, since Trowa had hooked up with Duo. Trowa cleared his throat, and rubbed at the stubble on his chin.

"Yeah," he said. "I guess I didn't feel... part of it."

"You weren't. You stepped back, and we didn't know how to go after you." Then, "Duo did. Which, I guess, is why we're here."

He laughed at that. "Yeah. Anyway-- you're right about Une."

"She's upset about Wufei. She liked him."

"We all like him," Trowa said, changing the tense deliberately. "He's one of us, in the end."

Heero inhaled through the nostrils, and nodded.

"How's Duo?" Just a shade awkwardly.

"He's a little adrift." Trowa picked at a hangnail, and let Heero choose the next awkwardly painful subject. "Maybe you could look in on him next week."

"Where are you going to be?"

"Gotta get back to work. Got bills to pay, you know, and make the world unsafe for humanity..."

Heero didn't make the usual protestations, even with the opening Trowa had left him. Heero's computer beeped. Heero glanced at it, and answered the message quickly, his fingers flying over the keyboard. "Don't make him chase you," he said.

"I think you picture him running in the wrong direction," Trowa said. "When Quatre calls, tell him I hope they're all right."

+

09:32 Sunday
14 April 208



Une's door was open a crack, the blinds pulled low over the window. That was, in Trowa's experience, Une's equivalent of a hearty welcome. Trowa knocked softly, mostly to keep under the curious attention of the agents milling around behind him. He went in without waiting for an invitation.

"Trial's over," he said, and closed the door behind him.

Une, unlike Heero, was actually working on her computer. She paused, her eyes slanting up at him from under the lenses of her glasses.

Then she turned off her screen, and sat back. Her chair creaked. "Yes," she agreed. "So it is."

"Do you have an assignment for me?"

"Sit down." She turned to her rows of file cabinets as Trowa took one of the wooden chairs facing her desk. Her search took a minute, and he wondered if she were actually unprepared for his visit. That didn't seem likely, but if she knew what she was looking for, she must have misplaced it.

Finally Une turned, holding a hefty manilla packet. She slid it across her desk to him.

"Saint Petersburg," she said.

Trowa picked it up and stood. "Cool. I'll check in with you in a week."

"Trowa."

He carefully did not heave a sigh. "Yeah?"

"You don't have to be perfect every time."

"Wait, is this the part where I get the lecture on how ‘perfect' is the enemy of ‘good'?"

Une looked annoyed with him. She swept her hair back from her face, and resumed her seat. "I meant," she said, "that a few mistakes here and there might go a long way toward early retirement."

Okay, that was just surreal. Trowa turned back to fully face her. "Did I say I wanted to retire?"

"No, you didn't."

"Then what's this about?"

"Call it an attempt to be compassionate," she muttered. She turned on her screen again.

Beyond surreal. Even when they'd occasionally slept together, the closest Lady Une ever came to nice was letting him put his shoes on before she kicked him out the door. "Well, save it," Trowa said, covering his confusion with a little sneer. "I need the job."

He'd succeeded in ridding Une of whatever mysterious urge had prompted her strange offer of advice. She went back to her work, and Trowa nodded, though she was no longer looking at him. "That it?" he prompted.

"I've spoken to an acquaintance," Une said. "You can let Duo know he can expect a call. Try to stop him from turning it down immediately, out of pride."

There was no end to the revelations here. Trowa hadn't really expected her to come through with anything, when he'd asked. He wondered what the job was, where it was-- and then remembered it wasn't his place to be worrying about it.

"He's not with me any more," Trowa replied. "You're going to have to call him. Or get Yuy to do it."

That brought her head up again. "I'm surprised," Une said after a moment. "Rather."

"Yeah, well; shit happens."

"I'm not surprised at him."

"Shocked the shit out of me," Trowa retorted. "So you might as well get the rest of it off your chest."

"I've never known you to let go of anything."

"Maybe it's time to start." He looked down at the folder he held. He bent a cardboard corner, wiggled it open and shut.

It took a moment. Une laughed. "You foolish man."

He laughed too. He hoped morosely that it sounded as dark as it felt. "That'd be me."

Une opened another drawer. This time she came back immediately, and she was holding his log. His original log, not the new one still in his car. Trowa reached for it before it even hit the desktop, tucking it against his chest.

"You know how to hold on to an investment like this one," she said. "You know when an investment is worth it."

That was the closest they'd ever come to exchanging personal feelings. Trowa knew better than almost anyone else still alive what Une had done for her investment, and where it had left her when that investment had gone and got himself dead on Wufei's sword. Trowa licked his teeth, and ventured out to where she'd waited to meet him.

"He deserves better," he said. "And he's ready to move in that direction. Okay? Maybe letting him is the best thing I can do for him."

"Maybe. Or maybe he's finally ready to surrender, and it's time to make the killing blow."

"Why are we having this discussion, Lady?"

"I suspect you haven't any friends left to have it with you," she said, and if it weren't completely beyond the pale, Trowa thought that might actually have sounded like sympathy. "I'll have to do in the absence."

+

16:57 Sunday
14 April 208



"Well, all right then," Duo said.

Trowa had heard the key in the door. It had taken a lot of effort to stay in the bedroom and just listen while the door opened, while Duo came slowly wandering closer. A lot of effort to keep his head down while Duo came to a halt less than five feet away from where Trowa stood in front of his bureau, tossing clothes into a suitcase.

Trowa made himself cast an entirely casual glance at Duo. "It's just a mission," he said. "Running's your kink. Not mine."

"Fuck you, you self-righteous prick." Duo said it without heat, but it was a little bitter.

Trowa closed a drawer and left the sleeve of a jumper hanging out. "Don't, please?"

"Where are you going?"

"You know I can't tell you that."

Duo looked away. The shoulders of his coat were visibly damp and there was wet on his hair and face, drops that almost glittered when they caught the light from Trowa's bedside lamp. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

"Russia," Trowa said. His throat was dry, and he turned to the closet and the shoe rack. "I'd like to go-- I'd like to go believing you'll be here when I come home." His leather trouser boots were in good condition, if a little dull. And his trainers, not the new ones, but the ones he used for jogging. They went into the suitcase. "Lie if you have to. I don't care. I need all my concentration for this and I won't have it if I'm wondering wh--"

Duo interrupted. "My shit's in the car."

The wall he'd been pushing against for two months evaporated. Trowa felt-- dizzy, blindsided. It was an overwhelming, palpable, visceral flood of relief.

His throat was still tight when he spoke. "C'mere."

"Don't order me around."

"God, you dumbass."

Duo went to the bureau. He opened the top drawer, the sock drawer, and brought a handful to Trowa's suitcase. He began to fold them. Half over half, the ends tucked in; the way Trowa liked.

Duo's waist was slender and taut, tense, a little, like he was working to stay still when Trowa embraced him from behind. He rested his chin against Duo's hair-- it was soggy and it smelled like snow-- locked his wrists together over Duo's stomach.

"I don't want it to be just a word standing between us," he whispered.

"Maybe it always will," Duo answered quietly. "Maybe we can live with that."

"Maybe we won't have to."

Duo's heart was beating hard enough to feel through his back, but he didn't turn. "I can live with it, Trowa."

"Could you look at me, please?"

Duo didn't steel himself. He wouldn't have to, Trowa knew. He'd walked in with his back up. His eyes gave nothing away.

"Don't go. I'll figure out a way to make you believe it's worth your-- sacrifice."

Duo stopped him with a kiss. "I'll be here," he said gently, his lips brushing over Trowa's.

He kissed Duo hard. Then softly, because hard didn't feel quite right. "So... okay."

"Yeah."

Duo's hair never dried quickly. It hung in a tangled fringe over his face. Trowa brushed it aside, and pressed their cheeks together. Duo's hand smoothed down over his chest, and fell away. "You got time for dinner before you leave?" he asked.

"Not leaving til tomorrow morning."

"That's good."

"You okay?"

"I will be." Duo smiled. It was tired, and a little sore, maybe, but Trowa knew it for one of the real ones. "Come on," he added. "I'll cook one of your favourites. We can sleep early."

He followed Duo to the kitchen. It had got dark while he was packing; the window over the sink showed only black behind the panes. Duo shed his coat onto one of the chairs, and rolled up his sleeves. He was wearing a blue button-down. It looked incongruous, at first, because it was so weirdly normal. It made him look younger. It made him look like-- just a guy in a kitchen, but Duo, also.

"Hey," Trowa said.

"Yeah?" Duo pulled a pot from the cupboard and set it in the sink under the faucet.

"I do, you know."

Duo's back happened to be to him. He was sure it was just the timing, not intention, but Duo went still for a moment. Then, slowly, he resumed his walk to the fridge.

"Just so we're clear on that," Trowa said.

It took Duo a long time to answer. "Yeah," he replied huskily. "Okay."

"Yeah." Trowa exhaled, and went back to their bedroom to finish packing.

(end)

[part 11] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]