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

Code of Silence + Part Ten

"I don't think there's enough information to point to a single person," Heero said.

Lebreton nodded. "So this was a conspiracy?"

Heero glanced at Duo-- again. Trowa could have strangled the man and considered it his good deed for the year. "We can't eliminate that possibility, " Heero said mechanically.

Lebreton could have been a first-year law student and still seized on that one. "But you don't really think that it is, Agent Yuy? You can't really imagine that possibility fitting any of the facts, can you?"

"We don't have a lot of facts."

It was five in the afternoon, and they'd already been through ballistics on all six murder scenes. Two of the jurors looked like they were seriously missing their afternoon naps, and even Padilla was glancing at her watch frequently. Trowa was trying not to think about how sore his ass was from sitting on a wooden pew all day; he thought Duo might be daydreaming. He wasn't watching Heero's testimony, anyway. Maybe he was wishing he hadn't screwed the guy right before he went on record.

"Well, let's count them," Lebreton said. "We've got this one. About six months ago, Preventers administration alerted all its departments that a series of killings had been linked to a single killer, yes?"

"Yes," Heero said.

"Did you reply then that you thought it was a conspiracy? That there were several killers?"

"I didn't think anything."

Do you ever? Trowa thought, cynical in his own head. It might as well have been Heero distracted with remembering fucking around with Duo. Heero's naivete hadn't been charming in a long time. He sat there in all his blank-faced non-responsive-- it was a kind of arrogance, Trowa thought, it was a kind of I'm better than this, and Heero was. They all were. And he didn't think Heero knew he was doing it, but for God's sake.

"Here's another fact," Lebreton continued. "You've got an impressive arrest record, I see. Your superiors call you an excellent detective."

"I suppose."

"Not just a detective. Let's admit the obvious-- you're a former Gundam Pilot, yes?"

Addison stood. "Objection, your Honour."

"Overruled," Padilla said.

"Internationally famous, or infamous," Lebreton added. "You have extraordinary physical ability, a heightened sense of morality, of personal responsibility, according to all the evidence. You're a hero. Your word is gold."

Heero's face was grave and closed. "Is this a question?"

"You've known Duo Maxwell for years, yes? More than a decade?"

"He's an incredible person," Heero said. His eyes went shuttered, and he cast a glance away. "All the things you just said about me, they're true about him."

"Then give us some context for this fact. You and Agent Chang encountered Mr Maxwell at the scene of the murders of Craig Becker and Rene Vasquez. It took you less than ten minutes to arrest him, and three hours to turn him over for arraignment. Why? Is it because you know that Duo Maxwell often poses as a drug runner, a gang member, as part of his job? As an undercover agent, doesn't he lie? Misrepresent himself? Routinely break the laws he's sworn to uphold in order to catch other criminals?"

"Objection," Addison said, rising to his feet.

Lebreton held up a hand. "Goes to state of mind, your Honour." He waited for a nod, and got it. "Agent Yuy, faced with a number of possibilities, as you say, why did so quickly assume that Duo Maxwell, and only Duo Maxwell, was guilty of multiple murders?"

"The situation was damning," Heero said. "When I saw him there, I felt betrayed. Shocked. By the time the dust had settled, it was too late to put the bullet back in the gun. I didn't do my job that night. I'll be making up for it for a long time."

Heero's expressionless honesty raised a few eyebrows in the jury. Lebreton hesitated. Trowa was ready to write that one off as a win for the Defence, until Lebreton came back with, "Making it up to him? To yourself? By doing anything it takes to make things right with your friend?"

If only more people had been willing to, Trowa thought sourly.

+

"What's this called again?"

"Salmon casserole."

"And it's made with street tar?"

Trowa threw a spoonful of rice at Duo, kicking his legs against the cupboards where he sat on the countertop. "I can cook, twerp. You'll eat it and like it." Duo picked grains off his shirt and ate them, and Trowa laughed. Then the doorbell rang.

"You call Quat over?"

"No, but that doesn't mean anything." Trowa set his spoon on the stovetop and wiped his hands. "Let me get it." Duo didn't seem to think twice of it, and Trowa was glad. Quatre was on L1 for the final Senatorial session before the break. There was no way he would be able to get away for an unanticipated dinner with friends, even if he took the risk of visiting a friend whose murder trial had just started. Which left Wufei or Heero, neither of whom Trowa particularly wanted to welcome; or it left a reporter who had dug up Trowa's address.

Or worse, as it turned out.

"I'm here for Duo Maxwell," said the man standing on Trowa's front stoop.

Trowa had a .25 in his hand and aimed before the second word. "Hands in the air now, or I shoot and ask questions later."

"Peace-time mission, man. I'm just here to talk."

"You're Abelino Roque," Trowa said. Right-hand soldier to Alberto Cicatriz, which meant-- "Which means you're Almighty Latin King Nation, which means you saw Duo on TV and you know he's really an agent with the Preventers."

"Yeah," Roque agreed. Laconically he opened his jacket, hands out to his side, letting Trowa count the guns and knives strapped underneath. "And you're gonna let me in, because this has nothin' to do with you."

Trowa raked the street outside for-- an army of angry gang bangers signaling The End, maybe. The lane was quiet and undisturbed. Across the road, he saw Mary Wilkinson park her car and head inside without so much as glancing around toward him. And with Roque standing there silently laughing at him, Trowa had to wonder at his own frame of reference, these days, that it even occurred to him to find it funny, too.

"What; no pizza?" he said, and didn't lower his gun.

Maybe he was just tired enough to be a little punchy.

"I got a bag of tamales in the car if you're desperate," Roque said.

Trowa looked at it automatically. A non-descript Sedan, mid-size, black, entirely unremarkable. Mary Wilkinson sure wouldn't remember it being there, if police ever came by to investigate the bodies of two mysteriously murdered men in 12B.

He holstered his weapon, and Roque stepped past him inside.

Duo was standing tensely in front of the drawers. He must have heard. The air of nervous energy he wore intensified a few notches when he recognised Trowa's companion. "Someone to see you," Trowa said grimly.

Roque put his hands in his pockets and smiled a subdued little smile. "Hey, cabron," he said. "Long time."

Duo jerked his chin. "Ese vato. Que pasa?"

Roque glanced at Trowa, and answered in his accented English. "Got a minute?"

"Yeah." Duo gestured to the table, and Roque sat first. Duo eased into his chair like he might want to run if the moment came. He wasn't giving any signs to Trowa, not so much as a glance. Trowa took that for deliberate, and moved into the space Duo had vacated. It had a good angle on the front door and the kitchen window.

"Is this a `sit down, have a beer' situation, Roque?" he asked.

Roque shrugged. "I have things to say. That's all."

Trowa didn't know what particularly that meant, but it didn't seem to lead to immediate violence. He took two beers out of the fridge and set them on the table between the two men. Neither looked at him as he went back for a third, and opened it for himself.

"I don't want to make you drink with me if you need to do something about me," Duo said.

"If I needed to do something about you we wouldn't be sitting talking at your table." Roque twisted off the cap inside his elbow, and sipped the beer. "So chill out, flaco."

Duo chewed his lower lip, then nodded. "I heard you got out of cold storage a few months back. You been well?"

"Mi vida loca, yeah? You know. The usual. You've looked better."

Duo laughed at that, a harsh sudden sound. He inclined his bottle, and drank.

"So 'Berto and I were talking. About your future."

Duo nodded again, his shoulders tight. "Yeah."

"You think you're going to beat this thing?

"I don't know. The lawyers don't talk about what happens if I don't, so maybe that's a good sign."

"You need anything? `Coz we've got people."

"No," Duo declined shortly, and sincerely. "But thank you."

"Figured you'd say that. Still," Roque said. "'Berto wanted me to ask."

"I appreciate it. You didn't come here just to make that offer."

"No. But you probably know why I came." Now it was Roque who looked uncomfortable, his angular face going into a frown as he examined the label on his bottle. "'Berto wants you to know, no- one's looking at you for these killings. It don't make sense. You've been one of us, and, yeah, you'd know better places to hit if you wanted to do damage."

"The kind of damage I want to do, I don't do with a gun," Duo said bluntly. "I've been in the game. I know what's right by you, and what's not."

"But you ain't one of us no more." Roque held Duo's eyes, and Trowa itched for his gun again, but didn't want to make a move that might start something. The other two sat so still. "Never again," Roque added. "You got me?"

Duo lowered his head. "Yes. I hear you."

"You don't have to look like that, okay? It makes me feel like shit."

"You shouldn't. I'm the one who-- You went to jail because of me. I took your hospitality, your friendship. I was lying while I did it."

"Everybody lies, man. You know that."

"I believed in the reasons for doing it," Duo said.

Trowa had known Duo for all of five minutes before he'd figured out that Duo never did anything unless he could justify it with his moral code. And apparently Roque had had plenty of experience with Duo, too, because all he did was smile. "Ever consider a life of crime, cabron?"

Duo broke a little grin for that. He didn't shake his head, but Roque didn't press it.

"So what's the deal with the watchdog?" He pointed his beer at Trowa, who frowned back.

"He's a friend," Duo said. He glanced at Trowa. "He's the suspicious kind."

"He came up on our radar before."

"I never could convince him to stay at home and do the cooking."

"'Berto's protections don't extend to him. Okay? We don't want to see him no more."

Duo's face went smooth and unreadable with one blink. He nodded.

Roque stood. "I been here long enough. Keep care of yourself, amigo."

"You, too. Peace out."

"Whatever you're cooking smells like shit, man. Throw it away." Roque turned his back on them. Neither of them moved to show him out, but they heard the front door as it opened, and then closed, a moment later. The condo fell silent.

Trowa remembered to breathe, and downed half his beer along with a deep breath. "Going to tell me what that was about?" he demanded.

Duo rubbed his hands together, and finished his drink. "Shut up and finish cooking. I'm starving."

He let it go, only to avoid an argument. It had been clear enough, anyway. "It does not smell like shit," he said, and opened the pot. A cloud of steam and a distinct scent of burning rice was his answer.

"No, it smells like canned salmon."

He stirred vigorously and decided it was as done as it was going to get. He dropped a tea towel on the table and set the pan on top of it, then got bowls and spoons. He caught Duo staring toward the door. On mute, he filled a bowl for Duo, and set it in front of him.

"You heard him," Duo said abruptly. "You don't go near them again."

"Why would I?" He hadn't done it for larks. Duo had gone under for the Preventers a total of eight times, since Trowa had started watching him. Maybe it was a measure of how good Duo was that he'd managed to make friends doing it, friends enough to protect his life when a murder trial blew his face all over the news where anyone could put two and two together. Friends enough to let a few murders be bygones, on the off chance that Duo was smart enough not to pick off a few criminals for kicks, whatever he did for his day job.

He knew Duo had fired shots for the gang. He knew Duo had sold drugs, robbed people, beaten them, all for believing in the reasons for doing it. And gone back to Preventers Plaza with lists of names, with photographs, with forensic evidence of all of it. Put people like Roque in jail for it, actually. Trowa had watched a lot of it from the sidelines. It was the honesty. It got to people. Duo smiled, and you knew it was real. People like Une sent him off with a fake name and told him to `get close', with some idea that Duo came from L2, that he knew more about gangs than some silver spoon detective fresh from the Academy because he'd lived it, and they gave him a pass on any crimes he had to commit while he worked his way up the ranks to right-hand soldiers like Roque and the dons like Alberto, who liked him enough to let him walk away when they found out he was lying to them. That was what Duo did that made him good. And for a weird moment, Trowa felt something like a flush of pride.

"I don't know why you would do before," Duo said. "But just tell me you understand."

"I heard you, okay?" Trowa sat in the chair Roque had used. "Eat your dinner. You're starved."

Duo dug a spoonful from his bowl, and paused to pick something off his tongue before swallowing. Trowa let out a genuine laugh of delight. "Oh, knock it off."

"I don't know if that's a fingernail or if I chipped my tooth on it."

"Ass. It's good."

"Yeah, it's good."

"You still mad?"

"I, uh..." He stirred slowly through his plate. "No," he said. "I'm not still mad."

"Okay. Good." Trowa sectioned his bowl into fourths, and ate from the right corner first. "I admit that I might have let it get a little... dry."

Duo scratched his hair. Then he exhaled, and reached into his waistband. He laid a gun, and then one of the sharp cooking knives from the drawer, on the table next to his place mat.

"You thought he wanted something different than he did?" Trowa asked softly.

"They wouldn't have sent Roque for that. He's not an enforcer. On the other hand, it was always possible I'd personally pissed him off, I guess."

"They know where you live."

"Yeah."

Trowa went back to the counter for the beer he'd forgotten, and got another bottle each for them. He stood behind Duo's chair, and rubbed his neck firmly. "Should you be letting Yuy know about this?" he murmured.

Duo's muscles were so tense they resisted Trowa's fingers. "What's the point?" he retorted.

Trowa shrugged, and settled for just pressing lightly with his thumbs at the base of Duo's skull beneath the braid. "Whatever you think is best."

They never did eat the casserole. Trowa bent to kiss the back of Duo's neck. Duo turned in the chair to look at him, and Trowa knelt between his knees. Duo came when he pulled, and Trowa rolled him under the table. He made a joke about Duo scrubbing down the tiles just in time, and Duo didn't laugh, but it helped.

+

"Defence calls Trowa Barton, your Honour," Addison said. He glanced back, and Trowa stood from his seat in the galley. The clerk met him at the bar with a clipboard and a pen.

"Do you swear to speak truthfully, and to maintain the integrity of that oath until absolved by this court?"

"I swear," Trowa said. He signed the form the clerk held out, and climbed into the witness stand. He pulled the microphone a few inches closer, and settled back against the hard wooden rungs of the chair. It rocked just slightly off-balance.

He'd testified before in other courts, maybe a dozen times by now, working for the Preventers. The first time it had even meant something to him, that oath he'd just sworn, the solemn duty of being a cog in the great system of justice. He'd lost a lot of trust in the mechanisms since then, though. All he really hoped for this time was to tell the right truths-- and the right lies, if that was needed.

Duo wore a moody look today. He had his thumbnail between his teeth, hiding half his face. Trowa avoided looking at him too long.

It wasn't Addison who stood. It was Kiplis. She was all high heels and aggressive suit, her ginger hair pulled back severely from her forehead. She crossed her arms, standing there behind her table, and pursed her lips.

"How long have you known Duo?" she asked.

"Since we were teenagers."

"And how long have you been stalking him?"

It wasn't the line of questions they'd prepared. Trowa sat a little straighter.

"Pretty much the last three years," he admitted slowly.

She walked a little closer to him, her shoes clicking on the hardwood floors. She held up his log, the original black oilcloth. "You kept pretty detailed journals about him," she said. "What he was doing every day, what you thought he was thinking. Are you obsessed with Duo?"

She reminded him Une. He felt an almost relaxed recognition when he saw it. "You could say that."

She opened to a page marked with a green slip, and reached over the bar to pass it to him. "I want you to read the highlighted part."

Trowa cleared his throat. He recognised the passage. He had perfect recall of everything he'd ever written down. "He had dinner with JC tonight," he read into the microphone. "Stupid. No one needs to get laid that bad." It had been three months after they'd broken up, himself and Duo. Right back to the first person who evidenced a little interest. Duo wasn't too good at keeping away from what was bad for him.

"That refers to Duo's ex-boyfriend, doesn't it?"

She went trampling all over their agreement to keep mum about Duo's sexuality without the slightest hint that it bothered her. He saw why they'd picked her for this. There were no motherly smiles, today.

"Yes," he admitted.

"Have you slept with Duo yourself?"

"Are you asking me if we've had sex?"

"I'll remind you of the oath you just swore to tell us the truth."

Duo was lobster red right to his hairline, slumped low in his seat. "Yeah," Trowa said. "I have."

"About how horrified does he look right now?" Kiplis turned to look at Duo. Heads followed from the jury box. "I'd say that's about an eight out of ten, wouldn't you?"

You'd be feeling like you just got your balls kicked in, too, if someone just outed you to your partners as the raging dyke you look like, Trowa thought viciously. "It's pretty bad," Trowa said flatly.

"Because you know that Duo wasn't out at work, was he? He wasn't out to anyone but a few close friends, right?"

"No. He wasn't."

"Which sort of means Duo's been living a lie for-- well, since you were teenagers, yes?"

He'd thought he knew where she was going with it. He hoped he was right. First blood in a dirty war was always an advantage. Of course Lebreton was going to attack Duo's-- their sex life. Spectacle and secrets made for good drama. Kiplis could steal a lot of thunder playing this right.

He licked his teeth, and shrugged. "I wouldn't call it a lie," he said. "He's a private guy."

"And you're all about respecting his privacy, aren't you?" She took the log back and rifled the pages. "You've recorded practically everything Duo's done for three years. If we knew what your codes are, I bet we could find the names of every gay club he went to at night, every bar he snuck off to, even what websites he looked at."

"If you knew my codes you'd have a very detailed log of all of his activities."

"Did you follow Duo on his undercover jobs?"

"Sometimes."

"You went everywhere he went. You saw everything he saw. You know every tiny detail about this man sitting right there, yes?"

"Yes." He didn't flinch from her gaze.

"So you'd be the very first to know if Duo snuck off somewhere to kill criminals, wouldn't you?"

This was a dangerous game. And he wasn't entirely sure it was a win that was coming. "I'd know, yes."

She re-presented him with his log. "So show me where in your journal you recorded him doing that."

"I can't. He didn't do any of the killings he's accused of."

"Are you absolutely sure?" she pressed. "Can you say unequivocally that you would know if Duo was living with another dark secret?"

"Absolutely sure," Trowa retorted. "He can't hide anything from me."

"Are you sure?" She tossed the book to the table in front of Duo and faced him again. "Because if Duo knew you were following him, he might have waited until you were out of town..."

"He didn't know."

"No? Because the Prosecution would have us believe that Duo's pretty smart. Pretty devious. And if you and he were sleeping together sometimes, maybe he just figured you all out."

"I had him snowed. He trusted me."

Kiplis raised her eyebrows. "He doesn't anymore?"

"No." Duo glanced up at him over his hand, and Trowa looked away fast. "I really blew it with him, doing this."

"One last question. What is it about Duo that interests you so much?"

Trowa drew a deep breath. "He's the most genuine human being I've ever known."

"Thank you," Kiplis said. She returned to her seat, a little smirk of satisfaction on her face.

Lebreton didn't look that happy. Padilla gestured for him to take the lead, but he didn't respond right away. He and his assistant conferenced quickly in short whispers. Trowa performed a slump of his own. Two of the jury members were making notes, and a black woman in the back row that he'd pegged as a sure guilty verdict was giving him a thoughtful examination.

"Any time, Mr Lebreton," Padilla prodded.

Lebreton rose slowly, fumbling with the top button of his jacket. Lamely, he asked, "You've got some pretty strong feelings for Duo, yes?"

"We grew up together," Trowa said.

"Was that a yes or a no?"

"I care about him. Yeah."

Lebreton warmed to his questions. He wandered out from behind his table toward Trowa. "Most stalkers have fantasies about the people they stalk," he said. "They imagine they're in a relationship. But you really were in a relationship with Mr Maxwell, right? For two years, according to your journal."

"We were."

"And you've been here every day since the trial started, sitting right behind him."

"Yeah."

Lebreton pounced. "So explain to me how we're supposed to expect that you'd sit on that witness stand and say anything bad about the man you've dedicated considerable time and energy to having in every possible way. Explain to me how we're supposed to believe that you aren't lying for him, to cover up the crimes you know he's committed."

His gut-level reaction was to end it. Every time he looked at Duo, Duo was more tense, more uncomfortable. I'm a cop, he could say, I'm a cop, and it would all blow up. There'd be a mistrial, that was a sure thing, an instant mistrial because no-one wanted it to come out who he was. But then they'd just have to start over, all over again in a few months, and Duo wouldn't survive that. Or maybe there'd never be another trial. The DA's office had barely made it on this one. Except Trowa would be in jail by then, because Une would drop him under the wheels so fast he wouldn't even see the truck that hit him.

"Mr Barton?"

"Lying to protect a murderer wouldn't be an act of love," Trowa said. "Not in Duo's eyes. Not in mine."

Duo looked up. He looked troubled.

"Love is a mature and compassionate emotion," Lebreton countered. "It requires self-sacrifice and an absence of ego. I don't see a lot of that in you. What I see is a smug young man who will do anything to get what he wants, and what he wants is a man about to go to jail for murder. No further questions."

+

Wufei avoided the eyes of an old man washing in the sink as he crossed the bathroom to the stalls. The door was full-length, the cubicle large enough to stand comfortably, and he locked it behind himself as the other man noisily blew his nose, then exited.

The sound of the toilet flush covered the entrance of two more men, but he heard their voices. "What do you want?" one said shortly.

"Talk," the other returned. The tones were confrontational, and Wufei hesitated with his hand on the lock. He didn't particularly want to walk out on an argument, and that left him effectively stuck in the cubicle. "I miss you," the second man added. "I guess... maybe I shouldn't have left you alone. You might not be in this mess."

Oh, no. He recognised those voices. Duo and Johnny. He'd seen Johnny in the audience several times. And now he was trapped listening to an argument that was bound to be personal, and quite possibly bitter.

The pause that followed Johnny's statement seemed unnaturally long. Then Duo laughed. "That's the least genuine thing you've ever said to me, and I thought I'd have trouble topping your break-up speech."

Good for Duo. Johnny was beyond arrogant if he thought his 'protection' could have stopped Duo making the decision he made. But then, Johnny had always assigned himself more importance and relevance than he'd actually had in Duo's life and actions. Wufei began to carefully draw back the latch, concentrating on keeping it silent.

"Look, I'm just worried about you."

"Well, that's awfully kind of you," Duo snapped. "Given the month of dead silence that preceded it. We're not a couple, in case you forgot. You don't have to care about me anymore. Trust me, I don't lose a lot of sleep over your problems."

They'd reached the bitterness. Wufei hesitated, caught over the immorality of watching as well as listening to the fight taking place by the sinks. He cracked the door just enough to get a glimpse of Duo slouch-backed and glowering into the mirrors.

Johnny's voice was hurt. "You don't have to be mean, Duo."

"What do you want me to say? That I'm fine, that everything is going to have a happy ending? I don't know that, and you're not the first person I'm concerned with telling even if I did know."

Johnny moved into Wufei's line of sight. He turned Duo to face him. "I want you to say that you didn't do it," he said soberly.

Wufei nearly burst out into the open for that. He'd never particularly liked Johnny, but he'd never thought the man was capable of such a low blow.

Duo looked shocked. In a soft, incredulous voice, he said, "You really have to ask me that?"

"It looks really bad."

"I can't believe you. I can't believe you can look me in the eye and tell me you think I'm capable of doing this."

"You're a violent man and you've got a temper, Duo."

"How did you ever respect me enough to fuck me, Johnny?" Duo shoved, and Johnny stumbled a step away. "You know, I could get it when you said you couldn't deal with what I did during the war. But this is-- Fuck you. You talk about it with the guys? Tell them you always suspected I was capable of this?"

"Oh, your Gundam buddies have done you so much better? They're testifying against you!" Johnny turned to follow Duo's progress through the bathroom. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"You know? I don't think I believe that." Duo faced Wufei's stall. Their eyes connected, and Wufei flinched.

"Get the hell out," Duo said. The moment passed, and he turned back to Johnny. "And for the record, you didn't leave me alone. You just left me free."

It hung there, not quite finished. Johnny rubbed his mouth. "Look," he said, apologetic now.

Wufei left his stall before Johnny could add anything else. The agent jumped at his sudden appearance. Wufei levelled a long look at the man.

"Look," Johnny repeated a moment later. "I've gotta go. Just-- call me. Okay?"

The door swung shut on Johnny's retreat. Duo slammed his hand down on the sink with a resounding thwack.

Wufei flushed in fresh embarrassment. He slowed his last steps up to the sink. Duo was leaning over the countertop, his head down. Wufei turned on a faucet and washed his hands.

"Eavesdropping is a nasty habit," Duo said.

"I was minding my own business when the two of you came in."

"Then congratulations on the longest piss in the universe."

"I'm sorry."

Duo rubbed his fingers through his hair. His eyes closed tightly.

Wufei stared at him in the mirror, rubbing wet hands together. Duo had such disastrous taste in men. Until Johnny, and then Trowa, the best that could be said about Duo's boyfriends was that none of them lasted longer than a few days. The best that could be said about Johnny was that he was well-groomed. And at the worst, he had never understood Duo, never respected Duo, and he'd left when things turned bad.

"His lack of faith in you is shameful," he said.

Duo grabbed him by the lapel and slammed his forearm into Wufei's throat. His back hit the wall and Duo pressed him back against it, threatening his air supply. It was an illegal chokehold, but an effective one. Wufei responded in automatic self-defence, his foot hooking around Duo's ankle and his hands ready to strike the other man off-balance. He stopped himself before throwing Duo off.

"Go ahead and say it," he whispered.

Duo's face twisted in a snarl. "You don't get to talk about lack of faith, you motherfucking bastard."

"I know. I know," he coughed. He tried to ease the pressure of Duo's arm off his airway without drawing attention to the action. "I'm still your friend." Duo pressed harder in response. Black spots swam out of the corners of Wufei's eyes, and his head felt tight and compressed. With an effort, he dropped his hands to his side, surrendering himself to the possibility of real violence.

"I wouldn't blame you," he said, "but if you do this here, it will only convince them you're guilty."

The appeal to self-preservation seemed to penetrate. Duo's jaw moved as the jab of his elbow in Wufei's carotid slowly lessened.

"I've been here every day, too," he said. "I'm watching you in there. You've been immobilised by all of this. You're flagging. You're giving up. If I can see it, so can the jury. You're stronger than this. You need to remember that, and start fighting again."

"Screw off," Duo answered finally. He shoved Wufei hard into the wall, and let go.

"I'm sorry," he repeated.

Duo threw a fist into the paper towel dispenser. "Stop saying you're sorry!" he shouted. "Stop fucking saying it or I swear to God I'll turn you inside out."

The door surprised them both. Duo's voice died out immediately, and Wufei bit back the protest he'd been on the verge of voicing. It was Trowa.

His first worry was that they'd been heard down the hall. He truly couldn't blame Duo for finally cracking, and in a way it relieved him to see Duo release some of his frustration. But it was Duo all over to choose the courthouse men's room to do it.

Trowa let the door close, and wrapped an arm about Duo's waist. "Addison was looking for you," he murmured. "Something about going over a few questions."

Duo cast Wufei a look still edged with that desperate fury. But he swallowed it down, and nodded once. He left without saying anything else.

Trowa stayed, though. He took a stance against the wall, watching Wufei straighten his jacket and retie his hair. "Sucks to be you," he said.

Wufei met Trowa's eyes in the mirror as he turned on the faucet a second time. The water was only lukewarm, the soap especially astringent. "He's not out of line, but he is out of control," he answered. "Can you help him with that?"

Trowa's eyebrows climbed his forehead. "Yeah," he said. "I can. I've been doing it since you and your partner decided to trash him." He knocked the lever back to off, and the water stopped flowing. Wufei shook drops from his hands. Quietly, Trowa asked, "What in hell happened to you, Chang?"

He reached past Trowa for the paper towels, carefully taking only one to dry his hands. As he leant back, their eyes slid over each other, and caught.

"I got lost," he said.

Trowa's mouth was a thin hard line.

"Expose me," Wufei said. "I want you to. If you don't, I'll do it myself."

Trowa moved finally. He slipped his hands into his pockets, and rested his shoulders back on the wall. "It's a little late for that, Wufei."

Wufei closed his eyes in defeat. "It was never meant to go this far. I'll..." He binned the damp towel. "I'll take care of it."

This time Trowa grabbed him, not by the lapels, but just under the knot of his tie. "You'll do nothing," he hissed harshly. "Do you understand? It's over. Everything you've done. Everything you haven't done but still burn to. Just keep your fucking mouth shut and let someone with his head on straight handle this." He let go violently, rocking Wufei with the force of it. "Don't come back in the courtroom until you've got yourself handled. It's time to man up, Wufei."

[part 9] [part 11] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]