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

Code of Silence + Part Three

Quatre hung up after nine rings, resigned to the fact that Trowa had deactivated his voice mail and was set on ignoring him. He checked his watch to be sure he had the time difference right; it should be early afternoon in California.

While he was considering just sending an email, his phone rang. His desk phone, not the mobile he'd been using to call Trowa. He answered with a sigh. "Winner," he said.

"Hello, Quatre. "

"Relena!" He turned to face the monitor, tilting it forward to see her smiling face. "Hello yourself," he said, so pleased to see her that he actually let go of his palm pilot for the first time all morning. "It's been a while."

"Too long," she replied, tugging on a silver earring. "I'm terrible about these things. How are you?"

"Overwhelmed, exhausted, and vaguely terrified." He flashed her a little rueful grin. "You?"

"Not quite as busy as all that." She looked good, he couldn't help thinking. Were those the earrings he'd given her last Christmas? "Listen, I don't know if this is at all appropriate, but I think you may want to call Duo Maxwell."

He blinked, surprised. "Why..."

"I think he's in a bit of trouble. He may need a friend now."

He rubbed the back of his head. "To be honest, Trowa already called me about it. Who called you?"

"I'd rather not say."

Ah. "You've been practicing dark magic again?" he teased. "Nude sabbath dances under the full moon?"

Her smile was rather enigmatic, and her slender eyebrows arched at him. "A girl's entitled to some secrets, isn't she?"

"If you don't mind that that's going to be my fantasy for the next three weeks."

"Not if you don't mind I imagine you joining me."

He was grinning now. She was definitely flirting with him. "When this call hits the morning news, I'll deny everything."

"Oh, definitely. I'll deny ever knowing you." Then she said, "Why don't we see each other more, Quatre?"

They'd dated for a while -- or he'd asked her out several times over the course of a few months -- but it had petered out to nothing when his duties had called him back to the colonies. He felt his smile fading, but all he could do was shrug, in the end. "There's not an easy answer to that, is there."

"No, I suppose not." Relena glanced down at something beyond the screen, her lips pursed. When she looked up again, her smile was more distant. "Is Duo going to be all right?"

He rubbed his eyes and toed off his shoes under his desk. "I don't know. I called Trowa but he won't get back to me, and Duo's at Mr Unlisted's place."

"Ah, I see. You'll let me know if I can help?"

"Sure. If you don't see a prophecy about it first in your tea leaves."

"What's wrong, Quatre? You're unhappy."

He didn't answer right away, shuffling papers uselessly on his desk, pulling a row of post-its from his computer screen and rearranging them in a straight-edged line. "We used to be friends," he said at last.

"I don't think it's really past tense, Quatre." She said it calmly, placating without patronising him. "They're in the middle of a crisis now, Quatre. I'm sure there are things to handle."

"It's not just this." He drew a deep breath to clear his head, and let it out through his nose. He hadn't thought it through himself, and he wasn't sure he was ready to admit to a sort-of-girlfriend that mostly he felt left out and lonely. In the end, though, he opted for honesty. "It's more like... this is the first time he's called me in months," he admitted slowly. "I get that he's busy. And I haven't been able to see him for a while. But he was my best friend. I guess... I miss him." He could see the gears grinding in her head. She always got a certain look when she thought she'd solved the puzzle, and she'd start bitting the inside of her lip -- yes, just like that. "You're going to devastate me with a horribly accurate assessment, aren't you?" he asked warily.

She chuckled, her shoulders relaxing. "No, I think maybe not."

"No, give me the zinger. Go on."

"All right then, but try to remember later you asked for this." Teasing. Then, seriously, she said, "We've all been in love with someone we probably shouldn't, I think."

He stared at her, his chest going a little tight. "This is where I pretend not to understand."

"And I change the subject." Her smile went up a notch in fake brightness. "Have dinner with me. We'll talk politics." He let himself laugh, and she relaxed again. "Say yes, Quatre."

"Of course yes."

"Oh, good. I think we'll have fun."

And the media would be drooling. They'd made entertainment news everywhere when they'd attended an opera together in Hong Kong last year, though rumours had died down the last nine months or so since Quatre'd gone back to Space. "Am I going to you or are you coming to me?" he asked, finding his notebook again and opening the calendar section.

"I issued the invitation. You choose the restaurant."

He thought about it. It wouldn't be hard for her to come to the colonies, but if he went to Earth instead, he could see her, and then jump to California and personally check in on Duo and Trowa. "Cafe Kirwan," he suggested finally. They'd had their first date there. It was a great place -- he'd been trying hard to impress her -- and he knew she liked it. She looked pleased now, maybe a little flattered even.

"I'd love that," she agreed.

"I'm really glad you called," he said.

"So am I, Quatre. I've missed you."

When they hung up a few minutes later, he was feeling strangely thoughtful.

+

When he got home, he was stopped in the door by the realisation that things looked different. It took a long and mistrustful look about the place, conducted from the safety of the front door, to figure out why.

Duo had cleaned.

The carpet looked suspiciously fresh. The empty chinese cartons that had been growing mould on the coffee table were gone. His newspapers had been stacked. When he cautiously entered the kitchen, it got worse. The sink was empty for the first time in a year and the dishwasher was radiating heat and lemon from being used. The table was scrubbed, and the linoleum was shiny. Steeling himself, Trowa opened the refrigerator. As he'd feared. There was food in it.

Duo was asleep on the bed, wearing a pair of Trowa's jeans, so long on him they covered his feet. Trowa sat on the mattress beside him. Duo's back was so pale, though his arms and face had got a little colour to them since coming to Earth. Trowa traced the bumps of Duo's spine, watching the white skin shiver where his fingertip passed. When he reached the small of Duo's back, Duo twitched. Sighed. Turned his head, and saw Trowa looking at him.

"I didn't break you out of jail so you could be my maid," Trowa said.

Duo snorted into the pillow. "Too bad. You need one. Your bachelor pad practically had a crust."

"You shopped." He kept his hands to himself now that Duo was awake. Even the damn sheets were washed.

Duo rolled onto his back, making sleepy sighs on each exhale. He looked tired. He looked spooked. His eyes were that amazing purple colour.

"Bought you green beans and sweet corn," he said. "Some tinned stuff. The organic spaghetti with tofu meatballs."

He couldn't help the laugh that sprang out of his gut without his permission. "I never eat that stuff."

"But you like it."

"Health nut."

Duo said, "You were gone longer than I thought you'd be."

Long enough for Duo to scrub his entire house and hit the specialty grocer who was a half-hour away. Trowa worried suddenly about the state of his bathroom. "Sorry," he managed, and he was, if only because he could never find things after Duo cleaned. He smoothed Duo's hair back with one hand, noting not as absently as he would have liked that it felt particularly soft after it had just been washed. "Sleep okay?" he asked.

"Yeah. I don't think you've changed these sheets since I moved out."

"Twice." That made Duo crack a grin, so Trowa did too. But not for long. There was too much they had to talk about. And Duo saw it in his face, because he went sober and dark-eyed.

"Yeah," he said, as if Trowa had asked a question.

He picked at a spot on his duvet that looked permanent. "I went by your place and picked up your mail. Checked your messages. Quatre's lawyer called already. He wants to meet tomorrow at nine."

"That'll relieve that little court-appointed rat, I guess."

He shifted about to lay beside Duo, stretching out next to him. Close enough, on this damn small bed, that Duo -- if he wanted or needed to -- could -- what, cuddle? They weren't like that. But he still felt bizarrely disappointed when Duo only looked back at him.

In a quiet, hoarse little voice, Duo said, "I'm scared. Isn't that stupid? Because I don't know where this is going."

"It's not stupid." Trowa shrugged the shoulder he wasn't laying on. "And for whatever it's worth, Heero and Wufei think you're clean."

Duo breathed in sharply. There was sudden hope looking out painfully in his eyes. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Then, and more quietly, "And I know you are."

Duo came to him, then. His hand smoothed up over the fabric of Trowa's shirt; his forehead bent to Trowa's breastbone. The warm puff of Duo's breath against his chest was unfairly pleasant.

"I missed you," Duo whispered.

His fingers found their way into Duo's hair, sliding down the strands to the base. Duo had been a fixture in his life for a long time. Even before they'd started sleeping together. He was used to it, used to Duo, in the way you got used to a denim shirt or a favorite coffee cup. And it had been comfortable as long as Duo didn't try to analyse things too much. Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised when Duo left, but he had been. And the absence has been grating. His small bed seemed too big, and his apartment too quiet.

And he'd always loved the way Duo's hair felt, just a little bit damp out of the shower, smooth and thick.

"You smell like grease," Duo said, a while later. "Where'd you go?"

"Diner." He remembered. "There's a carry-out in the kitchen for you."

"Yeah? What'd you get me?"

"Mac and cheese. I remembered you liked it there."

"Joe's?" Duo's voice was pleased, muffled into his shirtfront. "Why'd you remember a thing like that."

"Hell if I know. You should probably stay here til this is all settled." Really, there was no earthly reason why, but it was better to ask while there was a mildly plausible excuse for it. Then he kissed Duo. He hadn't meant to, but it was a decent punt away from that offer he wasn't sure Duo was going to accept, considering it was Duo who'd walked out last year. Or maybe it was sort of an addendum to the offer. He got farther than he really thought he would, a few centimetres from fondling Duo's tonsils with his tongue, before Duo pulled away.

"I should go heat up your food," Trowa said.

"I'll eat it later." Duo swallowed. "It's not that I don't want to fool around with you. Except I'd want it to mean something and you'd want it not to mean anything and we'd both be disappointed."

Well, that was half what he wanted to hear.

"Why?" he asked. He deliberately didn't specify why what; he wanted to see what Duo thought he was asking. But it backfired. Duo glared at him. So Trowa backpedaled. "If you want to move back in here, it's all right."

"I never wanted to leave. I did want you to want me to stay."

"I never said I wanted you to leave."

Trowa had counted himself lucky when Duo moved out without the arguing phase. He ought to have known that eventually they'd make up for the lapse. "You got comfortable," Duo was accusing him. "You didn't try anymore. We were just guys who lived together and had sex."

"You make it sound so cold."

"It was."

"Half of the arrangement, anyway. Isn't that what you're saying?"

They realised at the same time their voices were climbing in volume. Duo glanced away first, staring down at the duvet, picking a thread that was coming loose. "I don't know," he mumbled. "I guess I got too tired to keep trying to fix it. Not your fault."

He reached for the bruise on Duo's face, a puffy swelling point on his cheekbone bathed in purple. He tried to imagine Heero hitting Duo with those steel-bending fists. He could understand how it had gone down -- he'd wanted to hit Duo a few times himself -- but thinking it and doing it were two pretty different things. A small part of him wanted to chase Heero down and return the favour.

Then, he supposed, if he did feel that, then he knew at least a little what sex right now would mean to him.

"I don't need you to marry me," Duo said. "I don't need you to romance me. I just want it to be more than me being the guy who kept showing up."

"If that's what you thought it was, we're more fucked up than I thought." He let out a shallow breath. "You wouldn't be here, and we wouldn't be talking about this, if you were that guy." He struggled to find words that Duo would accept. "I don't know if I can give you more than this. I don't know if either of us even know what this is."

"It's a fucking relationship, Trowa. That has well-defined parametres."

"The parameters being that we like being together and we have sex? Or did you want something more from me? "

"I want you to feel. I want you to ache when I'm gone. I want you to care whether I make it home at six instead of five."

He slapped a hand onto the duvet impatiently. "It's kind of shitty that you think I don't. I'm not Quatre, Duo, I can't bleed every time I say the wrong thing."

"Do I ask you to?"

He needed distance between them. He left the bed, snapping the buttons on his shirt and wrenching out of it. He tossed it toward the hamper and pulled open his bureau to take out a -- damn it, Duo had washed his clothes. No-one should be able to get so much done in the space of a few hours alone. "Seems like nothing else will satisfy you," he said to his clean white undershirts.

"I don't need you to be what you're not," Duo told his back. "I'm asking you to stop being less than what you already are."

He turned. "Did you want to fuck or not?"

He watched it. Duo just breathed. If there was something going on behind Duo's eyes, he didn't know what it was. He looked at the lay of Duo's body, the lines of his legs in Trowa's clothes, his pale bare chest and freckled shoulders.

He was glad when Duo said, "Yes."

+

"Welcome back, gentlemen," Une greeted them. Heero paused, glancing at Wufei before he finished removing his outer coat and hanging it on the communal rack. Wufei was adjusting his tie in the small mirror inside his locker, as if an impeccable uniform would make up for blood-shot eyes and stiff bodies from too little sleep.

Une waited for them to finish and approach her office in the back of the squad room. "We have company this morning," she said. "Internal Affairs at two o'clock."

Heero glanced where she'd indicated, and saw a small group in suits, not uniforms, helping themselves to bagels at the coffee table. "What's IAB want?" he asked her.

"Our souls on a plate," Wufei muttered.

"Doubtlessly." Une handed them a folder each -- copies of their reports from Duo's arrest. Wufei glanced at his partner as he took his, and Heero looked grimly back.

"Then we'll give them what they ask for," Heero said.

"Up to and including a full body cavity search," Une appended briskly. "Yuy, you're in the break room. Chang, they'll see you in my office."

Heero muttered, "If I'm not back in five minutes, they've shot me." He gently whacked Wufei's elbow with his folder, and got a small smile in return. Two of the suits at the table paused as he passed them. Heero did not acknowledge them, but simply aimed himself at the break room in the back. He was not surprised to see a paper taped to the door advising that the room was in use. He let himself in, and finding it empty, chose a seat on a couch facing the door. That put the bright afternoon sun behind him as well.

He didn't quite have time to steel himself for what was obviously going to be an uncomfortable interview before the door opened again. He rose when he noticed the skirt, but it wasn't until he was already on his feet that he focused on the face. Noin.

She ignored his raised eyebrows. She waved him back to his seat, and dragged a chair opposite his couch. Heero sat slowly, regarding her cautiously as she set herself down, a pile of folders in her lap, a paper coffee cup on the floor beside her feet. She wasn't wearing a uniform, but her badge was clipped to the lapel of her pinstripe jacket. There was nothing friendly in her grave expression.

Without preamble, she said, "Nothing could have surprised me more than what's in this folder. So what's going on, Heero?"

He wondered, then, if IAB had sent her, knowing they knew each other, or if she'd volunteered herself. He looked at the folder her hands rested on. "It's... what it looks like."

"I'm not sure you mean that." She opened it, and he was actually surprised when it turned out to be the same folder he and Wufei had shown to Trowa just that morning, the file that contained all the homicides they'd linked to a single killer. He'd half expected it to be just a prop. She rifled the pages, then unclipped a pen from her breast pocket and circled something he couldn't read. "Because what it looks like to me is the most recent in a long string of vigilante killings."

"It may very well be that," he said. "I don't think there's enough to link the killings except for the fact that we can't solve them."

Her eyes met his. When had she turned to IA, he wondered. She'd spent years out on Mars with Zechs, and as far as he knew, Merquise was still on the Red Planet. Who'd convinced her to start grilling fellow Preventers?

"So we should just let the whole thing slide?" she pressed.

Everyone ran into the Bureau at some point, and Heero had had fewer encounters than most did. But despite knowing that she was just pushing for a reaction, Heero couldn't help giving her one. It had been barely thirty-six hours since this mess had started, and this promised to be fast and nasty, even for Internal Affairs.

"I don't think anyone's letting anything slide," he told her, and settled himself in for a long, grim day.

+

"There's nothing for them to find here," Wufei repeated, watching the Director clear her desk of open files and shut down her desktop computer. "They're here to blow smoke."

Une glanced up at him as she began locking her drawers. "I don't want them here, Chang, digging through my squad. You get rid of them, and do it as quickly as you can, all right?"

"Relax." He took one of the chairs facing her desk, tugging at the cuffs of his sleeves to straighten his shirt. "This is nothing."

"No. It isn't." The older woman looked at the door, slightly open for whenever the IAB agents chose to make their entrance. She said, "When they're gone, you and Yuy and I are going to have a long talk. But that's between the three of us. You get IAB off your back and then we'll go from there."

He squinted at her. "What are you talking about?"

"You arrest a fellow Preventer and expect we're not going to be having a sit-down?" She pocketed her keys and picked up the pile of work she would be taking with her. "This isn't 'nothing,' Chang. You tell me it's 'nothing' when officers come to me and tell me they don't want to work with you because you two are so jumpy you'll take down your own men. You tell it's 'nothing' when the news recycles this every year, every time there's a murder that goes unexplained. You tell that to me when I have to send Maxwell for psych evaluations he didn't earn every year so the Cabinet can rest easy that we're keeping a tight leash on a good cop. And that's all assuming Maxwell doesn't go to prison because the DA is getting nervous about mid-term ratings."

"That's not going to happen," Wufei said.

"No? Did you somehow forget how IAB operates? They'll dig up every word said in anger, every undotted 'i' and uncrossed 't', every failure to file a report on time, and they'll turn it into a witch hunt."

"IAB are covering their collective ass," Wufei snapped. "They don't have anything. There is no case. They don't want to lose us, because we make them look good. This is a game you used to understand."

Une stopped beside his chair and bent down to speak into his ear. "They've been after me to lose the pilots from my force since day one, Chang," she hissed softly. "And once they've got one of you, the rest will follow. And when you're gone, they'll take me out as well. And we'll all have a lot to answer for when we don't have the law on our side any more. That's the game, Chang. The only surprise is that we've been ahead for this long."

"Director Une?"

Une straightened unhurriedly, tucking a loose lock of hair back into her chignon. Wufei did not stand, and he didn't look back, either, as the door creaked open.

"I have a meeting with the brass until four," Une said, to the people behind his chair that he wasn't looking at. "When I get back, my office had better be waiting for me." She walked out without anything further, her heels clicking on the tiles, and Wufei hid a small, albeit weary, smile. If Une had nothing else, she had class.

And she made a lasting impression. Neither of the IAB agents quite dared to take her personal chair.

One, a middle-aged man in a plain brown suit, simply took up a spot against the wall, next to the two-way window that overlooked one of the interrogation rooms next to Une's office. He took out a pack of cigarettes and held them up to Wufei, who shook his head to indicate he didn't care. The other, a woman in her thirties, short-haired and aggressively dressed in a tight-fitted shirt with a sloping collar, paced slowly around the edge of the room. She stopped beside her partner as he lit a cigarette.

The woman spoke first. "So," she said, companionably. "You don't feel like you're wasting your time with this? Not enough real cases for you?"

The faux-friendly tactic annoyed him. "Of course this is a waste of time," he retorted. "Time I could be spending investigating this case."

"Investigating?" She shrugged, and came to perch on the edge of Une's desk, crossing her arms under her breasts. "What, you're not happy with the arrest you made? Case closed. It's up to the lawyers now."

He dismissed her with a glance and directed his eyes to a recruiting poster hung on Une's back wall. "You know that's not how it works. Moreover, when the charges are dropped, we'll still have a murderer to find."

"Charges dropped," she repeated. "Take me back a bit, I'm confused. You arrested Duo Maxwell."

"Yes. We did."

"At what point during cuffing him did you decide he wasn't the murderer?"

Wufei gripped the arms of his chair, trying not to let her sarcasm grate so much on his nerves. This is how they operate, he reminded himself, by getting under your skin until you say something they think is significant. The best he could do would be to say absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. "Maxwell was arrested," he answered briskly, "because he was at the scene in circumstances that made it reasonable to do so. Evidence collected since changes the conditions somewhat."

The man moved from his post, passing his partner a file. She opened it on the desk, lifting the notes, paging through slowly. "What evidence?" she asked at last. "Could you direct me to the part of your report where you logged this evidence? You'll have to be specific, I'm afraid, because I don't see anything even remotely exculpatory in here."

"The bullets didn't come from Maxwell's firearm. His clip was full."

"His official issue sidearm, that's true."

"Maxwell never carried another weapon. He never will. He's attached to that one."

"I suppose you know that because of all that time you spend together, being in the same department and all." She propped a fist on her thigh, and she was watching him like a hawk when he made the mistake of glancing at her.

"I know his habits, yes," Wufei said. He looked at her partner, as well, knowing that acting too shifty would work against him. The man wasn't paying them any attention -- or he didn't seem to be. Wufei knew better. "Then there's the fact that he wasn't carrying another weapon when we arrested him," Wufei added, turning his gaze back to the woman. "His own was in his hand and CSI didn't turn up an additional gun." He forestalled her reply by pointing to the folder. "Duo Maxwell did not commit that murder. It appeared that he did, but there isn't enough evidence for a conviction and none will ever be found. And I don't think you have any doubts about that either."

+

"Tell me about Wufei's theory on this," Noin said. She showed him his own report, and waited, pointedly, for Heero to turn to the corresponding page in his own folder. "I understand he pushed for this arrest, but now he's firmly on the other side, defending Duo pretty doggedly. I'm puzzled."

She wasn't the only one. Heero had been surprised when Wufei offered to throw the investigation off Duo, but not as surprised as he'd been when Wufei had gone toe-to-toe with Trowa at the diner. Carefully, Heero said, "I think we both feel that we might have jumped a little fast. Not that the arrest was out of order, but rather that there's other options that need investigating."

Noin accepted that for the moment. "Are we still thinking this was the work of a vigilante?" she asked him. Her ankles crossed, and then she bent down to pick up her coffee. Tea, Heero amended, spotting the dangling thread and label from a bag. She sipped, then returned it to the floor. "A cop?" she murmured. "Just not Duo Maxwell?"

"It looks that way, yes," he agreed.

"Do you have any thoughts on who it might be?"

"No. I don't see any earmarks." Heero closed the folder, though she looked annoyed when he did. But why keep it open? He knew what it said. "We'd planned to go back to forensics today," he added. "I want an intensive comparison on the different scenes."

"What about Wufei?"

"Him, too."

Noin shook her head impatiently, running a hand through the short hair at the back of her head. She closed her folder, as well, and tapped the spine into her palm. It made a soft little thwack. "No, no," she snapped. "Wufei as a suspect. Has it crossed your mind?"

+

"I have a very specific task here, Agent. I'm not worried about Maxwell. I'm here to ask you about you."

Wufei forced himself to smile. "Finally."

"Let's start with this. Why cover for him?"

"I wouldn't cover for anyone," Wufei said flatly. "I don't believe in lying, not even for a friend."

"Oh? Because you're a hard man to figure out, Agent." She stood, and walked away. Wufei did not turn his head to follow her progress. From behind him, suddenly, she said, "For instance, many of us are still just not sure what was going on in your mind when you joined the Barton Revolution."

Stiffly he answered, "That has no bearing on this case."

He felt her hand come to rest on the back of his chair. "Sore spot?" she asked, about as sympathetic as a shark would have been.

"Not really," he said icily. "It's ancient history."

"Like being a Gundam Pilot." She took her hand away and went back to walking. Her shoes shuffled on the tile, squeaked just a little the way leather did. "Like watching the self-destruction of your home colony."

Bitch. The curse was sudden and vicious and he only just stopped from verbalising it. He paused too long, knew he did, but he needed that time to pry his fingers off the arms of his chair. "Yes," he said finally, "exactly like that."

She arrived on the other side of Une's desk and faced him. "Then you must have a remarkable mind. To compartmentalise like that."

He smiled just a little wider than before at her. "Thank you."

She was the one who paused now. "Of course," she replied, suddenly genial again. "Let me restate. Why are you covering for Maxwell?"

"I think there are better questions to ask here, don't you?"

"Answer me and we can move on."

"Maxwell doesn't need my help."

"Because, according to you, he's not guilty. Of course, that would hold more weight if you'd determined that before rushing him to booking."

He snapped with a hollow rush that told him he was too far gone long after it was too late to stop. "Maybe what I'm really doing is covering for Yuy," he heard himself snarl. "Or myself for that matter. Of course, who'd believe Heero Yuy would kill a suspect in cold blood? He's just not that creative. And my reputation is spotless."

It was the spark of triumph in her eyes that stopped him. He made himself breathe, and folded his hands in his lap.

"Spotless," she said softly, "Is a matter of perspective." She left the desk, and settled into the chair next to him. She opened the folder in her lap, and raised her head. "Get comfortable, Agent."

+

Heero blinked dumbly at Noin, who was glaring back intently, even leaning forward in her seat. "No," he said forcefully. "Why would it have?"

She made a noise of exasperation. "Oh, come on, Heero. This is exactly the kind of thing Wufei's likely to do."

That offended him, sharp and sudden. "Based on what?" he demanded, tossing his folder to the couch cushions.

"Based on his obsession with justice. Based on how damned tightly he's always been wrapped. Based on his casual attitude toward brutality?" She was actually agitated. The folder tapped hard and fast into her palm. Then she laid it abruptly flat, pressing down on it with her palms as if she expected it to fly away. She exhaled a breath that was far too shaky for Heero's comfort. "Would you cover for him if you knew that he was guilty, Heero?" she asked.

He stared at her. For a long time. Remembering what she'd been like years ago, how loyal she was, how much her own integrity had mattered to her.

"Yes," he said.

Her eyes dropped from his in angry disappointment. "I hope you're really good at it, Heero, because he's guilty as sin."

"He's not." Heero rubbed his forefinger over the piping that edged the cushion he sat on, thinking his way through it. "And if he was," he added slowly, "or if Duo was, there'd still be a long trial, and jury members who might see that it was justice, too. There's no certainty -- except that there's people dead who did a lot of damage in this world before they were stopped."

Noin reached out to grip his hand. Quietly, she warned him, "Wufei's an arrogant ass. If IAB decides to go after him, he'll go down. Tell me something I can take back to them and stop it."

"He's an arrogant ass with an excellent arrest record and he's been decorated twice for valour," Heero pointed out. "Isn't that enough?"

"Not if he's killing people in cold blood because it fits his warped idea of justice."

"How is it warped?" Heero freed his hand and stood, stepping to the cooler in the corner. He took out a water bottle and broke the cap. "I'll tell you what's warped. Half these perps got off on technicalities that put them back on the street. Before someone who was not my partner took care of them the way the courts wouldn't."

"That doesn't make it acceptable, Heero," Noin argued. "We're cops. We're supposed to uphold the law and work within the system. This -- " She held up the somewhat battered folder. "No cop has the right."

"No, we're not cops." Heero returned to the couch, taking a large swallow to ease a throat going tight with tension. "We're Preventers. We have different duties and sometimes those duties require us to work outside the law, especially when the law is wrong."

"That's not up to you to decide, either. Not you, or Wufei." She stopped for a second, her lips pressed closed and white- edged. "Doesn't it bother you just a little he's letting Duo be tried for this?"

"He's not," Heero denied immediately. "You said yourself he was defending Duo."

She was getting frustrated again. "Wufei's always been all over the map," she accused. "I don't see how you can trust him."

"It might have something to do with not having been in OZ." He knew it was low when it left his lips. But then, he thought, maybe it didn't hurt to remember that there'd been sides, once, and not all of them were equally good. That the only reason they were sitting in the same room, wearing the same badge, was a long and dirty war. And he saw that she understood what he meant.

"You're a better friend than he probably deserves," she said at last. "Don't let that loyalty destroy your career."

"If my career is that vulnerable to a witch-hunt," Heero said, "then I want a new career."

"This isn't a witch hunt. I'm doing my job. You're doing yours. Just... be careful. I don't think Wufei is the person you believe him to be, and things could get very uncomfortable for him soon."

"If you think he's guilty, arrest him. If you think he's a bad agent, fire him. Don't crucify him." Heero finished his water, and stood to toss the empty bottle into the recycle bin. "He hasn't earned that. Especially not from us. We've all been guilty."

She sighed, and her face turned away from him, her eyes going to the window. "Thank you for your time, Heero," she said.

He inclined his head to her, and then he walked out.

[part 2] [part 4] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]