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

Code of Silence + Part Four

He'd never been to Heero's apartment. It looked nice. Not quite downtown, but not a bad commute in to the department. Heero had probably measured the distance. Three times.

Or maybe not. Even Heero had relaxed over the years. Had he -- yeah, he'd come to some of those Friday night things Duo had tried, what, two years ago. Even one at Trowa's place. Trowa could still picture the bored grimace on -- no, that had been Duo. Because Duo had spent an hour trying -- God, Duo just didn't have it in him to surrender sometimes -- keeping the conversation going until it had been just Duo asking and answering his own questions, until the clock struck half ten and Duo had kicked everyone out without even an apology. Trowa actually found himself smiling about it as he leant on the door buzzer. He paused, thinking. Then hit it again, and then again, in the old war code for 'get your ass moving.'

And sure enough, he only waited another forty seconds before the door opened an inch and the muzzle of a pistol peeked through the crack. Then it came out the rest of the way, followed by Heero, looking grumpy and dangerous and more than a little silly in rumpled boxers and a stained teeshirt.

Funny, and just a little cute. Trowa wagged a finger at the gun, and said, "Guess I forgot how seriously you take this shit. Hey."

Heero's frown went deeper. But he lowered his piece. Trowa took that as the invitation it probably wasn't, and fit himself through the little avenue of space Heero had left into the lobby. No front desk. Bet it comforted the rest of the building that Heero ran about half-naked and armed. Oh, hell. The open door at the end of the hall had the Super sign next to it. Heero really had sold out. Maybe he wore his tool belt with his boxers, too. And why did that strike Trowa as hot?

"You were sleeping, huh?" he asked aloud, letting himself in to Heero's apartment. There was a blanket on the floor in front of the couch, and a beeper and mobile phone on the coffee table. "Sorry," he supplied, trying for a tone that sounded close to sincerity.

Heero nudged the door closed and stalked past him toward the kitchenette. "You want?" he muttered briefly, slapping on an electric kettle.

"Yeah, sure." Trowa followed him, trailing a finger over the countertop. No dust. Maybe Duo was Heero's maid too. "So what are we going to do about Chang?"

"We've already got Noin up our ass about it."

"That would be because he's guilty as fuck."

Heero took two mugs off a plastic tree, and a canister of instant coffee from under the sink. "This is not your most attractive side."

"I have an attractive side?" Trowa slouched against the countertop, propping his elbows behind him. There wasn't really room for both of them in the cubby-hole passing for Heero's kitchen, but he kicked out his legs anyway, until his shoes were practically on top of Heero's feet. "I don't give a rat's ass if he is or if he isn't. I don't really care if he continues doing what he's been doing. But Duo does. And you do. So yeah, what are we going to do about it?"

They used to be more of a group. The Gundam Pilots. In photospreads together as The Gundam Pilots, at Quatre's swearing-in as Vice Foreign Minister as The Gundam Pilots, everywhere they went with some invisible but official banner flying overhead. Trying to be the group everyone else thought they were. The whole "brothers in arms" feeling that had barely held them together long enough to defeat White Fang --

Heero poured the boiling water, and stirred in two spoonfuls of coffee grounds. He pushed a mug a half-foot in Trowa's direction. He hopped up to the countertop and sat facing Trowa, pulling the other mug with him and cradling it against his chest. He didn't answer.

So Trowa tasted the coffee. It was one side up from crap, but he couldn't see finishing it. He opened Heero's refrigerator and found a carton of half-and-half hiding in the back. He added enough that he wouldn't necessarily taste the coffee. "He's not going to stop," he said, putting the carton back where he'd found it. "Not without help, anyway."

"So what 'help' were you thinking of offering?" Heero sipped from his mug. "Hypothetically."

Trowa constructed a casual shrug. He couldn't tell what Heero was thinking. Heero had a way of looking at you like you didn't exist. "One of us can turn him in," he answered eventually. "Or stop him permanently." He tilted his mug at Heero. "This is not coffee."

Heero scratched idly at a thick white scar on his thigh. "Do you hate him?"

Somehow this wasn't going as smoothly as he'd imagined it would. Maybe he should have waited for the morning. Or come earlier than three. Too bad Duo had had so much trouble getting to sleep. "No," he said. "I don't hate anyone."

"Yeah."

Okay.... Trowa drank some of the not-coffee before remembering he didn't like it. "Thing is," he tried again, "I'm not going to let Duo kill himself trying to help him. He's not neutral enough." He peered down into the murky whitish liquid. "We are."

Heero opened the cupboard beneath him with his toe, and let it fall shut again. "He's my partner."

Trowa looked up. After a beat, he agreed. "Yeah."

"And until -- if -- he tells me himself, I don't know that I can make decisions about his life."

Hard to know what anything meant with Heero. He'd been lucky to get words at all. But his gut told him Heero hadn't accepted the premise. He'd just looked to the consequences of it, and decided it was going to be prettier to side with Wufei than explore his dark side. "I can," Trowa stressed, to be sure Heero understood.

Heero finished his coffee, and put the mug down. "If I want you to do something," he said, "I'll call you."

It may have been a put-off, a pacifier, but he was satisfied with it. When the time came, Heero would be looking for the best resource available, and he'd know Trowa was ready and able. "Okay," he said. "I'd appreciate if you kept me in the loop on this." He paused. Thought of Duo's probable -- inevitable -- reaction to getting that phone call. Decided that Duo didn't get a vote this time. Added particularly, "Me. Not Duo."

Heero just looked at him with those hooded eyes. Or maybe he was just sleepy. Trowa suffered through the water-passing-for-coffee and set his cup in the sink when it was empty.

"Why didn't you ever join Preventers?"

Trowa laughed at that. "I'm the bad guy, remember?" Heero didn't even crack a smile. "Come on," he prodded. "It's a bad joke, but it is true."

"You could have done it to be with Duo."

Well damn. "I don't lie to him," he pointed out.

"Why not?" Heero's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. He rubbed his scar again. "Don't you think he'd like to hear the right things sometimes?"

"If they were true, he'd love it." Heero was still looking at him. What the hell was this obsession with Duo and Duo's happiness and Duo's sex life and Duo's -- and Trowa's perceived inability to satisfy any of that. Sure. Heero needed to decide who he was in love with. And he needed to back the fuck off. And -- Trowa hated it when Heero was right. Except that he wasn't. Because it wasn't like Trowa hadn't had plenty of time to think about what life without Duo felt like, from the crust on the bathroom sink to the empty bed and days that didn't have anything in them to mark them different from other days until he -- until some freaking Wednesday, some middle-of- the-week day when he was completely blind-sided by missing the asswipe that he'd get in the car at midnight to buy that weird earth- friendly laundry detergent that Duo always used that made all his clothes smell like oranges and herbal tea. Like it didn't piss him off more to have to go to a freaking health foods store to find the stuff. It wasn't like Trowa was unwilling to find ways to make it work. To stop being the poster-boy for Insensitive Boyfriend and damn it, he was trying -- well, he would try -- he would try to try to do what they all damn thought he should do and then he was saying, "And when they're true, he will."

Suddenly it was Heero laughing. Not even aloud, really, just a stilted exhale of air and the quivering of pecs under his vest.

"So, okay." Trowa put himself up straight. "Thanks for the almost- coffee."

Heero met his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Don't come here again."

That caught him. He wasn't sure what it meant. Wasn't sure he cared what it meant, except that if he knew, he'd know whether to be hurt or insulted. Or something. Probably. So it was his turn to laugh silently, and toss in the towel. "Yeah," he repeated. "Okay."

He didn't wait for Heero to show him out. He knew the way.

+

"Marc Addison for the defence, your Honour." He bowed slightly from the waist, and took the chair she waved at. "Am I early, or has the District Attorney decided to drop all charges with an apology to my client?"

"We should be so lucky, Mr Addison." Judge Padilla hid her mouth with a napkin as she pushed the last inch of her hotdog into her mouth. "He's on his way." She chewed quickly, and washed down with a large swallow iced tea. "Let's keep this short, all right? I want to actually see my son this week."

"How is Tomas?"

"He's a teenager. He'd prefer not to see me. Or acknowledge our relation to each other."

A swift knock on the door and it swung open, almost crashing into the wall. Padilla rolled her eyes at Addison as she wiped her mouth and pushed her plate away. "ADA George Lebreton," she said. "So kind of you to join us."

"Sorry to be late, your Honour." Lebreton dropped his files as he tried to close the door behind him. Addison bent to pick up one that skidded to his foot, politely not looking at the contents as he stuffed them back in. Lebreton threw a harried look at him, and slid shame-faced into his seat. "Ready," he added belatedly.

Padilla looked less than amused. "A word before we begin, gentlemen. There is no jury standing behind me. So there will be no grandstanding. There will be no well-crafted speeches and self- glorification. There will be efficacy." She folded her hands on the desktop. "Begin."

Addison popped the snaps on his briefcase and set the first motion on the desk. "Your Honour," he said, "the case against Agent Maxwell is circumstantial at best, and it won't even be that once we eliminate all the nasty little illegalities." He bestowed a kindly smile on Lebreton, who drew in a breath to protest. Just as he began to speak, Addison continued, overriding him. "Judge, all the ADA has established is the state of mind of the arresting officers -- who aren't exactly models of restraint. They walk in on a fellow officer, who gave them a legitimate reason for being at a crime scene, and immediately arrest him? Then they held him in interrogation, threatened him verbally and physically, and after only two hours they had him arraigned with just preliminary ballistics to support them, and more significantly without obtaining a confession from my client."

"They had a better reason for arresting Duo Maxwell than they did for letting him walk away," Lebreton countered. "Maxwell is guilty of at least nine murders. I'm happy to add a tenth charge when we find the missing body from the Vasquez execution. Which fit the pattern of the previous homicides." He flicked a glance at Addison, who gazed back blandly. "He was there alone without approval from any superior officer, and more importantly, Maxwell was a Gundam pilot. The very definition of a vigilante."

"Too prejudicial," Addison dismissed, reaching inside for another of his blue-wrapped motions. He waved it. "There's no way you can allow the prosecution to introduce his war record, Judge. All it takes is one jury member who lost a family member during the war, and my client's innocence or guilt in this matter is no longer a factor."

Padilla pursed her lips, gazing between the two lawyers. "I'm inclined to agree with you," she said at last, making a note on a pad of paper at her elbow. "Any mention of him being a Gundam pilot is out, and the same with the arresting officers."

"Your Honour," Lebreton protested. "Our case is predicated on demonstrating a pattern of behaviour going back years."

"Then you'll have to be clever." Padilla folded her hands on her desktop. "It's out, Mr Lebreton. Move on."

"Next, then." Addison set a third motion before the judge. "Motion to suppress Lieutenant Maxwell's gun and the gunpowder residue test from evidence."

Lebreton's expression was dismayed as he straightened. "You can't try to hide the gun just because you don't like what it says," he pointed out, rather stridently. "Maxwell's gun had been discharged prior to the arrival of the arresting officers and his hands were covered in gunpowder. Considering the victim had been shot, I'd say that's important."

"Lieutenant Maxwell had discharged his weapon earlier that day during regular gun-range testing," Addison explained. "Mandatory testing. I have plenty of paperwork to support it and a dozen witnesses."

"You've got no legal case for suppressing the gun. It was lawfully obtained during the defendant's arrest, your Honour."

"Nice try, Counsel, but your motion is denied." Padilla tossed the form onto the growing pile. "You'll have the chance to bring in your witnesses, but the gun stays in." She checked her watch. "This is time I can never get back, gentlemen. Whoever's got anything else better put it on the table now."

"I'm done, your Honour," Addison said immediately.

"Anything from your office, Mr Lebreton?"

"No, your Honour."

"Then I'll see you for jury selection on Tuesday." Padilla rose, pulling her blazer from the back of her chair. "Go away now."

"Pleasure doing business with you both." Addison closed his briefcase, and stood. "Judge." He let himself out the door. He nodded to Padilla's assistant, and leant over her. "Is there by any chance a young man standing outside?"

"As a matter of fact, there is." She rested her hands on the keyboard of her computer. "Isn't it bad form to invite your clients to the judge's suite?"

"I like to think of it as -- well, probably you're right. But thanks for not throwing him off the property." He smiled at her, and walked into the hallway. Sure enough, there was Maxwell, slouched on a bench and playing nervously with the tip of a long braid. Addison loosened his tie, and stepped up to him.

"You look exactly like your picture," he said. "Hi. I'm your lawyer."

+

She was early, but he was there before her anyway, standing in Café Kirwan's front courtyard -- his black-suited bodyguards no more than six feet away, but giving a good impression of people not paying any attention to the nervously pacing Vice Foreign Minister. Relena paused behind a tall palm tree to make one more last-minute adjustment to her hair, flipping it back over her shoulder and then tugging her skirt down. She drew in a deep breath through her nose, and let it out slowly in a sigh. Then plastered an easy smile on her face, and stepped out to greet her date.

Quatre blossomed into a grin when she appeared, rather magically, from behind the tree. He reached for her hand as she walked to him, and brought it to his mouth to kiss her knuckles. Relena coloured. "I love your manners, Quatre."

He produced a pale yellow rose corsage, prettily packaged in tissue and ribbon. "I should hope so," he answered. "It's not easy."

"Extra thank-yous, then," Relena countered. He stepped closer, and she instinctively held her breath as he carefully pinned the corsage to the lapel of her blazer. She had to clear her throat when he finally stepped back. "I brought you something too, but I'm afraid it's not quite as personal." She showed him the bag she carried. "I had some time to shop before dinner."

Quatre took the bag, and pulled out the attache case she'd bought him. He admired the cordovan leather. "Relena, it's lovely." He rubbed the brass locks, then popped them. She saw his face change as he looked at the file she'd left inside. She kept her smile in place as she told him,"Open it later."

He didn't obey immediately, but he did shield the file with his body as he thumbed hurriedly through it. When he closed the case a few moments later, his smile was a little more fixed, but he nodded to let her know he understood. "Thank you," he said. "That's a very thoughtful gift."

"I hope it proves useful." Part of her was just glad to have the file out of her hands. She'd passed on most of her contacts to Quatre when he'd taken the office after her, but there were a few who'd been more like friends, people with whom she shared personal loyalty. And the one who'd called her with the news about Duo Maxwell's arrest had been explicit about the need for secrecy. At least Quatre had been a Vice Minister long enough to know how to handle the anonymous and delicate problems.

Abruptly Quatre offered his arm, and when she took it, guided her toward the restaurant doors. "You took advantage of the city, I see."

"I've been shopping all day. Do you like my suit?"

"It's a fantastic fit. I'd take a stab at designer, but I wouldn't know any of the big names if they landed a Gundam on my head."

"I'll have to go with you some time."

"I could definitely do worse." He grinned down at her as the maitre d silently escorted them to a private room.

Relena smiled back at him. "I've wanted to dress you for years."

"Who's going to get me naked first then?"

It was clearly an accidental remark. Quatre's ears went pink, and ahead of them, Relena saw an amused glance exchanged between the maitre d' and the waitress who was coming to serve them.

"Answering that question could be dangerous, Quatre," Relena said, taking the chair the waiter held for her. He draped a linen napkin over her lap and supplied a leather-bound menu. Quatre settled into his seat, rubbing the back of his neck as he accepted his menu. "Are you sure you want me to?" she added boldly.

He'd called her five years ago, out of the blue. Made charming small talk, made her laugh. And then told her very frankly that he'd been approached about running for her office. "I've explained that I don't want to run against you," he'd said.

It had taken her all of two seconds to realise she was grateful. "I can't imagine a better man for the job," she replied immediately. "Please don't hold back on my account. Just be sure you win."

She could remember the exact expression of surprise on his face. And the way he'd tried to hide it -- that he wanted the position. And she'd known that she didn't feel that way anymore, that the politics didn't suit her and the lifestyle was exhausting. And laughed when he apologised. "I love the idea," she'd told him warmly. "Is that odd?"

Quatre looked up at the waiter, who promptly made himself scarce. When they were alone, except for the guards who took up position just outside the door of their room, Quatre drew her attention to wine bucket standing beside their table. "I brought a champagne from home for us, actually," he said, lifting the bottle to show her.

Relena read the label. "Ohh, very good. What's the occasion?"

"Well... us."

"Us." The man knew how to flatter her. "I think I like that," she admitted.

"Yes?" He shucked the foil seal and loosened the wire cage. The cork barely whispered as it popped out a moment later, and Relena smiled as she moved her glass within Quatre's reach. He filled half her flute, and then his own. With his eyes on the second glass, he nodded slowly. "I... do too."

They toasted, and Relena sipped. It was light, crisp, with an aftertaste of rhubarb. "You're sounding unusually serious, you realise," she murmured.

"I thought I was an unusually serious person."

She smiled. "Sometimes, yes."

"Well, I thought maybe I could propose something. I mean, ask yo -- talk to you about something." He had her full attention. This was different from their normal, light conversation. She nodded slightly to encourage him. Quatre played with the foil from the bottle, smoothing it out on the tablecloth. "We've gone out, what, well, enough to know each other fairly well, right?"

A sinking feeling took up residence in her stomach. She set down her flute, carefully arranging it at the correct distance from her plate. "I'd say so, yes." She'd ask if they were about to break up -- if they'd ever formally coupled. It felt bad. It felt --

"I was thinking," Quatre went on. "Well, I was thinking that we never really talked about what, I mean, what it is we're doing. Together. We never said, never committed."

Disappointing. Relena licked her lips, and answered. "No, I don't think we have. And if you don't want to..." Her cheeks began to burn. "I'm so stupid. You began this conversation, didn't you? Sometimes I'm such a girl."

"I find your being a girl to be pretty helpful, for the most part." Unwillingly, Relena laughed. Quatre's eyes flew up to her face quickly, as his fingers jittered over the foil square. "I guess I should... so are you seeing anyone else?"

"No. I haven't been since you and I began dating." She said it as lightly as she could, but he only nodded, dropping his gaze back to his hands. She watched him fold the foil over a tear, then wrap it about the tip of his pointer finger. "Quatre," she asked, surprised, "are you nervous?"

He twitched a little attempt at a smile at her. "Um, yes."

She pressed her hand kindly over his on the table between them. "Please don't be." His palm turned up to meet hers, a little uncomfortably damp. He really was overstrung.

"I'm not seeing anyone else either, of course," he said suddenly. "I mean, there's no reason either of us would, but I wanted to be clear about that." He linked their fingers, squeezing hard. "I would like to ask you if you'd like it to be a serious relationship."

All her fears evaporated in a flash, and she actually laughed giddily. "Yes, I would. Very much."

Quatre released a huge breath. "Really?" He scrabbled to hold her hand more tightly. "I mean -- that fast?"

"I've thought about you quite a lot, Quatre."

"Really?"

"Yes, really. Silly. You're perfect for me." She stroked his hand. "You thought otherwise?"

"It crossed my mind that you might not care much, one way or the other."

"Maybe I need to be more demonstrative." Her heart beat faster as she leant across the table toward him. She had to stand to do it, but once he caught on he jumped to his feet, and somehow their lips brushed. She peeked long enough to notice that his eyes were closed, and then he was touching her hair, his fingers soft on the shell of her ear.

They were both red when they sought their seats again. "You must think I'm very forward," Relena half-apologised.

"Not since I just asked you to go steady." Quatre grinned crookedly. "Forward is definitely better."

"Go steady." She laughed. "You're awfully cute, Quatre."

"Was that a factor in the 'yes'?"

She laughed again, and reached for the champagne to distract herself. "Only a little," she retorted loftily. The cute, and the handsome, and the good manners, and -- oh -- the way he was looking at her right now, with that glint of secret delight and -- like she was the only woman in the world. She'd never felt this heady before. Never known men really could look at you like that.

"So... this may be fast, too, but are -- would -- want to go away somewhere soon?"

"I -- maybe. Yes." She pondered him. "Where were you thinking?"

"I was thinking maybe you'd like to come to L4? Meet my sisters, in small unalarming numbers."

Her heart hadn't done this since she was fifteen. And now her stomach was joining in the flutters. "This sounds more serious than just going steady."

"Is... that bad?"

"It's very good." He silently implored her to take his hand again, and she obliged. "I just like to know what I'm agreeing to," she clarified.

"It wouldn't be anything improper. But it would be a real holiday. The Senate is out of session next month, and usually my family get together for the holidays."

His family. He was taking her home to meet his family. She opened her mouth to agree, but her tongue and her brain weren't operating at the same speed. She managed just an awkward sound before the waiter finally reappeared, breaking in silently to bring them a plate of bread and cheeses. They both sat back, automatically preserving the faces they were so used to presenting to the public. The waiter was gone within moments, however, without speaking even a word. Clearly, he'd realised he was interrupting something, but Relena had to admire how smoothly he'd done it.

Quatre seemed to have recovered his poise by the time they were alone again. "Well, I figure we get a grace period of at least a month before the paparazzi find us out," he offered. "Maybe we should take advantage?"

Relena smiled ruefully. "See the man in the horrible tan suit peeking through the curtains?"

Quatre swivelled to stare out the window, dismayed. Their stalker scrambled away, tripping over himself while they watched. "Oh, no," Quatre sighed.

There was a stir at their doorway as Quatre's bodyguards caught on to the problem, and two split off to deal with it. Oh, she was glad to be rid of that necessity. "Do you mind?" she asked tentatively.

"I'm in the wrong lifetime if I do." He shrugged as he turned back to her. "They'll have us married secretly within a week. Three at the outside."

"It could be worse." Relena waited for him to look at her. "I think we should do it," she said.

His eyes went wide. "Get married?"

Bugger. Embarrassment burned through her as she grabbed for her champagne. She got too big a gulp, and coughed while she struggled to swallow.

Quatre turned red. "I mean -- "

"Go to L4," she corrected in a small voice.

"Right. Yes."

The next swallow went down only a little more easily. "Sorry," she murmured, staring down at her plate. "That had to be uncomfortable."

"Uh -- maybe just a little sooner than I thought."

She didn't register that one until she was brushing her teeth for bed that night, and almost choked on her toothpaste.

+

Heero crouched, pulling a pen from his pocket to nudge aside the corpse's stained jacket lapel. The wallet was still in its pocket. It came free when he propped it, dropping to the ground. He flipped it open.

"Credit cards, cash still here," he said. "ID."

The medical examiner sat back on her heels and began peeling off her plastic gloves. "Blunt force trauma to the skull. There's a triangular pattern to the break -- I'd say something with a corner. Something quite large. And it reached brain matter on the first splat." She pointed to the chest. "Followed by four wholly unnecessary shots to the chest and abdomen. He was probably already dead when he was shot."

Heero pulled out his mobile phone and hit the speed-dial for his partner. It was still early in the morning, and he hadn't slept after Trowa had made his unexpected visit. Somehow, he didn't think Wufei had done much better, though. He wasn't surprised when Wufei answered after only a single ring.

"It's me," Heero said. He rose to his feet, shading his eyes to watch the investigation team scour the yard. "We've got another body."

When Wufei didn't answer for many seconds, Heero wondered if he'd waked his partner after all. Just before he decided to speak again, Wufei suddenly asked, "Is there an ID on it?"

Heero gestured for the CI tech currently bagging the wallet to hand it over. He turned it to the light, and read the driver's license in the front slip. "Becker, Craig," he reported.

There was slight noise, a rustle of some sort. "I know that name," Wufei said. "Don't I?"

It had been in Duo's files about Vasquez. "Rival gang head," Heero supplied briefly. "And we've got slugs that look like a match from the Vasquez case."

"We've got the gun there, too," the tech interrupted. He held up another bag. "Found it about five yards that way." He pointed to another of the tall mountains of garbage they stood on in the dump, where two more jacketed techs were standing.

The gun. Which meant the gun used to shoot Vasquez, the gun that had been missing from the scene. Heero ran his tongue over dry teeth. "You copy?" he asked his partner.

"Yes, I heard." He listened to the static-shot sound of Wufei's harsh exhale. "Get that piece to the lab right away. I'll meet you -- where are you anyway?"

"The landfill at Cline and Forest," he answered. He tossed the bagged wallet back to the tech, and began to climb down the trash hill. When he was out of earshot of the others at the scene, he added softly, "Sorry. I know you could use a day off."

"We don't get days off, remember?"

Wufei said it lightly, but Heero didn't know if he ought to believe it. IAB had kept Wufei for hours longer than they'd kept Heero, and Wufei had been adamant that he wasn't going to discuss it after.

"I'm on my way," Wufei finished abruptly. He hung up a moment later. Heero put away his phone, fingering the antenna where it stuck out of his pocket. No, no reason for either of them to welcome this. Their luck had been all bad so far.

The tech had caught up to him and was passing buy with a box full of their collective evidence. Heero stopped him, and said, "The handle's clean? Look for prints inside the barrel. Sometimes they forget to wipe it there."

"Sometimes," the tech repeated sceptically. "The stupid ones. Not the career criminals. Not the serial killers."

And not the cops. Heero said, "Just check."

"Agent Yuy?"

He turned toward the hill where they'd found the gun, using a bicycle seat and a bag of rotting food as foot-holds as he climbed. "Something else?"

"We've got a pair of shoes." A younger agent he vaguely recognised was lifting them from beneath soggy cardboard remains. Heero bent to look, and she showed him the rust-coloured stains in the tread. "Definitely blood," she confirmed.

They hadn't been able to account for some anomalous prints at the Vasquez scene. Duo's prints they'd eliminated. "Random shoes don't count for much unless we get the owner," he muttered.

She shrugged. "Feet sweat and shed skin. If our perp was rushed or clumsy, we'll find any presents he left behind."

Wufei owned a pair of hiking shoes like those. They'd bought them together before a vacation several years ago. No -- no, he'd been there when Wufei'd torn the sole out of the left, ripped the canvas. They were long thrown away. Anyone could buy hiking boots.

Wufei wouldn't be that sloppy.

He dug his fingers hard into his palm. I'm not going to do this, he promised himself. I'm not going to start suspecting him. "There's crud all over them," he pointed out.

"Contaminated they may be, but I never turn down evidence." The other agent stood, and Heero followed suit, holding the bag she pushed on him so she could drop the soes inside, making sure the wet, dragging laces made it in before she sealed it. "I'll get these down to the DNA labs."

"No, I'll take them. I'm headed up there to check on their progress anyway." She raised her eyebrows, but handed over the bag. Heero nodded his thanks, and slipped down the garbage. He crossed the yard to his car, and opened the trunk. He put the boots in the inner circle of his spare tyre, and stood looking down at them.

It didn't take as long as it should have. He took off his jacket, and draped it over the tyre, hiding the boots from view. There was no rush. If they didn't make it to the labs, no-one would know. After all, if Duo wasn't guilty, it didn't really matter if the shoes don't make it to his trial.

And Trowa thought Heero couldn't think in shades of grey.

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