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

Code of Silence + Part Six

He felt just the brush of Duo's breath against the short hairs on the back of his neck. "Bet this is weirdly familiar," Duo whispered. Trowa imagined a grin, though he couldn't see one. "Oh, wait; you're usually where I'm sitting."

Trowa kicked his swivel chair around into a one-eighty so he could look up at Duo. "Wish I was now," he said.

Duo's smile disappeared. "Shut up, fuckwit."

"I love when you talk dirty to me." He reached up to touch Duo's jaw, tender. "Hey, don't -- "

The door behind him shut with a little click. "If you two could do that without the swearing," a woman's voice commented, "I'd be a happy lawyer."

Duo's head went down and his feet went backward as Kiplis rejoined them at the conference table. Trowa watched him go, acting like he was just interested in the ugly oil paintings hanging on the walls. Kiplis slid two cans of juice across the table. Trowa took the orange and drank most of it before Duo had even popped the pin on the tomato. Kiplis resumed her seat, nothing more in her head, maybe, than the contents of her portfolio there on the table, than on accomplishing this one minor goal amidst all the rest of insanity around them. Trial in three weeks, and every day a host of reporters and paparazzi crowded the lawn out front, shouting for comments and pictures of the killer cop. Maybe Kiplis could be that focussed, but Trowa couldn't, and sure as fuck Duo couldn't.

He thought it, and even as he thought it decided it wasn't fair. Duo was a lot of things, but never distracted, not when he could afford to be, never when it mattered. There were just, maybe, too many things to be focussed on, right now.

"Ready to continue?" Kiplis asked.

He was beyond tired. Stiff in an exceedingly unpleasant way. Infinitely more sympathetic to what Duo was going through, the toll of being so mentally tweaked seven hours a day, all just in rehearsal for the real thing. The real thing. Still three weeks away, and it could go on for a month, longer even. "Absolutely," he replied gravely.

The light dropped out of her face like a switch had been thrown. "What is your relationship to Agent Maxwell?" she resumed, sternly.

Sympathetic, Sincere, and Simple, the mantra she'd been hammering him with all morning. "We've been friends for years," Trowa said, arranging his expression to a pleasant vagueness. "He's my closest friend."

Kiplis made a note. "Try 'best friend' again. I want to hear it one more time before I decide."

"Agent Maxwell is my best friend."

Duo made a noise of impatience from his chair, five in the evening and the sun setting already out the bay windows behind him. "You're my lover," he muttered. "Say that."

Considering how it had gone last night, that little declaration was kind of surprising. So were the ramifications. Trowa discovered he was chewing on his own thumbnail, and stopped himself. "Is that in his best interests?" he asked Kiplis.

"To be honest, Duo, I'd rather we stayed away from words that strong," she responded, looking first at Duo, then back at Trowa. "Best friends will say enough to the people who are worldly enough to guess. And the ones smart enough to guess will probably emphasise with the reasons for not saying the words. I think it helps us to toe the line."

Except Duo was sitting there with this look on his face like he didn't care except with, like, his entire heart. Trowa stared at him.

"So," Kiplis said, "we'll go with best -- "

"Or I could tell the jury, 'I'm in love with him.'"

Duo blinked. So did Trowa, and then he was staring at the table. A thousand times he'd thought -- just say it, give him what he wants to hear. And he hadn't. Hadn't wanted to go there. Hadn't wanted to lie about that. But he had to be flip, had to be oh, so amusing, tweak the lawyer lady, been at this since ten in the freaking morning with nothing but a lunch break, and Duo sitting there with his stuffing coming out the seams. It had just slipped out there, not even a stumble over the words. Not saying it directly to Duo, maybe. Took the weight off. The consequences.

Kiplis broke the silence, and finished her sentence. "Let's stick with 'best friend', for -- "

Duo's mobile buzzed, clattering on the table in front of them, and everyone in the room jumped. Duo nearly quashed it into the table, slapping it up into his hand to answer it. "Maxwell," he snapped. Then, "Sir?" tense and puzzled.

His hands were damp. Trowa wiped them on his trousers. Duo glanced at him, his mouth open and his lips dark from biting them, then went to the other end of the room, down toward the windows, and it was practically a football field away, in a room big enough for a crowd of thirty. He said something else, but Trowa couldn't hear it.

"So. Best friend." Kiplis smiled at Trowa. "The prosecution informs us that Security Officer Harrison was killed on September 16th last year. Do you happen to know where Agent Maxwell was then?"

"We went to Rio de Janeiro," he recited. "Some clients of mine had a house party. I asked Duo to come."

"And how long were in you Rio?"

"Two weeks."

"And during that time, did Agent Maxwell ever leave your clients' house?"

"We went to the beach a few times."

"Sounds innocuous." She smiled. "You were with Agent Maxwell on March 22nd two years ago, as well, weren't you?"

"Yeah. That's my birthday."

"I have to go." Duo was clipping the phone to his belt as he came back. "That was my captain. I might be a while. I'll meet you at home."

Trowa rose halfway, but stopped short of leaving his chair. "Oh." He hesitated, then sat again. "Okay. Maybe I'll pick up dinner?"

"Yeah." Duo didn't meet his eyes. So it was bad news, Trowa thought, and watched stubbornness flit over Duo's face, followed by a sneaky guilt, and then Duo was headed toward the door, long strides -- his cop walk -- and then the door slammed shut.

"Fuck," Trowa said.

Kiplis reached for the carafe in the centre of the table, and poured a glass of water for each of them. When she was seated again, she said, "You could be perfect, and it will backfire if he looks like that while you're up on the stand."

"So what the hell do you want from me?" Trowa demanded. He grabbed one of the glasses. His throat was so tight it almost hurt to drink. "Tell me what you want up there, and I'll be that. I'll be it so perfectly no one will doubt it."

Kiplis removed a printed sheet from her portfolio, and pushed it across the table to him. Trowa turned it to face him. A list of questions. "This is our base line of questions," she said softly. "You've obviously testified before. Keep your answers short, don't elaborate unless I ask you, and we'll see how it goes. I'm going to go get our mock jury ready. When I get back, we'll run through this once, and then we'll try it out."

And then there was one. Trowa exhaled a deep breath into the still air of the conference room. This was getting -- He wasn't sure which of them Kiplis thought was going to blow it. He could see that Duo was strung out, but Duo had been all over the place since that first phone call from his jail cell in Preventers Holding. And how was Trowa supposed to fix that? Hell if he knew the first thing about fixing Duo, because Duo didn't just break. Duo didn't just not know what to do.

He hated feeling impotent. Hated it. The past couple of days had been all about it, though, and more intensely than he'd ever felt it before. Hated it. And he wanted to just grab Duo and fucking run out of town, screw all this bullshit. And he knew that was the stupidest thing he could do.

"Fuck," he said again, but it didn't make him feel any better.

+

Wufei only noticed how dark it had become when he reached for his dinner and discovered it was cold. He turned on his desk lamp and fished through the sticky rice for a lone floret of broccoli, now limp and greasy. He couldn't bring himself to eat it.

Three desks over, Ryans heaved a sudden sigh. "I'm kicking it in, Chang," he said, pulling his coat on. "You here for a while?"

"Yes." Wufei dropped the remains of his take out into his garbage. "Tell Security for me? I don't want to get locked in again."

Whatever Ryans replied was swallowed up into a yawn. By the time he was walking out, though, Wufei had already turned back to his files. He pulled a magnifier from his drawer and held it over one of dozens of crime scene photos. He combed it centimetre by centimetre, not even sure anymore what he was looking for.

It was the smallest sound, but it echoed through the room. The door latch. Wufei took off his glasses as the man came toward him: half a nice suit, spoilt with an olive hoodie emblazoned with the block letters "PREVENTERS." Wufei rubbed the sore spots his glasses had left on his nose, and closed all the folders on his desk.

Duo pulled a vacant chair to Wufei's desk, and slouched low in it. "You're here late," he said abruptly.

"You are, too." Wufei cleaned the lenses of his glasses with the edge of his tie, but they were too smudged for such little relief. "I'm preparing."

"For?"

Wufei arched an eyebrow, wondering if that was sarcasm. But there was only tiredness in Duo's face, dark circles under his eyes, and fingers that fidgeted restlessly with the frayed string from his hood. "I'm expected to testify," he said. "I received a subpoena two days ago." From the DA, not the defence.

"Oh." Duo stuck the string between his front teeth, his gaze roaming the empty office. "Yeah, I think I knew that. I guess stuff is kind of slipping. All this shit I'm supposed to remember, you know? My head is swimming."

"The only thing you need to remember is that you didn't kill those men," Wufei countered.

Duo turned a flat glare on him. "I got it. Thanks."

To think there'd been a time when Wufei hadn't understood one in three words leaving Duo's mouth, when he'd allowed himself to be angered by Duo's constant need to push buttons, to speak his mind no matter how impolite. Was he scared? Nothing like it, probably. Duo was notoriously fearless, invariably anxious. Like a momma bear with overly adventurous cubs, Wufei had always thought.

Duo loosed another sally. "Haven't seen much of you since this started."

"I've been busy. Between the case load and Internal Affairs hounding Yuy and I, there's no time." He found a tissue to clean his chopsticks, and returned them to the little bamboo sleeve he kept them in. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, must suck."

He exhaled through his nose, inhaled deeply after. "This shouldn't be happening."

"If all the stuff that shouldn't be happening didn't, you and me wouldn't have jobs."

He hated how Duo did that. Always using humour to deflect, careless that it was transparent. "Have they threatened yours yet?" he pressed.

He knew the answer before Duo spoke when Duo's eyes were suddenly preoccupied with the far wall. Duo said, "I handed in my badge ten minutes ago."

Wufei looked away himself, hoping it was mostly respect and nothing more cowardly that kept his eyes on his own hands. "They asked for it, or you volunteered?"

Duo shrugged, and the string fell from his mouth. "They sure were sorry 'bout it, but I'm not a public-relations headliner right now."

"When the trial's over, you'll be reinstated."

"This isn't suspension without pay, asshole."

"If you've got something to say, Maxwell -- "

"If I've got something to say, I'll fucking open my mouth. And can we have a fucking conversation without you trying to tell me how to be?"

There'd never been a punishment for choosing the side they'd fought for during the war. No punishment, but there was a reason three of them had ended out with the Preventers, a place where they could be watched, evaluated, re-conditioned. There was a reason they were kept in the subsidiary, non-military departments, little more than detectives with the weight of international treaty. That Trowa had evaded all effort at recruitment stung the brass, and he was watched. That Quatre had money enough to bury his past stung them, too, and that threat hung constantly over his head -- behave, or face a long fight. But Preventers had been good to them, too. At a time when Wufei found himself as homeless as Duo, when Heero suddenly needed a new purpose to replace a defunct one, they'd been given everything they needed. They'd given nine years in return, nine years and uncountable hours, cleaning up the refuse of half a century of mismanagement and malignant neglect, completing the job they'd started when they'd boarded Gundams to destroy the Alliance.

Duo grabbed Wufei's stapler and began to click it. Silver shards clinked down to Wufei's desktop. "How's it going with IAB?" he asked.

A peace offering. Or Duo was genuinely distressed for their condition. "Poorly," he admitted. He brushed the discarded staples into his palm, and trashed them.

Duo didn't take the hint, though, and created more. "What do you mean?"

"They've taken every case I've ever worked under review. Heero, too." Wufei indicated the topmost file under his hands. "On the positive side, they're not looking to drown you."

"Maybe IAB could testify for me," he retorted drily. "Who've they got on you? Last time I ran down-wind of the bastards, they threw that Asian guy at me, Wong. He is ruthless."

"Noin." Wufei discarded another palmful of staples. "I've got a handle on it. A plan."

"A plan? Bending over and grabbing your ankles is not a plan." Duo clicked the stapler at him, flinging a tiny slip into Wufei's tie- clip. "Unless you're in a gay bar."

"That's not funny."

"Would be in a gay bar."

Wufei reached, and jerked the stapler out of Duo's hand. "Are you capable of having a serious conversation?"

"I have a lot of them. Mostly, they don't go well."

They fell silent. Why did you go with us that night? Wufei asked him silently. Why didn't you tell us more? Why didn't you ask us to help you? Because all Duo had done that night, while they shouted at him and cuffed him and forced him into the back of their squad car, all Duo had done was let them. So maybe it was guilt that made him say, then, "This wasn't supposed to happen."

And Duo, unaware of his inner torment, only shrugged. "The conversation?"

"Your arrest. This trial. Any of it." Duo pulled the top folder from beneath Wufei's hands. Wufei caught the edge as it left the desk, and held it closed. Duo resisted only for a few seconds, then let it go.

"It did happen, though," he answered. "So I deal."

Deal.

Wufei slid the folder back at Duo. "Evidence," he said.

Duo weighed him for a moment, cautiously, if not suspiciously. But then he opened it decisively, flipped up the cover sheet to read it. "What is this?"

Nothing Duo would enjoy seeing. He coughed a little to clear his throat, and aimed the lamp in Duo's direction. "It... turned up. Just read it."

He watched Duo's lips move as he skimmed. The skittish movements of his hands as he turned the pages, found the facsimiles. But he gave Duo credit -- gave Duo credit for years of turning into the man he was today, the man who did not, not really, say every single thing that crossed his mind, no matter how fast that mind worked -- and it did work fast. He could see that Duo understood almost immediately what he held, that he knew exactly what it meant. Give Duo the credit he'd earned, for giving people second, third, ninth chances on the outside possibility that people just made mistakes and had a right to learn from them. For that astounding capacity for kindness from someone -- from someone that everything Wufei knew about the world told him shouldn't be that unselfish. And watching for the little signs that Duo was getting worked up over the contents of that folder, Wufei found himself staring down at his hands. He'd read the entire journal through, twice now, and couldn't decide if it was mere meticulousness, or mental imbalance. There wasn't much to explain the journal other than a dangerous kind of possessiveness, not that Trowa had ever tracked that well, that sanely. There'd been a point where he'd thought, believed, that Trowa would be better for Duo than any however-well-intentioned civilian could be, because of what Trowa was, because of what they all were, and if any of them were going to have a real relationship, a real chance at making a normal life out of scraps of determination, it was Duo and whoever Duo took with him.

Except that he'd taken Trowa, of all of them, and maybe that hadn't been the best decision, a year of separation aside, if that journal was what it looked like. Duo was the bastion of normality, should normality be defined as the kind of crazy that didn't interfere with daily function. The journal wasn't that kind of crazy. The journal was -- but educational, too. If one could extrapolate, maybe Trowa's feelings, and always be careful when ascribing feelings to Trowa Barton, then maybe Trowa's feelings for Duo ran deeper than anyone realised.

Duo rose abruptly. "Can I take this?" he asked gruffly.

"I've been looking for ways to get it to you for three days," he admitted uneasily.

"Thank you." Duo closed the folder with an angry snap. "I appreciate this."

He inclined his head to that, and concentrated on returning the neck of the lamp to its previous position. "He doesn't get that it wasn't the right thing to do."

"Well, that's part of the problem, isn't it?"

"Maybe he's not the only one."

Duo exhaled explosively. "I appreciate you letting me see it. I don't appreciate a lecture about it."

He was chagrined. Wufei shifted in his seat, transferring his hands to the armrests of his chair, and finding them chilled. "I'm finished," he said.

"Yeah." Duo stood there, and to Wufei's concern, he looked -- lost, maybe. But only for a moment, just barely long enough to see it, and then his face went hard somehow, almost wooden. "Good luck with your testimony," he added stiffly.

"Thanks." Wufei nodded. "You too."

"Yeah." Duo saluted half-heartedly. The folder stayed tucked to his chest. "Yeah."

"Duo."

Duo turned back. "What."

Wufei fiddled with his glasses, squeezing the nose pieces closer together carefully. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah." Duo looked away first. "Me too. So, see you round."

His glasses seemed unusually heavy when he put them on. He went back to the IAB folder, but the words were swimming, and he had open cases that deserved more of his attention. He waited for the sound of the latch -- waited for it -- the longer he waited, the harder it was to keep his gaze where it belonged, down on lines he couldn't even see now, but he -- didn't have the guts to take it any further to where it needed to be.

+

He'd had an uneasy night's sleep, dreaming -- something he didn't do, not that often, not that lately -- dreaming of chasing lawyers down endless and dark alleys. Never quite catching them, and not at all sure what he was meant to do if he did, but running and running and never making progress. He'd waked, exhausted, at four, still dark out, and Duo still hadn't been home.

He'd stretched his wait until almost eight, finishing a bowl of tasteless polenta and making one too many pots of coffee, before he'd finally decided to drive in to the firm and hope Duo meant to meet him there. The mind supplied endless alleys awake, too, scenario after scenario and all increasingly worse that explained Duo's more than twelve hour absence. And overly caffeinated, his stomach upset with the stimulants, he'd actually sat in the parking garage, wondering if he was afraid to go in.

He passed Duo's car in the front lot, walking into the firm. Which meant Duo had been to his own apartment, last night, to pick it up. Had possibly slept there, instead of coming back to Trowa's.

Trowa climbed the steps more slowly than he would otherwise, thinking, brooding, really. He'd had plenty of time to think and re- think that stumble, yesterday, the word he'd let slip that he'd never -- and why would he? -- felt the need to say before. Enough time to decide that Duo hadn't been ready to hear it, that Duo might never be ready -- no, not be ready, but believe, because the root of their entire relationship had always been Duo not believing that Trowa didn't have feelings -- the same feelings -- big enough same feelings that Duo did.

To the point where Trowa had grown to resent it, a little, grown -- ungenerous, in his reactions to Duo's poorly-timed desires to argue, to the constant drone of tiny adjustments Duo forced onto Trowa's lifestyle. To coming home after six weeks in some sweaty, miserable shit-hole of a job to a Duo who wasn't in the mood, not for sex, not for talk, mono-focussed on some crap up at Preventers, some save-the- world-drama to which Trowa had not been invited because he, he had bowed out gracefully after the Eve War, handed in his Heavyarms and believed the infant peace they'd bled for needed to learn to walk on its own fucking feet.

Ask Duo whether he could bear going back to L2. Ask Duo to cut off an arm, sure, ask him to fight the battles no-one else would fight, you bet -- ask him to go back to the only place he'd ever called home, and watch.

The receptionist greeted him when he walked past, and so did one of the paralegals, used now to seeing him around the firm, in a place that could afford to take on only the cases they cared to, in a place where three of five partners could concentrate on one client for months at a time. The receptionist had a coffee for him in seconds of his arrival, a well-foamed café au lait in delicate gold- rimmed service, and sent him toward "the Skartsdottir Conference room, sir, Mr Addison and Ms Kiplis are already waiting." She escorted him to the door, and let him in.

It might as well have been Command Central. It was central, to the mock-jury rooms, to the bank of computers using software even Preventers didn't have the funding to buy, to the offices and even a small forensics lab. When he'd been in there last, just yesterday morning, the corkboard wall had been head-to-toe photographs of jury members and crime-scene prints, today it was -- the entire wall-length corkboard -- poster-sized prints of pages of his logs.

Shit. Holy shit.

Duo stood by the small refreshments table, and he really must have gone to his own apartment, because he was wearing old clothes, clothes Trowa hadn't fetched out of the closet for him, ripped jeans and a faded tee shirt, not the suit they'd just bought. Watching him already when Trowa picked him out of the rest of the visual noise. He said, "Dude, you're fucked."

Trowa opened his mouth, fully intending to talk, to deny, to reply -- he didn't have it formed at all -- but Duo was already choosing out of the breakfast baskets, already ignoring him. Didn't come home all last night and Trowa had, yes, fucked, hoped he'd get over the funk in time to deal with something else he wasn't going to like.

Heads had turned when he entered, Addison, and Kiplis too, no sign of her motherly smiles this morning, and an older lawyer Trowa had met only twice, the Virbach of the Strawn and Virbach original firm. But it was Addison who moved first, junior partner who walked like he wanted to be sprinting, his fingers tangled up in straightening his tie as he crossed the room to Trowa. "Good morning," Addison said abruptly. "We have a problem."

Kiplis began making soothing motions with her hands. "A situation, not a problem."

Virbach was still glaring at him. And Trowa realised he wasn't thinking fast enough, had made an open target of himself, and the longer he stood there letting them fill in his silences with their wrong guesses, with the suspicions he knew they had, the less control he could have over the outcome. "Okay," he said, and chose Kiplis to direct himself to -- she seemed most inclined to be reasonable, and he was going to need reasonable now. "What's up?" he asked, achieving a casual tone that didn't at all match the chaos of mis-firing thoughts inside.

"I really think it's not that bad," she answered, only answering Addison still, not Trowa.

Addison heaved a huge breath, and his arm went out rigid to point at the blow-ups. "Would you please explain to me that this is not what it looks like, and is in fact something perfectly innocent?"

Trowa followed the tip of his finger. His handwriting, spidery, written from right to left margins with his timecodes legible this far across the room. He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "It's perfectly innocent."

"It is perfectly innocent, Marc," Kiplis interjected.

"It's a stalker journal!"

"Maybe it's an innocent stalker journal." From Duo, spreading jam on a bagel at the table. All three lawyers turned to stare at him, now. Duo waved an empty cup. "Do you have green tea?"

He couldn't understand Duo's attitude, and there was nothing in Duo's face or body language to clue him in. Trowa cleared his throat, and forced a laugh when heads came swivelling back to his direction. "Look, do you want the truth about that log?"

Addison stared at him. "I want something that doesn't sound insane."

"I hate his job," Trowa said simply. "I hate it more when he gets the shit beat out of him. Last time that happened, I decided to play guardian angel. That's what the log is about." It was in the log, first entry, as a matter of fact, but he spelled it out anyway, with everyone but Duo looking at him like witnesses at a train wreck. "He goes off on a thing that's supposed to last five weeks, he tells me, but he comes back in three months with a broken arm and there's bruises shaped like boot-prints on his back. That's what the log is about."

It was Virbach who called judgement on his confession. "Guardian angels do not," he said, with a thunderous scowl making deep lines out of his wrinkles, "record people's movements like this."

"Thorough ones do."

Kiplis turned back to Duo. "The book says he never interfered on your cases. Is that true?"

Duo didn't look at Trowa. He didn't answer right away, and that bothered Trowa. But there wasn't much of a chance before Addison, fully freaking out now, burst into movement, disarranging his hair with frantic thrusts of his fingers. "This is a mess," he accused Trowa. "You should have disclosed this to us from the beginning."

He had to run that through his mental filter, that this is a mess, because some instinct in him twigged to the fact that Addison's idea of mess didn't match Trowa's, even with all the same qualifications. Quatre hadn't been meant to find this, just Trowa's manufactured evidence. Had he not looked at it before passing it on? Or was this not from Quatre at all -- Quatre wasn't that sloppy, Quatre wasn't that naive. Which left too many uncomfortable alternatives, too many people who might have seen an advantage in painting Trowa a crazy. He couldn't trace the motives, he couldn't trace the clues even. He drew a cleansing breath, and went for the only line he had a chance of selling. He asked, "Addison, have you ever served in the miliary?"

Duo wiped his fingers on a napkin. "This is good," he said. "This is where he tells you how in our kind of life, this makes sense."

Fuck, fuck, his mind chanted. Duo wouldn't look at him, deliberately withheld any reassurance, not that there was much about that bitter mocking tone that left any doubt of his reception.

Addison ignored that. "You haven't served in the military."

"Oh. Huh." That made him angry, that genuinely made him angry, and he suddenly realised he had a headache, had had a headache for what felt like a month. "I seem to remember something about soldiering ... but, hey." He shrugged elaboratedly. "Never mind, then. We'll skip the lecture on brothers-in-arms and how we look out for each other, in that case."

"What you did -- " What I did? What we did? Trowa thought resentfully -- "will not constitute soldiering in the eyes of the jury, and this -- journal will not constitute anything healthy, either!"

For fuck's sake. "But Duo bears no responsibility for my actions, does he?" Trowa retorted. "Paint me out to be a lunatic if you want to. Duo wasn't even aware of the log."

They were all looking at Duo, then. Who looked back, this flat, grim look, and Duo said, "I've read it."

That shocked him, jolted him right into -- Duo was never supposed to have seen it, because it was Trowa's little exercise, Trowa's little -- it was private, it wasn't meant to be a -- thing, it wasn't meant for anyone but him, and the headache was getting worse, forecasting a truly awful -- pain.

"When?" he asked, and his voice came out weird, and Duo just looked at him, none of his thoughts evident or readable. Duo's eyes were purple, a true purple, and right now they were mirrors, only showing back the avalanche Trowa already knew was coming.

"A friend found it."

"You didn't tell me."

Duo finished his bagel. "Yeah."

He remembered suddenly to breathe, and it was audible, and he was embarrassed by that. "Fuck you," he said harshly. Duo's eyes went away, just like that, and Trowa was left standing in unaccustomed humiliation, feeling denuded in front of the lawyers, who, all of them, were watching wide-eyed as an audience could be.

Addison broke the silence. "We're getting off track," he said, normal volume, careful tone, tiptoeing tone. "We need to think about how we're approaching this."

Trowa looked at him. "I told you how to approach it."

"I think we'd be better off finding a way of describing the log that will be -- " Kiplis hesitated. "More accessible. Yes, more accessible to the jury."

"And how might that be?"

Virbach had crossed his arms, and he was studying the blow-ups. "We call it what it is."

Addison rode right over that. "It's a stalker -- "

"Yes. And we go with that." The old man pulled a thick set of papers from the table, dog-eared and highlighted, and Trowa realised with only a numb sort of surprise that it was a copy of his log, all three years of it, right out of the original. The original. He'd thought it had been safely hidden away, innocuous among his other books and the files he kept for work -- which meant someone had searched his place -- illegally, unless Duo had let them in, but Duo would have told him. Had searched knowing what to look for, which could mean Preventers just doing their job, could mean -- Heero or Wufei? Quatre even? Was this something calculated --

"Alibis," Trowa said abruptly, and won their attention back. It began to resolve into sense and a faint tinge of hope. "The log has alibis. The log is proof of alibis, because I followed Duo, when I could, on even undercover assignments, times Duo can't legally testify about." He had to uncross his arms, ease out of the combative stance he'd taken unconsciously -- he wanted them to hear him, to agree with him. "But there's no onus on discovery of documents. And that log can give every detail a prurient jury could want, Duo's movements, Duo's moods, Duo's conduct. That log is Duo Maxwell in print."

Virbach showed him a page, then another, and a third, all bookmarked. "The ADA will want to use these sections here," he explained tightly. "They'll want to make you look like a freak with a gun and a whopping obsession -- "

"Well, look at him," Trowa tried. "Wouldn't you?"

Addison turned on him. "They're going to say that someone this obsessed would lie for Duo," he said, clipping off each word like he was biting them out. "Would cover up for him. That this diary of yours is some elaborate ruse. And they'll make you read aloud every time you watched Duo with another man, every time you sat outside his apartment watching him through windows, and the ADA will turn and look at the jury and raise an eyebrow and your credibility will be gone."

"You want credibility?" He was hitting a panic mode, a deep well of panic he hadn't been in since the war, when he'd still had night terrors about the cold of Space, the shock of his suit exploding around him, a black pit of claustrophobic -- the anger was there like a lightning strike into sand and he seized on it. He felt the nerves to his face disconnect, felt the crushing weight on his chest evaporate. His voice sounded dead even to his own ears. He said, "Here's my credibility. I'm a Preventer and I've been working deep cover for the last six years. No-one knew but Director Une and the President's Security Council. There's documentation, all available for subpoena. You can take that to the jury." And still in that mode, Trowa demanded, "Didn't any of you wonder how I had so much fucking access to his secrets?"

The last thing he'd expected in response was -- Duo laughing. Any triumph Trowa had been starting to feel disappeared. Duo laughed, and put down his tea, and then he walked out of the room.

Kiplis spoke. "Is this true?"

His mouth was dry. Trowa looked back at her, saw nothing more than a blur of ginger hair and her dark suit. "I just threw away the only thing that ever mattered to me," he said, and a second after he said it, just a second after, it hit, a crash of sudden, immense depression. He felt irrationally wild, staring at the spot where Duo had been standing. "Do you think I'd do that with a lie?"

Addison put down the copy of Trowa's log. "We need proof," he said, oddly formal. Trowa nodded, then nodded again, his brain stumbling to fill in what was needed.

"Call Une," he said.

"We can't -- we can't just call the head of the Preventers." Addison implored Virbach with an uncertain look. "Can we? We can't do that."

Virbach, too, looked stunned by the rapidity of the turn- about. "Are there, I don't know -- are there code words?"

"Kiplis, hand me your mobile." She did, immediately retrieving her purse from the table and passing it wordlessly to Trowa. He dialed from memory, adding the four-key extension that would put him straight on a private emergency line. It rang -- he didn't have the wherewithal to count, but it rang and rang -- and just when he would have given up to try another number, the line clicked, and he heard her draw in a breath to answer him.

He interrupted before she could. He said, "I'm made. Confirm it for them." He didn't wait for an answer to that, either, before thrusting the phone at Addison.

Who wore an expression of wide-eyed amazement. He pressed the phone tentatively to his ear. "Hello?" he began uncertainly. His shoulders straightened a moment later. "Ma'am, my name is Marc Addison, I'm Duo Maxwell's..." He trailed off, listening closely. "It -- it might be. It goes a long way toward explaining things."

Une talked for a long time, then. Trowa could imagine. He'd catch hell, he'd catch holy hell -- exposure that had hardly been unavoidable, his usefulness curtailed with a public performance. Doing exactly what the brass upstairs had always feared the Gundam Pilots would do -- rally around each other first, the Department a far second. Une would eat him alive, and there'd be -- there could be -- he could go to jail, he really could, if this got public, true high- security confinement because they'd have to disavow him, they'd have to call him a rogue, a traitor, this could be years of his life unraveling, and that meant falling back on the plan, the one plan that had always been his fall-back -- disappear into the sphere, disappear as completely as you could when even the name you called yourself was borrowed from a dead man.

He'd never really adjusted that plan to include Duo, so confident that he was on top of it, but leaving now -- he should be out the door right now, he should be out the damn fucking door before Une was any wiser about his position, except --

Except Duo needed him.

Addison nodded abruptly. "I'll have that in a few hours. We'll let you know. Yes. Ma'am. Thank you." The phone closed with a little snap of plastic, and he passed it to Trowa. Trowa nearly pocketed it before remembering it wasn't his, and he gave it back to Kiplis. To the other lawyers, Addison said, "We have a lot of work. I want the judge on the phone now, I want a sequestered jury, and I want a subpoena at One Preventers Plaza immediately."

There was a little white space, then, for Trowa. He was looking at all of them, and then they weren't there anymore. He picked up the copy of his journal, now left sprawled open on the table, and turned it to the first page.

207.16.07 Maxwell turned up last night, beat all to hell. Broken right radius, extensive bruising to the face and body, superficial lacerations. He's stonewalling, which means it happened working a case.

207.18.07 Last twenty-four spent making calls and keeping him quiet. Condition improving. Silence continues.

207.22.07 Contact in ALKN confirms his assailants. Neutralised that this morning while he slept.

He found Duo on the roof, trailing him through an open door at the top of a stairwell. He watched Duo looking down on the city, wishing he had the imagination to know what Duo was thinking, so high above everything like that. For people born on colonies, tall buildings meant vertigo, usually. It meant being closer, on colonies, to the centre. Here, it just meant farther away.

Trowa joined him slowly, setting the toe of his loafer against the low brick walk that lined the edge. "So, yeah," he said.

Duo turned his face in the other direction. Trowa made to swallow, but his throat was dry, and it hurt.

"You weren't my assignment." It came out just above a whisper, and he made himself swallow this time, coming up with just enough saliva to talk. "That log was a stalker journal."

"I'm not a fucking moron," Duo said. "I know what the log was."

"Okay, so then this is about I lied to you."

Two years of good together, of easy fun and sexual compatibility and mutual satisfaction, and then one day Duo had looked at him, with the exact same expression he wore right now, and explained in a polite little voice that it wasn't anyone's fault, that people burnt out on each other, that he needed -- Duo always needed -- that he needed more than what he was getting, than what Trowa had on offer, that it wasn't enough to like and enjoy when at the bottom of all that Duo just needed what had never been and was never going to be -- on the table.

"My job is dangerous?" Duo spat out. "You're one ripe asshole."

"Never denied that, baby."

"Don't fucking baby me." Duo hooked his hands under his elbows. It was cold as snot, and a wind was kicking up. Duo's fingers were white from it. "I can almost buy it when we were together, but why'd you keep doing it when we weren't?"

"I couldn't stop." Had to know. Had to -- "I had to know."

"That's not normal." Duo's voice cracked, a little cruel. "That's not normal, Tro."

"I don't care."

Duo's mouth opened. Cold enough that his breath didn't even steam. But he didn't answer, so Trowa stepped closer, wrapped his arms about Duo. He rubbed chilled bare arms, gone all to gooseflesh, and rested his chin on the top of Duo's hair. "Say it doesn't matter." Duo resisted tensely, and Trowa realised, too late, how tightly he was holding the man. The anger was just radiating out of Duo, leaking out at the seams, so -- aggressively unreasonable. "Just until the trial's over, and -- " Like the rest of him. If anything, why couldn't it be a compliment? All the attention Duo had claimed Trowa didn't pay out. "Until you don't need me any more."

He didn't entirely expect Duo to turn in the circle of his arms, to slip cold hands about his waist. It wasn't much of an embrace, but it was something. He bent to kiss Duo, trying to reach his mouth, but Duo pushed, then, pushed and wiggled away. Trowa stood with his shoulders against the brick wall, and Duo said, "I need time to think, is what I need right now."

"Yeah," he answered. He drew a deep breath, one that stung in his lungs. It might snow, during the night. Felt that cold. He added, asked, because he didn't quite dare to command, "Come back inside, okay?"

"No. Not right now."

"Don't be an ass. You're shivering."

"Fucking go inside, Tro."

The quiver of the tone made him hesitate. Didn't know if it was temper or the way his lips had gone pale. "It was fucking transparent to you for all that time," he said. "I don't get why you're so pissed off now."

Duo's face wasn't turned toward him. He watched long, loose hairs tremble on the breeze, sometimes catching the light, falling dark against Duo's neck. "Nothing about you was ever transparent. Not a single damn thing."

"Then you weren't really looking," he retorted flatly. And struck -- stabbed -- with disappointment. Another emotion he wasn't used to.

"This is not my fault!" The sudden shout made him start. It echoed hollowly, bouncing off the blank glass walls of the taller buildings about them. "This is not my fault, Trowa, this is not my god-damn fault!"

"I never said it was. Fuck." Trowa made a grab, and caught Duo's wrist. He held on when Duo tried to wrench away, and hurt his thumb. "Fuck, relax. Come inside."

The door opened. He caught it happening out of the corner of his eye, and let go of Duo out of surprise. It was Kiplis. Bundled up, unlike either of them, but holding their coats in her arms. Once the image of her processed, Trowa took Duo's off her, and tossed it over Duo's shoulders. "Come on," he told Duo. "We'll finish this later."

Duo put himself through a weird dance, swaying back from Trowa, trying to slip past both of them without touching. Looked back, his shoulders tight and his head ducked low. Then he went through the door, in a sudden burst of decisiveness, and went clattering down the stairs while the door slammed behind him.

Kiplis held out Trowa's coat. Trowa took it. It wasn't much of a shield against the cold, but it cut the wind, at least. He turned up the collar. "Thanks," he murmured.

Her mouth curved in a little smile that didn't quite warm her eyes. She said, "I started a new pot of coffee for you."

Trowa managed his own fleeting gesture of politeness. "I appreciate that."

She twisted the door handle. But then stopped, and looked back at him. "A lot of couples don't make it through something like this. A big trial."

He put his hands in his pockets. His fingers were numb. "Maybe we're not a couple."

She fixed the lapel of his coat, patting it flat. She wore gloves, but her hand was still small, her fingers light on his chest. "Come get coffee," she told him.

[part 5] [part 7] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]