Authors: TB and Marsh
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
+ Part Nine
"Well, Senator Florian's not
the only thing to have had a little work done in the last two years,"
Abardale laughed heartily at that. "Florian aside, the State House redecorating
budget was astronomical. Sixteen thousand on seasonal greenery? Twice
that on drapery!"
"And all of it ugly," Relena guessed.
The red light over the door behind them went out with a short buzz to
announce the end of session. Pages exited first, propping open the doors
for the committee filtering out. The Cabinet came out in a clump, and
Relena waved to catch the attention of a blond head caught in the middle.
Quatre immediately detached from the group and came toward her, a wide
smile of surprise on his face. "Why hello, Mr Winner," she said warmly.
"Just the man I was hoping to catch."
"That makes me the luckiest man in the building," Quatre retorted lightly.
He grinned as he cupped her elbow and pressed a quick kiss to her cheek.
"Senator Abardale, please excuse me, but I have to steal this lovely young
lady from you." He barely waited for a response, drawing her to a Georgian
settle placed beneath a window swathed in the new turquoise jacquard drapes.
Quatre stroked her knuckles with his thumb. "What brought you all the
way to L1?" he asked her.
She covered his hand with hers, and pressed it between her palms. "Actually,
I was hoping for a few moments alone with you."
"Oh. Of course. My office is just down the hall."
She shook her head, preventing him from standing. "Can you get away for
His pale eyebrows rose. It made him look like he had when they'd first
met, young, earnest, so concerned. "Is something wrong?"
She shrugged a little. "Please?"
"For you, absolutely." He waved for one of the aides lingering in the
hallway, and got a girl in a thick pair of glasses. "Sachiko, I need to
leave. I'll call when I know how soon I can get back."
The girl's dark eyes went wide. "Minister, you have back-to-back meetings
"This is non-negotiable, " Quatre said firmly. He stood, and Relena rose
as well. Sachiko seemed to recognise her then, and her eyes widened even
more. Relena offered a saucy wink, and tucked her hand into Quatre's elbow.
Quatre guided her to the door with a hand on the small of her back, and
held it open for her while she passed through. A black-suited security
guard detached from the wall and drifted after them out of earshot.
"Now I know something is up," Quatre said, "because you haven't even given
me that look yet. What's is it that you need to cover my absence
with what will no doubt be gossip gold?"
She paused on the steps to kiss his cheek. "You're wonderful, Quatre."
He hesitated visibly; then he manoeuvered her back against the brass railing,
his hands cupping her waist tentatively. The slight rasp of stubble on
his chin made the soft brush of his lips more exciting. Her heart actually
beat harder as his lips moved over hers. She felt flushed and almost effervescent
when he let her go, and stepped away.
"In public," she said, almost steadily. "My, my."
They dodged the amused looks of parliamentarians as they descended the
rest of the steps. "So why are you here?" Quatre asked her. He chose the
left, and they began a slow stroll down the pavement. "Aside from my wonderfulness.
She glanced around, but they were only being watched by Quatre's bodyguard.
"Duo's a better friend than... he..." She paused herself. Then amended
what she'd planned to say, and finished, "He's a better friend than anyone
could reasonably ask for."
Quatre shot her a sharp glance. "Is this a general statement?"
"I'm afraid not."
He gazed away at the forsythia hedge they walked alongside. "How did you
"I still have contacts who keep me appraised of a certain kind of event.
Lucy Noin called me the night Duo was arrested, and she's been informing
me since then."
"He was good enough to cover his tracks this long. How did she
"He damned himself rather a lot in his interview. Noin's a very good detective."
"Damn," he said softly.
"Duo had enough faith to cover for him. Shouldn't we help them both?"
Quatre stopped still and took hold of her elbows, bringing her about to
face him. "I think you should be careful before you do anything that can
get you into any kind of trouble, Relena."
"Careful is for cowards, darling."
He inhaled audibly. "You have no idea how exciting you make recklessness
"I like being reckless with you." She slipped her hand into his coat pocket.
It wasn't cold, here in the Colonies, though it was winter on Earth. L1
was an endless mild spring, flowers always in bloom, fountains never frozen.
"Will you meet with her?" she asked seriously. "She came with me today.
Maybe we can figure something out."
"I don't know. I don't know that there ought to be a 'we' here." He wrapped
his arm around her, bringing her close to his chest. She rested her chin
on his shoulder. "I'll meet with her, yes. Just not sure you ought to
be there as well."
"We're a team, Quatre."
Almost before she said it he caught a quick, hard kiss from her, sealing
their pact. She smiled at him.
"Yes we are," he agreed softly. "So when do I get my sidekick cape and
"Soon, I hope. The mental picture is quite attractive, Mr Winner."
He laughed a little, and loosened his hold on her. The little crinkles
around his eyes were deeper for a moment, and Relena thought he looked
sad. She rubbed his cheek with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry," she
"So am I." He turned his face into her hair. His deep murmur rumbled against
her ear. "So let's get this meeting set up."
The best time of day in San Francisco was early morning. Dawn was grey
if it was visible at all; the fog obscured the tallest buildings downtown,
hid the Golden Gate behind ropes and arches of mist. Everything smelled
wet, salty and wet, but the air was crisp and almost raw. And the panhandlers
weren't awake yet, but some of the night dwellers still huddled on corners
with cups of coffee, eyes heavy and low while they avoided talking. Everything
was narrowed down to ocean and car exhaust and wet cement, a temporary
point of peace that would evaporate by mid-day. Looking out over the city,
it was like being back in the colonies, standing on the Bernal curve and
looking down on the tightly crammed streets, the solar panels on the high-rises
and the apartment complexes, white walls and blank windows that just stretched
off into the fade. Trowa suspected Wufei might have thought that, too,
when he'd been the first to move to the city. He knew Duo had, because
Duo had been the first to point out the comforting similarity to him.
Trowa had traveled more than enough to know that most of the world was
a foreign place, and that he didn't like it. He liked San Francisco. It
had a quality of home.
"I love it here in the morning," Duo murmured. As he joined Trowa at the
window, their shoulders brushed. Duo's was damp and warm, fresh out of
the shower. "Look at those hills," he added. His chest rose and fell in
a deep breath. "I love the curves."
Trowa smiled, and took the coffee Duo had brought him. "You've always
been a little non-linear." All jagged edges looking for a place to catch
a moment's rest.
Duo's finger smoothed over Trowa's eyebrow, a gentle little pressure to
match the moue of concentration on his face. "You should consider double
glazing on the new window," he said. "Come on. I want to be early."
"Duo! Over here!"
"Killer! The Gundams are traitors and murderers!"
"Duo Maxwell! Mr Maxwell, any comment about your chances with the jury?"
"Mr Addison, are you confident that--"
"I'm confident in my client and I know the jury will find him as innocent
as he is," Addison answered, ignoring the microphone shoved under his
nose. "We have no further comments this morning. Please let us through."
Trowa tightened his hold on Duo's elbow as they were rocked by the mob
of reporters and protestors on the courthouse steps. A cameraman got too
close and nearly tripped into them when he was pushed from behind. Someone
threw a full cup of liquid, and Trowa caught a splash of it on his shoes
while a woman in a suit reeled back, drenched down her shirt. Duo grabbed
for his fingers when they were dragged apart, and missed.
Then a wall of uniforms was there. A blank-faced Preventers agent shouldered
a path for Trowa and hauled him up along it, climbing the steps rapidly
as the crowd stumbled back. They made it to the doors at the top of the
steps, and Trowa turned sideways to slip through as his agent about-faced
and blocked anyone from following.
Wufei was there already, officiously directing a rather large group of
agents via his shoulder comm. He and Trowa exchanged grim looks, and then
Wufei turned away to deal with the regular building security. Addison
and Kiplis came shooting through the doors a moment later, followed by
their own escorts. Trowa turned a full circle, scanning the lobby tensely.
The doors burst open again and two men came tumbling through. Trowa found
himself moving before he even registered it was Duo. He slowed when he
saw which agent had Duo tucked under his arm. Johnny Cuartero. Wonderful.
"You all right?" he asked Duo.
"We knew it was coming," Duo said. He wiped a sheen of sweat from his
forehead. The doors shut and two guards went to make sure they stayed
that way, but Duo's eyes lingered, abstracted. "Johnny thinks we should
ask about a back exit," he added, off by just a beat. "He thinks that
circus will still be out there when we're done today."
"I spoke with building security this morning," Johnny offered. His arm
had settled over Duo's shoulders in a companionable sling that wasn't
quite as casual as it looked. "We can bring a car around to the judges'
private lot in back for you this evening."
That dropped into a small, uncomfortable silence. Duo was already giving
him a look-- him, not the ex-boyfriend Duo had once called a walking waste
of great cock. Trowa returned it, pointedly.
Johnny broke first. He held out his hand, smiling the same boyishly disingenuous
smile Trowa had been loathing for three years. "Trowa," he said. "Nice
to see you again."
Under Duo's glare, Trowa confined himself to social graces. He pressed
Johnny's hand firmly, and didn't even wipe his palm off after. "Yeah.
And thanks, but I've got egress covered."
Johnny switched into Spanish, presumably, Trowa thought, to disinclude
him from the conversation. "The whole team from Narc is here," he told
Duo. "And the Captain's on his way. We'll be sitting there the whole time."
"You didn't have to do that," Duo answered. He glanced away to Trowa.
"I'm not even sure I want you to. They're gonna say a lot of shit about
me in there."
The word he used was arrocear. Uninvited. Which, in Trowa's opinion,
described Johnny to a tee. Thank God Duo had got over that stage of his
"Nothing we're going to believe," Johnny protested. "Anyway, we're not
going to be spreading it around, you know? We're your friends. And it's
going to be okay."
Trowa interrupted with a smile, and knocked Johnny's hand off Duo's shoulder
to replace it with his own. "Semper Fi, huh?" he observed. Johnny's eyes
flickered as he realised he'd been understood, and Trowa added in a mimic
of Johnny's Venezuelan Spanish, "Thanks for letting us know, compinche.
It'll give Duo a lift in there."
For a moment Johnny and Duo wore identically cross expressions.
It was Duo who said, "You know what? It's not okay. It's not okay now
and it's not going to be okay any time soon. I'd prefer you all not to
be there, so just tell them whatever sounds good and go away."
Johnny's mouth went tense. "We're your friends, your team. It's about
us as much as you. That verdict is going to affect everyone."
"Gee," Trowa said. "So if they lock him up, all the guys are going to
take turns in the cell for him?"
"We'd just like everyone to see that you're not guilty."
"I'm not," Duo said. "Go the fuck home."
Trowa reached across Duo to offer Johnny his hand again. He gripped too
hard, and released before Johnny could do anything about it.
"Thanks for coming by," he said. "But I think Duo needs a little time
now. You understand."
The doors blew open again to admit a few harried-looking suits. The noise
of the crowd outside hadn't abated any. Johnny did what he was good at,
and left. Duo stuck his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.
"I hate when that bastard touches you like he still owns you," Trowa said.
Johnny had made it back to his fellow agents, and they were sneaking glances
at the two of them.
Without opening his eyes, Duo scrunched his nose up. "What, `cause I'm
"Because he treated you like shit when he had you." Half the lobby were
looking at them. Someone took a picture with their mobile phone, and one
of the agents split off to deal with them. "You're not a piece of meat,"
he said, "but you're mine if you want to be."
Duo was reluctantly appeased by that. He dropped his hands and put them
in his pockets instead. "Gonna write about that in your little book, too?"
"Maybe." Yes. Duo rolled his eyes. "Would it bother you so much if I left
the logs out for you to read?"
Duo's eyes popped open, canny and calculating. "Maybe," he said cautiously.
"How do I know you won't keep a dummy book?"
He meant it. He wanted to mean it, anyway. But it was getting to the point
with them that hiding things was killing them, so maybe it was time to
change. And maybe it was time for Duo to finally have to face the results
of all of his demands and expectations getting met. Not all of them were
going to feel good all the time. The log... most of the time it would
be hard for Duo to see it. Hard for Trowa to keep the thing honestly,
knowing Duo was seeing it; but not everything was supposed to be
"Because I'm telling you I won't," he said.
Addison interrupted them gently, waiting for them to notice him before
speaking. He touched them both lightly in a gesture meant to comfort.
"They're ready. It's time for us to go in."
Suddenly Trowa wanted to say something more. He wasn't sure exactly what,
and nothing was forthcoming that sounded important enough to mark the
occasion, to take away the weight of what was going to happen when they
walked into the courtroom. All he came up with was a smile. He made it
real, and he made it warm, and even with Addison standing there holding
his arm he let down the mental and emotional guards and gave Duo one more
minute of real human caring.
He saw it a second before it happened. Whenever Duo said something genuine
and naked, the corner of his mouth, the left side, quirked a little, just
an uneasy little twitch of almost frown, forced up into a half-smile.
"I love you," Duo said. "I'm sorry we broke up, because I wish we could
have had that year now. So, I love you. And thank you. For everything."
Addison drew Duo away then, and Trowa's mind told him to follow, but his
gut was too busy feeling kicked.
"Please, Quatre, you had your tongue down my throat. I think you can call
Relena laughed in delight while he flushed. "Quatre!" she teased. "You
never told me."
"Yes, well, that's a mystery," Quatre mumbled. Noin-- Lucy-- winked at
him as he bent to kiss her cheek, as chastely as he could manage. He held
Relena's chair as she sat, tucking her skirt beneath her. He took his
"The menu is rather terrifying," Lucy offered. "I've been staring at the
hors d'oeuvres for fifteen minutes. Ceviche or the grilled goats cheese
and sunblushed tomatoes?"
Quatre opened the leatherbound tome seated squarely over his service.
The words swam without resolving into sense. He fingered the silk fringe,
and closed the menu. "I'm afraid I'm not terribly hungry," he fibbed.
Relena glanced at him, a sympathetic frown turning her lips down.
"Just as well." Lucy folded her hands, then put them in her lap. "Relena
spoke to you?"
"Yes," he said immediately. "I'd like to know what lead you to him."
"He did, actually." She tucked her short hair behind an ear, not quite
meeting his eyes head-on. "My department handled in-house interviews.
I spoke to him shortly after Duo's arrest."
"Your department?" he interjected, confused. "I thought you were with
the Mobile Suit Corps."
"Not for the last year."
"Lucy transferred to Internal Affairs," Relena explained. "Preventers
have grown so much, they wanted a little more supervision. "
"Of their own officers?" Quatre said.
"We weren't wrong, were we?" Lucy did meet his eyes, then. "When we started
the Preventers it was small enough to accept whoever we trusted. Then
we accepted people who were trusted by the people we trusted-- and you
see how it ballooned out of control. By the time we had a process in place,
there were thousands of us. Not everyone is equally fit to serve the public."
He'd been one of the people who had argued for a thorough clearance process,
and Lucy knew it. "How long ago did you start looking at this specific
case?" he asked instead.
"About six months. We noticed a pattern-- all the victims were all international
criminals, the kind Preventers normally deal with. All of them were being
investigated already, but by different departments. It wasn't until number
six that someone thought it might be an insider." She paused, her fingers
tangling in her linen napkin. "Did you ever just get a vibe from someone?
Enough of a vibe to do a little investigating, hoping to be proven wrong?"
"How sure are you?"
"Very sure, I'm afraid. I've had confirmation. I'm sorry."
He reached for his water. The icy trail it made down his chest wasn't
spiritual, but it might as well have been. In for a penny, he thought.
He replaced his glass, and wet his lips. "He's not going to jail."
"I figured you'd feel that way."
She wasn't happy about it, though. "Any punishment he warrants isn't going
to come from the same public who wanted us executed as traitors one day
and glorified as heroes the next," he said forcefully. "Any punishment
he warrants isn't going to be levied by the people we gave more than just
our lives to save. He's earned that, and more."
"I appreciate your sentiment, Quatre. And I expected no less of you. I
just... I'm concerned about the number of people who are willing to risk
everything for a man who's clearly unbalanced. And unrepentant! "
"We are the only five people in the world who have ever done what we did."
She sat back just slightly, stung. "Of course."
"Quatre didn't mean anything by it, Luce," Relena said gently.
Except that he had, and friendship aside, Quatre didn't see backing down
from it when he knew he was right and Noin felt she had the leverage to
question him. He aimed low and he went in fast, and watched her turn pale
two words in. He said, "When Zechs Merquise turned to White Fang, you
went to the wall to be sure he escaped the consequences. You protected
him, and to this day he hasn't spent so much as an hour in a cell or faced
a jury of the civilian population who were affected by his seizure of
the Libra. So whether you can understand how we feel about each other
or not, you will at least admit to the similarities. "
"I do. Of course I do. I came to you, didn't I?"
"We will deal with him."
Relena sat strained and perhaps unhappy by his side, but her hand snuck
into his under the table. A team, she'd said.
"I'm going to trust you on this, Quatre. And I suppose I'll trust him
too." Noin occupied herself with spreading her napkin over her lap meticulously.
"I can talk to Une. I doubt she'll object."
"No, I'm sure she won't." She wouldn't want the stain on Preventers. Bad
enough that an agent had been accused. It would be ten times worse fallout
if one were actually guilty. And any protests she had leftover would probably
be eased by a hefty donation.
"I want all the evidence in my hands," he added.
"I've already provided Relena with copies of everything I could gather."
"Not copies. I want all of it. Every record."
"That's not possible."
"Make it possible," he countered.
"What you're asking isn't-- " She broke off, and shook her head. "I'll
do what I can."
And because he knew her word was as good as having it done, he relaxed
deliberately. Noin did, as well, almost unconsciously responding to the
easing of silent tension. "Thank you," he said softly.
She managed a small smile. "Of course."
"None of us wanted to be caught up in this. I know what you're risking."
"Do you know what you're risking, Quatre?"
"Exactly what Duo is." He looked at Relena, already gazing back at him.
"We all are. All I can hope is that this doesn't destroy any more friendships.
Relena's hand squeezed his fingers. "We all believe he's worth the fight,
Luce," she said. "Even you do, or you wouldn't have spoken to me in the
"I'm doing this for Duo," Noin corrected. "Because I won't sit still while
the wrong man goes down, and Duo didn't leave us many other options."
In the silence, Quatre looked down. He opened the menu to the front page
wine list. "Why don't we order a red," he murmured.
"That would be lovely," Relena gamely replied.
"They're going to tell you that there were all these unsolved murders
floating about that could only have been committed by a cop," Addison
said. His voice echoed through the high-ceilinged courtroom as he arrived
at the jury box. He took a stance between a man and woman in the front
row, hands planted on the edge of the box.
"Your job will be to ask them precisely when they came to that conclusion,"
he told them. "Because I asked, ladies and gentlemen, and I can tell you
the obvious-- that they decided it had to be a cop when they had a cop
in custody and the idea presented itself. They need a pathology to fit
their prime suspect. I guess they didn't have the time to conduct a real
investigation. Maybe they wouldn't be so under-staffed if they didn't
arrest their own officers for crimes that might not even be related."
Trowa turned to look when the sound of the door opening dragged his attention
away from examining the jury members. It was Heero, trying to slip in
unnoticed. Wufei had turned to look, too; he gestured for Heero to join
him, but Heero sat on the bench along the back wall instead. Prick,
Trowa thought, and promptly forgot about him.
"Oh, they'll bring you a parade of experts," Addison said. "They'll tell
you the only common factor linking all nine murders is that all the victims
were being investigated by various Preventers departments. Because, again,
they've overlooked the obvious-- that all the victims were outlaws deeply
involved in the criminal underworld. What do they say about swimming with
sharks? That it's dangerous. Now, when the Prosecution realises you've
seen through all their more specious arguments, they'll bring in the personal
He angled to gesture at Duo, having left the view clear for all the jury
members. "They'll try to convince you that Agent Duo Maxwell is a rogue,
a loose canon, that he's so wild that he's just got to be a killer cop.
And it will be your job to ignore all their angry rhetoric and keep your
eyes on the cold facts. That Agent Duo Maxwell, that young man seated
right there, is a dedicated, decorated officer who routinely risks life
and limb to eliminate crime. Not by shooting at it or stabbing
it or blowing it up-- but through investigation, arrest, and lawful trial.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to do your job here-- give Agent Maxwell
the benefit of the system he's worked so hard to preserve. Find him Not
Guilty, and set him free to get back to his job-- protecting the rest
It was a good speech, Trowa decided. The right spin, and the right amount.
The jury were gazing over at Duo, sitting straight-backed at his table.
He doesn't look nervous anymore, Trowa thought. He looked self-possessed
and almost calm. Trowa wasn't sure what had brought it on, but it relieved
him. Addison seemed to agree. He smiled at Duo and patted his arm as he
resumed his seat.
"Mr Addison is right," said ADA Lebreton. He stood from his table across
the aisle, buttoning his jacket. He wasn't a man very much at ease, and
he stayed close to his assistant as if it bolstered his confidence, but
the jury were paying attention. "It's your job to ignore angry rhetoric
and keep your eyes on the cold facts," he continued. "Here's what they
are. There are six people dead that can be linked to one killer. That
killer is sitting here in this court room."
Lebreton pointed rather theatrically at Duo, who didn't blink. "Duo Maxwell
systematically hunted and brutally destroyed these six men. We'll describe
who they were, how they died, and how Maxwell managed to hide it. The
Defence will tell you that this is just a `theory' of the crime. Well,
they're being paid to say that. The truth is that we wouldn't have got
to this point if we didn't know that Maxwell is the killer, if
we didn't believe that we have to stop him now in order to prevent
him from killing again.
"Mr Addison asked you to look at Maxwell. Let's do that." Lebreton finally
ventured away from his table, closer to the Defence. Duo sat at the end
of the table nearest him, and the ADA, watching the man's approach with
a growing frown. "Does he look like a serial killer? A Jack the Ripper
or Son of Sam?" Lebreton made a vague gesture, either conjuring an image
for himself or trying to imitate a slash and hack. Duo leaned back, and
"A psychotic maniac whose pathology is so radical that we would classify
him as insane?" Lebreton turned back to the jury. "He doesn't. He's more
dangerous. Maxwell doesn't hear voices telling him who to kill. He takes
advantage of the public trust that made him a Preventer to locate and
murder criminals. Some of you might think-- good on him. He gets the guys
who might otherwise never come to justice. Am I personally sorry that
any of these dead men have been removed from the face of the earth before
they could do any more damage? Not even a little. But nothing in our laws
gives Duo Maxwell the right to act as judge and jury and executioner.
That's too much power for one man, even one who thinks he's doing the
rest of us a favour. You're a real jury. Show Duo Maxwell that the system
does work. Find him guilty and send him to jail for the rest of his life."
That, Trowa thought grimly, was an unfortunately cogent argument. Addison
leaned over Duo and whispered something. Duo nodded, put his elbows on
the table and leaned over it with his head low. Trowa pressed his palms
flat together to stop himself rubbing his fingers.
"Opening statements are complete?" Padilla questioned. "The Prosecution
has the option of proceeding first. Mr Lebreton, you may call your first
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