Authors: TB and Marsh
see Prologue for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Code of Conduct + Part One

He could remember it exactly. It was 200--or, maybe, 201. They would have been twenty-one. Twenty-one, because it had been the year of Quatre's majority, and they'd been invited out to L4 to the Winner Estate itself, the first year there were no sisters, no aunts, no uncles. In fact, the only blond in the entire mansion was Quat himself, and it had been summer, the same beautiful summer it always was on L4.

And it had been that summer when they all suddenly noticed Duo.

Or at least, that was what Duo presumed. Heero had had a thing for him from the day they met, but that summer was different. That summer he noticed them, all of them, noticing him. Awareness was a--heady kind of thing. He didn't like it. He felt too watched, it made him paranoid. They kept turning up in hallways for awkward private stand-offs. Heero mostly, at first, but Heero was always awkward. Quat was the one who tipped him off, blushing suddenly whenever they met and were alone. Wufei was always so correct, more polished even than Quat, who could at least be taught to burp and laugh loudly. Duo thought he was just imagining it, until he caught Wufei looking at him, always from a bowed head, sidelong, and starting whenever Duo would turn and see him there. Trowa--Trowa was the worst.

"Wait--" Standing on the balcony, one of the dozen balconies, overlooking the positive curve of the city spread out at an aristocratic distance from the plush green Winner lawn. Trowa had been drinking, and Duo had been drinking, and then the others had gone in and Trowa had said, "Wait, are you conditioning your hair?" and grabbed Duo's fringe between his fingers without even asking. "It smells like a frickin' strawberry. No guy should smell like that."

It was embarrassing because--it wouldn't have been embarrassing, anyway, if it had been one of the guys in San Francisco, Jon or Bren or Purcell. It was embarrassing because Gundam Pilots, or Gundam Pilots who weren't Duo, didn't smell another man's hair or touch so casually. And because he didn't know Trowa the way he knew Heero or Quatre, and because Trowa wasn't looking at his hair, he was looking at Duo, and it was--blatant.

"I like it," Duo had retorted, at his most pugnacious. "And for your information, you've got split ends and your hair is dry enough to start a forest fire, so take that."

Trowa's eyes went narrow, and Duo had never noticed before that they were green, not hazel, and ringed with a dark circle around each iris. He didn't let go of Duo's hair, even when Duo batted at his wrist. It rasped between thumb and forefinger. "Who the hell are you fucking these days? Vidal Sassoon?"

"That is totally not your business."

"He's a fruit and he's making you into one."

It happened to be true. There was a lot about San Francisco to love, and high on the list was that none of the others were there, his supposed friends who were suddenly all looking at him the way Trowa was looking at him now, except that Trowa was going to make him do something about it, and there wasn't anything Duo wanted to avoid more desperately than exchanging anything so unbearably personal with any one of those four men.

"I am a fruit," he said, and put enough pressure on bone that Trowa finally lowered his hand. "And I'm fucking proud of it."

"Damn," Trowa said, and grinned a lazy grin Duo had never seen on him before, either. "You're beautiful when you get on your high horse."

+

"We treat everything in this box as if all evidence is fresh from Forensics," Abelman told them. "We do our own interviews and we use our own eyes. If the answers were in there, the case wouldn't have come to us."

Cold Case Unit was a half-hour longer commute than Preventers had been. There were no free uniforms, and there were no government-issue sidearms or in-house gyms or a swimming pool on the tenth floor. There were only seven in the squad, not the dozens Duo was used to. The break room was likely to hold day-old bagels, not fresh catered spreads from the Natural Foods. And all the detectives had come out of the local police force, every single one of them. Duo was the first and only Preventer. It was the first time he'd been resented more for that than for being Resistance, or Colonial, or even a Gundam Pilot. He'd been on the squad for two months, and they still found ways to close him out. Like not leaving him a chair at the table.

Captain Abelman, the only other one standing, noted and ignored it as he opened the two boxes on the table. "Vic's name was Kelby Gerganas. He was murdered nine years ago. Died age fifteen. Found stabbed outside Club Exilio, a private-members club for gay sex." He found the case file, a slim discoloured manilla folder. He opened it on the table, and gave it a shove toward Nadia. "Let's break it down, people."

Duo ventured closer, but Marquez beat him to it, cutting him off to lean over Nadia's shoulder. "Prints at the scene," Marquez said, and pulled several photographs free from the file. "Look how there's kind of a tail on the right-side print? As if the guy was limping."

"Or had one leg longer than the other." Shazza shrugged off their curious looks. "It happens. Childhood illness. A lot of people who had Colony Plague--"

All eyes went to Duo, this time. He said, "Or he was carrying the body over that shoulder. Bodies are heavy, even fifteen-year-old ones."

"Any suspects described as limpers?" Abelman asked. He took the case report Nadia handed him. "No? Well, let's go look for ourselves. If it's chronic, it'll still be there. If it's not, we're no worse off. What else?"

"The kid had a rape exam done six months before he died," Nadia said. She lifted a form. "At a free clinic on Industrial Drive. Rape, trauma, VD, AIDS. Says he never followed up. And there's a statement here, but I don't think it was ever filed."

"If there's a statement, there's a cop," Johnstad reasoned. "Who's the reporting officer?"

Marquez's head rose abruptly. "You tell us," he said flatly, and shoved the file at Duo.

Abelman beat him, this time, snatching it up. He frowned deeply as he read what Marquez had. "You knew this kid?" he demanded. "When were you going to say so?"

"I don't know him." Duo was surprised by that. Abelman finally let him have the report, and Duo held it under his nose to read the rape statement. It was pure chicken-scratch, a kid's unfinished script, unsteady and hurried. And underneath the statement, the signature of the reporting officer--and that was definitely his handwriting.

It came back in a rush. Took the breath right out of him. Kel, he remembered, Kel, all of fourteen, a skinny short kid with freckles on his nose and bruises on his collarbones. Are you gonna call my dad?

"Well?"

"Yeah." Duo licked his lips. "Yeah, I--"

"In my office," Abelman said, and left the table.

The others were staring at him. Duo put the file down, and licked his lips again, but they still felt dry. He didn't let anything show on his face as he followed the captain up the short loft stairs to the offices above. Abelman was waiting for him. He shut the door, and turned the blinds, and that made Duo tense, finally. There was no invitation to sit here, either.

"I assume," the captain said, "there's an explanation."

"I did not deliberately withold information." Duo crossed his arms, despite himself. "It was nine years ago. I honestly didn't remember him. He never filed charges, I never filed charges, the whole thing--it was one night, and I was barely older than he was. I didn't even remember what he looked like."

"You had a fourteen-year-old rape victim and you didn't file charges? For all we know his rape is directly connected--"

"It was clear to me at the time that he was consenting."

"He wasn't old enough to consent."

"In the Colonies--"

"We're not in the damn Colonies, Maxwell, and I don't give a rat's ass if it's different in Space. The law's the law!"

They were both glaring. As soon as he realised, Duo dropped his eyes. A moment later, he heard Abelman sigh.

"I always thought Preventers were recruiting too young," Abelman said heavily. "But you're an adult now. Tell me if you made a real mistake, Maxwell, not following through on the rape, and then tell me if I should take you off this case."

"No," Duo said firmly. "To both. He was old enough to consent, Captain, he was old enough to know what he was doing and what kind of life he was in for. And it is different in the Colonies, sir, because in the Colonies we accept some things as pretty well inevitable, like a lonely and hurt young kid winding up dead. And that's the first and foremost reason I left and came to Earth instead. So with your approval, I would really like to go rejoin the team trying to find out what happened to this boy, sir."

Abelman rubbed his beard. "This is your one chance," he finally allowed. "I don't give two. You hear?"

"I hear."

"I'm going to have Shazza interview you. And you're going to keep in the background on this."

Duo nodded, the most he could confine himself to. Abelman pointed to the door, and Duo let himself out.

The table was empty when he got back. Even the boxes were empty, the contents separated and stacked on desks in the work area. Duo kicked half-heartedly at one of the chairs, also finally empty. "Shit," he muttered.

"Sorry." It was Shazza. She appeared from around the corner, holding the case file still. "We already divided up prelim interviews. Everyone kind of took off."

"Sure." Duo forced a smile. "I assume I've got an assignment?"

"Going through the forensics stuff."

"Yeah. I'll do that."

"On your desk." She hesitated. The beads in her braids clacked against her cheek as she glanced up at the loft and Abelman's office. "All clear with that?"

"Yeah." Duo sat in one of the vacant chairs. "He'll probably tell you, but you're supposed to get my story."

"Okay." She sat opposite him. "Maxwell…"

"Office politics." Duo made himself smile. None of them had ever actually said anything to his face, after all, which was an improvement over what it had been like starting in Preventers. "You want to do this now or later?"

"Uh, now, sure." She left the table long enough to get a pad of paper. She held her skirt to her legs as she slid onto a chair. "So--how'd you meet the vic?"

He thought of insisting on calling the boy by name. It didn't feel right to distance himself, since distance hadn't been a part of the equation then. But he didn't. There was no easy explanation for why, and even if Shazza had been nicest to him so far, that was going a little beyond reasonable expectations.

"At the club," Duo said. "Club Exilio."

+

"Aw, don't, no," Duo protested, and Trowa grinned as he waved a pantomine knife between them.

"Guess I'm not going to get a real kiss until I shave, huh," he said. He set a glass of sparkling shiraz on the counter by Duo. "Cheese-grating isn't part of your daily beauty ritual, if I remember correctly."

"Not so much." But Duo did kiss him then, slow and thorough. "I'll catch hell at work if I come in with beard-burn."

Trowa laughed at that. "Order Greek, would you? Something with chicken."

"Yeah." Duo sipped his wine. "Go take a load off."

When Trowa was feeling metaphorical--not precisely often--he liked that one, the shiraz. Most times, most moods, Duo was vodka, neat, icy cold. A shock, a grimace, and that slow burn. But there were nights when he was like that sparkling shiraz. Cork leaving the bottle like a percussive gunshot. The buzz hit the nose and the back of the tongue like acid and it was almost too dry, almost too harsh, but by the time you swallowed--the sweetness lingered just enough.

"Hey," Trowa said, on an impulse inspired by equal parts insanity and diminished capacity. "I wasn't jerking your chain about the house. I'm good with it."

"Okay." Duo paused with the glass halfway to his lips. "I guess I'll pick up some more detailed information. There's an agency on the way home."

"Cool." He found the Greek take-out menu in the drawer and tossed it under the phone. "Some of those stuffed grape leaves, too."

"Twenty minutes, maybe."

"Good. Starved." There were house brochures for the suburbs in with the menus. He took three with him to the couch. He didn't really intend to read them, but it probably sealed his point.

The first week after a job always itched. At least when Duo had been in Preventers there'd been the odd-shift schedule, which meant they had the occasional night and most afternoons together. Duo worked regular hours now at Cold Case. That meant long boring days, mostly. Sex on a schedule, which he hated.

He hated moving. And shopping.

The new bottle of beer came into his peripheral vision about a second before Duo's fingers slipped in his hair. "I kept your log for you," Duo said.

"Yeah?" He swallowed a mouthful and leaned his head back into the scratch of Duo's nails. "What'd you write?" He kind of loved that, actually. Couldn't believe Duo was even joking about it. Couldn't believe they'd made it that far in three months.

"I'll read it to you." Duo went to get it from the desk. He resumed his position behind the couch, just beside Trowa, leaning over so Trowa could see the pages. He really had written in it, cramping the margins the way he always did. "February 14, 7.34," Duo read, and brushed his lips over Trowa's ear. "Breakfast. Wanted eggs. Toasted bagel instead. Half glass of orange juice. 7.41. Drove to work. Thirty-six miles. Moderately heavy traffic. Car pulling to the right still."

He'd mostly expected the like, and had to grin for it. "How much of this is there?"

"I didn't even get to Tuesday yet." Duo turned a page. "5.32. Snooze alarm once. 5.37. Woke up for real. 5.38. Went to shower. 5.46. Finished showering. 5.53. Considered brown suit, but went with grey instead."

"Give me that." Duo held on, so Trowa yanked the book away. He tossed it across the room. Duo had a little shit-eating grin on, too. "Maybe we don't need the log any more."

"I'm all for it, though I doubt your sincerity. I wrote in pencil. You can erase whatever."

"I mean it, baby. No more journal."

He'd startled Duo. Slowly, Duo said, "Does that mean I'm just that boring now?"

"Maybe just a little. Although I guess you always were an agent of the Man."

Duo stroked his hair again, combed it back from his forehead. "You can still surprise me."

"That a good thing?" He pulled Duo closer by the collar of his shirt. Duo was a fantastic kisser, in Trowa's not inconsiderable experience, or maybe because of Duo's rather more considerable practise. Even twisted all different ways his brain went as foggy as the Bay on a damp day. Duo climbed right over the back of the couch, which was interesting enough to make Trowa reconsider his opinion on the new furniture arrangement, right into his lap. He got one hand between their chins as they kissed again, as Trowa unzipped first his own and then Duo's pants. If nothing else, they were always a good match in bed. If Trowa ever went impotent, they'd probably be sunk.

He pulled away with a groan. "I can go shave."

"I kind of like it." Duo sat up on his knees to shuck underwear. Then he backed onto the floor, shoving the coffee table out of the way. Trowa spread his legs as wide as he could. He'd probably ask for head more often if Duo wasn't so enthusiastic when he volunteered. He didn't even notice Duo's fingers at work until one of them massaged his prostate.

"Enough," he managed. "Let's fuck."

"Jeezus--" Duo said, but he kicked his jeans off when Trowa pulled at them, and set his leg over Trowa's shoulder. They didn't have lube, but Duo had done a good job supplying spit in plenty. He slid in, and closed his eyes against Duo's knee.

"What'd you order?" he whispered, and planted his hands on either side of Duo's head. Duo's body rocked with him.

"The mousaka," Duo said, and braced himself against the leg of the couch. "Fuck. I haven't exactly been practising while you were gone, you know."

He slowed obediently. "I'll go easier if you want."

"When have I ever asked for easier?" Duo laughed. And proved it, tripping Trowa into a roll that cracked his elbow against the coffee table. Duo sat deep on him, then bounced up and down on his knees. Had never been afraid to take what he wanted, anyway. Fast and hard. He said, "I want a back porch."

"Anything." He had a disconcerting moment wondering what the hell a back porch was--some kink like reverse cowgirl or something, before he realised they were talking houses again. "Sure. Back porch."

"And a tree." Duo let out a gaspy groan and sat up straight.

"Tree, yeah. Fuck, Duo. Yeah, we can have two." He managed to free a hand from Duo's hips to masturbate him. "Trees, and probably grass somewhere, and--"

The door buzzer went off.

"Shit," Duo spat, and started to climb off him.

"JUST A MINUTE," Trowa shouted, and yanked Duo into place so hard Duo cried out. "He can fucking wait. Come on, baby."

"Christ almighty." They were drying out, and it was starting to pinch, but Trowa didn't need much longer, if Duo would just--and Duo did, sliding around until Trowa was in as deep as he could go and they both had their hands on Duo's cock. Trowa hit the edge, and then it was every man for himself. When he had eyes that worked again, he saw Duo wiping come off his chin with a sheepish expression.

"Maybe one of us should get the door before he leaves," Duo said. He swung a leg over Trowa's chest and crawled off onto the couch.

Trowa grabbed his wallet off the coffee table and stood up. He was still tingling oddly, and he walked a little left of where he meant to go before he straightened himself. He snagged his shirt closed and opened the front door.

"Sorry," he said. He managed to hook a button over his crotch and opened the cash pocket of his wallet. "You know how it is after a long dry spell."

The teenager holding their delivery rolled his eyes. "Twenty seventy-two," he said.

Trowa gave him thirty and took the bag. He held out his hand for change, but the kid had already turned around and was headed down the steps to his car. Trowa didn't bother to call him back. The kid had probably earned it. It wasn't the first time they'd traumatised a delivery boy.

Duo was spritzing the carpet with the stain cleaner. Trowa doubted they'd done any permanent damage, but he was used to it by now. He dropped the bag on the table. "You're limping. I hurt you?"

"I'll be all right in the minute. I told you I was out of practise." Duo was just one side of grumpy about it, too, one hand to his back like he'd strained it. "Would your highness like to get silverware or will we eat with our fingers like the rustics?"

"Don't kill the mood." He swatted Duo on the ass and got plates and forks from the kitchen. He even remembered the napkins. "Back porch, huh?"

"I want plastic furniture."

"Plastic? Why?"

"That's what people put on porches."

"Not always. Sometimes they get wicker."

"If they're eighty-year-old ladies, yeah."

"I want a swing." He kept his eyes on the styrofoam containers. He passed Duo the olive salad.

Duo caught a drip of oil from the edge and licked his finger. "Swing," he said thoughtfully. "Really?"

"Yeah."

He started to grin. "That's really cute."

"Shut up, asshole. Do you think I like being domesticated?"

"Yeah, I do." Duo grabbed at his crotch, and Trowa swatted his hand away. "Don't be a jerk," he said. "I hate you."

"I get that vibe." But Duo was smug. He bit into a stuffed grape leaf with relish.

They ate in silence. Trowa always had a good appetite after sex. They split the last of the shiraz, sitting on the floor with the stain cleaner stench slowly fading.

"Guys are going to give you shit tomorrow," he said. He touched Duo's chin. There was definitely a red raw patch. "Maybe you should take the day off."

"Don't worry about it. I have make-up. What did you think I did when we were together before?"

"Make-up? You're kidding, right?"

"I aren't." Duo finished his salad and set his fork at a precise five o'clock angle. "I picked it up from my first boyfriend."

"We don't have to discuss the origins, or your sexual history."

"I wasn't going to tell you what positions we used."

Trowa reached for the Greek bread, and threw a crust at Duo's head. Duo caught it, though.

"You used to like a little dirty talk." Duo ate the crust.

"Not when it's about your exes." He found his beer on the other side of the table by accident, lying on its side in a little puddle. That occasioned another use of the stain spray. Trowa let Duo fuss over it. "So, uh, how quickly do you think we can get this house stuff taken care of?"

"I don't know. I've never done it before." There was a short pause as Duo sponged the carpet. "Johnny said it took him a couple months when he did it. He did it on his own, though."

"Shit."

"I knew you were lying."

"What? I'm not!"

"Then what's with the attitude?" Duo tossed the sponge to the table and gathered their dishes.

"I've gotta go back out," Trowa said. Duo went frozen. "I don't have a lot of time home."

Duo went back into motion like a robot low on battery power. He closed all the containers and put the bread back in its baggy.

"I know," Trowa said. "I know. I'm sorry." Duo shrugged a little, a jagged little motion of the shoulders. "Two weeks. We'll find something and get the paperwork in motion. When I get back we'll move in."

"There's no rush." There wasn't a lot left for distraction, but Duo managed, stacking plates, wiping down the table. "We can wait until you get back."

"No, I want to do this."

"We'll have to talk to the bank about mortgages and loans and shit, the agencies... Let's just wait."

"I've got some money saved. We can--shit... let's at least take a few days to look." He hated this look on Duo. Hiding his disappointment like a kid at Christmas who didn't get his new bike. Except they didn't do Christmas. They didn't do birthdays, and they didn't do any of the things that would make up for being a completely unavoidable shit about work.

"Sure," Duo said, and sounded like he even meant it. "We can do that. I'm just thrilled you even want to do it."

"I do. It's time. We're ready." They both had to absorb that one. Trowa chewed his lips. "Look, maybe I should talk to Une about a permanent placement. In-house."

Duo was shaking his head by the end of the sentence. "We both know she'll never let you into the light of day. And that it would be too dangerous for you if she did."

"Then maybe it's time for a change."

Duo looked at him for a long time, then. He didn't ask anything--he knew better--but whatever conclusions he was coming to, he kept those to himself, too.

It was a bad job, Trowa thought of saying, the last one. They'd all been bad jobs lately. People dying. Trowa had nearly been one of them, this last time. It wouldn't be a lie to say it had made him think about things, made him consider how much he really needed this life anymore. Made him consider how long he'd feel young enough to keep doing it, or if he'd be young enough still to do anything else when they finally let him quit. He wasn't losing his edge, but the edge was losing him, a little. It just wasn't that much fun anymore.

"I'm with you," Duo said then. "Whatever you choose. You know that."

"I know." Duo reached across the table for his hand. There was that, too. Since the trial three months ago, things had been really good with them, good like it had never ever been. A lot of that was Duo--who had known Duo had a soft side? Or maybe people really did change. Once in a while.

"I'll talk to her on Monday." Trowa squeezed Duo's fingers.

Duo smiled at him. "Oh, hey," he said then, a subject change if ever there was one. "I got you something. I almost forgot about it."

"Don't tell me you're pregnant. You promised me you were on the pill."

"I've told you how hilarious you are, right? I've told you?"

It was in the linen closet in the bathroom, cleverly disguised as the box for the juicer Trowa never used. It came out shrink-wrapped in plastic, and Duo produced his pocket knife to slice it open. "The TekWar Virtual Reality Home Experience," Duo announced.

Trowa raised his eyebrow. "What's this?"

"For you. You mentioned it looked cool. Looked cool at the store, too." Duo removed a glove, a gun, and a visor from the box. There were three games in there, too. Duo offered him the gun with mock solemnity.

Trowa was dubious. Obviously he'd said it was cool; Duo wouldn't make it up, but he didn't remember. Games had never really been his thing. He'd never even liked training sims. "Thanks," he said, though. He gave Duo's upturned face a quick kiss. "You going to play with me?"

"You mean am I going to beat your ass?"

"Yeah, that's exactly what I mean. Come on, let's hook it up."

They connected it to the TV in the bedroom. The shock gloves were wired, like the visor. Trowa practised firing the gun. It was pretty realistic for a game.

"Okay," Duo said, returning to the bed with the clicker. "I got MYST 9, Twilight Voodoo, and Gangland Down."

"They all have two names."

"Yeah. So which one? I like MYST. I used to play this when I was high. It's awesome."

"You'd have to be." Trowa couldn't make heads or tails of the description on the game box. "Is there a point to this?"

"Who cares about the point?" Duo put the visor over Trowa's eyes. "Twilight Voodoo it is. You'll like it. It's zombies. Shoot to kill."

"Okay." He settled back against their pillows and rested the gun on his knee. "Crank it."

He didn't know exactly what to expect. It opened with a movie sort of scene. Dramatic music. He was in some kind of dark warehouse--no, it was more like a basement, only full of corridors. Dripping water, big pipes overhead, mouldy smells. Dank.

Weird sounds. Kind of a--moaning. Something dragging on concrete. Trowa raised the gun.

They came out from the next corner. Two of them. Grey, shadowy--hands limp at their sides. "Stop there," Trowa said, and trained on them. No, they were zombies, Duo had said so. They weren't going to stop because he asked. He fired. He took them both in the chest, but they kept coming--of course. He fired for the head next. "How many bullets do I have?" he asked Duo.

"There's a little key down in the corner that tells you." He felt more than heard Duo's murmur against his arm. Duo was watching the action on the TV screen as Trowa ‘lived' it in the VR. "You're doing good. And hey, watch out for survivors. You lose points for killing them."

"Survivors. Okay." He passed the twitching bodies of the first two zombies. There was another one shambling toward him. He didn't bother with the body shots, this time, but took it out with one bullet through the neck to the brainstem. It dropped with a heavy flop. He could smell blood. Blood and rot. Rotting meat. The things had been dead a long time. Shit--there was a buttload of them coming. Swarming up the corridor. Climbing over each other. "Fuck," Trowa said. He took out the front row with careful shots, but they were moving fast. He backed up, until he stepped on something soft, and fingers wrapped around his ankle. "Fuck!" He shot at the zombie he'd already killed before, and it dropped back to the concrete. He turned back to spray the crowd shuffling toward him with bullets, and the dull roar of their voices became shrieks. They hesitated as a group, and then they surged forward. "Fuck," Trowa said, and put both hands on the gun handle. He fired as fast as he could pull the trigger, again and again and again--

He ripped the visor off and threw it to the floor. He was sweating. Heart racing.

"Trowa."

The voice startled him. Duo was sitting next to him. They were in a bedroom.

"Hey," Trowa said. "Wow. That's... yeah. Intense."

"You know where you are?" Duo asked.

"You should-- yeah. Sure, Duo. I'm right here. With you."

"Yeah," Duo agreed. His hands were sitting passively palm-up in his lap when Trowa looked. "What day?"

"Tuesday."

"Friday," he gently corrected.

Trowa laughed, only to cover the sinking feeling in his stomach. He was in trouble, and he didn't know why, and the not knowing was a deep scary pit. "Never could fake you out."

"You know what year it is?" Duo said.

No. He didn't. And Duo didn't look right, too--old. Too old. In blue, and Trowa had never seen him in blue, just that old priest costume, the red turtleneck--

"Hell, yeah," he said, into the pause that had gone too long. "I know what year it is. What's with you?"

"Tell me the year, Trowa." Speaking in a low voice. Talking him down. Trowa recognised it, and it irritated him, and it frightened him, somewhere in the gut.

"I'm getting a beer," he said, before he realised he didn't know if there was a kitchen here.

"Trowa." Duo restrained him very carefully with a hand on his knee, unthreatening but firm. "If you don't know the year, that's okay. Let's sit and talk through it."

"One minute I was playing the game and the next... You remember what it was like to fly Heero's suit?" He couldn't remember the name. Or why Heero's suit was different, except it was… "I'm tired," he said. "That's all. I was on a shuttle for a day and a half and you know I could never sleep on shuttles."

"Yeah, they mess with me too." Duo took his hands. That was oddly personal, for how well they knew each other. Heero was right. Duo was weird. He was rubbing Trowa's fingers, the backs of his hands. He was cold, though. "You remember what happened to Heero's suit?" Duo said. "Completely busted. And Preventers took it to destroy it, but you and me, and Quatre, we went out to that beautiful field out in South America, and we blew our own suits. Deathscythe, and Sandrock. Heavyarms."

"I remember that. Yeah." Two weeks ago. Quatre was already back on L4. He kept promising they could join him soon, soon, soon. Trowa didn't believe him, really.

"Heero, he's back on L4, right now. Visiting Quatre. For the ceremony. Quatre just got moved up from Vice to Senior Foreign Minister. He said a heart attack's not as good as a vote, but he'll still take it."

Foreign Minister? Relena Peacecraft was Foreign--

Trowa exhaled. "I don't think I'll ever get my mind around Quatre in the Minister's Mansion."

He saw it. Plain as daylight. Duo was relieved, and Trowa had no idea why.

"One mansion's about as good as the next, I guess," Duo said, and didn't miss a beat, anyway. "What I wanna know is how he'll get the old man smell out of it, now Tanner's gone."

"I don't think you want me to answer that, baby." Duo laughed, and Trowa leaned his head on Duo's shoulder. He had a headache, suddenly. He closed his eyes and rubbed them. "Can you take a couple of days off?" he asked. "Househunt with me?"

"Absolutely. I'll call in."

"They won't bust your ass?"

"Baby, you would not believe the benefits I have with this job. Preventers could learn something about employee satisfaction. I had sick days after three weeks."

"They hiring?"

"I'll put in a good word for you."

"Good. I'll hold you to that." A stabbing pain behind his eye stopped him from joking more. "I'm going to shower. You want a turn with the game?"

"You know what, and don't get mad at me here, but I would totally love a bath. Wanna share?"

"Bath?" He was being--not manipulated. But there was still something wrong with Duo's expression, trying to lead him, but he didn't know why, didn't know what Duo was getting at. "You mean like you and me, naked in the water?"

"Exactly what I mean."

"Yeah." Duo squeezes his fingers. "I can do that."

"Excellent." Duo kicked the afghan over the gun from the game. Trowa noticed, but Duo was taking off his clothes again, and then he was kissing Trowa, and there were better things to think about. His headache was going away, too. Duo even left the sheets all messed up when they left for the bathroom.

+

Duo hated the ranch entirely. The townhouses were all fine, but they weren't much different from Trowa's condo, and Trowa didn't want to have to climb stairs every time they went to bed. They saw a couple of pre-fab houses in the suburbs, but none of them had yards, and Duo wanted a yard. He did like the farmhouse they were in currently, but it was kind of out of the way. They'd been talking about getting closer to the Bay, but there were fifteen acres out the back way, and they were right by the highway, but it still felt like the country.

"It's not worth what they're asking," Trowa said, appearing from the kitchen. "And the back porch is rotten."

"There's room in the budget. It's still not as much as that two-story with the garage."

"I don't know if we really want a fixer-upper." Trowa glanced back for their agent, but she was on the phone in the den. "What's up with you? You haven't even been paying attention the last couple hours."

Duo stopped fingering the floorboards, and stood. "Don't freak or yell at me for not telling you. Promise."

Trowa promptly looked wary.

"Addison called," Duo said. "I agreed to meet him for dinner."

"Addison?" Trowa jerked his eyes to the side, away from Duo. Duo hated when he did that; he knew it was so he wouldn't be able to see Trowa's face, Trowa's expression, and Trowa knew that he knew, but still did it, and it was still, damn it, effective. "What in hell for?"

"Well, I never really thanked them appropriately, things kept coming up. You don't just send a fruit basket after a man clears you of six murders." The agent had finished her phone call and was hovering just out of what might generously be called earshot. Duo pretend to be absorbed in the brick hearth.

"So when's this dinner?" What he wasn't hiding was his scepticism. Trowa didn't like Addison, even if Duo had sort of allowed himself to forget how much.

"Well... tonight." He took Trowa by the elbow and made a vague gesture that might have been showing him the chimney and might have been trying to get Trowa to look directly at him again. "It was last minute, he has a free night, it's just him, not Kiplis, it's a nice steakhouse but nothing, like, not suits or tuxes, half eight..."

"Why not Kiplis too?" was all Trowa asked.

"She's getting a chemical peel."

"Ouch." Trowa was chewing on the inside of his mouth. "I'm not wearing a suit."

"And you don't have to, that's the beauty of it." He was so relieved Trowa was agreeing that he didn't even try to wheedle him into a sport coat. "It'll be fine. Really. Thank you."

"Don't push it." Trowa ran a finger over the mantel and made a face at the thick layer of dust he collected. "This place is a dump."

"It's not a dump."

"Who doesn't clean before showing their house?"

"The owner died. The nephew is selling it."

"When did you hear that?"

"You were being snotty about the basement." Duo went back to the porch door. "There's a dairy farm at the end of that. We could walk there."

"Why would we walk there?"

"There's a vegetable garden, and all those trails out there, and the woods, and there's the state park up the road."

"And?"

"There's chickens. We'd have eggs."

"Chicken coops have all kinds of diseases in them."

"I'll cook you fresh eggs every morning," Duo said, trying not to sound irritated.

"Eggs come from the grocery store and too many eggs will give me a coronary."

"You're a jerk," he said flatly. "You could go running every morning without having to drive to a path."

"In the horse and chicken shit."

"So this was the plan? Convince me you were sincere about the house hunting and then crap all over everything we looked at. Brilliant. Superbly executed."

Trowa rolled his eyes, none too subtle. "Have I said no, baby?"

"Do you have to? Now I will, like you knew."

"Jesus, what happened to your sense of humour? It's fine. Great. I love it." Trowa was grinning at him. Duo crossed his arms over his chest--just sheer couldn't help himself, even knowing he looked a fool.

"Don't be an ass."

"Don't me be an ass? Don't me be-- ohhh, you are so sleeping on the couch," Duo said, stung. "For a week."

Trowa scoffed. "You'll starve."

"Have fun masturbating to cheap news-stand porn."

Trowa laughed. His hands slid under Duo's coat and down his trousers in the back, and he kissed Duo firmly on the mouth. Duo tried to keep his side turned to the estate agent, not sure if she was looking but pretty sure she would see if Trowa went any further toward undressing him in public. Trowa didn't let him squirm away, though, and kissed him until Duo finally stood still for it, resigned. He smoothed the lapels of Trowa's jacket and rested his head there.

"Sorry," he said eventually. "I'm being a bitch. Work kind of sucks this week. I'm letting it get to me."

"Quit," Trowa shrugged.

"You don't just quit when it bites a little."

"You could."

"I've never in my life."

"Maybe it's time."

"I said I don't want to quit, Trowa!"

Trowa's nostrils flared in a hard exhale. "Okay, okay. I just don't like to see you getting this worked up."

"Should have thought of that before you started stalking me."

"Are you ever going to let that die?"

"I wouldn't count on it, no."

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