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

Code of Conduct + Part Two

"Buttplug," Trowa guessed.

"Shut up."

"Cock ring? Ball weights?"

"Ball weights?" Duo flipped on the signal a precise ten metres before the turn lane. "When I said I'd get you a treat I was thinking like ice cream after dinner."

"If you think I'm going to behave for ice cream, you can think again."

"Jesus, please tell me this is you getting it out of your system." Duo braked hard, lining them into the exact centre of a parking spot at the last freaking row. Duo always drove like a grandpa who'd had a mobile suit back in the day. "I'm not going to bribe you. Be nice because he did a great fucking thing for me, for us."

"I said I would," he objected. "Take a fucking joke. Why are you so nervous?"

"Just god-damn behave."

It was crowded in the lobby. Trowa had been in some swanky joints, between dinner with Quatre and the occasional upscale client. Generally he didn't see the point in paying four figures for a cut of beef he could buy at the store for ten bucks. It was a lot of old folks standing around, and it must have been prom night, because there was a group of bleach-blonde, overly tanned teenaged girls in slutty dresses hanging out in a corner like a display at a low-end lingerie store. Trowa scanned for Addison's dark head, and totally caught Duo checking his hair in the reflection of the giant fish-tank wall.

"You look hot," Trowa assured him.

"There's a difference between hot and classy." Duo tugged at his blazer. "Should I button it?"

"There he is." Standing at the bar. Displaying, probably self-consciously, the difference between hot and classy. His suit cost at least as much as Duo's car. "I probably paid for that," Trowa muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing." He wrapped his arm tight around Duo's waist. Addison had seen them. Duo's hello wave was just a little too enthusiastic. "Do you have the heat for him?"

That, at least, put Duo in a better mood. "Is that what your problem is? You're jealous?"

"Do I have reason to be?"

Addison had made it through the crowd to them. Duo pulled Trowa forward to meet him, then pushed him back so he could embrace Addison. Which was fine, except then Addison made to hug Trowa, who swayed out of reach on pure instinct. "Oh," Addison said. "Right. Sorry." He extended a hand instead. Safe. Trowa shook it briefly.

"It's great to see you both," Addison said. "You look well."

"We're great, yeah," Duo answered. "House hunting."

"Very domestic." Addison was all big smiles. His hand was definitely on Duo's shoulder. "Hey, if you're interested, I've got an ex in the real estate business. He was a crappy boyfriend, but he's a terrific agent."

Oh, so he was gay. Trowa looked sharply at him. "We've got it covered, thanks."

Duo gave Trowa a sharp look of his own, when Trowa yanked him back. "Actually," he said, "I think we're down to our final three. Unless you liked that one with the big balcony in back."

Trowa smiled tightly. "Anything you want, baby."

Oh, because he had no cause to be jealous, right. No cause by the name of Heero Yuy, and for that matter Johnny Cuartero, and if he wanted to keep a strict tally he could throw Zechs Merquise and half of San Fransisco's queer community in there.

Fine. A third. Maybe.

Addison's eyebrows were on their way to his hairline. He broke the awkward silence with a big inhale. "Well, order some drinks, and I'll let them know we're all here."

"He's cruising you," Trowa said.

"He is not. What do you want to drink?" Duo nudged a prom queen out of his way and headed for the bar.

"Beer."

"Yeah, but what kind?"

"Surprise me."

Duo ordered two Becks darks, and left at least forty percent on tip. Trowa did not try to correct him. "Come on, let's go." Duo shoved a bottle into Trowa's hand. "And remember you're not a dog and you don't need to piss on me, okay? I'm pretty sure everyone in here gets it. And don't make faces at me."

"Fine, fine. I'll be a perfect little boy scout."

It was a good table. Not the best table, which meant either Addison couldn't get the best or didn't want them to be seen together at the best. Trowa couldn't blame him. But Duo was acting impressed, and it put them next to more of that stupid fish tank business, which at least cut them off from the rest of humanity. Their waiter set them up with menus and draped their napkins over their laps. So damn classy it hurt.

"So you're over in the regular police force, right?" Addison asked.

"Cold Case Unit, yeah." Duo's foot bumped Trowa's. "About two months now."

"How do you like it? That's probably real detective work, right? Even more than Preventers."

"Yeah, definitely. Slower pace. And results. That's kind of nice. Case is open, we shut it."

The waiter was back, filling their water glasses. "Any appetizers this evening?" he asked them.

"The mussels are great, if you like seafood." Addison smiled at Trowa. Trowa didn't return the gesture. "Or the lobster and crab dip."

"I was just thinking of the crab dip." Duo touched the back of Trowa's hand. "Tro? Crab dip okay?"

"It's fine." Trowa wanted to be just about anywhere else. Rwanda was warm this time of year. He'd even take downtown L1.

And neither of the men sitting across the table were making it any easier. Addison sipped his water, and Trowa sat looking at him wondering what the hell he was doing with them. Duo had some strange ideas, but that didn't mean anyone else shared them. Taking an ex-client out for dinner made as much sense as Mister Global Happy Earth Environmentalist Duo Maxwell agreeing to meet him in a steak house.

Addison said, "So, Trowa. How's your work?"

"Dull as dishwater, Marc," he said blandly.

Duo added, "He was gone for four weeks. Heading out again in a couple of days, actually, which is why the rush on the house hunt."

"Busy season."

There was a little comfort in imagining all the ways he knew to make Addison bleed. "You too, huh?" he said.

"Oh, Jesus, yeah. I've got four cases right now, and Ruth has another three. Even with the juniors, it's a heavy load for us. I don't know what it is about the spring that brings out the crazy in people."

"I read in the paper you're defending Charley Hurtz," Duo offered.

"Between you and me, that's a sinking ship," Addison answered, with some of that self-deprecating humour Trowa supposed was meant to be charming. "And to top it off, our top private investigator went on maternity leave, and seriously, her replacement is like fifteen years old. It's hard to trust someone who doesn't physically remember the war, you know?"

Ohhh. That did not make Trowa happy. "Too bad Duo's not looking for a job," he interrupted flatly.

Duo kicked his foot, this time. "I don't really think he was asking."

"No, although I'm sure you're qualified." Addison grinned at them. "Hell, both of you are, I guess. I guess it doesn't get more experienced than a Gundam Pilot and a Preventer."

"I'm going to the can." Trowa shoved his chair back into the fish wall. Duo was face down in his beer. Addison held onto the pleasant expression, but he didn't ask Trowa to stay, either.

The bathroom was all panelled wood and mood lighting. It was also a vacuum of silence, free of all the chatter from the restaurant. Trowa locked the door, and turned on the faucets over both the designer sinks, just because he could. Plugged the drains with the super-thick paper towels, and watched the water level rise slowly.

Stood there wishing for the days when Duo had been so far in the closet that Trowa didn't get invited to dinners out with ex-lawyers. In those days, he'd be snug in his car right now, staring through the windows with binoculars like the obsessive, possessive-- he would not use the word stalker. That was Duo's word, and one day he'd stop using it like it was dirty--

Because a man could long for that kind of simplicity. Everything made sense from the outside. The closer you got to the centre the more the entropy ate at everything until you didn't even know what words to let past the gritted teeth--

Duo had fought for them. Duo had been fighting for them even when he broke it off with Trowa a year ago, he could understand that now. Duo was not going to dump him for the first halfway interested geek who waltzed in waving a fat pocketbook. Duo did not cheat. He might have failed once, and Trowa could think what he liked when he was pissed, but Duo did not do betrayal, and he wasn't going to start for a nobody like Marc Addison. However grateful he was for a lawyer who'd believed his story.

But if Addison so much as touched Duo accidentally, they were going to have a little talk. Springing a fucking job offer over dinner. That did not make him happy. Not with either of them. Cold Case might be a come-down after Preventers, but no way in hell was Duo going to shuffle his skinny ass off to those over-privileged stuffed shirts who didn't know a Gundam Pilot from a car mechanic. They had no idea who Duo really was. Duo had no idea who Duo really was, half the damn time.

He dunked his head under water in the sink, and gave serious thought to just waiting to drown.

He was more relaxed when he made his way back to the table. It didn't thrill him to see Duo and Addison with their heads together over the stupid crab dip. But Duo outright lit up when he saw Trowa coming back. He felt a little bad about that. It wouldn't be the first time he'd walked out without telling Duo he meant to. Probably he should work on that.

He cupped the back of Duo's head lightly, then resumed his chair. "Sorry."

Duo's anxiety level visibly ebbed. He even took Trowa's hand under the table. "No problem," he said. "Saved you some." He pushed a little china plate of fancy crackers at Trowa.

"So what'd I miss?" He ignored the silver spoon and dug a cracker straight into the dip. Even used a finger to shove a chunk of lobster onto the cracker. Dared Addison to say a word.

Addison rose to the challenge. Didn't even look ruffled. He said, the picture of congeniality, "Turns out Duo and I are fans of opposing teams in the semi-finals."

"And by 'opposing fans'," Duo added, "he means he's a loser, and I stand a good chance of earning money off him."

"How much did you bet?" Trowa asked. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and drank half his beer.

"Fifty on the Giants going 5 to 1 or better, and another fifty on Manuel Perez scoring three home runs in the game Friday."

Trowa smiled, through sheer effort. "You're going down, Addison."

"Oh, I like my odds."

Duo squeezed his hand. Squeezed again, and then just held him tightly.

+

He didn't hear the knock. He did hear the slight shuffle of boots on carpet, the last vestige of an entirely different set of trained nerves, and looked up to see Wufei come in with the tea tray.

"You're the maid, now?" Quatre asked him. "You'll need a different uniform."

Wufei performed a little curtsey and set the tray right atop the report Quatre was reading. "I'm not wearing an apron," he said. "Stop fidgeting with that paper. You haven't eaten since breakfast."

Not a maid, but a dedicated nanny. Quatre had made it through a vote, a conference call, and a committee meeting that all ran over by an hour, which meant he'd missed lunch but had barely had time to notice it. He had managed to down a nutrient shake on his way back to his office, where his aides had left a mountain of briefs for him to read. Wufei had been at his side, or at least outside his door, through all of it, a statue in a corner with his hands locked behind his back as he observed everything without remark. But when he judged it had all gone on long enough, suddenly he'd be stepping forward, so smoothly polite that Quatre's guests hardly ever realised they were being tossed out without ceremony.

In any event, Quatre was hungry, and the kitchen had supplied an entire pot of Stilton with the fruit. Quatre dug up a finger of it to suck on.

"Sugar?" Wufei asked. He dripped cream into Quatre's cup and placed it at his elbow. He took his own cup black, and dragged a chair to Quatre's desk to sit.

"Is it dark out yet?" Quatre asked. He managed to get the cheese on an apple slice, this time, and burrowed back into his chair cushions.

"Ten more minutes. They shifted sunset mode up an hour."

"Oh, they couldn't be more absurd if they tried."

Wufei did not relax, though he seemed fairly settled, for once. They'd had a long shuttle trip the night before, coming back from viewing the rebuilding in the L5 cluster. "They can always be more absurd," he said dryly. "Wise men don't tempt fate."

"Ha." That tickled him. Quatre sipped his tea, then planted his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. He meant to compose a reply, honestly, but the swirl behind his own eyelids kept him occupied.

"Tired?"

He sighed. "Mentally or physically?"

"Either. Both."

"Relena's coming tomorrow."

He sensed Wufei's nod. The tea tray made subtle clinking noises as the other man served himself. "You must be looking forward to that."

"Yes. A little draft of some very welcome sunshine." He rubbed his face, and forced his eyes open. "Do me a favour. Look at the ring."

A single black eyebrow climbed above the other. But he took the box when Quatre fetched it from his drawer. He tilted it under the desk lamp. "It's beautiful," he said at last. He closed the lid with a snap and set it between them. "You're proposing?"

"We've been discussing it. If you count all our dates, we've been together nearly two years. There seems no reason to avoid a formal declaration." He aligned the box with the edge of his desk, fussing and knowing it. He made a little face and picked up his tea instead. "It isn't too big? She doesn't like big jewellery."

"It's very tasteful. Why would you be worried about this?"

"I don't know. Not worried, precisely."

"What then?"

Not an easy thing to answer. In truth, he didn't really doubt her acceptance. They were very compatible, they'd proved that, and it was an excellent match. Relena was strong, but feminine, elegant despite her youth. She was a regular reference in fashion magazines that admired her good taste and simplicity. She was universally known, and still respected, even if she now downplayed her role in the war and in the Barton Rebellion. The name Mariemaia Barton had all but vanished from public memory, but Relena couldn't attend so much as a luncheon without being recognised. She was loved, but she wasn't just a figurehead. She had served two full terms as Vice Foreign Minister, and she was a frequent consult on all sides of the political divide. She had her own fortune, an inheritance from her adopted parents the Darlians and a considerable pension from the Sanq Republic, who still loved their princess even if she had abdicated in favour of elections four years ago. And even if she hadn't had those qualities, they did get on very well, and he was extremely grateful for that. She was kind and insightful, and if he'd once thought she might still prefer Heero Yuy, who was rather more--everything, really, than Quatre Winner, his one advantage was that he knew what he wanted from her, and Heero never had. They would have a good life. They would have a good marriage. He had no misgivings.

But he'd had that ring in his desk for two months; and the time had never felt right.

"Quatre?"

"I got a call from Temple Mayfield yesterday," he said.

Both of Wufei's eyebrows went up this time. Temple had single-handedly convinced Quatre to run for Vice Minister, three years ago. Temple had single-handedly convinced half the parliament to run. He was energetic, and exhausting, but he was pushing a progressive agenda and achieving his goals. He was the kind of man who would never have had a place under Romafeller, and he was dead set on making up for the lost time.

"Something coming to a boil?" Wufei asked.

"He wants to meet with us tomorrow. Both Relena and I. I think he wants her to run."

"Run for what?"

"Senate." Quatre loosened the knot of his tie and pulled it off over his head. "It's got to be Senate. The Western European representative has the lowest popularity rating in the hemisphere, and his junior is too inexperienced. It would be child's play."

"Will she run?"

"She claimed she didn't want to be involved in politics anymore."

"You're not so sure that's true?"

"I don't know. It's already so hard to see each other. I hate having to schedule and re-schedule. It would be twice as difficult..." He exhaled through his teeth and glanced up at Wufei.

Who sipped his tea, and said, "Tell her not to."

Quatre blinked first. "I begin to understand why your romantic ventures never went anywhere."

Wufei coloured. "Excuse me?" When Quatre cracked a grin, Wufei flapped a hand at him, and conceded the point. "I don't suppose she'd actually sit still for that."

"I think it's what they call a deal-breaker." His eyes fell on the ring box, half-hidden by his tie now. He grabbed it off the desk and stored it in his pocket. "Enough of that. What did you do today?"

Wufei obligingly followed the subject-change. "Terrorised the help. Apparently. Miriam claims I glower too much."

"You do."

"Your sister finds fault with everything."

"That's because there's always faults to find." For particular instance, Wufei had been a member of Quatre's household staff for three months, and had yet to realise that Miriam's disapproval stemmed directly from his continued effort at ignoring her existence. "She's going to Paris in a few days," Quatre said idly. "If you're not nice, I'll send you with her."

"Which of us is that meant to punish?" Wufei sniffed at his threat, and helped himself to the Stilton. "She needs a job. The Security Council has a position opening."

That was a new development. "How did you hear that?"

"Staff talk in hallways, too." Wufei's eyes drifted away from Quatre to the wall, a sign Quatre had come to recognise as Wufei's cure for too much presumption. "She's qualified. I think you should consider it."

It did go beyond the bounds of the rules Quatre had laid out, when he'd brought Wufei into his life. He was encouraged that Wufei would venture it. He wasn't sure it was the right time for that, either, but he had always expected that one day soon Wufei would begin to chafe at the many restrictions Quatre had mandated for him. Three months was longer than he'd imagined.

It had been a hard road for them both. In the wake of Duo's trial, everything that had seemed so dramatic--traumatic--so insurmountable--had settled, slowly. They'd all had to relearn a bit about reality. Except for Quatre and Wufei. It was only fair; Quatre had appointed himself to the task of rehabilitating Wufei, but he'd done it without any idea of the mechanics. Even when he was trying his hardest not to, Wufei fought him. Quatre had used all the leverage he'd had. Daily, hourly reminders that it was Quatre alone standing between Wufei and a lifetime in prison. Constantly holding over him the debt he owed Duo Maxwell, who had only asked that Wufei stop.

He had seen the crime scene photographs. He'd forced Wufei to relive every murder until he could recite them himself. Perhaps if Quatre had really understood that, before taking on that--in hindsight--ridiculously arrogant notion of rehabilitating Wufei--he might at least have had an intelligent sense of trepidation about the venture. So much of Wufei was smooth surface and touch-me-not. It was hard to even imagine someone like Wufei would feel moved to go on a very brutal, very thoughtfully planned and executed killing spree. Perhaps even Wufei had found it hard to conceive. He struggled so much to put it into words, into a context that bore any small relation to the reality Quatre, at least, had thought he was living, a reality where very little was so bad any more that it needed the vengeance of one man to correct the balance. The murders were the result of a hideous emotional cocktail-- frustration, rage. Impotence. And, at the core, self-importance. Somehow Wufei believed--he suspected Wufei might always have believed, even as a teenager fighting a guerrilla war from the cockpit of a Gundam built by dozens of other people, dozens of adults with a far more mature understanding of what injustice really was--that he, that only he, could right the universe of its wrongs. None of that fundamental element of his character had changed, and Quatre knew it. He just didn't know if it was Wufei's failure, or his, having set himself as Wufei's jury and judge. Self-importance was at least something it appeared they shared in quantity.

Perhaps--he ought to have left Wufei to face a real court. He might never convince Wufei that murdering criminals had been evil, but he could have left Wufei to the shame of public censure.

Shame. There was one tool in Quatre's favour. Wufei might never accept that the act of murder he'd perpetuated nine times was wrong, but that he'd let Duo take the responsibility for his acts: there was immense shame in that. Wufei had claimed to him, multiple times, that he'd always intended to stop, that the final murder, the one Duo had discovered and been blamed for, had been rife with clues that would expose Wufei. Quatre did not believe that. He didn't believe it, and he had yet to make Wufei admit it, that he had never indended to stop, and had certainly never indended to be caught. A man who did not feel guilt or regret had no reason to stop.

A man who suffered shame at his own cowardice did. It wasn't emotionally satisfying, it wasn't the humanly emotionally satisfying end Quatre had hazily, naively predicted would come of rubbing Wufei's nose in his own mess, but it was what that mess had cleaned up to. Wufei had actively blamed Duo, and actively allowed Duo to knowingly sacrifice himself. Quatre couldn't browbeat Wufei into accepting anything but that fact, so that was the weapon he'd used. He'd kept them isolated, kept them locked away together in the hope that Wufei would come to respect and accept his judgment, in the fear that any distraction could be all the reminder Wufei needed that there were no physical bonds to his servitude. And he still didn't know if he'd done right, or done enough. Wufei was never far from him; he didn't even carry a weapon now. He didn't even hold a paid position in Quatre's employment. It was supposed to be degrading, it was supposed to be a humbling, even humiliating dependency, the best plan he'd been able to cobble together out of the very few clues he'd gleaned from a man who had somehow become quite accustomed to living in a lie with no apparent contradiction.

But that didn't mean Wufei wasn't waiting for the chance to be done with his sentence, regain control over himself and choose his own direction.

He would get his chance, if Quatre married Relena. They didn't much like each other. Neither spoke a word against the other, but he knew Relena was waiting for him to choose between them. So was Wufei.

"Did you think about it today?"

Wufei answered just as he always did, grave-eyed and quiet. "I think about it every day."

"And are you thinking about it any differently?"

"It's complicated. But yes."

"Is that enough?" Quatre searched his face.

"I think," Wufei said then. His hands were tense. "It's time to… stop thinking about it every day."

He really was testing the boundaries. Quatre didn't dare put up too much resistance. He rubbed his mouth, and answered, at last, "Only if that is enough."

"I'm not going to do it again. Ever. It's not my--right." Wufei's eyes dipped low. "The consequences are too great."

"Wufei," he began.

And never finished. This time, he heard the knock. Wufei half-rose, head twisting about.

"Quatre." It was Relena, hesitating in her entrance. "And Wufei. Hello."

"Hello." Quatre blinked away his surprise. "I thought you weren't due 'til tomorrow."

"I wasn't. I hope it's not--"

"It's fine." He moved from the desk the same second as Wufei decided to stand. Now all three of them were hesitating.

Wufei drew a deep breath, and patted Quatre's shoulder. "I'm going for a run," he murmured. "Have a good evening." He inclined his head to Relena as he passed her. "Hello," he said. "And good-bye."

+

The third time Trowa made a face and cracked his neck, Duo decided to say something. "Headache?" he asked quietly.

"A real screamer." Trowa flexed his hands on the wheel, then dropped the right one to the shift. Duo caught it halfway, and carefully pinched the webbing between thumb and forefinger.

Trowa glanced at him. "That one of your secret, magic, health food cures?"

He was mostly smiling. "Shiatsu, asshole," Duo retorted. "Watch the road." He made it to a count of ten, and released the pressure. "Thanks for the effort tonight."

"Sure thing, baby."

"Sorry you got a headache. I hope it was the beer, not Marc."

"You going to work for them?" Trowa asked. He hit the turn signal left-handed and pulled into the turn lane for their highway exit.

"Why would I?" Duo said, irritated. "I have a job. I like my job."

"So what was that all about? Coz I gotta tell you, it wasn't too subtle."

Only Trowa could have been on full receiver for all the signals, and got every single one of them wrong. Duo exhaled hard and manipulated the joints in Trowa's long fingers. "I was thinking... they really do need someone, at least for a couple of months. You said you were going to talk to Une about, you know, cutting back. This could be something good to fall back on."

That got him a slow blink and a mile-long stare. "You want me to go work for Addison?"

"I don't want you to go work for him, I just think it's an option."

"So retire from Preventers?"

"If you did. I just thought-- that maybe if you knew there were options." Trowa took his hand back for the turn as the light went green. "And you know them," Duo said. "I thought it would be more palatable."

"They'd never hire me."

"Yes, they would."

"Une won't accept my resignation."

There was no answer for that. In the three months Duo had known the truth about Trowa's job title he hadn't found out any more than that. Trowa didn't offer, and he knew better than to ask. They didn't talk about work. They never had, or not since the very beginning, anyway, when Duo had imagined there'd be a lot more talking about everything. And toward the end, the first ending, it had seemed like Trowa never opened his mouth except to tell Duo to shut up already. Stop asking for so damn much.

He tried not to need. He really did. Maybe Trowa was figuring out that it was okay to want more than you had, to require more than what served the basic survival functions. We don't need a house, he thought about saying, we don't need friends if you don't like them. But he couldn't give up everything outside of Trowa if Trowa wasn't standing still at the centre. And it had been one thing when he'd thought Trowa was off running dirty money or drugs or who the hell knew what, even if it ran directly counter to what Duo had dedicated himself to wiping off the street. He knew who Trowa was, and the person Trowa was was the person he'd turned out to be all along, except that he'd been lying about it--

And there was a shitload of backstory with Une that Duo still didn't know, except that he knew some of it was sexual, and some of it was undoubtedly emotional, but Duo honestly hadn't thought she would deny him the opportunity to live a normal life.

"I talked to her," Trowa admitted, his voice blank like his face. "Last month."

"About quitting?"

"Yeah."

"You never mentioned. Maybe I should keep a damn log on you."

Trowa tried to laugh it off. It was their mode of operation, lately, and if it was about more than the stupid house crap, at least that finally made sense. "I've got a drawer full of blank ones if you want."

Trowa missed the shortcut back to their apartment. Duo watched the street go by.

"You're mad now?" Trowa said.

"No."

"What'd I do wrong?"

"I don't know. Nothing."

"Bullshit."

"Don't start anything, okay? It was a nice night."

"Fine." Trowa took his hand, this time. "I'll--I could--" He glanced in the rearview. "Why didn't you tell me I missed the street? Jesus, sometimes I don't--"

Duo saw the car coming a second before Trowa. Trowa punched the gas, but they only had a second. The car hit them right behind the front seat, and everything jerked hard to the right while they skidded off away from the impact. Duo cracked his head on his window. They wrenched to a stop almost immediately, but the echo of the impact kept ringing in his ears.

"Fuck!" Trowa said. Duo freed a hand from the dash to put his palm to his head, right as it began to hurt. "Did you see that?" Trowa went on, twisting to look at him straight-on. "Fucking Ozzie pricks. You okay, Maxwell?"

Shit. Holy shit. Duo checked his hand. Blood dripped into his eye. He said, "You're hallucinating."

Trowa was staring at him. Then suddenly he was moving again, turning the dead engine to park and snapping on the map light. "Let me see."

"Are you okay?" Duo asked.

"I'm okay. Are you bleeding?"

His head had broken the window. He couldn't twist enough to see the backseat, but the other car was visible out the windscreen. They'd turned nearly one-eighty after the hit. Duo mopped at his forehead, then just pressed his palm to it. "I'll go see about the other driver."

"Don't. Just sit here. I'll go." Trowa grabbed his mobile from the floor and passed it to Duo. "Call the cops. And an ambulance." He hesitated. "Stay put." And he was out of the car. There were other vehicles stopping near them. Christ, they were in the middle of an intersection. Everything had stopped.

He left the mobile on his seat. Shattered glass spat over his arm and legs as he opened his door. It at least opened. The back seat was completely crunched in.

Trowa was crouched by the open driver's side of the car that had hit them, a nice car, a nicer car than Duo's, except for the front bumper and the hood smashed. Duo pulled on the passenger side and crawled in over the bucket seat. It was a fucking teenager. Was. Now he was just a panicking, bleeding mess. Trowa was holding his own sweater to the kid's forehead.

"He didn't have a seatbelt on," Trowa said. "The ass."

Duo checked the kid's chest for steering wheel impact. "Anything hurt besides the head? Kid, honey, tell me your name." He opened the kid's shirt. He looked all right, some bruising getting ready to blossom over the sternum. "What's your name?"

"Nassir," the teenager finally answered. "Shit, I hit your car. I was changing my iPod--"

"It's okay," Duo said brusquely. "My name is Duo. I'm not going to take you out of the car in case you hurt your neck, but I'm going to ask you questions, okay? You can feel everything okay?"

"You're still bleeding, baby," Trowa interrupted, low-voiced. "God, I'm sorry. I should've moved faster."

"You were fine. I never saw it coming." He tapped the teenager's knees, one after the other. "Nassir, you feel that? Move your arms for me."

Sirens came into audio range. And there were people now, standing outside their cars, watching.

"That's good," Duo said belatedly. "Tro, go meet the police, okay."

"Yeah." Right in front of the kid, Trowa leaned over to touch Duo's face. But then he was up and moving. Duo watched him stalking off, wired and with no-where to go with that jittery rush of adrenaline. The blue-and-red flashers were coming from both directions.

"I can't believe I hit you," Nassir said again. He was starting to shake now. Duo caught the sweater before it fell away from his head. "Shit, he's gonna be so angry with me, I wasn't supposed to have the car. Are you gonna call my dad?"

Duo closed his eyes against a wash of nausea. "Yeah," he croaked out. "Someone's gonna call your dad. He'll be glad you're okay."

"No, you don't know my dad. He'll be so pissed--"

"Then you shouldn't have stolen the fucking car. Stay still."

Footsteps behind him. Time seemed to be going light-speed, but it still took for god-damn ever for the cops to come. No, it was the emergency crew, two young guys in uniform, a lady who came up the driver's side and started asking the same questions Duo had. One of the others helped Duo back out of the car.

The kid went away in the ambulance. When the cops finally came, they dithered a lot about moving the cars out of the intersection. A rookie got sent to redirect traffic around it. Duo spent all that time sitting on a kerb getting his face sewn back together, four stitches for the forehead, right under his hairline, and a painful, careful check for fractures in his cheekbone. They let him have aspirin for the headache. Trowa wouldn't take anything, just hovered over Duo and glared at all the emergency crew.

"You're good to go," the lady finally told him, finishing the plaster on his forehead. "You want one of the cops to drive you home?"

"No," Trowa answered, still abrupt. He had his hands shoved deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched. "The car'll drive."

"You should get it towed to a place."

"It's fine," Duo assured her. "Thanks." Trowa jumped to help him up as soon as he shifted an inch. "We need to sign anything?"

"We got all your information. You're free to go, assuming the police don't need anything else."

"Fine on our end." That was the older of the pair who'd come in the squad car, with the younger partner still in the middle of the road waving people around the wreck. "We'll check on you tomorrow. Make sure you contact the kid's parents. Insurance information and all."

"Thanks." Trowa was all but clinging to him, and trying not to, in front of people Duo might have to work with one day. He let go long enough to get in the car and test the engine. It started fine, rolled a few feet fine. They worked together to clear Duo's seat of the bits of glass. Trowa almost tried to lift him onto the seat, so Duo slipped in fast, and pulled the door shut. It didn't quite fit closed, with the frame bent out of joint on his side. The map light was still on, and the headlights. Trowa came down on the gas just a little too hard, and the car rocked as they pulled out.

"You okay to drive?" Duo asked.

"I'm good, Duo."

"You sure?"

Trowa scowled, but didn't look away from the road, and his hands were white-knuckled fists on the wheel. "Yeah, I'm sure. I just want to get you home to bed."

"If I had a nickel for every time I heard that." Duo pulled it together for a weak grin. The clock said half eleven. It had only been an hour since they'd left the restaurant. "I'm okay, sweetheart."

"You scared the shit out of me. All that blood."

"You know what head wounds look like."

"Yeah, I know. Still scared me."

They hit a red light. Trowa was so cautious slowing down they didn't even trip the sensors. He reached out and put his arm around Duo's shoulders.

It didn't feel a damn thing like battle ever had. That was the weirdest part, Duo thought, was surprised to be thinking. Time was he couldn't have sat through something like that without flashing--

"Dinner with ex-lawyers," Trowa was saying. "Bad karma. Write that down."

"Consider it written." The light went to green, finally. Trowa had to let him go to work the shift. Duo said, "You need to see a doctor."

"I'm not hurt, dumbass." Trowa squeezed his knee good-naturedly.

"You didn't know when we were."

Trowa glanced at him, finally. "You got hit on the head, baby, not me."

"Right after the hit. You didn't know when we were. That's twice."

"Are you sure? I don't remember--" Trowa's face went wooden. He didn't finish the sentence.

"You said-- you said something like god-damn Ozzies."

"That's nuts. Why would I say that?"

He was lying. Duo dug a knuckle into the pressure point on his temple. "Don't fight me on everything. You're going off to who the fuck knows where in two days and you've been having fucking flashbacks. You need to see a doctor, Jesus, Tro."

Flashbacks, hell. Trowa looked remarkably like he had back in the war, for that matter, not a thing on the face that you could read and nothing being said to fill you in, either. They stared out at the dark outside, apartment lights on either side, dark blotches from trees every fifteen feet. Every dip and climb of the hills made Duo's head pound.

"Not tonight," Trowa said finally. "I don't want to deal with this tonight. You're beat up and I'm, apparently… losing my shit."

"The last job," Duo tried.

"I said not tonight." They reached their street. "We'll talk about my problem tomorrow."

"Yeah," Duo said. "Fine." Then, "No, shit. I have to work tomorrow."

"Like fuck you're working tomorrow."

"I've been using the damn sick days to look at houses." The headache wasn't easing. Maybe he could sleep it off. "It's cool. I'm not exactly incapacitated here."

"Baby," Trowa said, quietly. "Don't freak on me about this."

+

"So you flew out early to surprise me?" Quatre asked.

"I hope it's not inconvenient." They shared kisses on both cheeks, and Relena twitched the collar of his shirt straight in back before they separated. "I saw the vote on the news at the port. I bet you're glad that passed."

"I don't know if I'd call a two-vote margin a pass, but I'm glad it's over." He checked his watch. "You know what? You're here in time for a late dinner. Oh, unless you've already--"

"That sounds good. I'll just need to change."

"I think you look fine. You always look fine." But he was already glancing about for her luggage. "Did you bring a bag?"

"I had them put it in your apartment, I hope you don't mind."

"Not a bit. Very foresighted." He picked up his tie. "I'll have Sato call Essence for us. It should be quiet." He put himself together, tie and buttons and a quick tug here and there, and then he patted his pockets, first at his breast and then his waist. Relena felt a sudden twinge of memory. Her adopted father had always done that same thing, forever losing his wallet in his suit coats.

"Oh," Quatre said, then. He had found something in his pocket. His mouth pursed a little, as it did when he was making some internal decision. Relena waited, as the moment stretched out tentatively. "Well," Quatre said. "I suppose now is as good as any other time. We're at least in private for once." His hand emerged, holding a jewellery box.

Oh, God. Relena crossed her arms quickly. "Just what are you doing, Mr Winner?"

"We've been discussing-- tossing around the idea." His face went soft, looking down at her, uncertain suddenly. The box turned over and over in his fingers. "We've never made an issue of religion-- I'm sorry, I hope I'm doing this right."

"What are you doing, Quatre?" she asked again. She took the step between them, close enough to see his adam's apple bob when he swallowed. Then--he made to kneel, but caught himself, stood there awkwardly. Relena discovered she was barely breathing. She had imagined this moment dozens of times--hundreds, probably, between her childish love of Heero and her realisation that Quatre meant to ask her, one day.

Quatre shuffled from the right foot to the left; she would always remember that. Then he just opened the box, and turned it to face her.

It came bursting out of her mouth. "I love you, Quatre," she said. She closed the box without even looking at the ring, and threw her arms about his neck. He exhaled, a warm puff of air against her hair, and squeezed her tightly.

"I hope this is a 'yes'," he whispered.

Relena nodded several times. "Put it on me."

His arm left her waist, and the box passed between them again. He took her left hand. His trembled. Hers was steady as steel. It was a pink teardrop diamond mounted on white gold. The slim band fit her perfectly, bobbing over her knuckle and settling, not too tight nor too loose. Then he stooped to kiss her, and seemed quite pleased with her enthusiastic response.

"Well." There was a little flush of colour in his cheeks. "I know we haven't really had time to talk about a date, yet, but a long engagement--"

"Did you have a date in mind?"

"Ehm, not yet, no. Did you?"

"It's an election year," she conceded.

"I thought I'd be pretty busy defending my office, since no-one actually elected me the last time."
He smiled lopsidedly. "Think I stand a chance?"

"Tanner managed to get elected three times. It ought to be a breeze." She did risk a look at the ring, now. It wasn't much to her taste--she had long outgrown pink--but it was obviously an antique, perhaps even a family heirloom. He was wise to have chosen that as the engagement ring. They might go together to pick one for the wedding-- "Maybe," she said, "a short engagement, and we can campaign together."

"Do you really think we can afford a short engagement? I don't have poll numbers or anything, but I wouldn't want to rush it."

That was unexpected. And not entirely, or at all, welcome. She summoned a smile. "If you think it would hurt your chances, of course we can wait."

"I don't know. Maybe we ought to talk to my manager first." She had time to do no more than attempt to hide her frown before he cut her off. "That took three seconds to realise I'm an ass. Please, please ignore that."

That was worth a deep breath. "Do you want this marriage?"

"Of course I want this marriage."

"Then the pollsters should only have so much influence."

"You're right. Of course. That was inappropriate."

She leaned on his chest, and let him wrap her in his arms again. "We don't have to rush a date, darling. We have… the rest of our lives." She let the tips of her fingers brush his neck. "I can be patient," she added. "To a point." She blazed a trail down his shirt to his collarbone, and fitted her palm over his sternum. "But I won't promise to behave."

He laughed at that. "I'd hate for the patience to become a habit in our lives." His hand brushed just the edge of her hair. He was always careful of her hair, so considerate of mussing her. And he always took his cues from her, and waited on her permission for their physical intimacy. He kissed her again, and his mouth lingered, leaving warmth on the tip of her nose, her chin, her lips. When Relena tilted her head back, he took her neck, too. The pressure of his hands against the small of her back held her still, crushed her slowly closer.

"Quatre," she whispered. Her hand clenched to a fist on his shoulder. The warm metal of his ring dug into her finger. "Quatre, let's not wait."

Even his breathing ceased for a moment. They were close enough for her to feel the crazy beat of his heart--or maybe that was her own. "No," he said, and cleared his throat. "No-- we said we would."

"We make the rules, Quatre." She slipped two fingers between the buttons of his shirt. He exhaled, hard.

It was what they needed. They would be married, and that would satisfy any propriety he could name. She wanted that claim on him, and she wanted him to have that claim on her. Romance had not been the highest priority in their relationship. It might never be. They were both focussed people who had lived their entire lives in the public eye. Who knew how long they'd have to wait for a wedding, and it would inevitably be a formal affair, and a political affair, and they would both be so keen on performing for the audience that there'd be no time or energy to concentrate on each other. But this time, this time could be theirs, and Relena needed that.

She almost thought she'd lost him. But then suddenly he moved. He took her hand, her left hand, and to her shock he removed the ring. She sputtered a weak protest, which died as he clasped her right hand, and gently slipped the ring onto her finger. She stared at him in confusion, until the meaning of it dawned. He'd moved it from the engagement hand to the wedded hand.

"My wife," he said tenderly. "My extremely persuasive wife."

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