Authors: TB and Marsh
see Prologue for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Code of Conduct + Part Seven
He woke up Monday morning absolutely ready to go home. Heero was already gone, off on a night shift that wouldn't end until ten am, but he'd left a note that said 'Go home', crossed out, and 'At least try to go home' underneath. There was a stale bagel already spread with cream cheese on a plate for him. Trowa ate it in the spirit intended, locked Heero's apartment and pushed the spare key under the door behind him. He put himself in his car, put his car in gear, and drove all the way across town full of purpose and determination.
He ended out parked by the pool, in the space behind the boxwood bushes where he could watch his own door without being seen from the kitchen window. It was almost seven. Duo would be inside there, already showered and dressed and spiffed up, choking down egg whites and tofu shakes in the delusional belief that he actually liked the shit. He'd get in his car next and check his hair in the rearview, pull out of their spot in the same three-point turn he always made, to get the short-cut out around the back roads to the highway. It would take him exactly thirty-four minutes to get to Cold Case. Monday-- he'd play ball in the back lot with the janitorial staff, because another of Duo's cute little delusions was that anyone who made it off L2 was never going to be worthy of soccer with anyone making more than twelve dollars an hour. He'd work eight and a half hours, no lunch break, and then he'd do everything he could to avoid going home to an empty apartment. He'd go to Juicy Joe's to do last Friday's crossword, or the laundromat, even though they had a washer and dryer at home, because he liked to talk to the old men who sat outside smoking.
He really had meant to tell Duo he was back. But there went Duo in the other car, not even thinking to glance at the pool to see if his boyfriend was stalking him there.
Better, anyway. Duo would get through the work day better if he didn't have to worry about all the things he'd worry about, if he knew Trowa was back. Groceries. Sexy underwear. Cleaning.
Trowa would get through the day better without anyone around to call him a coward.
He did absolutely nothing to ensure himself that kind of peace of mind, however. He'd already gone through two resources in Heero and Une, but the odd weakness of mind he was displaying wasn't ready to quit. Heero's morning paper had been all agog with the unannounced visit of one Quatre Winner, Foreign Minister, diplomat, and sage. Quatre would make him pay through the nose for it, in Quatre's sweet way, but Trowa now had eight point five hours to spend with his thumb up his ass, and that was only fun for the point five, tops.
Quat wasn't hard to find. His security was probably fine for tackling the neurotic fan at the airport, but they weren't much at evasive manoeuvres. They hadn't managed to keep Quat's choice of hotel out of the papers. Getting his room number wasn't any more difficult. Quat still used the same algorithm for creating false aliases. Trowa sat on the dial tone for an indecisive minute; then told himself to suck it up and just call, already. Worst thing that could happen would be--
Wufei answering. "We asked for an extra set of towels to the suite," their erstwhile murdering friend said for greeting.
"I'll get right on that," Trowa answered.
"Barton." A distinct drop in enthusiasm. "You're back in town."
"In the flesh. As opposed to the spirit, in which case you could say that I'm always with you, Fei-fei." He ignored the spluttering that followed. "Where's Quat?"
"You'd know, if you'd been here when he arrived."
"Which is why I had to call to ask."
"He's very busy," Wufei retorted. "He's meeting with Temple Mayfield today. And he has an unscheduled meeting this morning that may run late."
"So he can squeeze me in between. Never mind. Don't bust a ball figuring it out. I'll call his mobile." He hung up immediately and redialled. He fully expected a busy signal, so it was a shock to actually ring out before clicking to voicemail. Maybe Wufei had hidden the phone under a rock? Or shoved it down Temple Mayfield's gullet. He tried again, just pure habit-- and lo and behold, it was even Quatre himself who answered.
"There you are," Quatre said. "I wondered if you'd bother to ring me."
"Jesus, Quatre." Trowa pulled out the back way and set a course for the Prince Edward Hotel. "It didn't even take me an entire hour to get through. Want to meet me downstairs for a drink?"
"Incognito?" Quatre sounded amused with himself, that sly tone he got once in a while.
"In whatever you feel like wearing." Trowa could do sly, too. "Shake your bodyguards. I'll meet you by the elevators. I'll keep you safe."
Quatre laughed brightly. God, Trowa had missed that sound. "Beat you there," Quatre said, and hung up on him.
Quatre made it to the lobby a minute after him, actually, still in rumpled pajamas and a hotel terrycloth robe. And he was miraculously alone, which suggested he had a certain amount of practise at slipping his bodyguard. He was carrying, though. The bulk of the robe almost hid it, but Trowa was the kind of man who knew to look for suspicious bulges.
"You're armed," Trowa observed aloud, and punched the lift back up to the seventh floor just to annoy the business type who'd been hovering impatiently.
"I almost always am." Quatre kissed his cheek. Trowa didn't turn his head in time to return it, but Quatre's hand lingered on his elbow for a moment longer than necessary. "Rashid Manguanac would personally spank me if I went out without a piece."
"Threats?" Trowa asked. "Or just being careful? You've got a helluva lot of tough guys up there."
"It pays to be careful."
"Truer words, man." Quat hadn't showered yet, and his hair was standing up on one side of his head. He hadn't shaved yet, either. He had just a hint of golden stubble that had left the tiniest rasp on Trowa's cheek. But more important were the eyes, looking up the inches that separated them with eyebrows raised over in a distinct expression of expectation.
Something on his mind, then. There was always something on Quatre's mind. He was the only one who was like that. Duo never put it down, either, but Duo was always off on the unreals, the imaginings-- who'd hurt who and what could be done about it and his favourite, the ever-loving why. Quat-- Quat was all numbers. Quat was all strategy. Rook to E7.
"I'm surprised to see you here," Trowa offered, tentative reconnaissance to feel out the lay of the land.
"Are you?" Nice prompt answer, eyebrows perfectly arched. "So was Duo."
"Did, uh, did I call you the other night?"
"Yes. Do you remember doing it?"
"Sort of." He turned and went walking. Quatre came in his trail, slippers making little velvety slaps on the marble tiles as they crossed the lobby. They went down the broad brocaded steps into the dining area that spread lavishly below the lobby and spilled out onto a balcony big enough for an entire wedding party. Everything was that wheat-coloured gold and ivory white, just like Quatre behind him, and it hurt his eyes, a little, trying to take it all in. Marble columns four stories high, glass-topped tables with glowing candles too-bright points of light, palm trees and bamboo adding texture to the rest of the visual noise. He sat in a blue chair just for the relief, the first blue chair at the first empty table, and Quatre settled across from him, tucking his robe between his knees and resting his elbow next to a vase filled with yellow roses.
"That's why you're here?" Trowa asked. "We talk on the phone all the time."
"You asked me to come. Begged, really."
He didn't immediately believe it. Number one, he did not beg. Not from Duo, and definitely not from Quatre, who didn't have anything on the menu anymore that Trowa would die without. Number two--
Number two, he realised, was that he didn't have any way of knowing for sure who he had or hadn't called. Did he.
Quatre touched his hand on the tabletop. "You want a coffee? Something stronger?"
Waitress standing right next to him, crisp white shirt, blonde hair tied up in a bun. "Bloody Mary," Trowa said. "Heavy on the Grey Goose."
"Same," Quatre told her. "And something light to eat, whatever the seasonal fruit is." He waited until she was gone, her footsteps echoing up the vaulted ceiling far above their heads. "You've gone pale."
"Bull," Quatre answered bluntly. "Put your head between your knees."
"I'm not fucking putting my head between my damn--" He rubbed the back of his neck. "Aren't you worried about the paparazzi?"
"The hotel does a good job keeping them out, and if they absolutely have to see me eating my breakfast, I wish them joy in selling the photographs. Trowa, what's--"
Their waitress was back, pushing an actual silver cart over the tile to their table. Water glasses first, poured out of a glistening pewter ewer and topped with the brightest lemon Trowa had ever seen, and then she stood there in front of them making their drinks. Eighteen choices each-- clam juice, tomato, worcestershire, tabasco, horseradish, celery salt, black pepper, garnish. Quat was eminently patient with the girl, no sign on that smooth smile that anything was amiss. Trowa let him take care of the PR, slouching low in his uncomfortable blue chair with a ragged thumbnail between his teeth, trying to work off a rough edge of worry.
Not worry. He had nothing to worry about. Just a little life-imploding uncertainty. Nothing new, actually.
"Cheers," Quatre said finally, and clinked their glasses. He sat back with a stick of olives, twirling it slowly. "Anything you want to talk about, maybe?"
"I think I'm fucked in the head. Somehow." He picked up his drink. Rimmed with kosher salt crystals. He licked and sipped, steady swallows until he could feel the cold liquid chasing down his chest. Quatre sat silent, waiting on him to fill in the important details in the dire declamation; or maybe just accepting as irony what had come off like a joke. God knew.
Except it made him angry, a little, a lot. Duo was the one who went around concerned about whether his head was in full operational order. Trowa had never given it a first thought, much less a second. He made a jagged up-down shrug of the shoulders. "Little things, like that phone call. A few not so little things. I'm working on the why."
Just like that, the joke was over. Quatre leant toward him, fingers splayed on the glass all pointed at Trowa, reaching for him without quite braving the distance. "You know what caused it? Blow to the head?"
"Not anything like that. Not that I can remember." Not on the job, none of the recent jobs anyway, and if it went back further than a few months--
"Look, can you just make sure you get him the hell away if something happens? Somewhere safe."
Quat let out a breath in a little huff. "Drink your breakfast and stop saying ridiculous things."
"Yeah. Sorry." Good advice. It tasted sour on his tongue. He fiddled with the celery sticking out of his glass, bushy green end. It crunched when he bit it.
"Duo didn't say anything," Quatre said, in an abrupt sort of voice, the 'figure it out' voice. "So he must not have noticed."
Like it never occurred to him that Duo might not spill everything for the asking, especially in front of Chang. "He has," Trowa said.
"Then he's clearly not scared enough to be making escape plans."
"He's not going to run, no."
"You wouldn't love him if he was a man who'd run. Anyway, you don't know there's anything worth running from. Duo told me about the car accident. You didn't hit your head and forget it?"
"I think I was already sick." That didn't taste too good going down, either. Trowa drowned it with a hefty swig of icy clam juice. Good vodka. He was already starting to feel it. "I might have-- been for a while. Possible, anyway."
Quatre finally initiated his own sip. One, just touching his lips, and then it was back to the table, right on the ring of condensation it had already left. "Does Duo know you're back yet?"
He was too predictable. Or Heero spoke out of turn. "I needed a little time."
"He could use the company. I don't think he's entirely all right. But then, I suppose maybe he never was. You balance him out more than you know."
"I know. I know. I'm going home tonight."
"Take the time, if you need it." Quatre rubbed his cheek. "I'm sorry. That was sort of contradictory."
Trowa relaxed enough to laugh. "A little bit, Quat."
"I'm trying to be marriage-minded."
"Since when are you the expert?"
"The reverse, I'm afraid."
Queen to mate. "You're going to marry her," Trowa guessed, and all the gold around him got a little dimmer, for a second. "Aren't you?"
Quatre nodded. Didn't quite meet his eyes, except then he did, looking right up at Trowa to make sure they both understood. He meant it.
"Well. Congrats." He let the last three swallows just fall down his throat, pushed the glass off to the edge of the table for refill. How was that for--
"Don't be surprised," Quatre said softly. Now who was begging? God, that Quat could still do this to him. "I told you I would. It's time. I'm tired of being alone."
"You always hated that, yeah." Sand in his mouth. He licked dry lips. "I'm surprised you took this long. Once you make up your mind... She's a great girl. You'll be happy."
"Can I confess something?"
"We had sex."
Said in front of a room that could be peppered with mikes and cameras and any passerby could stop to listen-- and at least their waitress did, before hurrying back toward the bar. Trowa sat there grinding his teeth until he realised he was doing it, and then he did it some more anyway. "You and Relena?"
"She initiated. When I asked her."
There was no fucking reason he needed to know this. "Was she-- it-- okay?"
"It was..." Quatre pushed his glass forward one inch and pulled it back again. "You were my first and I-- there's only been one other time between you and Relena."
Well, Jesus, no shock there. Quat had always been kind of puritanical, too buttoned up for his own good. He'd even rebelled like a good repressed choir boy-- fuck the first guy who looked at him sideways and spend the rest of his life pretending it never happened. Unless that 'other time' was a random male hookup or an apple-cheeked intern, in which case Quatre was a lot more interesting than he got credit for.
Not entirely fair, that last part. Quat didn't hide his gay phase, wasn't ashamed of it. It was just completely in character, that he'd marry the first girl he managed to bag. If Trowa had been in possession of a pussy, Quat probably would've proposed. Who knew. Trowa might even have said yes.
Not entirely fair, that either. Not like neither of them had asked where it was going. They'd just been better at the bed end of the conversation.
"I screwed you over bad, I guess, huh?" he said.
"No." Quick denial. Quat actually meant it, which probably meant he hadn't thought it through enough. The red flush that followed suggested some increased awareness. "Look, never mind. The point I'm aiming for, which is by now tangential at best, is that I think for a very long time I've been acting like a third wheel in your relationship with Duo. I'm going to stop now. It's past time."
No end to the revelations. Something ironic about the whole thing. Five months ago he hadn't so much as booed at Quat in half a year, and he'd lived in the same city as Chang and Heero and hadn't seen either of them in the flawed flesh in twice as long. Duo had talked to him, of course, because relationship or not Duo was the kind of person who made efforts, but really there hadn't been a Gundam Five. They hadn't had a thing you could label a friendship, because they hadn't had a hell of a lot in common outside of piloting skills for machines that didn't exist anymore. That, and half of them had fucked the other half, and it took a lot of concentration to avoid the only people who knew your name. Duo was the one who didn't do that, Duo was the one who was all hot to trot with his mistakes, not shelve them away. It made him neurotic and it made him hell to live with. But there was one kind of mistake Duo didn't make noise about, didn't rub his nose in, and that mistake was sitting across the table from him-- saying good-bye.
"Me too." He was husky. Had to clear his throat. He wet it with the ice water at the bottom of his Bloody Mary. "Maybe it's, uh, time for me to stop-- thinking that somehow you'll always be a little bit mine."
"I didn't try very hard to dissuade you on that point." Quatre had the grace to drop his eyes, at least. "I genuinely wanted it to work."
There was a couple miles of silence on the ass-end of that statement. There was nothing to say. There was just-- his mind didn't even search for words. He just sat there breathing, because that's what you did, when you finally acknowledged something that had failed a decade earlier.
Finally Quatre pushed his drink at Trowa. "Sorry. This isn't why I came. You finish it."
"Thanks." He gave it a good go, six swallows to get halfway through it, and he felt just slightly light-headed after. It helped. "Whatever. Talk if you want to."
"I came to listen to you talk."
"And we'll get around to it. Or are you evading?"
"I'm a politician. I can do both."
"We're getting married, too. We're buying a house. And I'm quitting. There. I talked."
That broke the tension. Quatre stared openly at him. "Are you joking?"
Quat burst into laughter. Real laughter. "You are. You have to be. Married? You, to Duo?"
"Yeah. Me, to Duo."
Quat, being Quat, noticed the flaw in that argument. "You haven't exactly told Duo about these plans, have you?"
"Most of them," Trowa hedged.
"If Duo thought he was getting married, especially to you, he would have been on the phone before you could get off your knees."
The tragedy of that was that Quat was probably right. Duo might well be less into the moment than in getting to use his phone tree. Maybe. Be nice if Duo surprised him, for once. "Think he'll say yes?"
"I suppose he might have to weigh his options, let down his other boyfriends gently."
"That's a relief." Mostly just relief that Quat wasn't going to make this a big goofy congratulations moment; but then, Trowa hadn't exactly gone off the hook and ordered the champagne for Quat's announcement, either. He was pretty sure Quat wouldn't let him go with just that, though, but Quat could be distracted by the newest shiny thing as much as the next guy, and sometimes you got lucky if you drove fast enough. "So," he asked then, "Where's Wufei?"
Gold mine. "Ahh," Quat said. "I see you haven't been watching the news. He and Duo had a rather spectacular blow-up, almost."
Shit. It was inevitable, but damn it, couldn't they both just behave like grown-ups and move the fuck on? "What happened?"
"I butted in. Of course. You know how I am."
No shit, Captain Obvious. "Maybe you should tell me all of it."
"I can do better." Quat left their table. Trowa finished his drink while he was gone, and sat chewing on the celery stick until Quat came back, slippers slapping, to hand him one of the print mags that sold at the news kiosks. "Page six, I think."
Trowa flipped to it. It was quite the headline-- "Gundams at War!"-- and the pics were lurid enough to make it look like the truth. A couple long-lense shots, grainy but clear enough, the community basketball court the street over. And an unflattering close-up of Duo firing the ball at Wufei. Excellent motion shot.
"He looks mad," Trowa understated. No article, just a blurb speculating about why Quat was standing in the back looking like someone's kid brother accidentally witnessing a knife fight. "They'll work it out, eventually."
"That was my thought, but it might have been a teeny bit premature. Duo handled himself better than they made it look."
"Hasn't quite accepted the idea that he might not be able to yell his way back into Duo's good graces."
Trowa grinned. "Sounds like Chang."
"There's so much anger there. Both of them." Quatre sucked an olive from the toothpick, the back of his pointer finger resting against his lips as he chewed. "I'd say we should lock them in a room until they figure it out, but that could get bloody."
"Extremely," Trowa said. He ripped out the pic of Duo, though. It would be funny on their fridge. "Open spaces seem best for the present."
"I don't know how much longer I can keep Wufei in one place. Especially now that Relena and I are certainly getting married. I don't think I can expect them to split their time with me by treaty. I need to choose."
Quatre was in a peculiar mood, stating the manifest as if it held profound and squirrely secrets. "So let him go," Trowa said.
"I know the burden was self-imposed and I know the idea of curing him out of sheer spiritual obligation was more pretty words than actual effectiveness, but I've managed nothing more these past four months than keeping him prisoner."
"You think he's still dangerous?"
That was blunt. He did feel a little colder for hearing it. Quatre was the optimistic one, the one in love with the generosity of the human heart; even Duo hadn't protected Wufei because he really believed he'd rehabilitate given the chance. "Then maybe you should turn him in. Or turn him loose and let him deal with himself. He'll self-destruct eventually." Gundam Pilots were good at that.
"What would you do?" Quat asked seriously. "I mean really. What would you do?"
He took the last olive Quat offered. "During the trial, I wanted to kill him. Now, I don't know. Really. Let him disappear. He's good at that. He's done nothing we haven't all done. His chief mistake was letting Duo shoulder the blame." He sucked on the oily fruit, and swallowed it half-chewed. "It's over. Maybe it's time for all of us to let it be."
Quatre took his word as gospel, thinking it over far more deeply than Trowa had before saying it. But even on reflection he wouldn't have taken it back. He'd never particularly cared about the details of what Wufei had done-- who he'd done, anyway-- and he didn't think any one of them really had. He knew Duo knew it all, because Duo was the one who'd put it together in time to practically catch Wufei in the act, but it wasn't one of the existential crises Duo had gone through during the trial, and it hadn't come up after, either. At the gut level, it just wasn't a shock that there were dead criminals lying around in pieces in San Francisco. Trowa had his own body count, and the only difference between the ones he'd shot and the ones Wufei'd done was that Une had stamped off on the sly for Trowa.
Probably if he'd asked her, she'd have signed it off for Wufei too, and solved a lot of problems.
"I miss you." Quatre smiled at him. His chin rested on his hand, the sleeve of the robe slipping back on his wrist. "I confess I was pathetically glad when you called."
"Sorry it's been shitty to be around me."
"What I meant rather was that it was shitty to not be around you. I do love you. You're an integral part of me."
"That's the dangerous part, isn't it? That we feel that way. And always will."
"Yes," Quatre said, but the smile stayed in place. That was really the death knell of it. He didn't think Quatre could have smiled like that before now. Before the Princess in Pink.
And the weirdest thing was-- Trowa was smiling, too.
"I think we can handle it," he said softly.
"Most days. Every other Tuesday."
"It's a start." He shoved his chair back, leaning on the legs so they'd scrape up the marble. Heads turned. He showed his teeth in a grin for that one. "Gonna hit the pavement. I have shit to do."
"Like ask Duo to marry you. Advice-- have a ring when you ask him. It lends credibility. And kneel. He's really a romantic, you know."
"And he'll grin and say, 'while you're down there ...'"
"Oh, such a hardship for you."
"You probably remember." Quat rolled his eyes. Trowa bent to kiss his cheek. "You came a long way just to make sure I was all right," he whispered, since he was already leaning there. "I appreciate that. Come to dinner before you leave. You can even bring Wufei. Duo might cave if he can pretend to poison Wufei's food."
"We'll come." Quat bumped his fist against Trowa's arm. "Go on, then."
When Duo schlepped in from his football game, Marquez was right on him at the lift, foot-tapping and coffee guzzling. "We had a meeting this morning," Marquez opened. Not hello; not even You're late-- not that Duo was. He checked the clock on the wall just to be sure. It was five til eight.
And he hadn't so much as taken off his coat or stashed his duffel. "We still do," he answered. "At nine."
Marquez went quiet for a moment, and Duo thought he might have had it licked. Marquez just stood there fiddling with the buckle of his ugly belt.
They made it almost a minute in silence. Then Marquez said, "It's going to take almost an hour in morning rush traffic."
"Holy shit, calm down," Duo snapped, and then tried not to let it out like that again. "There are short cuts," he said, with more appropriate moderation. "I've been there before once or twice, you know?"
Sarcasm was utterly lost. Marquez let out a nice militaristic, "Fine," and whirled on his ankle with a dramatic flair of his jacket back to his desk. Duo slammed his shit onto his desk and turned on his computer. Marquez, who apparently slept at his desk just in case he might miss a meeting, had a files spread everywhere already, but they didn't seem to be satisfying him. He sat there shuffling them, opening, shutting. The cardboard breeze fluttered the loose papers held down by his nametag.
Duo sighed slowly out. "Fine. I'm ready."
Marquez looked up. "You have time for coffee."
Well, that answered for how their outing together was likely to go. Duo kept his face still, mostly to distract himself from grinding his teeth. "Put on a tie. Something made this decade. Don't want the Preventers to look down on us city cops."
That galvanised some proper fear. Duo had Marquez pegged as the kind of guy who wanted the respect of everyone around him, and nothing would keep his mouth shut like the possibility of humiliating himself in front of the premier tactical intelligence force in the Sphere. He got a tie out of a drawer, plenty ugly enough to match the buckle. He tied it without looking. "Who is it we're speaking to?" he asked.
"This woman I know from the war, who knew Merquise." Duo found a portfolio in his drawer and put in a fresh pad of paper. He stuck a pen over his ear, and shrugged back into his jacket. "Her name is Lucy Noin."
Marquez stopped mid-knot. "Lucretia Noin?"
That was it. Duo threw the portfolio onto the desk. "You're OZ."
"Duo," Shazza tried to intervene.
"There is no OZ," Marquez said. He stood, tugging his tie straight. "Not any more."
"Bullshit." Shazza tried to stop him as he passed, but he slipped her hand and made it out the door. He heard scrambling behind him, and Nadia calling too, for Rico, but he didn't stop. He went for the lift at the end of the hall and punched for down.
Marquez caught up to him just as the car arrived. "Come on, Maxwell. It's ancient history. For one of us, anyway."
"Seriously, I don't want to talk about it even a little tiny bit." Duo went in first, with Marquez hot on his heels. "Let's just drive. I'll drive."
Marquez muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "hothead". Duo manfully ignored it. The lift let out at the parking garage, and Duo put his shorter legs through a workout trying to stay ahead of the other man. He used the fob to unlock the car at a distance, and got right in as soon as he pulled even. Marquez was a couple steps behind, and that gave Duo time to turn on the engine and shift into reverse. As soon as the passenger door was shut, he was rolling backward out of his space.
"Hold on, wait a second," Marquez said. Duo halted, and Marquez opened and shut the door again. "It's not quite going."
"It's been sticky since the accident. It's fine. The warning light's off."
Marquez let go. "I'm not the one making this an issue."
"Not the door, Maxwell."
"No, you're perfectly cordial about everything."
"I've been appropriate."
He was gritting his teeth. He couldn't make himself stop.
"Going to throw something at me now?"
Not even funny. Not even funny in that I-know, I-know way. The trash mags had been all over his fight with Wufei at the public lot. He hadn't even imagined there'd be a camera around, so used to Quat not being Mr Important. Not only were there pictures, there was tape, and he'd seen it playing on the local news at six.
"Look," Marquez said. Because that was Duo's brand of luck, which was to say no luck, as in no-one ever just fucking let it drop before they reached the danger stage. "Look," Marquez said, "I'm the same man you worked with for months before you knew."
Yeah, and he hadn't liked Marquez all that much then, either. "Do you want to cover questions for Noin or do we just listen to NPR for an hour?"
Marquez rubbed his chin, then tossed up a hand. "I think we should discuss them. I'd rather not look stupid in the meeting."
Professionalism. The last refuge. Duo said, "When Merquise left Earth he went with her. They were on Mars Colony for six months before he died. If he made any deathbed confessions, it would have been to her. They were close."
"I remember." A moment of silence, then, which Duo assumed was Marquez formulating his next line of inquiry, and of course turned out to be more Marquez thinking of ways to make further hell of his life. "I studied under Noin at Lake Victoria."
He had a passing thought-- Wufei never ran into these kind of people. "Prior to immigrating, Merquise spent nine months on temporary assignment here in San Francisco. During that time he started-- frequenting places like Club Exilio. He had a type."
"Like that slut you were working for information?"
"That slut is as close as we've got to an eye-witness, so I wouldn't call him that to his face."
"He's not sitting in this car." Marquez performed another moment of silence. "Never mind."
"I think we should pursue--"
"I'm finding it difficult to believe."
Duo took the on-ramp and merged onto the highway. They were definitely in on rush-hour, but it was moving fast enough, and anyway he'd have a better chance of escape jumping off the overpass than making a run for it downtown. "What difficult to believe?" he said. "That Zechs wasn't above using his height and his authority and his money to pick up teenagers?"
"Yes. It's not the man I knew."
"He wasn't the man you knew. He was drunk or high and he--" Duo struggled with saying it. He was used to thinking of Zechs with a certain amount of blame attached. Maybe more fair than unfair. But maybe not. Duo had known exactly what he was getting into the first time he'd let Zechs touch him. "To a certain extent... he wasn't responsible for his actions. God knows the war-- whatever side you were on-- it didn't end fast or pretty."
"Not everyone was ruined by it."
"Yeah, but some of us were, and you can sit there and negate what we went through or you can try to understand when I tell you how messed up it was then."
"I was there too." Marquez wiped a line of dust from the dashboard. "Is that why you're perpetually pissed off?"
"It's eighty percent, yeah. You wanna dump on me some more or can I finish going over the agenda?"
"It was a question, not a slam. Lighten up. I'm your partner, not the enemy."
Partner. Oh, hell no. You had to marginally trust a partner. He didn't even have to look at Marquez to picture him in uniform. Victoria fucking Academy. He'd probably laid awake at night, dreaming of shooting colonists.
Duo took a deep breath. The tea he'd brought from home had gone cold in the travel mug, but it wet his tongue. Stopped him from indulging more knee-jerk reactionary agitprop. Even if Marquez gave in, Duo had to be above that.
"Continue," Marquez said.
"Yeah." He swallowed the last of the tea and reached behind the front seats to put the mug in the back cupholder. "I want to question Noin about the last six months. The last nine, really, since Kel turned up dead. If Zechs had a personality change. He wrote me-- he told me at one point he was trying to get sober. He never did, but if there are any other indicators of a guilty conscience, it could be helpful."
"So what's my role in this interview?"
"Think of whatever I don't and watch her. You were supposed to be someone completely objective, but if it's been a decade since you've dealt with her, it may be fine."
"I can be objective."
"Have you ever been trained in reading faces?"
"In the academy and on the street. I think I can give a good assessment."
Of a woman he worshiped, a woman who had no cause to love Duo and who probably knew a little too much about just who Duo had been protecting from murder charges three months ago. Peachy.
It got even better at Preventers HQ. Duo embarrassed himself right off by turning in to the wrong parking lot, and having to wheel around to find the guest garage across the street. It got worse when they were buzzed into the lobby. Duo had made sure they knew he was coming, but he hadn't thought ahead to the part where the desk guard would be someone he knew, someone he'd seen every day back when he'd had a career and a life here. It was Miss Nick, the retired black woman who'd been the only smiling face Duo had seen for years before Wufei and Heero had joined too, the woman who'd sat with him in the cafeteria when no-one else would, who'd made him laugh when he was in danger of forgetting how. To see her looking at him with pity now almost broke his will to go through with the day. Accepting the cheap plastic visitor badge from her was like being sacked all over again, and worst of all, she knew it. He couldn't even meet her eyes then.
The last time he'd been in the lobby, he'd been storming out. No, the last time had been when Quatre was walking Wufei to a car to drive away forever, or it had felt like forever at the time. All the secrets had been safely kept and things would get better, that's what he'd been thinking; but he'd still been fired, still guilty of covering a deadly crime, and he'd already known then he'd never be back here, in this place that had become so much a part of his life. It was too hard. No more bright halls lined with big bright windows, inviting the world to witness the good they were doing inside. No more awards on walls, no signed plaques of the original units who'd all lost friends in the early days, when there'd been more war than peace still. Men he'd fought alongside who were nothing but ash now were only memorialised on that wall. Now he'd never even see them through that.
Another home he was barring the door to.
Marquez, of course, picked that moment to be sensitive. He said, "Different, huh?"
"Yeah." Duo smacked the sticky name tag Miss Nick had given him over his lapel. "Noin said she's in Homicide today."
"Is that usual?"
"She's Internal Affairs. She moves around."
That got a scowl. IAB was no more beloved with regular cops than with Preventers. Good for Marquez to go in with his back up. It might keep him from kissing Noin's hand when he saw her. Or saluting in front of the rest of the Sphere.
Everything familiar, now. The same sticky button on the lift. The crack in the mirror overhead. And letting out onto the department, like he had for years, taking the same exact strides across the scuffed tile. The desks were arranged in staggered pairs across the large open floor. Heads came up as they entered, he and Marquez standing out in their suits with all the other agents in uniform, here. Duo would have felt more at home in Narcotics, though it would have been worse having to walk in on people he'd worked closer with, known, loved like the real brotherhood Preventers was supposed to be--
Noin was at Heero's desk. And Heero did not look happy about it. Duo sped up, catching his friend's eyes with a subtle wave. You okay? he mouthed. Heero grimaced a pained hello smile, and shook his head.
Duo made as much noise as possible coming in for landing, kicking at an empty chair and knocking his portfolio on Heero's desk. Noin jumped back out of her scolding pose, her hands coming off her hips into startled fists. Duo forced an expression of hope and good cheer, and said, "You're not letting Heero butt into my appointment time, are you?"
She looked caught in the act, for just a second there. Duo had seen the same expression on every dope dealer he'd ever busted. She didn't want him to see her ripping Heero a new one. Her right hand smoothed down over her stomach. "We'll finish this later," she told Heero.
"Fine." Heero twirled his pen over his knuckles. He tilted his head up to Duo. "Fine," he repeated, his lips turned up slightly. Duo rapped his fist gently on Heero's shoulder.
That was when Noin saw Marquez. Marquez, who'd clearly been waiting on it, straightened up smartly, though he stopped short of clicking his heels. Recognition was written all over her face.
"OZ?" Heero murmured.
"Shocking, I know." Duo squeezed Heero's shoulder. "Be here to comfort me when I get out?"
"Of course." Heero tugged on the tail of Duo's tie. "Why did you dress up? I thought you didn't care about Preventers any more."
Duo flushed. "Shut up."
"I only have a short time," Noin interrupted. "If you don't mind, can we just do this in the break room? I still have two agents to talk to by the end of the day."
"Yeah." Duo left Heero's side, pointing Marquez toward the break room at the opposite end of the room. "You want tea, coffee, Noin?"
"No, thank you. I just want to do this as quickly as possible." She led the way, her heels rapping on the floor. Marquez came behind Duo, and shut the door after them. No-one sat at the table. Duo made an effort not to look like he expected to get hit, but he kind of did. She wasn't looking at him straight on, but the tension was thick enough to slab on bread.
He broke the silence. "I'm not unaware that you'd be justified in asking me to keep it quiet. In expecting me to."
Marquez shifted his balance. Yeah, Duo thought, take that proof and suck on it all you want. Hang both of us for it. And for this, because Noin is going to say yes.
It was a near thing. Every excruciating nanosecond of it played out on her face, so raw it hurt to look at. She struggled to lock it down. She sank slowly into a chair, her hands gripping each other tightly, almost in an attitude of prayer.
"No," she said. "No. It's not necessary. Zechs isn't guilty of this."
"Do you have any proof, Ma'am?" Marquez asked.
"I don't need any." She was getting her composure back, a little colour in her cheeks again. She pressed her hands flat on the table. "Zechs was capable of-- even of things that seemed to verge on evil. But not murder. Never murder. And it doesn't matter anymore, anyway."
"Doesn't matter?" Duo yanked back the chair corner to her and plunked down in it hard. "It does. I don't know how much, but I need to find out. Even if I'm the only one who ever hears the truth. That's what you said to us, on Peacemillion. Remember that? The truth always matters, Noin, even if it's just so I can lay this kid to rest."
"Then find out for yourself," she said evenly. "Then let him go."
Marquez took a step to bring himself even with them at the table. "He never said anything to you? Anything you could remember about that period."
Noin tapped two fingers. "He said he'd screwed it up with you." She meet Duo's eyes now, hers dark and flat. "And that he was sorry. Zechs didn't keep secrets. If he'd killed that boy, he'd have told me. He didn't spare me a single detail of his more-- sordid activities. It was a test. If I would stay after everything I'd heard, if I could be steadfast knowing everything-- he was like General Khushrenada, in that. I suppose that's where he learnt it."
Duo finally registered the warning buried in that. She knew all the details. Including, then, secrets that-- hell, his career in Preventers already was over, and if she said anything in front of Marquez that ruined the new one, he'd adapt. There was no way he was doing this twice, and come to that, it made him angry she would try to wave him off. He wasn't some irritating fly insisting on dredging up past trash. It wasn't damn comfortable for anyone in the room, but there was a dead boy who deserved an ending to his story. "All right," Duo said. "We'll play it your way. Zechs did keep secrets. He kept his identity a secret for twenty years, we'll start with that. He was capable."
"Not from anyone important to him."
"He was sleeping with the victim. Who was all of fourteen. Sometimes when people fall, they fall hard."
"Zechs never relinquished that much control. Not enough to commit a crime of passion."
"He blew a hole in the Earth, as I recall. You don't think Libra had anything to do with passion?"
"He targeted an unpopulated region of Siberia."
"And then tried to drop Libra on Earth. I think his nightmares about it would argue he lost his head a little. If it had really been a dispassionate decision--"
"Just because it tormented him, you can't claim you know what motivated him to do it."
"Look, I can tell you exactly how much control he had when he was flying and pissed off in bed. It would have been a horrible mistake and he would have been devastated, I absolutely believe that, but Noin, it could have gone down."
"You're right. He would have been devastated. And a lot of things haunted Zechs. But this... if he'd killed that boy, he wouldn't have thrown the body in a dumpster and pretended it had never happened. He'd have turned himself in."
"Like he turned himself in after Libra?"
"You especially don't have room to speak about that, Duo Maxwell."
"We're getting afield," Marquez said firmly. "Ma'am, do you recall any suspicious--"
Duo said, "I want to see the note."
Marquez cut himself off so fast he almost choked. Noin blanched. Duo stared her down, or tried to. The longer the silence, the more strength she pulled back. He was the one who blinked first. When he looked down, it was his fist that was clenched on the table, impotent.
She breathed like she was just remembering how to. "I don't carry it around with me, Duo."
"I know." He rubbed a knuckle over his dry lips. "And I'm sorry for saying it like that, I didn't mean to. I'm sorry. If it would be possible, I would like to be able to see it. I won't put it in the official case file if it doesn't bear on the case."
"I understand." She took a card from her pocket, and wrote two lines on the back. "If you really must, come by my apartment this evening, and I'll let you see it." She pushed herself to her feet. "If you'll excuse me, I'll return to my work."
"Thank you," Marquez said. "For your time."
She inclined her head. "Not before seven. I never make it out of the office before that."
Marquez blew a low whistle when she was gone. "I thought she was going to pull out a weapon and blast you one, for a second."
"It wouldn't be the first time she's thought of it, I'm sure." Duo pushed his fringe out of his face and held it there. His head felt hot. "Sorry. That was... uglier than I planned."
"Was that-- Heero Yuy, out there?"
"Yeah." Duo let his hair fall. "Wanna meet him? I owe him a Coke, anyway."
He bought tulips. Yellow ones. They came in a vase. He knew they had vases-- flowers were a good peace offering, even when they weren't quite at war-- sooner or later he'd piss Duo off, and Duo remembered the nice gestures, especially when they were unsolicited. But the vase was pretty enough, and came with a ribbon and the little tiny white weedy flowers, so he bought the package, and decided he'd put it in the bedroom. If they started arguing the minute Duo walked in the door, he'd still probably be able to move Duo toward sex without straining his back, and the flowers would close the deal. No, on that useless little table Duo had just installed by the front door, a table with no other function than to catch their keys and gather dust. Duo could move them to a more 'aesthetically pleasing' place on his own time, and Trowa would get all the brownie points right off the bat.
But that hefty activity really only occupied him for an extra half hour. He didn't do the shopping, because Duo always wanted to pick a fight over his choices, unless it was alcoholic. He didn't want to sit around an empty apartment or, God forbid, go back to Heero's, although he still hadn't set aside time to do a thorough hunt through Heero's closets for the strange and repugnant masturbatory material he was positive Heero had hidden away somewhere.
Probably he needed to get some friends. Really, the only pilot he had anything approaching healthy with was Duo; Quat, on the good days. If they both remembered to try at it.
Well-- there was Marc Addison, Attorney at Law.
Oh, and he could just imagine how that would go. Sure, Marc was making nice. For Duo's sake. Oh, he was a good old boy, Marky, the kind of guy who'd started out an idealist, probably, and come up one day on the wrong side of the criminal underworld-- the church-going Sunday school teacher who turned out to be a coke dealer, maybe, and Addison had been shocked right the hell out of his Chinos. You didn't make it to junior partner at a firm like Strawn and Virbach Legal without getting your feet dirty. But maybe Addison had managed to stop himself at just the muddy shoes. He seemed genuine. He seemed-- nice. No obvious self-serving agenda, and it was a rare lawyer who'd do what Addison had done, commit the personal economy Addison had to get Duo off. Career-making, maybe, but a business-is-business lawyer would've dropped them the moment that trial was over, and Addison was still around offering hand-outs and asking to be--
But he couldn't do it. Really, a lawyer? Trowa had made a career of keeping out of a court room. Giving his phone number to one seemed like tossing in the towel.
Which he was. If Une came through for him, anyway.
If Duo said yes.
Maybe he should have bought a couple extra bouquets.
He divided the rest of his day between the gym and the gun range. He ran through his most intense routines at each, pushing himself toward physical reaches he didn't usually need in the casual life. He stepped in on a boxing class and spent a few hours beating up innocent gym bunnies in the practise ring. He stopped when he split a knuckle on a bleach-blond's front teeth, and quietly excused himself before security could ask him to go. The gun range went a little better; no-one bothered you if you were obviously working something out with yourself. Safer that way, when it came to guns. He emptied three boxes of shells on the silhouette range. He felt marginally better for the experience.
He still got home with time to kill, so he positioned the flowers on the table and actually started his laundry. Well, he moved it from his duffle to the hamper, anyway. Duo did the laundry because Trowa always put it on hot water, and Duo had ecological issues with the hot water cycle. He unpacked the rest of his shit, including his copies of Osmond's autopsy and IDs for later study.
Flowers down. Laundry down. He could probably stand to bathe before Duo got in. Duo would cook. They would eat. Trowa would look up over the baked tofu and say something like how'd your day go, any news, any olds; I was thinking we could get hitched this weekend, if you're up for it.
Yeah. Except for the fact that his mouth went dry just imagining it, that was good to go.
Duo came banging in around six twenty. Trowa had devolved to just standing in front of the open fridge, wishing it to produce something non-soy. He heard the door slam into the stopper, swallowed a moment of something that might possibly have been fear, and called out, "Honey, I'm home."
Duo missed the flowers. He had his head turned away coming in, eyes on the mail Trowa had forgot to pick up. His keys went into his pocket, not onto the table. Then Duo stopped short, staring into the kitchen at him.
"Hi," Duo said. Oh, he looked good. Even in that drab grey suit. Trowa was hard just for looking at him. The bruise on his cheek was gone except for a faint green sheen, and his shoulders were rigid and straight, his legs spread evenly and knees locked. He looked edgy, uptight. Trowa loved it.
But then Duo said, "I'm sorry. I have to go back out. There's a steak in the freezer though, if you're up to grilling it."
Trowa's evening plans evaporated. "It's cool," he said flatly. Duo's mouth twitched down. He tried to inject something more resembling feeling into the next words. "You look tired. Break in the case?"
"Maybe," Duo said.
Trowa flipped the frigerator door closed. Duo was stiffer the closer he got, each step, so he made a determined effort to keep his body language loose, no sudden moves. He smoothed his hands over Duo's shoulders and then under the lapels of the coat, sliding it off Duo's arms. "Wanna talk about it?" he asked. He bent and gave Duo a quick, hard kiss. "Hi."
Duo exhaled deeply. He gripped Trowa close by fists in his shirt, and pulled him back down. Their mouths mashed, and then Duo's tongue was twisting around his. Duo pressed him back against the wall by the kitchen arch, slipping his hand under cotton to find skin, spreading his fingers over Trowa's stomach, sternum, his pecs. Trowa grinned against Duo's lips. "Missed you like crazy," he whispered. He wound his arms around Duo's neck.
Duo pushed their hips together, and then rested against him. "Missed you too." He took a loose fist of Trowa's belt. His breath was hot on Trowa's collar.
Trowa squeezed a warm handful of firm ass. "How much time have we got?"
"Zilch. I have to pick Marquez up." Worse words. Trowa thunked his head back on the drywall. Duo stepped away in pieces, then came back again, leaning on him. "How was the job?"
Trowa rubbed Duo's neck gently. He flashed his best, most believable smile. "Typical," he lied. "We can talk about it all when you get home for the night."
"Sorry. I didn't know you were getting in tonight. I wouldn't have scheduled for now otherwise." Duo nipped his chin, touched their cheeks together. "You smell good. You were at the range."
"Baby, relax. I'll be here. Okay?" He held Duo in place for a third kiss. "If it'd make you feel better I could follow and stake you out. Something for the journal."
"No." Unexpectedly quick, and kind of harsh. Duo was out of his physical space in two jiffs, then. "Not funny."
"Come on," Trowa tried. "It's a little cute."
"Not tonight, it's not." There went the mood. Duo pulled off his tie with two hard yanks and tossed it onto the kitchen table. He pulled the guava juice out of the fridge and drank straight from the bottle. He faced away from Trowa to do it.
Trowa truly hadn't factored in the possibility of Duo being in an actual mood. Attitude, he always counted on, but this was darker and deeper, and it had all the potential for ugly of a tropical storm. "Sorry, baby," he said, mild as the juice. He stayed where he was, crossed his arms until he thought better of it, and then just stuffed them into his pockets. "Should I be worried?"
Duo's eyes slid south of his. "Sorry. Just don't follow me tonight."
"I was joking. Okay? Trying to keep things light."
Maybe he should follow Duo. The hell was up that Duo needed to see that jerk from his job after work hours anyway?
"Oh," Duo said. "I almost forgot. Quatre's in town. You should try to see him while he's here."
Busted. Confess and be damned, or lie and be found out later. Duo was in no mood for games, obviously.
He waited long enough deciding that Duo got ahead of him. The juice went back in the box and Duo went in the direction of their bedroom. Trowa followed more slowly. "He came in on Saturday," Duo called back. "We saw an apartment together. He says it's the one."
"He doesn't live with us," Trowa said. "He doesn't get a vote. We're buying a house."
Duo was shirtless, spritzing his shirt with Febreze. "It's actually kind of... I mean, it's got all the things we agreed we didn't want, and none of the stuff we said we did, but it's not bad, actually."
"We're buying a house. Fuck Quatre for meddling in this."
Duo pulled the shirt back on, and got a new tie from the closet. "Whatever. Fine."
"You wanted a house, baby."
"I know what I said." He checked himself in the bureau mirror, tightening the braid without taking it out. He rewound the elastic, buttoned himself to completion, and said, "I just think maybe we shouldn't limit our options so early on."
Well, that had all the earmarks of a weekend with everyone's favourite busy-body. Quat sure hadn't mentioned any of this when he was playing marriage counselor. "What other decisions did Quatre make for us?"
"Oh, get off the high horse. Quat was there because you weren't." That stopped them both. Duo's face was blank with shock at himself. "I'm sorry. That wasn't what I meant."
"Yeah, I think it was."
"No, fuck, it wasn't. You physically weren't here, is what the fuck I meant. I have to go."
"Yeah. Go ahead. I'll be here. Be safe." It took all the control he had to get that out in choppy bursts. Duo turned and looked at him, then, for a full minute almost. Just looking.
And then just leaving.
[ cont ]