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

Stay, Stupid + Part 5

They had, in total, three happy days together.

In the months to come, Wufei all but crystalised them in his mind, determined to remember every moment with the clarity of a film reel. They were a precious resource in a life without any other advantage against the overwhelming sameness.

The first day they'd spent at their beach. They never went into the water again, but they climbed the cliffs over the sea, walking for so long they missed the six o'clock bus and had to call for a cab back to the city. They hadn't said more than five words after his mostly-failed idea of teaching Duo to swim, but by the time the sky was turning dark and the wind was cool on their sunburnt skin, it was as if they'd been talking all day, until he could know what Duo was thinking without even looking at him. They didn't have sex again, but he woke in the morning, naked to the air, and Duo's head rested on his bare stomach, cheek to skin.

It almost felt like an altered state. He felt outside his own body. Duo trailed after him like a ghost--no. Like a companion. A friend. He might have recognised it sooner, but he'd never had one. Except Trowa. But he had been the one to trail in Trowa's footsteps, and it had been nothing this--nothing this perfect.

They ate together, in the cramped communal kitchen where Wufei mixed eggs with rice and soy. They walked the neighbourhood together; Duo wanted to see it all. They drank tea at the Lotus Flower, sitting on mismatched chairs by crumbling plaster walls, avoiding the stares from the Chinese unused to a white man on their territory. If Duo noticed--he really might not have, for he seemed oblivious to it--it clearly did not bother him. They went to the grocery together, and Duo played at making Wufei pronounce the names of all the foods. He made Wufei laugh, trying to repeat the words. It had been forever since he'd laughed.

That night, they definitely had sex. Duo, it turned out, knew quite a lot of things that were new to Wufei.

The third day, they slept for hours at a time. They flopped on each other like puppies, even though it was hot enough to keep them languid and drowsy for most of the day. When they did finally stir, the sun was long down. They sat in the kitchen together, wrapped in Wufei's bedsheets and stifling their laughter at old Mrs Chu, who kept shuffling in to sneaky nosy looks at them.

He had never been so content. He was afraid to call it happiness--part of him knew it would be a jinx. But contentment he allowed himself, content to take those days as a gift, to see his smile echoed in Duo's eyes, to know that, for once, time had brought improvement, not pain.

The next morning, everything changed.

"Thinking of moving on," Duo said casually. He sipped the last of Wufei's tea from his cup. He was standing by the window, naked from the waist up. His braid was loose, and the sunlight turned it a golden honey brown.

He told himself he was not surprised. "I'd like you to stay," he said, proud his voice was even.

"I know." Duo shrugged awkwardly. The muscles in his back jumped, and stayed bunched.

"Doesn't matter what I'd like, then?"

"It does." Duo turned. "Come with. Doesn't matter where we go."

"What are we running from?" He sniffed the empty tea canister. The smell of the sencha green lingered. He capped it, and set it on the floor at his feet. The mattress creaked as he lay back.

"The Preventers are still out there."

"They always will be," he said.

"I just--"

He waited, but Duo never supplied a finish. He swallowed. "I'll come."

"Yeah?" Duo's relief was palpable. He came to crouch at Wufei's feet by the bed, rubbing Wufei's knees. "We can stay out under the stars. We'll be like teenagers again."

"We're not teenagers, Duo."

Duo nudged his knees apart. "We've been acting like teenagers lately."

Wufei was pliant to it. And being careful. Duo was mercurial even at his best, as volatile as dynamite. "In some respects," he agreed, "yes."

"We could go out into the desert. Live with the aborigines. Until we get too dirty. Then we'll go find a hotel with a shower, and a big soft bed." His voice turned up suggestively.

Wufei hated being dirty. He bathed daily, if not twice, given sufficient exertion. Duo's little dreamscape appealed to him about as much as ten more years in prison. But he gathered himself for sincerity of tone, and said, "Sure, Duo."

His lack of enthusiasm had communicated itself, though. Duo's eyes dropped. "You don't like it."

"I'mů not a vagabond."

"Vagabond? The fuck?" He laughed. "It's camping."

"No-one goes camping permanently. Besides vagabonds."

Duo was struggling. He was trying to be light-hearted, but the unexpected disagreement was disappointing them both.

He cupped Duo's face. "I'll go anywhere you want. I'd follow you anywhere."

Duo overrode him. "You never said you had a job or anything. I didn't think you did. So what's it really matter where we are? What we do? There's a whole world out there. This little tiny corner of it is just-- it's just that, just a little tiny piece. There's so much else to see. Don't you like that? You like thinking deep thoughts about all of it."

"We're not fifteen and fugitives any more, Duo." Duo stood with an angry little edge, hugging his arms to his chest. "We don't have to live on the run," Wufei tried again. "I don't want to live on the run. What's wrong with just being still for a while?"

There was silence so loud it seemed to fill the room. The soft clink of the porcelain teacup on the table was like thunder. "Wow," Duo said. "How's this for a compatibility issue."

"I said I'd come."

Disappointment. That, at least, Wufei was quite familiar with.

"Change is good." It might have been his nature to be a black spot on the sun, but he didn't have to give in to it. "I'll try not to be so--resistant."

"No, it's okay. It's legit." Duo laughed. It sounded only a little forced. "This is still better than the scars conversation."

Wufei smiled reluctantly at that. "I've been here long enough. Tell me where we're going next."

Duo scratched the stubble on his chin. "I'll settle for a cinema. Once in a while I like to find out what everyone else is thinking about life."

In the end, there was nothing to do but agree. When he nodded, Duo kissed him, and leaned on him, and Wufei did not listen to the voice inside that told him to enjoy it, because it wasn't going to last. He tried not to notice, too, when Duo picked up his duffle before they left. It was at least possible that it was only habit.

They took the bus, but only after Duo complained that the soles were wearing out of his sandals from all Wufei's walking, and he would even buy Wufei a pass. He did, counting out the change from his pocket while Wufei tried not to look at the other passengers.

"You want to go to the mall or find a little crappy cinema?" Duo asked. "Never mind. Little crappy place, I know. There's an art house south of Flinders. They're showing some French thing."

"Fine."

"I hope you speak French, because I don't. Not that the film will make any more sense." The driver printed the pass and pushed it through the window. "Wufei? You speak French?"

"Yes." There was a seat in the back for two, but otherwise they couldn't sit together. Duo aimed at it, and walked right over feet and baggage in the aisle as the bus started moving. "But why not just go to an English film?"

"What's it really matter? We're not going to watch anyway." Duo threw himself onto the seat. "You know what? I think this is our thing. Transportation."

"Our thing?" Wufei eased down next to him, trying to keep his left side turned away from the eyes of the men and women around them.

"Our couple thing." Duo took his hand, but just as quickly released him. "Wait!" he shouted. "We gotta get off."

"Why? Duo?"

"Tea."

"Tea?"

The driver was not happy, and some muttering followed their progress off. Duo spilled out into the street with his duffle swinging on his back. "Duo," Wufei repeated. The bus barely slowed for his final step, and then it was trundling off.

"Tea." Duo's grin was brilliant as sunlight. "Your tin. We used the last. I'll get you more." He pointed. It was a tea shop, nestled between a doughnut shop and a laundry. "Is that a smile? It is. You're smiling. I like it."

"Hush, you're drawing too much attention." They were still in his neighbourhood, and they were getting stares. He snagged Duo close to him, and Duo laughed brightly. "You're a madcap."

"You're a weirdo. A weirdoer." Duo leant in. It was not a kiss--even Duo had sense enough--but it was charged, nonetheless. Wufei's pulse quickened.

Then Duo's eyes slid sharply to the side. He tensed. Surprised, Wufei turned to follow his stare.

"They're coming," Duo said. Red suffused his face in a sudden flash. "They're not supposed to approach us. You're not supposed to!" he shouted at them, and only Wufei's fingers around his wrist held him back from striding toward them.

"Sir." There were five of them--no, seven, two holding back on either side of the street. Blocking exits. They'd been surrounded.

Duo noticed just as he did. "No," he snarled. "No, you're not supposed to. Get away. Get the fuck away from us."

"Sir." It was the man, the man from Wufei's pair who'd been following them in the boardwalk four days ago. He halted three yards at least from them, but the other agents spread out in a semi-circle. Wufei grabbed Duo's other wrist when he flicked a knife into his palm. The agents saw, and the two in the wings drew weapons.

"I suggest you approach with caution," Wufei called out. Passerby were making themselves scarce. Mrs Chu pulled her young granddaughter up the steps and into the doorway. Tony Wong and two of the older men who worked construction stayed outside, but they backed to the walls, staring with still faces. Wufei had never been truly accepted in the community, but he was still one of their own, at least when the white police came to make trouble.

"Mr Chang." The leader, if that's what he was, held both hands out to his side peaceably. "Sir, you're to come with us. We have questions to ask you."

"You have no right." Duo nearly slipped free of him, completely oblivious to the slice of his little knife uncomfortably near Wufei's leg. Wufei forced him close and stood on his foot, applying all his weight. Duo's eyes were all for the Preventers slowly encircling them.

"We do, Mr Maxwell. Please, let's keep this calm."

"I'll be calm when you leave us alone!" Duo wrenched at Wufei's hold, and Wufei finally risked injury to them both to take the knife from him. He nearly broke Duo's thumb, bending it back, but Duo was riding a wave of adrenaline and fury and could have withstood far more pain than Wufei was willing to inflict. He tried to force Duo to face him, but couldn't get him to turn his head away.

"Please stop," Wufei hissed at him. "This isn't helping me."

Duo's expression was outright agony. "You don't know what they're capable of."

"They just want to ask questions." He blinded Duo by putting his hands on both of Duo's temples, and forced Duo to meet his eyes. "It will be all right."

It might have worked. He thought it had. Until one of the women unwisely chose that moment to close the distance, her arm outstretched to them.

It all took on the speed of frantic chaos then. Duo was free of him in a split second, and the clatter of his duffle to the ground seemed to register only after he saw the gun coming from the front placket into Duo's palm. The girl let out a little shriek that was too late to stop anything. Duo swept her off her feet and away from the protection of the other agents. In only moments, Duo had her in a chokehold, the muzzle of his gun crammed to the underside of her chin.

The Preventers weren't nearly so fast. They fumbled freeing their weapons from their holsters, as shocked as the bystanders, who finally made themselves scarce at the threat of gunfire. Six different shouting voices drowned each other out with commands for Duo to lower the gun.

Wufei saw with frightening clarity what was going to happen. Preventers may have been wary of approaching Duo before, but seeing two Gundam Pilots in close company had tipped their cautious remove. Wufei had been the obvious target, the one with a history of cooperation, the stable, quiet one. And being stubbornly unwilling to admit their collusion in Hilde Schbeiker's death, they had completely underestimated Duo's hatred of them. Someone would die, and it would happen just as fast as Duo's plunge over the edge. And as much as Wufei didn't want it to be the scared girl hanging limply from Duo's arm, his only thought was stopping the Preventers from shooting Duo to save her life.

"Duo," he said quietly, and stepped between Duo and the weapons aimed at him.

"No." Duo shook his head. Sweat trailed down his neck as he swivelled to keep an eye on the Preventers behind him. The girl stumbled over her own feet as he dragged her along.

"It will be fine," Wufei said. He kept his voice low, forcing Duo to listen to hear him. "Just please keep it together."

"I can't let them do this to me again." He gripped the gun tighter, and behind him Wufei heard quickened breathing. They didn't interfere now, though. They'd at least realised the situation was out of the control they'd thought they had.

"They're not doing anything to you. I'll go with them. It's just questions. Routine. I'll be back in a few hours." He dared a step more, and was glad when Duo didn't react to it. The girl was half their age, at least. Her dark hair was wild with the struggle, and Duo's forearm was strangling her slowly. Her face was red and Wufei could hear her struggling to breathe. Wufei met her eyes, silently beseeching her to be calm. He had no way of knowing if she understood.

"Maxwell," someone behind him started.

"Duo," Wufei interrupted, in time to swing Duo's gaze back to him, not to the idiot Preventers behind him. "That girl is someone else's Hilde," he said. "If you kill her, the circle begins again."

Duo's hand loosened. Wufei knew he'd gotten through even before Duo let her ease away from him. She ran, stooping low to grab the gun Duo had forced her to drop only minutes earlier. Her hand didn't shake, but she stayed pale, breathing heavily.

Duo's shoulders slumped. He dropped his head back on his neck, staring skyward. He let one of the men come forward and disarm him.

"Thank you," Wufei said softly. "That was well done." Everyone knew the danger was over. The leader, the one who had spoken before, came to Wufei's back. Wufei felt him there, but didn't turn. "This won't stick," he said to Duo. "I haven't done anything wrong."

"It doesn't matter!" Duo shook off the agent when he laid a hand on his shoulder. "They can make up charges, they can lie. They just lie, Wufei, you don't know, they just lie about everything."

The man took his wrist from behind. He felt the cold metal of cuffs, but it was hidden, for at least another moment, from Duo. Wufei used his free hand to squeeze Duo's arm. "You have to keep it together. I can't get myself sorted out if I'm worrying about you. Please. I need you to be all right." Oh, these stupid agents. One of the women forced him away from Duo so they could strap his hands together at his back. Duo was wavering. "Just wait for me," Wufei tried.

It was tenuous. Duo held on as long as Wufei managed to keep his eyes, but they turned him, and that was when he saw that the other agents still had their guns out, except for one with a second pair of cuffs. Of course. Of course they wouldn't let Duo just walk away after assaulting one of their team. But they had to see they couldn't do it like that, had to realise by now it wouldn't work--

"I'm sorry," Duo moaned, and Wufei couldn't even be surprised when he ducked a slow grab and sprinted down the alley. Three split off after him, but Wufei already knew he was gone.

He was gone.

"Damnit," the agent behind him swore. He propelled Wufei up the street with a shove between the shoulder blades, and then the slight white noise of a radio flicked on. "We have Chang," the agent reported. "Maxwell flipped out. He completely flipped his shit."

"Fuck," was the succinct reply, tinny and remote. "Fucking hell. If there's another lawsuit, you damn well better be able to deal with the fallout, Sandoval."

At least, Wufei imagined sadly, he could take the tiniest satisfaction from that.

+

The agent who came to question Wufei couldn't have been older than twenty-five, twenty-six at the outside. He was the kind of young man Preventers liked to recruit, as far as Wufei had ever seen. Young and na´ve, with that obvious shine of prodigy, not unlike the Gundam Pilots had been, so long ago. And one of the first things he said to Wufei after asking after his comfort was, "I've always wanted this assignment, sir. Not this moment, but the chance to meet one of you. To speak to one of you."

That did nothing to set Wufei at his ease. He was not, in fact, comfortable. He had been driven out of Melbourne entirely to the Preventers headquarters in Canberra, which all but guaranteed he wouldn't be back for Duo as he'd promised, if Duo hadn't already fled in the opposite direction. And after the long hot drive, he'd been left alone, though no doubt closely observed, in a chilly interrogation room on a cushionless metal chair, his wrists still cuffed and now painfully stiff from the restriction. He was both thirsty and in need of a private toilet, but he had sat rigid and silent, unwilling to betray the smallest need.

When he failed to respond, the agent sat himself in the empty chair facing Wufei opposite the small, utilitarian table. It was an uncreative little room, exactly the same as the dozen Wufei had once spent untold hours in, repeating everything he could remember about Gundams and Operation Meteor and Dekim Barton. He was not inclined to be so open now.

"I'm a colonial myself," the agent said. He laid a paper pad and an uncapped pen before him, but used neither. "The Gundams are heroes to my generation."

"Heroes?" Wufei repeated. That irritated him, deeply, unexpectedly. His jaw hurt a little from being clenched so long. "Are you even aware of what's happening? Now? In this room? We were considered terrorists then, and we're trusted even less now."

"No, sir," the agent disagreed politely. "I'm sorry, but I don't think that's entirely fair. You're watched, yes, but we've never hidden the reasons for it."

He already regretted breaking his silence. "Is this part of the interrogation?" he demanded.

"We have questions," the agent said. "I wouldn't call it an interrogation."

"Am I under arrest?"

The Preventer didn't want to answer that right away. Wufei rudely held his eyes, just as Duo would have done, as provocatively as he could.

"We'd like to keep you here until we have time to conduct our investigation," the agent admitted finally.

Wufei placed his cuffed hands on the table, in prominent view. "Am I under arrest?" he repeated, enunciating each word.

"Only if you refuse to stay, sir."

"On what charges?"

"Suspicion of terrorist activity."

The chill of the room suddenly seemed bone-deep. But he didn't protest. He knew it would do him no good. "If you're arresting me," he said, "I want an attorney. Before you ask a single question."

"Sir, you are not entitled to an attorney."

"Why not?"

"Preventers are excepted from the restrictions of habeas corpus, amongst other rights normally granted citizens of the Earth Sphere. I didn't even have to tell you why we're holding you."

"So you have nothing on me, except a few suspicions, and the fact that I've already served fifteen years. But you'll keep me here, because you can?" Wufei clasped his hands on his knee, and sat back in his creaking chair. "Excuse me, but that isn't how one treats a hero."

They sat in dead quiet for nearly three full minutes then. The agent sighed, then, and gathered his props into a neat pile lined symmetrically with the edge of the table. "I think I'll have someone bring us dinner," he said. "And tea. We serve very good tea here."

"Is that standard operating procedure when you have a criminal in custody?" Wufei returned.

"No, sir. Nothing about the Gundam Pilots is standard."

"There are no Gundam Pilots any longer. There haven't been for almost two decades."

"That doesn't change the fact that there were." Wufei couldn't tell if the sympathy suddenly facing him was real, or intended to disarm him. He refused to acknowledge it. "My name is Devinder Chadhur. Everyone calls me Devi."

He had the tinge of Australian twang that suggested long emigration. It lent a friendliness, an entirely inappropriate cheer, to what Wufei was sure were lies. He didn't trust so much as the man's name, and he trusted the gesture it represented even less. "We are not friends," he said flatly. "Agent."

Chadhur's nostrils flared on the inhale. He rose, and touched a button on the intercom by the two-way mirror. "Could someone please bring a few take-away menus," he asked it. "And a pot of--is it sencha green, Mr Chang?"

They'd been in his flat. That explained the long wait. Wufei kept his face still as stone.

"Sencha green," Chadhur repeated. His finger left the button. "Mr Chang," he said then, "this doesn't have to be unpleasant. No bright lights here, no waterboards or anything the like. We have no intention of denying you any necessity."

Wufei displayed his hands again, clenched fists upturned in the bright steel bands binding them. "None except my freedom."

Casually, Chadhur said, "It appears that Mr Maxwell has managed to evade his watchers again. He's gotten pretty good at that, over the years. From what I understand, the usual odds are twenty-four hours, once he's made an agent."

"Why are you still watching him?" Wufei asked.

"Our agency was created to monitor threats to peace. In our experience, Gundam Pilots are usually at the centre of any kind of disturbance. Willingly or otherwise."

The canned and ready answer annoyed him. "That's nonsense."

"It's logic." There was a knock at the door. Chadhur opened it, and took a handful of papers from a woman outside. "I recommend Veeraswamy," he said. "Although you can't beat The Harbour View for seafood." He set the menus between them, and took one for himself.

Wufei ignored them. "I don't follow your 'logic'," he said. "Maybe you should enlighten me."

The agent answered easily, with all appearance of honesty. "I admit, it's been two decades since a Pilot involved himself directly in any conflict. But indirectly, each of you have been involved, many times, in the schemes and ambitions of others. While you and Trowa Barton were still imprisoned, a man named Ralph Kurt attempted to secure the remaining Gundams to start a revolution in the Colonies. Mr Maxwell, Mr Yuy, and Mr Winner almost single-handedly managed to destroy his organisation, though I believe Preventers provided some important intelligence." He flipped to the back side of his menu. "Later, as I'm sure you know, a fundamentalist off-shoot of White Fang focussed their energy on Mr Maxwell and his partner. Mr Yuy aided us in discovering a rebel cabal operating outside the Mars Colony, calling themselves Third Circle. You've all led very busy lives, really."

"But based on what you're telling me, most of our time has been spent solving problems, rather than creating them. And yet we're all under surveillance. Why?"

"I think your objections have more to do with your very well documented stubbornness. I hope you won't mind terribly if I disregard them, for the moment at least." He scribbled a note in the margins of the menu. "Made your choice yet? No? I'll get jalfrezi curry for us both." He rose to pass the note outside, but rather than return to the table, he leaned on the mirror, his hands stuck in his pockets in a pose that did not put Wufei at his ease. He waited, unwilling to make the next move. The Preventers were the ones with the agenda; Wufei would save his energy until he knew what that agenda was.

Chadhur, as Wufei had known he would, broke the silence. "In the interest of coming to the point, let's simply get started, shall we?"

"By all means."

The door opened a third time. Chadhur returned to the table with a box full of plastic bags. He opened one of them, and spread the contents in a fan in the middle of the table. "You recognise these?"

It was his mail. Months' worth of mail. "How did you get those?" Wufei demanded.

"Your mail is monitored, Mr Chang. Suspicious mail is intercepted. Sometimes we send it on. Sometimes we retain it." He pushed a few envelopes toward Wufei. "This was all received, and opened, by you."

"You didn't have a warrant to obtain those."

"We don't require one."

He had nothing to say to that. He picked up his mail, four slim handfuls into a pile before him. They were out of order, so he sifted them, from earliest date to latest. It gave him time to calm the raging storm of thoughts in himself.

"If you've read these," he said, "you'll know they were just innocent personal correspondences."

"With whom do you correspond?" Chadhur asked him.

"I thought you knew."

"We're checking your answers against our known facts."

It was almost condescending, that bare-faced honesty. Wufei laughed.

"These are from Mariemaia Barton."

"Yes."

"Why did she write to you?"

"We're friends. Not--collaborators."

The agent seized on that. "And yet she has asked you to collaborate." He reached for the stack and took it. He selected one of the letters, and held it up so the writing on the envelope faced Wufei. "She claims to be writing a book."

He'd forgotten that. Genuinely forgotten. The bottom dropped out of his stomach, just as the room resolved into focus, as everything, the purpose of all of this stageplay, became clear. "Hell. She is."

"In fact, she's asked to interview you."

"Yes. And I agreed."

"You can understand our concern."

He clasped his hands between his knees. "No, frankly, I can't. Unless you consider it a crime for the two of us to be in the same room."

"If within that same room you collaborate in criminal activity, yes." Chadhur set the letters aside. "Were you aware that she's also contacted a number of Dekim Barton's former adjutants?"

"That's not proof she's plotting a coup."

"Were you aware of it."

He exerted his most rigid control over his breathing. There was no way of knowing what bodily functions they were capable of monitoring, but if he allowed himself to become stressed by the questions, even the most untrained observer could draw any kind of conclusion. "No," he said calmly. "But it doesn't take much imagination to come to the conclusion she'd find the information gleaned from them useful writing her book."

"Nor does it take much of a leap to imagine that a book is a very handy excuse for taking a poll on what loyalties might remain available to her."

"She was a child," Wufei said. "Being manipulated by a twisted old man, and she nearly lost her life the last time. I can't imagine why she'd risk more than she's lost already."

The young man shrugged. "Revenge is a powerful motivator. So is ambition. There's a healthy dose of that in her family genes, surely."

"She's not genetically related to any of them. Barton himself confessed he'd found her as an orphan on the street. He picked her for her superficial resemblance--"

"That assertion has long been disputed."

His frustration reached a boiling point. He clenched his hands to fists, and exhaled hard from his nose. "You'll manufacture a case because it will validate your suspicions, whether there is any real evidence or not. Have I been charged?"

"No, you've not been charged." Chadhur's unlined, youthful face was a blank to him. "We're asking questions. It's our job."

"Are you going to arrest her?" he guessed. "Have you already?"

"No. Nor have we asked her to come in for questions, as we have with you."

"You're beginning with me, is that it?" But then he felt an obscure relief. He really had been the target, not Duo.

"Not beginning, no," Chadhur disagreed amiably. "But you were high on our list of persons of interest."

"Persons of interest." They were falling into the rhythm now. The Preventer was playing a game, now, balancing the conversational tone with those driving questions designed to increase Wufei's paranoia, increase his visible reactions. Wufei knew a dozen techniques to resist, to disrupt Chadhur's control and authority. But was it worth it? Resisting only suggested he had something to hide, which would mean they'd detain him longer, subject him to those harsher interrogation methods he was quite sure they did not, in fact, disdain.

He asked, "Has there been any actual event yet or is this supposedly preemptive?"

"Our job is to anticipate disturbances."

"You're looking in the wrong quarter."

"When we've determined that, you'll be free to go."

Chadhur made it sound so reasonable. In his mind, it probably was. Submit, and everything will go easier for you.

Wufei folded his hands over his knees and relaxed his shoulders. "Ask your questions, then."

"Thank you." Chadhur uncapped a pen from the breast coat of his jacket, and set the point to his pad. "What did Mariemaia Barton want to interview you about?"

"She wanted to know why I fought in a conflict I never believed in."

"Why did you?"

He didn't answer right away, but only because there was no simple way to explain. He doubted this slip of a youth, or any of his puppet masters, would comprehend the complexity of emotion and tangled, disappointed hope that had driven Wufei back to Dekim Barton's war.

"Duty," he said finally.

"To whom? The Bartons? Treize Khushrenada?"

"My wife. My family. My colony." To all his elders, who had agreed to and funded Operation Meteor with the full intent of raining destruction on the same Earth that had brought biological weapons against L5. Christians called it an eye for an eye. Meiran had called it that. She'd been so bloodthirsty, so furious. Wufei had never understood her, not until he'd lit incense for her in death. Even now, he did not know if he had failed her, failed their clans. He was old enough to know that he would never know, not until he saw them again.

He'd fallen quiet. He came back to himself with a jolt. He'd turned his head without thinking, was staring at his reflection in the mirror. His own, and this young child in uniform. Sometimes it seemed all of history boiled down to children caught up in forces beyond them.

Chadhur was watching him closely, drinking in the clues he'd unwittingly supplied. Wufei lifted a hand to pull his hair from behind his ear, an automatic reflex to hide his scarred cheek. Too late, he realized he should not have done that.

Chadhur put aside his pen. His hands went flat on the table in unknowing imitation of Wufei's, beneath the surface. The change in posture was the only foreshadow Wufei was given, but he realized the significance. They were done being friendly.

"If Mariemaia Barton asked you to join her in any conspiracy to subvert the peaceful operation of the current government, would you agree to join her?"

"I'm not a soldier any more," Wufei said.

"Would you agree to join her."

"No." Wufei wet his lips, and took the offencive. "Who's feeding you the questions?"

Chadhur acknowledged the shift with a deep inhale, but his expression stayed pleasant and closed. "There are a number of people listening to this interview."

"Who?"

"No names that would mean anything to you."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Commanders Levinson and Blomfeld. General Barrett Smith. Australia's Secretary of the Interior Rino Jones. And by teleconference, Deputy Director Hilary Sainte-James."

"I must have done something very serious," he said sarcastically.

"We take any interaction with the Gundam Pilots very seriously."

"We're back to that."

"We never really left the topic." Chadhur sat forward, and just like that, the advantage swung back to him. "Why did you arrange to meet Duo Maxwell?"

"No one arranged anything," Wufei denied immediately, though he worried, suddenly, just how closely they had been observed. He'd always taken for granted that their distant trailing was just that. "It was a happy coincidence."

"Had you corresponded with him previous to his arrival in Melbourne?"

"I wouldn't have known where to find him."

"Have you had any contact with him since leaving prison?"

"Not until we ran into each other a few days ago. Surely you know all of this already, if it's your job."

Chadhur put a hand into his pocket. When it emerged, he set a plastic pill bottle on the table between them. "Do you recognise these?"

No, he didn't. He studied the bottle without touching it. There was a doctor's label, an address he didn't know. "The prescription says Dona Aguilar. I don't know who that is."

"I'm surprised," Chadhur said. "They were found in your flat."

"That's a lie."

"No, it's not." Chadhur gave him a few seconds, to take it back, he supposed. Wufei stubbornly met his eyes. "Do they belong to you?"

"Apparently they belong to a Miss Dona Aguilar."

"Do you know what they are?"

"No. I don't. They're not mine. I've never seen them until just this moment." He forced a contemptuous smile to his lips. "Are you bringing drug charges against me now, in addition to... what is it you suspect me of? Conspiracy?"

"No drug charges, no." Chadhur smiled, too, a little twitch of the lips that had nothing to do with the intent look in his eyes. "Do you have difficulty achieving restful sleep?"

"The last time I checked, that wasn't a crime."

"Enough difficulty to seek a black-market medical prescription?"

He knew. Oh, he knew. Duo.

He kept his smile in place with sheer effort of will. "Test me."

"Should we?" Chadhur picked up the bottle. The cap popped gently coming off. The pills spilled over the table, white and green gelcaps rolling unhindered over the metal. "It's a strong drug, Lorazepam. High dose. And even though this was filled two weeks ago to last a month, it's nearly empty." He nudged one of the pills with a fingertip. "I think someone medicating himself so heavily, and illegally, must have very large demons to fight."

"Maybe when your operatives were stealing my mail, one of them dropped his meds."

Chadhur chuckled, disarmingly. "Maybe." He scooped the pills back into the bottle and set it aside. "Have you been in contact with any of the other Pilots? Trowa Barton?"

"No."

"Quatre Winner?"

"We talk on the phone. Occasionally. The last call was on his birthday in June."

"Did you discuss Mariemaia Barton's book?"

"It didn't come up, no."

"What about Heero Yuy?"

It was only in his imagination, but his scars burned, until he put it out of his mind. "Not since the war. We aren't-- friends."

"What about other members of rebel sects? Zechs Merquise? Lucrezia Noin?"

"No."

There was a pause, then, off the rhythm. Chadhur was listening to those voices from outside. His eyes dipped to the left.

"The food is here," Chadhur said. "I'll have someone take you to the washroom. Perhaps once you've eaten, you'll be more comfortable."

"I wouldn't count on it." The agent was standing, gathering his things together. "Am I free to go?"

"No, sir, with apologies."

"You can't detain me indefinitely without filing charges."

"Not indefinitely, no, sir, but certainly overnight."

Wufei had no illusions that would be all. "Do I get a call?"

"If there's anyone you would like notified, we can do that for you."

Anyone he named would be their next 'person of interest.' The few numbers that he had, anyway. The one person he wanted to call had no way of receiving it.

"No," he said.

[part 4] [part 6] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]