Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings: Male/male sex, graphic, language, violence
Striding through the double glass doors of the 49th Precinct like a bad omen, Duo jerked out his earbuds and headed directly for the stained coffee maker to the left of the doors. It was a canister coffee maker that made 32 cups at a time. Its shiny metal surface was dented and there was a crease that looked suspiciously like a close call with a bullet. There were Styrofoam cups for the public, but underneath in a cabinet, the officers kept their personal mugs stacked on a plastic rack. World’s Greatest Dad vied for space with Bitch Until Coffee Added and Cat Person. Duo wasn’t sure who cleaned the mugs and kept the coffee maker full, but they were diligent in their job. The coffee maker was never empty.
Duo left his sunglasses on and tucked his newspaper into one of his jacket pockets as he picked up his coffee mug, a white one that said ‘This Shit Is Mine’ on it in big black letters. His hands shook slightly as he hit the tap and filled his mug to the brim with steaming coffee. It smelled wonderful. It also made a wonderful sound as it filled his cup. He swallowed hard as the liquid nirvana in his cup trembled and sloshed alarmingly. Watching it closely, to make certain he didn’t lose a drop, Duo turned to the crowded room and carefully threaded the maze of desks, officers, citizens, and perps that filled the old precinct office to capacity.
It was a sea of people all intent on breaking the sound barrier and causing as much trouble as possible as they argued, struggled, cursed, gave statements, and shouted obscenities as overworked officers tried to do their jobs in a gothic style building that hadn’t changed much since the 1920’s. Aside from the addition of computers and a phone system, the peeling plaster, the cracked marble floors, tall, narrow windows with old frames, Depression era glass, and the inconveniently placed columns throughout the room, would have made Elliot Ness feel at home.
A big perp in a leather biker jacket, with a bald head and a tattoo of a skull on his forehead, looked offended when Duo stuck an elbow into his back and pushed him out of his way. The perp couldn’t retaliate with his hands behind his back locked together with a zip tie, but his glare down at Duo was enough to melt paint off of steel. Duo ignored him as he continued to his desk at the center of the chaos.
The chaos continued onto Duo’s desk. Case files were stacked high and threatening to topple over in a metal IN bin that had probably serviced three generations of detectives before Duo. His desk was littered with more files, candy wrappers, and empty food containers. His computer screen was covered in sticky notes. An old style rolodex was full of business cards, notes, and hastily scrawled names and phone numbers on bits of paper that looked torn from fast food bags. One phone number without a name had been scrawled on part of a Styrofoam cup.
Duo sat down in his chair, holding his mug of coffee in both hands. With his eyes still hidden behind his sunglasses, he sipped his coffee slowly. His face broke into an expression of utter contentment.
“Wait!” Duo barked the word without opening his eyes. He slowly sipped his coffee a few more times, savoring every swallow. It had a rich, nutty flavor that danced on his palette while its warmth took the chill of horror and cold rain off his thin body and damaged psyche.
Duo sighed and finally lowered his coffee cup.
Officer Chang Wufei was a career, spit and polish, by the book kind of police officer. His black hair was pulled back in a severe small pony tail and his dark Asian eyes were always critical and serious. He worked out regularly in order to execute his duties to the best of his ability. He was Duo’s complete opposite in everything, which made it hard for Duo to like the man, or understand why Wufei bothered speaking to him at all.
“The Chief has been looking for you.”
Duo grimaced. “That’s nice.” It wasn’t of course. Anytime Chief Merquise took an interest in him it involved criticism and condemnation.
“You’ve been a no show for four days. I fail to understand why he tolerates your dereliction of duty.”
Duo finally tossed his sunglasses onto his desk and looked over at Wufie sitting at the desk next to his. His desk was, of course, neat and organized.
Duo leaned a little towards Wufei, his amethyst eyes narrowed with irritation, and said in a low tone. “Want in on a little secret, Wufei? I’ve been on his shit list since I started here. My name is in big black letters on that list. It’s punctuated with voodoo hex symbols. There are holes in it because he stabs it with his pencil every time I do something wrong. He’s not tolerating me.”
Wufei scowled. “I never know when you’re joking.”
Duo chuckled and straightened. “Good. I like to be mysterious. People love that about me.”
Wufei looked dubious. “You’re not mysterious, you’re bizarre. That’s probably why you’ve failed to secure a significant other.”
Duo arched an eyebrow as he gazed into the delicious depths of his steaming coffee mug. “You mean girlfriend?”
Wufei replied uncomfortably, “If that’s how you choose to identify your sexuality today.”
Duo felt a wave of irritation. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with Wufei or anyone else.
“That didn’t make any sense, Wufei. What happened? Did they make you take that bullshit sensitivity class?"
Wufei was clearly offended. “I volunteered. There’s nothing wrong with learning to better serve the people I interact with on a daily basis. Now that our force is becoming more diverse, it also doesn’t hurt to learn how to respect my fellow officer’s life choices as well.”
Duo stared at him for a full beat. He hadn’t been open about being gay and he wasn’t about to discuss it now with PC Wufei. “Make a note, Wufei. I never want to discuss my significant others, or lack of them, with you. Got that?”
“The force is changing, Duo. You can’t work like this is the 1950’s. We’re inclusive, now.”
Duo growled in disgust, “I’m pretty sure you don’t know what ‘inclusive’ means. You sound like a damned parrot, Wufei. You’re just regurgitating everything you heard. Are you trying to get promoted? Is that why you’re trying to find your inner–”
Wufei cut him off with a sharp hand motion. He spun his seat, causing it to make loud squeaks, and turned away from Duo. “I shouldn’t bother trying to discuss anything with you. You’re a waste of a good badge!”
“I was starting to think you forgot that fact,” Duo said with a tight smile.
Wufei usually didn’t confront him about his behavior, but maybe he had wanted to try out his new ‘sensitivity’ and Duo had been closest. Duo liked him better as an aloof bastard.
Wufei didn’t look at him, but he said insightfully, “You’re arguing with me to avoid talking to the Chief. It’s just going to anger him more.”
Duo put down his mug in one of the few clear spaces on his desk and stood up. He said irritably, “You’ve finally said something I understand.”
Wufei ignored him as he began to work.
Duo put on his sunglasses again, straightened his coat, smoothed down the black material with the palms of his hands, and then settled his shoulders and his mind. His coat was still damp and his hair was partially wet, his long braid dotted with rain drops. His hands were still trembling slightly, but it wasn’t because the old precinct had a crappy heating system. He looked at them, tried to still them, and then turned his hands into fists as he began walking through the crowd towards the Chief’s office.
Separated from the rest of the room by a low wall and a three foot, frosted glass partition on top of that, the Chief’s office always made Duo think of bank teller booths. If he stood on his toes, he could see over it. The door was short as well and seemed a ridiculous attempt to give the illusion of privacy and security when there was neither. It was never locked, but few people dared to enter without knocking. Duo was one of those who dared.
The old Chief had been before Duo’s time, but he’d been told the man had loved displaying his stuffed fishing trophies on the low walls and smoking his big cigars. Duo could appreciate the latter. He enjoyed a smoke himself from time to time to calm his nerves. There was still the thick smell of cigars clinging to everything despite intensive cleaning, years of no smoking regulations, and the present Chief’s air fresheners. Gone were the stuffed bass. The office was neat and clean and filled with upscale furniture that included a large, black mahogany desk. There were awards on the low walls. A candy dish and a picture of the new Chief shaking hands with the mayor vied for space on a desk corner where a picture of his family should have gone.
Chief Zechs Merquise was fashion magazine perfect. He looked thirty-something, his long, white-blonde hair caught back by a hair clip and his ice blue eyes hidden by pale lashes as he looked down at paperwork on his desk. His gray, designer business suit didn’t hide that he kept himself in shape. His jacket was unbuttoned and a well-worn shoulder holster appeared briefly as he gestured and talked heatedly with whoever was on the other end of the phone line. That worn shoulder holster reminded Duo that Merquise hadn’t always sat behind a desk.
“It’s bad enough we don’t have our own forensics unit, but having to wait two weeks for results from Tri-City General on the Murphy case–yes, I know–appropriations, budget cuts, and the economy–you can stop the replay, Jones, I’m tired of hearing it.”
Chief Merquise glared at Duo and motioned him to wait until he was done with his call.
Duo didn’t believe in being uncomfortable while he waited. He grabbed a modern design, dark leather chair from a corner of the office and pulled it across the floor. It made a loud craping noise. Duo settled it in front of Merquise’s desk and sat in it heavily. The springs squeaked and the expensive leather made noises as he settled.
Merquise glared at Duo through the entire process, but he wasn’t willing to interrupt his conversation to criticize him. “I don’t know how you expect me to run this place on Bandaids and Bacteine. Bacteine–it’s an antibiotic spray.”
Something suddenly slid out from beneath Merquise’s desk. Duo started badly and almost pulled his gun from its holster at the small of his back. Heart pounding, he watched a white, very fluffy cat stretch and yawn. It was wearing a fake diamond collar with its name spelled out in a sparkling oval. It reads PUSS. The cat rubbed up against Duo’s black pants leg, leaving copious amounts of white fur behind. With a low curse, Duo irritably shooed it away. He tried in vain to brush the fur off with his hand. He looked for the cat, intending to point at it while he complained about its presence. Duo couldn’t find it.
Duo straightened and tried to look nonchalant, but his gut clenched as he tried to recall if he had done anything that would make Merquise call the staff psychiatrist. Luckily, Merquise wasn’t paying attention to him.
“I have three detectives,” Merquise was saying. He picked up a pen, thumped the point on his desk blotter several times, threw it down, and sat back in his chair. “All I’m asking for is one more. No, I won’t fire two patrol officers to pay for him. In case you’ve forgotten, we are in a high crime neighborhood.”
Puss suddenly appeared again, jumping into Merquise’s lap. While he petted it absently, Duo let out a soft, slow breath, relieved that the cat actually existed. He wasn’t prepared when the cat suddenly changed into a beautiful woman.
Duo bit his lower lip to stifle his first reaction, to shout holy shit! His hands gripped his chair arms hard.
The woman wasn’t in Merquise’s lap. She was standing and leaning towards Duo, her naked, ghost like figure bathed in light and occupying the same space as the desk. Her long white hair was flying out behind her as if in a high wind and her hands were reaching out to Duo with slim fingers tipped with claws that looked razor sharp.
Duo shuddered, his eyes wide. His visions had never harmed him, but he couldn’t be sure this wasn’t going to be the first time. He’d spent his life being terrified by them. He had become an expert at looking calm and unaffected… usually. A shape changing cat was the last thing he had expected to see in his Chief’s office.
Her eyes were like a cat’s, but white with red irises. She grinned at him with a mouth full of sharp teeth as if enjoying his fright. Between one blink and the next she was a cat again, lounging in Merquise’s lap and still being petted.
Duo rubbed a shaking hand over his face and tried to regain his composure.
Merquise was still oblivious. He was frowning. “A detective on loan? Well, it’ll certainly solve my shortage until we get a permanent detective. Great! I’ll expect him as soon as possible. Stuff him in a car and get him here, now. Yes, now. Send the contents of his locker and his desk later. Yes, I need him that badly. I owe you one. No, I won’t eat your wife’s Pasta Fagioli and tell her it’s good. That’s asking too much.”
Merquise hung up his phone looking thoughtful. He stroked his cat a few more times and then glared at Duo. As if that was its cue, Puss jumped off his lap and went under the desk.
Duo made his hands stop gripping the chair arms before he broke them. He made an attempt to look bored and irritated. He wasn’t sure how successful he was. He could still feel his gut clenching with anxiety. He tried to shore up his act by leaning forward, carefully picking out a candy from the dish, and leaning back again.
Duo slowly unwrapped his candy as he said, “Can we just pretend you shouted at me, I apologized, and you said don’t do it again, or you’ll be suspended? I’ve had a bad morning–night–life–you fill in the blank.
Merquise made a steeple out of his fingers and replied calmly. “I wasn’t going to shout and I don’t want to suspend you.”
Duo felt relieved. “Well, that’s good.” He put the wrapper back into the candy dish and popped the candy into his mouth. It was raspberry flavored.
“I’d like to fire you.” Merquise fished the wrapped out of his candy dish and tossed it somewhere else behind his desk, presumably into a wastebasket there. “You’re lucky you’re that good, Maxwell.”
Merquise made a vague motion in the direction of the main precinct room. “There are a lot of veteran officers out there who would love to have your job. They would be a hell of a lot less high maintenance. They wouldn’t disappear for days at a time either.”
“You know why I take the time off! If you’d rather I came in here drunk off my ass...”
Merquise leaned forward with intensity, his elbows on his desk with his hands flat, as if he felt like standing up and knocking sense into Duo. “I’d rather you went to the police psychiatrist instead of taking the edge off with a drinking binge. Does it even help?"
Duo sucked on his candy for a moment and then said in a low, disgusted voice, “My high school psychiatrist was better qualified than him. Who said I was drinking, anyway?”
Merquise’s expression was incredulous.
“You weren’t drinking? Were you taking drugs instead? Is that why you’re wearing your sunglasses? So I can’t see your eyes?”
A charge like that struck like a knife into Duo’s heart considering his past. Merquise was well aware of that past. In fact, he was a large part of it. That meant the anger and pain he was inflicting was intentional.
Duo swallowed what was left of his candy, and whipped off his sunglasses so that Merquise could see his bloodshot, but not dilated eyes. He replied furiously, “How many times do I have to tell you that I’ll never do drugs? I don’t care how shitty, or crazy my life gets, I won’t end up like those people I was forced to hide from when I lived on the streets, the people who killed Father Maxwell.”
Merquise sat back in his chair again, but he was looking concerned. Duo’s outburst hadn’t convinced him.
“Drinking is the same thing Duo. It just takes longer. The psychiatrist could prescribe you something safe.”
Duo stared at the floor rather than at Merquise’s concerned expression. His shoes were dirty and the white cat fur still clung to his pants leg.
“That’s how it starts out,” Duo argued. “The drugs help you, hook you, and then kill you by slow degrees. Sometimes you end up taking other people down on your way to checking out.”
Merquise sounded disgusted and at his wits end.
“Let’s not do this again,” Merquise said tightly. “You’re talking about Father Maxwell’s case again, aren’t you? I was there, remember? You have to accept that we will never find who gave him the bad drugs. Refusing to let it rest is keeping you from getting the help you need. If I hadn’t made that promise to him…”
He trailed off, obviously taking a painful, guilt ridden trip down memory lane.
Duo wasn’t going to allow him to indulge in self-flagellation. “You’re right, let’s not do this again. I don’t need to hear about how he guilt tripped you with his dying breath into transferring me to your precinct, when I was looking at a dismissal for my dozens of failed psych evaluations and a multitude of disciplinary marks. You shot him in self-defense. He was high on prescription meds and he was going to shoot you. You were doing your job. Nobody says any differently, including me. You don’t need to keep me employed if you want to fire me.”
Merquise looked stricken. “Duo, I...”
Duo made a dismissive gesture. “Like I said when I first came in; let’s just assume we both danced the dance and I’ll get back to work.”
Puss came out from beneath the desk and tried to rub against Duo’s leg again. He stared at it with wide eyes, expecting it to change into the ghost woman. When it didn’t, he dared to push it away from him. His hand sunk into its thick white fur. It was very soft and warm.
The cat gave Duo an offended look and walked away to investigate a corner of the office.
“Why is there a cat in your office?”
Merquise’s expression became indulgent as he looked over at the cat. He shrugged, clearly embarrassed as well.
“I bought her a week ago. For some reason, I can’t leave her at home. I feel better when she’s here. She helps with my stress. Maybe you should get one?”
Duo stared at the cat. She seems to be staring back smugly. “I have pets. They love me, aren’t demanding, and don’t shed all over the place. Speaking of which, I’m sending you my cleaning bill.”
Merquise made a dismissive gesture and made some notes on his blotter. When he was done, he looked up at Duo with a serious expression.
“Forget the cat. I managed to get you a new partner. He should be arriving in about an hour. Try not to break this one, Duo. I’m running out of people who owe me favors.”
“Hilde was not my fault!” Duo retorted.
“It’s never your fault, Duo,” Merquise said in disgust, “yet the common denominator here is you. You’re still on the force while your partners have either quit or transferred. You take too many risks and you’re too hard to work with. Fix both those things in one hour.”
Duo stood and grabbed a handful of candies.
“Maybe you need to hire someone more hardcore who can keep up with me?” he argued angrily as he stuffed the candies into his pocket. “These kids fresh out of the academy you keep sticking me with–”
“Don’t know your reputation,” Merquise pointed out in disgust. “The ones with more experience don’t want to ruin their careers by being associated with you.”
“I thought you were the Chief of Police in this precinct. Don’t you give the orders around here?”
“How would that go exactly, Duo? I order you to work with a maniac, ruin your career, and maybe lose your life. Report to Detective Duo Maxwell.”
“I see that asking nicely hasn’t had any results either, so what’s your point?”
Merquise rubbed his forehead and frowned. They stared at each other for a long moment.
“What?” Merquise asked abruptly.
“Am I fired or not?”
Merquise swore under his breath.
“I told you I just acquired another partner for you. I wouldn’t do that if I’d just fired you, Maxwell!”
Duo smirked. “I just needed confirmation.”
“If your unorthodox investigating technique didn’t solve so many cases, I would fire you.”
Duo grinned. “A compliment, thanks.”
“It was an observation. Don’t push your luck. When your new partner arrives, I expect you to start with the Metzer case. Some questions were raised about the investigation. Verify that the case was handled with due diligence and close it. Take your new partner along and break him in slow. I suggest you try very hard this time not to let him in on your particular talent.”
“Yes, sir,” Duo said sourly.
“And don’t let him get killed on the first day.”
“Checking the facts of a case can get someone killed?”
“Ask Mullens–oh, right. You can’t. He has a restraining order against you. I’ve never lost a detective because of an attack by an irritated circus elephant, Maxwell.”
“The elephant was pertinent to the case.”
“Sure it was. Get out of my office, Duo.”
The cat jumped into Merquise’s lap again. He stared down at it. His angry expression turned into pleasure. He smiled and smoothed a hand along the cat’s back, making it purr loudly.
The cat was watching Duo intently. Duo stared back unnerved.
“Something else?” Merquise asked abruptly.
The cat didn’t transform again. It continued to look like an ordinary cat.
Duo left Merquise’s office and couldn’t help a shiver.