Illusions of Love
The next morning, Zechs and Duo joined Relena and Noin for breakfast. The low-key gathering was much appreciated after the fanfare of the previous evening.
"Milliardo, we are scheduled to meet with the high ministers of parliament later this morning," Relena said, as she spread blackberry jam on her bread. "But first the workers are anxious for you to see the palace renovations."
"Thank you, that sounds fine," Zechs replied and then looked to Duo. "Are you interested in joining us? Or perhaps you'd like to spend a day exploring on your own?"
Duo wanted to be with Zechs, but he knew he and Relena had yet to spend any significant amount of time together. "Uh, yeah, I think I'll just poke around on my own... if that's okay?"
"Of course, but I would like us to take lunch together," Zechs said, reaching over and squeezing Duo's hand.
The boy smiled. "A lunch date sounds good!"
"Zechs," Noin interrupted. "I was hoping this afternoon you would want to review the operations of the palace."
"That's fine, Noin," Zechs said with a small smile.
Noin had spent most of their friendship trying to impress Zechs and it seemed that she did not intend on stopping now.
"I understand you've been talking to Lady Une about forming a worldwide security force," Zechs continued.
"Oh, yes," Noin said, pleased that Zechs would be interested in her work. "We've only just begun discussing it, but we think there's a need for a centralized security organization that would prevent the re-occurrence of military threats."
"Preventers, you say?" Zechs asked. "Is there a real threat out there?"
"There have been pockets of resistance," Relena said, and then looked up as one of the servants opened the door and announced her security advisor. "Come in, Heero!"
Heero walked up to the table and nodded. "I've got those numbers for you," he said to Noin and handed her a chart.
"Thank you," Noin said, looking over the document.
"Heero, we were just discussing the continued threat to peace," Relena said, looking doe-eyed at the boy.
Heero nodded, and in his businesslike demeanor immediately began to explain the situation. "We've received reports from around the Earthsphere that there are still factions of OZ operating and regrouping," he said, his eyes settling on Duo for a moment and then looking to Zechs.
"Then it's true," Duo spoke up, looking to Heero with wide eyes. "Relena has been threatened?"
"Hn," Heero said, bowing his head slightly. "The threat is real, but as yet there hasn't been significant movement by any of the identified groups."
Duo looked down at his plate. When Heero had rushed off to protect Relena all those months ago, Duo had secretly wondered if the princess was truly in danger or if Heero had merely used it as an excuse to end their relationship. At the time, emotions had been building between them, and Duo had suspected that things had gotten too intense for the other boy. Now it appeared Heero's motives had been duty bound. This new information did not change the past between them, but it did make Duo feel like a bit of a bum. All these months he had been sulking, recovering from their relationship and working odd jobs while Heero had been working to maintain the peace.
If he asked, I'd be embarrassed to say what I've been doing, Duo thought, keeping his eyes downcast.
Zechs's brow furrowed as he noticed the change in Duo's demeanor. He would have to ask him about it later, but he had a feeling it had something to do with Heero. "Then you have an intelligence network in place?" Zechs asked Heero.
"Yes," Heero answered, lifting his chin as he looked at the man. "It's limited, since we're working within the resources of only the Sank Kingdom, but if we can form a larger, independent organization to monitor hostile activity we'll have a better chance of maintaining the peace we won in the war."
"That would be the organization Noin and Une have conceptualized?" Zechs asked.
"Right," Heero said.
It was strange for Heero to be speaking with Zechs in this way. His instincts, his training told him to still view Zechs as an enemy, but the signals he was getting from everyone around him said just the opposite. Relena, Noin, and most of all Duo, were accepting of Zechs. He trusted their judgment, and he had to trust his own eyes and ears as well. Zechs was sincere in his commitment to peace.
"Perhaps we can discuss this later?" Zechs asked, as he placed his cloth napkin on the table, signaling the end of the meal. "We have a busy morning ahead of us," he added, looking to Relena.
Heero nodded and watched the group disperse. Before Zechs left the room he went over to Duo and put his hand on his shoulder, looking at Heero briefly. He then bent to whisper something in his lover's ear. Duo's cheeks blushed, and Heero found himself swallowing hard at the image. There had been a time when his words had had the same effect.
Zechs seemed pleased as he left with Relena. Then Noin came forward and asked Heero questions about his calculations. As she talked, she slowly moved them toward the door, but all the while Heero kept a part of his attention on Duo. It was not like him to not give his full attention to his work, but he could not keep his gaze from returning to Duo.
Outside, Heero felt in a bit of a panic. He needed to speak with Duo again. He had to have some interaction with the other boy even if it was only harsh words. After Noin thanked him for his explanations, she walked off down the hall, and Heero immediately slipped back inside the breakfast room.
Duo was making a sandwich out of freshly baked bread and sliced cheese. Heero came closer, watching with ample fascination as Duo wrapped the sandwich in a napkin. He had forgotten how the other boy was always thinking ahead to his next meal. The memory made him grin. Maybe Duo had not changed all that much.
"A snack for later?" Heero asked as he came up to the table.
"I told you to get lost," Duo snapped, even as his eyes glanced up.
"Doesn't look that way," Duo said, getting up from his chair.
Heero watched appreciatively as Duo turned to leave and his braid swayed and brushed against his ass. Oh, he had forgotten what a simple delight it was to watch Duo and that braid move!
"I missed you," Heero said suddenly, the words tumbling out.
"What?!" Duo asked, spinning around, his eyes wide and suspicious.
"I know you probably don't believe me..."
"You're damn right I don't believe you!" Duo shouted. "You never once tried to contact me, and don't tell me you didn't know where I was with your damn intelligence operation circling the globe!"
It was true that Heero knew Duo had been living in the northeastern quadrant of America, but he had resisted the urge to pinpoint his whereabouts exactly. When they had parted, Heero had left Duo's life and that had included not spying on him.
"What do you want me to say?" Heero asked, sincerely flummoxed as to how to proceed. "How am I supposed to act around you?"
"Maybe it'd be best if you just kept your distance," Duo said, repeating his wish that Heero just stay away.
"I don't think I can," Heero said, taking a few steps toward him.
Duo's eyes widened. What was happening here? Was Heero still interested...? "Look, I'm with Zechs..."
"And why is that?" Heero asked, in an accusatory tone.
"He's not our enemy anymore," Duo said, unable to stop himself from responding to Heero's inquiry. "Zechs is special to me and he actually wants me in his life!"
"I wanted you in my life, too, if you recall," Heero said, trying to break through Duo's walls.
"No, I don't recall."
"You were too busy being angry at Relena to understand that she needed my help. I had to go, but that didn't mean I didn't want you."
Duo looked away. His heart hammering in his chest. What was Heero saying? That it all had been a misunderstanding? No, this could not be right. He remembered that last evening, he remembered how Heero had brushed him off...
He looked back into those dark eyes. "You said I didn't need you and you were right, I don't," Duo said and then pressed his lips together to stop them from trembling.
"Because of Zechs?"
Duo could not answer that. He could not bear this conversation any longer. He turned and headed for the door.
"Duo, wait!" Heero called out, but Duo did not stop.
Duo spent the rest of the day as far from the palace as possible. He was hiding again, but it couldn't be helped. He couldn't face Heero. The old feelings were still there, waiting to bubble up and take him over. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let himself destroy what he had worked so hard to build... a life with Zechs.
That evening he returned to his and Zechs's suite, hoping to find his lover there, but he was not. Duo went out onto the balcony and gazed up at the stars. Sank was so beautiful, but he wasn't enjoying it like he should, not with Heero's words haunting him. Heero had missed him, and had wanted him in his life.
"It can't be," Duo said, for the thousandth time that day.
A tear slid down his cheek. How many nights had he cried over the loss of Heero? How many months had it taken to forget him? And now Duo was back to square one, thrown back into the anguish that had threatened to tear him apart all those months ago. Duo needed to banish Heero once again... banish his words, the image of his eyes, and the sound of his voice.
Damn, he thought. How can I? I still love him...
Just then Duo heard the door opening.
"Duo? Are you here?" Zechs asked as he set his attaché case down.
"Yeah, out here," Duo called back, poking his head through the balcony doors.
Zechs smiled at seeing his lover. "I'm sorry about today. I know I promised we'd meet for lunch..."
His apology ended as Duo came running into his arms.
"What is it, Baby? You okay?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around Duo.
"I'm okay now," Duo said, snuggling the taller man. He had needed this all day.
Zechs caressed Duo's braid. "I missed you, too, if that's what this is about."
"Yeah," Duo said with a sigh. Zechs felt so good in his arms.
They moved over to the bed and sat down, keeping their arms about each other as they kissed in greeting.
"Tell me about your day," Duo said, smiling as he pulled back.
"Are you sure you want to know? The ministers were all business and serious faces."
"Well, at least you had something to do today," Duo said, a bit snappish.
Zechs raised an eyebrow. "What's this? Are you upset with me for not meeting you as we had planned?"
Duo shook his head. It had been disappointing to get the message that Zechs would not be able to meet him for lunch, but it was more than that.
"I understand you have duties..."
"But?" Zechs prompted.
"Well, what am I supposed to do?"
"Baby, we've been here two days and you're already bored?" Zechs asked as he stroked Duo's arm.
"I'm not exactly bored, but I do want to feel useful," Duo said, sitting up straighter.
"But you are useful," Zechs said, smiling. "I can't tell you how wonderful it is knowing that you're here. I thought of almost nothing else today, but you!"
Duo felt himself wilt. If only he could say the same thing back to Zechs.
"Then it's okay if I don't have a purpose?" Duo asked.
"But you do have a purpose. I thought you understood. You're my companion, my love," Zechs said, now brushing Duo's bangs. "In time, perhaps you can take on some responsibilities, but for now, I want you to relax and enjoy yourself."
"But you're never around," Duo said, his frustration evident.
Zechs sighed. "I'm sorry, but I've got a lot of catching up to do. I hadn't realized just how welcome I would be on my return. Everyone is anxious for me to step back into my place here."
"As king?" Duo asked, his heart thumping.
"Yes, probably in time. But right now, I'm just trying to get up to speed on all that is happening in the kingdom. Can you understand that, Duo?"
The boy nodded.
"It's obvious we spoiled ourselves in Boston," Zechs said, smiling, remembering how it had just been the two of them. "I have some papers I need to go over and then I'll come to bed and we can pretend we're back in our apartment."
Duo smiled at that. "I'm being a pain...."
"No," Zechs said, shaking his head. "It warms me to know you've been missing me." Zechs leaned in and kissed his diminutive lover. "Just a couple of hours and I'm all yours."
Duo watched as Zechs got up, retrieved his briefcase and went into the adjacent room to look over the state documents. He suspected that this would be the new pattern of their life and frowned. He needed Zechs now more than ever if he was going to fend off the old feelings that were stirring inside him. And it was discouraging that Zechs didn't want him to have any responsibilities just yet. Was he really here just as Zechs's companion? That made him twitch. Duo had never been the kept boy type, but surely that hadn't been what Zechs had meant. That, coupled with learning how Heero had been working for peace, made Duo feel even more like a slug. All Duo had done was serve coffee and deliver books to the rich. What did that say about himself and his ambitions?
My only ambition has been to forget Heero, Duo thought morosely.
He needed to change that. He needed to become a player again on the world stage. So what could he do to prove to Zechs that he was ready to be more than just a companion?
Maybe if I learned something about Sank, that'd be a good place to start, Duo thought as he stood.
Though Zechs had told him stories of his childhood in Sank, and Duo knew of the kingdom's role during the war, he knew virtually nothing of its history. He remembered from his earlier wanderings that the palace had a beautiful library. Surely there would be plenty of history books there.
Duo looked in at Zechs, studiously reading in the next room, his long platinum hair falling forward over the documents. He wouldn't disturb him. He would head down to the library for a book and be back within the hour to enjoy his lover fully.
Duo slipped out of the suite and headed down the marble halls in search of the library. If he remembered correctly it was on the second floor next to one of the large meeting rooms. There were three hundred rooms in the palace and Duo had seen only about a third of them and, being as distracted as he had been, he wasn't quite sure where he had seen what.
After about twenty minutes of peeking inside doors, Duo finally found the library. He gasped at its beauty in the evening light, the moon illuminating its book lined walls with a bluish hue.
He stepped inside and closed the door behind him, and then walked over to a large desk to turn on a lamp. The room now played more in shadows as the lamplight only reached several feet. Duo turned and gazed at the wall of books before him. How would he ever find what he was looking for? He scanned their spines, tilting his head to read the horizontal titles, his braid sliding on his back with the motion. There was a wealth of information here, everything from poetry and art history to autobiographies and encyclopedias of flora and fauna.
He remembered Zechs that day in Mr. Brentwood's bookshop, holding a copy of a rare botanical guide. He had wanted to kill Zechs then, put him back in the grave he had crawled out of, but now he shivered at the thought. Zechs was a good man. He was generous and kind and had made Duo whole again.
The creak of old leather startled Duo out of his silent reverie. He turned and peered into the shadows.
"Who's there?" he asked, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.
From out of a large, leather chair rose a figure of slender, but muscular build. "It's me, Duo," the familiar voice said.
"Heero," Duo said, in a shocked whisper.
"You always did know where to find me," Heero said, stepping into the lamplight to reveal himself fully. He was dressed casually in a white shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, and his relaxed demeanor made it appear he had been there for some time.
Duo stepped back, shaken to have run into his ex-lover. "I wasn't looking for you," he said, defensively.
"Really?" Heero asked, his eyes intense. "But I'm sure you remember that I spent every evening in Quatre's study."
"That was a long time ago," Duo said, making a move to leave, but Heero blocked his way, holding out his arms wide to prevent him from passing.
"I've sat here many evenings remembering those weeks in Arabia," Heero said.
Duo took a half step back. To hear Heero speak of their time together sent a spike of warmth through him, coloring his cheeks. This wasn't a good idea, being here alone with Heero, and having those impossibly dark blue eyes staring at him, challenging him. He tried to get by again, but Heero stood firm. Then Heero moved forward, prompting Duo to back up against the bookshelves.
"I've missed you," Heero said sweetly, putting his arms on either side of Duo and grabbing onto the shelves to trap the other boy to the spot.
"You said that before," Duo said, panicked by this closeness.
"And I'll keep saying it until you believe me," Heero replied.
Duo shook his head. "How can I? You left me there..." Choking up, Duo turned his face away.
The emotional response surprised Heero into pulling back slightly. He had been getting so much venom that he hadn't expected this. He dropped his arms to his sides.
"I admit... I made a mistake," he said, hesitantly. It wasn't easy for Heero Yuy to admit failure, but he knew it was important to do so now. "I'm sorry."
Duo's eyes widened as he looked back at Heero. He couldn't believe his own ears.
"The Perfect Solider is apologizing?" Duo asked with a snort, trying to regain his hard edge.
"Yes. And you know better than anyone that I'm not perfect," Heero said, locking his gaze once again with Duo's. "I never expected things would turn out like this," he admitted. "I hadn't considered how it would be... without you."
No, Duo thought as the words swirled in his head. His breath was coming harder now as he realized Heero was saying all the right things.
"It'll take time," Heero continued, inching closer again until he was sure Duo could feel his breath ghosting his skin. "But I'm going to do whatever it takes to regain your trust."
Duo pressed himself flatter against the bookshelves, his eyes wide like saucers.
"How?" he asked, wetting his lips with his tongue. Heero was standing so close...
Heero's eyes focused on the moistened lips. Everything about Duo was coming back to him in waves. The how and why he had left suddenly didn't make sense anymore. Duo was so beautiful, so strong, and yet in this moment so vulnerable. They had made a good team. They had been perfect lovers.
"I'd like to start with this..." Heero said, leaning in and taking Duo's lips in a kiss.
In shock, Duo accepted the kiss, his eyes falling shut as he tasted the lips he had missed with a desperate ache. Heero was enchanting tonight and after all these months felt just the same... no, better. Heero's lips were warm and soft and the touch made Duo tingle with deeply buried memories. Those memories enticed him to wrap his arms about Heero's narrow waist.
Heero put his arms around Duo as well, pulling the other boy to him as he took the kiss deeper. He wanted to convey so much in this kiss. He wanted to bleed his apology into Duo and promise that he would put things right.
The kiss went on, and Duo wanted to live in this moment forever. It felt as if he was in a dream... it had to be a dream being in Heero's arms again. But if this was a dream, then what was the reality?
Zechs, Duo thought with a start.
His eyes popped open. He had to get a grip on himself. He pulled out of the kiss, breathing heavily, and pushing Heero away with a hard shove. Heero stumbled back.
"Bastard," Duo said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He was shaking. How could Heero have done this to him? Transporting him back to a time when they had been lovers.
This time Duo pushed past Heero and made for the door.
"I realized something in the months we've been apart," Heero said, speaking quickly in the hope of stopping Duo's retreat. "I knew there was something special between us, but I never understood what I was feeling..."
Duo was at the door, throwing it open.
"I love you," Heero said, his heart pounding hard.
Duo froze in the doorway. The very breath knocked out of him by those words. God, it seemed he had been waiting forever to hear those three little words from Heero. And now that he had, he didn't know what to do. But he was just as guilty of caution, pride, and youthful nonchalance. He had never told Heero of his love either.
With effort, Duo turned to face him, his eyes filled with brimming tears. But those tears and those quivering lips were a result of the war within. Duo's mind was telling him that Heero was playing games and that this was a trick, while his heart thumped with hope for the boy he had never wanted to be parted from.
When at last he spoke, his voice was shaky. "W-why... why couldn't you have told me that before?" Duo asked, hanging onto the doorjamb for support.
"I didn't understand what I was feeling back then," Heero said, his tone pleading, but firm. "But I know now, and I want you back. We can make it work this time."
They stared at each other for seconds, neither saying a word. It was as if a great chasm lay between them and Heero had just thrown a line over. The rope had snagged on a tree branch, but hadn't anchored securely, and any strong wind might dislodge it... and then they would be miles apart again.
Heero had spent the first couple of months in Sank intermittently thinking about Duo and pushing the memories aside. But instead of his memories fading over time they had strengthened, and Heero came to understand what a fool he had been. In his arrogance he had pushed away the best thing that had ever happened to him. With this realization came the biggest realization of all... that all those indescribable feelings he had been wrestling with had been love forming and taking hold.
Now he hung on the silence between them, watching Duo intently, knowing the other boy was processing what he had said. He had lost Duo's trust and he knew it would be an uphill battle to regain it. But it was a battle Heero was willing to fight, a mission he heartily accepted.
Even though Duo was reluctant, no, downright stubborn about letting him back in, that kiss had told Heero all he needed to know. It was a little-known secret that Heero could read Duo's emotions by the intensity and enthusiasm of his kisses. And that kiss had proven, without a doubt, that Duo had not only missed him, but that he still had a soft place in his heart for him.
His loud-mouthed former lover might try to hide his true feelings behind snide remarks and stern looks, but the truth had shown in his kiss. Zechs or no, Heero had the proof in that kiss. Duo still wanted him.
And so, when Duo finally broke their gaze and hurried from the room, Heero let him go. Hope was now his ally.
When Duo came to a stop on the third floor landing, he doubled over, trying to catch his breath. A flicker of déja vu returned his thoughts to the night in Arabia when he had raced from Heero into the house. Back then, Heero had seemed devoid of feeling and anxious to be rid of him. Now, as Heero had said, things had changed.
"He loves me," Duo said, trying to wrap his mind and heart around the words and their true meaning.
He stood upright and touched his lips with the tips of his fingers. That kiss... that kiss had felt like a homecoming.
He looked back down the marble stairs and smiled shakily. The warmth that had settled in his cheeks earlier now covered his entire body. Heero loved him and wanted him back. The proposition was so fantastic, so unexpected that it made Duo laugh. The impossible had happened... Heero Yuy loved Duo Maxwell.
"I must be imagining things," Duo said, shaking his head as though clearing away cobwebs.
Despite still feeling the tingle of lips and hands on his body, Duo half-believed that he had been sleep walking and his mind had played a trick on him. Or was that wishful thinking? Yes, this encounter had been real... all too real. And now Duo's mind and heart became painfully aware of the fact that there were two men who loved him.
The giddy laughter stopped abruptly. As flattering as it was to have two very handsome men vying for his attention, Duo knew this could not end well. Someone would be hurt.
"Zechs..." he said, looking toward their shared suite.
The last thing he wanted was to hurt Zechs. Though a former enemy, Zechs had persevered and won Duo's affection. And he had picked up the pieces of Duo's shattered love life. It still amazed him how Zechs had overcome the barriers the war had placed before them. He was an honorable, gentle and beautiful man.
And I think I've come to love him, Duo thought with tears again brimming in his eyes.
It suddenly occurred to Duo that although Heero and Zechs had confessed their love for him, he had been unable to tell them his deepest, truest feelings. He sighed, realizing he had a lot of hard thinking to do. And so, instead of returning directly to his suite, he trod down the corridor to an elegant bench at the end of the hall. Beneath a large window accented by azure draperies, Duo sat on a cushioned bench and looked out onto the cloudless night sky. It was the kind of night made for lovers, but which lover did Duo want?
His thoughts went back to Heero, his first love. Heero had turned his world upside down, fought by his side, and melted him into a puddle of goo with every kiss. Heero had been a hard battle won, and a continual challenge, but somehow they had connected and found a balance. There was something to be said for first loves, but could the magic and intensity they had shared so many months before be recaptured? And was that what this was about regaining the past? Or making a future?
Wufei had once counseled Duo to live in the moment, and to expect change with every breath. Had so much changed in six months that a relationship with Heero was no longer a possibility?
"What am I thinking?" Duo asked himself aloud. How can I even consider a relationship with Heero again? I'm with Zechs...
Just then, Duo heard the click of a door opening. He looked up to see Zechs stepping into the corridor. The man cut an impressive figure against the empty, but ornate hallway. This was his home. This was where he belonged. It was as if the palace itself was brighter for his presence.
Zechs was still dressed in his white Sankian uniform, save for the burgundy tie and gem encrusted pin at his throat. Those had been removed shortly after beginning the tedious review of documents.
The Sankian heir looked both ways down the hall before spotting Duo on the bench. He smiled and then walked toward his lover.
"I was worried when I found you had gone," Zechs said. He came to stand before Duo, noting the look of concentration on his lover's face. "Have you been sitting here all this time?"
"No," Duo said, softly. With Zechs standing over him, wearing the official uniform of the Peacecraft family, Duo suddenly felt the inequality of their positions. In Boston they had been equals, but here... how could they ever be that again?
Duo's head tilted back, his eyes traveling up Zechs's tall form to his eyes. "I wanted to do research... on the Sank Kingdom."
Zechs grinned, pleased at Duo's initiative. "Then you were in the library? You never fail to surprise me," he said and bent to kiss Duo's lips.
Duo accepted the kiss eagerly, hoping desperately that nothing had changed. That the kiss he had shared with Heero hadn't been as mind blowing as he had thought in that moment. When Zechs began to pull back, Duo took his hand and pulled him in again, deepening the kiss, trying to cleanse himself of what he had done.
Zechs's free hand came up to cup Duo's face as he pressed for entrance. When Duo's lips parted, they both groaned as their tongues met and intertwined. Soon, Duo was on his feet, standing and being held in Zechs's arms. What had started as a sweet kiss of approval for Duo's efforts had turned passionate and inappropriate for public halls.
At last, Zechs broke away, his eyes dilated and body aroused. "I believe we have a special night planned," he said in that deep, velvet voice.
Duo gulped at the predatory look in Zechs's blue eyes. They had planned a bit of a re-enactment of their time in Boston, and certainly that look was a reminder of their very first sexual encounter.
"Uh... yeah," Duo said, suddenly shy and unsure of himself.
Zechs narrowed his gaze. One minute Duo was all fire and temptation and the next he was meek as a mouse. Could it have something to do with the serious look that had covered his face when he had first found him on the bench?
"Is everything all right, Baby?" Zechs asked.
Duo nodded. "Sure," he said and then whisked past Zechs in a blur of motion, braid flying behind him. He looked back over his shoulder at his stunned lover. "What are ya' waiting for?" he called and then ducked inside their suite.
Zechs shook his head and gave a low chuckle, walking at a dignified pace back to their room. As he was about to step across the threshold, he got the feeling he was being watched and turned to look down the hall. There, on the stairs, he thought he saw a man... or was it just a shadow from the columns? He took a step back into the hall and squinted, but by the time his eyes adjusted to the dim light the shadowy figure was gone. Or had it been there at all?
Retreating, quickly and silently back down the stairs, Heero's blood pulsed in his ears. This was madness, wanting Duo this way. Wanting him so much that he would spy on his private moments.
And he had nearly been caught. Zechs's instincts were good and it was obvious he had sensed his presence, but Heero had been fast. He was sure that Zechs had not seen him.
So what game was Duo playing? Kissing him with vigor and then fleeing to his current lover to fulfill his passions? The image burned in Heero's eyes and in his belly. He had never been so sure of anything or anyone since his mission to free the colonies. Then why was Duo hesitating to come to him?
"Because he doesn't want to hurt Zechs," Heero said in realization.
He didn't like to think about it, but he had put Duo in a terrible situation. He had created a triangle. One of them was going to get hurt, and after witnessing the way Duo had just kissed Zechs, Heero felt the ominous gnaw of rejection roil inside him.
Closing the door, Zechs smiled at the sight before him. Duo was sprawled on the bed, and though fully clothed it was obvious he was waiting for him.
"Another long day at the coffee shop?" Zechs asked with a wink.
Duo chuckled. He liked the idea of pretending they were in Boston again. In hindsight he could see just how perfect it had been. He and Zechs had created a world for themselves, each helping the other to forget his past. And maybe tonight's play would help Duo forget the present...
Leaning up on one elbow, Duo replied, "Yep, some joker wouldn't let me guess his drink."
Zechs stepped closer, slipping off the white, bolero jacket. "Very rude," he said as he reached the bed. "And what did you do?"
"I seduced him," Duo said with a snicker.
"Oh?" Zechs asked, raising an eyebrow. "I suppose that's one way of ensuring a good tip."
Zechs knelt on the bed and then lowered himself onto Duo, wrapping his arms about the smaller man and kissing him deeply. The warm press of bodies was electrifying. It had been a long day and they both needed this physical contact.
Ending the day with sex was a ritual the couple had adopted early on. No matter how tired Duo had been from working, or how late he had arrived home, they always had energy to indulge their attraction for one another. In those first tentative days of their relationship, it was the sex that truly bonded them and became the foundation from which their relationship was built. After all, the war was what they had in common, and in that past they had been enemies.
But lying in bed, Zechs and Duo found that despite all their differences they fit well together. They moved well together, kissing and touching each other in a pleasing rhythm. Most often, Zechs took the lead in their lovemaking. Tonight was no exception. He nuzzled Duo's neck and kissed a moist path to his Adam's apple, licking the very male bump. All the while, Zechs's hands moved over Duo's clothes, pulling the boy's shirt from his jeans and settling on another very male bulge.
Duo moaned as Zechs's hand rubbed and squeezed him. "Zechs," he said, caressing the man's back and buttocks.
Zechs lifted away from the Adam's apple to look into Duo's eyes, his long, platinum hair falling forward and brushing against Duo's face.
"Baby," he said in response, and leaned down to take the sweet lips again. As he devoured his mouth, he rubbed his erection into Duo's thigh, letting him know he wanted him.
The passion was building quickly, but when Zechs moved to unfasten Duo's jeans, Duo tensed.
I don't think I can, Duo thought, and then his hesitation melted away as the large hand dipped inside and grabbed his hardness. He moaned into Zechs's mouth, his hips arching up into that strong, warm grasp. But again that odd feeling came back, and though what Zechs was doing felt good, something was itching at the back of Duo's mind. Itching, then clawing and finally knocking at him to be heard. It was Heero. Memories of Heero and their own passionate lovemaking were coming back to him. How long had it been, since Duo had thought of Heero while making love to Zechs? Hadn't he put that particular ghost to rest? But it seemed his past was not done with him yet.
Zechs noticed the slowing of Duo's caress and sensed his distraction. He pulled out of the kiss, but kept his hand in motion on Duo's hardness. The boy's eyes met his, but it was as though Duo was far away.
"What is it?" Zechs asked.
"Hmm?" Duo asked vaguely. His body was still responding to Zechs's petting, which only clouded the thoughts swirling in his head all the more.
"Do you want me to stop?"
Duo's eyes focused with the question. "Oh," he said, in another non-answer.
Zechs's hand stopped and was slowly pulled from Duo's jeans. "Something's bothering you," Zechs said, studying Duo's face.
Duo looked up into Zechs's eyes, and then turned his face away. "I'm sorry," he said.
The older man's gaze narrowed. "About what?" he asked in confusion.
"I just... can't."
"Duo?" Zechs asked, taking Duo's face by the chin and turning it back to him. "Tell me what this is about."
Duo shuddered. He couldn't do that. He couldn't tell Zechs that he had been thinking of Heero, that he still had longings for Heero.
"Just not tonight... okay?" Duo asked, his eyes pleading with his lover.
Zechs took a long, deep breath. This had never happened before. Since that first night when he had taken Duo on that broken down old couch, Duo had been more than willing. Why the sudden change? Not so sudden, Zechs thought morosely. Everything had become more tentative since their arrival in Sank. But what part of being in his homeland was complicating things with Duo?
"Are you upset with me for not giving you a project or position at the palace?" Zechs asked, eager to break through the barrier that had been thrown up against him.
Duo shook his head. "Please don't," he said.
"Please don't what?" Zechs persisted, needing to know.
"Please don't... make this any harder," Duo said as a tear slid down his cheek.
Zechs sighed heavily, his frustration undisguised. Something told him it was more than just Duo's place in Sank that was causing this problem. And Zechs would very soon have to deal with it... or him. Yes, Zechs feared that his old rivalry with Heero Yuy was about to come into play once again.
Not wanting to make Duo any more uncomfortable than he already was, and needing to take care of his own discomfort, Zechs got up slowly from the bed. He stared at Duo a moment, regretting that they could not resolve this now, and then turned and headed into the bathroom.
Duo rolled over onto his side and curled into a ball. He heard the click of the bathroom door and moments later the sound of the shower running. Zechs had been left unsatisfied for the first time since they'd gotten together.
"Sorry," Duo whispered into his pillow as he cried softly.
The morning sun warmed Duo's face and arms, stirring him from a deep sleep. His eyes blinked open as he stretched, and his thoughts quickly turned to the previous night. Wanting to apologize again, Duo rolled over to find that Zechs was already gone.
"Shit," he said, feeling the guilt stab at him yet again.
Then he noticed a piece of Royal stationery lying on Zechs's pillow. He picked it up and immediately recognized the elegant hand.
My dearest Duo, I know I have not had much time for you since coming home. Be assured that my affection for you is as strong as ever. Please join me for breakfast at nine o'clock so that we may begin the day together. Love, Zechs.
Duo sat up with the note in his hand and sighed. He couldn't seem to remember what had gone wrong last night. Why, after having made love every night for nearly two months, had he suddenly froze? But of course he knew the answer, and it struck him with a wince---Heero. With just one kiss, one sweetly, intimate kiss, Heero had shredded Duo's walls.
"What am I gonna do?"
When Zechs had wanted to come home, Duo accepted his place at Zechs's side even though it meant seeing Heero again. And damn Zechs for that. Damn him for having a sister and responsibilities and a nation calling him back to them.
Duo crumpled the note and slammed his fist into the mattress. "Damn you, Zechs!"
Hadn't things been just fine in Boston? Why did he have to go and throw a wrench into the wheel? Duo knew why... because fucking like rabbits never solved anything. Sure, it was great for a time, but sooner or later the past was going to catch up with the present and they'd have to face things. That's when Zechs became Milliardo again, and Duo was hauled off to Sank to support his decision. And it just so happened... to face his own past.
So maybe Heero was to blame? The bastard certainly deserved to be blamed for everything that had gone wrong in Duo's life for the past six months. Duo liked the idea of cataloging every headache, spilled drink, bad tip, undercooked steak, lost key, and certainly broken heart as caused by one, Heero Yuy. He even toyed with the idea of putting his list to paper, thinking that Wufei would call it, "cleansing."
But Duo was a smart boy, and despite all his anger toward Heero, and Zechs, he knew he had to at least take part of the blame for the circumstances of his life. It was time for Duo to start being honest with himself and everyone around him. And that was a heavy burden. That would involve making choices that at this point seemed impossible to make.
He got up from the bed, rather reluctantly, and padded into the bathroom. It was just eight o'clock, and he had plenty of time to make that breakfast date with Zechs. A shower would do the trick to jumpstart his day after the emotional aerobics of the previous one.
Duo made his way to breakfast wearing faded blue jeans, a black ribbed cotton tee and black ankle boots. He hadn't quite gotten down the "palace look," and he didn't much care. At least the staff seemed to be getting used to his presence in the marble halls.
He was rather looking forward to dining alone with Zechs. They had not shared a private meal since coming to Sank, and he thought they did some of their best talking over food. Well, Duo did anyway. Maybe he could get a list of Zechs's appointments for the day so he knew where to find him and when he might be free to take a stroll in the gardens. After last night, he really needed to spend time with Zechs and clear his head of these ridiculous thoughts of Heero. After all, Heero was his past, and Zechs was his future... right?
At the breakfast room, an uniformed servant opened the door for Duo. He didn't think he'd ever get used to that, having servants open doors for him. Zechs had been bred to enjoy or to tolerate such formalities and had transitioned easily from private to royal life. Duo would have to ask him about this and possibly request a lesson on palace protocol. Maybe if he understood why everyone did what they did it wouldn't seem so odd anymore.
Stepping into the room, Duo's light mood immediately faded. His quiet breakfast with Zechs was not to be. Sitting around the table were Relena, Noin and heaven help him--Heero.
He came to stand behind the empty chair next to Zechs.
Zechs frowned at the look of disappointment on Duo's face. "What is it?"
Duo leaned forward and in a soft voice explained, "I thought we were having breakfast... alone."
"That can be arranged, but generally I meet with my advisors over breakfast," Zechs replied just as softly. Obviously Duo didn't want the others to hear.
"Oh... I misunderstood," Duo said, taking his seat.
Zechs suddenly remembered the note he had left Duo. The boy must have misinterpreted his meaning. "This is my fault entirely," Zechs said, reaching over to take Duo's hand. "Let me make it up to you later."
Duo looked down at the hand holding his and then to the others around the table. All eyes were on them and their whispered conversation.
"It's okay... really," Duo said, giving a little grin. "You've got a country to run."
"I will make it up to you," Zechs reaffirmed, squeezing Duo's hand.
Duo nodded as he looked into Zechs's face, the man's eyes alight with sincerity. Zechs genuinely believed that he could do it all. Be the ruler of a country in the process of rebuilding itself after a tragic war, and fulfill all of his lover's needs.
He gently released Duo's hand and watched as Duo turned to enjoy his breakfast. He wanted to tell Duo that he was disappointed, too. He enjoyed Duo's company very much, but for the time being they would not have a lot of time alone. Perhaps the thing to do was to appoint Duo to some position where they could work together on a project? He would give that some thought, but right now Duo needed to be rescued from Relena's endless questioning.
"Since you've explored the palace grounds so thoroughly, perhaps I could arrange for you to see more of our homeland," Relena offered in a cheerful manner.
"I'm certain Duo is capable of arranging things for himself," Zechs said, hoping to deter her further prodding.
"Actually, I was hoping you would give me the tour," Duo said, looking to Zechs.
Zechs smiled. "That's a fine idea. I'll work that into my schedule for tomorrow," Zechs said, gently patting Duo's thigh under the table.
"Tomorrow?" Duo asked.
"Yes, I have meetings all day today, including the security check this morning with Lucrezia and Heero."
Duo nodded, and feeling everyone's eyes on them once again, shook off his second disappointment of the day. "Of course. Who has time for sightseeing, anyway?" he asked with a chuckle. "I've got a lot of history to catch up on."
Zechs nodded. "Yes, as you discovered last night in the Royal library there are hundreds of books on Sank's past."
"Oh, I'm sure Heero's pointed you in the right direction there," Relena said, smiling.
"Huh?" Duo asked, looking at the princess with mouth gaping in shock.
"Milliardo just said you were in the library last night," Relena added, as though that would make her statement more clear.
"Y-yes," Duo agreed, hesitantly.
"And so was Heero. Isn't that right, Heero? You spend every evening in the library," the princess nodded to her security advisor, and then went on without missing a beat. "I assume Heero would've shown you the most relevant histories. He's read nearly a hundred books since arriving in Sank."
Duo stared blankly at the princess, his heart hammering and his cheeks blushing. He didn't dare look over to see Zechs's reaction.
There was a long, silent pause as everyone's forks and knives came to rest on their plates. No one said a word as all eyes moved between Duo, Heero and Zechs.
For Heero, it seemed a battle was playing out before him. The opportunity was there to strike, take advantage of Zechs's vulnerability and the fact that everyone must be thinking that he and Duo had met secretly last night. But he would not strike now. In Antarctica, Zechs had wanted to settle their rivalry in an honorable way and had disabled one of Tallgeese's arms to compensate for Heero's own injured arm, leveling the field of battle. Heero would do the same now.
"I wasn't in the library last night," Heero said, barely glancing at Relena.
"But you told me you spend every evening..."
"Too predictable," Heero said, curtly.
Duo snapped his mouth shut. Was he crazy or was Heero covering for him?
"Yes," Zechs agreed, even though in his heart he believed otherwise. "Predictability can be dangerous for a soldier."
Duo heard the coolness in Zechs's tone. Relena's innocent accusation had been taken seriously, but Duo couldn't say a word. If he said no one was in the library with him last night he would be lying, and lying was not acceptable.
"Yeah, wouldn't want to be too predictable," Duo said, forcing a nervous chuckle.
Zechs looked at Duo and was about to add something, but just then a servant came in and handed the prince a note. Zechs read it quickly and then looked up at his companions.
"My apologies, but I'll need to cut this breakfast short. I have some unexpected visitors."
"Of course, Zechs," Noin said. "I hope it's nothing serious."
"No, no, some well-wishers from one of the villages have arrived and I want to give them my full attention."
"Then we'll postpone our security meeting?" Noin proposed.
"Yes, but only an hour or so," Zechs said, setting his cloth napkin on the table and leaning over to kiss Duo on the cheek. "I'll have a look at my schedule for this afternoon. Maybe we can work something out."
Duo smiled, hesitantly. He was glad for the possibility of spending time with Zechs, but surprised at his pleasant tone.
After Zechs left with Relena close on his heels, it wasn't long before Noin and Heero got up to leave.
Heero leaned over the table and grabbed a croissant from the tray, making eye contact with Duo.
Duo's brow furrowed as he looked up into those blue, blue eyes. "What are you doing?"
"You can't keep all the croissants to yourself," Heero said, knowing very well that Duo was not referring to the breakfast leftover.
Duo's mouth opened to reply, but then snapped shut. That comment sounded remarkably like a joke. Had Heero developed a sense of humor? But the other boy turned and was headed out the door before Duo could gather his wits enough to ask.
Left to his own devices, Duo decided to make good on his promise to learn the history of the Sank Kingdom. Besides, the distraction would do him good. Within minutes he was in the library, closing the door behind him. Safely alone, he set his indecision aside once again.
It didn't take him long to make a selection from the shelves. He chose a red leather bound volume titled, in gold lettering, "The Peacecraft Dynasty." Leaning against the desk, he slowly turned the pages until he came to an image of the first Peacecraft monarch, Renalto Peacecraft, a man who had unified the nation over five hundred years ago. Though the man had auburn hair, his slender face and clear, blue eyes were remarkably like Zechs's.
Further along, Duo found a fold-out chart, showing the Royal family tree. The Peacecraft lineage had been enhanced by marriages with nobles and royalty from neighboring countries. This was truly a dynasty.
How can I possibly fit into this? Duo wondered. There would certainly never be a place on that family tree for him. He could not marry Zechs in the traditional sense, nor could he bear his children. So what I am doing here?
The realization brought tears to Duo's eyes. Zechs wasn't just playing at being a prince, he truly was, and one who would ascend to the throne of Sank. Duo's lover would one day become King Milliardo Peacecraft. People would refer to him as His Majesty and expect him to fulfill the myriad of duties associated with that position. Even if the people of Sank were open to the idea of their king having a male consort, Duo didn't have the faintest idea how to fit that role... or even if he wanted to. There was nothing equal about being a consort to a king, and if the past few days were any indication, that relationship would be strained by lack of privacy.
Duo knew then, that even if Heero hadn't been thrown into the mix, he and Zechs would have had their own difficulties to face. That in time, this crazy imbalance in their relationship would have affected them on a fundamental level.
He closed the book and set it down on the desk, lowering his head as his heart grew heavy. "King Milliardo," he said, softly.
A swoosh and a flash of movement brought Duo's head up. There, on the green marble floor, lay a cream-colored envelope. He rushed to the door and threw it open, poking his head into the hall, but no one was there. Whoever had slid that note under the door was damn fast.
Retreating back into the library, Duo picked up the envelope, turning it this way and that. It didn't have a name or any other identifying mark on the outside of it, but that wasn't going to stop him from opening it. He tore the envelope and pulled out a slip of paper. With a slight hesitation he unfolded the paper and felt his stomach flip when he saw the handwriting.
Meet me in the garden. Under the ivy. Please. H.
"What is this, national note writing day?" Duo chuckled.
But his pounding heart belied the joke. Heero must have delivered it himself, and now Duo was faced with yet another indication of Heero's determination. If anyone knew how focused Heero could be on a project, it was Duo. When Heero had turned his focus on him, to their lovemaking those weeks in Arabia, Duo had thought he'd died and gone to heaven. It had been complete bliss. Well, almost. Duo had also been aware of Heero's professional boredom that no doubt became one of the reasons he had bolted so enthusiastically when Relena had called.
We can't go back to that, Duo thought as he held the note tight in his hand.
There was no question in Duo's mind that he would meet Heero in the garden. It was more than just curiosity in what Heero might say or do next. It was a deep need to see the other boy again. Duo tucked the note in his back pocket. The action giving him a tingle, a little flash of memory, and then he was out the door.