Author: BleedToBlue
Pairing: 6x2, 3x4, 1xR, 1+2, hints of 5x2.
Rating: R-ish
Warnings: Sap, UST, Possible OoC Wufei.
A/N: Beta-ed by the fabulous marasmine but all errors are my own. GW doesn't belong to me and it makes me so very sad.

The Entropy of Memory + Chapter 3

Unfortunately, Trowa wasn't alone; that would have been too easy. A tall, blond, blue-eyed, Viking god accompanied him; Zechs. Duo tried not to sigh at this unexpected, unwelcome, development. He should have known a peaceful, uncomplicated lunch was too much to hope for. To say Zechs aroused conflicting emotions was an understatement; and he made Duo think about things he really didn't want to contemplate. Things like need and want, pain and guilt.

Duo didn't have to turn and watch as Zechs moved towards their table; every eye in the place was on him, male and female. He could look at the faces around him and gage Zechs' progress through the room. Zechs was handsome, drop dead gorgeous in fact, but it wasn't just his looks that commanded attention. It was the force of his personality; charisma, charm, whatever you called it, he had it; people paid attention, people had been willing to die for him in the war.

And, no matter what Quatre thought, Zechs wasn't interested in him, that was in the past, and it was over. They were partners now and had learned to work together. Duo was learning to deal with having Zechs in his life. He had been utterly stunned when Lady Une presented Zechs as his new partner. He'd never thought to see him again.

He didn't think he'd ever forget that moment in Lady Une's office. Chatting with Wufei, walking towards Une's office, he'd been totally unprepared for how his life was about to change. He'd been practically speechless when he'd stepped inside and found Zechs sitting by her desk, waiting for him. Lady Une, on the other hand, had had lots to say.

"I know you can both put any past differences, any history, behind you and work together." It had taken Duo a moment before he figured out she'd meant their having been on opposite sides of the war. At least he'd hoped that was all she meant; underestimating Une was always a mistake, and she had been at the wedding. He'd looked at Une very carefully but got no hint that she meant anything but the war with the phrase ‘past differences' and 'history.' Zechs expression gave away nothing.

So he'd taken a deep breath, looked Zechs in the eye, and said, "Yes, everything in the past is just that, the past. We won't ever mention it again. Clean slate and all that." He'd tried to smile but hadn't been very successful. Zechs face had stayed strangely blank. Lady Une had been pleased; a pleased Une always made him feel wary.

What he should have done was walk away but he'd already done that once. He'd been hurt and alone, bruised and damaged. He'd wanted something of his own and had used Zechs to ease his pain. Then he'd run from what he'd done without a word of explaination or apology. He'd done the very things he'd expected from Zechs. He hadn't believed Zechs offer, no matter that he'd wanted to, and now he'd never know if Zechs had meant it. His little speech in Une's office wasn't enough but it was all he had to offer.

Trowa and Zechs were almost at the table, Quatre gave him one more small, warning look.

Tall, blond, and deadly slid into the chair next to Duo with a smile; close enough Duo could feel the heat of his body. Duo smiled a greeting at Trowa and then nodded at Zechs. Zechs' presence seemed to fill up all the available space, suck the air out of the room. It was a strange feeling to sit peacefully, pretending everything was fine, next to someone who aroused so many complex, conflicting emotions. Work was easier than this, social situations were…complicated, harder.

"Duo. Quatre." Zechs greeted them with that devastating smile and a friendly nod, first in Quatre's direction, and then with his eyes fixed on Duo until he'd responded with a subdued ‘hello.' Almost as verbal as Heero, he laughed inwardly at the thought, and smiled to himself as he realized that peace made stranger bedfellows than politics. And smiled a bit more as he realized that thinking about Heero hadn't hurt. When had that happened?

"I hope you don't mind if I join you?" Zechs went on politely in his deep, cultured voice which ran all over Duo's already jangled nerve endings. Zechs was unfailingly polite. With no effort at all Duo could hear Zechs whispering hoarsely, "please" and "let me" making sure Duo wanted what he offered as their bodies moved together. And Duo had, very much.

"Duo?" Hearing his name jerked Duo's thoughts back to the present to find Zechs looking at him with a curious expression.

"Sure, good to see you." Was the best Duo could manage.

Duo thought about his partner and wondered when Zechs had stopped calling him Maxwell and started using his first name again. When had he started to think of Zechs' smile as devastating and started smiling back. Partners didn't have to be friends; they just had to trust that the other would do his job. Trust was good, friendship acceptable, and anything more than that was dangerous; at least that's what Duo kept telling himself, even as he considered where this line of thought was taking him.

Unfortunately self didn't seem to be listening; it was too busy thinking about the warm body sitting next to him. And noticing how good Zechs smelled, and reminding him of that night. Self was happily suggesting that common sense take a hike and that climbing onto Zechs lap and kissing him was a wonderful idea. Duo thought maybe if he smashed his head on the table he could stop thinking about it. But Quatre might be upset, couldn't have that. He tried deep breathing.

Quatre smiled, said hello to Zechs, and then raised his face to greet Trowa with a kiss. Duo looked at the lovers and saw two good friends. He didn't know how Zechs saw them or what Zechs saw when he looked at Duo. Self-doubt was still his companion, doubt and guilt.

Duo watched Zechs out of the corner of his eye as he gazed openly at the pair across the table. Zechs' lips were curved in a small, slightly wicked smile, like he knew Duo was watching him, like he knew what Duo was thinking. Duo didn't think he could do this; he couldn't do this, couldn't sit here next to Zechs; almost touching him, not able to touch him. Maybe he could pretend to get an emergency need-you-at-the-office kind of phone call? He couldn't think of any excuse that wouldn't entail an explanation; he was stuck.

Duo wordlessly passed his menu to Zechs, pointedly not looking at him, resisting the urge to smack him with it; for being there, for tempting him, for making him want; then avoided watching him while he scanned through it. Quatre and Trowa still hadn't come up for air. Oh, they'd stopped kissing but they were still doing that ‘thing' couples in love do, just looking at each other, wordless communication.

Duo thought that the world just disappeared for those two sometimes. He was happy for his friends but it made him feel empty; lost; wanting. No,he wasn't empty, wasn't lost. No, he was going insane.

Duo thought about his partner while he studied the tabletop. Lady Une put them together; ordered them to work it out. He hadn't said a word about Heero's wedding; Zechs hadn't either. They seemed to have reached an unspoken agreement to never speak of the whole affair. Fine with him, Duo had thought, that way he'd be able to forget… but forgetting hadn't happened.

It was like he'd told Zechs, it was just sex. It didn't mean anything. Obviously Zechs had forgotten all about it, so it couldn't have meant much to him. Bastard.

Duo couldn't forget, even though he wanted to. Duo could never forget. Couldn't forget how he'd felt, that he'd really wanted to believe Zechs' offer. But he couldn't forget who or what he was, or where he came from, or how different they were.

Zechs was rich, educated, and very smooth. Duo was self-taught, rough around the edges, and not entirely comfortable with peace. And of course his best friend had married Zechs' sister. Giving them some sort of strange connection, a connection neither of them wanted.

Heero and Relena; the wedding; both things they didn't speak of, things they didn't acknowledge, well things that Duo didn't acknowledge and Zechs seemed to accept that. They worked together, respected each others abilities, and that was enough. It was enough, it would be enough, it had to be enough; it was all there could be. Sometimes he wished it could be different, even though he knew it couldn't, and could never have worked between them.

Trowa finished saying hello to Quatre, which had involved a bit more tongue than most of the room was probably comfortable with but that didn't seem to bother Quatre at all. Their table provided some privacy but they were still visible. Quatre looked a bit flushed, laughing at something Trowa whispered to him. Quatre would, in a moment, remember Zechs' and Duo's presence but for a short time only Trowa had existed for him. Love is a wonderful thing when it's shared, Duo thought, but he was still on the outside looking in, and it felt pretty lonely.

Zechs put the menu down and glanced over at Duo; his eyes held a hint of amusement and maybe a touch of something else. The something else made Duo more uncomfortable than the amusement, it was a very knowing look. Zechs shifted beside him making Duo wonder if he was uncomfortable with the public display, but he didn't really think that, Zechs hadn't minded being seen with him. They sat almost shoulder to shoulder at the small table; Zechs was tall and muscular, and seemed to take up more than his share of space. Duo could almost feel the length of Zechs' thigh against his own; close enough that he was aware of every small movement Zechs made.

Duo knew Zechs was a very tactile person but since he'd becoming Duo's partner he'd carefully avoided touching Duo, kept out of his personal space. Today he seemed to have forgotten that consideration. Duo felt Zechs shift again, his shoulder brushing Duo's and his knee sliding down the length of Duo's thigh. Zechs had apparently changed the rules. Duo resisted the urge to jerk away or look at Zechs, no way he'd react to his touch. He willed himself to not respond.

Zechs and Quatre made small talk while Duo carefully focused on the tabletop, the other people in the dining room, anything but Zechs, trying to ignore the heat of Zechs leg against his. Trowa smiled fondly at Quatre. Zechs talked about the case and why the defendant had pled guilty, abruptly ending the trial, Trowa grinned and added a few descriptive words to Zechs' explanation of events. Zechs laughed easily and Duo felt strangely warmed by the sound.

Duo found himself watching them talk and laugh but not really hearing the words. He couldn't seem to focus or maybe he was too focused. Zechs was relaxed, although he still held himself like a soldier, straight and proud. He occasionally gestured gracefully with his hands and Duo noticed, not for the first time, how different they were from Heero's hands, from his own.

Zechs' skin was milky pale, almost creamy, the blue veins faintly visible beneath it; his hands were large, long fingered, elegant. Heero's hands were golden skinned, broad and strong; capable working hands; soldier's hands. Duo had once imagined how Heero's hands would look against his skin; hard fingers splayed over bare flesh, griping tight enough to leave bruises.

Duo blinked and brought himself back from unwanted thoughts, he watched Zechs' aristocratic hands moving through the air as they gracefully illustrated his conversation. He remembered quite vividly exactly how those hands had looked and felt sliding over his body. He tried to think about something else but the movement of Zechs' hands as he spoke was hypnotic, he couldn't look away.

Although Duo knew it wasn't true, Zechs' pale, smooth hands looked as if they'd never done anything more demanding than holding leather bound books, delicate crystal glasses, or an elegant fencing foil. Duo looked at his own hands; rough, calloused, scarred; working hands that were made to hold a wrench or a gun, deft fingers that could pick a pocket or wield a knife. They were opposites. Everything about Zechs was aristocratic, elegant, exquisite; everything about Duo was...not; he didn't belong in the same place.

Zechs' white blond hair was pulled back into a tail for work; too-long bangs fell over his pale eyebrows, and threatened to obscure icy-blue eyes. He was a very attractive man, Duo thought yet again. When Zechs turned in his direction Duo realized he'd been staring and blinked in embarrassment. There was a question in Zechs' eyes that he didn't understand but Duo risked a small smile at Zechs' before he looked away. It wasn't a happy smile, the comparisons he'd drawn showed him how right he'd been to stay away from Zechs.

Duo wasn't going to look back at him. He wouldn't think twice if the person sitting so close to him, touching him, smiling at him, had been Quatre, or even Trowa, they were his friends. Duo didn't like the direction his thoughts were taking and blamed Quatre for all of it. Duo aimed a glare in Quatre's direction but he seemed completely oblivious.

Partners shouldn't be bothered by accidental contact; they spent too much time in all kinds of situations to let that get to them. Duo took a deep breath and tried to focus on the conversation; he wouldn't let himself be distracted because his friends were comfortable with PDA's and he was sitting close to an attractive, sexy man who smelled wonderful. Duo was annoyed with himself for even thinking that. He attempted to put the thought out of his mind and wondered who'd let his hormones out and why he couldn't reign them in. His libido had got him into trouble before, it wouldn't happen again. Duo looked up in time to see Trowa watching with an odd look on his face before his eyes slid back to Quatre.

The waiter came to take their orders and when he left Quatre remarked casually, "Duo and I were just discussing going to the mountains for a long weekend. I've decided to take a few days off. We'll celebrate Trowa's case being finished up. We'd love for you to join us, Zechs. Wouldn't we, Duo?"

Quatre wore his most guileless look and an innocent smile. Duo's eyes flicked from Quatre to Zechs and back again. Quatre had blindsided him again, he'd have to be more careful. Zechs wanted to laugh at Duo's expression of surprise but bit back even a smile.

Duo hoped his mouth wasn't hanging open because he didn't remember any such conversation. Quatre was looking at him and smiling. Duo didn't want to contradict him because maybe he had been talking about it. All he had to do was say 'no'.

Quatre's expression said ‘nod and make agreeing sounds.' Duo wondered why Zechs needed his second to accept an invitation from Quatre. Duo didn't know where to look, wouldn't look at Zechs, and kept his eyes on the table; the vase of flowers was fascinating.

"I'm sure Zechs already has plans, Quatre." Duo said, showing Quatre a smile that was really more a baring of teeth. He feverently hoped Zechs already had plans.

Quatre's smile was sweet and just as fierce as he asked, "Do you have plans, Zechs?" Duo suspected Quatre already knew the answer.

"No, I don't but if you'd rather I didn't come, Duo." Zechs said.

Ah, yeah, make me the bad guy, Duo thought. "Quatre will be disappointed if you don't." Duo heard himself say. He was going to kill Quatre. He'd meant to say no, really he had.

Zechs smiled as if Duo's endorsement had been as gracious as Quatre's invitation, tried to catch Duo's eye and failed, but accepted in a pleased tone. "I look forward to it. Thank you."

Duo was confused, Zechs wasn't supposed to say yes. Duo had no idea if he'd agreed to a trip earlier or if Quatre had just come up with the idea as some sort of payback for not paying attention. His muscles tensed as he envisioned a weekend of meeting the latest of Quatre's finds, and trying to avoid them. Duo suppressed a wince, thinking of Zechs there. He could avoid Zechs, really he could, it was a big place. Lots of rooms.

Quatre noticed the expression on Duo's face.

"Duo, are you all right? I thought you were looking forward to getting away from everything?" Quatre's expression was still one of complete innocence overlaid with real concern.

Duo suspected Quatre knew exactly what he was thinking. He would love to get away from ‘everything' and that included meddling friends and partners that were handsome and smelled good and that he desperately wanted, needed to avoid. His control was just about shot and Quatre was not helping.

Quatre had perfected the art of feigned innocence and manipulation, of Duo along with most of the known world. Quatre's motive was a simple desire to help his friends, to see them happy, a rather benign reason but God help them all if Quatre Raberba Winner ever decided on world domination. He was relentless.

"A nice, quiet weekend would be good." Duo ventured and didn't know how to add ‘as long as you don't try to fix me up' without sounding pathetic, ungrateful, and completely embarrassing himself. So he settled for looking at Quatre in what he hoped was a meaningful manner. Zechs and Trowa watched and waited, Zechs with a sly expression replacing his smile. Trowa stepped into the breach.

"I think Duo is wondering if you've invited a lot of people." Trowa said in his oddly tactful way.

"Oh, just us, no one you don't know." Quatre waved the question away and then started telling Zechs about the ‘cabin.' Only Quatre, well maybe Zechs, would consider calling the Winner mountain home a cabin.

Zechs had accepted the invitation and Duo wondered how strange the whole weekend would be. They never willingly socialized outside of work, although sometimes it happened; it had been part of their unwritten, unspoken agreement to keep things strictly on a professional level. Duo reminded himself that there would be plenty of things to do. He could catch up on his reading, take naps, maybe Rashid would let him fix a car or he could rework the security system. Okay, he knew that was a little desperate.

Duo allowed myself a moment of relief at the thought that there would be no strangers invited when it suddenly hit him that Heero and Relena might be there. He tried to decide how upset Quatre would be if he just didn't show up when Duo heard him say to Zechs.

"I invited Relena but she's preparing for a trip to L4 and of course, Heero is in charge of security." Duo felt a surge of relief and hoped that everyone at the table didn't notice the tension leaving his body. A weekend with Relena and Heero wouldn't be…relaxing, he simply wasn't ready to deal with Heero yet but he would, he owed Heero an explaination, maybe an apology.

"Duo, are you all right?" Zechs leaned closer, twisting his upper body to place as arm on the back of Duo's chair, head tilted down to look at Duo, his voice low and concerned. Duo froze. Zechs eyes were inches away and locked onto his. Duo found he couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't breathe. Zechs pulled back a little and Duo was on his feet.

"Um….I'm fine, just a headache. Excuse me." It was true, Duo's head hurt. "I'm going to find some aspirin."

Safely in the men's room Duo located and swallowed some aspirin, then took the extra time to wash his face and take a few deep, calming breaths. Gave himself a little pep talk, too, in front of the mirror about partners and acting like an idiot. Duo stared at his too-pale face, deeply shadowed eyes that looked bruised, and knew if he stayed longer one of them would come looking for him.

Maybe a weekend away would be good but at that moment Duo couldn't think of anything that sounded less appealing. A weekend with Zechs, especially the Zechs that leaned in, looked concerned, sounded caring, was a horrifying prospect. Could it get any worse?

No, he didn't think so. Okay, a weekend with Heero and Relena would be worse, much worse. Duo still didn't want to go. He couldn't wait for lunch and the whole day to be over. He inhaled and exhaled deeply, fixed a smile on his face, and went back out to finalize plans with Quatre.

The three of them were deep in conversation when Duo got back to the table, it was telling that they all looked up, smiled, and that the conversation stopped completely. Was it paranoid to think they were talking about him? It probably was, even if was true. Trowa spoke first, they'd been making plans, and evidently sorting out Duo's schedule was part of that.

"Quatre and I are driving up this afternoon; Zechs said the two of you probably can't get away until later?" Duo wouldn't, couldn't, look in Zechs direction; ‘the two of us?' Oh, no, that wasn't going to happen.
"I don't know Q, I have a lot of work to catch up on," Duo hedged, trying to leave himself an out.

Duo suddenly saw an opportunity to avoid the whole thing. Quatre and Trowa would leave before he could get away from work, he'd have the perfect chance to send his regrets, after they were out of town. Later, Duo would have to face Quatre's disappointed expression, and probably an inquisition from Trowa, or a pep talk from Quatre about ‘moving on' with his life and not avoiding his friends. But he wouldn't have to spend time with Zechs, which seemed a very good idea.

Duo thought that things had shifted in his favour when Zechs announced in Quatre's direction, with a firm, ‘don't argue' tone, "We'll be finished up tomorrow or the reports can wait. Duo can ride up with me after work, there's no sense in both of us driving up separately."

Duo could tell by the way Quatre looked at him and the way Trowa didn't, that they'd already discussed this and it was part of the plan. Quatre's way of making sure that Duo showed up and that it would not be easy for him to leave early. Duo noticed that no one asked what he wanted, typical Quatre, and he'd roped Zechs into it.

Duo made a final bid for escape as he smiled and said. "Thanks, but I'm taking my bike up. I haven't had a chance to ride in weeks." It was true, and was another good excuse for not driving up right after work and for leaving early. Quatre gave Duo one of those smiles that looked sweet, if you didn't know him.

"I hate it when you take that thing up into the mountains; the roads are dangerous enough and worse on a bike." Trowa did his best not to roll his eyes at Quatre. They'd been soldiers and Gundam pilots, and everyone but Quatre was a Preventer agent. Riding a motorcycle in the mountains was one of the least dangerous things any of them did. Somehow, Duo thought, he was going to break Quatre of this need to fix his life.

"Quatre," Duo protested. "I haven't had an accident in over a year and it wasn't my fault, anyway. Haven't had a ticket either."

Trowa offered, in an absolutely deadpan voice. "Duo drives too fast." This was directed at Zechs. Quatre looked smug and Duo knew he'd put Trowa up to it. He added Trowa to his list of people he was out of sorts with, below Heero, Quatre, and yes, Zechs… but above Lady Une's name and the cleaner who'd lost his second best jacket.

Duo opened his mouth to argue but Zechs stepped right into the opening and cut him off. "I've never been to Quatre's place; you can show me the way. You wouldn't want to worry Quatre, would you?"

Zechs smiled as he spoke but his eyes dared Duo to argue; Duo closed his mouth. Trowa looked over and gave him a slow wink that said he knew that Duo was completely aware of Quatre's machinations. Duo surrendered with an internal sigh and didn't suggest that a map was a viable alternative, or that Zechs Merquise needing help to find anything was ludicrous.

So Duo gave in and said," Sure, that would be great." Check and mate. Quatre looked smug, Zechs looked pleased, and Trowa was amused. Duo knew he looked resigned or worse, sulky. He refused to pout, even if he hadn't given in with good grace.

He'd be having a vacation whether he wanted it or not. Duo wondered how Zechs got roped into being his minder and thought that they'd have something to talk about on the ride to Quatre's. As his partner, shouldn't Zechs be protecting him from the evil Winner/Barton Olympic class meddling team rather than aiding and abetting them? And when had Trowa started encouraging Quatre's matchmaking? Maybe suggesting that Une pair Trowa and Zechs up had been a bad idea. If Trowa taking Zechs side was the result it had definitely been a mistake.

Lunch was probably wonderful but Duo didn't remember what he ordered or if he even ate. Trowa and Zechs discussed the case they'd just finished up and Quatre told Zechs about the activities he'd planned for the weekend. They compared travel notes and talked about their favourite restaurants around the world. Duo noticed all over again how different he and Zechs were. Trowa asked about Duo's new bike and then told a funny story about Cathy and the circus. Duo smiled and laughed while he asked himself. 'How did I let myself get roped into this and when did I lose all control over my life?'

Except for the peculiar way Zechs was behaving and the fact that he really didn't want to spend any time with the man no matter what his inner voice was saying, Duo thought he should be grateful to Zechs after he realized how things might have been. He could be doing that odd dance that happened whenever he was alone with Quatre and Trowa. Duo tried not to intrude on their time together and they tried to include him in everything, well almost. Duo wanted to avoid even thinking about that. Spending time with them reminded him of the way he once thought his life would be, part of a couple.

Quatre was right about one thing. Duo needed to stop dwelling on the past, thinking about what might have been, what he'd wanted. But the prospect of the future didn't seem much better. And now he had the weekend from Hell to look forward to. It was enough to make a grown man weep. At least lunch was over.

[ch. 2] [ch. 4] [back to BleedToBlues' fic]