The Lost Soldier Series #10 (cont)
Building Bridges

Zechs entered the study, pulling off his blue coat and tossing it over the back of a chair. He paused in the act of loosening the collar of his shirt when he noticed that Duo Maxwell was asleep in it.

A sleeping Gundam pilot was a dangerous thing, but Zechs moved closer and studied the sleeping young man. Duo looked pale, his lips tight, and there were some glistening droplets on his cheeks. Those drops caught the firelight like diamonds. Tears?

Zechs wondered briefly if Duo had been crying because Zechs had broken their dinner engagement, but then rejected that notion as self-centered. They both had a darkness inside of them, a darkness made up of memories and depression; a darkness that took advantage of quiet, contemplative moments to bloom and take control. A few hours alone was more than enough time to, perhaps, trigger some unpleasant reminiscing.

"Duo," Zechs called out softly.

Duo twitched and drew his gun before his eyes were completely open. Zechs looked down the barrel, waiting with held breath until sense entered those amethyst eyes and Duo recognized him.

The young man turned irritable. "Finally!" Duo grunted. He reholstered his gun as he gingerly sat up and yawned. That yawn made his ribs catch. He hissed and held them. "I think I need a second opinion, Zechs!" he groaned. "These ribs should be healing, but they still hurt like Hell!"

Zechs backed away and went to the fireplace. He stirred it with a metal poker. Duo sleeping had seemed like a sweet innocent. Duo awake was abrasive and Zechs was too tired to want to deal with it. He gave Duo his silence and waited for the ex-pilot to become completely awake and regain his civility.

"Uhm, sorry, Zechs," Duo finally said. "You look beat. I shouldn't be complaining right now."

Zechs forced himself to relax and turn to Duo with a sympathetic smile. "There's nothing wrong about being concerned for your health. You've done little enough of that in the past."

The other chairs in the room were too far away. Zechs picked one up and moved it closer. Sitting on the edge, he faced Duo. "I've done some field medicine. Unbutton your coat and shirt and I'll look at your ribs. The way you've refused to lie still in bed, I wouldn't be surprised it you've managed to strain the breaks out of position."

Duo scowled. "I've been very careful, Nurse Zechs," he snapped back. "You're servants have done everything short of wipe my ass. I think they would do that too if I gave the order."

Zechs gave Duo a level look. Duo looked down uncomfortably as Zechs said, "I know how intrusive servants can be, but in my position they are necessary. You are more fortunate. Once you're better, and able to do things for yourself, you can dispose of them."

Duo wiped at his face, suddenly remembering that he had fallen asleep crying. He could feel a wetness there and hoped that Zechs hadn't noticed it. "Being alone isn't so hot either sometimes," Duo replied, "but I think I'll be glad not to have old Gibson tagging along on my heels."

Zechs reached out and began unbuttoning Duo's red coat. The color suited the ex-pilot. It was a warm contrast to his chestnut hair. "Are you having trouble with Gibson? I can have him replaced."

"Wouldn't matter,"' Duo replied with unconcealed bitterness as he watched Zechs' long fingers work the buttons of his coat, wondering why he wasn't trying to stop him. Zechs' attitude was so matter-of-fact though, a man doing another man a favor with nothing intimate implied that Duo felt comfortable not protesting. He had been worrying about his ribs. He did want it confirmed that they were healing well. Liar, a voice deep down said, but Duo ignored it and buried it deeper.

"Why wouldn't changing servants matter?" Zechs wondered as he opened Duo's coat and then began to unbutton the white shirt underneath. The material was thinner, Zechs' fingers much more noticeable. He bent a little and Duo found himself looking down onto the top of the man's white hair and down along the back of his white dress shirt. Zechs' shoulders filled it out nicely. Duo found himself very interested in that fact and the way Zechs' neck made a strong line down into his open collar. He felt a distinct urge to touch the man's skin, to see if it felt as good as it looked.

"Why wouldn't changing servants matter?" Zechs repeated and looked up at Duo with his clear, blue eyes.

"They think I'm servant material, not master material, I'm sure," Duo managed to reply, swallowing hard and confused by his reaction to Zechs. Was he so desperate to get laid that even another man looked appealing? Duo wondered. Is this the way that Heero had felt towards him? Duo pushed that thought violently from his mind. He didn't want to think about Heero just then. He didn't want to remember the man's rough hands separating his ass and the helpless fear he had felt. Zechs wasn't Heero. This wasn't a rape, he told himself firmly. Zechs only wanted to help him.

"I think you are needlessly concerned about their opinion of you," Zechs said at last, "and being in pain, and irritated by your dependency on them, you may be misinterpreting how they regard you."

"Yeah, I guess, " Duo replied noncommittally, not really wanting to talk about that subject.

Duo held himself still as Zechs finished opening his shirt and reached to pull down the cloth brace around his ribs. It hurt like fire. Duo bit his lip hard, not wanting to end up crying like a girl. As Zechs' firm fingers checked the broken ribs, Duo felt a distinct lack of reluctance on his part. Heero's touch had been repulsive and unwanted. For some reason that Duo didn't understand, Zechs' touch wasn't either of those things.

"They are still healing well," Zechs said at last and pulled up the brace. He methodically began buttoning Duo's shirt again.

Duo clamped down hard on a feeling of disappointment. It was almost as if he had wanted Zechs to keep touching him, to maybe go further than touch. It shocked Duo. He retreated into his patented attitude as he purposefully pushed Zechs' hands off. "I can button my own shirt, Mom."

Zechs nodded with a tight smile and sat back in his chair. He found himself gripping the chair arms hard and wishing he had the concealment of his coat. It had taken all of his strength not to crush his face against Duo's breast and suckle his incomparable, luscious pink nipples, and all of his willpower not to run hands down into Duo's pants, bring out that young man's, sweet cock, the one he had touched, but not yet tasted, and ravished him completely.

Zechs calmed himself with an effort, knowing his pale skin was flushed red. He thought about his meeting with Relena's representatives, the insulting questions about his loyalty thinly veiled in civility, the paperwork and the schedule of boring meetings and functions they had all but ordered him to attend. It had the desired effect. Zechs felt his pulse slow and bitterness take away the sting of passion. When he looked at Duo again, he was calm and controlled and Duo looked oblivious to his troubled mind.

"Thanks," Duo said as he finished his buttons. "Did you get to eat?"

"No," Zechs replied, feeling hungry for something other than food.

"I had a snack," Duo said. "I decided to wait for dinner until you came. I didn't realize it would take you so long."

"I didn't expect you to be waiting for me when I returned," Zechs replied. He pushed his pale hair back behind his shoulders and then sank back into his chair, trying to relax, trying not to think about how much of an advantage he had over the weaker Duo Maxwell. That was the soldier in him, Zechs realized, and the darkness.

"I didn't have anything else to do," Duo admitted and felt as if he had just laid the complete summation of himself at Zechs' feet. He didn't have anything, he didn't have work, and he didn't have anywhere else to go. A waste of space, Duo thought bitterly, but tried to hide that bitterness by raising his old, happy go lucky mask. "I didn't want to miss some great food," Duo added in a humorous tone, "or a chance to get out of that bungalow."

Zechs looked at the two empty trays on the table beside Duo. "Are you still hungry?"

"Always," Duo smirked. "Am I going to get to see that fancy dining room after all?"

"No," Zechs replied and watched Duo have a moment of uncertainty before he added, "I'll have it brought here."

Duo brightened and Zechs thought, I'm not reading him wrong. He's interested in me. Zechs had seduced many men and women. He was aware of his own good looks and he knew how to use it to his advantage. The darkness in him demanded that he use it, demanded that he cast aside Duo's objections and take what he wanted from the young man. A virgin, that voice said to Zechs, a tight, sweet, innocent virgin. To let loose that flow of chestnut hair and to lift those legs to claim the place between them... It was as simple as reaching out, taking hold of the smaller man, and giving him the pleasure Zechs could masterfully impart.

Duo watched as conflict flickered over Zechs' face. He almost said something, almost reassured himself by putting a hand on his gun. He didn't like the way Zechs' eyes were riveted on him. It looked too much like a cat deciding whether it should devour a mouse or not, too much like the way Heero had looked at him.

"Uh, maybe we should just forget it," Duo said and faked a yawn. "It feels late and I'm sure you'd rather be left alone to rest after dealing with Relena - "

Zechs' muscles had tightened, getting ready to grab Duo. That kittenish yawn, that opening of Duo's mouth, and the memory of slipping himself into that moist warmth between his lips had stripped away all of Zechs' self control. The mention of Relena had brought it back with a vengeance, as if Duo's words had been a bucket of ice water emptied on his head.

Zechs floundered and then recovered. Duo was once again, a young man sitting before him, a potential friend who was eyeing him suspiciously and with confusion. Duo wasn't an aristocratic whore he had picked up at a party. If he hoped for something more than sex from Duo Maxwell, Zechs thought, then he had to control that part of himself that wanted instant gratification and to escape the darkness at any cost, even if that cost was... Zechs reined his thoughts in, surprised at himself. What was he thinking? Did he want a relationship with Duo? Was he finally going to admit it to himself?

"Uh, Zechs?" Duo prompted. He started to get up, a hand pressed to his side. "I'll get Gibson and leave you to your thoughts. It must not have been a good meeting. Sorry to bring it up."

"Wait," Zechs said quickly, coming back to himself. "You don't have to go, Duo." He recovered with an effort, pulling his pager out of his pocket and summoning a servant. When Gibson appeared, Zechs ordered, "Dinner for two. Bring it here."

"Yes, sir," Gibson replied properly and Duo sourly saw the deference he gave Zechs, the deference that had been lacking in his dealings with Duo.

When Gibson had left, Zechs settled back in his chair and motioned Duo to do the same. "Now, tell me how you knew my meeting had been with representatives of Relena."

Duo found a grin, though he was still wary of Zechs changing moods. "Well, servants gossip and one mentioned to another that they had seen Wu Fei." Duo faked a feminine voice. "Oh, how handsome!" He chuckled and Zechs smiled. "I know Wu Fei works for Relena, so I just assumed he had escorted her la-de-da person here or at least some of her hangers-on. When you were late, I put two and two together. I'm a genius, right?"

"La-de-da person?" Zechs laughed and he felt himself relaxing. Duo looked so young and mischievous just then, he couldn't help but be amused. The lust and passion were still there underneath the surface, but Zechs felt the darkness receding, put to flight by an ex-pilot's good humor and his own fearful realization that his relationship with Duo had changed.

"Yes, I did have a meeting with Relena's representatives," Zechs admitted, "and no, it didn't go well. Your powers of deduction are amazing," he joked and Duo laughed. It was beautiful, that laugh, Zechs thought, and infectious. He didn't want to ruin the sudden good humor by continuing a conversation that wasn't pleasant. He wanted to hear Duo's laughter some more.

Zechs rose from his chair and took an embroidered blanket from the back of the leather couch nearby. He spread it out before the fire. It was deep brown and crimson red, an embroidery of renaissance designs done in gold. The thing was an antique and worth a small fortune in the gold needlework alone. Zechs threw the couch pillows on top of it and then turned to Duo.

"Do you think this will be comfortable for you?" Zechs asked. "There isn't a table wide enough in here for the meal I had prepared for you."

"A late night picnic?" Duo wondered with an even wider grin. "I didn't know you could be so spontaneous, Zechs. I guess I was dreading the dining room anyway," he admitted. "I never had much of a chance to eat at a table when I was growing up, or as a Gundam pilot. The floor is much more what I'm used to."

Zechs noted a tinge of self-recrimination in Duo's tone. "My table has usually been my lap on campaigns and in makeshift barracks," Zechs replied. "The dining room intimidates me as well."

Zechs was rewarded by a look of gratitude. He felt a warmth inside at that acknowledgment of kindness. Zechs realized then that it had been far too long since he had dropped his guard and not used every word that came out of his mouth to fence with some aristocrat or ambassador.

"Do you need help?" Zechs wondered solicitously.

"I'm not an invalid!" Duo snapped without real anger. "I can get around... just slowly."

"Of course," Zechs replied and backed away.

It was slow, the way Duo eased himself out of the chair and onto the floor, but he did accomplish it without too many groans and gasps of pain. Settling against a pillow, he closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them as he smiled at Zechs. "Mission accomplished."

Zechs settled close by, putting a pillow in his lap to rest on, but also to hide any visible sign that Duo was exciting him again. The young man's flushed face, his bright eyes, and the creamy line of his neck plunging into his dress shirt collar as he reclined back on his pillow, was unintentionally provocative.

They talked then, about the war, about their lives, about the food when it came. Duo laughed, joked, and admitted to his confusion about how to lead his life. Zechs said things he had never said to anyone, his fear before a battle, his grief at so many lives lost, the agony of going mad because of the Zero system. Duo had listened intently, drinking in every word Zechs uttered and, in the end, offering some forgiveness; forgiveness Zechs didn't think he deserved.

"You did go mad," Duo said softly, "and it caused you to attack and kill people. I had a taste of the Zero system too. I know how it feels and what it can make a man do. I hated you, you know, but... I can understand how it could happen, how your mind was twisted. I-I don't hate you anymore, Zechs."

Zechs had felt his heart clench at those words. So many people hated him and wanted him dead for what he had done. That the one man who mattered most to him was willing to forget that hate... Mattered most. Zechs turned those two words over and over in his head, trying one last time to escape the truth. It was futile. His heart had fallen, stolen by an impish young man with an impossibly long braid.

They were very close. Duo's skin was glowing and warm from the fire of the fireplace. He was smiling softly at Zechs, his body stretched out against pillows next to the food, a glass of some juice in one hand. Zechs lost his willpower all in an instant. He leaned forward very slowly, very hesitantly, and then kissed Duo's silken lips. It was brief, that kiss, but the shock of it seemed to jolt the both of them as something passed between them, an indefinable soul meeting soul joining that was more intense than anything either of them had ever felt before.

Duo shivered, closed his eyes, and breathed in Zechs' unique spicy scent as his lips tasted Zechs' lips and found them sweet and compelling. It was only a moment, a moment of total surrender, and then the moment was past and Duo was staring at a man who was kissing him, an ex-enemy, an unknown personality with unknown objectives, but first and foremost, a man!

Duo recoiled, turning flaming red in embarrassment. "Shit, Zechs!" Duo exclaimed. "You said you wouldn't do that! I told you, I'm not gay! Why did you have to ruin everything?"

Zechs went cold and furious as he leapt to his feet, fists clenched. He had never been so humiliated and rejected in his life! Duo had responded! He had kissed him back! The damn tease! The damn, L2 street rat! It was a moment before Zechs registered Duo's shocked, red face, and realized that he had said those words out loud.

"Fuck you!" Duo exploded. "I didn't ask for that!" He surged to his feet, crying out at the pain, clutching his ribs, but ignoring it all as he turned on his training and pumped his blood full of adrenaline. "Guess now I know what you really think of me," he said through gritted teeth. "Guess I always knew, deep down."

Duo staggered to the door as Zechs watched him, still furious, but beginning to feel a coldness overtake him, the coldness of loss. He was losing Duo. He had said things that could never be taken back or forgiven. A voice screamed for him to try, to say something before Duo went through that door. The darkness was stronger. It whispered to Zechs that it was what he deserved, playing with street trash, imagining that he could love or be loved by even someone like that.

Duo threw open the doors of the study. "Gibson!" Duo shouted between pants of pain. "I'm getting out of here!" He threw over his shoulder back at Zechs. "Nice party, Zechs, but I think I'll stick with the other rats from now on."

Duo was gone then and Zechs was left staring at an empty doorway. With a cry of fury and self-loathing, Zechs turned and rammed a fist into the wall.

[part 9] [back] [part 11] [back to Kracken's fic]