BY: Kracken
WARNING: Guys trying to get sexual with guys.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
SUMMARY: Duo and Zechs have a lively conversation and Wu Fei makes a bad mistake.
FEEDBACK: And I quote "I can never get enough feedback".

The Lost Soldiers Series #9
A Hundred Strokes

"Do you have to stand and stare at me, Gibson?" Duo wondered irritably.

"I am awaiting your pleasure, sir, "Gibson replied stiffly.

"My 'pleasure' is to sunbathe alone," Duo retorted. "Go find some dust to clean or go iron doilies in the boss' house."

"You, sir, are my 'boss', as you put it," Gibson replied, "and my only duty is to carry out your orders."

Duo let out an exasperated sound. "Go get me some cold lemonade then, but do it very slowly, 'k?"

"Yes, sir."

Duo stretched out on his blanket, sunglasses protecting his sensitive eyes and only a pair of black, cotton shorts protecting his body from a fierce tropical sun. His hair was loose and stretched out all around him, drying from his first bath in a week, and his bruises and healing ribs were unwrapped from their bandages and baking in the wonderful heat.

"Hello, Zechs," Duo said suddenly and tipped his sunglasses down as Zechs settled on the blanket, cross- legged beside him.

"How did you know?" Zechs wondered with raised, white eyebrows. There was a slight breeze. His long, white hair moved with it like a silken, ripple of water and his blue eyes caught the sun, flashing like clear crystals.

Zechs looked like a piece of a fairy tale come to life, Duo thought dimly, but it was Zechs' clothes that caught his attention the most. The man was wearing a white tank top, tan shorts, and simple loafers on his feet. Duo had never seen Zechs in anything other than dress uniform.

Duo felt a flush, seeing Zechs' rounded, broad shoulders and the hint of nipples under the thin material of his tank top. Duo sat up, ignoring a sharp drag of pain, and pushed his sunglasses back up over his eyes to cover his confusion.

"I'm a soldier," Duo reminded Zechs in an unsteady voice. "When I'm not messed up enough to die, I keep my senses on alert, especially when I'm outside. I heard you approaching. I could tell you were a man with a long stride. I just guessed at who that stride belonged to."

Zechs nodded thoughtfully. "What if I had been an enemy?" Zechs wondered, looking at the deceptively defenseless, lithe body seated in front of him.

Duo grinned as if he was about to deliver a very funny joke and then Zechs suddenly found himself staring at the barrel of a gun. Duo's eyes glittered, pleased that he had startled Zechs. "Meet Shinigami," Duo said with a dark chuckle.

Zechs managed a wan smile, not sure about Duo's mood. When Duo tilted up the gun and then holstered it behind him, he couldn't help letting out a breath of relief. "Impressive," was all he could manage to say.

"Why, thank you," Duo said, still grinning, but gentler now as he leaned back on his hands and regarded Zechs impishly. "So, what brings you out here?"

"You," Zechs replied truthfully. "I wondered how you were doing." He appraised Duo's long line of ribs critically. "I'll have to speak with the staff about feeding you more."

"Oh, I eat enough, trust me!" Duo laughed in genuine humor. "I have a high metabolism though, so it doesn't stay on my bones for long."

"I see," Zechs replied and then sourly, "Perhaps you shouldn't have dismissed your doctor so quickly then. He might have been able to prescribe you something that would help that."

Duo's smile dropped and he frowned, staring off across the lawn to the jungle beyond. "I'm fine. I hate doctors, Zechs. Pills, needles, and bedside manner aren't going to help me now. I have to heal myself at this point."

"I suppose you're right," Zechs replied and then found himself openly staring at Duo's very long hair. It was an amazing, chestnut waterfall all around him shot with gold highlights.

Duo noticed and stirred uncomfortably. "You're not going to make some crack about my hair, are you? I mean, you brushed it and braided it when I was sick, feeling sorry for me, I guess, but..."

"But what?" Zechs touched his own long hair. "Your hair is certainly outside of the norm in men's fashion, but your choices are your business, Duo."

Duo felt a warmth spread through him at those words. They seemed to carry far more meaning than speaking about hair. "Yes, they are," Duo replied. "I'm glad you respect that. I hope you'll respect my choice to leave too."

Zechs kept his face still. "Leave?"

Duo blushed. "Well, it seems that your staff has the wrong idea about us. I heard some of them talking when they thought that I was asleep. They think we're..." Duo paused and looked at Zechs, hoping not to have to finish. Zechs decided not to be helpful. Duo floundered. "Well, you like men, I've heard. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but... your staff thinks we're a... couple."

Duo fiddled with his sunglasses and then glanced at Zechs for his reaction. Zechs shrugged and then said in a serious tone, "It's true that I prefer men as well as women in bed, but it is insubordinate for them to gossip and speculate about my guests. I'll have to reprimand them."

"Uhm, well, I didn't want to get anyone into trouble," Duo replied, flustered now. "It's just that... well, I'm not gay, so I wouldn't want anyone getting the wrong idea..."

Zechs studied Duo carefully and then he dared. "Why do you always try to leave rather than deal with difficulties? This time, it's because of someone's bad opinion of you. Are you so afraid of criticism?"

Duo's mouth dropped open and then he closed it and sat up. "What is it with you?" he finally demanded angrily. "I'm trying to tell you I'm NOT interested, okay? I was trying to do it in a nice way!"

Duo's angry, confused face was saying one thing while his mouth was saying something completely different. Zechs could feel a connection between them. It was clear that Duo was interested, but the young man was trying to hide it even from himself. Zechs' could understand Duo's confusion and denial. He was experiencing it himself. It was hard to fight that attraction though, when Duo was bare to the waist and Zechs could remember the taste of those pink nipples between his lips, against his tongue, and remember the soft feel of that long hair.

"I thank you for your concern about my feelings," Zechs replied. He suddenly stretched out onto his back and flexed his arms, putting his hands under his head as a cushion and ignoring the hardness in his shorts They were tight enough to hide it, almost. "Your objection to any homosexual advances is duly noted."

There was a silence and then Duo retorted, "You are such a freak, Zechs."

Zechs raised an eyebrow, his clear blue eyes catching the sun. "Do you think so? Why?"

"I can usually figure men out. I can't figure you out at all," Duo replied. He gathered his hair into his hands suddenly and began methodically to braid it as he continued, distracting himself, giving him something else to look at besides the outline of Zechs' muscular shoulders, waist, and that definite bulge in his shorts. "If you don't want sex," he said skeptically, especially in light of what he was trying NOT to look at, "and friendship really IS your only motive for wanting me around, then you are one bored aristocrat."

Zechs blinked and then he asked, "It's true, I've been very bored, but what makes you say that as if you weren't worthy of being anyone's friend?"

"Why don't you just tell me the truth?" Duo grated impatiently. "I don't lie, why should you? Do you think I can't handle the truth? That I'll run screaming like some stupid girl? I worked with Trowa and Quatre, remember? You can't get much gayer than that! It doesn't bother me, Zechs, so come out and say it!"

Zechs shaded his eyes from the sun, hiding his reaction. The last thing he had expected was this conversation. He had thought Duo an innocent, unaware of his own sexuality, and had naturally assumed that any overt advances would be repulsed hatefully. He suddenly didn't trust Duo's open candor. It didn't fit with what he knew about Duo. It seemed too much like a trap.

"You talked while you were ill," Zechs informed Duo carefully, not wanting Duo to be upset, but wanting him to think too. "I gathered, from what I heard, that Heero was not an ideal roommate."

Duo stiffened. Zechs watched him from under his arm. He saw Duo go white, teeth gritting and face showing shock and nausea. Suddenly, Duo tried to get up. His ribs protested, lashing him with agony, but he wrapped his arms around himself and still awkwardly tried to stand.

"Duo!" Zechs snapped in a tone of voice he had often used on frightened soldiers in battle. Duo froze, eyes wide and panicking. "Forgive me," Zechs said softly.

That disarming tone, and Zechs' continued, relaxed, position on the blanket, had the desired effect. Duo sank back down, breathing hard and shivering.

"I shouldn't have said that," Zechs continued. "It's not my business, or my place, to talk about a private matter with you. I simply wanted to point out that you have every reason to be wary of advances from me. I wanted you to know that I'm not offended and that I understand. You don't have to worry about my conduct, Duo Maxwell. I am ONLY interested in a friendship with you.

Duo glanced at Zechs' receding bulge and then away. "Why do I find that hard to believe?"

Zechs grimaced, wondering if the innuendo was unintentional. "You are very beautiful," he admitted, "and you are half dressed. You say that you are not gay, but I think you can still understand my predicament. You must concede that you would have had the same reaction if a woman had sat next to you in only a pair of shorts. That reaction doesn't indicate a desire to have a relationship. It's just a physical response."

"A man isn't beautiful, he's handsome," Duo growled back, "and you need your eyes checked, Zechs." He sat, still holding his ribs, his hair half braided and his large, expressive eyes melting Zechs to the core.

Zechs blinked and sat up. He turned away and picked imaginary lint off of his shirt. Damn him! Zechs thought. Duo had crawled under his skin again and touched him where he didn't want to be touched. It was a double insult that Duo was completely unaware of his own stunning good looks besides imagining that he wasn't gay.

"If you're still intent on leaving," Zechs said quietly. "I'll call a car for you." He almost hoped that Duo would, but he knew that his growing addiction to the ex-Gundam pilot wasn't going to go away because of distance put between them.

Duo was thoughtful. He finished his braid and then tied it off with a band he fished out of a pocket. "You were right."

Zechs raised eyebrows and turned to look at Duo. "About what?"