by: Kracken
Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warning: Male/male sex, graphic, violence, language

Princes and Soldiers series + Part 11
Roses

Clarification of operation procedures and violations. Milliardo sighed and went over his carefully worded report for the tenth time. Hunched over it at his desk, his neck was bunching and throbbing with tension, and a pain was beginning to form between his eyes, threatening to blossom into a full blown headache. He rubbed at the back of his neck and heard something give a small popping sound.

"What? Did you spray paint that dress on?" Duo's voice sounded from the secretaries' station. There was an embarrassed giggle. "I'm sure there's a regulation against it," Duo continued, "Section P, paragraph eight, subsection alpha; dresses will not be spray painted on Preventer personnel's bodies during working hours." There was another fit of giggles from the secretary and then Duo was coming into the office.

Duo sauntered. He glowed. He exuded some power that made him the center of attention, as if everything else in the room ceased to exist as soon as he entered. Milliardo found himself smiling slightly in response to the cheerful grin bestowed upon him by the one time pilot of Deathscythe, even though he felt at a loss as to why Duo was in his office to begin with. He hadn't called the young man and hadn't, in fact, known that he had returned to active duty.

"I gave you the week to recuperate," Milliardo said.

Duo stopped and regarded him, leaning on one hand on the desk. He looked impish, a boy caught doing something naughty. "Heero wanted me to take advantage of it too, but I feel fine. I feel a lot of aches and pains from all the scrapes and bruises, but the shoulder's moving and my leg let's me walk. I hate sitting on the couch, doing nothing, so, here I am."

"You were fevered," Milliardo pointed out and tried to look stern.

"That was over with on the second day," Duo replied dismissively.

Milliardo studied Duo intently, noting the bruises on his face and a hand taped with gauze bandages. He seemed all right, though, standing easily and looking relaxed. It would have been hypocritical of him, Milliardo realized, to dress down Duo for doing something that he had done himself and in far worse shape. "All right then," Milliardo conceded, "but I expect you to do only light duty until the medics examine and clear you."

Duo grimaced. One hand smoothed down his long braid, draped over his chest and down his side, as if he needed its reassurance. "I spent a lot of years getting banged up and taking care of it myself, sir. I don't need a medic to tell me anything."

"The exam is for my benefit," Milliardo replied sharply. "I'm not going to assign you to any sort of heavy duty until I'm certain that you are capable of doing it."

Duo looked ready to argue, but then his mouth tightened into a thin line and it was obvious when he decided to let it slide for the moment. He relaxed again and smiled. "I really didn't come here to be assigned a duty, sir."

Milliardo quirked a pale eyebrow at him. "What then?"

Duo looked unsure of himself for a second and then he was shrugging and looking sheepish as he replied, "It's lunch time, sir. I know a nice, quiet place to eat that has great food. If you want to, I could take you there."

Milliardo automatically looked down at all of the paperwork on his desk and then at the computer screen listing his full schedule. Duty before pleasure. People were waiting for his reports, his decisions, his direction. It would be completely irresponsibility for him to leave all of that undone, even for an hour. Milliardo searched for a way to politely decline. What came out, though, was something completely different than what his sense of duty was urging him to say. "All right. I'll call for transportation."

Duo looked relieved and then eager. "Already taken care of, sir! If you'll come with me..."

Duo was dressed in his Preventer uniform and Milliardo was dressed in a much more elaborate version, complete with a fitted coat and signs of his rank glittering at throat, shoulder, and wrist. The difference in their rank was very apparent. An official voice in the back of Milliardo's mind quoted the regulation against fraternization and the soldier in him told him how ridiculous it was to get involved with a man that he would surely have to send into combat situations. If he should hesitate to do that, or worse yet, get distracted or protective when it was necessary to order Duo into danger, there might be disastrous results.

Looking into Duo's large, eager eyes, Milliardo lost the thread of his thoughts. He stared. After a moment, Duo blinked and smiled warmly. "Sir?"

Milliardo came out of his self imposed trance. He groped for an excuse, "Damned headache," he mumbled in embarrassment as he began to rise stiffly from his chair, rubbing at the back of his neck.

Duo came around the desk and his hands pressed lightly on Milliardo's arms with the respect for trained reflexes that one soldier gave to another. Milliardo had tensed at the suddenness of the move, but he found himself sitting down again regardless. Duo's hands slid up Milliardo's arms to his shoulders as he moved to stand at Milliardo's back. Leaning forward, he began to knead the muscles bunched painfully in Milliardo's neck and said cheerfully, "Relax, sir. I can take care of the headache for you, if you let me. I have enough of them myself. I know a trick or two."

Duo's hands moved to part Milliardo's long hair and he brushed it forward over Milliardo's shoulders so that it was out of his way. Neck exposed, Milliardo felt a warmth spread throughout his body. It seemed a very intimate thing for Duo to have done, Milliardo thought, even as he told himself how ridiculous that was, especially considering how rough Duo's hands were as the young man massaged his muscles with iron hard fingers and callouses. When he dug thumbs into the muscles over Milliardos' collar bone, and squeezed with his fingers, the pain was shocking.

"Give it a moment," Duo urged as Milliardo began to jerk away with an exclamation. "It's worth it."

The pain built and built and Milliardo hissed between his teeth. When he was almost ready to demand that Duo stop, the pain suddenly lessened and then faded all together. Duo kneaded a bit more, gentler this time, and then his hands left Milliardo's neck. Before he felt the warmth of Duo's body step back from him, Milliardo felt a distinctive, lingering pressure on the back of his neck. Duo had kissed him.

Milliardo felt a blush scald him and then he noticed that his headache and his muscle tension were gone. He grunted in amazement and said, "Thank you. That DID help."

"You're welcome," Duo replied and looked pleased.

Milliardo flipped his hair back and couldn't help touching the spot where Duo had kissed him. It came to him all at once that he had, not just given Duo thanks for the neck massage, but had also unknowingly shown his acceptance of Duo's kiss. He began to think of a way to retract it, to explain to Duo that he was still unsure about how things should progress between them. Duo was very intuitive. He seemed to suddenly suspect that he was about to receive some sort of rejection and he spoke before Milliardo could voice it.

"How about that lunch now?"

Milliardo blinked, put off balance. What he had been about to say seemed suddenly foolish. Duo was opting to pass off his action as if it hadn't happened, an unspoken apology to Milliardo for taking liberties. `It was nothing', his tone had said, `If you don't want it to mean anything.'

Milliardo replied at last, "I think lunch is a good idea." He stood and gathered up a small briefcase, slipping several reports and his slim laptop computer into it.

Duo looked dismayed. "You're not going to do work while we eat, are you?"

Milliardo frowned, unapologetic as he explained, "I have my cell phone with me. There are several cases on going. I need information with me if the agents working those cases should happen to call." Milliardo felt the need to stress, "I'm ALWAYS on the job. There are many agents and civilians counting on me. That doesn't stop because I leave Preventer headquarters."

Duo looked thoughtful and then said, "It must be lonely." When Milliardo frowned, stung, he continued soothingly, "I meant, that you've probably not run into a lot of people who understand that kind of dedication."

"No, I haven't," Milliardo replied and felt a clenching in his gut, wondering if Duo was going to be yet another one, of the many, who wouldn't be able to understand the responsibilities that were on his shoulders and how they could often consume his life.

"We should talk about that, and some other things; get to know each other better," Duo said and half turned towards the door. "If you're willing, of course."

Milliardo paused, fought with his rigid control that bade him go slow, research the situation, and not make any snap decisions, and won enough to ask with a raised eyebrow, "Having lunch in a public place doesn't seem very good for personal conversations."

Duo's lips quirked in a knowing smile. "But it is! It's neutral ground. It's not my place. It's not your place. It's not work. We don't have to defend our territory or keep up appearances. We can just sit back, be one of the crowd, and shoot the breeze over a hamburger and a coke."

"Salad and a tea," Milliardo interjected wryly.

Duo grinned. "Whatever you want, sir." He began to lead the way and then stopped and asked over his shoulder. "Can I call you something besides, sir, once we're outside of headquarters? Having to say `sir' every other word doesn't help a guy have a relaxing conversation."

"Milliardo," he replied, but not easily. Duo was blind siding him again, first the kiss and now a request to be on more intimate terms with their names. Duo was directing his steps onto the `relationship path' and Milliardo felt almost out of control, as if he were about to slide down a chute of no return. He teetered at the brink, reluctant still, unsure, and balking.

"Milli?" Duo asked.

Milliardo winced. "No." That was something women sometimes called him and Relena his sister. He'd always hated it. "You may call me Mil."

"Mil," Duo repeated. "I like that. Thanks."

Milliardo felt the need to ask, "And you, Duo is what you preferred to be called?"

Duo's face clouded and his hand stroked his braid again. "Yes," he said shortly and Milliardo wondered if he had made him angry. Duo shrugged. "It's a made up name, and doesn't have the lineage yours does, I'm sure, but it's good enough for me."

Milliardo heard an old pain in Duo's voice and saw some harsh memories in his eyes. Milliardo felt as if he had wounded Duo unintentionally, though he didn't understand how he had been able to. He felt the need to comfort Duo. It was an ache in his heart and Milliardo's inhibited inner voice couldn't stop him from reaching out and giving Duo's arm a small, reassuring caress. His fingers tingled at the contact. He saw Duo shiver and look at him gratefully, the smile coming back to his lips. "I'm sorry," was all that Milliardo could think to say.

"So'kay," Duo drawled and then shrugged. "Memories suck. Let's leave them here and go get a bite to eat, okay?"

"All right," Milliardo agreed and he followed Duo as the young man led the way from his office, unconsciously touching the back of his neck where Duo had kissed him.

Duo's car was waiting at the front of Headquarters. It was a sleek, older model. It had some obvious wear, but it looked as if he had lovingly polished and buffed every inch of it. It was black and the shape reminded Milliardo of a spaceship built for speed; long and narrow at the front and widening at the back as if it could have supported some booster engines with a few modifications. The seats were leather and the instrument panels were a dizzying collection of dials, touch pads, and screens. As Milliardo slid into the passenger side, he couldn't help commenting. "What's the outbound speed?"

Duo chuckled at the inference that the car could leave orbit. "I get bored while I'm driving and sometimes we have surveillance. When I have to spend hours and hours sitting in a car watching a suspect, I'd rather do it in my OWN car. I'm hooked up to Preventer databases and communications grids." He looked impish as he turned the car on and the engine purred to life. "I also have a neat collection of vid games."

"I'm not surprised," Milliardo replied and wasn't sure why Duo suddenly looked worried.

"What is it?" Milliardo wondered.

Duo opened his mouth, closed it, and then went thoughtful as he pulled away from the curb. After a minute, he managed to say uncertainly, "I like to have some fun. It doesn't mean I'm immature."

Milliardo understood then. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that you were. Knowing your past and your expertise, it would be foolish of me to think that you were immature."

Duo looked as if he wanted to say something more, but then he shrugged. "We'll have time to talk about all of that later, right?"

That implied a lot and Milliardo replied truthfully, "I have reservations and they are well founded, Duo."

Duo sighed. His hands smoothed along the steering wheel and then he said, "You either like me or you don't, Mil. Which is it?"

Milliardo winced at Duo's bluntness. The man was so impatient. Duo didn't want to wait for a slow development, a reasonable time for Milliardo to sort out just what it was he was feeling for the man sitting beside him.

"I didn't look for this," Milliardo admitted. "It's too sudden, too soon... I'm not sure why this has even happened to me or what I'm really feeling." He didn't add, `I was interested in you, strongly, from the moment I first saw you and I can't stop thinking and caring about you.' That would have revealed too much before he was ready. He needed more time, whether Duo wanted to give it to him or not.

Duo sighed again. "Well, I suppose the fact that you are sitting in my old car and trusting me enough to take you to lunch says a lot."

Milliardo raised pale eyebrows. It did say something and he crossed his arms over his chest self consciously.

Duo patted the dashboard of his car. "Boss here is a good car, but you're used to limos and taking tea at the club. I was surprised that you agreed to come."

"Boss?" Milliardo repeated.

Duo smiled sheepishly. "That's what I call my car." He laughed at Milliardo's _expression. "Maybe it isn't a mech or a space ship, but it's still mine to command."

"You don't know me," Milliardo said defensively. "I lived rough as a soldier for many years. There weren't may opportunities for tea at the club during the war."

Duo sobered. "I just thought..."

"That I would shun a common soldier's pursuits?" Milliardo finished.

"Common soldier...," Duo frowned now. "Doesn't that say a lot? I piloted a Gundam, but, at the end of the day, I still bunked with the soldiers, not the commanders." He glanced at Milliardo as he pulled into a parking space behind a plain looking building and put on the parking brake. "There's a big gap between us, Mil, and I can see why you aren't sure about crossing it."

Milliardo frowned now too. "Are you calling me an elitist? The war is over , Duo. The class distinction that was in place before and during the war, doesn't exist any longer. I have the name of Prince, but that's a defunct title. I don't command anything by right of sovereignty."

"That's a pretty picture you're painting, but the reality..." Duo shook his head. "People don't change those kinds of attitudes over night. You can see why I'm interested in you. That's a given. Why you are interested in me is hard for me to understand. When you feel like explaining it to me, let me know, okay?" He paused and then added carefully, "Some people do things because they are bored or jaded and they want a taste of the rough side of the tracks to spice things up. I have to warn you. If that's all this is, I'll kick your ass, commander or not."

Duo turned off the car and, as the purring engine stopped, it left a numbing silence in its place. Milliardo replied at last, "I am wealthy. I am a prince. I do have political and social power. I have within my grasp a thousand contacts that could place you where ever you wished. If your interest in me is only mercenary; a means to further your ambitions, I will kick your ass as well, Duo Maxwell."

Duo nodded solemnly and then he looked sideways at Milliardo, quirking an impish smile. " I noticed that white hair first, and then your blue eyes. I thought, `Out of your league, Maxwell!', but I couldn't get you out of my head. I know we're very different from each other, but I think we're peanut butter and jelly rather than oil and water. I think, if we want, that we can go together really well. It sounds kind of stupid right now. I don't even know why you're making me so... well, and I don't know a lot about you, really. Maybe I should wait to say all of this stuff to you. Sounds kind of stupid to say it right now."

Milliardo nodded, agreeing. "We have a past. It's ugly and violent. We were enemies. We both...," Milliardo blinked and found himself swallowing hard, almost overcome by a wave of remorse for his part in so much destruction. "We shouldn't even want to speak to one another. I fear that the past will not be forgotten as much as we would like to forget it, that it will make any of this impossible."

"I was thinking that too," Duo admitted, but then he forced a smile and opened the door. "But, hey, this is just lunch, Mil. It doesn't have to mean anything but filling your stomach and then getting back to work, if you don't want it to. It'll be a good story for you to tell over drinks at your next party, how you got your kicks slumming with one of the common soldiers and-"

"Don't!" Milliardo said sharply, beginning to hear some self condemnation in Duo's voice. "Things will end, here and now, if you believe that I am a person who would do something like that."

"I don't," Duo assured him, embarrassed. "I just say stupid shit like that when I'm nervous or feel like I'm reaching too high."

Milliardo stared, not certain how to respond, and then he glanced around them. The place that Duo had chosen for them to eat seemed popular. There were many people moving about the parking lot and going in and out of the doors of the plain building. He checked his watch. "I believe that we are here to eat and to talk while we dine. We are running out of time, Duo. I don't wish to miss this opportunity."

Milliardo winced at his own wooden correctness, but Duo understood what he was trying to say. His smile returned and he visibly relaxed. Milliardo had just told him, in an albeit off handed manner, that he wanted to spend time with Duo as much as Duo wanted to spend time with him. Duo's feeling of inferiority bothered Milliardo though. They had enough hurdles to jump if they chose to pursue any type of relationship. While Milliardo did think that their difference in rank was a distinct problem, their social inequality was of no concern to him whatsoever. When the new government had encouraged the elimination of the old class system, Milliardo had embraced it without much thought. He had never felt comfortable with the title of Prince at any time. He much preferred Commander, a title he had earned, and the respect that came with that title, than the meaningless fealty to his bloodline.

"Let's go then," Duo said and was obviously excited as he opened the door of the car and slipped out. As Milliardo joined him and they began walking towards the door of the building, Duo walked at Milliardo's elbow, looking up at Milliardo as he talked about the food that the place offered. Milliardo was taller than Duo and the difference was almost comical, Duo walking with a bounce in his step and looking very animated, almost boyish, while Milliardo paced with his usual cool and correct demeanor. Looking down, Milliardo stopped thinking `boy' when his eyes ran over Duo's strong shoulders, his broad, corded `climber's hands', and his body, which was, to his soldier's eyes, poised, graceful, and deadly. He was young, but Duo Maxwell was most definitely a man and a man to be reckoned with.

"I can get a salad and tea?" Milliardo asked hopefully when Duo ended his list of fried and grilled fare.

Duo looked Milliardo up and down with a smirk. "Yes, you can, Mil, but I think you need to put some weight on that lanky bod of yours. Order a steak and some cheese potatoes. They're terrific!"

Milliardo began to retort and then noticed a man standing in the doorway of the restaurant, glaring. Duo saw Milliardo tense and he whipped about to look at the man as well, his hand slipping under his Preventer uniform coat to take the safety off of his weapon. Automatically, he stepped in front of Milliardo to confront the man first. Milliardo was used to bodyguards. He almost didn't think anything of Duo's action, but suddenly, it irritated him. An angry thought surfaced as he tried to divine what, if anything, the man at the door intended to do. Milliardo wondered if Duo thought that he wasn't capable of defending himself, that he was some sort of coddled aristocrat who had never trained for or seen battle outside of a mech or a ship.

The man, in the end, did nothing. They passed him in defensive mode and then entered the restaurant, Duo keeping an eye on the man while Milliardo scanned the large, crowded room for danger. He almost suggested that they leave. He didn't relish a meal where he felt threatened, but then he shrugged off his concerns. He was notorious and hated by a good many people, and for good reason. He couldn't turn tail and run, he thought, every time he encountered someone who couldn't forget the past, or what he had tried to do to the Earth. There were too many of them for that.

Milliardo chose an open table, by an exit door, along a wall where they could sit facing in apposite directions. It allowed them to keep an eye on all points of the room. They sat gingerly, both of them nervous, but both determined not to abandon their lunch and their talk with one another.

"Do you think that clown was mad at you or me?" Duo wondered and his voice made it sound as if he considered the incident humorous. Milliardo knew better.

"There are many people who consider the Gundam Pilots heroes," Milliardo pointed out. "There are few who forgive me or understand why I..." He paused. It was still hard to say it, to admit to his crimes.

Duo shook his head. "Don't! We aren't ready for that yet. We just came here for a little talk, not a rehashing of something like that, Mil."

"What use is small talk when that hangs over our heads?" Milliardo wondered despondently. "If you or I can't face the past that we both share, if you can't hear about the things that I did, that I tried to do, then this is all useless."

Duo took a menu from a holder on the table and passed it to Milliardo as he said, "If I told you what I think about all of that, you wouldn't believe me because you don't know me, Mil. Maybe we won't make it. Maybe our pasts will be too much of a wall between us, one that we won't be able to climb over. Let's not try to, though, until we are `mission ready', all right? Let's have all the facts, all the particulars, to help us beforehand."

Milliardo stared. He had to stop thinking of Duo as the simple clown that he liked to portray himself as. The man had things that ran deep and he had a wisdom born of his experiences. Maybe he was right in that they might never be able to accept each other's past, but he was also right that they couldn't stumble head long into trying to answer that question blind of important details.

The waitress appeared and Milliardo and Duo ordered. Milliardo asked for his salad and tea and Duo asked for potatoes covered in cheese, a grilled hamburger, and a soda. After she had gone, Milliardo looked across the table at Duo and found the young man staring back at him hopefully.

"So," Milliardo began as he sat back and unbuttoned the top buttons of his uniform jacket. "Do you come here often?"

Duo smiled cheerfully. "Yes, yes I do."

[part 10] [part 12] [back to Kracken's fic]