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 12
Thorns

Milliardo eyed the tower of tableware and condiment holders in trepidation. Duo was talking animatedly, his hands gesturing even as he grabbed a hold of whatever was in reach and added it to his tower. Milliardo was sharply reminded that Duo was a pilot, his hand eye coordination, and sense of balance, perfect even when accomplishing such a strange pastime.

"So, there we were, me and Heero, fresh out of a war, and not one idea between us about what we were going to do," Duo was saying. "The government wanted to forget about us and, after the celebrations and award ceremonies, so did most everyone else. We were broke, clueless how to do the simplest things that constituted the daily grind for most people, and pretty unwilling to fall back on our skills to provide us with what we needed. Sure, either one of us could have hacked a system and dumped a fortune into our accounts, or forged the papers necessary to get us any job we wanted, but... I guess we wanted a fresh start, a chance to prove that we could be something other than killers. " Duo's mouth quirked self deprecatingly. "Didn't work, mostly. We have our reputations, just like you, and interviewing for a regular paying job usually started and ended with, 'What makes you think our company needs a terrorist on the payroll?' or 'I don't think we need anyone to pilot a Gundam here, sir.' Nobody believed that we could be anything but soldiers and, after a few 'incidences' and 'failures', me and Heero began to think so too. The Preventers seemed the logical choice. Too bad your sister, Relena, pulled rank and had Heero assigned to her guard detail right away. Heero had thought that he was helping us out by accepting the assignment, even though neither of us had really liked it. We had bills to pay, though, and we both liked eating on a regular basis."

Milliardo knew the story after that and knew why Duo didn't continue with it. "I'm sorry," Milliardo said, not knowing what else to say to break up the long silence.

Duo shrugged, though his face had grown pensive. "Who the hell can see the future? It wasn't anyone's fault, what happened, except maybe mine for not watching my own back." Another pause and then he quirked a smile and brightened, his eyes sparkling as he looked past his tower to Milliardo. The sudden change in mood startled Milliardo. He had seen it before, that mental trick of Duo's that seemed to allow him to turn his memories and moods on and off at will.

"Your turn," Duo said simply.

Milliardo stared. They had long ago eaten their lunch, the empty plates set aside. The food had been good, just as Duo had promised. Milliardo had ordered only a salad and tea, but Duo's hamburger had been large and Duo had convinced him to try a few bites. Duo had also coaxed Milliardo into trying his cheesy potatoes. Milliardo had enjoyed them so much that he had eaten half of the serving, though most of the enjoyment had come from watching Duo eat his share. The potatoes had been long and fat and the cheese sauce had been thick and gooey. Watching Duo put a potato into his mouth, suck the cheese off expertly with relish, and then suck the potato into his mouth to eat it, had made Milliardo's pants uncomfortably tight.

Milliardo glanced at his watch. "We need to get back," he replied nervously.

Duo gave him a long, searching look. "If you aren't willing to talk, if you don't want me to know anything about you, then we don't have anything between us."

Milliardo looked at Duo's too wise face. "Have you dated so much that you know that for a fact?"

Duo looked uncomfortable and his eyes left Milliardo and stared with concentration at his tower. "I'm not a virgin hermit, if that's what you want to know, but I haven't dated a lot either. When you live on the street, when you have to depend on people to watch your back, you learn who you can trust and who you can't. Guys who never say anything about themselves are usually the ones you have to watch out for. They're hiding something or doing something wrong that they don't want you to know about. Usually, the thing they are hiding, is that they're just using you."

Milliardo's jaw clenched and then released. He let out a long breath and then said, "After the war, I thought that it would be best if I stayed far away from Earth. I went to Mars colony with Noin. She had hopes for me, and I have to admit that I didn't disillusion her by telling her my true nature. I needed someone to be with me. I really couldn't face being alone, even though I knew I deserved that, and more, after what..." Milliardo swallowed. "Well, Noin soon discovered that we were not going to become a couple in any sense. We separated and I returned to Earth and the Sanq kingdom. Relena was a good sister to me and she provided me with a place of my own. Little by little, I ventured out of my self imposed solitude to test the mood of the people. I didn't find forgiveness, but I did, finally, sense that I wasn't going to be executed by angry mobs. I was tolerated, for my position and relationship with Relena for the most part. When Sally Po came to the Sanq Kingdom to inspect security for Relena, she took me aside and spoke with me about joining the Preventers. I was more than eager. Being 'tolerated' in one's own homeland is not a pleasant experience."

Duo nodded, head cocked a little to one side. He had stopped stacking and Milliardo noted that placing another object on the tower would have definitely made it tumble. Duo peered at Milliardo from behind its shelter as if he were finding comfort in it, and Milliardo found himself wishing for a tower of his own. He wasn't the type of man to air his life in a public place, or to reveal it to people even in private, for that matter. He had certainly never told anyone how he had felt about his treatment by the people of his own country. He suspected that he had never talked about it before, because he couldn't help feeling that he didn't have the right to complain about any treatment he received.

"Thank you," Duo said softly.

Milliardo was confused.

"For trusting me," Duo clarified and smiled.

Milliardo met his eyes steadily. "I think that you've more than proven to me that I can. You have a strong sense of duty and honor."

Duo's mouth quirked. "So do you. Maybe that's what draws us together? We have very different backgrounds, but we both give every ounce of ourselves for what we believe in."

Milliardo nodded. "I did find it... strange that I was drawn to you. We do seem so different. My reluctance to become involved had a great deal to do with my confusion on that matter."

Duo sipped his soda and looked at Milliardo over the rim of his glass. His eyes were clearly saying, 'That's not all and you know it.' but he refrained from saying it. They had found common ground and Duo wasn't about to make it a quagmire by delving deeper than they were ready for.

Duo's cell phone beeped. He pulled it out of his pocket with a sigh and said without asking who was on the other end of the call, "We're just about to leave, Heero. Relax." He listened for a moment and then smiled softly, "I know. I know. I'll be careful. You know Mil will be watching my back. I know you trust him, so, be patient and make sure you eat YOUR lunch. I don't wanna hear your stomach growling for the rest of the day." Another pause and then Duo chuckled and hung up his phone. He looked up at Milliardo apologetically. "I hope that you want to get used to that?"

"Having Heero Yuy as your shadow?" Milliardo clarified and couldn't help feeling a sharp pang of jealousy. Duo's _expression had been so warm and... loving? Milliardo didn't want to think that last, but he couldn't help it.

Duo's smile faded and he suddenly looked pensive as he said, "Our close relationship pretty much sunk all the efforts I made to have a love life. It's hard for people to understand." He looked at Milliardo closely, trying to guess what he was thinking. "I know that look," he said at last. He stirred his soda with his straw and then let it go abruptly. "Maybe we should get back?"

"Why aren't you lovers?" Milliardo asked bluntly, wanting to know, wanting it plain between them. "You are so close. You live together. You work together. You don't like to be out of each other's sight. I see your _expression when you talk to him. What keeps you from taking the last step? Why should I not think that your closeness to another man won't compromise what ever relationship we attempt?"

Duo had been in the process of rising from his seat. He sat down again with a thump and lifted one cinnamon eyebrow. "Just when I think you're shy... Okay, you want it straight? Me and Heero tried, okay? We climbed into bed with each other and both of us had our first time together. We screwed for about a week and then realized that that's all it was going to be, just screwing. He didn't enjoy it. He didn't want it. He didn't find me a turn on. I was a complete turn off sexually. Once we sorted out that two guys CAN be that close and NOT want to be lovers, we ended up where we are right now. We are the closest of friends, end of story. Heero is NOT your competition and never will be."

Milliardo digested those words and found more questions that needed answers. Like Duo though, he refrained. They couldn't work through everything in one hour in a restaurant. "I understand," Milliardo said and it sounded like an inadequate, and a somewhat disingenuous, response, but Duo seemed willing to accept it for what it was.

Duo tossed some credits onto the table for the tip and the bill and stood up, stretching and smiling again. "I feel like I've had a work out."

Milliardo replaced some of the credits with his own and slid half of Duo's back to him. Duo took them with a chuckle, saying, "I could argue, since I'm the one that suggested this place, but I think I've figured out that we're both stubborn. It might make us late. "

Milliardo smiled, some of the tension leaving him. Duo's humor was always good for that. It was a true gift, Milliardo thought. It was then that he saw a man standing at the open front door suddenly turn and leave. Milliardo's tension instantly returned, his soldier's senses going on the alert, even as his mind tried to reason with it. This wasn't the war, it said, he didn't need to be suspicious of every one. Milliardo Peacecraft and an ex Gundam pilot were worth a few stares. He should have been used to it.

"You saw him too?" Duo asked under his breath and Milliardo looked down into Duo's concerned eyes.

"Yes," Milliardo replied, "but we shouldn't be so suspicious."

"Don't let Heero ever hear you say that," Duo warned and it was only half a joke. "We aren't like everyone else and you know it. We have to be careful."

"He may have been a reporter," Milliardo suggested. "I think someone would pay good money to know that the brother of Relena Peacecraft had gone to a simple restaurant with a young man." He studied Duo as Duo realized the implications of that, the potential of having his picture plastered and labeled with unflattering gossip on every newsstand. "I hope that you can get used to that?" Milliardo asked, repeating Duo's words to him.

Duo didn't answer immediately and that let Milliardo know that his reply wasn't a reflexive denial. "I used to feel sorry for Trowa," Duo said, "I've seen his face on the front of a few papers, because of his relationship with Quatre Winner. I always wondered how I'd handle it. I guess I'm going to find out." It was an admission of how much he was interested in Milliardo and Milliardo felt a sudden warmth, an affirmation that his own interest wasn't in vain.

"Just in case he turns out NOT to be a reporter, and he wants our livers raw," Duo said with a humorous wrinkle of his nose, "I'll stay left and you stay right."

Milliardo nodded, understanding. Duo wanted to be certain that they knew each other's positions to avoid accidentally hurting each other if they suddenly found themselves attacked. At that moment, Milliardo was hoping that it was just a nosy reporter with a vid camera. He didn't want that moment to be marred by violence and, he thought at a deeper level, he didn't want Heero's trust in him, his willingness to allow Duo out of his sight to go with him, to turn out to be a mistake. Milliardo didn't relish pursuing any relationship with Duo under the intense blue eyes of that man.

A clear shot to the car, that's all Milliardo wished for as they went through the door of the restaurant. He tensed when he saw a van parked beside it, blocking it neatly from view. There was a wall on the other side of the car as well. A perfect screen to keep anyone from seeing if-

"I know," Duo said self deprecatingly. "I shouldn't have parked near the wall. I know better. It's too easy to block a car in that position."

Milliardo replied, his eyes scanning the parking lot, "This is peacetime. You are supposed to be free of having to think about such things."

Duo looked up at him and gave a snort. "I think the only real 'peace' is in heaven, Mil, and I'm not ready to die just yet to have it, so I'll kick myself instead and promise to be more paranoid next time."

"We could call for a cab and avoid this," Milliardo offered.

Duo laughed, "We're the police, Mil. If there is going to be trouble-"

"If we are going to be the cause of that trouble, then we should stop it before it starts," Milliardo pointed out. "That's part of our jobs as well."

Duo's _expression firmed and he suddenly went from being a 'date' to being a Preventer agent in a heartbeat. It told Milliardo that he was taking the situation at a worse case scenario. "Your orders, sir?"

Milliardo reached under his coat and took off the safety on his gun. He raised eyebrows as Duo checked two places on his own body and then touched his wrists, letting Milliardo know that he carried knives as well under his long sleeved uniform.

"If we are going to be attacked, then they are already watching us," Milliardo said. "Tactics would be useless."

"Frontal assault?" Duo wondered without a hint of fear.

"Yes, but we still need to catch them off guard," Milliardo replied. "I want you to loudly reassure me that I'm being paranoid and act the fool as we walk up to your car. Walk wide of the van. Keep several paces from me and slightly ahead so that you have a clear shot."

"Roger that," Duo said without question. "Any other orders?"

Milliardo checked his watch and replied sourly, "I don't want to be late for work."

Duo laughed. "Roger that too, sir."

"Go, Maxwell," Milliardo ordered briskly and made a move as if he were returning to the restaurant.

"Oh, come on, Mil!" Duo said loudly. "You are such a worry wart! This is peacetime! We're as safe as a ship in dry dock! If you keep worrying like this, you're gonna die young man! You gotta relax like me and have some fun!"

Milliardo turned, still looking reluctant, and it wasn't all faked.

"Mil!" Duo drawled. "Come on! We're gonna be late and Sally Po's gonna chew us out! Nothing's wrong!"

Duo was grinning and waving for Milliardo to follow him. He looked and sounded like a fool, playing his part with his usual outgoing flair. Milliardo made a show of giving in and following him, his mind working on a dozen different outcomes and backup strategies, as they made their way across the parking lot.

"I told you that they had good food," Duo was saying as he moved to the left, covering up the action with the hyper gesturing of his hands and his attempts to turn and look at Milliardo as he talked. "You have to try the ribs next time though. The spices they use are just the best and the meat just melts in your mouth! Frankie in the kitchen, he's a good friend of mine, he'll treat you right if I tell him too. It'll be the best you have ever had!"

Milliardo couldn't hold up his end of the conversation, so he nodded to whatever Duo was saying, and hoped that it was enough. His heart was thudding in his chest as they approached the van. Instinct told him that he was right, that it was a trap, and one he knew he had to trip in order to take the perpetrators into custody. Knowing what his duty was, though, and putting Duo into harm's way, was turning out to be harder than Milliardo imagined. Milliardo's heart was arguing with his head and trying to force him to stop and to tell Duo that they needed to avoid the confrontation. His head had ample ammunition to counter it. Milliardo knew that if they didn't trip the trap, some unsuspecting citizen might. If someone was waiting on a hair trigger on the other side of that van, then it was possible that they would shoot at any target that presented itself. Milliardo couldn't let that happen.

The logic of that argument should have been enough to silence Milliardo's reluctance, but it didn't. As he watched Duo slip hands under his uniform and pull out his guns, preparing to be the first to enter the line of fire, Milliardo felt a chill travel up his spine. When Duo grinned and winked at him, his face flushed with the thrill of action, and stepped past the van, it was all Milliardo could do not to reach out and make him stop.

Milliardo was three steps behind Duo, knowing that he had to give the man room to fire and to avoid whatever was on the other side of the van. That precaution proved well founded when they were attacked instantly. Duo was able to duck easily without tangling with Milliardo and avoid a long board that cut the air where his head had been. Milliardo stumbled back to avoid the same board as it followed through in it's deadly arc.

"You're going down, you and that murdering bastard!" a voice shouted. Milliardo saw a burly man, with his face twisted in an _expression of pure hate, rush Duo, but Duo was already straightening from his crouch. He kicked out, sinking his booted foot into his attacker. That man fell, and Duo aimed his two guns at the group of men standing just past their fallen comrade.

"Freeze!" Duo shouted. "One move and I'll-"

The men rushed forward. Milliardo saw an _expression on Duo's face, a moment where he lost it, perhaps going back in time to that other place, that other confrontation where he had been beaten and tortured almost to death. Duo took a shuddering breath and then fired his guns.

Milliardo gritted his teeth in trepidation as he aimed along the barrel of his own gun, but then noted with relief that Duo's bullets had struck legs and arms and not vital organs. The young man was in control of himself. This wasn't going to be a massacre.

Milliardo fired his own gun twice before he realized that the men weren't going to stop. That startled Milliardo. He had thought that they would either panic and run or give up at the first blaze of gun fire. When he saw the pure hate for him in their eyes, Milliardo understood then. Their hatred for him was so great that they were willing to die to reach him.

"Sir?!" Duo shouted, asking to use deadly force.

"No!" Milliardo shouted back and that was all that he could manage to say before he was forced to holster his gun and defend himself. Their attackers weren't trained or well armed. All were dressed in the blue uniform of government service workers. As Milliardo took his man down with a sweep of one arm, to deflect the man's fist, and a hard karate kick to the man's genitals, he surmised that the man who had glared at them in the restaurant doorway had gone back to his place of work and rounded up these men, bringing them back and setting up his trap. What they had in common, why so many men who worked at the same job had such an intense hatred of Milliardo, was something he needed to investigate later.

Milliardo took out another man, slamming the heel of his hand up under the man's chin. That man dropped, unconscious, but the other men stepped over him and kept advancing. Milliardo dropped back a few steps to position himself for a defense, but just then, Duo came rushing by him. The small, wiry man was a devastating whirlwind. His feet landed bone crunching blows into their attackers. He spun and jumped, as if he were on springs, to chop and punch at them. The men fell, blood splattering and cries filling the air. Soon, there was no one standing but Milliardo and Duo.

Duo pulled out his cell phone then and called for a police patrol. He and Milliardo waited for them to arrive, alert and weapons ready, making certain that the wounded men didn't try and renew the fight. When the patrol arrived, shocked at the damage and amazed that two lone men had caused it, it was Milliardo's reputation and rank that made quick work of the arrest and allowed Duo and himself to leave the scene without wading through reports and paperwork.

Driving back to headquarters, Milliardo knew that they were both still on an adrenalin high. Looking over at Duo in the driver's seat, Milliardo could see that Duo's color was up and that his eyes were sparkling. He was grinning and, at that moment, he looked wild and passionate. Milliardo knew that the echo of it was in his own face.

When Duo glanced at Milliardo, the young man's smile turned warm and affectionate. It was almost the same smile that he had given to Heero when he had talked on the phone with the man, but it ran much deeper than that, much warmer. Milliardo had a feeling, perhaps sensing some excitement and uncertainty in Duo, that he had never given that particular smile to anyone else.

Duo pulled into the parking garage of Preventer Headquarters and found a parking space. Turning off the engine, he turned to Milliardo and began to say something. Without thought, Milliardo reached out and hooked a hand behind Duo's neck. His fingers felt the soft nape of Duo's cinnamon colored hair as he pulled Duo to him. Their lips met and it felt like being struck by lightning, a force so strong that Milliardo felt as if it were searing him to the bone, as he hungrily plundered Duo's mouth with his own.

Duo hung in his grip and Milliardo felt him tremble, but Duo's arm slid around Milliardo's waist and pulled him closer, giving Milliardo his permission to continue. The kiss seemed to last an eternity and neither one of them, it seemed, wanted it to end. For once, Milliardo didn't consider consequences. He let the future twist in the breeze as he discovered the other half of his soul in Duo Maxwell. Before that moment, Milliardo would have scoffed at such a patently ridiculous notion, but nothing else adequately explained the powerful feeling he was having just then.

Milliardo broke the kiss at last and stared into Duo's eyes. They were soft wells of amethyst and they searched Milliardo's blue eyes for something, Duo's expression very serious. "I think...," Duo said in a whisper, "that I've fallen hard for you, Mil."

Milliardo knew what Duo wanted, knew what he was searching for. Milliardo replied in the same whisper, as if it were a great secret between them, "That's good, because I feel the same way about you, Duo."

[part 11] [part 13] [back to Kracken's fic]