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

Princes and Soldiers series + Part 10
Bedside Manner

"You are to be commended, Commander Peacecraft."

"Thank you, sir," Milliardo responded. "Credit goes to my men, of course. They all performed with excellence."

Facing the four men across the long table, Milliardo tried not to fidget. He was dressed in a starched Preventer uniform and the collar was digging into his neck. He denied himself the luxury of pulling at it. His debriefing had stretched into two hours now while he had detailed the mission to the Preventer officials. They made few comments and asked many redundant questions, entering sporadic notes into their computer notebooks. Milliardo much preferred paper and pencil and he had both under one hand. His other hand was on the handle of a coffee mug. He brought it to his lips and sipped the steaming beverage, wondering when they would decide that enough information was enough. He had already uploaded all the pertinent information from the attack site. Being forced to face officials, and verbally give the same report, was an archaic holdover from earlier times.

A heavy set, grizzled veteran shifted in his seat and frowned. Milliardo looked at him curiously. It was obvious that the man was bothered by something. He didn't take long to come to it. "This Duo Maxwell and Heero Yuy, the ex Gundam pilots...," the man began, his voice a low bass rumble. "You say that all of your men executed their orders with excellence, but I have to question that given the performance noted in your report."

"If you look at their records, you will find that they both excel at special operations," Milliardo replied. "The circumstances that scrubbed their part of the operation were weather related. A man's performance can't be criticized when it is effected by the vagaries of nature."

"They endangered the life of a transport platform vehicle pilot, and the copilot, by requesting them to perform a rescue operation with their vehicle. They didn't ask for orders from you when they did so," the man noted. "If you had required that vehicle in your operation, it wouldn't have been in position to carry out your orders."

Milliardo felt his face grow hot and he willed it to stop. "I did not require that particular vehicle," he replied stiffly. "It had a hydraulics leak and couldn't deploy it's dust off ramp. It was headed back to base when Yuy contacted it."

There was silence. The men sat, staring at their computer screens. A thin, gaunt looking officer suddenly speared Milliardo with hard, blue eyes. "In the report, it states that Yuy ignored hazardous conditions and ordered the vehicle to fly close to the rock face. The pilot's second, then climbed down a rescue rope, swung to Duo Maxwell, and secured a line to the injured man. All of this occurred in a low visibility situation. Once Agent Maxwell was pulled to safety, Agent Yuy...," the man paused as he read his screen in disbelief and then continued, "jumped from his position to the open hatchway of the transport and pulled himself inside. I credit the phenomenal piloting skills of the transport operator for averting what could have been a fatal disaster. Keeping a vehicle level, using only pulse jets and anti grav plates that were not meant for planet side use, in a rain storm with low visibility, is a feat I thought, until this incident, was completely impossible."

"Special Operations Agent Noin was the pilot, sir," Milliardo replied. "She heard the chatter over the comlink and, since her part of the operation was completed, she replaced the pilot of the transport and flew it to initiate a rescue attempt."

The man narrowed his eyes and his nostrils flared. "Without your orders," he pointed out angrily.

"She is a ranking commander," Milliardo informed him. "Her part of the operation was under her command, not mine. Yuy informed her that a rescue attempt would only be successful if she flew close to the rock face. It was her command decision to do so and I am certain that she knew her own skill, her own abilities, when she made that decision. There is a chance for error in any operation, but Noin is not known for risking lives unnecessarily."

"We will be discussing this with her," another officer commented without looking up.

Milliardo sensed an impending dismissal. He said defensively, "Sirs, because of Noin's expertise and the efforts of Agents Yuy and Maxwell, the operation was completed quickly and with a greatly reduced loss of life. They personally saved an entire unit of my men from being pinned down and slaughtered. Their commandeering of the operations room of the target shut down all opposition to my forces. They should be commended, not censured."

Milliardo sensed condemnation, whatever the officers assured him. There was an air in the room that he had known during the war, an air of men making decisions in secret, of calculating and planning someone else's downfall. Heero and Duo's actions had been over the top in some instances, but the results, Milliardo had to admit, had been impressive.

Milliardo wasn't given a chance to speak any further. He left the room and the men to their scheming. He knew from experience to be patient, to investigate the matter on his own, and to be ready for what ever attack those men chose to launch. Whatever they were planning, they were as restricted in their actions as he was. If they wanted to bring anyone under their heel, they were going to be forced to do it by the book.

Milliardo was exhausted. His feet dragged and his body was sending alarms to his brain that he was on the edge of collapse. He had driven his body far past the strict limits set by the Preventer medics. It was begging him to rest now, demanding that he lay his responsibilities in someone else's lap and have someone take him home. Milliardo would have agreed wholeheartedly, but there was one duty that still needed doing, one duty that he refused to leave to anyone else.

Milliardo entered the small medical unit within Preventer headquarters and looked about for someone who could find the one man who was keeping him from much needed rest.

"Duo Maxwell...," Milliardo said as he reached out and stopped a medic from passing by him. "He was ordered to come here for treatment. Where is he now?"

The man looked utterly annoyed. "Oh, that one! I was the one who treated him, sir. He was the most uncooperative young man I have ever had the misfortune to treat! His partner was the second. They allowed me to take xrays only. When I assured them that Agent Maxwell was all right, aside from some deep bruising and strained muscles, Agent Yuy announced that he was taking Agent Maxwell home and that he would treat him there."

"Treat him?" Milliardo frowned. "But you just said that he was all right..."

The man had a file folder in one hand. He slapped it against his thigh irritably. "Agent Maxwell was developing a fever. I wanted to take some tests, perhaps administer an anti viral, but they both suddenly acted as if they were both in the war and I was the enemy. They left here immediately afterward."

"Was Agent Maxwell mobile/" Milliardo wondered.

"Barely," The medic replied.

Milliardo turned on his heel without a word, a hand wearily rubbing his suddenly aching head. As he left the medical section, Milliardo pulled out his cell phone and hit his speed dial. His frustration grew when no one answered the phone at the Yuy/Maxwell residence.

"Damn you!" Milliardo growled and then dialed the garage. "I want a car and a driver at once," he ordered. "Have it waiting at the front of Headquarters. I will be there shortly."

Milliardo fought his body's reluctance as he made his way down to street level. The car and driver were waiting. As the driver opened the back door of the sleek, black vehicle for him, Milliardo paused. Common sense told him that he was at the end of his strength. Common sense told him that it was time to go home and to deal with things after he had eaten and rested. Common sense, unfortunately, didn't have any sway where Milliardo's heart was concerned.

"Sir?" the driver prompted in concern. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes," Milliardo replied, steeled himself, and then ordered, "I have an errand to run before I return to my home. I need you to acquire Duo Maxwell's home address and to drive me there."

It wasn't a long drive. Duo and Heero had an apartment near Headquarters and a room on the grounds for when they were training for missions. Now that the mission was over, Milliardo reasoned that they would return to the apartment.

When the driver pulled up to the rather nondescript, five story building, Milliardo ordered him to wait with the car and went inside alone. Always a man of privilege, Milliardo was used to marbled columns and quiet, discrete servants. It was something new for him to tread cheap carpeting, walk down hallways smelling of odd scents, non of them very pleasant, see water stains and bare pipes on walls and ceilings, and hear the every day noises of many people living together under an uneasy truce of sorts. There was music from several apartments, the sounds of barking dogs, loud vid shows, talking, laughing, and even shouting.

Without even knowing the apartment number, Milliardo could have guessed which one belong to Heero and Duo. They were soldiers. A soldier didn't lay his head down to sleep without knowing that there were several exits within easy reach. He found the Yuy/Maxwell apartment next to an emergency stair, an elevator, and, being on the top floor, Milliardo was certain that there would be an access to the roof, perhaps through a window or an access hatch nearby, as well.

Self consciously, Milliardo knocked on the door. There was a spy hole. Milliardo felt that he was being studied, someone on the other side trying to define his intent, and then the door was opening cautiously. Heero was standing in the opening wearing a black pair of jeans and a white undershirt. He looked on the edge of collapse, his eyes dark shadowed and his face pinched and pale.

"If you had left him with the medics, you could have slept and been in a better position to help him," Milliardo pointed out acidly.

Heero frowned. "Duo wouldn't stay," he replied. "He threatened to leave on his own, sir."

"The doctor informed me that he was running a fever," Milliardo said. "I should order him to return and stay for observation."

Heero didn't reply to that and Milliardo felt a flash of anger. He had sensed before that his orders were obeyed only after approval, now it was confirmed by Heero's _expression. The man's jaw had tightened and it was clear from the suddenly obstinate look in his blue eyes that he was ready to do anything to let Duo have what he wanted, including leaving Milliardo's command.

"I can't have men who won't follow my orders," Milliardo seethed.

Heero finally replied, speaking carefully. "When it involves a mission, we will both follow your orders, sir, but the mission is over. Duo is entitled to make decisions involving his own care. He doesn't like being vulnerable and in a place full of men with uncertain motives and neither do I. It goes against our training."

"Heero," Duo's soft voice came from behind the young man and a hand gripped Heero's shoulder, pulling him back. "You're not supposed to leave people we know standing outside. Let the Commander in."

Heero looked back and they must have exchanged part of the conversation silently. Heero made a grunting noise and opened the door wider. He motioned inside with one hand. "Sir?"

Milliardo stepped inside slowly, eyes immediately noting everything around him with a soldier's alertness . A comfortable, bluish/ gray, leather couch, a gray carpet with a silver sheen, walls painted a light blue dusted with silver, a large screen television, two computer terminals with a dizzying array of interconnecting hardware, a low coffee table seemingly made out of one chunk of metal, overstuffed, black chairs, and pictures of Gundam blueprints in metallic frames covering the walls, looked both tasteful and odd, odd in that Milliardo suspected that the color and material choices were supposed to make a person feel as if they were inside a ship or a machine of some sort.

"So," Duo said, interrupting Milliardo's inspection. "Not as grand as your place, but I think Heero has a sense of style, don't you?"

Milliardo started, incredulous, as he turned to look at Duo and Heero. He forgot all about the decor when he saw them standing together; a united front against him. There was an energy running between them that was so strong that Milliardo could almost see it. It spoke of a connection that Milliardo was finding hard to understand or accept. If they were telling the truth, and they weren't lovers, then how could such a strong bond exist? Milliardo's thoughts in that direction just stopped when Duo sighed and swayed a little on his feet.

Duo was wearing a very large, loose, cotton shirt and a pair of shorts. His hair was in it's long braid, but strands were sticking out everywhere. It gave his bruised, weary face an almost lunatic appearance. His large, amethyst eyes did look fevered. They were too bright, too wide, as if he was struggling to stay alert. It was costing him to stand there and wait on Milliardo's pleasure.

"Sit down," Milliardo told him simply, feeling the bite of guilt and embarrassment. As he watched Duo limp to the couch with difficulty, Heero's hand under his elbow. Milliardo saw the nest of blankets there and realized that Duo must have been resting on the couch when he had arrived. There were also several pill bottles on the coffee table and a glass of water near the blankets.

What was he doing there? Milliardo wondered about himself. Why had he personally gone to their apartment? A call would have sufficed and an order to return to the medical section for treatment. They might have ignored that order, but it would have saved Milliardo some face not having it done in his presence. Now that he knew how things stood, there was only going to be a protracted awkwardness as he tried to extricate himself from the situation all together.

"Make coffee, Heero," Duo said suddenly.

Heero hesitated only briefly and then he was nodding and leaving the room to obey him. Duo motioned to one of the black chairs closest to him. "Sit down, sir. It's hard to stare up at you. My neck feels as sore as the rest of me."

Milliardo sat down stiffly, as if he were facing a room of generals; straight, correct, and hands resting on the arms of the chair tensely.

Duo fluffed a silver pillow, placed it against the corner of the couch, and leaned his body into it. Propping his chin on his hand and resting his elbow on the pillow, he stared at Milliardo with amusement.

"Well, are you going to chew me out?" Duo asked. "Heero's busy, go ahead."

Milliardo frowned. "I did not come here to `chew you out'. I came here because I was concerned for your health and confused as to why you were refusing treatment."

Duo sighed. "I could give you some very good reasons, and I will if you order me to, but it's very personal. I will tell you that I don't trust doctors and that I don't trust people I don't know with free reign while I can't defend myself. Is that good enough? If I really thought that I was going to die, I'd go back to medical. I'm not suicidal, k?"

Milliardo thought of the mountain and Duo's willingness to cut himself loose and fall to his death to save Heero and at least part of the mission. "We're so used to death, Agent Maxwell," Milliardo said, "that sometimes we may not notice it when it's staring us in the eye."

Duo digested that and then conceded. "That's true, but it's also true that I'm well aware of my own limits. It's just a fever, sir. I felt some of it coming on before the mission. Getting banged up and worn out just let it get a jump on me, that's all. I promise to stay in bed and let Heero take care of me." He raised a hand as if he were giving an oath and his eyes regained enough strength to sparkle.

The awkwardness returned. Milliardo knew that it was time for him to go and that the embarrassment and discomfort of extricating himself couldn't be put off any longer. He tried to save some face by saying, "I'm going to question you about your decision to appropriate a transport vehicle for your rescue without informing me." He stood and added, "But that will wait until you are well enough to return to active duty."

"Thanks," Duo replied. He yawned and rubbed at his eyes briefly. "Are you going to tell me what you wanted to say to me, or is that going to wait now too?"

Milliardo felt his gut clench. There were a thousand ways of telling Duo, but none of them fit a moment like that one. Everything was wrong; the time, the place, their mood...

"I think another time," Milliardo replied. "It will keep."

"Will it?" Duo wondered, looking pensive. "During the war, we never thought that there WOULD be another time, so we never waited."

Milliardo clenched and relaxed his hands at his sides.

"Just say it," Duo told him. "Be spontaneous. Go on, I can take it. Do you want to get rid of me, pin a medal on me, make me your-"

"Agent Maxwell..." Milliardo turned away, suddenly totally interested in the placement of the buttons on his coat. "I don't feel that this is the time to discuss anything."

"You came all of this way, then, just to make sure that I was all right?" Duo wondered and there was nothing in his voice to give away what he was thinking.

Milliardo had been raised a diplomat, every word coming from his lips thought through and politic, but he had also been the soldier Zechs Merquise for many years. That part of him chafed at his inability to tell Duo of his interest in him.

"Yes," Milliardo replied at last and stopped himself from wincing. He tried to cover up his uncertainty by turning and looking for Heero. The man was taking far too long to make coffee. "I should go now, you need to rest. If the fever worsens, you will go back to medical and allow them to treat you. That is an order."

"Yes, sir, but I told you I'd planned on doing that any way," Duo replied. "Tell me one thing before you go though."

Milliardo looked back at him. Duo's head was cocked to one side, his eyes curious even though they were beginning to droop as his exhaustion began to take it's toll.

"How do you date a Prince of the Sanq Kingdom?" Duo asked.

Milliardo flushed. He turned away again, flustered. "Agent Maxwell, you seem to be making an assumption when I've not given you any reason to think that I wish to..." He said a few more things, things that he didn't recall as soon as he turned back to Duo and found him fast asleep on his pillow.

He had a face like a mischievous elf, tangled bangs hanging in his bruised and pale face, a rounded shoulder, hard with muscle, but gentled under the soft cotton of his shirt, and a small, wiry body curled loosely under his blanket. Duo Maxwell looked like a normal young man, not like someone who had just completed a mission where he had been forced to kill people, not a Gundam pilot who had struck terror into Milliardo's forces, and nothing like a street child of L2 and all that entailed. Milliardo felt his heart clench and he felt like a fool. Just then, he felt more than capable of telling Duo that he was beginning to have feelings for him, that he wanted to get to know the young man better, and that he was willing to crush a half dozen rules in the Preventer handbook under his heel to do it.

Milliardo reached out and carefully brushed the bangs from Duo's face. His fingers traced the line of a cheek and over a scar only his fingers, and not his eyes, could find. Milliardo drew his hand back reluctantly. It was his first touch, he realized, the first time that he had reached out to Duo as someone other than an aid or an agent to follow his orders.

"Are you ready to go, sir?" Heero asked from behind him. Milliardo flinched and turned, angry and embarrassed to be caught off guard and ashamed to be caught touching the sleeping Duo.

Milliardo frowned, recovering. "Yes, I'll go now."

Heero's eyes were intense. They gave Milliardo the impression that, if he tried hard enough, he could cut gundanium with just a glare. "He knows now," Heero said simply, but those words weren't simple at all. They were both information and a warning.

"He knows, " Milliardo repeated, feeling a burden settle on his shoulders. He hadn't said the words, but Duo had been very perceptive. Duo had divined Milliardo's feelings for him in the _expression on Milliardo's face and in his actions, his coming to their apartment to check on Duo's welfare. Heero was worried that Milliardo would try and backtrack, would try and deny Duo and how he felt, perhaps hurting Duo in the process.

As Milliardo was escorted to the door, he felt the need to say something to reassure Heero, but as he said the words, he realized that he was reassuring himself as well and committing himself to a course of action that was irreversible. He asked, "How does one date Duo Maxwell?"

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