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

Princes and Soldiers series + Part 2
April Fool's Day

"He could have MEANT to tell us to wait inside the barracks," Duo suggested.

"He didn't say that," Heero argued. "Don't interpret orders."

"Heero, I'm not interpreting... I just think that you should consider the possibility that Zechs failed to mention that we were supposed to wait inside, not out in the freezing morning air with ice water fog soaking through our clothes."

"He is Milliardo Peacecraft, Duo, or sir. Don't let him hear you call him Zechs," Heero warned. "And I still say that, if he had wanted us to be inside the barracks, he would have ordered it. I'm staying out here."

"Fine, fine!" Duo grumbled.

Milliardo could hear them bickering as he rounded a corner of the barracks and found them huddled against one wall under a light. They were alert to his presence, hands under their jackets, ready to pull guns from holsters, and wary eyes on his approaching shadow in the fog.

"I could have shot you before you gained a visual, " Milliardo growled.

"We're supposed to shoot at anyone we hear?" Duo asked with raised brows. "During the war, that was fine, but I don't think it's legal now. Besides, we WERE expecting you."

"I could have been someone else," Heero agreed with Milliardo.

Duo looked annoyed and rolled eyes at Heero. "I'm not going to live my life as a complete paranoid, Heero. I think the odds are in my favor that there isn't going to be someone sneaking up on me and playing sniper."

"We do have enemies," Heero replied, but then surprised Milliardo by relaxing his stiff stance and conceding, "It is peacetime, though, and I don't want to expect an enemy behind every noise either. This is Preventer barracks, not a dangerous assignment location."

"You got it, Heero!" Duo chuckled as if he were talking to a child that had finally learned a difficult lesson.

Milliardo uncomfortably found himself agreeing with Duo as well and that didn't help his mood. He forgot that they weren't still in the war sometimes, especially in tense or uncertain situations. He had gone through courses to unlearn some of his soldier reflexes. A person couldn't shoot at every noise and one of the benefits of being at peace was that a person didn't always have to be suspicious and alert when they were in `safe' territory.

"Come with me," Milliardo ordered sharply, trying to bring himself to order and gain control of the situation again. Duo, he decided, had a definite talent for dominating and directing situations. Milliardo could have said those were leadership qualities, but, as he glanced back and saw Duo grinning at Heero and then at himself as if he were a vacuous idiot, he couldn't bring himself to concede that to the young man.

"Aw, man!" Duo exclaimed when the fog lifted a bit and they could see a group of men huddled together and waiting by an obstacle course.

Milliardo turned with a hard frown. "Is there a problem, agent?"

Duo sighed. "I was hoping for an interview in a warm place. You don't have to run me ragged in the wet and cold. Just say you don't want me and I'll go home."

Milliardo couldn't help blinking stupidly.

Duo grinned. "Come on, Commander Peacecraft! You know you made up your mind that you don't want me when we were in the gym. This is just for show so that it looks neat and tidy on the paperwork you intend to give to Po."

"Don't presume to know what I'm thinking, agent Maxwell," Milliardo bit out icily.

Duo narrowed eyes at him critically, not fooled one bit, but then he looked impish and said, "I'll follow any order you give, sir, and I'll ace any physical test that you give me. Don't let my size fool you. I just thought, if you had already made up your mind, I should save you the trouble. You won't be able to put this down as the reason that you rejected me."

Milliardo didn't answer the charge. He replied simply, "Let's see if your bragging meets with reality, Maxwell."

There were several pits, barriers, and locked gates between the men and a squat, dull gray building just visible in the lifting fog. Heero and Duo exchanged looks and Duo grinned while Heero only looked thoughtful.

"An infiltrate and retrieve course," Duo said happily. "My favorite."

"I designed it myself, " Milliardo warned. "It won't be easy."

Milliardo didn't like the smug look on Duo's face. In his experience, a man who was TOO confident in his abilities, often made mistakes that caused themselves and their team mates to lose their lives.

"Danzin!" Milliardo called and a tall, middle aged man came towards them with a frown, looking Heero and Duo over. "Give the computer to Maxwell."

Danzin had the slim machine tucked safely under one arm. He started and frowned even more, but he didn't question. "Thanks," Duo said as he took it and tucked it under his own arm, "and no, nursery school hasn't let out early," Duo chuckled, reading the man's mind. The man blinked and grunted.

Milliardo set his watch timer as they joined the others. "I remind you that this is a team," Milliardo said sternly. "We are here to act as one and complete the mission, not win a contest."

"Sure thing, sir," Duo replied brightly when the others only nodded.

Milliardo gave him a hard look. Duo grinned back. "Go," Milliardo said without warning.

Duo's only reaction was a twitch and then he was in motion. He whipped open the computer lid and began typing furiously. He closed it again quickly. He couldn't have obtained the codes that quickly, Milliardo fumed. He was going to guess and hot dog his way through the course. Milliardo almost put a stop to things then and there, but Duo was in motion again.

"You and you!" He jabbed a finger at two men. "Watch our backs." He pointed to a third man. "You take point. " The last, he grabbed by the arm and pulled close. "Stick to us like glue and keep your eyes peeled while Heero and me work on the locks."

The men hesitated, looking at each other, but, as Duo snapped, "Move out everyone!", they all realized exactly what Milliardo had, that Duo had chosen the right men for the right positions with Heero and himself at the protected center. They were the experts and therefore more valuable.

Milliardo watched the men move out onto the course. He watched for mistakes. There should have been many. They had never worked before together. They didn't even know each other's names, yet Duo seemed to take charge naturally and give commands, verbally and by hand signs, without any trouble. The joker was still there, but there was an edge to his grin, a wildness that spoke of blood, battle, and experience. The men followed his orders, much to Milliardo's bewilderment. His own, hand picked, captain was bending to listen to Duo and nodding obediently as they reached the first barrier.

Heero came into play then. He did the physical work of getting through the barrier while Duo did the codes. They worked in perfect tandem, as if it were an orchestrated dance, and then the men were going through and taking up defensive positions on the opposite side.

They moved quickly, smoothly, passing each obstacle like ghosts in the fog, Milliardo moving along with them to watch them work. Duo's slight stature was a problem, but Milliardo's captain and Heero were both there to pull and boost and get Duo to the next lock.

"Let's see how you deal with this one," Milliardo smirked, sure that Duo would falter at last. He had purposely entered the wrong codes for the gray building.

Duo entered the codes. They didn't fail and the door opened. Milliardo blinked in shock. He couldn't understand what had happened. He watched as Duo handed the computer to Heero. Heero opened it and began swiftly to search. He was trying to access floor and alarm plans, Milliardo guessed. He found them with ease and started talking them into the building.

Milliardo waited for the alarms to sound. He had placed them so that they couldn't be avoided. He had wanted to see how his men and the new additions reacted under stress. When the silence dragged, Milliardo became aware of his racing pulse and labored breathing. He was both angry and excited. The two opposing emotions warred with one another. The soldier in him was marveling at Duo's skill and his unexpected talent for leadership. The man in him was furious that Duo was managing despite his insubordinate behavior, a clear thumb in the eye to Milliardo's plan to prove that he wasn't worthy to be a part of the mission.

The men came pouring out of the building and Milliardo couldn't understand what had happened. Again they formed up and again they moved through the obstacles. When they made it to the finish, panting and exhausted, Milliardo was already there, trying to break out of his confusion as he looked from Duo's grinning face to Heero's satisfied smile.

Duo held up an info chip. "Mission completed," Duo panted.

Milliardo took the info chip, using every ounce of will power not to snatch it and crush it in his fist. He waited a full minute until he trusted his voice to be professional. "Report, Maxwell."

"Sir," Duo pulled himself to comical attention and gave a detailed account of their exercise.

Milliardo listened, but his gaze flicked to the other men. They were relieved and pleased, looking at Duo with smiles. They liked him, Milliardo could tell. Duo and Heero had already proven themselves.

When Duo stopped talking, Milliardo ignored everything he had said and asked, "How did you get the codes?"

Duo winked. "Well, you gave orders to an Alexander Mikelvich to set up the course per your instructions."

"Yes," Milliardo replied.

"You imputed the wrong codes for the door," Duo told him, "Which I'm sure was on purpose."

"Yes," Milliardo replied again, giving nothing else back.

Duo shrugged as if it were obvious. "I know better than to believe open files, so I searched through Alexander's personal files and found one marked Milli c's. It was pass protected. I guessed straight away that the password was `Al'. He had filed all the correct codes there so that he could get in an out of the building himself. " Duo laughed. "There's always a weak link, sir, in any organization."

Milliardo felt his face go red with embarrassment and anger. He couldn't understand how Duo had been able to gather all of that information so quickly. "And the alarms?" he prompted, his voice like ice as he stopped himself from searching out Alexander Mikelvich and firing him on the spot.

"Heero's specialty," Duo laughed. "He deactivated them all by making them short. Certain sequences always overload the systems."

Brilliant, Milliardo thought. He couldn't deny it, but he certainly wasn't going to admit it. "Why did it take you so long to exit after information retrieval?"

Two of the men couldn't help soft laughter. Milliardo glared at them and they tried their best to stifle it. "There was hot coffee in a thermos, left, I suppose, by our friend Al," Duo explained matter of factly. "I was cold and I needed some caffeine."

Milliardo stared and then he said, "You all fail the course. You can thank Mr. Maxwell for that. Assemble in 46-c instruction room in one hour. Perhaps in that time, you can impress upon Mr. Maxwell that stopping to drink coffee can cost one of you your lives."

Milliardo turned on his heel and began walking away with military precision. He heard Duo's voice call after him, "Does this mean you're keeping me? Ah, that's so nice of you, sir. You won't regret it, I promise!"

"Twenty laps, all of you!" Milliardo called back without stopping, "Courtesy of Mr. Maxwell." He heard groans and a swear word. The best way to straighten a man out, Milliardo thought as his anger cooled with the satisfaction of having punished Duo properly, was to let the man's teammates do it for you.

Milliardo almost tripped in mid-step as shock jolted through him. He regained his composure with an effort as he continued to walk, but what he had realized that had shocked him was the inescapable and unavoidable knowledge that he had made an unconscious decision to accept Maxwell on the mission.

Milliardo went to his office, sat down, and replayed the details of the exercise in his mind, still trying to find flaws. Unfortunately, he only found them in his own men. Heero and Duo had worked flawlessly, like a well oiled machine, each knowing the other perfectly. They were a powerful force, he knew, and he would have been more than a fool to toss them aside because he didn't like the package that expertise came in. Sally had been right. When it came down to it, Duo did his job. Even the joke of stopping to drink coffee hadn't really impacted his timing. In fact, Milliardo realized, in a tense situation like that, men strung too tight could be a liability. A small joke like that one could have unwound them enough to do their job better.

Milliardo didn't realize that he had snapped a pencil in half until he heard it break. He looked down at his hand, at how it was tensed on the broken bits of wood. He had always prided himself on his fighting forces. Though he had been the flamboyant Lightning Count during the war, he had always expected top notch discipline and decorum from his men. Everything that Duo was rubbed him the wrong way. His training told him that such a man could only create a disaster and cause men to die unnecessarily. Men like that he would have weeded out within an hour of their induction into the military.

Duo Maxwell wasn't like other men though. He was a trained Gundam pilot and he... he had killed Milliardo's trained men by the thousands, destroyed his installations no matter how he had secured them, and had survived a war that Milliardo's own commander, the man he had trained under and had most admired, had not. Duo Maxwell liked to play the joker, but he was a force not to be underestimated or cast aside because of personality flaws. Sally had known that, Milliardo supposed, when she had ignored all guidelines and allowed Duo to join the Preventers.

Milliardo pulled Duo's file over to himself across the desk and pulled out his photo. Again he was struck by the wide, lost looking, eyes and the shadow of pain in the young man's _expression. What were you doing then? What was happening that made you look like that? Where is this serious looking man? Milliardo had asked himself those questions many times and he still didn't have any answers. It was then that he noticed a very small mark at the bottom corner of the photo. Milliardo squinted at it, curious, having thought that he knew every inch of the picture by now.

M.D.C. the mark read. Milliardo blinked, confused. It wasn't a Preventer file photo then. The mystery deepened.

"Sir?" an aide poked his head into Milliardo's office tentatively.

"Come in," Milliardo grunted, embarrassed. He tossed the photo down on top of Duo's file with faked nonchalance.

"The specs you asked for, sir." The man handed Milliardo a computer pad.

Milliardo took it and looked it over briefly to make sure that he had been given the correct ones. Left to wait, the young aide studied his commander with some amount of awe and then, not sure his staring was acceptable, he switched to looking at the commander's desk. When Milliardo looked up at last, he found the young man staring at Duo's picture with obvious curiosity.

"Do you know him?" Milliardo asked, seeing sudden surprise on the aide's face.

"No, sir, but... " The young man stopped talking, not sure how much was proper for him to say.

"Well?" Milliardo prompted as he put the pad aside.

The aide licked nervous lips and then said, "I'm just surprised that the Preventers would allow someone from the Muraka Detention Center on the force."

Milliardo raised a pale eyebrow and something inside of him clenched. "I didn't know that was the case. It's not in his records. How do you know anything about it?"

The aide fished in his back pocket and produced a wallet. He opened it and then paused as shame caught up with his eagerness to please Milliardo. "Well, sir," he said uncertainly, "Some men found it hard to give up the war. My-My older brother was one of them. He... well, Muraka is for dissidents and soldiers with... well, who can't stop committing acts of violence against their former enemies."

Milliardo frowned at the photo the aide produced. It was a heavy set older man who looked very angry and disheveled, as if he had fought to not have his photo taken. At the bottom of the photo, in one corner, was the mark, M.D.C. Milliardo automatically looked down at Duo's photo as if he hoped that the two marks were not the same.

"Thank you for the information," Milliardo said, fished his memory for the man's name, and then added, "Agent Pertil. You're dismissed."

The man fairly beamed to be remembered by someone like Milliardo. "Sir." He snapped a smart salute and then left the office, still smiling.

Milliardo turned to his vid phone. Sally knew. There wasn't any question about it. He was going to demand an explanation at once.

"Hey... sir?" Duo leaned into the office. His braid swung like a pendulum, his wild bangs were matted with sweat, and his impish face looked tired, but still full of good humor. He was also naked to the waist, his exercise suit unzipped and folded down to his hips. He was all tight muscle and as lean as a greyhound. Pale, creamy skin was beaded with sweat. Pink nipples were erect in the cool air. He had a very elegant, long neck Milliardo noticed, before his eyes took the long plunge downwards to Duo's small belly button and the line of his pants that just rode his hipbones and covered his crotch. It looked as if one inhaled breath would send the rest of the suit tumbling down around his ankles. Peeking out from that crotch was a tattoo. Milliardo blinked. It was of a dancing Hindu god.

"Sorry," Duo said, noticing Milliardo's reddening face and mistaking it for anger. "We almost died out there at the end. We all are pretty sweated. I came to ask if we could hit the showers and change before we go to the instruction room." When Milliardo's eyes didn't raise, Duo looked down his own body. "Oh, the tattoo. You like? One of my friends, Dacia, has one too. It's Dancing Shiva." He grinned. "I nicknamed myself God of Death during the war so I thought Shiva would be a great tattoo. Do you know the legend? Shiva was dancing and it was destroying the world. The people begged him to stop. He did, but the legend says that when he begins to dance again the world will be destroyed. He's a fertility god, but he's also kind of the god of death and destruction too. Pretty, isn't it? You can't see it, but he's stomping on a demon. Dacia has a lot of great tattoos like that. She wanted me to get a nose ring like hers too, but... I don't think I could carry it off, do you? Maybe a nipple ring..."

"Maxwell!" Milliardo snapped, furious.

Duo started, but he was grinning. "Sir?"

Milliardo counted to three, took a steadying breath, and then didn't give Duo the explosive, angry, reaction Milliardo was sure now that Duo wanted. Instead, he said tightly, "I give my permission for the men to shower and change. Now, get out!"

"Yes, sir, thank you sir!" Duo chuckled and then he was gone.

Milliardo stared after him, the image of Duo's lithe body burned into his mind so deeply that it was almost as if he were still standing in the doorway. Milliardo admitted to himself at last what was so fascinating about Duo Maxwell. Milliardo ran a rough hand over his face. He was sexually attracted to the man. His body's needy response under the desk was enough to blow away all pretense.

"This cannot be happening," Milliardo groaned as he slumped in his chair. He had immersed himself in the war and his work and his few sexual encounters had been brief and with only a few trusted friends. His dalliance with Noin was best known to other people, but his more secret trysts with Treize and a few officers in the military, had been carefully hidden. Attachments in the military could easily distract a man and cause charges of favoritism to surface. Milliardo had avoided that rigorously. None of his encounters had ever been more than that, anyway, mutual sexual relief quickly forgotten afterwards.

Milliardo didn't have any intention of giving in to his desire for Maxwell. He was too much of a professional. It helped that he couldn't, personally, stand the man. Milliardo wrapped that around himself as a protection, dredging up a dozen irritating, unprofessional, and insubordinate things that Duo had said and done since meeting him. It cooled Milliardo's desire like a splash of cold water. He wasn't in any danger of compromising himself with someone like that.

Milliardo took up Duo's photo and stared at it. Those lost eyes, that sensitive, open _expression, and that serious, determined mouth... Milliardo shoved the photo into Duo's file, closed it, and slammed a hand down flat on the top. It was that man, the one in the photo, that Milliardo was most in danger from.

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