by: Kracken
Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings :Male/Male sex, Graphic, Violence, Language.

Princes and Soldiers series + Part 7
Conversations With Death

Milliardo had progressed to a cane. Leaving the wheelchair behind had been utter relief. His pride had taken a fall while he had been forced to sit and be pushed around by Duo and who ever else could spare the time. When he had progressed to wheeling himself, it had been awkward because of his still aching arm and shoulder. He had forced himself to do it though, just as he was forcing himself to use the cane and ignore the sharp pains that told him that he was doing things too soon.

It was good to walk out into the sunlight of a courtyard though, to take a deep breath, to feel the sunlight on his face, and to know that he had managed to get there on his own. It was a thrill of accomplishment that Milliardo allowed himself to bask in, a small salve to his weeks of humiliation.

There was a repetitive, low, creaking noise. Milliardo blinked and looked around, his pale hair fluttering in a light breeze. His ice blue eyes looked this way and that, searching out the courtyard with a soldier's tense nervousness. In a far corner, almost obscured by bushes and small trees, Milliardo could see a small children's play set. It was for the day care, he remembered, the one Sally had set up for the Preventer women as soon as she had taken command. Milliardo hadn't approved. Children and armed agents, going on, and preparing for, dangerous missions, didn't mix in his mind.

Curious, Milliardo limped heavily down the walkway that wound from the courtyard, across a small strip of green grass, and to a set of swings and a elaborate jungle gym. A door led to the day care and Milliardo could see children through a window listening intently while they were read to by an adult. None of those children were on the play ground, though. The person on the swing, making the small creaking noise as he swung back and forth gently, was Duo Maxwell.

Duo was short enough to manage it. His feet cleared the ground and his braid flew behind him as he swung. His _expression was relaxed, and it was obvious that he was enjoying himself. Milliardo wasn't fool enough to think that his approach had gone unnoticed. Duo confirmed it by saying, "Nice day, isn't it, sir? Is there something you needed?" Duo looked sideways at Milliardo and he didn't stop swinging. "My cell phone didn't ring, if you tried to call me."

"Maxwell..." Milliardo began, not sure what he was going to say, but knowing that he felt strong disapproval.

Duo sighed and smiled. "I know, looks kind of crazy, doesn't it? I didn't get to do things like this when I was young though. When I come out here to eat my lunch, I feel like I just have to swing. It's nice, simple, and relaxing, too."

"It's ridiculous and childish!" Milliardo growled.

Duo shrugged. "I guess... doesn't matter though. Haven't you ever done something ridiculous and childish just because it made you feel good? Sometimes, you just gotta forget what other people think."

That struck too close to home, too close to the humiliation Milliardo had felt, imagining that everyone was judging him as weak. "I read your file. You were a street child on L2."

Duo nodded, sobering. "All I had time to do back then was to figure out where my next meal was and how to not get killed."

"You were taken into an orphanage though," Milliardo pointed out.

Duo's face went very pale and his jaw tightened. His eyes suddenly had such an intense `elsewhere' look that Milliardo felt a chill creep down his spine. "I don't wanna talk about that," Duo growled. His hands worked on the chains supporting the swing, something gnawing at him deep inside, and then he abruptly changed moods and smiled. "You're bringing me down, sir. I came out here to relax. Your second in command had us running mission drills all morning."

Milliardo was frozen, not saying anything for a long minute. Duo had switched tracks like the flicking of a light switch. Milliardo had seen that type of behavior before, in men who were suffering from shell shock, post war syndrome; traumatized men who were covering up intense mental pain and suffering.

Duo cocked his head at the seat beside him. "Why don't you sit down? There isn't anywhere else and you look shaky."

Milliardo was tall. He knew he would look ridiculous sitting on a child's swing, but Duo was right, he was shaky. He had over extended himself. He glanced at the window and the children sitting there. They had their backs turned. They wouldn't see him looking foolish. Was it worth it, doing such a simple thing, if he could continue to talk to Duo and perhaps pry some answers out of him?

Duo raised a cinnamon eyebrow. He was such a handsome man and his smile could charm a man eating tiger, Milliardo thought, and then clamped down hard on those stray thoughts. As he sat down on the empty swing, Milliardo felt some satisfaction, albeit small, when Duo looked very surprised. Milliardo balanced awkwardly, his cane tangling. Duo automatically reached out and steadied the swing with a hand on one of the chain supports.

"I want to talk to you," Milliardo explained roughly, "and I don't want to fall down while I'm doing it." It was an admission of weakness that he hadn't wanted to make, but it was for a purpose and Milliardo was willing to make that sacrifice.

He was taken aback, though, when Duo said, standing up, his one hand still on the chain, "If you feel shaky enough to do something like this, sir, then I need to help you back to your office. We can talk there. Come on, you can lean on me." He reached out his free hand to help Milliardo up. After a second's hesitation, Milliardo took it.

Once again, Duo was showing a side of his joker, easy going, irreverent personality that Milliardo was finding hard to believe in. Once again, Duo was choosing not to embarrass or take advantage of Milliardo when he was at his weakest. Milliardo held that hand, but didn't make any attempt to get up. He stared into Duo's eyes and suddenly felt as if he were drowning and that he was perfectly willing to do so.

Duo's hand was soft, but there were callouses on his fingertips. It was warm, almost comforting the way it curled around Milliardo's hand. Milliardo looked down at their two clasped hands and he suddenly felt his throat tighten.

"Tell the truth," Duo whispered.

Milliardo clenched in every muscle. He was used to being in complete control of himself, this burning uncertainty, this confusion, as if he were some shy girl, was almost more than he could stand. "It's... It's not right," Milliardo managed to reply in a small voice. "You know that."

"I guess not," Duo said as he let loose of Milliardo's hand and settled on the swing next to him once more. "I'm younger than you. I'm not in the same class. I'm your subordinate in just about everything..." He paused and then added, "In everything, but skill, that is."

Milliardo bristled and his jaw worked as he turned his head and glared at Duo. "Do you think so, Agent Maxwell? That has yet to be proven to my satisfaction. Your past-"

Duo looked pained and he stared off into the distance. "See? Already you're throwing my past in my face. It's not going to work."

"What are you talking about?" Milliardo demanded hotly.

Duo blinked and then said, "You've been combing through my past. What do you expect to find? I was left on the streets of L2. I was a thief. I joined the sweepers. I did salvage work. I trained to be a Gundam pilot and I STOLE my Gundam. I killed people, your people, during the war. I killed men after the war. I was sent to a detention center for it. I joined the Preventers. I'm making a serious attempt to do my best to help people and to keep the law. That's me, that's Duo Maxwell. That's any number of reasons to treat me like a third rail and I really won't blame you for it." Duo looked at Milliardo steadily. "Just be honest. Tell the truth. Can't I have that in exchange for you dredging up the ugly past? Stop pretending that you're doing it because of that mission."

Milliardo's face went hard. "What other reason would there be?"

Duo frowned impatiently, "I'm not stupid, ya know, and I didn't live this long by not keeping my eyes open."

Milliardo felt his gut go into a knot. "It isn't right," he repeated, almost under his breath.

Duo's hand reached out. He took hold of the chain supporting Milliardo's swing and he carefully pulled the man closer to him. Milliardo felt an unreasoning fright at that intense look on Duo's face. It was a ridiculous reaction. Duo wasn't a danger to him... or maybe he was, Milliardo thought in a panic as the smell of some light aftershave and sandalwood came to his nose. It was coming from Duo and it immediately excited Milliardo despite his confusion and trepidation.

"Sometimes, you have to do it anyway and not care what other people think," Duo said, his breath warm and sweet against the skin of Milliardo's cheek. "Sometimes, the rule book needs to get thrown out the window."

Milliardo's military training bristled at that and protested inside of him, but his heart jumped at the possibility, at the idea that perhaps he could shrug off the chains of rules and duty and... "You won't get very far in the Preventers if you don't follow the rules," Milliardo replied in a clipped tone.

"Some things are worth giving up for the right reasons," was Duo's reply and Milliardo felt the flick of a tongue against his earlobe.

Milliardo jerked away, shocked, and felt the world gel into a pandemonium of opposing reactions. His body came alive with need, and a flash of heat that made him tremble, and his mind clambered as it tried to sort out what had just happened and form an appropriate response. Unfortunately, his mind reminded him of the fact that Duo had a nipple ring and tattoos and that he had claimed to be with someone before he had come to rescue Milliardo after his fall. Duo's bold move, and those reminders, equaled something nasty in Milliardo's mind and he responded with words that sounded prime, prudish, and condescending in his own ears, "Maybe that kind of behavior usually gets you want you want, Maxwell, but it doesn't get you anywhere with me." His heart and body cursed him.

That could have meant so many things on so many levels. However Duo took it, it was clear that he was angry. His face flushed and his lips went into a tight, thin line. He let go of Milliardo's swing, stood up, and reached a hand for Milliardo, saying coldly, "If you would like to return to you office, sir?"

Milliardo felt like a hypocrite. They were both men with the need of men. Milliardo wasn't a virgin. He had experienced a number of casual, sexual encounters without the slightest qualm afterwards. He couldn't hide from the fact that he found Duo very sexually attractive, either, and that his mind had already imagined a number of enticing scenarios involving removing all of their clothes. It was normal. Natural. Not something that could be consciously controlled. Why suggest that Duo was wrong for expressing his sexuality, too, and his interest? Was it because of his upbringing? Did his advances equal crude and mercenary because he had come from the dregs of the streets on L2?

Duo said in the long silence, like a stone dropping into a quiet pond, "I don't lie."

Milliardo blinked at him, not understanding for a moment, and then realization dawned. He had accused Duo of playing a game, of trying to seduce him, of maybe even trying to get Milliardo's favor in the old fashioned way. All of it amounted to lying and Duo did not lie.

Maybe Duo didn't lie, Milliardo thought bitterly, but he, Milliardo certainly did. To deny his attraction for Duo, to try to find something about the man bad enough to drown out that attraction, he had searched through the man's records relentlessly, causing pain and humiliation to Duo. Milliardo had capped that by accusing Duo of being an opportunist as well.

"I should be put on report," Milliardo muttered, suddenly hating himself for the weakness he saw within him; a weakness that had caused him to do so many unprofessional things and to abuse a subordinate.

Duo didn't argue against that, instead he said, "Men made the rule book, sir, and men make a lot of mistakes. Sometimes, following your emotions is a lot more accurate than rule number three thousand ten, section nine, subsection zeta."

Milliardo stared and then he asked softly, "What rule is that?"

Duo's face suddenly eased and he chuckled, "I'm glad that you don't know either."

Milliardo shocked himself when he cracked a smile. He hid it behind one hand, until he could school his face to sternness again, and then he levered himself off of the swing with Duo's help. With one little joke, Duo had erased the entire terrible mood of the moment. Milliardo felt tension ease, even though the problem of his gross insubordination and his attraction to Duo was still prominent. That was a gift, Milliardo realized, to take a volatile situation and to calm both parties with a few well chosen words. Duo's joking nature was also a trait that the rule books claimed was completely undesirable. `Men made the rule book' Milliardo thought to himself, echoing Duo's words, and men weren't infallible, yet... He struggled.

"You don't really need me any more sir," Duo said as he released Milliardo's arm. "I think it would be best if I asked Sally Po to return me to normal duties." As Milliardo tried to switch gears to think about that, Duo added, "If you need me again, you can just let me know."

They were able to say so many things to each other without saying anything at all. Milliardo hated it. He longed to say what was on his mind, what he was feeling, and why he was fighting so hard against acknowledging his attraction. Duo would understand, he felt, and not judge him like he, Milliardo, was judging himself. The words remained locked behind his lips though, sealed by his need not to look weak, to be `the commander', to appear in control, and his own reluctance to break the rules that he was already beginning to question.

"I think your request would be premature," Milliardo replied at last and Duo looked at him quizzically. "I do still require your presence."

Duo arched a cinnamon eyebrow that expressed both rebellion and amusement. "You do, sir?"

"Is that disagreeable with you, Agent Maxwell?" Milliardo wondered and couldn't keep the prickly sharpness from his tone.

Duo studied him minutely for a moment and then smiled as he put a supporting hand under Milliardo's elbow. "No, not at all."

Milliardo looked down at the top of the young man's head thoughtfully as he limped back to his office. It would have been easy to dismiss Duo as too young for interest of any kind, just because he was so much slighter and shorter than Milliardo, but Milliardo knew that there wasn't much of a difference between their ages and that it would have been a serious mistake to consider Duo a child. Duo was a man in every way and older than his years. Deep down, Milliardo admitted that Duo often made him feel less experienced. Milliardo had born his share of tragedies, and a man didn't come out of a war and a rebellion alive by being a fool or naive, but there was a great deal of inner knowledge that Duo seemed to posses, a treasure trove of intuition that always left Milliardo floundering to catch up with his leaps of understanding. When it wasn't infuriating him or making him feel embarrassed or inadequate, Milliardo could appreciate it.

Could he dare it? Milliardo looked at the possibility honestly. Duo had not just hinted at his interest, but had given Milliardo permission to express his own. Milliardo ran with that scenario, trying to imagine the two of them being other than commander and Preventer agent and all that would entail. It wasn't hard to imagine sex. Milliardo felt himself flush uncomfortably hot as he pictured his hands running over that wiry body. No, that wasn't a problem. Imaging a relationship afterwards was more difficult. He tried to think of what it would be like to wake up next to that handsome face every morning, eat breakfast with that joking bundle of energy , separate and go to their work, meet at the end of the day and enjoy the evening after dinner. Those images wouldn't come to him and Milliardo knew why. Duo, for all that he professed that there was nothing else to know about him, still seemed a mystery to Milliardo. He didn't KNOW the man except for what he had gleaned on the surface and there was still the problem of ...

"Duo," Heero said simply as he came from a side corridor. The dark, intense young man looked as if had been working hard. His hair was more mussed than usual and a sheen of sweat was on his skin. "Did you eat?" It didn't sound so much like an invitation as a man checking up on an irresponsible child.

Duo replied with a chuckle, "Yes, I did, Agent Mother Hen."

"Good," Heero replied, unruffled by the mocking nickname . His eyes flicked appraisingly to Milliardo. Milliardo expected a challenge in those dark blue eyes, instead, he found pleasure. "Sir," Heero said with a small nod.

"Agent Yuy," Milliardo acknowledged. This was another aspect of Duo he would have to resolve as well, Milliardo thought. Duo had said that there wasn't Duo Maxwell without Heero Yuy and Milliardo still wasn't sure what that meant.

Duo brightened as if he had sensed Heero's silent approval and was glad. "You clean up and I'll meet you in C-4, Heero," he said. "We still have those climbing maps to go over."

"Twenty minutes," Heero agreed as he looked at his wrist watch. "Mark," he said, noting the time.

Duo snorted. "I have to help the commander back to his office and then I'll join you.... around about twenty minutes, not exactly twenty minutes, bone head!"

Heero frowned and then smiled. "All right," he said, and was clearly making an effort to discard his need to be precise about the time.

As Duo proceeded to help Milliardo back to his office, Milliardo, forgetting his personal problems for the moment, couldn't help asking, "Climbing maps?"

Duo blinked and then shrugged. "There are some high peeks near our target. Heero and I thought we might get in more stealthily if we went up them and over to the installation. We have detailed climbing maps to help us."

"Who authorized that?" Milliardo demanded, suddenly furious. He turned to Duo, almost tripping on his lame leg. Duo gripped his arm hard and his other arm came around Milliardo's waist to steady him.

"It hasn't been approved yet," Duo replied. "It's still just a proposal."

Milliardo found his feet again, but Duo didn't let go of him. They stood like that, Duo looking up at Milliardo in concern and holding him in a tight embrace. "You will make your proposal to me with all the supporting documentation!" Milliardo growled in Duo's face. "I may be injured, but I am still in command of this operation!"

"Yes, sir," Duo replied dutifully.

The joker was gone and Duo looked very serious. Milliardo was caught within those amethyst eyes of Duo's once again. They stood like that for a long moment, silent, Milliardo struggling to make his mind work past a sudden, violent need to take hold of Duo's chin and kiss those tender looking lips deeply. Duo sensed it, maybe, and there was a spark of excitement and recognition in his face.

Milliardo wrenched himself away with a tremendous, mental effort. He almost stumbled again as he left Duo's embrace, but he recovered quickly and straightened, one hand on Duo's shoulder and the other balancing his off side with his cane. "I have work to do," he managed to say thickly. "Get me to my office and then go make up that proposal."

Duo's face went closed and he nodded. He helped Milliardo into his office and helped him to sit down. As he was turning to leave, he stopped suddenly and said without turning, "This isn't the war, you know, we're allowed to be human again."

Milliardo felt the sting of that as Duo walked away from him and closed the door softly behind him.

[part 6] [part 8] [back to Kracken's fic]