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

Princes and Soldiers, II + Part 3
Lighter than Air

"Both of you need to stop glaring, " Duo said in exasperation. "We just got here. No one's had a chance to say, 'hi' or 'eat shit and die' yet."

Milliardo pulled at  the collar of his tailored, blue coat. It had a high collar and embroidery on sleeve and hem. Gold buttons winked down the front and his dark pants made him seem even taller. He had tied his hair back with a blue ribbon, but his bangs were as unruly as ever, hanging in his ice blue eyes. Heero was dressed all in black; black, velvet coat, black pants, and black dress shoes. A white, high colored dress shirt peeked out at hem and sleeve, relieving some of the lack of color, but it didn't  make Heero look any less intimidating. Standing on either side of Duo, who was dressed in a red coat and pair of pants, trimmed in gold, and had a gold band tying off the bottom of his braid, they looked like guards rather than guests at a festive party. Milliardo was as rigid and as correct as any soldier and Heero exuded 'dangerous'. Duo hooked an arm around both of their waists and gave them both a hug as he drew them further into the room.

"Smile," Duo ordered. "Nod. Look pleasant."

"Duo," Milliardo complained. "I think it would be best if we went our separate ways and didn't..." He searched for the right phrase.

"Look like a frontal assault?" Duo supplied.

"Yes," Milliardo replied.

"You're right," Duo agreed as he gave Heero a small push. "Go stand by the refreshment table, Heero, and don't glare. If you see a girl alone, go talk to her. She's probably lonely and would appreciate a nice, handsome guy making conversation."

Heero hesitated.

Milliardo nodded to where his sister was standing. "I will go pay my respects to Relena."

"And I'll..." Duo began, trying to think, but Heero suddenly shook his head and moved back to his elbow.  Duo sighed. "There's security everywhere, Heero," he said to his friend. "The only thing people can do here is talk nasty to me."

Heero was immovable, his jaw tight and his eyes shadowed. Duo realized that he would keep looking that way even if he did go off on his own.

"All right," Duo conceded, "Stay with me, but I intend to introduce you to some people and I do expect you to talk to them, okay?"

Heero looked relieved. "All right. I'm sorry, Duo," he felt the need to apologize. "I can't help..."

"I know," Duo told him and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "I feel the same way.... but, we can't let it interfere with you having a life."

Heero looked pensive. "This was your idea, Duo. I haven't felt the need for... companionship."

"That's why you have a dog now?" Duo shot back. "That's why you watch other couples and sigh a lot? That's why you went along with this at all, because you don't need anyone in your life except me, Mill, and Missy?"

Heero looked pained. "I don't want to lose you."

Duo gave him a hard hug. "You won't. I promise. Ever. No matter what. We mean too much to each other Heero. Our friendship is always going to be rock solid. Trust me when I say that. You need... something else, though. Something that I can't give you. You know what that is, don't you? When we were together, we both knew THAT wasn't part of what we were to each other. That's why we couldn't be a couple. Somewhere out there," he made a sweeping gesture with one hand, "maybe even at this party, there is some girl out there who can give you that. You shouldn't live life without it, Heero."

"What is IT, though?" Heero wondered, at a loss. "What was missing when we were together? Why did it feel so..."

"Flat?" Duo offered. "Empty? Going through the motions?" Heero nodded. "Because we love each other... but not like we should have, not like me and Mill love each other. I can't explain it, Heero. You have to feel it for yourself. When you do, though, you'll know, without a doubt, what was missing. You need to have it, Heero. You need to look for it."

Heero never operated with abstracts. He wanted facts and a clear mission. His frown only deepened. Duo sighed.

"Come on, Heero," Duo said. "Let's at least find you someone to dance with."

It wasn't easy. Heero was 'on guard'. Duo wasn't a polished, well bred, person, but he knew how to smile and charm, and it wasn't hard for him to find a few pretty girls willing to speak to a pair of war heroes. It was Heero who raised the difficulty level. Rather than stay focused on the girl he was supposed to be speaking with, he constantly 'checked' the area and, when he did focus momentarily on what was being said, he gave monosyllabic replies that showed clearly that he wasn't interested in what was being said.

After the third girl gave an annoyed, yet polite excuse and went away, Duo turned on Heero with a scowl. "You're not trying very hard."

Heero sighed. "I can't relax in a place like this. There are too many possibilities."

"It's a party," Duo retorted. "We are surrounded by people. It would be nuts for anyone to attack us here."

Heero looked uncomfortable. "I can't help it. I can't not be alert to our situation."

"There isn't any situation!" Duo exploded and then forced himself to calm down. "Okay, Heero. Sorry. I guess I shouldn't be hoping for anything on the first try. You have a real .... challenging personality. We have to find just the right person who can accept that."

Heero looked suddenly depressed. "Duo, can I say something?"

Duo raised eyebrows. "You know you can, Heero."

Heero took a deep breath and then said, "I would like it if we didn't try and meet anyone. I would like-"

"For me not to play matchmaker?" Duo guessed.

Heero nodded.

"Okay." Duo rubbed at the back of his neck. "So, you just want it to happen if it will happen and not push it?" Another nod. Duo studied Heero's dark scowl. Maybe rabid wolverines would decide to come up and talk to them, but Duo was sure that young ladies at a high brow party wouldn't. He supposed that he had to count the party  a bust already. He began to make silent plans to have a more intimate, one on one, with a few ladies that Relena might suggest. He should have known that someone with a hair trigger like Heero couldn't let down his guard in a room with so many strangers.

"Boys." Duo turned at the almost insulting greeting just as Noin walked past with a drink in one hand. She was dressed in a black coat with silver trim, pants and black boots. Her hair was almost a buzz cut. "I hate these parties," Noin was muttering to herself.

"One of the drawbacks of being Relena's guard, I guess," Duo said. He had never really liked the woman and he couldn't resist making the comment. He supposed it had to do with the fact that she had almost worshiped Milliardo and finding out that he preferred men to her affections had hit her hard. She had cut off all contact with the man after that revelation and had become Relena's number one guard and confidant.

Noin stopped dead in her tracks and looked over her shoulder at Duo, her glare was so much like Heero's that Duo started. "You have what you want, rubbing it in is just low class."

"You used to be so nice," Duo replied. "Being bitter isn't going to make Mill straight."

Noin turned around then, hand on hip. "You think I'm bitter about his sexuality?"

"Yeah," Duo replied. "Otherwise, you wouldn't have turned, 'drawbacks of being Relena's guard' into, 'I have Mill and you don't, nyah!'  I wasn't even thinking that, you know. I was thinking more along the lines of, 'She's being pissy, I wonder if I can make her lose it.' I just can't resist." He grinned at her.

Noin looked at Heero, angry and perplexed. "Why do you hang around with this... infant? You are a top notch soldier. You could pick and choose any position out there. Instead, you partnered yourself with this... lunatic... and, in so doing, ruined any chances you had of rising to a higher level of command."

Heero stared back and then replied simply, "Duo used a valid technique of  'feeling out' a possible opponent. He tested you to see what level of danger you might represent."

Noin blinked. "Testing me?" She glared at Duo. "And what was your conclusion?"

Duo kept grinning. "You might try and punch me, but killing me is out."

She lifted a dark eyebrow. "Accurate."

"Thanks," Duo replied almost impishly.

Noin took a sip of her drink as if she needed the strength and then turned her attention back to Heero. "You didn't answer my question. Is it sexual? Is it love? Is it madness that makes you stay with this loose cannon? I could offer you a dozen high level positions right now. I know many officers here who would do the same."

"Can't guys just be friends?" Duo interjected. "Why do people always think we have to be jumping in the sack with each other?"

"Shut up, Maxwell," Noin snapped, not taking her eyes off of Heero. "Well?"

"He makes me human," Heero replied simply.

Noin was startled and then thoughtful. She said at last, eyes suddenly going elsewhere and blinking, "Zechs did that for me. " And then her face hardened. "And like me, you'll find out that you can't depend on him to keep doing that."

Noin turned on her heel and strode away, boot heels clicking on the marble.

Duo stared after her. "What a hard ass! She has a chip on her shoulder bigger than a colony."

Heero didn't say anything. Duo looked at him and saw him staring after Noin with an _expression that he knew. He'd seen it enough times on his own face in the mirror when he had been thinking of Milliardo.

"Oh, no!" Duo exclaimed in horror, "Not Miss Jack Booted Thug! You can't be serious? Heero!"

"She is very...," Heero tried to search for the right words and failed.

Duo rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, simmering. "She hates me." He pointed out.

Heero blinked and frowned. "I don't think she hates you.... envies you maybe. I know how that feels."

Duo felt a pain stab at his heart. He rubbed at it and then took hold of Heero's arm, leaning close and not caring who saw them. "Heero.... I told you. I know what you need in here," He touched Heero's heart. "Who ever gives that to you, it's okay with me. I'll even put up with her, if I have to."

Heero shrugged and turned away from the sight of Noin. "Duo, she just interests me. She's not even being friendly."

Duo snorted. "No? She just made you a whole bunch of military offers, Heero, and showed real concern for you wasting your career. For a soldier, that's a declaration of love."

Heero scowled. "Duo..."

Duo held up his hands in surrender. "All right, play hard to get, but I'm telling you, that steely glint in her eye was for you, buddy."

Duo thought about calling it an evening and leaving the party. He was certain now, that Heero wasn't going to be interested in any of the frilly laced girls all around them. Heero's preference in woman was pretty clear and Noin seemed to fit that preference perfectly. As much as Duo cringed at the thought of having to deal with the woman, it wasn't about him. It was about Heero. If Heero fell in love with the Devil, himself, Duo knew that he would give him away at the wedding. Heero's happiness was that important to him.

"Duo," Heero's voice took on the tone of 'soldier mode' and Duo found himself tensing and looking instantly about for trouble. "Mill," Heero told him and that was all it took to send Duo through the dancing crowd to where he saw his lover standing, surrounded by frowning men.

Duo expected the worst, expected Milliardo to be confronting men who didn't think much of his sexuality, his choice in partners, or his socializing with 'street trash'. He wasn't prepared to hear one man say tauntingly, "So, what was it, Prince Peacecraft? The zero system made you crazed? You thought that you were doing the right thing? Or, you were just following orders? The Sanq kingdom is a shinning beacon of peace. You, sir, are a black cloud that hovers over it."

"You clearly intended a slaughter of innocents, sir," another man threw at him. "What possible justification could you have for that course of action?"

One man said from the sidelines, perhaps trying to bring some calm to the situation. "Here, sirs, he is a prince. Some decorum, please, at this gathering. This is not the time to hash over old war wounds."

"Not so old," another man snarled. "They're still bleeding."

"There aren't any princes any more," Yet another pointed out. "He is the same as any man and he should answer for his crimes the same as any man as well."

Milliardo looked calm and poised, a glass of wine held in one hand. "I'm not on trial here. This is my sister, Relena's, party. If you don't have any respect for me, at least respect her."

"We do," the first man snarled. "Which is why we would like to get you as far away from her as possible."

Duo was suddenly at Milliardo's right elbow, glaring fiercely and hands balled into fists. Heero appeared on Milliardo's left, looking dangerous. The men frowned at this new development, calculating their chances.

"A man doesn't need his whores to protect him," The first man sneered and made a move to push Duo away.

Two steel hard hands gripped the man's arm as Milliardo and Heero reacted to protect Duo. The man whined in pain and collapsed to his knee, the double grip grinding down to bone.

"You will apologize to my companions... now, " Milliardo commanded in a voice as cold as ice.

"You are a disgrace," the man spat. "A killer... a murderer... a pervert who lives with two boys and shames the name of Peacecraft."

"Boys?" Duo grunted. "Who the hell is a boy?"  He glared. "If you want to make trouble, I guarantee that we'll mop the floor with the lot of you and it doesn't matter what weapons you have on you. If you look around the room, you'll see everyone looking at you like you've gone crazy. We're highly trained Gundam pilots. They know what that means."

The men did look and they did start to think. Suddenly, several of them melted into the crowd. Only two stayed and they didn't look very sure of their decision to do so.

"Either you two are brave or very, very stupid," Duo told them. "Either way, I hope you have good medical insurance or a good undertaker."

"Stop!" Noin strode up to them with some guards. She nodded at Milliardo and Heero. "Let him go!" They reluctantly released the man and he hugged an obviously injured arm. "Get up, sir," she ordered him. "I will have to ask you to leave the premises at once. You two sirs, as well." The men looked ready to argue, but she shook her head and they subsided. "My guards will escort you to make certain that there isn't any other disturbances."

The men and the guards left. Duo grinned. "Thanks! Things were about to get messy."

Noin glared at him and then said to a point slightly to the side of Milliardo's head, "Prince Peacecraft, I will have to ask that you and your 'entourage' leave the premises as well."

Milliardo nodded, but Duo objected. "They started it!"

Noin's glare was even fiercer. "It is Relena's policy that all 'disturbances' should be discouraged and removed."

"She's right," Milliardo said. "We should go. I will give her my apologies."

Noin gave him a slight bow of her head and Milliardo began to motion Duo and Heero to follow him. She shook her head sharply. "They will stay here, Prince Peacecraft. It is my job to keep the peace."

Milliardo wasn't pleased by that. He paused, almost deciding to let his sister and her apology hang, but Duo shook his head. "Go ahead, Mill, we can take care of ourselves for a few minutes."

Milliardo gave Heero a look and Heero nodded, knowing he was on guard. Duo made an exasperated sound at the both of them. Milliardo, reassured, left them to go to Relena.

Noin was standing, hand on her weapon, as if they had all ceased to exist, eyes hard and nose flaring slightly as she breathed angrily. Duo wasn't fooled. She was a hair trigger, ready to respond to any negative moves on their part. Duo leaned to make a derisive comment to Heero and then saw Heero looking at Noin with an absorbed _expression, eyes glowing with a powerful emotion.

Duo rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, "Oh, God! You've got it bad!"

[part 2] [part 4] [back to Kracken's fic]