by RazorQueen
see ch. 1 for warnings. notes

The Claim + Chapter 3

Zechs' quarters adhered strictly to regulations. Nothing of an individual nature softened the room's stark military precision. Dark, neutral blankets, standard for officers and enlisted alike, covered the bed. Nothing cluttered the surfaces of the minimal furnishings, no momentos, no photographs. Not a single personal possession in sight.

Except one.

Zechs' recent acquisition stared at Wufei, looking totally confused. "What are you doing here?"

"Hello, Duo. Zechs said you might need to borrow some things." He entered the room, and the door slid shut and locked behind him. He laid a small bundle of white silk on the bed and took a seat in one of the hard-backed chairs at the table. "Are you well? Is Zechs treating you all right?"

Duo's eyes hardened. "I asked you what you're doing here. And why are you dressed like that?"

Wufei looked down at the uniform he wore, the short blue jacket, slim white breeches, and high black boots--the uniform of an OZ soldier. "What has Zechs told you? Anything?"

"About what?" Signs of temper darkened Duo's face, but his voice remained even. "I don't get any of this. What's going on?"

"What's to 'get'?" A grim smile touched Wufei's lips. "We are defeated warriors. Rather than execute us, Romafeller decided that it would be more useful to keep us alive, but under the eyes of people who won't let us cause them any more trouble." His smile grew fractionally wider. "At least, that's their plan."

"But why the uniform?"

"Largely for convenience, really. It's less conspicuous."

Duo brushed his hair out of his face, watching Wufei with guarded eyes. "'Fei, I got a feeling there's a big something you aren't telling me."

Wufei felt vaguely guilty, not for loving Treize, but for having concealed it from his friend for so long. "It's rather complicated."

"So go ahead and explain. Doesn't look like I'm going anywhere. I've got plenty of time to listen."

Wufei decided to begin at the beginning, partly to see how much Duo understood, and partly to delay having to tell Duo about him and Treize. He was not ashamed, but he suspected that Duo would not take the news well, certainly not in his present mood. "You understand that Zechs claimed you, ransomed you from Romafeller, yes?"

Duo stood very straight and still, his thin shoulders squared, his generous mouth set in an obstinate line. "No, I don't understand it. But go on."

"Well, you see..." Wufei paused. He hadn't thought it would this difficult to tell his friend. "Just as you belong to Zechs, I belong to Treize."

Duo gaped at him, surprise sweeping aside his adamant frown. "Treize? Khushrenada? Holy shit, Wufei--"

Wufei held up his hand. "Wait. I know this will be even harder for you to understand, but--" He hesitated, wishing Duo would somehow make this easier. "We planned it this way."

Violet eyes narrowed. "'We'? Who the hell is 'we'?"

"Treize and I. When it became clear that we were losing the war, he came up with the idea of ransoming us if we were captured. If we survived."

Duo's face paled. Then an angry red flushed his cheeks and his hands clenched convulsively at his side.

"You son of a bitch."

Duo launched himself at Wufei, driving his fist into the pilot's chin. Wufei went sprawling out of the chair, cursing himself for not being on guard. Duo lunged again, and the two rolled across the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.

Wufei recovered himself enough to dodge the blow Duo aimed at his stomach. Duo had the advantage of surprise and the rough-and-tumble fighting he'd learned on the streets. They counterbalanced Wufei's skills, but only momentarily. His training took control, and he seized Duo's wrist, twisted his arm behind his back. Without thought, he shoved the other boy into the floor. He drove his knee into Duo's lower back, forcing him down.

Duo struggled, still thundering obscenities. Panting slightly, Wufei kept him pinned. Slowly, the fight seemed to drain from Duo's body, and his straining muscles relaxed. Unconvinced, Wufei did not loosen his hold.

"Let me up, you fucking traitor." Duo's voice was quiet, but it sounded more dangerous than his snarling rage.

In spite of himself, Wufei felt his own anger flare. "I won't take that from anyone, Duo, not even you."

"Yeah?" Duo made an abortive effort to free his arm from Wufei's grasp. "I may not have your fancy education, but I can add things up. And it looks to me like Wufei never being a prisoner plus wearing an OZ uniform plus making secret plans with Treize Khushrenada equals double-crosser."

Wufei's fingers tightened, digging into Duo's arm. "Treize and I are lovers, you idiot!"

"No..." Duo whispered, his voice choked with sudden pain. "No, I don't believe you."

Wufei had expected more rage, but never anguish. He didn't know what to make of it. "Duo--"

Duo swallowed as though something were stuck in his throat. He sounded desperate and accusing. "How can you and Treize be lovers?"

Wufei released Duo, who rolled over and sat up, watching the Chinese pilot with wary eyes. "I'm not sure I know myself exactly how it happened." He looked squarely at Duo. "But I'm glad that it did."

"Then..did you...did you and Treize...is it because of you that..." Duo bit his lip, as though he feared asking but was driven to. "Is it because of you that we lost?"

Wufei tried not to wince. He'd expected it. But the words hurt all the same. "No. On the battlefield, we still met as enemies." He shrugged. "Sometimes in the bedroom, too. But our relationship did nothing that changed the outcome of the war. We saw the end coming, and he was trying to save me. I wouldn't agree unless he did the same for all of you." Wufei paused to let Duo digest this, then said more gently, "We lost because we had no support. Not from Earth, not from the colonies. We were completely abandoned--even Gundams can't fight a war by themselves."

Duo sat perfectly still, his hands clenched in his lap, his face expressionless except for his eyes. His eyes had always betrayed him, Wufei mused. No matter how convincing his words and actions, they revealed the truth of his feelings. Just now, they reflected not anger, as Wufei expected, but an aching, soul-deep loneliness.

The look in Duo's eyes shook Wufei, and he thought for a moment that Duo might share whatever caused him to look so wounded, but all he said was, "I know."

He waited, but the other boy remained quiet, withdrawn, his eyes still distant and haunted by some sorrow Wufei only dimly understood. Coughing softly, he moved to the bed and unfolded the silk he'd laid there a earlier. "Here. I brought you these. They're mine, but you're welcome to borrow them until Zechs can get you your own clothes."

A little life returned to Duo's face, although in the form of obstinacy. "I don't need anything from him."

"Our status is completely dependent on Treize and Zechs. We are no longer anyone. We have ceased to exist as far as any official records are concerned."

"What's that matter to me? I've never been anyone."

"Duo, can't you try to be at least a little understanding? Zechs is trying to do his best for you. " Wufei nearly blurted out how nearly he'd escaped being given to Tuberov or Dermail or the others, but Zechs had forbidden him to do so. He didn't want Duo burdened by another fear, he said, although Wufei doubted his judgement. In his opinion, it was always better to know one's enemies.

"Understand?" Duo laughed, a harsh, ugly sound. "Why? How the hell is keeping me shut up here 'doing his best'?"

Without being able to mention the other men, Wufei could scarcely explain. "Duo, I apologize--I didn't come here to argue with you. You must be exhausted. Why don't you get some sleep? Things won't look so bad tomorrow."

"I'll still look like a prisoner tomorrow."

"Duo--"

Duo glowered for a moment, then shrugged and smiled, a contrite, crooked grin. "I'm sorry, too, 'Fei. I-I guess I wasn't really mad at you...just..." He didn't finish his sentence, only turned and picked up the tunic and pants. "Thanks for the clean clothes."

Wufei shook his head in fond exasperation. If only Duo knew of his guardian's attraction to him. But Zechs adamantly refused to confess his desire. Uncharitably, Wufei decided that the two of them without a doubt deserved each other.

+

Duo stood in Zechs' shower, slumped against the wall, eyes closed, letting the warm water run over his sore muscles.

Wufei's revelations still made him shake. Fei--Treize Khushrenada's lover? How could that be? And yet he knew his friend had told the truth. He saw it in Fei's easy confidence, so different from the fierce, self-doubting pilot he'd met in the war. He saw it in his eyes, too, a settled, happy look as though he'd found something for which he'd long searched.

Duo's lip trembled, and he caught it in his teeth to still it. Lucky Fei.

Then he thought of Zechs, and the weary, burdened look he got each time he had to deal with Duo. An ache he didn't totally understand settled in his chest, gripped his throat until swallowing hurt.

He straightened his back. Why should it matter to him if Zechs thought of him as an inconvenient obligation? He was alive, after all, even if he was a prisoner. Like he'd always told himself, any other problem, he could handle.

And if some of the water that ran down his face tasted salty on his lips, why should that matter to him, either?

+

"Are you making any progress?" Treize looked up from the pages of endless figures spread across his desk.

"Perhaps." Zechs tried to look optimistic and wondered if he succeeded. "I persuaded him to eat."

Treize nodded, smiling. "It's a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. I have complete faith in your abilities to persude him further." Then his smile faded. He steepled his fingers, studying his friend. "But there's another subject we need to discuss, as well."

"What's that?"

"Sanc."

Zechs caught his breath. The word still cut through him like a sword hot from the forge. "What about it?"

Treize watched him carefully, with an emotion in his face Zechs couldn't identify. "I need to know your plans. Do you intend to reclaim the throne?"

"The time for thrones and kings has passed." He turned to the observation window and looked out at the stars. They made him feel insignificant, and oddly, that comforted him.

"Please, Milliard. You can trust me. But I must know."

"What do you suppose I'm going to do?" He faced Treize again, his voice intense, revealing the anguish that drove him. "I betrayed my father's ideals and led my people into a war that's left one in five of them dead, crippled, or homeless. All of them are hungry, too many will die of wounds or sickness or starvation. What kind of man would I be if I turned my back on that?"

Treize smiled again, the kind of warm, intimate smile one saves for one's closest friends. "Not the man I've known and loved for years."

"You sound like you expected me to return."

"More than that. I need you to go back to your kingdom."

Startled, Zechs was momentarily at a loss. "What? Why?"

"Milliard, we may have won the war. But I'm worried."

Zechs raised his eyebrows. "Oh? I've never seen you worried."

"You've never looked closely then. " Treize motioned for Zechs to sit. He gathered the papers on his desk into a neat stack and set them aside. "The colonies are quiet, and the Gundams are no longer a threat. But still..."

"What is it?" Zechs knew Treize well, possibly better than he knew any man alive, and he recognized the subtle evidence of stress in his face, his posture.

"I am sure that we still have enemies. But I think that they are much closer than before. And harder to see."

"You mean among our own people?"

Treize nodded. "Do you see why I need you in Sanc? The location is strategic...just in case."

Zechs closed his eyes, torn between loyalies. "Treize, you know that I am your man, always. But Sanc has nothing left. I can't ask my people to follow me into another war."

"I hope very sincerely to prevent another war. But to do that, we must get this peace settled, and quickly." Treize leaned forward, emphasizing his point. "They'll take advantage of instability, use it for their own ends. If you can restore something of normalcy to Sanc, the rest of Earth will see that as a positive sign, and it will buy us some time there. The same is true on the colonies. The sooner military law is repealed, at least in a few places, the more the colonies will trust us and be less likely to respond to any possible anti-OZ propaganda."

"Some of the provisional governments are functioning already, but others...it will take months."

"They don't all need to be functioning. If the colonies see that we don't mean to crush them, they'll be patient--for a while. One election is all we need."

"That's all?" Zechs laughed mirthlessly. "One election? Would you like the moon and the stars, too?"

"Milliard, don't be snide. It doesn't become you. Aren't any of the colonies close?"

Zechs thought, then nodded finally. "It's just possible. But not for six weeks, at least. Two months would be better."

"Make it a month."

"Now may I be snide?" Zechs' shook his head at the impossibility of Treize's order. "It will take at least that long just to organize a slate of candidates."

"We may not have two months." Restlessly, Treize stood. Another man would have paced nervously, but Treize merely stood at the corner of his desk facing him with apparent calm, only betraying his worry by the way his fingers toyed with the hilt of his sword. He stared beyond Zechs at the stars, and Zechs wondered if the General found them as comforting as he did. He hoped so. "I expect some kind of a move in the next few weeks, at best. It will probably be aimed at me--or you. We are the two most visible symbols of the new order. To strike one of us down would cause irreparable damage to OZ and throw the new governments into chaos." He paused, and when he turned his gaze back to Zechs, fear haunted his eyes at last. "There is one more thing. If it should be I who is the target, will you make sure Wufei is protected?"

"Of course." Zechs agreed without hesitation as he stood to face his friend and commanding officer. "But if it should not be you--"

Treize squeezed Zechs' shoulder. "You needn't ask. He'll be safe."

More than anyone else, he knew how human Treize was, how fallible like any of the rest of them. Yet his promise to protect Duo seemed like a charm to Zechs. "Then you'll have your election. And after that, Sanc."

"Milliard--" Treize smiled, and years of war seemed to fall away from both of them. "You will always be my dearest friend."

Zechs smiled in return and covered the hand that rested on his shoulder with his own.

Both men looked up as the door opened. Wufei entered, a shadow touching his eyes as he saw them standing together. Treize released Zechs and held out his hand.

"Dragon. You're back at last."

"Did you talk to Duo?" Zechs said, trying not to sound unsuitably eager as Wufei slipped under Treize's arm to stand next to his lover.

"Yes." Wufei rubbed his chin where a reddened blemish darkened into a bruise. "And I have to say, Zechs--"

"What?"

"You have your work cut out for you."

+

Zechs keyed in the security code to his quarters, entering as the door opened. He looked first at the bed, expecting to find Duo asleep. The bed, however, was empty, still as neatly made as when he'd left. Panic seized him, and he quickly scanned the room, but his alarm faded when he saw the pale bundle huddled on the floor near his desk. Exasperation replaced his formless fear when he considered that Duo had obviously chosen to sleep on the floor rather than chance sharing Zechs' bed. God damn it, it wasn't as though he planned to seduce him!

Zechs knelt beside the sleeping boy. Duo lay curled on his side, his cheek resting on one hand, his bandaged hand tucked under his chin. Dressed in Wufei's white silks, he looked like a fragile porcelain figurine, and Zechs wondered how he could possibly have had the strength to pilot a Gundam. He remembered all too well the intense, physical strain of flying the big mobile suits.

His irritation with Duo's stubbornness vanished as he imagined the slip of a pilot in Deathscythe's cockpit. No wonder he was headstrong; how else could he have conquered the huge mecha? He touched a lock of chestnut hair that had escaped from the confines of its braid. Wild and willful and frail enough to break in two. And Zechs' responsibility.

He moved to lift Duo and carry him to the bed, but as his hands brushed the boy's sleeves, he drew back, hesitating in a rare moment of indecision. Perhaps for tonight, he should respect Duo's wishes. If nothing else, allowing him to sleep where he wanted would save him some resentment. God knows he dared not give Duo many freedoms, but he could allow him this much.

Zechs paused a moment more, feeling unable to leave, like a fly caught in the deceptive delicacy of a gossamer web. As though he sensed the scrutiny, Duo curled into a tighter ball, drawing his arms and legs closer. He was shivering, Zechs realized. He backed away carefully, tugged the blanket off his bed. Returning to Duo's side, he spread the blanket over him, covering him to his shoulders. The boy breathed a quiet sigh and burrowed into the warmth.

He found himself having to resist the urge to bend down and kiss Duo's pale cheek, but instead, he gathered the covers firmly under the boy's chin, as though they were an impenetrable, protective barrier. As though they could keep him safe from Tuberov's schemes--and from his own wayward desires.

For a moment, his hand hovered over the brown hair, but he dropped it instead to the blanket, telling himself he only thought to make sure he'd covered Duo sufficiently. But as he made contact with the wiry young body, even through the barrier of the cover, his resolve faltered. He allowed his palm to cup the curve of the boy's shoulder until he felt Duo's warmth under his hand. Duo squirmed a little, although it didn't seem to Zechs that he tried to shake off the light touch. He nestled deeper into the covers, his lips parted in what Zechs thought would be another sigh. Instead, a sleepy voice murmured, "...night."

In spite of himself, Zechs smiled. "Good night, Duo," he said, quietly enough to be certain the boy wouldn't hear. Reluctantly, he withdrew his hand. "Sleep well."

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