by RazorQueen
see ch. 1 for warnings. notes

The Claim + Chapter 4

"Duo?"

Duo lay sprawled across the bed, an open book in front of him. He didn't quite smile as Zechs entered, but he didn't snap or scowl at him, either. A week of the Lightning Count's custody had blunted the edge of his anger. Zech's constant, polite distance gave him no handle for retaliation. He waited, silent, for the tall officer to speak.

"Am I disturbing you?"

Duo shook his head, cautiously closing the book he'd been reading. Disturbing? He couldn't admit to himself how the man's presence distubed him, much less to Zechs.

"I thought you might like to take a walk. You haven't had much of a chance to see the ship. And you've been boxed up in here for days. Would you care to go?"

Duo's eyes widened. "Sure."

"Then put on your boots and jacket, and I'll take you."

He reached for his boots, trying not to look too eager. But he'd been cooped up so long, and even though Zechs had given him books and programs to keep him occupied, sitting still all the time didn't agree with him. He felt like he was going to start bouncing off the walls if he didn't get to do something other than pace the floor of Zechs' quarters.

The corner Zechs' mouth turned up in the slightest of amused smiles as he watched Duo sit on the edge of the bed with his boots. He tugged awkwardly at them, still feeling hopelessly clumsy at putting them on.

It wasn't as though he wanted to wear them in the first place, but he didn't have an option. Duo had flatly refused to dress like an OZ soldier, until the day that Zechs simply took his clothes while he was in the shower. "It's your choice, Duo. You can wear the uniform or go naked. But it's entirely up to you."

He wore the uniform.

After watching Duo struggle with his boots for several minutes, Zechs knelt in front of him. Still smiling faintly, he braced the foot of the one Duo fought with against his thigh and cupped his hands around the heel.

"Point your toe and push."

Grudgingly, Duo obeyed and the boot slipped on almost effortlessly. Zechs reached for the other and repeated the process. But before he could help Duo with his jacket, the pilot bolted up and pulled on the the coat, the stiff placket and row of tiny buttons giving his nimble, pickpocket-trained fingers no difficulty. Damn it, he wasn't going to be a doll that Zechs thought he could dress. Duo swallowed as another thought occurred to him. Or undress...unbidden, he envisioned those long, elegant fingers opening the buttons of his coat, sweeping off his undershirt, brushing against his skin. Yeah, right. Like that was ever going to happen. As far as he could tell, the OZ colonel never unbent far enough to feel something as unrestrained as passion.

Too many hours alone had given him too much time to think. Listening to Wufei, sensing the contented glow that seemed to radiate from him, had led Duo to weaving fantasies, most of which centered around the tall, blond man who leaned against the wall, watching him. He knew his situation could not be compared to Wufei's, that Zechs felt nothing for him beyond obligation or duty. He doubted that his guardian even truly liked him, judging from the way he avoided his quarters much of the time. But Duo couldn't help wondering what it might be like to see something warmer than indifference in those ice-cystal eyes. Or to feel something more heated than amused disregard in his touch. Zechs crossed his arms over his broad chest, his mouth still quirked in the smallest grin, and Duo wondered if the tiny, canny smile meant that he knew what direction his thoughts had taken.

He tugged at the hem of the short jacket. He'd never been out in public in these clothes, and they felt wrong. For one thing, the pants seemed too tight, and the jacket too short. He felt strangely on display in them, and if he didn't think about something else, it was going to be damned obvious where his mind had been.

"Well? Are you ready?"

He gave a last, futile tug as his jacket. "Yeah. I guess so."

"Then come with me." Zechs opened the door and stood aside for him to go out.

Duo scooted through the door before Zechs changed his mind. "Where are we going?"

"I thought I would show you the observation deck. It's one of my favorite places on the ship."

Duo walked quietly at Zechs' side, his face alive with curiosity, looking around at the huge ship with awe.

The corridors seemed endless, with a hundred displays and controls in each that he itched to examine. But Zechs never slowed his pace, forcing Duo to scramble to keep up with the man's long stride.

He glanced up at his guardian, and caught Zechs watching him. He looked away, but not before he'd seen an emotion that he didn't understand reflected in the Colonel's eyes, both gentle and heated at once. For some reason, it tugged at his chest, leaving him feeling warmed, yet strangely empty, as well.

Confused, he kept his eyes resolutely turned away from Zechs, but he felt the tall man's gaze on him as they passed through busy corridors. He also sensed that he was the object of attention of many of the crew, and it made him want to shrink behind Zechs and hide. Being the center of attention when he chose to be was one thing, but being stared at and whispered about was something else completely.

He walked with his eyes down, a scant step nearer to his guardian. Zechs seemed to notice and stopped, a faint, puzzled frown turning down his mobile lips.

"Duo? Is something wrong?"

He shook his head, but he could tell Zechs remained unsatisfied. Still frowning, the Colonel said, "We're nearly there. But if you're tired--?"

"No. I'm all right."

Obviously unconvinced, Zechs led him to a wide door which opened as they approached. He ushered Duo through a doorway into a broad, darkened corridor. As his eyes adjusted, Duo realized that windows lined the corridor, and he stepped up to the nearest, suddenly hungry for a glimpse of the stars.

Zechs followed him and stood at his shoulder. Duo gazed out the observation window at the familiar, sweeping arc of a LaGrange colony. "That's L2, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is." Zechs looked down, his head tilted slightly, his fine, blond hair falling across his face. "What of it?"

Duo turned back to the window as the cold tide of his childhood memories swept over him. "I grew up there, you know."

"No, I didn't know."

"Have you ever been there?"

Zechs' voice was unexpectedly gentle. "Yes."

The unlooked-for sympathy caught him off guard, slipped around his defenses. He hugged his arms, suddenly cold. He wanted to protest, to say that it hadn't been that bad, but he couldn't bring himself to lie. Still watching the colony's lazy rotation, he said bleakly, "There's nothing there I want to remember."

"Is that really true?"

"Yeah." Duo meant it. He wanted to forget all of it, from his earliest memories of stealing food to survive to the reason he'd stowed away on the Sweeper ship. Every memory he had of the place hurt, for a hundred different reasons. Still avoiding Zechs' eyes, he stared out the window.

"Then come over here." Zechs lightly put his hand on the small of Duo's back and steered him to another window with a different view. "Is this better?"

"Earth." Duo pressed up against the window, eyes wide. He'd never lost the wonder he'd felt the very first time he'd seen the planet from space. It still seemed full of endless possibilities to him, and he'd thought for a long time that if he made it through the war, that's where he wanted to go.

"Yes." Zechs smiled. "I grew up there."

Duo gave in to the temptation to smile in return, a quick, half-shy, crooked grin. "I think I heard that."

Zechs moved closer behind him, reaching over his shoulder to point at the shimmering blue and white sphere. "Do you see Europe?"

Duo nodded, acutely aware of the handsome officer's closeness.

"If you could see a jagged piece of coast near Italy, that would be Sanc."

Curious, Duo tried to locate the spot through the veil of clouds. Even in just mentioning his homeland, Zechs' voice filled with emotion, and he wondered what could be so special about a tiny patch of land.

"What's it like?"

"You must understand that my opinion is not exactly unbiased."

"Yeah, I sort of gathered that."

"But it's lovely. There are mountains, low enough that they're green in the summer. And in the spring, you can see the wildflowers bloom, even from the city. It's as though someone spread a rainbow across the high country. And the coast has some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere--the water is warm and so blue you'd swear the sky had fallen in and drowned."

Duo stole a glance up at Zechs' face, and was startled by the longing he saw there. His normally cool eyes glowed, and Duo suddenly had no doubt that his guardian knew exactly where to find that particular bit of coast. Zechs was homesick, he realized, and for the first time, he had a glimmer of understanding what such an emotion might feel like.

"What about the cities?"

"The cities?" Zechs blinked as though tearing himself away from his memories. "Right now, they're largely charred ruins."

"The war?"

"Yes. The war." He looked down at Duo and smiled again, a little self-consciously. "Forgive me. I'm sure I've bored you terribly."

"Oh, no!" Impetuously, Duo put his hand on Zechs' arm. "I-I never felt like that about anyplace. I was so glad to get away from L2, I never wanted to go back. Earth was, I don't know, really awesome, but it wasn't...it must be wonderful to feel like...like someplace is home."

Zechs nodded and covered Duo's hand with his own. "It is. It's always there, like an anchor."

Duo started to speak again when a noise behind him caught his attention. He and Zechs were no longer alone. Another group of star-gazers had come up behind them. Duo heard one of them say something, too low for him to make out, and the others snickered. But as they came a little closer, their voices reached him far too clearly.

"...pet Gundam pilot..."

Another of the group laughed. "Surprised he doesn't keep him on a leash."

"How do you know he doesn't?"

A third voice added, "What tricks do you think he does for the Colonel?"

Zechs stiffened. Duo looked up into his custodian's face, but it was wiped clean of emotions, as though the warmth of the last few minutes had never existed. Very deliberately, he lifted Duo's hand off his arm. Then he delivered a chilling glare at the sniggering group behind Duo. He heard their mumured apologies, and the quick staccato of retreating footsteps.

Duo felt the heavy ache return to his chest. Zechs' face could have been carved from stone, save for the faint blush across his cheeks. Obviously, his unthinking gesture had embarrassed the Colonel. He felt twelve years old again, among strangers in a place where the rules he'd known no longer applied. He'd made so many mistakes that he'd been sure they would toss him out into space and be done with him. Zechs probably felt the same way as they had.

Neither spoke for a long moment. Finally, without looking up, Duo said in an falsely emotionless voice, "I want to go back."

"Of course." Zechs had retreated into politeness again. "As you wish."

+

The officers' club should have been a comfortable place. It had the feel of an old "gentleman's club," with deep chairs circled in intimate clusters, warm wood-panelled walls instead of utilitarian metal, and deep-piled carpets covering the hard floors. Generally, he found it a congenial place to relax, when he gave himself the opportunity. But tonight, it merely saved him from the solitude of his office. He'd thought that being surrounded by people would somehow dull the sharpness of his isolation. He was wrong.

Zechs' arm trembled as he raised his drink. He could still feel Duo's hand as though it burned. Maybe alcohol would cool the fire that one touch had raised in him. But he doubted it. He'd avoided the pilot as much as possible, slept on the couch in his office, stayed away from his quarters until he could no longer help himself. Taking Duo for a walk had seemed a safe enough way to indulge in the boy's company. But he'd not counted on Duo's pain at seeing L2, nor on how much he wanted to ease the grief in those lovely eyes. Nor on the boy's sudden, impulsive warmth. He'd come far too close to betraying his honor and Duo's trust when that little hand had reached out to him.

And then those damn fools on the observation deck. They'd as much as called Duo a whore. His drink had not dimmed the memory of the misery and humiliation on the pilot's face. And how subdued he'd been as Zechs had escorted him back to his--to their--quarters. Zechs tipped the glass with a practiced flick of his wrist, neatly downing the whisky.

He closed his eyes, waiting for the friendly vagueness of the alcohol to soothe him. He heard someone take a seat at the bar next to him, but he ignored the other's presence, sure that his posture made clear his desire to be left alone.

He half-heard the other officer order a drink, heard a murmur of welcome as he was apparently joined by a comrade. Their voices blurred together, and he let them fade from his awareness, until a voice at his side cut through the fog of his thoughts.

"So you took your pet for a walk today, eh, Colonel?"

Zechs stiffened, but neither looked up nor answered. Very deliberately, he poured himself another drink.

Apparently undeterred, his companion spoke. "I hear it's no wonder you've not let him out of your room for a week." Zechs could hear the knowing smirk in the man's voice. "But then...you've spent little time in your room lately yourself."

The first officer laughed. "If I had a piece like that waiting in my quarters--"

Their casual discussion of Duo as though he were a toy, an object valued only for his looks and his use, goaded Zechs out of his illusive coolness.

"No doubt you'd neglect your duty." Zechs downed the shot of whiskey. He hoped to change the focus of their comments, redirect them to himself, if necessary. Anything to turn their talk away from Duo.

"Maybe. But I sure as hell wouldn't neglect something like that. Damn unfair that no one else even had a chance at him. Seems like you just don't appreciate your good fortune, Colonel."

Even through the haze that began to cloud his thoughts, Zechs felt a cold weight in his belly at the man's words. He'd heard someone else say that recently. Where? His brain felt sluggish as he groped for the memory. Tuberov--yes, Tuberov. The day Zechs had taken Duo out of his cell. He peered at the officer sitting next to him at the bar. The man seemed vaguely familiar, but just now, he couldn't put a name with the face. Damnation. He ought to know better than to get drunk.

The man's companion continued to taunt Zechs. "What's the problem, Colonel? Is all this devotion to duty er, draining you?"

The first man sniggered at the innuendo. "That must be it. Can't be the kid. All you have to do is look at him to know he puts out."

Zechs slammed his empty glass on the bar and stood, glaring down at the two men. Conversation in the officer's club hushed, and he realized that all eyes in the room had turned to them. No one wanted to miss the spectacle of Colonel Zechs losing his temper in public.

The two men returned his stare, but as anger tightened his expression, they looked away. The second man poked his friend in the side, and both muttered--not quite apologetic, but at least more cautious. Nodding curtly to a group at a nearby table, they left.

Zechs turned his back on the room and faced the bar, his posture rigid. A few pockets of low-voiced conversation began again, and soon the officers' club buzzed with talk once more.

The burn of anger left him, replaced by the cold chill of fear. How many had he angered, even among his own men, by taking Duo? How many hid jealousy behind the mask of obedience to a superior officer? He'd made more enemies than just Tuberov or Dermail, it seemed.

And he'd left Duo alone, trusting his safety to no more than a security lock that could be bypassed by someone with sufficient skill and knowledge of the ship. Someone like the engineer who'd designed Libra.

Swearing softly at his own stupidity, he turned to leave the club, driven by the need to see Duo and assure himself that the boy was unharmed. He'd taken only a step when another need blossomed in him, a darker, more shameful desire. Zechs hesitated, then turned back to the bar and snatched his whisky bottle by the neck. Armed against his hunger, he left the club and returned to his quarters.

+

Zechs felt weak with relief when he saw the slender form curled up on his bed. Duo stirred at the noise, and sat up, rubbing his eyes. Stray wisps of warm, brown hair framed his face. Violet eyes, softened by sleep, blinked at him. Zechs' breath caught at the sight.

"Zechs? That you?"

"Yes. I..." He paused. Now that he was here, his fears seemed rather silly, and he didn't know quite how to explain his presence. Damnation, he didn't need an excuse to come to his own quarters. He lived here, too, didn't he? And if he wanted to come back to his quarters after a trying day and relax over a drink, he had every right. He unbuttoned his heavy uniform jacket, took it off, and tossed it over a chair.

"Duo." Zechs put the bottle on the table. "Come have a drink."

Duo eyed the alcohol. Then he looked at Zechs. "You've been drinking already."

"So I have. But I prefer not to drink alone." Zechs filled two glasses. "So I would be most obliged if you would join me."

A note of command crept into his voice, and Duo cautiously slid off the bed and padded to the table. He sat, watching Zechs warily as he lifted the glass and sipped. His eyes widened at the taste and he coughed a little, as though he were unused to anything so strong. But he sipped again, apparently determined to show Zechs that a small thing like whiskey couldn't defeat him.

Zechs watched him as he labored to master his drink. It seemed to him that everything the boy did was a headstrong battle against something. "Duo...why are you so stubborn all the time? Why so hard?"

Duo lowered his glass and sat silent for a moment, staring at the amber liquid. Then he spoke, slowly, as though he'd never really thought about his behavior. "I guess maybe I don't know any other way to be. Not and survive. Gotta be hard--or somebody's gonna chew me up and spit me out, you know?"

Zechs thought of L2. The colony had been war-torn for so long, hardly anything resembling social order remained. He'd ordered a heavier military presence there than on any other colony. Only the soldiers and the closeness of the OZ warship kept its inhabitants from turning on each other in a last effort to amass property or goods before a provisional military government imposed law and order. If Duo had grown up in the vicious chaos he'd witnessed, no wonder he trusted no one but himself.

"But the war is over. You don't have to worry any more. You can move on."

"Over? Man, you don't get it." Now that Duo had begun to talk, it was as though he couldn't get words out fast enough. "The war isn't over, not for me. I'm a fucking prisoner! I don't have my own clothes, I don't eat unless someone brings me food, I can't even leave the room unless you say so. Move on? How am I going to move on, huh? When everything reminds me that I'm nothing but a-a possession?"

Zechs said nothing, understanding Duo's hostility and wishing he could explain without frightening him. But better for the pilot to be angry with him, even to hate him, than to be always watching over his shoulder for enemies he couldn't see.

Duo continued. "Don't you see? I got left behind--again. The other guys, they're with people who want them. Shit, Fei's in love, and Treize cooked up this whole scheme just to save him. And me...I'm stuck with the Iceman."

The boy stopped, staring at Zechs with huge eyes, as he realized what he'd blurted out. "Zechs...I...I..."

Iceman? Did Duo honestly believe that he felt nothing for him? Bitterly, he realized that in his attempt to protect Duo from his own desires, he'd made him believe that he cared only for duty. But that was a perception he could mend.

Zechs leaned forward and took Duo's hand. Very slowly, he streched out the boy's arm. Duo watched him fearfully as he pushed up the sleeve of the silk tunic. He lightly rubbed the inside of Duo's elbow, traced the blue veins that marbled his pale skin. He thought he felt Duo shiver as he drew his finger up the soft flesh from the inside of his wrist. Then he bent and kissed the inside of Duo's forearm, and this time, an unmistakable tremor shook him.

"You're wrong, Duo. I'm not made of ice." Still holding Duo's hand, he stood and pulled the boy to his feet. Zechs drew him closer, feeling his initial resistance dissolve as he wrapped his arms around the slender body. "Let me show you how warm I can be."

Duo's startled gasp drowned as their lips met. Zechs dipped his tongue into Duo's mouth, and the boy's remaining tension melted. He worked his knee between Duo's legs, forcing them apart, rubbing him with his thigh as he teased the pilot's tongue into his own mouth. He sucked, and a tiny whimper gurgled in Duo's throat. His hand slid down the thin silk that covered the young man's back, down to the curves of his buttocks, touching him in reality as he had touched him only in tormented dreams. With his other hand, he held Duo's face still as he forced more helpless noises from him. He felt Duo's warm mound press against his leg, and as they broke for breath, the boy closed his eyes, moaning softly, his hands clutching at Zechs' jacket. He pressed closer, his arms stealing around Zechs' neck, his chin tilted back, lips parted as though he begged to be kissed again. Zechs' gripped the small, round bottom, his fingers digging into the muscles, spreading the buttocks, one thumb slipping down the silk-covered crevice between them. As he rubbed across his tight entrance, Duo's body spasmed in his arms and he cried out.

The cry cut through the dizzying intoxication and desire that engulfed him. What was he doing? Duo whimpered, wriggling in his arms as though to encourage him, and his body ached in answer. This was wrong. They were both drunk. Duo didn't know, couldn't possibly understand, what he was doing. He pushed the boy away, meaning to put him aside gently, but shoving harder than he meant to in his guilt and his drunkenness.

Duo stumbled back, his beautiful eyes bewildered. His face crumpled, as though he were about to cry, leaving his swollen lips looking bruised, his vulnerable mouth wounded.

"Duo--" Zechs backed away, toward the door. Duo's obvious wretchedness tore at him, and he wanted more than anything to take him into his arms again, to kiss away the pain of rejection so plain in his lovely face. He couldn't trust himself if he stayed any longer. "Forgive me. This won't happen again."

Without stopping for his uniform coat, Zechs punched in the security code, even in his drunken haste blocking his prisoner's view of the keypad with his body. As the door slid open, he heard Duo's voice, small and hurt, behind him.

"Zechs? Please don't--"

Unable to listen another moment, he stumbled out the door. As the doors shut behind him, he heard Duo's anguished voice crying, "Zechs!"

+

The observation deck was deserted. Zechs leaned his forehead against the wall, his eyes closed. He could still taste Duo's lips, still feel that lithe, little body pressed eagerly against him. His head pounded in time with his heart, deafening him with its throbbing beat. Frustration built in him, roiling like lava in an active volcano, until finally, he slammed his fist against the wall with a half-sobbed oath.

He stood at arm's length from the door, palms flat against the metal, holding himself up. He hung his head, panting as though he'd run a race, his breath tearing in his chest, until he couldn't bear the silence or the solitude another moment. Hoping for the comforting oblivion of the stars, he staggered to the window. Pressing his fist against the cool surface, he searched for the solace he'd always found, but tranquility eluded him. Instead, his throat ached with desperate longing as he stared, not at Earth, but at the wheel of the L2 colony as it turned slowly in its heedless, seemingly eternal cycle.

[ch. 3] [ch. 5] [back to RazorQueens' fic]