by RazorQueen
see ch. 1 for warnings. notes

The Claim + Chapter 6

Duo woke, stretching like a cat. He seldom had the luxury of waking slowly and he enjoyed every minute of it. Rolling over, he discovered Zechs had already risen, although sounds from the bathroom told him that he hadn't yet gone. Duo snagged a pillow from the other side of the bed and pressed his face into it, breathing in the traces of Zechs' scent. The sound of running water reached him, and he slid out of bed on Zechs' side just as he heard the shower door close.

The colonel's discarded uniform lay in a tumble on the floor. Damn. Zechs had undressed right in front of him and he didn't even know it. Duo gasped, slightly embarrassed by the boldness of his own thoughts. But it was okay for him to think that way. That was where this...this thing between them was going--wasn't it? Duo felt the burden of his inexperience. He didn't know what Zechs expected him to do, or what came next. And aside from his fear of the unknown, another anxiety stung him. Would Zechs be disappointed in him? He was probably used to being with someone who knew what he was doing. And Duo didn't. He had some ideas, but...

Duo felt his face grow hot at direction his mind had taken. He bent over to gather up Zechs' clothes, plucking his shirt off the pile. With a glance at the closed bathroom door, he pressed his face into the cloth. God, he smelled so good. His body responded, quick and intense. Duo rubbed the cloth against his cheek, pretending he rubbed against Zechs' body. He shuddered as the force of how badly he wanted his captor shook him.

For a moment, he wrapped his arms around the empty shirt, his eyes closed. If Zechs saw him, he'd think Duo was a total goof. Reluctant, Duo relaxed his imagined embrace and bent to collect the rest of Zechs' clothes. He draped the white breeches over his arm, reaching for the last garment. Oh...fuck. The sight of Zechs' briefs filled his mind with exquisite, tormenting visions. Dropping the other clothing in a heap, he gingerly ran his fingers over the fabric. What would he do if Duo touched him like this? He rubbed a little more confidently, his other hand stealing to his own demanding body. He could do it. He could make Zechs feel good. He knew he could.

The idea of caressing Zechs there made his breath quicken with longing. He squirmed, but the faint friction of his silk pants provided no relief. Biting his lip, he looked again at the closed door that separated him from Zechs. If he were fast, Zechs would never know. His cock twitched, expectant. Duo touched himself through the thin fabric, his thumb rubbing the growing damp spot. No problem about being fast, not this morning.

He slid his pants to his thighs, freeing his eager erection. One hand still clutching Zechs' briefs, he wrapped his other hand around his cock and began to stroke himself. Vague images coalesced into a lust-sharpened picture of Zechs touching him, guiding him, teaching him all the mysteries he ached to learn. His hand moved faster, smearing his moisture over his heated skin. He bit his lip harder in an effort to stifle his moans. Oh god, he wanted Zechs. Wanted to be touched...to be held...loved...

"Zechs!"

With a cry, Duo came, his warm seed spilling over his hand. The rush of sensation clouded his sight, narrowed his awareness to the pulse of his orgasm. Dimly, he heard a velvet voice calling to him, but he couldn't be sure whether it was still part of his fantasy or not.

"Duo?"

Holy shit! Duo snatched the pile of Zechs' cloths and held them in front of him, covering himself. He couldn't meet Zechs' eyes. "I-I was just straightening up the room a little."

"I heard you call. I thought perhaps something was wrong."

"N-no. I was just wondering if...if...if it's time to meet Treize yet." Grinning, he looked up, pleased with himself for having found a plausible excuse.

"Not quite." Zechs' look of tension lifted for a moment as he watched Duo. His expression softened, and he smiled. "As soon as I'm finished, you can have the bathroom. When you're dressed, we'll go."

We'll go, Zechs said. Duo smiled a little to himself, thinking that being part of "we" with this man might be all right. Duo nodded. He felt his heart return to its normal rhythm as the door closed again. He had to be more careful about that, though. Getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar would be pretty damn embarrassing.

Duo grinned again, looking forward to the day for the first time since he'd been locked in that cell. He pulled up his pants, covering himself, and began to straighten up the room in earnest. Excitement burbled inside of him, almost as though he were about to climb into Deathscythe for a battle. He felt as though he could take on a whole brigade this morning. Zechs opened the door again and stepped into the room, fully dressed except for his coat and boots. His freshly washed hair shimmered, and his muscled arms and chest filled a clean version of the shirt Duo had nuzzled. When he looked at Duo, the guarded, hesitant expression was gone, replaced by an open smile that was more than friendly.

Duo smirked, feeling extremely pleased with himself. It looked like things might just be going his way after all.

Duo followed Zechs into a small conference room that adjoined Treize's quarters. He remembered the spare elegance of Zechs' office, and he supposed he'd find something similar from the General. But two rooms less alike would be hard to imagine.

Where Zechs had obviously preferred clean lines and uncluttered spaces, opting for efficiency over ornamentation, Treize's office reflected his love of opulence. They could easily have been in some pre-colony mansion rather than on a state-of-the-art spaceship. Deep red walls made the room seem warm and intimate. Oil paintings in gilded frames spotted the two longer sides of the room. One of the shorter walls held ceiling-to-floor bookshelves; gold velvet curtains fringed and tasseled with bullion covered the other. The centerpiece of the room was a conference table, its dark wood surface polished to a high gloss. A huge crystal vase of fresh roses dominated the middle of the table, making the silver coffee service next to it seem almost inconspicuous by comparison. What kind of soldier lived like this? How could someone fight if he was afraid he might get his white gloves dirty?

Zechs must have caught Duo's slight sneer, because he leaned down and murmured against his ear, "Don't let this fool you. He's sharp as steel underneath the roses and lace."

Duo said nothing, still skeptical. The room spoke too loudly of someone who preferred luxury to the severity of war. How could the General expect anyone to take him seriously when he worked in a place like this? Then Treize Khushrenada entered, and Duo saw he was wrong. The fussy uniform, the pristine gloves, the flawlessly coifed hair served as more distractions from the sharp intelligence of his eyes. He was no wimp. Duo realized that Treize used his surroundings like Zechs used his mask, to hide the real man underneath.

Wufei had entered just behind Treize, and his eyes met Duo's. A tiny, conspiratorial smile curved his thin mouth. Duo winked in return just as Zechs took his arm and steered him to one of the leather chairs circling the table. Treize and Wufei sat opposite them.

"Anything new?" Zechs said, helping himself to coffee.

"Not since last night. I have agents investigating, but Yuy and his guardian have dropped completely out of sight."

Treize tapped the table with his finger, the only sign that the news disturbed him. But Duo remembered the man's face from last night and Zechs' admission that this was very bad news. He saw the same tightly reined look on Zechs' face. God, they both held everything inside. He practically needed a decoder ring to understand either of them.

"What could have happened?" Duo felt Zechs' tension as though it were his own. "The investigation was thorough."

"Yes, but it's impossible to know every tie a man has. I shouldn't have agreed. I should have given Yuy to someone I knew personally, someone whose trust was never in doubt."

Like Zechs. Duo looked down at his hands, loosely folded in his lap. Doubt nipped at him again. Zechs had taken him out of loyalty to Treize, because he'd have been a danger anywhere else.

As though he sensed Duo's thoughts, Zechs reached over and briefly stroked his knee. Duo stole a glance at Zechs' face, caught the reassuring warmth in his eyes. Zechs' small, private smile seemed to say that he'd taken Duo for reasons far more personal than his loyalty to Treize. For a moment, he felt as thought the two of them were alone, away from this room and this crisis, which he only barely understood. The security Duo had felt lying in Zechs' arms returned; comforted, he gave his attention back to the conversation.

"You didn't have a choice," Zechs said. "You had to give the old buzzards something after you stood up to them over Duo."

Treize laughed at hearing the ruling clique of Romefeller described so unflatteringly. "Yes, but I could have found something else to appease them if I'd tried." Frowning, he drummed his fingers on the table, then stopped abruptly. "I don't suppose it matters now, although I wonder what influenced them."

"Money? Power?"

Treize appeared unconvinced. "Perhaps." He shrugged. "But until we have more information, there's nothing for us to do but be even more vigilant. We can't stop the work because of this."

Zechs nodded. "At least I have some good news there. Things are moving ahead of schedule. Two elections are scheduled within the next two weeks, another tentatively within a month."

A genuine smile lightened the general's patrician face. "Now, that is the best news I've heard in a long time. I promised the colonies our occupation would be short, only until they could restore their own governments. This will help them see we mean to keep our promises."

Zechs nodded, and the conversation took another turn into local colonial politics. Duo didn't understand the specifics, but he gathered one thing out of the discussion: Treize and Zechs--and by extension OZ--had no interest in ruling the colonies. In fact, it appeared that they wanted the colonies to form their own governments as soon as possible. Their pledge to bring peace and order seemed genuine, not the propaganda Duo had always assumed. Had it always been that way? Was that what they wanted, even when he and the other pilots fought them?

Duo felt the foundations of his beliefs tremble. Better to die than to live under OZ's rule. How often had the Professor drilled that into him? He'd never questioned, even though he'd had no first-hand knowledge of the organization, not at the beginning. The bogiemen of his childhood had been Alliance soldiers. He just assumed...he thought they were all alike. Duo thought of the bases he'd destroyed, the men he had killed following his orders. He'd counted every setback to OZ's plans a victory, but now he wondered. What if...what if he had only been making things worse for the colonies? He thought it was the right thing--but he never even asked, never really looked for himself--

Panic gripped him. He felt as though he had fallen into cold, dark waters, too deep for him to see the bottom. He struggled, but the water closed over him, and he couldn't find the light or air.

"Duo?" Zechs reached for him. "What's wrong?"

He gripped Zechs' hand as though it were a lifeline. He felt tears sting his eyes. "I...I...Zechs--" His throat closed on his voice, and he could only cling desperately to his guardian.

"Take a deep breath." Zechs rubbed his back with his free hand. "Breathe," he ordered again. Duo obeyed, and slowly his sudden, unreasoning fear receded. "Now what was that about?"

He felt everyone's eyes on him. Humiliated, he shook his head, refusing to look up. But Zechs leaned down, tucked a loose strand of hair behind Duo's ear. "Tell me. Are you feeling ill? Hungry?" Duo shrugged. "When did you last eat?"

Wufei answered for him. "It's been a while. He didn't feel much like eating yesterday."

"And we haven't had anything this morning," Zechs said. "You should have told me you were hungry."

"You must assume they are always hungry." Treize chuckled, breaking the tension. "Just because we have to remind you to eat, Zechs, doesn't mean that Duo enjoys starving. Dragon, why don't you take him to the officers' mess. Zechs and I will be along shortly."

Wufei stood, but Zechs kept Duo's hand. "Do you think they'll be safe?"

Treize smiled ruefully. "Who would be foolish enough to attack two Gundam pilots?"

"I suppose you're right." With obvious reluctance, Zechs released Duo. "But please, be careful."

Duo stood, trying to conceal how shaky his arms and legs felt. Wufei pulled him out of Zechs' reach as though he thought the tall officer might change his mind about letting him go.

"Don't worry," Wufei said to both men, and then half-dragged Duo out the door.

Without speaking, Wufei led the way to the officers' mess, deposited Duo at an empty table, then disappeared. Duo sat still, hugging his arms. His stomach responded enthusiastically to the smells of food, but his mind churned too much for him to be aware of his hunger. Was it all wrong, what they'd done? He'd thought he was fighting for peace, for the colonies' freedom. But what had he really been fighting for?

Wufei returned with two trays. He put one in front of Duo, then sat down and picked up a slice of toast from the other. When Duo made no move to begin eating, Wufei looked at him with genuine concern.

"Duo, what's wrong?"

Duo shook his head. He didn't feel ready to put his doubts into words. They were too new, too unformed. He needed more time to think.

"Something's bothering you." Wufei studied him, frowning. "Is it Zechs?"

"No," Duo answered quickly. "I think everything's going to be okay with that."

"Thank Heaven." Wufei smiled. "It's about time. I thought Treize was stubborn, but you two--"

Duo accepted his friend's teasing. "Okay, so I'm kind of dense sometimes."

"Sometimes?" Wufei took a delicate bite of toast, watching Duo thoughtfully as he chewed. "There's still something you want to talk about though, isn't there?"

"Well...kind of," Duo admitted. Not the war. He couldn't talk about that yet. But Zechs, that was different. "It's awfully personal, but...Fei, do you think you could tell me..." He felt a flush creeping up from his neck as he blurted, "What's it like?"

"What's--oh!" Wufei coughed, choking slightly on his toast, and took a drink of tea. Duo's question took him totally by surprise. The Chinese pilot swallowed his tea, then set down his cup. He looked at his friend, curious. "You mean you don't know?"

"No," Duo said, glum. "I haven't ever--do you think he'll mind a lot?"

"Mind?" Wufei recalled Treize's gentleness, his delight in knowing that he was his dragon's first partner. In that respect, Wufei suspected that his own lover and Zechs were cut from the same cloth. "I think it will please him."

"Oh, sure it will." Duo did not look convinced. "C'mon, Fei, tell me just a little? I don't know what to do, and...and I'm...please?"

Intuitively, Wufei knew that Duo had been about to admit he was afraid. Relenting, he said, "All right, then. What do you want to know?"

Duo's eyes widened and his face turned a deep rosy crimson. "Um...everything?"

Wufei shook his head, smiling indulgently. "That narrows it considerably."

"Okay, then," Duo began, his voice defiant, "what about the first time?"

"The first time?" Wufei thought back to when he and Treize had become lovers, more than a year earlier. After his first humiliating loss to Treize on the general's yacht, he'd been determined to defeat the man. He'd traced Treize's whereabouts and challenged him to another duel--one that ended much like their first.

Treize stood over him, his sword pointed at Wufei's throat. With a cry, Wufei threw away his sword.

"Kill me! You've defeated me twice. Why don't you kill me?"

"Three times, if we count New Edwards." Miraculously, Treize sheathed his sword and offered his hand to Wufei. "But I think that killing you would be an unforgiveable waste."

Reluctant, Wufei accepted the gloved hand and allowed Treize to pull him to his feet. Facing the general, he felt something he couldn't identify. Desperate, he tried to hang on to his rage. But Treize saw through it--he'd always known what Wufei needed, even when he wouldn't admit it--and somehow, they'd wound up kissing. Looking back, it seemed so easy. He'd just known.

And later: Wufei lay under Treize, his lips swollen, his body ready to be loved. Oddly, his clearest memory was of Treize's eyes, crystalline, sapphire blue, watching him intensely. And of being taken at last, surrendering to the man he'd pledged to hate forever, pain and ecstasy blending into a single note. Treize's voice in the dark, unimaginably gentle, "Hold tight, little dragon. I'm going to hurt you now." His own cries--his tears--and finally, the indescribable joy.

"Does that answer your question, Duo?" Wufei asked his friend, who'd listened wide-eyed.

"Some. Thanks." Duo's cheeks burned and he shifted in his seat as though something poked him uncomfortably. For a few minutes, he pushed his food around, unmercifully rending his scrambled eggs, but never actually eating any of his breakfast. With a little sigh, he put down his fork. "Uh...Fei?"

"What is it?" Wufei's tone made it clear that what he really meant was, "What is it this time?"

"Is there a bathroom around here?"

Wufei blinked. It's hardly what he expected Duo to ask. "Yes--down the corridor and just around the corner. But..."

"C'mon, Fei." Duo's voice sounded as sharp as whatever appeared to be poking at him. "I'm a big boy. I think I can go to the potty by myself."

Wufei felt his own face warm at Duo's bluntness. "Are you sure you'll be all right?"

Duo's chin began to jut forward slightly, signaling another attack of stubbornness. "Why is it okay for you to go wandering around without an escort? I haven't noticed anyone wanting to follow you to the little boy's room."

"I suppose partly because there's no question about my relationship with Treize. And...well..." Wufei looked over Duo's small, slender body, not wanting to insult his friend. "It would be much more difficult to capture me."

Duo opened his mouth to protest, but Wufei silenced him with a stern glare. Duo glared back for a moment, but then he snapped his mouth shut and settled into a bit of a pout.

Wufei knew his own concern was legitimate, that he was not overreacting, no matter what Duo would like to think. The former pilot could hold his own in a bar fight--maybe--but his scrappy street fighting wouldn't be much help against trained soldiers. Of course, he was fast and agile, but he had to be able to run for that to help him.

Clearly, Duo did not want to admit that he would be, if not an easy target, not an impossible one. He stared at the table, his mouth sullen.

"Duo?"

"Fei, I'm not exactly helpless, remember? And anyway, what would anyone want with me? Like you said--I'm nobody." Duo stood. "Look. I'm going to the bathroom. I'll be right back. You don't even have to tell Zechs I was out of your sight, okay?"

Grudgingly, Wufei admitted that short of using force himself, there was very little he could do to stop Duo, especially when he got that obstinate jut to his chin. "All right. But please hurry. I don't want to have to explain."

Duo grinned and winked at him, cheerful again now that he'd gotten his way. Wufei watched him down the corridor, his braid twitching with every buoyant step. He turned the corner, and Wufei gave his attention to his tea, hoping that Treize and Zechs wouldn't return before Duo did. But then, he reasoned, not even Duo could get in much trouble just going to the bathroom.

+

Duo's step had lost some of its confident spring as he walked farther and farther down the corridor. Fei had said "just around the corner," right? Yet Duo saw nothing that indicated a public restroom. Damn it, nothing was marked on this ship. Obviously, they expected that anyone walking around on the Libra belonged there and knew where things were. Like bathrooms...

He tugged at his short jacket again, even though he knew it was a pointless gesture. Listening to Wufei's memories, he'd too easily been able to see himself and Zechs in the same circumstances. Fei's explanation--sometimes too romantic, Duo suspected, and sometimes too disturbingly real--only made him want even more to find out for himself what it was all about. Damn these uniforms, anyway. And where the hell was that bathroom?

Another flush of images rushed up at Duo's imagination, but this time, his mind fastened on another scenario. In this one, all he saw were his own inexperience and awkwardness, and Zechs turning away, scornful. A sudden ache tightened his chest. Zechs wouldn't...would he? Torn between his fantasies and fears, Duo wandered farther down the corridor, turning yet another corner but having no better luck in this hallway. Everything looked the same. Hell, now he would have to go back ask Fei to come with him after all. Duo scowled, wondering if Fei had done that on purpose, let him go, knowing he couldn't find the bathroom on his own.

Duo turned around and started to retrace his steps. At the first branch in the endless hallways, he turned with assurance. But it seemed that this corridor went on much longer than he remembered. Maybe he'd taken a wrong turn after all. Swearing under his breath, he turned and went back again.

A few minutes later, Duo forced himself to admit that he was hopelessly lost. Who knew a ship could be this big and this confusing? Every damn corridor looked both vaguely familiar and strange at once. How long had he been gone, anyway? Surely Fei would come looking for him, or Zechs. Duo bit his lip. He wasn't sure he wanted that. Zechs would be sore at him for wandering off--and Fei would be pissed, too, because now he'd get chewed out. Congratulations, Maxwell, he scolded himself. Yep, he'd really proved to Wufei he could take care of himself. And Zechs, too. Uh huh, they were going to be so impressed with him.

It took a few more minutes for the insistent prickling between his shoulder blades to register through the cloud of his irritation. Duo stopped, the sensation so strong it made him twitch his shoulders. But once he was aware of it, he recognized it immediately. Tensing, he slowed his steps as his soldier's instincts took over. Two men in officers' uniforms followed him at a distance that might appear casual--except that now that he thought about it, they'd turned every corner that he had for the last few minutes. He supposed it was remotely possible that they were on their way to the officers' mess, and he just happened to be heading the right direction after all. But at the next intersection, he ducked down a corridor that he was fairly certain was a wrong turn. A dozen steps behind him, the two men turned the corner, as well.

He didn't even know where the hell he was going. What were the chances now that these guys just happened to be walking the same direction as he was? Slim to none, and he knew it. Trying to look a lot more self-assured than he felt, Duo kept walking, turning corners, doubling back, until he had confused himself thoroughly and utterly failed to shake them.

Okay, enough of this bullshit. This time, when they turned a corner a few step behind him, he was waiting for them, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, his best juvenile delinquent grin pasted on his face.

"Boo."

The two officers stopped and stared. Pressing his advantage, Duo straightened up, hands on his hips, glaring.

"You guys want something?"

They hesitated, but only fractionally. One of them said, "You're in a security area. Authorized personnel only."

"Yeah? Well, guess what? I've got authority to be here." All right, so that was stretching the truth a little. But he didn't think Zechs would be all that mad at him. Not because he was in a security area, anyway.

"Oh?" The officer who'd spoken took a couple of steps closer, while the other one maneuvered himself behind Duo. "Colonel Zechs' authority?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact. You got a problem with that?" Christ, they were moving in on him. What the devil was this about? Every instinct screamed at Duo to run, get the hell out. But something stopped him, made him wait just a little longer. Some gut feeling told him this had something to do with Zechs--and with Heero.

Anger so intense it passed for hatred flashed across the officer's face. "So now he's giving run of the ship to his catamite? He's no--"

"Shut up." The second officer snapped at his companion, drawing Duo's attention for a split second--long enough for the first man to make a grab for him.

This was Trouble. Duo dodged the first officer's grasp, but the second one had dropped out of his line of sight. Duo glanced over his shoulder, then a hint of movement caught his attention, and he looked back toward the first officer. As he did, a fist connected with his jaw. Pain exploded in bright, blinding flashes and he dropped to his knees.

+

Zechs and Treize entered the officers' mess together, talking of inconsequential affairs now that they were in a public area. They spotted Wufei at a table not far from the door, sitting alone.

"Where's Duo?" Zechs turned to scan the food line, but he found no sign of the young man. A few other non-com uniforms dotted the breakfast crowd, but none was worn by a slender boy with a long, brown braid.

"Ah...." Wufei cleared his throat. "He's not...here...right now."

Zechs scowled, and even Treize looked faintly disturbed. "What do you mean, he's not here?" Zechs demanded. "Where is he?"

"He left to find the restroom." Wufei looked distinctly uncomfortable at the admission.

"How long ago?"

Wufei frowned, seeming even more uneasy. "More than long enough."

Zechs swore, loudly enough that several officers at a nearby table looked up from their breakfasts, curious. Treize's expression darkened. "Dragon, you shouldn't have let him go alone. What if--"

"He doesn't know the ship." Zechs interrupted Treize, his sudden fear for Duo overriding his innate adherence to the protocols of rank. "And he doesn't really understand the situation. If he--"

"He insisted he go alone," Wufei snapped back at Zechs. "What was I to do, sit on him?"

"If you had to!" For the moment, caught up in his fears, Zechs forgot how obstinate Duo could be. "He has no idea what's at stake here. He could easily--"

"That is not my fault!" Wufei's voice began to rise in anger, as well, attracting more attention. "If you had told him, instead of trying to shield him as if he were a child--"

Trieze held up his hand, cutting both of them off. "Stop it, both of you. These matters are not for everyone's ears. Wufei, I expected better judgment from you." The former pilot's face burned deep red, but he showed no other reaction, although Zechs knew the terse observation was a reprimand that shamed Wufei deeply. He bowed slightly and made no further attempt to excuse himself. Then the General turned his attention to Zechs.

Zechs felt his own face grow a little warm under Treize's cold stare, as if he were a raw cadet again, facing his lieutenant's wrath for operating a hairsbreadth outside regulations. But he faced Treize as boldly now as he had then, and with no more intention of obeying rules if they got in his way.

In his case, the expected, cutting remark did not come. Instead, Treize's voice sounded weighted with anxiety. "Go and find him, Milliard. I'll send Wufei with some men I trust, as well. And when you do," he continued, the slightest emphasis on "when," "Wufei is right. Tell him the entire story. For his own safety."

Zechs hesitated, then nodded. Perhaps he'd miscalculated after all in not explaining everything to Duo from the beginning. He'd meant to protect him, but now it seemed as though he'd compromised the pilot's safety, as well as Treize's plans, by concealing their suspicions. With a perfunctory salute to Trieze, Zechs left the officers' mess to search Libra's endless, anonymous corridors, only too aware of all the places one slip of a boy could hide--or be hidden.

+

Stunned, Duo crouched on his hands and knees, black and red specks still dancing in front of his eyes. He struggled with unconsciousness and won, but only barely. The man who punched him grabbed his arms and dragged him to his feet. Still too dazed to put up an effective struggle, he let himself be pushed into an alcove, stumbling ahead of the two OZ officers.

A hand shoved Duo roughly, and he staggered into the bulkhead.

"That's enough." Duo identified the voice of the second officer. "We aren't his enemies."

Duo rubbed hs chin and spoke without turning around. "Sure as hell could've fooled me."

The second officer spoke again. "Why are you down here? Did Colonel Zechs send you?"

Duo turned so that he could see both men. "What if he did?"

The first officer pulled at his companion's sleeve. "Damn! Then he knows--"

The second officer turned his head, snarling. "Shut up!"

Knows? What did Zechs know? Maybe if he played along, he'd get more out of them. He managed an arrogant tilt to his chin, ignoring the throbbing ache. "You bet he does. You didn't think you could hide from him for long, did you?"

The second officer's eyes narrowed, his demeanor turning slightly more threatening as he took a step closer to Duo. Looked like he was changing his mind about being Duo's enemy. "He told you?"

"Yeah." Duo tossed his head, his braid snaking down his back. "You're pretty stupid, thinking you could get away with it." C'mon, he thought. Just one hint about what "it" might be.

The first man swore viciously, turning on Duo. "We'll make sure you aren't carrying any tales to him, anyway."

Duo dodged him, but the second man caught him, trapped his arms against his body. The first seeds of panic began to take root in his belly. Then the other man approached him again, sneering.

"You little fool, he's only using you. Like he used Sanc." The man's voice shook with venomous hatred. "He doesn't know how to do anything else." He said to his companion, "Keep him quiet. I'll look for a wire."

The second officer's hand closed on Duo's mouth as his partner pawed at his jacket. For a brief moment, he was too stunned to struggle--the officer's words rattled him. Zechs...using him? But for what? It didn't make sense, but...no. No, Zechs wouldn't. Then a rough hand thrust inside his jacket, under the waist of his pants. The prodding touch brought him back to the moment, and everything was forgotten except his need to escape.

He fought wildly, but with little effect against the hard muscles of the OZ officer. In desperation, Duo sank his teeth into the hand that covered his mouth. Cursing, the man loosened his hold on Duo, who seized the opportunity and ran. He had no idea where he was running, or how far, or for how long. Finally, he was certain he'd lost them, and he ducked into a doorway. Chest heaving, he leaned against the wall, pressing his hands against his sides to try to ease the stabbing pain there.

"Shit. Fucking shit. Goddamnmotherfuckingsonofabitch." Duo leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. A wave of chills broke over him, and he shivered. Fuck it all, just when he thought he was getting a handle on something, it all shifted again. He didn't want to give what that jerk said any credence at all, but it stuck in his mind and he couldn't shake it lose. Nothing he'd seen or heard here supported the man's claim that Zechs was using him or Sanc. How could he be using his country for anything--he wasn't even there! And as for him...Zechs hadn't asked anything of him. Nothing that had to do with his abilities as a Gundam pilot, that was for sure. And not even...Duo blushed, a flush of heat replacing the chill--but not completely. Nothing he'd seen so far corroborated the man's claim in any way. But all of Duo's past experience, all of his training, everything he'd been taught as a pilot backed it up. Only...only maybe that was all wrong, too...

"Fuck." Duo swore again, rubbing his head. He had to think some more, but he couldn't do it here. After all those guys--and their buddies, presumably--were still around, and now they were pretty sure he was on Zechs' side. If only he could be as sure...

Duo straightened and leaned out of the doorway to peer around the corners. The corridor seemed empty, at least for now, so he started walking, always wary, listening for footsteps that seemed to dog him. But it seemed that, at least for now, his pursuers had lost interest in him.

He wandered through Libra's featureless halls, back to his original problem of being totally lost. That problem seemed both smaller and bigger now--being lost was the least of his worries, but roaming around by himself made him an easy target. Just like Wufei had implied. Okay, just how big could one deck of this ship be? He'd stayed on the same level, at least. Except for the cell he'd been in at first, everyplace he'd been was on the same deck.

Finally, he thought things began to look at least vaguely familiar again. The hall lined with control panels jogged a memory of going to the observation deck. Taking a chance that this was the same corridor, he followed it, concentrating on recreating in his mind his walk with Zechs. His walk took on the aura of genuine purpose again, not the façade he'd been projecting. He had someplace to go again, something to do--even if it was just to find a quiet, solitary place where he could be alone and think.

+

Zechs retraced all the routes he and Duo had ever taken any time they'd ever been out of their quarters. He had a faint hope that if Duo had gotten lost, he might have tried to find a way that seemed familiar. He had no luck in the corridors, however. By the time he reached the observation deck, Zechs had to fight down visions of Duo lost, hurt, kidnapped...every minute that he couldn't find him brought a new fear.

Barely holding his desperation in check, Zechs opened the door of the observation deck. At first glance, it appeared empty. But as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw a small figure huddled on the floor, knees drawn up to his chest--oh God, and a long braid hanging down his back. Zechs felt his knees wobble with relief.

"Duo?"

Duo unfolded himself and got to his feet. Behind him, L2 rotated slowly against a field of stars. Duo stood, a tense outline against the darkness, his hands clenched, as though he expected a fight. He stared at Zechs almost as if he didn't recognize him. He blinked hard, then asked in a faintly tremulous voice, "Zechs? Is that you?"

Now that he knew Duo was safe, Zechs' anger flared. His voice was sharp and scolding as he stepped up to the raised platform where Duo stood. "What were you thinking, wandering off like that! Anything could have happened. You could have been..." Duo sniffed, and Zechs looked closer at him. He looked as though he would dissolve into tears any moment. "What's wrong?"

Duo took a long, shuddering breath. "Nothing. It's okay now."

Zechs saw blood speckling the boy's lip and chin. He cupped his hand over Duo's cheek, and when he spoke, his voice was soft, almost gentle. "What happened? Duo...?"

"Really, it's all right. I just--got lost, and--" Duo's voice broke and he looked up at Zechs helplessly.

Zechs put his arm around Duo's shoulders, felt him trembling. "Come on. Let me take you to our quarters." He touched the swollen, bloody place gently with his forefinger. "We'll take care of this first--then you can tell me about the nothing that split your lip."

Under the shelter of his arm, Zechs walked Duo back to their quarters. He couldn't help thinking of the contrast between now and the last time they'd made this walk together. This time, he kept Duo close to him, no matter what curious looks followed them. The first time someone passed them, he felt Duo shrink away, saw him hunch his shoulders and look at the floor. With a pang, Zechs knew what he thought would happen. But instead of moving away, as Duo clearly expected, he tightened his arm, pulled the slight body even closer. Duo gasped and looked up at Zechs, his eyes wide with surprise. Zechs smiled a little and held Duo's gaze until a pleased grin spread slowly across the boy's face. As they continued toward their quarters, Zechs felt confidence flowing back into Duo's bearing. The next time someone approached them in the corridor, Duo lifted his chin and slid his own arm around Zechs' waist, almost as if he dared anyone to make an issue out of their closeness. No one did, however, and they reached their room without incident.

As he keyed in the security code, this time not hiding it from Duo, Zechs wondered when he'd begun thinking of this room as "their" quarters. Duo no longer felt like his prisoner or his obligation. He was, quite simply, part of Zechs' life. He belonged wherever Zechs was, and to imagine it any other way was impossible.

"Duo..." Zechs stood outside the closed bathroom door, feeling the mixture of frustration and bewilderment that he suspected was going to become the norm with Duo around. "Why don't you let me--"

"No." Even muffled by the door, Duo's voice was firm. "I can take care of it myself."

"Fine." Zechs shrugged, slightly confounded. He took off his jacket, hung it over the back of the chair, and sat down on the edge of the bed, waiting for Duo. The little pilot seemed like a walking paradox, sometimes. As much as he'd clung to Zechs on the observation deck and on the walk back, when Zechs offered to clean the cut on his lip, he flatly refused, declaring that he was not as helpless as everyone seemed to think.

Finally, the door opened and Duo came out, his face clean, lip glistening faintly under the sheen of medicinal ointment. His grin seemed more lopsided than usual as he favored the injured side of his mouth. But what caught Zechs' attention were his eyes. At odds with the devil-may-care grin, they were wide, almost pleading. Zechs stood and crossed to him, making a show of examining Duo's bruised cheek and swollen lip. As he touched Duo, his fingers gentle, some of the uncertainty left the violet eyes, but Zechs felt the faint tremors that still shook him.

He tipped Duo's chin. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Unexpectedly, Duo leaned against his chest and nuzzled with the uninjured side of his face. "I am now."

Zechs leaned down and kissed him gently at first, careful of his hurt lip. But Duo responded willingly, even eagerly, and the kiss heated as quickly as a flame set to dry grass. Zechs' hand curled around Duo's braid, followed it from the base of his neck to the end, just below Duo's hips. Duo twitched, an insistent little keen beginning in the back of his throat, as Zechs used the end of his braid to tickle him through the seat of his tight pants. Then Zechs ran his hand back up the braid, pulled just enough to tip Duo's head back, and sucked on the hollow of his throat.

It seemed to Zechs that one moment they were kissing, and the next they were on the floor, their hands and mouths searching, hungry. As their kisses grew more frantic, Zechs slid his hand between Duo's legs. Duo moaned and squirmed under his touch, but when Zechs tugged on Duo's zipper, the little pilot squeaked and grabbed at Zechs' hand to stop him.

"Duo?" Zechs looked down into Duo's face, startled when he turned away. "What's wrong?"

"Zechs--I--I--"

Zechs rubbed Duo's leg, trying to soothe him. "What? It's all right, whatever it is."

Duo's face flushed and he shook his head. "I--I don't--" His voice dropped to almost a whisper. "I don't know what to do."

"You don't--you've never?"

Duo shook his head again, refusing to meet Zechs' eyes.

Zechs felt his own breath hitch. That changed things entirely. He sat up, pushing back his fair hair, more than a little confounded.

Duo sat up, too, looking miserable and humiliated. Shoulders drooping, he muttered, "I told Fei it would matter."

"Of course it matters. I don't--"

"I know. You don't want to mess with someone who doesn't know anything. I can't blame you. It's gotta be a real pain to have to--"

"Duo. Hush." Zechs laid his finger over Duo's lips. "That isn't what I meant."

Duo blinked. "Well...what did you mean, then?"

"I meant that it matters because I don't want your first time to be here, like this." Zechs made a sweeping gesture, taking in the floor, the cramped, utilitarian quarters. "It ought to be more...special...than this."

Duo's voice was barely more than a whisper. "It would've been..."

Unsure he'd heard Duo correctly, Zechs said, "Would have been what?"

"Special." Duo hung his head, as if ashamed. Scarcely even audible, his voice quavered. "I mean it would have been you. That's s-special enough for me..."

"Duo..." Zechs touched Duo's shoulder, his long fingers massaging softly. "I'd be honored to be your first. But you deserve better than a quick tumble on the floor."

"Hey, it's okay. Really." Duo squared his shoulders and tossed back his braid, but the tremor in his chin proved that it was far from "okay." "I understand. You don't have to--"

This time, Zechs stopped Duo with a kiss, not letting up until Duo wilted in his arms. Then he gently laid him back on the floor again. "Just lie still. Let me do the work. There's nothing you have to know, not for this." He finished opening Duo's pants, worked them down past his hips.

Duo struggled to sit up. "Zechs? Wh-what--"

Zechs gently pushed him back down. "Think of it as...a training exercise."

Duo's eyes closed, and it seemed as though he were barely breathing. He whispered, "O-okay..." then bit his lip, waiting. Zechs pulled off Duo's boots and peeled away the tight uniform pants. As he slid his fingers under the waist of Duo's briefs, the pilot gasped and tensed.

"Shhh..." Zechs rubbed Duo's belly. "Relax. You don't have to do a thing, just enjoy."

Duo nodded, still biting his lip, uncertain. Zechs moved his hand a little lower, rubbing him through the cloth until he squirmed and whimpered. Then Zechs slid his fingers under the waistband again. "Do you want me to take these off?"

"Ohhh..." Duo arched his back, trying to press himself into Zechs' hand. "Yes...please..."

Zechs carefully stripped him of his regulation white briefs, leaving him naked from the waist down. At first, he could do nothing but look. He'd barely allowed himself to imagine this moment, but what he had envisioned was nothing compared to the reality. And that he was first...Zechs' throat tightened. Duo lay still and rigid, eyes squeezed shut, his nervousness showing in the taut lines of his muscles and in his quick, shallow breathing. Zechs gently spread Duo's legs, kissing his inner thighs until a little moan trembled on his lips.

"Please..." Duo whispered, his body quivering.

"Yes, kit?"

"T-touch me some more?"

Zechs' reply was to rub his fingers over Duo's erection. "Like this?"

"Nnnnn." Duo's body jerked under Zechs' hand as though he'd been shot and he made soft, sobbing noises as Zechs lightly stroked him. "H-harder?"

Zechs touched him again, more firmly, and Duo released a whispered, fluttering sigh. Zechs took the soft noise as an invitation and lifted Duo's knees, tracing his tongue along the inside of his spread thighs. Duo's back arched and his hands scrabbled at the floor, his short nails scratching against the tiles. Zechs bent down and took Duo in his mouth, slowly, completely.

"Oh....shit..." Duo wiggled under Zechs. His voice sounded slurred, almost as if he were drugged. "Feels so good...don' stop?"

Zechs wrapped his hand around Duo's shaft, following his mouth with his hand. He began slowly, gradually increasing his speed, until Duo wailed, "Faster, oh please, faster..."

Duo's searching hands grasped at Zechs' hair, convulsing as Zechs pushed him to the edge of endurance. With a wild cry, Duo bent his back into a bow, lifting his hips off the floor. Zechs reached his hands under Duo's hips, supporting him, his tongue applying just the stimulation Duo's body needed. Sobbing Zechs' name, Duo came, his body rigid, then collapsing, seemingly boneless.

Duo lay motionless, his slender body shuddering, eyes closed, lips still swollen, parted. Zechs leaned up on his elbow, watching him. Amazing how he could look so innocent and so erotic at the same time. Zechs traced his lips with a fingertip, and Duo's eyes fluttered open at last.

Violet eyes met his, and for an instant they seemed full of something akin to worship. Then a sharp intake of breath, shuttering eyelids, a blush, a half-whispered, "Thanks."

"You're most welcome."

Deep rose stained Duo's pale skin. "You're really good at that."

"I'm glad you think so." Zechs gave him another kiss as his fingers outlined Duo's sharp hipbone. He felt as though he'd never be able to touch him or kiss him quite enough. "I've had a long time to practice."

Duo's blush deepened, but he swallowed hard and asked, "D'you think you could...teach me? I'd like to return the favor--a lot. If you don't mind, I mean." Duo lowered his eyes, apparently still self-conscious about his inexperience.

Zechs' blood caught fire at the thought of instructing Duo, showing him how to give--and receive--pleasure. "Mind?" He bent his head, lips caressing the spot on Duo's hip where his hand had rested. "I would be delighted."

Duo's eyes widened in pleased astonishment. "R-really?" His blush had begun to fade, but as he stammered, it washed over his face again. "You're serious?"

"I've never lied to you, have I?"

"Noo..." Duo's eyes sharpened, losing their sated softness, and he raised himself to his elbows. "But I think there's a whole lot you haven't told me. What the hell is going on around here, anyway?"

How much of an unnecessary burden would the knowledge be? But the violet eyes that watched him were bright with intelligence, and it was too late to do anything but tell the entire truth--or lie, and that Zechs wouldn't do. Taking a deep breath, he said, "All right. It begins with the Romefeller Foundation."

By the end of Zechs' story, Duo was sitting up, arms around his knees, listening intently. He frowned, clearly mulling over all the possibilities. "It's making sense now, I think. Those guys who tried to grab me, they had a thing against you personally, it seemed like."

Zechs nodded, thoughtful. During the course of his explanation, Duo had told him about the two officers who'd attempted to kidnap him, but Zechs sensed that the pilot had told him everything. "There are so many threads here--but I don't see the complete pattern, not just yet."

"And Heero--he's got something to do with all this, too, doesn't he?"

"I think so. But we just don't know...we've got no intelligence on them. Not yet anyway. So we're just waiting." He sighed. "And patience isn't something I have in large quantities."

Duo laughed. "If you ever had it, I guess I kind of used it up, huh?" He turned serious again, his voice grave. "Thanks for telling me. It helps a lot to know what's going on. Why you're always on edge. I-I thought it was me, you know."

"No...although it was about you, too--but not in the way you mean."

"Yeah." Duo looked down, tracing the nonexistent pattern in the tile with his forefinger. At first, Zechs thought he might still be upset, but then he saw the pleased smile playing at his lips. "...but now I'm really tired. And it's only the middle of the day..."

"After the morning you've had, no one will begrudge you a nap."

Zechs scooped Duo off the floor, laid him on the bed. Duo rolled over and burrowed into the pillows, but Zechs pulled him back up, made him sit still as he removed his jacket and shirt. "There. Now you can go to sleep."

"Mmmmm...." Duo hid under the covers for a minute or two, then emerged, a tousled brown head among the pillows. "What about you? I bet there's no chance you could stay for a while?" His voice sounded hopeful, but not really expectant.

Zechs sighed. "I'm sorry, kit. There's so much to do before we go to Sanc..."

Duo sat up, eyes instantly clear, voice sharp. "Sanc?"

"Ah...I never had a chance to tell you. Treize and I discussed it--things seem to be moving along in the colonies. It's important for one of us to return to Earth to solidify things there, and since Treize needs stability in Sanc right now--I'm the one."

"I've never been there...Heero was, and Quatre, but not me. My missions were--" Duo stopped abruptly, his face flushing red as he recalled, no doubt, that his missions had made him Zechs' enemy.

Zechs tactfully ignored everything but Duo's first statement. "I want to show you." His voice took on the edge of intensity that always crept in when he spoke of Sanc. "The palace, the countryside, the ocean--all of it. It's not what it was--or what it will be again--but I do want to share it with you. If you're willing."

Duo's eyes searched his face, as if Zechs knew a secret he did not. "I'd...like that a lot."

Before leaving Duo to sleep, Zechs indulged himself and kissed him one more time. He studied Duo's face, but he saw no signs of fear or strain, and he wondered if Wufei had been right, that he had treated Duo like a child. He looked so fragile, after all, and it was easy to forget. In the future, Zechs would have to watch himself carefully--Duo wasn't the kind who would accept smothering. Care, yes, but never if it made him feel weak.

"Hey." Duo pushed him away, but his voice had a warm, proprietary sound, as if he were the one looking after Zechs instead of the other way around. "You got stuff to do--and I'm tired. So get out." Zechs pulled a hurt face, and Duo laughed. "Give it up. It just does not work on you."

"No, I imagine it doesn't." He toyed with Duo's bangs a little, making the pilot blush again and smile. "I am glad you're going home with me."

Duo's mouth twitched slightly, and a soft sheen covered his eyes. "Home..." He looked up at Zechs and grinned, but it seemed that a shadow darkened those amazing eyes for an instant, and then was gone. "Yeah. Me, too. It'll be great. You'll see."

+

Heero stood at the window, looking out at the rooftops of buildings that dated to pre-Colony days. Here and there, blackened, burned-out craters ruined the picture-postcard view. Over the palace, OZ banners fluttered in the breeze of a summer morning. Beyond the city, the sea glittered in the sunrise.

Heero had eyes neither for the sunrise nor the sea. His attention narrowed on the wind-whipped flags, the symbols of OZ domination not just of Sanc but of Earth, a domination that he had miraculously been given another chance to fight. He looked away from the window, down at the gun in his hand. Once again, he had a mission. The Resistance had placed their man in a position to "claim" one of the defeated Gundam pilots, and he was lucky enough to be the one. The war wasn't over, not yet. Not until OZ had been destroyed.

He looked back across the rooftops to the palace. It was only a matter of time until Zechs Merquise returned to his kingdom. With OZ now headquartered in the Sanc palace, Treize Khushrenada would not be far behind. And then, Heero thought, as he stared with eyes like ice at the proud OZ banners, he'd fulfill his mission--the elimination of the two men who embodied everything he'd learned to hate.

[ch. 5] [ch. 7] [back to RazorQueens' fic]